“Miss McEntire?” A voice asked. Setting my magazine down, I stood up and straighten out my skirt. A woman dressed in a light purple pants suit stood there, her long brown hair pulled back in a silver clip.
“That’s me.” I replied, shaking her outstretched hand.
“Thanks for coming in so quickly. My name is Mrs. Hartman. I am the head director of our classrooms here at Helms Academy.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you. I’m very glad you managed to get back to me so quickly.” She motioned for me to follow her through the locked door behind her. She unlocked it with a swipe of a keychain and led me into a long hallway. We walked up it, the blue walls and grey carpet making it look like a tunnel in an aquarium. Bright pictures hung on the walls of people with mental and physical disabilities. Several had staff members in them too, red badges clipped to their chests or belt loops.
“Well when we saw your name pop up in our applications, we knew that we had to have you. I’ve heard a lot about the internships you did in high school and during community college. Your mother and I went to high school together and occasionally get together for lunch during the week.” I smiled, hiding my grimace.
“Mrs. Hartman, I do not want to get a job because of my last name. I want to honestly qualify for a job based on my academics and past experience.” She smiled.
“I’m very glad you said that actually. I didn’t want to think that you were going to get that job just based off your mother. She doesn’t even know that I called you in for your interviews last week. We need hard workers who want to be here to help our people.” She stopped outside of an open door. I could hear yelling coming from another open door further up the hall. Above that door read a sign that said RED in big block letters. The door right in front of us said YELLOW. She knocked lightly and stepped over the threshold. I followed suit. “Hey guys!”
The room was full of people with a wide range of different mental disabilities. A few were in wheelchairs while others were sitting in recliners or at the provided tables. On the right side of the room, there was a matt. A slender man laid there, a big smile across his face. He limply lifted his arm and flapped his hand to wave at me. I returned the smile and waved back. A few of the people in the room looked up and smiled at Mrs. Hartman. An African American woman walked over and hugged her. A couple of woman that I assumed were staff were sitting at the table, painting large versions of the characters from the Wizard of Oz on cardboard.
“Hey Julie.” A bright blonde woman said, standing. She walked over to us and smiled. She was a tall woman, standing at about six feet. She was dressed in a pair of jeans and sweatshirt. A blotch of red paint was smeared on the front of it and glitter sparkled on her face from Dorothy’s shoes and Glinda’s dress.
“Hey Brenda. This is Kerri McEntire. She is our new employee. She starts officially on Monday in our rooms.”
“Hello.” I said, shaking Brenda’s hand.
“Kerri, Brenda is the manager of this room. She has been here in the Academy longer than any of our other room staff. If you have any questions, she’d be the one to ask.”
“What room is she going to be in?” Brenda asked.
“The Red room.” Julie responded. A woman at the table let out a laugh that she quickly tried to hide. I saw Julie give her a small glare before smiling at me. “That would be Flora. She is the ringleader of the building. If you have a problem you don’t want to voice, just tell her and she will make sure the entire building knows about it.”
“Hey, I just think it’s funny you hired the mayor’s daughter to work in the worst room. What if she gets hurt? The mayor might shut us down.”
“Trust me. I’m nothing like my mother.” I replied before Julie could. “She wouldn’t notice if I got hurt unless it caused me to miss one of her parties or something.” Flora smiled.
“I like her. I like her a lot.”
“See you ladies later.” Julie grabbed my arm and led me out of the classroom. “Don’t mind Flora. She is very outspoken and doesn’t really know how to politely voice her opinion. Part of her lovable obtuse personality. Our other two rooms are for our older residents. They go on outings mostly all day, so you won’t get a chance to work in there unless we experience a staff shortage.” She slowly walked up the hall to the red room. A loud scream and a crash could be heard, and the door flung open. A very tall gentleman came bounding out of the room. Pure rage filled his face as he stormed his way to the bathroom we had just passed. The door opened again, and a young man appeared, looking equally as pissed as the raging giant.
“Paul, you big son of a-” The man stopped mid-sentence when he saw Julie and I standing in the hall. His eyes paused on me for a second before glancing at Julie.
“What happened, Mr. Forester?” Julie asked.
“Oh, you know the holidays get to him now that his father has passed.” He responded.
“I see. Kerri, this is Blaine Forester. He is one of the staff for our Red Room. Blaine, introduce yourself while I wrangle down Paulie.” Julie walked up the hall, her tan heels clicking the entire way.
“That happen a lot?” I asked. Blaine nodded.
“Sadly. We call him Sir Lancelot because-”
“He believes he is king of the castle?” I finished for him. A smile crossed his lips. He had an oval shaped face with a long nose. Thin wired glasses hid a pair of green eyes. Dirty blonde hair was combed neatly on his head.
“Exactly. My name is Blaine by the way.”
“I know. Julie just said it.” He let out a nervous laugh and opened the door all the way.
“Right. Want to come in and meet the rest of our crew?”
“Sure.” He stepped aside so that I could enter first. The room was a large one with grey walls and several desks. This room had fewer residents, but I could tell they were more behavioral than the others. In the far-right corner, there was a leather couch and a coffee table. A very round man was sound asleep on the couch, his feet propped up on the table. Next to him, a woman with a green baseball cap on was sitting. She grasped a can of diet cola in her left hand and a deck of cards in the other. She was also dozing in and out of consciousness.
On the other side of the room, about five residents were sitting at the desks working on different things. A dark skinned short man was working on cutting pieces of colored paper. He would let out a loud hum every now and then before working on his next cut. Across from him, a tall and rather built woman was sitting there. Her hair was black and extremely fluffy around her head. She was working quietly on filling in the o’s and e’s in a magazine with a Sharpie. A few more residents were separating different things by color and shape. Two staff people were sitting at a table but jumped to their feet when they saw me.
“Hello.” The woman said. She was a middle-aged woman with short brown hair. She had a pretty smiled and was trying to look busy with the man cutting papers. The other staff, a man a little older than me with short black hair and glasses, began playing with a touch screen tablet. He set it down in front of the large girl who didn’t even glance at it.
“Kerri, that is Mama Mary and Tom, our fearless leader. This is Kerri….Kerri….”
“McEntire.” I finished for him.
“I forgot Julie told me that you’d be coming in today to tour the building. Congrats on the job.” Tom said. He gave off a geek vibe that made me want to laugh a little. He reminded me of the generic guy that sitcoms in the 90′s used as the best friend turned boyfriend. His nerdy boyish face made him cute.
“Oh, you poor thing.” Mama Mary said. “I would have run for the hills. Could be why they didn’t show you the rooms first.”
“Mama! Don’t scare this one away.” Blaine said, smiling at me. “Mama Mary likes to make people think we have a horrible room.”
“Do you?” I asked.
“Well…kinda. Yeah.” He replied. I smiled.
“Don’t worry. I’ve seen a lot. For free too. I used to intern with a lot of these guys during their summer camps.” I pointed at the guy on the couch. “I remember Jonnie the most though. He is the only person I know who could fall asleep on the Tilt-a-Whirl.”
“That’s our Jonnie.” Mary said.
“McEntire…like the mayor?” Tom asked, stepping closer. I mentally groaned again.
“Sadly, she is my mother.”
“She’s your mother? Oh god.” Mary said, sitting back down. “You might want to avoid conversations with Blaine then.”
“There you are!” Julie’s voice said as she came in the door with Paul, the giant. Still slightly fuming, he sat in a computer chair and quickly fell asleep. “Did you meet everyone?”
“Yep.” I said, glancing at Blaine. He avoided my gaze and tried to look interested in what time it was.
“Great! Well, if you don’t have any questions for these guys, we’ll be moving on.”
“See you Monday!” Mama Mary called as Julie ushered me out of the room.