Saturday morning, Amber awoke to the sounds of tiny chirping outside her window. A quick check of the little family told her that all five babies were awake and ready for breakfast. After she had eaten her own breakfast and finished her Saturday chores, she asked her mom if she could go over to Melissa’s house.
Melissa lived down one block and over two blocks, on Davis Drive. She lived with her mom and her grandmother. Melissa’s dad, who was in the army, was stationed in Afghanistan. Amber rang the doorbell and waited. She could hear women talking, and after a minute, the door opened. It was Melissa’s mom on her way out the door to go to work.
“Hi, Amber,” she said. “Melissa will be right here. What are you girls planning to do today?”
“We’re not sure,” Amber told her. “We might go to the park or just ride our bikes around.”
“Why don’t you bring your friends back here for lunch?” Melissa’s grandmother, Mrs. Oates, called out to her as Melissa started out the door.
“Want to have lunch with us?” This time it was Trisha, Melissa’s little sister, who was peeking out from behind a door.
“Thank you, Mrs. Oates, and thank you, Trisha,” Amber said. “I’ll have to call my mom first, but I’m sure it will be okay.”
As Amber and Melissa were getting on their bikes, they saw Logan, Chris, and Spike riding down the street.
“I wonder if they’re going to the senior center,” Melissa said.
“Probably,” Amber answered. “Maybe we should go see if anything’s going on there today.”
The two girls stopped by Laura’s house, and then the three of them headed for the senior center. The first person they ran into was Gus.
“Come on,” he said. “I’ll show you around the place.”
The senior center was one large building with a flat roof. It had cream-colored siding and green trim. Gus ushered the girls through the front door. There they noticed the bulletin board with the flyer for Three Handy Guys.
“Do many seniors get help from them?” Melissa asked, pointing to the flyer.
“You’d be surprised,” Gus answered. “Those boys are really popular around here. A few weeks ago, they helped me paint my front porch.”
In the main room, some of the seniors were playing checkers or chess. There was a small room off to the side with exercise equipment. A yoga class was going on in one part of the room.
“That’s how I keep my youthful figure.” Gus laughed as he struck a pose. The girls couldn’t help grinning at his knobby knees sticking out of his Bermuda shorts.
Amber noticed a hairstyling salon. It was closed on Saturdays, but she asked Gus about it.
“I don’t go there much myself,” he said, rubbing his bald head. The girls all laughed again. “The main thing seniors come here for is the lunch,” Gus told them. “The senior center serves a free lunch to anyone over the age of sixty-five, every Monday through Saturday.”
“Wow,” Laura said. “Who pays for that?”
“The town pays for some of it,” Gus said. “We get lots of donations, and most of the work is done by volunteers.”
“Could we be volunteers?” Amber asked. “You know, junior volunteers like the boys are?”
“New volunteers are always welcome,” Gus said. “Come on in the office. I’ll introduce you to Walt Collins. He’s the manager here.”
Walt was a man in his sixties with graying hair and glasses. He was dressed in gray slacks, and the sleeves were rolled up on his white shirt. Walt had been a grocery store manager, but now he volunteered his time keeping the senior center up and running.
“We’re always looking for volunteers,” he told the girls. “Of course, there’s some paperwork you’ll have to do. Mostly, we have to make sure we have your parents’ permission. We don’t want to break any laws.”
“Of course not,” Amber said. “How do we get started?”
“Here are the forms you’ll need.” Walt handed them some papers. “Mrs. Snow is in charge of the volunteers. She isn’t here on Saturdays. You can drop the forms off with any of the volunteers, and they’ll see that she gets them.”
The girls thanked Gus for the tour. As they walked outside, they noticed the Three Handy Guys sweeping the walkways around the senior center. Chris put down his broom and came over to greet them.
“There’s not much going on here today,” he said.
“We know,” Amber told him. “Gus took us on a tour, and Walt gave us the forms we need to become volunteers.”
“That’s great,” Chris said. “Then we’ll probably be seeing you around here a lot.”
“See you later, alligator,” Gus called to them as he got in his car.
“After a while, crocodile,” Logan, Chris, and Spike answered back.
“Why does he say that?” Melissa asked.
“It’s something people said when he was a kid,” Chris explained. “Gus is a real friendly guy. It’s just his way of letting you know he likes you.”
The girls climbed on their bikes and headed for Melissa’s house. “What’s for lunch?” Laura asked.
“What do you think,” Amber answered for her. “Leftover pizza.”
“That’s not all we eat,” Melissa said. “But it would be fine with me if it was.”
“Lucky for you that your mom manages a pizza restaurant,” Laura added.
“Yeah,” Melissa said. “Real lucky.”
Lunch turned out to be hot dogs, chips, applesauce, and root beer floats. Trisha had chosen the menu. She was setting the table outside when the girls returned. When she saw them, Trisha came running over and wrapped her arms around Amber’s waist.
“Amber!” she exclaimed. “Come and see my pet rabbit.” Trisha dragged her across the lawn to a wire pen. Inside was a small black lop-eared rabbit.
“What’s his name?” Amber asked.
“His name is Jellybean,” Trisha told her. “Do you want to hold him?”
“Does he kick?” Amber asked.
“Not very hard, he’s too small to kick hard.”
Laura and Melissa joined them as they watched Jellybean hop around in the yard. Trisha was giggling and chasing after him.
“How’s school?” Laura asked Trisha while they were eating their lunches.
“I’m the best reader in the first grade,” Trish announced proudly. “My teacher is Mrs. Bell. She always asks me to read out loud in class. I get good grades on my report card.”
“She’s a real whiz kid,” Melissa said somewhat sarcastically.
“She does her homework right away when she gets home from school,” said Mrs. Oates, who shot an accusing look at Melissa.
“I do my homework,” Melissa defended herself. “I might not get it done until ten o’clock, but I do it.”
Amber was thinking that maybe having a perfect little sister wasn’t any better than having a perfect big brother. When the girls finished lunch, Trisha followed them to Melissa’s room. She stomped her foot when Melissa closed the door in her face.
“Trisha,” Mrs. Oates called from the kitchen. “Come and help me clean up the lunch dishes.”
“Okay, Grandma,” she said. Then the girls heard Trisha stomp down the hall.
For a while, the three friends listened to music and practiced their dance moves. Then they played some video games.
“What kinds of things do you think we’ll be doing as volunteers at the senior center?” Laura asked.
“I’m not sure,” Amber answered thoughtfully. “Maybe we’ll help serve lunch or do some cleaning. There are probably lots of things that need to be done.”
“I wonder how many volunteers they have,” Melissa said. “Maybe they already have other people doing most of the jobs.”
“We could help some of the seniors who live alone like Betty Jenkins,” Laura suggested.
“I could make a flyer like the boys have, and we could put it up on the bulletin board,” Amber said excitedly. “But what should we call ourselves?”
“Spike said we should call ourselves Three Useless Girls,” Melissa reminded them.
“Then maybe we should call ourselves Three Useful Girls,” Laura offered.
“That would just make it easier for Spike to make fun of us.” Amber shook her head. “We need a name that is way different from theirs.”
“What about Three Helpful Girls?” Laura said.
“That’s not much different.” Melissa shook her head. “Amber’s right, we need something that doesn’t sound like we’re copying the guys.”
“We could be Girls Happy to Help,” Amber suggested.
“How about Happy Helpers?” Laura shouted with enthusiasm.
“That’s perfect,” Amber and Melissa agreed.
“We’ll be the Happy Helpers,” Amber said excitedly. “I’ll make the flyer this weekend, and we can put it up on the bulletin board on Monday.”
The Handy Helpers book series is available at Amazon