For the next few weeks I will be sharing the first several chapters Tatia’s Tattoo. Links to previous chapters are at the end of this post. Following is Chapter 4. Chapter 5 will be posted on Sunday.
CHAPTER 4: WELCOME TO CAMP
Tatia inched down the aisle of the MD-88 behind a tangle of arms, legs, and luggage wheels as the late-boarding passengers vied for limited overhead bin space. Her nose told her that at least one of her fellow passengers had opted for a heavy spritz of cologne in lieu of a shower, and she was grateful when she realized she was passing rather than sitting by the offender. The aroma of brewing coffee soon overpowered the unpleasant smell as Tatia moved back toward the galley. Her travel agent usually arranged seats closer to the front of the plane, but apparently the Dallas-Ft. Worth area was a popular destination this time of year. Thankfully, though, her seat was by the window on the two-seat side of the plane so she would only disrupt one person if she needed to move around during the flight.
By some miracle, Tatia found a vacant spot where her suitcase fit with a minimum of shoving, and she slid into 29E just as the stewardess began to encourage the stragglers to take their seats. Her traveling companion for the next two and a half hours was already plugged into the tunes she had stored on her phone, so Tatia pulled out her notebook before sliding her shoulder bag under the seat in front of her.
She had received the resource notebook the second time she went to Royal Children’s Camp, that time as Deborah Grochowsky’s staff assistant. The neatly typed pages, organized into sections by printed dividers, belied the emotions behind the words – words that attempted to prepare the volunteer camp workers for the intensity of the feelings they would experience as they encountered innocent victims of childhood abuse and sought to impact their lives with the love and acceptance they wanted and needed.
When she opened the purple vinyl cover, her eyes fell on the two index cards in the inside pocket. After her first year as a counselor instead of a staff assistant or teen helper, Tatia was allowed to forego the training weekend with the understanding that she would review the notebook on her own. Each spring, she received any material revisions along with two cards, one for each girl she would fall in love with during their week together. The cards contained scant information – first name, age, and pertinent information. Notations might include *New, *Bed Wetter, *Runner, or *Night Terrors, and almost all of them included *Meds. This year, both her girls were on medications, and one was new, but neither had other issues. One was eleven years old, and the other was twelve. She preferred to work with the older girls, always hoping she might create life-changing moments and somehow save them from making the mistakes she had made.
She whispered a prayer for the two precious children whose lives had been reduced to words on cards, praying that by this time next week they would both know how special they were to God and to her. She thought about Monday when each child would step off the bus, timidly looking around for an unfamiliar face and a welcome sign with his or her name, indicating that, at least for the next five days, she belonged. She smiled as she thought of the signs she had made over the years, signs on neon-colored poster board lettered with sparkly letters cut from sheets of adhesive foam, all supported on stir sticks from the paint store.
These silly signs represented so much to these who had so little, and that’s why the entire staff jumped around like crazy people as the buses approached, yelling and waving signs, anxious to see the fearful expressions melt into relieved smiles as the thought registered, Oh, that’s my name! That’s also why she was flying in a day earlier than absolutely necessary – so she could spend a couple of hours in the middle of piles of art supplies, cutting out sparkly letters.
Tatia thought back to the summer Ms. Dunham had arranged for her to go to camp. The day they left, she and her foster siblings were so excited and full of chatter that even Josie’s threats of making them stay home if they didn’t settle down couldn’t dampen their spirits. However, as soon they climbed aboard the bus and confronted a sea of tense, wide-eyed faces, their smiles faded, and they froze in place until Tatia pushed them all toward the back where they squeezed together onto two seats across the aisle from each other.
By the time they reached the camp, the younger ones were whimpering and begging to go home. Then, they noticed a commotion in front of them as the other children crowded close to the windows in spite of admonitions from the adult riders to stay seated.
“Look! Look!” they shouted excitedly as they pointed and pressed their noses to the glass.
Curious, Tatia and her crew moved to the right side of the bus and craned their necks to see what had sparked life into everyone. What they saw was a large group of people from teens on up, all smiling and jumping, waving their arms or signs, laughing and shouting. The signs had names in large letters, and some of the letters were sparkly.
“Look! Shelby! That’s my name!!” shouted one excited little girl.
“Yes, campers,” said one of the adults. She had given up trying to keep them in their seats, and she seemed as excited as the people outside. “All this excitement is for you, to welcome you to camp. As soon as the bus stops, gather up anything you brought on the bus with you. When you get off the bus, there will be camp grandparents, aunts, and uncles to help you look for a sign with your name. The person who is holding that sign will be your counselor for the week. Your counselor will take you to lunch and then help you find the rest of your luggage. Welcome to Royal Children’s Camp. Get ready to have fun!”
As she finished speaking, the bus lurched to a halt, gently tossing everyone against the seat in front of them. No one seemed to mind, though, as the sense of excitement spread. Tatia herded her little group toward the door, making sure nothing had been left behind. She was halfway down the aisle when she felt a tug on her shorts. She turned to see her youngest charge, looking scared and smearing tears across her cheeks with the backs of her hands.
“Tatia,” she wailed. “how will I find my name? I can’t read.”
“It’s okay,” Tatia said, kneeling beside her and picking up the ragged, stained blanket she had dropped on the floor. “I’ll help you.”
“How about I help her,” she heard someone say. “And how about you go find your counselor and start having a good time.”
Tatia looked up into a pair of twinkling gray eyes that were so full of life and joy that she couldn’t help smiling back. “Well, that’s very nice, but…”
“I know. Your mom told you to watch out for the little ones, right?”
“But that’s not your job this week. Your job is to be a kid and have fun.”
“But you’re a kid,” she said, still a little bit unsure.
“Well, yeah, but I’m sixteen, and I’m one of the teen helpers. My name is Jesse. See. It says so right here,” he said, showing her the badge he wore on a lanyard around his neck. Then, he smiled and held out his hand. Reassured by his easy-going manner and the small heart and cross tattoo on the inside of his forearm, she took his hand, and he pulled her to her feet.
“Thanks. My name’s Tatia, and this is Kaley.”
“Hi, Kaley,” he said, squatting down by the five-year-old who, by this time, had her thumb in her mouth and the corner of her blanket lying against the side of her face. “I’m Jesse, and I can read. Can I help you find your name while Tatia goes and finds hers?”
Kaley stared at him silently for a few seconds before nodding and putting her free hand in his.
“Do you have anything on the bus besides your blanket,” he asked her. She continued to stare at him seriously as she slowly shook her head. “Okay, let’s go,” he said as he led her toward the front of the bus. After a few steps he stopped and looked back at Tatia. “The counselors for the older kids are over there,” he said pointing past the driver. “Have a great week. See ya’ around.”
By the time she did a final check to be sure she wasn’t leaving anything, Jesse and Kaley were gone. She smiled to herself, thinking that she liked his eyes and his smile. He was almost as cute at Eric.
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