“Katherine Speely, you are hereby sentenced to two weeks of community service to be served at the
“Shit! Just what I DON’T want to do! Babysit a bunch of retards on my summer break.” Kate rolled her brown eyes.
Kate’s mother smoothed her skirt with her hands and stared at Judge Thomas.
“Your sentence will begin next week. Report to Robert Bingham, the camp director.” Judge Thomas rose from behind the bench, indicating the hearing was over.
“Great! There goes my whole summer! All because I stole some beer from Circle K. Gawd!” Kate rolled her eyes again and peered at her mother behind long scraggly bangs.
Linda Speely tucked her daughter’s hair behind her ear and straightened her dangly earring that had become twisted. “You’re lucky you don’t have to spend time in a juvenile jail. Taking care of handicapped children will be good for you.”
Kate pushed her hand away. “I’m not lucky. I’m going to hate it.”
Linda pushed the chairs evenly against the table and counted them, “One, two. Good.”
Kate’s mother packed her duffle bag for her stay at Camp Evergreen. She packed two pairs of shoes and two pairs of jeans. Kate was allowed to pick out her own shirts, but her mother insisted she take four instead of five. Kate stuck in two sweatshirts, some underwear, several snack bags of Doritos, and they were ready to go.
Robert Bingham met Kate and Mrs. Speely at the front gate of the camp. He towered over the women like the tall pine trees surrounding the entrance. ”Welcome to ‘Evergreen Pines Youth Camp.’ Our teenage campers have a variety of special needs ranging from ADHD to double amputees. This week we have a few special children who have been diagnosed with mild Autism or Asperger Syndrome.”
“This is going to be miserable. I wish I had gone to a juvey.” Kate pulled her hoodie over her head.
Mr. Bingham walked them around the campground. Each cabin room had two bunk beds, and the dining hall smelled like Sloppy Joes and Lysol. “Katherine will be assigned to mentor two of the campers. There will be a trained adult bunking with the three of them.” When they arrived at Kate’s cabin, Linda placed Kate’s duffle bag neatly on the bed and tucked in the end of the blanket that was sticking out.
Kate met her roommates, Samantha and Janet, just before dinner. Agnes, the adult helper, had short black hair that had a strip of white hair starting at her forehead and continuing to the top of her head. Kate called her ‘the skunk lady’ behind her back. Fifteen-year old Samantha told Kate her hair looked like strings, and Janet stared at Kate with frightened eyes that appeared older than her 14 years. “They’re all loonies. What am I doing here?”
After dinner all the campers sat around the campfire and sang songs while the camp director played the guitar. Kate was bored and pulled her hoodie up. “I can’t believe I have to stay at this horrible camp for two weeks!”
When they got back to their cabin, Anges collapsed on her bed and immediately started snoring. Janet crawled up to the top bunk, lay down facing the wall, and started to sob softly, thinking no one could hear her. “I know how you feel, kiddo. This camp sucks! Boy, am I thirsty – and my stomach is growling. A beer would taste great right about now!”
As Kate stepped over to her duffle bag for a forbidden snack, she tripped on a loose board. Curious, she leaned over to peek between the cracks. Samantha’s hand suddenly pulled Kate’s shoulder back. “Don’t look! Don’t look!”
Samantha yelled, “Because! Because there’s something down there and you can’t see it; you can’t see it!”
“What is it? A snake? A mouse? I’m not afraid of anything. I want to see what’s down there.” Kate was defiant now. She wasn’t going to let a retard tell her what she could or couldn’t do. Kate bent down again to pull up the board.
Samantha stomped twice on the crack, just missing Kate’s hand. “One, two!”
“One, two what? What are you yelling about?”
Samantha pulled Kate away from the loose board, counting every step they took, “One, two, three, four. You can’t look, Kate. You can’t look, Kate.”
Kate knew she had to gain Samantha’s trust because now she wanted to know what was beneath the floor more than anything. She pretended that she didn’t really want to look under the board and crawled to the upper mattress on the other bunk bed. Samantha fell asleep on the lower bunk under Kate. She kept murmuring something while she rubbed the silk binding on her own little blanket.
For the next few days, Kate stayed by Samantha’s side, studying everything she did. Samantha separated the food on her plate so it wouldn’t touch. She hated most of the camp’s outdoor activities, so the director let her organize the dining hall. Samantha counted the salt and pepper shakers, lining them up on the tables. She loved wrapping the plastic utensils in the napkins. Everything was counted in two’s or four’s. Any odd number would agitate Samantha and she would start yelling. Despite Samantha’s weird behavior, Kate actually started liking her. They counted everything in fours. They giggled inappropriate comments they made about the other campers. They sat by a picture window and watched the squirrels for hours. Kate let Samantha wear her hoodie so she could hide from people.
On the fourth day of camp, Kate decided she would try to look under the loose board again. With Samantha’s blessing, they lifted up the plank. On the dirt below the wooden floor were eight rows of white rocks, grouped in sets of four. “I did that, Kate. I found those rocks here in the forest. They’re beautiful, Kate. Aren’t they beautiful, Kate?”
Kate stared at the white rock formation, disappointed that they didn’t find a dead body or treasure chest of money. “Sure, Samantha, they’re pretty. What makes them so special?”
“Because I found rocks that were all the same size, the same size. That’s what makes them special. Look, they sparkle on the top too. I’m going to take them home and put them in my backyard, in my backyard.”
Kate agreed with Samantha and told her she’d like to come see them some day.
When Mrs. Speely came to pick up Kate at the end of the week, Kate told her mother all about Samantha. They walked up the path to their front door, and Kate suddenly noticed her mother’s flower garden. Separating the rows of flowers were white rocks lined up perfectly next to each other. Kate counted the rocks. Each row contained eight rocks. There were four rows. Kate stared at her mother.
“What’s the matter, dear? Is there a weed in the garden that needs to be pulled?”
It all became clear to Kate; her mother’s habit of counting everything; her mother’s outbursts of agitation when there was an odd number of spoons in the drawer; her mother’s obsession with neatness. “No, Mom, I just realized that going to Camp Evergreen was probably the best thing that ever happened to me. I’m sure you’re going to love Samantha when she comes over. You both have a lot in common.”
“That’s nice, dear. One step, two steps, we’re home.”