Proxy: Chapter Four

Chapter Four

Calvary Baptist Church was always well known for its Vacation Bible School. People would even come from out of town to come to ours. It was understandable, I suppose. After all, they were incredibly elaborate. The youth group at Calvary didn't just decorate and do some skits-- they built sets, made costumes, spent the whole year planning storylines and characters.

That year, the theme was "City Under The Sea," and the other kids in my Sunday school were even more excited than usual. The youth pastor had let slip that there was some kind of elaborate game planned for the last day of VBS, where all the teams would be competing against each other for a prize. One of the boys in my class even insisted that he had seen the youth pastor and his wife smuggling the prize in-- an enormous golden trophy, shaped like a mermaid. "They'll engrave our team name on it and everything!"

The anticipation was as thick and palpable in the air as smoke, and I found it just as cloying and hard to navigate as smoke. I knew that I was supposed to be excited and happy about it, like them, but I wasn't. I wasn't worried or scared or anything bad, I just... couldn't get there. I knew already that I wouldn't be picked for one of the teams, that I would be an afterthought grafted onto an already complete team, full of people who really knew each other. I knew that I would be sitting alone during snacks. That didn't bother me. What bothered me was the fact that other people would be looking and thinking that it was strange.

Sheena was as excited as the kids. She'd made friends with the youth pastor and had volunteered to run the craft stations for the Junior Sparks kids. She had been planning her activities for weeks, and she kept calling me up to her craft room to show me her ideas and test them out. She drove us to the church early, eager to get her station set up for the crowds of elementary schoolers.

I helped her carry in the boxes of glitter and sea shells and tissue paper, and she chattered away the whole time, more to herself than anything at first. "Did I bring the glue sticks? Did I-- oh, yes, there they are. Whew. I thought we were gonna have to make an emergency craft store run. So, you excited?"

I half shrugged before I caught myself and remembered my cue. "Yeah. It'll be fun."

Sheena paused, looking at me over the stacked boxes of craft supplies. She had this way of looking at me, I remember, where I felt like I was being very gently x-rayed, by someone who wanted very much to find out what was wrong and help me fix it. "Yeah?"


"I mean... you don't sound very excited."

"I just don't-- I heard there'll be games. I'm not very good at games. People don't pick me for their team."

Sheena nodded slowly, apparently thinking something over. I half expected her to push and poke and pry, to try and get me to tell her what was wrong, whether or not I had the words for it. But she didn't push on. Instead, she offered a course of action. "Hey, can you do me a favor, Corinne?"

"Yeah, sure. Do you need me to help you carry those?" I asked, already holding out my arms for my share of the load. Sheena handed me one or two of the boxes, but she continued to talk as she led me down the hall to one of the classrooms. "I mean, that's great, but actually, I had a bigger one. Do you think you could help me out at my station? I mean, just for the night. I've never done anything like this, but there's a lot of kids coming, and it'd be nice to have a little backup."

I wasn't used to being offered an out. But I took it without hesitation. I needed this. At least at the craft station, there would be some instructions to follow. I stayed in the classroom and helped Sheena lay out the supplies for the craft. I've wracked my brain, but I can't remember what it was we actually helped the kids make. I can remember bits and pieces of the procedure-- arranging blue and green and purple fragments of tissue paper, poking holes in white paper plates, handing out glue sticks-- but not what the procedures were actually for. It shouldn't bother me, because it doesn't really matter in the end, but it does. I keep turning the afternoon over and over in my head, but I can't come up with the answer. It's a sensation that I should get used to, I suppose.

What I do remember is that I liked it. It was easier to talk to the younger kids, sit down among them and help explain the rules and the techniques. I laughed almost as much as Sheena and the kids did. I told the kids that I was a junior archaeologist, working with the rest of them to uncover the lost city under the ocean, and they believed me as much as they did Sheena and the other adults. It was easier to be the person behind the curtain, making sure the make believe went smoothly.

By the end of the night, we were both exhausted, a little slap happy and silly. We cleaned up our room the best we could, and then we went down the hall to help the other volunteers. It was almost nine when we left the church, and Sheena started blasting the radio as soon as she started the car. We made up our own lyrics to the songs as we flew down the road, and Sheena even danced as much as she could in the driver's seat. I wondered if other people felt like this all the time. I wondered how they could possibly stand it, feeling like they were going to overflow any minute.

We had already blasted past the tasteful wooden sign for the Orchard before I realized that we weren't on the way home. I twisted around in my seat to confirm it even as I asked, "Where are we going?"

"I don't know about you, but I could use something sweet. You want some ice cream?"

"Um... sure.." Ice cream was reserved for special occasions-- birthdays, work and school successes-- not for just an ordinary Monday night. My left hand wandered up to the corner of my mouth, and I bit absent mindedly on the outside edge of my thumbnail as I wondered what we could be celebrating.

I got a scoop of butter pecan in a bowl, and Sheena got two scoops of birthday cake in a sugar cone. We sat on the hood of her car and ate our ice cream, watching the stars we could see through the light pollution. I sat quietly for a moment with my empty bowl after I finished, trying to figure out how to ask the question wriggling and prodding at the back of my mind. "Hey, Sheena?"

"Yeah, Corinne?"

"Did I do a good job? With helping you and the kids out, I mean." I could feel the red creeping into my cheeks already, and I wanted to duck my head and hide before she could tell me no, honey, you didn't, you're not really cut out for this kind of thing.

"Yeah! You did great! The kids really like you, and you're pretty good with them. I'd be happy to have you help me out for a couple more days, if you want."

"I'll think about it." But I think a part of me had already made the decision to go back to Sheena's station for the rest of the week. After all, the kids all thought I was one of the archaeologists. Who was I to spoil their illusion?

It was just after ten when we finally got home, still slap happy and sugar high. We were giggling about something as we came into the house, I'm not sure what about (I'm not even sure we knew what we were giggling about.) My father was sitting at the kitchen counter, still dressed in his tie and dress shoes, a bowl of salad that he clearly hadn't touched wilting in front of him. "What were you two up to?"

"Vacation Bible School, silly. We stayed to help clean up, then we got ice cream."

My father sighed softly, spearing a cherry tomato on his fork without actually eating it. "I wish you would have called. I was waiting on you two for dinner."

"Sorry, hon. I told you that you'd beat us home. We'll be doing VBS all week."

"Will it be this late all week?" He stared directly at her, something of a sullen teenager's tone slinking into his voice as he spoke.

Sheena seemed more confused than angry as she answered him, going to the sink to wash a stray bit of glitter off the inside of her wrist. "I don't know, Ray. It all depends on how the program goes that day. Some days are messier than other, kids are like that. You know, right? It helps that Corinne's been so helpful tonight."

"That's my girl. Always looking to help out." I smiled back at him, silently and without teeth. I tried to mean it, but there was something strange and forced in his tone. It dissipated as he grinned at me, but I was ill at ease to have noticed it at all. "I like helping Sheena out. It's fun."

"Good to hear. You'd better head on up to bed, Corinne. It's pretty late."

I walked upstairs to my room a little slower than usual. I wanted to listen to the low voices in my kitchen, though I was sure that if I lingered, the voices would soon fade away to nothing. Later that night, as I laid in my bed and tried to will away the low and angry voices from the other end of the hall, I wished that they had.

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