Rescue Me! – chapter 3: What next? Friday morning dawned clear, sunny and cold. It wasn’t snowing today, but it was colder that the previous couple of days. It seemed counter-intuitive, but it had to warm up to snow. Today was really cold. The thermometer had dropped below zero; there was no wind but the cold was damp and biting. John shook his head as he opened the door to the Shelter. He knew that he’d have a capacity crowd today. He also knew that some of them, the younger, less experienced ones, would get frostbite today, not yet used to the reality of just how cold it would get. He walked in, hung up his coat and turned up the thermostat. At least they could be warm in here. He put coffee on first thing. It would take a while for the big pots to finish gurgling. Then he went into the kitchen to warm up the soup. He’d left it on all night just simmering gently on the back of the stove. As he stirred, he remembered Jeremy’s hands chopping up the vegetables. They were just such lovely hands with long thing tapered fingers. He’d never had a thing for hands before, but with Jeremy they kept drawing his eyes. Jeremy had been helping him all week. It had become a regular fixture of his afternoons. Jeremy would come in for lunch, and then stick around helping in the afternoons, sometimes right up until closing. He liked it; he liked Jeremy – a lot. He shook his head a bit as he kept on stirring. Jeremy had gotten under his skin – after all these years of working with “his” clients, and now Jeremy had gotten under his skin. He’d have to be careful. He couldn’t get involved with Jeremy, not with any of his clients. It just wouldn’t be right, wouldn’t be ethical. But Jeremy – he sighed and went back to stirring. It was going to be a thick stew for lunch today, lots of vegetables, lots of potatoes and even some rich, deep brown meat broth. He’d been given a large bag of beef bones earlier in the week. He’d roasted them in the oven until they were deep dark brown, and then he’d simmered them up in the big soup pot for a couple of days. Now the broth was ready. He’d added lots of vegetables last night – with Jeremy’s help – and then set it on to simmer all night long. Now, he was going to add in some barley, just to thicken it up even more, and all the beef bits he’d been saving. He’d roasted those up yesterday, and set them aside in the fridge. He opened the fridge and got out the two big pans of beef bits, and then slowly added them to his two huge soup pots. He stirred them in and set the pots to simmering again. Oh, it was going to be a lovely stew. He debated with himself about whether to add some wine or not and finally decided not. He loved a good stew with wine but perhaps that wasn’t the best thing to do with his clients. He kept on stirring, and then left it alone to go about his other work. Jeremy was on his mind now, he often was, and he wanted to phone his friend back and see if she’d gotten any information. Over the last week, he’d gotten to know Jeremy better. Each day he’d learn just a little more about him. He knew his last name now – Blackman; he knew that he’d been a psychiatric hospital a few times as a teenager. He knew that as a consequence Jeremy couldn’t read or write well, and couldn’t do basic mathematics. He knew his birthday – December 6th. He knew that Jeremy had turned tricks once he reached 18 and graduated out of the state’s tender care and he suspected that Jeremy’s “friends” might actually be making money off him in return for letting him stay at their apartment. There was still a lot he didn’t know. He didn’t know if Jeremy’s mental health issues were resolved or not. He didn’t know if Jeremy was getting any social security, though he suspected not. He didn’t know if there was any learning disability involved in Jeremy’s lack of knowledge. He didn’t know how he could help Jeremy to find a better life. He didn’t know how Jeremy felt about him. John sat down behind his desk and pulled the telephone over. He dialed his friend, who answered almost immediately. “Good morning, Liz. How are you today? What? No I don’t have any idea what time it is. Oops, sorry! I’m already hard at work here. Come on, Liz, it’s after eight. It’s not that early. Yes, I know you’re retired. OK, I’m sorry.” Squawks continued to issue out of the handset. Someone wasn’t too keen on being woken up by a phone call. John held the handset away from his ear for a moment, and then put it back. “Liz, I’m really, really sorry. I owe you a large Starbuck’s, OK? But, I really wanted to get that information I asked you about the other day. All right, I’ll hold on while you get your notes. His name is Jeremy Blackman. So, what did you find out?” John had called hear earlier in the week, she was a retired administrator from the psychiatric facility in Montreal, and she still had lots of contacts there. She had promised to check into Jeremy and see what she could dig up. He nodded as she talked, taking notes on a yellow ruled pad on the desk. “So, what meds should he be taking? Is he eligible for social security?” He nodded his head, as if she was sitting in his office, as he continued to take notes. “How difficult will it be to get him on social security? Do you know someone I should talk with?” “OK, I’ve got it now. I’ll call him right away – no, Liz, I’ll wait until he wakes up and gets to the office. I promise I’ll be good.” John nodded to himself. It looked like there was a way forward. He could take Jeremy downtown and get him registered for social security. It would take a bit, but eventually he’d get it and then Jeremy could avoid turning tricks. It was also time to make sure that Jeremy went to the medical clinic and got checked out, and to refill his prescriptions for his psychiatric meds. John had a plan of action now. He made a list for himself on the pad, knowing it helped him be clear when it was all written out in front of him. He knew what he had to do to help Jeremy. He felt good now that he had some clear steps to take. The door banged open, interrupting him. He looked up, startled. There were a couple of the regulars, carrying something – no, someone – between them. He got up and hurried out of his office to see what was going on. They propped the bundle of clothes – with a person inside – on one of the couches. Then they stepped back and looked helplessly at the bundle. “What’s going on, guys?” “It’s Jeremy. We found him outside in the alleyway. He’s awful cold.” “What?” He almost jumped forward to lean down and look into the face. It was Jeremy, and he was cold. He started unbuttoning and unzipping and opening all the layers of cloths, desperate to get to the man cocooned inside. “Give me a hand, guys. Let’s see what’s going on. Guy, go into the clothing room and get some blankets, we need to warm him up.” Joe, the Friday volunteer, came in, saw what was going on and hurried over. “Joe, can you help me get him lying down. Let’s get all these clothes off him.” As they got the outer clothes off him, they discovered that he was chilled but not frostbitten; there was still warmth to his body. They piled blankets around him, and pulled his boots and socks off, beginning to warm his feet up, too. One of the men brought over some coffee, and they began trying to wake Jeremy up. “Jeremy, drink this, wake up now, you need to drink something warm.” John actually slapped him a couple of times across the face, trying to get some response out of him. Jeremy flinched away, trying to throw up an arm and protect himself. But he was wrapped up in the blankets. He began to struggle, not fully awake yet but coming to. “Jeremy, it’s John. It’s OK, no one is going to hurt you now. Please, just wake up and drink something.” Jeremy’s eyelids fluttered open, his eyes, framed by those long lashes, staring up into John’s face. He focused on John, and began to smile, panic fading from his face. John sighed in relief, and then, completely unaware of what he was doing, reached up a hand to stroke Jeremy’s face. Jeremy leaned his head into that hand, almost cat-like as he rubbed against it. He reached a hand out of the blankets and brought it up to cup John’s hand. They stared into each other’s eyes; time had stilled. Joe called from the other room, “Does he need anything? Do you want me to call the police or an ambulance?” Time started up again. John blinked, and withdrew his hand from where it was caught between Jeremy’s hand and face. “Jeremy, what happened? Are you OK?” Jeremy blushed – it was good to see color back in his face – and looked down. His hand reached out for the cup of coffee and put both hands around it to warm them up. “Jeremy?” “I got into an argument at my apartment, and they threw me out.” “When? How long were you outside? What’s going on? Where …” John’s voice ran down as he realized he wasn’t giving Jeremy any sort of chance to answer his interrogation. He was worried; he didn’t really know how to show it. He was upset, and his feelings were in turmoil. He wasn’t quite sure what was going on with himself, either. John stood up, and shook himself. “First things first, Jeremy, are you hurt? Joe’s right, do we need to call an ambulance?” “I don’t think so. I’m kind of sore, but I don’t think I’m really hurt.” “Right, let’s get you into the back room and show me where you hurt.” Joe hurried over, and between them, they got Jeremy up onto his feet and walked him over into the back room – the clothing room on Tuesdays and Thursdays. John closed the door.
“Joe, would you go back out and take charge of the place. The soup should be OK, just stir it a bit, and then get someone to help you set up for lunch. Check the coffee to see if we need another pot. I’ll just check Jeremy over and then we’ll see what the next step is. OK?” Joe nodded his head and went out, closing the door behind himself. John looked over at Jeremy sitting huddled on a chair. His worry showed clearly in his eyes. “Jeremy, I’m worried. Let me take a look at you.” Jeremy looked up at John, seeing far more than John wanted to show. He stood up and let the blankets drop away, then he began to unbutton his shirt and open it up. He winced as he started to slide it off his arms and John was there to help. He slid the shirt off and Jeremy stood there in his undershirt. John reached over and slipped it up over his head, both of them very aware when John’s hands touched Jeremy’s body. John stood back, his breath whistling out as he saw the livid bruises on Jeremy’s ribs and torso. He eyes kept darting between bruises and body, his mind flickering back and forth between shock and appreciation – shock for the evidence of abuse, appreciation for the body marked by that abuse. Jeremy had a fine body, lithe and muscular, strong yet not over-muscled. It was a swimmer’s body, a dancer’s body – too thin now for the structure underneath yet lovely all the same. John’s hand rose of its own volition and reached out to trace the bruises, small feather touches. Jeremy sucked in a breath, and John looked up into his eyes. “Sorry if that hurt.” “No, it didn’t hurt. It’s OK.” The moment passed, and John took his hand back, as if burned by Jeremy’s skin. Jeremy broke out in goose bumps. “You’re cold. Let’s get you some clean, warm clothes. Does anything hurt? Sorry, that’s silly of me, of course it hurts. Does anything have a sharp pain, or does any are hurt more than the others?” “No. It’s kind of a dull ache all over.” “OK then. Maybe nothing’s broken, just all the bruising.” “Yes.” John bustled around, getting some clean clothes for Jeremy. Doing so that he wouldn’t need to think too much. He didn’t know what to think right now. “John?” “Yes.” “I don’t have any place to stay any more. They threw me out. I don’t know where to go.” John kept bustling, keeping his hands busy. He didn’t look up. His mouth opened without any thought. “You’ll stay with me for the weekend. We’ll figure out what to do over the weekend. That’s it, we’ll just make sure that you’re safe first, and then we’ll figure it out.” He stopped, his hands frozen in a drawer full of clothes, and he looked up, his eyes fixed on Jeremy. “Is that OK with you? It’s only temporary, but it’s the best I can do right now.” “Yes, John, it’s OK. In fact, it’s very OK.” They both smiled.