Orphaned (Commission) – Ch 7 – lostandwhatever
Series commissioned by Areat, originally published on my Patreon.
The next morning, Charlie was back in Sister Francine’s office again. She was at her desk, and Charlie was sitting on a chair facing her. The nurse and Ms. Peach sat flanking him on both sides. It had been too late to interrogate him much when he had been caught. Instead, they collected him early that morning before they woke up the other kids and before he had a chance to tell Eddie what had happened.
Charlie tried to keep his legs from swinging, but they seemed to want to swing and started moving whenever his attention turned elsewhere. He had to avoid that, though. It was too childish, too much of a carefree thing to do, and right then, he needed to be serious. Still, his nervous energy wanted some expression. Normally, he would bounce his heel on the ground, but since his feet could not touch the ground, that option was out. Instead, he just tapped a single finger against his thigh.
He was in real trouble, and he worried what the consequences would be. Would they hurt him? Beat him? His morbid imagination pictured a variety of medieval tortures. He hoped that they would not hurt him too much. As much as he hated and feared being in trouble, at the very least, he was satisfied that he had finally crossed enough lines to discover how kids were punished in the orphanage.
To start the conversation, Sister Francine asked the nurse and Ms. Peach to explain what they witnessed Charlie doing yesterday. Ms. Peach described sending Charlie to the nurse after he complained about a headache. The nurse described letting Charlie lie down to rest. Then, she said she had to see to another boy’s illness, leaving Charlie alone temporarily.
“Did you notice your keys were missing when you returned?” Sister Francine asked.
“No,” the nurse admitted. “I didn’t notice until you said you had caught the boy in your office.”
Sister Francine nodded. Then, she focused her eyes on Charlie. He tried to be calm, but her kind eyes seemed to peer straight into his soul, searching for hidden sins. Part of him wanted to confess everything. A less panicked part of him reminded himself that he could not rat out Eddie and that he had to keep his real mission in the orphanage a secret. He would need to lie.
“Well, what do you have to say for yourself?” she asked him.
“Sorry,” he said.
“Well, that’s a start,” she said. “Could you explain why you stole the keys from the nurse and snuck into my office in the middle of the night, like a common burglar?”
“I wanted to see what was in here,” he said. “I was curious.”
She shook her head slowly. “I don’t buy it, son. Tell me the truth.”
Charlie tried to imagine why an actual boy would be doing sneaking around like he had been. He thought about Ben. “I wanted to see what you had in your desk,” he said. “I know Ms. Peach keeps stuff in her desk.”
Ms. Peach gasped. “Were you the one who took the money from my drawer?” she asked.
“Maybe,” Charlie said. It was not a lie, not completely. He still felt somewhat responsible for nothing to stop it from happening.
She frowned at him, and Charlie felt horrible.
“Well,” Sister Francine said. “Where’s the money?”
“I don’t have it anymore.”
“Who has it?”
“I don’t know their name.”
“Could you point the student out to us in the cafeteria?”
Charlie shook his head.
“I didn’t notice anything missing from my desk, and you had nothing in your pockets last night besides a key,” she said. “You did have a stolen night-light, but you left that here. What did you expect to find here? More money?”
“Maybe,” he said.
“We keep our valuables in a safe, by the way,” she said and added, “and, we are supposed to keep personal effects secured during class.” She looked at Ms. Peach, and Charlie realized he had just gotten the teacher he adored into trouble, which felt like a knife twisting in his chest.
Sister Francine focused her eyes on Charlie again, but there was little kindness left in her eyes. Now, he saw only pity and disappointment. “How old are you?” she asked.
“7 or 8,” he said. “I’m not sure.”
She did not dwell on that ambiguous answer. “I’m struggling to believe that you came up with this plan all by yourself,” she said.
“I was alone,” he said.
“You know why I found you last night?” she asked.
“You saw the light,” Charlie guessed.
“No,” she said. “Another student reported that he had heard two boys sneaking through the halls.”
“It was just me,” he said.
“I know you might be worried about telling on an older boy,” she said. “But, you aren’t helping him or yourself by keeping quiet about him, especially if this was all the other boy’s plan.”
“No one was with me.”
Sister Francine asked the nurse, “Who was the other boy in your office yesterday, the one that distracted you when Charlie stole your keys?”
“Eddie Rios,” the nurse said. “But, he was legitimately sick. My carpet needed cleaning after the mess he left in there.”
“Do you know Eddie?” Sister Francine asked Charlie.
“I eat lunch with him and some other boys,” he admitted. “He doesn’t hang out with me much, “ he added. “I’m way too young to be his friend.”
“Very well, then,” she said, interlacing her fingers together. “Let me just see if I can get all of this straight. You stole money from Ms. Peach’s desk, but you no longer have any of it and have no idea where it is. Then, you snuck into the nurse’s office after seeing Eddie leaving class, hoping that you might have a chance to take her keys, which you knew about… somehow. Then, all alone, last night, you used those stolen keys to break into my office with the hope of finding more money or something else in my desk. Is that your story?”
“Sounds like a lie to me,” she said. “I suspect someone older put you up to this, probably Eddie, and I suspect you’re covering for that older boy. I can’t force you to tell on him, but I can teach you a lesson about lying and stealing. You’re young and probably a bit gullible, but that’s no excuse. You can’t let other people manipulate you into doing their dirty work. You need to see how that will only get you into trouble. Whatever the reasons were for what you did, whoever is really to blame, it was you who were caught, and it is you will face some stiff consequences. First, your outside recess privileges are revoked for the foreseeable future. You will have detention with Ms. Peach everyday after school for the next two weeks, during which you will work off the money you stole from her by helping her in her classroom.”
Charlie nodded. It seemed like a very fair punishment, almost too fair. He had expected at least a beating with a ruler or something, but this was nothing abusive at all. “Is that all?” he asked.
“You might consider apologizing to Ms. Peach,” Sister Francine suggested.
Charlie turned to his teacher. “I’m sorry, Ms. Peach,” he said.
“I wish I believed that,” Ms. Peach replied coldly. “But, at this moment, I’m struggling to believe a word you say.”
Charlie felt like crying.
“Now,” Sister Francine said. “Now, do you see the consequences of lying? You’ve lost our trust, and it will take a long while to earn that back.”
“You should have left when I did,” Eddie said at lunch later that day.
“Yeah,” Charlie said as he poked at his chicken nuggets with a fork. He had just finished telling the whole story to Jack, Davion, and Eddie. Jack had been shocked, Davion had said nothing, and Eddie had just been relieved that Charlie had kept quiet about him.
Now, Charlie sat there feeling kind of lost. He realized he had run out of ideas for finding out what was wrong with the orphanage. What would he do now?
“I wonder who it was that ratted us out,” Eddie said.
“What?” Jack said.
“Charlie said that someone told Sister Francine that we were in the halls,” Eddie said. “I wish I knew who it was. I’d kick their ass.”
“Probably one of the little kids,” Jack said. “Maybe the kid got scared hearing voices and footsteps in the hall. Maybe the kid thought it was a ghost and ran to get help.”
“If it was a scared little kid,” Eddie said, “then the kid would have hid under the covers. Kids think a blanket is like a magic shield. Nah, we got ratted out by someone old enough to not be scared of the dark.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Charlie said. “None of it matters. The whole thing was a waste of time.”
Eddie shook his head. “Well, I’m not giving up on things. You can sit here feeling sorry for yourself. I’m going to keep looking for answers.” He stood up and picked up his half-finished tray of food. “Excuse me. I don’t feel like watching you crying in your chocolate milk.” Then, he walked off.
“What’s his problem?” Jack asked.
“He wants someone to rescue him from here,” Charlie said. “I know the feeling.”
“Getting out of here is easy,” Davion said, speaking for the first time that lunch. “I’ve done it many times.”
“You have?” Jack asked.
“The trick,” Davoin said, “is staying out for good. That’s not easy.”
“Impossible,” Jack said. “You’d need to find a new place to live.”
“And, they would look for you. They won’t just let you just disappear. As soon as they notice you’re missing, they’d call the cops.”
“Like I said, impossible.”
Charlie said, “What’s the worst thing that they ever did to you here?”
“Like, a punishment?” Davion asked.
“I had to mop the floor one time,” Davion said.
“I’ve never been in trouble,” Jack said.
“They never hurt you?” Charlie asked.
“Nope,” Davion said.
“Then, why are the kids here acting up so much?” Charlie asked.
Jack shrugged and said, “I don’t know. They have problems. Everyone’s had to deal with some hard stuff, and they don’t have any parents around to help. And, some of them are just bad kids. They just like doing bad things.” He looked at Davion. “No offense.”
“It’s fine,” Davion said. “I know what people think of me. I almost wish I cared.”
Things started to become clearer to Charlie. Of course, he thought, if I took all of the condemned criminals on death row, turned back time, and threw them in an orphanage, then they would be a hell of a lot more likely to act up. Maybe they’ve all been acting up since they originally were kids. Probably most of them have lived with some type of mental illness their whole lives and never got the help they needed until it was too late.
“Nature,” he said aloud, “but without any nurturing.”
“What?” Jack said.
“Nobody’s born bad,” Charlie said. “Maybe some people might have something wrong with them that might potentially lead them to do bad things. Still, if the right people are around to help them, then they can grow up to be good people. But, if they don’t have those people, you know, good families, then…”
“They’re fucked,” Davion said. “They go bad.”
“Is it really that simple?” Charlie asked. “Kids with bad tendencies, not getting the help they need?”
“Maybe,” Jack said. “I think everyone would be better off with a real family to take care of them.”
“True,” Davion said.
Charlie poked at his food but did not eat any more of it. He barely noticed when the other boys finished their lunches and headed off, leaving him alone at the table, lost in his thoughts. Had he really figured out what was wrong? “It’s not the orphanage’s fault. They just have too many problem kids to deal with at once.”
“Hey, kid,” a voice said behind him.
Charlie turned to see Ben standing there with another boy by his side, looking around like a bodyguard. “So,” Ben said. “I heard that you got into a bit of trouble.”
“You heard that, did you?” Charlie said. He was trying to be calm, but he was acutely aware of how alone he was now that all of his friends had wandered off.
“It’s a pity that you were so loud last night. Word is that someone heard you and told on you.”
Charlie shook his head and sighed. “Well, you got me. Good one. You really put me in my place. I’ll never mess with you again. Is that what you want to hear?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said, smiling.
Charlie stood up and gathered up his food on his tray. He turned to face the boys… the much larger boys, and said, “I’m considering us even then, huh?”
“You’d like that wouldn’t you?” Ben said.
Suddenly a fist came out of nowhere and collided with the side of Ben’s head.
“The fuck?” the bodyguard kid said, realizing he had failed at his job.
Ben staggered back and turned to face Eddie, who had his fists up, ready to fight. “You little punk,” Ben said. “You think you can cheap shot me and get away with it.”
“Bring it,” Eddie said. “You don’t fuck with my friend.”
Ben charged at Eddie and tackled him to the floor. They wrestled around as a crowd of screaming and cheering kids formed a circle around them. Soon, two guards showed up to break up the fight, dragging off the two bruised and bloodied boys.
Charlie had not moved since the fight had begun. He snapped out of his fear induced trance when the bell rang to end the lunch period. Then, he put away his tray and left with the crowd.
After school, Charlie stayed behind in Ms. Peach’s room for his detention. First she had him work on his homework assignments. Then, she handed him a bucket of water, a rag, and a stool and ordered him to wash all the chalkboards in the room.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m sorry that I caused you so much trouble.”
“That’s the right thing to say,” she said. “Now, prove you mean it. Get to work.”
She went to her desk and focused on grading assignments, while he started working on his punishment. Again, he had to struggle against his size, needing to move the stool over and over again as he worked in order to reach the top of the chalkboards. It was tedious and messy work, and he was feeling like he deserved it.
Every time he looked at Ms. Peach, he felt a pang of guilt in his chest. He liked her so much, but he had caused her real pain with what he had said and done. What was even worse, it seemed that it had all been for nothing. There had been no great conspiracy to uncover. He had broken the rules, made an enemy, gotten into trouble, and ruined his reputation with the staff at the orphanage. He had done all of that, yet he had discovered no real reason to blame the orphanage for the problems with the Tabula Rasa boys.
Now, it seemed that he would be stuck here in the orphanage, serving time as a boy, until Dr. Wolff or someone from Arvaxis came to get him. He wondered how long would he have to wait to return to adulthood. However long it was, it would be a difficult wait now that he had lost his purpose here, since it had become clear to him that his investigation was over.
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