Beyond Caring: Chapter 17

Beyond CaringBeyond Caring is the gripping story of Aaron, a boy living in a children’s home called Templewood. 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, 13, 14, 15, 16

Ruby’s dressed in a T-shirt with flowers on it that match the pattern of her jeans.  Her shining dark hair hangs neatly around her face; she smiles at Rebecca with perfect white teeth.

“Please may I start?” she asks after Rebecca serves our lunch.

I’ve had to have my lunch back in group so I can meet Ruby; everyone else is in the school dining room.

“This is my favourite meal,” Ruby says.

“What the hell is it?”

“It’s very nice, salmon fish pie.”

“Remember, Rebecca, how I chose saveloy and chips when I came here?  Everyone ate it for tea.”

“Chips are fattening,” Ruby interrupts.

“Who cares?”

“And I don’t eat meat.”

“Not another vegetarian!”

“I do eat fish.”

“Rebecca doesn’t even eat fish.”

“I might stop fish … I would like a drink, Rebecca. I have orange juice.”

“There’s water to go with the meal; we only have orange juice at breakfast.”

“How was I to know that?  I hadn’t been told not to ask.”

I scrape the cheese off the top of my salmon fish pie.  It’s not like a proper pastry pie, just sloppy mashed potato with bits of fish mixed in it and a topping of melted cheese.

“I can show Ruby around group after lunch,” I say.

“Rebecca’s shown me around.”

“… I’ve got a card for you.”

As I leap up, my foot knocks into the table, some water spills, Rebecca calls me back but I go to find my book bag.  I pull out the purple envelope from it and hand it to Ruby.

“May I open it now?” she asks Rebecca.

“Just get on with it; you don’t have to ask,” I say.

Ruby turns the envelope over and slips her finger under the flap to unseal it, her hands are pale with long thin fingers and her nails are painted shiny pink.  She pulls out my card; it’s a picture of a woman in wide trousers with stars on them sitting in a purple armchair.  It used to say ‘Welcome Home’ but I’ve crossed out the word ‘home’ and written ‘to Sunbeam’.

“Thank you,” Ruby says.

“You’ll get used to things here; I have,” I tell her.

“I know that; it’s just fine me being here.”

“You’re only little when you come; I’ve been here for ages.  I’ll be leaving in a bit to go to my foster home.  At first, I thought this house was way too big to be a home.”

“I’ve seen bigger.”

“I remember how everyone was coming up to me, asking me questions.”

“Yes, everyone wants to be my friend.”

“Come on you two, finish up,” Rebecca says.  “And Aaron there’s one place I haven’t yet shown Ruby and that’s our group art room.”

Bright light comes out of the art room as Rebecca opens the door; I see the colours from all the drawings and models that we’ve made and put up around the room.  I see the pirate island that I’m in the middle of making.

“This room needs tidying up,” Ruby says.

I go to touch my island.

“Look Ruby, I made this; you can have it when I’ve finished.”

“I have no use for it.”

“Oh …”  I turn towards the chest of drawers and words start talking out of my mouth.  “In these drawers are paper, glue, string.  Down here are all sorts of bits – beads, stars, coloured scraps, pipe cleaners.”

“I don’t like making things or drawing.  What I make never turns out good, so what’s the point?”

“Look at these – finger paints.”

“Why would I want to get paint on my fingers?”

“Play dough?”

“That stuff dries out my hands.”

I turn to Rebecca and she looks at her watch.

“Twenty minutes, Aaron, and it’ll be time for afternoon school,” she says.  “You can go up and make sure you’ve got everything you need, then have a bit of a relax in the lounge.”

Upstairs Shelby comes running up to me.

“You had lunch with Ruby,” he shouts.  “Where is she now?”

When he sees Ruby, he stands all straight and grins.  I settle in the lounge and Rebecca and Ruby sit beside me.  From his bag, Shelby pulls out a piece of string with painted pasta tubes threaded onto it.

“Made this for you,” he says throwing it onto Ruby’s lap along with the spray of his speech.

“That’s very kind of you,” Ruby says.  “A necklace?  Aaron, can you put it on me.”

Some other girls burst out laughing, Ruby drops the necklace down and then Shelby pulls an upset face.

“I think I’ll do that for you Ruby,” Rebecca says picking up the necklace and putting it around Ruby’s neck.

“Bit scratchy,” Ruby says “but kind of that boy to want to be my friend.  Boys usually like me.”

“Ruby …” Rebecca starts but she’s interrupted by Shelby.

“Yes, we’ll be friends; be my friend,” he says.

“You won’t even be here, Shelby,” someone calls out.

“I will, I will!”

Shelby kicks into the settee.  He’s off to a new home; it’s a big house with lots of children and animals and gardens.  He’s already been to stay there a few times.

I sigh as I get up and walk out of the lounge.

“Has that Through-Care woman fixed me up with a foster family yet?” I ask Derek after knocking on the office door.

“It takes time, Aaron!”

“Isn’t there a family that wants me?”

“Aaron, we all feel you stand a strong chance of being fostered, that it could work well.”

“So that woman just needs to ring around and find me someone.”

“Aaron, your application is being processed which means that Through-Care and social services look at all the families who have been approved to be foster parents – there are families on a list waiting and new foster families coming forward all the time.  They’ll look to see if there’s a family that might suit you.”

“I can leave as soon as that family’s found.”

“If one is found, then Through-Care will visit them to discuss things more specifically.  It all takes time.”

“I don’t want to wait.”

“Aaron … are you feeling a bit shaken by Ruby’s arrival?”

“That?  That doesn’t bother me.”

When I arrive at Audrey’s, I tell her I’ll walk Winston first.

“Sit down,” she says.

I shouldn’t be sitting down when I’ve only just got here.

“Aaron, I need to tell you about Winston.”

I look towards his kennel, see his eyes open then close.

“Aaron, you’ve been fantastic for Winston but now he’s going to a new home; he won’t be living with me from tomorrow.”

“What?  Don’t you want him? … We could have him in group; I’ll ask Rebecca.”

“That’s sweet, Aaron.  No, he’s going to the daughter of his owner.”

“His owner?”

“The woman who left him here.”

“Her daughter?  That’s not right.”

“The daughter is very fond of Winston; Winston seemed to recognise her; he was so pleased to see her.”

“He likes seeing me.”

“He certainly does, but he’s their dog.”

“They left him here!”

“With reason as it turns out; his owner has been through a very difficult time.”

“They lied over his address.”

“Yes and I’ve thought a lot about what the daughter told me. In the end I think Winston will have a better home with the daughter; it might make him happier.”

“You’ve given him a good home. How do you know he’ll be okay with that daughter? Have you seen where he’s going to live? Will she walk him? What’s to stop her from just getting fed up with him like her mum did?”

“I think he’ll be well cared for.  She’s coming tomorrow to fetch him; I didn’t let her take him sooner because I wanted you to see him today.”

“Are you sad?”

“Yes, yes a little. Are you?”

“… You know they’re finding me a new home.”

“Rebecca tells me a foster family’s being looked for?”

Winston gives out a low growl but I ignore him.  I don’t want to walk him today.  I do the mucking out and leading of Tilley; I fetch the eggs and help Audrey get a sheep back into the right field.

Only at the end of the morning, on my way back to Rebecca and the car do I stop by Winston.  I look at him and touch his nose.

“Good luck, Winston, good luck,” I whisper.

Audrey had better be right that he’s going to a good home.


The day for Shelby to leave Sunbeam comes.  He’s made a present for everyone.  He gives me a plant with thin leaves in a flowerpot that he’s painted all over with stripes and spots.  I’ve got him a toy car and he sends it banging into the wall so it flips over.

When Shelby goes, he just walks down the stairs with his toy puppy clasped in his hand.  The bearded man who visited him with the brown and white dog called Olly stands below on the drive leaning against an old blue car.  Shelby gets to him, they hug, then both step into the car and just go.

A few days later, we get a photo of Shelby holding a small spade and crouching among some large leaves; Rebecca says it’s rhubarb.  Shelby’s crayoned a big yellow and orange blob on the back of the photo.  There are no words to go with the photo, but that’s because Shelby can’t write; in all his time here he never even moved out of nurture class.

The same day as Shelby’s photo arrives, this tiny new girl, Bella, comes to live at Sunbeam.  Her first night here, she jumps off the roof and breaks her leg.

Dear Louise,

            Lots going on.  For starters, Ruby has arrived.  I’m going to have to learn some control not to feel irritated by her – she puts on this veneer of fake perfection and she’s so controlled that I’m sure she’d have the power to manipulate the mood of the whole group. 

Potentially exciting news – there’s a possible foster family for Aaron.  Derek is very optimistic though says it’s too early to say anything about them to Aaron.  Oh please may it all work out for him, it has to.

Meanwhile, Shelby has left Sunbeam.  I miss him, he bounced around with such enthusiasm lapping up every morsel of attention and affection that came his way.  He’s a real survivor from such depraved beginnings.  Kate once told me that when he first came to Sunbeam he couldn’t even walk in a straight line, let alone run – he’d been found chained up in a room of excrement.

Here I am watching children confronting their pasts and encouraging Aaron to face up to his abusive mother and I realised I hadn’t even dealt with my own relationship with our mildly neglectful mum.  I’ve been so angry with her and I had clung onto that.  Yesterday I began talking to mum.  It was amazing, she was suddenly so honest.  She said she’d always loved us but she’d been overwhelmed on becoming a mother by the shattering of her independence and the reminder of all she had endured in being tied to caring for granny from such a young age.  I wanted to know why she spent so many hours away at her job when we were young and now didn’t work when we were no longer around.  I had no idea that dad wasn’t earning any money then though he still spent every day buried away doing his illustrations.

I’ve always hated her responses to your death – the taking down of your school photo, the incessant house moving, the parcelling you up until everything that belonged to you is finally hidden away in a loft.  She told me that she didn’t know what to do with all her sorrow, she wished she could have grieved you as ferociously as I do.

Mum also finally spoke openly about seeing me.  She said she does find it hard, she’s often looking over my shoulder for you.  (Aren’t we all.)  I’m a reminder for her of all you could have become.

She said that she felt she’d failed you, perhaps you felt unloved by her.  She said at least you knew of my love, I’d given you total love.  I told her I hadn’t – you and I were inseparable for 15 years but at the very end, I let you down.  Here dad joined in the conversation asking mum and I if your death would be any easier if we didn’t both cling on to blaming ourselves.

We talked on and then suddenly mum and I were holding hands and dad came over and put his hands on mum’s shoulders.  We were all touching each other and it felt okay for us to be close.  For a moment, that threesome felt complete and you know what, ironically, it was then that I felt your presence in the room.  You were like a warm smile above us.  It took me back to that moment in the laundry room after I’d held Aaron at the museum and everything had suddenly seemed okay.

Then mum said she wanted to show me something.  Under her bed, she pulled out this framed picture.  It was an enlargement of the photo of you leaning on your surf board with seaweed-clad hair that mum had taken a month before your death.  You looked so happy, so alive.  She said that today she finally knew she was ready for dad to hang it up in their room.  Her eyes were filled with tears.

            Love you, Becky xx

Over at our playground, I charge across to the swing but Ruby’s hand grips on to the other chain.  I shake the swing away from her but she still holds on.  We tug against each other.

“I got here first,” I tell Rebecca as she comes up to us.

“Well, sort out between you who’s going first.”

“I am,” I say getting the seat off Ruby and sitting on it.

Then Ruby’s making out like she’s hurt, saying I twisted her hand when I sat on the swing.  I look away from seeing Rebecca holding Ruby’s arm and fiddling with her wrist.  I kick my legs, scraping the ground below the swing.  Suddenly I hear Ruby and Rebecca laughing, I look across and now Ruby’s started up the webbed climbing frame and Rebecca’s stood right behind her.

“Push me, Rebecca,” I call out.

“You don’t need me to push you!”

“Push me.”

Rebecca says something to Ruby and then slowly comes over to me.  She gives me a gentle push that hardly has me swinging.

“Make an effort, Aaron.”

I sit with my legs hanging still and Rebecca’s hand comes onto my back again.

“Come on, Aaron.”

“Rebecca, remember how we came to this swing on my first day at Templewood?  It was just you and me.”

“Yes, Aaron, I do … Gosh, a lot’s happened since them.”

A sudden squealing comes from Ruby.  “Help, help, I’m stuck.”

“You’re fine,” Rebecca calls out.

“Ruby’s odd.”

“Aaron …”

“Face it, she is … Hey, that was hardly a push!”

Rebecca gives me a shove.

“Help,” Ruby calls out.  “You’re leaving me to fall!”

“Pathetic she is.”

But Rebecca’s taken in by Ruby’s cries and she goes over to her.  The minute Rebecca’s beside Ruby, Ruby jumps down easily and comes over to me.  She scratches a tiny patch of mud off her jeans then leans on the frame of the swing, I slip down off the swing seat.

“My turn,” she says taking the swing.

I wish I’d stayed sitting.

“I’m waiting for a push,” she states.

I dash round behind Ruby and push my hand into her back, then I grab the chains and pull her back.

“No,” she squeals.

Rebecca elbows me aside then stands behind Ruby.  I hold the frame, knock my head into it and then hold my tongue against the cold metal pole.

“Aaron, what on earth are you doing?” Rebecca shouts.

I leave my tongue there.

“Stop it, that’s dirty, Aaron.”

I lick my tongue up the pole, then I laugh and walk away.

“Where are you going?”

“Don’t fuss, I’m just going back to group.”

It’s Emma who opens Sunbeam’s front door.

“What are you doing back without Rebecca?” she says.

“Don’t panic; I’d had enough; Rebecca said I can come back.”

I go to the living room and sink into a chair, I yawn and cross my ankles over each other.  I hear shouts of children just outside the window and someone crashing around upstairs.  I wish I could kill all the time between now and next week when I’m going to see Kara.  I chew on the corner of my nail then pick at the already chipped table.

“Aaron, don’t do that!” Emma says.


“You’re destroying the coffee table.”

“It’s a pile of old shit.”

“Stop it and find something sensible to do.  What are you going to do?”

“Sit here.”

“… Aaron, I said stop picking at the table.  Now I’m going to get out some videos and you can choose one.”

I get up and go to the office.

“You still haven’t found me a family,” I tell Derek.

“There are possibilities.”

“It’s now I want a family before I go off the idea.”

“Things are in motion.”

“Face it, no one wants me.”

“That is not true.”

“It is.  I’m left stuck here, going nowhere.”

“No, Aaron, there are families interested in you.”

“Oh yeah, like who?”

“It is too early to go into specifics.”


“Aaron, nothing’s certain.”

“What’s certain is that you can’t tell me about one single family.”

Derek swings round on his chair and looks me in the eye as he leans towards me.

“Look, Aaron, we mustn’t get too hopeful because it may not work out, but there’s a family interested in having you. I have visited them and they want to meet you.”

“A family?”

“I was going to tell you in a couple of days once we’d set a date for you to meet them, but I think it might help you to know about them now.”

“A family, for me?”

“Early days to say for definite and they are not the only family interested in you.  You need to meet them.”

“Are they okay?”

“You can find out about them when you meet.”

“What’s their house like?  Will I get a big bedroom?  Have they got a dog?”

“Aaron, they are experienced foster parents, they have two dogs and a nice house but let’s wait until you meet them and see what you think before we get involved in too many details. It’s early days.”

Aaron’s story continues next month.

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