Episode 117

Melinda’s Journal

Monday, February 5

During Saturday’s form meeting, the deans had asked for a small group of volunteers to begin service day a few hours before the rest of the class. The incentive was that whoever volunteered would finish Service Day before lunch.

Walter and I immediately signed up, since we were both early risers. By the end of the meeting, we convinced Sarah and Larry to join us.

We have no idea what we signed up for. Obviously, we are not raking leaves like we did last term. Maybe, if we’re shoveling snow, we will have time to build a snowman?

Melinda’s Story

A little after eight on Monday morning, the small bus pulled up to a large white warehouse that was at least twice the size of the TRAC. The bus dropped the dozen of us early volunteers at the main entrance at the corner of the facility, where an energetic middle-aged woman was eagerly awaiting us.

“Welcome to the Nutmeg Food Bank. My name is Dottie. I’m going to give you a quick tour, then we’ll get you to work.”

Dottie didn’t wait for a reply as she began walking backwards. “This is one of our main warehouses. We receive donations from all over the state, which we process and redistribute to our local pantries and programs.”

She stopped in front of a set of double doors as she continued to explain how the program was volunteer run. I didn’t pay attention to many of the details, but I learned there were many different sections of the building, all of which were abandoned at the moment. The tour ended on the loading docks, where three trucks were waiting to unload their cargo. Dottie went over the directions of how we were to help.

While Walter and Larry and the rest of the volunteers helped unload crates of donated goods onto hand trucks, Sarah and I volunteered to empty the smaller crates from the mobile pantries. When the hand trucks were full, someone would push them to the correct department for unloading.

We worked steadily for nearly two hours. When Sarah and I finished, we helped push the carts. More delivery trucks arrived over the course of the morning, but no one seemed to need a break.

It surprised me how quickly the time passed. Before I knew it, I saw the rest of my classmates getting a tour as I exited the cold storage section.

“I think we’re finished,” Sarah decided when I returned with an empty hand truck.

Someone shouted from inside a delivery truck. “Yo, Muscleman! Help us out!”

Walter disappeared into the cargo hold, reappearing a moment later with a box cradled in his arms. He didn’t seem to be straining as he carried it to my cart.

“I’ll come with you,” he offered. “It’s apples, but it’s kind of heavy. I’ll help you unload it.”

When we were alone in the hallway, I smirked at my best friend. “Muscleman?”

Walter turned red. “Derek has been calling me that all morning. I lifted a few boxes that were too heavy for him.”

“How heavy?” I knew Walter was strong. He worked out in the weight room nearly every morning. But I had never actually asked how much he could lift.

“Well, Dottie said the boxes aren’t supposed to weigh over twenty-five pounds, but some of these were probably more. This one feels close to forty.”

I just shook my head as I led Walter to the section where the food bank stored produce. Walter lifted the box from the cart to the counter with ease. Nearby, I saw a boy from my physics class inspecting for rotten fruit. He tried to move the box Walter had just put down and swore. I tried not to giggle as I followed Walter back to the loading dock with my empty cart.

His dean was standing nearby while Dottie addressed our small group. “Thank you all so much for your help. I know it was only a few hours, but you guys really did make a big difference.”

Mr. Birkenhead clapped his hands together for attention. “Okay. You guys are finished for the day. Let’s hop onto the bus and I’ll hand out the lunches.”

“Food!” exclaimed Larry.

Walter wiggled his eyebrows. “Race you to the bus.”

Mr. Birkenhead spoke in a loud voice. “There will be NO racing. You will walk down the hall, or you will remain here with the rest of your class.” Despite his firm tone, I thought I saw the hint of a smile on the dean’s face. Meanwhile, Walter and Larry may not have run, but they were definitely seeing who could walk there the fastest.

When we reached our small bus, Mr. Birkenhead handed each of us a boxed lunch, then followed us up the steps to do a headcount and make sure the correct students had made their way aboard. As the bus pulled away from the curb, I opened the flimsy paper box and examined its contents.

I held up some cheese slices, dangling them over Walter’s box beside me. “I’m not a big fan of swiss. Trade you for your colby jack.”

He shrugged. “Sure. I’ll even give you my ranch dressing for your veggies.”

“Wait a sec!” Larry, sitting behind us, leaned over the seat to look at us better. “Walter is voluntarily giving away food?”

Walter tried to hit his friend but missed. “I’m not a big fan of ranch. Why ruin perfectly good vegetables?”

Nearly an hour later, the bus dropped us off in front of the MAC, which was closed until the normal end of the class day. As I followed my classmates back to our dorms, I glanced at the empty walkways. The campus was abandoned. The rest of the third form was still at the food bank. Most of the upper formers were still at their various service projects.

“This place looks dead. It has more life to it in the middle of the night when Pat and I get back from DMH.”

Sarah giggled. “No wonder no one wanted to volunteer for the early shift!”

Larry turned to his girlfriend. “I’m bored. Wanna go make out?”

Walter pointed to him. “Basketball. You and me.”

“Bro. Couldn’t you have said something when we were just down there?”

Walter shrugged. “I didn’t think of it until now.”

Sarah frowned. “I wanna play. We don’t have practice this afternoon.”

Larry shook his head at Walter. “I don’t really want to walk all the way back there. How are you not tired after lifting all those boxes?”

Walter shrugged. “I lift more in the gym every morning. That was no big deal. Come on. What do you say? Pickup game?”

“Well, I’m in.” Sarah tapped my shoulder. “Melinda, you can be on my team.”

I sent her a skeptical look. “I don’t play basketball.”

“Neither does Larry. It’ll make things fair.”

Walter looked pained. “Who says I play?”

Sarah rolled her eyes. “You suggested it.”

“Besides, you’re Mr. Sports.” I hit him playfully on the shoulder. “Is there a sport you can’t play?”

He smiled. “I’m really awful at tennis.”

“Stop double dribbling!” Walter exclaimed half an hour later.

I stood in the middle of the court, balancing the ball on my right hip. “What are you talking about?”

“Once you stop dribbling, you can’t start again. That’s called double dribbling and not allowed.”

I rolled my eyes. “I know that. I’ve been managing for two months. I meant, I wasn’t doing it.”

Larry nodded. “Yeah, you were. You’ve been doing it the whole game.”

“I have not!” I looked at my roommate. She gave a noncommittal shrug as she moved under the basket.

Walter gave an exasperated sigh. “Are we going to argue about this or are we going to play?”

I threw the ball to Sarah, who tossed it in to score a point.

Sarah caught the ball. “Yay us!”

“That doesn’t count!” Walter looked between me and her. “We were in a time out.”

“I never heard anyone call time out.” Sarah threw the ball at his chest with a little force. Walter glared at her.

“I got next game,” Erica called as she headed toward us.

I shook my head. “No. Join us now. We’re losing ten to four. We need the help.”

With a smile, Erica went to guard Walter, who was dribbling the ball absently behind the half-court line.

“That last basket shouldn’t count,” he insisted.

Larry shook his head. “Just give it to them. They need every point they can get.”

Walter threw the ball over Erica’s head. Larry caught it and started heading to the basket, but Sarah blocked him. Walter ran under the basket, but with both me and Erica standing in front of him, Larry seemed to have trouble passing the ball.

Larry swore, taking a step backwards and dribbling the ball beside him. “Okay. I don’t think this is fair anymore.”

“I think it’s perfectly fair.”

Turning, I found Pat standing near the benches.

Walter yelled to him. “Get in here! Cover your girlfriend. She’s cheating.”

“I am not!” So, maybe I wasn’t exactly playing by the rules, but I glared at Walter anyway before sending Pat a pitiful look.

He smiled as he came to stand beside me. “Whose team should I be on?”

Larry passed the ball to Walter, but Erica stole it from him. She started heading away from the basket, but Larry had moved to intercept the ball, leaving Sarah wide open. Erica passed to Sarah outside the three-point line. Sarah ran the ball to the middle of the playing area, passing me the ball as she ran under the basket.

I knew I had no chance of making the shot. The few times I had tried, I hadn’t even gotten the ball near the rim. I stood where I was, dribbling as Pat moved closer to me.

He smiled. “Go ahead. Shoot. I won’t try to block you.”

Frowning, I stopped dribbling, again balancing the ball on my hip. “I don’t think you mean that.”

He put his hands over his heart. “I’m hurt you don’t trust me.”

Walter threw his hands over his head in exasperation. “Do we have to have a lover’s spat in the middle of the game?”

I threw the ball over Pat’s head to Erica, who easily made the basket.

“Point!” Sarah laughed as Larry caught the ball.

Pat shook his head. “That doesn’t count.”

I smiled at him. “Why not?”

“I told you she cheats!” Walter yelled from the edge of the court.

“Oh, it’s on.” Pat moved closer to me as Larry took the ball to the foul line. The rest of us took places around the net.

Pat’s Story

Monday morning, I was not looking forward to Service Day. I had no problems doing community service, but at Saturday’s form meeting, the deans had divided us into groups, each of which would visit an area nursing home for a few hours. Spending the day with old people just sounded boring. And I was less than thrilled when someone placed me in the same group as my former roommates.

Walter and I had just finished our morning run and were about to head down to the weight room when my phone played the school song.

My brother raised his eyebrows at me. “Whose ringtone is that?”

I frowned. “That’s for when I have a message through the school server.”

Walter read the message over my shoulder before turning back to me. “What’d you do now that the dean needs to see you so early?”

I shrugged. “No idea. I guess I better go find out.”

The message actually just summoned me to my dean’s home office before eight, but I was nervous about what I could have possibly done wrong. I quickly hurried back to my dorm for a fast shower before crossing the street to my Caswell’s house.

He opened the door as I walked up the stoop. “Patrick. Please come in.”

I raised my eyebrows as he closed the door behind me. Had he been waiting for me?

As if he had read my mind, he gave a small laugh. “I happened to glance out the window as you were crossing the street. Please, come to my office.” He gestured, but I knew the way. Unfortunately, it was not my first time there this term. I sat in his visitor chair as he took a seat behind a small desk.

“As you know, we have Service Day today. Mrs. Lindgren needs someone to drive a senior citizen on some errands and thought you might be perfect for the job.”

I shrugged. “I guess.”

“Perfect. She should be in her office. Head on over and she’ll give you the details.”

As I crossed the campus to the dining hall, I was a little annoyed that Mrs. Lindgren didn’t just call me herself. She was the director of DMH. She had my number. Why did she make me visit with my dean first?

I grabbed a breakfast sandwich from the servery before heading downstairs to Mrs. Lindgren’s office. She was on the phone, but she gestured for me to come in, holding up a finger to indicate she shouldn’t be long. I finished my sandwich while I waited for her.

Eventually, she ended her call and turned to me. “Pat, thanks for coming. I assume you talked with Mr. Caswell?”

I nodded. “He said you had a special assignment for me.”

Mrs. Lindgren smiled. “I told Mrs. Smith to expect you by quarter to nine. She has a nine o’clock hair appointment. Then you are to take her to the bank and the grocery store. She may have one more errand. I don’t remember.”

Mrs. Lindgren babbled on for about five minutes, reviewing with me the list of rules, before I interrupted her.

“Is this officially DMH? Because I still have a restricted license.”

I tried to hide my smile when Mrs. Lindgren swore. “Yeah. We’ll call this DMH.”

“Then, shouldn’t I have a partner?” I savored the idea of spending the day with my girlfriend.

Mrs. Lindgren shook her head. “The two-person rule is for everyone’s safety. Both the volunteer and the client. I think both you and Mrs. Smith have proven yourselves. You should be fine.”

Mrs. Lindgren handed me a sheet of paper with the address. “Call my cell phone if you have any problems, and please text me when you return to campus.”

My GPS brought me to a three-story Victorian that was bright pink with purple trim. It was easily the most recognizable house in town. And it was not my first time there.

I had barely turned off the car when a woman about the same age as my grandmother came out the front door. It wouldn’t have surprised me if she had been waiting by the window. She moved slowly, so I hurried out to offer her a hand.

“Mrs. Smith? My name’s Pat. I’m your chauffeur for the day.”

She squinted at me. “I know you.”

I said nothing as we walked to the car. She was incredibly slow. I hoped we wouldn’t be late for her appointment.

After helping her into her seat, I got behind the wheel and turned to her. “So, which salon are we going to?”

It’s Right Hair.

“Right where?”

She laughed. “The name of the salon is It’s Right Hair. H – A – I – R. It’s on Aspetuck, near the bank.”

I had no clue what she was talking about, so I quickly searched for the place on my phone. I found it on Aspetuck Street and started the navigation.

Mrs. Smith looked at me as I drove. “I’m sorry. I didn’t catch your name.”

“I’m Pat.”

“Nice to meet you. You may call me Granny Smith. Like the apple. I believe you are the young man who raked my yard this fall.”

I shrugged. “Technically, there were four of us.”

She smiled. “I may be old, but my memory is sharp as a tack. You raked. One of the young ladies helped you for a while. The other two young people didn’t touch a leaf. They ate all my cookies instead. Without a thank you, mind you. No manners whatsoever.”

I had to smile. She was right, of course. I loved her spunk. She reminded me a lot of my own grandmother.

I pulled into the parking lot of a small brick storefront divided in half. On one side was It’s Right Hair. On the other side was Two Left Feet ballroom dance studio. I shook my head as I parked the car.

Granny Smith tapped my arm. “Now, since you are my chauffeur, you are to come inside and stay warm while I get my hair done. My former driver used to get her hair done as well, but then her children decided she was too old to drive.”

“How old is too old?”

Granny Smith shook her head mournfully. “Seventy-four. Don’t interrupt. What was I saying? Oh yes. You can just sit and read the magazines. Or play on your little phone there like my grandchildren do.”

I reached into the backseat, retrieving my two copies of The Aeneid. “I think I’ll just do some reading.”

I helped Granny Smith inside and took a seat by the window. Even though I was ahead in Latin, I wanted to read more. The AP was only two months away, and I was growing a little nervous about it.

I settled myself in the chair and reread a section in Latin that I had already read in English. I found it surprisingly easy to read, although I needed the English version of the book to help me once or twice.

After about twenty minutes, my eyes hurt. Blinking, I looked around, taking in my surroundings for the first time.

The salon had three chairs for cutting hair and three of those chairs with the weird hair dryers that looked like space helmets. There were two women my mother’s age sitting there, reading some gossip rag or another. When I realized they were sending me surreptitious glances, I quickly returned my attention to my books. I had translated two more Latin pages when someone interrupted me.

“Excuse me.”

I looked up. One of the women who had been under the driers was standing beside me. She pointed to the magazine in her hand. “You’re the young man in this magazine, aren’t you?”

I glanced at the article. It was from Thanksgiving, when my ex was claiming she and I were back together. I winced. “Maybe?”

The woman nodded. “I thought I recognized you. You haven’t been to church in a couple of months.”

I was taken aback. I was glad she wasn’t asking me to sign the magazine, but the fact that she recognized me from church surprised me.

I shrugged. “I had a conflict in my schedule. I’ve been going to Saint Stephen’s on Saturdays.” Not that it was any of this woman’s business, but there was something about her that made me feel I had to be honest with her.

“You’re here with Granny Smith?” When I nodded, the woman continued. “Will you be driving her every week?”

“Probably not. I have school. We just don’t have any classes today.”

The woman frowned. “I was hoping she had found a new driver. We miss her at our Monday night Rosary, but everyone lives on the other side of town and there’s no one willing to drive out to pick her up. Personally, I have just enough time to drop one kid off at basketball and get to the church before I have to go pick the other one up from gymnastics.”

Thankfully, the hairdresser called the woman over to her chair, saving me from the conversation. Before I went back to my book, I sent a quick text to Mrs. Lindgren.

When I returned to campus, I found Mrs. Lindgren in her office.

She looked up when I knocked on her open door. “Pat. Come on in.”

“I just wanted to let you know I’m back.”

She smiled. “How’d it go?”

“No problems. She fed me cookies and lemonade. My own Granny doesn’t even do that. But she liked my idea. The one I told you about. Taking her to the church tonight for her Rosary club. Did you clear it with Mr. Caswell?”

Mrs. Lindgren nodded. “He agrees that it is an excellent idea and that because it is a religious service, he will exempt you from first study hours. However, you are to check in with your advisor when you return to campus.”

I thanked her and headed upstairs, checking my phone. My brother had invited me to play basketball with him and his friends. I assumed he meant Larry and maybe some guys from his floor. I was surprised to walk into the gym and see Larry and Walter versus the girls.

I watched Walter throw the ball over his girlfriend’s head to Larry. Walter moved under the basket, but was blocked by both Melinda and Erica.

Larry swore. “Okay. I don’t think this is fair anymore.”

I smiled. “I think it’s perfectly fair.”

Walter looked at me as if it were my fault he was losing. “Get in here! Cover your girlfriend. She’s cheating.”

Melinda glared at Walter before looking at me pathetically. “I am not!”

I stood beside her. I wanted to give her a hug. I settled for asking, “Whose team should I be on?”

Larry passed the ball to Walter, but the new girl stole it from him. Being on the basketball team seemed to have taught her some decent moves. Larry followed her toward the foul line, leaving his girlfriend unguarded. Erica passed to Sarah outside the three-point line. Sarah ran under the basket, passing the ball to Melinda, who was just sort of hanging out in the middle of the playing area. Melinda stood still, dribbling the ball as I approached her.

I wanted to see if she could make the basket. I was betting she couldn’t, so I tried to be the supportive boyfriend. “Go ahead. Shoot. I won’t try to block you.”

She stopped the game, balancing the ball on her hip and considering me. “I don’t think you mean that.”

After everything we had been through this term, her lack of faith disappointed me. I folded my hands on my chest. “I’m hurt you don’t trust me.”

Walter made a noise as he threw his hands in the air. “Do we have to have a lover’s spat in the middle of the game?”

When I turned to face him, Melinda threw the ball over my head to Erica. She easily made the basket. Sarah raised her hands over her head in triumph.


Larry caught the ball and started dribbling back to the half-court line, but I protested. “That doesn’t count.”

Melinda looked at me with that rare mischievous smile I found so alluring. “Why not?”

“I told you she cheats!” Walter yelled.

I moved closer to Melinda. “Oh, it’s on.”

Attention Hammerheads

Melinda is always trying to build her vocabulary. What were some words in this episode that were new to you? She will add them to her vocabulary journal.