Group Home

Roger took a final drag from his yellowed joint. He was leaning with his back against his rusty Honda, looking at the front of a small townhouse in Taunton, Massachusetts. With a sigh, he dropped the burning cylinder, extinguishing the tiny flame with the bottom of his brown converse.

He Marched, or rather he drudged, to the front door of the house, singing A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall by Bob Dylan quietly to himself. He leaned back on his heels and stuffed his hands into his back pockets. He didn't really want to start working at a group home, slaving for people who soil themselves on regular occasions, however college was an expensive thing.

Roger was summoned into the house within a few moments by a women, probably in her early-forties. "Roger Pickmen, correct?" She asked, brushing her sandy blonde hair out of her face.

"True enough," he paused, tilting his head to see more properly the current hilarity that was going on inside:

Two men, in their later years, were in the midst of a loud vocal battle. Two other men, just as old, were in the corner observing the scene. One woman in her early twenties held her hands up between the arguing two, seemingly in order to keep this fight verbal.

"Todd," one of the fighting men said, spit flying along with his words. "That was my shampoo. I need it!"

The man who Roger presumed to be Todd, was catty with his response. "Why do you even need shampoo if you don't have any hair?"

The first man recoiled as if he had physically been stung by Todd's comment. "You bastard! I have hair! Lots of it!"

Todd let out a throaty chuckle. "Yeah, yeah, Donny Boy, and Mile's can shit by himself." Todd pointed behind him to one of the cowering men, who flushed a deep red.

Donny smacked Todd near his brow with his upturned palm. Todd went to retaliate, but was stopped by the woman between them.

"Corners!" She demanded. When the two didn't immediately act, and still stood staring daggers at each other, she said, "now!"

Grumbling, the men meandered to their separate corners.

"Oh, I'm so sorry!" The woman at the door said to Roger. "I got distracted, anyway come on in." She ushered Roger into the house while saying, "I'm Kathy, by the way. That," she pointed to the woman who separated the fighting pair, who was now tapping a foot rhythmically against the linoleum floor, "is Clarissa."

Roger smiled at the women and stepped off to the side, waiting for the rest of the scene to unfold. This is better than Springer, Roger thought.

"Now," Clarissa said looking from Donny to Todd. "What do you two have to say for yourselves?"

"Oh, I have a few things to say," Todd said hotly, his eyes burning into Donny's. "Mostly though," he directed his attention to Clarissa, "I just want to hit him."

Clarissa marched over to Todd and pinched his hand. "Try again."

After rolling his eyes, Todd, indeed, began again. "I'm so sorry, can you forgive me, Donny-Dearest?"

"No," Donny answered sharply. Clarissa raised an eyebrow. "I mean, sure. I'm . . . sorry too, I 'spose." It was clear to Roger that Clarissa wore the pants in this environment, the clients were practically grabbing their ankles around her.

Kathy smiled, finally intervening. "Guys, now that's settled, let me introduce you to Roger. He's going to be helping us out around here."

Roger gave a little wave to the men who were openly gawking at him. "Hi-ya."

"He smells funny," decided one of the men in back.

"Clarance," Kathy said, her tone hard. "Enough of that."

"How about everyone introduces themselves to Roger. Clarance, you go first," insisted Clarissa.

Clarance nodded, and then pointed to himself. After taking a couple breaths he was ready to formulate his sentence. "I'm Clarance—as you know."

Roger nodded in confirmation.

Then Clarance pointed to the vacant spot next to him. "This here's Charlie."

Roger raised an eyebrow, but didn't press the issue. "It's nice to meet . . . the two of you."

"I'm Miles!" Exclaimed the other cowering man, the one who Todd accused of not being in full control of his bodily functions. "And I love Judge Judy . . . and popcorn." Well, Roger thought, it's more original then sunsets and long walks on the beach.

"I'm Donny," one supplied, "and I'm out of shampoo." Roger suppressed a chuckle.

Todd rolled his eyes. "And I'm Todd, the guy who used it all up." He accompanied his introduction with a cheeky smile.

"Charlie!" Clarance giggled, smacking his hand over his mouth. "You can't say stuff like that!"

Roger lifted his head slowly from the back of the couch and looked in the direction of his client. "You alright there, Buddy?" He asked while checking his watch. Taking the night-shift had been a mistake.

Clarance rose his furry eyebrows. "I," he said slowly, as if not to create confusion for Roger, "am not your 'Buddy.'"

Chortling quietly, Roger lifted his hands in defeat. "Okay, okay, you're right, of course. You're not my bud."

The smile returned to Clarance's features. "See Charlie?" He asked his invisible friend. "I told you he wasn't that bad."

Clarance paused, as if listening to whatever the air had to tell him, his face slowly crumpled. "But-but you, but I didn't- I'm sorry!" The plump, elderly man fell to the floor with a sudden fit of sobs.

Roger sighed and mumbled something as he forced himself off the couch and over to the crying man.

He started rubbing Clarance's back awkwardly. "There, there, big guy. Everything's fine now."

Clarance turned towards Roger, and then suddenly latched his arms around him, holding, and squeezing, as tightly as possible. After a few moments his erratic sobs quelled to deep, shaky breaths.

"Charlie's mad at me," Clarance insisted, this realization threw himself into another round of hysterics.

Who the-? "Calm down, Clarance. Charlie-" whoever the fuck he is- "will forgive you."

"You don't understand," Clarance accused, pushing Roger away from him.

Well, no shit. "How about you tell me why Charlie's upset with you then? Try to make me understand."

Clarance sniffed, rubbing his chubby fists on his eyes. After a few moments of heavily breathing, he spoke. "He didn't want me to be nice to you. He-he said," Clarance stopped to look at Roger. He made eye-contact, and then he looked away again—shame faced.

"Never mind," he said, turning to walk into his bedroom.

"Great," Roger said to himself, "even a frigging invisible guy doesn't approve of me. Let's hope my mother doesn't find out."

"So," Roger began, "who's Charlie?" Roger was sitting across from Kathy at the kitchen table. They had just finished putting the clients to bed.

Kathy, who had been sipping from a mug of coffee, set down her cup. "Well," she began. "Charlie is Clarance's baby brother."

"But-" Kathy held up her hand to quiet Roger.

"I should tell you this," Kathy said, picking up her mug to take another sip. "Clarance wasn't always this way—he wasn't always mentally ill."

"What happened?" Roger couldn't help but ask.

"He was in an accident when he was about twelve or so," she said, wisps of graying blonde hair falling into her line of vision. She wiped them aside, and continued her story. "His dad was sort of like the town drunk," she said. "And then one day, he came home, drunker than Ted Kennedy, and he took Clarance and Charlie out for a drive."

Kathy looked at Roger for a moment, forcing eye contact. "He ran into another car, Roger. Charlie died on impact. And Clarance, well, he just hit his head—hard."

Roger looked down at his hands, breaking eye contact. "Wow," he breathed. "That sucks."

Kathy's eyebrows furrowed for a moment, and then she smiled sadly. "Yeah, it does suck."

"What happened to his dad?"

Kathy's smile altered somehow, becoming darker. "He lives in Florida and is an editor for some magazine."

Roger left the townhouse early the next morning, making sure to punch out. However he felt as though he was missing the chaos that his job was surrounded with. At risk of sounding cliché, Roger had formed an attachment to his odd little clients. He enjoyed their quirks and their constant fighting. So far, Roger had witnessed Todd being blamed for the missing pickles, Mile's slipping in the shower, and the cable going out. With each accusation, Todd became more and more belligerent and hostile. But, as Roger reflected, he had some damn good responses.

Todd and Donny were quite the pair. On Roger's third day of work, Todd informed him that Donny was "just naturally slow" so he "never had any idea what's going on."

"Trust me," Todd had said, "you can't take anything he says too seriously, half the time it's just a jumbled mess of words—he's damn near out of it, all the time. It's like he's always in a really, really bad high."

Donny responded to this by hitting Todd in the back of the head.

Donny, himself, was a self-proclaimed "Ladies Man" and exercised his talent for "reeling them in" every chance he got. Roger understood the warden-like approach Clarissa had took when dealing with him. He had made far too many sexual innuendos and suggestions at her to amply supply her with enough tales of objectification to last her a life time. Roger imagined her able to provide more stories than a Hooters waitress.

It would seem that Clarissa couldn't go a day without hearing, "if you were a laser, you'd be set on 'stunning'" and "your eyes are blue, like the ocean, and baby, I'm lost at sea."

To which she would always respond with, "Donny, my eyes are green. Stop."

Once, Roger had questioned Donny on how he thought up these persuasive lines. Donny chuckled, and patted Roger on the shoulder saying, "my boy, the internet's good for more than porn."

It was the worst when Donny was taken out on day trips, because then his per-ish self would be unleashed upon the general public. Roger lost count at how many offended looks he had received for taking him out, but he found it entertaining just the same. He did notice, however, that after each trip, Donny would still come back to Clarissa and proclaim his undying love, and then, settling on his knee, he'd ask for her hand in marriage.

Roger had never been sure about spending time with Todd, he wasn't altogether positive on what Todd's response to him would be. They had interacted only minimally, but he felt obligated to hold a sort of fascination with how he dealt with the constant arguments with the other group home members. Whenever anything went awry in the house (which was a world record number of times) Todd was, surely, the cause of it. Toaster not working? Todd had purposely sneaked out into the kitchen the night before to break it. House too cold? Todd had opened the windows whilst everyone else slept and closed them right before anyone awoke. He was the evil mastermind of a thousand misfortunes, and he never denied any accusation.

And yes, though every single one of his accusers was bat shit crazy, Roger still awed at the man. However, there was something about Todd that Roger couldn't pinpoint exactly. It seemed that everyone in the house, employees included, didn't put him in the same basket as the other clients.

Kathy poked her head into the living room where Roger was musing to himself about why there was such an unequal treatment. "Roger," she said, "could you help me and Clarissa out for a moment in the lobby? Its Miles . . . he made a bit of a mess."

As he followed the older woman into the main room, a room affectionately called a lobby, he nodded at Clarissa who was ushering a distraught Miles into the bathroom.

"Hey, can you do me a favor?" She asked with her hand placed gently on Mile's back. "Can you get that?" She nodded towards the mess Mile's had created on the floor.

"Sure thing," Roger said, giving the pile a quick glare.

Roger grabbed the cleaning supplies from under the sink in the kitchen and bent down to his work, muttering curses all the while. Roger, who had been blessed with a strong stomach, and been put in charge of cleaning up such messes because he didn't create his own while accomplishing the task at hand.

When he finished, he tossed the bundled mess into the garbage and walked over to the kitchen table where Clarissa, now rid of Miles, was checking the medications.

"Can you give Todd his meds?"

Finding Todd was a difficult task. Apparently he knew when drugs were passed out, and he didn't want to be taken advantage of. Kathy informed Roger that he did this every single time they tried to hand them out. "He's a real thick-headed fellow, that one," she told him.

After a good fifteen minutes of searching, Roger found Todd chatting with one of the neighbors. Being as suave and spy-like as physically possible, Roger had somehow managed to sneak up on Todd. He grabbed Todd's shoulders while saying to the neighbor, "I'm sorry, this'll just take a sec."

Todd twisted around in Roger's grip, trying to get free, but Roger held tight.

"C'mon, Roge-y, m'boy, let me go."

Roger steered him into the house and sat him down on a wooden chair in the kitchen. He poured a glass of water and placed another cup filled with Todd's medications on the table in front of him.

"Take them," Roger commanded, "then you can go back out."

After a few moments of a stern staring contest, Todd grumbled something and took the pills, downing them with the water in the cup.

"The tap water tastes like ass," he commented once he was finished.

Roger shrugged. "So," he said conversationally, "what were you talking about with the neighbor?"

"Nosey little boy," Todd said good-naturedly. "If you must know, I was telling him my story."

"Which is?"

"Why I'm here but can fend for myself."

"Oh," Roger cocked his head to the side, urging Todd to explain.

"I killed my family." The statement was so nonchalant and blunt that Roger was stunned into silence.

"Pretty crazy, huh?" Todd continued, looking at the two empty cups in front of him. "Well, that's what happened. I took a… psych test, or whatever they call 'em, and failed that. Got out on… shit, insanity? Yeah, insanity. That's it. Lawyer said I didn't know what I was doing when I did it, which is true. Still don't know. Fuck, I miss 'em."

Roger had no idea what to say. What could you say to that? He was sitting across from a killer. Roger decided to say nothing, but instead pat Todd on the back and then excuse himself.

He decided at that moment that he really needed a smoke.

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Saturday was the best day to work, Roger had discovered quickly. Kathy often tried to clear Saturdays so they could take all the residents out for a treat, be it ice cream, a trip to the park, or maybe simply clearing out the living room to make a theater of sorts. The movies, Miles had informed Roger, was his favorite because they always had popcorn.

But this Saturday would have no sodium-high for the man. Miles had woken up with a fever, a temper, and a bed full of vomit. When Roger came to work Saturday morning, Kathy told him that Clarissa had cleaned up the mess and was currently waiting to be relieved of watching him.

"We'll take the others out for a while and give Miles some peace, you'll just keep an eye on him."

Me moved down the hall until he came to Miles' room. Miles was snug in his bed with Clarissa sitting on the bed beside him. She was stroking his head, reading quietly from the book in her lap. She didn't seem to realize he'd come up until Roger coughed, announcing his arrival.

The unusually peaceful Clarissa blinked at him, then shut the book. She slid the volume into the drawer in the nightstand, said good-bye to miles with a hug and approached Roger.

"He's still not very well. You'll probably need to change him soon." She tone was curt as she pushed past him.

Roger shrugged, and figured that Clarissa was just ornery because he had caught her in a situation where she wasn't the usual uptight and business-oriented individual she was. In truth, though, Roger liked this side to her. It humanized her a great deal.

Snapping himself out of his reverie, Roger walked over to Miles' bed and pulled over a nearby chair. "Feeling alright?"

"Nuh-uh. Is Clarissa coming back?"

"Later."

Miles sighed. "'kay."

Roger glanced at the door and, sure no one was there, asked. "You like Clarissa?"

"Yep! She's really nice." He said, and then he pointed to his nightstand. "She reads to me sometimes. Her voice is pretty."

Roger thought of the strict tone she'd used, mostly when dealing with Todd and Donny and laughed softly to himself. "I think you've uncovered a soft-spot in her."

Miles looked confused. "What do you mean?"

"Never mind, Miles, I just mean that she likes you. That's all."

"Good," Miles decided, a wide smile on his lips, "I like her."

Roger thought that Clarissa was lucky that Miles was so innocent, or else she'd have double to marriage offers.

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After Miles had fallen back asleep, Roger left the room to grab some coffee and his book. He sat down on the couch and started reading The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky, favoring this light to the lack of one in Miles' room. He checked on him after an hour or so.

When Roger went back to Miles, he found him with beads of sweat covering him. He was tossing around in his bead and moaning.

"Shit," Roger said as he hurried over to his side.

Roger felt Miles' forehead, checking for a fever, but his head wasn't hot. Just clammy. He roused Miles, who peeled his eyes open and shook a little.

"Are you okay?" Roger asked, wiping some of the sweat off of his face.

Miles took a moment to look around the room, and gather his surroundings. "Bad dream. Bad, bad dream."

Roger breathed a sigh of relief, glad that no grievous sickness was going to come over Miles while he was under his watch. "Do you want to talk about it?"

Miles nodded, and then sat up. "It was about my dad."

"What about him?"

"He used to hit me, you know?" Roger didn't know. Miles sensed this. "Oh, well, now you do."

"I'm sorry." Roger said, unnerved by how mature Miles was acting. He never acted over the age of seven.

"It's my fault, not yours."

"It's not your fault either."

Miles shrugged. "Anyway, that's just what I was dreaming about--one of the times he hit me."

"Is that all you want to share?" Part of Roger was morbidly curious as to how Miles was beaten, but the other, more rational, part of him was struck by how disgusting this situation was.

Miles took a few moments before he answered. "No," he decided. "I just want to go back to sleep."