He was nine years old that summer and often in the way. Living several miles outside of town, he’d had no one within walking distance to play with other than his little brother. But Matt was more interested in following their father around all day and learning how to run a dairy. Jake would help with the daily chores and the milking, but his heart wasn’t in it. He was easily bored. His father had talked about sending him to summer camp, but, for now, Jake contented himself with visiting his next-door neighbor and best friend, Zelda McAllister.
He was a regular visitor at McAllister Farm. He liked going there because Zelda always had treats for him like cookies and popcorn and homemade root beer. And her foreman, Mike, taught him how to build things. Jake loved the smell of sawdust, the busy sound of a hammer pounding nails. The year before, he’d helped Mike build a birdhouse and then a whirly-gig to frighten the deer away from Zelda’s rose garden. And, although Zelda and her husband, Andrew, didn’t have a dog, Jake built a doghouse anyway.
One breezy June day, after he’d dismantled the white picket fence around Zelda’s house before hammering it back together again, Zelda said, “You need someone to play with, Jake. And I know just the boy. My oldest son and his family are coming to stay here for the summer. They have a boy the same age as you.”
“Yes. His name is Ethan. And he has a little brother, Nate, who’s five. And they have a sister. Annie. She’s almost seven.”
“Oh. A girl. That’s too bad.”
Zelda laughed. “You’ve met her before, but you were too little to remember. They’ve been living on the other side of the country for a few years. And now they’re going to live in San Diego. All of the children will be staying here while their mom and dad find a new house. They’ll be here next week. Make sure this fence is put back together by then.”
On the appointed day, Jake shot like a rabbit across the fields and the creek to Zelda’s and hid behind the blackberry bushes close to the house. He watched as a big car pulled up in front of the house. A man and a woman stepped out, followed by a little blond-haired boy wearing glasses, then a taller boy with brown hair. The last to appear was the girl. She hopped out of the car and gave her grandmother a hug before swinging her head around to study the house and the property with an air as if she owned it.
She’s just a tiny little thing, was Jake’s first thought. But she acts like she’s taller than her brothers.
As if she could hear him, the girl ran towards his hiding place. Her eyes narrowed when she spotted him crouching behind the bushes. “Hey!” she shouted. “Who’s hiding back there? Come on out!”
Zelda chortled. “That’s Jake.” She waved a beckoning hand.
He sauntered out from his hiding place, his face carefully set in a blank, if somewhat aloof, expression. Zelda set a hand on his shoulder as she addressed the other children. “This is my neighbor, Jake Lancaster. His father owns the dairy ranch next door. His brother, Matt, is a year younger. He’s showing a steer at the fair this week.” She nudged Jake forward. “Jake, say hello to my grandchildren. This is Nate.” She nodded at the littlest boy. “And Ethan. And this is Annie.”
Jake nodded. “Hello,” he said stiffly.
“Hi,” they replied in unison.
The oldest boys looked at each other, then at the ground. Nate went over to his mother and hugged her leg. Ethan scuffed the toe of his sneaker in the dirt. Everyone was a little awkward except for the girl—Miss Bossy, Jake immediately dubbed her. She glared at him, her green eyes belligerent, hands fisted on her tiny hips. He noticed that her hair was golden and shiny like the wheat in one of his father’s fields. He wanted to touch it. Instead, he slid his eyes away and pretended to ignore her.
An excerpt from Annie and Jake
Copyright © 2018 Margaret Desmond
This post is in response to the Daily Prompt: Awkward