Women holding orange with black coffee

Week 3 Prompt: Family

She ducked to find refuge under the dining table as the glass whizzed past her ear, narrowly missing her. Turning, she watched it smash, splinter and fall down the wall. It seemed to happen without noise. She had tuned out all sound as the barrage of words continued, her eyes still fixed on the remnants of the glass.

The wall was a dirty off-white colour with the remains of a floral wallpaper from the 60’s in various places. Someone had tried to paint over it. There was a small fragment caught on one of the exposed pieces of wallpaper. Holding on, waiting, watching. She felt like that glass. Discarded and broken. Little fragments tried to hold on but she couldn’t do it anymore. The last piece of her fell to the floor as her ears once again heard those words.

“You are worthless trash! You will always be trash! You deserve to be thrown out on the street where you belong!” his face was so distorted with rage he almost spat the words. Even with the slurred speech and the drunken sway, the words were unmistakable and his aim was always true. She had the bruises to prove it.

She could hear him scratching around near the table but experience told her he wasn’t going to do anything as long as she stayed where she was. As had become routine, she stayed under the table until she could hear him snoring on the lounge. Then she quietly escaped from her prison and left via the back door.

At that moment years ago she waited, as she always did until he passed out. This time she left and didn’t go back. It wasn’t worth it anymore. The dangers that faced her on the streets were a whole lot easier to face. She decided to keep to herself, trust was a foreign currency and the exchange rate was very poor indeed.

Having kept her distance from people for so long she loathed still being in the position where she couldn’t do it completely on her own. She had moved around quite a bit as a teenager, finding work wherever she could. Even the unspeakable. It paid so it counted, no matter how demoralising. In the beginning anyway. Then she found a way to make a little money without needing to be around people. Mostly.

Eden had found herself in trouble and thankfully the judge had only given her a community service order but as they have the power to do, he added stipulations. She had to connect with the social worker at the drop-in centre regularly for a year. He said it had something to do with character development and preventative measures.

The first day Eden met Sarah, she came up to her with a broad grin and reached out with her hand. Eden didn’t acknowledge her but she didn’t miss a beat despite the snub. The same scenario continued every week for months. She didn’t show any sign of redirecting her approach or changing it in any way. Then one day, Eden reached out her hand and shook it. Sarah just continued as if nothing special had happened. Continued to smile and chat, whether it was with others or just in their general direction.

In all she did, she smiled. Always remembered everyone’s name that came through the centre and offered an invitation to converse. Many liked her and appreciated the way she saw them, despite their situation. She had a way about her. She never seemed flustered and carried an energy Eden didn’t understand. Surely no one can be that happy all the time.

Eden wasn’t exactly sure when it all changed, how trust crept in, but somehow the connection grew. The one-word response slowly became a sentence and then a few weeks later and it was a little more. Now you need to understand the nature of the drop-in centre. It can get crazy. One moment you would be the only person in the whole centre and then the next it was full. Eden tried her best to avoid those times but you just never knew when they were going to hit.

Eden sat in the same seat on the other side of the room, her head either in a book or with earphones on. One afternoon the sun was starting to set and she had been lost in the book she was reading when she hears a commotion. She looked up over her book and sees a big guy had come into the centre drunk out of his head. The rules of the centre were clear, no alcohol, no sex, no drugs.

He had grabbed hold of the pool cue and knocked everything off the shelf. Leaning down to pick them up he fell, landing hard and sending a chair skipping away. Sarah came in at that point and reached out with a smile. She wasn’t upset or concerned. She just reached out as she does to everyone.

“James, what are you doing? Let me help you up. Buddy, you know we love having you in here but you know the rules. Yeah?” She paused only long enough to draw breath. She pulled James back to his full height resulting in him standing a head taller than her. “Okay. There we go. Now, have a seat here and we will get you sorted so you can head home. Do you have anyone that can help you get home?” While talking she had pulled him up, grabbed a chair for him to sit on and had helped straighten out his clothes. Then she stopped and waited for an answer.

“Leave me alone! You can’t tell me what to do!”, he exploded after trying to push her hands away and standing from where she had placed him. He stumbled forward, pushing Sarah off balance causing her to stumble backwards and bang her head on the cabinet behind her. He faltered for a couple more steps before falling against the wall and sliding down to the floor.

“What the hell are you doing, James!” Before Erin even realised what she was doing she was out of her seat and running towards Sarah. Yelling profanities and insults at the fallen drunkard ignorant to the tears now covering his face.

Sarah had her hands on her head, leaning forward bracing from the impact. Still a little dazed she found herself being led to the closest chair as Erin didn’t miss a beat in her verbal arsenal. Sarah just raised a hand towards Erin and the barrage stopped. All could be heard in the room was the shuddered breathing of the unintended assailant.

Sarah raised her head and smiled at Erin, “Can you see if you can find some ice in the kitchen?” The response was the back of her head as she turned quickly to help. Sarah carefully stood up and walked over the James and sat down on the floor with him.

“I didn’t mean to… I didn’t. I didn’t… he came home and I didn’t… it.. I… he.. I’m don’t know… I’m sorry… I didn’t…” James was a mess. He continued blubbering and trying to formulate a sentence between shuddered breathes. Somehow Sarah was able to interpret what he was really saying.

“It’s okay. I know you didn’t mean to. Why are you drinking again, James?” There was no pause for a reply. “You told me you hated it when he drank.” Sarah raised a hand to his shoulder, this time waiting for him to turn.

His tears ran over his swollen face, eyes puffy from the tears, lip and cheek swollen and red from the punch he received earlier that day from his father. The tears fell mostly over his brokenness trying to find their way to healing that never came. The hand resting on his shoulder was so gentle and reassuring. Sarah always had a way of doing that. He raised his head as he wiped his arm across his face. Eyes not looking at another’s eyes, but looking for that smile. It was like the smile had eyes that could see into your soul and bring a warmth it needed for connection, for healing.

“Am I going to get banned?”, the rules of the centre were very clear, and hard. Any sort of violence towards staff resulted in being banned from the venue. James lowered his head again as the realisation hit him.

“This would be your second strike wouldn’t it?”, Sarah said as she was thinking about the next course of action. “You know, I do have to report it. You need to learn the consequences of your actions. I am sorry about that.”, when she said that you knew she really meant it. “but you aren’t in any fit state for me to have you leave at the moment.”

Erin returned with the ice wrapped in a dish towel and placed it directly onto Sarah’s head. She then quickly turned and returned to the kitchen where you could hear the movement of dishes.

The shrugged response seemed to elevate the sounds coming from the kitchen as the door suddenly swung open and Erin walked out with a tray of cups filled full with steaming black liquid. She carried it quickly, placing it on the table before picking up two of the cups and offering them the individuals still sitting on the floor.

“Fantastic. Thanks, Erin. Just what we need.”, Erin continued to hold the cups out in offering. “How about we sit up at the table and enjoy a nice hot cup of coffee?” Erin took a step back with the cups still in hand. Turning she replaced them on the tray before returning and assisting Sarah back to her feet. She directed a scowled at James, deciding whether she would do the same for him. It wasn’t until she saw Sarah moving to help him that she stepped in before her and held out her hand to the boy.

The three sat in chairs with a small table between them. Erin sat back in her chair, legs pulled up, coffee cupped in her hands as if trying to warm her. James held the cup with one hand, resting on his knee. His eyes fixed on the black steaming liquid. Erin kept watching the puddle grow in the middle of the tray as the water continued to seep through the fabric of the discarded ice pack, running slowly towards the centre of the tray.

Sarah rambled about something that didn’t really matter, in a world of her own until her words seemed to penetrate the air around them and become still in anticipation. “What do you need to help you while you can’t attend here?”

It was an innocent question, yet profound. What did any of us really need? Erin turned the question over in her head but the answer was too big until James found the words.

“A new family. One that gives a shit.”

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