places. I can feel it.”
A hint of a smile played on his lips as he wiped his cheek with the back of his hand. “Thank you,” he whispered.
Maybe I’d hit home. Did I overstep the bounds of my training to get through to him? Probably. Was it worth it? Absolutely.
After several more minutes of surface talk, I glanced at the clock. The time for our short session had ended.
I stood up to usher Chris to the door of my office where Officer Blevins was waiting for him. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to break down in front of you today. I just hope you’ll think about what I’ve said and really let it soak in.”
Chris nodded. “It’s okay, Mrs. H. I will. Thank you.”
“You know I love you boys. I just want the best for all of you,” I told him and patted him on his back.
“We love you too, Mrs. H. I don’t know what we’d do without you.”
“You’d manage,” I quipped, attempting to lighten the mood.
Casually shrugging his shoulders, he teased, “Maybe.”
We were both laughing when Officer Blevins stepped around the corner and smiled. “Another happy customer, huh?”
“You bet,” Chris said, giving him a thumbs up.
“Great,” Officer Blevins beamed, “Now we’re off to KP duty.”
“Ugh,” Chris groaned, slumping his shoulders and hanging his hands by his side. “I hate kitchen patrol.”
“You and everyone else in this place,” Officer Blevins grinned. “But it has to be done, and you’re on the schedule.”
“Okay. Bye Mrs. H,” Chris called as Barry escorted him toward the cafeteria.
“Bye, Chris.” I waved, then shut my door and sighed. I had such high hopes for that kid. I had faith that he’d get his act together once he got out of this place so he could put his talents to good use.
Knowing the possibility of the positive impact I could be having on their lives felt like a personal high for me. Considering I was at an all-time low in my personal life, these kids kept me balanced, giving me eight hours a day to escape my own personal hell. While I struggled with my demons, I felt empowered knowing that I could help someone else with theirs.
The next day, I sat with Malik in my office. I was trying to get him to talk about the situation with Toombs that seemed to be escalating. That was probably my first mistake.
“Would you be willing to tell me what’s going on with Toombs?” I asked, hoping he’d take the bait.
“It’s nothing you need to concern yourself with,” Malik assured me, snapping his head to glare out the window, clearly uninterested in discussing it any further.
I narrowed my eyes at him. “I saw him staring you down in the cafeteria yesterday, and today I saw him slam his shoulder into you when he walked by. What’s that about?”
“Look, Mrs. H., I’ll tell you again, it’s nothing… nothing I can’t handle.” Malik ran his hands over his thighs and anxiously bounced his feet on the floor, seemingly eager to end the conversation.
I motioned toward the door, indicating an invitation for Toombs to join us. “Maybe we should bring him in here and handle it togeth—”
“Forget it!” Malik barked, slamming his hands on the armrests of the chair and stilling his feet.
I flinched. I knew I needed to quickly diffuse his temper. “Malik, look—”
“Mrs. H, you look,” he countered, pointing a stiff finger toward my face. “Get a fucking clue, alright. You’re sweet. It’s nice of you to wanna help, but you can’t. You wanna walk around Fairbanks trying to save the world, but I’ve got a news flash for you… Fairbanks ain’t the real world. You can’t save us. When we get out of here, we’re going back to the same hell we came from while you sit in your office talking bullshit about reaching for the stars and finding pots of gold at the end of rainbows. That’s not real life! Out there,” Malik bit out, pointing toward my window, “is the real world… with drugs, and crime, and debts to be paid, and fucked up
The Highland Bride's Choice