This is the second in the series. I was inspired by the orphan train story that started the Little Britches AU. Big thanks to the wonderful writers who have given me an outlet for me to express my experiences with my own foster children. Feedback is encouraged as I decide whether to continue with the series.
Follows No More Orphan Trains
The words rolled around in Nathans mind until he wanted to slam his fists into something. The system is only holding him until hes old enough for prison, the caseworker had said of young Lucas. His blood boiled at the callous dismissal of the young mans potential.
Lucas Kingston had been in care for a long time. The group home he lived in was one of the roughest in the city. Many of the kids who lived there were recruited by the gangs that roved the city streets. Gang fights and gang rapes were common occurrences in the facility that housed the most disposable of the children in foster care.
The screen saver on his computer kicked on, a sign of just how long he had been staring at the screen without seeing. Nathan sighed and pushed away from the desk. He went into the cantina and poured himself a cup of coffee. The longer he thought about the young man from the adoption fair, the worse he felt. He had spent a while talking to the kid and discovered that the boy was just brimming with despair. His sisters were happily settled in an adoptive placement and would soon have their forever home. He was still languishing in a group facility.
No one wants a kid my age! Lucas had protested when Nathan questioned why he wasnt interacting with the prospective families.
Returning to his desk, Nathan picked up the phone and dialed the phone number on the card he had taken from the information table at the fair. The card proclaimed, Make a Difference in the life of a child, Mentor! A woman took his name and address and promised to send him some information.
The next couple of days were busy for Team 7. They were sent in to provide backup for Team 2 on a big bust near Silver Springs. When all the dust had settled, they were left with a stack of reports to file. Vin had gotten injured and would be out of work for a couple of weeks recovering from a concussion and stitches in his shoulder. Buck was up to his ears in trouble for wrecking an ATF auto and was having to write a carefully worded, detailed description of exactly how the car he had been using for surveillance ended up in the lake!
When Nathan arrived home one afternoon, there was a large manila envelope laying under the stack of mail Rain had removed from the mailbox. He carried it to his recliner and ripped it open. A small brochure spilled from the envelope along with an application for the mentoring program. The statistics printed in the black and white brochure were sobering. Twenty-five percent of the young men in single parent, female headed households were arrested at least before turning twenty-one. The numbers for young men in the care of the state were even more staggering. It appeared that the caseworker had been right, a significant portion of the kids in group facilities ended up homeless or in prison. Taking up his pen, he filled out the application.
A few days later, the phone rang and Nathan answered. He spent most of an hour talking with the man from the mentoring program. When he replaced the handset, Josiah was smiling.
They got to you, didnt they? The profiler challenged.
Josiah, how could the system so completely fail an entire group of kids? I mean, do you know that when these kids turn 18 that they are just cut loose? When I was 18, I barely knew how to cook! These kids are expected to be ready to take over, just like that! The team medic exclaimed.
The world is a different place now, the profiler soothed.
Dont change the fact that theyre still just scared kids. Half of them end up on the street! You know what happens to kids on the street!
Lowering his graying head, Josiahs mouth set in a stern line. He did know, only too well, what happened to the young people who lived their lives on the streets. Drugs and prostitution were the least of the problems. He had seen too many young souls, worn down by the harsh realities of life.
Just remember that you cant save them all, my friend, Josiah admonished before turning his attention to his ringing phone.
Getting out of the Jimmy, Nathan felt nervous. He let a small chuckle escape as he wiped his sweaty palms on his pants legs. What do I have to be nervous about? He wondered to himself. Several teenagers sprawled in chairs on the porch and stared as he approached. Restraining the urge to look back at his vehicle, he nodded at them as he rang the bell.
Bell dont work, just go on in, one of the kids called out to him.
Hesitantly, he reached out and tried the door. Stepping into the lobby, he looked around. To his left was a glass fronted office reminiscent of the control center for a minimum security prison. A bank of monitors lined a battered, old credenza. The file cabinets had definitely seen better days, judging from their chipped paint and dented exterior. To his right, a large living room with an assortment of mismatched furniture had a few younger kids playing some video game. They didnt even look up at his entry.
Can I help you? A mans voice intruded on Nathans observations.
Oh, yes. Im here to see Lucas. Im from the mentoring program, he explained as he offered out his hand to the man.
Lucas? Okay, let me call him down. Did they explain the rules to you? He has to be back on the grounds by 7PM on school nights. Ill get you some papers to fill out, the man said as he opened the office door and rooted around in the file cabinet.
The kids in the living room were now watching him. Nathan smiled as he studied them. They looked to be from ten to fourteen. Their faces held wary expressions and one boy had a doozy of a shiner. When they realized he was watching them, the kids nudged each other and went back to their game. A clipboard with some papers was thrust into his hand.
If you fill those out, Ill go get Lucas, the man explained.
Nathan carried the clipboard into the other room and sat down. Peripherally, he was aware that the kids were watching him again. One by one, they left the game to move closer to his chair. There was some nudging and pushing back until one of them finally spoke up.
Are you going to take Lucas? The smallest boy asked incredulously.
Not permanently, just to go out and do things with him. Why do you ask? He rested his elbows on the clipboard as he studied the boy.
Nobody wants Lucas! The boy exclaimed with wide eyes. He runs away from every home that takes him.
Well, maybe Ill have a talk with him about that, Nathan replied and turned his attention back to the paperwork.
A rapid set of footfalls on the stairs had Nathan looking up as Lucas strutted into the room. He glared menacingly at the younger kids and they scattered. Throwing himself into one of the large, padded chairs, he tossed a challenging stare at the man across from him. A carefully disinterested mask settled on his face as he waited.
The facility administrator stepped into the room and scolded the young man. Lucas, is that how you sit on the furniture?
Yeah, this beat up, old junky stuff dont matter! The young man answered sullenly.
Nathan rose and handed the clipboard to the man. He watched as Lucas came to his feet and was reminded of those PBS specials he had seen on wolves in the wild. The boy carried himself like an alpha male just begging to be challenged.
Would you like to go out and grab some supper? Nathan asked.
Sure, Lucas answered.
As he walked past the group on the porch, he felt them sizing him up. He met their gaze and one by one, they turned away. When he unlocked the Jimmy, he saw that Lucas was hanging back, talking to them. Watching the way his posture changed, Nathan shook his head. He got into the vehicle and waited.
Supper was awkward. Lucas seemed to delight in evading his attempts to strike up a conversation. Every question was met with a challenging stare or a sullen shrug of the young mans shoulders. The waitress arrived to take their order and Nathan ordered soup and a salad. The young man across the table seemed uncertain about what was expected of him.
Do you need a minute? The waitress offered helpfully.
Can I get whatever I want? Lucas asked.
Nathan recognized immediately that he was being baited. He looked over the menu and nodded, As long as you eat what you order, I dont care.
There was a subtle shift in the balance of power at the table as Lucas squared his shoulders. He licked his lips before looking at the waitress again.
Ill have the T-bone steak and fries with a strawberry shake, he told her.
How would you like the steak? She enquired.
Lucas panicked for a moment, he didnt know what she was asking him. Nathan pulled the corner of the menu back and pointed.
She wants to know how red you want it. Like this? Thats rare. Or more like this. Thats well done. Or you can have it anywhere in between, he explained.
Well done, I aint eating no half cooked meat! Lucas announced.
The waitress smiled and collected the menus. After she was out of earshot, the young mans shoulders dropped slightly. He glanced around the restaurant before pulling at the jersey he was wearing.
Theres nothing wrong with what you have on, Nathan whispered. The kids eyes widened for a moment before he regained control of his expression.
I know. Its good, he said, effecting a cocky air.
When the food arrived, Lucas dove right in. He cut into the steak and checked it carefully before putting it in his mouth. The smile that crossed his face was one of delight as he chewed the tender meat. He watched as Nathan started on his soup and salad.
Why didnt you get some meat? He finally asked.
Im watching my cholesterol. Besides, this is filling and its what I wanted. You wanted a steak, right? Nathan was trying to draw the boy into a conversation.
Cholesterol? Lucas asked.
They spent the rest of the meal discussing cholesterol and other health related topics. Nathan was surprised at what the kid knew and equally surprised at the things he misunderstood. As it neared time for him to return Lucas to the facility, he began probing for ideas of places to go on their next get together. When he mentioned horseback riding, the young man jumped at the chance. They made plans to go out on Saturday afternoon to the ranch for a short ride.
The days passed quickly and Nathan found himself facing Saturday afternoon with a little trepidation. The young man had a lot of attitude and he wasnt at all sure how to connect with him. On a whim, he called Josiah for a pep talk. The profiler reminded him that the purpose of the mentoring program was to demonstrate a normal life to the kids, not to entertain them every minute. He could just as easily take the boy grocery shopping as horseback riding. The team medic felt a little more positive about the afternoon when he hung up the phone.
What time will you be home? Rain inquired as she was getting ready for work.
He has to be back by eight on non-school nights so maybe 8:30 or so, he answered as he gathered her into his arms for a passionate embrace by the door.
Dont start something you dont intend to finish, she admonished her husband and lover.
I have a couple of hours, he murmured into the side of her neck.
But Ill be late for work, she reminded him. Snagging a quick kiss, she slipped out the door.
Lucas was ready and waiting for him when he arrived. The young man was shooting hoops with some of the other older boys. Nathan watched for several minutes until one of the three-man teams emerged victorious. The boys moved like a pack of wolves as they surrounded the intruder on the court. They encircled Nathan and stared him up and down.
You ready to go, Lucas? He asked, ignoring the others.
Yeah, see you later, he called to the others.
Once safely away from the home, Lucas spoke. Im sorry about the guys.
Sorry for what? He asked, curious.
They was trying to stare you down. They said you wouldnt be back, came the soft reply.
I said wed go riding this afternoon, right?
Yeah, but the young mans courage faltered.
Lucas, Im not sure what youre thinking but if I tell you something, I mean it. Now my work might interfere sometimes, but Ill call you if I have to cancel our plans. Deal? He offered his hand to the kid.
Yeah, deal, he answered as he shook the extended hand.
When they reached the outskirts of the city, Lucas began to stare out the window. Nathan choked back a chuckle as the young man bumped his head against the window trying to watch a hawk that was kiting across the sky.
Where you taking me? Lucas asked as they got farther from the city.
My boss has a place a little ways out. He keeps horses and has several acres of land, Nathan answered.
How much is an acre?
They spent the remainder of the ride discussing the measure of land and distances between things. When the Jimmy came to a stop in the driveway at the ranch, Lucas jumped out and stared around him. His face was shining brightly as he looked around at the mountains and the lines of the fences that surrounded the rolling pastureland.
All of this belongs to your boss? He must be a rich man! The young man announced as he turned to face Nathan.
With Josiahs advice in mind, Nathan decided to educate the kid about riding and not just put him on a saddle and show him around.
Come on, we got some work to do before we ride, he called as he started for the barn.
Inside the barn, Nathan could tell that the horses had been fed. He opened the stall and clipped a lead on the headstall of his horse and led him out to the corral rail. Going back, he brought out a gentle mare and hitched her beside his gelding.
First thing we have to do is muck out the stalls so theyll have a clean place to come back to when were finished. Come on, Ill show you what to do, he said. Taking up the hay fork, he began removing the soiled hay from the stall.
Shoot man! I aint picking up no horse shit! What kind of game you playing? Lucas protested as his nose wrinkled up in disgust.
Its what we do to help out. If you want to ride, you work. If not, sit down over on that bench and Ill finish up and take you somewhere else, Nathan said as he grabbed the handles of the wheelbarrow and hauled out the load.
He had finished the first stall and was preparing to start on the second when Lucas stood and hesitantly moved closer. He looked over the side of the stall and his nose wrinkled again. Nathan could see the problem as the kid appeared to be mapping his way across a mine field of horse droppings.
Theres some overshoes in the tack room if youre worried about getting anything on your shoes, he offered.
Lucas walked out of the tack room carrying Josiahs overshoes. He sat on the bench and pulled them on before standing and walking over to the stall. He took up the fork and began pulling the hay into a pile as Nathan had done.
The older man smiled, seeing the kid trying to duplicate his actions. Lucas began lifting the hay into the wheelbarrow. Too late, Nathan saw him catch the tines of the fork on the edge and the whole load toppled over. The young man looked up with absolute horror shining in his dark eyes until he realized that his new friend was holding his sides trying not to laugh. Embarrassed, he lashed out angrily.
That aint funny, man! You cant be laughing at me like that! His shoulders were heaving with rage as Nathan lost control and laughed out loud. Lucas flung the fork down and started out of the barn.
Nathan reached out and caught hold of Lucass arm. The young man recoiled like hed been burned, snatching his arm back and bristling up all over. A flash of rage tinged with fear appeared in the kids eyes.
Im sorry, Lucas. I didnt mean to laugh. Please, come back. Im sorry. Ill help you clean it up. Come on back, he coaxed the young man back into the barn. Its just that your expression looked so much like Ezras the first time that happened to him.
Whos Ezra? Lucas asked as he lifted the fork and dumped the hay. Nathan held the handles, keeping the wheelbarrow from tipping.
A man I work with. Hes a very fancy dressing, neat freak. The man wears $200 shoes! The first time he tried mucking out a stall, he did the same thing. Only it turned over and spilled all around his legs! He had a fit! Nathan explained.
Seeing the older man so nearly laughing at the memory, Lucas decided that it wasnt so bad if someone else had done it too. They finished cleaning the stall and headed out to the horses. Nathan explained everything as he did it so that the kid would know why things were done a certain way. He showed Lucas how to mount and dismount and had him practice before leading the horses to the larger corral. Nathan stood in the center of the corral and called directions to Lucas.
The afternoon passed quickly. Chris came down and stood for a while watching the young man before moving on to the work he had in the barn. He was surprised and pleased that they had cleaned the stalls of the two horses they were using. When he heard the horses leave the corral and head out into the big pasture, he stuck his head out to watch. Nathan had attached a lead rope to the mare and the two were riding side by side.
Nathan took Lucas to the stream and they got down and let the horses get a drink. He was amazed at the questions the young man asked. It was like being with a small child who had to be told everything. He tried not to talk down to the boy. After a while, they mounted and headed back to the ranch.
You want to try something faster than a walk? Nathan asked as they entered the corral.
A look of excitement charged with a spot of fear lit the boys face as he nodded eagerly. Nathan hitched his horse to the railing and took up a long lead rope. He snapped the lead on the headstall and explained what he was going to do.
Im going to stand here and drive her around the corral. If you feel uncomfortable, yell and Ill stop her or you can stop her yourself by pulling on the reins like I showed you. Ready?
Seeing the nod, Nathan checked to see that Lucas had his heels down before clicking his tongue and urging the mare to a slightly faster walk. When the young man recovered his balance, he smiled.
Use your legs to hold on to her. Keep your heels down and grip her with your thighs, Nathan called as he watched the kid. He didnt want him to fall and get hurt or scared.
After about ten minutes, Lucas drew the horse to a halt. He shifted slightly in the saddle and winced at the soreness he felt in his thighs and behind.
I think I need to stop. Can we come out and do this again some time? Lucas asked. He tried to dismount like hed practiced. His legs felt funny and his knee folded when he put his foot on the ground. He kept hold of the saddle horn and the mare side stepped a little. Nathan stepped forward and gripped Lucas by the upper arm to keep him from getting down under the horse. As soon as he touched the boy, he tensed up and jerked away again. He took two steps backward before he stumbled and fell, landing hard on his behind.
Like one of those punching bags that spring back up when you knock them over, the kid sprang up from the dirt and charged. Nathan was unprepared for the punch that connected with his jaw, he stumbled back into the mare. Lucas took up a defensive stance and waited for a blow that never fell.
Chris had come out of the barn just as the kid hit Nathan and he ran to the corral. Seeing that the medic wasnt seriously hurt, he hung back to see what would happen next. Lucas was breathing hard, holding his fists up and shifting his weight as if to dodge a punch. After settling the mare, Nathan turned to face the young man.
Im sorry, I startled you. I just didnt want you to sit down under the horse, she might have stepped on you. I didnt mean to take hold of you again, Nathan kept his voice even and his arms relaxed at his side until the clenched fists opened and some of the tension left the young mans coiled body.
Just dont be all up on me and touchin me and stuff, Lucas said gruffly.
Deal, Nathan enthusiastically agreed.
Things were stilted as they put the horses away. Nathan again explained everything that had to be done to get the horses settled into their stalls. He demonstrated how to brush the horse and left Lucas to tend to the mare. Chris caught his eye and motioned him outside.
What happened? The blond asked, nodding toward the corral.
He doesnt like to be touched. Ill have to remember that, Nathan explained as he massaged his jaw.
Just be careful. That kid could have hurt you.
I will. He just needs to work things out. Hes really a great kid, Chris, the medic said with a smile.
Lucas heard only the tail end of Nathans comment and a warm, happy feeling filled his heart. He rushed back into the stall and continued to brush the mare while she contentedly munched on the fresh hay that Chris had put in her feed bin. When the two older men came back, he looked up expectantly.
Looks like youre doing a good job there, Chris complimented. She really likes a good, long brushing. Keep that up and shell follow you home.
On the way back to the group home, Lucas fell silent again. Nathan could feel the tension building up in the young man. Trying to lighten the mood, he suggested they drive through some place and stop at the park to eat. They picked up McDonalds and stopped at a nice park. Lucas still seemed uneasy and Nathan finally decided to try the direct approach.
Whats bothering you, son?
The kids face came up and his eyes flashed rage for a moment. Then he looked down again, every line of his body screaming shame. He crumpled the wrapper from his hamburger before he answered.
Ill understand if you dont want to hang out with me anymore. Nobody wants to be around me anyway, Lucas mumbled.
Lucas, look at me. I know you didnt mean to throw the punch. I should have realized after the first time that you dont like to be touched. Its not a problem. I still want to spend time with you. Well get through this, okay?
During the ride from the park, Lucas reached out and turned on the radio. When the speakers began to pour out classy jazz, the young man looked at Nathan with wide eyes.
You actually listen to that? His voice dripped in disbelief.
Jazz? Of course, I like jazz. What kind of music do you like? Nathan inquired, turning the tables on the young man.
Probably nothin youd like. Can I change this?
Id rather you didnt. If you dont like it, turn it off, the older man replied.
Salright, it aint bad, Lucas answered, smiling.
Nathan managed to take the young man out a couple of evenings that week. The first time, he just took him out to dinner with Rain. Lucas was shy around her and blushed under her attention. The next time, they went to the gym at the ATF building to work out. His young friend had expressed an interest in boxing and Nathan wanted him to see how it was done. On the drive home, he inquired about how things were going in school.
Salright, Lucas said, avoiding his eyes.
That isnt much of an answer, Nathan coaxed.
I just dont get that algebra. I mean, when am I ever gonna need that? The young man complained as he glared out the window.
Would you like me to try to help you with it? Maybe I can show you a couple of tricks, Nathan offered. Dont you have a day off from school coming this week?
Yeah, were off Friday for parent/teacher conferences, he answered.
How about I pick you up and we make a day of it? Ill take you to the office and introduce you to the rest of the men I work with and then we can have a look at your algebra.
Lucas leapt at the opportunity to spend the whole day away from the group home. He was ready and waiting on the porch when the Jimmy rolled to a stop out front. Sliding into the passenger seat, he was stopped by Nathans question.
Did you forget your book?
The young man flew back into the building and returned with his school book, a notebook and several freshly sharpened pencils. He flashed a brilliant smile as he stacked the things on his lap to pull on his seatbelt. Nathan noticed that he was also dressed up in slacks and a plain pullover shirt instead of the baggy pants and football jerseys he had been wearing for their outings.
After introducing Lucas to everyone, they settled in the conference room and spread out with the book and note paper. Nathan began by putting some easy problems on the board and reviewing the basics. It was easy to see that the kid had the foundation for doing the problems but he became confused as a second variable was added. His confusion manifested itself in anger.
I dont need this stupid junk anyway! I aint never gonna need any of this! Lucas shouted as he shoved the book aside and fixed his glare on the floor. JD was returning from the copier and noticed the partially solved equation on the board. Opening the door, he peered in cautiously.
Whats going on? The young computer whiz asked, looking from Lucas to Nathan.
I was trying to help him understand this problem. Apparently, I didnt explain it clearly and now I dont know what to do, the medic admitted.
Can I take a shot at it? JD asked as he slipped into the room and closed the door. Nathan glanced at Lucas to see what his reaction was. Getting a shrug from the younger man, he waved JD ahead and came to his feet.
Im going to get a cup of coffee. Would you like anything to drink?
Code Red? Lucas asked hopefully. At Nathans puzzled look, JD laughed.
In the fridge, bottom shelf, he supplied.
By the time Nathan returned to the conference room, both young men were animatedly discussing something. He hung back for a minute to watch. JD had changed the problem and added color to some of the numbers. It seemed that Lucas was not at all confused as he solved the problem on the board.
Over lunch, Lucas excused himself from the table. Nathan leaned forward and lowered his voice as he asked, How did you help him with the algebra?
He was trying to keep too many things in his mind at one time. By changing the colors, I showed him how to solve each side until he had to bring them together to solve the whole thing. He was so uptight about how big the problem looked that it intimidated him, I guess.
For the next couple of weeks, Nathan saw Lucas a couple of times a week and at least once on the weekend. He had taken him back to the ranch to go riding again. This time, Lucas eagerly mucked out the stall so that they could move on to the lesson and the ride. Vin found himself engaging the kid in a conversation about something and reached across the horse to demonstrate. Nathan held his breath as he watched for the younger man to lash out. Other than a slight stiffening of his shoulders, Lucas didnt react to the contact.
A few days later, Nathan got a call from the man at the group home. Lucas had run away. They had already alerted the police. The man wanted to let him know that the boy would be moved to another facility called Golden Oaks. Nathan cringed when he heard the name, hed heard of the place.
Golden Oaks was a boot camp for kids. It was run like a military base. The childrens individuality was stripped away and they were fused with other, similarly rough youths. The place had a high success rate to go along with its abnormally high dropout rate. Kids who flunked out of Golden Oaks went directly to juvenile detention centers.
Chris, is it all right if I leave a few hours early? Nathan asked as he stuck his head into the team leaders office.
Yeah, something wrong? The blond asked.
No, not yet. Ill call you, he replied.
It was nearly dark when Nathan drove past the park where hed had supper with Lucas after horseback riding at the ranch. A spot of white caught his eye and he pulled over and got out to investigate. As he got closer, the spot moved and a moan sounded. Pulling his gun, the ATF agent cautiously approached the source of the sound.
Merciful heaven! Nathan exclaimed as he knelt at Lucass side. The young man had been beaten and dumped near the dumpster in the park. Holstering his gun, he pulled his cell phone and dialed the police.
It took a half hour to stabilize Lucas for transport. He had been worked over with a baseball bat. His jaw was broken along with his wrist, several ribs and his lower leg. The poor kids face was a mess of cuts from where his attackers had used their fists after he was unable to defend himself anymore. Nathan called the administrator of the group home and was stunned by the mans response.
Have the social worker from the hospital call and Ill give her the information on him. His belongings will be boxed up for him when hes ready to go to his next placement.
Only Nathans familiarity with the hospital staff helped as Lucas pleaded for him to stay. Ordinarily, with a minor, only a family member or guardian could be in the examining room. The staff bent the rule when they saw how his presence comforted the brutally battered young man. He called Chris to let him know where he was and that he would not be in the next day, he had an idea.
It was nearly morning before Lucas was settled in a room. His broken leg had been operated on, pins now held the shards of bone in place. His ribs were bound and his arm cast. The most telling damage, to his face, was covered by an assortment of light dressings. In spite of the enormous amount of pain he was in, Lucas repeatedly asked Nathan to stay. Each time, the medic assured him again that he wasnt leaving.
Late in the afternoon, a man stopped and peered into the hospital room. He was older than Nathan and had graying hair. Catching Nathans eye, the man motioned him into the hall. Checking first to see that Lucas was soundly asleep, he moved to lean against the doorframe so that he would be visible when the youth opened his eyes.
My name is Sam Folger, I have Lucass sisters in my home. The caseworker called and told me that he was here in the hospital and I wanted to see how he was before bringing them down here to see him.
My name is Nathan Jackson, Ive been mentoring with Lucas. Hes pretty bad. Whoever got hold of him used a ball bat. He has broken bones, they put pins in his leg and his jaw is wired shut.
I dont think it would be good for the girls to see him like this. They used to have nightmares any time I raised my voice. Ill wait until he looks better before I bring them up, the man said as he shook his head sadly at the bandaged body on the bed.
Can I ask why you dont want Lucas?
We tried. My wife and I wanted to keep them together. Lucas ran from the school and from home. He was so hostile that my wife was afraid hed hurt me. His father abused him regularly when he was at home and the boy never got over it. He just needs to learn that not every man will hurt him, Sam said. Ill let the girls call him in a couple of days. Maybe thatll help.
Ill let him know you stopped by, Nathan said as he offered his hand.
I hope you can get through to him, the man said as they parted.
Me too, he thought to himself.
Later that evening, Lucas began to wake. He was uncomfortable and kept trying to turn on to his side. The traction device on his leg prevented his movement and his broken ribs were excruciatingly painful as he tried to turn the other way.
Just lay still, son. Ill get the nurse, Nathan said as he started to move away from the bedside. A strong hand gripped his wrist and held him. Soulful, tear filled eyes pleaded with him not to go. He remained and the grip relaxed. Lucas tried to speak and discovered that his jaw was wired shut. His hand reached for his face as he realized that there was a tube in his nose.
Now youll want to leave that alone. Its an NG tube and its feeding and watering your body while your jaw heals. They had to wire it so it will heal. You got worked over pretty good, kiddo, Nathan explained.
A nurse came in on rounds and approached the bed. She was a heavyset older woman that just exuded mom. Her manner was efficient and she spoke firmly to the young man as she checked his vitals and explained what she was doing. Nathan noticed that Lucas settled right down under her touch.
After staying overnight at the hospital that night, Nathan had to go to work. He explained that he would be back that evening and asked Lucas if he wanted anything in particular. The hospital had given him a small white board and a dry erase marker.
Strawberry shake? He wrote with a hopeful glow in his eyes.
Sure thing. See you this evening, Nathan said before he left.
A pattern developed over the course of Lucass hospital stay. Nathan stopped by as often as he could over lunch and every evening. He discovered that Mr. Folger was visiting the boy nearly every day. He brought cards from Lucass sisters. A couple of days later, he brought some socks and very carefully worked one onto the part of the youths foot that stuck out of the cast. There was a Gameboy and several games. It seemed that he was making an effort to make the young man comfortable with him.
Finally, after nearly two weeks, the doctor was going to remove the wires that held Lucass jaw in place. Nathan took off work to be there. It was obvious to everyone that the young man was terrified. When the doctor approached the bed with the instrument to remove the wire, Lucas began to tense up and try to pull away. His hand gripped the bedside rail and he rattled the bars with his shaking. Nathan reached out and rested his hand over the white-knuckle grip. Lucas immediately released the bar to clamp onto the offered hand.
When the doctor had finally gone, Lucas looked at Nathan. His eyes drifted to the hand still clenched on the older mans wrist. Reluctantly, he let go. A guarded smile lifted the corners of his mouth.
I brought you a treat, Nathan offered. In his hands was a bag from a take out Chinese restaurant. Your sisters said you like Chinese food.
That was the cue for the others. Mr. and Mrs. Folger followed Lucass sisters into the room, carrying the rest of the take out bags. The girls carefully embraced their brother before settling on the empty bed across the room. Lucas was given small quantities at first since he was still being fed supplements through the NG tube.
A voice over the loudspeakers announced the end of visiting hours and the girls began to gather up the trash from the restaurant. They gave their brother hugs and kisses before following Mrs. Folger out of the room. Mr. Folger remained behind for a moment. Nathan promised to try to get by at lunch the next day and left.
The next day when Nathan arrived with the obligatory strawberry shake, Lucas was in a very upbeat mood. He couldnt wait to share his news.
Mr. Folger said that he wants to give me another chance to live with him and my sisters. Theyre going to get a therapist to work with me on my anger. He said that hes willing to work hard if Im willing to work hard too. I figured that if I can muck out horse stalls, I can do anything!
Thats great, Lucas! Im glad to hear it. I want you to remember, if you ever need to talk you can always call me. Ill be there for you.
Do you think we could go riding again when my leg gets better? Lucas asked hopefully.
As long as youre willing to clean out the stall, Nathan teased.
For a couple of months, things went well for Lucas in his placement with the Folgers. Nathan was thrilled to see the progress the young man was making. They had been out to the Larabee ranch a couple of times, where the team had connected solidly with the teenager. Plans for the summer included summer school to allow Lucas to be promoted to the next grade.
Rain handed Nathan a beer before curling up on the couch with him to watch the movie they had rented. It was a rarity for the two of them to get to share a quiet evening together. The movie was just starting when the phone rang. They let the machine answer and listened to see if they wanted to pick it up.
Mr. Jackson, this is Officer Itaki. If you could give me a call when you get this, the voice began. Nathan reached over the back of the couch and lifted the receiver from its cradle.
Officer Itaki, this is Nathan Jackson, he said as a tightness built in his chest.
Mr. Jackson, I was asked to call and let you know that Lucas Kingston is in the hospital. His foster father thought you might want to be here, the mans voice trailed off hesitantly.
Ill be right there, Nathan said as he slammed the phone down. Rain gave him a quizzical glance as he threw off the afghan they had been under. He slipped on his shoes and bent down to give her a kiss. Ill call you. Im sorry. Somethings happened to Lucas.
A million thoughts raced through his mind on the drive to the hospital. The teen had been doing so well in the placement with his sisters. His school work was not perfect but he was making steady progress. Only last week, Lucas had confided that he thought he would like a career in law enforcement or social services. He wanted to be able to help kids the way he had been helped. Nathan parked in the lot and raced into the emergency room. As soon as he stepped up to the desk, Lucass sisters ran and wrapped their arms around his waist.
The nurse pointed him toward an exam room and Nathan gently peeled the girls arms from around him as he headed for the room. When he opened the door, Mr. and Mrs. Folger were standing at the side of the bed, holding Lucas by the hands. Tears rolled down the womans face as she looked at the young man. A broad swatch of bloody bandages covered his chest. The handsome face was bruised and swollen. A bandage encircled his head.
Nathan caught the doctor and steered him into a corner. The hospital staff was familiar with the ATF team medic and willingly gave him whatever information he wanted. With a heavy sigh, the doctor glanced over at the patient before meeting the worried gaze of the man standing close.
Im sorry, there isnt much we can do. Hes been stabbed repeatedly. Someone worked him over with a ball bat or a metal pipe. Theres no recordable brain activity. His heart is beating and hes breathing, but hell likely not regain consciousness.
The words were like a physical blow. Nathan allowed his shoulders to drop as the reality of the situation hit him. The boy was brain dead. He could survive but he would never be the person he was before the beating. A feeling of cold, hard rage surged and the medic felt the desire to lash out. For a couple of minutes, he stood in the corner of the room trying to get control of his racing heart. When he could open his hands and let them hang naturally at his sides, he approached the bed. Mrs. Folger withdrew her hand and slipped out of the room.
What happened? Nathan asked softly.
The police said that a gang jumped him on the way home from school. They think it was because he refused to join the gang. They found him just a few blocks from the house, if the girls had seen him, Mr. Folger let his voice trail off as he succumbed to sobs.
Mrs. Folger slipped back into the room with the girls clinging to her like limpets. The girls' faces were streaked with tears. They rushed forward and reached out to take Lucas by the hands. They didnt ask any questions as they stood staring at their brother.
It was a very long night for the two men as they sat with Lucas. His sisters had said their goodbyes and were taken home. The doctor didnt expect the boy to make it through the night. They took turns napping so that one of them was always at his side. When Nathan couldnt sleep any more, he struck up a conversation with Mr. Folger.
Do you know why I got involved with Lucas? At the adoption fair, a worker told me that the system was just holding the boy until he could go to jail. All I could think about was how unfair that was. The boy just needed some guidance and encouragement. Im glad you decided to give him another try. What made you decide to foster? Nathan was intensely curious as to what drove a family to take in other peoples children.
My wife was in foster care as a kid. She always said that she was thankful for the family that took her in. She went home after several months but she never forgot that she had a nice place to live while her mother got her head together. Mr. Folger blinked back the tears that formed in his eyes as he explained.
Nathan nodded. He could certainly understand a little better. Both men were jarred out of their reflections by the monitor alarms. Lucas was having trouble breathing and his heartbeat was becoming uneven. Nurses rushed in and checked the connections and did what they could. It was over mercifully quick as Lucass heart stopped. Someone shut off the alarms and the nurses slipped out of the room. A doctor remained and pronounced the young man dead and told Nathan and Mr. Folger to take as long as they needed to say their goodbyes.
It was raining on the day of Lucass funeral. Team 7 volunteered to act as pall bearers with the exception of Nathan, who sat with the family. As the procession arrived at the small cemetery, the clouds parted and the sun began to shine. From the small rise where the teen would be laid to rest, they could see a beautiful rainbow. After the brief graveside service, people began to wander away. Nathan invited the team to go with him to the Folgers house but they refused.
It should be family, you go, Chris told Nathan as he shook hands.
Several weeks later, Nathan came into the office with a visitor. The tall, painfully thin young man looked uncomfortable amongst all the business suits. The medic coaxed the kid into the office and introduced him to the team.
This is Damien, Im going to be his mentor.
The Fair #3: A Little Help
FYI One of my foster children has been fortunate enough to have a mentor. Bob has been with us for three years and takes my foster son to see and do things that I would not have been able to do with the other children in my home. It is also good for him to have one adult who is his and not obligated to spend time with any of the other kids. Having been a member of Big Brothers/Big Sisters, I know first hand that some of these kids enjoy simple things like driving around looking at the Christmas lights. Go out and make a difference in the life of a child, they are the future!