Third Wheel

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

Jane and Cleo. They're together. They got things going for them. They are happy. But they are never alone.

The dark cloud slowly crept up to the sun. It wouldn’t be big enough to turn this day gloomy nor dark, but it was enough to steal away some sun-rays. Enough to force Jane to remind herself to take her umbrella later today. The kitchen window was dirty, she could not remember when they cleaned it last. Had it been after the moving-in party? She could not remember but then again, it was not really important. The window was dirty and it needed cleaning. Actually, this whole kitchen needed some hot water and lemon scent. 

A soft cough made her focus on the person sitting across from the table. Cleo looked at her with that same expression that haunted her daily. Her brows slightly raised, eyes glazed with worry and her jaw tense; knowing it should keep still but wanting to break loose so badly. She could not blame Cleo. Her worries were justified but she had told her that she felt good today. Yet, who was she to explain her feelings when she felt like two different persons at the same time? Cleo broke their stare, a slight feeling of victory started building in Jane’s stomach but it wasn’t for long. Cleo just started focusing on her own plate, acting like she was not aware of the reasons why Jane was staring at her. Well, nothing was wrong, right? Cleo had told Jane that everything was fine as long as they were healthy, as long as she was healthy. Jane told her that today was going to be a good day, that she loved her and that was what she wanted to hear so she did not ask any more questions. But if today was really a good day, Jane would have been able to look at her girlfriend eating, to hear her teeth grinding the food. The sound was hypnotising. She detested the sound itself and its hypnotising effect. The crunching, forceful, loud sounds of teeth mutilating food. Over. And. Over. Again. 

“Darling, are you listening?’

“What?” It came out a little too aggressive, a little too loud. Cleo had been talking to her for a while, judging from the eye roll that followed. A scan of Jane’s face followed the roll. Then her shoulders, her arms, her hands and then her eyes again which she quickly directed at the table. She was tense, too tense and the knot in her chest kept tangling. She had lost focus, her body confiscated by her thoughts once again. But her thoughts weren’t hers, she knew that. She knew that her thoughts in this exact moment were not her own, that this was not who she was. These thoughts seemed to come from outside her, but she could not locate the source. She was so aware of it, so rational but once they took over, which they almost always did, it was as if she lost all that she had learned about herself. Her eyes focused on the table, in this way she prevented having to see Cleo or the walls coming closer to her. The table was not clean either. Cleo had tried to wipe the coffee stain, but it still remained there on the cloth; invisible to the unaware eye. Jane remembered the fit that caused that stain and felt another one brewing; it never took long once Cleo had rolled her eyes. Cleo focused on her own plate again; a deep sigh and forceful stab with her fork in some of the scrambled pieces of egg followed. A few clung to her fork which she put in her mouth after grazing her teeth on it like fingernails on an old chalkboard. Jane’s shoulders rose up even further, tightening her muscles and sending a shiver through her body. Her hand stopped her fork from tapping on her plate as she had started to do, another sign of her not being okay. Cleo knew that saying something would be useless. Yet, she also knew that saying nothing would be ignoring Jane showing her that she was not actually having a good day. 

“I just asked you if you were going to finish your plate before it got cold.” She lied. She had tried to ask her about her plans for the upcoming day before. But Jane kept staring at the table with those absent eyes. Clouds had formed in her mind, blocking any kind of rational, logical thought forming in her mind. Cleo watched Jane’s face, searching for signs that she could talk to her and actually have her listen to her. But found none. Her eyes only got darker, as if the table showed her its deepest secrets. Cleo sighed again as she watched Jane’s face; it was completely frozen but so tense that the brain behind it could only be trying to make sense out of every thought entering from any direction thinkable.

Jane looked up, she felt the stare before she saw it. Shivers down her spine. That stare, not that overprotective stare again. They had concluded that she was fine, that they were fine. Oh, great. She decided to intensify the stare, not only her eyes participating but her compressed, tense lips joined in too. The look full of worry, as if she would break under the weight of her own fork. One piece of egg, two pieces; she ought to be able to lift them up to her mouth without breaking an arm. The stare made her nauseous; she did not help. The fork was halfway there, she could smell the egg; even more nausea. She realised her eyes were closed and that made her open them abruptly. Was it even egg that was on her fork? 

“It’s pure fat, can’t you see the oil dripping off?” A third voice sounded, clearer than before as if the person from whom the voice originated was sitting right next to her. She could also clearly hear rain slowly tapping on the window. Maybe that cleaned the dirty kitchen window. Jane directed her eyes at the window but a figure distracted her. It was sitting there in the corner. On the chair that was normally only used for guests. Yet, the figure sat there as if it had been always its spot.

“You don’t want to put all of that in your mouth, now do you?” It smiled, but not a smile of happiness, one of persuasion; the eyes didn’t smile they just stared at her with such intensity that another shiver was sent down her spine causing her to drop the two pieces of egg. She lowered her fork again, focusing on her plate, playing with the pieces of egg. Cleo started talking again, but her voice was too soft to overrule the figure in the chair. The window. Jane looked past Cleo as if she was not even there anymore. Maybe Cleo wasn’t, but it was more likely that Jane left this room. The dark cloud took over all that was previously blue now, she definitely needed an umbrella later today. Today. Today was good. She was aware of her hand guiding her fork up and down her plate, moving the pieces of egg aimlessly over its surface. Her foot tapped nervously on the floor but it wasn’t nerves that caused it to move. She didn’t even know when she had given the signal; the aim was clear though, her muscles already felt tired from the constant pressure. She switched legs, her right one wasn’t as fast but the focus she needed to keep the tapping rhythmic was welcome. Any distraction that did not come from the eerie figure in the chair was welcome. She could feel the cold it spread over the room, her fingers turned even more blue under their nail polish. Cleo wouldn’t notice, she never did but this was one of the things that Jane’s mind would focus on, judge it as a token of success. The figure smiled its smile again, it blinked slowly while nodding its head once. The figure noticed the blue too and decided to lower the temperature even more. Jane’s hand started shaking, she put down her fork and grabbed her mug. The coffee was lukewarm, a welcoming sensation. The coffee woke her up like it always did, but it also made her hands quiver even more. At least, it made her feel something besides cold. She focused on her plate again, picked up the fork and arranged the egg pieces carefully around the bread she had placed in the middle of the plate so that it could soak up the slimy fat. The fork holding the pieces of egg it had collected found its way to her mouth. The crunching, forceful, loud sounds of teeth mutilating food followed. Even louder than before, her eyes closed but that only made the sound louder. The taste was unbearable, oil and fat. Was this how egg was supposed to taste? 

“Fat. It’s just fat. Wipe off your lips. Use the napkin. Don’t swallow yet. Yes, good, get that fat out of your mouth. You don’t need it.” She swallowed, laid the yellow stained napkin on the table. Her left hand embraced it to hide it and she felt another hand embrace hers. The warm, soft fingers of Cleo laid on the top of her hand, her thumb carefully caressing hers. The warmth felt good. Jane didn’t dare to look up, knowing Cleo's stare would be there. The figure in the corner coughed loudly, but she didn’t dare to look up, knowing that also that stare would be there. The pieces of egg also stared but they didn’t have eyes so it was easier to look at them even in all their greasiness and slime. One bite, two bites, three bites, four bites, five bites. Cleo’s thumb kept caressing hers, the figure in the chair kept making noises but no words were to be heard. Four sips of water. Three deep breaths. Two seconds. 

“I am done.” Cleo sighed, Jane put her fork down. Her plate was s little emptier than before, but that was only noticeable if you would actually weigh it. The bread laid in the middle, soaking up the slimy bits of the scrambled egg that was scattered around and on top of it. The bacon had remained untouched, its grease was thick, sticking on to the plate. Cleo saw it too, she saw the untouched bacon, the egg trying to hide the bread and how few pieces of scrambled egg were missing. But it was okay, today was a good day. No tears, no screams, no fight. She stood up and took the plates from the table to the sink. She opened the bin and shoved the remnants of her own breakfast and Jane’s whole breakfast in there. Everything about this felt wrong, but the broken coffee cups next to the bin told her otherwise. They reminded her to be careful with her words, even more careful with her actions. Five sugar crystals had accidentally dropped in Jane’s cup from the spoon on its way there. Cleo hoped Jane had not seen it, but she did, she always did once sugar started moving. Cleo had pretended it did not happen, enraging Jane. Cleo was trying to poison her, make her teeth fall out, cause her a heart attack. Cleo knew that day was not good and yet she pushed Jane, threw her over the edge. Jane had swept both coffee cups over the table to the wall where there was still a coffee stain visible for everyone to see. Luckily, the kitchen counter had gotten the big wave, but the wall was still dirty. Cleo used the hot, soapy sponge she was using for the dishes to try and get rid of the stain on the wall. She started scrubbing swiftly, almost scratching of the linoleum tiles. 

“Stop it,” said Jane annoyed. “It’s ruined.” Cleo thought otherwise, scrubbing even faster, causing bubbles and brownish foam to appear. The sound of a chair being shoved against the wall was heard and Jane stood up fast, stumbled to Cleo and hold on to her arm holding the brown sponge. 

“I said stop it.” She needed the full strength of both her arms to hold on to Cleo’s moving one. If she wasn’t already shaky enough, these movements weren’t helping. 

“I can clean it,” Cleo said. “It’s no bother.” She pushed Jane away with a single shove and continued the rapid movements she was making before. The whole kitchen now smelled like lemon and coffee. 

“You don’t need to fix everything!” Jane shouted while grasping the counter. Her fingers were white, her fingertips were red and her nails blue. Her face was pale, but her cheeks flaring red and if her eyes could change colour according to her emotions, they would appear like blood-red moons. Now, they were wide open, light blue as ever and staring at Cleo. It was the same stare she had yesterday after shoving the coffee from the table. Anger, distrust, both telling Cleo that she was not supposed to be here. That she was the third wheel in this situation. But then, Jane broke the stare; just for half a second she was distracted by something behind Cleo who started to turn around but Jane’s arms on her biceps stopped her. 

“Don’t,” she said resolutely, confusing Cleo even more. Jane’s eyes screamed panic, a thin layer of tears started to dwell up in their corners. She sniffed shortly, swallowing heavily. The grip on her arms was strong, her nails dug into Cleo’s skin but neither of them seemed to notice. The tears building up in Jane’s eyes were telling more than any fit of anger she had in the previous days. Also, her eyes were no longer focused on Cleo but rather on that something behind her that she was not allowed to see. Jane released Cleo’s biceps from her grip, moving her arms over her ribs, to her back and on opposite side to her ribs again. Cleo bridged the gap between their bodies and sighed in relief once they touched. Jane’s tears found their way down her cheeks, her shoulders started shaking and her breaths became gasps following each other increasingly faster. She wanted to close her eyes, lose herself in Cleo’s embrace but the figure on the chair held her hostage of its stare. It spelled out the words with its mouth, no sound but it was enough to make them appear as clearly as on a white page with black ink. You don’t deserve her. You will lose her. The creature started smiling wide. Its lips continued writing words in the air as they did not go along with the corners of the mouth which only made the smile more ominous. It held out its hands, clawing with its fists like a baby reaching for a toy that’s held in front of them. The figure slowly stood up, never losing eye contact nor reducing its smile. Jane’s gasping turned into hyperventilating, she held on to Cleo even tighter who responded by tightening her own grip and started to caress Jane’s back with her hand. Jane started squeaking due to the lack of oxygen and inability to scream as the figure was closing in on Cleo. She could not scream even if she was physically capable, this would only excite the creature. 

“Baby,” Cleo started, both her hands now caressing Jane’s back sensing that it slowed down her breathing a little bit. “We are her in our kitchen. Together.” One hand moved to Jane’s neck and started playing with the soft hairs that were too short to fit in her ponytail. She tugged at a few of them intermittently, not too hard but enough to have Jane feel it. “We are here. The two of us, you holding me in your arms, me holding you, we are real.” Jane’s breathing came in gasps again, her legs gave out under her body and Cleo slowly led the both of them to the floor. The tiles were cold, but it was manageable. Cleo sat against the counter, Jane laid against her safely in her arms. Whatever it was that scared her so much this morning, Cleo knew that Jane would wake up in her arms, knowing that they will protect her, knowing that Cleo is still here for her, that she herself is on this world, in this kitchen with Cleo. She could not hold her tears back; a sense of accomplishment was being eradicated by failure inside her. She felt hopeless, pushed out, locked up behind walls. But here, in this exact moment, Jane was safe. Cleo kissed her temple lovingly, hoping that the love she felt for this girl could somehow warm her heart and awaken her feelings. Whether that worked was unclear, but the kiss did bring back Jane. 

“Don’t leave me here alone.” Jane’s voice was quiet, there was no energy left in her body. Cleo tightened her grip again, caressed Jane’s arm with on hand, the other stroked her wet cheek. She placed more soft kisses on her temple.

“I am not going anywhere without you.” 

This breakfast has been one of those moments that Jane had hoped Cleo would have stopped her. That she would have forced her to eat. To beg her to speak. Was it wrong for her to wish that? To hope that she would demand her to finish her plate. Or even better, that she would scream at her, be mad at her. Do something at least. Something more than standing at the sidelines while she had to fight all alone. 

Or maybe she agrees with us, maybe she thinks you’re hideous too. The squeaky voice sounded softly from the hallway; the figure was further away than it was before but kept affirming its presence. Jane didn’t dare to look up, she felt somewhat safe in Cleo’s arms and looking at the creature would make it more real than it was. Today was a good day. 

“I love you,” whispered Cleo in-between her kisses.  

“She lies,” hissed the creature. “She always does.” Jane shook her head, hitting Cleo’s mouth with her temple who had not seen her as her eyes were closed after a ray of sunlight decided to peek through the clouds exactly where Cleo was sitting. But neither of them cared about the pain anymore when Jane turned around in her girlfriend’s arms so she was facing her and started kissing her passionately. Stealing this intimacy felt like a crime to her, the figure would never have allowed her to kiss her girlfriend, but the act was not incited by thoughts. It was either committing this crime or suffocating in her own misery. She needed Cleo. She craved her strong arms around her like a wall protecting her from the world inside her that she could not handle right now. She was her way out. Cleo's kisses would untangle the knots in her most vital organs, her heart, her throat, her stomach, her brain. Cleo’s touch made everything around them fall away into a void. 

“Don’t leave me here alone,” whispered Jane in-between their kisses. 

“I am taking you with me wherever I go,” replied Cleo. 

“Just the two of us.

Submitted: March 08, 2021

© Copyright 2021 Mayra Lynn Assink. All rights reserved.

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