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Driven (Page 13)

He turns around to face me, walking backwards, “Yes, Mom!” he replies, the term of endearment not lost on me. For that, in fact, is what the staff here is to these boys: we are the parents they no longer have, whether as a result of death, drugs, or other circumstances.

To the seven boys in my charge, my staff and I are guardians, since no other family member has come forward to claim them. And in most instances, the chance of adoption once they are above a certain age diminishes drastically. The state has turned over their guardianship to my company and this facility of which I am in charge.

I work mostly in the corporate office several miles away, but require that all of my trained staff work at least one twenty-four hour shift per week. This time allows them to connect with the boys, and to never forget whom exactly we are fighting on behalf of on a daily basis.

These boys and my staff are my second family. They fuel me emotionally and challenge me mentally. At times they try my patience and push my limits, but I love them with all my heart. I’d do anything for them.

Connor comes flying though the kitchen, running to the back door with something under his arm, Aiden chasing after him. “Hey, guys, calm down,” I reprimand as I hear Aiden shout that he’s going to get it back and make him pay.

“Cool it, boys,” Jackson says in his deep baritone, rising from the couch to watch the interaction. Those two have a habit of antagonizing each other, sometimes to the point where it becomes physical.

I feel small hands wrap around my thigh, and I look down into the angelic eyes of Scooter. “Hey, bud.” I smile, taking slow and deliberate movements to reciprocate the hug. I can see him steel himself for my touch, but he does not flinch. It has taken me sixteen months to elicit this reaction from an eight-year-old whose only physical contact in his short life with his mother was through fists or objects. I squat down to his eye level and kiss him softly on the cheek. Trusting, chocolate-brown eyes look to me. “I agree with you. Spiderman is way cooler than Batman. He’s got that spidey-sense that Batman only wishes he had.” He smiles at me, nodding his head enthusiastically. “Why don’t you go pick up your mess? It’s almost time for dinner.”

He nods, granting me a shy smile, and I watch him walk back to the family room and his beloved comic books, which are sprawled haphazardly across the floor. I move my gaze from Scooter to the figure huddled on the other couch.

Zander is static. He is in the same mute state he’s been in for the past three months he’s been in my care. He is curled into himself, an impassive expression on his face as he watches the muted television with large, haunted eyes. He has his beloved stuffed dog, ratty and coming apart at the seams, a lifeline held tightly against his chest. His wavy brown hair curls softly at the nape of his neck. He desperately needs a haircut, but I can still hear his terrified shrieks from a month ago when he caught sight of the scissors as I approached him with the suggestion of a trim.

“No change, Jax?” I murmur to Jackson who has walked up beside me, keeping my eyes on Zander.

“Nope.” He sighs loudly, empathy rolling off him in waves. He continues in a muted tone, “His appointment with Dr. Delaney was the same. She said he just stared at her while she tried to get him to participate in the play therapy.”

“Something is going to trigger him. Something will snap him out of his shock. Hopefully it will be sooner rather than later so we can try and limit damage done to his subconscious.” I hold back my sorrow for the lost little boy, “And help the police figure out what happened.”

Zander had come to us after the police found him covered in blood in his house. He had been trying to use a box of band-aids to stop the bleeding from the stab wounds that covered his mother. A neighbor walking her dog had overheard his mother’s strangled cries for help and called the police. She had died before they arrived. It is assumed that Zander’s father had committed the murder, but without Zander’s statement, it’s a relative mystery as to the events that led up to the actual act. With his father missing, he’s the only one who knows what happened that night.

Zander has not uttered a word in the three months since his mother’s murder. It’s my job to make sure we provide for him in every way possible so that he can dig his way out of the catatonic, repressed state he’s in. Then we can help him and begin the lengthy process of healing.

I turn from the heartbreak that is Zander and work with Jackson to get dinner finished. We work in sync, side-by-side, like an old married couple for we’ve had this shift together for the past two years. We can anticipate each other’s movements from repetitive practice.

We both work in silence, listening to the flurry of activity that is The House, mentally aware of the activities of the seven boys as well as what’s still needed to be done.

“So I heard the benefit was a success—with an unexpected entrant in the auction,” he wiggles his eyebrows at me and I roll my eyes in response before turning back to the sink, “and one hot and heavy make-out session backstage.”

I drop the knife I’m washing, clattering loudly against the stainless steel basin. I’m grateful that my back is to Jackson so that he can’t see the stunned look on my face. What the hell? Someone must have seen me with Donavan. I have to remind myself to breathe as I panic, trying to figure out how to respond. I don’t need my staff gossiping about my backstage encounter.

“What—what do you mean?” I try to sound casual, but I hope I am the only one who can hear the distress in my voice. I turn the water off, waiting for the response.

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