The Girl Next Door - Book cover

The Girl Next Door

S Mertesdorf

Chapter 2


The walls of the guest room closed in on me after an hour of staring at them. I tried watching television with Mom, but watching game show after game show drove me insane.

Stepping out onto the front porch, I take a seat on the old swing. The chains creak in a soothing way as I glide back and forth. I breathe in the cool evening air. Swinging, I let my mind wander.

Tomorrow I will get ahold of that recruiter and see what she can do for me. I know I will hear the same stuff I heard yesterday before I boarded the bus. The tech market is tough right now. Too many techs and not enough jobs to go around.

“Hey, could you use a beer?”

I glance down at the sidewalk as Jason approaches, two bottles in his hands. I can’t believe my eyes as he climbs the steps and holds one out to me as he adds, “I saw you sitting out here. Was hoping you wouldn’t mind some company.”

Accepting it, I applaud myself for sounding normal when I reply, “Thanks. I could use one.”

“Welcome. I know Martha prefers wine.”

“I haven’t dared to check out the liquor cabinet yet. I don’t want to get my hands slapped on day one.”

Jason chuckles, then gestures to the spot beside me. “May I?”

“Sure,” I reply and slide over to make room.

As he sits down beside me, the chains creak some more. I glance up. “I hope this holds us.”

“It will.”

I look at him and he smiles. “I checked the hooks a couple of months ago. Lily likes to sit here with Martha and rock.”

“Ahh.” I lift the beer and take a sip.

He sips as well, then says, “Martha has been a godsend for me. Helps me out with Lily quite often.”

“Such as?” I ask, wanting to keep him talking.

“Last minute babysitter and, most importantly, when teenage girl things come up that I don’t know how to handle.”

“Such as?”

He cringes before replying, “Lily got her first period a couple of months back while my parents were out of town. Martha was sweet enough to explain it to her and took her shopping for…stuff.”

I can’t help but to start laughing.

He elbows me. “Hey, that is stuff I’ve never had to deal with.”

“God, I hope not.”

I receive another elbow in the side.

“You’ve been out west somewhere, right?”

“Yes,” I reply as I mentally curse my mother’s big mouth.

“How come you’ve never come back before this?”

“I have,” I reply and turn enough to glare at him.

Jason arches an eyebrow at me. “What? Once for Christmas, like eight years ago?”

“I take it my mom has kept you up to date on my life.”

“She likes to talk.”

“Don’t I know it.”

Jason chuckles, then takes another sip of beer. Lowering the bottle, he replies, “I love the woman. She has helped me a lot since I moved back here. Least I can do is listen when she talks.”

“So, I’m guessing you know everything about me, then?”

“Well, I wouldn’t say everything.”

My turn to arch an eyebrow.

He smiles at me. “Fine, I know you lost your job and broke up with your boyfriend. Moved back until you can find something else.”

“Great,” I blurt without thinking. “Did she tell you my underwear size too?”

“No, but only because she doesn’t know it.”

He says it with such a straight face that I start laughing. Shaking my head, I look out at the street again. I can’t believe I’m sitting here drinking beer with Jason Burke and talking like we are old friends. It feels surreal.

“I might be able to help you with the job thing. At least temporarily.”

That brings my attention back to him. “How?”

Jason clears is throat. “Well, you’d be helping me out too. Mrs. Lennard, the tech instructor, is out on leave. Her husband is sick. He had a stroke a couple of weeks ago.”

I smile as he starts to sound like my mother telling a story.

He sighs. “Sorry. Too much information. Anyway, the school superintendent is having issues finding someone to fill in and a couple of us are trying to take over her classes. She left behind lesson plans and such, but it’s like reading stereo instructions.”

“I know how to use a computer to do my stuff,” he continues, “but this is way beyond me. As a tech person, I was hoping—”

“I don’t have a teaching license,” I interrupt.

“No, you would be more like a teacher’s aide. One of us would be in the classroom with you at all times.”

“You do realize not all tech people know the same things. There are specialties. What are the classes about?”

“One is computer basics and repair. Another is word processing and spreadsheets. I think the third is keyboarding. Fairly basic stuff.”

“That you can’t handle?”

Jason groans. “I got stuck with the computer repair class.”

I can’t help it; I laugh. “It isn’t that bad.”

“Says the woman that can probably tear a computer apart and put it back together blindfolded.”

“No, definitely not blindfolded,” I reply, then take a sip of beer. At Jason’s questioning look, I add, “Too many small screws.”

He shakes his head as he laughs. Here is the reason behind his visit. Help with something. No real interest in me. I shouldn’t be surprised. He wouldn’t even talk to me in high school.

Trying to quash my disappointment, I ask, “So, help with the three classes. Anything else?”

“Well, more like six classes. Two sessions of each class. The pay won’t be great, but it’s better than working at the burger joint.”

“Depends on the kids.”

Jason smiles at me. “Most aren’t too bad.”

“Most,” I retort, then sip my beer again.


If I don’t take the offer and my mother hears about it, I will never hear the end of it. Besides, what else am I going to do in the meantime? Hang out with my mother every day?

Then there is my almost-empty bank account. The thought of asking my mother for any more money has me replying, “I suppose as long as there will always be someone else in the classroom.”

He breathes out a sigh of relief. “Thanks. I wasn’t sure how I was going to teach them something I can’t do myself.”

“No problem.” I shrug. “At least until I find something else.”

“How about dinner tomorrow night?”

Jason freaking Burke just asked me on a date. Unable to control my shock, I look at him wide-eyed.

“Well, it’s the least I can do since you’re bailing me out. Martha could join us…if you want?”

My emotions must shine on my face like a beacon.

He gives me a sheepish look. “I just stepped in it, didn’t I?”

I look away. “I generally don’t go out to dinner with men and invite my mother along, no.”

“Okay, you and me.”

He isn’t interested in me. Inviting my mother was a buffer. Trying to save my pride, I stand. “Don’t worry about it.”

Jason stands as well. “Hey, I’m serious.”

His green gaze bores into me. I used to dream of him looking at me like this while proclaiming his undying love. What a foolish little girl dream. Sadly, I’ve grown up. I shrug while replying, “It’s okay, really. We can talk about the job thing more tomorrow. I’m tired. Think I’ll call it a day. Good night.”

Leaving him on the porch, I head for the front door and step inside. As I push the door shut behind me, I hear him say, “Night, Becca.”

Taking a deep breath and releasing it, I turn off the hall light. It really is time to call it a day. Hoping for a better day tomorrow, I head up the steps.


“Nice job, dumbass.”

I finish my beer in one shot, then head down the steps and across the lawn. I’m not sure what the hell I was thinking when I said Martha could join us. That incredulous look on her face threw me off my game. I lost it and ended up talking out of my ass.

Who the hell invites a woman’s mother along to dinner? This dumbass, apparently.

Entering the house, I go into the kitchen and toss the bottle into the recycle bin.

“How’d it go?”

I turn around to find Lily standing in the doorway. “Thought you were in bed?”

She shrugs. “I heard you go outside and looked out the window.”


She shrugs unapologetically. “Did you ask Becca out?”

“Not that it is any of your business, but yes, I did.”

“Did she say yes?”

I sigh.

“She said no?”

“I blew it. Messed up my approach.”


“Hey, I’m out of practice.”

The smile on Lily’s face reminds me of my sister. I walk over and tug on one of her braids. “Come on, squirt. Back to bed.”

She turns and heads for the steps. “Are you out of practice because I’m here?”

Not the first time Lily has thrown one of those questions at me. Mentally cursing my sister for messing Lily up, I reply, “No, I’m out of practice because most of the women in this town bore the hell out of me.”

“But you like Becca?”

“Yes, I do,” I reply as I follow her up the steps.

“Why? Thought you haven’t seen her in, like, forever.”

Everything is in, like, forever to a teenager. As we head down the hall to Lily’s room, I reply, “She was always interesting, even back in high school.”

“Did you ask her out back then?


She stops and faces me. “Why?”

“Good question. Probably because I was a moron when I was young.”

Lily laughs, releasing some of the tension I didn’t realize was building. I lean down and kiss the top of her head. “Sleep well, squirt.”

“When are you going to stop calling me that? I’m twelve.”

“So mature,” I retort, then add, “Maybe when you turn fifty.”

“Wow, you’ll be really old then.”

Turning her toward her bedroom, I say, “Go to bed, young lady.”

Lily tosses an insolent smile over her shoulder and heads for her bed. “Night.”

“Sweet dreams, squirt.”

Next chapter

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