A Change in the Wind
Caroline Malloy had just hung a Christmas wreath on the door when she had a wonderful, awful thought. It was the kind of thought that made her lips curl up at the corners.
Ever since her father had moved the family to Buckman, where he was coaching the college football team for a year, Caroline had been having these thoughts. So had her two sisters, Beth, who was ten, and Eddie, who was eleven, and whose real name was Edith Ann.
Caroline herself was only eight, but she was considered precocious for her age and had skipped a grade, so she was in the same class as Wally Hatford, who lived across the river. And the wonderful, awful thought had something to do with Wally and his brothers.
She dashed back into the house, her dark ponytail flopping behind her, brown eyes snapping, and clattered upstairs to where Beth, her feet propped on the radiator and her instruction book against her knees, was attempting to knit a lavender scarf for Mother for Christmas.
"I've got a terrific idea!" Caroline said breathlessly. "Want to hear it?"
"Hmmm," said Beth, studying the page, then the wool in front of her.
Thunk . . . thunk . . . thunk, came a noise from the next bedroom, where Eddie was bouncing a rubber ball on the floor. Caroline decided to tell both sisters together.
"Eddie?" she called. "Want to hear my idea?"
The thunk, thunk, thunk grew louder as Eddie ambled in from the next room, bouncing the ball with one hand and holding her Christmas gift list in the other. She was the tallest of the Malloy girls, with long legs, short blond hair, and brown eyes that matched Caroline's. "Well?" she said, waiting, her attention still on the list.
"My idea," began Caroline, who loved an audience more than she loved chocolate cream pie, "is to give each of the Hatford brothers a Christmas present. From us to them. Beautifully wrapped, of course . . ."
"Are you nuts?" asked Beth, her feet thudding to the floor in shock.
"But inside each box will be something really awful."
"Like what?" asked Eddie, finally looking up.
Caroline hadn't figured that part out yet. She was thinking about the time, just after the Malloys had moved to West Virginia, when the Hatford boys had dumped dead birds and stuff on the girls' side of the river to make them think the water was polluted. And the time they had lured Caroline into the cellar at Oldakers' Bookstore, then stood on the trapdoor so she couldn't get out. And all the other times they had tried to make the Malloys so miserable that the girls would persuade their father to move back to Ohio when the year was up.
"I don't know," Caroline said at last. "A dead squirrel, maybe. A rotten banana. Whatever we can find to gross them out. Can't you just see their faces on Christmas morning, untying a bow and finding this thing in the box?"
She had expected her sisters to jump at the chance. She had thought Eddie, in particular, would come up with an idea even more gross than she could imagine.
Instead Eddie said, "Oh, I don't know, Caroline. These pranks are getting a little stale, aren't they?"
Caroline stuck her fingers in both ears and pulled them out quickly to unplug them. She couldn't have heard right. This was Eddie talking?
"Yeah, it's Christmas, after all!" said Beth. "Where's your Christmas spirit?"
Caroline blinked, then blinked again. This couldn't be happening! Since her family had moved to Buckman and the Hatford boys had tried to drive them out, she had never had so much fun and excitement. She'd thought that Beth and Eddie felt the same way.
"What's happened to you two?" she cried. "I thought we'd been having fun! I thought we were going to drive the Hatfords so bonkers they'd wish they'd never messed with us! Don't you remember all the fun we had pretending I'd died and you just dumped my body in the river? And the time we climbed on their roof and howled and . . ."
"Softball season will be coming up in a couple of months, and I've got other things on my mind," said Eddie. "I really want to get on the team. If I get a bunch of guys mad at me, it's not going to help."
In desperation, Caroline turned to Beth, but Beth said, "I don't see how we can be mean to them after they invited us over for Thanksgiving dinner."
"Easy!" Caroline bleated. "Easy, easy, easy! Right this minute they're probably thinking up something awful to do to us!"
"Then we'll deal with it when it happens," said Beth. "Now go away. I want to work on this scarf, and I'm making all kinds of mistakes."
Caroline was speechless. She didn't even make it as far as her room. She just sank down at the top of the stairs and blankly stared at the wall.
They were supposed to be a team! Caroline had always dreamed of having a production company when they were grown--Beth would write the script, Eddie would be the stuntwoman, and Caroline, of course, would be the star. Now she didn't know what to expect.
Nine more months before they went back to Ohio, if they went back at all. Only nine months to get even again and again with the Hatford boys. And don't think the boys weren't having as much fun as they were.
Well, she told herself, if Beth and Eddie weren't interested in playing one of the best tricks she'd ever thought of on the Hatfords, was there any reason she couldn't do it herself? To one of the Hatfords, anyway. Wally sat right in front of her in Miss Applebaum's fourth-grade class. She had to look at his stupid neck and his stupid ears six hours a day for the next six months. Wasn't she entitled to just one little joke to get even for all the stuff he had done to her? And if he hadn't done all that much, Caroline figured he'd thought of doing it, which was just as bad, wasn't it?
She would simply put her mind to thinking up the most hideous, horrible thing she could put in a box for Wally Hatford, and she would wrap it up in gorgeous paper and give it to him whenever she got the chance. Of course, she would have to be nice to him between now and Christmas vacation, or he'd suspect it was a joke and throw it out without looking.
And so, when Caroline went to school the next day, she said, "Hi, Wally. I like your sweater."
Actually, she didn't. It was an ugly sweater. It had reindeer on it with green antlers. She had never seen a green-antlered reindeer, and what's more, the sweater was too big for Wally. It looked as though it had once belonged to Josh or Jake, the eleven-year-old twins.
Wally looked surprised.
"Thanks," he said. "It used to be Jake's."
From the Trade Paperback edition.