The boy, fifteen years of age, was sitting in his usual spot by the window, his gaze at everything and nothing outside as he looked sad and melancholic.
He was the administrator’s of the home for adolescent boys with behavioral issues biggest worry and headache even though overall he was one of the quiet kids and not your typical troublemaker.
But not once had he smiled since he arrived many months ago, he kept to himself, shunned any offering to include him in group activities. Family contact was controlled and very limited, and the few times his parents had tried to reach out to him, he had declined to speak to them on the phone or see them, when they came in person.
He had just been returned into the monitored living facility by the police last week, after his sixth successful time of running away, not counting all the foiled attempts.
The boy, Blake Cameron, didn’t seem to belong here at first glance.
If you observed closer, you realized that he barely spoke, if he did he was soft spoken, yet never even a hint of a smile.
An introverted personality, his appearance unassuming overall, of slender build, bright blue eyes and a not unattractive face framed by light blond hair that fell almost to his shoulders.
He was quietly defiant.
Not only did he stoically resist any of the routine attempts of the staff to get him integrated with the other kids, he categorically refused to talk about what was bothering him, would sit quietly with the therapist staring at the wall until they finally gave up. His distrust made it impossible to sneak him anti-depressants, he always found them and they ended up flushed down the toilet.
His interactions with others were limited to mealtimes and school hours, he showed no desire to change that.
Like all new arrivals at the facility he had been exposed to hazing and bullying by the other kids. At first it seemed to break him, vulnerable in the unfamiliar surroundings, stripped of all freedom and still licking his wounds from the perceived betrayal of being surrendered by his father.
Quickly he became a force to be reckoned with, and the other kids acknowledged that he was not an easy target, nor someone to join any of their clicques, and they just started to avoid him altogether, which suited him just fine.
It didn’t take much to see that he was a tortured soul. Guarded. When he spoke to you, he seemed polite and nice, giving the illusion of openess, but it was just a decoy so he could return to his preferred solitude.
During the updates from the facility to the parents, this was always discussed, but no solutions were found.
At the same time Blake sat by the window, only present physically, his mind far away, in distance and time. In that place he was a little boy again, laughing as he was running into his smiling father’s open arms, who had arrived to pick him up and take him home after a long day at work, while Blake had spent his day with his grandpa watching him. Once at their home, his dad would play with him until Blake could barely stay awake anymore, then dad would tuck him in, sometimes read him a story until he would drift off to sleep, smiling, only to be woken by his dad the next morning for breakfast together before grandpa came to pick him up.
They used to be a team. A great team. Solid. It was warmth and safety. Dad and he. Always.
When grandpa wasn’t watching him, his dad had taken him along everywhere with him. Everywhere. Always. Even a few times to the office when there were not client visits.
When exactly did that change? And why again? Oh, right.
Dad started dating.
The beginning of the end.
Every single problem in Blake’s life seemed to have been caused by a female.
Inadvertently the memories made Blake sigh, the sound of which pulled him back into the present.
If at least he had his beloved guitar here, his prized possession, not only because his grandfather gave it to him. It made him think of the many times he and grandpa KC practiced together and it was an outlet for the turmoil inside, better than any anti-depressant.
He missed his grandpa. So much fun. So much laughter. Them making music together had always been the highlight of his days.
Each time he had run away he had wanted to go to his grandpa’s, but didn’t. It would be the first place they’d look for him, and while he knew grandpa would never rat him out, if they were to find out about it, grandpa would get into trouble too. No way.
Life on the street was rough on him.
Nights were the worst. He was always downright scared, but still preferred that over the facility he had been exiled to. He’d sooner die on the street than live in that home.
But at night there were strange sounds everywhere. He had never managed to sleep when it was dark. Instead he napped during the day.
As stubborn and tough as Blake seemed to be, he was not made for it and he knew it. Finding sufficient hiding spots each time wasn’t even the biggest trouble, but trying to get food and finding ways to clean up was what got him caught each time.
No matter how stealthy he thought he was, police would show up and capture him every time.
Unexpectedly came the next opportunity for him to make a run and without thinking about it much, he took it. A sudden brawl had broken out between a few of the other boys at the facility, which distracted one of the wardens while he had been locking the door to the garden, he left the keys in the door and ran to break up the fight. In the spur of the moment Blake rushed over, turned the key and was gone.
Within hours he had made it to the outskirts of Windenburg and found a secluded cave by a pond far outside of town. The nearest venue was the cemetery, so not many people just randomly strolled around here, especially not after it got dark.
His stomach growled. He was starving and thirsty. At least he had the pond to wash up, if needed. And found a book of matches, dry, so he made a small firepit and lit a fire, like his grandpa had shown him.
He missed his grandpa. He was his number 1. Now more than ever, after his father’s betrayal. He had only been able to call a handful of times, not see him, since visits were so limited and parents got first choice. It was always the dang parents that showed up. No, thanks! Blake was pissed. He wanted grandpa.
“Blake?” a soft, light voice asked quietly.
He jumped from his seated position straight into standing, so much had the voice surprised him. Pale and with his heart beating out of his chest, he now stared at the intruder with eyes open so wide, they seemed to fall from their sockets.
“Hailey?! What are you doing here?!” he yelped, almost out of breath from the shock.
“You’re in my hiding spot.”
“Your hid… – did you run away too?”
“No silly. The farm is just a little down that road. I have come here for years to get away from the big brother, the parents and the chores. If the parents see you, you have to work. I want to just sit and think or read, but can only do that here.”
“Oh. I’ll go. Hailey, please don’t tell …”
“Of course not. I heard what happened to you. Never thought anyone would believe that hussy. So typical.”
“You … believe me?”
“Of course! You think I thought you would .. with her? No, I do think higher of you than that.”
“How long have you been gone?”
“Just some hours. My seventh run. I suck at this.”
Right now Blake’s stomach roared like a rabid wolf.
“You hungry?” Hailey asked more out of politeness.
“I am okay.” Bake deflected.
“Whatever. You wait here, I’ll get food and will be right back! Don’t leave, okay.”
Less than fifteen minutes later Hailey returned carrying a paper bag filled with food, but the cave and surrounding area were empty.
Disappointed she slumped briefly, then called for him, quiet as possible to not alert anyone.
To no avail. Sadness washed over her face. She was disappointed that he apparently did not trust her. In her head she had pictured them sitting by the fire, talking while he tried the cookies she baked that afternoon and ate the sandwiches she had made for him.
Blake was long gone.
Yes, he was famished.
And yes, he liked Hailey.
But he trusted nobody anymore.
Especially not if they were female.
Not after all he had been through because of his mother, step-mother and Stephanie.
For all he knew, Hailey had told her parents about him and he would have been sitting there like a rabbit in a trap, lured by food, before they all came to drag him back to the stupid ‘jail’ for unwanted kids.
It ended up being his longest time gone yet. 17 days he was gone. The only reason he got caught this time was because he was overly careful about not being found out, that he went hungry for too long and eventually passed out wandering the streets.
A pedestrian found him and called an ambulance.
After the emergency doctor ran some basic checks and he was found healthy, he was released into the care of the home for troubled boys again and had to sit though hours of lectures.
What followed were bleak days of the same old depressing routine.
“Grandpa? GRANDPA!!!” Blake couldn’t believe his eyes, but then ran into the arms of the man, tall and strong of stature, the bright teeth contrasting against the tan face as he stood smirking next to the table in the visitation area, a vision to the boy like a lighthouse to the lost and lonely sailor.
“Grandpa, so good to see you! I missed you so much! When they said you were here I didn’t believe it, but had to see for myself. You are real, right?! I missed you so much!” Blake didn’t care if he sounded like a little kid now as he was digging his fingers into the back of the older man as if trying to fuse himself to him. His feelings were bubbling over and it all fell out of his mouth as he kept pressing into the embrace of his grandfather.
“Love you, kiddo!” KC offered as he gently squeezed the slender body of the adolescent, realizing that the boy was in need of those words.
“Love you too grandpa. You have no idea how much I missed you! I didn’t think they’d ever let you visit! FINALLY!” Blake mumbled against KC’s broad chest.
“Not really here to visit. Here to make you work. Well, maybe. Depends on you. Got a question for ya.” KC pushed Blake a little away so he could look at the fifteen year old boy’s face. While Blake seemed overjoyed, KC did not miss the hint of melancholy and perpetual sadness in his eyes.
“Work? Okay … what question?” Blake asked.
“You like this place?”
“Are you for real?” Blake’s disgusted facial expression made KC smirk.
“Take it that means no.” he winked at his grandson.
“Means FUCK NO!”
“Lesson one: no more potty mouth. I know, funny coming from me, but I am an adult and I make the rules now. That is, if you can live with that.”
“Live with what?”
“My proposal. I am here to pick you up, to come live with me and your grandmother. I so much wanted to stay out of all this, but there is no use. This place is toxic for a boy like you and I am just not having it. BUT – before you react or say one single word – that comes at a steep price. You will clean up your act immediately. One false move and you are right back here. Make no mistake, I don’t fuck around kid, and I have no patience with defiance and zero tolerance for rule breaking. Clear?” KC’s deep baritone voice rumbled on.
“Yes! I’ll do anything. ANYthing you ask. Whatever rules you make, just get me out of this hellhole! But – does dad know about this?”
“You think I signed in with my full name and had them make a copy of my ID so I can kidnap you? I know I ain’t no Einstein, but do have a few more working brain cells than a common amoebae. Of course Ethan knows. Once he agreed to it, I came right away, didn’t wanna wait another minute to get you back home where you belong, kiddo.”
“OMG, yes!!! I need out of here. Let’s go! NOW!”
“Slow down, Spunky! I need to sign my life away before we can go. That hefty stack right there. This will take a moment, I am not the sharpest tool in the shed, assume packing won’t take you very long, so I brought you a toy to keep you busy.” KC grinned.
“A .. toy? Okaaaaay.” his face spoke volumes, evidently he was expecting an actual toy now.
KC chuckled and handed him the guitar, which had been hidden from view next to the table.
“OH MY GOD – GRANDPA YOU ARE THE BESTEST AWESOMEST GRANDPA EVER!!! Man, I missed this thing!”
Blake grabbed the guitar from KC like a hungry dog a bone and started strumming, looking ecstatic. KC looked him over for a moment and smiled, then put on glasses, but before he began to fill out the forms he told his grandson.
“Go pack first, kid, you’ll have all the time in the world to torture that instrument. Or do you want to stick around longer than needed?”
Blake put down the guitar and ran to his room.
Less than ten minutes later he was back with his bags and already had the guitar back in his hands.
The car ride home was filled with KC rattling down rules for Blake, requests, KC listed unacceptable behavior and warned him to never test him. Blake happily agreed to everything. He never wanted to go back to that place.
Ethan called just minutes after they got home, KC confirmed that all had gone well. When he tried to hand the phone to Blake, he refused, so KC lied about him being so tired that he fell asleep already.
“What?” Blake asked when KC just stared at him after putting away his phone.
“Was that your punishment for him for sending you away? Do onto him as you think he did onto you?” he asked unimpressed.
“What do you expect? That I run to the shore and swim over to the island to hug him? He sent me away! Left me all alone! Discarded like a broken toy. He didn’t believe me. Your son thinks your grandson is a rapist! I can contain myself from fangirling him.”
“Nobody in this family believed you were guilty of attempted rape, but you have messed up a lot kid. That should be obvious to you now, too. Your dad was exhausted from trying to keep you out of trouble. And you know that your step-mom has been raped before. You see how it all worked against you? None of us believed that girl for a moment. But your insolence dug your grave for you. You cannot blame others for that, only yourself. Your father had to take action before you fell deeper into that downward spiral you were on. For your sake, and for the rest of your family’s sake, and like it or not, to give your step-mom a break. You were a prick to her, kid. I saw that with my own eyes multiple times.”
“I have been around longer than her! He should have picked me over her!”
“It’s not a matter of picking one over the other, Blake. And whatever you think about your father’s actions does not give you the right to torpedo your father having love in his life by acting up like a jealous little turd, kid. Why do you do all that? The drinking, drugs, breaking rules? You had to realize that all that would only make everything worse for you. See, I have done all that and much more, but I had a reason. Still didn’t make it right, but my home life really was shit. I was beaten to a pulp by my father daily, my mother didn’t even know I was there most of the time, so drugged up was she. I went without food often. If it weren’t for your grandmother and her grandpa, I would probably not be here. I had no choice. You have a good home. Your father loves you and I’d wager even Blythe does, despite of all. Your mother loves you and your little brother Elias worships you. Let alone the rest of the clan, me included. We all love you, kid. So, why are you so angry?”
“Don’t you see it? It is all fake. Dad is faking it. He does not give two shits about me. You do. I know you do. But my father, Blythe and their new kid .. no. I don’t care anymore. Don’t even get me started on my so-called mother.”
“All right. We will work on that. Together. I get it, you are hurt. I can see why. But I am a father too, so let me tell you, it ain’t easy. One day you will see, from the other side, as a father yourself, then you will think back to this moment …”
“Ha! As if. I will never have kids. Or a wife. Probably not even a girlfriend. I’ll go out with a chick, have fun, when she becomes bitchy, needy and demanding, I’ll be like ‘NEXT!’.”
“You sound exactly like I did once. I didn’t believe in love, or marriage, let alone kids. It’s okay, Blake. I know it’s a tough climb ahead for you. You’ll get there. Or maybe you won’t. But know this: you will always have me. I have always been part of your life and I do not intend to change that anytime too soon. Now, I am not getting younger, but I’ll try to hold on until I can be sure you are where you needed to be.”
“You will live till 100, grandpa or even longer! Have to. You are the best. I need you. The world needs you.”
“I turned out not too much of a waste of skin after my second chance, I guess.” KC smirked.
“Better than that, you’re the best. If I were to have a kid, which I am not, but if I did, I would totally name it after you, grandpa.”
“When you have a son, and you want to name him in my honor, name him Liam, not KC and definitely not Kieran. And Leonie if it’s a girl.” KC said firmly.
“Why? It’s more of an honor if he had YOUR name …”
“No. Like you, I had a very special bond with someone who was a father to me when he didn’t have to be. He changed my entire life. He was a lighthouse in a bad storm that was my life and he guided me safely home. He made me worth his beautiful, amazing granddaughter’s while when she had other offers. In a roundabout way, because of all that, I helped create you. You are my legacy, all because of him.”
“Wow. Okay. Cool… not like it ever matters, cos I will never marry or have a kid, but if I did, I totally would.”
“Well, be that as it may, your amazing grandmother along with your persistent uncle Nick and his volumes of law writs, managed to beat the school into submission to give you another chance. We’ll give you a few days to adjust, but by Monday, yours truly here is going to take your happy ass to school, watch you go in. At the first sign of you even thinking about skipping a class or your grades not being what they should be, my happy ass will walk yours to your classrooms, holding your hand, and I will sit right there the entire time and watch you. If you think I am joking, try me. I am as serious as a heart attack. Not good for your street cred, I tell you that. If instead you show good will and improvement, I will agree to let you attend a party every so often, but I will drop you off and pick you up. No loitering, lingering and no trouble. If I have to have even a shadow of a doubt that you are on the straight and narrow, I will make you piss in a cup and test you right in the middle of a drugstore, if I must. I will make you remember each mistake, kid. On the other hand, if you do try and play by the rules, bring home decent grades, I’ll take you to some talent competitions and will practice with you and coach you, if that is still what you want.”
“Amen to all that grandpa. I won’t disappoint you.”
“Let’s kick all this off by me helping you redecorate your dad’s old room to make it permanent and more your taste tomorrow, you pick out everything, paint colors and what not and I will help you paint, assemble and all. To show you that I have faith in you and believe that you can stick with the plan as agreed. Now, I do not want you to take this as a means to cut your father out of your life, so as a condition, I will make you spend some time overnight at your father’s now and then. And you will like it and behave.”
“If I must …”
“You must. Hey, this old man needs a break from you whippersnapper every so often … and some alone time with your grandma. She retired after I had to beg her for years, now I cannot be busy all the time raising you.”
“I am not a a baby. You two can do whatever and I’ll just hang out here. Or upstairs. As long as I have my guitar, I am good. I do not need constant supervision”
“Generally I would agree, but I have stacks of documents that proof otherwise. Look, I am not trying to be an ass. Once you have shown with some consistency that you can do it, I will loosen up. Promise. But we need to meet half way. To start off, how about some real quality grandpa-grandson time camping for a few days, you know fishing, hiking? I love that kinda stuff, my my wife and kids never did.”
“I do! And it sounds awesome!”
Two days later this young boy’s life was going all right again.
The shambles of his soul weren’t getting in the way of having fun with his grandfather, and for the first time in a long time he laughed straight out and meant it. His cheeks hurt from all the laughter and smiling he wasn’t used to anymore.
His grandpa always had a way to teach him right from wrong without it being deflected by that rejection wall Blake would usually put up.
KC always got through.
Between fishing, hiking and learning basic survival skills Blake was taught some valuable life lessons, which unbeknownst to him now, would resound in his head in years to come.
They caught a ton of fish, some would be mounted memorabilia, some ended up as delicious dinner.
When the time came to pack up and return home, Blake had agreed to sit down with his parents and make an effort with them to be at least civil for a visit now and again.
KC made Blake’s day and wiped away his sadness about having to leave the forest after two much needed happy days spent here with his grandpa when after they packed up KC’s old Jeep, he handed Blake the keys.
“Can you get us down to the main road? I have to take over there, but if you wanna give it a shot, be my guest.”
“Seriously!?” Blake’s facial expression was that of someone who just won the lottery as he almost tripped over himself to get into the driver seat.
The drive was an excitement for both, but in very different ways.
By the time they traded seats, Blake’s smile was almost from ear to ear and he was too ecstatic to notice that KC was a lot paler than usual, but he was a good sport about it and said nothing.
“I love that old Wrangler of yours!” Blake said, eyes bright.
“Tell you what, stick with the plan, show effort, and when you turn 16 and pass your driving test, she’ll be yours. Betsy’s old on the outside, but has a lot of new parts on the inside and I took good care of her. She was a gift from Liam once and been with me for as long as I have been with your grandma.”
“I’ll take great care of her, promise!”