Out of breath, Mike crouched under the canal bridge; sadness warped his features as he sniffled from the cold. The sadness was obvious, but what could he do...he wasn't going back to that home - and that seemed all that man, Edward was his name, wanted him to do. But he'd die before he went back to that home.
With little light, the darkness wrapped around him; and his thoughts drifted back to when he wasn't much younger than he was now.
His parents had been arguing late into the night, as usual. It was getting depressing with the amount of arguing his parents did. With doors being banged shut, the night became quiet - for a few hours at least.
Another day started all too soon, and his parents were already going at one another like hammer and tongs. His distress obvious, his breathing becoming laboured, he laid down before falling down as the stress overtook him. Why they were arguing, he couldn't understand. "Couldn't they see what it was doing to him?"
The day went slowly, and as the night drew to its full, he drifted off into a less than deep and relaxing sleep. He was scared - but he wasn't. He wanted to die - but then again, he didn't.
The morning sun flooded in to the resentment of Mike ...thoughts of a pleasant, warm, and lovely day were not on his agenda.
"Mike, are you up, breakfast is ready," his mum shouted at the top of her lungs, not seeming to be in any better mood than he was.
"Okay, Mum, I'll be down in a minute," he shouted. He had a quick wash, and tentatively walked downstairs. He'd clean his teeth later, he thought.
With breakfast in front of him, he picked and stirred what was on his plate, moving it from one side of his plate to the other, stabbing at it with force. Being it wasn't a school day didn't help his mood any, but he kept his voice to near normal. "Where's dad?"
"He had to go to work, a meeting of some sort. He said he'd be back before dinner." Sensing his tone, she tried to change the mood. "We're having your favourite tonight, Shepherd's Pie," then smiled.
With no reaction, he rose from the table. "I'm going to the park." And off he went...no by your leave or anything - he just left.
His mum and dad had seen the change in his moods ...they just didn't know why. He'd been like this for weeks, but had said nothing to anyone. Not seeing their own part in what was an explosive situation, being so wrapped up in their own problems.
At the park, he gazed out over the pond listening to the ducks as they noisily skimmed across the water. Sitting on one of the benches, he looked up into the sky trying to avoid the sun. Wanting to give back some of the grief he'd taken from his parents, but ...he couldn't, he wouldn't. His head was screwed up, but not so screwed up that he'd dare do that. Thinking about it, he wasn't sure he wanted to anyway.
Mike walked into the kitchen and frowned hearing the disagreement; then smiled, this being the first smile for some time. Monday wasn't a bad day.
This was the day that he would be free from it all. His parents could argue all they wanted.
His mums sleeping tablets waiting in the bathroom cupboard would end his misery. But come the time, he lost the nerve, running away instead for the umpteenth time. Found by the police sleeping in a launderette, he was taken to the police station.
After telling them what had, and was happening at home - and after refusing to be sent back to his parents, he was scheduled for a visit to juvenile court.
Being taken away from his mum and dad, by choice, he had no earthly idea where he might end up, even though knowing it was only a temporary measure.
Ending up in a children's home close by, settling in was a problem; therefore, he was moved to an orphanage some distance away. Settling in again proved a problem, never seeing the outside world, only the confines of his now residence.
Running away often became a threat of a detention centre - a borstal, not being as strict.
The housemaster, having friends, got him placed in, if only for the weekends, a place to take him away from what at times he considered his living tomb. Though Mister and Mrs. Roberts were nice to him, it was never going to be anything permanent.
As Mike finally settled down to his situation, he could now be assigned foster parents with the view that if he wished, it could be permanent.
Given the foster parents from hell was not what it seemed from the beginning, they were nice and it felt like he had a family that was settled, no arguments ...disagreements, but a family. That had his thoughts drifting to the last time he felt like he did now - maybe he was better off before.
A child wanted, but never given the chance to be relished.
The thought in his mind was manifested by what he had to look forward too. At that moment, his thoughts got to blame.
What now seemed his only mistake was being born at all? At his home from hell was abuse, a belt, being a go-between to being grown-up!
He looked around despairingly. The street lights of orange didn't seem to lift his mood, lonely for company, lonely from life. He tried to take his mind off his troubles by thinking happy thoughts, but that didn't work either.
Tears rounded his eyes at the thoughts of his mum and dad, who on their way to court taking a bend in the road at speed, their car hit a tree killing them instantly. What was never known to the end, their disagreements were their downfall, leaving their beloved son with the complex of if he'd only stayed home.
David and Mister Braithwaite walked cheerfully out of the study, George watching on with admiration. Though disabled by life and what it betrothed, David gave his tutor his own lessons in ability. Though maturity lacking, he punched above his weight, as they say.
David was at his happiest when it was time for lessons. A little strange maybe, but learning was a joy, whereas with most children it was a chore.
Watching with pride, George placed a hand on David's shoulder. Again getting a smile, pure joy enveloped his face at the simple gesture.
George looked at what he himself called a bundle of joy with a smile, thoughts of the many expressions he attained. Eyes tightly shut, mouth pursed, maybe even a tongue finding a way out of its confines, all in the name of concentration. Thinking back to when he was David's age, his concentration was on playtime - as far away as possible from his point of learning.
Though not last in the queue for brains, study was more of a chore than a pleasure. George gave a smile to the back of David's head, his thoughts on the fact as maybe to David learning was a barrier, such like a medicine to take his mind off his troubles ...the pain, so to speak.
As he looked down at what this family would call heaven sent, his thoughts seem to portray that he should find another release for the sorrow and upheaval that his peers thought were right for him, but then again no, this tender, silent piece of humanity found a way to challenge, overcome ...distancing himself, bettering himself from people, who by definition are older, and should know better regarding the treatment they gave.
No, David didn't need a release, his release was from the pleasure he gave himself, knowing he had accomplished something, something that the abusers can never take away. One could say a Robinson Crusoe, learning taking the place of a man Friday being his release. For David, a world of his own - in this case, learning being his way home, his release from the hardship.
"David, Mister Braithwaite, it seems studying is more fun than when I was a girl. Lunch is ready. I hope I can persuade you to stay Mister Braithwaite?"
"Tom, please. I'll have to watch this young man, before long he'll take my job, if I'm not careful." David's look of pride couldn't be hidden as Mister Braithwaite ruffled his hair.
"Would be my pleasure, may I give you a hand?" He said, accepting the invitation.
"David, go and get cleaned up. You also Mister Braithwaite, we can't be spreading germs," she said with a wry smile. Mister Braithwaite returned the action with thought at the old woman. The pleasant nature of the household, an easy going grip not to let go, could only benefit David. With a steady stroll, he caught up to David.
Edward walked into the kitchen, slowly taking note of who was around. His mother was at the stove, after looking into the oven at her roast. Mister Braithwaite has long since departed. David would be in the study, no doubt reading, or on the lawns by the fountains.
"Edward - I didn't hear you come in."
"Hello, Mother," giving her a peck on the cheek. "Social services wants to know how the renovations are coming along. I told them they aren't. That upset them."
"But wasn't that the agreement?"
"Originally, yes. Judge Moseley, Sam, rang my office asking how things were going with David. Just making conversation, I mentioned the alterations they had deemed necessary ...safety they say. I backed that up with while he was at the orphanage they didn't at that time deem it a necessity. Then before I could finish the sentence, he tells me they don't have the authority to demand it."
"So, what will happen...with David, I mean?"
"Well, to quote Sam, 'Seeing as I was one part of the duo that arranged for David to be put in a place of safety. I will, again, give them my point of view.' And I can say without any doubt, I know one person that will be over the moon about that. Where is David by the way?"
"Last time I saw him, he was sitting near the fountains."
"Are you sure you haven't got a long-lost son hidden away? I mean to say, he couldn't love those fountains anymore than I did ...so he must be a relative."
"No, I haven't; but I know exactly what you mean."
While Elizabeth made tea, Edward made himself comfortable at the table to read his, not so much anymore, morning paper.
David was, in fact, in the study watching the flames dance to a silent tune.
Retreating from his daydream, David looked up, then walked over to where the silhouette was sitting, of course in his usual chair.
He looked at who he now called his grandfather and smiled. "David, I heard your Nan on the telephone earlier, she was a little upset." David stared deeply at his grandfather, not hiding his distress.
Hearing his distress. "Calm down, David. David, I know you want Edward to be your father - and he is. So, tell me why you called him uncle?" He watched as the sadness, the emotions crossed David's every feature.
"David, look at me. I think I know why. But David, don't throw away your happiness because of being scared. I know your mother and father died while you were young - before you got a chance to know them. But now you have a father. When you were growing up in all those orphanages, I bet you wished, prayed even, that you could have a family of your own," allowing the silence for David to contemplate ...the upset, even the loss was obvious.
"David, you now have both, a family and a father. Whatever may happen, you will always have that, believe me. David, this house, this family are your refuge forever. What do you think Edward would do if they tried to take you away from here?" leaving the question open. There was a look of sadness, even hope as he gave his grandfather a hug. Though he never felt it returned, he knew his grandfather felt the embrace.
He apologised for being selfish as he left the room. "Father!" he shouted as he, at some speed forward, if only by one leg - or was that two?
Both adults looking up in complete shock. "Slow down there, soldier." Smiling, he was sure he saw a tear in his mother's eye as, with more luck than good judgement, he managed to stay upright.
"Father? Now there's a change for the better ...;" He said teasing
"What would you say if I said you don't have to move?" He saw the confused look. "Bedrooms. You don't need to move bedrooms, if you don't want to."
"No! Now the deer won't get bored looking at you. One thing, just don't be so quick coming down those stairs, because I'm not cleaning up all that blood. I want to see you grow up."
"You leave my little man alone." Which again gained his Nan a smile, for David and a dirty look for me.
"David? Do you think the old butler's room would do for say, making you a study room, even a games room? I mean you could get a TV, maybe one of those modern contraptions that plays video games? Tennis, I think?"
He looked me in the eye with a bewildered look - me? And to further compound the look, he said no. "Sir, if they take me away from here, I wouldn't take them, because I wouldn't want anyone else to have them."
Why would you want something you never had, or if you were lucky enough to have it, then to watch as it gets taken away? It was easy to understand the reason why.
David, it seems, had laid a weight on his own shoulders. I had no doubt that in the back of his mind, he would love all those things; but the whole truth is he's scared. To have a family, his own family that can give him those things would help. But to David, a foster child, he knows he could be moved anytime. This stance is more than pride - it's a statement. Going back to when he was at the orphanage, whatever he had was taken away, whatever personal belonging he had, he had to pay for himself ...earn. I admire him for this; in what you earn is what you have a right to.
Looking on the other side of the coin, if this was his legal family, then I would hazard a guess there would be less of a struggle about accepting them. This goes back to the point: what you don't have, you don't miss. Having to lock himself away from people - outsiders - puts more pressure on what decisions he makes.
Confidence would alleviate a lot of what David has built up in his mind over the years. It seems, as the saying goes, a seed once planted some years ago had manifested itself and split into many categories, mainly self-assurance; and of course, self-confidence.
Carrying him into the study, "David, we need to talk," he looked at me with some apprehension. "Let's sit down. David, I want you to understand something. Whatever you are given while you are here is yours. If you have to leave here, you can take them with you, or leave them till you come again."
"If they take me away, you won't be my family anymore." You could see his distress at the thought.
"David, please look at me. This house will always be your home; and the people in it will always be your family. I know you've taken a beating in the past, and I know you had to give up everything by locking yourself away; but David, you have to give up this notion that it has to be approved before it's real. A family doesn't just mean a mum and dad, brother and sister. It can mean a friend like Billy?" He looked up, a little surprised.
"I'll bet you and Billy did homework together? Told each other secrets? David, true friends are like brothers." I'm pretty sure he saw the logic, but couldn't connect the dots.
"Can I tell you a secret? I was scared too." His eyes opening a little wider.
"I never wanted to have children. Seeing the people, I deal with every day can be scary, and I didn't want any child of mine seeing it. I'm still scared, so we can be scared together, okay? I love you, David, and so does your Nan. If anything ever happened to you, I would be safer in prison for life. What about your uncle James, Jeremy, Samantha, even Louise." Now he was deep in concentration.
"Bringing up children is a blessing; but if I couldn't bring you up properly, then you'd be better off with someone who could." He hopped over as quickly as he could, crawled onto my knee, and gave me a hug.
"I don't want anyone else to look after me." I have to say, I had tears in my eyes.
George looked on with admiration and pride.
"One night, after you'd gone to bed, I looked in on you, you were sleeping so peacefully. You were contented, and it shone out like a beacon. I still didn't know if I could look after you, but I knew I couldn't put you back into a situation that would undoubtedly hurt you again, so I knew right then that you were going nowhere. I still had doubts, but I knew lives depended on it.
"That night I had a dream about a boy who was about your age." He sat up straight with concentration in his eyes.
"The boy had lost his parents, like you, he was in the care of the local authorities; after a little while, he also got foster parents. After he had been with them awhile, he became a burden. Both drank heavily, and after a while, he became a punching bag." I watched as David became tense, upset, tears in his eyes. I pulled him into a hug, but I'm not sure it was enough.
"The thought that I never got his name still nags at me.
"Waking up aggravated me. I still don't know why I should get angry after all, it was only a dream.
"What afterward felt like a nightmare bothered me for some time? You see, David, that dream was telling me what I had to do. In the dream, I talked to him, listened to him, just like a father would. My thoughts were put into actions, and I was dealing with the boy as if I was awake. Everything was as it is now." He again laid his head on my shoulder. I felt I had broken down one small barrier, as I had no doubt that all the information was going round and round inside his mind.
"I can't tell you what may happen; but I promise, I'll do everything within my power to keep you here," hugging him tightly.
George looked at the scene with a glint in his eye. If they could have seen him, they would know that he knew more.
A horrible thought crossed my mind; what would his reaction be over getting him a prosthesis? If he wouldn't accept a simple gift, then Mount Everest was going to be a big mountain to climb.
"You know if your parents were alive today, they would have been really proud of you. I know I am. David, will you do me a big favour?" looking up without saying a word. "Let people see the David we know, don't hide him away. You have a heart of gold, let people see it. At the orphanage you were scared, you made yourself invisible. But you are here now, and no matter what happens, you will never have to hide yourself away again. Your housemaster Mister Heard shouldn't be around children, and if I have my way, he never will be again. Mister Heard forced you into being alone, but as wrong as it is, only you can stop that. The man has a lot to answer for. And he will, believe me, but until you stop being scared ...he wins - do you understand?"
Silently he looked around the room as if trying to find something, that something was George, who gently squeezed his shoulder, and whispered in his ear that everything was going to be alright.
"I know, but now I have help." I dismissed the comment, at least at the time. It wasn't as much the comment as the smile he radiated with it.
"Things rarely run smoothly. At the orphanage, you had to go through that alone, but now you don't. David, I need you not to be that scared little boy anymore."
"I won't. I love you, Father."
"Try dad, it isn't so formal," I said, as I gently squeezed his shoulder. "So what do you say, the butler's room as a study? I can even supply the books, or if I give you pocket money, you can buy your own." The extra pocket money suggestion seemed to raise a smile.
A knock on the door brought an end to the conversation, even though the discussion had gone to silence. "Come on, you two, supper is ready. What you can find to talk about for so long is beyond me." I thought us boys were the ones to say that!
After David had gone to bed, I gave Sam a call, hoping he hadn't retired ...with the hope of getting some news on our Mister Heard. "Good to hear from you, you don't need another favour?"
"Not exactly, I was hoping you could bring me up to date on Mister Heard."
"I thought you would have been told already - the case was dropped."
"From what I was informed, the boys in that particular house didn't back-up what David told the police. The only witness they had was Brian Phelps, if memory serves me; and he could only report about his first day and finding David in the shed. He kept his story of being hit, but they couldn't put him in front of a judge for that, especially as that could be dealt with in a magistrate's court."
I saw mother at the door, what I didn't see was David. "Edward, what's the matter!" It seems my expression was showing obvious contempt.
"Sam, will you contact Charles for me, I haven't got his number handy. I am going to need a lawyer! This could get nasty, if I I'm not careful." Though sounding ludicrous, I heard the silence.
"Why would you need a lawyer?"
"Sam, Social Services could take David!"
"They couldn't do that."
"Sam, they now have a get out of jail card, as there is no proof of cruelty, and you know they didn't let David stay here quietly. If you hadn't ruled, he would have been buried under miles of paperwork in some other God-forsaken children's home."
Hearing the door slam, I looked around - I knew instantly - David! "God, no, does everyone want to get their claws in. He's only a child, for God's sake."
"Sam, I have to go."
I immediately went to his room. "David." Getting no reply, I invaded his space, only to find the room empty. Not finding him anywhere in the house, I was in a panic.
Shouting his name every few steps as I walked around the house, the gardens, even wandering into the wooded area; though I knew he would never wander into it alone.
As I came from the side of the house, I heard crying. "Damn, the fountains."
As I walked toward the fountain, I saw David sitting on the lawn with his head buried in his chest.
"DAVID! Don't you ever run off like that again?" I needed to calm down before I pushed him over the edge.
"I'm sorry. I'm sorry."
I walked over slowly, kneeling in front of him. "Come here, Son." As I picked him up, his arms went tight around my neck. I felt his fear as he trembled, and pulling him closer did little to soothe him.
"You won't let them take me back. Don't let them take me back." I hope while I am on God's earth, I never see the fear that I felt in David as he trembled.
Shocked, I held him like a piece of China. "David, you are my son; and I promise you, there will be murder, if they even try."
Walking back up to the house I comforted him, but he seemed oblivious to it.
The phone was ringing off the hook as we walked inside, David still clinging to my neck.
"Thanks, Mother. Sam ...Yes, I'm okay, but I've got a scared little boy ...I'll ring you tomorrow when everyone is calmed down." I wished him a good night as I replaced the handset.
As I walked into the kitchen, there was mother's recipe for what seemed all ails. "Drink your tea while it's warm." As I put David in a chair, I noticed he was still wearing his pyjamas. David picked up the glass of milk his Nan had poured, taking a mouthful.
"David, do you remember when we talked earlier? Then you know Jesus Christ himself couldn't take you away." Reassurance was all that I could at that time give him, but it was what he needed to hear. As he put his glass down, I was glad to see he'd gotten some colour back in his cheeks.
"David, I need you to promise me that you will never run away like that again ...if anything happened to you?"
"I'm sorry," as tears ran down his cheeks.
"David, I'm not angry; but please understand, you are not just part of this family, you are a part of us ...wherever you are, whatever you do, you are a part of this clan. David, I deal with the worst of society every day; and believe me, you don't want to be alone on the streets - especially at night." I'd hoped, without putting the fear of God into him, he wouldn't think of ever running away again.
He went over to his Nan and gave her a kiss on the cheek, then hopped back, got up on my knee and gave me a hug. "Okay, 'little man,' time for bed."
"I love you, Father."
"Remember, no formality. Tut-tut-tut." Giving him a gentle tap on the behind, which got a little of the David we all knew back.
I knew there was going to be very little sleep that night as we all retired, David spending the night with his Nan ...at her insistence.
George leaned over and gave both his wife and his grandson a kiss on the forehead. David, though awake, smiled, even if not content. As George drifted to the study, he gave thought to the bond that was strong, but yet insecure. Though not yet fully absorbed in the family way, he knew David would learn from his mistakes and errors of judgement. As for Edward, the price of fatherhood is to teach. And though showing piety away from his own well being, he had formed a bond that had shown devotion to his family.
"God bless you, Son."
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