Drenched in Light | Chapter 15 of 37

Author: Lisa Wingate | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 1767 Views | Add a Review

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Chapter 7
010
“You know, I was just thinking about something,” I mused after the door fell closed behind Mrs. Mindia.. “I wonder if there would be a way to partner the Jumpkids program with Harrington. Our storage closets are full of old instruments that could probably be made usable. Maybe we could even set up some Harrington students as volunteer instructors.” It was one of the ideas on the antidrug Web sites—get kids involved in the community. Give them activities that matter. Help them develop a sense of purpose.
Karen’s expression said, Oh, you poor little thing. You’re adorable, but you don’t have any idea what’s realistic, do you? It reminded me of Mr. Stafford. “I’ll be honest,” she said finally. “I’ve already tried the Harrington route, and I was shown the door.”
“Really?” I drew back, surprised. “I can’t imagine why, because part of the school charter is arts as a community service. Harrington kids are supposed to complete school and community service hours as a curriculum requirement. Back when I was a student, we did everything from concerts for famine relief to collecting school supplies for orphanages in Mexico.” I sounded like a tour guide, a Stepford counselor, describing the perfect school environment, full of happy, extraordinary, high-minded kids who wanted to make the world a better place.
One of the older Jumpkids, passing by on her way to the cafeteria, stopped to ogle me. “Pppfff,” she scoffed, with an in-your-face head bob that seemed far too grown up for a girl who couldn’t have been more than ten or eleven. “Harrington kids don’ leave Harrington, unless they goin’ by the buzz bomb stand to pick up some weed or score some bolt. And das the truth.”
Karen flushed. “Shamika, that’s enough. That was rude, wasn’t it?”
Pressing her lips into a straight, tight line, Shamika muttered, “Yes, ma’am. Sorry,” and hurried on to the cafeteria.
Karen apologized. “Naturally, the children here harbor some resentment toward Harrington. It’s hard to be where they are, watching the have-everything kids drive expensive cars, wear nice clothes, and carry instruments that cost more than the household incomes of families in Simmons-Haley. I hate to sound cynical, but I did try to get Harrington involved with the Jumpkids program last fall when Dell started there. I pushed pretty hard, and finally I was afraid I might be jeopardizing Dell’s situation, so I let it go. She’s had enough drama in her life this past year, and she’s adjusted so well, I didn’t want her to start having trouble at school.”
She’s already having trouble at school, I thought, and my mind began sifting through a complicated web of counseling ethics, confidentiality, school rules, professional confidences, and the overriding promise I’d made to Dell: What’s said in my office stays in my office. How far should that go? Where was the dividing line between communicating with the parent and betraying the child? The truth was that I didn’t know. A few semesters in a master’s degree program and a short internship don’t prepare you for what awaits in the real world.
Passing through the cafeteria with an armload of notebooks, Dell eyed us warily, and started in our direction.
Karen, her back to the door, kept talking. “No offense intended, but the powers that be at Harrington only seem to be interested in a certain”—holding up her fingers, she encased the word in invisible quotation marks—“kind of kid. I’ve had the nagging feeling that there are some who resent Dell’s presence there, in spite of the fact that she made it through the audition process, and she has an incredible talent. If she isn’t the kind of kid Harrington is intended to serve, I can’t imagine who is, but I get the impression some people think her being there might open up the floodgates to every underprivileged child with an uncommon talent. You’d think the admissions committee would be seeking out kids who need a leg up, but the former Jumpkids director told me she sent some talented kids through the application process, and not one of them was accepted.” Face tightening with frustration, she braced her hands on her hips. “Explain that to me, will you, because I don’t understand.”
I didn’t have an answer—not one I could share with a parent, anyway. Dell had come within earshot and was obviously listening, so I diverted the subject to something safer. “Maybe some donations of old instruments and student volunteer hours would open the lines of communication. People are afraid of what they don’t understand.”
Dell slipped into the hallway with us, her brows rising with interest as she propped the stack of notebooks on her hip.
“True enough,” Karen acquiesced, but her expression was doubtful. Absently, she slid Dell’s loose ponytail holder from her hair, smoothed the tangled strands with her fingers, and replaced the hairband. Kissing Dell on the top of her head, she leaned over to look at her. “What did you need, sweetheart?”
“Where do you want me to put the folders for the kids who aren’t here today?” Dell’s gaze darted toward me, making it obvious she was on a reconnaissance mission to see what her foster mom and I were talking about.
“Just put them back in the Friday box by the door. Thanks for passing them out. You’re a trooper. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
Flushing, Dell ducked her head, brushing off the compliment with a muttered excuse. “Guess I’d better go take care of these.”
Watching her wiggle free and turn away, I recognized that lost look in her eyes. People are afraid of what they don’t understand, and she couldn’t understand how someone could love her just for who she was. I saw that same uncertainty every time I stood at the mirror and gazed into the hollow face of the washed-up dancer who still wondered why her real father was a family secret.
“Are you stayin’ for dinner?” Dell asked, and my mind hopscotched back to the conversation. “It’s Shakey’s Kansas City Barbecue tonight.”
“Local restaurants donate our meals so that the kids can have a hot supper before they go home,” Karen explained. “Shakey’s takes care of us on Friday nights—chopped-beef sandwiches, usually. You’re welcome to stay.”
My stomach roiled at the idea of slugging down barbecue. Fat, sugar, salt. That would cause water retention. . . .
A door opened at the end of the hall, and Karen glanced up. “Well, look who else is tromping in, just in time for dinner.”
I watched a tall man in some sort of a uniform cross the narrowing stream of twilight as the door drifted shut behind him. He moved with an easy stride, whistling softly, glancing into classrooms as he passed.
“Hey, James!” Stuffing the folders hurriedly into Karen’s arms, Dell ran down the hall and tackled him with an exuberant hug. I surmised that the latecomer was her foster father, as they approached us, his arm looped loosely over Dell’s shoulders, her head resting near the wings on his airline pilot’s uniform. The captain’s hat was missing, though his salt-and-pepper hair still held the shape of one.
“Well, how are my girls?” he asked, as he stopped beside us with Dell still attached to his side.
“Good,” Dell answered, looking up at him adoringly. “I got my piano music for the spring concert with the symphonic.”
“Great. Think I can play it on the guitar?”
“Probably,” Dell replied cheerfully, sparkling under his attention.
James smiled back, the adoration between them obvious. “Great.” He chuckled. “We’ll just call the symphonic and tell them to book a duet. I’ve got a new Ovation guitar to break in.”
Dell’s eyes widened until white circled the dark centers. “Cool!”
“Another one?” Karen groaned, bracing a hand on her hip. “Geez, James, when you get that urge, you’re supposed to call your guitar-a-holics sponsor and talk until the need to collect more guitars goes away.”
Grinning, he kissed Karen’s cheek and whispered, “It was such a bargain,” then turned to me and introduced himself. “James Sommerfield. Sorry, I don’t think we’ve met.”
“Julia Costell. Nice to meet you.”
“Julia is Dell’s new guidance counselor at Harrington,” Karen interjected.
He blinked, seeming surprised, but not alarmed, at the idea of the school guidance counselor showing up unexpectedly. “Oh . . . great to meet you.” He pumped my hand before letting go. I noted his cheerful, open reaction. Clearly, any problems at Harrington were completely off his radar.
Slipping away from him, Dell frowned, ready for the subject to divert from school issues.
“Staying for dinner?” James asked, leaning to look into the cafeteria, where the sounds of food preparation were now under way. “I smell Shakey’s.”
“I’d love to, but I can’t.” Animal fat ground up and covered in brown sugar and ketchup. “I have to head home. I live out in Overland Park.” With my parents.
Karen seemed surprised. “Gosh, that’s a bit of a commute to Harrington, especially with rush-hour traffic.” Her look of parental concern made me think of my mother. “We looked at some places in Overland Park because we’d heard the schools were good, but after Dell was accepted into Harrington, we settled on a house in Prairie Village to cut down on the commute.”
“I might move closer in, eventually. I haven’t decided where I want to be yet.” True, so true. As usual, I skirted the issue of the house in Overland Park being my parents’ place. It was hard to gain respect from other adults when you were still living with your mom and dad. “But I don’t mind the drive to Harrington. It’s not that bad usually, and it gives me time to think about the school day.”
“I can understand that.” There was a load of unspoken commentary in Karen’s face, and for a moment, I thought we were going to enter another Harrington discussion.
“Well . . .” I backed out of the circle before things could heat up again. “I’d better go. Dell, thank you so much for inviting me. I’ve enjoyed this. What a fantastic program.”
Both Karen and Dell smiled, and Karen said, “Come back anytime.” She glanced toward the cafeteria, where the two elderly women who’d cleaned the tables earlier were now helping kids finish their journals. “Volunteers are always welcome.”
“I’ll see what I can do about getting some student volunteers, and I’ll definitely come back myself.” I stretched my back from side to side. “Mrs. Mindia gives quite a workout. Tomorrow morning I’m going to wake up realizing how out of shape I am.”
Karen, James, and Dell all looked at me in unison, thinking, no doubt, She’s thin as a rail; how could she possibly be out of shape?
I was suddenly uncomfortable. The scent of food, the discussion of where I lived, their bemused expressions had knocked me off balance. Under their scrutiny, I felt like an actor in a counselor costume. “Well, thanks again. It was fun. You three have a great weekend.”
“You, too, Ms. Costell,” Dell said. “Thanks for coming. See you Monday.”
“See you Monday. Nice meeting all of you.” Waving good-bye, I headed down the hall without looking back, or forward, right, or left. My mind filled with a swirl of thoughts from the day—Dell and her foster family, Harrington, instrument donations, student volunteers, Mrs. Morris, Mrs. Mindia and the Jumpkids, Shamika, who said Harrington kids went by the “buzz bomb” stand to score some bolt”, Red Instead Day, the girl in the river sitting with her baby brother beneath the trees. My sister’s wedding. Was it going to be indoors or outdoors? Day or evening? Long dresses or tea length?
Bett was getting married and moving away.
It didn’t seem real. I couldn’t frame the picture any more than I could imagine kids from Harrington High School hopping in their Beemers and Mustangs and making a buy on the way home. Yet Shamika seemed to know what she was talking about. She’d mentioned weed, buzz bomb, bolt—marijuana, nitrous oxide-filled balloons, and methamphetamine—three common drugs of choice for high school kids. Inexpensive, readily available, easy to use, easy to conceal. Deadly.
It was a difficult reality to reconcile, but during my time at St. Francis, I’d learned that accepting reality is important. Trying to run from it is like sprinting on water. No matter how much perpetual motion you generate, you eventually sink. I had to deal with this new reality, but what I really wanted to do was point the car in some direction, any direction, and just drive, and drive, and drive, until I’d left it all behind. I wanted to travel back to my life, my real life—the one in which I was living in my own apartment near the KC Metro studio, dancing, not dealing with my sister getting married and having a baby, or me living with my parents, or a school full of kids with potential drug problems.
But the car, of course, went home on autopilot. When I walked in the door, Mom was waiting with bridal magazines and a wedding-planner book from Dillards. Dad had disappeared upstairs to watch “one of those silly basketball games,” according to Mom. No doubt, she had booted him out so we could talk. He was probably also in trouble for letting me go AWOL this evening.
Mom would want to know exactly where I’d been and what I’d been doing. Her first question: “Hi, sweetheart. Have you eaten?”
I realized I hadn’t had anything since the salad at noon in the staff lounge. “Yes,” I answered. “Barbecue. I told Dad I was going to eat with the kids at the after-school program.” I glanced at the clock. Almost seven thirty. Surely, they’d eaten by now. “You didn’t wait supper, did you?”
“Oh, no, of course not.” Mom dismissed the question with a backhanded wave. Psshaw. We’re not waiting around to monitor your meals, Julia. We trust you. Honestly, we do. “We ate take-out Chinese with Bethany and Jason over at their place. I took a bunch of bridal magazines over to Bett. There’s some leftover in the fridge, if you’d like it.”
“Bridal magazines?”
“No—Chinese food. Very funny.” She didn’t laugh, as she normally would have. In fact, she looked exhausted. “I’ll fix a plate for you.”
Slicing my hands back and forth in the air, I backed away. “No, no, don’t get up. I can fix myself something.” With a suspicious frown, she braced a hand on the sofa arm to pull herself up, so I added, “I’ll bring it back in here and we can look at the bridal magazines while I eat.”
“All right.” She scooted back into her seat, satisfied with the idea of watching me eat Chinese while perusing the pages of Perfect Bride.
I hoped I could stomach both.
“I don’t know how we’re going to plan a wedding less than in a month,” she muttered as I left the room.
I wasn’t sure whether she was talking to herself or to me, but I answered anyway. “Don’t worry about it, Mom. Between the three of us, we’ll get it done.”
“I can’t convince Bethany to settle on anything,” Mom called as I opened the fridge and took out a half dozen full containers of take-out Chinese. Clearly, Mom had overordered to make sure I’d have plenty of choices. “She hasn’t even picked out dresses.”
She just told us she was getting married yesterday. “I assumed she was going to wear your dress.” Ever since she was little, Bett had been pulling Mom’s dress from the linen closet, putting it on, and dreaming of the day.
“Oh, that old thing?” Mom was coming down the hall. “It’s in such bad shape—stained, and there’s a tear under the arm. Some of the lace is moth-eaten and the seed pearls are God knows where. We’d never get it in shape in time.”
Investigating the food containers, I selected fried rice and a fortune cookie before Mom could fill my plate with wontons and sweet-and-sour pork. Wa-a-ay too fattening.
“I think we could get the dress ready,” I said, putting away the extra food, and quickly turning the conversation back to wedding details. “There’s a cleaner downtown that specializes in restorations and alterations. I noticed it today, when I was driving to the after-school program. I could take the dress by there Monday morning, and see what they can do.”
“I don’t know that it’s worth it.” Mom eagle-eyed my plate as I stuck it in the microwave.
“Of course it is. It’s your dress. It’s special. It has history.” It bothered me to hear her call the dress she had worn when she married my dad, the dress she had designed and sewn herself in the wardrobe studio where she worked, “that old thing.” Was that what she was thinking the day she wore it—that it was nothing special, that the day was nothing special? Was she merely doing something she felt she had to do, because of me? Where was I at the time? There were no pictures of Mom in the dress, Dad in the suit, and me. There were no dates on any of the photographs, and in the album the wedding came first, and then my baby pictures. But if you looked closely enough, you could see that my baby pictures weren’t taken at Mom and Dad’s first house over on Hollyhock Drive. In the pictures of the day she brought me home Mom’s hair was long. Long blond hair, flowing over her bare shoulders in a flowered summer maternity dress. Her hair was short in the pictures of my first Christmas, then longer again on my first Easter, then short in the wedding photos and in my first birthday pictures, where suddenly my dad was at the party, standing with me and his new wife.
Hair does not grow long and short and long and short again that quickly. Apparently, Mom never thought of that when she arranged the album into a format that would look proper for guests, neighbors, and other people who did not know our family secret. . . .
I realized I was standing there, staring at Mom. Stopping the microwave, I pulled out my plate, and we sat down at the breakfast table in the kitchen. “So, let me take the dress to the cleaner downtown on Monday,” I said, stirring up the rice. “It isn’t even out of the way. Just a few blocks from Harrington, right next to the school I was at this afternoon.”
“Oh, it’s all right.” Mom watched the food travel from the plate to my mouth, and then somberly waited until I swallowed, as if talking might distract me from taking in calories. “I’ll find a cleaner here, if that’s what Bethany wants.”
“Mom, please. Let me . . . I can handle this, all right?” I set down the fork, and she focused on it with foreboding, no doubt thinking that the pressure of dealing with Bethany’s wedding dress might cause me to relapse. “You have enough to do.”
Putting on her Polly Sunshine face, Mom batted her lashes, like she couldn’t imagine what I meant. “Oh, goodness, no. I’m fine. Everything’s under control.” Her voice cracked on the last word, and she offered a pasted-on smile, trying to sell me her fineness like swampland.
“You’re about to have a nervous breakdown,” I countered, grabbing the fork and holding it up, so that she would focus on me instead of the food. “Just relax, Mom. Everything’s going to be fine.”
Her pale blue eyes met mine—my eyes, my color. The same eyebrows, the same hair. The same need to keep things under control. Everything wasn’t fine with you, her gaze said. You fell off a cliff, and I wasn’t there to catch you until it was almost too late. “Things have been a little off keel lately, that’s all.” It was a surprisingly honest admission, for Mom. Eyes glittering with moisture, she focused out the window. “Too many . . . unexpected changes, all at once.”
Patting her hand, I took another bite of food, because I knew it would make her happy. “We’ll muddle through.” That was Grandma Rice’s famous quote. Anything she didn’t like, she muddled through. “Tell you what: I’ll call Bethany in the morning, and we’ll take her out shopping. We’ll do the mall, look for bridesmaids’ dresses, go by the flower shop—all that stuff.” The idea settled in my mind, painted with a watercolor wash of dread. “We’ll get everything picked out in one day—like a marathon. We’ll tell her she can’t go home to Jason until we do the whole checklist.” Raking up another bite of rice, I stuffed it into my mouth, even though it tasted old and I didn’t feel like eating anything else. “Gosh, I’m starving. This is good Chinese.”
Mom was pleased. Resting her chin on her hand, she smiled and said, “I told Bethany and Dad you’d need something by the time you got home. No sense going hungry.”
The comment pinched, because, unless she could monitor my eating, she was convinced that I was starving myself. I pretended to concentrate on finishing the rice. Nice to know everyone was talking about me while they were supposed to be planning Bethany’s wedding.”
Drumming her fingers on her chin, Mom toyed with the corner of a napkin. “So, where was it that you went this afternoon? Dad said you were working late at school? You had a barbecue there?”
My chest convulsed in an involuntary chuckle, and I snorted up rice, then coughed and grabbed a glass of water. A barbecue at school? Sometimes, I had a feeling Mom heard only half of what we said; then she filled in the blanks like pieces of a crossword puzzle. “I went by an after-school arts program at an elementary school near Harrington. One of the students I’ve been counseling invited me. It was nice—I ended up having a really good time. This Jumpkids program is something special, amazing really. They serve some of the most underprivileged children in the city, and they do fantastic things with them. The kids are grateful for the opportunity—not like the students at Harrington, who take it for granted that everything is going to be handed to them. It’s . . .”
I stopped talking, and Mom never even noticed. She was glassed-over. “That’s nice,” she said, when she realized the conversational ball was back in her court. “Do you think it’s safe to be hanging around that part of town at night?”
“It’s fine,” I muttered.
“Maybe we should do silk flowers . . .” Mom mused, squinting at a basket of fake roses on the cornice above the kitchen cabinets.
Joujou scratched at the patio door, and Mom didn’t react. I glanced over, surprised. Joujou was out in the backyard alone. At risk of kidnapping and attack by giant rodents. What was going on?
“Joujou’s outside.” I waved my hand in front of Mom’s face. “Joujou’s outside.”
Jerking upright, Mom came back to earth. Slowly rolling her attention to the sliding glass door, she walked over to let Joujou in. “Oh, I know. She’s fine out there. This morning, she kept scratching at the door, and I was busy trying to book the country club for Bethany and Jason, so I just let her go out.”
“This morning?” I gaped toward the door. Even though sun had come out in the afternoon, I couldn’t believe Mom had left her baby on the patio so long—especially now that it was dark, and getting nippy again. “She’s been out there all day?”
Mom lifted her hands helplessly. “I had so much to do. This way, she’s not underfoot. She has water, food, and her house out there. The sunshine is good for her.”
Wonders never cease. Mom had finally lightened up on Joujou. Maybe there was hope for the rest of us. Slipping the remaining rice into the trash while Mom was busy asking the dog about her day, I broke my fortune cookie in half and unrolled the paper slip, first looking at the Chinese characters in red ink, then turning it over so I could read the English side.
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
CHINESE PROVERB

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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