This piece is an excerpt from a juvenile novel in progress. Enjoy…
The computer-generated photo didn’t really look like him. But then that was a good thing. It had some of his features, but not enough to cause somebody to take a closer look.
Luckily Jeremy resembled his grandfather more than either of his parents. Maybe if his hair wasn’t dyed so dark… He tipped his head and examined the picture. Yeah, maybe if his hair was still blond. Jeremy shrugged and walked away.
He could have ripped the poster off the wall but that would draw attention. Somebody might wonder why he’d want to take down a profile of a missing child. They might take a closer look. They might see something familiar in the blond boy in the right hand corner of the poster.
Jeremy forced himself to keep to an even pace despite the overwhelming urge to dash out of the school and never come back. But he had to. He’d promised his grandmother that he would finish school year.
Would he never stop looking for them? It had been ten years now. I won’t tell Mom, Jeremy decided. That was the last thing she needed. As it was, she was hanging on by a thread.
Jeremy looked at his watch. Three-forty-five. He had to hurry. He had to get back to the apartment before Doc MacKay showed up. How long would it take him to clean up? He should have stayed home today but he couldn’t miss any more time. He couldn’t take a chance on the school sending anybody to check on him or teachers trying to phone his home. Nobody had bothered yet. Otherwise they’d know the number he’d put on the forms was incorrect.
The last time a teacher had tried to phone – at the last school, that was – he’d just shrugged and given them another number. By the time anybody got around to trying the new number they’d moved again. How many moves did that make? Too many to count.
He slid the key in the lock and prayed the damage was minimal. He didn’t have much time. The door squeaked open. Raised talk show voices blared from the television set. The curtains were drawn, allowing minimal light into the room. The combination living room – kitchen smelled as dank as it looked.
He saw the prone form stretched out on the worn plaid sofa. A multi-coloured crocheted afghan partially covered her swollen form. Her long brown hair was tangled and in need of a wash. It was tied in a loose, ineffective ponytail. Thin strands spread across a high forehead. He wanted to brush them off her face but he didn’t want to wake her yet. He stared down at his mother.
Her face was sallow and plump, not reflecting the years or abuse it had suffered. Her mouth was open, droops of saliva lay in the v of her lips. His shoulders sagged. At least she had made it out of bed today. He knew it was her illness and side effects of her medicine that made her this way. But on a good day, the drugs kept her this side of sane and functional. But there weren’t many good days and fewer all the time.
With his eyes closed, he thought of the picture he kept hidden in a box under his bed – a photo of a petite, laughing woman, her gleaming brown hair styled like the pixie she resembled. No one would recognize her now. He shrugged. Maybe that was a good thing.
Jeremy turned and started cleaning up the pile of magazines and papers that were scattered over the stained carpet. Next he cleaned up the empty plates and crumbs on the Arborite kitchen table. When he was done, he looked around the confined space. He crossed to his mother’s bedroom and closed the door. Doc Mac Kay would be here any minute. His attempt at tidying would have to do.
“Mom.” He shook her shoulder. “You have to get up now. Doc will be here soon.”
Her eyes drifted open. “Hi, Jeremy. School over?”
“Yeah, Mom. It’s after four. You have to get up. Brush your hair, your teeth. Remember, Doc Mackay is coming to see you.”
“Yeah, that’s right.” She smiled up at him. “Just let me sleep for a few more minutes.”
“No, Mom. You have to get up.”
He reached down and slid his arm under her shoulders, gently lifting her. He supported her unsteady steps to the bathroom. He leaned on the closed door until the toilet flushed. She had washed some of the sleep out of her eyes and the drool from her lips. Her hair was still unkempt and she had a water stain on the front of her sweat top. He guided her back to the sofa, hoping the stain would dry soon. He didn’t know if she had anything else clean to wear.
“Can I brush your hair, Mom?”
Her fingertips caressed his cheek. “That would be nice, dear.”
Jeremy drew a wide toothed brush through her brown stands. Not great, but it was an improvement.
He heard a knock at the door and shoved the brush into his backpack before crossing to the door and letting Doctor MacKay into the apartment.
“Hello, son. How is she today?”
Jeremy picked up his backpack and disappeared into his room. He pulled a book our of his backpack and tried to focus on the words until he heard the Doc’s discreet knock on his door. The doctor came into his room and closed the door behind him.
“I’ve let a bottle of pills on the table. I’ll come back and check on her next week.”
“Next time, Jeremy, I won’t let you keep her at home. I’ll admit her and get her help whether she wants it or not. You shouldn’t be dealing with this. When’s your aunt coming home?”
“In a day or so,” Jeremy lied.
It was getting so easy. He opened his mouth and the lies poured out. He didn’t even flinch anymore. And Doc MacKay, he never questioned. Never asked to meet the fictitious aunt.
“Sure you can manage until your aunt gets back?”
“I can. She’s not so bad, really Doc.”
Doc raised his eyebrows and shook his head but didn’t pursue the point.
Jeremy suspected the real reason Doc didn’t admit her was more to do with him being too lazy to fill out the forms and arrange for somebody to see her in the hospital. Jeremy was sure it had nothing to do with a minor being left to fend for himself. Doc wouldn’t want social services checking in and finding out how long he had been aware of the problems and not done anything about it.
Yeah, Doc just wanted to get away with as little work as possible until he could retire. But at least Doc’s relationship with his mother had prevented the old guy from reporting them. Jeremy had insinuated just one time that he knew about it. Doc had blushed like a schoolboy, became all flustered and left in a hurry. At least they didn’t have to worry about paying for any medical treatment. If they needed any medicine, Doc would magically appear with what was needed...
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