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 – by his mother. Now he is at school, but he is uneasy about the teacher and a stranger hanging around. If you would like to read the earlier chapters first, please click here: Chapter 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8
I want to reach down the phone line towards her, to touch her, to pull her nearer.
I want to ask her why she never came to see me, why she’s left it so long before ringing.
“What you been up to, Aaron?”
“Must be doing something.”
“Not a lot.”
“How was that holiday you were telling me about?”
“That was months ago.”
“What did you do?”
“I don’t know … we went to the seaside.”
“What’s it like?”
“I swam in the sea.”
“I heard about a kiddie drowned in the sea.”
“I was fine; only the sea’s cold. And mum, we went to the circus.”
“Best I ever got was a day out to some fairground.”
“One day I’m going to take you to the seaside.”
“I will, I’ll take you to the beach.”
“I rode a horse.”
“What did you go and do that for?”
“I was really good.”
“Horses are dangerous; you wouldn’t get me near one.”
“Horses are all right.”
“Well I don’t want you with horses, you hear? … How’s school?”
“I moved up to juniors.”
“You keeping up with the work?”
Rebecca shuffles around at the office desk; I stare at the side of her head. Someone knocks on the office door; she goes to see to them. I speak quickly and softly into the phone.
“Mum … mum, I’ve got a new teacher … a man … I hate him.”
“I never liked any of my teachers; only now I wish I had got on with my lessons.”
“I mean, really don’t like him. Mum, do you get it? Listen, this teacher keeps asking me stuff.”
“Asking? … Do you listen to him? Do you do what he asks?”
“I get on with my work.”
“Do you try to do school work he’ll like?”
“Yes. He said my map was good the other day and he let me go on the class computer yesterday because I did my worksheet so quickly.”
Rebecca’s come back into the centre of the room.
“So you do things with him,” mum sighs.
Rebecca’s facing me.
“He’s good at football; I don’t mind when we play football.”
“Listen to you; you’re falling for him.”
“You’re trying to let him in. Take my advice and stop it! Keep your head down; stay quiet. And Aaron, don’t stir up trouble for yourself again with a man; it’s not normal.”
Her words sting into me.
“Aaron … Aaron, I only mean look out for yourself; you’ve got to be careful.”
A twitching starts deep inside my belly.
“Mum, I’m going to have to go now.” I struggle to keep my voice normal.
“I have to. I love you.”
“I love you too Aaron; I miss you. God, how I miss you.”
I put the phone down. I can make it; I can make it back to my room without Rebecca asking too much. Smile, nod at her. Got to hold myself back from running. Walk. I trip on the stair. Be careful; carry on upstairs. Through my bedroom door, step in, close the door.
Mum’s words go round and round in my head – trouble … again … with a man.
If John asks me the next question, it’ll prove he’s picked me out.
“If I have a pizza,” John says, drawing a bad circle on the whiteboard, “and I cut it down the middle, how much is each piece as a fraction? Andrew?”
Well not that question, the next one.
“Now if I cut it again across here like this, then what fractions do we have … Aaron?”
I almost gasp but instead hurry to look down. I don’t speak into his attention but everyone can see how my heart beats through my whole body, how I’m struggling to even breathe.
“One quarter,” a girl’s voice sings out.
The lesson carries on; I can feel John all around me, his eyes are fixed on the top of my head. I try to do some work, to look busy, I scribble inside some of the spaces on my worksheet. Why does Rebecca let me be in John’s class?
At break-time, I’m slamming a football against the wall when Andrew comes right up to me.
“I’m fucked off with this place,” he says getting his foot in front of me and taking the next kick. “So boring. You won’t find me sitting through another fucking lesson.”
He winks, then wanders off and I find myself leaving the ball and following.
“Quick,” he says looking at me as he darts behind a bush.
I join him and no one calls out our names. We slip away from the school and as we get near the road a sudden thump landing behind us startles me, but then I see it’s Liam; he must have jumped down off the wall.
“All right,” he says to Andrew.
He pushes in beside Andrew; they walk side by side and I’m shoved out into the road. A car whooshes past with its horn beeping.
“Get off the fucking road,” Liam says to me. “You want the world to see us?”
I sink behind them. Another car sweeps past with no interest in us. Liam and Andrew suddenly dart across the road and I’m stuck looking at them through a stream of traffic. A gap comes and I run to come just behind them. When they turn down a side road, I follow from my distance. Those two used to be in the same class at school and they were always fighting against each other; they’ll soon remember that and I’ll be the one, back walking with Andrew. They walk on and on away from school.
I kick into the rubbish that’s collected along the side of the pavement. A cold wind comes through my school shirt; I shiver and suddenly want to be in Templewood.
“Catch up,” Andrew says, suddenly looking back at me. “Better out here than school, ain’t it? Let’s have some fun.”
He stands waiting for me; he offers me a stick of gum. It’s as if he knew I was about to slip off back to Templewood and is making sure I don’t. As I put my hands in my pockets, I realise his tiny teddy is still in there along with a tissue and a couple of pieces of Lego. The teddy has got very soft ears.
We get to a path with nettles growing up on either side. Andrew vaults over a sagging fence, Liam follows but he twists on landing and stumbles to a near fall.
“Chicken,” I call out laughing.
“You what Aaron!”
I see the wind swirling dried out leaves against the fence as I jump easily over it. We’ve come to a battered old building that’s missing its windows and door; next to it is the shell of a burnt out car.
“Race you to the top of the old scout hut,” Andrew says to me.
He goes to the edge of the building; I dash to another corner. I lift my foot up to wedge it into a crack between the bricks. One. Two – pull up with my hands. Three – another foothold. Up and up I go. Pushing up easily and quickly, I can stretch my legs and arms to anywhere. I can’t be too far behind Andrew; maybe I’m even winning. I climb higher then leap up onto the roof. I look down on Liam and on to the tops of the bushes. I dance along some tiles then fly across the gap of missing tiles towards Andrew.
“Beat you!” I call down on him.
I’ve gone and shouted out before I’d seen how he’s not even trying to climb the building. I hear his laugh as he stands back and stares at me. He’s teased me; there was no race.
“You smoke?” Liam calls out. “… Go on then, Aaron, chuck us down a smoke.”
I have no cigarettes. I watch as Liam pulls out two loose cigarettes from his pocket, puts one to his lips then gives the other to Andrew. I sit down on the roof to hide myself away from being seen by them. A plane flies overhead leaving its trail of white.
Then I realise the sounds below me are of Andrew and Liam climbing up the hut. I see their heads come level with the roof. I don’t want them up here with me. It’s too high to jump down. I move backwards; I skid; I nearly shriek. I pull myself to standing.
Andrew starts kicking his heel back into a roof tile, it makes a tapping sound. I wish I could disappear far away. With his cigarette balanced in the corner of his mouth, Liam bends down. ‘Tap, tap’ continues Andrew. Liam pulls a tile and then throws it down. It smashes against the rusty frame of the old car. He works fast lifting more tiles and chucking them to the ground. I watch them twisting through air then shattering on the ground.
Suddenly Andrew’s leaping down over the side of the building and Liam’s following. I think they’re playing another trick on me but then I see a flicker of movement on the path. Someone’s coming. I’m sliding and jumping down. Who’s coming? I can’t find where to put my foot. Whoever it is will have seen me. I push back leaping down; the ground hits up through my feet. Liam and Andrew have disappeared.
I peep out from behind a bush – it’s only a woman with a pushchair. She marches past the scout hut with her eyes only looking ahead along the path. She’s seen me and now I think she’s the one who’s afraid.
I kick into a smashed bottle, then a sudden scream coming from the scout hut has me spying inside. In the damp shade, I see Liam’s arm fall back hitting into a broken chair.
“What the fuck are you about?” he yells.
A breeze comes into the hut, I feel it drifting through my thin clothes onto my bare skin. I feel the gap where my school shirt has come untucked from my trousers. My breathing quickens.
A scuffle of curses, Liam belts Andrew one and now Andrew’s falling back.
“Nice one,” shouts out of my mouth.
Liam and Andrew suddenly look at me. They charge towards me, grab me round the arms then drag me backwards towards the centre of the hut. As my heels bump against the ground, I see an old cupboard with its door ripped off.
“Just making you safe,” Liam laughs.
I’m quick to turn from his fist coming towards my face but his punch lands into my ear, a kick smashes into my stomach. Something slices across my arm.
“Just keeping you from harming yourself or others.”
I try to get up but fall forward coughing out bittersweet spit. I see some old loo-paper on the floor, a weight on my back pushes me down towards it. I’m up and boxing into Andrew, landing heavy fists into his belly.
“You don’t frighten me,” I spit out at him.
His whole face opens out; his eyes grow large; he trips me up so suddenly then squashes me back down into the ground. Something sharp digs into my head; something crushes up against my back.
“Just need to restrain him until he quietens; basket hold should do the trick,” Andrew says as he sits down on me.
“Get the fuck off me,” I gasp.
He rolls me beneath his weight, clamping me down across my shoulders with his knee and hand. His coat hangs down casing us together.
“Get him, Liam,” but my words are lost into the foul stickiness of Andrew’s gagging hand.
Then as something slams again against my ear, I realise Liam’s walking out of the hut. Andrew leans into me, squeezing all of me tight; his breath surrounds me. A sickening tightness paralyses me. Is it blood that’s collecting in my ear? Andrew rocks back on me. I claw at the floor. He forces his hand down onto the zipper of my trousers. A pit of sick fills my stomach. His hand pulls at my trousers. I see tissues fall out and the teddy. Andrew sees the teddy too; he smiles, picks it up and stuffs it against my mouth. My head twists against him. His nail tears at my lip as he tries again to force the teddy into my mouth. I twist away but land up lying on my front. His hand’s now pulling on the back of my trousers, I struggle to stand but he’s crushing down on top of me. My legs flick back at the knee but I can’t reach him. He’s pinned my arms down, I breathe in dirty earth. His whole weight is on my bottom; he lifts up then crashes back down on me. His breathing is fast.
Disgusting, Disgusting, The Disgusting.
Andrew’s breaking me.
HE was breaking me. Horrid, horrible. Pain. Tearing me apart.
A sudden power pulses through me; I battle an arm free, twist and wrestle. I see Andrew’s dick. A dick so small. Hairless. I grab a great handful of Andrew’s shirt. I’m shaking him away. Material rips – his shirt. I glimpse the bare skin of his chest – a white flesh covered in a maze of scars. I’m rising up. I see his hand tucking his dick back in then doing up the buttons of his trousers. I smack into his face. My arm pumps with a wild force as I charge into him. He launches back against me; we topple; he’s landed heavy on me again. We’re rolling on the floor; he throws me sideways against the cupboard. He kicks me right in my balls; he whacks my face, my head.
“You fucking gay or something, Aaron?” he says.
I try to stand but dizzy pain slumps me down, then a kick knocks into my ribs. His laugh echoes through the hut. He walks away. I spit towards him then shrivel down into the ground’s damp coldness. I shiver, the dirt of the hut surrounds me and fills me. I wish I could disappear.
Rebecca’s arms come around me and their touch hurts me so deeply. I feel her warmth; I’m stiff and cold from lying here forever.
“What has happened? Look at you Aaron.”
She holds skin and bones, bruises and cuts. How can she bear to touch such filth?
“Who’s done this to you?”
I wish Andrew had finished me off, that the ground had swallowed me up.
“We’ve got to get you seen to.”
“No, don’t let anyone near me!”
“I want to take you to casualty.”
“No, you can’t. Don’t. Please.”
I struggle to standing, I smile to show Rebecca I’m okay. There’s no way I’m having any doctor touch me. She looks at me then starts looking around the hut. She bends down and gathers up my few pieces of Lego, then she stops above the tiny teddy.
“This anything to do with you?” she says picking him up.
“Don’t touch him; leave him.”
“What? Who does he belong to?”
“Fucking Andrew’s. Just leave him.”
“Aaron, what’s gone on here? Who were you with?”
“Aaron, we both know that isn’t true.”
“So why ask me; you know I was with Andrew and Liam.”
“Who else? … Aaron, anyone else?”
“I’m telling you the truth and you don’t believe me.”
“It’s not that … Look, let’s head back to Templewood. Come on, to the car.”
“You can’t take me back to group.”
“Aaron, we’re going back to group.”
“I can’t go back!”
“Look, I’m agreeing to not take you to hospital but I am taking you back to Templewood. All the children are asleep.”
I’m sat in a cold living room in the middle of the night. Pete sleeps in my bed. I was woken by his snoring and turning. As I lay there unable to get back to sleep, I felt such irrational anger with him. I longed for space, for no-one to intrude into my life or sleep. I felt claustrophobic. I had to get up. It had taken me hours to get to sleep in the first place and that was after going to bed so late thanks to work. I’m beyond tiredness. This job has no boundaries – it pre-occupies me, it provokes so much emotion, it consumes all my energy and time.
Just thinking about today, makes a wave of sharp fear pass through me. Aaron ran off from school – how the hell did the playground monitors let that happen? There’s a man out there asking for him for fuck’s sake. Aaron was gone for hours. Liam and Andrew were also missing. I kept hoping that Aaron was with them, though they are hardly savoury companions. I thought they might offer some protection from the vagrant if he was out there.
I was driving around looking for Aaron – I could hardly focus on the road I was so panicked. I had images of Aaron bludgeoned to death, of him raped. Of him abducted.
Finally Liam returned to group and Ben squeezed it out of him that he had been with Aaron and we might find him by the abandoned scout hut that’s in a village a few miles away.
I just saw this huddled form. It could have been an old bag of rubbish. I ran to it, to Aaron. I thought he was dead. I thought the man had got to him. I held onto him. He was beaten up and dirty. There was a wailing within me, a drowning in held back tears.
Aaron stood up and he was not in as bad a state as I had first thought. He claims that his fight was with Andrew – which fits with Liam’s account. How disconcerting to feel relief that the psychotic Andrew had been the one to attack him.
When Aaron was missing, I had sat for a moment in his room. I looked up at the planets mobile I’d made with him last week and saw earth hanging there. In the context of our solar system (let alone of the whole universe), earth seemed both so inconsequential and so precious. A chance for something fantastic – and yet look at the mess of human lives. I just sat there thinking – what the hell are we doing? Where does all the evil come from?
I struggle to sit my battered body upright, I touch the wall for contact with something solid. I stare into the night light. I need the toilet. Every move reveals more aches in my bruised body. I discover noise and others awake. I stagger through my door and see Liam. I try to walk like nothing’s wrong. Ben’s coming down the corridor.
“Don’t speak to the enemy,” Liam whispers. “Nothing … or else.”
“Liam, back in your room,” Ben orders.
I go from toilet back to bed. The noises outside my room begin to thin out as everyone gets on with being ready and going downstairs. Rebecca barges into my room, opens the curtains briskly. She fiddles around then turns to me.
“Tell me about yesterday, Aaron,” she demands.
She should leave me alone.
“Nothing happened.” Speaking pulls at the cuts on my face.
“Oh so nothing finds you in the state you were in last night? Look at you, for goodness sake! You ran off with Liam and Andrew. Then what?”
“Look, every kid runs off now and then; ask anyone here.”
“Aaron … who else did you see?”
“What you on about?”
“Did any strangers talk to you?”
“No, you shouldn’t talk to strangers.”
“Liam and Andrew, no-one else?”
“Jesus Christ …”
“And you had some sort of fight? Tell me about that?”
“You know how it is when kids fight – a few punches and kicks.”
“How did the fight begin? Tell us your side of events.”
“Andrew started it.”
A fight with different rules.
“I need to know.”
“Well I’m not talking; you’ll never squeeze a thing out of me.”
Andrew, me, the hut. A big fight and then … there’s nothing to say that makes any sense. Andrew’s body on me, his dick. His hands on my trousers lying just there discarded on my bedroom chair, his stench in this room hanging on around me.
Later in the day, my social worker rings but I won’t even say hello to her.
I’m sat in the art room with my arms crossed staring just above Rebecca’s head until the green wall behind her blurs.
“Have you ever done a collage?” she says. “You know, where you create something out of sticking materials and scraps down on paper.”
She can’t make me draw, she can’t make me do anything.
“Or you could do a painting, choose between doing a house, a tree or a person … Aaron, would you rather leave it for today; we don’t have to do your art session?”
“This is my time to be here; I’m not moving.”
Rebecca sits back in her chair; she scratches her shoulder then we settle into quietness. An aching in my feet takes my attention; they’re tucked under me with my toes bending back; it’s uncomfortable but I don’t change position. The heater clicks; Rebecca sniffs. I can outlast Rebecca at sitting here in emptiness. A gurgle travels down my chest then settles into silence. My right ear pulses from inside; I feel the aching stiffness of my body and the pain as my chest rises up and down against the bruising in my back. A motorbike revs in the distance. Tiredness weighs heavy, making it hard to sit up; the table moans as I lean onto it. My head feels thick. Rebecca stands and looks out of the window. I stare at the rows of tiles on the nearby building; some are missing; some are covered in mould.
“Well, Aaron, art room time is nearly up; let’s get back to group,” Rebecca finally says.
I pick up a black marker pen and go to the easel. I draw the outline of a massive head, below it a neck, arms, a chest, then two long legs spread apart. I put a huge axe in one of his hands. I bring the pen to the legs, I loop down drawing a dick the size of a truncheon. I draw in the flap of skin then shade the tip, it looks like a bruised mushroom. I add a single drip falling from that tip. I draw the balls, then the jungle of hair. I turn to Rebecca and laugh. I start out of the art room but she calls me back. I see her touching my drawing, taking it down from the easel. Now I see how I’ve jumbled the arms – one starts from the neck, the other from the waist.
“Tell me about your drawing, Aaron?” Rebecca just looks straight at me. “I see a naked man. Tell me about this man … What is this man thinking? What does he see?”
I smash into the easel.
“What does he say?”
I grab the man from Rebecca. I twist him up then tear him into shreds. I look at the scraps scattered on the floor.
“Clear it up, Rebecca, quickly; sweep them away.”
Rebecca and Derek have made me come to the office. I was in the middle of watching the telly. I don’t know why Narinder’s in here with us.
“What’s this all about?”
“You’ve got to listen,” Narinder says.
“Aaron,” Derek says. “Did anyone approach you when you ran off with Andrew and Liam?”
“Why you still on about this?”
“Did you speak to anyone or notice any strange men?”
“I’ve told Rebecca a hundred times that it was some shit between Andrew and Liam; no-one else involved … Why’s Narinder in on this?”
“We’ve decided to let you hear what she wants to say to you.”
“You were an idiot to run off!”
“Well he was.”
“Aaron,” Derek says. “Do you remember in the summer term that a man walked into school during term-time?”
“It was the day of the school assembly and show. He was …”
“Oh that old tramp, you mean?”
“You may have noticed that he wore a Chelsea jacket.”
“Do you know him?”
“Know him? Me? No! There’s a lot of Chelsea fans you know.”
“Aaron, we want to tell you that Narinder met this man a few weeks ago.”
Met him. He was still hanging around? Shit, I’d stopped thinking about him and he hadn’t gone. I thought I’d seen him again and then I made myself believe I hadn’t. So does that mean it definitely was him in the woods that time I was in the car with Rebecca?
“He told Narinder that he knew you.”
Fuck he was looking at me, he was. And I was a Jedi Knight. How does he know me? Who the hell is he?
“Do you have any idea who he is?”
“No way,” I shake my head.
Men are always after me. This dosser out there. John inside our school. Then there’s HIM and his friends. I don’t remember all the faces, all the names. No-where’s safe.
“Aaron, we have only just told you because we didn’t want to worry you.”
… Fuck, is the dosser something to do with John?
“Now after your incident of running off,” Derek continues. “We want to warn you. You must not run off or disappear; you must let us look after you. Please do talk to us if anything bothers you.”
“We’ll keep you safe,” Rebecca says.
“What else did this man say?” I ask.
“He just said he used to be here,” Narinder says. “I don’t think he ever was here; he didn’t even know the name of the group he was in. Then he said he knew an Aaron Stein and did I know of you. I didn’t tell him anything.”
“That’s right; he is not necessarily looking for you,” Rebecca says. “He merely asked Narinder if she knew you.”
Now I get it – why Rebecca’s never letting me out. Jesus, fuck, I was out there running through the night. Was he watching me? Where is he now? Is he peering in through the window. Does he know which room is mine? Is he watching out at night? What will he do to me?
“He wasn’t scary,” Narinder says. “Almost friendly. He was ugly though, he could do with a wash and some decent clothes.”
The next chapter will appear in next month’s issue.