Grief's Melancholy Shade - Chapter 10
By: Susan McNeill and Rhonda Hallstrom

The first hour and a half of the ride passed in silence. Walls felled by
the dynamite of shared trauma were erected anew in the space of a few
seconds. The car rolled down the highway, carrying the two
brothers and their pain toward another ending.

With venom beyond his years, David swung his death blow.
"You're just like him. Dad. Exactly like him. You and what you do is all
that matters. I remember all the times you tried to cover for him when
he didn't show for things. 'I'm sure he wanted to be here, Squirt.'"
Turning to face Kermit, he finished with a flat tone, "Now, I know why.
You're just like him."

Kermit had no answer. The truth was pelting into his ears with a new
clarity. The boy was right. All that he swore he would never be,
everything he hated in his father, he had become.

No answer would explain or change it so he didn't try.

"Well, here we are, Squirt," Kermit said, pulling up to the
grandmotherly-styled house.

"Don't call me that."

Kermit looked at his brother and decided that the boy needed to win a
minor victory before facing the next battle. "All right." David
sneaked a look at Kermit, which he ignored. "This is your home for the
next three years. I'm going to be calling this place every day so I
wouldn't suggest running away, David. I mean it."

David looked away. "I was right. You don't care."

"Well, just tell me what options I have, David!" Kermit snapped. "Aunt
Helen would throw you in juvenile hall. You can't live with me and I am
not about to try to foist you off on Marilyn after all she's been
through. And listen, if you try to run away from here, it won't be Aunt
Helen you'll have to deal with. If you run, I will find you and handcuff
you to the door indefinitely. Got that?"

"Yeah! I got it!" David snapped back. "You just don't give a shit about
what I want. I got it! Loud and clear! Why should you give a damn where
I go?"

"You're not old enough to-"

"Jamie and I was doing just fine! At least we could trust each other!"

"You and Jamie...." Kermit began to boil, but caught himself just in time.
<Don't tell him like that.>

"What?! You know, some moral guy you are...dragging me out because of
family loyalty but you don't give a shit about who I care about! You
never went back for him! You don't care what happens to him! You died in
'Nam, Kermit! You died and your body just don't know it! What makes you
different from me???"

"You're not telling me anything about myself that I don't already know,
David," Kermit told him softly, staring straight ahead. "And you're
wrong. I do care. I just know I can't do anything about it."

"What about Jamie? You coulda' brought him with us."

"He ran before the gunfire started, remember, David? He was long gone
and I had to deal with you first-"

"So what about now?! Why don't you go back for him now?!" David pressed.

"I can't, kid." Kermit gripped the wheel. "You're wrong - I did check up
on him. I made some calls at the cabin."


"I'm sorry, David, he overdosed. He's dead." Kermit watched his brother
cautiously as the teenager slumped back on the seat, boneless, unable to
cry. "I guess he bought stash with that $250 I gave him and buried himself
with it. You can blame me for his death if you want. I already do."

"I hate you," David whispered.

"I know," Kermit told him, "but I love you. Let's go."


"Fordham, CIA," Kermit intoned to the elderly administrator as he flashed
his fabricated identification. "Here's the boy I told you about. His name
is David."

David rolled his eyes at 'CIA' and at 'boy' but kept quiet.

"Mr. Fordham," she nodded, wiping her hands on her apron. "Sorry - we're
a little busy getting ready for our monthly picnic. Hope you'll have fun
with that, honey," she said, addressing David, who stared at an
invisible speck right above her left shoulder.

Kermit nudged him but he didn't move and didn't speak. <Why should I
bother? Let Mr.-Secret-Agent Kermit the Frog beat the crap outta' me.
I don't care.>

The woman took David's rude behavior all in stride. "Well, how old are
you, David?"

The young man didn't answer, knowing that his brother would answer for
him. <See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.> David's thoughts were dark
and rebellious. <Might as well be a fuckin' puppet.>

Sure enough, Kermit filled in the void. "He's fifteen. Here's a
preliminary file."

The woman, amazingly enough to David, took the file and set it on her
desk without looking at it. Unwillingly, David had to award her points
for not letting the paperwork speak for him. "My name is Mrs. Sanders,"
she said, with a twinkle in her eye that David fought to ignore, "and
NO, I do not know the Colonel! He's just a third cousin or something
like that."

<Stop smiling, lady.> Happy people made him nervous. Unconsciously,
David scuffed his feet against the floor but stopped immediately.

"We could certainly use your help around here," she said.

David almost nodded. <Yep, welcome to slave labor, just like
Aunt Helen's place.>

"Since you're new, though, and don't know anyone, I'd really like to you
tackle the task of making yourself at home." Mrs. Sanders smiled warmly
at the sullen young man, cautiously peeping up at her as if he was five
years old. "If you have a mind to pitch in, you're welcome to -- no one
will stop you! And I'm sure our ailing old bones will appreciate you."

A smile was slowly creeping out against David's will. He wanted to
be miserable and lonely but this woman was making it damned difficult!
He let his eyes roam to the form of his brother standing beside him. If
he didn't bend a little bit, he realized, he'd have Kermit dogging him
forever. He had to be careful, though. Too much compliance would
be suspicious. One quick glance out the window was all he allowed himself.

"Go ahead, Dear," Mrs. Sanders urged him softly.

David stole a look at his brother, who nodded. "I'll get the bag, don't
worry," Kermit told him. "Go on."

Slowly, not wanting to be too eager, he sidled up to the crowd but
rapidly picked up his pace to rescue a spilling bowl from a little old
lady. He got a "God bless you" and a cheek-pat as a reward as he carried
the bowl to the table. The young man shrugged. At least it was something
to do and he was hungry. He turned to the old lady and asked what else
he could do to help.


"You did that very well," Kermit complimented as he and Mrs. Sanders
took a seat at her faded, worn-out desk to fill out paperwork.

"Practice, I'm afraid," she said, getting out the necessary forms. "I
wish I didn't have use for it. I wish we would all be out of a job
tomorrow. Now, then, you found the boy at this 'drug bust' and he won't
tell you his last name."

"Correct," Kermit replied. "We can only assume that he's either a
runaway or an orphan."

"Most probably a runaway," Mrs. Sanders mused, "but anything's possible
in this day and age. We'll take him in, of course. Do you know anything
about him?"

Kermit tapped the file, provided to him by his own benefactor. "Just
this police report. And this was found on him." Removing the large
manila envelope, he gave it to Mrs. Sanders. He held his breath. This
was the tricky part.

Mrs. Sanders opened the envelope to find a stack of money, all one hundred
dollar bills. Her mouth fell open and silence reigned.

Kermit tried not to fidget under this woman's direct gaze. "Obviously,
he was trying to make a buy," he covered, "but didn't get beyond
sampling the merchandise. We busted in just before they could rob him
blind. I think it's a minor compensation for taking the boy in...." His
voice trailed off, knowing that he'd screwed up.

"Mr. Fordham," Mrs. Sanders said softly, "The CIA doesn't bust drug

Kermit's heart leaped up into his throat. <SHIT! > He fought the urge to
hyperventilate. He was going to say FBI but he'd changed it at the
last second because he knew he didn't look like an FBI agent. He'd hoped
the woman wouldn't know her law enforcement but Mrs. Sanders was more
cagey than she looked.

"And agents are required to turn in any money found at the scene of the
crime," she continued, just as softly. She ran a finger down the stack.
"Whoever you are, you certainly know how to offer a bribe. I don't even
want to think about how much this is." She looked up into his
sunglasses. "Who is he?" she asked. "Tell me the truth."

Her authority meant nothing to him. However, the sympathetic look she
was giving him was caving in his willpower faster than a hot knife
through butter. "My brother," he answered.

"Ahhhh," Mrs. Sanders breathed. "And his parents?"

"Dead. His guardian...couldn't care less."

"And you can't take care of him?"

"No." Mrs. Sanders heard the damning words whispered with shame
and humiliation. The glasses failed to hide this man's feelings
as the truth poured out. Then, he looked up, naked pleading apparent
in his face. "He's been hooked on heroin for almost a year and I've
just seen him through withdrawal. He's clean and I think he wants to
stay that way. I can't keep him with me for personal reasons that
involve his own safety." Stopping his revelations at that point, he
said, "Take the money. I can get more. He'd only be here for
three years--"

"This isn't about money," Mrs. Sanders told him. "Mr...Mr...?"

"Griffin." Kermit winced inwardly. What was it that compelled him to
blurt out the truth? He could have just as easily used another alias.
But then he realized that David would have to lay claim to that alias,
too, to maintain the cover. He didn't want David to live another lie.

"Mr. Griffin, we will take David in," Mrs. Sanders assured, a gnarled,
age-spotted hand covering Kermit's. "Take your money. Tell me -- does he
have a police record?"

"No. Not yet."

"Is there a report about his disappearance?"


"See what you can do about getting that report taken care of," she said. "We
can work with him if he has a police record but it would be difficult if
there was a report on his disappearance. Or just have his guardian
refuse to take him back in." She busied herself with sorting the
paperwork, then added, "I care more about these kids than legal
technicalities. At my age, legalities don't matter to me nearly as
much as keeping these kids safe."

"Consider it done," Kermit assured her.

"Fine," she said. "Now, fill out these forms and we'll get him settled.
And, for heaven's sake, tell the TRUTH! After all, we don't want to
celebrate his birthday on the wrong day."

Kermit reached for a pen, overwhelmed with gratitude at her generosity
and understanding. Looking down at the form, he said,
"Please take the money. Not as a bribe. Just as a way to make things
better for all of them."

"Of course, Mr. Griffin. Thank you." Smiling warmly, she patted his
shoulder and left him alone to finish the papers.


David was busy wrestling with an oversized picnic table to large for
just him to manage. <Open mouth, insert shoe store. > He had
thought he could manage this table alone. Just lift one end, move it
several inches, go around to the other end, move it up several inches
and so on. What they didn't tell him was that this table was made of
oak that weighed approximately one ton. There was no
way that he could move it himself but, after his claim, he wasn't about
to quit now.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a slumped figure sitting on the
outside step. "Hey, pal," he panted, "wanna give me hand, here? Hey! I'm
talkin' to you!" The figure ignored him, which irked him to no end.
There were lots to do here. "Hey!"

No answer.

David's temper had hit his peak. He didn't care much about things but,
if he could find it in himself to help, so could this guy. He strode
up to him and yanked on his arm. "Hey! I told you...." He trailed off
awkwardly as the guy turned his listless face toward him.

David Griffin knew that look all too well.

"Got some?" the guy asked helplessly.

"What's your poison?" David replied automatically.

"Crystal hash," the guy said.

<PCP and marijuana. > David translated automatically as his jaw dropped
open. <Heavy.>

"I want it so bad," the guy whined, clutching at him. "Please...."

"Don't have any," David said, shrugging out of his grasp. The guy curled
in on himself. David sighed. "I'm David. And you are-?"

"Sick of your jive."

"Come on, I can't just call you 'man'."

"Tony." The young man inclined his head a bit, looking at David with
derisive eyes. "You work here?"


"You gonna fix me up from my shit? Fuck off, man, you don't know shit.
Don't know anything."

"Yeah?" David sat down next to him. "Well, let me tell you something,
man. I know a lot more than that. How about when you look at your family
and you see strangers? People who are supposed to love you but don't
give a shit about what you say or what you think. How about when they
encourage you to talk up at the dinner table and, when you do, they look
at you like you're an idiot? How about when you realize that you could
disappear and no one would notice!?"

"That's my folks, man."

"How about when they tell you that you're too quiet and to go out and
make friends. Then, when you do, they say no way will these friends be
welcome in 'their' house and why were you stupid enough to get involved
with them? How about when something good happens at school, you've got
no one to tell it to?"

Tony frowned.

"How about when you pick at your food, they tell you to eat up. When you
do, they call you a pig. How about when you're trying to figure out what
to do with your life, they kick you into trying to get a job flipping
hamburgers? And when you get that job, they tell you how you're supposed
to spend it and when? How about when they pour shit all over your ideas
but never offer any other ideas to take their place?"

"Yeah..." Tony sighed.

"Then you find it. It' nothing to be believed. There's
this...stuff that you can get hold of that makes you the master of your
world. A little bit of this stuff, man, and you've GOT your world! Money
doesn't matter any more, love doesn't matter, man. You are the world!
All that shit just floats away....You get to think what YOU want! You
get to feel how you want to feel! The others just go to hell 'cuz you feel
so good! Everything doesn't matter anymore, it just IS!"

"YEAH!!! I want some, man!" Tony urged, yanking on David's jacket. "Man,
you know me upside down and sideways! Yeah! That's what I want!"

"Me, too," David told him, grabbing hold of the sweating fists clutching
his jacket. "I wasn't describing you, man. I don't even
know you. I was talkin' about myself. I want a hit so bad, I can taste
it. I want to live in it, breathe in it. 'Cause it's not real." David tried
to control the tears and crammed his fists to his eyes. "Tony, man, it's
death. It's poison slopped with sugar. I know it tastes great, man, but in
the end, it's giving up."

Jerking to his feet, he walked over to the table. "I'm gonna help these
old ladies 'cause when they thank me, I feel...useful. For one second,
at least. C'mon, help me out here...."

Tony got up to help David, neither one noticing the man in the dark
trench coat, his face the perfect picture of controlled agony.

<I'm sorry it was like that for you, David. I'm sorry....>

Kermit watched the struggle between the two boys and the task. It was
more than physical. David was selecting the battle, not allowing it to
come to him, a good sign.

At task's end, without warning, David Griffin strolled directly to the
shadowy figure that had been staring at his every move from behind a row
of trees.

"If you think I'm gonna die because you aren't here tellin' me when to
eat or sleep or piss, you're wrong," spat the bitter teen. Getting up
into the older man's face, he detailed his antagonism. "I'm gonna live
IN SPITE of you. Just to show you how freakin' unnecessary you are.
Don't pity me or try to control me or take any credit for me 'cause I
don't need it! I'm in charge now! See ya!"

David turned and began walking into his own.

"Love you, Davey."

The hesitation was only the length of a breath, one half step. But it
was there, nonetheless. A moment's second thought that didn't go

Then, he walked on.

To Be Continued...
Part 11