READ PART ONE AND TWO FIRST
“So, um…” I straightened my tie and tried to figure out the smartest way to ask a dumb question. “How does this community service thing work?”
Noelle clasped her clipboard to her chest. Lately, it had been like an extra body part. Even since I had confessed my wish to be, you know, a good person, Noelle took it seriously. Maybe too seriously.
She had sent an email back to my Aunt’s lawyer, telling the lawyer that we accepted the offer. He responded with more details, the fine print of the will.
I had to complete a year of community service, fifteen hours per week.
I almost quit when I heard that. Fifteen hours spending time with lost causes? No, thanks.
But then I saw the look on Noelle’s face and swallowed my complaints.
“The community service thing,” Noelle said, rolling her eyes, “is actually easier than it seems. “ She handed me her phone. “Here’s a list of options.” She pointed to the first thing on the list.
Donate clothes to Caring Clothing.
I wrinkled my nose. “Do I have to do that?”
Noelle glared at me. As I glared back, I realized that Noelle was really good at the death stare.
“Look,” I said, finally breaking down and handing her phone back. “I can’t even keep any of this money, so why should I kill myself doing it?”
“Getting rid of stuff isn’t going to kill you!” Noelle argued. “It’ll teach you some humanity.”
I frowned. “Humanity? Who needs humanity?”
Noelle matched my frown and crossed her arms over her clipboard. “You do, it that dumb, handsome head of yours.”
“Who’re you calling...wait,” I launched myself to my feet. “Handsome?”
Noelle turned red. “You’re so self-centered,” she muttered, then practically ran out of the room.
I stood there, grinning like an idiot. I had never made Noelle blush before. I considered it a milestone in our relationship.
But my triumph faded as I remembered her accusing tone. She was right. I was self-centered. Maybe I needed a dose of humanity after all.
--- --- ---
“That’s it,” I groaned, throwing a tie down. “I can’t do this. I can’t.”
I flopped onto my bed headfirst. A loud crash brought me scrambling to my feet.
Noelle staggered through the doorway, arms piled high with clothes. I rushed forward to help, eager to prove that I was a gentleman. She tossed the entire pile at my face.
“You’re going to do it,” she said firmly. I deflated. I had hoped my complaints had fallen on deaf ears.
My thought process froze, wondering when I started caring about Noelle’s opinions. I had been catching myself doing that a lot lately.
Noelle held up a t-shirt. “You never wear this! Get rid of it!”
I snatched it out of her hands. “I might need to wear it one day. What if my future girlfriend loves…” I glanced at the shirt, “snowboarding pandas?”
Noelle wrinkled her nose. “You’re impossible.”
I rumpled my hair. “Well, there’s something we can agree on,” I sighed. Going through my clothing, I learned that being a nice person was harder than I expected. It meant, you know, caring about others besides myself.
I knew that my clothing was going to people who needed it more than I did. Even though it was hard, it was worth it.
Or so Noelle said.
Also, going through this process, I learned that I might be somewhat of a hoarder. An organized hoarder, but still.
“Look,” Noelle sat down on the bed. “I know this is hard, but if you don’t try, you’re never going to make improvements.”
I slowly lowered myself down next to her. “It’s not that. I want to improve. It’s just… what if my father was right?”
Noelle waited. I stared at the panda shirt in my hands. I crumpled the shirt in my fists. “My father always told me not to trust anyone. It’s just a really hard habit to get out of. In fact, you’re probably my only friend.”
Noelle inhaled sharply but still didn’t speak.
I stood up. “Thanks for everything, Noelle.” I left before she could see the tears in my eyes.
--- --- ---
The next day, Noelle avoided me at all costs.
She refused to look at me during breakfast and mumbled a hurried excuse about having to weed the garden. She left the dishes to me, which I was not pleased about. Why do I pay for a housekeeper when I end up doing the work?
But mostly I cursed myself for telling her that she was my only friend. She probably thought I was a lonely weirdo, and if she did, she wasn’t wrong. I had ruined the only friendship I ever had, if you could even call it a friendship.
I finished sorting through my clothes alone, and this time I didn’t hesitate to throw out the panda shirt. I loaded the clothes into my car and drove to Caring Clothing.
When I dropped off the bags, nothing extraordinary happened. No angels came down and praised my goodwill. No one even gave me a second glance. Nevertheless, I felt strangely satisfied, knowing that my clothes were going to people who didn’t really have nice things. It was a feeling I had never had before.
I was so distracted on the trip home that I almost ran over the side of the road. In fact, I nearly killed myself on multiple occasions. SoI was pretty shaken up when I pulled into my driveway. I tumbled out of the car, unlocked the front door, and pushed it open.
A flannel blur smelling strongly of beer tackled me almost immediately. I shrank away.
The man was poorly shaven, with red-rimmed eyes and a saggy gut. His jeans were riddled with holes and his hands were so dirty it was as if he was wearing gloves. I could barely see the outline of his fingernails. I was disgusted.
“What… who is this?” I asked Noelle, who was hovering behind the man. Her hands were shaking.
“I’m so sorry, I tried to stop him-”
The man cut in with a boisterous laugh. “C’mon, boy! You don’t even recognize your own pappy?”
It felt like someone had punched me in the gut. The air left my lungs, leaving me breathless and dizzy.