Episode 040

Melinda’s Story

“It feels weird,” I decided as Sarah and I headed to the dining all Saturday morning.

“I know. I feel like I should be getting ready for class or sleeping in. I can’t remember the last time I had breakfast in the dining hall.”

“Wednesday. Well, that was me. You? it’s been a while.”

The dining hall was a lot more crowded than it normally was for breakfast. After getting our food, we found a table in the smaller section. After a few bites, Larry, Andy, and Walter joined us. By the time Walter finished his first plate of eggs and had moved on to his pancakes. Ava had joined the table.

She scowled into her bowl of cereal. “Ugh. You would think that if they were going to make us do physical labor, they could at least let us sleep in a little.”

Andy wiggled his eyebrows. “They did. On a normal Saturday, I’d have already had math and be sleeping through Spanish by now.”

I giggled, but Ava just made a sour face and changed the subject. “I hope I get into one of the groups that’s picking up trash. I would love to use one of those little grabber things.”

Walter actually swallowed before speaking. “Um, I doubt they’re using those. I think you just go around and literally pick it up.”

“Eewwww. Gross. Okay. Then, I guess I’ll rake. I can just push the rake around and not really get too dirty.”

I smiled at her. “Have you ever raked before?”

“Of course.” I guessed by her tone that she was lying.

I shrugged. “I haven’t. Well, I think I played with a toy rake once or twice, but I’ve never actually raked leaves. When I was little, we only had one tree in our yard. Actually, I think it was our neighbor’s tree, but the leaves fell onto our property and my dad raked it because my neighbor was like seventy-something, maybe older. Then, we moved and there’s no trees where we live now.”

“We have landscapers,” Sarah replied casually. “They come with the lawnmower and leaf blower. When I was little, they would leave leaf piles for me to jump in. But, once I started going away to school, they stopped. The piles would blow away before I came home on the weekend.”

Larry shook his head. “You’re lucky. We lived up against a little forest. My dad would always wait for me to come home and make me help him. I got the ride the lawn mower, which was cool, but I also had to rake what it missed. Come to think of it, I don’t even remember him helping me last year.”

Andy shrugged. “Dre and I don’t have any trees. Our backyard is the middle school playground. There’re some fir trees, lining the property, but nothing that sheds. But, sometimes we would help rake at our grandparents’ house. Dre actually likes it. I think she’s excited about today.”

We all turned to Walter for his story. He sent us a confused look. “What? I’m with Sarah. We have landscapers. I don’t even know if I’ve ever picked up a rake. Wait. Do those little ones at the beach count? I had one of those when I was little.”

Everyone except Ava laughed. I checked the time.

“We better get going. I brought a water bottle to fill at the dispensers.”

No one else had thought to do so. I bussed my tray and went to fill my bottle. I found Sarah and Larry waiting for me just outside the servery.

Sarah led the way down the back stairway. “We thought we’d wait for you.”

Larry nodded. “Andy needed to get away from Ava. They’re in the same physics class or something. I know she irritates him.”

Sarah giggled. “Sometimes I think Walter feels the same way.”

I tried not to laugh. “That’s not nice! It may be true, but it’s not nice.”

Larry looked at me. “Is it? True?”

I didn’t respond right away. I didn’t want to gossip about Walter. I sighed. “He’s never come right out and said anything like that. But, sometimes I get the impression he may be avoiding her. I’m not sure, though. It’s just a feeling I get sometimes.”

Walter nodded. “I get that same feeling, too.”

Sarah smiled. “Maybe we should find him a better girlfriend. There’s this girl in my English and math classes—”

I glared at Sarah as we joined the rest of our class on the field. Mr. Price’s wife, Clarissa, was yelling into a bullhorn.

“Everyone find your groups!”

Sally came to check on me and my friends, doing a quick roll call before moving to the next group. It wasn’t long before the entire third form was marching along the road that ran between the MAC and the chapel.

A couple of blocks off campus, we reached a large tree-lined park with a monument that looked like a smaller version of the Washington Monument I had seen on television. The obelisk was surrounded by a small garden and I could see writing on its base, though I couldn’t read it. In the distance, I saw tennis courts and a playground, both of which were vacant. A sign welcomed us to Veteran’s Memorial Park.

Clarissa used the bullhorn to announce that everyone should again form their groups. Sally did quick headcount when she joined me and my friends, then pointed to a specific section of the park.

“Go rake that area. I’ll bring you leaf bags in a little while.” She pointed to the parking lot. “See that Hartfield maintenance truck? There are rakes in the bed. Go visit Mr. Jepson.”

Sally moved on to the next group without waiting for a reply. I glanced at my friends. “Who’s Mr. Jepson?”

I was met with a round of shrugs. Rolling my eyes, I led the way to the truck.

Mr. Jepson was wearing jeans and a black tee shirt that said Hartfield Maintenance beneath a picture of the school crest. I took a wild guess that he was part of the mainenance department. Maybe he was one of the people who mowed the lawn during my math class every Tuesday.

He was standing beside the open tailgate of a beat up pickup truck. The bed was overflowing with rakes of various sizes. Some were metal, some were plastic. Some were straight, some were fan-shaped. Some had short handles, some had long handles. His voice boomed over the din of students approaching him.

“Everybody grab a rake.”

I had no idea what the difference between them were. When Paige grabbed a plastic fan-shaped one, I did as well. So did everyone else in my group. We headed over to our assigned area and got to work.

I had a lot more fun than I thought I would. The sun was warm and it wasn’t long before I removed my sweatshirt. I wasn’t the only one to do so.

After about an hour, we had more or less finished raking our leaves, creating a pile that was as big as a child’s plastic pool and almost as tall as me.

“Hey, Melinda! Come here a sec.”

Sarah was standing near the pile. I put down my water and went to see what was wrong. “What’s up?”

“You have a leaf in your hear. Here, lemme help you.”

When I took a step closer to Sarah, she pushed me into the pile. I struggled to my feet. Sarah was too busy laughing to see Larry coming at her. After pushing her in, he cannonballed in after her, nearly landing on her.

Soon, all our hard work was ruined. Leaves scattered everywhere as we all took turns jumping into the pile. We were pushing each other, too. Grabbing each other and throwing them into the leaves.

Before any of us could stop him, Andy launched the person beside him into the leaves. We all held our breath as we waited for Sally to emerge, dusting leaves and debris from herself the best she could.

She burst out laughing. “I can’t remember the last time I was pushed into a leaf pile. That was kind of fun! Anyway, here are the bags I promised you.” She pointed to the pile she had dropped when Andy grabbed her. “When you’re done, you can leave the bags here and Mr. Jepson will collect them later.”

Sally walked away, but I held my breath until I saw her speaking with the next room.

Beside me, I heard Andy give a sigh of relief. “I can’t believe it. I thought for sure I would be expelled.”

Larry shook his head. “I was thinking detentions. Everyone for a month. You for the rest of the year.”

Sarah held up one of the bags. “Why don’t we just fill these?”

Sally had given us fifteen bags. When they were full, we still had a pile large enough for a couple more bags. We all glanced nervously at each other before I stated the obvious.

“One of us needs to get more bags.”

“Not it,” all six boys replied in unison.

“Not it,” echoed the rest of the girls.

I frowned at all of them. “Cowards. You’re all cowards.”

Walter smiled. “And proud of it.”

I glared at him, but in truth, I wasn’t all that brave myself. I didn’t see Sally, but I headed in the direction I thought I had last seen her. On the way, I passed a group of stuffed lawn bags that had been abandoned. There was an unopened bundle of bags beside it. I grabbed them and headed back to my friends.

Walter made a face. “You’re just as much a coward as the rest of us.”

I shrugged. “Maybe, but I went and got the bags. I’m not going to be the one to ask what we’re supposed to do when we’re done.”

Thankfully, none of us had to ask. Mr. Birkenhead walked by as we were placing the final full bag into the grouping we had made.

“Oh, excellent. I was just checking on everyone’s progress. You can take your rakes and return them to the truck, then go to the memorial.” He left without waiting for a reply.

We were one of the last groups to finish our raking. Ava saw us approaching and left her group to stand with Walter. I saw Andy slink away to talk to some of our other friends. Part of me wanted to join him.

Ava wrinkled her nose at Walter. “Ugh. You guys are filthy. What happened?”

“We were jumping in the leaves.” There was a hint of attitude in Sarah’s response. While the boys didn’t seem to notice it, I was pretty sure Ava did. There was a momentary glare in Sarah’s direction before she turned back to Walter.

“How juvenile. I don’t know why you put up with such immaturity.”

I knew it was childish and petty, but Ava could be so annoying sometimes. I stuck out my tongue and made a face at Ava’s back. Only Sarah and Larry could see me and I saw them turning red trying not to laugh. They weren’t successful.

Ava rounded on them. “What’s so funny?”

“Nothing.” Larry was out of breath as he replied. “I was just remembering when one of the teachers fell into a leaf pile.”

Sarah nodded quickly. “Yeah, me too.”

Ava glanced in my direction. The look on her face clearly indicated she didn’t believe us. With a scowl, she turned to talk to Walter as we all returned to campus.

Melinda’s Journal

Saturday, October 28

A little over a month ago, I wrote about my perfect boyfriend. As I watch my friends interact with each other, I have started to wonder how Eliot measures up.

A little over a month ago, I wrote about my perfect boyfriend. As I watch my friends interact with each other, I have started to wonder how Eliot measures up.

One of my boyfriend requirements is that we must get along with each other’s friends. Eliot has met my friends a few times and for the most part, we all seem to get along. I’m still a little nervous when he and Walter are together, though. While they are civil, I’m still not sure Eliot completely trusts Walter yet. As for his friends? I haven’t met any. Has he not made any yet, or is he hesitant to introduce me?


When I’m with Eliot, I’m not bored, but I don’t really know if we have a lot of fun together. He does make me laugh, but usually only when we’re reminiscing about middle school. I feel like with Eliot I’m stuck in the past.


However, Eliot was there for me the last time I went home and my former best friends ghosted me. That shows me he can be there for me if I am upset.


Eliot is a good kisser.


Eliot and I need to have some similar interests. We are able to talk about school, but our schools are very different.


We talk about NeoGenesis.


He lets me talk about dance and I listen to his stories about the math team. Neither of those are shared interests, but at least he’s being a good listener.


But, whenever I talk to him, I feel a little guarded. Like I have to be careful not to mention Walter because I’m afraid he will get jealous again.


Well, Eliot scored a 4 on my perfect boyfriend meter. Too bad I have no idea what that means.

Pat’s Story

There were three mandatory service days each year. The one during fall term always involved raking leaves. My first year we walked to a local park in drizzly weather. It was cold and wet enough to be miserable, but not enough for them to cancel service day. I hated it. Last year we were bussed to a park on the other side of town. The day was a little better, since Frank and Zach and I were on the same team and the weather was a little better. But it was still pretty boring.

This year, about a dozen of us boarded a van. One of the art teachers drove us to a three-story Victorian about the size of the senior houses on campus. It was bright pink with purple trim and looked like it belonged in some sort of fairy tale. The yard was overrun with leaves.

The teacher turned to look at us. “Okay. Team one. You’re up. Patrick, Jayden, Madison, Hayley.”

We climbed out of the van and walked around to the back, where we each pulled a rake from the trunk. The teacher handed us a stack of leaf bags and reminded us to behave ourselves before driving off.

The deans had explained the situation to us the night before. We were to rake and bag all the leaves in the yard without disturbing whomever lived there. As our ride drove away, we wordlessly, began our task.

Madison was a decent worker, but Jayden and Hayley both seemed to have trouble with their rakes. Every time I looked at either of them, they were engrossed in some conversation and their piles were not growing any larger. It was extremely frustrating.

It took us about an hour to clear the front yard. When moved around to the back, my heart sank. There were easily twice as many leaves back here, despite its small size. Madison and I had just started making one giant leaf pile in the center of the yard when the back door opened.

“I thought you children could use a snack.” The woman looked to be nearly as old as my grandmother, but just as sharp. In her hands was a wooden tray with a pitcher of lemonade, four plastic cups, and a plate of chocolate chip cookies that looked homemade. My classmates descended on the tray, only Madison having the good manners to thank the woman for the treats. I, however, kept working until every leaf in the yard had made its way into my pile.

Madison managed to drag Hayley away from the food. While the girls bagged, I took a quick break. The old woman, who was sitting at a table on the porch, poured me a glass of lemonade.

“Thank you.” I didn’t realize how thirsty I was until I had downed nearly half the glass in one gulp.

“Cookie?” The woman passed me the plate. It was nearly empty. I took only one, not wanting to be rude. I could always get more when we got back on campus.

“Thank you. These are very good.”

“You’re a hard worker.”

I shrugged, finishing the cookie in three bites. I gulped down the rest of the lemonade and returned the cup to the table. I wanted more, but I wanted to finish this task before nightfall.