Troubled is the story of two single parent families that are brought together by their fears, strengthened by their courage and ultimately must face their worst nightmares together.
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Jack Carpenter, a social worker, begins to investigate his son's report that his best friend appears to have been living alone for the past two years. Jack must deal with his own psychological roadblocks as he attempts to find out the truth about the missing mother.
Strangers from the past complicate the situation and pose a threat to the safety of both families. The story climaxes in an action packed desperate attempt for survival that will leave you breathless.
“’I haven’t seen my mother in two years!’ that’s what the little guy said to me when I asked him when his mother would be home.” Jack Carpenter, a good man, loving father and dedicated social worker explains his encounter with a ten year old boy to his boss, Mac McGuire. “I thought I’d heard it all, but wait, there’s more,” he continues, “At first, I thought by that comment that he was living in the apartment all alone, so I was just about to pick him up when he says, ’I‘m pretty sure she still lives here, she leaves me notes sometimes, and there‘s always food in the ‘fridge.’”
“Wait a minute, let me get this straight. First of all, your son James comes home from school and tells you that his new best friend told him that he‘s living all by himself…”
“That’s right. So I go over to this kid’s house to clear this up when he claims he hasn‘t seen his mother in two years, but she leaves him notes and buys food.”
“I think you are overreacting, Jack,” says his boss, shaking his head, “didn’t you ever tell wild stories to your buddies when you were a kid. It sounds like he’s trying to get some attention. We’ve got serious cases of abuse here that need to be worked!”
“I don‘t know, something didn‘t feel right.” Jack continues, “I think there is reason for concern here.” Jack stands up and moves about the room uncomfortably. “What if it’s true? What if he really hasn’t seen his mother in a long time. Even if there is no evidence of physical abuse, that is neglect. If it’s true, we have to intervene. She cannot possibly love him! Something has to be done!”
Mac leans forward in his chair, studying the lines of his pencil. “Granted, it does seem a little strange. But you certainly don’t have enough evidence…heck, you don’t have any evidence to assign him for placement in foster care. When it comes down to it, you don’t actually know anything.”
“Give me a few days, I’ll know something.” Jack stares out the window. “If there actually is a mother that lives in that house I’ll find out how crazy she is!”
“You’ve seen a lot worse. Why are you so bent out of shape about this case?”
Jack turns and looks at Mac. He gives a laugh. “Oh, I don’t know. I guess I feel sorry for the little guy.” After a moment he adds, “He was trying to be tough. But there was emptiness in his eyes, like he was carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders.”
“What weight is that, Jack? I mean for this ten year old kid?”
“…When you can’t understand why certain people don’t care about you.” Jack turns and closes the office door behind him.
Jack had been working under Mr. McGuire for six years in the department of social services. He had seen many a pair of eyes with the sadness of abuse or neglect hidden deep in their core, but this was different, somehow. He wasn’t sure what was wrong in Joe’s life but he was sure that something was.
After work, Jack decides to try again to find a parent at little Joe’s apartment.
“Hey, it’s you again Mr. Carpenter! You’re James’ dad, aren’t you? Jack Carpenter. Hey, are you a house builder? Get it? The house that Jack built? Jack the Carpenter? Do some people make fun of your name, Mr. Carpenter?” Joe stands in the doorway with one hand on the doorknob and the other on his hip.
“Not lately. But tell me about your name, Joe. What’s your last name?”
“My name is Joseph Gregory Stockman,” he says proudly and flexing his muscles he adds, “You can put a lot of stock in this man!”
Jack laughs, “That’s great, Joe. But say, is your mom home now?”
“I told you before; she’s NOT…EVER…HERE!” He rolls his eyes in frustration and heaves a sigh. “She’s always working or something. It’s been real nice talking, but I got homework.” Joe raises his hand to the door, and then pauses. “What do you want her for anyway?”
“Just tell me when she‘ll be home.” Jack insists.
“What do you want her for?” Joe asks again, now with curious fear. “Am I in trouble?”
Jack tries to calm him. “No, you are not in trouble. I just want to talk to her about….a project…that calls for some parent participation. I could use her help.”
“Hah! That would be the day!” he replies as he reaches for the door again. “I think you’re wasting your time, Mr. Carpenter.”
Jack reaches out to stop the door from closing. “I’d still like to talk to her.”
“NEVER is when you’ll have to come back!” he says pushing the door against Jack‘s hand. “Because that’s when she’s here!”
Jack tries to get one more word in before the door closes. “Yesterday you told me you hadn’t seen your mother in two years. If it really has been that long….I’m sure you agree, that this is a problem…one that I can help you with.”
“Okay! I was lying! Alright?! I see her every day, she makes me breakfast. She tucks me in at night, she reads to me all the time. Okay?! Are you happy?! Now go away! She’s probably going to be here any minute and yell at you for bothering me when I’m supposed to be doing homework!” Joe closes the door and Jack can hear him slide a couple of locks.
“Something is definitely not right here.” Jack’s thoughts torment him on the drive home. “I need to know the real story here. Why wouldn’t Joe want my help? He can’t possibly like living this way. Maybe Mac was right; maybe the whole story is made up.” Jack thought about the impact this would have on his son. After all, this was his best friend. But obviously, James had been concerned too, or he wouldn't have told his dad, a social worker, that he thought Joe lived all by himself.
“How was your day, Aunt Kara?” Jack saunters into the kitchen and over to the stove where a pretty but plump older woman is lifting the lid on a large pot allowing steam to escape. Jack leans over and kisses her cheek.
"Well, you're finally home, Jack. It's no trouble keeping your dinner warm, again. Traffic heavy? Or working late, again?" Jack receives these words from his favorite aunt with a hidden grin on his face.
"How was your day, Aunt Kara?" says Jack. "She's a good woman, a little touched maybe," Jack thought to himself. "James here?"
"He's in his room, last I checked," she says leaning over the stove to stir.
"Hey little man! Finish your homework?" Jack questions James as he wanders into the kitchen, scratching his side and looking over at the stove.
"What's for supper?" ask James, "Hey dad! I made a 95 on my science test!"
"That's great! I guess that studying we did the other night paid off, huh?" Jack says patting him on the back, "Did you finish your homework, today?"
"Yes sir, is that pork chops?" James says peeking into the pan.
Aunt Kara laughs heartily, "One track mind! Don't worry Jack, he's a good student."
"I know, just checking," Jack says smiling. James has always gotten pretty good grades, and he worked hard at it.
After dinner, Jack’s thoughts began to wander back to Joe. “Joe looks healthy, well fed. He's a fairly good student," Jack wonders, "Maybe it IS a made-up story. There really are a lot more troubled kids than Joe that need my time.” “I haven't seen my mother in 2 years!” Joe's words echoed in Jack's mind, again and again. "I will get to the bottom of this,” Jack says to himself. He tries to put Joe out of his mind long enough to fall asleep. "If she does exist, where does she work? Someone must know something. Surely, the neighbors see her go in and out.” His thoughts continue to ramble. “I’ll speak to the neighbors tomorrow... got to get some sleep."