Community service. The ol’ judge had assigned her to community service. The thought of picking up garbage had been disgusting, but not as disgusting as the mental ward.
Andrea VonStratton was stuck with the psychos.
As it turned out, it wasn’t the mental ward exactly, but a day care for “special needs” teens. Andrea was ushered into a room of teenagers playing on the floor like toddlers. A Mrs. Hardy filled out the never-ending state paperwork and handed her a nametag that said “Volunteer.” As if.
“You came at a good time. Everyone is quiet.”
Good time? Yeah right.
The lady waved a hand. “Why don’t you mingle and get to know everyone?”
Ha! Andrea sat in the farthest corner. She wasn’t convinced this was better than jail. At least the hours were better; two hours three times a week for a few weeks. She supposed she should be grateful the judge had given her leniency since it was her first shoplifting charge.
Andrea VonStratton wasn’t grateful for anything.
“Are you sad?” One of the smallest girls stood almost in her face. Andrea recoiled, but the girl seemed unfazed. “You look… lonely.”
Oh great. She was being psychoanalyzed by a psycho.
“I’m Kara. Who… are you?” Her speech had an odd rhythm to it.
“And…weh. Come. I will show… you around.” To her horror, the child slipped her short fingers into Andrea’s hand and pulled her towards a table. “Here.” She slapped a green crayon onto a crumpled, but blank, paper.
Andrea folded her arms. “I am an adult. I don’t color.”
Kara stared, aghast. Then she took on a teaching tone. “Grown ups…do too… draw! Look. Tim-oty draws.” She pointed to an older boy. “He’s. Vewy. Good.” Her words were emphatic.
Timothy bent over the paper, seemingly oblivious to the commotion around him. He was a good artist.
Andrea VonStratton did not use crayons, talented Timothy or no.
For two weeks Andrea endured the volunteer work that was anything but voluntary. For two weeks Kara shadowed her everywhere she went. Then Andrea exploded.
“Just lay off, would you? Leave me alone!”
Kara regarded her. “What’s… wrong?”
Andrea growled under her breath. “I just don’t want to be here, that’s all..”
She wasn’t expecting the look that came into Kara’s eyes. “You don’t…. want… to be here?”
“No! And you know what? Fifteen more minutes and then I’m finished. And good riddance to you all.”
She slammed the door on her way out. Slammed the door on Kara’s hurt.
Andrea VonStratton slammed the door on her heart.
For the rest of the month, she ignored her conscience knocking on that door. She busied herself trying to catch up on all the gossip and “hanging out” she had missed during her probation. In the mall one day, she found herself eyeing a digital camera.
One of her friends grabbed her shoulder. “You stupid? Tryin’ to get thrown in jail this time?”
Another friend mocked, “Maybe she wants more time with the retards! Just can’t get enough of them, can you?”
“They aren’t retards!” An emotion Andrea didn’t know existed boiled to the surface. “Some of those kids are smarter than you’ll ever be.” She stomped away.
It was more from spite than anything else that Andrea turned her nose up at her friends the next day, and announced that she was not going to the movies.
Andrea VonStratton returned to the day care center voluntarily.
Kara approached her with the forgiveness of a child. They settled at the table. Kara looked up with big almond-shaped eyes. “Why… did you have to come… help here… if you… didn’t want to?”
Andrea looked away. “I did something bad. It was punishment.” It hurt to say, to tell the girl she had only come because she’d been forced.
Quiet for a time, Kara drew a purple crayon idly across a page. “Sometimes… when you’re bad… it makes you sad… and then you’re glad…” She seemed unaware of her Dr. Seuss-ness. “And then… you…” Apparently she had confused herself.
“Do you mean,” Andrea felt the words out slowly, “That sometimes when you have to do something you don’t like, you discover that it really is good?”
“Yup.” Kara smiled.
An orange crayon stared up at Andrea. She picked it up and drew a bold line on the paper.
“I’m glad… you came… back.” Kara leaned a head on Andrea’s shoulder. “That… is good.”
Andrea VonStratton agreed.
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