Three for Good Measure

Staten Island-photo by Christine Osinski
Staten Island-photo by Christine Osinski


Duncan’s View of Things

If anyone saw us three together now they wouldn’t believe who we were once. I wouldn’t, either. It wasn’t meant to be any more than a summer of something to do. At least that was it for me. I had just moved into the mobile home park, Oaks Division, sounded like I lived in the suburbs. Nobody was under fifty, all with grey hair and sad, sour faces. Except dad and me, of course. He said it was only temporary, we’d be out of there and into a good place in two shakes of a stick but you know how it is. He had issues with work and people. He liked playing the dogs or horses, that’s how he made and lost thousands, so he’d try to get jobs at the racetrack. Convenient. It went like that for a few months, him with the poor animals, and me trying to make it at another school. Sometimes we both lasted a year. I didn’t expect anything else.

I did attend every day even though I had to catch a bus. I liked learning new things, primarily math, and meeting new kids. I bet you thought different, me being sort of transient. But I’m getting ahead of myself. First thing we found a beat up bike tossed on a corner. Dad fixed the bent parts and I patched up the tires. I took off early on week-ends, before the streets got too busy and cars honked like I was nuts to be cruising along minding my business. That’s when I ran into Tracee and Jolynn.

I didn’t even know these facts yet, but they were at Jolynn’s place. She lived with Grandma Jess, big as the worn-out ranch house and good with her hands. She made amazing bacon, potato and cheese pies for the diner and baby clothes for a children’s shop. Jolynn had a love-hate thing with her. I could tell right off when I skidded to a stop by the girls. Grandma Jess was yelling at Jolynn and she yelled right back.

“I’m not doing the washing again! I just did it yesterday and the day before and today I’m hanging with Trace! And now here’s a new boy coming over so I have to check him out.”

Grandma Jess stuck her head out the window, then waddled outdoors.

“Jolynn, that’s one less thing for you, missy. Next time you want a favor, count me missing!”

She looked me over, said hello.

“Grandma Jess, later!” Jolynn shooed her and the big woman moved on while waving at me.

I returned Jolynn’s hard stare. If she’d been a big guy I’d have narrowed my eyes at her, walked over, puffed up my chest. Instead, I leaned on my handlebars. Little did I know.

“Hey. What’re you up to?” I said.

Tracee shook her long hair off her face. “We’re not waiting for you, that’s for sure.”

The way she laughed didn’t convince me. She had a bright look that said she was interested in everybody who came by and maybe she’d talk to me more. Jolynn still didn’t speak, just looked at me as she scratched her elbow, maybe a major bug bite. I came closer.

“Close enough, Rooster.” She didn’t bat an eye.

“Rooster? My red hair? That’s a new one!” I grinned to see if she’d ease up a little.

“That’s your name if I like you. Rooster. If I don’t, I’ll call you…what’s your name, kid?”

“Rooster might be better than my real name! But I’m no kid at thirteen.”

Jolynn perked up. “Oh, what would that name be?”


“Two good ones! We can call you Dunc or Rooster!”

It was like I’d made the cut by having ridiculous names to call out.

“When did you enter our turf?”

“Yeah, I haven’t seen you around all summer. Are you here to stay or just to rent a cabin on the lake?” Tracee came forward and cocked her head.

“I wish. A fancy cabin, sure thing.”

Her eyes were shining like two violet diamonds. I told my dad that later and he laughed, said I was going to end up a poet if I didn’t watch myself. But they were. She had something special. I didn’t mind being closer.

“Trace, either you back up or I’ll go inside. I’m not all about this dude until we know what’s what.”

Jolynn then gave me her thorough once-over. I felt like my skin was peeled, but she was interesting in an irritating, clever way.

“Okay, Jo, but he seems okay by me. He’s got copper hair, he’s friendlier than most boys and he’s nicer by far. So far.”

There I sat on my bike, yet they acted like I wasn’t there. I was about to forget it. I was at nobody’s mercy, certainly not girls’. I put my foot on the pedal and started off fast.

A long, shrill whistle came flying after me. I stopped and looked over my shoulder. Jolynn was gesturing at me to come back. I half-turned around. No one was going to whistle at me and have me running back. I crossed my arms, tensed my jaw and waited. I didn’t want to look mean but I did want to look like I was my own man. Friendly, yes, but not a doormat.

The girls waited a few seconds, then they looked at each other and walked over like they were approaching an ice cream stand and it was time to test a new flavor.

“If you wait a minute, we’ll get our bikes and show you around,” Tracee said.

“And you’ll fill in some blanks, right, Rooster?”

We were twelve and thirteen. There were more blanks and answers ahead. If I had known what they were, I might have kept on riding and missed all the mad fun. But I didn’t and twenty-five years later here we are, back again. A splashy celebration of three kids who made good on oddly auspicious connections. Then made their way out. Way out.

Tracee’s View of Things

I knew he was from down the road. I had seen him once before, riding his bike at sunset, his arms straight out from his sides. He was coasting and looking at trees and maybe those vibrant colors in the late August sky. It was unusually warm, the colors extra rich. He didn’t see me. I was walking with our Irish Setter right after I had had a fight with Jolynn. Again. She could act like a grown up sometimes, playing big boss, and no one could contradict her even if she was wrong. I accepted it sometimes, sometimes not; I had known her all my life. Grandma Jess was brave to take her in at age three and do everything her mother should have done. That my own mom tried to do and failed at, at least fifty percent of the time. It was all about work for her and after-hours socializing. But she tried to love me, praised me sometimes. Both counted, I guess.

Maybe I felt the missing-parent hole in Dunc, too, that first glance at him. That he had some trouble. That life was a breeze if you pretended hard that it was. I was very good at that; I possessed an imagination that wouldn’t quit. Before long, though, I saw he was the real thing, an optimist. He looked at life with the expectation that it would be better tomorrow, whether or not it panned out. I had to coax myself along, played the role of cute girl, smart but primarily cheery. Trained myself to look at things with an open mind so as not to miss the best moments. Dunc, he liked being alive naturally. And that was impressive to Jolynn and me.

The day we met formally Jo and I had been trying to figure out how best to maximize the time left before school. I wanted to work on art, as usual. We sometimes bought a huge poster board and then put our skills together and made a giant collage that covered my wall. Or a montage, pictures only. Or I’d make my own poems for it. She went along as she grumbled. She cut things out of magazines and I decided which was a good enough picture and figured out where to put things. Then we pasted together.

“It’s like being in school only worse because we don’t have to do it, you just make me do it,” she complained.

“If I’m going to be a designer I have to work at it the ways I can! You don’t have to help me. You can watch, give me a critique. You love to do that.”

I just laughed when she punched my shoulder.

“I’d rather be your second-class assistant than sit there and watch you cut and paste all day. I’d fall dead asleep. My vote is for swimming every morning. And we should bike out to the overlook twice a week. I want to be in shape for volleyball and basketball tryouts.”

I smirked as my hair fell forward. She always had to exercise, it was her religion; her muscular legs, proof. If something was good, you made it better by exercise. If it was bad, you made it disappear by exercise. If boring, you ran or biked or swam and everything was beautiful in a perfect dripping-sweat way. I only half-agreed, part of the time. She had to charge ahead. I needed to take my time, create.

Jo was fidgeting that minute as Dunc came up, her sneakered right toe drawing in the dirt over and over. She sent off a neighbor kid who for some reason liked to bother Jo.

“I know who he is. Saw him last week when walking at sunset.”

“You did?” he commented.

“You know everybody, Trace. But that doesn’t mean I should, too. If he’s the stupid or bothering type, I’m outta here. You can chat away.”

“Shhh, be nice!”

“That hair will for sure mark him at school. A bull’s-eye in under an hour.” She elbowed me, smirking.

“Aw, cripes,” Dunc muttered.

Jolynn could be hard. I could imagine her making rude comments in the hallways, even though she might like him. I had to keep her in line if this kid had any chance at all.

It turned out he didn’t need me to keep Jo in line. He knew a lot about getting by in life. He was smart if a little behind in English. He was so easy to talk to I didn’t even realize I was yapping until I had said too much. We learned things together, all three of us. The balancing acts in our lives tipped often but we readjusted. Drew closer. Fate, I believe, visited us that day and gave us each other.

Now we’re back home for something special. So many detours, failures, yet here we are. I had my dreams and two best friends. But who would have thought it led to this?

Jolynn’s View of Things

Rooster rode right into my yard as if he didn’t believe in private property. I knew right then that he’d be trouble but he’d be my friend, but I didn’t want to let on. I let him into our tiny circle little by little, test by test. Told him what was what and saw how he’d fit into the whole.

After we made small talk Trace and I took him up the steep trail to the lake overlook. That was the first test and he passed with flying colors. He nearly beat me. Trace was panting and yelling at us to slow down. Rooster and I reached the top of the hill and yelled, “I won!” in unison. He was riveted by the scenery.

“I beat you but nice try,” I said, admiring his being a sport about it. Enjoying the tiny sailboats below.

“Try? It was at least a tie. Wow. That’s pretty.”

He checked on Trace. Her dark hair was flying through a veil of dust as she rounded the curve and made it to the top, coughing. He acted as if he was concerned. He had no right to be concerned yet, if ever. Tracee and I went back to preschool. He had been around all of twenty minutes. But this was the usual: Trace and art and guys, me and sports, both of us sworn to sisterhood forever no matter what. Rooster would get that or get out. If I let him hang out.

I was born a tough girl, or thought so. Grandma Jess repeatedly told me I would attract what I put out. She should talk. She was both giver and taker, herself, and if you weren’t on her good side, well, love was just another bad word. But we both would fight to the death for each other. Her spirit was big, bold but basically decent. Mine wanted to be more like hers. That way I wouldn’t slip down the rabbit hole like my mother, land in a place of no return.

Trace had a good one. Her mother worked every day at a law office and made her dinners about as tasty as Grandma Jess’ and told her she loved her. But she had her secrets. Trace and I didn’t know what they all were but one was that she had a boyfriend who was over twenty years older and in a wheelchair. He had power and property and two grown kids. The town thought he was a retired judge living the life of a recluse. No one seemed to know about them but us–we followed her mother once–and Trace swore me to secrecy. But she was kind. Like Trace. That counted for more than honesty if I could have admitted it.

We each saved the other. From discouragement. From ourselves. Then we went on and lived lives bigger than we’d planned. I got a phone call: we were summoned by the mayor for a day of celebration.

We now get a newly paved street named after us. Can you imagine? Jo Duncan Trace. “Trace”, the noun, also means a path or a trail made by animals or people who passed that way. My name, then my husband’s–yes, we hit it off well, eventually–then my oldest friend’s name. Nicely done.

All three of us now turn to face the back of the mayor’s balding head and try to catch his lengthy speech. The sunshine is lighting us up as we look over the crowd. People are waving at us–the parents, too– and whistling. The mayor waits until voices have quieted so he can continue.

“The three honored here today used lessons learned over the years both here and in far-flung places. They fashioned themselves into fine examples of perseverance, driven forward by remarkable talent and the will to succeed. They have used their skills and used them for the good of others as well as their vision and goals in the movie business. They are our very own native son and daughters! It is an honor that they have become leaders in the independent film industry.”

I stifled a yawn and tried to look thrilled. Trace knocked her knee against mine, just barely, and I tapped hers back with mine. Duncan was smiling to beat all; I knew that without looking. We had, after all, come a long way. Were being honored by our hometown: Legacy in Time Studios, an independent film company, was seeing impressive profits while making very good stories. I ran the company and Duncan, my husband, kept the money flowing. Trace developed and oversaw a multitude of projects.

We make our feisty trio work. Since that day Rooster interrupted us, life became more intriguing for us all. Much better at the heart of it. That was really the whole point from the start.




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