|It was a dull day when Rowena was taken to the orphanage by Social Services. She was really scared, she didn't know anyone. She wore black trousers, a black teeshirt and black boots. She was greeted by Mrs Donne, a kind friendly woman in a white dress, white blouse, white shoes and a white cap. "Are you Rowena?" she asked, "welcome." She took Rowena's hand and guided her into the orphanage, which was a six-storey skyscraper. She led her to the third floor, to a small cubicle which was the sixth on the left along the corridor. "This is your room," she said, "tea will be in half an hour." "Who will take me to tea?" asked Rowena, "I don't know where to go." "Patricia will collect you," said Mrs Donne, "see you at tea."|
|Patricia was late collecting Rowena. Tea was almost over when they entered the dining room. Mrs Donne looked really angry. "Where have you two been?" She thundered. "She wasn't ready," smirked Patricia, "she left me waiting half an hour." "Well your here now, sit down and have your tea, it's boiled beef and carrots."|
Just Like Mommy!
| Rowena stared into her bowl of stew. She tried so hard not to cry. That girl Patricia lied, and she would surely get Rowena into trouble! She hurriedly finished her meal so she could go back to her room. She thought to slip from the room unnoticed, but that was not to be.
"Your room is right next to mine. Come on, I'll take you." An older girl took Rowena's hand as she spoke.
"I'm Melody, and I'm thirteen."
"Oh, thirteen is big!" Rowena started to pull away. She'd known big people before. They were rough and mean and didn't care that she couldn't fight back. But now she couldn't stop the tears. This was not helped when ten-year-old Patricia marched past the two girls.
"What a baby!" Patricia sneered.
"Oh, you're just mean!" Melody called after her. "Don't forget what your first day here was like!"
Rowena was surprised when Melody released her hand and knelt down to embrace her. What a strange sensation! Somehow Rowena knew she could be safe with this girl. This was what someone told her having a family would be like. Still, what if they put her out on the street again...like other families had done?
Melody picked up the sobbing child and carried her to her room.
"Don't worry about Patricia. She just has a hard time with--"
"But she's mean!" Rowena screamed. "Well, what she said isn't true. You're not a baby. It's just your first day here, and you're scared. Everything will be all right. I will help you." Wow...Rowena had never known such kindness in her four years of life. Maybe things wouldn't be so bad.
Melody of the Heart
| Melody sighed as she sat at her desk with a textbook before her. She couldn't focus on what Mrs. Donne had assigned. Her mind was consumed with thoughts of the girl next door. Too bad Mrs. Donne wasn't the house mother anymore. She was the assistant director of this home. She was also responsible for teaching the middle school grades. The new house mother, Rebecca, was not nearly as sensetive. Actually, she was rather impatient and blunt, sometimes to the point of being highly abrupt. She had been hired because of her credencials, but what did that matter if she didn't care for the girls? Melody thought Scott and Alanna, the house parents for the boys, would be much better suited for the job. She sighed again as she remembered the bedtime scene earlier in the evening. At about 8:30, Miss Becky had marched into Rowena's room to put her to bed.
"But I don't want to!" Melody remembered the fear in the little girl's voice, but Becky would have none of her tears.
"Rowena, it is time for you to go to bed. I will not say it again. She had turned to leave, but Rowena stopped her with a question.
"what?" Becky had said, sounding annoyed.
"I can't read a story to you. You need to learn how to get to sleep without things like that. I don't have time for that!" And with that, Becky had left Rowena to cry alone.
Melody had stepped out of her room just as Becky was closing Rowena's door.
"You have schoolwork to do!" she said.
"I was just thinking that...well, I can go read a story to her."
"No, Melody, she needs to learn that stories and such aren't always possible. I'm far too busy for that. If you go in and read to her, she'll come to expect that, and that is inappropriate."
"But it's her first night here, and--"
"The answer is no! Do as you're told."
Now Melody pushed the chemistry book away and tiptoed to her door. She opened it a crack and, not seeing Becky, slipped into Rowena's room. The girl was still crying quietly, and Melody just couldn't listen to it without trying to comfort her.
"Go away!" Rowena screamed without turning to see who had entered.
"You have to be quiet. Miss Becky will hear you, and we'll get in trouble," Melody whispered, quickly crossing the room.
"Oh...what?" Rowena turned to face Melody, and the expression on her face displayed relief.
"I'm scared, and that lady is a meanie! The monsters came here with me, and I can't make them go away!" She disintegrated into sobs again, and Melody reached out to her.
"The monsters?" She just held the broken child as she continued to explain through her sobs.
"Yeah, in that place I lived before...they were there every night! And they...those big people told me the monsters would eat me if I wasn't a good girl. That lady is mad at me, and that means I'm bad. The monsters will eat me because I'm a bad girl!" She buried her face against Melody's shoulder.
"You're not a bad girl. Miss Becky just doesn't know how scary it is to live in a place like this. She lived with her mommy and daddy for a long time, and she never lived in a home like this. The monsters aren't here. Let's look together before you go to sleep."
"Okay," Rowena said hesitantly.
"I'll get my flashlight." When Melody returned with the light, she found Rowena sitting on her bed impatiently tapping her little feet on the floor. "Come on, let's look together. We will make sure they are all gone." Melody took her hand and led her to the closet. They looked in between all Rowena's clothes, in the corners and behind the door. Next, they turned to the desk and dresser and looked in all the drawers. Finally, they looked under the bed, and Melody even peeked under the sheets and blankets to assure Rowena that monsters weren't hiding there. When Melody finally tucked Rowena into bed, the little girl said sleepily, "I like you."
Melody went back into her own room, looked at the clock and got into bed. She'd need some sleep if she wanted to go to classes the next day. She tossed and turned, remembering her first days here at Rosewood Terrace.
Melody's mama had died of leukemia when Melody was seven. She had been terribly broken inside, but her hope was in Jesus. She knew she'd see her mama again someday. Daddy had died just weeks after her birth. Mama never remarried, and she often reminded Melody that her daddy had loved her. He had anticipated her birth just as Mama had done. And in the weeks before his death, he had showered her with love, according to her mother. She would see him again some day too, because he had put his faith in Jesus, too. That was what gave her hope as she moved on to this place.
Now Melody was miles away in Minnesota rather than Mississippi. People still looked at her strangely because she still spoke with a Southern accent and used the dialect, and some made fun of her "Southern charm." Or maybe it was the fact that she was black. She couldn't believe how prejudiced people still were, even in 2008!
Rowena was in the minority, too. She was a Native American. Maybe that was why people were so mean. Clearly, Rowena didn't have the same comfort as Melody. She vowed to make sure Rowena didn't have to go through this alone. She had done this sort of thing for other new arrivals. It wasn't for recognition; it was just her way. Mama had taught her to serve Jesus by serving His people. And the people here were some of the most needy. It still made Melody sad to think about her mother. She still missed her companionship and the love and wisdom she had imparted to her daughter. Still, she could thank God for allowing her to come here to help people like Rowena.
Reflection of Blackmoon
| Melody just couldn't sleep, and she knew she'd have a terrible time in school the next day. Still, she had to go through with this. As her thoughts turned from her own arrival at Rosewood to Rowena's troubled beginning here, she realized she would best be able to help the girl after she learned the background.
Melody quickly scanned the hall and found it empty. As usual, Becky was lounging in the sitting room watching television. Some house mother, she thought, as she silently slipped out of the dorm corridor. She quickly made her way to Mrs. Donne's office and found Rowena's file. She knew what she was doing wasn't exactly model, but this was the only way she could get the information. She deftly unlocked the filing cabinet and removed Rowena Blackmoon's file. She stood transfixed as she read by the light of her trusty flashlight.
The police and coroner's reports revealed just how black Rowena's beginning was. Anabelle Blackmoon was murdered by Rowena's father, Eric. When he was arrested, he shot and killed a police officer, and he was killed in self defense. What could police do when this deranged man was spraying bullets throughout the bar where he had been found? the only reason Rowena escaped the same fate as her mother was because her maternal grandmother had been baby-sitting her when Anabelle was murdered. She was truly orphaned even before her birth, because neither parent had wanted her. The coroner's report said Anabelle was killed by blunt force trauma. There were puncture wounds all over her body; she had been stabbed six times in abdomen, chest, and her arms and legs had been cut to ribbons. And as she lay there in agony bleeding to death, she was bludgeoned with a hammer! Rowena was bounced around from one family member to another. The state couldn't get involved since she lived on the reservation. Or maybe it was that tribal authorities didn't want to get involved. After all, what was a Native American baby worth? This final statement was the first bitter thought to bring Melody to the present. An Indian baby wasn't worth anyone's real time, effort, love? What unspeakable, horrendous acts had taken place prior to her placement at Rosewood? Melody was determined to show this precious child that she could...no, would...be loved no matter what. "I have been so blessed," she said softly as she made her way back to the dorm. "I was born out of love, but this child was the product of rape. My mama and daddy were killed by seemingly accidental means, but this baby's parents were murdered! My parents were delivered into the hands of a merciful God in whom they believed and put their faith. It's unlikely that Rowena's parents were believers. The reason I'm here is because Papa and Nanna were too ill to care for a child. No one in her family wanted her. I grew up knowing a God of love and the love of a mother, and she has been surrounded by drugs and alcohol. Thank You, God, for bringing us together. I'm going to do my best to care for her just as she deserves." She vowed this as her eyes finally closed in sleep.
| Melody awoke when she heard Becky in the next room trying to coax a tired Rowena to get dressed.
"You will do as you're told! I need to get Patricia out of bed. When I come back, I want to see you dressed with your hair combed and your shoes and socks on." Ten minutes later, Becky returned to find Rowena partially dressed with tears streaming down her face.
"You are disobedient!"
"But I...I need help! I can't do this!" Rowena threw her pants on the floor and proceeded to wail.
Melody opened her door and peeked into the child's room. When she met Rowena's gaze, she made a funny face and was rewarded with the hint of a smile. It was then that she saw Patricia also standing in the doorway with a mean smirk on her face.
"You need to go brush your teeth," she softly commanded the girl.
"No," Patricia said.
"Brush your teeth!" Becky commanded when she noticed Patricia.
"And why aren't you dressed, Melody?"
"I can help Rowena," she said, refusing to answer the question.
"Nonsense! She needs to do this on her own."
Melody saw the tears start to form again, so she quickly broke in. "I'll teach her how to do these things so this won't be so hard."
"I've had enough of this. See if you can talk some sense into the child!" As Becky turned away, Melody sighed with relief.
"What happened? Why were you sad when Becky came in?"
"I can't!" she wailed, kicking the pants toward Melody.
"Okay, put them on, and tell me when you need help." Rowena did so, and Melody could see that she struggled with the button.
"Noo!" the frustrated girl said, stamping her bare foot on the floor.
"I....no...I can't, and...and I have to go potty!"
"Okay, I'll help you. Take some deep breaths for me, okay?"
She reached out for Rowena's hand and led her to the bathroom. When she emerged, Melody asked, "Did you use potty paper?"
"Uh-oh!...I forget." She clearly thought she'd get in trouble, and her lower lip began to quiver.
"You just forgot this time, and that's okay. It has been a hard day. It's important to use potty paper, though, because you don't want to be all yucky," she continued to explain as she heped the girl get cleaned up.
"Okay, now it's time to wash your hands."
"No," Rowena whined.
"You don't want your hands to be yucky either!"
"No," Rowena agreed, clearly resigned.
"Okay, let's finish getting dressed." Melody looked at the clock and realized she had fifteen minutes to dress and prepare for school.
"Okay, let's see if you can put your shirt on before I get back." She dashed to her room and hurriedly grabbed something to wear, along with a brush. Rowena had her shirt on and was already working on putting her socks on.
"I am so proud of you!" Melody said. When her head emerged from her shirt, the girl was beaming. She had put shoes and socks on.
"Good job!" After I get dressed, I will put your shoes on."
Finally, the job was finished, and both girls hurried to the cafeteria for breakfast.
| "Today, we're going--"
Alanna, the preschool teacher stopped speaking when the door opened.
"Sorry, Miss Lannie. This is Rowena Blackmoon, and it's her first day here." Alanna Jacobs knew Melody's heart for the hurting, and she smiled at the older girl.
"Thank you for helping her. I'll be sure to let Mrs. Donne know you were helping so you aren't counted as tardy."
"I'll come for you at lunchtime, okay?" Melody said, seeing Rowena's eyes fill with tears. "You can play with Miss Lannie and all the people here. They are all really nice, and you'll have a lot of fun!" She waved as she left the classroom.
Now what was Rowena to do. This new lady smiled at her just like Melody did. She looked nice, but she was a stranger. What if she turned out to be like Becky? At this though, she stepped away from the new lady and began to retreat to a corner.
"Miss Hanna is going to read our Bible story this morning," that lady was saying. What was the Bible? Rowena had heard Melody say something about it, but she didn't get it? What did it matter anyway? The nice lady's voice interrupted her thoughts.
"I'm Miss Lannie, and I will be your teacher. I want to get to know you, so will you come play with me?" Alanna reached out for Rowena's hand. It wouldn't matter if Rowena wanted to play or not; obviously, this teacher could do whatever she wanted to do. She seemed nice enough, but how could Rowena be sure that wasn't just pretense? Still, this Lannie touched her gently and spoke softly and in a friendly tone. Maybe she would be like Melody after all.
Alanna learned much information from her role play with Rowena. They had played with dolls together, and Rowena had made her "baby" sleep in a pretend shed without blankets. She let her doll eat only when she was "good." The baby was oftened threatened with statements like, "Go away. You're bad. I hate you."
What must Rowena's life have been like for her to enact this in her play? Now Rowena was in the classroom with the other children and the two teacher's aides. She seemed to be adjusting well, so Alanna slipped out to do some detective work. She was on her way to the superintendent's office to track down Rowena's file, when Becky stopped her.
"Mrs. Jacobs, I need to talk to you about Miss Blackmoon."
"She has proven to be difficult to work with. She's obstinate, disobedient and demanding. You really need to give her a firm hand."
"Ms. Robinson, I appreciate your information. I'll teach her according to the needs I see, but I thank you for telling me this anyway." Becky appeared to be seething. Obviously, Alanna wasn't going to be drawn into her game. Finally, she marched toward the exit, seeing that she wouldn't get anywhere with the teacher. She had tried to warn Lannie, and the young woman would see the right in what Becky said soon enough.
Lannie stormed to the boys' dormitory.
"Scott!" she practically spat. Scott Jacobs, Alanna's husband, emerged from a small child's room carrying linens.
"What's wrong?" He knew that tone of voice, and now he could see that something was certainly afoot. Something went terribly awry.
"That blasted...Becky Robinson just tried to tell me how to teach my new preschooler. That girl has obviously been through dreadful things far beyond what I can imagine. I just did some play therapy with her. Well, you know how I try to become acquainted with my students. She's definitely been through something terrible, based on her play, and that dormitory shift worker..." She continued to sputter, unable to find the words in her fury.
"Alanna," Scott simply spoke her name as he drew her to him. The voice and touch seemed to calm her, and she tried again.
"Becky has absolutely no idea how to work with these children. They're all living here for a reason. I mean, there isn't one who doesn't come from some sort of trauma. Everyone deserves to be treated with kindness and respect, but these traumatized kids need special care. Becky treats all of us like dirt. It's not easy for the staff, but it's exponentially more difficult for these young people she's supposed to care for. Well, no matter what, I'm going to show my new charge that she's loved just because she's a person. We need to impress upon Mrs. Donne the full impact that Becky is having on her girls before she sends them spiraling into serious trouble." Scott just stood there listening to her talk. He knew that once she got this out, she could go back to the classroom with renewed energy. She was absolutely justified in her anger toward Becky. The woman had no idea of what children were about, especially troubled children and youth. Scott, as the night shift worker in Baker Hall (the boys' dormitory), he did have occasion to work with Becky. Since Mrs. Donne left that position, Becky ran Ashlyn Heights (the girls' dormitory) like boot camp. She couldn't march in as a drill sergeant and expect her girls to just fall in line. They were people. Some had been at Rosewood Terrace for years, but some were little, new, scared and still dealing with some sort of trauma, just as Lannie had said. Thoughts of the gentle, kindhearted and soft-spoken woman he had married brought him back to the present. "Thanks for listening," she was saying. "I was just so ready to scream...that, or send a fist into self-righteous Becky's face." Alanna sighed, and Scott knew she was finished venting for the time being, anyway. She smiled at him, and that expression reflected her gratitude. As he watched her walk back toward her classroom, he silently thanked God that he had faced a delay. He thanked God hat he was still at Rosewood; if he had left for home five minutes earlier, Lannie would have had to deal with that on her own. She certainly could have, for she was a strong woman. Still, he praised God for allowing him to be there to help his wife in her time of need. She, more than anyone else, understood the pain these children were experiencing. She had been sexually abused for years, and it still affected many aspects of her life. True, the Healing One, Jesus, was continually shaping those horrendous years to make sense of the abuse, but Alanna still had to deal with the effects of the years of incest and rape. Yes, as always, God knew what he was doing. Lannie was just the right person to help these little ones start anew--from the ruin of their trauma onto a path that could lead to God, if only they would choose Him.
Agents of Mercy
| Rowena stood in line with another girl, who was bouncing up and down.
"Janae, would you like to be the line leader today?" Miss Lannie asked.
"Can I be tomorrow day?" asked a little boy excitedly. "You may. Get in line behind Janae." As the boy skipped into line, Melody appeared in the doorway. As she walked through the door, Janae whined, "That's not fair! I'm leader!" Hanna, the aide, calmly walked toward the little group to facilitate.
"Janae, I need to go into the classroom," Melody explained as Hanna arrived on the scene.
"Fine!" the small child grudgingly relented.
"That wasn't a nice thing to say. That hurt Melody's feelings. How do you think you could handle that differently next time?"
"But I was scared she would take my spot!" Janae protested.
"How could you tell her that next time?"
"Um...Please let me be leader."
"That is a great way to tell her what you want." Hanna nodded in response to Melody's unasked question, so Melody knelt before the child.
"Now tell me that again," she said.
"Please let me be leader."
"Yes, you can be the line leader." Melody gave verbal response to Hanna's consent. Melody moved toward Rowena who was, surprisingly, talking to another little girl.
"Can she...she...eat wunch wif us today?" Rowena asked, excitedly waving at her new friend.
"Who is your friend?" Melody responded.
"Yay!" Eliza squealed, because she had deduced Melody would let her join. Melody got in line with the two girls, but her mind was racing. Christmas was just one week away, and this was one time of year that was terribly difficult for her. Coletta, her mama, had died two days before Christmas, so this was always tough for her. Sometimes it was heart-wrenching even still. Last night, a memory sent it all crashing down upon her again. She tried to focus on the children surrounding her. They needed her help, but it was just so hard...
Melody halfheartedly watched her charges eat their spaghetti, but she was still dealing with the sudden grip of depression. and as always, God cared for her needs even before she thought to pray for them. She felt a hand on her shoulder, and she met the compassionate gaze of her boyfriend and best friend. Thank God for Gabriel, she thought. He knew this time was difficult for her and always sought to provide extra support.
"Hi, Gabe," she said, trying to smile, but he wasn't fooled. He had just opened his mouth to offer assistance when another person joined the group. It was Kalila, Melody's other best friend. She, too, knew this was a difficult time for Melody. she had seen the look of pain through Melody's facade. Melody masterfully feigned serenity for the little children, but Kalila could see the torment behind the mask.
"Hi, Rowena, I'm Kalila. Can I help you with your spaghetti? It's attacking your face!" Surprisingly, Rowena giggled, and Melody sighed with relief.
"I'm going to let Kalila sit with you today," she turned to the girls and explained, trying to keep her wobbly smile in place. And with that, Gabriel helped Melody stand. She disguised her physical pain well, but Gabriel and Kalila could tell her arthritis was bothering her something fierce today. It was due to the subzero temperatures. They slowly walked to Baker Hall, where Gabriel knew they would find solace.
"The new girl who came last night...well, it just reminded me of my first days here. It's so hard, especially now."
"It's even more troubling now because we're approaching the anniversary of your mom's death."
"Sometimes..." Her voice trailed off when she felt the tears coming. She tried to turn away, but Gabriel would have none of that.
"Sometimes I think I'm over the worst, but then it all comes back, and I feel like a lost child again." Gabe's heart went out to the broken girl before him. He had been orphaned as a baby, and no one had wanted to adopt him, because he was a black baby. Therefore, he didn't really know what she was experiencing. Still, he could support her to the best of his ability, and he could trust that God would care for her. Gabriel put an arm around her and grasped her hand with his free one.
"God, only You know the pain Mel is going through. Comfort her heart as only You can. I ask that You give her an extra measure of grace in your infinite mercy and according to Your love..."
As Gabriel continued to pray, a peace flooded Melody's heart. Yes, her God was always there. She had begun to feel completely alone, and she was tired of hiding behind the facade. Sure, most of the time, people got exactly what they saw in her. But during times like this, it was so hard. It wasn't anyone's fault. She just didn't think it was fair to take her own feelings out on others. That was not what her Jesus would want...her Jesus! That was true. She belonged to Him no matter how much she missed her parents and how lost and alone she felt. Only Jesus could so completely love the shattered girl and the heart that was breaking even now. She sighed with relief as Gabriel finished praying.
"I will still miss them terribly, but I know Jesus is with me, and He will help me. I will depend on God's strength." As Gabriel reached down to help her stand, she realized she could now face the rest of the day and the extra tasks in the dormitory. Now she could fully help Rowena to adjust to her new life.
| Zakir Muhari and Liyana Kahlil watched Gabe and Mel walk from Baker Hall to the school side of the building. Their dark-skinned friends had encouraged these two culturally-connected young people to reach out to each other in a new way. Liyana and Zakir both came from conflict-ridden Jordan. Both children's parents had been killed in the Middle East conflicts when Zakir was ten and Liyana nine. They had been at the orphanage in Minnesota for five years. As fellow Muslims, they clung to each other and found the common cultural ground to be comforting. Most people didn't understand them and had no real interest in forming any sort of friendships. Like many people, others assumed they would be violent, religious tyrants, but Melody, Gabriel and Kalila reached out to their dark-skinned, ostracized neighbors. Although the two "groups" had vastly differing religious beliefs, they all believed in one God. None overtly tried to convince others of their religious convictions, though each one was confident in his or her own value systems. The African-americans freely spoke of their God with great flourish and emotionally expressive language. However, they did not do so in a forceful, condemning or condescending nature. They just expressed love to their friends through their Jesus. They did not see Jesus as a great teacher, as did Zakir and Liyana. The two Jordanians were more reserved, but the three black young people didn't seem to be disturbed by this.
Then their were Becky and Scott. They were completely different in personality, and this filtered into how they treated their charges, especially the minorities. Becky had no patience or use for Liyana and her strange Muslim customs. She often belittled the girl and reacted caustically to Liyana's religious observances. During Ramadan, Becky was rather unkind and endeavored to "break" Liyana's fast. She tried to refuse to allow Liyana to eat after the fourth (sunset) and before the first (dawn) prayer. She thought this would entice the girl to eat during daytime hours, which Liyana refused to do. Mrs. Donne had given Zakir and Liyana permission to observe this particular custom during this lunar "holy" month. Therefore, Becky could do nothing about this. In contrast, Scott, upon learning of Mrs. Donne's acquiescence, allowed Zakir to participate without giving him any trouble. Although Scott clearly did not share Zakir's beliefs, he certainly didn't belittle the young man. Zakir appreciated this more than he could express. He, along with Liyana, was ridiculed at every turn. Many of the other young people lashed out at them as a reaction to their own fear. The media and common misconceptions passed along to the children at the orphanage naturally created in them great fear, anger and even hostility. Perhaps this was the reason a select few stood out to Zakir and Liyana. Scott, Alanna, Kalila, Gabriel and Melody's actions toward the "weird" Zakor and Liyana were attributed to Jesus. They often said that they were to love people as Jesus did. This was beginning to make the two Islam young people think about Jesus as their friends viewed Him. While they had no intention of betraying their God, Allah or his teachings as given to the prophet Mohammed, they tried not to take offense at their friends' seemingly blasphemous statements about Jesus as God. How could that be possible?
| It was the end of the day, and Rowena felt she had friends. Melody held her hand as they walked into Ashlyn Heights after school. A group of girls gathered in the dorm snack room. Rowena wasn't watching where she was going, and she tripped over a big foot. She started to fall, but the figure reached out to steady her. She looked up into the face of a tall man, sure she would find anger there.
"Sorry," she whispered, shrinking back.
"That's fine. I'm just glad you didn't fall. Say, would you like to share my candy bar?" Brennan knelt down to face the Native girl. While Rowena and Brennan ate his candy, Melody smiled conspiratorially at Brynn, Brennan's sister. The twins were now seventeen, and Brennan was an emergency medical technician. While he was busy learning first aid and CPR, Brynn focussed her attention on art therapy. Melody knew of her plan to help Rowena emerge. Melody scanned the room. All the girls were there.
Ten-year-old Patricia sat at the table with ice cream before her. As usual, she strove to be the center of attention, but that wasn't the way things worked out. Fourteen-year-old Liyana stared contemplatively at her book as she nibbled on pretzels. Kalila and Jada, both black students who were fifteen, poured over music scores as they ate apples. Five-year-old Janae passed a rubber play ball back and forth with seven-year-old Camille. Little Emmalee, two; and Sarie, eighteen months, sat in high chairs playing with their cheese. Finally, six-month-old Anna was safely tucked in her crib for a nap.
Jamillah, a high school volunteer from the nearby public school came in to help during the busiest times of the day--afternoon and evening hours.
Brennan was in Ashlyn this afternoon to help Brynn carry some of her art supplies from her car. Jada smiled at him as she took the box of supplies.
"Since you can't go any farther than the sitting room, I will take these to Rowena's room.
"What?" Rowena jumped up and looked at the older girl.
"We have a surprise for you, but finish eating with Brennan, and then we can show you." But Brennan didn't have the time he wanted to get to know the new little girl. He left her with the half-eaten candy and exited the room when he heard the sure sign of someone in trouble. Miss Canterbury, the elementary school teacher had just entered Ashlyn with a screaming nine-year-old, Louisa.
"What happened?" he asked, looking the girl over. She was sobbing, so the teacher explained.
"We were walking back here together, and she slipped on the wet floor...darn snow!" Miss Canterbury muttered her last words. By this time, Louisa had plopped onto the floor, extending her legs out in front of her. She was screaming full force, and Brennan could tell that she was now starting to have trouble with her asthma. She was a girl whose asthma could flare during extreme laughing or crying spells. He had to help her calm down before things got worse.
Melody, Jada and Brynn tried to get Rowena out of the room before she got a chance to really observe the scene. Then Jamillah and Kalila exited with the two youngest girls, Emmalee and Sarie. The dormitory director, Amy, quickly closed the door so as to prevent the other girls from watching the commotion. They sure didn't need more stress.
Brennan ignored the activity around him. As he calmly talked to Louisa, he examined her foot and discovered a badly sprained ankle.
"I need you to breathe for me, okay? I'm going to get something to help you start to feel better. I need you to really work on breathing...can you do that?" Louisa sniffled and nodded as Brennan quickly left for Baker Hall. By the time he returned, Makenzie, the nurse, had arrived. She smiled approvingly as she took the inflatable splint from Brennan. This was a man who knew what he was doing. Makenzie sure appreciated the extra help.
"What pain meds should she take?" she asked the young man.
"Tylinol, because of the dangers of giving Aspirin to children."
"Very good. I'd feel quite comfortable with allowing you to treat minor injuries. You have learned so quickly, and you're precise. You clearly love what you're doing, and you respond in a timely manner. You have picked up on everything so quickly. I'm very pleased." Brennan looked into the snack room to make sure the girls got all the art supplies. As he left, he smiled, quite pleased with makenzie's praise. She felt he was competent, and he appreciated that. Her words gave him confidence in integrating his knowledge.
Back in Ashlyn Heights, the four girls gathered in Rowena's room. Jada left to see how she could help the staff with the other girls, but Melody and Brynn remained behind. Melody knew that Brynn and Rowena would work better together if she was present. Melody seemed to be the only one Rowena really trusted, and Melody was glad of this. However, it was clear that most of the girls would love to interact with her. She would just have to learn that she could trust them, and Brynn was clearly on the right track.
"Oh no! That bug is crawling toward me...no, don't eat me!" Brynn said expressively, clearly joining in Rowena's game. The little girl giggled as she made the clay bug move toward Brynn. She had made the bug out of play dough at Brynn's prompting. Now rowena picked up a tiny rolling pin and smashed the bug.
"Splat!" she said loudly in her high-pitched voice. Then she frowned.
"What's wrong?" Melody asked.
"Hungry!" Rowena said.
"Would you like a banana, little bug?" Brynn asked, winking at the girl.
Brennan scanned the hall and didn't see any girls. He had asked the director, Amy, for permission to pass the boundary line. She granted the request, and Brennan quickly, gently picked Louisa up and carried her to her room.
"You did a great job today. I'm very proud of you." Brennan was always so nice, and he helped Louisa to know she would be all right. And for this, Louisa rewarded Brennan with the semblance of a smile.
All this was the beginning of Rowena's new home, a place where she'd be surrounded by love. She could be transformed as she learned that people cared for her, just because she was God's child.
| Kennan and Brynn shared more than the teaching of the art therapy class. They met in this way, but the bond soon deepened. Their relationship was always professional during the class, but anyone who saw them outside the classroom knew of their deep, abiding love.
Brynn led Rowena into the classroom. She surveyed the group. Patricia and Janae were the girls who were enrolled in the course. They were having difficult adjusting, though they had all been at Rosewood Terrace for quite some time. She noted the two boys, Cade, five and Jason, seven. Kennan was also there, but then Brynn noted a third person.
Andra, the psychologist, had suggested that these specific students become involved in the art therapy. She wanted to see what Brynn and Kennan did with this group.
"It's yucky!" Jason's loud proclamation brough Brynn to the present rather abruptly.
"what's wrong?" she asked quietly.
"I hate this!" He thrust his painting at her.
"but it's beautiful. What were you thinking about when you painted this?"
"My mommy," Jason muttered as his lip began to quiver. Brynn retrieved the crayons, as drawing seemed to be Jason's favorite expressive medium.
Rowena looked at all the people around her. She knew some of them, but she hadn't seen anything like this before. Those big people talked to each student, and they were all given things that would help them.
"Would you like to start with clay I have some that smells like strawberry!" Kennan offered a piece to her.
"I would like you to make something that tells me how you feel today." What? How was she supposed to do that? what exactly did that mean, anyway? What if she didn't know how she felt. She was still scared, but there were people who were really nice to her. Still, could she trust these people? She made a snake shape and then twisted it. Brynn was circulating throughout the classroom, and when she came to Rowena, she asked about the sculpture.
"I'm mixed up! This place is scary," she explained.
"I know. It's hard to get used to new places, especially when you don't know anyone. Do you like it when Melody helps you?"
"Yes. She always smiles, not like Miss Becky. She's mad all the time. She's mean."
"She doesn't understand how hard it is. You won't be alone in this scary place. We like you and want to help you. That means we want to read bedtime stories and check for monsters, get snacks and get ready for school, and we want to play with you!" Brynn had a nice smile, too. Maybe this place wouldn't be so bad.
Midnight feasts and fun
|Melody had a plan. On Christmas day she, Rowena and the other girls were going to have a midnight feast when Miss Nicky was in bed. Tina-Anne Jonquiel still had some family and they were going to send her a large hamper. She and the other girls were so excited. It would be a disaster if Miss Becky found out at this late stage. the art group were making placecards for the feast. Everything depended on Miss Becky sleeping through the feast.|
| It was the last day before Christmas break. While all of the children lived in this place, they still needed a break from school. The Ashlyn girls weren't looking forward to ten days of Becky's crap. Melody didn't know how much longer she would be able to put up with Becky's treatment. She sighed as she entered the dormitory. Tomorrow was the anniversary of her mother's death. When Mrs. Donne had been "in charge," she always let the children structure tough days a little differently. She made sure she was aware of the things these young people were dealing with, and teachers and residential staff were always reminded. That way, students wouldn't be reprimanded for leaving classes, and Chandra always made sure she was available during those difficult times. What would it be like this year? Becky certainly wouldn't care about what was going on in Melody's life. Maybe Kalila, Jada and Liyana could help the younger ones tomorrow so she would be free to...
She unsuccessfully tried to shove the thoughts aside as she opened the door to find most of the girls with snacks in hand.
"It's all going to work out," Jamillah whispered to Melody as she passed. Wow, that girl was articulate! If she could tell that melody was troubled...but she didn't have time to ponder this any longer, for a new face emerged from the group. It was only then that Melody noticed Amy, the residence life director.
"Becky is no longer working with us, so I would like to--"
"Good! That stupid, disgusting blob of a--" Patricia interrupted Amy.
"Patricia! That will be enough!" Amy reprimanded. "i would like you all to meet Sierra. She will be starting tomorrow, but she wanted to come today to meet all of you."
melody could tell right away that this woman would be completely different than Becky. Thank you, God, she prayed silently as she watched Sierra's interactions.
Sierra had met with all of the relevant staff: Mackenzie the nurse, Miss Canterbury the elementary school teacher, Alanna the preschool teacher, Laurel, the middle school teacher, chandra the counselor, Scott in Baker Hall and Noah the new high school teacher. They all seemed to genuinely care for these students, all except for that woman who had just resigned. It was a good thing; Sierra could see why Becky had made all the girls miserable. Now as she stood surveying all of her charges, she wondered just what it would take to reach these girls. She looked at a black girl of about thirteen who was listening intently to a white second-grader and a Native american preschooler. This is quite a diverse bunch. She didn't linger on the bewildering group for long. She remembered Laurel Donne, that black girl's teacher, saying that the anniversary of her mother's death was approaching. If she wasn't mistaken, it would be the next day. She knew all about what it was like to be bounced around from one home to another, and then to enter the foster care system... Melody did an outstanding job concealing her pain as she interacted with the other young girls, but Sierra could tell there were a few people who knew what was really going on. She saw Kalila, Jada and that boy, Gabriel, frequently look at her. They would waqtch her intently, and Sierra instinctively knew these were the people Melody could call true friends. It was by God's design that she should start work tomorrow. She had been told that Melody was more of a mother to these girls than Becky could ever hope to be. Melody shouldn't have to handle that job tomorrow, so it was just the right time for Sierra to begin. How like God to orchestrate something like that to shower His needy child with grace!
Sierra offered to go to the cafeteria with the girls that evening. She noted that Melody had brought her walker with her. Someone had said she had juvenile rheumatoid arthritis or something. She was too young to have to worry about something like that, but she bore it admirably and didn't let her pain show. Just as before, the three attentive friends seemed to know just what was going on without Melody saying a thing. As Sierra circulated around the dining room, she saw Gabriel put a plate of food before Melody. Sierra turned from that group and walked across the room toward the latest arrival. She was told that Rowena had arrived just two weeks before Sierra's arrival. Rowena was clearly terrified, and why not? she remembered something that Kalila had said: Becky only added to Rowena's fears. Sierra could tell, however, that Rowena let some people in: Melody, Brennan and Kalila. Once again, Sierra surveyed the crowd. Gabriel appeared to be helping Melody cut something. Kalila sat at another table with Jason, Janae and Camille. Just as in Brynn's art therapy session, Jason was quite beligerent for a five-year-old, but Kalila seemed to be working well with him. Brennan was sitting nearby with two toddlers and an infant from Baker Hall. Jada worked beside him, feeding anna. Sierra heard shrieks of laughter and looked around to see Brynn making funny faces at Emmalee and Sarie as she coaxed them to eat. It seemed to Sierra that this group was full of light. They came together out of the pain of their lives to become a family--the only family any of these children had left after those in their own homes were violently wrenched away. Sierra prayed that she would be able to help bring vitality back into this group and to infuse life where Becky had brought destruction.
Siera's First Day
| Siera skipped into work the next day, she was very excited. She was looking forward to getting to know Rowena Blackmoon. That child needed attention. On her way to Ashlin Heights she bumped into Becky on her way out. "You've got a lot of hard work ahead of you," sneered Becky. "Looking after those brats."
"They seem pretty nice." Replied Siera, "especially Rowena Blackmoon."
"Who, Rowena?" Sneered Becky, "she's a cry-baby. Doesn't do what she's told, but she's your responsibility now, not mine, you'll have to deal with her."
"Yes I will," replied Siera, "and when I deal with her, I will deal with her with love, not abuse." Siera walked quickly away from Becky then. She had the sudden urge to punch Becky in the mouth and that wouldn't be good on her first day in a new job.
all change at Ashlyn Heights
| siera had a plan.. she had learnt of miss becky's ill treatment from the other staff, and by her chance meeting with her just now, she knew it couldn't have been a nice atmosphere to grow up in.
so that afternoon, she called a meeting with amy, miss canterbury, and the other staff.
" we should take the kids out," said siera. " you know, a christmas treat... i'm pretty sure they've not had a treat since miss becky's been running this place, and i want to make things nice for them. "
the other staff agreed, and it was eventually decided that their would be an oppotunity to visit the local zoo. siera would run the trip for those who wanted to go, and those who didn't want to for what ever reason, would stay behind with miss canterbury. their was a couple things to get organised, a bus, the most important, lunches, and also numbers of people that were actually going. but siera told the staff not to get the kids hopes up yet, as it may not be possible. she'd have to look in to see if it can be done. but still, they all agreed it would be a great idea.
that night, it was the midnight feast in Ashlyn Heights. as promised, melody came in with a lot of food for the girls. rowena stared at it and asked " all for me?"
" not all of it", said melody, " we have to share. "
it was a pleasant evening, not just because of miss becky's departure, but because it gave the girls a chance to have a bit of fun, and a chance to enjoy themsleves.
little did they know, however, that things wouldn't last this way- and miss becky was not totally out of their lives. while she'd left, it was not for the reasons that everyone thought and she would soon be back to cause trouble. but for now, the girls thought, let's enjoy our freedom.