Can You Spare a Quarter
Graham held the bag of ice against his temple as he picked up the telephone and dialed. This was getting to be too much of a habit Graham thought wearily as he listened to the telephone ringing. At least this time it did not feel like his teeth had been shaken loose like they had on other occasions while trying to calm some of Jamie's nightmares.
"Hello?" asked a voice on the other end of the line.
"Hi Frank," answered Graham. "How's it going with you?"
"We're just getting ready to make breakfast here," replied Frank. "You don't sound so good though. What's up?"
"Not so great," answered Graham. "It happened again last night."
"Another nightmare?" said Frank with concern.
"Yes," replied Graham. "I got a black eye this time too. He's also got Cindy a couple of times in the past without knowing it but she never gets mad at him because of it."
"You're both going to have to learn to duck faster," chuckled Frank sympathetically.
"I was really hoping it would start to settle down after a couple of weeks," said Graham, "I try to duck but for a little guy he sure packs quite a wallop. I can't take much more of this. I'm getting too old to be a punching bag."
"I know you've been hoping that things would improve with time," said Frank. "But I think you're going to have to do something about it before you end up getting badly hurt. You're not a youngster any more you know."
"You've got that right," replied Graham. "The weird part about it all is that he doesn't have any idea that he's even doing it."
"It'll be best for everyone to get some help for Jamie," said Frank. "Even if you don't want to get all mixed up with the legal issues yet you should talk to a psychologist or someone like that about what's happening. They might be able to give you some ideas that might help."
"Yes I'm going to have to," said Graham with resignation. "I'm going to make some phone calls today and see if I can't get something started now that the holidays are over to get this whole thing settled once and for all. That's why I called you actually. Do you suppose you could ask Jason to come over and take Jamie out somewhere and keep him busy for a few hours? I don't like to presume like this on Jason but I don't think it'd be a good idea for Jamie to overhear me talking on the phone about him. He might get the wrong idea about what I'm trying to do."
"I agree completely," replied Frank. "I don't think it'll be a problem, wait a minute while I talk to Jason."
"Thanks I'll wait," said Graham as he adjusted the bag of ice and looked out the window at the tops of the trees as they swayed gently in the morning breeze.
"I just checked with Jason," said Frank coming back on the line after a minute. "He's OK with it and he'll be over in just a few minutes. He'll bring Jamie back here for breakfast and then go off on a hike with him. Kathy's making waffles and you know how Jamie likes those."
"Oh that's great," said Graham. "You tell Jason I owe him one and thanks a lot for listening Frank. If I don't get this resolved soon I'm going to end up needing false teeth."
"I don't think a boxing career is what you want for Jamie," said Frank. "It will work out better all around this way Graham. I know you've been trying to do the best you can but I think getting some help now will be a lot better than waiting any longer."
"You're right," said Graham. "I was just trying to put off the inevitable for a bit I guess. Give Jamie more time to be settled before things had to happen. Anyway I'd better get going here. I think I can hear Jamie getting up. Say hello to Kathy for me."
Graham hung up the telephone and stared out the window. A few minutes later Cindy announced Jamie's impending arrival by coming into the kitchen and rubbing up against Graham's leg.
"Hi there girl," said Graham as he knelt and gave the large white dog a hug and petted her. "How are you this morning?"
"Good morning Graham," said Jamie cheerfully as he came into the room a minute later to find Cindy standing with her feet against Graham's chest giving him a quick face-washing kiss.
"Hi Jamie. How are you doing today?" said Graham as he stood back up.
"I'm feeling pretty good. What happened to you?" asked Jamie as he noticed the swelling and darkness forming around Graham's left eye and the bag of ice on the kitchen counter.
"I knelt down to pick up a fork I dropped and when I stood back up I forgot I had the cupboard door open and I smacked myself pretty hard," answered Graham in an attempt to cover up what had taken place the night before.
"You've got to be more careful," said a concerned Jamie. "That's been happening to you a lot lately."
"Hasn't it though," sighed Graham to himself but not quietly enough that Jamie's alert ears didn't pick it up.
While Graham took the dishes out of the dishwasher and put them away Jamie looked him over carefully and with concern. He knew Graham was older and close to retirement age and he wondered if perhaps something was wrong with him. While Jamie had not actually ever seen it happen Graham had been having a lot of accidents lately and always seemed to be getting bumps and bruises on his head. Jamie did not want to invade Graham's privacy by asking questions too directly but at the same time he felt like he wanted to help somehow. While Jamie was pondering what he should do or how he could possibly raise the subject he looked up just as a familiar smiling face appeared standing just outside the sliding glass door leading to the outside deck.
"Hello Jay!" called out Jamie while waving his hand. Jason slid the door open and stepped into the kitchen sliding it closed behind him.
"Hi there," said Jason as he came in and stood on a mat just inside the sliding door. Cindy came over to greet him and he patted her on the head and got a wet kiss in return.
"Good morning Jason. You're up early today," said Graham providing Jason with an opening.
"I came over to invite you both for waffles and sausages. Mom has them cooking up right now," replied Jason.
Graham saw Jason looking him over carefully and replied, "I've got a bit of a headache this morning and need to rest. Why don't you go Jamie and I can come another time."
"Are you sure you don't want to come too?" said Jamie with obvious disappointment.
"Don't worry about me," replied Graham. "I'll take an aspirin and be fine in an hour or two. You guys go and have fun. Afterwards you can go hiking or something. I'll have lunch ready for you when you get back."
"Alright if you're certain," said Jamie. "Can Cindy come with us?"
"Of course she can. We can't break up the Three Musketeers now can we?" chuckled Graham.
"You're sure you'll be OK if I go?" asked Jamie still worried.
"Yes I'll be just fine, you'll see. Everything is going to be great," replied Graham.
"Alright," said Jamie not entirely convinced. Cindy following along as he went out of the kitchen to his room upstairs to get changed for the trip to Jason's house.
"He sure got you good this time," remarked Jason quietly once Jamie had left the room.
"Yes, I've been putting things off hoping the nightmares would decrease if he had some calm and quiet surroundings for a while but it looks like I'm going to have to take action sooner than I wanted to. I can't keep waiting and have this continuing to happen," said Graham.
"And you're not getting any better at ducking either," said Jason with a wry grin.
"I'm getting too old to be a sparing partner," said Graham.
"He still has no idea he's doing it?" asked Jason. "He was fast asleep when he got me the night of the Christmas Barbecue."
"Not a clue," replied Graham. "He's totally asleep but the nightmares seem to just take complete control of him. Cindy's gotten hit a couple of times too but it just seems to make her cling to him even more. She follows him around like glue everywhere he goes."
Graham and Jason stopped talking as they heard Jamie and Cindy coming back down the stairs. Graham busied himself getting some orange juice out of the refrigerator and offered a glass to each of the boys who promptly finished it off.
"We'd better get going Jamie," said Jason. "Breakfast is going to get cold and we don't want dad to eat all of the sausages on us."
"You think you'll be as big as your dad one day?" asked Jamie while doing up his coat.
"Probably eventually," replied Jason. "But not for a while. I'm still growing."
"You guys have a good time and I'll see you later then," said Graham as the boys and Cindy went out the sliding door and closed it behind them.
Watching them run off along the path over to Jason's house through the kitchen window Graham smiled as he put a couple of aspirins in his mouth and swallowed some water. The headache should go before too long but the bruise around his eye was going to take a bit longer.
After having a quick breakfast of a muffin and some tea Graham walked into his study and sat down heavily. He had been trying to put off having to take decisive action with regards to Jamie but the nightmares Graham had hoped would decrease seemed as bad as ever. It was time to do something about them although Graham knew that this was almost certain to make things much worse in the short term. However it was the longer term that mattered the most and Jamie could not be allowed to suffer like this any longer. When he had first stopped on the walkway leading to the subway to help Jamie all he had in mind was giving a distressed youngster a meal. Now Graham was contemplating something on a vastly larger scale. How would it turn out? Would he even be allowed to keep Jamie? Everything was against it - he was older, single, and contemplating retirement. The only thing that he could offer to bolster his side of the argument was the environment here on the island, but was that enough to tip the scales in his and Jamie's favour?
Graham pulled his address book from his desk drawer and began to thumb through it looking for his friend Scott's work number. Graham picked up the telephone and dialed.
"Hello, this is Scott Eldrich. How can I help you?" came a voice over the telephone.
"Hi there Scott. It's Graham calling," replied Graham.
"Graham! Long time no see. What's this I hear about you taking an extended vacation?" asked Scott. "Rumour around the office is that the boss was pretty annoyed when your request came in."
"I've got bigger problems to worry about than Alex getting upset with me," said Graham. "In fact he might even end up being more annoyed with me very soon depending on what happens in the next few days."
"What do you mean?" asked Scott. "Is something wrong over there?"
"Yes and no. I've gotten myself mixed up with a problem that's rather complicated and I think I need some legal advice. You see I picked up a young boy from off the street and he's been living at my place over the Christmas holidays and ..." began Graham.
"You picked up a boy off the street?" asked a totally bewildered Scott. "What do you mean?"
"It's difficult to explain. Maybe I should start at the beginning," said Graham.
"I've always found that helps," said Scott with a laugh. "I've never been good at picking up the story when I walk in on the middle of a movie."
"A few weeks ago I was walking out of the office to a meeting to finish that last project I was working on. I was heading over the walkway to the subway station and there was this boy sitting there begging for money. We've all seen teenagers all over the place trying to bum a quarter off of people but this little guy was so young. He was dirty, banged up pretty good, and obviously not one of those bored middle-class teenagers squeezing people for change thinking it's an entertaining way to spend the day.
"So I stopped. I don't know why I stopped, but I stopped. You know me I never look twice at panhandlers hanging about on the street but he looked so vulnerable. Anyway I took him into the mall and bought him something to eat, sat with him for a bit, and then had to leave for my meeting. You should have seen the way he attacked the breakfast I bought him. I mean it was just a fast-food breakfast, but the way he went at it I don't think he'd eaten in days. There was something about this little guy that got to me and I just couldn't walk off and forget about it. Anyway he was there again when I got back later in the afternoon and after I got off work I took him home to that little cave I use in the city, let him wash, took him out again for some dinner, got him some new pants and a couple of shirts, and then let him sleep there that night.
"When the weekend arrived I brought him over here to the island with me since it was either that or back onto a frozen street corner for him. He's been living here with me now for a few weeks. From the few things that he's told me it's pretty clear that he's been badly abused. At home of course which is why he ran away in the first place, but also on the streets now since he has no other way to survive. He's even hinted pretty strongly at me more times than I can count and a couple of times he's even come right out and suggested something point blank. I'm pretty sure that he thinks he owes me for letting him stay here. So I'm being very careful to be totally dense and not notice the hints and suggestions, and naturally I'm turning down the direct offers as gently as I can.
"Scott if you could just see the poor little guy. He's so sweet, gentle, and polite. At the same time in the middle of the night he has the worst nightmares I've ever seen. I've tried to comfort him to calm him down when it happens but more than once I've been decked by him without his even realizing it. In fact I've got nice black eye warming up right now as we speak from another nightmare last night. I was hoping the bad dreams would settle down and fade with some quiet time away from everything but they haven't. It's as bad as it ever was.
"I've been reluctant to question him very much. I don't want him to think he's on trial or something, but it's pretty obvious to me what the source of most of the nightmares is especially after hearing some of the stuff that he's shouted out in the middle of them. Sure it's not proof from a legal point of view but it's enough for me. His father raped him over and over, beat him, and a lot of other stuff I'd rather not get into or think about, not to mention the fact that his mother helped out. Finally of course he ran way and took to the streets. So you know what that means he's had to do in order to survive.
"But I can't delay it any longer and I need to know what to do. What can I do? What am I allowed to do? What will the system do to him? I mean he's grown on me incredibly fast in a very short period of time. I'd love to have him stay here but I can just imagine the looks on the faces of the Child Welfare caseworkers. Single older man thinking about retiring wants to have a young boy come and stay with him - I can just hear the laughter already and see the rolling eyes and leering looks."
Scott paused for a moment before replying heavily, "You certainly don't pick easy problems do you?"
Graham replied, "It just kills me to know what's happened to him. He's such a good kid. How can people do things like that to a boy? I mean this guy that's his father, he just doesn't deserve a nice kid like this but he's got one and he's hurt him so horribly and treated him like dirt. And the nightmares - it's getting too much for me to handle. I mean I'm not getting any younger and he's throwing all his strength into it when he thrashes around and fights in his sleep. I've been telling him that I've smacked myself into the cupboards and things like that to explain the bruises. I think he's starting to believe I'm turning into a senile old man who's losing his marbles and needs to be watched so I won't keep hurting myself."
"You always were a bit touched you know," joked Scott.
"I probably am but this is serious stuff Scott and I want to help him if I can," replied Graham. "I just don't know what I can do or if they would even let me."
"I know you do and I know what you're like. You're not going to take 'no' for an answer on this and I don't blame you because I wouldn't either," began Scott. "I can help a bit but this isn't my specialty as you know. I'm more the contract law type, helping companies figure out new ways to double-cross each other and get away with it. To find out how this sort of thing works you need someone who really knows his stuff and has a long list of contacts in all the right places. On top of that however what you also need is someone on your side who works for the Ministry of Social Services in the Department of Child Welfare. This is all way outside of what I normally do. I'll have to make some phone calls and try and find out who would be the best person to give you a hand. I can sketch out the details for them to see if it's something they can help with and if they'd be interested and then get them to call you. Are you going to be home for the next few hours?"
"I don't care about the cost, I've got a little bit of money stashed away for emergencies and I think this genuinely qualifies," said Graham. "I'll be here for the rest of day so you can call back any time. I sent Jamie off with Jason next door to get him out of earshot while I talked to you on the phone. That's his name by the way, Jamie."
"Alright, give me your number there. I've only got the one for your place in town," said Scott.
"Thanks a lot Scott," said Graham. "He's really worth it you know. One look into that hopeful face of his and I just go to pieces."
"Graham you're the world's biggest marshmallow and you always have been," said Scott. "But that's what we like about you. Don't you worry, we'll figure out something for you and that boy of yours. I won't let you down. Once I find out who the best people are for something like this I'll call you back and let you know their names so you can expect their calls. One way or another we'll figure out how to make this work for you and Jamie."
"Thanks a bunch Scott," said Graham. "Next time I'm in the city the drinks are on me."
"I'll hold you to that," laughed Scott as he hung up.
Graham put the telephone down and looked out the window. The die was now cast. Hopefully it would work out the way he wanted it to.
Jamie and Jason emerged from the forest alongside the stream that they had visited a couple of times before. Ever since their first fishing trip out together Jamie and Jason had gone hiking all over the island, often taking a packed lunch with them and disappearing for the entire day. Cindy as always stuck close to Jamie wherever he went never letting him out of her sight. Cindy had become Jamie's constant and faithful companion and much more than a close friendship between the two boys had also grown and developed. While Jamie's nightmares might still be taking control of him during the night, in the daytime Jamie was beginning to make progress in reasserting his own personality and had begun to feel comfortable with his new friends on Valdez Island.
Jason and Cindy had hiked up to the top of Whalebone Hill on the east side of Valdez Island together many times before, but for Jamie it was a totally new experience. He found himself getting winded from the climb as he followed Jason and Cindy up through the rocks, trees and brush that dotted the slope. Although his strength was improving now that he was eating regularly, Jamie still did not have the same level of stamina that Jason or Cindy had. As they went up the hill every few feet Cindy protectively turned her head back to check on Jamie's progress and if he appeared to be slowing down she waited until he caught up before continuing. Eventually at a level spot approximately two-thirds of the way up Cindy barked once and then Jason called a halt to the ascent. They all sat down and looked out from the hill over the sea towards the mainland.
"That's a hard climb," said Jamie breathing heavily. "I'm not used to doing something like that."
"You'll get stronger the more we go out," said Jason taking a couple of granola bars out of his day pack and giving one of them to Jamie. "When Mr. M. first came over to the island and rescued Cindy she couldn't do a climb like this either but you can see she's in really good shape now."
Cindy woofed her agreement and then nudged Jason with her head. Jason understanding Cindy's meaning reached back into his day pack, took out a large dog biscuit, and gave it to her. Cindy then settled down on the ground with the biscuit between her paws and joined the boys in a well-earned snack.
"You can really see a long way out from up here," said Jamie as he munched on the granola bar and looked out over the water in the direction of the city.
"The view is even better a bit further up," said Jason. "Sometimes if the air is clear and you have a pair of binoculars you can even see the big cargo ships going in and out of the harbour back in the city."
"It looks really brown over there right now," said Jamie observing the thick haze in the distance hanging over the city like a storm cloud. "I guess I was breathing that in all the time when I was there."
"I'm afraid so," said Jason sadly. "It gets worse every year too as the city gets bigger and there are more and more cars being driven around. If people could see what it looks like from this point of view they might realize how they're destroying the air that they need to breath."
The two boys and Cindy sat and finished their snack while looking out at some seagulls that were flying along the shoreline down at the base of the hill. Jason got a bottle of water out of his day pack and took a drink from it and then offered it to Jamie. Jamie poured some of the water into the palm of his hand and then held it up for Cindy who promptly lapped it up. Jamie did this repeatedly and only after Cindy had her fill did Jamie take a drink out of the bottle himself.
"Do you want to go up any higher?" asked Jason. "Sometimes if you're lucky you can spot Dave flying over to the city."
"Sure," replied Jamie jumping up with a smile. "I'm rested now and ready to go again."
While they continued hiking up the side of the hill Jason could tell that Jamie did not have his mind fully on what they were doing. Jason had learnt to spot the signs early on. Jamie tended to get a blank look on his face like he was gazing off into empty space and not seeing anything. It worried Jason at first but gradually he realized that this was because of what Jamie had been through. Jason had told his father and Graham about it and agreed with them that lots of quiet time fishing, going on hikes, and generally being out in the fresh air was probably the best thing for Jamie. Time to think, peace and quiet, and away from the city and what had happened to Jamie there.
Jason had also talked to Pony about Jamie after introducing them to each other at the Christmas Barbecue. Afterwards Pony told Jason a story about an old man that had gone to fight in the Great War many years ago before Pony had been born. Before he left for the war the man had had a family, had been happy, and loved to laugh. However after he returned he would just sit, often for hours at a time, looking off into the distance like Jamie sometimes did. When Pony was a small boy he had often seen the old man just sitting and looking out towards the ocean and had asked his father why the man did that. Pony's father told him that this was because he had seen too many evil things in the war and that the man had lost part of his spirit. Ever since then his father said, the man had been looking to try and find it again.
"Jay, do you think that maybe there is something wrong with Graham?" Jamie said finally.
"What do you mean?" asked Jason not understanding.
"I've been noticing that he seems to be getting banged up a lot lately. Like maybe he's getting old and he's falling down a lot because there's something wrong with him," replied Jamie. "I've never seen it actually happen but he didn't look very good this morning."
"He's getting older but I don't think there's anything wrong with Mr. M.," said Jason carefully.
"He gets these really bad bruises on his head sometimes," continued Jamie. "I asked him and he always says he bumped into the cupboard or something like that but I don't think that's what it is."
"I'm sure if something was wrong with him he'd tell you," Jason temporized.
Despite knowing full well what was causing Graham's injuries Jason did not feel that it was his place to reveal the full explanation behind them. He knew that Graham was trying to help Jamie and that he had been hoping that the calm of the island lifestyle would help Jamie's nightmares to decrease. He also knew that Graham was concerned how Jamie would react if he found out that he was the cause of the bruises. After seeing Graham's appearance this morning however Jason realized that things had not improved much if at all since Jamie had come over to the island.
Graham leaned back in his chair in the study and listened to the music coming from the stereo. He tried to let the music flow through him and wash away his worries but it was not working very well today. It was an older disc that Graham had playing, one of his favourites when he needed to think. The guitar strains coming from the speakers reminded him of the cries of whales in the deep ocean. It was plaintive and yet profound all at the same time. Graham closed his eyes and although he felt uneasy about what lay ahead he simultaneously knew that what he was doing was what Jamie needed. Perhaps if everything worked out right it might even be what he needed too. The telephone rang. Graham sat up, focused on the study once again, and picked it up.
"Mr. Graham Martin?" asked a woman's voice.
"Yes this is Graham Martin," replied Graham guardedly.
"Hello, my name is Madeline Thompson or just Matty for short," came the friendly voice over the telephone. "I'm with the Department of Child Welfare and I just finished talking with Scott Eldrich and he asked me to give you a call."
"Thank you for calling," said Graham. "Scott said that he'd try to find someone to help me out."
"Yes, that's why I called," said Matty. "I understand you've gotten yourself mixed up into a bit of a situation."
"You see I was going along the walkway near where I work and ... that is to say I ..." stuttered Graham unsure of how to explain the circumstances of how he had first met Jamie.
"Don't worry, Scott explained everything," interrupted Matty. "You have nothing to worry about in fact I should be thanking you. Would the Jamie we're talking about be about twelve years old, kind of scruffy but cleans up nicely, dark hair, amazing blue eyes ..."
"You know about him?" asked Graham with surprise.
"Yes I do," sighed Matty. "Back in the spring I was about to look into his file when it was taken away from me and given to another caseworker. I didn't get a chance to investigate but my initial impressions were that something was definitely wrong."
"He's been hurt," offered Graham carefully.
"You mean he's been abused," corrected Matty.
"Yes I do mean abused," confirmed Graham. "And very seriously I might add."
"That's what I had suspected," responded Matty. "I was going to investigate the case because it looked suspicious to me but then I didn't get a chance and it was taken off my hands. The caseworker it was given to didn't investigate and so there was no proof of anything being amiss. Without proof our hands are tied and so I couldn't do anything."
"What do you mean you have no proof?" exclaimed Graham. "He has nightmares almost every night! Last night I got a black eye trying to calm him down. That wasn't the first, second, or even third time that's happened. I've got the bruises to prove it!"
"It's a lousy story," began Matty. "I pulled the file on Jamie just before I called you. He's had two different caseworkers so far and I'm familiar with both of them. Neither of them cares anymore about the kids they handle and I can tell from the notes in the file that they just took the word of the parents and ignored everything else to the contrary. It's easier that way and then they didn't have to dig hard to prove something was going on. It's the old story of too many files, not enough caseworkers, not enough time, not enough funding, and the kids are the ones that fall through the cracks and end up suffering as a result. He's written up here as being difficult to manage and that he's being returned to his parents who need to apply more structure and discipline. Sounds like the father gave them a story about being too permissive and that he'd have to crack down on him."
"Too permissive?" said an incredulous Graham. "You should see the whip marks on his back for crying out loud! Can't they use what the children tell them as evidence?"
"They often won't tell us anything," said Matty sadly. "Sometimes despite everything that has happened to them kids often feel they still have to be loyal to their parents which can make finding out what's happened difficult. In other cases they've been terrorized into being quiet, often by threats against their siblings or a pet for example. Or as in this case what Jamie did say obviously wasn't listened to because the caseworker just wanted to close the books on the matter. Some of the more devious parents actually take advantage of the overworked situation by deliberately coming in late in the day when they know the caseworkers are tired and then offer up a convincing story that'll make it easy to wrap up the case quickly. Not to mention the fact that the system is stacked in favour of the parents and not the children which is what also happened here. Of course even if a complaint is sworn out, followed up on, and then action taken where the children often end up isn't exactly paradise most of the time."
"You mean that Jamie hasn't got any chance at a decent life then?" sighed Graham.
"No, I just want to be honest with you and let you know the facts and what you and Jamie will be up against if you want to pursue this," said Matty. "But he's got two big things in his favour this time."
"And what are those?" asked Graham with a sense of hopelessness.
"You and me," Matty replied with conviction.
"How is that going to help?" said Graham. "You have to follow the system and I don't even know if I'm up to looking after a youngster. Even if I am I'm not exactly what the brochures would consider as the ideal candidate in any case."
"Jamie's been staying with you now for a few weeks now," began Matty. "During that time he's come to know what you're like and that could help a lot because it would help make him feel secure enough to tell us the details of what's been going on. Next, Scott's told me the kind of person you are and assuming that bears up under some checking we might be able to get Jamie assigned to you as a foster child - if you were willing of course. Or it could just be temporary until we found him another home. Finally, there's me. I'm interested in what's best for the children. Not their parents, and not anyone else - just the children. I'll do whatever it takes to get them somewhere safe. Jamie's not had me for a caseworker before. If he had it never would have gone on this long."
"What would happen if I said to go ahead?" asked Graham.
"First you'd have to give me a lot of personal information about yourself and your background," said Matty. "Then I'd have to get a description of where you live, where you work, financial information, and personal references. In other words basically everything about you, including where you got your laundry done last week and what you had for breakfast this morning. There are personal onsite interviews that need to be done and periodic inspections. It sounds invasive and it is but the idea is to protect the children."
"But that's just the easy part," continued Matty. "Jamie has to come in and give us a statement of complaint that we can use. And I can tell you right now that that's actually going to be the hardest part. Most youngsters clam up tight when we try to talk to them either because they're afraid or because, as in Jamie's case, of a previous bad experience with the department. I'm hoping that if we can approve you ahead of time and if he knows that he would be able to stay with you, at least for a while, then he might be willing to talk. Without something from Jamie though he'll be returned to his parents and we both know what that means."
"If it comes to that I won't let you have him," said Graham with defiance. "Let me talk with Jamie and then depending on how that goes we can decide how to proceed. In the meantime Scott's finding me a lawyer that's experienced in this kind of thing to help me out and I'll start getting you the information you need so you can begin your investigation of me."
"That's a good start," said Matty. "Just remember that things can't stay the way they are right now. I know you're a decent fellow Graham and mean the best for Jamie but you could get into a big heap of trouble if this came out the wrong way. With him being a minor, and despite what's been going on at home, his parents remain Jamie's legal guardians unless and until it can be proven in court that they have been unfit parents. So until that can be done things have to be done completely by the book in order to protect everyone. Also keep in mind lawyer's aren't magic wizards, all they can do is ensure that no one cheats and that everything is done according to the book."
"Yes I know," replied Graham with resignation. "I was just hoping that Jamie might be able to have some time to settle down a bit and relax before anything like this had to be done."
"It's a wonderful thing you're trying to do Graham and more than anyone has ever done for him before, but Jamie needs professional help in addition to love and caring," said Matty. "You may not know it but the government has funding programs to help pay for that sort of thing and even offers a monthly subsidy for people who'll take on a child like Jamie. But before we can do anything for him we've got to do something about his parents. To do that we have to be able to legally prove what's been happening as that's the only way their guardianship can be suspended. Of course they'd also get locked up but that'd just be the icing on the cake. What matters most is getting Jamie into a healthy home environment."
"I'm not doing this to get any money for helping Jamie," replied Graham. "But you're right the situation does have to be resolved permanently. I just don't have to like it and I know that Jamie won't either. He's out right now on a hike with the boy from the place next to mine but I'll talk to him when he gets back home."
"OK," said Matty. "Give me a call after you've spoken with him and then we'll set up a date and time so you can come in and I can meet with both you and Jamie. Then we can get things moving on the official level. That can take a bit of doing but once everything is in motion and in the right direction then it will be a lot better for everyone."
"Thanks very much Matty," said Graham. "I really appreciate your help on this and I'll be talking with you again soon."
"Once I can get everything started off on an official basis I'll make sure this comes out right," replied Matty. "I'll talk to you later."
Graham hung up the telephone and breathed a heavy sigh. He had set the wheels in motion now he had to hope that they would roll the way he wanted them to. Graham walked out of his study and into the kitchen and began to assemble lunch. Jamie would be back soon and Graham knew that he would be hungry when he returned. Just as he finished putting the sandwiches together Graham looked up and saw Jamie and Cindy just outside the sliding glass door getting ready to come into the kitchen.
"We're back," said Jamie as he and Cindy came through the door into the kitchen.
"Did you have a good time with Jason?" asked Graham.
"We went and climbed up to the top of the hill overlooking Salish Bay," said Jamie. "We could see for miles from up there. I could even see Dave flying over towards the mainland in his plane doing his morning run."
"It's a beautiful view from up there," said Graham. "After I came over to the island Jason took me up there once during the summer to have a look but it was a hard climb for an old guy like me. Are you hungry after your hike?"
"I sure am, " said Jamie happily no longer being afraid of admitting when he was hungry. "My clothes got a bit wet while I was out so I'll just go up to my room, change, clean up, and be back in a minute."
Graham put the oversized sandwiches that he had made onto a couple of plates, put some chips beside them, and took them into the living room and put them down on the coffee table. He then went back into the kitchen and poured two glasses of orange juice and took them into the living room as well.
A few minutes later Jamie came down from upstairs. He had changed into a sleeveless tank top and some knee-length shorts. As he sat down in an armchair on the opposite side of the coffee table Graham could not help noticing that regular meals were beginning to have a positive effect. Jamie was starting to fill out and no longer looked undernourished. Once Jamie was settled in the chair Cindy as usual laid down at his feet and snuggled up close against him.
"I made us some lunch while you were out with Jason," said Graham handing Jamie one of the sandwich plates. "I thought we could eat these in here today and talk at the same time."
Graham chewed on his sandwich for a minute while watching Jamie doing the same as he tried to think of the right words to say. Graham had been putting off this moment unsure of how to broach the subject but he knew that the time had finally come and he could not delay the issue any longer.
Finally Graham began, "Jamie, we need to talk a little bit about you and me and ... us."
Jamie stopped eating, slid himself to the edge of the sofa, and said carefully, "What did I do wrong?"
"No, you've not done anything wrong," replied Graham hastily. "You've been absolutely wonderful and I love having you here. I think we're getting along incredibly well and I'm very happy that you and Jason and Cindy are such good friends now too. So please don't worry, you haven't done anything - I think you're great."
"It's because you're sick isn't it?" said Jamie still feeling apprehensive and trying to think ahead.
"Sick? What makes you think I'm sick?" asked a puzzled Graham.
"You've been getting hurt a lot lately," said Jamie slowly. "I mean ... I couldn't help noticing."
"Yes, in a way it does have something to do with that," said Graham. "But it's not that I'm sick. The explanation is a little bit more complicated than that."
Graham looked out the window at the trees for a moment before continuing, "Jamie, I know that things were very bad for you at home and that's why you ran away."
"Yes," said Jamie cautiously.
"And ... sometimes you have some bad memories about those times," continued Graham.
"Yes, sometimes," agreed Jamie.
"And sometimes the bad memories make it hard for you to sleep," added Graham.
"A bit ..." said Jamie now starting to feel even more uncomfortable.
"Even though you've been here away from everything and safe for a little while sometimes your sleep still isn't that good," continued Graham.
"I have some bad dreams sometimes," admitted Jamie cautiously.
"I was thinking that perhaps I could talk to someone and try to get you some help for that," suggested Graham.
"How can you do that?" said Jamie. "I'm a throwaway street kid. No one is going to want to help me."
"I'd like to help you if I can," replied Graham. "If you'll let me, that is. I also want to get some other people involved to help you too if you'll allow me."
"It won't work anyway," said Jamie angrily. "They'll just send me back home like the other times and then it'll start all over again. I won't let them do that to me again."
"But what if there was a way to convince them about what had been happening so they'd take action this time and then it couldn't happen ever again?" asked Graham.
"I tried to tell them once but no one listened and it didn't do any good. It always means going back there and I'd rather be dead," said Jamie with finality. "I probably will be dead if he catches me again."
"Jamie I know you've had more bad breaks than anyone deserves in a lifetime but what would you say to staying here with me if it could be arranged?" asked Graham.
"But they wouldn't let me even if you did ask. You know they always say that children should stay with their parents," said Jamie repeating the long-standing government policy regarding troubled families. "I know they'll send me back. You know they'll send me back. Why can't we just leave things like they are now and not tell anyone?"
"That's the problem actually," said Graham with difficulty. "Things can't keep going the way they have been. You know how you have nightmares and you know these bruises that I've been getting lately?"
"Yes," said Jamie swallowing hard and now fearing the worst.
"When you get the really bad dreams did you know that you pack quite a punch?" said Graham with a wry grin.
"I did that to you?" exclaimed Jamie with panic written all over his face.
"Yes," replied Graham gently. "Whenever you have a bad nightmare Cindy comes and finds me. Then I come up to your bedroom and try to calm you down. Sometimes though it doesn't always work out too well for me as you can see. That's why I think we need to find someone to help you. I'm not very good at dodging fists unfortunately."
"I'm sorry! I'm sorry! I didn't mean to! Honest!" exclaimed a completely terrified Jamie as he leapt to his feet and began running for the back door the plate with his half-eaten sandwich falling to the floor.
"Jamie! Stop! Don't run! I'm not mad, I'm not going to hurt you!" shouted Graham but it was too late. Despite not having a coat on or even shoes, and paying no heed to the freezing cold weather outside, Jamie ran down the hallway to the back of the house, flung open the door, and in only a moment had sprinted across the grass and quickly passed from sight running into the trees.
Graham tried to catch Jamie as he ran from the living room but the terrified youngster was too fast for him. When Graham got to the open door at the back of the house he called out to Jamie but to no avail. Finally Graham turned to Cindy who was standing next to him looking up and said, "Go after him Cindy. Go find Jamie!"
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