Leonold Johnson struggled to stay awake as his mother gently stroked his hair and a soft jazz song lulled him to sleep. She hummed as they drove, and their eyes met briefly. The moment was broken as a tuba groaned on the radio. Leo’s mother flicked a switch on the steering wheel, and the night was once again full of silence. A cold whisp of Mississippi air caused the young boy to shiver. It was dark, nearly an hour after his bedtime. He had just escaped another bad encounter with his father, who had been drinking again. They would be home soon, and Leo would fall asleep even sooner. As his eyes fluttered open and closed, he smiled an innocent, pure smile.
Leonold’s head slightly swayed as his mother took a sharp right turn. He awoke in a moment of shock and screamed. His mother quickly looked over to confirm that all was well. “Sorry momma, I just got a lil’ spooked. Was having another dream ‘bout daddy,” Leo said quietly. As Leo gazed at his mother she smiled at him, and he smiled back, but even at the age of eleven, Leo could tell his mother had been crying. “I love you Leo,” his mother said as she reached to caress him. Leo was about to respond, when he saw something silver darting quickly towards them.
“Mom-” Leo began, and before he could finish his sentence the brights on a car only sixty feet from them glared, and a honk echoed into the night. Leo could hear metal being ripped to shreds, the sound of glass effortlessly breaking. He closed his eyes as the car made a gut wrenching spin off the side of the road, before rolling. His eyes remained closed for some time, too scared and too worried to open. When he did, he silently gasped.
There was a large hole in the windshield; the back half of the car was completely crushed. And where his mother had been-there was simply a seat belt ripped from the seams dangling in the draft of the wind. Leo looked down, wincing. There was a large shard of glass deeply pushed into his side. He could see where his mother had landed and had hope of her survival. After unbuckling his seat belt, he quickly opened his door and attempted to move his legs. He was so surprised when they did not react, that he fell on the shaft of glass in his side; only wedging the piece deeper into him. He moaned and began to crawl away from the wreckage, only able to use his hands to claw at the dirt. Once he reached his mother, he hugged her, crying. He silenced some when he heard a woman’s voice, and he peaked his head over the ditch that he was lying in.
A slender woman was facing away from him, holding a cellphone. “Dear, I just got into an accident. No, we need to get the car impounded.” The woman paused to hear another voice ask a series of questions. “No, they’re dead; they rolled three times.” She paused again. “Nope, no traces.” Yes, I know what to do if it happens,” she continued. “K, I’ll be there in twenty.” She closed her phone and stepped back into the car. She glanced to her side, almost catching sight of Leo’s head. Leo quickly dropped back to his mother’s side, and whispered to her to ask if she was ok. He tugged at her some. He stared down her colorful face. Her eyes were as green as the thickest jungle, and her attitude was more radiant than the sun itself. She was mysterious, strong, and for Leo, she needed to be alive. He heaved on her arm again, and she rolled. Leo passed out. He did this because of the immense amount of blood he had lost, how tired he was, and from the shock of seeing that his mother’s throat had been pierced by a small sliver of glass-just large enough to drain her of life, just small enough to remind you of how she was once full of life. As Leo’s mind drifted into an abyss, he saw the car driving off, and quickly noted the plates; CS1-G004.
Leo awoke suddenly in a hospital. The walls were painted with giraffes, his favorite animals, and he became enraged. He screamed, thrashing his arms, and when he attempted with his legs, he grew even angrier. He rolled, disconnecting every needle attached to him. Three nurses rushed in and he bit, spat, and clawed until a small dose of tranquilizers caused him to stop. Hate and license plates wired through his logic as he struggled, until every last ounce of energy drained out of him.
When Leo woke up again, he was no longer in a room with giraffes. He was now in a blank white room. As he checked his surroundings, he noticed that a bandage had been put over his wound. He had a drip of regional anesthesia, as well as an IV in his forearm. A door that he hadn’t seen before opened, and a short auburn woman in her late 30’s walked in. “Hello Leo!” she said enthusiastically. Leo did not say hello back. He decided to be quiet for now, wanting to know what these people would be doing with him. “I’m Doctor Shearling,” she continued. “You’re at the Children’s Memorial hospital of Mississippi,” she informed him. She paused and grimaced. “I’m afraid your mother didn’t survive the crash.” She paused as if to give Leo a moment to process the obvious. He nodded curtly at her to prompt her to continue. “Unfortunately, you have no living relatives eligible to take care of you since the passing of your mother, and legally the restraining order that was finalized a few weeks ago restricts you from your father to take you.”
Leo looked confused, he was puzzled by how a restraining order could have been completed when he had seen his dad only last night. Dr. Shearling caught onto this, and explained that Leo had been in a minor coma for the past three months. “You’re mother called her lawyer to have the report filed the night of the crash. You’ll be able to make any legal decisions applying to your guardians two years from now, when you’re thirteen.” she reassured as best as she could, without tarnishing the positive persona she had been so carefully building.
“So, where will I go until then?” Leo almost whispered. “There’s two families already pending your fostering. It doesn’t happen generally, but due to the general lack of your input involved, the foster program you’re associated decided it was best. You get to make a decision on who you’ll be staying with first for the next six months.” She handed Leo two folders of paper; each consisting of the same sets of information. Both contained a short bio about a family, which had very similar features. This caused Leo to believe they possibly lived in the same neighborhood, or they were just rich. Leo had never been exposed to many variations of people, he grew up in the countryside. Everyone he knew, loved, or grew up with lived within 10 miles of him. Leo handed back both folders, and announced he wanted to be with the Dewalts until he could live with his father. He reasoned it didn’t matter much, he’d end up with the Percys or Dewalts anyhow. He just found the couple he chose more charming. Dr. Shearling told him that they were very nice people. “I just knew you’d pick them! They even bought a new car that has room for a wheelchair in the back! Very rich and nice people, from the interview I had with them.” she cheerfully exclaimed to him, as she walked out. Before she exited, she alerted Leo that they would be here in an hour and a half to pick him up.
Leo was wheeled to the front of the hospital after what felt like forever on the shoddy hospital bed, where he was greeted by two tall adults (possibly enlarged by Leo’s current position in gravity). They introduced themselves as Mr. and Mrs. Dewalt, and they apparently had a son, which Leo had missed while skimming through their profiling. The trio seemed very nice and in perfect unison. They all had a positive disposition and were respectful to Leo, urging him to participate within conversations without forcing it. By the time Leo knew it, he was at his new home.
The ride had been filled with pleasant small talk. Mrs. Dewalt was a stay at home mom, while Mr. Dewalt was a sales representative. Leo and the couple had an interesting conversation during the long ride to his new home. He even had laughed a few times, which felt like blowing dust off an old book. The Dewalts helped Leo by unloading him and his luggage from the car, he genuinely felt thankful for them.
The next few weeks went by quickly and smoothly at the Dewalts. Dr. Shearling, who now insisted Leo to call her by Dianne came in for regular checkups on Leo. She often had long conversations with Leo, and she would play or tell jokes with Timothy and him. Mr. Dewalt wheeled Leo into the living room to watch TV during the day, and Mrs. Dewalt helped bathe and change Leo at night. After about a month of this, it was time for Leo to start physical therapy. He was nervous, and hadn’t been seeing Dianne as much prior to her last visit. His new “coach” was brutal and savage, making him walk everywhere. And when Leo was apparently “halfway through” his healing process, his chair was taken away, and replaced with crutches.
Although Leo was bitter at first, he found confidence in the amount of independence that was now coming his way. He began school in two weeks, and things were really going his way. Dianne Shearling came by about a week before Leo’s first day of school, telling him that this would be his last checkup. Dianne hugged Mrs. Dewalt, Timothy, and Leo saying goodbye, while they thanked her. She shook Mr. Dewalt’s hand and he passed her a hefty file that said “health records” on it. She waved one last time, and climbed into her car. As Dianne Shearling drove away from the Dewalt’s, she began crying.
That night, Leo bathed himself for the first time, and as he raised out he recognized some amount of familiarity in the tub. He had seen this in a different place. His thoughts were broken by shouting from the kitchen. Leo wrapped a towel around himself and hobbled towards the racket, without his crutches. “YOU SAID YOU’D ORDER THE NEW PLATES.” Mr. Dewalt erupted before slapping Mrs. Dewalt across the face. “Phil-” Mrs. Dewalt began, and then they both looked at Leo as he rounded the corner. Raised in Mr. Dewalt’s hand was a pair of license plates. “CS1-G004,” Leo whispered as he looked at the crisp new engraved metal in the man’s hand. Before Leo could react, Mr. Dewalt charged him, backhanding him off his feet. Leo landed on the ground in a heap, hitting his head as well. His vision was blurry, but he could see young Timothy standing in the shadows. For some reason Leo could now tell that Timothy wasn’t included in the family bio because he was as close to being family as a stray cat. As Timothy walked away, Leo could see the lashes on his back, the bruises on his small legs.
Leo was dragged to the bathroom. “You’ll be with mommy soon.” Mr. Dewalt promised Leo. He laid Leo in the undrained bathtub. Leo knew why it seemed familiar now, it resembled the one in the other option Leo had for his family a month or so back. “I just knew, you’d pick them!” Dr. Shearling’s voice echoed in his head. And for some reason, despite every tragic detail of what was happening; he smiled. His mind was in a different place, memories flooded like the water in his nostrils. Getting ice cream with his mom and dad, before his father picked up the bottle, times spent laughing at movies and television. Time spent watching his mother smile. He wasn’t afraid now. He didn’t kick or scream as Mr. Dewalt pinned his arms to the bottom of the tub. He was peaceful. He was calm. He was now silent. His eyes fluttered as he tried to stay awake. As the water caressed his floating hair, he thought back to a car ride long ago. He thought of his mother, and just as his lungs were flooded with soapy liquids, he gurgled; “Mom.”
Phillip Dewalt washed his hands, and looked behind him. Timothy was standing behind him with a black bag. “Can I see mommy soon?” He inquired. “One day.” He told Timothy, ruffling his hair. Timothy thought back to the first time he met Regina and Phil Dewalt. They had been so very nice to them, asking if he wanted a candy cane around the holidays only about three years ago.
Timothy couldn’t remember who his mom was, but Mr. Dewalt said that she had abandoned him. Timothy was thankful for Mr. Dewalt, he knew he was the best guardian he could ever get. Timothy knew that he was a very bad boy, and he deserved the beatings he got. Mr. Dewalt told him so, and what he said, was always true. When Timothy, was good, he got a few chocolates. He just had to play his part, be nice to the little boys that came by, until Mrs. Dewalt would take them away. She’d come back, always with money and champagne. Timothy celebrated with them, and smiled as they all toasted to another successful sale. Mr. Dewalt was a salesman after all.
Timothy’s young, six year old mind perceived that Leo must have deserved this punishment, and Timothy wanted no part of it. He handed Mr. Dewalt the trash bag, and ran off to play with his action figures. Well they were his now, Mr. Dewalt said that Timothy could have whatever he wanted that was left in Leo, or any child’s possessions. He smiled when he saw a Yoda, he had always wanted one of those.
Diane Shearling drove to the bank, constantly glancing up at a photo stuck to her windshield. In it, was a small boy around Timothy’s age; with the same black hair, and same blue eyes. She glanced into the folder full of cash again that had been labeled “health records.” As she sniffed and rubbed her weary, red eyes, she saw a piece of paper wedged in between one of the fat stacks of cash.
I must say, this particular one has been a bit needy, but certainly has been more fun than the rest. I suppose next time we “adopt,” we’ll run them over first! Thanks for your service, and happy holidays. $30,000 more until you can have your son back.