As the week wore on news came from my parents' estate. The court had approved payment of some expenses, including my phone subscription. It also provided me with an allowance. So far the county hadn't tried to get my inheritance, but I figured it was only a matter of time. Unless, of course, what my parents had paid into the system in taxes counted for something.
The week settled down and I started to fall into the rhythm of a regular life. I did my best to hang out with Kyle during the evenings. He told me his grandmother had fallen last Friday night and that's why he hadn't been at home; they'd had been out of town for the weekend to tend to her needs. I was relieved I wasn't being avoided and then felt stupid for the thought.
Thursday Giles pulled me aside after lunch. "I wanted to ask if you would help me with something."
"Sure. What do you need?" I asked.
Red spots popped up on his cheeks. "I want to ask Moira Green out. But I know I look like a reject. You always look...good, I guess. Can you help me out?"
I looked him over. He looked a bit like a parochial schoolboy, with a button up shirt and dark blue corduroy pants. His hair was a mess. In some ways he reminded me of my own son when he'd started to pay attention to his appearance about the time he discovered girls had boobs. I felt a pang of sorrow for that old memory. Snapping back to the present and a hopeful looking Giles I nodded.
"You bet. Meet me after school."
I turned over how to make Giles over as the day wore on. I'd never really done something like that, but I figured I'd do the best I could - hell if I would let the little guy down. After school I met him by the front door and we moved off to the side to escape foot traffic.
"Okay," I said. "I've been thinking. First thing is your hair."
He put a hand on his head and said, "My mom says I have beauti-uh. Shit." He looked away and his face turned red.
"Hey, moms say that kind of stuff," I told him with a nudge. "You do have great hair. But if you like to have long hair, you kind of have to do something with it every day. Shorter hair is easier to manage. What do you think?"
He ran a hand through his hair and sighed. "I kind of like the longer hair. But I'm not very good at styling it. Is there a compromise?"
"Probably. Let's go to a barber. Um." I looked at him. "Know where we can find one?"
"Yeah. I don't have any cash, though."
"No worries, this one is on me."
"Uh, no. You can't buy me," he said, voice trembling slightly. I liked that he'd gotten the courage to ask for my help and to stand up for himself to me, though he looked scared.
"Dude, not sure why you're nervous, but chill. It's just this once. I'm not paying for your haircuts forever," I said and snickered. While uncertain, he seemed to relax a bit and we started off. He lead us over several blocks to a barber shop. The barber advised a mid-length cut, longer on the top, that would be easier to maintain yet give him the slightly longer hair he liked.
I have to say, the haircut looked good on him. If it weren't for him wanting to ask this girl out, I might start day-dreaming about the little guy. Nah. He was cute, but like a mascot, not like a boyfriend. Once done we walked to his home. It was a ranch home with a patchy lawn and a dead tree in the front yard. The siding was faded and the trash was filled to capacity and sitting on the curb, waiting for pick up.
Inside the house was worn but comfortable. The smell of cigarettes lingered, though he said it was just his mother's clothes that had the smoke smell on them, because she smoked outside. We walked down a hallway to his bedroom, where he turned to face me.
"So, what do I do now?"
"Okay. You like the button up shirts?" I asked as I glanced about his room. It seemed pretty standard for a kid - messy, could use picking up and a a light dusting but not something that would have gotten me wound up as a parent. Peggy, on the other hand....
He looked down. "Don't I look nice in them?"
"Sure. Maybe a little formal for public high school, though. But do you like them?" I pressed.
He fingered the cloth. "I do. I think they're nice. You think I need to lose them, right?"
"Nope. This isn't about making you into someone you're not. It's about making the best parts of you stand out. What about the pants?"
Once more he looked down. "Um, they're warm, I guess. I have jeans, but I like the cords."
"Okay, so, decision time," I said. I moved over and sat on the edge of his bed. "Cords are a little dressier than jeans and you can't wear white socks with them. It just doesn't look right."
He frowned, looked down and then back at me. "Aren't cords kind of casual?"
"Compared to, say, slacks? Sure. But dressier than jeans. With your cords, button up, white socks and sneakers you remind me of a kid that goes to Jesus school."
His eyes grew wide and he looked down again. Slapping a hand to his forehead he groaned. "Oh my God, you're right. I've seen kids like that and always thought they looked dorky. What do I do, though?" he asked.
"Easy, just make a few choices. If you want to keep the button up,wear a colorful shirt under it and leave it unbuttoned. Unless the shirt is colorful, then wear a white or light colored tee. As for the pants, dark socks with your cords. White or colorful socks with your jeans. Sneakers with jeans, something nicer with the cords."
We spent about thirty minutes as he went through some of his clothes and we made up a few outfits of things he should wear together. Although I'd never been renowned for my wardrobe, I did have a basic sense of what went together. I didn't so much remake Giles as rearrange what he already liked to wear. I felt pleased with myself as I walked back to the group home. It really stunk to have to make up for the things Drake had done - some of them really crappy. But in the process I felt like I was having a positive impact.
Back at the home I finished up the light homework I'd not completed in school. After carefully filing it away I broke out my current read and placed myself as far from the TV as I could. I'd have been happier reading in my bed, but this group home had an 'eyes-on' policy, meaning I couldn't go up and hang out in my room unsupervised. Leaving the house was still an option, but I figured I'd go to Kyle's after dinner.
I'd barely started to read when Henry pulled me aside. I was a little wary, knowing I'd made an enemy of him, but he was reasonably courteous.
"So, Pam called this afternoon," he said. "There is someone who'd like to visit with you. Right now she is interested in being a resource for you."
I frowned. "What does that mean? Am I supposed to know this person?"
"A resource is someone who spends time with you, an adult outside the system that you can interact with. As far as knowing, it's not a family member, if that's what you were thinking. Do you know a Mrs. Benoit from school?" He looked at me with his eyebrows up high in question.
"Uh, yeah. School nurse. She wants to be a resource for me?"
Nodding he said, "I guess you made an impression on her. She'll be here about five, and you'll spend the evening with her family. Sound good?"
"Uh, yeah. Dinner with her or am I supposed to, um, eat here?"
Henry's face turned slightly sour. "Don't worry, you won't be subjected to dinner here."
After Henry departed I went up to the bathroom and washed my face and combed my hair. I went back down and sat with my book as I waited for five o'clock to roll around, but I couldn't focus on the book. What if Mrs. Benoit was my ticket out of this house? She'd seemed nice. Was she just testing the waters to see if I was truly changed? Did she have the idea of taking me on full-time as a possible end goal? The sad part was I knew I could go in circles playing the what-if game. My best bet was to calm down and just see what happened, to be myself.
A few minutes after five the doorbell rang, and I opened the door to Mrs. Benoit. She smiled at me and said hello.
"Hi, Nurse Benoit," I said and smiled at her. One of the staff came over and admonished me for having opened the door and then greeted Mrs. Benoit. They had her sign something to do with me not having any medications, who to call in case of emergency and that sort of thing. Then Henry wanted a word with her and they went down to his office. I knew Henry was playing a game, keeping me from the conversation. If I'd cost myself anything in the confrontation in his office with Pam it was that he knew that I knew more than the average kid.
After a few minutes Mrs. Benoit emerged and she looked slightly more guarded, so Henry had obviously said something to her. It irked me, but I tried to let it go. I felt confident Mrs. Benoit would judge me on how I acted more than she would from Henry's statements. She'd known what an ass Drake had been, but she also saw I wasn't that anymore.
"Shall we?" she asked and I opened the door for her.
"I'm ready," I said and followed her out the door.
"Did you have homework tonight?" she asked as we walked to her car, a newer Jeep.
"Not a whole lot. There's time to get most of it done at school between study halls and team time," I replied. "I like the team time better. If I get stuck, a teacher is there to clarify things."
Once in the car we buckled up and I continued. "I was pretty surprised when Henry told me you'd invited me to dinner. I want to say thank you, I really hate the food and company at the group home."
She smiled. "You're welcome, Drake. There have been a number of kids from that group home that have come into my office for bumps and scrapes. I know it's not a happy place."
"So I have one request," I said. She gave me an inquisitive look and I plowed ahead. "I can set and clear tables, help with cooking or meal prep, but I absolutely hate doing dishes. Please, no dishes?"
She laughed and I smiled at her. "We have a dishwasher. We just rinse plates and put them in the washer. With young kids in the house, we don't have time or energy for more."
"You have kids?" I asked.
Nodding and starting the car she said, "Fraternal twins, Justin and Jessica. They are the twin terrors of fifth grade."
She pulled into traffic and glanced at me. "So, how is school going so far? No more fights?"
"No fights," I agreed. "Jeremy hasn't come back for round two, but that's only a matter of time. I figure he's trying to stack things in his favor."
"Is he so deliberate?" she asked in a concerned tone.
"I have no idea," I confessed. "But there's really no such thing as a fair fight. If I had to fight someone, I'd like to make as sure as I can that I won't lose."
"It seems like you've given this some thought."
I grinned at her. "I don't want to get my butt kicked."
We pulled onto Kyle's street and passed his house. Mrs. Benoit pulled into a driveway about a block away from the Winters' and we climbed out.
"Come on, I'm hungry!" she said with a smile and placed a hand on my shoulder to nudge me toward the door. I fell in just behind her and removed my shoes as we entered the house. We were greeted by a woof and a wiggling black lab.
I loved dogs and had always wanted one. My father disdained them, claiming they had given up being free for a place by man's fire and settling for handouts from a master. I had always argued that dogs are pack animals and simply recognized a superior pack leader, but he'd just sniff and call them dirty. Peggy had been allergic to dog dander, so we'd never owned a dog.
I dropped to my knees and held my hand out to the wiggling ball of fur. He licked my hands and then proceeded to sniff my face and try to lick my ears and face. I giggled and pushed his head gently away each time and rubbed his ears as compensation. In a blink he jumped up, placing his paws on my shoulders and overbalancing me flat onto my back with him over me, licking my face and anything else he could while I laughed and squirmed under him, trying to get away.
"Ramses! Ram! No!" A man's voice carried through the room. Ramses ignored him, intent on welcoming me. With a command to get back, Ramses was pulled away and I lay on the floor, I'm sure red faced, laughing as I sat up.
"Sorry, he doesn't listen that well," the man apologized.
"No problem, I love dogs," I told him as I gained my feet. "I'm Drake. Thanks for having me for dinner."
"Nice to meet you, Drake," he said and held a hand out while holding Ramses by the collar with the other. "If you don't mind, we'll stick with pork chops for dinner, rather than you, however."
I thought for a second and then realized I'd said they were having me for dinner. I grinned at him. "I'm glad to hear that, actually. Cannibalism has never been one of my interests."
Behind him his wife had entered the kitchen and two kids, probably around ten, stood wiggling, impatient to be introduced. The boy was a little barrel-chested like his father and a hair short, which lent him a chubby appearance. The girl was taller by an inch at least and sported long hair in braids. Perhaps due to her height she appeared slimmer, possibly a preview of where her brother was headed.
"These two are terror one and two," their dad said with a grin.
"I'm Jessica, and he doesn't matter," she said with a wide grin.
"Jess," her mother said in a tone of warning from the other room. Jess rolled her eyes.
"Want to play Minecraft?" Justin asked, deciding the greetings were over.
"Jerk!" His sister snorted and turned to me. "Come see my room. His is a mess."
I chuckled at their competitiveness. "Let me see if your mom needs help with dinner first, okay?"
"Mom! Can he play Minecraft with me?" Justin called out.
"Guys, he's here all night! You don't have to wear him out in ten minutes!" their father chuckled. "Go play."
They grumbled and headed off in separate directions.
Mr. Benoit guided Ramses to a dog bed and told him to sit. Ramses did, but his tail was swishing quickly and indicated the sitting wouldn't last long. I poked my head into the kitchen and asked if Mrs. Benoit needed any help.
"I'm all set, thank you though," she replied and I nodded.
"Drake, come have a seat," Mr. Benoit invited. Here it comes, I thought. He's going to try and interrogate me. Who knows what his wife had said about me before the accident or since, but he wants to evaluate me. It wasn't unexpected and I sat down on the couch and regarded him steadily.
"My wife tells me you stood up to a bully the other day?" he asked.
"I did," I replied. "I got a new friend out of it, too. At least, on the way."
"Oh? Who?" asked Mrs. Benoit, poking her head out of the kitchen.
I turned to address her. "Giles Martin. He asked me to help him get spiffed up so he could ask out Moira somebody."
"Oh, Moira Green. He sets his sights high. Good for him," she said and retreated into the kitchen.
"I heard about your accident. You seem well, despite the loss of your parents." He leaned forward, sitting on the edge of his recliner. "I'm sorry about your folks."
Nodding I replied, "Thanks. My memory loss is protecting me from a lot of things."
"You don't seem to be injured. Is the block psychological?"
I shrugged. "Maybe. The first therapist they sent me to wasn't very helpful. They haven't found a new one yet."
"Are you making friends? You mentioned Giles. Anyone else?"
"Kyle Winters," I replied and smiled slightly. "I'm wearing him down."
He chuckled. "You have to wear him down to be friends?"
"I have a bad reputation to overcome," I said, knowing he likely knew this already. "He's got a reason to be mistrustful. But...he's a good person. I think he's worth the effort."
He nodded at me and sat back in his chair.
"Now can he play Minecraft with me?" Justin asked from the hallway. "Or are you still using him?"
Mr. Benoit chuckled. "If he wants to play with you, Justin. But he should be warned that you cheat!"
"I do not!"
"Come look at my room, first!" Jessica exclaimed, appearing suddenly.
"Do you have siblings?" Mr. Benoit asked as he flipped the TV on.
"Uh, no," I told him and stood up to participate in whatever the little ones had cooking. Jessica excitedly showed off her room, a very girly space. She liked dolls and animals and her room was dotted with ample amounts of both. She told me the names of her dolls while Justin stood in the doorway calling her dolls stupid and asking me to agree.
"Justin. Chill, little bro," I said to him. I'm not a big fan of 'bro', but it had the desired effect as Justin looked pleased and closed his mouth.
"Will you be our brother?" Jessica asked.
"That's not a choice I get to make, Jess," I replied. My throat felt a little tight, and I wasn't sure why. "Besides, this is just a visit. What if you don't like me?"
"I like you," she said. "Boys don't listen to me tell them about my dolls."
"That's 'cause they're—"
"Justin," I said in a flat voice. "I thought you were cool?"
His eyes widened a bit and he closed his mouth. I turned back to Jess. "Let me tell you a secret about boys, Jess. In fact, it's about people. It'll take time, but people are more interested in you and what you do if you show interest in them and what they like. And you know what? There's going to be boys and girls who will be happy to know the names of your dolls," I said with a little smile.
"No boy I know," she grumbled.
Justin fairly hopped from foot to foot as he led me to a small room downstairs that had a TV and a game system. He explained the game to me in agonizing detail and I tried to play with him, but I was pretty sure his dad hadn't been joking about his cheating. Soon we were called up to dinner, but Justin lingered with a pinched look on his face.
"Ready to eat, bud?" I asked him.
He looked up and frowned a little. "Could I tell people you're my brother? If they think I have one, they might not pick on me."
I smiled, knowing how true that was at his age. "You go right ahead. But," I said with a fingertip on the end of his nose. "Don't you tell anyone I'll fight them. You let them think it, but don't say it. I'm not beating up anyone. Got it?"
"Sure!" Justin squeaked, and we headed off to dinner.
We ate dinner as a family. I couldn't help but think of my past life and the childhood I'd had with my parents. Dinners were silent affairs and done with quickly, as if to limit the amount of time we had to spend in one space. The Benoits' table was the flip side. The parents asked questions about what the kids learned, who got in trouble and what book the kids were reading in class that day. I got much the same treatment.
"So, how are you finding school, what with your memory issues?" Mr. Benoit asked.
"Not too bad, really," I replied. "It's a little weird. There are some pretty big chunks gone, but I didn't get a total brain wipe. My personality is completely different." I shrugged. "The work makes sense, and I'm not struggling with any of it, yet."
"I heard you're a big reader?" Mrs. Benoit asked. "The director of the group home said so."
"Really?" I asked skeptically. "I didn't think he knew. He and I don't really see eye to eye."
"Well, he didn't paint a glowing picture, no," she admitted. "But we like to make up our minds for ourselves."
"I'm so glad you do," I told her gratefully. "As far as books, I read a bunch of different things. I like sci-fi and fantasy books. I like mysteries. I like funny books, like...those ones by Janet Evanovich? Have you read them?"
"I have! They got a little stale, but the early ones were very funny," she agreed.
That led into a light discussion about books. The twins contributed that they were reading Percy Jackson and that their mom promised to let them watch the movie after they'd read the books. After we ate I helped to clear the table. The twins had to get their showers and then Jess was asking for me to read to her. Of course, Justin wanted the same so I took them down to the little game room and I read a few chapters from one of their books to them. Afterward they went up to bed, and I felt a little choked up when they each gave me a quick hug goodnight.
In bed later I reflected on the visit. It had gone well, I thought. The Benoits were nice people, and the kids were kind of fun. They reminded me how my own kids could be competitive with each other at that age. The elder Benoits were gently inquisitive, and I had tried to be forthcoming and polite. The home, the family, had been warm and accepting, and the food had been filling and well made. The twins had protested but I made a show of liking the food and, thinking they were missing something, they ate as well.
Ramses had been my constant companion. After the younger ones were in bed, he sat with me on the couch while I rubbed his ears and petted him. There was no doubt I felt a sense of loss when it was time for me to head back to the reality of the group home. Mr. Benoit had dropped me off and I had thanked him, and his wife earlier, for a really nice evening.
I sat down next to Kyle for lunch on Friday and regarded a happily smiling Giles across from me.
"Hey, Giles," I said in greeting. "Did you ask Moira out?"
"Nope," he said with a grin. "Anna Triletti asked me out this morning. She liked my hair."
I gave him a crooked smile. "Way to go, Giles."
"I'm impressed," Kyle said with a chuckle. "Your hair does look nice, by the way. I don't remember you with that style before. Did you get it cut recently?"
"Yesterday," he said with a quick nod. "Drake helped me out."
"Did he?" Kyle asked, drawing the words out and looking at me.
"What?" I asked, a smile creeping on my face.
"What happened to you last night? I thought you were coming over?" Kyle asked instead. Before I could reply, Giles jumped in.
"I told you, he was helping me. I wasn't sure I should but, you know, I did what you said and gave him a chance."
I raised an eyebrow at Kyle who didn't meet my gaze. Giles, oblivious, continued. "He took me to get my hair cut and then helped me go through my clothes to make things match better."
"A make over?" Kyle asked and laughed.
"No," Giles replied, blushing. "He said it wasn't about changing me as much as rearranging to make me look better. Or something. Look, it worked. I've got a date."
"Yes, I guess you do," Kyle said and chuckled while glancing at me. "I thought you just didn't want to get your ass stomped again."
"Pft. Mrs. Benoit decided to take an interest in me. I was with her family for dinner and spent most of the evening there." Kyle's eyes widened slightly as I told him what I'd done the night before. "Food was good; she can cook. House was nice. I could get used to a family like that."
"Wow. Well, that's cool. You think you might end up living there?" Kyle asked between bites.
I shrugged. "Who knows what they thought? I mean, they both asked questions and stuff. Feeling me out. I figure they probably talked about me after I was back at the home."
"You coming over tonight?" Kyle asked lightly.
I batted my eyes. "Ky. You asking me on a date?"
He blushed. "No. Jerk. Just need to remind you who's better at hoops."
"Oh, please. Kyle 'The Bricklayer' Winters is better than me?" I asked and snickered.
"Oh, give it a rest!" he said with a laugh. "We should call you Twang. That's the sound of your shots bouncing off the back iron!"
We teased each other a bit back and forth before I admitted I didn't know if I could come over. "If Mrs. Benoit comes over to get me again, I think I have to focus on that, you know? But Saturday - oh, shit, how's your grandma? You guys going away for the weekend?"
He pursed his lips. "She fell in her kitchen. Broke her hip, ankle and left arm."
"Yeah. You wouldn't have known it the way she was giving the hospital staff hell," he said with a chuckle. He sobered and continued, "I heard my parents saying lots of older people just don't bounce back from a broken hip. My mom is going back out this weekend to try and figure out living arrangements for my grandma. She can't stay in the apartment she's in." He glanced at me. "It's on the second floor with a small bathroom and kitchen. She can't use a walker there, much less a wheel chair if she has to."
"Shit. I'm sorry, Ky."
He smiled weakly. "What's with the Ky thing? Kyle too much to say?"
The lunch period drew to a close with the warning bell and people stood from their tables to deposit the last of their garbage. I looked at Kyle and smiled affectionately. "It's called a term of endearment, doofus."
I got Kyle's number from him in class later and put it into my phone. I figured I could try texting when I got bored at the group home and was missing his company. After Gym I got Giles's number as well and wished him good luck on his date. He was beaming when he left the locker room. Ten minutes later I was out in front of the school and was more than a little dismayed to find Jeremy picking on Giles again. He had him pushed up against the side of the building and a red mark was already forming around one of his eyes.
I didn't even ask why Jeremy was harassing him; it didn't matter. I took off my backpack, swung it a bit like a discus thrower and landed my shot on the back of his neck.
"The fuck?" he growled as he turned to face me.
"You. You're a fuck. Leave him alone." I stood my ground, staring him down. I knew it should be anytime before someone in authority noticed something was going on. Actually, it should have happened by now - where were the adults? Jeremy pushed his closed fist into his open palm and smiled like a B-movie villain.
"I've wanted to do this for a long time, you fucking pretty-boy loser."
"You wanted me, huh? Not my type," I said with a sardonic grin.
He was on me in a rush. I tried to side-step him but didn't get far enough out of the way, and we both tumbled down to the sidewalk. He yelled something incoherent and swung at me, landing a glancing blow off my shoulder. Good thing we were on the ground; it made his punches awkward to throw. I could see he was in a frenzy, and I was going to get pounded unless I did something drastic. I tried to bring a knee up into his balls but hit his gut instead. The blow looked to have taken some of the wind from him but not enough that he didn't land a wild swing on my jaw.
I rolled away awkwardly and rolled over my discarded bag as I stood. He levered himself up and grappled with me again. He was stronger and heavier, so I had to fight smarter and fast. He stumbled, his foot having gotten caught in the strap of my bag. As he fell toward me I turned his weight against him, spinning him off balance, and his back slammed into the wall. He reached for me and I moved fast, pushing my palm against his face and shoving his head back into the wall, hard.
"Ow! Oh, fuck!" he hollered and grabbed the back of his head. Not wanting to miss the opportunity I grabbed his hair and dragged him down to his knees.
"Don't. Fuck. With my friends," I snarled.
"What's going on! Break it up!" A male voice called out and the crowd began to disperse, heading for the buses. This time he was headed to the nurse's office and I had a date with Mrs. Barker.
I trooped into her office and sat down, a bit surprised to be joined by Giles a moment later.
"You okay?" I asked him.
He smiled, his left eye a little puffy. "Better than I would have been. Thanks."
I smiled back and rested my head against the wall. "Told you I would."
"That's what I mean. Thanks for keeping your word." He paused. "You weren't exactly the most trustworthy guy, before."
"New Drake, Giles. New Drake."
He chuckled. "I guess I can't call you Draco anymore."
I shrugged. "As long as you mean I'm a bad ass when you say it...?" I trailed off, chuckling and he joined me. I pointed toward his eye. "Just make sure you tell Anna there were three guys and they were huge, okay?"
"Mr. Mathews," Mrs. Barker said from behind the counter. "Seems you can predict the future."
"Mrs. Barker? I can vouch for Drake," Giles said as he stood. "He only got involved because Jeremy punched me." Giles pointed to his eye as proof. She crooked her finger at Giles and he went in to tell her his story. Minutes later she called me in and sent him back out.
"So. What happened?" she asked, leaning back in her chair. I described the scene I'd stumbled on, not forgetting to tell her no staff seemed to be around. I explained the fight as best I remembered it, starting with me hitting Jeremy with my book bag to get him off Giles. I held nothing back, just as before. If nothing else, Mrs. Barker would know I'd give her the unvarnished truth.
With my tale done, she sighed and dropped a pencil onto her desk and rubbed her eyes. Dropping her hands she said, "Drake, you can't fight on the school grounds. We have rules. Jeremy will be dealt with, but right now I have to deal with you," she said in response to me opening my mouth to protest. I closed my mouth.
"Officially, I have to condemn fighting and give you a one-day suspension, to be served Monday." I slumped. She paused and looked down. "Unofficially...you did a good thing for Giles. The only reason it's only a day is because his story was pretty darn close to yours. You admitted to more than he mentioned. I think he was trying to protect you."
Nodding dejectedly I said, "I understand. I don't feel like I had a choice, and I'd do it again, but I understand."
She cleared her throat. "Your suspension will be in-school. Make sure you have work to do, and bring a book. It can get boring."Next Chapter Previous Chapter