A 16-year-old boy's attitudes change when he is court-ordered to do volunteer work in a shelter for homeless men. Work in progress, chapters posted here as written.
Chapter 1 Homecoming
The blustery wind of a cold March morning sliced through Brad Townsend's thin, faded denim jacket as he walked reluctantly from the Seventh Avenue subway stop toward his destination.
"Hey bro, spare some change for coffee?"
"Piss off, asshole, and I ain't your bro!"
Three days' worth of beard, ground-in dirt staining the creep's face, scum of the earth,
Brad thought. The 16 year old spat at the homeless man in passing. "Get a job, you bum! Then you wouldn't have to scrounge for spare change from better folks."
Damn that judge! I wouldn't be here now if she hadn't tossed me two months community service in that crummy dump they call a shelter. Two months for beating the shit outta a bum just like this one. Unreal! Hell, it felt good and I was doing the world a good turn there.
There it stood--The Haven, they called it. Just another rundown inner-city house. Probably the stained stucco had once been white but that was long ago. Brad walked up the crumbling concrete sidewalk to the front door. As he searched for the doorbell, he noted peeling white paint and the knife-scarred blue wood of the doorframe.
Like I thought, ratty old falling-down dump. Well that's all these hopeless bums deserve. Lucky to have a roof over them at all and they wouldn't if bleeding hearts like..
The door swung open to reveal a smiling blonde, blue-eyed woman, maybe 10 or 15 years older than Brad. "Hi, I'm AnnaMarie Carson. You must be Brad Townsend. Good to have you with us, Brad. Come on in and have a seat. Kit's just finishing up a phone call; he'll be with you shortly."
AnnaMarie bustled off, back to whatever she'd been doing. Brad sat down on the worn blue velvet couch and looked around the room. Everything here had definitely long since passed its best days. Cheap coffee table, deeply scratched by who knew how many knives. Mahogany shag carpet, stained in several places. Well at least the stains matched the rug--almost.
"Hi there!" Brad hadn't seen the tall, slim but muscular man walk in."Kit Carson here. Good to meet you, Brad. I run this place. Yeah, I know it doesn't look like much. But when you've been sleeping rough like so many we see here, it's BuckinghamPalace." Kit laughed. This was obviously an injoke, as tired as the house itself appeared to be.
Kit looked about the same age as AnnaMarie. Black hair capped a strongly masculine face that sort of softened around the edges when he smiled, as he did now at Brad.
"Skip the B.S.," Brad snapped back. "You know I'm not here cause I wanna be."
Whatever shock value Brad had hoped for, Kit's face betrayed no reaction. He'd heard the same words so many times, so many ways, from so many lost souls. "Let me just show you where you can leave your stuff while here. Then I'll give you the Grand Tour."
Kit led the way at a brisk pace back to a small room off the shelter's kitchen. "This is our staff break room. You can leave your jacket there in the closet."
Brad dropped his backpack onto the closet floor under his jacket. His hazel eyes roamed this room as well. A worn corduroy couch sat against one wall.. A scratched card table seemed to function as desk, table and file storage all at once. Several equally weary black leather overstuffed armchairs along with a few end tables and a desk chair in front of the table completed the picture.
Kit caught Brad's glance at the card table/desk. "Yeah this also passes for my office."
Brad scoffed. "Place sure doesn't look like much. But then, bunch of freakin' losers don't even deserve this much!If they had any guts at all, they'd have jobs--not need to come here and sponge off their betters."
Kit's deep brown eyes flashed, but his voice remained steady. "Hey now. Half the guys here do have jobs. What they can't afford is a decent roof over them. Not with rents for a bachelor unit near $800 a month and rising. We've got guys here with Interprovincial Trades certifications, Brad. Gotta love the 'Alberta Advantage'. Only works if you're rich or a politician, which kind of comes down to the same."
He continued, "So, kid, I suggest the first thing you leave in this room is that chip on your shoulder. We're not big on attitude here. Come on, let me show you the rest of the place now."
The two walked through a door opposite the one they'd come in by, into a warm, welcoming, country-style kitchen. "Hey hun, lunch smells pretty good. Brad, this is AnnaMarie--love of my life, my wife."
"Hi again, Brad!" AnnaMarie looked up with a bright smile from the pair of crockpots steaming on the ivory laminate counter. She playfully slapped Kit's hands away from the pots; he'd picked up a spoon while her back was turned. "Christopher John Carson! You know the rules. Absolutely no sampling in my kitchen!"
Despite Kit's hangdog look, there was laughter in his eyes. Obviously, this was a longstanding game between husband and wife. "Ok, ok! Sorry, ma'am!"
Up a staircase scuffed by years of weary feet, they entered a large bright bedroom on the second floor. "Dorm 1," Kit said.
Brad eyed the place. A pair of black iron double bunks flanked two oldfashioned, six-drawer bureaus. Four chairs of some dark wood stood neatly around a table that held a cribbage board, cards and various other pastimes. "Hell, these bums get this good a place to crash?" He didn't realize he'd spoken aloud until Kit stared him down.
"Look, Brad, I have no clue what your problems are, and frankly I couldn't care less. What I care about is the guys who call this place home. So while you're here you treat everyone with respect and leave the attitude elsewhere. Got me?"
"Two other rooms just like this one. We can handle 12. Right now we only have 8, so Dorm 3 is empty. Bathroom's down the hall to the left. Third floor is offlimits. AnnaMarie and I are here 24/7, and that's our private quarters."
Brinnngggg! Single bell is mealtime. If you hear that buzz three times inside ten seconds, it's an emergency. Everyone in the house then, it's out the door and across the street to St. George's Hall until further notice."
Lunch was chili dogs, a green salad, scalloped potatoes, cherry pie for dessert. Brad bit into a forkful of potatoes before AnnaMarie said, "Brad, would you like to say the blessing for us today?"
Kit found his wife's hand under the table and a quick look passed between them. Don't push it, A.M.
Lunch past and dishes stacked in dishwasher, Kit took Brad back to the break room. Together they went over the house rules and what would be expected during Brad's time at The Haven."OK, Brad. That's it for today. See you Wednesday at sharp!"
After Brad left, Kit found AnnaMarie vacuuming the second floor dorms. "God, A.M. I thought in five years here I'd seen it all. But that kid's got me baffled. Sure seems to have it in for the homeless, and I'm clueless why."
"Well, let's home his time here shows him a better way to deal."
"Doesn't help that he's here by court order. Beat up on a homeless guy, darn near killed him in fact.Bare knuckles yet. File says Judge Hanes asked why he did it and the kid just looked dead-eyed at her and said 'It felt good.'"
"How long is he with us, Kit?"
"Order says twice a week for two months. He'll be here 4 to 7 pm Wednesdays, plus Saturdays to ."
Kit slipped his favourite Simon & Garfunkel CD into the player and hummed along. When you're down and out, when you're on the street, when evenin' falls so hard I will comfort you, I'll take your part. Oh when times get rough and pain is all around, like a bridge over troubled water I will lay me down....It's what he hoped The Haven was: a bridge over trouble water for the guys who called it home.
Wednesday rolled around and with it Brad's sullen return to the shelter. This time Kit put his unwilling young volunteer to work vacuuming the dorms and tidying the common areas.
"Teach him a little humility," Kit told AnnaMarie as the two consulted over next week's menus.
"If he doesn't break something first," she replied. "The way he's slamming that vacuum around, I hope the place is still standing by seven."
The vacuum stopped growling.
"Hey you bum! I just cleaned there!"
"Oh hell!" said Kit. "What now?" He took the stairs two at a time, like the sprinter he'd been in high school.
There Brad stood, toe to toe with 40 year old Bill McKillop, the latest addition to The Haven's population. Brad shoved Bill. Bill pushed back. "This jerkazoid is tracking mud all over the place. Hell, I just finished cleaning there. Now I gotta do it all over."
Kit stepped between them. "Break it up--now!"
"Brad, AnnaMarie could use a hand in the kitchen"
The boy slammed the door so hard the room shook.
"I dunno what set him off. Just come in here to pick up my backpack. I'm off to look for work. Anything to bring in a few bucks. I'm not proud. Been driftin' for eight years now. I'm ready to make a break. Wanna settle down; gonna stop boozin' too."
Kit had heard this litany so many times before, from so many desperate men. "Well, I'll tell you, Bill, AA's a good start. There's a meeting tonight in fact, down the street at the Sally Ann Hall. Let's grab our jackets. I'll make some calls tomorrow, see what job leads I can find."
As they passed the kitchen, Kit called out, "Hey, A.M. We'll be back in a couple hours."
Brad stopped stacking dishes and turned to AnnaMarie. "That's it? He doesn't tell you where he'll be?"
"I know where he'll be."
At the hall, a half dozen men stood drinking coffee and chatting. "Coffee, Bill?"
Just as Kit returned with their coffee, one of the men walked to the front. He was around Bill's age, 40, and a little older than Kit.He was tall but solidly built, a black man with a warm and welcoming smile. "I think we can get started now."
The men fell silent and settled into the black folding chairs arranged around an oak table set in the middle of the room.
Kit stood. Bill shot him a questioning glance. "My name is Kit, and I'm an alcoholic. One day at a time, I've been sober five years tonight."
"Happy birthday, brother!" came a chorus of voices from the other men.
Walking back to The Haven after, Bill Knew Kit as a kindred spirit who shared his own failing. The former drifter spoke softly. "I know I can't get back those lost years, Kit. But God, I'd love to find my wife and son. Maybe we could make a go of it now. I walked out eight years ago because I couldn't face my wife with one more failure. Specially that time--her own dad had canned my ass for showing up late and drunk one time too many. Hell, I don't even know where to start looking."
As they arrived at the shelter, AnnaMarie and Brad were in the front room talking.
"Thanks for your help today, Brad."
"Only here cause I gotta be," he told her. "Damn judge!"
"Still glad you're working with us, whatever the reason you're here."
"I'm here cause I beat the crap outta a bum hit me up for spare change. They're all the same, bunch of screwed up wastes of flesh like my dad. Son of a bitch walked out on mom and me on my eighth birthday. Nice, eh?"
"Sorry to hear that."
"No biggie. Got used to it long ago."
"My husband's dad did the same thing. Kit was just six years old then. He knows he can't change the past, but he'd like his kids to know their granddad."
She ran her hand over her 7-months' pregnant belly. "Kit's been looking aboutthree yearsnow. He's registered with a couple good agencies specializing in family reunification. Came up with a "last known address" for Scott Christopher Carson, that's his dad's name, on an Internet site. We're hoping the lead pans out before the baby comes."
Chapter 2 Shifting Sands
Saturday, Brad was back at the shelter. Chores done for the day, he joined Kit, AnnaMarie and the residents for a hearty lunch of beef stew, fresh-baked bread still hot from the oven, and a green salad.
Table talk turned to lost dreams and hopes for the future.
"You know," Bill said, "I'm a local. Used to live at 85 Cunningham Drive, right here in Liston.
Brad turned several shades of pale as he stammered, "That's...that's where Mom and I lived, eight years ago."
Bill dropped his fork in shock. "You...uh...what the...?"
"Yeah, that's where we lived."
"Your mom's name Donna Joy Townsend?"
"Yep. What's it to you?"
"I think...I think I may be...your dad."
Bill dropped his eyes. The sudden flush to his face, the world's weight slumping his shoulders, told the tale. He slowly reached into one pocket of his tattered jeans and pulled out a faded, beaten-up photo. He passed it across to Brad, who stared into its depths at a much younger, much less beaten, broadly smiling Bill who held a laughing little boy in his arms.
Brad stuttered again. "He...he looks like me!"
"I left, yes, but I never forgot and I never stopped loving the wife and son I left behind. She gave me so many chances, and I screwed up time and again. Nothing changes the past, but maybe a future can happen?"
"What the hell? You think you can just walk back into our lives after eight years? Like you walked over to the 7-11 for smokes and were back in 15 minutes? Damn you!" Brad threw his full water glass square into Bill's face and stormed out.
Bill mopped his face with his napkin, then stood as if to follow Brad.
Kit placed a gentle yet restraining hand on Bill's shoulder. Best to leave him be for now, Bill. He's in a bad place; he won't listen."
"Can't say I blame him." Pain oozed from Bill's eyes as he sat once more. His shoulders shook. He put his head in his hands as if the sheer weight was too much for his ebbing strength to carry.
AnnaMarie stood. "He may need someone. I'll see what I can do." She left the kitchen then. She found Brad where she'd expected, slumped on the break room couch. He stared bleakly at her as she sat beside him. "Brad, oh I know. This is a shock."
"You don't know shit! Not your life he ruined 8 years ago. Not your life he walked back into outta nowhere! He oughta crawl back under whatever slimy rock he came from. Better yet, he should kill himself. He's breathing my air and Mom's too!"
For all his tough stance, by now Brad was blubbering like a soundly-spanked child who can't quite comprehend why Mom put him over her knee. AnnaMarie's heart reached out. Unbidden, her arms followed suit, wrapping the weeping boy in a warm, motherly embrace. Suddenly, shocked at herself, she pulled back. Physical contact with clients or staff violated the shelter's code of conduct.
Kit had not been able to keep Bill back in the kitchen. The two men walked through the break room door. Brad choked back his tears. Gazing steadily into Bill's steel-blue eyes, he asked simply, "Why?"
"I'm sick of running away, sick of hiding in the bottom of a bottle. I can't make up for what happened. I know that."
"You're right. You can't."
"I know sorry is not enough. But I'm in AA, jobhunting too."
"That supposed to mean something to me?"
"Maybe. Or maybe it's just meant to mean something to me. Any road, I'd sure like to try again. But that's up to your mom. I know that for sure and certain."
Kit said, "If all of you agree, I could give you the name of a good family counsellor."
"I can't speak for Mom," said Brad slowly.
"Of course not," answered Bill. "But if she's willing..."
"Just one thing. Don't call me son. Not now?maybe not ever!"
"Well, Brad," Kit said. "You both have a lot to mull over."
Brad's eyes shifted focus from Bill to Kit. "Oh yeah, you think?" Sharp sarcasm dripped from his voice. "I mean, this hopeless ass thinks he can walk back into our lives now like nothing ever happened? Well, I'm dust for today. See ya next week, Kit, AnnaMarie."
Brad didn't meet Bill's eyes. He simply got his jacket, slung his backpack over his shoulders, and walked silently from the room.
"Well, at least he didn't slam the door this time," Kit smiled.
"But that didn't go well, Kit, did it?" Tears swam in Bill's eyes. "But hell, I flat out deserted the both of them. Why would either of 'em want anything to do now with a loser like me?"
"Give him time, Bill. It's not easy, and he's hurting too."
Next morning, as Bill dug into the tasty breakfast of eggs, sausage, applesauce and toast that AnnaMarie had cooked, Kit entered the kitchen.
"Bill, I've been checking with some friends of mine. Here's an address. Jay has hired a lot of guys from here for his construction company. He wants to see you at 11 am. I can give you a lift over there if you want."
"Thanks for the offer, Kit. But I guess if I'm gonna be turning over a new leaf, this is one thing I gotta do for myself."
"OK, Bill. You can pick up the #2 bus just outside the door here, and it runs almost right byJay's office. If you get off at the corner of Larch & Elm, it's just a half-block straight run east on Elm from there."
"Thanks, Kit. Been a long time, a lot's changed about this town in 8 years."
"Sure has, Bill, even for those of us who never left."
"Breakfast was great, AnnaMarie."
"Well, thank you very kindly, Bill. I do my best."
"Hey," said Kit. "This wife of mine's the best cook in 6 counties."
"ONLY 6 counties, Kit?" AnnaMarie laughed.
"Ok, Ok, the state."
Bill picked up his backpack and jacket. "Good luck," said both Kit and AnnaMarie as he headed out the door.
With Kit's directions, Bill had no problem finding the offices of Wilhelm Construction. He gave the receptionist his name and said that he believed Mr. Wilhelm was expecting him.
"Oh yes, sir," the perky blonde replied. "I'll just let him know you're here."
She picked up her intercom phone and announced into it, "Mr. McKillop is here to see you, Mr. Wilhelm."
She put the phone down and looked up again at Bill. "He'll be right out, sir."
Bill couldn't help thinking, Been a long time since anyone called me 'sir'.
A tall, silver-haired man entered the reception through a door which must lead, Bill thought, to an inner office. "Hi, Mr. McKillop, I'm Jay Wilhelm. Kit told me about you and as it happens we're short of people with your skills at the moment. So I wanted to talk to you, that's for sure."
"Please, call me Bill. Been so long since anyone called me 'Mr.', I think I'm in for it when people say that."
Jay laughed. "I know the feeling, Bill. Please do call me Jay, then."
Jay escorted Bill into the inner office. "Have a seat, Bill. Would you care for some coffee?"
"Only if you're having some, Jay."
"Always do just at this time."
Jay picked up his intercom. "Gloria, could you please bring in 2 coffees now?"
The perky receptionist knocked and at Jay's "Come in,", she entered carrying a tray with 2 cups of freshly-brewed coffee, along with a cream jug, sugar bowl and 2 spoons.
"Anything else, sir?" she asked before stepping out again.
"That's good for now, Gloria, thanks again," Jay told her.
When she'd closed the door behind here, Jay said, "Well, as I said, we do need someone with your qualifications."
"I'm hearing a big 'But'in there. Always is, no matter what work I apply for."
"Bill, I'll tell you what I tell everyone who walks in here looking for work. History is just that, history. You give me an honest day's work, that's all I care about."
"I gotta be honest with you, Jay. I am an alcoholic. Been through AA a few times in my day. Problem then was I wasn't ready to work the program like it should be worked. I'm ready now. But you'd be a fool if you didn't take that into account."
"Again, what I tell everyone. Be straight with me, I'll be straight with you. If you're ready to do the job, I'm ready to hire you for it."
"I swear I won't let you down. I got fences to mend and bridges to build, but none of that's going to get in the way here if you're willing to give me a shot."
"More than willing, Bill. Gloria will give you the paperwork you'll need to fill out. If you'll do that before you leave, you can start tomorrow. She'll give you the address for the job site as well."
"Thanks for the chance, Jay."
Bill dropped his eyes. The sudden flush to his face, the world’s weight slumping his shoulders, told the tale. He slowly reached into one pocket of his tattered jeans and pulled out a faded, beaten-up photo. He passed it across to Brad, who stared into its depths at a much younger, much less beaten, broadly smiling Bill who held a laughing little boy in his arms.
Brad stuttered again. “He...he looks like me!”
“I left, yes, but I never forgot and I never stopped loving the wife and son I left behind. She gave me so many chances, and I screwed up time and again. Nothing changes the past, but maybe a future can happen?”
“What the hell? You think you can just walk back into our lives after eight years? Like you walked over to the 7-11 for smokes and were back in 15 minutes? Damn you!” Brad threw his full water glass square into Bill’s face and stormed out."