Chapter 38: Welcome Home
Joey explained what had happened. Amarea felt weak, her world was spinning. Joey pulled her to him and held her for a long time. The gym was almost empty, and everyone was avoiding them. Why are you crying, Mar? Joey stroked her head.
I’m just so happy you are here, she said between sobs.
So, did you miss me? Joey took her face in his hands and wiped away her tears.
How can you even ask me that? She asked. I wrote you every single week. By the way, why didn’t you ever write back?
I don’t know Mar, Joey said, there wasn’t much to tell.
There was a long thick pause. Joey put his arm around Amarea’s shoulder and started to walk out of the gym.
Yes, he said solemnly.
Yes, what? Amarea asked.
Yes, Amarea, Joey admitted, I missed you. I missed you so much I moved back here just so you could bug me.
Really? She smiled.
Of, course, he smiled back. Are you busy Saturday?
Um, let me check my schedule. She paused for a second, I’m free. She stopped walking and turned to face him. She couldn’t believe he was standing in front of her. He took both of her hands in his.
Do you want to go to the Spring Egg Hunt? He asked.
At the hospital? She dropped his hands and looked at him.
On the hospital grounds, he replied cheerfully.
Does that make it not at the hospital? She asked.
You won’t have to actually go into the hospital, he smiled. He tried to hold her hands, but she pulled away.
You’ve only been back a couple of hours, and you’re already back at the hospital? She rolled her eyes.
They need me, he smiled. So do you want to go to the Spring Egg Hunt?
Why is it the Spring Egg Hunt? She asked.
I don’t know, Joey shrugged, because it’s in the spring.
Why isn’t it an Easter Egg Hunt? She asked. He flashed her a smile and she melted a little.
Not politically correct, I guess, he replied.
Why is it a rabbit? She asked, trying to let her emotions not get the best of her.
What rabbit? Joey asked.
The Easter Bunny, she replied. Bunnies can’t lay eggs.
Joey smiled. He pulled Amarea close and put his arm around her waist. Maybe it’s because they hop.
Amarea nestled up to him. Why isn’t it the Easter platypus? They at least lay eggs.
They’re not cute and fluffy, Joey smiled.
Did you actually just say that? Amarea pulled back and looked at him. Joey loved that look. He laughed.
Amarea put her arm around Joey’s waist. They started walking to the parking lot.
So? Joey asked.
No, Amarea said flatly. She pulled away from him.
No what? Joey asked.
No, Amarea said, I don’t want to go to the hospital.
It’s on the grounds, Joey said. He took both of her hands in his. It’s just like Monopoly when you land on the jail spot. You’re not actually in jail, just visiting.
I don’t want to visit the prisoners, Amarea said.
Come on, it’ll be fun, Joey said cheerfully.
Like a trip to the jail? Amarea asked. She rolled her eyes and pulled her hands away.
It’s an egg hunt, Joey began, and there will be food, games, and a big bunny.
Hum, a large man in a bunny suit, sounds creepy, Amarea rolled her eyes.
Come on Mar, Joey smiled, it’ll be fun.
No thanks, she replied. She waved to her mom. When her mom saw Joey, her mouth fell open. She just stared at him.
Think about it, Joey smiled.
Amarea got into the car.
Ok. No thanks. “Drive, Mom,” Amarea said. Mrs. Dustin waved at Joey.
Think about it, and let me know later, Joey said cheerfully.
Ok. The answer will still be no, Amarea said.
Why not? Joey asked. He was standing on the corner. Amarea was stuck in the car pool lane.
You have good memories of that place, she said. I don’t.
So make some, Joey replied.
No thanks, Amarea said. She was hoping the traffic would move faster.
Are you afraid? Joey challenged.
Afraid of death, sickness, needles, pain, and misery? She shot back.
No, the Easter Bunny, Joey smiled.
If I say yes, will you leave me alone? Amarea rolled her eyes.
No, Joey replied.
What if I say I’m busy? Amarea asked.
Doing what? Joey asked.
Washing my hair, Amarea said.
Nope, you tried that one already, Joey said.
Then I’m doing something, Amarea replied.
Should I ask your mom? Joey asked. He started to move towards the car.
Don’t, Amarea said. She looked straight ahead at the long line of unmoving cars.
How about if you were in charge of a game? Joey asked.
Like what? Amarea asked.
Like the duck pond or the ring toss? Joey offered.
Is it close to the hospital? Amarea asked, her resolve starting to waiver.
It’s on the far side of the hill, Joey smiled. He could tell she was going to give in.
Can I wear bunny ears? She smiled.
You can wear platypus ears if you want, Joey grinned.
What do platypus ears look like? Amarea asked.
I don’t even know if they have ears, Joey admitted.
Of course they have ears, Amarea said, all mammals have ears.
I’ve seen pictures of people with missing ears, Joey offered.
But they would have ears, Amarea said, they’re just gone.
Exactly, Joey stated.
Quit changing the subject, Amarea frowned.
Darn, Joey grinned, you noticed. So is that a yes?
It’s a maybe, Amarea said, unless something else comes up.
What’s going to come up? Joey asked.
Maybe I’ll adopt a platypus, Amarea said.
Haha! Joey exclaimed.
Amarea was thankful the traffic began to move.
“Was that Joey?” Mrs. Dustin said, once they left campus.
“Yes, mom,” Amarea replied.
“Is he back for a visit?” she asked.
Amarea laughed, “No, he’s here for good.” Mrs. Dustin gripped the steering wheel with both hands and sat up straighter.
“Oh, dear,” she mumbled under her breath.
“He asked me out,” Amarea said.
“Really,” her mom replied. Her hands twisted on the steering wheel.
“Yup,” she said, “I’m going to help him at the hospital egg hunt.”
“Oh, sweetie,” she began, “do you think that is a good idea?”
“No,” Amarea admitted, “but I’ll be ok.” Mrs. Dustin reached over and gave Amarea’s hand a little squeeze.
Saturday, Joey showed up bright and early. He laughed when he saw Amarea’s panda bear ear head band.
I couldn’t find platypus ears, she said, so I got the next best thing.
What do panda bears have to do with Easter? He asked.
About the same thing bunnies have to do with Easter, she replied.
“Good morning, Amarea,” Miriam said as Amarea climbed in the car.
“Morning, Miriam,” she replied.
“Bear ears?” Miriam questioned.
“Platypus ears,” Amarea replied.
“Nice,” Miriam laughed.
Joey winked at her and Amarea smiled.
“I’ll see you two later when I bring the girls down,” Miriam said.
Amarea was in charge of the duck pond. Basically, children picked a duck from a small plastic swimming pool. The color on the bottom of the duck determined which prize they received. The prizes ranged from candy to small toys and stuffed animals. Each child hoped to find the one duck with the star on the bottom and win the large stuffed rabbit. Amarea kept the duck hidden under her chair. She was instructed not to place the duck in the pond until after lunch.
One little boy kept returning to the duck pond. He waited in the long line time and time again, only to win a piece of candy or a plastic frog. A little after noon, Amarea noticed the boy in line again. She placed the winning duck in the water.
“Pick the orange one,” she whispered to the boy.
He looked at her, tilted his head questioningly, and picked up the orange duck.
Amarea was shocked at his reaction. He began to cry, dropped to his knees and offered a prayer of thanks.
“Dear Heavenly Father,” he whispered, “thank you so very much for letting me win this bunny for Mary. I know it will make her smile. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.”
Amarea mumbled her own “amen.”
“Who’s Mary?” Amarea asked, handing the boy the bunny.
“She’s my sister,” he replied.
“That’s nice of you to give her the bunny,” she said.
“I wanted to get her something special for Easter,” he began. “Next Easter, Mary will be spending it with Jesus.”
Amarea stared at the boy as he skipped down the hill toward the hospital. Tears filled Amarea’s eyes as she turned and walked away from the duck pond.
Where are you going? Joey asked when he saw Amarea walking towards the bus stop.
Home, Amarea replied blandly.
What? Joey asked.
Home, she repeated.
Wait, Joey said, I’ll come with you.
No, I’m ok. I’ll catch the bus, Amarea said.
Is everything ok? Joey asked.
I’m just tired, she lied. She turned and waved to him. She even managed a smile.
Ok, Joey waved back, call me when you get home.
Ok, she said.
Amarea threw her bear ears away in the trash can by the bus stop. She called her mom while she was waiting. Her mom arrived before the bus.
“I’m tired,” she said hoping her eyes weren’t puffy from crying.
“I understand,” her mom replied giving her a big hug, “sometimes it’s just too much.”
Amarea began to cry. Her mom held her tighter. “It’s just too much,” Amarea admitted, “too much.”