The honourable Aaron Traser looked down at the weedy youth standing before him. Though his expression remained judicially stolid, his heart ached for the handsome sixteen-year old, knowing the boy had grown up without parental guidance. His father was unknown, while the woman who had given birth to him never laid eyes on her infant son. His youth had been spent in being shuttled from foster home to foster home to finally wind up in a church sponsored shelter. This was his third appearance before Judge Traser.
"Troy, I am taking unusual liberties in my choice of how to dispose of this case. By all considerations, I should sentence you to the boys correction center until you are eighteen; however, nothing you have done warrants such a drastic move, especially as I feel that you are a good young man at heart. Therefore, I am sentencing you to community service until you reach the age of eighteen. As you appear content at the shelter, you will remain there until you become of age."
The youth looked up hopefully.
"However, there must be some form of redress for your misdeeds. Because your mischief has caused others inconvenience and additional work, I have decided that you shall make amends in as similar a manner as possible. It is the decision of this court that you will remain domiciled at the boys shelter, and that your time from nine to five on weekends and from seven to nine each evening, for a period of no less than eight weeks, will be spent as a volunteer at the Westhaven Rehabilitation Facility as requested by the director who will give you such training as he sees fit."
His Honour looked at the youth once again. "Please don't fail me on this, Troy."
"No, Sir, I won' fail you. Thank you, Your Honour."
After school two days later, Troy walked briskly alongside the director of the small, but exclusive and brutally expensive rehabilitation centre, listening intently as the man described the menial duties Troy was to perform. Dismissed at the end of the tour, Troy ambled back towards the nurses station to await his first duty. A pretty young nurses assistant ran past him, tears streaming, as a bass voice screamed in frustration, "No jumped up little twat is going to lecture me on how to take a piss! I have three advanced degrees and I was peeing long before you were even a twinkle in your father's eye!"
Feeling pangs of sympathy for the young woman hardly older than he, Troy stopped in the door to the room in surprise as he saw a face he recognized contorted in wrath. Unable to afford even a spectator's ticket to the ice rink, he spent hours standing outside an exit door, the door just cracked enough to permit him to see a portion of the ice, to watch this beautiful man execute, what appeared to Troy as flawless, the entire catalogue of skating maneuvers.
"C c can I help you, Sir?" he managed to stammer out at last.
"It's may I, but I sure as hell hope so. You're bound to be more familiar with the way to take a leak adequately than that little bitch I just ran out of here." The man replied in a quieter tone, his anger fading as he looked at Troy, and flung back the sheet covering him. The urinal had tipped spilling some of the contents, wetting the sheets and portions of the man.
Troy looked at him with compassion. "Sir, I need to change your bedding. I'll get some help and be back in a moment."
"Be damn certain you are. This wet bed is bloody miserable."
It took Troy only a couple of minutes to find an orderly capable of lifting the man gently, without disturbing the leg held in traction. Troy skillfully removed all the linens down to the waterproof mattress cover, gave the man a light bed bath, and replaced the coverings with slightly scented fresh linens. There was a huge sigh of contentment as the man settled back into a comfortable position on fresh linen.
"Thank you, young man. What is your name?"
"Troy, Sir. Would you like me to give you as much of a massage as possible without causing you any discomfort?"
"That would be wonderful. My pressure points are sore from having to lie here without much movement."
Carefully, fearful of actually touching his idol, but gently, so as not to disturb the man's healing leg, Troy warmed lightly scented oil, then applied it to as much of the man's back as was possible. When his patient groaned loudly, Troy immediately stopped his massaging and asked fearfully, "Did I hurt you, Sir?"
"God, no!" The man exclaimed. "I haven't felt so wonderful in ages. You have magic hands, young man, please continue."
Troy smiled, "Thank you, Sir," and resumed the massage. He helped the man return to his original position, massaged his chest and legs, then wiped his hands clean of the oil and asked, "Is there anything else I can help you with, Sir?"
His answer was a delighted smile. "No, Troy. Just switch on the nightlight and close the door. I'm relaxed enough to sleep now."
"Good night, Sir."
Troy looked at his watch and found he had stayed well past his time, he hustled to the front door of the facility and climbed into the waiting van from the shelter.
"You're late, Troy," the driver complained.
"Sorry, Sir. I was helping with a patient who needed a lot of attention. I'll try to watch the time more closely and not keep you waiting."
"Please do, or you'll be walking home," the driver growled. The drive continued in silence.
As Troy entered the facility to begin his two-hour shift the next evening, the head nurse stopped him. "You are to report to the director immediately, he's waiting," she added with a smirk. For some unknown reason, she had taken an instant dislike to Troy, and it pleased her no end to pass along the director's demand, certain Troy had already run afoul of the man's unpredictable temper.
Fearful only that he had failed the judge, Troy tapped at the office door.
"Come," a voice called. "Ah, Troy, please come in and have a seat."
"Have I screwed up, Sir?" Troy asked timorously.
"Quite the contrary, young man. Doctor Branstadt has been the bane of everyone here since he was admitted. Nothing ever pleases him and his temper is legendary." The director directed a broad smile at Troy. "After you completed your shift last evening then stayed overtime to give him the best care you knew, he called me into his room and has demanded that no one else is to enter his room if you're on duty." He shook his head. "I don't know or care how you accomplished this miracle, but I am making Doctor Branstadt your sole responsibility. You will attend him only for your entire shift."
Troy sat stunned. How many times had he fantasized being able just to see his idol close-up, and, now, he is being given the care of him. He was equally shocked to hear the director say that Branstadt was a doctor of some kind.
"Thank you, Sir. He was real nice to me and I like him."
'There is a God,' the director thought to himself, as he told Troy, "Best get along now or he'll be screaming the house down. And thank you again, son."
Troy tapped lightly on the closed door.
"What?" A voice snapped.
Troy opened the door. "Good evening, Sir, may I help you in any way?"
His greeting was met by a huge smile. "Troy! Thank God! Now maybe I can have a bit of peace and comfort in this hellhole. I know this sounds completely insane, but do you know if there's a KFC place anywhere nearby?"
"I believe I passed one on my way to work. Did you wish something? The food here is very good."
The patient smiled. "I will admit that, however, one does get a taste for the plebeian on occasion. I do like their crispy strips. Would you be able to obtain some now?"
"I'm sure I can, Sir, but it will take me a little time since I have to walk."
"I guess it's a mile or so from here."
The doctor's eye widened. "You'd be willing to walk two miles just to satisfy my whim?"
"Wait one," Branstadt said, pressing the nurse call.
"You wanted something?" the nurse's voice inquired over the intercom.
"Of course I do," Branstadt snarled. "Are you stupid enough to think that I pushed this damned button just for fun or the pleasure of hearing your dulcet tones? I want someone to drive Troy a short distance. He's running an errand for me."
"We're not in the habit of driving our volunteers anywhere. They are not permitted to run errands for our clients," She replied snippily.
"I believe this institution for insane employees has some form of transportation available?"
"Well, there is a small Toyota we use for local business runs."
"You have a driver's license?" the doctor asked Troy in an aside.
Troy proudly nodded, having received that coveted item only a few weeks before at the conclusion of his drivers training class at the high school.
"I'm sending Troy out for something I want; give him the keys and let him drive, not walk, some distance."
"It is not and I shall call the chairman of the board of this miserable place if you don't." He switched off the unit. "Troy go get the keys from that bitch and while you're at it, get whatever you wish for yourself. We'll have a little dinner party. Oh, yes, I'd like a pint of milk to drink."
He handed Troy a twenty and lay back with a smile, anticipating the furor his actions would bring on the morrow.
Near half an hour later, Troy tapped at the door and entered the room carrying a paper bag displaying the Colonel's visage. "Sir, the nurse almost had a heart attack when she saw this. I should have covered it some way. I hope you don't get any static because of me."
"Screw her and what she wants. Open it up, boy, and let's party."
Troy had simply doubled the doctor's order and now sat next to the man's bed enjoying the still reasonably warm chicken and the cold milk he'd had to obtain from a nearby convenience store. He handed Branstadt every penny of the change he'd received from his purchases along with the receipts.
"Troy, you are a rare jewel. Thank you so much for going to all the trouble to get this. I'm purely satisfied just now."
Troy shook his head. "No, Sir. I thank you for letting me have this good dinner with you." He glanced at the inexpensive watch he wore. "Oh, Sir, I'm late for my ride to the shelter. May I do anything else for you before I leave?"
"Go, young man, go. If you have missed your ride, call a taxi and I'll gladly pay your fare." He held out another twenty. "Be certain to tip the driver well."
"Thank you, Sir, but I don't expect you to do that."
"Why not, damn it? You have remained after your assigned hours simply to please me. I often pay the taxi fare of guests who imbibe too much at a party, so it's no big thing. Take the money with my blessing, son."
"You want to go where?" The taxi driver asked, looking at Troy and suspecting a scam.
"I have money," Troy retorted, waving the twenty at the driver, who pulled away from the facility.
Troy paid the small fare and added a generous tip as directed by Branstadt. He rang the bell at the door for late admittance.
"Troy, I had about given you up. You're over an hour late."
"I know, Sir," he informed the counselor. "The man they put under my care had me running a few errands for him. I better get up to my room and study for classes tomorrow."
The next evening, Troy tapped at the door quietly and entered. He immediately handed the doctor the twelve dollars remaining from the cab fare. "I tipped the driver three dollars, Sir. I hope that wasn't too much."
"Not at all, Troy. It was just right for that trip and I do appreciate the careful way you handle any money I give you." Branstadt smiled. "Do you feel up to another massage this evening?"
"Of course, Sir," Troy replied and began to gather the necessities. He felt Branstadt's taught muscle structure relax as he worked the man's flesh vigorously."
"Enough," Branstadt finally said sleepily. "Bless you, Troy. Now go home early and get some rest."
The small amount of homework already completed, and with no school the next day, Troy flopped down on his bed. His thoughts immediately turned to his patient. Doctor Branstadt had to be someone special to get away with the demands he made on, it seemed, everyone but him. Others obviously disliked him too. But why is he so good to me? Troy asked himself as he drifted into a much needed deep sleep.
Troy appeared at the doctor's door promptly at nine the next morning, to hear the man mumble, "Where the hell is Troy? I don't know how, but he's quite skilled in the ways of treating one, something you obviously aren't. Get out."
"But your bath?"
"To hell with a bath, I'll lie here and stink until Troy gets here, if he ever does. Not like him to be late."
"I'm here, Sir. Traffic is heavy this morning."
"Oh, thank God! Will you be so kind as to take over from this incompetent idiot?"
Troy winked at the orderly and began to gently bathe his patient, including those spots supposedly already washed. The doctor groaned in ecstasy at the boy's gentle but vigorous scrubbing, especially of his back.
Troy had placed his patient back in a comfortable position and was putting the bathing supplies away.
"Troy, is there nothing you can't accomplish properly when you put your mind to it?"
"Sir, I suspect I'm not very good at most things. I do know my grades could be a lot higher, but nobody gives a damn so I'm just squeaking by until I can quit high school."
Branstadt held out his hand. "Come here, son." When Troy was close enough, he felt his hand grasped firmly. "Troy, I expect you to bring your homework each evening when you come to work, and on Saturdays and Sundays when you have papers to write. I will teach you how to study and I expect nothing more than top grades from you from now on. Agreed?"
"But, Sir ..." he started.
"No buts, damn it! I care about you, Troy. It's obvious from the talents you have exhibited since you've been here, that you have a first class mind. You pick up on things quickly and are completely honest. I heard through the grapevine that you are here because you are doing court ordered community service. Is that correct?"
Troy turned bright red and would have turned away, but Branstadt held his hand too tightly. For the first time completely ashamed of his record, and fighting the tear or two of shame trickling down his cheeks, Troy finally stammered an almost silent, "Yyyyyyyes, Sir."
"Calm yourself, Troy. We've all done things which we shouldn't and, in some cases like yours, have been caught and made to pay in some way. Continue to work towards completing your term of service, then put it behind you."
"But, Sir, ....."
"I've told you before there are no buts with me. I don't think less of you, son. In fact, I think even more of you for telling me the truth though it obviously caused you some anguish. Now forget it and let's get on with our day together. Homework?"
"All done, Sir, but I brought it with me. Would you look at it for me?"
"Happily. Hand it over."
Notebook in hand, Branstadt examined each page thoroughly. When he had completed looking over Troy's work, he pointed out two minor errors in a math problem and watched as Troy reworked the problem correctly.
"Excellent, Troy. I'm proud of you. Now, ..."
He was interrupted by a tap at the door. "Who the hell is it?" He yelled, irritated at the interruption.
"Us, you arrogant little bastard," one of the men slightly older than Branstadt said, pushing into the room.
Obviously close companions. The visitors carried on a lengthy conversation sprinkled liberally with vulgarities. Troy listened, mouth open in shock when his patient was addressed by a name far from reality.
"Shut the fuck up, Brainless. You're getting the poor kid all confused." The speaker turned to Troy. "Don't mind us, we're old friends and have an ice skating team. That's how Brainless here got hurt. Talk like this goes on all the time."
"I don't mind that, Sir. I hear a lot worse at the shelter."
"You guys lay off Troy," Branstadt snapped. "He's a fine young man and he has been my salvation in this hole. Thank God, I get out come Friday."
Troy had not yet heard that bit of news and turned away to hid the tears that began unbidden. This wonderful man would be gone and he'd have no one so kind to administer to.
"Hey, that's great news. How long before you can get back on the ice?" the smaller man asked.
Branstadt looked for a moment as if he might cry. "Six months, at least. Damn but I'm going to miss it."
"Oh, Sir, I wish I could see you skate," escaped from Troy before he was aware of speaking. "I always wanted to learn how, but kids like me don't get a chance."
Branstadt picked up on Troy's words and filed them in the back of his mind for action. He already had an idea forming. However, he replied to the guys, "I told you idiots he's been my salvation. The quack told me I'd need help at home for a week or two, so when I go, Troy goes with me, if he wants to. Hell, if he does, I may even teach him as much of the basics of skating as I can without being on the ice. He learns so fast he'll be whipping you guys' arses by next winter."
"Done, Brainless. Fifty bucks says he can't learn your kind of skating at his age. Too stiff already, and not enough 'beef'," the speaker turned to Troy. "All kidding aside, young man, Doc here is a champion at acrobatic skating. You won't find anyone outside the professionals who can match him. If he offers to teach you to skate, all I can say is go for it. You won't get a better teacher."
Branstadt grinned broadly. "Get ready to pay up, Asshole. You forget he's built for figure skating like me, not hockey, but even so, I want him to learn just to have fun. He'll be a big help to me, too, when I can get back on the ice."
"I know I won't make it to the next meeting, but I'll be at the one after that.” Branstadt's expression became solemn. "Thanks a lot for coming by, guys."
Once the visitors had disappeared, Troy turned to Branstadt, helping him into a more comfortable position. "I'm sure gonna miss you, Sir," he replied when asked why he was sniffling.
"Miss me, hell! You're coming home with me, if you want to."
"I can't, Sir. The judge said I had to work here and live at the shelter."
"What was the judge's name, son?"
Branstadt's smile broadened. "Excellent. Don't you worry about a thing, son. I'll take care of all the legalities. I do want you to give me your most honest answer. I have known you no more than this week that you've been here, and I know all the BS about instant love, but, damn it, it's true." He reached out and grasped Troy's hand. Your kindness to and patience with me have touched me in a way I didn't know existed. I love you, Troy. I want to adopt you and make you my son."
Troy stared at him blankly.
"I'm asking if you would like to become my son, live in my home, and continue your education, getting better grades, of course?"
Troy gazed unbelievingly into Branstadt's eyes, as tears began to trickle down his cheeks. He leaned over and kissed the man on his cheek. "My dream of having a dad to love me has done come true, Sir. I can't hardly believe it."
"Believe it, Troy. Come Friday when I get out of this damned bed, I'll be able to give you the hugs and love you deserve, son."