Robby sat quietly at his desk and listened to his newest teacher.
“Welcome to second semester, freshman year.” The homeroom teacher tried to sound cheerful as she called the roll in a class of troubled kids.
No problem, Robby thought. Not when he had spent the last few months locked up in a psychiatric hospital. He looked around at the other students.
Some wore piercing or tattoos, others what he had learned were gang colors. Bayview High School was different from the white-bread middle school he had attended when arrested. This school sat across from the jail for a reason. It was a reminder to students of where lawbreakers wound up.
“Kevin Coleman?” the teacher called out.
A boy wearing a red and green neck scarf, ripped jeans and a dirty tee shirt grunted a response, fingering the two earrings in his right ear, inviting comment.
“Here, ma’am,” Robby replied, as most of the class snickered. Why was everyone laughing at him? Because he answered politely? He had grown five inches in the last few months and he worked out. He knew that he didn’t look like a helpless nerd anymore.
“Settle down everyone. Brad Moore?”
“You already bitched at me this morning. You don’t need to call my name again.” The skinny boy with the pocked-marked face wasn’t very tall, but muscular.
“No need for commentary, Mr. Moore.”
Robby heard Brad whisper, “Fuck you, bitch.”
The bell rang. Robby’s first class was for computer-assisted credit recovery. Although Robby wasn’t behind on any credits, the guidance counselor told him that extra hard work could lead to an early graduation. Anything to get out of this hellhole.
“Who the fuck are you, asshole?” Brad said, pushing Robby off the computer station.
“Hey, knock it off.” Robby tried to move away.
“Hey, knock it off,” Kevin mimicked in a high-pitched voice. “He asked you a question, asshole. Answer it.”
“I’m Robby. Today is my first day here.”
“What school were you at last semester?” Brad asked.
Robby hesitated, but looked Brad straight in the eye.
“I got into trouble last year. I was in a program last semester.”
“What did you do, zit-face?” Kevin asked. “Hit your momma? Have sex with you sister?”
“No, I stabbed a cop and brought explosives to school.”
Kevin and Brad looked Robby up and down in silence. “Sure, paleface, and we’re the Boston bombers,” Kevin said, lips curled. They turned and walked away. Robby heard Brad say, “That’s serious shit if it’s true.”
“Either way, that mother fucka is crazy. I’m staying away. Those quiet ones will kill you,” Kevin finished.
Robby smiled as he watched them leave. He could not believe those gang banging tough boys thought he was dangerous. Then he stopped and thought that in those minutes last fall he was dangerous. He had almost killed a man who’d only been trying to help him. He was not in control of his behavior at the time. He never wanted to be that way again. He was looking forward to seeing the new therapist Dr. Visconti recommended.
Robby made it to his next class just as the bell rang. He took the last seat in front of a computer terminal. His head snapped back as he recognized the girl sitting in front of him. He had seen Mikayla at orientation. He knew her from the detention center. Here, he felt like she was an old friend.
Mikayla glanced over at him.
“Hi again,” she said with a smile that almost reached her eyes. “I’m glad we’re in this class together. I saw those two losers giving you a hard time in the hallway. You all right?”
He smiled back. “I’m fine, thanks.”
They began to work on their modules, the same math unit. She was a better math student and helped him reason through the word problems. The hour passed quickly. Robby checked his schedule with Mikayla. Too bad they didn’t have any other classes together. It would have been nice to see more of her.
The rest of the week went smoothly. Robby fell into his regular pattern with teachers who appreciated his Boy Scout manners. The adults at school were cautious, familiar with his charges, but easing up. Still, he dreaded coming to Bayview. He was considered a “badass” by the tough guys but his teachers were won over by his good behavior. Maybe it would work out. At least he and Mikayla could be friends. And, most of all, he was back living with his grandmother during the week, back to the psych unit on the weekends. Dr. Visconti fought hard for that deal. The state fought back, as he’d only been hospitalized a few months, but the judge overruled the state. She was proud of the progress Robby had made.
The lunch bell rang. Robby found a shady spot in the courtyard under a tree, when he heard Kevin and others talking trash to Mikayla about her mother being a junkie whore. He saw her sneer as she flipped them off and walked away.
“Hey, Mikayla,” he called to her. “Do you want to have lunch with me? I don’t think they’ll bother you over here.”
“I don’t have any lunch. The group home has shit for food.”
“You can share my lunch. My grandmother always packs extra. Says I’m a growing boy,” he said with a laugh. It felt good to laugh. Maybe it would make Mikayla feel better, too.
“I thought you were in a program?”
“I am, kind of. I can come here during the week and live with my grandmother again, but on the weekends it’s back to the program for psychiatric care. I don’t really mind it. I like my counselor.”
“Well, that’s nice, I guess, that you get to live with your grandma most of the time.” Mikayla took a deep breath and sighed. “Things have been tough since my momma died. Actually they were tough before my momma died.”
“I didn’t know she died,” Robby said. “I’m sorry.”
He bumped his knee against Mikayla to let her know he really meant it. She smiled up at him.
“We both have had tough times lately,” he said, handing her a ham and cheese sandwich and some chips. They ate in silence for a bit. Robby remembered Mikayla talking about some man she dated. He hoped that she would start talking about the boys she knew, so he could bring it up, but she remained silent. He put his sandwich down and cleared his throat.
“What happened to that older guy you were going to run away with? The one I heard you talking about when we were in the detention center.”
Mikayla looked startled, but then her eyes filled with tears. “He killed my momma. He got her hooked on drugs again. I thought he was my friend, but he’s no good. Well, most of the time he’s no good. He says he will take care of me. I don’t know what to believe. I don’t know exactly what I’m going to do.”
She stood up suddenly and looked determined.
“But it’s all right. I’m gonna show him. I’m gonna show everybody what he’s like.”
“That’s sounds dangerous, Mikayla. You need to be careful.”
“Don’t worry. I have a plan. I’m not exactly sure what it is, though.”
“Do you want to talk about it?” he suggested.
Fifteen minutes later they threw the remains of lunch in the trash and walked away together, talking softly.
Grandma and her neighbor picked Robby up after school. “Everything okay? You seem a bit preoccupied. Are you nervous about the new therapist?”
“Yeah,” Robby said. “That’s probably it. I like my counselor at the hospital. I wonder what this new one will do for me.” He just couldn’t get his mind off Mikayla. He wasn’t sure what to do.
His grandmother gave him a hug when he got out of the car. “It’s going to be all right, Robby. You’re doing real good. Just keep it up. We’ll see you later.”
“I will, Gram.”
“Hi, Robby,” the therapist said. “I’m Rick and I’m happy to meet you. It’s normal to feel nervous when you start with a new therapist. You’ve already been through quite a bit. I talked to your therapist at the program and Dr. Visconti filled me in as well. She’s going to be keeping track of your progress. She’ll know if you are coming to treatment and how you’re progressing, but I won’t tell her the details unless you give me permission.”
“Thanks. It’s okay. She pretty much knows everything about me anyway.” Robby relaxed a bit. It was going to be nice to have a man to talk to.
“Tell me how you adjusted this week.”
“Much better than I thought. I was scared that I was going to get beat up every day or the teachers would be afraid that I would hurt them. But, the tough kids are actually a little afraid of me and the teachers are happy with my good behavior and manners.”
“Sounds like you’re making the best of the situation. Any friends?”
“Well, it’s only been a week,” Rick said quickly. “And-”
Robby interrupted him. “Look, I know we have a lot of important stuff to talk about. How I’m coping, how things are at home, how I’m managing stress. But something came up today and I can’t stop thinking about it.”
“Okay, well, let’s handle that first and then move on to the other stuff.”
“There’s this girl at school that I met in the detention center, and then I saw her again at the school orientation. Dr. Visconti knows her, too.”
The session was almost over when Robby finished the story.
“Wow. This is not what I was expecting for your first therapy session. I agree that Mikayla is putting herself in danger. I know you care about her. Is this something I can tell Dr. Visconti? She may be able to help. She works with the state attorney and the police officers.”
“I want to do the right thing. I just don’t want Mikayla to think I snitched on her. She’s a friend. She trusts me. And she really needs a friend.”
“I can’t promise anything, but I know that Dr. Visconti will do everything she can to help Mikayla and keep your name out of it.”
“Okay, doc, tell her. Tell her quick before something bad happens.”
Mary pulled into her parking space at the condominium. She was looking forward to a quiet sunset on her balcony and at least two glasses of wine. Time to just be sad and alone.
No Raphael, no Kristin, either. Kristin had taken Friday off to spend two full days away with the twins. She wasn’t talking about Joseph much, and that was strange but she just let it go. Meanwhile Mary hoped the time away from Raphael would be good for both of them.
Her cell phone rang just as she walked into her condo. She recognized the number of Robby’s new therapist.
“Hi there, Rick. Was today your first session with Robby? How did it go?
“That’s why I’m calling, Mary. You better sit down.”