Chapter 3: Being a Buddy
Joey started on Saturday. The bus dropped him off at the station right across from the hospital. The trip only took 20 minutes. Joey had invited Amarea to go along, but she never wanted to go to “that horrible place.”
Sally Worthington met Joey at the front door, “Welcome, Joseph,” she said with a warm tired smile.
Joey shook her hand, “Nice to meet you,” he said.
“Let me give you the grand tour,” Mrs. W. said. “This is Ben,” she began, pointing to a large solitary orange fish circling an enormous tank. Joey’s face must have looked confused. “We’ve tried to put other fish with him, but they always die. Ben’s been around for six years now. He’s like family,” she explained as she walked up to the tank and placed her hand on the glass. Ben swam up to her hand. “Hi, Ben,” she said.
The center consisted of two other rooms. The first was filled with bean bag chairs, couches, and a large screen T.V. “This is the movie room,” Mrs. W. announced. “And this,” she said motioning to the other room, “is the activities room.” Several children sat around the small tables doing different activities.
“This is Daniel,” she said pointing to a tall boy helping a child color a giraffe pink.
“Hey, what’s up,” Daniel said, shaking Joey’s hand.
“Daniel’s a junior,” she said. “He’s here every Saturday, trying to meet his community service requirement for school.”
“Hello, Mrs. W.,” a young girl said, “Is this our new volunteer?”
“Yes, Ivy, this is Joseph,” Mrs. W. replied.
“Joey,” Joey said, shaking her hand.
“Nice to meet you Joey,” Ivy said returning to her task at hand, which was gluing cereal to a plate.
Mrs. W. walked Joey to her office. “Ivy’s brother died at the hospital a year ago,” she began, “She’s the driving force behind the Be a Buddy Program. Her brother, Buddy, always enjoyed it when Ivy was here with him, helping him with different activities. The hospital’s foundation and a local grocery store support the program by providing art supplies and classroom décor. All this,” she motioned around the center, “including Ben, used to be the intake rooms for the ER. They shifted things around and gave us all this.”
“How long has the program been running?” Joey asked.
“Officially, about six months,” she replied. “We’ve been helping kids with activities for years. Having this place,” she gestured around, “is new and wonderful. We can help more kids and not just the current patients. I’m really grateful you’re here, sometimes it’s just me and Ivy.” She smiled another tired smile.
“What will I be doing?” Joey asked.
“Well, being the newest volunteer,” she began, “you’ll have the job of cleaning up after the crafts and activities. This will give you time to get to know the children. Some of them are kind of shy, others will love you from the minute they see you.”
“Are the patients always the same?” Joey asked.
“The children,” she corrected, “come and go. Most of them tend to stay for several weeks, maybe a month, others stay longer. If they are patients and healthy enough, they come every day. When they leave, well, we get a lot of children who return just to give their parents some needed time for themselves.” She paused, “So are you ready to start?”
“Yes,” he replied.
The next four hours flew by. Joey actually enjoyed cleaning up the finger paint artwork. He helped himself to the leftover Cheerios and Fruity Loops from the necklace station. He felt strangely at home and couldn’t wait to return next week. Maybe Amarea would come with him. He wasn’t really sure why Amarea hated this place so much. He really didn’t see what was so horrible about it. Maybe this would be his new hobby after all, that, and getting to know Maddie.
Two weeks. Two weeks! It had been two weeks since Amarea had spoken to Joey. He had been so wrapped up in Maddie and the stupid thing at the hospital that she was forgotten. Amarea was so tired of seeing the happy couple. She went out of her way to avoid running into them.
Joey couldn’t have been happier. He had a girlfriend. She was smart, funny, and beautiful; everything he had ever wanted, and boy could she ever kiss.
Maddie this, Maddie that, Maddie till her brain wanted to scream. What was the point of listening in on someone’s thoughts if all they thought about was Maddie? Amarea was really surprised when the doorbell rang and Joey was standing at her front door.
“Hi, Mar,” Joey said, pushing his way into her house.
“What’s up, Joey?” Amarea asked still holding the door open.
“Get your shoes on,” he commanded. “Let’s go!”
“Go where?” she questioned, still holding on to the door.
“A picnic,” Joey replied happily.
“A what?” she asked incredulously.
“A picnic,” he replied. “Let’s go!”
Amarea realized Joey was holding a basket in his left hand. “What’s going on?” she asked.
“You’ve been kind of bummed lately,” he said, “I thought you’d like to go on a picnic.”
“You’re joking, right?” she questioned, letting go of the door.
“Totally serious,” he replied. “I even made your favorite, bananas and mayo on white.”
“Did you cut the crusts off too?” she asked, doubtful.
“Of course,” he laughed, “Come on, let’s go! Grab a blanket while you’re at it!”
Amarea quickly grabbed her shoes and an old blanket from the hall closet. They walked in silence to the park down the street.
“What do you want?” Amarea asked as she spread out the blanked in the sun.
“To take you on a picnic,” Joey replied.
“Where’s Maddie?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” he replied, “I guess at home.”
“Shouldn’t you be spending every waking moment with her?” she said.
Joey simply laughed. “Friends are important too.”
They ate in silence. Amarea didn’t want to admit that the sandwich was perfect. She stretched out on the blanket. Joey settled down next to her.
“Hey, Mar?” Joey began.
“Great,” Amarea sat up.
“What?” he asked.
“I knew there was a catch,” she said.
“No catch,” he said, “I just wanted to ask you a question.” He took her shoulder and pulled her back down. He propped up on his elbow and looked at her. Amarea’s stomach filled with butterflies. “Are we still friends?”
Amarea looked into his beautiful brown eyes, wanting more than anything to say no. Was he ever her friend? When someone better came along, she was thrown aside.
What are you thinking? Joey asked.
I was wondering if you were really my friend, Amarea replied meekly.
Joey looked at her. He wanted to ask the obvious question, but unsure if he wanted to know the answer. I guess I haven’t been the best friend lately, he braved.
I miss having someone to talk to, he continued.
Amarea shrugged again. “You have Maddie.”
“She’s not really a talker,” he said, “if you know what I mean.”
“No, not really,” she replied, “What exactly does that mean?”
Joey blushed. It was the first time Amarea had ever really seen him blush.
“What do you want me to say Joseph?” She asked.
“Say that we’re still friends,” he replied simply.
Ok, Amarea stated.
Really? Joey questioned, the surprise evident on his face.
If I have to, Amarea shrugged.
You don’t have to do anything, Joey frowned.
I miss you too, Joey, she admitted.
Good, Joey smiled broadly.
You’re glad I miss you? Amarea said contemptuously.
Of course. You’re a great friend, Joey laughed. Amarea smiled.
Amarea dozed off in the warm sun. When she woke up, Joey was propped up on his elbow, watching her. Amarea blushed.
Joey touched her cheek. She blushed more deeply.
He bent down. A car horn honked. Amarea sat up and whacked Joey in the nose with her head. Blood gushed down his lips and onto his shirt.
Amarea grabbed some napkins and tried to wipe up the blood.
Mrs. Dustin hurried over. She took wipes from her purse. “Oh dear,” she said, “oh dear, me.”
“Hi, mom,” Amarea said. “What are you doing here?”
Mrs. Dustin blushed. She ignored Amarea and tried to help Joey. When his nose was securely packed with napkins, she turned to face Amarea.
“Well,” she began, “you were gone.” There was an awkward pause.
“And,” Amarea prodded.
“And,” Mrs. Dustin blushed again. “Your phone said you were here.”
Amarea rolled her eyes and shook her head. Want a ride home?
Sure, Joey replied.
“Can we give Joey a ride home?” She asked her mom.
“Sure thing,” Mrs. Dustin replied, happily. She began cleaning up the trash and bloody napkins. Amarea tried to help, but her mom shooed her away. Amarea walked Joey to the car.
Thanks, Joey said.
Amarea blushed. Joey elbowed her, playfully.
For being a friend, not for the bloody nose, Joey said.
Maybe he was her friend, after all.