Ring. Ring. Ring. Bark. Bark. I groaned and rolled over in bed, putting my head under the pillow to try and keep the monotonous sounds of the phone and my dog from sneaking into my unwelcoming ears. The phone stopped ringing and Marley, my dog, stopped barking so I put my head back on top of my pillow. I heard my dad’s voice but I could only hear a slur of sound. I stayed awake listening to my dad and wondering who could be calling at five in the morning. I didn’t have any cousins that I knew that lived in far-away places with a different time zone. Maybe it was… I don’t know, someone who wanted to annoy me at five in the morning, well they were definitely doing a good job Then I drifted back to sleep only to be awaken by my dad knocking on my door.
“Lex? Are you awake? We need to talk.”
I opened my eyes and stared at the hot pink ceiling that had been painted by my father when I was little and hot pink was my favorite color. Now looking back on that, it was so embarrassing. I had asked my dad to repaint my room several times and he always said that he would do it later but he had never followed through. I was always so self-conscious when friends came over for the first time and went up to my room. I was afraid that they would comment or not like me because my room was so “girly” which was unlike me. Also, if I ever got a boyfriend, which my dad said I wasn’t allowed to do until I was at least in high school, but dads don’t have to know everything do they? it would be weird if they came over and saw my room and thought that I still liked the color pink.
Everything in my room was either pink or white which was so embarrassing that I thought I would die every time someone came in. I had set a goal for myself to paint my room this summer and maybe I could persuade my dad to help. My life would be changed for the better if I painted my room some other color that I liked, maybe blue or green. I would do anything to get the ghastly, disgusting, ugly, horrid, hot pink paint off the walls of my room.
“Dad, am I aloud to tell you how stupid of a question that was? Because if I had been sleeping, which I was, then I wouldn’t respond, so by asking if I’m awake you are assuming that I am or will be”, I said loudly to ensure that my dad could hear me through the wooden door that separated my room from the hall.
The white door that stood between my world and all others opened and my dad came in wearing his red pajama’s, followed by Marley who bound inside and jumped on my bed wiping her slobbery tongue all over my face. I laughed and rubbed her back and her head between her ears.
“Hey Marley, how are you? You are such a sweet puppy, yes you are, yes you are,” I crooned using the voice I would to talk to a baby.
I looked up at my dad and smiled but the smile soon disappeared when I saw his face.
My dad looked a lot older and more tired and he carried himself less royally. I rubbed my eyes, it was probably just his work, after all, he had been working extra hours for the last couple of weeks. I sat up, leaning against a pillow with Marley stretched out next to me and my dad walked over and sat on my white and pink striped bed spread. I asked the first question that I always ask when my dad says “we need to talk”.
“Did I do something wrong?” I said replaying the last couple of days in my mind and trying to figure out what it could have been that was unsatisfactory to my father.
My dad sat down on my pink and white stripped bed spread and laid his hand on my leg which was still under my pink, flower covered, sheet.
“No Lex, you didn’t do anything wrong.” He sighed.
“Do you know who was on the phone?”
I was going to say “well considering you were all the way downstairs and there isn’t a phone in my room, what do you think?” but I decided that it wasn’t the right thing to say at the moment.
“Was it the person who planned our vacation calling to tell you that it was free or maybe that we were staying for an extra month?” I asked.
My dad and I had been planning a vacation to tour Europe for a little over a year and today was the day we were flying to our first destination of Rome. I had never been to Europe so this was a huge adventure that I was very excited for.
My dad smiled weakly,
“No, I wish though. Lex, that was your mom’s boyfriend Steven.”
I stared at my dad in complete and utter amazement. My parents had gotten divorced when I was five and my mom had taken my brother and moved to the opposite side of the country, Las Vegas, California. We hadn’t had any contact with her since.
“And?” I pushed, wanting to know why in the world my mom’s boyfriend had called us at five in the morning.
“And…” my dad took a deep breath and swallowed, “Lex, your mom is in the hospital with cholecystitis.”
My heart skipped a beat and the breath was momentarily taken out of me. Marley realized that something was wrong so she started to lick my face and hands vigorously. I pushed her down onto the bed and started petting her. Then I realized that my dad was looking at me waiting for my response with a sad and tired look on his face. I realized that I had to make light of the situation, I couldn’t let my dad fall into complete depression before our tour of Europe.
“Dad,” I started, “I… don’t… speak…doctor,” I said using my improvised sign language of pointing at me then waggling my finger then pointing at my mouth and then pointing at my dad.
I looked at my dad’s face to see his reaction. Nothing happened. I sighed.
“Your mom has an infected gall bladder”, said my dad plainly.
I realized that my dad didn’t want to be funny right now; he wanted to be serious so I asked, “What’s a gall bladder?”
“Your gall bladder is an organ that helps digest the fat in your body so you don’t have too much. Cholecystitis”, started my dad, reading my mind, “is an inflamed gall bladder and it is usually caused by gall stones.”
I nodded and began feeling sick to my stomach and a big lump formed in my throat. I felt tears forming in my eyes but I quickly blinked them away. Even though my dad was much older than me I had to stay strong for him like he always had done for me. I hadn’t seen my mom since I was five, since she had abandoned me, but she was still my mom and I still cared about her. She had given birth to me, a feat that nobody else could have accomplished and she had cared for me until the divorce. Even though sometimes I hated her for leaving, she was my mom and I also loved her very much.
“So your mom has cholecystitis and she got hospitalized around two this morning. Her boyfriend knew I was a gastroenterologist and called me to ask if I could come down and make sure that your mom gets good treatment.”
“But you’re not going right? You told him that you were going on a vacation with your daughter so you couldn’t go because you had been planning this for a year.” I looked at my dad and his face told me everything.
“You can’t go,” I cried, and all of the tears I had been holding back, rose to my eyes and overflowed, rolling down my cheeks. “You promised me that we would go together,” I lay back down with a quick movement and buried my head under the pillow.
I couldn’t believe that my dad would do this to me; he had promised that we would go on this vacation together no matter what the situation at work was. He had not taken other time off and had been working extra hours so he could take a whole month off to go tour Europe with me and then my mom’s stupid boyfriend had to call on the day of the trip and ask for my dad’s help all the way across the country and my dad decided to go.
My dad tried to stroke my hair but I reached up and pushed his hand off.
“I called Nana and Popop and they said that they would love to have you stay with them while I’m gone and Marley is going to stay with Jessica as was planned for the trip to Europe”, said my dad. Jessica was my best friend in the whole entire world and she was my next door neighbor. Our mom’s had become friends when they moved next door to each other and then they had both gotten pregnant with us at the same time. Jessica’s and I basically shared families. Whenever I was having a tough time with my dad I would just go over to her house. When Jess was redoing her room she had bought a bunk bed so just for me. So that when I came over, I would have a place to sleep. Jess and I were very similar in body type and what we liked to do so we shared clothes. We were like sisters.
Every time one of our families went on vacation the other family took care of their pets and since we were next door neighbors it was very easy. We would just leave Marley outside in our yard and when Jess woke up she would come and get her.
“I know it’s not the same but at least you won’t have to come—“
“No”, I yelled interrupting my dad “I don’t wanna go to Nana and Popop’s, I wanna go to Europe like you promised.”
“Honey I know I promised you we would go, but this is really serious—“
“I thought you hated mom—“
“Hate is a strong word,” said my dad.
I ignored him and kept yelling, “I thought that the whole reason you got divorced and mom moved to the opposite side of the country was because you couldn’t stand each other, not even enough to let your children see each other.” At the last part I quieted down and started crying again.
“Lex that was a tough decision and I think it was for the better,” said my dad quietly.
“What in our life has been better?” I asked, starting to yell again.
“I’ve been raised as a motherless, brotherless child, and the only parent I have works twenty-four seven and never has enough time for his only child, the only person who had ever cared for him. Is that what you call better?”
I started to sob again. I knew that it wasn’t true that my dad worked twenty-four seven and that he never cared for me, I knew that he loved me and would do anything for me, and I knew that I had just reopened a wound that hadn’t yet healed completely. I knew that I should say sorry but I was so shocked and upset that all I could do was cry. My dad just sat on my bed for a little bit and then he left. I cried for a long time and I think I might have fallen asleep again because when I opened my eyes sun shone through my window, not at all reflecting my mood one bit. The clock read eight o’ three a.m.
I dragged myself out of bed and got changed into jean shorts and a tank top before heading downstairs with Marley at my heals. In the kitchen there was a place set for me with a bowl, a spoon, a carton of milk and some honey nut cheerios. I hastily ate breakfast and went outside to sit on the tire swing in my back yard. After about ten minutes my dad came out and called to me from the door.
“Lex, grab your stuff because we have to go soon,” he said disappearing into the house.
I went inside with Marley and grabbed the suitcase that I had packed for Europe. There were some things that I probably wouldn’t need but I didn’t feel like unpacking, in fact I didn’t feel like doing anything so sitting in the car for six and a half hours as I drove from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Barnard, Vermont was actually quite nice.
During the car ride, my dad and I both sat in complete silence. Eventually I guess my dad couldn’t stand it anymore but he knew that I wasn’t in the mood for talking so he turned on the radio very quietly. About five hours into the drive my dad turned and looked at me.
“I forgot to tell you that Jack is going to be at Nana and Popop’s,” said my dad.
For a milla-second I was confused. Who was Jack and why was he going to be at my grandparent’s house? Then I remembered. Jack was my fourteen year old brother who I hadn’t seen since I was five.
“Really?” I asked forgetting that I was supposed to be mad at my dad.
My dad nodded. “He has nowhere to live because your mom is in the hospital and Steven will either be there most of the time or working.You’re grandparent’s on your mom’s side are both dead and mom’s only sibling lives in New Zealand so he’s coming to Nana and Popop’s until your mom gets better or…” he trailed off and I remembered that the reason I was going to see my brother wasn’t because our parents thought it would be a good idea or were getting back together but it was because our mom was in the hospital.
“Jack’s flight was around six and it takes about six and a half hours to get to the Burlington airport, and then the drive is about two to three hours so he’s going to get to Nana and Popop’s at around…” my dad paused doing the math in his head, “three and it is one forty-five, so he should be there in about an hour and fifteen minutes.”
I just nodded my head but inside I was bubbling with excitement. I couldn’t wait to see my brother. I hadn’t seen him in so long that I had no idea what kind of a person he had turned into. I imagined arriving at my grandparents and seeing him waiting on the porch crying.They had tried everything but nothing could comfort him. Then he saw me he got up and ran to me and I helped him calm down. It was the kind of corny thing that happens in movies but after my life got ruined; my imagination was the only friend I had.
As we got closer and closer, butterflies started doing back-flips in my stomach—if butterflies can do back-flips which I don’t think they can, but that’s against the point—and I was so excited to see Jack. I thought that Jack would be the cure to all of my problems; he would sit next to me while I cried and I would do the same for him. He would tell me what a great sister I was and how it wasn’t my fault that I had to stay with my stupid old grandparents when I was supposed to be touring Europe. Jack would tell me how much it meant to him that I had comforted him every time he cried and all of that gushy, lovey-dovey stuff that everyone wants to hear when they are having a bad day.
We had reached the last leg of the journey and we drove down the long dirt driveway to the big white house that had been built by my great-grandfather. The second the car stopped I jumped out ready to get swung in circles by my older brother. I grabbed my suitcase from and lugged it up the steps to the porch without even saying goodbye to my dad.
The door that led to my grandparent’s house was open and the only thing in the way was the screen. I rang the doorbell and saw my grandmother come out from the kitchen and into the front hall. She was wearing the apron that I had tie-dyed for her when I was about three and her hands were covered in white powdery stuff which I expected was flour. Any time I came to my grandparent’s house my grandma was always cooking something.
Since my grandparent’s property was so big and they weren’t as young as they used to be they hired about ten workers to help them take care of the farm. All of the workers lived either in the carriage house or the few other small houses that my grandparents had gotten built about five minutes away. My grandma, with the help of a worker, cooked meals for all of the other workers who lived with my grandparents, since they didn’t have big kitchens in their cottages.
“Hi sweetie, come on in. Julie and I were just starting to cook dinner”, said my grandma. Julie was the woman who helped my grandma cook and kept her company in general.
“I would give you a hug but my hands are dirty as you can see. Why don’t you bring your stuff upstairs and get settled. Jack and Popop just arrived about ten minutes ago and maybe Jack will want to say hi. He’s staying in the room next to you.”
I nodded since I didn’t feel like speaking, and headed upstairs to my designated room.
Once I had put all of my stuff away I sat on the window seat and looked out on the corn field and thought about today. I was pretty upset that Jack hadn’t come to say hi but I couldn’t blame him. If my dad were in the hospital I would be really upset. I think that I would still come and say hi to Jack though.
“Lex can I come in?” Asked my dad from the other side of the door.
“Mhm,” I said, not wanting to talk to the man who had just ruined my life.
The door opened and my dad stood in the doorway knowing he wasn’t wanted.
“I just came to say goodbye.”
“Bye,” I said not turning around to face my dad, “oh yeah and by the way, I just wanted to thank you for ruining my life.”
I knew how hurtful that was to my dad and the moment after I said it I felt so guilty but I couldn’t say sorry because I was too mad at him.
“I’ll try to call and keep you updated on how mom’s doing.” And with that my dad walked out of the door shutting it behind him.
I heard him walk down the stairs and say something to my grandma who responded quietly so that I couldn’t hear what she said. I sat down on my bed and started to cry. After about three minutes my cell phone started to ring. Normally my grandpa made me turn off my phone so that I could be in the moment but I hadn’t seen him yet so I hadn’t turned my phone off. I wiped my eyes and looked to see who was calling; it was Jess. I flipped open my phone and put it up to my ear.
“Hey Jess,” I said sniffling.
“Hey, Alex,” said Jess using her name for me. “Listen, I heard about your mom and all and I’m really sorry. I wish I could see you but I know that you’re in Vermont and I don’t wanna drive up six hours just to see you, and also my parents would make Adam drive me ‘cause they’re too lazy and he would then get really upset and you really don’t want Adam to get upset because he works out a lot so he is very muscular.”
I laughed a little and dried my eyes with my sleeve, “Yeah, you don’t wanna come up here; it would be really boring and depressing.”
“Oh c’mon, I’m sure we would have a lot of fun!” said Jess
“Whatever,” I said unenthusiastically. “At least you can have fun. Every time I’m bored to death I’ll think about you sitting by your pool getting tan and splashing Adam.”
“Alex. Stop being so glass half empty, your seriously depressing me,” said Jess.
“You think that’s depressing? Just imagine how I feel!”
“I am. That’s why I called but I see I’m not needed as you have your sassiness to keep you company. Let me remind you though that your sassiness is no match for mine, so don’t even try to out sass me ‘cause it will never happen.”
“Well if you’re so sassy, I think I will introduce you to my good friend the sassifier,” I said laughing.
“Oooooooooo, I’m so scared,” said Jess, and I smiled.
That was the thing that I loved so much about Jess. She could make anyone anywhere, who knew what sarcasm was, feel better about their situation. She just had a skill and she knew exactly how to use it. Jess was also always so bouncy, she could never be put down she was a glass half full kind of person who always knew how to make you laugh.
“Well I better go so I can go swimming and splash water at Adam but have fun in Vermont with your grandparents and hopefully we’ll talk soon. Bye!” said Jess cheerfully.
“Bye!” I said in a better mood than I was before.
I thought about going into Jacks room to say hi but then I figured that he would come into my room if he wanted to say hi and I would see him at dinner if not before. I decided that I would go downstairs and help my grandma and Julie make dinner.
When I entered the kitchen my grandma was standing at the stove and Julie was kneading something together.
Julie spotted me first.
“Hello Alexa. How are you?” she asked, still kneading whatever she was kneading.
“I’m pretty good. How are you?” I asked, trying to be polite.
“I’m going quite well thank you. Grace is coming up tomorrow.”
Grace was Julie’s fourteen year old daughter who was my best friend at the farm. Her parents had gotten divorced when she was one and so during the school year she lived with her dad in Quebec and during the summer she came down to the farm to help her mom out and also to visit her. Grace and I were very close and we spent all of our time together even though she was one and a half years older than me. I was born on September 4, 1998 and she was born April 17, 1996. There was a time between September 4 and April 17 that Grace was only a year older than me by age and I took advantage of that time to tease her. Grace had just finished eighth grade and I had just finished sixth but we were still very close.
Every summer since my parents got divorced I had been coming up to my grandparent’s for a month so that my dad could get some work done or do whatever he wanted. Grace and I would always meet up the first day I came and then spend the rest of the time together. This year since I had been going to go to Europe for a month I would have only come up to my grandparents for two weeks and both Grace and I had been really sad because we wouldn’t get to spend much time together. Now Grace and I would have more than two weeks to be together which I was very happy about.
Grace was my role model. She was funny, smart, nice polite, good at both sports and things like knitting and embroidery and she was very patient and mature. One moment Grace and I would be laughing our heads off at something inappropriate and then a grown up would come in and she would start talking with them about politics, it was quite hilarious to watch. Anyway, I had completely forgotten about Grace in all the hassle but I was so glad that I wouldn’t be lonely.
Someone said something and I got pulled out of my thoughts.
“Hm?” I asked.
“I just said that I haven’t seen you in a while and I wanted a kiss right here,” said my Nana sticking out her cheek.
I kissed my grandma and breathed in her nice smelling perfume. I guess being at my grandparents wasn’t too bad.
“Lexi. Would you mind ringing the meal bell?” asked my grandma.
“Nope,” I said walking to the front door were a big bell, a little smaller than the size of my head, was sitting on a small table.
I picked up the bell and grabbed the clapper so that it didn’t ring. Pushing open the screen door I walked out onto the porch. Being inside all day I hadn’t realized how nice it was outside. The sky was blue and the air smelled of grass and freshly cut hay. There was a slight breeze which caressed my face and calmed me down. I stood, enjoying the moment for a little, then returned to my duties of bell ringer. I took my hand off of the clapper, carefully so as not to let it ring just yet and moved both hands onto the handle. I moved my wrists back and forth, so that the clapper hit the side of the bell making a loud ring. My hands vibrated as the bell rung. After the ringing stopped, I went inside and carefully placed the bell on its table before returning to the kitchen to help serve the food.
Julie, my Nana and I waited until everyone was seated at the big wooden table in the dining room before bringing out the food. We were having a simple dinner of chicken, roasted vegetables and bread so I grabbed the bread basket and walked into the dining room. I looked around to see many familiar faces and one new one that was also somehow familiar.
The new face belonged to a boy with blonde hair Bieber hair that could be flipped to impress girls. He had tear marks on his face that it looked like he had tried to wipe off before coming to dinner. It looked as though he was normally a happy person but something bad had happened that had made him very upset. His face was one I had seen before but I had seen it a while ago when had less shape and more chubbiness. When I was five the face was very chubby and round, now it looked more defined. His cheek bones were very obvious and his nose was small. His beautiful blue eyes sparkled. He was the kind of boy that everyone would think was “hot” or “cute”, and I would have to agree. He was very good looking but I found that I wasn’t drawn to him like other hot boys. I didn’t want to impress him and I didn’t get that tingly feeling that I normally got when looking at boys.
“Hi Alexa,” said a voice, taking me out of my thoughts.
I looked around to find out where the voice was coming from. One of the farm workers whose name was Robert was smiling at me.
“Hi,” I said smiling back.
“I’m sure we’d all hug you right now but I know that I’m very hungry,” said Robert.
The rest of the farm workers nodded and smiled. Over the past twelve years everyone who worked on the farm had become part of my family. Everyone loved everyone else and we all got along. My favorite farm worker was Robert’s son, a nineteen year old named Scott. Scott worked with the animals and he was like a brother to me and Grace. He would take us to places if my grandparents couldn’t and he would always let us help with the animals. Scott had grown up on the farm and he lived in a little cottage on the property with his parents. He went to school but in his free time and over the summer he helped with the animals.
Scott had applied to a lot of colleges and he had gotten into Harvard. Since both of his parents worked on the farm and didn’t get that much money, my grandparents had decided to pay for Scott to go to Harvard because he was like the grandson they’d lost. Scott was still going to come home over the summer but he would be away during the school year because Harvard was in Massachusetts and his home was in Vermont and it wasn’t worth driving all the way there and back every day.
“It’s okay, I don’t need to be hugged right now and I don’t want any of you collapsing on me, so please go ahead and eat,” I said, not really in the mood to be hugged.
“Alright everybody, I have an introduction to make,” said my Popop from his usual spot at the head of the table.
“This,” he said pointing at the boy I had barely recognized, “is Jack Harrow,” Jack smiled at everyone but the smile didn’t reach his eyes. “ He is Alexa’s older brother and my grandson. He has come to live with us until – for a little while. Jack these are the people who work on the farm, you can get to know them later but right now everyone wants to eat so dig in.”
It took everyone a moment to register who Jack was but within seconds everyone was eating and talking happily. I was sitting in between my grandpa and one of the workers named Steven who worked with the food, harvesting and planting everything that we ate. Steven was one of the younger workers at the age of twenty-two. He was nice but I didn’t know him as well as some of the other people.
“So, how was school?” he asked.
“Good, I guess,” I replied.
“What-do-you-mean ‘you guess’? Steven inquired.
“I dunno. I was just ready for summer, because there’s this girl who thinks I’m her friend but I don’t like her and she hung around me the whole year so I was ready to get rid of her.”
“Oh, that’s hard,” said Steven stuffing some bread into his mouth and obviously not caring about my problems even though he had asked.
I hated when people did that. It’s one thing if the person starts talking and you don’t want to listen but it’s another if you asked a question and didn’t even listen. You had asked the questions so it was very rude if you acted like you didn’t care.
“Yeah, whatever,” I muttered.
After dinner and dessert were served, all of the farm staff left and I went upstairs to my room. I lay on my bed for a while and stared at the ceiling then realized that I should probably say hello and introduce myself to Jack. Sluggishly I rolled off my bed and walked to the door that led to my brother’s room, it was slightly open so I walked in.
“Jack? Are you in here?” I asked before I had time to look around. There was a suitcase lying open on the floor and clothes were strewn everywhere. The sheets on the bed were crumpled up at the bottom. Jack sat at the desk with his back facing me and I heard someone talking to him. I looked around to see who else was in the room and couldn’t find anyone. Jack turned around to face me.
I smiled, “Hi I’m Lexi, in case you didn’t remember.” I don’t know why but my voice was quiet and soft for a moment.
“No shiz Sherlock. Jack isn’t an idiot otherwise he wouldn’t be my boyfriend,” said a voice from in front of Jack. I looked over to where Jack was sitting and saw a face on his computer screen. I squinted so that I could see the girl on the screen. She was blond and pretty but she was pretty in that over pretty way.
“Shhh Trina be quiet.”
I must’ve given Jack a quizzical look because he sighed and said,
“I’m Skyping my girlfriend Trina, we promised to Skype each other every day.”
“Because our company isn’t enough and you need to talk with someone you know and feel comfortable with?” I said accusingly. “And of course you’d feel more comfortable talking with your girlfriend than with your sister because…?” I was getting very upset over something so stupid but I couldn’t stop my outpour of negativity. “Well, have it your way and I’ll remember that when I need to talk with someone.” I stormed out of the room but stopped after slamming the door to see what Jack was going to say about me, but it was Trina who spoke first.
“I don’t like her,” she said in a bratty voice.
“Why?” asked Jack.
“She’s mean to you and she’s really ugly. I can’t believe she could be your sister ‘cause you are way too hot for a sibling like that.”
“Thanks Trina, but I don’t think she’s that bad, she might actually find a guy someday,” said Jack.
Trina snorted, “yeah, a blind one.”
I clenched my fist and felt the tears start to run. I ran back to my room and collapsed on my bed then broke into sobs.