Troubled residents come and go at the Care House where River Caulfield is a caregiver, working towards fulfilling his dream of becoming a nurse. When Silver arrives, a patient found on a roadside near death after suffering terrible abuse, River finds his previous personal detachment is compromised. Seeking to help the mysterious and enigmatic young man locked inside his own mind and memories, River finds his professionalism slipping as Silver begins to open up and live again.
But as their relationship begins to blossom, the roots of Silver's past abuse and the abuser who forced him into such a mental state sends forth new shoots of darkness enveloping them in dangers threatening not only Silver's sanity, but their very lives. With River's devotion and help, will Silver finally be able to break away from his past? The answer lies in the words of a priest, a painting and a long walk through a churchyard harbouring the secrets of the enigma that is Silver.
Publisher: Independently Published
“We got a new one last night.”
“Oh?” Kevin turns his head and sniggers. I frown. “What?”
I look between the two of them and they have the damnedest expressions on their faces.
“You better read the file. It’s in the office.”
“Am I missing something?”
They’re still smirking.
“Read the file,” Kevin repeats.
Feeling confused and slightly miffed, I frown harder at them and stalk out of the room to the sound of stifled giggles. My heart sinks as I sit down at the cluttered desk and pull the new file towards me. From the behaviour of the other two, it looks like it’s going to be an ‘out of the frying pan’ situation. The new resident must be pretty bad to elicit that kind of reaction from my colleagues.
With a sigh, I open the file. The first surprise is the name. Silver. No surname or forename, just that. Hmm. Male. Age believed to be around nineteen. Believed? Around? Interested now, I press on.READ MORE
Silver is something of an enigma. A lorry driver pulled over onto the hard shoulder of the motorway with a flat tire and noticed something in the undergrowth. It turned out to be an almost dead body.
The driver took the boy to the nearest hospital. He was treated for severe hypothermia as well as multiple broken bones, contusions, and internal injuries from a prolonged and horrific beating. He’d also been brutally and repeatedly raped. They almost lost him a number of times in the first few days, but somehow, he hung in there, although he slipped into a coma from which he didn’t wake for almost two months.
Since emerging from the coma, the physiotherapists and psychologists worked miracles with him. Physically, he’s doing very well. However, in the six months since regaining consciousness, he’s not recovered any of his memories. He suffers frequent seizures, which affect his present memory, and remains completely withdrawn, living out his days in a half-aware daze.
Really, he should have remained in residential care, as it’s highly uncertain whether he’ll ever make progress from where he is now. However, the notes from the psychiatric team indicate that there is no physical cause for either the complete memory loss or his general lack of awareness. As Silver hasn’t spoken about his ordeal, his therapists have had no opportunity to explore possible causes. It isn’t that he can’t speak; he’s perfectly capable of holding conversations when he’s in one of his more lucid phases. He is, in fact, a bright and funny boy, but he completely closes down as soon as the subject of his life before his accident comes up. He withdraws within himself for extended periods of time then.
Hopefully, being out of the hospital will help him relax and allow him to recover his memory and his wits naturally. He’s on a shed-load of medication, mainly anti-convulsants and psychotics. I can’t help but think maybe that’s why he lives half his life on another planet. To be honest, however, I don’t have the expertise to know one way or the other.
Closing the file with a sigh, I push it across the desk and run my hand through my hair. Great, just great. Not only do I have a day shift, which is always a pain in the ass, and a new resident to process and settle in, I have to have Mister Fucking Mystery. Of course, I have no idea if he’ll be any kind of problem, but from the sound of the file, he’s going to be hard work.
Sighing, I get up from the desk and head back into the living room. Kevin and Ronya whisper to each other, their heads close together. They look up when I come in and snigger again.
“Alright, alright. What are you, thirteen or something? What’s the joke anyway?”
“You’ve read the file?”
“Yeah, I’ve read the file. Sounds like hard work to me.”
“So what did you think?”
“To be honest, I thought – Oh just great, why me? Out of all the Care Houses in our district, why did he have to come to this one?”
They snigger again. “What? Will someone please tell me the joke?”
“Go see,” says Ronya, still sniggering.
“Not ‘what,’ silly; who – our new resident.”
“Why? Does he have three heads or something?”
“Oh no, only one head.”
“Just go see.”
“God, you two can be infantile. Just tell me what’s going on, will you? What’s wrong with this guy?”
“What’s wrong with him?” Kevin’s voice is innocent, but he still wears the smirk. “Didn’t you read the file?”
“Yeah, I read the file and there’s nothing I’ve seen in there that would make you two turn into silly teenagers. What exactly do you find so funny? The fact that he got beaten into a coma? Or maybe that he doesn’t remember anything about who he is, or was before? Or maybe it’s the fact that he’s living in his own world because he can’t bear to be in this one? Oh yeah; I’m hysterical about all that.”
They look down, the laughter gone. Ronya glances at me as if she’s going to say something, but she snaps her mouth shut and gets up, heading for the office. Kevin smirks, unable to help it.
“You really wanna go take a look, mate.”
“No, actually. I really don’t, not until I have to. Are you going to do your handover now?”
“Yeah, yeah, keep your hair on. Maxy’s still in bed, lazy git. He’s doing a double shift today, going to take Julia to her first day at the Community College, so if you don’t hear any movement by half-eight, go wake him. They have to be there by ten. As for the new guy...” There’s that smirk again; he just can’t help it, and boy, do I want to slap him.
“Will you leave it out already? Either tell me what the joke is or drop it.”
“There’s no joke, River, just...Well... you’ll see. Anyway…. He came in at nine last night and the hospital guys put him to bed. He’s been there, quiet as a lamb, ever since. Obviously, I haven’t had a chance to speak to him yet. The hospital sent over three days’ worth of meds and a prescription Ronya’s getting filled today, if you’re okay being here alone with... erm... him.”
I shake my head and roll my eyes. “Is that what you think is so funny? His name? Can’t you even bring yourself to say it?”
“Well, it is... freaky.” He snickers again.
“Well, forgive me if I don’t crack up. It hasn’t exactly been easy living with a name like River either.”
Kevin smothers another giggle and shrugs. I sigh again and give him a hard stare.
“Okay, moving on. They want him settled into a routine as soon as possible. He’s capable of doing just about anything, but only if he’s given clear instructions. He can dress and feed himself, and they said he can use the kitchen under supervision. For example, he’ll put toast under the grill, but he won’t take it out again unless you tell him to or when he starts choking on the smoke. He’ll get in the shower, but won’t come out until you get him. He’s not to go outside and he’s to have total supervision at all times unless he’s asleep, in which case you’re free.
“He’s to get up at nine and go to bed no later than ten; no special diet, no particular risk apart from the above-mentioned tendency to burn down the house. Essentially, he follows instructions, but most of the time, he isn’t capable of actual independent thought, although he does have moments of lucidity when he likes to talk and surf the net. He can do that as long as you keep constant watch on what he does, and limit the time he spends before a screen or TV to three hours a day because of his seizures.”
“How well controlled are they?”
“Varies. Generally, very well controlled, but tiredness, stress, all the usual triggers can bring them on. It’s pretty hard to tell when he zones out whether he’s seizing or just withdrawing. He’s a party boy, this one.”
“So if there’s essentially no TV, what’s he supposed to do all day? Sit and stare at the wall?”
“You said what?”
“That’s what the big man says. Keep his mind occupied as much as possible.”
“Like with what?” My mind races and already I’m bitterly regretting taking the day shift. This sounds like hard work.
“Apparently, when he’s in the mood, he’s very good at crossword puzzles... and he loves to write.”
“Write? Write what?”
“No idea, but they’ve sent his notebooks with him, so no doubt you’ll find out.”
“Yeah. Thanks, mate. I’ve got three day shifts and then a double coming up. We’re going to have so much fun.”
“Don’t discount the fun element; at least not until you’ve met him.” The grin breaks out again and I roll my eyes.
“What the hell’s got into you?”
“I’ll speak to you tonight. Let’s say that it’s probably just as well you haven’t got any night shifts for a while. The kid would probably give you nightmares.”
“Nightmares? What do you mean?”
Kevin grins unabashedly and stands up. “Well, that’s me done. Don’t forget – Max up by eight-thirty and Sleeping Beauty by nine. Lucky you gets to watch him shower. Have fun with that.” He waggles his eyebrows and I throw a cushion at him.
When I’m alone, I tidy the room a bit, then go to the kitchen to make some coffee. Kevin’s left toast crumbs all over the place and I curse him. The smell of toast makes my mouth water, but I decide to wait for breakfast. It can be an ‘activity’ for Silver. Hmm, it is kind of odd to think of calling anyone by that name. I suddenly gain insight into all those assholes who’ve sniggered at my name over the years and feel somewhat guilty, but somewhat enlightened too.
I take a coffee in to Ronya. She’s busy, but stops for a while to chat. She isn’t usually in this early, but she has to take care of the administrative details of Silver’s arrival. She’ll let Social Services know so they can do a needs assessment to see if we need any extra facilities or care for him. Usually, it’s a case of there being none to give, but it’s a required formality with every new resident. She also has to sort out benefits, re-organise the food budget, and fix the chores rotation.
Every resident, no matter what their capability, is required to do chores. The specific chores are carefully designed to fit the individual capabilities of the residents. For example, the less able do a little light cleaning or are responsible for putting out the rubbish or being in charge of the television remote. The more able do everything from writing the shopping list to washing or folding the laundry to actually going shopping and running outdoor errands.
Ronya sighs when I give her the coffee. She closes her eyes with pleasure as she sips.
“Ah, this is good. You’re a genius with coffee, River. You always get it just as I like it.”
“Only because you like it the same way I do.” I laugh.
“So have you been up to see our newest guest yet?”
“No.” A degree of irritation fills my voice because the infantile teasing of my colleagues is really starting to piss me off.
“Easy there, tiger; no need to bite off my head.”
“If you stop behaving like a twelve-year-old, I’ll stop behaving like a large, ravenous beast who’s about to rip off your head.”
“Oh, I don’t know about that.” Her eyes twinkle as she teases me. “Except about biting off my head, of course.”
I can’t help but smile at that. I perch on the edge of the desk, regarding her over the top of my mug. “So what’s the deal? Are you going to tell me or is it just an extension of your usual puerile game that comes out of the closet whenever we have a new young male resident?”
“Possibly,” she says. “There may be an element of that.”
“Oh, come on. I thought you’d have got over that by now.” I groan as Kevin’s remark about the shower sinks in. “Is that what it is? You think because I’m gay that I can’t help but hit on any man I meet who’s under twenty-five?” I think back to previous occasions when I’ve had similar conversations. “Am I really so sad that you think the only man I have a chance with is one who can’t get away from me, or is so out of it he doesn’t actually have any idea of who I am or what I look like?”
I realise my voice is getting more irritated as I progress, but I can’t help it because that’s pretty much what I’ve been feeling lately myself. Ronya doesn’t smile.
“You know it’s not that, honey. You’re super cute and if you got rid of that chip on your shoulder, you’d be fixed up with the man of your dreams in no time at all. We just like messing with you.” She grins widely and I almost mirror her.
“Hang on a minute... what chip on my shoulder?”
“The one that says ‘anyone who’s sad enough to give me a second glance is too sad to be worthy of my contempt, let alone my attention.’”
“You said what?”
“Tell me that you don’t do it; that every time an attractive man looks at you, you don’t get defensive and suspicious of his motives and push him away before you even give him a chance of getting close – while all the losers in town get at least a quick feel under the dock.”
“Are you suggesting I’m a slut?”
She cocks her eyebrows and tilts her head. Grumbling, I get up and stalk out, angry only because I know she’s right. Lately, my love life has left a lot to be desired... which is probably why I’m so sensitive to their teasing today.
At precisely eight-twenty-eight, I climb the stairs with two mugs of coffee in my hands: one black with two sugars, one white with four. How Julia possibly stays so thin with all the crap she puts in her body, I will never know.
First, I knock on the door of the staff bedroom and enter. It’s pretty stark. Since we could never hope to please all of us, we don’t decorate. The only concession to modesty and division of the sexes is the screen between the two beds. Like everything else in the room, it’s beige.
Max always sleeps on his stomach with his ass up in the air. I approach the hump under the beige duvet, approximate the general area of his ass, and deliver a stinging slap. I set his mug down on the bedside cabinet. It’s the only piece of furniture in the room apart from the bed, one wooden chair, and an old chest in which bits and pieces are stored. Little things make it easier to come back to a strange bed, like spare socks and underpants – okay, underwear, but I try not to look at the frilly stuff – the kind of toiletries not fit for display in the communal bathroom, personal items of a feminine nature... etcetera.
Max mumbles something and the mound collapses. A moment later, a tousled mop of curly brown hair emerges, followed by two large, sleepy, brown eyes. Damn, he’s cute. If he were anything but straight, I’d have been chasing him across town.
“’Sup?” he asks sleepily.
“It’s eight thirty and I have instructions to get you up.”
“You’re taking Julia to college.”
“Fuck! Yeah. Shit... my alarm didn’t go off.”
As he fishes his mobile phone from under the pillow, it starts to beep and we both laugh.
“I’ll take Julia her coffee and meet you downstairs. Don’t rush; I’ll get breakfast started. I have to get my own charge up by nine, so I’ll get him now and he can give me a hand. He can shower after he’s eaten.”
Do I imagine it or is there an extra twinkle in Max’s eye? I stare at him and he blushes. “Oh, not you too? What the hell’s the matter with you all this morning?”
Max’s eyes widen. “Haven’t they told you?”
“Told me what? Is he gold-plated or something?”
Max sniggers and shakes his head. “You’ll see.”
“Ah, fuck you all.” I walk out and shut the door, although I’m still in a relatively good mood. I almost detour to the newcomer’s room, but think better of it as Julia has to be up first and breakfast has to be a priority.
As I tap on Julia’s door, I hear movement inside. “Who is it?” Her light musical voice is filled with barely concealed excitement. I wonder whether she’s been up all night.
“It’s only me, River. I brought you coffee. I thought you might want to be spoiled a little this morning and have it in bed.”
The door flies open and Julia throws herself into my arms. The top of her head barely reaches the middle of my chest. I throw out my arm to prevent the coffee pouring on her head.
“Steady on,” I say, laughing. She squeezes me and lets go.
“Can’t stay in bed today. No way am I going to risk being late on my first day.” She sobers and frowns, stepping away from me. “Do I look okay?”
She’s dressed in faded jeans and a pink and cream striped sweater with her long, blonde hair swinging in a ponytail behind her. If it hadn’t been for the haunted expression in her wide blue eyes and the tell tale creases at the edges, she would have looked like a teenager.
“You look good enough to eat. They’ll love you. Are you going to take your coffee downstairs?”
“Sure. Do you want me to make a start on breakfast?”
“You can put some toast on if you like. I’ll be down in a sec. I have to go wake the new kid and he can help with breakfast. I don’t want to overcrowd the kitchen – too many cooks and all that.”
Julia’s eyes widen. “I saw him come in last night. What’s his story? Is it true his name’s Silver? Is he going to be here long? Have you seen him?”
“Whoa there; you’re making my head spin. Too many questions all at once. You know I can’t tell you his story because it’s confidential. Yes, his name’s Silver; and if you take the piss out of him for that, I’ll beat you with a stick. I’ve been taunted too many times for being called River to let that one through. It’s a sore spot.”
She grins and hugs me again. “I like the name River; it suits you.”
I smile, surprised. “Why, thank you.”
“Silver doesn’t suit him, though. At least not what I saw last night. Hmm… So, have you?”
“Have I what?”
“Seen him yet?”
I groan inwardly; not another one. Everyone else is more interested in my love life than I am.
“Not yet. If you take this coffee and bugger off downstairs, I’ll get to, though.”
“You’ll like him.” She winks.
“Yeah, right; and just how many times over the last eight months have you said that to me about just about everyone, including the postman, who was male and under fifty?”
“Obviously not enough; you’re still single. I really thought I cracked it with Max. Too bad he’s straight.”
I don’t know whether to laugh or cry, and for a moment, I wonder exactly how inappropriate it would be to spank a resident. As if reading my mind, she grabs the coffee and dashes, giggling.
Chapter Two – Surprises
After all the nonsense that’s been going on this morning, I find I’m suddenly nervous about meeting the new resident. I pause with my hand on the door and wonder what it could be about. Maybe... but no, there wasn’t anything in the notes about him being gay, and anyway, that would be inappropriate. Surely not even they would be so crass, not with a resident, not with someone like this.
Maybe he’s particularly effeminate. If that’s the case, they’ll be sorely disappointed because that isn’t my type, not at all. But then, they all know that. So then what? I smile. Maybe he’s just so drop-dead gorgeous that they think I’ll be smitten at first glance. I almost laugh aloud at that. Yeah, right. Here. Ha.
Still chuckling, I open the door. Darkness blankets the room and the first thing I do is open the curtains. As I do so, they catch my attention. The curtains are frilly, fussy, and decorated with pink roses to match the wallpaper. Hmm. Perhaps one of the activities my new charge and I can do, and soon, will be to redecorate the room. If he’s going to be here for a while, then forcing him to spend time with the roses will to drive him insane... well, more insane than he already is.
I’m still smiling as I turn to see a hump wrapped tightly in the viciously pink quilt. Just as well it was dark when he came in. Poor kid. I can’t help but notice that the hump in this bed is considerably sleeker than the one in Max’s. The kid looks tall, possibly even taller than I am, and I just top six feet.
Feeling more confident and realising that I have to ‘project a confident and professional air to reassure the resident; help to ease the resident into new surroundings and routines; guide the resident through transition from the structured institutional environment to the radically different routine and environment of a residential setting,’ I compose myself. Yeah, I know; the photographic memory means I’m a bigger geek than most. But knowing the rules doesn’t mean I always follow them.
“Silver.” I shake him gently by the shoulder. I wonder how many times he’s heard a smirk in the voice that calls his name. I know I have often enough.
With a sigh, the figure in the bed turns over, flinging out an arm with a soft moan. I freeze. Fucking hell. I mean, what the fuck? Fucking HELL.
He’s nothing like I expected, not that I was really expecting anything, but with a name like Silver, I kind of thought he would be fair; ash blonde or something. He isn’t. He’s very dark. His hair is jet black and long. Even tangled and dry as it is, I want to run my fingers through it. I can imagine gently tugging out the knots and running conditioner down the length of it, strand by strand. It would be soft and silky and—
Shit! That’s just his hair. The things I want to do with those lips… Fuck. God, he’s beautiful. In my wildest dreams, I never imagined a male like him. Not just cute like Max, not handsome or pretty or any of the other words used to describe how someone looks. He isn’t even what the kids say now, hawt. He’s beautiful, simple as. Lying there with his hair all over the place, his long, coal-black lashes trembling on his milk-white cheeks, one arm thrown out, revealing the creamy skin and well defined muscles of his bare shoulders and chest, he’s a fucking angel... a real, living, breathing, flesh-and-blood angel.
Gods damn them; they knew. The bastards knew the effect he’d have on me, and the giggling and snickering now make sense. Shit, I’m practically creaming my pants just looking at him. I shake my head and laugh inwardly. Get a grip, River. Keep your mind above your waist, I think, and remember this is a resident, a patient, a sick person who needs you to be strictly professional and... Ah fuck, why did he have to stir right at this moment? Why did he have to let out that cute little sigh that parts his lips and makes me want to... to... Shit!
Moving his head from side to side drowsily on the pillow, Silver gives a sleepy little grunty moan thing and his yawn shows absolutely perfect white teeth. I notice there’s a gap right at the back on the bottom. I don’t know why, but somehow, something that mars his perfection, even to such a slight degree, is a huge relief, and I smile.
Just when I get myself under control, albeit with a goofy smile on my face, Silver opens his eyes. If I thought that Silver with his eyes closed was beautiful, Silver with his eyes open is unreal. At least now I understand why he’s called Silver. His eyes are grey, a strange pale silvery grey with an almost metallic sheen, like mercury. For a full minute, I stare at him and he stares back. His eyes hold no curiosity, no fear, no challenge, no anything. I’ve never seen eyes so blank.
Quite suddenly, it occurs to me that I’m staring and not being very professional at all. I force a tight, professional smile, not the goofy grin that’s threatening to break out at any moment.COLLAPSE