“Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” ~Psalm 82:3-4
Jason snatched his pack from the ground. Recklessly tossing in his few scattered belongings, he followed behind Casey as close as he dared. Something was obviously wrong and he wasn’t about to be the cause of someone else’s misery. Not again. By failing to take action, you became a contributor to a problem. At least some of his parents teaching had stuck in his head.
The last time he had seen Casey had only been a few months ago. Her frightened face with her enormous brown eyes full of fear had wakened him from the stupor and way of life he had been leading, trying to drown his troubles in drink. He had known it was wrong, but seeing what someone could do while drunk scared him. Watching Mike Gage threaten and beat his little daughter with absolutely no compunction, had turned Jason off of ever wanting another taste of the liquor that altered people’s minds.
He had suspected the Gages of consuming and possibly dealing drugs, but didn’t have anything to prove it. He had never gone back, not wanting to participate in anything that was harmful to a child. He had often wondered what Casey was doing and if she was okay. Seeing her this morning in the park and having her practically fall right into his lap by tripping right in front of him seemed like more than a coincidence.
He was surprised at how quickly she was moving. He paused when she stopped for a breath, her chest heaving. She was in a hurry, and a panic induced one at that. He was already planning on calling the social services with an anonymous tip that she was being abused and potentially being used as a fence for drugs. While it was a hunch, it was well substantiated. He had recognized the smell of it on her pack, and while faint, to someone who lived on the streets and often ran into more disreputable characters than himself, it was easily recognizable.
He stopped at the corner and watched as she climbed the steps to the elementary school and went in. The school yard was empty, and after checking his cheap Timex watch, he knew class had already started and that she was late.
He hoped she didn’t get into any more trouble for that. After taking a deep breath, he turned and walked away. He needed to get to the library so he could use the computer to look up the phone number he needed to call. He wasn’t going to leave her without doing the best he could for her. Not this time.
Casey wasn’t paying attention. She had been reprimanded by her teacher three times already. She cast another glance at her backpack, hanging from the hook in her cubby. It was as undisturbed as it had been the last seven times she checked on it. She looked at the clock above the teacher’s desk. 11:47. Almost lunch time. She thought hard, subtracting in her head. Thirteen more minutes till the lunch bell rang.
A tap on her shoulder made her start and give a small squeak. The rest of the class laughed at her fright. The teacher stood over her with a longsuffering look of martyr-like patience on her face.
“Casey, have you been working on your worksheet?”
Casey dropped her eyes to the unanswered math problem on her paper and shook her head.
“Let’s get working on those then, hmm?”
Casey nodded and picked up her pencil. It felt sticky in her sweaty hands and awkward to hold with the large band aids the nurse had stuck to the palms of her hands. Casey hadn’t wanted to go to the nurse, scared stiff she would catch something or notice something that would make her get caught. But her teacher had insisted, and Casey had to admit her hands did feel a lot better now.
She worked on her math facts, her brain clicking through the easy ones. She kept spacing out when she got to a hard one, but after taking a deep breath, she thought extra hard and finished half of them before the bell rang.
The harsh ringing sound made her stomach heave and she swallowed against her dry throat several times, willing herself not to throw up. She handed her sheet to the teacher just like all the other kids and retrieved her backpack as the others retrieved their lunch boxes or sacks. She followed the group outside and waited till the yard monitor wasn’t looking before edging her way towards the side of the building.
It was never too difficult to get away without being seen. With one teacher left to supervise nearly sixty first, second, and third graders, one out of sight didn’t send up many red flags. That is, if the teacher ever even realized she was missing. She slid around the corner and caught sight of a flash of movement near the dumpster. It had to be Emilio. She bent over a clump of bushes and threw up.
Wiping her face with her hand, she took a deep breath and took a few more steps. It was definitely Emilio. She made out the leather jacket, rolled at the cuffs and a tattoo of a snake curling up his arm. She shuddered, heart racing. It was almost over and she could run back to the rest of the kids and pretend like it never happened. If only pretending worked.
“Casey! Casey Gage! Wait!” the voice from behind spooked her and she jumped and turned. A teacher and another woman were heading her way. A red light reflected off a window of a car in the parking lot. Casey’s feet didn’t move, but she looked back and saw Emilio disappear, slithering away like a snake. She stood, torn between what she wanted to do and what she thought she needed to do. But it was too late. Even if she could have still delivered the packets to Emilio, the teacher and her companion were too close.
“Casey,” Miss Adams, Casey’s own teacher bent and put a hand on her shoulder. Casey winced. Why did everyone want to touch her bad shoulder? “Honey, this is Miss Claire. She’s a social worker.”
Casey nodded but trembled. Not again.
“Hi Casey, can we go inside to talk?” the woman, Miss Claire held out her hand. Casey tucked hers under her elbows, crossing her arms as a shiver racked her small frame. Her stomach still churned and her heart raced, her head, a huge muddle of what she had to do, threats, Fluffles and social workers. The facts and speculations swirled around in her head until she almost felt like falling over.
“Here, let me take that for you.” Miss Adams reached for Casey’s backpack and slid her hand into the loop on top.
“No!” Casey didn’t mean to shout, but she grabbed the shoulder straps and pulled away. She gasped for breath.
“But Casey, I’m just trying to help.” Miss Adams looked confused and slightly hurt. Casey hadn’t meant to hurt her feelings, and she was a nice enough lady, but she couldn’t give her this bag.
“That’s alright Miss Adams,” Casey looked at Miss Clair who seemed to be on her side. “You can keep it Casey. Is there somewhere we can talk privately?” Miss Claire asked Casey’s teacher.
The poor woman still looked confused. “Um, sure, I think so. Is the nurse’s office okay?”
“Perfect. It’s going to be alright Casey, let’s go inside.” Miss Claire led Casey as they followed Miss Adams into the building and to the nurse’s office. Casey was frightened and surprised that a police officer had parked his car out front with lights flashing and now followed them into the building and the nurse’s office. Casey’s legs gave out in sheer terror when Miss Adams and nurse left the room and closed the door behind them.
“Casey, it’s going to be okay.” Miss Claire’s voice was soft and gentle, her movements slow and soothing. Her eyes were kind. “Honey, you don’t need to be scared. It’s alright. We just need to ask you a few questions and Officer Cook just needs to check your backpack, okay?”
Casey clutched the straps on her shoulders hard and shook her head vigorously.
The social worker and officer exchanged glances. Miss Claire sat on the floor a few yards from Casey and the officer stepped away and took a seat in a chair in the corner of the room. He pulled a brochure out of a plastic pocket on the wall, and started to peruse it as if he didn’t have a care in the world. Casey swallowed the acidic taste in her mouth as she looked at his gun on his belt. She had heard of drug busts. He might use it on her if he found what was in her pack. Her stomach heaved and she turned away just before she threw up the little that was left in her stomach onto the floor. The sight made her gag again. A buzzing sound filled her head and she tried to pay attention but the rolling of her stomach took away that ability.
A soft hand pulled the hair away from her face and held it behind her head, all while caressing her forehead. It was a cool hand that smoothed the sweat away and made her heart rate start to slow.
Jesus help me. The man in the Bellworths stories had always helped other people. Maybe He would help her too. It was worth a try anyway.
“Casey, honey, no one’s going to hurt you, I just need you to give me the pack for a minute.” Miss Claire continued to comfort Casey, now rubbing her back as Casey sat back and slid away from the mess on the floor. It smelled and she felt terrible. The nurse came in, followed by the custodian who, quicker than she thought possible, cleaned up the mess and disappeared again. The officer stepped back into the room and Casey trembled.
Miss Claire drew a breath, then continued rhythmic circling of her hand on Casey’s back. “Officer Cooke, would you be willing to leave us alone a minute?”
As soon as the policeman left the room, Casey drew a breath and relaxed a little.
“Casey, Officer Cook won’t hurt you. Whatever is in your pack, we won’t take it from you unless it is dangerous, and we won’t do anything to you.” Her voice was calm, but decisive, gentle and understanding. Casey knew she spoke the truth. She let the pack slide from her thin shoulders.
Miss Claire, pulled it away and took a pair of plastic gloves from her pocket. With gloved hands, she unzipped it, searching inside. It didn’t take her long to find and pull out five packets of white powder.
“Honey, do you know what this is?” Miss Claire looked concerned.
Casey nodded, exhaustion weighing her down. “Drugs.”
“Did you put them here?”
Casey shook her head emphatically.
“Who put them in here?”
Casey pressed her lips shut. She couldn’t tell on dad. No how, no way. If he did anything to Fluffles. . . or her. Tears slid down her cheeks. She didn’t want to be afraid anymore.
“Casey, you can tell me. Whoever it was, we won’t let them hurt you.”
“But they’ll get real mad.” She sobbed.
“That’s why Officer Cook is here. He won’t let them get to you. Okay? I really need you to tell me all you know about this. Who put these here?”
It all came spilling out.
“Mom and Dad. Please don’t let them hurt me and Fluffles again. He made me promise. I don’t want to go back!” Sobs punctuated her plea, and she thought she saw a tear slide down Miss Claire’s cheek.
“You won’t, not if I have anything to say about it. They won’t hurt you anymore Casey.” She stood and went to the door. She handed the packages out with Casey’s backpack. Officer Cook took them somewhere and Miss Claire returned with a notepad and a blanket that she wrapped Casey in.
Casey couldn’t hold it in. She answered all the questions. Once she started, she couldn’t seem to stop. It felt as if a heavy weight had been lifted off her shoulders, like she had been carrying around pack of rocks that someone had just taken off.
Levi pushed around the food on his plate. He was hungry, but somehow, it didn’t appeal to him. He wondered where Casey was now. God please take care of her. It felt good to pray. It was as if the worries and cares couldn’t hurt him anymore. They were God’s to take care of. It still hurt and he still worried about Casey, but it was different. Like he wasn’t alone. Tears welled in his eyes. He had been alone so long, and now that feeling was gone.
“Levi? You alright?” Miz Mariah saw everything.
He smiled and cleared his throat. “Yeah,” why did his voice have to squeak and make him sound like a mouse?
“Take a drink. It might keep your voice from doing that. You might break a window if you get any higher.” Mr. Abel nodded at Levi’s cup, all the while keeping a straight face. So stoic, Levi realized he was serious, so he reached for his cup in obedience, his ears red.
“Abel,” Miz Mariah chided.
Mr. Abel then grinned at Levi. Levi froze, confused. Was he really worried about the windows? Miz Mariah chuckled, a soft sound. “He was joking Levi.”
Levi looked at Mr. Abel as if he weren’t sure if he was quite sane.
Mr. Abel started laughing. A near silent activity. Just his shoulder shook, his head rolled back, eyes closed, a huge, openmouthed smile on his face with soft breath sounds omitting from his mouth. Miz Mariah joined him in his laughter, an audible chuckle coming from her throat, her eyes lighting up as if someone had lit a lantern behind them.
Levi shook his head. “Adults.”
His annoyed comment only served to make them laugh even harder. It wasn’t but a few seconds before he joined in. It felt good to laugh.
Mr. Abel wiped his eyes with a napkin and picked up his fork again. He winked at Levi and gave him a playful and affectionate rub on the head, tousling his hair. Levi made himself refrain from flinching. He was realizing that he carried a lot of his past life with him, wherever he went. He knew Mr. Abel would never hurt him and he appreciated the man’s calm and gentle heart. But no matter how much he trusted him, there was still something in him that caused him to react and flinch when a hand was raised towards him.
The thought of his dad hitting him made Levi’s stomach heave and he squeezed his eyes shut tight against the painful memory.
“You need to eat something Levi. I’m not used to people turning down my green bean casserole.” If Miz Mariah could have put her hands on her hips while sitting at the dining table, she would have. Levi loved her sass and his lips tilted in a smile.
“Got that right!” Mr. Abel agreed heartily holding out his plate. “Could I have some more please? You can’t help but love the food a beautiful woman puts in front of you.”
Miz Mariah flushed and ducked her head. Levi tilted his head in curiosity. He hadn’t realized old people could act so much like that. Like they were in love. He rolled his eyes and scooped up a forkful of the green beans. They were amazing.
After helping clean up the kitchen, he fell over the arm of a chair in the living room, sprawling across it with his legs dangling over the side and his hands tucked behind his head. He caught a glimpse of the family picture that was always on the mantle. A slightly younger Mr. Abel and Miz Mariah with a man who looked a lot like both of them stood between them. He towered a foot or more over both of them, a huge grin was on his face and he had both of his arms wrapped around his parents. Levi was curious about the Bellworths son. It seemed odd that he didn’t tell his parents where he was. A thought popped into his head.
He turned to Miz Mariah who sat knitting on the couch with her feet propped up on the ottoman.
“Is your son, Jason, in the army?” he asked.
She looked surprised. “What? Levi, what are you? Oh!” She shook her head. “He’s not in the army.”
“You said you didn’t know where he was.” Levi pried. He knew he probably shouldn’t, but he was curious and he wasn’t a cat so he figured he was out of danger.
She looked uncomfortable. “I don’t.”
Her uninformative answers made him think she was trying to end the subject, but he didn’t want to drop it yet.
“How come you don’t know where he is?”
She huffed and dropped her hands and knitting into her lap. “Levi, he left and he didn’t tell us where he was going.”
“Why?” he knew he was pushing it and he was ready to back out at any second now if she got mad.
She sighed, bringing a hand to her face to rub it as if she were tired. “I suppose you ought to know, you’re going to be living here for a good while, Lord willing. Levi, Jason, our son, when he was eighteen, he decided to go his own way. He was kind of testing the waters. He went to a bar with some friends. He never came home drunk, but. . . well one night, he came home in a car with a buddy who was drunk. A friend of ours. It was late and dark. They swerved and hit a truck head on. The driver died instantly. Jason left shortly after that and hasn’t been in contact much since. We’ve heard from him twice, maybe three times.” Tears fell unchecked down her face and she grabbed a Kleenex from the box next to her. Swiping at her nose which was now red, she shook her head. “I’m sorry.” Then a sob shook her shoulders and she buried her head in her hands.
Levi thought for a second. He didn’t want to do it. Uncomfortable and unsure of himself, he moved to her side and hesitated. He wrapped his arms around her and gave her a gentle hug. She leaned her head against his shoulder.
While it wasn’t something he was used to, he was glad he could offer some comfort to this woman who had offered him so much. He wasn’t sure at first, how she would take it, but she obviously didn’t mind. He wasn’t sure if she knew how much he understood missing someone so much. He missed his mom, sister, Casey, even his dad. The real dad who had been normal before he had lost his job and taken to drink.
She pulled away first, and for that, he was grateful. He hadn’t been sure how to end the hug.
She smiled at him and wiped under her eyes, leaving a smudge of makeup behind. “Thank you Levi, that really meant more than you could possibly know.
He grinned back, awkward, and rubbed his sweaty palms together. “Yeah, well, I’ll maybe read a book or something. Or go see if Mr. Abel needs anything.”
“Oh, he’s just in his office working on the computer or something. You know, you have your first day of school Monday.” She reminded him.
He flopped back into his chair and groaned.
“You know Levi; God will be with you. He always is. Even when it doesn’t feel like it. The Bible says, ‘He is an ever or always present help in times of trouble. Therefore, you need not fear, though the earth be removed and the mountains cast into the depths of the sea.’ That’s a pretty big ‘though’ you know?”
They both chuckled at her rhyme.
“Yeah, I mean, being treated mean by other kids is a far cry from the earth being ‘cast into the sea’” Levi made air quotes with his fingers and though he joked and laughed, he let the words sink into his heart.
The phone rang and Miz Mariah set aside her knitting and groaning as she hauled herself to her feet. Before she made it to the phone, it quit ringing. She paused in confusion for a second, then nodded. “Abel must have picked it up in the office.”
She was nearly to her seat again, her slipper socks scuffing across the hardwood floor, when Mr. Abel burst from the small home office, just off the living room. Excitement made his face red and he clutched the phone in his hand.
“Mariah! It’s Mikayla! Casey’s back in Social Services!”
Please do not copy this story in any way, shape, or form without permission. Thank you! Copyright 2016 by Victoria Lynn
….To be continued in a week….
If you missed the previous Chapters, you can read them here.
What did you think? I would love to hear your thoughts, comments and critiques in the comments below!
By God’s Grace,