“Kit! Kit, hold up! Do you want me to come with you?” shouted Larry, one of the other men who worked nights at Garfield House, as Kit opened the door and let in the frigid night air. Early March could be as cold as December and as unpredictable with its cold spells, so it wasn’t the best of times to be the one doing street patrols, looking for anyone who might need help.
Kit glanced back, shivering into his thick coat. “Nah, no point us both freezing our arses off tonight. I’ll do a sweep of the streets and see if anyone new is hanging around. Not that there’s much space with all the teenagers we have with us right now.”
Garfield House had forty beds and most of the time, they were all full. Tonight was no exception, bar one bed spare, but that didn’t mean Kit or his colleagues wouldn’t head out to check the streets. There was always some lost soul out there in need of their help. Getting them to accept it when life had given them lemons to suck on, that was hard!
Larry’s amicable smile didn’t hide the relief in his eyes. “Thanks, I owe you.”
The man hated the cold and tended to bitch like crazy when he had to do a patrol with Kit. Kit didn’t mind it on occasion but some nights, like tonight when his noisy neighbours had only allowed him about three hours sleep during the day, it was a harder push to keep his irritation to himself. He waved as he closed the rickety old door behind him, reminding himself for the hundredth time to ask someone yet again to do something about the flaking paintwork. He could ask until he was blue in the face though; the building was well past its best and it would stay that way. Nobody wanted to bother spending money on those society deemed less than worthy.
When he’d left university eight years earlier, he’d been full of ideas on how to use his degree in Social Policy and Justice. Kit was a dreamer, or so everyone said. All he wanted was to make life better for those less fortunate, for those who didn’t always feel they had a voice. It was a dream, one slowly picked and pulled apart over the years by politicians and fat-cats who sat in their lofty offices. It had made Kit no less determined and his goals had evolved, working to give those kicked out of home because they didn’t fit with society's norms a chance at finding a life of acceptance.
Something his brother hadn’t realised was a choice. That those close to him would have supported him no matter what, through whatever issues he had that made him think life wasn’t worth living. The pain came in a solid punch to his gut at the reality of what had been and couldn’t be changed, no matter how much Kit wanted it.
At the corner, Kit waved to the owners of the little Tardis-like convenience store, needing a distraction from his tired head. He crossed the street to head to the shop, which perfectly catered to his sweet tooth ever since he’d started working at Garfield five years earlier.
“You alone tonight?” Garry asked as he locked the door and his wife, Cathy, zipped up her thick coat against the biting wind.
“Yep. I let Larry off the hook. It’s damn bitter that wind. I thought they said it was meant to be getting warmer now we are heading into March?”
The streetlight illuminated Cathy’s smile, making her glow eerily in the surrounding shadows. “Who trusts a weather forecaster, hey?”
Garry tucked his wife closer to him when several youths appeared on the other side of the street. He eyed them with caution. “Take care out there, Kit.”
Kit nodded and smiled. “Always do. Safe trip home.”
Moving on, Kit kept his eye on the group of lads he estimated were aged between fourteen and twenty. The area wasn’t a bad one, but that didn’t mean some weren’t looking for trouble.
He nodded as he passed them, keeping eye contact. Any sign of fear could be an invitation for trouble.
They made some comments but Kit shut them out. Bad language in teenage years was a rite of passage, one he’d gone through himself, though well away from his parents. They were supportive, but his mother would have washed his mouth out with soap and water if she’d ever heard him using bad language. Heck, she’d do it now, even though he was thirty.
His breath fogged the air as his gaze swept the alleyways and side streets he passed. He dug his hands deeper into the pockets of his coat and hunched a little, hoping to stop the wind getting inside his jacket, wishing he’d remembered his hat. He crossed over the road, the traffic light but constant, humming to himself as he often did when he was thinking.
He ran through the list of things that he had to speak to the building owner about the next day. He didn’t sigh, though he wanted to when he started to tot up what they needed to fix the leaking basement pipes that looked to have been down there before the first world war. Kirk, who’d set up the charity, was great, but even he had his limits with the purse strings when there was a never ending list of things that needed to be fixed or paid for.
An hour later, Kit stopped and made a survey of the bridge that he used as his turning point for heading back. Teenagers tended to gather there in the daytime. At night, it was used by drug dealers, and though Kit checked it out, he didn’t tend to go too far down the pathway that led under the bridge as it was dark and could be dangerous. He could take care of himself, but those who used more than fists were harder to predict, as he’d learned.
About to turn around, he got a weird feeling at the back of his neck. Taking his hands out of his pockets, his gaze narrowed on the underpass. Nothing moved and the night was filled with the sounds of traffic, but little else. Stepping closer, Kit made his presence known, slapping his feet against the concrete.
Was that a whimper? His head tilted as he strained to listen. His gaze narrowed on the darkness, seeing nothing but shadows. Another step down the path, Kit paused. Was that a rustle of plastic and a low curse?
Taking a chance, Kit listened to his gut, which was starting to flutter madly.
“You okay?” he called out, keeping his voice gentle as it echoed off the underside of the bridge.
A choked sob was the answer.
Breathing deep and even, Kit checked out the path, then bit back the curse again at how dark it was. Was it a set up? Not able to walk away without finding out, Kit pulled out his phone and used his torch to light the shadows under the bridge. His heart thundered against his ribs at the battered face peering up at him. There, huddled up about three feet from him, was a boy. One eye was swollen shut, the other half open. Kit didn’t need to be a betting man to know the guy was terrified, it was there in the one slitted eye.
The boy looked to be sixteen, but with all the streaked blood and dirt covering his face, he could have been younger or older. His clothes weren’t too grubby, and besides the face, he looked well cared for. The coat was thick and padded and possibly explained why he wasn’t having an issue sitting on the hard, cold concrete.
The half-closed eye held his gaze. The longer they stared at each other, there appeared some spunk and sass alongside the terror. That was something Kit recognised after years of working with abused teenagers. “Fuck off. Whatever you’re sellin’, I ain’t interested.”
Kit took a step forward and the boy flinched back against the wall, though he could go nowhere. Carefully, Kit crouched until they were nearly eye level with each other. He lifted the licenced badge he wore around his neck that said who he was and where he worked. “I’m not after anything, but maybe I can help you.”
It was then that Kit caught sight of the hands in the boy's lap. Clutched in them were several pill packets. The boy tilted his chin at Kit in what appeared to be defiance. “I don’t need no help, now bugger off and mind your own fucking business you do-gooder.”
Kit held very still despite his senses screaming at him. He tried to calculate how many of the packets the boy was holding were empty. Had he taken them all?
“Yep, I am a do gooder. One who isn’t going to just walk away so you can, what?” He eyed the packets, his heart sinking with dread. “Take more of those pills? They aren’t the answer.”
Tears began to flow down the grubby face, carving channels into the streaks of blood and something else running down the boy’s cheeks. The one open eye held something much more worrying, defeat. How many times had he seen it? Too many. His hand wanted to shake with the cold, with the fear he could fail this boy as he remained silent.
The pale hands continued to clutch at the packets as Kit ran through things that would give him a chance to help. “Listen, I work at Garfield house. Have you heard of it?” There was a slight head shake from the boy. “It offers sanctuary to anyone seeking it. It’s warm and there is plenty of food.”
Just for a second, Kit thought he saw hope, but then the boy lifted a packet and the pill half sticking out was grasped by white, even teeth and disappeared into his mouth. How he didn’t gag on the dry pill Kit didn’t know, but when the packet came up again, Kit’s gut instinct was to knock it out of the boy’s hand. Only that would get him nowhere and would reinforce the idea that he couldn’t be trusted.
“Please, whatever brought you here tonight, I swear there are places that will help. That can help you find the path out of the hell you feel you are in.”
Another pill was clasped between teeth and disappeared the same as the first. An edge of desperation grew in Kit that he wasn’t used to feeling. The boy pulled at him and for the life of him he couldn’t, no wouldn’t let him take his own life. He edged closer and sat on the unforgiving, freezing ground. His arse was numb before he settled. “The first boy I met who wanted to take his own life was called Zackary. He came from a well to do family, and to the casual onlooker, he had everything. Right up until he told his parents he was gay.”
There was a small gasp, and the hand dropped back down into the boy's lap. Keep talking. “They didn’t beat him, they did something much worse. They cast him out. Told him he wasn’t to come back until he understood that he needed therapy to fix him.” Kit sighed, Zackary’s sweet smile something he thankfully saw three times a week when he came and volunteered at Garfield.
“What happened to him?” came the quiet question, one that gave Kit hope.
“He works in a modelling agency as a receptionist and comes to volunteer at Garfield two or three times a week to listen to anyone who wants to talk. He understands what it’s like to think you’ve lost everything.” God he prayed the boy was listening, understanding what he was saying.
Long minutes ticked by and the pain in Kit’s arse spread up his back, but he didn’t dare move when the boy beside him wasn’t either. He squinted at the pill packets, trying not to make it obvious that he was looking. They looked to be paracetamol. His mind raced through all the side effects and damage they could cause. He’d done several courses over the years to deal with all kinds of different situations. Facing someone who was suicidal was always the hardest because Kit never truly felt like he was able to walk in their shoes and therefore really understand what it was like to think life offered nothing and that death was the only answer. He never wanted to inadvertently make matters worse. Something he wasn’t sure if he’d done to his own brother.
Uncertainty started to creep in when he realised they must have been sitting silently for around thirty minutes. Larry would, at some point, start to question why he wasn’t back, which meant he’d ring. Kit’s biggest concern was the pills; how many had the boy taken and over what time period? Taking a chance, he looked sideways. “If I’m honest, my back and arse is killing me. I’m not as young as I used to be.”
There was the slightest hint of laughter. The boy’s one eye met Kit’s and his heart flipped in his chest. “You aren’t that old.”
“I bet I’m old compared to you. I’m thirty.”
The laughter was a little louder this time. “As I say, not that old. I’m eighteen in three weeks. You’re only twelve years older than me, grandpa.”
“Hey, I take umbrage at that statement. Grandpa? Who are you calling grandpa?” He kept his tone real light and his smile friendly.
“I could be your son. You could have had me at fifteen and I could have a son so that means you could be a grandpa,” the boy pointed out.
For the first time since they’d met, Kit laughed in shock when he did the maths and found out he could indeed be a grandparent if he were straight.
“Holy crap, I could too. What a damn scary thought!”
There was a cracked laugh that quickly turned into a sob, that one eye holding the misery of the world. “Not as scary as having everything you own taken from you because you like to wear make-up and are interested in… boys.”
The next sob was louder and Kit gently nudged the boy with his shoulder, working on keeping things friendly while trying to offer the support the boy clearly needed.
“Come with me, I promise that we’ll work to figure it out. Though it feels like there might be nothing worth living for, I swear there is if you’ll just let me help you find it.” He held out his hand to the boy, noticing it shook with the nerves wanting to take hold. Breathing deep, he smiled gently. “I’m Kit.”
Seconds dragged past, but Kit didn’t rush the boy as he eyed his hand with suspicion. When he finally let go of the packets and they dropped into his lap, Kit breathed easier for the first time since coming across the boy.
“I’m Jack.” The hand that slipped into Kit’s was small and freezing. It held Kit’s with surprising force. “Please don’t hurt me,” he begged, the one eye pinning him in place and capturing a part of his heart with his bravery.
“Never Jack. I’ll never hurt you.”