Beyond Caring is the story of Aaron. On admission to Templewood, a children’s home, he met Rebecca, his keyworker, but he did not settle, and on Christmas Day he tried to run home to his mother. Since returning he has struggled with his keyworker, met his mother again, lost his pet, had a brilliant holiday, and been let down again and again by his mother. At school, he is uneasy about the teacher and a stranger hanging around. In the latest episodes Aaron was sexually bullied, had a tantrum, suffered a nightmare and recovered memories. If you would like to read the earlier chapters first, please click here: Chapter 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12
Rebecca holds the pink envelope out at me; my eyes stare at mum’s round writing. I don’t take the envelope from her. I want to lie back down on my bed, to close my eyes again.
“Aaron, take the letter.”
I shake my head.
“Shall I keep it for later?”
I wish she hadn’t even told me about this letter; now I can’t just forget it and drift back into sleep.
“You open it,” a small voice finally speaks out of me.
Rebecca’s finger slips under the fold of the envelope, one neat tear and then she pulls out a sheet of paper. A large piece of dull, lined paper. Where is mum’s pink to match her envelope?
“Oh,” Rebecca exclaims.
“What’s mum saying?”
I look at Rebecca and then down at the tiny square black handwriting that fills the paper. I stare at its strangeness.
“That’s not mum’s writing.”
“Aaron, I don’t know who this letter is from. I think I need to get Derek.”
Rebecca rushes to the door holding the letter; I wish she’d calm down. After she’s gone, I realise I should have grabbed that letter from her; now I don’t have the energy to chase after her. I see the envelope on the floor; slowly I uncurl and move forwards towards it; my hand closes around its edge. I run my hand over mum’s writing; it’s definitely her writing on the envelope. I put the envelope to my nose but there’s no trace of mum left on it.
Is mum ill? Is she so angry with me? Our visit, our phone call … fuck, I went on and on at her with questions. Is this letter to tell me she doesn’t want to hear from me again?
I should never have let Rebecca interfere; I need to see the letter. I leap out of bed and go downstairs. Derek stares at me as I go into the office; Rebecca continues holding the phone to her ear but she goes silent on seeing me.
“Give me my letter!”
“Aaron, follow me,” Derek says.
“You can’t keep it from me.”
Derek’s arm is around me and moving me out of the office; we go to the empty dining room.
“Sit down,” he commands. “Aaron, show me the envelope in your hand.”
I put it down on the table; its edge is crumpled where my hand has clung on to it.
“Do you recognise the writing?”
“Of course, it’s mum’s. She’s addressed it to me at my social worker’s, then my social worker sends it on.”
“That is what Rebecca thinks and it’s postmarked from her home area. But Aaron, the letter inside claims not to be from her.”
“It is simply signed ‘from Dad’.”
“Rebecca is speaking to Jean right now trying to find out who sent you this letter and why.”
“What does it say?”
“It starts ‘dear Aaron’ and ends ‘all my love goes to you, your dad’.”
“And what’s in between?”
“It talks of a father’s love for his son.”
“Well someone’s obviously got the wrong Aaron.”
I look at Derek but he’s staring beyond me.
“What is it?” I ask him.
“I don’t know, Aaron; we’ll obviously get back to you on this one.”
“It’s just some stupid muddle; I don’t have a dad.”
But I don’t miss seeing the crinkles in Derek’s forehead that show he’s puzzled by something.
“Give me the letter.”
“Aaron, it may not be a letter for you. We cannot give it to you … Come on, let’s get ourselves a nice cold drink.”
Imagine. For a moment it could feel so real. It was a dad, a dad and me. My dad. A dad walking next to me. A dad in the park watching me make the swing go higher and higher. A dad buying me sweets. Imagine. I want to be the Aaron who has a dad, the Aaron who gets a letter from a dad, a boy who lives in a different world called ‘having a dad’.
The writing on the envelope was definitely mum’s. Why is she doing this to me? Derek and Rebecca should have got on and told me the truth of her playing some joke on me. I should have snatched the letter from them and put an end to it then.
Derek tells me I don’t need to do my reading after school and he takes me into the office. I don’t want him to talk about mum and make a fool out of me. He says nothing at first, just sets up a game of chess. I want to do my school reading; I need everything to be normal; Rebecca should be here, not on a day off. The noise of a door opening breaks into my thoughts then Derek suddenly says that Ben and Kate want to talk to me. He tells me they’re waiting for me in the lounge.
“What have I got to do with Ben and Kate. I haven’t done anything wrong … Or have I?”
“Aaron, just go in.”
“You’re keeping something from me.”
Ben’s sat on the settee; Kate’s in the armchair. Why would Ben and Kate be the ones to talk to me about my mum and that letter?
“Sit down,” Kate says.
I don’t want to settle in this room.
“Sit before we speak.”
I sit on the edge of a hard wooden chair.
“Well straight to the point, Aaron … We’re here to tell you that we are leaving. Ben and I will be leaving Sunbeam in a few weeks.”
“Leaving? Is that what this is all about?”
“Yes. Ben is going on to do some studying; I’m going to a young offenders unit.”
I thought this was going to be about mum. I want to know what’s going on, what the letter says, or who it’s for if it’s not for me.
“Any thoughts on us leaving, Aaron?”
“No … Listen, if you’re not going to talk about mum, I don’t want to hang around in here.”
“Wait a minute, Aaron, have you heard what we’ve said about our leavings? Do you have any questions?”
I shake my head.
“You may come to wonder why we’re leaving at the same time,” Ben says. “A coincidence; we both made our leaving plans and had separately decided to leave around the same time. We all think it’d be better if Kate and I went on the same day rather than having two leavings close together.”
“Leaving is not an easy decision,” Kate says. “We’re really glad we had the chance of meeting you and getting to know you. I think you’ve been amazing; I’ll think about you even when I’m gone.”
“We’ll be around when you want to chat and you can talk with Rebecca about our leaving.”
“Why? I’m not going to go stupid about you going.”
I walk out of the lounge; loud music booms through the ceiling from a bedroom upstairs; I see Emma with her arm around Shelby.
“Have you heard? Have you heard?” Shelby calls out. “They’re leaving!”
“So?” But then I look at him and his eyes are full of tears, so I speak more softly. “Don’t worry; it’s just another good-bye.”
When Rebecca gets back from her days off, she already knows that Ben and Kate are leaving. I ask her what other things she’s been keeping from me and instead of saying ‘nothing’, she just goes quiet on me. Is her silence some secret to do with the letter?
“Just read it to me.”
“My letter from mum, you have to read it to me. You’ve obviously read it.”
“Yes, Aaron, I have.”
“So, what does it say?”
“Aaron, trust me; I just can’t let you know.”
“You’re totally unfair. I won’t just forget about it you know; you’ll have to tell me one day.”
“Yes, I know.”
I hear Rebecca sigh as I march off to the lounge. The room’s full of people talking about Ben and Kate.
“I don’t care about them going,” Narinder says. “I’ll be away from here soon; I’ve got my foster family waiting for me.”
“I’m the one who’s left with the shit; they haven’t sorted out anything for me,” Liam says.
“I don’t want Ben and Kate to leave,” Shelby says.
“What’s it to you? Ben’s my fucking keyworker,” Liam says.
“But I don’t want them to go!”
“You don’t even have the right to be upset.”
“Group won’t be the same without them.”
Just then Derek and Emma come into the lounge; someone asks Derek how long he’s worked here and he says fifteen years. Liam tells him he’s a sad bastard.
“I don’t know what presents to get for Ben and Kate,” Shelby says. “Shall I give Kate my toy puppy?”
Liam laughs but Shelby carries on.
“Kate carried my Lego upstairs when I first got here, it was my best day ever.”
“You are so sad!”
“Enough, Liam,” Emma says.
“It is enough and I’m not hanging around in this dump.”
Liam heads out of the room and Derek follows him. I wish Ben and Kate would just get on with going.
After all Shelby’s talk of what presents to get, he just gives Ben and Kate some stickers and sweets.
“Don’t forget me,” he says.
Ben opens a framed picture drawn by Liam; there are words in the middle surrounded by a drawing of trees and parrots.
To a star keyworker
You put up with me
You’ve been the best
To Ben from Liam
Ben leans over and gives Liam a quick hug. I give my present to Ben; I’ve bought him a chain from the market. His fingers pick at the Sellotape but he’s still looking at Liam’s present.
“Who’s this from?” he suddenly says realising he’s opening a present.
“From Aaron,” Rebecca says.
The chain falls out onto the ground; he picks it up.
“Do you like it?”
“You don’t; I should have got a different one.”
“Thank you, Aaron,” he says putting it on.
It’s tight round his neck, Narinder laughs, then Ben’s already moving on to the next present. Group’s bought him a rucksack; I could have got him that. Kate opens the perfume I’ve bought her; she smiles at me but doesn’t spray it, just puts it down in a pile with all her other presents.
“I could get you a different chain,” I say to Ben.
“What’s that, Aaron?”
“I could get you a different chain.”
“Why? The one you got is great; I like it.”
He’s already looking at an ugly ship someone’s made for him; he goes on and on about it.
“I’ll always remember you, Ben,” Shelby says. “Remember when you took me skateboarding. And we were at the fair together. We played football and I scored a goal. We went to the park …”
Kate’s got a big bag full of presents for us; she’s made us each a cushion. She gives me one with a whale sewed on it - a big blob of purple stitches. I want the one she gives Liam because he gets a leopard.
We stand on the steps of Templewood; Ben moves from one person to another giving everyone a hug. He’s getting closer to me. I look down onto the drive below and see Ben’s car waiting to take them away and then Ben’s arms are suddenly around me.
“Take care, Aaron.”
He moves on to Narinder so quickly and now she’s asking him to write to us; I should have thought of saying that. Now I’m surrounded by Kate; I lean a little into her softness. She holds me on either side, stands me back upright then lets go. She goes to Shelby but he won’t hug her. Her eyes are red and she’s biting down on her lower lip as she goes slowly away from us down the steps towards Ben’s car.
“Will you miss me, even just a little bit?” I hear Liam ask Ben.
“I’ll think of you so often.”
Ben too then walks down the steps and gets into his car. The engine starts.
“Bye,” Narinder calls out.
Just one hoot and the car moves off.
“Don’t go! Stay!” Shelby screams out then leaps towards the stairs.
Derek catches him and holds him back.
“No!” he yells.
The car carries on steadily along the drive.
“I’ll be the next to leave,” Narinder says.
“Shut it, Narinder,” someone calls out.
“I’m going to play on the computer,” Liam states clutching his leopard cushion as he walks inside.
“Are you okay?” Rebecca says to me.
Suddenly I realise that I haven’t been afraid of Ben for a long time. I want him back. He was no beast to Liam. Or to me. Or to anyone here. And now we’ve lost him.
It was a cold, cold day. I had a coat on that was too big and shoes that squeezed my toes. They had to pull me off mum and then, mum, your hands just stayed stretched out, emptied of me. And then you just stood there. The feeling like elastic between us was pulled. I waited for you to run after me. The elastic was stretched too far. I knew you’d come and get me; you wouldn’t let me go for long. I was waiting for you; I couldn’t live without you. You had to come. I lived by looking for you in every face on the street; you had to be there somewhere, waiting for your moment to grab me back.
I hear Rebecca fighting with Liam, and then when she does finally come into my room, there’s a cut above her eye.
“Did Liam do that?”
“Don’t worry about it.”
“Liam’s a bastard.”
“Liam is struggling at the moment; he has just lost his keyworker.”
I look at Rebecca, I see the dried blood of her cut and I’m suddenly shivering. Why does she stay on here? She’ll leave me. She’s planned her departure already. I think of her driving off like Ben and Kate have, their car disappearing further and further away from me.
“Tell it to me straight,” I say to her. “When are you leaving me?”
“What? Oh Aaron, I’m not leaving.”
“But Liam’s hurt you.”
“You must know by now that one little cut isn’t going to put me off.”
“And Ben and Kate have left.”
“I’m not Ben or Kate.”
“Well so what, we’ll have to say good-bye sometime and I’ll never see you again. It would just be easier if you got on with it and left me now.”
“No way, Aaron! I’m … I’m committed to staying here until after you leave. Yes … believe me, I will be here for you. I won’t leave before you do.”
And I find myself holding onto Rebecca as she gives me a hug.
Derek’s made me sit down and stop fiddling through my drawer of toys. He’s leaning against my window, Rebecca sits on my bed; my social worker’s beside her. My social worker just turned up today.
“Aaron, this concerns the letter that came for you a few weeks ago; there have been some … developments,” my social worker says.
I want to know - I don’t want to know. It’s too tight all squeezed in here. We never have meetings in a bedroom; we should be in the office.
“There is no easy way to say this; what I’m going to say will be hard to take on so I will get to the point - we have all been mistaken. Your father is dead but he has only just died.”
“Your mother, many people, were told he had died nine years ago but he had not.”
“He has been alive and mostly living in London these past years.”
“No, he was dead and buried years ago. He’s dead.”
“He only died a few weeks ago.”
I shake my head.
“Yes, Aaron, you can speak to your mum about this.”
“… A dad? Alive? You’re not making any sense.”
“Your dad has been very ill. I know that your mother has told you how he took drugs; your father’s life was overtaken by his drug addiction.”
“What’s the use in what you’re telling me?”
“Your father died about a month ago,” my social worker states. “Very sadly, he took his life.”
“Took his life?”
I need to be far away from my social worker and her words; she’s making me dizzy. Derek’s arm pushes gently down on my shoulder to re-seat me. My social worker coughs, then blows her nose. How can I have had a dad who has been alive all these years? I’m his son and it’s never felt like he was out there.
“Aaron, your mother saw your dad before he died,” Derek says.
Blink and none of this will be true. The world’s gone upside-down - mum saw a dad? My dad?
“It was the first time she’d seen him in many years.”
“Mum hates dad.” And I was born from that hate.
“She went to see him.”
“I want to see him … I mean, if this rubbish is true, then I should have gone. I should have been the one to see him. Why didn’t you take me to him?”
“We knew none of this,” my social worker states. “The letter for you, it was signed from your dad. I thought it was something strange your mother had done. I tackled her on it; I found out the truth. Aaron, before your dad died, he wrote you a letter. Your mum re-wrote the envelope for him so I would automatically send it on to you.”
My social worker scrambles around in her briefcase. She pulls out some paper; I recognise it as the sheet of file paper with the strange small writing; the pink envelope is clipped onto it.
“Aaron, we have decided for you to have this. It is genuine; it is from your dad.”
A dad alive, a letter from dad? I can’t catch up to here.
“Take it …”
“Why did everyone always tell me dad was dead?”
“Aaron, your father had disappeared; your step-mother had presumed him dead given his addiction and state of ill health. It’s what everyone then believed.”
“Was he really alive? All these years I could have had a dad?”
Did everyone really know for certain that dad was dead or had they just given up on him? I stare at the paper but it’s no good; I can’t read it. I know everyone in this room has got to it before me so there’s nothing to hide.
“Read it to me,” I say as I hand it to Rebecca.
“For Aaron,” she starts. “Hands off if you are not my Aaron, you have got to give this to my Aaron.”
I stare at the wall and try to hear if this letter really is anything to do with me.
“Aaron, I think to you all the time. I love you. Always. You are my son. My special boy. Believe me when I say I love you, I never forgot you. I looked for you, I wasn’t going to bother you. I saw kids playing, one time everyone was in fancy dress - were you Zorro or Batman or maybe the knight? Did you spot me? How close did I get to you? I don’t even know how you look now. I keep that photo of baby you and me, our faces close together, all this time.
I have been a bad dad. You just a child, you cannot get it. Aaron I could not look after you. I was living in a terrible place. Do not do drugs. Never, ever. I never had a dad, not one what was there for me. I did not know how to be a dad. I could not do it. You were beautiful - perfect. I was scared to hold you. You crying was my pain. I was just a kid myself back then. You were best without me, I would have ruined you.
You will hear bad things about me. This last thing, seeing the man called my dad was too much pain. I wanted to start again. He brought me a drink, I cannot drink and he never even knew that. It was the drink that did it. I am an ill man. Sick. I used to have dreams for my life - I never got any of them. I have done nothing good with my life. Only you. I believe in you, in that photo the light behind your eyes always gives me hope for you. God keep you safe and well. Good-bye. It is best for all I go. I have nothing to leave you but my love. Look after it.
Rebecca stops; I grab the paper from her hands.
“He tried to find me?”
“… Is he …? I mean, he can’t be. No way.”
Shit, oh shit. That horrible wasted man. He has something to do with me. My flesh and blood. I need air; I feel squashed by so many people in my room.
“Please can I be alone.”
The adults whisper their way out of my room. Fuck, fuck. That dosser was dad? Jesus, mum said dad was bad but he’s even worse than I ever imagined. Mum says I look like him - I don’t, I don’t! Why the fuck does she say that? He wasn’t even clean. Don’t let that be my dad. A tramp for a dad. A loser. Ugly, ugly. Fucking drug-head.
He’s a creep. He came sneaking around looking for me. He frightened me. How many times has he been following me? How did he find me here?
That dosser, dad, he’s dead now?
I sit on my bed and stare at the letter. This dad can’t even write properly. The whole letter is a mess - covered in scribbled bits where words are crossed out and re-written. The letters are so tightly scrawled together that it’s really hard to read. My door opens and Rebecca returns to my room.
“Don’t tell anyone that dosser was my dad. Please!”
“It’s okay, Aaron; the other children will not know.”
“I need to go out, just a short walk?”
“I’ll come with you.”
“No, I want to be just me. I’ll stay out front, you’ll see me out of the window. There’s no danger from some weirdo out there anymore; he’s turned into my dad and he’s dead.”
He was alive but now he’s truly dead. In one letter, dad comes to me and then goes. Hello and good-bye. Rebecca’s hand takes the letter from me and as I walk downstairs, I hear Liam’s fighting shouts coming up from the office. Emma’s bent down in the hall picking up a torn collage of photos. I see the lounge picture of planets screwed up, a smashed frame, a broken lampshade, pencils, books. I guess it’s all Liam’s doing, he wants Ben back. I kick the wall as I head out of the door.
Later on I ask Rebecca to tell me about the letter again.
“I’ll fetch it and read it out shall I?”
“For Aaron, hands off if you are not my Aaron, you have got to give this to my Aaron. Aaron, I think to you all the time. I love you. Always. You are my son. My special boy.”
Love! It’s too late for that. What’s the point of his letter? He can’t pretend to care about me now, he can’t.
“Believe me when I say I love you, I never forgot you.”
He never did a thing for me. He couldn’t even recognise me when he came here; he asks if I was Zorro or Superman or a Knight. He wasn’t even looking at me when I thought he was. He must have been looking past me at Zorro, I remember I was playing football with Zorro.
“Shall I read more?”
“What’s this bit down here?” I say pointing down the page.
“You will hear bad things about me,” Rebecca reads. “This last thing, seeing my old man was too much pain. I wanted to start again. He brought me a drink, I cannot drink and he never even knew that. It was the drink that did it.”
“I don’t even know what he’s saying. What’s his meaning?”
“… Aaron, are you ready to hear more difficult things?”
“It can’t get worse.”
“Aaron, your dad was in a community residential programme to beat his addiction; for the first time he was really determined to come off drugs.”
“Drugs are evil; didn’t he even know that?”
“Around this time in re-hab, your dad decided to trace and contact his own father; he wanted his father to visit him; he was even encouraged to do this as part of his recovery programme. Aaron, nobody knows exactly what happened, I don’t think your dad planned this but … but your dad killed his father under the influence of alcohol.”
“My dad killed his father! His own dad!”
“Yes. Your dad was in prison when he committed suicide.”
“The bastard. A murderer. The dosser man who came here? … Fuck, what would he have done to me if he’d found me?”
“Aaron, we are sure that your father did not come looking for you to do harm to you. The murder happened very recently and after the time he came here. It was no doubt sparked by your father’s emotion at finally seeing his own father after he had not seen him for many years. Also alcohol can make some people violent and that may have been particularly true for your father at a very fragile time when he was trying so hard to beat his drug addiction and to rebuild his life.”
I grab the letter from Rebecca, punch my hand into it, screw it up and throw it against the door.
“Dad should have died years ago when he was meant to.”
“It’s a lot to take on, Aaron.”
“I don’t want this dad; I don’t want any dad!”
Rebecca picks up the letter.
“Stop! Don’t read more; I can’t hear more!”
“I will keep your dad’s letter, store it safely in your private file.”
“Do what the hell you like!”
A shout jolts through into my room waking me. Liam. A crash then a banging. Noise invades through me, I get out of bed and open my door to see Liam thrusting a kick into Emma. He’s got his dressing gown cord around his forehead like he thinks he’s some fucking Kung Fu warrior.
“Stop it, Liam,” Emma shouts.
“Oooh, I’m so scared,” Liam teases.
Liam rushes into her; she shrieks then staggers back. A drop of blood falls through her fingers. Liam stomps off.
“Why don’t you get some adults who can manage?” Narinder’s voice calls down to the boy’s corridor. “We need Ben back.”
I step back into my room and slam my door shut against them all.
A fly buzzes across my room; its noise brings back the memory of chain saws from the dream I was having before Liam woke me. A chain saw had been humming, its teeth sharp and ready. An old man was screaming and hiding behind the cupboard. The saw had rushed through air then made easy work of carving through the cupboard. The saw was getting closer to the man.
I shudder. I hear people rushing around outside my room; Shelby’s screaming; there’s a scuffle. Someone kicks into my door and shouts out my name. Something slides past the outside of my room.
My ceiling creaks, footsteps move, the fly spirals around me and I make a feeble attempt at swiping it. Suddenly I’m rushing to my window; there was a siren of scream coming from outside. I pull back the curtains and see car lights streak past. A car? There is no road or driveway where it went, only playing fields and then woods. The car lights swerve, moving out across the field, tracing a crazy zigzag route. I hear its engine coughing out. Dots of lights appear then spread out.
What the hell was that? My heart’s racing; there was an explosive smashing, it’s noise still echoes in my ears. A sudden swarm of people seem to be gathering together in the now still lights of the car. I hear a strange ticking; it measures time through the dark night.
I look out into the corridor but it’s a deserted gloom. I sit on my bed waiting for someone to come to me, to tell me what’s happened, to check I’m okay. I hear a police car in the distance, its noise gets closer. Back at my window, I see the shape of an ambulance. It stops; there’s a movement of torch light; I see a shadow of an arm or a leg but no details. Finally the ambulance drives off. I slide my back down the wall and sit on the floor. I hear voices filling up Sunbeam again. Adults whisper goodnight; bedroom doors open then close. I wait for an adult to come to me. Noise fades and I’m alone; no one comes to me; they leave me awake in the empty hours of a night that brought screams and crashes and ambulances.
I go back to thinking of my dream and then of dad. Scrawny, ugly dad. How did he kill? Did dad use a chain saw? Or was it just his hands around his old man’s neck, hands in fingerless gloves. The old man tells him it hurts; he tells him to spare him. Dad holds him tighter and now the old man struggles. It’s his own son’s hands around him, once his baby who he couldn’t look after. The skin of his neck is squeezed tighter, he tries to move his arms but they are so feeble and his body’s old. He gives in, falls down, a limp rag. Dad holds him over his lap for a long time, rocking him. Now is dad crying or laughing?
Or was it a bottle smashing into the old man until blood poured down from his face? The old man begs for mercy, dad punches again just to hear his own father’s pathetic cry, but then he can’t stand that cry and he has to silence it.
Fuck, that dosser didn’t look strong; dad’s dad must have been a total weakling. Or maybe my dad changes when he’s angry, like me. I can turn from small to big and strong. Is that what mum means when she says I’ve got dad in me? Fuck. Could I murder? Dad, the dosser - would I have wanted to kill him if he’d got too close?
Derek comes into the special group meeting that’s been called on crutches. He falls back into a chair with his bandaged leg sticking out in front of him. Shelby limps in behind; he’s just faking it when he says he’s also hurt his leg. I look round the group; does anyone else here have a dad as bad as mine? Who else is the child of a murderer.
“Liam is leaving group,” Derek states flatly when everyone’s sat down.
“He hurt Pamelia,” Narinder says. “Pamelia is still in hospital.”
I haven’t seen Liam in group since that night-time crash. We all know now how he stole the keys, how he drove Emma’s car across the playing field, how he took Pamelia as his passenger.
“Yes, Pamelia’s collarbone is broken and she was concussed but she’s recovering well.”
“And that mean bastard Liam never suffered a scratch!”
“And Derek, look at Derek,” Shelby squeals. “Liam ran over your foot. Will you ever be the same again?”
“Calm down, Shelby, my leg is recovering well. Now if people have genuine concerns and questions they can discuss them after the meeting with an adult. Do let’s try and see it from Liam’s point of view and remember times when we ourselves have not controlled our own behaviour. Liam has been struggling these past weeks.”
“Ben could have stopped Liam; you shouldn’t have let Ben go.”
“Staff choose when to leave. Now the purpose of this meeting is Liam’s leaving - Liam is going today. He’s in the office waiting to say good-bye to everyone.”
“Group’ll be better without him.”
“That is not a kind thing to say.”
“But you know it’s true.”
“Listen, I know there’s a lot of hurt and upset among you lot about what happened but Liam himself is suffering; he feels very bad and unhappy. Now I’m going to fetch him in a minute and anyone who feels they will be unkind to him is free to leave the room. The rest of you can stay to say good-bye.”
The room’s quiet; no one gets up to go. When Liam comes in, he puts a tin of chocolates down on the table then stares out across the room. He’s framed by Derek on his crutches standing behind him; he looks so small and pale.
“See you then,” he says to no one in particular.
“See you,” Narinder says. “Good luck.”
Liam looks into a space beyond this room, all I can see in him is a tiny child. He’s no longer Liam, the oldest Sunbeam boy.
“Well, a final good-bye.” Derek’s voice seems too loud.
Liam circles around him and out of the room.
“Is that it? When will we see him again?” Shelby asks.
No one answers him. We’ll never see or hear from him again.
“He didn’t find the right way out,” Narinder says to me as we walk from the room and then she turns right round to face me. “I dream of my foster family really wanting me, waiting to love me … You have dreams too don’t you Aaron? I mean whatever shit we’ve come from, we can do better than Liam.”
Can I? And can I do better than dad?
“We both stand a chance - I can tell that you do.”
Narinder looks at me, smiles and then walks off.