Orphaned (Commission) – Ch 5 – lostandwhatever
The next day, after Charlie woke up, it only took him a few seconds to remember where he was. Sister Francine was there again to lead the boys down to breakfast. He followed the other half-asleep kids out of the room, feeling surprisingly at ease with the whole situation now. Breakfast went about the same as it did the day before. Charlie ate with his new group of friends, who chatted and joked with each other and Charlie as if they had been pals for years. All the while, Charlie was trying to think of some way that he could discover the dark secret of this seemingly ordinary place.
Then, it was time to get cleaned up. He and his friends entered a changing room along with many other boys, and each of them started to strip off their clothes. Charlie realized that this would actually be a good opportunity for him. If the kids were being physically abused, then they might have marks left on their skin. Charlie began to strip off his own clothes as he tried to casually observe the other boys. It did not take long, though, for Charlie to start to feel deeply uncomfortable. It was one thing to pretend to be a boy with a bunch of other kids. It was another thing to be naked in a room with other kids. He tried to avoid looking at them below the waist, but his eyes could not keep from wandering. Although he was trying to look for signs of mistreatment in order to help the kids, he ended up feeling like a voyeur.
After they were all naked, the boys started to divide up into two groups. The younger kids headed for one door as the older kids headed for the other door. Charlie decided to ask Davion about this since he was closest to him. “Where are those kids going?” Charlie said while pointing at the little kids.
“That’s the way to the bath tubs,” Davion said. “The little kids have to take baths with the caretakers.”
“Yeah,” Eddie said, barging into the conversation. “I hear they put two kids in a tub to save time. I bet you’re small enough to fit in one of the tubs still. Huh, Charlie?”
Things were uncomfortable enough as it was, Charlie decided, and just the idea of sharing a tub with another boy and having a grown woman wash him made him blush.
“I’ll take a shower,” he said and followed Davion and Eddie into the shower room.
Unfortunately, Charlie found even more reason to blush in the showers. There were no stalls or curtains, and the older boys were already busy with soaping themselves up under their shower heads. Charlie found some soap and started to wash himself under his own shower head. Once more he felt small. He could not help but compare his body to the bodies around him. In certain ways important to boys and men, he found himself to be seriously outclassed by every other boy in the room. Part of him wanted to cover himself up and get out of the shower room, but he kept cleaning and tried to ignore his feelings of inadequacy.
When they were done showering, the boys grabbed towels and left for the changing room with only a minor wet towel fight. As they got dressed, Charlie tried to console himself with the knowledge that he would be an average sized man again soon. The boys exited the room, but Charlie hung back for a minute to consider what he had seen. In spite of his embarrassment, he had managed to get a good look at most of the boys. The only signs of injury he had seen were a skinned knee and a bruised elbow, neither of which signified anything beyond the regular wear and tear of rambunctious boys. As far as his investigation was concerned, the shower had been a bust.
It seemed that he would need to go beyond basic questions and simple observations. He would have to create a problem to find out what the reaction would be from the caretakers. But, how would he do it? He heard the school bell ring and realized that, first, he would have to get to class. Maybe there would be an opportunity there, he hoped.
Charlie had butterflies in his stomach as he walked into the classroom for the first time, which was somewhat surprising to him. He had graduated high school years ago now, but apparently that feeling of nervousness on the first day of school is something a person never quite grows out of.
Jack waved Charlie over to the empty desk next to him. “You can sit next to me,” he said. “I don’t mind.”
Charlie felt his stomach butterflies start to dissipate and took a seat at the kid-sized desk. “Thanks,” he said. “By the way, why would someone mind me sitting next to them?”
“Well,” Jack said. “Some older kids don’t want to sit by the little kids. They get tired of being asked for help. I don’t mind though because I usually finish my work before anyone else.”
“I see,” Charlie said, feeling a bit embarrassed to be lumped in with the “little kids” by an 11-year-old boy. Still, he did appreciate that Jack was willing to be there to answer questions. “Thank you.”
A red-headed woman Charlie had not seen before entered the room and said, “Good morning, class.”
The class replied in unison, “Good morning, Ms. Peach!”
Two things stood out to Charlie about Ms. Peach immediately. First, she was a “Ms.” not a “Mrs.” (The lack of a wedding ring was further confirmation of her marital status.) And, second, she was drop dead gorgeous. She looked to be in her mid-twenties and was dressed in a pair of jeans and a loose orange shirt. The jeans showed off her shapely hips, and the shirt did little to obscure the shape of her sizable breasts. Part of Charlie’s mind started to consider asking her out on a date. The other part of his mind reminded him that he was half a decade away from puberty at the moment, and that might hurt his chances with her.
Still, he was feeling a heavy attraction to her, which did not feel quite sexual. At his age, that would probably be impossible. Instead, he had that dreaded attachment that boys found themselves in with beautiful women.
He had a crush on her.
He sighed. Just what I needed right now, he thought. Another distraction from my investigation. He closed his eyes and shook his head. No, he thought. I’m a grown man still inside. I can handle these emotions. I can stay focused.
“Well,” Ms. Peach said to the room. “Today we’ll be continuing with the lessons from yesterday. Take out your assignments and your pencils.”
Charlie just sat there feeling intoxicated by her melodious voice. Meanwhile, the other students began rummaging through their desks for their supplies.
When they were ready, Ms. Peach said, “But, before we begin, I want to welcome our new student.” All eyes turned to Charlie, and he felt those butterflies return with some of their friends tagging along. “This is Charlie,” she said to him. “He’s new with us, so I expect you all to do your best to help him out when he needs help and to make him feel welcome here. There was a time when you were all new here. Try to remember what that felt like when you talk with him.” All of the boys and girls had a moment of silence as they apparently remembered their first days. “Charlie, do you have anything to say or would you just like to get down to work?”
Charlie shook his head, feeling a bit stunned but also appreciative to have the option to remain silent. He really liked her, but he found himself wishing that she had been mean or cruel so that he could keep from fixating on her.
“Very well then,” she said. “Everyone, get working on your assignments. I will be around to check on each of you soon.”
She approached Charlie and introduced herself again and said, “What grade level were you in before you came here?”
Charlie tried to remember what level a 7 or 8 year-old-kid would be in. He was drawing a blank. “Third grade?” he guessed.
“Oh,” she said. “I would have guessed second, but that’s fine. Let me give you a math worksheet on multiplication. Also, here’s a pencil.” She handed him his work, which he received silently. “Let me know if you need any help.”
“Thank you,” he said at last, and she smiled and walked away. Although Charlie could not stop himself from watching her go, he tried to avoid staring at her butt.
“Oooh,” Jack said. “Looks like you like her.”
Charlie blushed. “What?” he said. “No. I was just… I…”
“It’s okay,” Jack said. “I think all the boys have a crush on her. Maybe a few of the girls do too.”
They both sighed.
Charlie knew he needed to focus, so he turned his attention to his assignment. It was extremely easy, but he tried to take his time with it. He was not too concerned with appearing above-average with his schoolwork, but he wanted to avoid standing out too much. Pretending to struggle with an assignment was a good cover.
When Charlie was about halfway done with his problems, he noticed an older blond-haired boy sneaking up to the teacher’s desk. Charlie looked back for Ms. Peach, wondering if she was seeing this, but when he spotted her in the back of the room, she had her attention focused on helping a student with an assignment. The sneaking boy opened a drawer in her desk, dug around in it for a few seconds, and then pocketed something he found inside of it. He shut the drawer and casually walked away from the desk. For a moment, the boy’s eyes met Charlie’s, causing Charlie to look away. He began to sweat as the boy slowly approached him. He felt the impulse to run away, but he knew there was nowhere to run to. He sat there, motionless as the thief walked up to him. The blond boy was a few years older than Charlie, so he did not need to do much more than stand over Charlie to intimidate him. “You keep your mouth shut, kid,” he said. “You understand?”
The boy made a fist at his side and said, “Good. Because if you can’t keep your mouth shut, then I’ll shut if for you. You understand?”
Charlie nodded again.
“Good,” the boy said and walked away.
Charlie let out a sigh of relief.
“That was close,” Jack said. “But, that was probably the best thing to do. You don’t want to mess with Ben.”
“What’s his problem?” Charlie asked.
“Same problem with most kids here: he’s an asshole.”
“Hey, fuck you!” someone yelled. At first, Charlie was worried that Ben had overheard what Jack had said, but it was actually one of the other boys in the front of the room that had yelled.
The boy next to him stood up, knocking his desk over behind him and said, “You wanna go, punk?”
The first boy stood up and got in the other boy’s face. “Yeah,” he said. “I ain’t scared of you.”
The rest of the class ran to the front of the room to get a good look at the fight that was starting. The two boys stared down each other, their faces inches apart, ready for battle.
“See what I mean?” Jack said. He and Charlie were the only kids still in their seats, besides some of the younger kids in the back of the room.
“Stop right now,” Ms. Peach said as she approached the boys in the front of the room and started to part the crowd in front of her. The boys paid her no attention. Neither one wanting to be the first to lose face by backing out of the staring contest between them. Finally, she reached them and pulled them apart. She sent one boy out into the hallway, and pulled the other one away into a corner of the room, giving them both an excuse to back down. “Everyone back to your seats,” she said. All of the kids groaned and slowly returned to their schoolwork, each of them feeling robbed of a good fight. Then, Ms. Peach proceeded to get the one boy to calm down in the corner. Next, she stepped into the hallway with the door left open behind her and dealt with the other boy.
Charlie was impressed by how Ms. Peach had handled the situation. She diffused the fight before it had fully begun, and both boys had respected her orders enough to do what she told them. Clearly most of the kids respected her, even if one of them was willing to rob her desk. Charlie could not blame her for that, though. The real problem that he saw in the room was that it was overcrowded. There were at least 30 kids in there, most of them working on different assignments. There was no way a single teacher could give all of them her attention for very long. Things were bound to happen behind her back. It was a bad situation, but Charlie was not sure who to blame for it. At the very least, he was willing to let Ms. Peach off the hook and not just because he found her incredibly beautiful.
Before class was over, Sister Francine had come by to collect the two boys. Unfortunately, Charlie was not able to see where they went next. He decided that he might need to get himself in similar trouble to learn about what Sister Francine would do.
Class was much calmer after that. Eventually, it was time for recess. Once more, Charlie had that butterflies-in-the-stomach feeling as he went out to play in the little playground/parking lot area. There was a basketball hoop and an area to play four square. There were even hopscotch boxes drawn on the pavement. To the side, there was an open field where some kids were kicking around a soccer ball. Next to that was a decent jungle gym with slides and swings and ladders and monkey bars, all surrounded by wood chips.
The older boys and girls were playing soccer and basketball. Charlie doubted that he could keep up with the speed of a soccer game or that he could manage to get a shot off in a basketball game. His small size made participating in any team sport pretty pointless. No one would pick him for a team even if he tried to join. He felt a bit left out, but he tried not to let it bother him. Playing kids’ games was not his priority, after all.
Instead, he found a swing and started pumping his legs to get some momentum going. It was actually pretty fun, but what he liked most about it was that it gave him a minute to think about what he should do next.
Charlie considered what had happened to the two fighting boys in the classroom and turned his attention to Sister Francine, who was watching the playground right now. A plan started to form in his head. Charlie looked around and found the blond-haired thief from his class, the one Jack had called Ben.
Ben had offered to beat up Charlie if he caused him any problems. Was he bluffing? Charlie wondered. Maybe he could provoke Ben to attack him, he considered. That would mean Ben would be in trouble and, likely, so would Charlie, if not somewhat less so since he would be clearly more of a victim in the situation.
“What’s the worst that could happen?” Charlie asked himself. “I end up with some bruises and maybe a bloody nose?” He had gotten nowhere so far. He decided that this had to be his best option.
At the apex of his next swing, he leapt off and dropped to the wood chips, letting out a half giggle. As focused as he was, he had to admit that the swing had been really fun, but there was no time for fun now. He had to put his game face on as he approached Ben from behind. The blond boy stood with his arms crossed, watching the basketball game alone, waiting for his turn.
“Hey,” Charlie said to him.
The older boy looked down next to himself at Charlie, and Charlie immediately felt like chickening out and walking away. Instead, he stood firm and waited for the boy to reply.
“What do you want, kid?” Ben asked and turned his attention back to the basketball game.
“I want some of what you took from the desk.”
The boy looked back at Charlie with a mixture of surprise and incredulity. “What did you say?”
“You heard me.”
“Oh,” Ben said. “I see. And, if I don’t give it to you, you’ll go run off to Sister Francine and snitch on me. Right?”
“Pretty much,” Charlie said.
Ben chuckled. “You got some balls, kid.” Before Charlie knew what was happening, Ben had grabbed Charlie’s arm and was dragging him away from the basketball court and around the corner of the orphanage building, where they were out of sight of Sister Francine and most of the other kids. Charlie began to sweat. This was going worse than he had expected. Ben could beat him up here with no witnesses. Charlie realized he had underestimated Ben’s self control. The boy was angry and mean, but he was not dumb enough to beat up a little kid in front of everyone.
Ben pushed Charlie’s back up against the brick wall of the building and said, “Now, let me make this one-hundred percent clear, you little shit.” Ben punched Charlie in the gut, causing him to double over in pain, but he did not let Charlie fall. Instead he grabbed Charlie by the throat and again pushed him up against the bricks. “You didn’t see me do anything in class, so I don’t have anything to share with you. And, even if there was something, I would rather knock out your Goddamn baby teeth than give it to you.” He raised a fist and aimed it at Charlie’s face. “Do you understand me?”
Charlie could feel tears forming in his eyes. Ben’s hand was choking off Charlie’s ability to speak, but he did manage to nod.
Ben smiled cruelly, and said, “Now, one more punch for the road, just to make my point.” Charlie flinched and closed his eyes, waiting for the hit to come. But, there was no hit. In fact, he felt Ben’s grip loosen on his throat.
“Whoa,” Ben said. “Take it easy.”
“Let my friend go,” another boy’s voice said, calmly.
Charlie opened his eyes and saw that Davion had joined them and was standing behind Ben. Ben had his other hand up in surrender, which made sense when Charlie noticed the pocket knife blade that Davion had pressed to Ben’s throat.
Ben slowly let Charlie’s neck go and lifted his other hand into the air. “Just take it easy,” he said. Charlie could see that Ben was sweating now. “See,” he said. “Everything’s fine. The kid’s fine.” Charlie took a couple of breaths as he wondered where Davion had found that knife.
“Let me make this one-hundred percent clear to you,” Davion said. “If you ever threaten my friend again… if you ever even talk to my friend again, I’ll cut your damn throat.” He was not yelling. He said it all, matter-of-factly. “Do you understand me?”
“Yeah,” Ben said. “I do. I’m sorry. Never again. I swear.” He looked ready to cry.
For a moment, Charlie thought that Davion might just cut Ben’s throat, but instead, Davion lifted the knife away from Ben’s neck and took a step back. Ben backed away from both of them, and then hurried away back to the other kids in the playground, all the while, rubbing the red line that Davion had left on his throat.
“You okay, Charlie,” Davion asked, while still holding the knife ready in his hand in case Ben decided to return with back up.
Charlie’s legs gave out, and he slumped to the ground with his back against the wall. “Yeah,” Charlie said, hoarsely. “I think so.”
Davion folded his knife shut and slipped it into his pocket. Then, he offered a hand to Charlie to help him stand up again. Charlie took Davion’s hand to let the older boy pull him to his unsteady feet. “‘Come on,” Davion said. “Let’s go back to watch the basketball game.”
Charlie nodded and followed Davion back to the playground, feeling grateful to have survived that confrontation without any major injuries. At the same time, he realized that he had failed to get into trouble and that he may have just made himself an enemy instead. Additionally, he had a newfound respect for Davion that bordered on terror. The boy had not been bluffing, Charlie realized. Davion would have killed Ben to protect him. Charlie could not tell if that was more comforting or horrifying. One thing he was sure about, though, was that he would avoid any more violent plans from now on.