Thursday, November 26, 2015
The Anger Games 4
The house was quiet when they arrived. The porch light was on, as was a nightlight in the kitchen so that they wouldn't have to stumble around in the dark.
Mike handed over the bags of clothes he'd been carrying, gave Dave a quick hug and wished the two men a good night before getting back into the car. Joe gave a mock salute and a crooked grin, then backed his car down the driveway and turned onto the street. Cam and Dave watched as the tail lights dwindled to pinpricks and finally disappeared.
"All right, kiddo. Hey, you hungry? Want anything to eat before you go to bed?"
Dave gently shook his head. The bruises were really making themselves known and he had the beginnings of a nasty headache. He felt bone weary in a way he hadn't experienced in a long time. "I'm good. I'd take a couple of aspirin if you have any though."
Cam got some ibuprophen and poured some water into a paper cup for Dave to drink them down with. Then he led the boy upstairs to the guest room which now had fresh, clean linen and several pillows on the bed.
"Hang on here just a minute, OK? I'm going to grab a pair of sleep pants from Hunter's room and I'll be right back. Don't fall asleep on me now," he smiled.
Dave sat on the bed and waited for Cam to return. The bed was soft and the room smelled so good compared to the smoky, musty, stuffy smell of his apartment. He laughed to himself, thinking that he should be on one of those Febreze commercials. He could just lay on the bed and breathe deeply with a stupid grin on his face and get paid for it.
Moments later Cam returned with the sleep pants and shirt. "It's too late to root through the bags looking for your t-shirts so you can just use one of Hunter's. Hope you don't mind the Goth look." he said softly, holding up a shirt covered in ornate skulls and swirls of smoke.
Dave just shook his head and smiled. He actually liked the Goth look but other than his penchant for t's with funny sayings, he was very conservative about how he dressed, a throwback to his Catholic school days, and wouldn't wear stripes or prints when a perfectly good solid colored shirt was to be had.
Cam reminded him to keep his head propped up on at least two pillows and bid him goodnight. Dave quickly changed into the borrowed clothes, folded his work clothes neatly and placed them on the desk top. He turned down the blankets and slipped gratefully into the sweet smelling bed, pummeled the pillows into submission and quickly fell asleep.
The next morning he was vaguely aware of the phone ringing and being answered. He fell back to sleep to the sound of Cam's soft grumble. What seemed to Dave to be only moments later, he was awakened roughly by two heavy objects landing on the bed on either side of him.
"Dave..." shouted eight year old Maia.
"You're here!" shouted eight year old Marcus.
"No, I'm not," growled Dave. "This is just a holographic projection to make you think I'm here. Now scoot," he said, pulling the blanket over his head. His face and head hurt and he really, really wanted to go back to sleep.
"You're funny, Dave!" said Maia, giggling.
"You are so here!" replied Marcus with a grin.
"Oh! And daddy said... to tell you... that George said 'OK'!" Maia added, frowning in her effort to accurately relay the message she'd been entrusted with.
"Come on! Up! Mama said so!" they said together, pulling the blankets away.
Dave was very grateful that Cam had insisted he wear clothing to bed, and that even half asleep he had good reflexes. He had been able to catch the blanket before it got past his navel, thereby protecting his modesty and the children's innocence, since he still had his morning wood.
"Ok, brats! Tell mama I'm on my way."
The two kids plopped themselves down on either side of him to give and receive 'squidges' and then ran to tell their mother that they'd completed their task.
Dave laid there for a few moments longer and then got up to use the bathroom. Cam and Lissie always kept a bottle of Tylenol in the cabinet above the sink, so he took two and washed them down with water from the faucet.
By the time he was done he was at least fit for human company but he wondered if he was supposed to go down to breakfast in his sleep pants. He went back into the room but his bag of clothes wasn't there, even the clothes from the night before were gone. Checking himself once again, he went downstairs and into the kitchen. He felt a little out of place when he noticed that everyone else was dressed for the day, but no one commented so he let it go for the time being.
Hunter, their oldest son at sixteen, paused in setting the table. He grinned and greeted Dave with a wave, black painted nails and silver rings flashing, with a shout of "Hey, Big Blue!" He had glossy black hair and dark brown eyes which were currently lined with black and accentuated with maroon and grey shadow which picked up the colors in his black shirt. The ruby red stone in his right lobe glinted in the morning light as he moved. At sixteen he was built like a his father and already an inch or two taller than Dave, who was 5'8".
"What's up, Deerstalker?" Dave grinned back. "Mornin' all," he called to the rest of the kids.
"Mrs. Mancuso, what can I do to help?"
Lissie stood by the stove, expertly and seemingly effortlessly managing several pans, her dark brown hair tied neatly back in a ponytail and her dark eyes sparkling with good humor.
"Start by calling me Lissie or I'll take my wooden spoon to you, she threatened with a smile. 'Mrs. Mancuso'... really! How long have you known me?"
Elisabetta Mancuso was perhaps the sweetest woman Dave had ever met, yet somehow, at 5'2" she managed to keep her progeny and her husband firmly in line, and she treated Dave like he was one of her own. "I'm only Mrs. Mancuso to you when you're in trouble, got it?" In the past she'd invited him to call her Mama, or mom, but he'd blushingly and with many apologies, declined.
"Ohhhhhh, you did it now, Dave! Run!" warned fourteen year old Samantha.
"Ow! Hey! I'm not the one who called you Mrs. Mancuso!" she pouted as Lissie gave her daughter a little spank onher blue jean clad rear.
"Finish putting out the silver, Sammie, it's not going to get on the table by you twitching your nose," Lissie replied, giving her daughter a kiss on the forehead. "Dave, hon, why don't you get the juice and put it on the table for me, please?"
Samantha scrunched up her nose at the 'Bewitched' reference and continued placing the silver at each setting. Samantha was petite like her mother, but had Cam's wavy black hair and blue eyes.
Dave turned toward the refrigerator to get the juice and nearly tripped over Jackson, their twelve year old son, who was getting napkins from the counter. "Easy, Jacomo! I don't want to trip and mess up this pretty face!" Dave joked.
"Yeah, what happened to you? You look like you got hit by a train!" Jack said without thinking. As soon as he realized what he'd said he clapped his hands over his mouth, but it was too late. Guilty hazel eyes peered through the fringe of dark brown hair and slewed over toward his mother who had a thunderous expression on her face.
"Come here," she ordered, pointing to the spot directly in front of her. She turned and plucked a large wooden spoon from a ceramic container filled with various kitchen utensils. Jack shuffled over to his mother, head bowed in shame. When he was directly in front of her, she turned him sideways and landed five sharp swats with the spoon across the seat of his chinos. Jack winced with each swat but didn't make a sound otherwise. The swats didn't hurt, really, it was more the embarrassment factor than any real discomfort.
Dave winced in sympathy. He'd turned his back on the scene, taking his time getting the juice out of the fridge, but he could still hear the impact.
"That was rude and insensitive," she chided, turning her son so that he was looking directly at her. Lissie actually had to look up an inch or so to make eye contact with him. She never raised her voice but she had his full attention. "Now you apologize to Dave and you can go stand in the corner until we're ready to have breakfast. Capisce?"
Jack turned toward Dave with a contrite expression. "I'm really sorry, Dave. I can't believe I said that."
"S'ok, Jack." Dave smiled to let him know there were no hard feelings. He'd looked at himself in the bathroom mirror and knew that the damage was even more pronounced today. The bright light of day was being very unkind by showing more clearly the black-purple bruises and completely swollen eye on the right side of his face and the dark red, still vaguely hand shaped splotches that remained on his left. The marks on his arm were black and reminded Dave of a tattoo.
Lissie clicked her fingers and pointed to the nearest corner. Jack went to it and faced the wall without another word, hands creeping back to rub at the sting the spoon had left.
Dave put the juice on the table, reached for the napkins and began to fold them and put one at each place.
"Dave, honey, let Manny do that. Would you be so kind as to pour the coffee? Hunter, I forgot the creamer, would you get that for me please?"
Dave handed the napkins to black eyed, black haired, ten year old Emanuel, by far the quietest of the lot, and picked up the old fashioned percolator coffee pot from the stove. Three places were set with coffee cups. Dave was grateful. He loved the taste of coffee but when he'd been living at home his mother had refused to let him drink it, insisting that it would stunt his growth even more, pointing out his lack of height compared to his father and brothers who all stood at six feet or better.
Cam walked in then with the eight year old twins in tow. The twins were dressed in nearly identical outfits and tossed their matching backpacks on a chair in the corner before they sat down to the table.
Cam, dwarfing his comparatively tiny wife at 6'5", leaned down to give her a hug. "Jack?" he inquired quietly.
"Foot in mouth disease," she replied just as quietly. Then raising her voice slightly she announced that breakfast was ready. She walked over to the corner where Jackson was standing and put an arm around his shoulders, gathering him into a hug. "Learned your lesson?" she asked gently. Jack nodded and hugged his mother back.
"All right then, sweetie," she said, planting a kiss on the top of his head. "We’re good. Sit and have your breakfast," she continued, turning him toward the table and giving him a soft pat on the behind to get him moving.
When Jack took the seat next to Dave, the older boy leaned over and whispered, "By the way, it was a bulldozer. Sneaked up on me and bit me in the butt." causing Jack to choke on his mouthful of juice. When he recovered, Jack cast Dave a grateful smile and dug into his breakfast with a clear conscience.
After breakfast the kids were hustled out to catch their respective buses. Cam walked with the twins and Manny to the corner to wait with them until theirs arrived, leaving Dave and Lissie to clean up the kitchen. Without being asked he scraped and rinsed the dishes before putting them into the dish washer. "M... Lissie? There's no dish detergent under the sink..."
"Ok, go to the basement and check the shelves on the right, there should be a box. Oh! By the way, I didn't know which bag had the dirty clothes so I put them all in the wash. Your clothes are in the laundry room if you want to get dressed while you're down there. Feel free to use the shower and change down there and throw what you're wearing into the basket in front of the washer. Just bring the box of tablets when you come back up."
Dave loved the basement of this house. Cam had been promising forever to get it cleaned and organized but he never seemed to find the time, which was fine with Dave. Unlike the organized chaos of the living areas, the basement was straight out of a horror flick. The stairs were constructed of old wood that creaked eerily with each step. The walls were made of dark gray cinder block and the floor was heavily stained and dusty concrete. The lights were dim, and cobwebs hung thick from the rafters.
Shadows loomed large and dark in every corner. Shelves holding boxes containing who knew what sorts of treasures or trash were bolted to nearly every wall. The shelves at the bottom of the stairs, filled with canned and dry goods, were the only ones that were dust free and held anything easily identifiable.
Dave noticed a wolf spider nearly as large as his palm in a high corner and shuddered. He absolutely hated spiders. Especially big, hairy ones.
To the left of the stairs stood an old pool table, abandoned and nearly hidden by years worth of detritus which had been heaped up on top of and around it. A tool bench was piled high above and below with boxes of outgrown clothes, old books, Christmas decorations, framed and unframed photographs and paintings, and old crockery. Dave wondered why the family kept it all.
In one of the darkest corners, next to an old wooden cabinet full of rusty, dusty canning supplies, was an ancient looking wooden door held shut by a rusty lock hasp, held closed with an equally rusty metal pin. Dave had opened the door once, curiosity winning out over good manners about not snooping where you're not invited. The door had led to a set of concrete steps and two metal doors which when he unlocked and opened them led to the back yard.
Old and broken furniture could be found here and there, and he'd even found an old piano buried under old bushel baskets and ancient looking framed paintings. He had once pushed aside the stacks of old newspapers and magazines that stood on the cover that protected the keys and begun to play a pretty tune he'd learned as a child. A sudden bitter memory punched him in the gut and he'd slammed the cover shut harder than he'd intended, causing the instrument to vibrate in protest. His stomach clenched at the memory of hours of practice, the shouting and slaps when he made a mistake. He'd replaced the books and had never gone near the thing again.
The laundry room, which was accessible through a door to the right of the stairs was large, clean and well lit. The washer and dryer stood sentinel on the left as he walked into the room. Shelves had been built onto the wall to the right of the machines and held an array of laundry products as well as a stack of clean towels and washcloths.
Beside a small sink was an enclosed shower that the kids could use if the two upstairs bathrooms were occupied and they couldn't wait. There was an area for ironing, and to the right of that was a long counter where one could sort and fold the laundry. A rack had been placed against the back wall by the door for items that could not be put in the dryer. Storage bins containing off season clothes and unused blankets were stacked in a corner to the left of the appliances.
Dave closed the laundry room door. He knew Lissie wouldn't come downstairs while he took care of things but leaving it open just made him feel too exposed. He stepped gratefully into the warm water and washed thoroughly. He loved the feeling of being clean. If he'd been at his apartment he would have showered until the hot water ran out but out of courtesy he limited himself to twenty minutes. He shampooed his hair twice out of habit, lathered up the washcloth and scrubbed repeatedly until his skin tingled. He grimaced in anticipation of the pain as he peeled the now wet dressing from his chest. It didn't hurt nearly as much as he thought it would. The wounds were scabbed over and slightly red around the edges. He'd have to ask Lissie for some antibacterial cream and another bandage. The EMT's had given him a plastic baggie with enough gauze and a roll of tape to use until he could be seen by a doctor.
He soaped up the cloth again and gingerly washed his face. He still didn't feel completely clean so he scrubbed a little harder. This time it did hurt but he welcomed the pain. The physical pain felt better than the humiliation of the night before that still gnawed at his gut. Eighteen, he mentally berated himself. Eighteen years old and still reduced to a terrified ten year old when faced with Damien's ire.
He'd dreamed of what he'd do the next time Damien drew his belt. He imagined taking the damned thing and strangling his 'father' with it. He dreamed of whipping it down over and over again on his loving father's back as Damien had so often done to him. Until he bled. Until he cried. Until he begged and screamed himself hoarse. Until he gave up in defeat. In humiliation.
He had fought back more than once. The first time he'd been fourteen. Dave had snatched the hateful belt right out of the startled Damien's hand. He'd thrown it across the room and told his father exactly what he thought of him. He'd raised his fists and taken a swing at him. But
Damien had been a poor boy who had worked hard on his father's farm until he'd turned eighteen when he'd joined the army where he'd worked himself up through the ranks to Sergeant. He knew how to handle one small, weak, pathetic little boy, Dave thought bitterly.
For several hours afterward Dave had breathed against the pain. There was hardly a spot on his body that didn't hurt. He'd apologized for his behavior over and over, and begged Damien to bring him to the doctor. Eventually Damien had brought him to the emergency room. When the triage nurse had asked how Dave had been hurt Damien had pressed a hand against Dave's back in silent warning.
"He and his friends were skateboarding down Hill Street and Dave went heels over head," Damien had explained.
Hill Street was the steepest hill in the city, more of a small mountain than a hill, and was notorious as the main cause for the sheer number of emergency room visits by the local teenagers who liked to skateboard or ride their bikes hands free down it on a dare or just for the thrill.
"When did this happen?"
"About six hours ago."
"Why did you wait so long to bring him in?"
"He insisted he was fine, but my wife and I were worried. I practically had to drag him in here." Damien had played the concerned father to the hilt. "He was worried that he'd get into trouble, so he kept quiet about how badly he'd actually been hurt."
X-rays had revealed that Dave's right thumb, wrist and arm were broken. Luckily his ribs were only badly bruised. He'd gone home with a cast that went from his knuckles to just above his elbow, a new blue sling, and an admonition from the doctor to avoid skateboarding down Hill Street again.
Dave had humbly promised never to do such a foolish thing again and had then been released into the arms of his caring father.
Dave shivered at the memory, gave his face one final swipe with the cloth and rinsed off. He got out of the shower and wrapped the towel he'd set aside around himself. It was large and fluffy and smelled like heaven. He pulled it up around his head, not caring that he was leaving his nether regions uncovered, and buried his face in the soft material. The delicate scent and the quiet of the laundry room soothed his frayed nerves.
The basket containing his washed and folded clothes was on the sorting counter. He carefully rifled through the neat stacks to find what he wanted to wear and pulled on the underwear, jeans and shirt, slinging his socks over his shoulder to put on when he was back upstairs. He headed back toward the kitchen, stopping only briefly to pick up the box of dish detergent tablets before heading back up the stairs.
Lissie had finished cleaning the table and smiled her thanks when Dave handed her the box of detergent and placed the basket on the chair in the corner that had previously held the backpacks.
"Lissie? I need the... uh, the gauze and tape? And antibiotic cream? The dressing on my chest got wet. Please?" he asked, tossing his socks on top of the folded pile for the time being.
"Of course." Lissie replied, smiling. She opened a cabinet and took out the baggie with the extra supplies in it. "Do you need me to help you?"
Dave blushed and shook his head. "I can do it, thanks." He went into the bathroom off the kitchen to apply the ointment and dressing, wishing, as his eyes crossed while trying to apply it to his own chest, that he'd accepted Lissie's offer of help. He wished the mirror above the sink was just a little lower.
When he went back into the kitchen he asked, "Is there anything else I can do out here?"
"If you'd please sweep the floor for me we'll be all done."
With a jaunty salute he went to the small closet that held the cleaning supplies and took out what he needed.
Just as he finished the floor, Cam returned. He smiled a greeting at Dave and bent down to give Lissie another kiss. "Are you done with Dave? Can I borrow him for a few minutes?"
"Yep, he just has to put away his clothes and he's all yours," she grinned.
"Come on then, Dave. I'll help you carry your stuff up and keep you company while you put it away," He carried the basket and followed the younger man to 'his' room. When they arrived, Cam quietly closed the door and put the basket on the foot of the bed. "Dave, why don't you have a seat?" he asked. "There's something I'd like to talk to you about."
Dave was a little concerned by Cam's serious tone and perched on the edge of the bed.
Once Cam was sure he had Dave's attention he pulled out the desk chair and turned it so that he could sit and face the boy.
"Dave, Mike called this morning. He told me about what he found in your refrigerator." he said, then paused, waiting for a response from Dave.
Dave blushed. He suddenly found the pattern on the rug quite fascinating and he began an intensive study of the various colors.
"David," Cam said gravely, "look at me."
Dave looked up through his thick, dark lashes.
"I'm going to tell you what I'd tell Hunter or any of the kids. You're technically an adult now, but you're still only eighteen. You are too young to drink. It's not only illegal but it's dangerous as well. Look at me, David," he repeated as he saw the boy's gaze return to the rug.
Dave released the breath he hadn't been aware he'd been holding and took another one, screwing up the courage to look Cam in the eyes again. With great effort he finally raised his good eye once again to Cam's.
Cam nodded and continued. "I don't know where or how you got the beer. If you have a fake ID I want you to give it to me with a promise that you won't go out and get another one. Do you have a fake ID, David?" Cam thought it unlikely that Dave had a fake ID, and that even if he had he would never be able to use it successfully. The boy's face was smooth and hairless and he looked more like a twelve year old than an eighteen year old.
Dave hated it when anyone called him by his proper name, it made him nervous. He was afraid that if Cam began to use his middle name as well that he would end up panicking and bolting out the door.
"Do you?" Cam asked again.
"No. I don't have a fake ID," Dave said faintly, once again looking at Cam through the veil of his lashes.
Cam was reassured by Dave's eye contact and he continued to speak. "Who buys the beer for you? And do you ever drink anything stronger than beer?"
Dave once again tried to avoid Cam's steady gaze and the older man placed a finger under the boy's chin, gently forcing his head back up.
"His name is Matthew. I don't know his last name or where he lives, but he'll buy beer and cigarettes for the kids in the neighborhood in exchange for a few bucks or a bottle of something for himself," Dave replied, still in that same faint voice.
"Do you ever ask him to buy you anything stronger than beer?"
Dave shook his head.
"I want your word, David. I want your word that when you go back to your apartment you will not approach this man Matthew, or anyone for that matter, with the intent to ask them to buy alcohol for you. Will you do that for me, David?"
"A verbal answer, please. Do I have your word that you will not purchase a fake ID? Do I have your word that will not buy, or ask anyone else to buy alcohol for you until you're of legal age to do so? No alcohol, David."
"Yes sir," Dave replied quietly.
"Yes sir, what?"
"Yes sir. You have my word."
"Is there anything else I should know? The police asked me about drugs and gangs and I vouched for you. Are you..."
Dave shook his head. "No, Cam! Honest to God. No." His gaze was as direct as it could be for being done with only his uninjured eye.
Cam studied the face of the young man for a few moments. "All right then. Put your stuff away, get your socks and sneakers on and we'll take that trip out to Wal-Mart. You're scheduled for an appointment with Dr. Sinn to check out your eye at 1:00. Oh, and George is expecting a call from you when we get back, all right? He's worried about you."
Dave smiled and nodded.
"Need a hand putting away your things?"
"Nah, I'm good, thanks Cam."
With a smile and a friendly pat to the boy's back, Cam turned and left the room.
Dave had just finished putting away the last of his things and put on his socks and sneakers when he heard Lissie calling him. "David!"
His stomach knotted. What was it today with everyone using his proper name? He couldn't for the life of him figure out what he'd done but he didn't think it was wise to leave her waiting. He walked quickly to the top of the stairs and headed down. "Coming." he responded.
She met him at the bottom of the stairs. "David," she said evenly, "When I told you to go down into the laundry room, what did I ask you to do?"
He thought a moment and answered, "Shower? Change... bring the clean laundry and the dish stuff up?"
"What did I ask you to do with the sleep pants and t-shirt?" As she had done with Jackson earlier, she never raised her voice, her tone was not accusing or strident. She kept her tone level, and she had Dave's full attention.
"Ah... basket in front of the washer."
"I just went down to do more laundry and I found them on the floor in front of the shower."
For the second time that morning Dave blushed in embarrassment. "I'm sorry..." He stopped and thought a moment. Was he in trouble? If he was in trouble was he still allowed to call her Lissie? Had she been serious about calling her Mrs. Mancuso when he was in trouble? Unsure of what to do he settled for "I'm sorry, ma'am. I'll go take care of that right now."
Lissie smiled up at him and rubbed a friendly hand down his arm, mindful of the bruises. "Thank you, Dave."
With a feeling of relief he ran down the stairs to the basement and did as he'd been told. When he came back up, Cam was leaning against the kitchen door jamb with a grin on his face. Dave responded with a rueful smile and Cam patted the boy on the shoulder.
"Ready to roll, mirtillo?" Cam asked as they headed toward the door.
"Ready, vecchio." Dave teased, grabbing his jacket from the hook.
"What!? Why you little... monello! Lissie! Where's that spoon of yours?!"
Dave laughed and ran out to the car with Cam in hot pursuit. The smile and the running caused the bruises to hurt a little, but to Dave it was a good hurt, and he welcomed it.
mirtillo - Italian for blueberry
vecchio - Italian for old man