Carol hoped she hadn't made a mistake, forcing Chuck to come on this field trip. After 20 years of teaching, Chuck was one of the few students who had confounded every technique in Carol's book of teacher tricks. Rude, angry, insubordinate, disrespectful, he never missed an opportunity to flaunt authority or buck the system. When his counselor had begged Carol to allow him in the Choraliers, she was reluctant to say the least.
"I can't have unruly kids in that group," she warned.
"Come on, Carol," Lee Washington had cajoled. "I've seen you work miracles with kids before. This is pretty much his last chance before he hits the streets."
Always a sucker for a "last chance kid," Carol had reluctantly agreed. In the three months since school started, Chuck had made no progress toward assimilating himself into her advanced group of singers. He blew off rehearsals, stood in the back of the room with his arms folded when the choreographer was teaching steps, and wore a chip of his shoulder the size of Dallas. So, she sighed, watching the kids pile out of their cars on this sunny December afternoon, bringing him to perform for their annual program at Ridgeway Convalescent Center was probably a huge mistake.
The choir members trekked happily inside, familiar with the punch and cookie reception they knew would be waiting for them. Eager and excited, they passed through a gauntlet of elderly, infirm residents waiting silently in their wheelchairs, reaching out gnarled and trembling fingers to touch the girls bright dance dresses, shake the boys firm hands.
Taking their positions in the middle of the dining room, the choir smiled, sang, shared their youthful exuberance with unguarded selflessness. Carol let her eyes run the gamut of singers as they finished their last song, noticing Chuck's sullen look in the farthest corner of the bass section. His eyes remained downcast and hooded, his mouth barely moving, even as they concluded with Silent Night, that most familiar of all carols.
Their set done, the students moved around the room one last time, bending down to greet those who made eye contact, saying a few words here and there in exaggeratedly loud voices. Then, hastily throwing on coats and hats, they were rushing through the sliding doors, heading off to one more performance at the local mall.
Carol took a quick head count as they passed into the frosty air. Chuck was missing. Had he managed to sneak out the back, heading for the nearest arcade or even bar? Snatching up her car keys, Carol quickly turned toward her car. Suddenly, she heard loud guffaws emanating from the dining room behind her. There he was, his large, bulky frame seated comfortably on the sofa between two wizend grey haired women, laughing and joking. Both women were grinning broadly, and one reached up to gently pat his large back. "Such a sweet boy!" she exclaimed.
Noticing Carol's amazed look, he rose hastily from his seat. "Ms. Woodward," he said, "I'll be right there. I just wanted to speak to these ladies for a moment."
"That's fine, Chuck," Carol said, doing her best not to sound as dumbfounded as she felt.
"You know, I just love old people," he confided, shoving his arms into the sleeve of his padded down jacket. "My grandma, she's the one that raised me. She lives in a nursing home now, too, and I go see here every chance I get."
Carol followed him to the cars, watching as the group he was riding with called out joyfully for him to "Hustle up, bud!"
Maybe Chuck's last chance would pay off after all, she thought.
Written for an exercise in the Gotham Writers Workshop on Fiction Writing