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"What's up with this? I thought this was an adult ward?" a gruff voice greeted me as I walked into the common area for the morning group meeting with Steve. "He's too young to hear about the shit we talk about in here? What's he doing here anyway? Homework too much for you to handle, kid?"
"That will be enough, Liam," Steve said sternly. "This is Elijah, and he will be participating with us for the next few days at least. Elijah, it is up to you how much you want to share with the group, but I think it would be a good idea for you to tell them a little about why you are here. Once you have done that, we will go around the room and let the others introduce themselves."
I gulped and stepped further into the room. "Hello sirs," I began.
"Sirs, ain't he the polite little thing?" the old man from earlier this morning said with a grin, but it was a pleasant one, so Elijah relaxed a bit more.
"Like Steve said, my name is Elijah," I continued a little stronger. I looked at the first man that spoke when I came in and said, "I am here because of my father."
"Fucking Hell, kid," Liam growled. "Did Daddy make you take out the trash or not pay you enough allowance?"
"Watch the language, Liam," Steve warned.
"Yes, sir, my father did make me take out the trash, and I have never gotten an allowance at all," I responded. I looked at the man called Liam again and continued. "You asked about my homework. SchooI let out for the summer last week, but I guess you could say I did have trouble with my grades."
"Big surprise," Liam snorted. "Kids today too damn lazy to work for anything even good grades."
"I got these for missing the honor roll by one point on my GPA," I said as I pulled my shirt up and turned so the man could see my back. I dropped the shirt back into place and turned to face the group again. "But the real reason I'm in here with you guys is because yesterday morning, my father got into a fight with my mother over me, and he killed her and my ex-girlfriend in the kitchen of my house. While that was happening at home, I was in the woods planning to kill myself so I didn't have to live with him anymore, so he couldn't beat me for everything I did wrong." I turned and smiled at Liam and added as sweetly as I could, "If you were offering to help me with my homework though, I will keep that in mind when I get to start back to school in the fall. Thanks."
"I knew you looked familiar," the old man from earlier in the morning told me. "Your daddy is that Bible-thumping bastard Malachi Rundle, ain't he?"
"He might be my father, but he was and will never be my daddy," I replied bitterly.
"Yeah, I guess you're right about that," the old man snorted. "You see, I'm in here because of your father, too. I accused him of being involved with the lynching of my son and the gang rape of my daughter-in-law. So that so-called Judge Rafe Newman threw me in here."
"I am so sorry for your loss, sir," I told him. "I have what I hope will be good news for you, though. When the sheriff was talking me to about what that man did to my mother and Lisa, I told him how to get into the secret office where Father kept all the records of his involvement with the group that did all the lynchings and cross burnings."
"When that murdering son of a bitch took my son and ruined his wife, driving her to take her own life a month later, I swore I would find you and kill you to pay him back for what he stole from me," the old man said as he jumped up amazingly fast and crossed the room. I flinched a little, but he grabbed me giving me a tight hug instead though. "I never thought you would be the angel that brought justice for my family. Thank you, son. Thank you so much."
"I'm glad to have helped someone else with what I told the sheriff," I told the man as I returned the hug. "Oh, you should also know that those records will show that Judge Newman was not only a member of Father's church, but an active member in the hate group that my Father led as well."
Just then Dr. Branstetter walked into the room with the sheriff. "Ah, I see you two have met," the doctor said with a smile. "Oliver, I believe the sheriff has something to tell you."
"Hi, Sheriff," I cut in. "I already told him about Father and his group."
"Well then, it shouldn't be that big a surprise that I am here to tell Mr. Oliver Raines that after a thorough investigation of the church and then former Judge Newman's office overnight, he is free to leave the hospital with me, and hopefully come back to my office to give testimony regarding his son's murder."
"You're durn tootin, I will," Oliver said with a smile. He looked back at me, who he was still holding close. "You ever want an old black grandpa to replace that sorry excuse for a father you had, you'll always be welcome at my house and in my arms."
"In your arms? You making passes at the boy?" Liam snarled. "I know the kid's dressed like a little...."
"You shut your nasty mouth, right now, Liam," Oliver growled. "This boy ain't done you no wrong. He's been through more Hell in one day than you have in your whole life. At least he's got a real reason to be in a place like this. You just here because you think you can't do nothing wrong, and your shit don't stink. I got news for you, not only does it, but that's all you are, one big pile of stinking shit that don't nobody outside of here want to put up with anymore." He turned again to me. "If that asshole gives you any trouble at all, you go talk to Steve or the Doc here. They good people and they'll take good care of you. You come see me when you get out of here, and I'll give you the best catfish dinner you ever ate in your life. You promise me that?"
"I will, sir," I replied with a happy smile.
"None of that," Oliver told me. "You call me Grampa Olly, you hear? You the closest I'm gonna get to a grandson, and won't nothing change my mind, not nothing, not nohow." He raised one eyebrow meaningfully at me, then added with a whisper, "Boys or girls don't matter none to me, little man, my heart done claimed you, so you bring whoever it is you want with you for that fish fry. They'll be just as welcome as you, as long as they treat you right." In a louder voice, he said to the sheriff, "Let's get a move on, Sheriff. I got me a fish fry to get ready for." He shared one more hug with me before he left the room.
Later that day, just as I was headed to the common area for lunch, I was stopped in the hallway by Dr. Branstetter. "Elijah, you have visitors in my treatment room. They have brought you lunch, so you will be spared the hospital's magnificent meatloaf."
"Visitors for me?" I questioned. I thought my questions were answered as I caught sight of a man in a suit walking into the treatment room. I had seen some television at other kids' houses occasionally, so I thought the man was a detective and that he was going to question more about my father. I was pleasantly surprised to be wrapped in a hug from Mrs. Keane as soon as I walked into the room, however.
"That one was from Robin," she said, and then hugged me again. "This one is from the rest of the family. You will have to wait until you see him tomorrow to get the kiss he said to include along with the hug." She guided me to the sofa and sat beside me, pointing to the Arby's bag on the little end table beside me. "I wasn't sure what you would eat, so I got you the same thing Robin usually orders. It's a Beef and Cheddar Sandwich, Curly Fries, Mozzarella Sticks, and a Jamocha Shake. I hope that is ok."
"It sounds awesome, and smells even better," I said as my stomach growled in appreciation. I blushed at the noise while the adults in the room chuckled. I attacked the food in typical teenage boy fashion before explaining, "I never got to eat out before. Father said Mother's cooking was quite sufficient and he knew it was blessed by God because she was a good Christian woman."
"Home cooking can be good, but all food will be blessed by God if you use the energy for getting your mind settled with all you have been through so that you can get out of here," the man in the suit told me. I turned to look at the man and noticed the strange collar of the man's shirt. The man saw the look and smiled. "I am Father Paul Spangenberger, Pastor of Trinity Episcopal Church. Our mutual friend the sheriff asked me to stop by and speak with you. I met your foster mother on our way into the hospital. I can wait outside in the hallway if you want some time with her, of course."
"Oh, no sir, I mean Fa... Father," I said quickly, although I stumbled over that last word. "You don't have to stand around in the hall."
"My apologies, Elijah," the man spoke up. "Sheriff Masters told me a bit of your background. Father is just a title for my job, but if you would be more comfortable the title Reverend would be just as appropriate."
"Thank you, Reverend," Mrs. Keane answered for me as she hugged me tightly. "Frodo here isn't fond of the name he was forced to use for his... well that man."
"Frodo?" Dr. Branstetter questioned. "Our hospital records don't show that name." His grin assured me that he knew it was a nickname, and was only teasing a bit.
"I'll explain later, Doc," I blushed. To the minister, I said, "You can stay in here, Reverend, and thank you for coming to see me." I then turned to look at Mrs. Keane. "Why are you here, my queen? Shouldn't you be at the Faire?"
"I took the day off from the Faire," she replied. "I was taking care of those arrangements you asked me to handle last night. I would have come by to see you anyway, but it seems that I have to talk to you about some things." She looked away and cleared her throat nervously. "I want to start by assuring you that Marshall and I have no problems paying for what needs to be done. You are part of our family now and we are glad to help you with anything that we can, this mess included."
"Something is wrong," I didn't ask. I knew there was a problem just from her voice and behavior.
"Your father's congregation is refusing to allow your mother to be buried in their cemetery, sweetheart," Mrs. Keane confirmed. "Don't you worry; Marshall and I will pay for a plot nearer to our house, so that you can visit her if you should ever want to do that."
"Mrs. Keane, may I ask where you live?" When he heard the answer, the reverend smiled. "Our church is only four blocks from your home. May I offer some assistance?" I nodded since my mouth was full at that moment. "As a chaplain for the Sheriff's Department, I know there are county funds to help with funeral expenses for... well situations such as this. As a divine coincidence, the Memorial Gardens managed by my parish have recently been expanded. We would be honored to contribute a plot to help a young man in need of a resting place for his mother."
"You don't even know me, Reverend," I blurted. "I mean I'm grateful for the offer, but we just met. I've never been to an Episcopal Church anywhere, much less yours."
"It's the truly Christian thing to do, Elijah," Rev. Spangenberger told me. "Sheriff Masters might have hinted that you were in need of some examples what real faith is as compared to what you have been taught in the past. Let this be the first part of that. As for you not attending my church, well, I can always hope that will change can't I?" He then gave his impersonation of little kid begging puppy dog eyes. I couldn't help laughing a bit at that, which made him and Mrs. Keane both smile at me.
"I promised the Sheriff to really think about it," I said with a blush.
"May I impose a bit further, Reverend?" Mrs. Keane asked. "I had contacted the Rundle's church first, but let's just say they were very clear in their position to not be of any help whatsoever."
"Figures," I mumbled.
"I would be honored to officiate a memorial for a woman whom I am told gave her life to protect and love her son," the reverend assured us both. "But that won't count as you visiting my church, young man. That's a freebie. I want you to visit because you want to, not because you feel obligated."
"Well, that's ok, since I won't be at the funeral service anyway," I told the man. "I am in here for at least the next three days."
"Elijah, the only reason you would have to miss your mother's funeral is if I believed that you aren't emotionally ready to handle that situation, or you specifically tell me that you would rather stay here," Dr. Branstetter said. "And technically speaking, you have only two more days, since today is half over already."
"But I thought since I am in here...."
"Elijah, if you are still in here at the time of the memorial, which I doubt, I would personally sign you out and escort you to the service myself, and then we would come back here afterward," the doctor explained.
"Thanks, Doc," I replied wiping away a tear.
"Elijah, there is one other thing I need to ask you about," Mrs. Keane told me. "I got a phone call about an hour ago asking me to let your Grampa Olly know when you get out of here so he can and I quote 'throw our whole family the biggest durn fish fry we ever did see.' I thought you said your father's parents were passed."
"Grampa Olly adopted me this morning when I met him in here, well the second time I met him actually," I explained as I munched on the mozzarella sticks, which had gotten a bit cool, but I still thought they were awesome. "The first time I met him, he just told me to cover up my butt."
"I think I need to hear a lot more details than that, young man," Mrs. Keane said as she gave me the mother look.
"I think I should hear this as well," Dr. Branstetter added.
"I woke up this morning in a hospital nightgown and undies and duck feet," I told them. "I had to pee really bad, so I went to the desk and Steve told me where the bathroom was and to come back to the desk and he would bring me my clothes. When I came out of the bathroom, I kinda forgot that my butt was hanging out the back of the gown. Grampa Olly just told me that I probably wanted more privacy."
"What is with my boys going streaking? I am not raising a family of nudists, but you two seem to be doing your best to convince the world otherwise," Mrs. Keane scolded me, but I could tell she was fighting a smile when she did it.
"Hey, at least I kept my undies on and up, and was inside a building, not running across the fairgrounds," I told her with a grin.
"You two are going me make me old before my time," she fussed as she hugged me and kissed my forehead.
"I see a long session in your very near future, young man," Dr. Branstetter told me. I couldn't tell if he was joking or not. He must have figured that out because he spoke again. "I'm sure there is a perfectly reasonable, probably fairly funny story there. I just want to hear it is all."
I had forgotten about the drink Mrs. Keane had brought me. I picked it up and started to sip it and found out that I had to suck pretty hard to get that first mouthful of something INCREDIBLE. My eyes shot wide open as I savored the new taste.
"Oh, sweetie, if you don't like the shake I can get you another one and bring it back later," Mrs. Keane started.
I spun away from her, hugging the cup to my chest protectively. "Mine!" I blushed all over and looked back at her nervously, afraid that I had screwed up. She was laughing.
"One more thing you and Robin have in common, I see," she grinned. "Shall I bring you another one of these later?"
"Did I hear you correctly earlier say that it is a Jamocha shake?" Dr. Branstetter asked. Mrs. Keane nodded still giggling a little at me hording the 'Ambrosia of the Gods' defensively. "Well in that case, as the doctor that has to put up with little Frodo here, may I request that we limit his chocolate and caffeine buzz to one shake per day?"
"Aww, Doc, come on," I pleaded. "I never tasted anything like this before. It's the most awesome drink I've ever had in my life."
"As happy as I am to see a normal healthy teenage boy showing up, I am afraid I am going to have to stick to my request," Doc said. I immediately pouted, but only a little bit. "Don't give me those puppy dog eyes, young man. I can assure you I am immune."
"Can't blame a guy for trying though," I told him with a shrug. "I get to finish this one though, right?"
"I doubt Steve and I together could pry that one out of your hands, so yes, you can drink that one."
"Just for the record, Doc, this is good for my mental health, too," I told him. He looked at me with one eyebrow raised, so I explained. "I can't possibly hurt myself when there are things like this in the world that I have never had before waiting for me to try them." I was totally serious even though I was also joking a little and from his smile, I think he knew it too.