Chapter 17: The Lesson of the Lesser
Why are you crying, Amarea? Joey asked, he was standing outside of the girls’ restroom.
Just leave me alone, Amarea sniffed.
No way! Tell me why you are crying, he demanded.
Come on, Mar, who was it, and what did they say? Joey pleaded, peering his head into the bathroom. It was Jimmy, wasn’t it? I’ll take care of him.
Joey, don’t. It was nothing really, Amarea inhaled deeply, trying to regain control. She was sitting on the floor in the corner of the room. I’m just a big baby.
What did he say, Mar? Joey demanded. He took a step into the bathroom and looked around. It was empty except for Amarea huddled in the corner.
He called me a freak and said…Amarea began. She grabbed her knees and pulled them to her chest.
Said what, Mar, what did he say? Joey’s blood started to boil. He took another step forward.
He said I should have died, she replied meekly. She buried her head in her knees and began to cry.
WHAT! He has gone too far this time! Joey seethed. He turned and walked out of the bathroom.
Joey, DON’T do anything STUPID! Joey, stop! Amarea pleaded. She put her head back in her knees and cried.
I’m not the one who did something stupid! He shot back.
Joey? Joey? She called out, but he didn’t reply.
Joey found Jimmy in the cafeteria.
“What the hell is your problem!” Joey screamed at him.
“What the hell is your problem?” Jimmy replied. “Come to defend the Freak?”
Somewhere inside of Joey, a volcano exploded. He was so mad he was shaking. Joey wanted to hurt him. He wanted to take his head and slam it into the table. But he didn’t. Joey glanced at the main cafeteria doors and saw Amarea standing there, pleading with him not to do anything stupid. Her face was wet with tears. She looked utterly defeated. She looked utterly helpless. Her eyes pleaded with him, and something his mom said echoed in his mind, “It’s better to have enemies as friends than enemies.”
Joey took a deep breath, “She’s not a freak.” He said it so calmly that it startled Jimmy.
“What?” Jimmy asked.
“I said she’s not a freak,” Joey repeated.
Jimmy looked at him completely confused. Joey’s mind raced with things he could use to hurt him. Jimmy was a funny looking kid. Joey could, if he wanted, bring up all of Jimmy’s dirty laundry, his mother was a drunk, his father wasn’t around, his brother was in jail, and his sister was a senior and pregnant.
“What did you say to Amarea?” Joey calmly asked.
Still shocked, Jimmy muttered, “I called her a freak and told her that the world would be better off if she just died.”
“Jimmy,” Joey began, not sure where the words were coming from, “Did you know that Amarea’s mom almost died giving birth to her?” Jimmy shook his head.
“And did you know,” Joey continued, “that Amarea is an only child; her mom can’t have any more kids. Do you think that they want their only child dead?”
“I didn’t really mean that I wanted her to die,” Jimmy lamely said.
“Did you know,” Joey continued, “That Amarea has been sick for almost three years. That her dad lost his job the first time she got sick. He stayed by her side, when she was in the hospital, for two months and lost his job. Her parents bought her a grave plot. Can you imagine buying your kid a grave plot?”
Jimmy just shook his head.
“She beat the cancer. The chemo took all her hair and strength. But she didn’t die. Do you understand that? She didn’t die. She beat something that should have killed her. And she did it twice.” Joey moved closer to Jimmy and lowered his voice, “Why do you think she looks the way she does? You think she likes not having any hair? You think she likes being sick? Do you think she wants to die?” Joey’s passion surprised him.
“I’m sorry, man,” Jimmy stuttered.
“I’m not the person you should be saying sorry to,” Joey answered.
Joey walked out the side cafeteria doors. He stopped. Amarea, Joey thought. He needed to know if she was ok. He turned around and walked back into the cafeteria.
Joey could see Amarea still standing in the doorway. He watched as Jimmy, with hands in his pockets and shoulders slumped, walked up to Amarea. Jimmy saw Amarea say, “Thank you.” And, “That’s all right.”
Thank you, Amarea called out.
I’m not sure why I didn’t pound him, Joey replied.
I’m glad you didn’t, she said honestly. He said he was sorry. He said he hadn’t known. He was pretty upset. Why did you tell him all that stuff?
I thought he should know the truth, I guess, he shrugged.
Joseph Parley Moore, I just love you! She beamed.
I know. I know, Joey blushed.
The next day at school Joey saw Jimmy say “hello” to Amarea as he passed her in the hall. When his buddies giggled and asked why he was being nice to the freak, Joey heard him say, “Don’t call her that; she’s really cool.”
WOW! Amarea exclaimed, you are quite the miracle worker. He said hello to me.
I know I saw it. Better to have a friend than an enemy, he replied simply.
The following day, Joey invited Jimmy to eat lunch with them. Amarea took her lunch elsewhere. On Wednesday, Joey invited Jimmy to come to the center with him. Jimmy had other plans. Joey was actually pleased to learn Jimmy lived a couple of blocks from his house. By the end of the week, Jimmy was walking with Joey to class, hanging out before and after school and during lunch.
Jimmy soon made it a daily habit of stopping by Joey’s house and seeing what he was doing. Some days they would shoot hoops at the Y or walk around the neighborhood. When Joey helped at the hospital, he asked Jimmy to go, but it seemed he always had a reason why he wouldn’t go along.
One Wednesday afternoon, Jimmy decided to go along. He said things were pretty bad at home, and he didn’t really want to go back anytime soon.
“What do I do?” Jimmy nervously asked.
“Whatever they need you to do,” Joey replied.
“Hello, Joey,” Mrs. W. greeted him warmly as he entered the center.
“Hello, Mrs. W.,” Joey replied. “This is Jimmy; he’s come to help.”
“Well, Joey,” she began, “Any friend of yours is welcome here.”
Friend! Ha! Amarea shot out.
Mar, where are you? Joey asked.
Oh, Maddie and I are getting our nails done around the corner, Amarea said sarcastically.
Funny, Joey shot back.
Why is that so funny? Amarea asked.
Maddie has been at her cousin’s house for the past week, Joey replied.
Oh, I didn’t notice, not with your new friend and all, Amarea sneered.
He’s actually a nice guy, Joey said.
I’m sure he is. Amarea rolled her eyes.
What are you doing here? Joey asked.
More blood work. Not like you care, she spat back.
Whatever, Joey rolled his eyes, you’re the one who’s made the effort to avoid us.
I wouldn’t want to break up such a lovely team, Amarea replied.
You seriously have jealousy issues. Joey walked Jimmy over to the finger painting station.
Whatever, Amarea said in disgust, you just don’t know the definition of being a LOYAL friend.
I’ve got to go to work, Joey replied, I’ll call you later.
They spent the afternoon finger painting with the kids. Joey was surprised how much fun Jimmy was having. Jimmy didn’t even complain about scrubbing the paint spots off the floor.
“That would be awesome,” Joey overheard Jimmy say to Mrs. W. as he was leaving.
“What would be awesome?” Joey asked.
“They have an opening for a volunteer every day of the week from four to six,” he replied happily.
Joey laughed, like the center would ever not have an opening for a volunteer! “Sounds great,” he said, “when do you start?”
“Tomorrow,” Jimmy said.
Great, Joey thought, now what was he supposed to do? His girlfriend was out of town and his new chum was going to be busy for the next lifetime.
Joey tried to make peace with Amarea the next day at school. He waited outside the drop off area for her mom to drop her off. He tried to open her door and carry her book bag, but Amarea just pushed him out of the way.
“Have a great day, Mrs. D.,” Joey said as he shut the car door. Mrs. Dustin waved goodbye.
He raced to each of her classes and tried to talk to her before she entered the room. She just ignored him and walked on by.
Towards the end of the day, Joey was ready to give up. He had lost her friendship. Sadly, he really missed it.
He kept calling out, Can you hear me now?
What do you want Joseph? Amarea butted in before the last bell of the day rang. You’re giving me a headache.
Peace. Joey threw his hand in the air as a sign of surrender. I’m tired of fighting.
Are we fighting? Amarea asked innocently. I thought I was just ignoring you.
True. Joey smiled tiredly, I’m tired of you ignoring me.
I don’t want to be your runner-up, Amarea pouted.
What do you mean? Joey asked.
I know Maddie’s gone and Jimmy’s busy. You’re bored, and you think of me. I’m not even your second choice, she spat.
Mar, Joey began, it’s not like that.
Yes it is. I can read your thoughts, remember? Amarea smirked.
Joey didn’t know what to say. She was right. The bell rang; school was over, and he had lost his best friend. He needed a plan. He needed some way to get her back, something strange, something unusual, something only Amarea would appreciate. Joey headed to his Aunt Judy’s house.
“Hello stranger,” Aunt Judy said as she opened the door. She gave him a big hug and kiss on the cheek.
“I’ve got a problem,” he began, helping himself to the cookies cooling on the rack.
“Spill it,” Aunt Judy said.
“I’ve lost a friend, and I need to get her back,” he said.
“Amarea,” she replied.
Joey nodded. “I didn’t realize how much her friendship meant to me. Now, I think she hates me.”
“I’ve got just what you need,” she said, getting out various items and placing them on the table.
“You think this will work,” he said after his short tutorial.
“What woman doesn’t love chocolate?” she asked, laughing.
“Thanks, Aunt Judy,” he said, “You’re the best!”
“Chris will give you a ride to her house,” she said. “Chris!” she yelled.
“He’s still here?” Joey asked.
“Yup,” she replied, “he leaves this Thursday. He got a job down in Northern Texas. I’m so proud of him.”
“That’s great,” he replied.
Chris entered the kitchen; he looked different. He was calm, confident, and secure.
“Love does amazing things,” Aunt Judy said, as she helped Joey carry his supplies to her car. She gave him a quick hug and wished him luck. “Call me later!”
“I will,” Joey promised.
“Drive safe,” she told Chris.
“I will,” he promised.
“What if she doesn’t let you in?” Chris asked on the way to Amarea’s house.
“I didn’t think of that,” Joey replied.
“How about if I go first will all the stuff,” he began, “and put it all in her kitchen. She’ll have to let you in then.”
“Good idea,” he replied.
Amarea was surprised when she opened the door to find Chris standing there. His arms were filled with bags.
“I’ve got a delivery for you,” he said, pushing past her. “Could you direct me to the kitchen?”
“Um, sure,” she replied. “It’s in here.”
“Thanks,” he said taking the supplies to the kitchen. Amarea followed.
“What is all this?” she asked.
“A delivery,” he replied. When he had all the supplies arranged on the counter he turned to Amarea and said, “You two have fun.”
“Two?” she asked, turning to see Joey standing in the kitchen doorway.
What’s this all about? Amarea demanded. I don’t want you here.
“Give him a chance,” Chris winked as he passed Amarea. Moments later the front door shut and he drove away.
“I’ve come to give you a cooking lesson,” Joey said.
“Huh?” Amarea was intrigued. She began to look at all the supplies on the table.
“First,” Joey began, “You’ll need this.” He slipped a flowery apron over her head. He placed one on himself. “Now the fun begins! Can you fill this pot up with water and start it boiling?”
Amarea took the pot and did what she was told.
“We are going to start this with the little known facts about tempering chocolate,” he said.
“Chocolate?” Amarea asked.
“Chocolate,” Joey confirmed.
Thirty minutes later they were laughing and filling chocolate molds. Amarea had chosen a chocolate amaretto mixture. Joey’s mixture was chocolate and mango.
“We have to let them cool for an hour,” Joey said. “Want to watch some TV?”
“Sure,” Amarea said, putting her arm in Joey’s as they headed off to the living room.
Why did you choose me? Joey asked.
I don’t know? Amarea shrugged. Maybe it was because I thought you were cute.
Shut up, be serious, Joey blushed.
I really couldn’t tell you, Amarea said. I just called out and you replied.
Boy was that weird! Joey laughed. I thought for sure you were my cat.
Yeah, I did find it strange that you called me Fluffy, Amarea smiled. She plopped down on the couch and pulled him down beside her.
Have you tried to reach anyone else? Joey asked.
Why? Amarea replied as she flipped absently through the channels on the TV.
I don’t know, Joey said, to see if you can do it? Maybe to get a woman’s perspective on things?
I have my mother for that, Amarea said sadly as she looked down at the plate of homemade cookies on the table.
Right, Joey replied. He grabbed a cookie, they were fresh, maybe a couple of hours old.
Why? Amarea rolled her eyes, Are you tired of me interrupting your daydreams about Maddie?
Will you stop with that already! Joey sat up and looked at her.
Oh, all right. She grabbed his arm and pulled him back. What are you doing this weekend?
Jimmy and I are going to the hospital, Joey replied. They’re putting on a fall play at the end of the month. We’re working on the stage and props. Do you want to come?
Not for all the money in the world, Amarea replied blandly.
Why do you hate that place so much? Joey asked. I really don’t see why you think it is so bad? Joey grabbed the remote out of Amarea’s hand.
Try being a patient there, Amarea replied, as she tried to get the remote back.
Enough said, Joey said as he held the remote over his head. What are you going to do then?
Amarea threw her hands up and sat back on the couch. I think I’ll stay home and wash my hair.
See, you do have a sense of humor, Joey said. He handed Amarea the remote.
It’s growing back, you know, Amarea said sheepishly. It’s still kind of patchy and thin.
Your sense of humor? Joey laughed.
No, silly, my hair! She smiled.
Funny, I’ve never really noticed that you don’t have any hair. Joey put his arm around her shoulders and pulled her head down to inspect it.
Amarea pulled away and swatted his hands. Then why do you call me Baldy? She asked.
I only did that once, Joey laughed as he pulled her back.
How many times do you have to say something stupid? She tried to squirm away, but he held her tight.
It was meant to be funny, Joey said.
Sad to say, you don’t have a sense of humor, Amarea said. She stopped squirming and melted into his arms.
Does it bother you that I called you Baldy? Joey said as he gently stroked her head.
Sometimes, Amarea admitted, I guess I have gotten used to people making fun of me.
I didn’t do it to make fun of you. I would never do that to you, Joey said as he gave her a little squeeze.
I know, she shrugged.
Think of it as a term of endearment, Joey said. He leaned close and inhaled deeply. She smelled clean.
Fine, Amarea began, I guess I’ll just have to call you Shorty.
Hey, Joey laughed, I can’t help that my parents are both height challenged.
And I can’t help that I have no hair, Amarea replied.
You really have no sense of humor; you know that? Joey joked.
And you never take into consideration that I actually have feelings, Amarea shot back. I have no friends, except for you, and the way you treat me, sometimes I wonder why or if you are my friend! Amarea sat up.
Of course I’m your friend, Joey said. He tried to pull her back, but she squirmed out of his grip.
Whatever! She spat.
Maybe I should just leave, Joey shot back. He stood up.
I think that would be a great idea, Amarea replied. She turned her back to him.
I’ll just get my stuff and be out of your hair, Joey said.
Fine, she huffed.
Joey cleaned up the kitchen and left the little molded chocolates on a plate for Amarea. He wrote the word “sorry” on a napkin and placed it under the plate.