Have You Even Seen The Rain?

by Mylochka

(Standard Year 2237)

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“If I not charged wit’ not'ing,” the boy argued. “You got to be lettin’ me go….Else I done got to charge you wit’ kidnappin’. You a kidnapper, man?”

Marcus Brown gave a tight smile to the young man on the other side of his desk. He’d only recently moved to New Orleans from the Midwest. He’d been warned that working here would be different than anything he’d experienced. Having been a caseworker in Kansas City, he thought he’d already seen it all. He had been wrong. “Would you like some coffee?”

“I like for you to lemme go,” the boy replied belligerently. After a moment, he sighed and rolled his expressive black eyes. “But I take some coffee…. Now, you not make this y’self, didja?”

“No, no,” Brown assured him, as he poured a cup from the small coffeepot his secretary had brought in.

“Good, ‘cause I ain’t drinkin’ no Kansas City coffee.”

The Social Services officer swallowed. The boy had an absolutely unnerving tendency to voice words or phrases that Brown had been thinking of.

The young man gave another exasperated sigh and pointed to two knickknacks on Brown’s desk and a plaque on the wall that mentioned the caseworker’s hometown by name… Which would have been more comforting if the boy had waited for Brown to ask, “How did you know I was from Kansas?” before doing so.

“Would you like crème or sugar?” Brown offered.

“No.” The boy took the cup and snorted at the way the caseworker was liberally diluting his own. “You s’pose t’drink it, not drown it.”

“To each his own,” the caseworker replied mildly, inputting another query into his terminal.

Noel Christopher DelMonde was a handsome boy underneath all the dirt and attitude. He looked much better, though, in the official picture attached to his file. Between the time that image had been made and the present, the young man had grown taller and had lost weight. His light skin had become sickly pale and his big, dark eyes had a very hollow look to them.

As much as Brown tried to avoid thinking so, there was something very spooky about this adolescent who had been found sleeping in a cemetery… Well, not exactly “sleeping.” To be accurate, the boy had passed out amidst a large collection of empty bottles and been found leaning against his mother’s small above ground tomb. Apparently it was not the first such incident. It was just the first time the groundskeeper had been able to catch him.

“Quit starin’.” The boy narrowed his eyes over the top of his mug of coffee. “ I ain’t th' strangest t'ing in this city by a long shot. Hell, they was a three-tailed cat born in Chalmette just' last week.”

Brown chose not to comment. New Orleans’ graveyards were a very dangerous place to be at night – conscious or not. The teenager’s jacket and shoes had been stolen. Any money or identification he may have been carrying were gone. The policemen called to the scene might have let the boy go with a warning if he’d been awake and able to give them a name and address. Instead, they’d had to scan him. Child Protective Service had automatically been flagged.

“C’mon, mister, lemme go,” the boy pleaded, putting down his coffee cup. “I not have no money wit’ me to speak of an’ them ol’ shoes had holes in ‘em. I jus’ wanna get outta here. All right?”

“It won’t be too much longer,” Brown assured him.

The boy crossed his arms sullenly. “He ain’t gonna come,” he warned the caseworker. “I be here ‘til we both rot if you make me wait fo' that bastard. Why ain’t you call my oncle? I done give you his name.”

“He’s not your legal guardian, Noel.”

“Del,” the boy corrected acidly. “You call me Noel once more an’ I gonna lay your head open.”

“Sorry.” “Sorry.” Brown made a note in the file about the nickname preference. “You haven’t been attending school, Del.”

“I quituated,” the boy replied.

“And your uncle doesn’t think you should go?”

“Look.” The boy leaned his elbow’s on Brown’s desk. “You let me go. I bring him in here tomorrow afternoon an’ we all have a good talk 'bout it, non?”

“You seem anxious not to see your father,” Brown observed.

“This I cannot refute,” the teenager admitted easily. “I no more anxious t' see th' bastard than he me… ‘less, of course, one is seein’ th’ other dead.”

“You’ve had some disagreement with your father?” the caseworker asked, searching for reports of incidents.

“Yeah.” The boy nodded. “He persist in walkin’ th' face o' th' Earth when I believe he need t' be in Hell. I been tryin’ to bring him ‘round to my point o' view, mais…”

“You’re a well-spoken young man, Del,” Brown said, while making note of that observation into his case file. “Has your uncle been continuing your lessons like your mother did?”

At the mention of his mother, the boy looked down and away.

“If he is,” the caseworker continued gently. “then he needs to be filing the same sort of progress reports she did.”

“I not lie to you, Mr. Brown,” the teenager replied. “We have fallen off a bit as of late…. Which, I must confess, has been entirely my fault. However, as I tell you, you jus’ let me go, an’ come tomorrow…”

The boy’s face suddenly went blank, his eyes staring a point above and beyond Brown’s head.

“Shit!” the young man swore blackly. “How’d you get th' fuckin’ bastard here? Send the cops out fo’ his sorry ass?”

Brown didn’t reply as a button lit on the panel in front of him to signal the arrival of DelMonde’s father in the outer office. Choosing to dismiss the boy’s seeming prescience as coincidence, the caseworker pressed the button that would instruct his secretary to show the man in. “Your father’s here, Del.”

“No shit?” The boy replied, insolently leaning back in his chair.

“What you done now?” the senior DelMonde demanded upon entering.

“I ain’t done shit,” protested the son, refusing to meet his father’s gaze. “’Cept been robbed… an’ then detained… unlawfully, I might add.”

“Detained?” the father repeated. “Don’t look to me fo’ bail money.”

Dominic DelMonde was a short, muscular man. He had much the same coloring as his son, but his features were rougher and somehow less refined than the boy’s.

The young man turned a deadly cold gaze on his father. “I not look to you for not'ing, old man… 'Cept fo' lies.”

“Mr. DelMonde,” Brown broke in, before the man could respond. “Your son is not being charged with anything. We called you in because our records indicate that he has not attended school or received licensed private instruction for almost two years now.”

“They done kick him out th' school long time ago,” the elder DelMonde replied unperturbed.

“The records show that your wife withdrew him,” Brown corrected.

“Don’t you say not'ing ‘bout her,” the young man warned murderously.

“Shut your mouth, boy,” his father replied with equal venom.

“Mrs. DelMonde’s decision is not at issue,” Brown assured them both. “However state law does require that your son attend school until he’s eighteen. Now, I see from the school psychologist’s report…”

“I ready to sign papers on him if that’s what you want,” the elder DelMonde volunteered.

“Fuckin’ bastard,” his son growled.

The father gave him another black, silencing glance. “Watch yourself.”

“Sign what papers?” Brown asked.

“If you t'ink he ought to be in Forest Oakes…” the elder DelMonde began, naming a local mental health facility.

“Fuckin’ son of a bitch,” the son muttered bitterly.

“Shut that mouth or I shut it for you,” the father snapped.

“Mr. DelMonde, I’m not suggesting that your son needs to be committed,” Brown began. “And I’m not certain why you would make that assumption, however…”

“’Cause he t'ink I crazy,” the son supplied.

“You don’t?” the father asked the caseworker, sounding a little surprised.

Brown smiled encouragingly at the boy. “No. Not particularly.”

“Ha,” the boy said to his father.

“Give him a minute,” the elder DelMonde advised Brown. “Ain’t it awful noisy in here, son? You hearin’ your voices yet?”

The boy turned away. “Fuck you, old man.”

The father put a hard grip on his shoulder. “What I tell you ‘bout mindin’ that lip?”

“What I am trying to say,” Brown interrupted, “Is that the preliminary examinations administered when your son attended public school indicate that – although very bright – Noe.. I mean, your son has certain learning disorders…”

“Such as bein’ crazy,” the older DelMonde muttered, earning an evil glare from his son.

“What I’m trying to say,” the caseworker repeated more emphatically, “is that there are certain monies available through this office that can be used to send him to a smaller, private school where he can get more individualized attention.”

“Private school?” DelMonde repeated. “You mean, like Catholic school?”

“Jesus H. Motherfuckin’ Christ,” the boy swore. “I rather go t' prison or th' loony bin than Catholic school.”

“Either one can be arranged,” the father promised darkly.

“The choice of an institution is ultimately up to you… and your son,” Brown added with emphasis. “However there are several faith-based programs on our list of approved institutions -- if that’s a concern. If you can spare another hour or so, I think it’s best we start the paperwork today.”

“Yeah.” The elder DelMonde pulled up chair, sparing a narrow sideglance at his son. “Get your ass into an approved institution an’ see if that won’t straighten you out.”

“Motherfucker,” the boy swore, letting his head drop back against the back of the chair in exasperation.

“It’s for the best,” the caseworker assured him. “A smart boy like you needs to be in school.”

“You not understand,” the boy said, shaking his head at the ceiling. “Wit' two words, you done sealed my fate – monies available.”

~~~||~~~||~~~||~~~||~~~||~~~||~~~

Marcus Brown could immediately tell that the school uniform Dominic DelMonde had used CPS funds to buy was a cheap knockoff that had probably been purchased second hand instead of the new garments he’d somehow managed to manufacture receipts for. In the severe dark blue and white outfit, though, his son did look more like a normal soon-to-be fourteen year-old and less like a wraith that had been found sleeping in a graveyard.

“Mr. Brown!” the boy exclaimed, giving him a broad, lop-sided grin. “Damn, no wonder I not figure out what I was in trouble fo’ this time…”

Brown returned his smile as he sat down opposite the young man in the tiny conference room. “You’re not in trouble, Del.”

The boy snorted and turned in his chair so that he could prop his feet up on the desk between them. “Guess they’s a first time for ever't'ing, non?”

The school was located in a very pretty part of the city. Live oaks dripping with Spanish moss were visible outside the window behind the young man.

“I’m just here to check on your progress,” the caseworker informed his young charge. “So how are you getting along?”

The boy shrugged. “I hate it an’ they all hate me.”

“Oh, I don’t think they hate you,” Brown said genially.

“You not know ‘em like I do,” Del assured him wryly.

“I’ve had some very good reports on you.” The caseworker broke out a small data pad and pulled up the boy’s file. “Very good.”

“You have?” The young man put both feet back on the ground and leaned forward to get a look at the small screen.

“You’re making excellent progress in your studies.” Brown let him see the graph of test scores. “You’re working at your grade level or slightly above in all subjects.”

The boy gave him a puzzled frown. “So?”

“No, that’s very good, Del.”

“If it my grade level, then ain’t that where I s’posed to be? I not see not'ing so excellent ‘bout that.”

“According to our records, you haven’t been receiving regular instruction since at least six months before…” Brown stopped, then gently re-phrased. “Since the time that your mother first became very ill… That means that we expected you to be two years behind everyone else.”

“Oh…” The boy nodded thoughtfully. “I not look at it that way.”

“Your teachers think that if you apply yourself, you can do even better.”

Del crossed his arms and made a face. “Oh, they let me know ‘bout that right enough. I get that “apply myself” shit ‘bout forty million times a day.”

“You’re being given a wonderful opportunity here,” Brown said, scrolling past the many complaints about his charge’s language and general deportment accumulated in his first few weeks at the school. “And you’re a smart enough person to take full advantage of it.”

“I not see no point.” The boy looked out the window and frowned. “If I work my fingers to th' bone, I not get outta here a day sooner.” Then in one of his uncanny moments of insight, the young man turned his black eyes on the caseworker in a questioning gaze that seemed to bore straight into his brain. “Or could I?”

“Well, we’ll have to see about that,” Brown replied evasively. “That’s something we can talk about later.”

“But I could take an equivalency exam an’ get th' hell outta here?” the boy persisted.

“Not this year,” the caseworker replied firmly. “You’re still too young.”

The young man crossed his arms and tilted his head to one side wisely. “Well, we have to see ‘bout that.”

“How are things at home?” Brown asked.

“If one us had kill th’ other,” the boy replied dryly. “It show up on th’ news.”

“So, you’re still arguing?”

“No,” the young man replied dismissively. “I gone all day. He gone all night.”

Brown frowned and consulted his case notes. “Your father works at night?”

The boy gave him one of his disconcertingly adult smiles. “No, my father fucks at night.”

“Oh.” Brown was momentarily at a loss for the appropriate way to enter that data into the official record.

“I thought he might be bringin’ that whore he wit' into my mama’s house,” the boy said coldly. “But she married an’ all her relatives live ‘round us, so they still got to sneak around.”

The caseworker frowned. “I’m very sorry to hear that.”

“Could be worse,” the boy replied with a philosophic shrug. “An’ might get worse yet.”

“I’m going to be doing regular check-ins like this with you all during the school year. I think the next time I visit, it will be at your home,” Brown said, amending his case notes. “I need to… clarify a few things with your father.”

“Oh?” The boy grinned as if delighted at the thought of his father getting a dressing down by the CPS agent. “You might wanna “clarify” this, too.”

He put a battered looking stat board on the desk and pushed it towards Brown.

“He gotta pull a half dozen o' them t'ings out th' garbage ‘fore I got enough spare parts to make one work,” the young man informed him as the caseworker turned the board over. “An’, yeah, he charge you full price ever' time.”

Brown struggled to maintain an outwardly calm façade as he took a new board out of his bag and quickly transferred the boy’s data to it. “Here,” he said, handing his charge the new board while he put the refurbished one in his bag. “I’d like to keep this one if you don’t mind.”

“Any time, any time.” The boy gleefully ran a finger down the shiny surface of the board’s casing. “Hey, you not have a spare one o' these I can use fo' parts, do ya?”

Brown frowned and pulled two more stat boards out of his bag.

“Ooo, yeah, cher!” The boy grinned delightedly. “A real pleasure doin’ business wit’ you, Mr. Brown.”

“Don’t take them apart,” Brown warned. “It can be quite hazardous to…”

“I know what I doin’,” the young man assured him.

“Don’t take them apart,” the caseworker repeated firmly. “I’ll bring you more next time.”

Del gave him an angelic “no promises” smile.

“Well, you should be getting back to class,” Brown said, starting to pack up his computer.

“No hurry,” his charge assured him.

“I’ll be in contact with your father…”

“You best get a move on then. He takin’ his boat out next week. Might be gone the best part o’ th’ month.”

Brown sighed, re-activated his data pad and made a new entry. “And what arrangements has he made for you?”

“Arrangements?” The boy frowned. “I can’t go if I in school.”

“That’s not what I mean,” Brown said, getting the feeling he already knew the answer to the question he was about to ask. “Where will you staying while he’s gone?”

The young man shrugged. “At th' house, I guess.”

“By yourself?”

“Well, I sure ain’t invitin’ his whore over t' keep me company if that what you tryin’ to get at,” the boy said as a very bitter sort of a joke.

“No.” Brown added another note to his file. “That’s not what I’m trying to get at at all.”

Del shook his head and leaned back in his chair. “I told you you should have called my oncle ‘stead o’ gettin’ mixed up wit’ my no-good daddy. Didn’t I tell you?”

“Well,” Brown began with a practiced, professional mildness. “This is something else we may be talking about in the future…”

“No, you see, you done fucked that up fo' me,” the boy said. “He ain’t never had no reason to have anyt’ing to do wit’ me. Then you come along wit’ “monies available.” Now he ain’t never gonna give up legal guardian. An' he not jus’ takin’ you fo’ clothes an’ books either. He play poker wit’ the priest who run this joint. He get a kickback fo’ as long as I gotta be here.”

It was harder to keep an appropriately dispassionate tone this time. “I assure you, Del, that there are safeguards in place to prevent that sort of abuse of the system.”

“You not from ‘round here, are you?” The boy asked with a cynical smile. “Well, you jus’ tell yourself whatever you need to so you can sleep at night… But, you best make a note t' check on that priest, non?”

Brown frowned as he did just that. He had thought it was odd that the father insisted on a Catholic school when there was every indication that the son was rather adamantly disinterested in Catholicism. “We do seem to have several kinks to work out before this new situation is going to run smoothly,” the caseworker admitted carefully. “And I know this is a difficult adjustment for you to make, Del. But I still believe with all my heart that we’re working towards what’s going to be best for you in the long run. I’m happy to see you in school and doing well. I think your mother would have been happy…”

“Don’t try t' play me, Brown,” the boy warned, his face suddenly cold.

“Play you?”

“You didn’t know ma mere. Don’t try t' speak fo' her to get me to do what you want.”

“Okay.” Brown nodded and folded his hands on the desk. “Fair enough. Other than having read the notes she filed on you, I don’t know her. But you did.”

The boy swallowed hard and looked away.

The caseworker mentally made a note to see what the school had available in grief counseling as he continued. “So do you think she’d be displeased about you being in school?”

The boy blew out a long breath. “She probably not be thrilled ‘bout me callin’ Sister Bernadette a fat old ugly motherfuckin’ snoopin’ biddy th’ other day…”

“No,” Brown agreed. “Probably not.”

“Or callin’ Father Ryan a cocksucker… even if he really is one.”

“I imagine not.”

“Or tellin’ Sister Margret to go fuck herself,” the boy recalled, “or…”

“No,” Brown interrupted. “But other than that…?”

“Other than that… Mais…” The young man sighed deeply and collected his new statboards. “I guess I best get back to it.”

Brown smiled and nodded. “Good boy.”

His charge snorted as he moved to the door. “Not at all.”

~~~||~~~||~~~||~~~||~~~||~~~||~~~

“Oh, if it not my old pal, Brown.” Del was grinning when the caseworker entered the conference room. The boy gave him a broad welcoming gesture and tapped the desk as he opened up his data pad. “How you be likin’ my numbers now, man?”

Brown had not been able to schedule a home visit. As if alerted that there were difficulties, the elder DelMonde had departed ahead of schedule. The father had, however, left the boy with his beloved uncle, so there was no immediate case of neglect to pursue.

The caseworker blinked in wonder at progress reports on his screen. “How can I not like these numbers?”

“The only way you not like 'em is if it mean I cheatin’ – which I not -- so relax an' enjoy, my friend.”

In several areas, Del seemed to have jumped almost two grade levels in four weeks. “This is a very dramatic improvement.”

“I applyin’ myself,” the boy announced with pride heavily tinged with irony. “I always been good at this sort o’ t'ing.”

“So I see.”

“Brown – between you an' me -- I think I done got this penguin factory figured out.” The young man crossed his hands behind his head and leaned back against the window. “You jus’ gotta throw ‘em a bone ever' once in a while.”

“A bone?”

“Yeah, if you got their expectations low enough you make any kind o' progress for ‘em an’ they start to thinkin’ they done come up wit' the cure fo’ Rigellian Fever.”

“There is a cure for Rigellian Fever,” Brown corrected mildly.

“Well, there you go then. Who knows what we gonna accomplish next week?”

“I’m not sure I understand,” the caseworker said. “Are you lowering expectations or are you really applying yourself?”

“We done start wit’ some ridiculously motherfuckin’ low expectations,” Del explained. “An’ now I apply myself – an' honest to God, I not really broke a sweat yet – but now I got four or five of ‘em thinkin' I the prize pupil of th’ whole place. I not even have t' tell any of ‘em to fuck theyselves fo' over a week…. An’ that one who got it then, I promise you, she had really gone beyond gettin’ on my last fuckin’ nerve.”

Brown shook his head in pleased disbelief at the numbers and comments before him… although there were still a good number of blisteringly adamant complaints. “I’m glad the situation seems to be improving.”

“Yeah, well, when you a grown-up who ain’t s’posed to have no sex, I guess you gotta get excited ‘bout somet'ing,” the boy said philosophically, then leaned forward. “Didja bring me any more stat boards?”

Brown reached down for his bag, then stopped. “What happened to the ones I gave you last time?”

Del gave a somewhat guilty shrug. “Mais, I used parts from two of ‘em to make a new navigation system fo' my boat… but I figured that would be all right by you.”

“Oh, you did?”

“Yeah, well if I get lost on Lake Ponchitrain an' eaten by a ‘gator, none o' this school shit gonna do me no good, non?”

“These are for school,” the caseworker instructed firmly, handing over two boards still in their wrappings. “Not to be taken apart. Okay?”

“Oh, ye of little faith,” the boy scolded as he received them with greedy hands.

“One of the tech guys in the office took a look at your “spare parts” board,” Brown informed his charge. “He said you did a pretty good job.”

“Yeah, well, I can do better now that I got these…” Del stopped and bit his lip charmingly. “That, o’ course, I never gonna take apart.”

“Said it didn’t look like you were working with a very sophisticated tool set.”

“Well, fuck him an’ the horse he rode in on,” the boy replied indignantly.

“So he sent you these tools.” Brown picked up a second bag. “And a container full of spare components.”

The boy’s mouth dropped open in almost comical delight. “Merry motherfuckin’ Christmas!”

“Which...” Brown pulled the bag back. “I am going to give you only if you promise to use the safety eyewear and gloves that I put in.”

The young man rolled his eyes. “Sweet Mary…”

“And,” the caseworker continued firmly, “promise to have an adult present while you work.”

The boy bit his lip again and frowned. “How ‘bout nearby?”

Brown considered. “Within vocal range – that means less than 30 feet – in case of an accident.”

“All right, all right.” Del made an impatient “gimme, gimme” gesture at the bag.

Brown couldn’t resist sliding it forward for any longer. “Who are you going to get when your father’s not at home?” he asked, a little belatedly.

“Robbie Robicheaux.” The boy was eagerly sorting through what looked to Brown to be a container of useless junk. “He nineteen. That count, non?”

“Who is he?”

“One of the neighbors’ boys,” Del answered distractedly as he placed his new collection of tiny tools in a neat row. “If we got liquor in th' house, he come over. no problem.”

“That’s not exactly what I had in mind.” Brown silently berated himself for being less than thorough in his negotiations. “Why don’t you go over to the neighbors’ house to work when there’s no one else at home. Better yet, you’re staying with your uncle now, right? He lives nearby too, doesn’t he? Why don’t you just leave your tools and go there to work?”

“That a good idea. I already got most of a workshop over there. An’ I wouldn’t put it past the old man t’ pawn the whole lot if he found ‘em… Now look at this.” Del put on the protective goggles and made a face. “Look at th' freak you makin’ me into.”

Through the lens, the boy’s black eyes were distorted into huge smeary blobs.

“I can see every' pore in your skin,” The young man said, leaning in. “You should wash your face, Mr. Brown.”

“There are two more magnification settings.” Brown tapped the control on the earpiece.

“Damn.” The boy grinned switching back and forth between the settings. “An’ here I was t'inkin’ it was jus’ t' make me look good.”

“Try on the gloves. They may be a little big.”

Del flexed his fingers experimentally. “They got magnetized tips, non?”

“You activate or deactivate them here.” Brown showed him the small built in panel on the back of the right wrist.

The boy practiced on the controls by making Brown’s stylus alternately stop and start rolling towards him. “Mmm.” He grinned. “We gonna have some fun in class today.”

“No.” the caseworker shook his head adamantly. “These are not for school.”

“Spoilsport,” Del said genially as he began to repack his new equipment. “You know, I much rather be at a technical school than here.”

“That’s something that we can eventually start talking about,” Brown promised. “But not this year.”

“If I get my test scores up high enough…”

“Then, yes, that will open up a lot of new possibilities for you, but don’t be impatient,” the caseworker advised. “Pace yourself. Take your time.”

“But I not know that that gonna get me nowhere,” the boy protested. “You see, ma mere always said that if we go too fast, it gonna look to somebody like we cheatin’.” Del paused and wagged a mildly accusing finger at Brown. “Which – c’est vrai -- is the first fuckin’ conclusion that everybody jumps to… So we’d work real hard on th' lessons fo’ two weeks or so an’ if I done good, then I could have th' rest o' the semester time off t' play or go fish or whatever. See, now that a good system, non? There’s incentive.”

Brown suddenly found himself feeling like the dead woman who had seemed to be the only completely trustworthy person in Southern Louisiana had betrayed him. “So you weren’t really taking the tests…?”

“Oh, Brown, how can you have such a wicked thought?” Del said, appalled. “Ma mere was so honest that if she found a credit on the street, she take it into a store an' have ‘em make an announcement t' find out whose it was. ‘Course I take th' test when she say I do. That how you keep it all fresh in your mind between times. We just didn’t waste a bunch o' time goin’ over stuff that was perfectly obvious to me. No point in draggin’ it out like they do here.”

Despite himself, the caseworker felt ashamed for having even momentarily doubted the integrity of Louisa DelMonde.

“And she was always readin’ to me,” the young man recalled fondly. “Tellin’ me stuff ‘bout plants an' the stars – you know, stories or poems or songs or stuff about hydroponics, hydroelectrics, geothermal conductivity, density field polarity… whatever I wanted to know that day. If she didn’t know herself, she could show me how t' find out.”

Tears glittered in the boy’s black eyes.

“She did a very good job,” Brown said gently. “She was a gifted, patient teacher.”

The boy nodded, letting the big tears roll down his cheeks unashamed.

“There are also advantages to going to school with other people your own age like you are now,” Brown pointed out. “School helps you learn to get along with other people, learn how to make friends.”

“I hate people my age.” Del wiped at his face roughly. “Clueless fucks don’t know they ass from a hole in th' ground.”

“Adolescence is a confusing time,” the caseworker conceded.

“Some o' these chinless wonders sure confused all right,” the boy agreed adamantly. “Horny as hell but wouldn’t know what to do wit’ a good piece o' ass if it was served to ‘em on a gold plate.”

Although Brown had trained very thoroughly for his job, he didn’t think he’d ever grow accustomed to children talking to him about sex as if they were adults. “Well, you’re all still pretty young to be worrying about that sort of thing.”

The young man shrugged. “I guess ‘til a fella’s balls drop they ain’t much point in dwellin’ on it. But you can’t tell ‘em that.”

“You should try to make friends,” Brown said, passing on to a more comfortable topic. “I know you come from a very different background than most of your fellow students, but…”

“I not met a one o' these snotty brats yet that I care to pass the time o' day with,” Del replied dismissively. “Although, some of 'em start to get a sneakin’ admiration fo' me at times ‘cause I not put up wit’ shit from these penguin bitches.”

“The nuns?”

“Yeah. They got ‘em all terrified. Smack ‘em wit’ rulers… Is that even legal?”

“CPS does have very stringent guidelines concerning disciplinary actions,” Brown replied carefully. “We discourage most forms corporal punishment.”

“Oh, I gonna remind them o' that th' next time one of ‘em takes after me,” the boy said eagerly. “It don’t hurt, but my God, it can scare th' shit outta you. They come sneakin’ ‘round then – thwack! That loud noise, you know…”

“So you’ve been hit with a ruler?”

“If you time it jus’ right, you can pull your fingers in real quick.” Del demonstrated. “An' they hit the desk instead an’ don’t know it… Which is funny as hell.”

Brown frowned and made a note.

“Oh, somebody’s fat penguin ass is in trouble now,” the boy chortled gleefully.

“In society, we all have to follow rules,” the caseworker explained firmly. “The people in charge of this school have to follow CPS’s rules… just like you have to follow the rules of this school.”

“I tryin’,” Del assured him. “but it all awful stupid to me.”

“There are reasons behind the rules which will become clearer to you as you become older…” Brown grimaced to himself as he highlighted several names to make appointments to see. “Theoretically.”

“Oh, Brown…” The boy laughed. “I do believe you gettin’ mad on my behalf. I appreciate it, but now, jus’ remember I do cuss an’ torment these bitches pretty bad… an’ they not really shit they can do t' hurt me. I mean, hell, I can take a punch if I have to, but…”

The caseworker’s fingers froze. “Who punches you?”

“Oh, nobody here,” the boy assured him quickly. “I not mean it like that.”

“Who punches you?” Brown repeated.

The young man shrugged. “I get into fights wit’ my cousins or the neighbors sometimes… Once I was in this bar fight…”

“Has your father ever punched you?’

Del shook an admonishing finger at him. “Oh, Brown, now you pickin’ up my bad habits…”

“How many times?” the caseworker persisted unsmilingly.

“He not ever haul off an’ punch me outta the blue,” the boy said.

“But?”

“But…” Del admitted slowly. “In the past year, he an' I have gone a round or two more 'an once…”

“The next time he hits you… No, the next time you even think that’s going to happen, I want you to use this.” Brown took a small device out of his bag. “It’s a dedicated comm. line. I or someone else from my office will be there in ten minutes or less.”

“Oh, it not like that…” the boy protested, sliding the device back towards him. “I appreciate th' offer, but…”

“It’s not an offer.” Brown took the young man’s wrist, placed the device back in his hand, and then closed his fingers over it. “These are my instructions to you. It’s what I expect you to do.”

“I not need your help,” the boy said calmly and firmly. “I not want your help. You not understand th' situation. I already taller than he is. Faster. I can’t beat him yet, but I can already make him pretty sorry any time he decides to tangle wit’ me… or I decide to tangle wit’ him – which is pretty much how it is most times. This time next year, I can give him th' beatin’ he deserves if he so much as looks at me cross-eyed. See, I not want you to convince him not to ever fight me. In fact, I’d like to get him into the habit of it. Because that’s how much I lookin’ forward to beatin’ his sorry, lyin’ ass ever' day of the week.”

Brown unflinchingly pulled the strongest rebuttal he knew he had. “Is that what your mother would want?”

“Fuck,” the boy winced as the thought hit him harder than a blow might have.

“I know that you think of yourself as an adult, Del, but you’re still a child,” the caseworker said. “What you’re describing is a bad, dangerous, unacceptable situation. In the same way that it’s not acceptable for a child to strike an adult, it’s not acceptable for an adult to strike a child. You and your father have experienced a great loss. It’s natural to feel angry. You both have to learn other ways to express that anger.”

“He not feel no great loss,” the boy muttered bitterly.

“I know that you’re angry – at your father, at the world,” Brown said. “It’s natural for you to feel angry. Very angry. But violence isn’t a solution. You wouldn’t want to live in a world where people just go around hitting each other any time they got angry, do you?”

“I kinda do right now,” the boy said, trying to make it into a joke.

“I’ll see what I can do about that,” the caseworker promised grimly.

“Brown to the rescue.” Del gave him a lop-sided smile. “You really take that Child Protective Services title pretty seriously, don’t you?”

The caseworker nodded. “Very seriously.”

“Trust me, Brown,” the boy said, leaning forward. “I more able t' take care of myself than you t'ink I am.”

“Trust me, Del,” the caseworker said, mimicking his gesture. “You are less able to take care of yourself than you think you are.”

The boy rolled his eyes and gave a short laugh. “Well, they not not'ing like an honest difference of opinion, is there? Look, I know on your job you see some awful stuff happen, but I got an advance warnin’ system.” Del tapped his forehead. “An' though it might not seem like it, I not too proud to duck an’ run when I need to. My God, have some perspective, man. You got cases you in charge of where you got an eight-year-old bein' pimped out by her twelve-year-old brother to take care o' his photophedrene addiction – both of ‘em wit' diseases they not even a real name for yet. And me? Thanks to you, I sittin’ here in th' lap o' luxury tormentin’ frigid old biddies who like to dress up like it Halloween fo' th' color-blind ever' day.”

“Just because your problems aren’t as big as other people’s are, Del,” Brown replied. “That doesn’t make them less real or less difficult for you to deal with.”

The young man was silent for a moment, giving him one of those looks that went right through his skull.

“It th' ones you really believe you can help who wind up breakin’ your heart,” the boy said, softly voicing the words of Brown’s mentor from school. The young man made a face and tilted his head to one side. “I not breakin’ your heart, am I, Mr. Brown?”

“No, I’m very proud of you. I’m very pleased with the progress you’re making.”

“I gonna be outta here an’ outta your hair ‘fore you know it, Brown,” the boy assured him jauntily. “So you can have more time to help them who really need it.”

“I’ve been meaning to talk to you about your ‘early warning system.’” Brown tapped his forehead like Del had. “And about your headaches and the trouble you have concentrating sometimes…”

“Ooo.” Del wiggled his fingers in a gesture to indicate spookiness. “An’ th' voices I supposed t' hear?”

“I’d like to get some special testing done on you…”

“No,” he said, suddenly very serious. “Don’t.”

“It’s just testing.”

“Don’t,” he requested quietly. “Please.”

“It could help you…”

The boy gave a bitter laugh. “Or prove exactly how much of a freak I am.”

“You’re not a freak, Del.”

The young man sighed heavily. “It’s not that I not appreciate you tryin’ to do stuff for me, Mr. Brown, but… Jus' lemme try to be normal. All right? Just lemme try fo' a little while. Okay?”

Weighing the benefits of insisting on testing versus the costs to the relationship he was trying to establish, Brown finally nodded and closed his computer.

The boy put on the safety glasses and made a ridiculous face as he gathered his things and stood to leave. “Or as normal as I can be… Check you later, my man.” He exited singing, “Oh, it’s Christmastime in the bayou…”

~~~||~~~||~~~||~~~||~~~||~~~||~~~

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