Caring Christopher

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#10 He’s growing on me

Abigail

The moment I step into the classroom and see Yoah sitting at his table with his head in his hands, I want to murder someone. Instead, I take a deep breath to center myself, give Mr. Rogers a hard look and sit down next to Yoah.

“Hi,” I say softly. “Can I put an arm around you?”

He shakes his head, looking up at me with tears in his eyes.

“Can I stroke your hair?” I try next. “Or hold your hand maybe? I just want to comfort you, Yoah, but I won’t touch you if you don’t want me to.”

He hesitates for a moment before putting his hand on mine. I cover it with my other one and we sit like that for a few minutes. His tears stop flowing eventually and he sniffles, wiping his face with his sleeve.

“Okay?” I ask softly.

He nods. “Okay.”

“Can you tell me what happened?”

“He got into a fight with two other boys,” Mr. Rogers says in his deep strict voice. “And he refused to apologize.”

“Look, no offense, but I was talking to Yoah, not to you,” I tell the teacher in a tight voice. After this morning, I don’t like the man at all. He was late, and then he made Yoah feel like shit about being worried. I get that even teachers are just human beings, and that Mr. Rogers must have had a good reason for being late, but I don’t get why he had to make Yoah feel bad for me sticking around. After everything Yoah has been through, I wasn’t going to leave him at this school where he’s only been for little over a month. Yoah was worried about who would teach him today, and he asked me five times if Mr. Rogers was okay. Not only was Mr. Rogers perfectly fine, but he was also a complete and utter dick. So I yelled at him. Not my finest hour, but… oh well.

“I’m fine,” Yoah says in a whisper.

“What did you fight about?” I ask, squeezing his hand.

Yoah grunts and pulls a hand through his messy dark hair. The boy needs a haircut for sure. I make a mental note to ask Chris if I can take the boys to get their hair cut this weekend.

“He won’t tell me why they fought, and the other boys say he hit them first,” Mr. Rogers says.

“Yoah?” I say softly. “Do you want to talk about this right now?”

He shakes his head furiously.

“Would it be okay if you went to play outside for a moment, while I talk to your teacher?”

“Yes,” he breathes.

I get up and tell Mr. Rogers I’ll be back. Christopher isn’t back on the playground yet, but I spot Edward Clark about to leave. I met him earlier this week and he’s a good friend of Christopher, so I ask him to watch Yoah for a moment.

“Sure thing, Abby,” he says immediately, giving me a smile that lights up his entire face. “Are you going to yell at a teacher again? Debby’s mother told me you went for it this morning.”

“I plan to keep it civil this time, but I’m not making any promises.”

Edward laughs, his dark brown eyes sparkling. “Will you be my nanny?”

A little amused, I give him one last look before walking back into the school building to talk to Mr. Rogers. Again. I meant it when I told Edward that I’m not planning on yelling again – that was extremely unprofessional – but I know how I get sometimes. When someone hurts one of the kids I’m responsible for, the gloves come off. He’s not the first teacher I’ve gone off at and he probably won’t be the last.

“Maybe I should just talk to Yoah’s father about this,” Mr. Rogers says the moment I walk in. “After all, you’re just the nanny.”

I grit my teeth and try to keep calm. “What happened with those boys Yoah fought?”

Mr. Rogers shrugs. “Yoah won’t tell me. The other two swear Yoah just started hitting them for no reason. What am I supposed to do with that?”

“It’s not that Yoah doesn’t want to tell you,” I try to explain to him. “He just doesn’t talk much in general. Not even to Christopher. Surely you know about his situation?”

“Being a foster kid doesn’t mean his teacher should ignore inappropriate behavior.”

Is this guy for real? Deep breath, Abby. Don’t flip out on him. “Look, he’s hurting. His mother is dying, his father is in jail, and he’s slowly adjusting to living in a new house with new people talking care of him. He doesn’t talk much, and all he does all day is taking care of his little brother in any way he can. I don’t think that he would just hit a kid for no reason.”

“I’ve known the other two kids for years,” Mr. Rogers says, frowning at me. “They’re no liars.”

“Did anyone actually see what happened?” I ask.

The teacher shakes his head. “It happened during the lunch break.”

“So you didn’t see what happened, Yoah doesn’t talk, and all you have to go on are the things the two other 9-year-old boys who were fighting are telling you?” I ask knowingly. “And you really think they would tell you if they did anything to provoke them?”

“If Yoah won’t tell me what happened, I’ve got nothing else to go on. And he should apologize to the other kids.”

I nod. “I agree, but I think the other boys should apologize too.”

“For what?” he asks, almost amused. “For getting in a fight with a messed-up kid who is just looking for an outlet for his anger issues?”

“Yoah doesn’t have anger issues.” What the fuck is this guy talking about? “And he’s not messed-up. Please tell me that you didn’t say any of these things in front of the kids.”

Mr. Rogers rolls his eyes. “Of course not. I only said to Yoah that he can’t hit other kids, and that he will never fit in at this school if he keeps his mouth shut the whole damn day.”

“You said what?” I say, taking a step in his direction. “Are you fucking kidding me?”

“I’m just looking out for the kid,” he explains, looking at me like he pities me. “He needs to stop living in his own little silent bubble and get out of his shell.”

“And you think telling him that he’s never going to fit in will do the trick?” I throw up my hands in exasperation. “You have no idea what that boy has been through!”

“I read his file,” the teachers says dismissively. “And he’s not exactly the first foster kid in my class. I don’t think we should use kids’ pasts to excuse them fighting.”

“No, but you could be a little kinder to him,” I say, trying to sound calm. “Please, I beg of you, don’t tell him that he will never fit in. Or like this morning, when you told him in front of everyone that he shouldn’t need his nanny to stay with him when his teacher is a few minutes late. Don’t do that ever again. You embarrassed him.”

“He needs to toughen up.”

“This isn’t the way to do it!” I’m yelling, and I don’t even care. “You don’t know what it’s like for kids like him!”

“Oh, and you do?” Mr. Rogers counters.

“Yes, I do!” I’m breathing hard and my cheeks are turning red with anger. “I’ve had a crappy youth like Yoah, so I know what I’m talking about, actually.”

He laughs. He actually laughs, that fucking asshole. “And you’re here yelling at me, just like Yoah was hitting other kids earlier. Evidently, your coping mechanism is just as messed-up as his. Like I said, I think I should talk to his father, not his nanny.”

Behind me, a deep male voice cuts through the tension. “What’s going on?”

I clutch my heart, startled by Christopher’s sudden appearance. Our eyes lock and I see him studying my expression with raised eyebrows.

Mr. Rogers is the first to speak up. “Your nanny is crazy.”

“Fuck you!” I exclaim before I can stop myself. “You’re such a pathetic excuse for a teacher!”

“Abby,” Chris says softly, moving closer to put a hand on the small of my back. “Deep breath.”

Grumbling, I do as he says, already feeling better with him closer. Just like earlier today in the kitchen, I feel way more… grounded with him touching me. I might have been comforting him earlier, but it felt like he was holding me up instead of the other way around.

Quickly, I explain to Christopher what happened. He nods and turns to the teacher, his hand still on my lower back. “Is that all true?”

Mr. Rogers shrugs. “Yeah, I guess, although I wouldn’t have called myself an asshole, obviously.”

“You are,” I grumble, casing Christopher to slowly rub my back to keep me calm.

“I will talk to Yoah when we get home and make sure that he understands that he should never hit anyone,” Chris promises the teacher. “And I’ll see if he will tell me what happened. I agree with Abigail that something must have happened for him to start a fight. I don’t think he’d just hit anyone for no reason. Also, I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t call out my kid in front of the entire class, embarrassing him. He has a hard time fitting in as it is, and if he feels on edge in your classroom, he’ll never make friends here.”

“Sure,” Mr. Rogers says, nodding along. “I’ll let you know if anything happens again, and I will make sure to talk to Yoah alone instead of in front of the entire class.”

“Unbelievable,” I say, looking at the guy with hatred. “When I told you the same thing, you told me that he has anger issues and just needs to toughen up.”

“You ordered me around,” Mr. Rogers says, sounding like he’s talking to an idiot. “Mr. Davids here just ask me if I’d be willing to use a different approach.”

“I did the same thing!” I yell at him. “You wouldn’t listen to me!”

“Abby,” Chris says, steering me toward the door. “This is not the way.”

“Fine,” I spit at him. “I’ll wait outside. You talk to this moron. I’m done.” I storm out without looking back, making sure to be smiling when the kids see me walking onto the playground. They don’t need to see me lose it. They’ve got enough on their plates as it is.

Edward is picking up Freddie who just fell, brushing off his clothes before letting him go back to the game of tag Yoah, Davy and Freddie are playing. Yoah no longer looks like he was crying not that long ago. Seeing him smiling and running around eases the knot in my stomach a little.

“Chris still in there?” Edwards asks, motioning for me to sit down next to him. “Did you yell at the teacher again?”

“He deserves it,” I grumble, crossing my arms over my chest.

Edward pats my knee with a smile. “I know. Mr. Rogers is a tough guy. He’s not a bad teacher, though, he’s just not very… compassionate.”

Christopher walks out then, and he’s smiling at me, which I didn’t expect him to do. I sort of figured he’d be mad at me. I didn’t tell him about this morning, after all, and I lost it in there. Again.

“I think I should handle Mr. Rogers from now on,” he says, surprising me by tucking a strand of hair behind my ear. “I agree with you, though. He shouldn’t have embarrassed Yoah. And you’re not crazy, just…”

“A firecracker,” Edwards finishes for him. “Anyway, I’m off. I’m taking Freddie with me to the grocery story. He wants to help me cook dinner tonight, and he wants to help buy stuff for it as well.”

“Nice,” Chris says, smiling at his friend. “We should do dinner soon, get the kids together to play.”

“Sure thing.” He takes off with a wave, yelling at Freddie to hurry op. That leaves me and Christopher staring at each other, an amused expression in his blue eyes.

“I’m sorry,” I say after a long stretch of silence. “It won’t happen again.”

He chuckles. “I’m not mad, Abby. I’d rather have you yelling at teachers than to not care about Yoah and Davy. I’ll take care of Mr. Rogers from now on, we can’t have him hating Yoah because you keep shouting at him. I asked around about both teachers when I enrolled the kids here, and Mr. Rogers is pretty decent at his job according to the other parents. He’s just tough on the kids, wanting them to grow a backbone. I’m not saying I agree with his methods, but we can’t go into his classroom and yell at him when we disagree with him, okay?”

“Okay,” I agree with a sigh. “Fine.”

The kids rush over then, and Davy shows me three stones he found that he wants to give to his mother when we visit her. Chris ruffles his hair and then we’re off, walking back home so the boys can have a bite to eat before we head to the hospital. I’m a little nervous to meet their mother, but I’m glad Christopher agrees to me tagging along. He told me about her condition, and she’s not doing well, so I feel like this might be one of the only chances I get to see the boys with their mother.

“Yoah?” Chris says after we’re done eating. “Can I talk to you before we leave?”

The boy straightens up and nods, following Chris upstairs into his room so they can talk about the fight at school today. I play with Davy until they get back down. Christopher winks at me to tell me everything is alright, and Yoah looks lighter than before. I don’t know how it’s possible that Chris is so good with kids when he never had any of his own, and I wonder if that’s because he’s a pediatrician or just because he’s Chris.

Finally, we leave for the hospital, me in riding shotgun with Christopher behind the wheel of his fancy black car, and the kids in the back. He turns on the radio as he pulls out of the driveway and Davy and I sing along, both battling for who is louder. He doesn’t even know the lyrics, so he has us all cracking up with the weird shit he’s yelling.

I love these two kids more than anything, even though I’ve only known them for two weeks. And Chris… Well, he’s growing on me too, even though I wasn’t planning on letting him in. He’s just so… good.

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