Caring Christopher

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#59 Edward saves the day

Christopher

Aston, Edward and I are standing in front of the large white house with a garden that looks like it belongs in a magazine for landscaping. It’s hard to believe that an alcoholic lives here. I’m half-expecting a lovely elderly couple to open the door when I knock.

When the door swings open after a few minutes of waiting and knocking, I see a tall man who looks like he hasn’t slept in days. He reeks of beer and sweat, and his hair is sticking up in weird directions.

“Who the fuck are you?” he grumbles while he scratches his balls.

Lovely. What a charming guy. Looking more closely, I can see the resemblance to Celeste. Same nose, his natural hair color matches Celeste’s roots, and they’ve got the same slender frame and bony limbs. Of course, she looks a hell of a lot healthier than he does.

“We’re here to pick up Celeste’s things,” I say kindly. “Can we come in?”

“Who the fuck are you?” the man repeats, taking me in with a frown.

“Christopher.” I hold out my hand for him to shake, but stop it when it becomes evident he’s not going to be polite. “My son is Celeste’s boyfriend.”

“You’re Wyatt’s dad?” he asks.

“Jagger’s dad,” I verify, wondering if Wyatt the guy who hit Celeste, causing her and Jagger to get arrested. “Celeste has been staying over at our place the past couple of… weeks.” More like months. “She needs some more clothes and other things.”

“Oh,” he says, stepping to the side to let us in. “Sure.”

Isn’t he going to ask me why Celeste is staying at my place? Doesn’t he wonder why she didn’t come home last night? He leaves us in the hallway, staggering into the living room himself and sinking down on the couch where he left his huge can of beer.

“You go get Celeste’s stuff,” Edward tells me, pointing up the stairs. I will have a talk with her dad.”

Aston looks between the two of us, trying to decide who to stick with. He’s only here because… well, let’s be real. Edward and I aren’t exactly scrawny, but we’re no muscular gods like Aston. I didn’t know what to expect when we came over here, but I felt like some backup never hurt anyone.

“I doubt I will run into trouble in Celeste’s empty bedroom,” I reason, nodding to the living room. “Keep Eddy company.”

They both nod and we split up. Celeste wanted to come over herself to pick up some stuff, but Jagger doesn’t want her here when her father is drunk, because it hurts her so see him like that. We weren’t even sure if he’d be home, and Jagger insists that her ex usually waits for her to be alone before showing up to try and get her back – with force, if need be – so I decided that his was a job for me and the guys. We filled Edward in this morning, and he agreed that the only thing to do was to alert the authorities and try to find Celeste a good family to take care of her until her dad gets clean.

I take out my phone to scroll through the list of things Celeste’s needs, wincing a little when I see that one of the items is underwear. I try not to look while I throw her lacy thongs and skimpy bras into the bag I’ve got with me. When I’ve found everything she needs, I head back down.

“When have you last seen Celeste?” I hear Edward ask the drunk man on the couch when I walk in.

He shrugs. “Not sure.”

“Did you know she wasn’t living here anymore?”

Another shrug. “That girl does as she pleases. Always has.”

“Are you okay with her staying with another family?”

He laughs. He actually laughs. “I don’t give a fuck where she stays. It’s not like she’s around much anyway. All she ever does is steal my beer and cigarettes.”

Edward gets up from the chair he was sitting on and sighs. “Let’s go,” he says to me and Aston, already moving to the front door. He turns to us when we’re outside and Aston shuts the door behind us. “Poor girl. That man is way more than just drunk. I looked around the place the first five minutes while Aston kept and eye on him, and there’s all kinds of drugs all over the house. He’s got cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, marihuana, molly… You name it, and it’s in there.” He shudders. “I’ve seen this often enough to know that we won’t have any trouble getting Celeste out of there and put into foster care. The challenge will be to find her a safe place to stay. I think it’ll be a group home, but the only one with a place for right now…” Edward shakes his head. “It’s not the one I’d like for her. It’s understaffed and there are some seriously messed-up kids in there. Jagger and Celeste look like saints compared to the kids in that place.”

“Then I guess she’s staying with us,” I decide. I know Abby doesn’t want that, and I totally agree with her, but we can’t kick the girl out. We need to get her away from her dad, but she needs a safe place to stay. Guess we’re it.

“No,” Edward disagrees, shaking his head. “Abby had the right idea. She shouldn’t feel like she’s dependent of her relationship with Jagger. She knows that if you and Abby ever have to pick between her and Jagger, you will always pick him over her. That’s not good for her. She needs more stability than that.”

I grunt and start walking back home, Aston and Edward on my heels. It’s only a few streets, but it feels like miles. I wish I could fix this situation. Hell, I wish her parents were truly diplomats who travel a lot. That would be better than the truth.

“I’ll take her,” Edward says when we reach the house.

“What?” I ask, not sure I heard him right.

“I’m a foster dad, and a social worker, and I’ve fostered a teenager before.”

“You’ve already got Freddie,” I reason, not wanting him to think I was dragging him into this to force his hand and shove Celeste at him.

“You’ve got three kids,” he reminds me with a slight smile. “Although your house often seems like ten kids or so live there. And you took care of a dying woman for a while. You and Abby manage just fine. Surely, I can handle Freddie and Celeste. Besides, she will probably stay over at your place half the time anyway.”

“I’d like to offer to take her, but Annabel will kill me if I drag an unruly teenager into our house,” Aston says, looking a little sheepish.

I laugh and clap him on the back. “No one is ever going to ask you to take in a teenager, Aston. She’d end up even more fucked up then she already is.” I turn back to Edward. “Are you sure? This isn’t your mess to fix, you know.”

“I know,” he agrees immediately. “Doesn’t mean I don’t want to.”

“Okay,” I say with a sigh. “Let’s go in to talk to her.”

“Guess that’s my cue to go home,” Aston decides. “Guess my services as cheap hired muscle weren’t needed tonight. Call me if Celeste’s ex ever needs his ass whooped. I’d be happy to help.” He waves goodbye with a smile, walking off in the direction of his own house.

Edward and I walk into the living room, where Abby, Jagger and Celeste are watching TV. Yoah and Davy are already in bed, so we can speak freely. I hand Celeste her stuff and she rummages through it, smiling when she sees everything is there.

“Was Dad home?” she asks, glancing up at me before looking away with an almost embarrassed expression on her pale face. “How bad was it?”

“Bad,” Edward says, sitting down in the loveseat when I settle in sext to Abby. “Did you know your father uses drugs?”

Celeste nods. “Alcohol is his biggest problem, but he’s an addict in general. Where do you think I get my weed from?”

“Celeste,” Jagger hisses, looking at me and Abby with worry in his eyes. Like we don’t already know he gets high every now and then. We’re not stupid.

“I’m Edward Clark,” Eddy says then, holding out his hand.

“I know,” she replies a little taken-aback, accepting his outstretched hand and shaking it with a frown on her face. “We met before, remember?”

He smiles. “I know. I just thought I should introduce myself properly before asking you to move in with me.”

“Move in with you?” she repeats, blinking rapidly. “You’re joking, right?”

“Oh, that’s a great idea!” Abby perks up and beams at all of us. “Are you sure, Eddy?”

“I’ve got a spare room, I’m already a foster dad, and I live pretty close,” he says shrugging. “Plus, we already know each other. Makes sense. I’ve never fostered a girl before, so it’ll be a nice change of pace.”

“B-but I-I-I d-don’t-” Celeste stammers her protest, but Jagger silences her with a single look.

“Three rules,” Edward tells her, holding up his fingers. “One: no drugs in my house. Freddie is way too young and innocent for that shit. Two: no funny business. Chris and Abby may be liberal about sleeping arrangements, but I’m not. You won’t sneak Jagger or any other boys into my house. They will only come over when I am home, and you won’t leave the living room. What you do here, up in his bedroom, I don’t give a shit about, but my house, my rules. And three: no lies. I don’t care if you yell at me, or slam doors, or whatever you teenagers like to do, but you won’t lie to me.”

I’m a little taken-aback seeing this no-nonsense side of my lead-back friend. It’s quite a different approach than Abby and I take, but I can see that this suits Eddy. I get it. He needs to protect Freddie and he barely knows Celeste. He’s risking a lot for no other reason than the fact that it’s the right thing to do.

“Okay,” Celeste breathes, looking at Edward with narrowed eyes. “That’s cool. I’ve got three rules too.”

“Name them,” Edward says, crossing his arms over his chest.

“One: no drinking.”

“If I can’t drink, you can’t drink,” he shoots back immediately. “I’m not an addict like your dad, but I do like a beer every now and then. I will happily stop drinking if that makes you feel safer, but that means you can’t get drunk either. Not even at parties.”

“Fine,” she snaps. “Two: no walking in when I change or shower.”

Edward looks take-aback. “I’d never do that. I’ve got a spare room with a lock and you’ll share a bathroom with Freddy, and that door locks as well. I’ve got my own ensuite bathroom, and you will be in charge of cleaning up after both yourself and Freddie, so I will never be in any of your rooms anyway, except for the biweekly drug checks.”

“Fair enough,” Celeste agrees.

“What’s rule three?” Edward asks, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees.

Celeste looks down at the floor for a moment before speaking up again. “I still want to be allowed to see my dad.”

“Supervised visits okay with you?” Eddy replies without missing a beat. “I met him today, Celeste, and you may say he’s not a mean or abusive drunk, but I saw many different kinds of drugs… I don’t feel safe leaving you alone with him. I want to be there when you see him.”

“No,” Celeste says, her jaw set. “Just me and Dad.”

“Then the deal’s off,” Edward says, getting up immediately. “Good luck finding another place to stay.”

I look at Abby in bewilderment. She shrugs and opens her mouth to say something, but it’s Jagger who’s the first to speak.

“What if Celeste agrees to let someone else supervise?” he asks. “Or does it need to be you?”

Smart man.

“No, I’m good with someone else being there.” Eddy looks down on the two teenagers. I’ve got a feeling he’s being a hard-ass deliberately to show Celeste who’s boss. He’s perfect for her. Way better than me and Abby. Jagger is a good, sweet kid at heart, and after those first few months he mellowed out, but Celeste is different. More set in her ways. Jagger has two little brothers who look up to him, and he feels responsible for them. Celeste doesn’t have anyone to want to be good for.

“Abby?” Celeste asks, her eyes cutting at my girlfriend.

“No,” Edward says before I can protest. “No offence, but I want it to be a man.”

Celeste looks at me for a moment, but we both know she and I don’t have any kind of bond. Not really. She seems to like me just fine, but she doesn’t trust me the way the way she trusts Abby. It was the same way when Jagger first got here. Abby gets through to kids like that in ways I can’t, because she’s been there. It takes me longer to bond with them, but once I’m in, they know I’m in for good. I’m a little more stable than Abby, with less of a temper, and that allows me to be their rock. At least, that’s how it worked with Jagger and me.

“We could just let the social worker on your case handle the visits,” Edward says eventually. “Then it would be at the agency downtown. I wouldn’t have to be there, and it’d still be safe.”

“Can Jagger come?” she asks, grabbing his hand tightly.

“Sure,” Edward says, smiling. “Okay, so we’ve got our six rules. We good?”

She nods. “So… how does this work?”

“She’s staying here this week, right?” I ask, not wanting Celeste to feel like everything is changing in a matter of seconds. I took a risk telling Edward about everything without informing Celeste first, and luckily she’s not angry with me. I don’t want to make her feel like Abby and I are trying to get rid of her. We kind of are, but not because we hate her or anything. We just want what’s best for her.

“Yeah, I’ll talk to Mary in the morning and ask her to take the case, since I can’t be the social worker on my own case, and then we should be able to get things in order in a week or so. Unless your dad is going to fight us on this, of course,” he explains to Celeste. “If he does, it’ll be a little harder.”

“You’re staying right here until things are taken care of,” Jagger promises her, pulling her in for a hug. He looks fiercely protective in this moment and I admire him for it. “I’ll be there every step of the way.”

“Good. I need to get home. Thank God Freddie is with my mother tonight.” Edward yawns and then hold takes a card out of his wallet and hands it to Celeste. “My number is on there. Call or text me anytime you want, okay? We’re in this together now.”

She nods and takes out her phone to put his name and number in there. Then she surprises everyone by getting up and hugging him, her shoulders sagging when she finally lets go of all the stress festering inside of her petite body.

“You’ll be okay,” Edward says, patting her back before breaking away from her. “See you soon.”

I walk him to the front door and grab his shoulder, squeezing it tightly. “You’re the best.”

“Oh, I know,” he says, grinning. “I’m amazing.”

“One word of advice, though,” I say, looking him straight in the eye. “Ask someone else to take this case, okay? Not Mary.”

“Why?” he asks, frowning. “The adoption will be finalized this week, so your case is done. She’s got time for Celeste and me.”

“Yeah, but I’m not sure it’d be professional for her to date a foster dad whose kid she’s responsible for.”

“What?” he asks, sounding incredulous. “Date?”

Oh boy, Abby was right when she told me that she didn’t think Edward noticed how much Mary was flirting with him the other night. “Mary is totally into you.”

“No she isn’t.” Edward looks amused. “Why would you say that?”

“Because she looks at you like she wants to rip off all your clothes,” I say, laughing. “I’d never heard her giggle before that night you both stayed for dinner.”

“She always giggles,” he shoots back. “Like… all the time.”

“Exactly.” I give him a pointed look. “Around you, she does.”

“Hmm.” It looks like he doesn’t mind Mary liking him at all. “I guess I can ask William to take the case instead.” He shakes his head and chuckles. “Mary likes me… Fucking hell, this night is full of surprises, isn’t it?”

I can’t do anything but agree with that statement.

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