The Third Wheel
I woke up to the sun shining in the window and the air smelled like something delicious.
I got dressed and headed downstairs to the kitchen to see if I could help. When I walked into the kitchen someone placed their hand over my eyes and walked me right back the way I’d come.
“And a good day to you to,” I said as the hand was taken from my eyes. I turned around to face one of my best friends.
“Grace!” I shouted with glee.
Grace pulled me into a hug.
“Hey Lex. I missed you. I have so much to tell you but first you should eat breakfast and then I was thinking we could go to the tree-house, and then go swimming,” said Grace.
I sat down at the table in the dining room as Jack walked down the stairs. Grace bent over and whispered in my ear, “who’s that? A new worker? He’s really cute, don’t-ch-ya think?”
“He’s my brother and he’s pretty good looking,” I whispered back, though it made me feel like I wanted to barf.
“Hey, I’m Grace. What’s your name?” said Grace sitting down next to me and directing her introduction to Jack.
“I’m Jack,” said Jack quietly as he sat down at the table across from Grace.
“Oh cool, so you and Lexi are siblings?”
“Yup,” said Jack.
“How old are you?”
“Ditto, that’s awesome. Where are you from?” Asked Grace in an excited voice.
“Los Angeles,” said Jack with a sigh.
“Awesome. I live in Vermont over the summer with my mom and I live in Quebec with my dad during the school year.”
“You live in Quebec?” Asked Jack coming out of his misery for a second.
“Yup, I love it there despite the coldness.”
My grandma walked into the room interrupting the conversation.
“Julie and I have made something that hopefully everyone likes. It is to celebrate your new arrivals,” she said with a big smile.
The door to the kitchen opened and Julie walked out with a plate of six cinnamon buns. My Nana rarely made cinnamon buns because they took a lot of time and you had to prepare them the night before.
“Two cinnamon buns each,” said my Nana coming over to hug Jack, Grace and myself.
“Thank you so much Nana!” I said smiling.
“You’re welcome Lexi, after all you are my favorite granddaughter,” said my nana, returning my smile. “Jack, I do hope you like cinnamon buns.”
“I’m also your only granddaughter,” I said as Julie placed the buns on the table.
Jack took one and bit into it.
“They’re delicious,” he said quietly.
“I’m glad you like them. If there’s anything you need, just let me know. I’ll be in the kitchen,” she said.
Breakfast was filled with Grace trying to make a conversation with Jack but they would always end up silently eating their food and it I felt really awkward so I was glad when it was over.
Before we went upstairs to get changed into our bathing suits Grace turned to Jack,
“Hey, we were gonna go swimming. D’you wanna come?”
I looked at Grace in alarm and whispered quietly, “why’d you invite him, the two of us don’t get along.”
Grace shrugged. I sighed not believing that one of my best friends was being nice to my brother who was so mean to me. It was betrayal but I was sure that she would realized she wasn’t being very considerate and apologize and then we would be able to hang out in peace.
Jack looked at the two of us whispering and waited till I was done to say “I’d better not, I don’t think I’m wanted,” he looked at me but sadly.
“Well if you’re not wanted then how come I asked you to come with us?” Asked Grace, stepping on my foot to make sure I didn’t comment. I sighed inwardly, if this was how my whole vacation was going to be like I might as well stay in my room forever and never come out.
“I dunno, besides I have work to do.” Jack said.
“C’mon, really? You would choose work over play? You are not a normal kid,” said Grace.
“No, you’re right,” Jack sighed and with a far-away and sad look in his eyes, “I’m not a normal kid.”
“Well my goal this summer is to make you normal no matter what it takes. In fact I will drag you up the stairs if you don’t wanna go up yourself.”
Jack smiled weakly, “okay. But I can’t do it for long.”
“That’s okay. Go upstairs and get in your bathing suit. We’ll meet you on the porch,” said Grace standing up and walking out the door.
Jack got up and brought his plate to the kitchen then he walked upstairs.
I stared after him then got up and followed. Before going into my room I knocked on Jacks door.
I poked my head through the door, “I just want to you to tell your girlfriend I don’t like her either.” Then I walked into my room feeling both guilty and satisfied. If Jack was going to make my life miserable he would get payback.
We all met on the porch and then headed to the swimming hole. It was a very sunny day. The birds were chirping and the air smelled like a farm, cow manure and freshly cut hay along with fresh produce. Just being outside made me feel better. We walked behind the house and towards the woods. The grass was soft against my bare feet and the wind blew my hair into my eyes. I walked next to Grace who walked next to Jack. Their conversation was about something I couldn’t understand, and when I asked Grace about it she said, “Oh, you won’t understand ‘til you’re older.”
That hurt but I let it slide off my back because I knew that Grace was just being sociable and would talk with me later about stuff Jack didn’t understand.
We walked a through the woods along the creek until there was a clearing that held the swimming hole. It wasn’t as much a hole as just a deeper part of the stream. It was about seven feet deep at its deepest and it was twenty feet across from shore to shore. The nice thing was that it was like being at the beach because the shore slopped down gradually so you could wade in slowly.
I spotted the rope that hung five feet above the deepest part of the water. It was for the zip-line that ran through the trees starting at the tree house and going from tree to tree, platform to platform and in one place it went over the water so that you could jump off into the swimming hole. My Popop had built a diving board that was on the other side of the swimming hole. I ran around to the diving board, crossing a little bridge that my Popop had also made and jumped in. The water, which was a greenish blue and cold, enveloped my body in a soft blanket as I swam upward towards the surface. My hair billowed around my head and I opened my eyes. Everything was perfect down here. I wished my life could be perfect like the swimming hole. Anything that wasn’t needed was washed away and everything that was needed was kept.
When I broke the surface I felt the air hit my face. I looked around and saw Grace and Jack sitting on the shore talking.
Grace was very pretty in a farmer’s daughter sort of way She had silky light brown hair that went down to half way between her shoulders and her elbow. She was very strong from all of the farm work. Grace’s face was beautiful. Her bangs fell in just the right place and her features where very defined. She had a small nose and her cheek bones stuck out. Her lips were just the right size and her eyes were a gorgeous green. She and Jack looked similar if you changed their hair color. I was so much different from either one of them. I had wavy brown hair that I always put in a ponytail and big, brown eyes. My nose was a little big but I didn’t think it looked bad. I wasn’t pretty and I wasn’t ugly. I was normal.
As I looked at Grace, sitting on the shore talking to my brother, I realized how much she had changed and how grown up she was. Maybe she wouldn’t want to be my friend anymore because she was too grown-up and had someone her own age to hang out with.
I looked over at Jack. He was very handsome just like my father. It was obvious when you looked at him that he worked out a lot because he had abs. when he talked to Grace I could see a smile forming on his lips and I wanted to cry. The only reason that I had been mean to him was because I was upset that he hadn’t greeted me when I came. I wanted him to only cheer up when I talked to him, but no, Grace had to be the one. Why did she have to be so perfect?
My eyes started to get blurry and my throat got clogged with mucus. I ducked underwater before the tears started to overwhelm me. I couldn’t cry now, not in front of Jack and Grace. Grace would keep asking me what the matter was and Jack, would… no I didn’t even want to think about it.
I swam back up to the surface, dried my eyes and headed over to the shore.
“Are you guys gonna come in?” I asked.
The conversation stopped and they both looked at me like they had forgotten I was there. Grace looked at Jack.
“D’you wanna go in?” she asked.
“Sure,” said Jack.
“C’mon then,” said Grace grabbing Jack’s hand and pulling him into the water. Jack blushed a little but he let himself be pulled into the water. Grace turned around and splashed Jack who stood stunned for a second and then splashed her back. Grace splashed me and I splashed her and soon we were all in a splashing fight. After a while, when Jack’s lips had turned blue, we all decided to lie on the beach and try to get tan. We were all content and quiet for a while and I had forgotten about the events of yesterday. Then Grace started to talk.
“So, Lex. I never got to ask you why you came early and Jack, why you even came to your grandparent’s house.” I looked at Grace for a long moment trying to process what she had just said then all of the yesterday came rushing back to me and all of my thoughts about Grace getting older. It all hit me suddenly without warning. Tears swelled in my eyes and I got up abruptly.
“Lex, where’re you going?” Grace yelled after me as I tore through the woods with my hands constantly wiping tears off of my cheeks.
When I arrived at the house I ran upstairs to my room and collapsed on the bed in sobs. I don’t know how long I cried for but then I realized that crying wouldn’t change anything so I stopped immediately and walked over to my window seat where I sat and looked out over the fields.
After about fifteen minutes someone knocked on my door.
“Who is it?” I called trying to make myself presentable.
“Grace,” called Grace. I debated telling her to leave but then I remembered that I should be nice to her because she hadn’t known how much what she’d said had hurt me.
“Come in,” I called back in a cheery voice turning around so I could see Grace when she came in.
The door opened and Grace walked in still wearing her swimsuit. My first thought was that it took her a long to walk from the swimming hole to the house.
“Listen Lex. Jack told me about…” she paused probably looking for words that wouldn’t start me crying again, “everything and I’m sorry for being so ignorant and inconsiderate. My mom hadn’t told me but I hadn’t asked so I can’t really blame her. Can I have a hug?” she asked holding out her arms and walking towards me. I smiled,
Grace embraced me and I took a long deep breath. She smelled like peppermint and pond muck which together didn’t smell very good but I didn’t care. Grace let go of me and her green eyes looked into mine.
“I was thinking we could both shower and the two of us could go to the tree house and catch up with each other and maybe your grandma would let us bring lunch. Also, I didn’t know that you and Jack didn’t get along. I’m sorry,” Grace paused and then continued, “I still think you should try to include him but we can talk about that later, in the tree house.”
Grace and I showered and changed and then together we went into the kitchen where my Nana and Julie were working on lunch.
“Hi girls, how are you?” Asked my Nana, before we could say anything.
“We’re good,” Grace answered. “Actually we had a question for you.”
“Yes?” said my Nana as she got glasses out of the cabinet.
“We were wondering if we could have lunch in the tree house,” I said waiting for the answer we always got when we asked that question.
“You girls know how I feel about that,” said my Nana taking three loaves of bread out of the oven.
“Yes but…” I got down on my knees and put my hands together in front of my chest, Grace followed my lead.
“Nana, please? We haven’t had time to catch up and we won’t really at lunch because everyone will be talking with us or Jack or someone else. Pretty please with sugar on top?” I said sticking my bottom lip out.
“And cherries,” added Grace.
“Yeah, maraschino cherries,” I said.
“Ooo, and with whipped cream,” fantasized Grace.
“Yes and...” I started.
My nana laughed, “Alright girls, I get the point. I guess you can go to the tree house just this once-,” I sprang to my feet and hugged my nana.
“Thank you so much,” I cried.
Grace hugged my nana too.
“Yeah, thank you! We’ll do whatever you want.”
“Alright girls, you’re welcome, but this is the only time, now why don’t you scurry off or help us get lunch ready.”
I looked at Grace who shrugged, “Whatever you wanna do.”
“I don’t care.”
“Well neither do I.”
“Why don’t you stay in the kitchen and help us cut the bread,” said Julie, realizing that we would spend an hour standing in the kitchen and deciding what to do if someone didn’t tell us.
“Okeydokey,” said Grace.
My grandma handed each of us a bread knife and placed a loaf in front of us.
We both started slicing carefully.
When lunch was ready we both helped set the table. I rang the lunch bell and then Grace and I grabbed our plates, made our sandwiches and headed out the door. We walked behind the house following the same path we had to get to the swimming hole. When we got to the forest we walked along the edge for a little while then cut in about twenty feet to the rope ladder.
“How are we gonna get the food up there?” I wondered aloud.
“I’ll climb up until I can reach the top then you’ll hand me the plates,” said Grace having already put her plate on top of mine and climbed half way up the ladder. She climbed a bit further then said, “Alright, I can take the plates.”
I stood on my tip-toes and handed her the first plate. She opened the little hatch in the floor and placed the plate in the tree house carefully and reached down for the second plate which I gave to her. She placed that plate in the tree house and then continued climbing. Once she reached the top and had gotten through the hatch and propped it open, I started climbing up the ladder. The rope was rough and scratchy against my bare hands and feet but I had climbed the ladder so many times that I didn’t even notice.
When I got up to the tree house I looked around. Everything was the same. The floor was covered in a plush green carpet and in the corner stood a little desk with paper, pencils, tape, a stapler, rubber bands, thumb tacks, and everything else you’d ever need to have on a desk. There was a glass door that led from the tree house to the porch with little stained glass pieces hanging on it to stop birds from banging into it.
“D’you wanna eat and then zip line?” I asked eyeing the beginning of the zip line.
Grace followed my gaze and then smiled.
I sat down across from her and put my plate in front of me.
“So… what’s up?” I asked.
“Ok so you know how my dad got married to the French lady? Well she’s pregnant so I’m gonna have a baby half sibling which I’m super excited about.”
“That’s great! Do you know what gender it is?” I asked.
“Nope,” Grace sighed, “they wanted it to be a surprise.”
“Is the French lady nice?”
“Her name’s Claire and yes, but she’s like thirty and my dad’s forty five which is kinda awkward. Claire is really awesome and she knows all about fashion. She really understands me, like we can relate to each other which is really nice. She’s more like an older sister then a mom, but I really love her. Also I can talk to her in French so now I’m fluent, well kinda.”
“That’s really cool,” I said.
“Speaking of marriage and stuff like that, how’s your dad doing?”
“I dunno. I think that my mom was the right person and so he’s still getting over her but hopefully he will ‘cause otherwise he’d be very lonely when I go to college. I mean he has Marley, but she doesn’t really count.”
Grace took a bite of her sandwich and looked around thoughtfully.
“Your brother is very good looking.”
“I know,” I said sarcastically. “Just FYI, he has a girlfriend but she’s—,” I fake shivered and Grace smiled.
“Is she really that bad?” asked Grace.
“Yeah, she’s a blonde cheerleader type and she uses him. When I met her—,”
“Wait, when’d you meet her?”
“On Skype. I walked into Jack’s room to say hi and he was Skyping her. When I walked out of the room she said to Jack, “she’s ugly,” I said using a high pitched voice to portray hers.
“Ouch,” said Grace.
“Yeah, but I won’t let a stupid cheerleader faze me,” I said sitting up straight and starting to eat my sandwich.
“Lexi, let me just tell you that you are not ugly at all,” Grace said, then she popped the last bit of sandwich into her mouth.
We sat in silence and I finished my sandwich.
“You don’t have a boyfriend do you?” Asked Grace.
“Nope. All of the boys in my grade are disgusting. Some of them pick their noses and then eat it and besides, I’m going into seventh grade which I personally think it too young to have a boyfriend.”
“Like five year olds and I agree.,” said Grace.
“It’s pretty grotesque.”
“Nice vocab word, “said Grace.
“Thanks. I try,” I said.
“So, d’you wanna go zip lining?” Asked Grace.
I started to respond just as Graces cell phone rang.
“One sec,” said Grace, taking out her phone and flipping it open.
“Hello?” she said.
“Hey mom… yes… OMG seriously?! No way! Yup, we’ll be right over. Bye.”
“What?” I asked the second Grace got off the phone.
“Scott’s back!” She said grabbing her plate and starting to climb down the rope ladder.
“Really?” I asked.
Grace rolled her eyes and said, “no, I’m just kidding,” in a sarcastic voice. I smiled.
Scott had just finished his first year of college but then he had gone to Africa with his girlfriend and her family for a few months. I had been told all of this last summer by Scott but they hadn’t planned the dates, just what they were going to do.
I followed Grace and scurried down the rope ladder, remembering to grab my plate before shutting and locking the hatch. When I reached the ground Grace was waiting for me.
“Wanna race?” she challenged.
“Sure,” I replied knowing that Grace would never win because I ran a lot and she never did, but it was just for fun.
I started off heading towards the fields and the back of the house. Once I emerged from the bushes I looked back to see how far behind me Grace was and discovered that she was a better runner than she had been last year. I kept running with the wind cooling me down and the sun beating down hard on my back. When I reached the back of the house I ran around it to the front because that’s where the cars always parked. Sure enough sitting in the middle of the drive way was a car, but not just any car. Parked in the driveway was a shiny red convertible with the top off. Standing by the car were four people; my Popop, Scott, a middle aged man, and a girl who was obviously Scotts girlfriend. I stood and stared at the scene in front of me until Grace stood at my side panting. She nudged me,
“Well c’mon, don’t stare, let’s go say hello!”
“Right sorry,” I said running towards small crowd of people with Grace at my side. Scott was facing away from us so he didn’t see us coming.
“Ninja hug,” I said arriving at the crowd of people and hugging Scott from the back. He twisted his torso around to see me.
“Hey Lexi. You’ve grown like a foot since I last saw you.”
I smiled, “or you’ve shrunken… a lot.”
Someone laughed and I looked up to see Scott’s girlfriend looking at me and smiling.
“Don’t forget about me,” said Grace hugging both me and Scott.
“Uch, it’s you again,” said Scott sarcastically.
“Your girlfriend’s beautiful,” whispered Grace into Scott’s ear while she hugged him.
“Yeah, she is,” I agreed.
“Well it was a sight for sore eyes after spending my life with you two,” Scott whispered.
Grace punched Scott as we let go of him and stood at attention at his sides.
“Becca, Dan, these are my two um…” he paused trying to think of a good word to describe us.
“Sisters kinda?” I asked.
“Yeah, I guess,” said Scott. “This is Grace,” he said pointing at Grace, “and this Lexi,” he said pointing at me. “Grace, Lexi, this is my girlfriend Becca,” the beautiful girl gave a small wave to us and smiled. “And this is Becca’s dad Dan,” said Scott pointing at the middle aged man.
“Hi Grace and Lexi,” said the man shaking both of our hands. “Nice to meet you. We’ve all heard a lot about you. You know, Scott really loves both of you.”
I looked at Scott.
“Well I would’ve never been able to tell by the way he treated me,” I said jokingly. Everyone laughed.
“I don’t think I’m the only one getting hot out here so please come inside,” said my Popop. “Scott I think you’re parents are still working, they should be back by dinner.” My Popop turned and led the way into the house.
Grace and I went last following behind Scott and Becca.
“Becca’s so beautiful,” whispered Grace.
“I know, it’s totally unfair, but really Grace you can’t talk,” I whispered back.
Grace looked at me lovingly. “Thanks Lexi, that really means a lot coming from, but you can’t talk either.”
“I completely disagree but whatever.” I said walking through the door into the air conditioned house.
My Popop led the way to the dining room and sat everyone down, Grace and I included.
“Just wait here and I’ll let my wife know that you are here. I think she has a special treat for you.” My Popop got up.
“Popop, I can do it. Sit down and rest. Entertain our guests, I’ll get Nana, and the food,” I said getting up.
“Thank you Lexi,” said my Popop, sitting back down.
I hurried into the kitchen and was met by the smell of something delicious.
“Your Nana’s in the bathroom,” said Julie.
“Oh, did you make something for Scott’s girlfriend and her dad?” I asked.
“We didn’t have time but we just made lemon squares that were supposed to be dessert for dinner. I don’t think your grandma would mind if we served them to guests though,’ said Julie. She walked over to the counter and picked up a beautiful hand painted platter with nicely arranged lemon squares sitting on it . She also grabbed a few tea plates from one of the cabinets.
“Yum,” I said.
“Honey, there’s a pitcher of fresh lemonade in the fridge would you mind getting it and bringing it into the dining room?” Asked Julie.
“I’m on it,” I said. Grabbing the lemonade and a few glasses I followed Julie into the dining room.
“Oh wow. You really didn’t have to do this,” said Dan as we set the food and drink on the table.
“This really isn’t necessary,” Becca agreed.
“Well when you come to the Harrows you should expect no worse service,” said Julie.
“I’m Julie, one of the cooks, to some people I am known as Grace’s mom,” said Julie with a wink in my direction and held out her hand. Dan shook it.
“Nice to meet you.”
“You too. Eleanor should be here in a second but I don’t think she’d want you to wait for her,” said Julie walking back into the kitchen.
I took my place between Grace and my Popop.
“So girls, how old are you?” Asked Dan, taking a lemon square off the plate and biting into it.
“I’m fourteen,” said Grace.
“I’m twelve,” I said.
“And you are very good friends I assume?” said Dan.
“Sorry to interrupt but these are delicious,” said Becca before we could speak.
“Thank you, Eleanor and Julie would be very happy to hear that,” said my Popop just as my nana and Scott’s parents came through the door.
“Scott! We heard you were here and came as soon as possible because we had thought we’d never see you again,” said Robert, hugging Scott. He turned to us to explain.
“Scott always used to say that when he found a girlfriend he would force her to take him on a trip and never come back to see us. So when you weren’t here yesterday, we thought Scott was serious,” said Robert with a smile.
Scott’s mom, Lisa hugged Scott as well then introduced herself and Robert to Becca and Dan. They pulled over chairs and each took a piece of lemon square, then they started talking. Grace leaned over and whispered, “I think this might take a while, do you wanna go and do something fun?” I nodded.