Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: SOCIAL (04/07/16)
TITLE: Drinking the Kool-Aid
By Joe Moreland
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“Michael! Can you make balloon animals?”
“Really? You’ve done it before?”
“I’ve seen it done before. How hard can it be?” She was so excited that she didn’t really listen to my answer, she was already walking me over to the stand she had set up.
“Thanks, little brother. You’re a lifesaver!” With that, very accurate, declaration she was off to take care of something else. I stood behind the balloon counter and surveyed the scene.
Kids. Lots and lots of kids. There must have been thirty of the suckers running around. There were screaming kids, shoving kids, falling kids, throwing things kids--pretty much every kind of kid imaginable. I hadn’t seen so many of them since I was one myself.
An hour or so later my balloons were the talk of the party. Almost every kid had one and was involved in an animated conversation with some other kid about what it was.
“Mine’s an aardvark!”
“No it’s not! That’s an elephant!”
“Uh-uh! That’s a giraffe!”
Yep. My balloon animals were all anyone was talking about.
Mary tapped me on the shoulder. “Michael, uh, I hate to tear you away from the balloons, but I could really use your help with something else.”
“Sure thing, sis. Whatever you need.”
“There are a lot more kids here than we planned for and we’ve run out of drinks. Could you go into the kitchen and make a crap-ton of Kool-Aid?”
“I’m on it.”
As soon as she left, I began to wonder where the kitchen was. It was a new house. Oh, well, it wasn’t that big. I was sure that if I walked around for a while, I’d find it.
As I wandered down the closest hallway, I passed an open door that led into Mary’s home office. Brandon was sitting at the desk reading a book.
“Hey, buddy! Happy birthday!”
“Hey, Uncle Mike. Thanks.” He barely looked up from the book.
I frowned. “What’s the matter? You got an awesome party, with wicked balloon animals, happening out there.”
“There’s too many kids.”
“Well, they’re your friends, aren’t they?”
“No. I don’t know hardly any of them. Mom just invited pretty much every seventh grader in existence. They’re here for the jump-houses, cotton candy, carnival games…”
...and dunking booth.”
“They may have come for the dunking booth, but they are staying for the balloons...trust me on this.”
“Mom’s just doing this because my teachers at school have been talking to her about how I don’t socialize enough or participate in class. Apparently there is a friend quota at school that I’m not meeting. Believe me, I’m the least popular kid here.”
“Hmmm. Well, I’ve got to change some water into Kool-Aid for a thirsty horde of seventh-graders. Want to come show me where the kitchen is?”
Brandon closed his book and stood up. “Okay.”
“And the Kool-Aid? You know where to find that?”
“Pitchers? Long-handled spoons?”
Brandon was already leading the way down the hall, smiling. “Sure.”
“You guys have water, right?”
In the kitchen, I returned to the topic of friends. “So do you have a hard time making friends?”
“Not really. I just...don’t...much. I like to read and do things by myself.”
“What about your classes? Do you get good grades?”
I scratched my head. “I don’t get it, then. What’s the problem?”
“The teachers say I’m ‘in my own head’ too much and that I need to ‘come out of my shell.’”
I picked up the two pitchers of Kool-Aid I had made to head back to the party. “Well, if you ask me, shells are pretty awesome things--especially with cheese. I wouldn’t worry too much about it. A lot of really important people have had these same things said about them. Just keep being yourself. You’ll be fine and this will all blow over soon enough.”
As I sat the pitchers of Kool-Aid on the food and drink table, thirsty kids began to storm the cups. I noticed Brandon still with me.
“Decided to join the celebration after all, huh? Not worried about being the least popular person at your own party anymore?”
“Why not?” But I knew why. It felt good to make a difference in someone’s life.
Brandon smiled. “Because you didn’t put any sugar in that Kool-Aid.”
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