Playing for Keeps
“Oh, no, no, no, no, no!” Haley murmured in disbelief as she watched her pink, white, and yellow tulips being yanked viciously out of the ground. She shoved back from her computer desk and stormed towards the front door. She was going to kill him this time there was no doubt about it.
After five long years of juvenile nonsense he’d finally gone too far. Her college roommate hadn’t even been able to aggravate her this much, even when she went through her six month period of not showering, or using deodorant to “save the planet. ”
Five years ago she’d been proud to buy her first house at the ripe old age of twenty-four. She'd worked her butt off to buy her dream home, a one level two bedroom ranch. The experience of owning her own home was better than anything she could have ever imagined.
She spent countless hours picking out the perfect color scheme for each room, cleaning, organizing, and hitting every yard sale within a thirty mile radius, trying to turn wood and plaster into a real home. None of that work could even begin to compare to the countless hours she spent on her lawn and garden. With countless blisters, cuts, bee stings and back aches she turned her dull yard into a paradise.
Her enjoyment lasted for all of four months. That’s when he moved into the house next door. At first she was excited to have a neighbor, one that wasn’t elderly and well, cranky. All of her enjoyment ended the moment she met Jason Bradford.
Within the first ten minutes of his arrival he’d backed into her mailbox, spilled fast food wrappers from his car onto his property, which quickly made their way onto her immaculate lawn, and relieved himself on the great old oak tree in his front lawn with a sheepish smile and a shrug in her horrified direction.
The man was a barbarian.
For the next five years he turned her picturesque life into a nightmare. She wasn’t sure how one person managed to take so much control over her happiness, but he did. Over the years she dealt with paintball pellets decorating the laundry hanging on her clothesline and the side of her house, loud music, parties, twice she found na**d people trying to climb the fence to skinny dip in her pool, three a. m. drunken basketball games, women throwing hissy fits on his front lawn and sometimes on hers when the jerk refused to come out and deal with them.
What made it worse was that they both worked at the same private high school, in the same department, with adjoining classrooms, and parking spots. It didn’t take long for him to turn her dream job and house into a nightmare. At work she had to deal with him constantly “borrowing” things from her room like paper, pens, books, and even her desk one time.
He seemed to think he was the most charming man on earth and had no problem with using it to get his way, leaving her with extra work and responsibilities while he got to be the laid back teacher. It didn’t take her long to figure out that she would have to suck it up at work. There was no way at her age she was going to be able to land a better job. She'd been lucky to land this one. So the only option left for her was to move.
After the first year she tried to sell her house, unsuccessfully. Every time a prospective buyer came around he scared them off by just being Jason. She gave up the idea of selling her house for the next two years and put it up again last year when he took up golf and shot out three of her windows. After he managed to scare off fifteen prospective buyers by walking out to get the mail in his boxers, a particularly memorable fit of rage when he threw his computer out the window accompanied with a loud roar, and of course there was the upkeep or rather lack thereof of his property.
His lawn was covered in crab grass and weeds. He only paid the neighborhood kid to mow it once a month. The rest of the time it was the chosen habitat of little woodland creatures. The house needed a serious paint job, or at the very least a cleanup of all paint chips that had fallen to the ground over the years. If he didn’t personally scare someone off his house did the job. She gave up the dream of moving away five months ago and settled for praying that he would move soon, very soon.
Now he was going after her babies. This was not happening. Enough was enough. Over the last five years she bit her tongue, too afraid to complain. She’d always been like that, even as a little kid.
She was always the shy quiet girl with her nose buried in a book, hoping no one would notice her. It wasn’t so much that she wasn’t a very social person, she was. It had more to do with the fact that she was a huge chicken. When the other kids picked on her or pushed her around she cowered, unable to deal with confrontation. That nasty habit followed her into adulthood.
It was made even worse with good looking men like Jason. His ebony hair, ocean blue eyes and chiseled good looks made her nervous. She just wasn’t any good at handling people. Throw good looks onto a guy that was being particularly jerkish and she turned into a blubbering idiot. Pushy people just sucked and it really sucked that she never learned how to deal with them.
When she caught her roommate stealing her papers, food, and money what did she do? She avoided her room until well after two in the morning when she knew Angel would be asleep and then hurried the hell out of there before she woke up in the morning. The same could be said when the few boyfriends she did manage to have over the years took advantage of her.
Instead of throwing them to the curb like she should have done she pulled back into herself, knowing they would get bored eventually and move on. Yes, she was a chicken. That was the only reason why Jason Bradford had gotten away with his behavior for the past five years. No more. The flowers were the last straw. Her grandmother had given her the bulbs from her own garden when she bought the house and she loved them.
She spied the rolled up hose and made a snap decision. This ended here and now. The days of being the world’s biggest pushover were over.
“What the hell!”
Jason jumped to his feet as a torrent of ice cold water hit him.
He didn’t know what he expected to see, but it certainly wasn’t his timid little neighbor and co-worker aiming her very long hose at him. Clearly she’d lost her damned mind.
“Step away from my tulips,” she ordered in a tone of authority.
He really couldn’t help grinning at her. She looked so damn cute standing there with her long bronze hair pulled back into a twisted pony tail, green eyes full of fire hidden behind large glasses making her look adorable, and of course her rather tight black tee shirt with the word “Nerd” written across her very decent size chest made her look rather hot. His eyes dropped to the cute little shorts that revealed short, but very nice curvy tanned legs, very nice indeed.
Of course he knew his quiet neighbor was stunning. It was the first thing he noticed about her the day he moved in. The second, she was a very shy, very nervous, easily frightened female. He still winced when he thought back to that day. After five hours on the road and three giant gulps he was in desperate need of a bathroom. Unfortunately the realtor hadn't left the keys where she said she would and he had to make a split second decision, piss his pants or water the tree. In the end the tree got a healthy amount of recycled cola.
She hadn't even given him a chance to explain or apologize. Her face reddened before she practically ran into her house. From then on she avoided him at all costs. If he waved or said hello to her she would mutter something or ignore him. If he or one of his ass**le buddies broke something on her property she didn’t say a word. If he was a jerk he could have easily gotten away with not paying for all those broken windows or paintball streaked sheets, but he wasn't that big of a prick. He learned she would never speak up for herself so as soon as the shit hit the fan he made a call and replaced whatever he f**ked up. It would just make him feel like an even bigger ass**le to take advantage of the situation.