That evening there were some back-to-school things to be settled for me, as well. There were bags of notebooks, binders, pens and pencils - enough items to make me wonder how I was supposed to keep track of it all. I spent a good part of the evening writing my name on the inside cover of each notebook and packing a new back pack with my supplies. I was told I wouldn't go shopping for clothes as I had more than enough.
In the morning I got caught up with the other residents in a spate of chores. Rooms had to be cleaned, then bathrooms and so on and so forth. I washed my sheets and was horrified to find the unidentifiable stains on the mattress. I flipped it over but it didn't look much better. Once my laundry was done and it was well past lunch, I escaped the dreary confines of the group home and made my way to Kyle's home.
The house was moderately impressive. It had vinyl siding, and its design seemed to be some sort of marriage between colonial and modern styles. A short driveway led to a two car garage, and of course, his basketball hoop was placed on the edge of the road. A flowerbed ran along part of the front, mulched and looking very well kept. I walked up to the stoop and rang the doorbell. Moments later the interior door opened and a pretty woman with Kyle's hair color looked at me through the screen door.
"Hi," I said in greeting. "Is Kyle home?"
"I've got him weeding the garden out back. He'll probably be back there for a while," she said in an apologetic tone.
"Oh? Well, maybe it'll get done faster with a second set of hands?" I held my own hands up for example and wiggled my fingers. "I can weed like nobody's business."
A little smile played about her lips. "Is that a fact? And if I find you goofing around back there instead, what then?"
"Hmm. I know, I'll do your dishes." I looked at her seriously. "I hate dishes."
She raised an eyebrow at me and tilted her head to one side. "There's a gate on the side of the house." She paused for a moment and I was about to head for the gate when she spoke unexpectedly. "You don't look familiar. Who are you?"
I smiled. Even though I'd already said it a few times, and expected to repeat the story endlessly, I knew I'd need to put the accident out front and center with Mrs. Winters. Mothers have a soft spot for injured kids, and I'd need every advantage I could get. "I'm Drake Mathews. You may have heard bad things about me. I was in an accident and lost my memory. I've heard I was a jerk, but I'm trying to change that."
Her eyes grew slightly wider. "I've heard the name. I think Kyle said something yesterday," she said and contemplated me for a moment. "I'm sorry about your parents."
"Thank you, Mrs. Winters. I have no memory of them or the accident, so I'm afraid I really don't...I don't know. Lots of people say that, and I don't have a good answer. It's hard to feel when you have no memories to connect you to someone."
"Yes, I'd imagine that's true." She looked at me with all the concern a mother could express for an orphaned child. She was probably being hit with thoughts of what would happen to Kyle should he be in my situation.
"Well, weeds await." I smiled and waved my hand at her. She smiled back, and I slipped around the side of the house and through the gate. The backyard was about a quarter of an acre and had a nice vegetable garden on one side. Peggy had been a gardener, and I'd spent many a summer day pulling weeds for her before I got smart and started putting down that weed blocking material they sell in sheets at the hardware store.
Kyle was on his knees, half-heartedly tugging at weeds and pursing his lips.
"Hi, Kyle," I greeted him as I stepped up to the edge of the garden. He looked up and his eyes widened for a moment.
"Hey, uh, Drake. What's up?"
"Your mom basically said you can't come out to play until the weeding is done. I told her I'd give you a hand. Where do you want me to start?" I asked. He looked at me slightly slack jawed, and I laughed at his expression.
"You're joking, right?" he asked.
"Not even a little. Put me to work, bud," I told him.
"Uh, okay," he said slowly as if waiting for me to pull the rug out from under him. "I've done the first row and a half," he said and pointed to one corner of the garden. "If you want to start at the other end and we'll meet in the middle, that'd be cool."
"You got it," I told him and headed for the far row of the garden. Weed pulling isn't hard work, just a little boring. As I began yanking out the undesirable plants I did what I'd always done in this situation - I daydreamed. In Peggy's garden I'd pretend that my husband had planted everything and that, should I turn my back, he'd be a few rows over, tending to our bumper crop of whatever he'd planted. Sometimes I'd dream about having enough money to simply travel and the men I might meet should I have that chance. It was interesting how a lifetime of denial made that one thing, men, such a focus of my fantasies.
Now my thoughts turned toward Kyle and the fact he was working relatively close to me. Helping someone with their chores was a tactic I'd used well as a kid when I wanted to spend time with a friend. There just aren't that many kids that will turn down help in cleaning their room, raking leaves or whatever the chore was. It was one reason I got to play on teams, because I'd been nice enough to help someone else get to the court or field faster.
I didn't know if Kyle would be up for a game or two of basketball after this was done, but I knew he wouldn't forget I'd helped him. It would be another brick in the wall I was building, putting the old Drake away and trotting out this new version. As we drew nearer one another, I decided to start a conversation.
"Did you have to go back-to-school shopping?" I asked.
He pursed his lips. "Yeah. It's hours of 'Try this on. Now try that on.' I hate it."
"Did your mom do that finger check in the waist of your pants?" I asked. My kids hated it when Peggy shoved her fingers in at the top of their pants to see how tight they were.
"Ugh, no, thank God! Mom stopped doing that. Not long enough that I forgot, but still," he said with a mild sound of disgust. "What about you?"
"Staff said I had enough clothes. They bought a crap-ton of notebooks and pencils and stuff though," I replied.
"I guess the group home wouldn't buy..." he trailed off and then restarted awkwardly, "uh, well, there is a lot of stuff on the school supply list this year. Mom was complaining." His voice was laced with the awkwardness of having nearly said something embarrassing.
I sat straight and looked at him, working and turned slightly away from me. "What were you going to say?"
"What?" he asked without turning to look, doggedly weeding up a storm.
"Kyle?" I waited and he gripped a weed as if to choke it.
Without looking at me he said, "I was going to say the group home probably wouldn't buy the fancy clothes you were used to. Then I...." He trailed off and dropped the weed he'd tried to strangle.
"You're right, of course," I replied. He'd just grown in my esteem, that he cared to be kind despite what he knew of me. "I think they do their shopping in the discount bin at some off brand place. Look, Kyle," I said and waited a moment for him to look at me. "I appreciate you trying. It can't be easy. You probably expect me to suddenly just start being an arrogant prick. But the fact you're trying to be decent to me is why I'm here weeding, putting an effort into trying to make a friend."
His face was a little red. "I just didn't think." He hesitated and then said, "Actually, I just fell into the way I've always thought of you. Looking down your nose at something less than name brand. Still, parents take you for school shopping. You probably don't like being reminded of the group home."
I realized he was beating himself up and I didn't want that. I was impressed with his level of empathy, though. I shrugged to show it wasn't important as I resumed weeding. "It sucks, that's true enough. I spend as much time away from there as I can. But it's also reality, and I can't hide from that." I paused and added, "Besides, it's hard for me to miss my parents taking me for something when I don't remember them."
He cleared his throat and moved a little closer as he worked his row. "Isn't that weird, though? Don't you wonder or...miss the idea of them?"
I thought for a moment. I had no idea what kind of people Drake's parents had been. I know you can only judge parents so much for a child's behavior. Kids, no matter what you do, will make their own choices. Instead I thought about my own parents and the times I remembered as a child.
"I guess," I said, my voice growing thick, "you wonder how they'd act, doing stuff like that now."
"Will you always be in the group home?"
"You know, I'm not sure," I said as I passed him, going opposite directions as we worked our rows. "Where else would I go? I mean, if they can't find any relations then what else is there for me?"
We worked in silence for a few minutes, slowly pulling away from each other. It was a good question and I spent a few minutes trying to think of what happens to teens when they suddenly become orphaned. Actual orphanages were a thing of the past. Group homes were the modern answer but they sort of shotgunned things, in my opinion. Kids with wide ranging issues were placed in these homes with their only commonality seeming to be that they lacked responsible adult supervision.
"You know, one of the shit things about being in there? It's the kids you have to live with. We all have nothing in common. Like the guy I share a room with? I don't even know his name. He's this beefy kid who seems a little slow. I have to wonder if he did something to get himself in there or if his folks were colossal screw ups and lost custody. There's kids on some heavy duty meds. There's one that broke a mirror, light bulb and his window all in one night because he likes the sound it makes when glass breaks."
"Are you serious?" Kyle asked, all pretense of weed pulling stopped.
"Keep going. Your mom will make me do dishes otherwise," I told him. As if that made any sense to him, he started to pull again.
"Don't they get any help?" Kyle asked.
"I'd imagine some of them benefit from therapy," I said. "Maybe just being away from their home life is an improvement for some of them. I figure some of them must go back to their old homes. Some end up hanging around, like they're stuck in limbo - like me. Then there's the ones they can't handle, I guess. They probably have some sort of kiddie lockup for them."
"That can't be you though, right?" Kyle asked, worry laced in his tone. Aww, I think he likes me a little.
"I don't think I'm whoever I was before, so, no." I paused for a moment and said, "I suppose I could hang about for the next three years in that home and graduate. Maybe I can start life at eighteen with whatever is left of my parents' estate. Maybe go to school. Travel. I'm hoping I'll have options. I think...it might be the best I can hope for."
"Damn." I heard Kyle cough lightly and then in a voice that was a little choked he said, "I'm sorry, Drake. I don't know what I'd do if I lost my parents. They can be a pain in the ass, but...I just can't."
I smiled to myself. I wasn't thrilled with the idea of spending years in that home, but I was pleased that Kyle was such a compassionate guy. I liked him more than I did yesterday, and I have a feeling that feeling is going to grow. A lot.
"Wow, you guys are almost done!" I looked over my shoulder to see Mrs. Winters smiling at us in general and her garden in particular.
"No dishes, then?" I asked.
The corner of her mouth turned up in amusement. "You passed this time, Drake. When you boys are done, come in and get a snack, okay?"
"Can't we call this done?" Kyle whined.
"Almost there," she chided him and turned to go back inside.
"Damn it," Kyle grumbled as he threw down a weed. "I hate this job."
"It sucks," I said in commiseration.
"You don't have to do this, though. In a week or two she'll send me back out all over again until the first frost kills everything." He sighed and I smiled to myself.
"Well, just let me know when and I'll give you a hand. It'll suck less then."
"I guess," he said with a sigh and started pulling offending plants from his mother's garden. Finished with my row I stood, knuckled my back and then walked somewhat stiffly to the end of the row Kyle was working on. He was a little over half done so I started on the end and began pulling weeds and working in his direction.
He was still irritated to be out here so I decided to lighten the mood. I picked up a freshly pulled weed, one with a clump of dirt clinging to its roots, and flung it toward Kyle. It hit his leg, but I studiously looked down and went back to pulling weeds. From the corner of my eye I saw him glance at the weed I'd thrown and, perhaps not realized what I'd done, wipe at his leg. Maybe he thought a bug had landed and flown off or something. I grabbed another weed.
This time my aim was better, smacking him in the neck. I looked back down but couldn't stop a slight chortle leaking from me.
"Dick," he muttered and followed it up by throwing a few of his own weeds at me. He missed, but the fight was on. We each pulled new weeds and threw them at each other as fast as we could pull them. In moments we were laughing and getting close enough to throw weeds and dirt into each other's hair.
"Ah! Eww!" I exclaimed, spitting. "In the mouth? You suck, Winters!" I kept spitting out the soft earth and he sat back on his heels laughing.
"Do I hear goofing around?" Mrs. Winters asked.
"No!" we both said, laughing as we did so.
"Come on, we're done," Kyle declared and we stood up, brushing dirt from our hands and clothes. I followed him to the back of his home, running a hand through my hair to dislodge dirt, to a modest wooden deck giving way to sliding glass doors. He toed off his sneakers outside and I followed suit.
"What's for snack, Mom?" Kyle called out as we entered the house. The sliding glass door opened into an informal dining area. To our right was a breakfast bar and kitchen. Directly ahead the house opened into a living area.
"There's some of those applesauce packets you like, and get some juice. Serve your friend, too, Kyle!" his mother called out from somewhere in the house.
"What does she think I'm going to do, eat in front of you?" he muttered. "Come on."
I followed him toward the kitchen and plopped myself on a stool at the breakfast bar. He went on to the fridge and pulled small, sealed silvery packets which I assumed were filled with applesauce. He turned and tossed them toward the counter and I caught one before it slid off the edge. He then grabbed juice in a jug, something that looked more like Kool-Aid than actual juice, and set it before me. Reaching into the overhead cabinet he pulled down two glasses.
"Don't you like applesauce?" he asked.
He pointed at the packets before he filled the glasses. "Two for you, two for me."
"Yeah, I was just waiting for you," I told him. He snorted gently and then came around the counter and sat on the stool beside me.
"Thanks for the help. I fucking hate weeding," he said, his voice pitched low.
"Anytime," I replied, pleased with my tactic. He twisted the top of the sauce packet and squeezed the contents into his mouth. I did the same, though it seemed kind of dumb. Why not just buy a jar of applesauce? Shrugging I ate and glanced around the well kept home. We finished the snack in short order and, after throwing out the empty packets, took our drinks into the living room.
"I don't want to go back out, yet. Want to play a few games?" he asked as he set his drink down and turned the TV on.
"Sure," I replied. I felt dumb immediately afterward as he started up a video game and I realized I'd assumed we'd play cards or maybe some small board game like Boggle or Jenga. Do they still make those?
"Take turns?" he asked and, at my nod, he started up a game where you looked at the screen as though you were walking behind a gun and all that could be seen was the muzzle of the weapon. He moved through rooms and alleyways, shooting other characters and he seemed to be pretty good at it. Eventually, though, he died, and he handed me the controller.
"Uh, you go ahead. I don't know how to play," I confessed.
"Memory, huh? Weird to know basketball but not this. Okay, so," he said as he pointed to buttons on the controller and explained what each did. I gave it a shot, but the result was more awkward movement than at a middle school dance. I died quickly and turned the controller over to him.
"You guys did a pretty good job," his mother said as she entered the room. "Drake? Are you free to help Kyle with all his chores?"
"Actually, I am," I told her with a grin. Doing the job well had scored points with Mrs. Winters, and that moved me closer to making a real friend out of Kyle. Of course, things might change quickly once school started and his friends were done with camp and were around him again. Now was the time to strike and forge something strong.
"Don't," he groaned as he played. "She'll just invent chores for when you come over."
"You make me sound so evil, honey. Love you, too," she said and laughed as she left the room.
"Your mom seems nice," I told him. He growled as his character died and he handed the controller to me.
"Mom's cool, mostly," he agreed.
We played for about an hour before his mother kicked us out of the house. We went out front and played basketball the rest of the afternoon. His father pulled in from work, presumably, and Kyle paused to say hello before resuming our struggle. Mr. Winters went in and came back out perhaps fifteen minutes later with a beer in hand and sat on the porch to watch us play. He called out encouragement, cracked a few jokes and watched us play for about forty minutes.
"Dinner is on. Kyle, wash up," Mrs. Winters said as she poked her head out of the front door. "Thanks for your help today, Drake."
"No problem," I told her.
"See you tomorrow?" Kyle asked and held his fist out.
"Yeah, cool," I replied and copied him.
I spent much of Friday with Kyle. In the morning we played basketball, and in the afternoon he suggested we go to the town pool. Kyle walked with me to the group home so I could get a swim suit and towel. I didn't ask his impression, but he let a critical eye wander over the house. From there we walked to the pool, idly talking about nothing in particular. I always liked those kinds of easy conversations. The pool was in the town park complex, but a section I hadn't explored. I'd already thought Kyle was cute, and he had a good personality that was growing on me by the day. This was only amplified as we changed in the locker room. I tried to be circumspect about checking him out.
Different people are attracted to different things. I was definitely attracted to Kyle. His pecs weren't well developed, and his stomach was flat and tight but didn't show any abs. His shoulders were wide and gave him an angular appearance as he tapered at the waist. He had some small circular scars on one arm that stood out all the more due to his tan. Overall he was slender and developing well. He looked like he'd be...fun to hold. The fact that he was kind only made him seem a little more wonderful. Jesus, I sound like a such a girl.
When we stepped out on the pool deck I could see that one of the camps must have brought kids here - the place was hopping. Kyle's gaze swept the area and widened slightly, and he waved for me to follow him. We rounded the pool until someone he knew noticed and called out to him. Tossing his towel aside Kyle, by way of greeting, jumped in right next to the person, who responded by splashing back. After tossing my towel beside Kyle's I walked to the edge and sat down, dangling my feet into the pool. I wanted to wait in case his friends had questions about my being there with him. No sense in getting everyone in an uncomfortable spot. Shortly Kyle was waving me over. I slipped into the cool water and approached him.
Kyle made quick introductions, probably more for my benefit than theirs, and then we played various games. Marco Polo, water fights, chicken fights, you name it. While I had little doubt these kids didn't much like me, it all seemed to be set aside for an afternoon. It was a sort of magic, really, to be transported back to the time in my life when water fights and cannonballs were the most important thing in the world, at least for an afternoon. I also enjoyed seeing how Kyle acted around his friends, which told me that he was liked and wanted in their company. There was also the undeniable pleasure of getting to touch him as we played rough in the water. Regretfully I had to leave earlier than I wanted to. I had an appointment with a counselor late that afternoon at a local office somewhere.
I explained to Kyle that I had to go. Even though I'd just been playing physically with Kyle and his friends, I was already missing the idea of touching him. I had to fight off an urge to hug him before I left. I'd been right in picking him as a friend, and whether or not people liked to think so, the fact I was in a more attractive body and had some skills, like basketball, was making this a bit easier. Instead of the hug that I wanted to give, I went with an exaggerated hand shake, moving my hand in an absurdly large arc to reach him. He seemed to pick up on it and copied me, with a grin. Kyle was going to be a great friend.
"Wish I didn't have to bail. Can we come back tomorrow or something? I had a lot of fun," I told him as I moved toward the edge of the pool.
He gave me an odd look. "You can go here anytime you want. You don't need me."
I frowned. One of his friends grabbed him from behind and pulled him backward and underwater and, like that, my chance to talk to him was gone. I was irritated both at the abrupt end and that Kyle didn't seem to see attending with me as a priority. Then again, he was around other friends and he was my only one, so, not that hard to figure out, I guess. Perhaps some of his other friends would mention they'd rather not be where I was.
A little despondent I climbed from the pool and headed into the locker room. I rinsed off and headed over to get changed.
"What's he doing here?" I heard someone ask as I walked to my locker.
"Slumming it, I guess."
I chose to ignore it since I wasn't going to recite my story to just anyone for any little reason. It was an unnecessary reminder that I wasn't well liked. The more things changed, the more they stayed the same.
I toweled off and dressed quickly. I glanced at Kyle's locker and thought about a note of some sort but that seemed overboard. I may make more friends, after all, and he has his own already. Once school started up, I may not get much time with him at all, and I should prepare myself for that. It's one thing to be nice when no one else can see you, another when you're nice to a well known dickhead in front of the school.
I left my shirt off and walked back to the group home, enjoying the last of the summer sun and wishing I were doing so with Kyle. I shook my head. I reminded myself that this guy was only affecting me so much because he was my only social outlet. Maybe if I could make a few friends at school, I wouldn't be so focused on him. That, of course, wasn't counting the chemistry I felt we had developing.
I was given a snack and then driven to a poured concrete structure that was drab and depressing. If I didn't need therapy before entering, the architecture alone would necessitate it. It was done in early gulag. Inside wasn't much better. The poured walls were exposed and the colors were outdated and, while meant to brighten the space, actually made it less welcoming. Industrial orange carpet stretched from wall to wall, and the battered chairs and coffee table in the waiting area looked to be nearer to kindling than furniture.
The staff member with me signed a book, then we sat down to wait for the therapist. I picked through the magazines, settling on an out-of-date photography magazine.
"I don't know why people buy cameras anymore. They can just use their phone!" the staff member said. He was young, mid twenties, and a little heavy set. His short dark hair and thick eyebrows had me thinking he had some Latin ancestry somewhere.
"You can do things with a camera that you can't with a phone," I replied and flipped through the pages.
"Like what? Phones make everyone a photographer." He snorted as he pulled out his phone and flipped through the gallery of images.
"Ever see pictures where you get the one item in focus and then this beautiful blur behind? Like in sports or if they catch a hummingbird or something?" I asked him, continuing to flip through the magazine.
"Sure, yeah," he agreed.
"A camera does that because it has options, apertures, manual focus and different speeds to catch things you can't with a phone. Don't get me wrong, a phone is handy. It's all most folks probably need or want. But it's not a camera," I told him.
"I think you just miss your phone," he said and chuckled. How he got that from what I said is a little confusing.
I looked up to see a mousy woman with straight brown hair, pale complexion and watery eyes.
"I'm Drake," I said and stood.
"Oh, how nice. Come on, then, let's go back to my office," she said with a smile that wiggled on her face as though keeping her lips in that position were a strain. Perhaps it was.
The hallway was just like the waiting area, and her office was no better. A single floor to ceiling window looked out on a concrete enclosure, possibly the underside of the building. There was a bin full of toys, perhaps for her younger patients, and a small set of shelving with books stacked on each shelf haphazardly. She had a battered metal desk and a squeaky office chair with a seat that had been taped to cover tears. The other chair in the room was an old, lime green cloth chair with a wooden frame that had chips in the finish.
Jesus, the cloth of the chair felt like burlap.
"Well, Drake Mathews, right?"
"I'm Janice Palmer, and I'd like to talk with you a little bit." She paused, and I was debating if she was expecting an answer or not when she spoke again. "So, how are things at school? Any better?"
I looked at her in confusion. "School doesn't start until next week, Janice."
"Dr. Palmer, please. Hasn't it? Didn't we talk about...?" She looked down at a folder in front of her with my name on it and flipped through it.
"Oh, yes, your parents. So, any nightmares? Any thoughts of self-harm? Seeing things that aren't there?"
"If I can see them, how do I know they aren't there?" I asked, sarcasm slipping into my tone.
She turned to face me. "Well, maybe giant spiders. Something the size of a Volkswagen. Something you know can't be real and yet you see it anyway."
I thought about my body and wondered if that counted. "No, Janice, I'm fine thanks. How about you?"
"Dr. Palmer, please. And I'm fine, thank you." She looked back at her folder and made a few marks with her pen. "Have you had any bed-wetting?"
"Not for years," I told her honestly.
"How are things in the group home?"
I looked at her blankly for a moment and, when I realized she was serious, replied, "It stinks."
"Are you not treated well? Not enough food?"
"It literally stinks," I said forcefully. "There is mold in the bathroom. The whole place should be condemned."
"Oh. All right then. Have you been thinking about the accident?" she asked.
"Off and on," I admitted. After all, I had to bring it up constantly to explain why I didn't know anyone or anything.
"That's it? Off and on? How interesting."
What sort of therapist was this? I sort of got the questions about self harm, but this lady needed to retire! I stood. "Okay, well, it was nice to meet you, Janice," I said and headed for the door.
"Dr. Palmer, if you please," she said forcefully. "And where are you going? We aren't finished."
"Oh, I'm finished," I told her. "You have the bedside manner of a corpse. Take a vacation, will you, Janice?"
I walked out. The staff member was happy I was done and we left without Janice even leaving her office. I stewed about the visit to the therapist and what a waste it was, not only to me, but to anyone who was stuck with the old bat.
Upon my return to the home I was ushered into the basement offices of the director, one Henry Burgess. He was a large man of the sort that would need to purchase two airline seats should he travel. I'd only met him once or twice in passing and really only spoken the one time when he'd mentioned I couldn't yet have a phone. Once downstairs I was seated in his small office and a second chair was taken up by a young woman, perhaps in her late twenties, with dark hair that was pulled back tightly behind her head. She wore a floral blouse and slacks with shoes that, at the end of the day, were losing their shine.
"Hi, Drake," she said as she gained her feet. "I'm Pamela Givens. I'm your county social worker." She smiled at me and resumed her seat. I'd stood when she did and sat back down as well.
"Pam usually comes to see any of her clients in the home twice a month," Henry offered.
"So, I hear you just met Dr. Palmer today. How did that go?" Pam asked.
"She wasn't exactly helpful," I replied. Before Pam could ask, I continued. "She first asked me how school was going, then consulted her forms and realized she was confusing me with someone else. That's setting aside school hasn't started yet. Then she asked a few questions that made some sense to me, but her manner was disinterested at best."
Pam's mouth had dropped into an 'o' of shock. She blinked and seemed to rally. "There are other doctors if you're not comfortable with her," she offered.
"I feel fine, actually," I replied. "Given my lack of memory I think I'm doing quite well. If you consider I seem to have made a large number of kids I'll be in school with shortly dislike me and I'm not panicking, I'm doing brilliantly."
"Oh? Any clues on that?" she asked.
"Apparently I was an arrogant dickhead."
"You'll watch your mouth in front of a lady!" Henry interjected.
I fixed him with a look. "You hear worse on network TV." I turned toward Pam. "I do have some questions though, beginning with how the heck I get out of here?"
Dodging my question she asked, "Is there something wrong with the group home?"
"Quite a lot, actually. There is a great deal of mold in the bathroom, both embedded in the grout as well as clinging to the ceiling. That's a health hazard," I began.
"Ventilation has always been a issue," Henry replied stiffly.
"The food here is substandard," I added.
Pam smiled. "Well, we can't always have our favorites."
I frowned. "Ignoring for a moment that you skipped right past the bathroom mold issue, there is the fact that some food is nutritious, while others simply fill a hole in your gut."
Henry's nose twitched. "And are you saying the food we provide isn't nutritious enough for you?"
I smiled at him. Peggy had been an absolute hawk when it came to the food the kids ate and what was prepared for them. She curtailed but didn't eliminate junk food, because she felt they'd only seek it out more if it were treated like some secret. Thinking of buying food put me into a mathematical frame of mind, given my previous profession in an accounting department.
"You provide boxed, processed meals. They are high in sodium and starch and short on nutritional value, but inexpensive. You do not provide fresh fruit or vegetables, which would provide essential nutrients-"
"Hang on!" Henry snorted, but I kept going.
"The people you hire here don't cook so much as they microwave. I have doubts many of them can boil water."
"That's enough!" Henry exclaimed and I frowned at him.
"You'll have your turn, Henry. I'm replying to a question."
"And you're finished with it," Henry snorted.
I turned to Pam. "I know this house is provided with funds for the residents needs as well as the upkeep of the facility. I am assuming that the county is planning on suing my parents' estate to recover any money they spend on my maintenance?"
Pam shifted on her chair. "Well, that's a little above me, I think."
"Who is handling my parents' estate? I'm assuming I'd be the only heir and a trust will be established? It's my right to be sure I'm not being robbed blind. Since, in essence, my own funds will be taken from me to pay this facility, I demand proper nutrition and cleanliness, since it can't be an actual home."
Silence filled the room and Henry cleared his throat. "All our meals meet state requirements for nutritional standards...."
Pam picked up the conversation and was looking at me oddly. "As far as where you can live, Drake, there are few options. One is here, of course. One may be an independent living program, but that's a few years away. There is always the possibility of a foster or adoptive family, but unless that happens...you'll be here.
"As far as your parents' estate, I really don't know. Anything I'd say about that would be guessing. I can try to find out who is handling the estate and get some information for you. I'm sure that the executor will have to get permission from the court to pay certain expenses - which reminds me, I'll bet you'd like to have this back, huh?" She reached into her purse and withdrew a large cell phone.
"Thank you," I said, accepting the phone and charger. "But what about the mold? What about the food?"
"Well, I can speak to Henry and see what can be done to address those concerns," she said as she glanced at Henry whose jaw tightened.
"All right," I said. "But keep in mind I may not be old enough to contract with a bank for my inheritance, but I can engage a lawyer against the estate should these things go unaddressed." I looked at them both and was rewarded with them exchanging wide eyed glances.
Pam was the first to recover and she laughed lightly. "Drake, you are one focused kid. Look, I'm here to help, so before you run down the street to find a lawyer, let's remember you just brought these concerns up about ten minutes ago, okay?"
"You mentioned your memory. Nothing is coming back to you?" she asked.
I shook my head slowly. "I've done what was recommended. I've wandered the town, tried to meet people and jog my memory but..." I shrugged. "It's like I'm a different person. Even the people I've met that knew me said I'm not the same."
"Have you made any friends?" she asked brightly.
"Yeah, I think so," I said, preferring to leave Kyle's name out of this for now.
"If the unsupervised time isn't helping, I think we should pull that back," Henry said and looked at Pam. "We're responsible and unless the doctor thinks this should continue...?"
Pam glanced at me and replied to Henry. "The initial intake suggested it, but they didn't give a time frame for when we might see results." She looked at me. "You're something of a puzzle, having memory loss but without any apparent physical trauma. That's why we want you to spend some time with a therapist. Once these old memories start to pop up, especially of the accident, you'll need help to deal with them."
I nodded. "That makes sense to me. However, going out to spend time at a park or at a friend's house are things that everyone should have for normalcy. Despite Henry not liking what I have to say about his facility, the fact is I have broken no rules and haven't been disrespectful to the staff. Curtailing my privileges for no reason is asking for trouble."
I guess Henry heard the warning in my tone. "Mr. Mathews, you don't make the rules here. Frankly you've been allowed more leeway than other clients due to medical direction. When that is lifted, you'll be subject to the same rules as the rest of the home."
His tone was utterly condescending. It started a fire in my belly. "So your answer is to apply a blanket policy to cover your butt above all else and to hell with the actual kids in your care?"
"Is crap. Do you know the guy who wears that flat cap all the time does nothing but spend time on his phone? He doesn't engage with the kids, he doesn't offer to take them to the park. They all sit in the living room with a cartoon blaring like they are in some old fashioned home for the insane. Your level of care isn't fit for humans, much less children!"
"I've heard enough," Henry huffed as he stood. "You can go back upstairs, Drake."
I looked at Pam. "I mean what I say." With that I stood and left the office. I was sure they were going to have a conversation about what had just transpired. The only real questions for me were how far Pam would go in pressing the concerns I'd raised and how fast. People in her position were overworked and underpaid, so I figured the best way to get on her radar was to have the possibility of legal action on the table. I walked through the house and sat on the front porch. I wondered what I'd do if the home tried to take away my ability to come and go. From a practical point of view, there didn't seem to be a great deal I could do about it. I could be rebellious, but as Pam had pointed out, I didn't have a lot of places to go. Well, I'd cross that bridge when I came to it.
I turned on the phone, which someone had powered off at some point. It wanted a fingerprint as a pass code and in moments I was perusing the contents of the phone, looking for clues about the former Drake Mathews. I came upon some text messages about a party I was supposed to attend, but had obviously missed. Someone named Jeremy was warning me that an accident wouldn't be an excuse for Stacy. He continued to say she was angry I'd missed her party. I then found messages from Stacy that were unattractive in the basest sense. She played a passive aggressive game of words which ended up with a series of semi-nude and nude images, informing me that she missed the D.
I looked through the chat history of anyone who'd spoken to Drake. There was a disturbing lack of empathy in the conversations. One particularly sorry exchange with Jeremy put me in mind of the boy at the basketball court at the park who'd told me I'd done something to his sister. It seems Drake had asked her to a dance, let her buy a dress and become excited before simply not picking her up. This was the level of crap Drake had pulled and for which I'd be expected to atone if I wanted things to change. That Jeremy, via the text, had approved and laughed about that prank also let me know his worth.
The contents reinforced a truth to me. There was a limit to what I could accomplish, and I needed to accept that right up front. There was no way to correct everything Drake had perpetrated; sometimes what's done is done - and it wasn't really my responsibility. I hadn't said or done these things. But going forward I could be kind and work with people that would let me do so.
The front door opened and Pam stepped out onto the porch and closed the door behind her. She glanced at me with a chagrined expression. "That was kind of a rough first meeting, huh?"
I nodded slowly. "I guess it was."
She took a seat on the step beside me. "Drake, I know this is a huge change for anyone. I want you to know I'm in your corner. There are things I can do and others that will take some time - but I'm on your side here."
I looked at her steadily. "I appreciate you saying that. In all honesty, though, talk is cheap. While I can say no one in this home has been mean to me, neither has there been any real sense of welcome. I know I pissed off Henry, and I'm pretty sure there will be retaliation, now.
"Look, I'm just a kid in the system to him. Someone passing through. I know a few things, though and I will fight for myself." I smiled slightly. "But I'd sure be glad to not have to fight alone."
She propped her head on her hand and regarded me. "That's very sad and also very wise. I wonder what went on in your life to give you that kind of inner strength?"
Not wanting to make the same mistakes and leave myself trapped in a prison of my own making, was my thought.Next Chapter Previous Chapter