Disclaimer: I do not own the characters or premise of The Magnificent Seven. I make no financial gain and mean no infringement. I do, however, own the alternate universe and characters of Your Home House.
Notes: This AU is set in a residential facility for troubled children and teens. These are not always going to be pleasant children, so there will be harsh language and descriptions of some very unhappy situations.
Summary: In this AU, Josiah Sanchez owns and runs a residential facility called Your Home House. He also oversees the children's spiritual needs. Chris (age 12) and Vin (age 8?) are two of the children living at the House. As the series develops, Buck (Safety and Security; building management), Nathan (teacher, EMT), JD (direct care and recreational director) and Ezra (teacher and principal) will all be staff members, as well as Casey Wells (direct care), Gloria Potter (administrator for girls housing), Rain (medical care), Emma Dubonnett (administrative assistant), and some of the other secondary and minor characters will appear from time to time. Nettie Wells will, as she is in other AUs, is a local social worker, or in this case, the director of the local Division of Family Services (DFS). Judge Orin Travis will also appear from time to time as the juvenile court judge. His widowed daughter-in-law, Mary Travis, is a reporter and has adopted Billy (Travis). The setting is outside Indianapolis, Indiana (I'm a Hoosier and work easier on home ground).
AU Status: I welcome all comers; this will be an open AU, with one proviso. If you're interested in writing in it, please contact me for more information prior to beginning your story(ies) so that there is continuity in the series. I like a harmonic universe ;) and want to keep the series flowing without hiccups.
Dedication: To all the damaged children I worked with when I was on staff at a local residential facility. There were a lot of flaws in the system, and I hope to vicariously fix them in this AU!
Josiah Sanchez, founder and director of the Your Home House, stood staring out the window of his office, watching the play area just beyond. Most of the boys were on recess at the moment, busily burning off the energy built up after the previous two hours of school. He sought out two of the newest arrivals, still monitoring their ability to manage being in the facility.
Vincent Michael Tanner, or Vin as he never failed to correct them, was easy to find. He was perched atop the jungle gym, silently daring any of the others to approach it. He never seemed to be happy unless he was in the open, and as high up as he could be. Josiah was surprised to see that someone had dared to enter Vin's territory, however, but not surprised to see that it was the other boy he sought.
Christopher Adam Larabee sat on the ground beneath the structure, reading a book. No, Josiah corrected, he was staring at the photo album that was his single remaining possession. They had tried to convince the young blond to leave it in his foot locker the first day he was with them, and three of the caregivers had received bruised and sore shins for their trouble.
The arrival of most children to the House was usually rather dramatic, but these two boys stood out in their arrivals.
Vin, at age six, had been removed from a very violent life on the streets. As best they could figure out, he had been orphaned a year earlier, when his mother had been killed by her pimp. The child was left alone in their tiny apartment for over a week before his existence was discovered by anyone. Even then it was only because the rent was late. The slumlord who owned the building hadn't even considered the child's plight, but simply ordered him out. Vin had stuffed as much of his property as he could into his backpack and walked out onto the streets, completely alone. At some point one of his mother's friends found him wandering through a dangerous area of the city and took him in. The woman, whom he only knew as Amora, had been a prostitute since the age of sixteen, and had no knowledge of how to deal with a child. A polysubstance abuser, she spent most of the time she wasn't selling her body to someone looking for her next fix. She did try to keep the boy safe and food in the apartment, even if it was little more than peanut butter and bread.
Vin had learned quite a bit while with Amora. He had become adept at judging the men she brought home with her. Those that looked well off found themselves without their cash after leaving to return to their nice, safe lives. Those who looked as if a visit with the prostitute was paid for with the majority of their paycheck left, cash intact. At times they even found that they might have five or ten extra dollars when they got home.
Vin also picked up a variety of languages on the street, and he was very adept at speaking them. The thing was, he most often picked up the more derogatory words, and could spit them out virulently whenever someone crossed him. Josiah mused that his staff had increased their own vocabulary while dealing with the imp.
His existence had been discovered ten months ago after Amora had been hospitalized, subsequent to being savagely beaten by one of her customers. The DFS had been called in, and Vin had been taken out of Amora's care. The little boy had exploded in anger, subjecting every adult he came in contact with, with a diatribe in a variety of dialects. After an attempt to place him in two other facilities and a special care foster home, Nettie decided he would need a very different place if there was any hope of reaching him.
Chris, on the other hand, was silent. Not quiet, soft spoken or even laconic. He had not spoken a word in a over a year, since the day his world had been turned upside down.
The Larabee family hadn't been rich, but had been well off enough to provide a comfortable life for their four children. Chris had been the oldest; the one designated as the protector and guardian of his younger siblings by unspoken agreement and social norms. He had been excellent in those roles, often stepping in when younger brothers Jason and David got into trouble on the school yard or at home. He was most protective though of the youngest sibling and only girl, Sarah. Everyone that saw them together easily saw the love Chris had for his little sister. His mother enjoyed telling the story of how Chris had lifted her out of her cradle the day she came home, carried her out into the yard and, as seriously as a seven-year-old could be, promised her that he would always be there for her, to protect her and keep the bad things from harming her.
In the end, though, he was unable to keep that promise. Four years later, the Larabee home was destroyed by fire, and Chris had been the only survivor. They had found him, though, huddled in the yard with Sarah in his arms, sobbing as the flames took the rest of their family. Sarah, too, had been claimed, although Chris wasn't aware of it for some time. She had been overcome by the smoke. The coroner was all but certain that she had been dead before Chris had even taken her from her bed. Chris hadn't spoken a word since.
The one thing that could be considered positive in the ordeal came from a stranger to the child. One of the firemen had noticed a book, miraculously only scorched around the edges. For reasons he couldn't name, carried it with him out of the house. Later, as he watched the ambulance carry off the sole survivor he realized he held a family photo album. It touched his heart to see the pictures of a happy family, and he went on a quest. He searched for and found an identical album and with great care, transferred the pictures to it before presenting it to the child while he was still in the hospital. With silent gratitude, Chris had taken the album, clinging to it for comfort and often spending hours staring at a single picture. One of the psychologists, who had seen him for a time, conjectured that the boy was reliving each memory as a way of denying reality. The fool had attempted to take the album from the boy and had found himself with a fractured wrist for his trouble.
As he often did, Josiah learned of both boys through Nettie Wells, who ran the county's Division of Family Services. There had been no way to trace Vin's family, if he even had one. There was doubt that his mother's name was actually Elizabeth Tanner, and no birth certificate could be found for a Vincent Michael Tanner. He was deemed a ward of the state and would, in all probability, age out of the system without having ever known what it was to live in a family environment. Nettie turned to the next best thing, the Your Home House. She knew without a doubt that the child would be well taken care of under Josiah Sanchez's supervision.
While they were able to locate family for Chris, they were unable or unwilling to take on the care of the damaged child. His paternal grandmother had tried for a time, but found his ghost-like presence disturbing. After losing her temper with him several times when he refused to respond to her, she recognized that he would be better off elsewhere. As for the rest of the family, someone had started a rumor that Chris himself had started the fire, and they refused to take him into their homes. Although the fire had officially been attributed to an animal chewing the wiring in the basement, the family refused to believe it. Josiah suspected that they, felt overwhelmed at the prospect of caring for the mute boy, and blaming him for the fire was their way of easing their own consciences.
Returning from his musings, Josiah was surprised to see that the boys were off the playground now, and the girls had taken it over. Scratching his chin and grinning at himself for getting so lost in thought, he turned back to his desk just as his assistant came to the door.
"Your eleven o'clock appointment is here," Emma DuBonnett announced.
"Thanks, Em, go ahead and send him in." The woman nodded and left the doorway, and he settled into his desk chair. He opened the folder in front of him, displaying the resume and other papers for his interviewee. It wasn't that he needed to refer to them; Josiah made it a habit to know everything possible about a person before they entered his front door. That went for both children and potential staff.
"Right in here, sir," Emma said in way of announcing the newcomer. Josiah could see by her demeanor that this one had completely charmed his assistant. She was flushed and fluttering like a school girl.
With a deep chuckle, Sanchez rose to greet his visitor. The man was tall, with striking good looks. Thick, black hair and deep blue eyes set in an open, smiling face told him easily why Emma was so enamored. Extending his hand, he greeted the man. "Mr. Wilmington, thank you for coming."
Buck Wilmington took the offered hand, shaking it with just the right amount of force in his grip. Smiling easily, he said, "Buck, please. It's a pleasure to meet you Mr. Sanchez."
"Buck, I'm Josiah," Sanchez replied. "Please, have a seat. Can I get you anything?"
"Coffee would be great."
"I'll be right back," Emma spoke up from the doorway before she stepped away.
Settling back into his seat, Josiah reached out and tapped the paperwork. "Quite an impressive work history. Career Navy, highly decorated. A stint as a Sheriff in Gary. Quite impressive. I've got one question for you, though. Why here?"
With that easy grin, Buck replied, "Well, I'll tell you. I got tired pretty quickly of dealing with adults so damaged that there seemed to be no way of redeeming them. When I saw that piece they did about your place on Indy Today, something just sort of hit me. Why not work with tomorrow's adults before they're so far away from redemption. My hope is that, in working with these children, I'll be able to at least give some of them a little adult influence now, before they're beyond hope."
Josiah smiled. "I like the way you think, Buck. And I think that your background in law enforcement could prove very useful for us. Despite our best efforts, some of these boys don't want to be here. They want to return to a more familiar environment... sometimes that's a violent and abusive environment to say the least. But it's familiar and comfortable to them in a sad, very twisted way. I'm going to look to you for some guidance in restricting some of our more difficult cases in a way that won't make the situation worse and that will... hopefully... help them to adjust to their new home."
Buck frowned briefly. "It sounds as if you've already hired me."
"I typically know beforehand whether or not someone is going to work out here. I've had some... bad experiences, shall we say... in the past. Now days, with the help of the local DFS, the juvenile court judge and other resources, I research anyone I consider hiring as thoroughly as I can. Are you willing to take the job on?"
"Like you, I check out a place as completely as I can before I come for the interview. I look forward to the challenge." With a grin, Buck leaned forward and once more the two men shook hands.
"Fantastic. So, would you like to take a tour?"
The two men exited the office, Josiah in the lead. A moment later, Emma returned with a tray carrying a coffee pot, mugs, and everything else for coffee. She frowned as she entered the empty room, then shook her head.
Ezra Standish limped across the threshold of his townhouse, leaning heavily on his cane. It had been a very, very trying day and all he wanted right now was to settle on his couch, rest his aching leg, and enjoy a drink before dinner.
A few minutes later, he had accomplished those dreams, left leg propped on the cushions, one of his finer liquors in a rather large glass, with Mozart playing on the stereo. He stared out the double, glass doors at the skyline that was marked only by lights at this hour. With a sigh, he felt the tension beginning to leave his body.
Except for his leg.
He found that he was already massaging it, with no recollection of beginning. The muscles of his thigh were still rock hard, but after several minutes of rest and attention, they began to loosen. After eight years, it still made him nearly mad at times, the pain, the restricted movement, the looks from both children and adults as he limped along. He had always felt like an outcast, but now he also felt like a freak.
With a mirthless smirk, the Principal of the YHH School silently scolded himself for allowing himself to sulk over what couldn't be changed.
He had been in and out of foster homes and residential facilities from the time of ten until he had aged out of the system at eighteen. He had been deemed already too scarred by life to become a healthy and law abiding adult. He enjoyed being able to figuratively thumb his nose at the people who had made that assumption after he successfully entered a career in law enforcement and excelled on the vice squad to the point of running that division within five years.
The only one to ever believe in him had been Josiah Sanchez. Josiah had been there to encourage his dreams rather than limit them with predictions of failure. He had even presented the eighteen year old with all the information he could find on joining the local law enforcement the day he was packed and ready to leave his current placement.
It had been Josiah, too, who had offered him salvation when he could no longer do his job.
During what seemed to be a routine undercover assignment, Ezra had been called upon to work the field when one of his agents had been identified. The assignment had turned deadly, however, and he had been badly injured when the "bad guys" had attempted an escape, running him over with an armored vehicle in the process. At first it had looked as if he would lose his leg, as every bone had been all but crushed. It took several surgeries and months of rehabilitation before he could even bear weight on the mangled limb.
In the end, though, it had been his mental state that had cost him his career. A battery of tests led to a diagnosis of posttraumatic stress disorder. The mental health professionals had deemed him unfit to return to duty in any capacity. Josiah had once again come to his aid. Although he couldn't change the minds of Ezra's superiors, he encouraged Ezra to keep himself occupied by returning to school. There he had thrown himself into his studies and had soon found himself with a passion for education. In the end he had been recruited by Sanchez as a teacher and, later, the principal of the YHH School.
"I still can't believe that I've chosen to enter a career in teaching," he stated from time to time, aloud. Those who knew him well simply shook their heads and smiled. Despite his amazement as to the change of profession, Ezra had turned out to be an excellent teacher and a more than proficient principal. Not all of the boys liked him, but they all respected him, and he had worked hard to earn that respect.
Yawning, Ezra recognized that he would need to get up and moving soon, or spend the night sleeping on the couch. Pulling himself up, he grabbed his ever present cane and made his way to the kitchen.
"What shall it be tonight?" He mused as he opened the freezer. Settling on a microwave dinner with a staged and enticing picture of beef tips and vegetables, he opened it and, without needing to read the directions, placed it into the microwave.
While his dinner cooked, he left for the bathroom and a quick shower. Then he would spend the next two or three hours looking over the lesson plans his teaching staff had provided him with earlier that day. His mind flashed briefly on a memory of lavish dining in a five-star restaurant, a beautiful blonde on one side and a buxom redhead on the other. He shook his head. That was a different life... a lifetime ago.
JD and CASEY
"I do not want pizza again, John Dunne," Casey Wells scolded her fiancée, adding a smack to the back of his head for good measure.
"So, you wanna cook something?" JD feigned a frightened look, which only earned him a glare.
"I thought we could go to the café. They're open 'til nine on Friday's, and we could relax a little."
"Relax? It's the weekend, woman, it's time to have fun! Look, if we go to Luigi's now, we can get in on the karaoke!"
Rolling dark brown eyes, the petite woman responded with, "Oh... great. I love watching you embarrass yourself. JD, you can't sing. Get over it. The last time you tried Desperado you nearly cleared the place out!"
"Ha-ha-ha. Hey, who cares if I can't sing? Karaoke is just good, clean fun."
"Oooo," Casey groaned, "I'm getting stomach pains just remembering it."
"Look, if we go to Luigi's tonight, I promise we'll go to the café tomorrow afternoon, and I'll take you to the movies... a chick flick, even. What do you say?"
Holding her hands up in mock surrender, Casey grinned as she said, "Fine. Let me get a shower and we'll go."
Grinning lewdly, JD said, "We'd save time and money if we showered together."
Pushing her intended back, Casey said, "If we shower together, we won't see daylight 'til Monday." Sticking out her tongue for good measure, she turned and sprinted from the room.
JD heard the bathroom door slam and chuckled to himself. He went to the bedroom they shared, and set about finding an outfit to wear for the evening. As he laid fresh underwear on the dresser, his eye caught the picture setting there. It was him, at the age of three, the only picture he had of himself that - in his mind - wasn't tainted. All of the others were taken by foster parents or placement agents; pictures used to "sell" him from one place to another.
For a long time he had thought the picture lost but, as he left for what was to be his final and successful placement at the age of twelve, it had been returned to him. It seemed that Josiah Sanchez, whom he had met at one of the facilities charged with his care, had found it in the trash after JD had been moved to another - temporary - placement. It had taken him some time to locate the boy and return the picture.
Josiah had been one of the very, very few people he had met in the system that had truly wanted to help the children in his charge. He had shown compassion for every child, had never abused his power over them, and had done everything he could to help them.
JD grinned when he thought about the day he had come for an interview to join the then new facility. He remembered Josiah very well, but doubted that the older man would have any recollection. He had been taken by surprise when Josiah had extended a hand and greeted him with, "John Daniel Dunne, it's been a long time! I must say, you're not much taller than the last time I saw you, but I've been hearing a lot of good things about you, son."
A wet towel smacking him across the back of the head brought the young man out of his musings. Turning as he tossed the towel aside, he smiled at the woman before him, clothed only in a towel.
"Your turn, desperado," Casey teased. "And, please, no singing in the shower!"
NATHAN and RAINE
"Honey, I'm home!" Nathan Jackson called out. In return he was set upon by a pair of attackers, neither of them coming as high as his belt buckle. With a chuckle, the black man reached down and grasped each marauder around the belly and lifted them into the air.
"Stop, Daddy!" Four year old Nathaniel squealed.
"Top, Dada, Top!" Two year old Noah lisped, imitating his brother.
"Stop!" Nathan growled, using what the boys referred to as his big voice. "Why should I stop? I've got two of the wildest critters on the face of the earth right here! Now, what should I do with these critters?" As he spoke, he began to walk around the living room, swinging the two little boys as he did.
"Not tritter," Noah protested.
"Uh-huh you are," Nathaniel teased.
"Boys," Raine Jackson scolded from the doorway. "All three of you need to calm down. Now, you boys finish cleaning up your toys while daddy takes a little break, and then we'll have dinner."
"Then, movie night!" Nathaniel squealed. Poking at his father's jacket he said, "You get a movie, Daddy?"
"Moobee, Dada?" Noah echoed.
"A movie!? Oh no, I knew I forgot something!"
Smiling, The Bee Movie tucked safely in one of the jacket's inner pockets, Nathan said, "You've gotta do as your mama says before we even talk about a movie. Right?"
The older son detecting a cheerful glint in his father's eye, Nathaniel said, "Right, Daddy."
Nathan lowered his sons to the floor, their little legs poised to run. As the boys took off to clean up after themselves, Raine slipped up beside her husband, greeting him with a kiss and a smile. "So... did you get a movie, daddy?"
Nathan grinned; he had also rented a movie for the two of them, after the boys were in bed. Kissing his wife in return, he said softly, "let's hope the boys go to sleep early."
CHRIS and VIN
Dawn Cox looked into the small bedroom, checking on two of her charges. Chris was already in bed, serious, green eyes peering at one of the pictures of his ever present photo album. The sound of splashing from the half bath beyond the room's other door told her where Vin was at the moment.
She smiled as she entered the room, walking softly to Chris' bed. "Hey, you got finished quick. Did you remember to brush your teeth?"
In way of reply, the slender blond nodded soberly.
"Good. How long has Vin been in the bathroom?"
Sighing when she once more failed to get a verbal reaction from the boy, Dawn walked to the bathroom door and knocked. "Hey, Vin-ster, you about done? If you get out here in the next five minutes we'll have time to read two chapters of The Sorcerer's Stone!"
By the time the young woman counted to ten, she heard the water turn off and the lock click. Vin poked his head out, a big grin on his little face. "Maybe even three?"
Laughing, Dawn reached out and tousled the younger boy's thick, chestnut hair. "If you manage to sit still and listen."
"Awww," Vin groaned. He obediently trotted to his bed, climbing up the ladder to the upper bunk. While he settled in, Dawn stepped out to the hall and pulled the rocking chair she used into the room. It was one of her favorite duties, reading to the boys in each of the four rooms she supervised. While her co-worker, Aaron Whitney, supervised the shower room and guided each pair of boys to their rooms, she would make certain the beds were in order and that nothing had been "smuggled" into the room. With this pair, she was also in charge of making certain that Chris' beloved album - his link to reality it seemed - was safely tucked under his pillow. Then, as Aaron sent one pair to their room, Dawn would go bring the next pair from the sitting room, where they were listening to music and reading, to the shower room. They started with the youngest pair of boys and worked toward the oldest, which meant that Dawn started with the youngest pair, reading their story of choice. Vin and Chris had chosen the Harry Potter series; they were half way through the first book. Vin had fallen in love with the tale of the boy wizard and she noticed that Chris was actually listening as well. She noted three nights ago that he had even set aside his album to give his full attention to the story.
Smiling as she realized that Vin was waiting patiently and Chris had tucked his album under his pillow, Erin settled in the chair and pulled the appropriate book out of her book bag. Opening to the page marked with a bookmark she made that held a picture of the two boys, she began to read. "Chapter Ten, Halloween..."
"OW! Shit!" Buck Wilmington cursed as he hit his thumb with the hammer... again. He had been working on his apartment since returning from his interview. He had moved in over a month ago, but had refused to do more than put his clothes away until he had a job. Now that he had one, he couldn't seem to transform his living space fast enough.
He smiled as he thought about how quickly the interview had gone, and how interesting the tour that followed had been. Josiah had begun by taking him to the center of the YHH campus. From there they could see the cluster of buildings that surrounded the exercise area. That area itself held the playground, the basketball court, track and the baseball field.
The administrative building, a three story building that held the administrative offices, staff area and therapy floor, was on the northwest corner. On either side of that building sat the dining and food services building and the gym used on inclement days. Along the west side of the campus was the school, which housed preschool through high school for all the children living at YHH. There was even a small nursery for infants born to any of the teenage girls living there. The building was three stories tall; pre and grade school on the first floor, middle school on the second, and high school on the third. There the children were exposed to a variety of learning experiences. The basement was where Ezra Standish had his office as principal; there was also a very comfortable staff lounge. The nursery was also there. Buck chuckled at the memory of finding the well-dressed principal sitting in a rocking chair, rocking a fussy infant and singing softly as he tried to quiet it.
The southwest corner was where the houses began. There were three houses along the south side that held the girls living at the YHH. One was set aside specifically for teen mothers. The second was where the older girls lived, ages 12 to 18. The third housed girls to the age of 11.
The east side of the complex was where the boys lived. As there were most often more boys than girls at YHH, they were divided 4 to 7, 8 to 13, 14 to 16 and 17 to 18.
Each house was three stories. The basement contained each home's laundry facilities and an all-purpose room. The ground floor held a kitchen, dining room, staff room and living room. The second and third floors had four bedrooms with half baths, a shower room and a sitting room.
Four sets of house parents supervised each house in twelve hour shifts. Typically they were comprised of a male and female, who made certain that the children in their care were given as normal a home life as possible.
That seemed to be the main purpose of the Your Home House... normalcy. From everything he saw, Buck felt that he was going to like working there.
"OW!" He cursed once more as the hammer struck again.
"Hey, Pook," Josiah said fondly in greeting as his black Newfoundland bounded across the yard toward him. As the big dog skidded to a stop, he reached out and scratched the massive head. "I'm glad to see you, too, ya monster. And how was your day?" In response he received a cheerful bark.
With Pooka at his heels, the founder of Your Home House entered his home. It was a rambling, neatly kept house with an immaculate yard that held a large vegetable garden, a pool, barbeque pit and other comforts. With all that, it still had enough room to allow Pooka and Harvey, the basset hound lots of room to run. The pool and other amenities had been put in for entertainment purposes. At least once a month he had half his staff over for a cook-out or other party. During the winter months they relaxed in the lounge and game room that took up the entire basement of the house.
Kicking off his shoes, Josiah padded through the house, calling for Harvey. As he entered the living room he found the dog, sleeping soundly on his back. With a sharp whistle, he finally gained the canine's attention. "You lazy ol' man, have you been sleeping all day?"
Slowly the elder of the two dogs stretched off the couch and came toward Sanchez, tail wagging. Reaching down to scratch the basset between the ears, he said, "I'd swear you were lying in the same spot when I left, and that was fourteen hours ago!"
Yawning as the long day took its toll, Josiah padded to the kitchen, grabbing a beer from the refrigerator. Twisting off the top, he took a long drink before continuing to the bathroom. There he turned on the shower, stripped off clothes that seemed to have molded themselves to his big frame; he took one more drink before stepping beneath the hot water. As the heat began to loosen his muscles, he considered the day.
Buck Wilmington had certainly become a fine man. Of course the last time he had seen him, he had been eighteen and just preparing to leave the residential facility that would prove not to be the last institution he would be affiliated with. Buck was just four, new to the facility; his mother had been murdered just a week before.
As he exited his room for what would be the last time, Josiah nearly tripped over the little, dark haired child that was running past his door. Dropping his duffle and backpack, Josiah reached out to catch the tiny tyke when he started to tumble to the floor from the impact. For his trouble he received a tiny fist in the nose.
"Hey, take it easy, squirt!"
"Lemme go! I don't like it here! I want my Ma!"
Realizing that this child was the newest arrival to the facility, Josiah felt a wave of sadness nearly overcome him. "Take it easy, junior, I won't hurt you!"
"I don't like you! Let me go!"
"Buckingham Wilmington!" Jack Wyler barked as he stomped down the hallway toward them. "You were told to stand on the wall, boy, now get back down there!"
"Hey, kid, calm down. Don't make Wyler mad, okay?" Josiah warned, knowing only too well the man's temper. To the residential director, he said, "I can take him down to the time out room if you'd like, Mr. Wyler, sir."
"Forget it, Sanchez, you're out of here. Pick up your stuff and hit the road."
"Yes, sir, Mr. Wyler, sir!" Knowing it would do no good to disagree, he reluctantly let go of the trembling child, turning him over to the too often angry man. To the little boy, he said again, "Calm down, kid, okay?"
"I'm BUCK, not KID!" The little brunet cried as he was pulled along the hallway. Despite the angry tone, he turned back several times, big, blue eyes pleading for help.
Stepping out the door for the last time, Josiah turned the collar up on his worn jacket before hefting his duffle onto one, broad shoulder. It was just beginning to snow; two days before Christmas. The overworked social services woman had managed to find him a rundown studio apartment, but had made no plans to transport him the five miles there. It was Friday evening, the day staff was long gone, and there was no one left that could even drive him there, or even cared that he would be walking that five miles with everything he owned in the world.
Monday he would begin working at Austin's Lumberyard, giving him two days to navigate the transition from child to adult alone.
As he began the long walk, Josiah couldn't stop thinking about the little boy he had just met. He was only too aware of the heartache the little boy would endure as a ward of the state. Residential facilities and foster homes that would treat him like a means to the bottom line. While there were exceptions that he had heard of over the years, far too many accommodations for orphans or those deemed "incorrigible" were little more than warehouses. Children were given the bare minimum in way of need in return for reimbursement from the government for their care.
It was at that moment that Josiah took the first step on the road that would lead him to his passion. The eighteen year old swore to himself that he would do whatever it took to run his own facility. He would give those lost children the closest he could to a normal life. Somewhere they could call "home".
Stepping out of the shower, Josiah smiled to himself in the mirror. It had been providence that led him to find that little boy who had unknowingly started him on his life course. It was luck and some effort that had brought them back together after so many years. At some point he would share that information with Buck Wilmington. But for now, he was simply glad that he could offer his help in setting the other man on his own life course.
"You're home, Buck," Josiah said softly to the tiny, frightened child of years ago.
March 10, 2008