Drenched in Light | Chapter 23 of 37

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

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Chapter 15
018
Inside the main chapel, Karen and another woman were busy setting up rudimentary props for what looked like a production of Alice in Wonderland. Karen introduced the other woman as her sister, which was obvious because of the family resemblance.
Even without the physical similarities, I would have quickly determined that Karen and Kate were sisters—only sisters talk to each other that way. Friends require a certain level of politeness, little niceties and conversation makers. Sisters get right to the point. Only half as many words per sentence are necessary. The rest comes from unspoken understanding and common life experience. Watching Kate and Karen laugh and joke with each other as we constructed the theater set, I felt a pang of missing Bett. Standing next to a giant Styrofoam toadstool, I was momentarily overwhelmed by the fact that I was losing her. In two weeks, she would be married and moving away.
Bett would have loved helping with the Jumpkids production of Alice in Wonderland. When we were little, she always wanted to play storybook dress-up with my dance costumes. Even though she didn’t pursue ballet after the first grade, she still loved the performance outfits. The one from Alice in Wonderland was her favorite, but I was always stubborn about letting her wear it. Now, I wished I’d let her be Alice every time she wanted to. Our years as sisters and playmates went by faster than I’d ever imagined. Now we were grown-up, and life was sweeping us into an entirely new phase, taking us to unknown places.
I wanted to speed home, burst into Bett’s bedroom, wrap my arms around her, and tell her I loved her and she couldn’t move away.
Dell came through the side door, and I wiped my eyes, feeling silly. She frowned as I dabbed my face with the remodeled bathrobe that would soon clothe the Queen of Hearts.
“Sorry,” I said, laying the bathrobe over my arm and reaching into the prop box for the queen’s crown. I was supposed to be sorting out the costumes, not musing over Bett’s life changes. “I was thinking about my sister getting married and moving away. I was having a little moment.”
“Oh.” Dell was still perplexed, the way kids are when they realize that—oh, my gosh—schoolteachers have actual human emotions beyond simple anger and irritation. “Well . . . ummm . . . you should get this thing we’ve got on the computer. You can call each other up and talk and see each other on the screen, and everything, and it’s all free. Karen and Kate do it all the time.” Before I could stop her, she’d hollered across the stage, “Karen, what’s that computer thingy we’ve got where we can talk on the phone?”
“Phonefamonline,” Karen answered, then paused to glance over her shoulder, and added, “Why?”
“Ms. C needs it.”
To my horror, everyone turned to look at me, standing there clutching the Queen of Hearts bathrobe, wiping my eyes. “Sorry,” I said sheepishly, feeling like a complete moron. Terribly unprofessional, crying in front of a student and a parent. “My sister’s getting married in two weeks and moving to Seattle.”
Karen and Kate seemed to understand perfectly. Girl thing. Sister thing. They made pouty lips at each other, then lamented, “Aaawww,” in unison. Karen got misty eyed, and Kate, whom I didn’t even know, came across the stage and gave me a sympathetic hug.
Dell joined in, patting my shoulder and saying, “I’m sorry, Ms. C.”
I began to blubber in earnest, babbling on about my sister, and how she was going to be so far away, and of course I was happy for her, and Jason was a great guy, but I was losing my sister. . . . And so on, and so on. All the things I couldn’t say to Mom or Bett.
Karen walked over, and the three of them stood consoling me, while I drenched the Queen’s gown, vaguely aware that when I finished, I was going to feel so idiotic that I would have to make some excuse and leave. I would never be able to face these people the rest of the day.
“What’s this, Steel Magnolias?” A man’s voice came from the back of the room, and I wanted to turn to vapor and dissipate out the back door.
“Keiler!” Dell squealed, and I registered the fact that Dell’s friend Keiler was here, and he wasn’t a little kid.
Kate withdrew from our circle of sympathy. “You made it!” she said, as Dell jumped off the stage and ran across the room.
“What happened to the hopelessly broken-down car?” Karen asked. She kept her arm around my shoulder, and I realized I was about to be introduced.
I couldn’t remember the last time I’d felt so ridiculous and completely undignified. Fortunately, Dell delayed our meeting by tackling Keiler with a hug. I wiped my eyes furiously with the bathrobe, taking in the guy in the stocking cap with Mental embroidered on the front, a Ski Red River T-shirt, woefully wrinkled khaki hiking pants, a hiking boot on one foot, a multicolored walking cast on the other, and a guitar case slung across his back. He stumbled sideways, catching Dell and bumping the guitar case against one of the pews.
Karen gaped at the cast. “Well, I guess now I know why you’re back here helping us before ski season’s over,” she commented, still keeping her arm over my shoulder, as if she’d forgotten I was there. “What happened to your foot?”
Dell let go, and Keiler righted himself, mussing her hair with a lazy movement that was both playful and sweet. “Tried to catch a kid falling off the ski lift.” Holding out his hands with a few feet measured between them, he added ruefully, “Big kid. I did a good job of breaking his fall.”
“Oh, my gosh.” Dell leaned down to investigate the nylon-and-Velcro cast, and Keiler pulled off his ski hat, dropping it on her head. “Eeewww!” She squealed, tossing the hat on the pew, then slapping a hand to her mouth. “Oh, my gosh, you cut off all your hair!”
I wondered how much hair Keiler had before, because from where I was standing, he looked like he still needed a haircut. The thick brown mass came out of his ski hat, sticking up in all directions, seeming to have a will of its own.
He shook it out, grinning good-naturedly at Dell. “Got bored in the hospital. Did it myself. What do you think?”
“I don’t know . . .” Dell mused, standing back to survey the haircut.
It looks like you did it yourself, I thought.
“That’s what the nurse said.” Keiler ruffled Dell’s hair again, then grinned and winked toward us.
I found myself smiling back. It would have been impossible not to like Keiler. The dusty, silent room came alive the minute he walked into it. He was like Tigger from the Winnie the Pooh, stories immersed in a cloud of lovable insanity.
Dell led him, limping, onto the stage, and made the introductions. When Keiler Bradford shook my hand and smiled, I felt like there wasn’t anyone else in the room. He had a charisma that was unrelated to looks, fashion sense, or haircutting skills. He was simply authentic—that was the clearest way I could categorize it in my mind. His brown eyes sparkled with a magnetic enthusiasm for life.
“Guidance counselor?” he questioned, lowering a brow at me. “You don’t look like a guidance counselor.” In any other context, I might have been offended, but Keiler made it sound like a compliment, as if I must be something better than an everyday guidance counselor—Super woman or Helen of Troy. Someone far too extraordinary to have a regular job.
“Today she’s our dance instructor,” Karen interjected. “Mrs. Mindia couldn’t come.”
“Well, that makes more sense,” he said as he unstrapped his guitar and set it on a chair. “You look like a dancer.”
I could have sprouted wings and floated right off the stage. For the first time in months, I had a sense of being myself again, as if everything I was and everything I’d worked for hadn’t died that day on the dressing room floor. Even now, I looked like a dancer. When Keiler Bradford said it, I believed it was true.
Dell jumped in with confirmation. “Ms. Costell studied at Harrington . She was, like, with the KC Metro and everything.” Lifting her hands, she let them fall against her thighs with a slap. “She helped us with Jumpkids the last two Fridays, and she’s, like, such a good dancer. I wish I could learn to be like that. Ms. C is way cooler than the other teachers at Harrington, too—well, except maybe for Mr. Verhaden, because he’s cool, too—but Ms. C tutors me at lunchtime, so she’s my favorite of all.” Dell snapped her lips shut, probably realizing two things. One all three of us were gaping at her, shocked by the flood of words; and two she had just slipped up and revealed the fact that she needed tutoring.
Karen met my eyes with a questioning look, and I tried to act nonchalant. If Karen asked about Dell’s grades here in front of everyone, I had no idea what I would say.
The back door opened, allowing a spray of light into the chapel, and all three of us turned to look, relieved to have the conversational cloud puffed away by the inflow of fresh air. I suspected that none of us wanted to delve into the weighty subject of grades and tutoring right here on the Alice in Wonderland stage.
A teenage African-American girl came in with a toddler on her hip, then kicked the door shut behind her and swaggered up the aisle with copious attitude.
“Hey, Sherita.” Dell exited our circle and quickly walked a few steps toward the newcomer.
Nodding in response, the girl surveyed the stage, her gray eyes narrowing skeptically. “So what we doin’ this time?”
Alice in Wonderland,” Dell replied hesitantly, watching for Sherita’s reaction.
Pressing her full lips together, Sherita nodded toward me. “You Alice?”
I chuckled at the joke. “Ummm, no, I’m not, but I could probably arrange for you to be.”
Sherita grinned, clearly impressed that I wasn’t intimidated by backhanded adolescent humor. “That’d be some sight—a nappy-headed black girl playin’ Alice. I don’t do that little British schoolgirl accent too good. Anyway, I wanna be the evil queen. I can get with that off-with-their-heads stuff.”
“Man, isn’t that the truth,” Keiler piped up.
Sherita did a quick double take, a broad smile lifting her face. “Keiler Bradford? Where’d you come from?” Taking stock of his rumpled outfit, she stopped when she reached the cast. “What’d you do to your foot?”
Keiler rolled his eyes wearily. “Tried to catch a kid falling off the ski lift. Big kid.” He spread his hands farther this time, the rescued kid growing like a trophy bass in a fish story.
Sherita laughed. “Well, you’d think a dude with a education from New York University would know better’n that. You don’t never, ever get between a fat boy and the ground. Don’t they teach you that stuff at NYU?”
Keiler shook his head, and the rest of us chuckled.
Sobering, Sherita checked out the stage again. “Meleka’s gonna be along for day camp in a little bit, but I gotta watch little brother for the day.” She hiked the toddler onto her hip like what she really wanted to do was bounce him off into the eaves somewhere. “Can Myrone be a toadstool or somethin’ in the play?” She glanced toward Karen for approval.
“Sure,” she said.
“All right, then. I’ll stay.”
“Great.” Karen seemed completely unaffected by the surly reply. “Kate’s kiddos are back in the nursery with some of the church volunteers. Why don’t you take Myrone back there for now? Myrone and Joshua can practice being toadstools together, and you can help us with the setup or the registration table, if you want.”
Sherita shrugged as if it didn’t matter to her either way, then turned on her heel and headed from the room, in a hurry to be rid of her little brother and moving on to something more interesting.
Keiler noticed me watching her go. “Don’t worry; she’s more lovable than she seems at first.”
“Most of them are.” That was the guidance counselor in me talking.
Keiler seemed surprised. Under the blond hair, there is more than just a dancer.
The idea caught me unprepared. For most of my life the dancer part of me was all that mattered, but standing here talking to Keiler Bradford, NYU grad and fashion-challenged ski lift operator, I liked the concept of being a competent professional.
“Guess you got your car fixed,” Dell said, and I realized that both Keiler and I were lingering there watching Sherita carry Myrone away.
“Nope,” Keiler answered, reaching into the costume sack and fishing out a pink headband with the White Rabbit’s ears on it. “Traded my old ride in for a Harley. It was hard to say good-bye to the green Hornet. She’s been a good car, but her time had come.” Popping the ears onto his head, he smiled, looking like a cross between a ski bum and a deranged Easter bunny.
Sherita stopped at the door, glancing over her shoulder. “A Harley? You got a Harley?”
“You traded the green Hornet for a bike?” Dell breathed, spinning around and heading toward the door. “Cool!”
“I gotta see this.” Sherita started after her, with Myrone already making engine sounds in her arms.
Bounding off the stage to follow them, Keiler hit the floor with a thud, then doubled over and gritted his teeth, grabbing his leg.
“You’ve got a cast on your foot,” Karen reminded him cryptically.
“Yeah.” He sucked in a breath with one eye squeezed shut.
Karen motioned toward the cast. “How in the world can you ride a motorcycle with a cast on your foot, anyway?”
“Oh, hey, not a problem.” With a shrug, Keiler headed up the aisle. “It’s a walking cast. Amazing how lightweight these things are now. Keeps my foot warm, too. I’m thinking, since I’m in this thing for four more weeks, maybe I’ll paint it black and get that full-blown biker look.”
“You don’t look like no biker,” Sherita observed, giving a sassy chin wiggle as she stopped to hold open the door. “If you’re comin’ out here with me, you gotta lose them rabbit ears. I ain’t bein’ seen on the street with no giant Energizer bunny.” Keiler grabbed his ears defensively, and she slid out the door, letting it close in his face.
Winking over his shoulder, he grabbed the handle and disappeared into the sunlight, leaving behind the momentary shadow of a very tall White Rabbit with a bum leg.
“I adore him,” Kate said, laughing as she began attaching a fake tree to the wall. “I absolutely adore him. If I weren’t a married woman and ten years older, I would snap him up.”
Karen rolled her eyes. “Yeah, you two could bum around the country, operating ski lifts by day and playing guitar in tourist traps by night.” She was teasing, but the comment had a bite to it.
Kate gave her sister a scornful look. “Oh, Karen, leave the boy alone. He’s enjoying himself. Might as well do that while you’re young.”
Shrugging, Karen pulled a clipboard from her briefcase and started checking off items. “I just thought, after working with Jumpkids last summer, he’d be inspired to do something a little more . . . serious. By twenty-six, most people have some idea what they want to be when they grow up.”
“He’s been working with the Indian school out there in New Mexico, and helping with the Special Olympics. That’s serious.”
Karen continued checking her list, then finally said, “You know what I mean. It’s a shame to take a biochemistry degree and use it to operate ski lifts. He’s so smart. Think what he could be doing.”
“He wouldn’t be happy in some office.” Kate glanced, toward the door as a Harley roared to life outside, the sound rattling the building. “I can’t picture Keiler in a suit and tie. Whatever happened to seminary school, anyway? I thought he was going to seminary in Dallas.”
Karen sighed like the parent of an unruly teenager. “Said he decided not to go. Said he didn’t feel he was being led in that direction . . . something like that.”
“Well, he’ll figure it out.” Kate went back to work. “There’s a special purpose for someone like him. He’ll end up being president of the UN or ambassador to Africa, or something.”
“He probably will.”
“I’m glad he’s here, anyway.”
“Me, too.”
“How long is he staying?”
“He didn’t say.”
Where is he staying?”
“He didn’t tell me that, either.”
“I’ll call Ben and have him get the guest room ready at the farm.”
“That’s probably a good idea. Although, knowing Keiler, he might have brought a tent and figured on camping out. In February.”
Kate chuckled knowingly. “Once a free spirit, always a free spirit. I’m just glad he’s flitted our way for a little while.”
“Me, too,” Karen agreed.
As Jumpkids camp slowly revved up to full speed, it became clear how much Keiler was truly needed. The building filled with excited kids, and he was the center of their attention. They were fascinated by the tale of the ski lift accident, and by the Harley. When they lost interest in that, Keiler amused them with funny skiing stories.
The day fell into a comfortable, if occasionally frenzied, rhythm as we moved through the process of registering children who came to the camp from Hindsville and surrounding towns, assessing their various talents and interests, then dividing them into groups with Wonderland-appropriate names like the March Hares, the Cheshire Cats, and the Mad Hatters. I began my day with a dozen White Rabbits, who ranged in age from six to nine, and were the wiggliest bunch of dancers I’d ever worked with. Fortunately, their part of the program was uncomplicated, as was the entire production, a one-act Alice in Wonderland directed by an on-tape narrator and designed to be learned in a single day, then performed the next day. Dell stayed to help me with the dance class, which was good, considering that I didn’t even know the steps.
Keiler poked his head in the door just as the White Rabbits were finally falling in step. “Snack time,” he announced. My dancers promptly mutinied. Scampering from the stage, they clustered around him, trying to pull off his rabbit ears and asking when they were going to his station down the hall, where he’d been teaching the March Hares to play simple percussion instruments.
Holding his rabbit ears in place, Keiler shrugged toward the door. “I guess if nobody’s hungry, I’ll just leave. If these White Rabbits were hungry for some bunny chow, they’d be lined up at the door, ready to go to the fellowship hall.” The kids promptly fell into a squirming column. Counting them off in eenie-meanie-miney-mo fashion, Keiler chose a little boy named José as the line leader. “Ok, head ’em out, José,” he said, and my dancers marched off like the Queen of Heart’s playing-card soldiers.
Keiler motioned to Dell and me. “Time for snacks.”
Glancing pensively toward the hall, Dell shook her head. “I’m gonna stay here, ’Kay? I’m not hungry.”
He eyed her sideways. “Dell Jordan, not hungry? Since when?”
“I’m just not, all right?” she returned sharply, and both Keiler and I blinked in surprise. “Sorry,” Dell muttered, her eyes hooded.
“ ’S all right.” After studying her a moment longer, Keiler turned toward the door. “Your next group will be here in about . . . twenty minutes.”
“Thanks,” I said, then waited for him to leave before speaking to Dell. “Are you sure you’re not hungry? It’s been kind of a long morning already. A snack and a soda might be just the ticket.”
“I don’t want anything,” she insisted, sounding less than convincing because her stomach was rumbling audibly. In that flicker of an instant, a dozen thoughts ran through my mind. Why would she deny being hungry when she obviously is? Why does she want to stay here instead of going to the snack room? What if something deeper is involved? I’d been about her age when I’d started obsessing about food—my body just beginning to develop the curves of a feminine figure.
Don’t jump to conclusions, I told myself, but deep inside me was a fear that my problems could be spread like a contagious disease, and just by being around me, someone else might catch it. “Dell, is something wrong?”
Sighing, she focused on her hands. “I’ve got two nine-week tests on Monday, because this week’s the end of the grading period. English and science. The study sheets are huge. I can’t learn all that stuff by this weekend.”
“How long have you known about these tests?” It occurred to me, of course, that we could have been studying for the past several days during our tutoring sessions.
“I don’t know.” Crossing her arms, she turned her shoulder to me evasively. “The teachers just told us Friday.”
Even though the seventh-grade science teacher was young and inexperienced, and I couldn’t stand Mrs. Morris, I knew that probably wasn’t true. “Was it on the chalkboard?”
“I dunno . . .” she muttered reluctantly. “I guess so . . . maybe. But we had Jumpkids after school all week. I was gonna study this weekend.” Her gaze fluttered upward, caught mine hopefully, then sank again.
“When, exactly?” I asked, trying to sound gentle, nonjudgmental, to lead her to form her own conclusions rather than hammering her over the head, as my parents would have done to me. “Because it sounds like you’re tied up with minicamp all day today, then church tomorrow morning, then Jumpkids performance after church. When were you going to study?”
Flyaway strands of dark hair caressed the smooth cinnamon skin of her cheeks as she sighed, despondent at the reality of it all. “In between . . . stuff.” Another hopeful glance fluttered my way, saying, That’ll be enough, right?
I wanted to tell her yes. Yes, you can spend the weekend singing and dancing in Wonderland, helping underprivileged kids whose schools offer no music classes, and then Monday at Harrington, things will magically work out. Instead, I dosed up reality like castor oil. “You know that’s not going to do it. Come on, Dell. Achieving passing marks this grading period is going to take some serious work, and you’ve been doing it. You can’t whiff on it now just because there are other things you want to do.”
“Karen needs me to help with Jumpkids.” Uncrossing her arms, she flung her hands into the air, then let them slap to her thighs. “She didn’t have anybody this weekend, and—”
“Dell.” I cut off the litany of excuses. “Karen would understand, but the fact is that you’re not telling her you need more time for your schoolwork. As wonderful as Jumpkids is, you can’t spend all day at Harrington, and all afternoon at Jumpkids, and, I suspect, all evening practicing your instrumental and voice pieces, and expect to pass your classes. Classes come first, and then all of those other things.” How many times had teachers told me that—class comes first, then dance? I never believed it. At a place like Harrington, you quickly learn that the performance is what really matters. The rest is just window dressing—everyone assumes you’ve got the basics down, and nobody wants to hear otherwise.
The problem was that, in Dell’s case, the basics were about to bring everything else to a crashing halt.
“You need to tell Karen and James the truth,” I said softly, laying a hand on her shoulder.
Her eyes met mine, soulful, pleading. “Can’t you just help me? With the tests, I mean? If you help me get through these exams, then the next nine weeks, I’ll work harder, I promise. Please.”
“Of course I’ll help you.” I sighed. “But you need to tell Karen and James the truth. You need to be honest with—”
“I’ll get my backpack.” She was gone before I finished the sentence, bolting like a caged rabbit making a dash for the escape hatch.

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

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