Martin DeVanski was sitting at his desk in his office when he got the call on his telephone.
"Doctor DeVanski, the family is here," the receptionist at the floor level said. She was his cousin, Annaiselle Franke, and even though he told her numerous times that she didn't have to address him formally all the time, she did so anyways.
Martin cracked a smile and replied, "Send them up, Anke." He could practically see her face twist when he said that—Annaiselle hated that nickname.
He put his laptop on sleep mode and slid it under the shelf beneath his desk. Now all that was in front of him was a picture in a frame of him and his wife, Eleanor, from their wedding day, a mug that had only half a cup of coffee left, a potted red rose that one of his past patients had given him, and a manila folder with CONFIDENTIAL stamped in scarlet letters on the front. On the tab on the top, a name was scribbled in black pen: Stephen Gallagher.
He traced his finger over the stamp on the folder, thinking of the many times he had encountered Stephen. There were so many flaws about him that DeVanski still to this day could not fix about the young sixteen year old boy. Stephen had spent three years of his life in the institution, and DeVanski still wasn't convinced that he was ready to leave. However, the Board of Head Psychiatrists at Melvin had decided that it was best if he would taste reality once more—and DeVanski hardly had any say in the matter since he wasn't up to their level of expertise yet, even though he encountered Stephen more times than them.
He wondered if this family would accept Stephen after reading the file.
DeVanski drank the rest of his coffee as he waited for the family to come up the two floors to visit him. In an ordinary building, they would've gotten to his office in thirty seconds via elevator. However, Melvin's maintenance budget was at its lowest and the elevators were as fast as they were back in the 70s when it was built. He didn't trust going in them even if his life depended on it.
He saw three people move past his windows overlooking the hallway and immediately got up from his chair. There was a knock, and Doctor DeVanski called, "Please, come in."
First entered Annaiselle. She gave him a playful glare before turning to the couple who stood in the doorway.
"Doctor DeVanski, this here is Mr. and Mrs. Anderson. They are the family who are interested in taking in Mr. Gallagher," Annaiselle greeted, although the latter of what she said was unneeded. She was used to formality after quitting her other job as a receptionist at a high end company so she could come to Melvin. However, she did like to annoy her cousin sometimes using proper formality—but this time was just a habit.
Mrs. Anderson was the first to approach DeVanski with an energetic stride. She shook Martin's hand and said, "I'm very pleased to meet you, Doctor DeVanski. I'm Diana Anderson. I've been waiting for this moment ever since we've put in an application for Stephen."
Let's see how pleased you are after reading his file.
Her husband, somewhat sluggish in his walk as though he was hesitant, approached DeVanski and shook his hand with a firm handshake. "Victor Anderson, head director of Anderson Industries. How do you do?" the husband greeted in a deep voice.
"I'm doing very well, Mr. Anderson, and yourself?"
"I've had better days," Victor said blatantly, and sat down in the visitor's chair adjacent from his wife.
DeVanski clapped his hands and asked, "Would you want Annaiselle to fetch you a coffee or a tea?"
Victor shook his head and Diana asked for a coffee. Annaiselle nodded her head, gave another look to DeVanski, and closed the door quietly as she made her way to the kitchen to get a coffee.
Martin sat down at his desk and began by saying, "I've been awaiting your arrival with high anticipation. It's wonderful that there are families who are willing to take in a foster kid, especially one like Stephen. I'm going to assume that you haven't had the chance to meet Stephen, correct?"
Diana shook her head and replied, "Oh no, we've only seen his picture and a brief report about him. He looks like a charming young man!"
"Hopefully he could put in some good skill at the company, eh?" Victor half chuckled. He was dressed in his business suit and had a prominent beer belly that practically hopped in the air when he laughed.
"I see. We could address a meeting tomorrow so you two can get to know him," Doctor DeVanski said.
Diana exclaimed, "How wonderful! Tomorrow will work great."
"Good, good," DeVanski said, jotting down notes in his schedule book. He kept thinking that they might want to rescind the appointment after reading the file. A knot formed in his stomach.
DeVanski continued, "You were called today to read the file of Stephen Gallagher upon request. You are entitled to read the report, or you can have me cover it for you—whichever you choose, I promise that you will have a strong knowledge on the background of Stephen Gallagher. However, before we can go through this, you will have to sign a couple of confidentiality papers, ensuring that whatever is learned in this room cannot be known to anybody else outside of it. I presume you need pens…"
Annaiselle stood near the coffee machine in the cramped employee's kitchen, waiting for the coffee to brew for the energetic woman. Music was playing from a small stereo on the counter next to the microwave. It was some classical song with a violin solo. Many employees came to the kitchen to seek refuge from a stressful day. Annaiselle was never as stressed as the orderlies and doctors, as she never had to deal with the kids, only the visitors.
She thought the couple who were going to take in Stephen Gallagher into foster care was a bit odd. The woman was too energetic to be visiting a psychiatric hospital for teens to take one into her care. The man seemed like he would rather be anywhere else than in a 'loony hospital' (as many people called Melvin Psychiatric Hospital for Troubled Kids), and she doubted that he was happy about taking in a troubled kid, even if it would only be for two years.
However, she wasn't in the position to judge—after all, Annaiselle herself had quit her job at funTech Corporations for a receptionist job at a mental hospital. She knew that Martin would put in a good word for her, since she was his cousin and all. Yet if he hadn't worked at Melvin, she probably would've kept working a monotonous position at funTech, despite its name, until she had finally finished schooling.
She was twenty six and was a year from getting a Masters in Psychology, and she was still working as a receptionist.
I sit on my ass all day and take calls—the only exciting thing I get out of this is make coffee for women who don't need the extra caffeine.
The door opened and an orderly came in. She immediately loosened her bun and let her hair fall, and she collapsed into a chair at the table. She looked as though she was at a breaking point in her work day, and there was still four hours left in her day.
"Annaiselle, would you mind—?" the orderly asked, breathless.
"Already planned it," Annaiselle said with a smile. The coffee was done brewing as she spoke, and she poured two mugs of coffee. She grabbed a handful of crème and sugar packets and gave a few to the orderly with the mug, exchanged a 'thank you' and a 'you're welcome', and Annaiselle walked out of the kitchen.
Annaiselle longed for the violin music as she walked down the corridor to Martin's office. Behind her at the far end of the corridor was where the patients were kept; that area was closed off by a gate that could only be opened by the operator in the office next to the gate, and by the doctors with their special I.D.s. Annaiselle had no way to get in there, and nor did she have any desire. The occasional shrieks and high pitched laughs sent shivers down her spine whenever she walked down Martin's floor.
She knocked on the office door and Martin called for her in.
The spouses and Martin were signing papers of some sort, so Annaiselle knew she wasn't interrupting anything that was crucially important. Diana looked up from the papers and smiled and said, "Thank you dear." Annaiselle nodded, and she looked at Martin, whom looked a bit uneasy.
"Do you need anything, Doctor?" Annaiselle asked, her tone indicating that she was a bit concerned.
"No thank you Anke—I mean, Annaiselle," DeVanski said, quickly correcting himself and blushing. Annaiselle sighed, took his coffee mug, and he smiled and said, "Thank you. But deliver it to me in about half an hour, I have meanings to discuss with Mr. and Mrs. Anderson."
"Of course," Annaiselle said, and she left the room, quietly shutting the door behind her. She turned right and made her way to the elevator to return to her desk on the first floor. She looked to her right as she waited and noticed a boy standing behind the gates.
He was pale as a ghost. He had black hair that was cut short and ran down his forehead in an odd fashion. He wore sweatpants and a long sleeved tee-shirt underneath his gown. Patients were required to wear gowns over their clothing between 7-6 on weekdays, but had 'casual weekends'—well, the patients who weren't in the Psychiatric Intensive-Care Unit could wear casual clothes. PICU patients always had to wear gowns during their stay in the ward.
He was leaning against the wall, staring into the window of the gate operator's office. The window was reflective on his side, as it was a one-way mirror. Annaiselle immediately felt sorry for the kid.
He suddenly turned around and looked at Annaiselle. She gasped silently to herself.
The sides of his hair were black, but the hair that ran down his face and curved into a hook at his chin was white as his skin. She could only see his left eye, and although she was far away from the teen, she could see that his eyes were as black as coal. He grasped one of the poles of the gate and hung his head down, his bangs waving in the air like a hook moving in the wind.
Annaiselle was stunned and frightened. She nearly dropped Martin's coffee mug as she half-scrambled to the stairs at the end of a hallway perpendicular to the hallway she was in. The boy raised his head and cracked a grin, revealing unnaturally bright white teeth.
The Andersons were stunned after half-reading, half-hearing the file being spoken to them by DeVanski. Martin took no hesitation when he read the most brutal-to-hear parts of the file. As he read all the reports to them the knot in his stomach kept expanding. He never dared meeting the gaze of the couple in front of him.
Dammit, I lost them.
Martin set down the file on the table and leaned forwards, resting his elbows on the desk and linking his hands.
"I can understand your shock after hearing about Stephen Gallagher's background," Martin said in his most professional tone. "It is not too late to rescind your application for Stephen. We can make a call right now to the Department of Human Services to cancel whatever plans you had to take in Stephen Gallagher—or you can take him into your home. Of course, your decision does not have to be rushed. You can talk it over, no problem."
Victor immediately said, "No way am I letting this kid—this, this freak—into my house."
The knot in Martin's stomach somewhat alleviated. He secretly didn't want Stephen to be released, not until he was sure of what he could do to correct Stephen's problems. It all depended on the couple to decide whether or not Stephen would leave Melvin.
Diana shot a cold glance at Victor and said, "Well I am one-hundred percent for Stephen."
"Ah, we have a problem," Martin said.
Victor turned his chair so he sat facing his wife, and he cried, "Why in God's name would you want this Stephen being in our home? Being in a home worth millions, a home that he could easily corrupt?"
Diana also turned her chair towards her husband.
"He's a kid who needs love, Victor!" Diana argued.
"He doesn't need love, the boy needs help—professional help," Victor added, once he saw his wife opened her mouth. "He clearly isn't in the condition to leave this loon—I mean, hospital."
Diana scoffed, "You don't know a thing about having morals, Victor. The kid has been shacked up in this mental hospital for three years, hasn't had a loving parent at his side for a long time, and needs the love and compassion that a teenager his age needs. He's going to go through a rough time when he turns eighteen, and we can set him on the right track."
"The kid has al—"
"The kid has a name, you know," Diana interrupted coldly.
Martin felt an overwhelming tension at that point. He backed away a few inches from his desk and had the two argue for a bit.
"Stephen Gallagher has already had a rough time in his life," Victor argued, correcting himself. "He has spent three years in psychiatric care, and this file suggests that he isn't even ready to leave."
Diana turned to Doctor DeVanski, her eyes desperate. In a matter of half an hour she had turned from bubbly and energetic to outraged, completely outraged. She pleaded, "Please, Doctor DeVanski, what is your word on the subject? You've worked with Stephen before; do you think Stephen is ready to live with a family?"
Martin clutched the sides of his armchair and sat up. He knew very well where he stood in the argument. However, he couldn't give a completely biased opinion on the matter—he had personal bias that would contradict everything in the matter. In fact, Martin adored having Stephen as a patient. Stephen, though he was difficult at times to understand, was quiet, a quality that was hard to come by with patients at Melvin. Whenever Martin played 'Doctor DeVanski' and asked Martin questions, most of the time Stephen would reply with short and sweet answers—however, whenever Stephen didn't want to answer a question, he wouldn't answer it. But he was always quiet about it. Stephen had a peaceful quality that every parent wanted.
But on the flip side, Stephen Gallagher definitely had psychological problems. Releasing a sixteen year old who had been in a psychiatric hospital for three years into the public could be a major mistake. Martin feared that he would turn on the morning news and find Stephen's face, with headlines saying that he had killed someone, or he had even killed himself. Martin highly doubted that someone like Stephen would go as far as killing someone, but psychiatric patients were always unpredictable.
Martin was stuck between a rock and a hard place.
The orderly was still resting at the table half an hour later. She had drained the coffee that Annaiselle had given her in two minutes. Her hair was still hanging down, free from being a sweaty bun tucked underneath a hat. She was drowning in the music that played softly from the radio.
She didn't want to return to the ward for a very long time.
The alarm sounded on her watch and she groaned carelessly, since she was the only one in the kitchen. She pressed the alarm button on her watch to turn it off, and she got onto her feet. She grabbed the hair tie she had put on the table and put her hair back up in a bun. She put back on the white cap that she was forced to wear and looked in the mirror.
I look freakin' fabulous.
Before she walked out she paused at the door. She was slightly nervous. Today was Tuesday, and that meant that she had to check up on the most infamous patient in all the wards at Melvin—Stephen Gallagher.
"Damn," she breathed.
It wasn't so much that she didn't like Stephen, it was more that he was a hollow nutcase that never talked, except to Doctor DeVanski. It was impossible to get a word out of him when she asked him how he was feeling. She was lucky if she ever gotten him to say 'hello.' In a way, he was one of her more calming patients…when she wasn't checking up on him. It was a joy to have him stand in the hallway being quiet and peaceful compared to a screaming girl who kept clawing at her door. But when it came to talking to him, the screaming girl was more preferable.
She left the kitchen and walked down the corridor to the gate that was the entrance to the Red Ward—the ward for patients with multiple disorders.
In the end, Martin told the Anderson couple that he believed that it would be beneficial if Stephen was in a peaceful environment that two loving adults (however, it looked like it would only be one loving adult, since Victor was being very difficult) could provide. Victor looked at Martin as though he was crazy, but then realized that a professional psychiatrist was telling him this—though he still wasn't exactly fond of the idea. The couple agreed to go through with the decision to take in Stephen as a foster child.
"And the file?" Diana asked.
"What about the file?" Martin inquired.
"Will we be given a copy to keep?"
Martin replied, "I'm afraid that cannot be done. The file is confidential and cannot leave this office for personal usage. However, if you have questions in the future regarding Stephen, you can always call or make a visit. Here, take a business card…" Martin fumbled in the drawer underneath his desk and pulled out a business card, which simply read "Dr. Martin DeVanski, Head Psychiatrist of the Red Ward, (517)-555-7229."
"Thank you," Diana said humbly as Martin handed the card to her.
"Do expect a few calls in the future, okay?" Victor grunted, nodding to Martin.
"I'll be available," Martin said, smiling. The doctor shook the couples' hands one more time as a farewell as his door opened, and Annaiselle walked in with a mug of coffee.
Thank God, Martin thought.
"See you tomorrow, Doctor," Diana said as she walked out of the door with her husband. He shut the door with more force than Annaiselle did.
Martin collapsed in his chair and took the coffee from his cousin.
"Rough meeting, huh?" Annaiselle asked, sitting on the edge of his desk where Diana's coffee sat, cold and untouched.
Annaiselle sighed, "Though I know nothing of Stephen Gallagher, I do know that he must be worth some trouble if the meeting was that difficult. Did you have to do some heavy convincing?"
Martin shook his head, taking a drink of his coffee, and said, "Surprisingly it didn't take much convincing—from me, anyways. Diana—the wife—had a pretty heated conversation with her husband. He didn't want Stephen even stepping foot into his house. But when I gave my positive word about Stephen, he finally settled and they decided to take him in."
"Yeah…" Martin said, his voice trailing.
They sat in silence for a few moments before Annaiselle decided to go back to work. She left the office, shutting the door quietly as she always did. Martin waited half a minute until he sat the coffee down on his desk and reached into the shelf underneath his desk. He felt his laptop as he patted blindly inside the shelf, and then his fingers felt the box stashed in the back.
He pulled out a pack of Marlboro Lights. Smoking was strictly prohibited in the building, but Martin always had a craving after stressful situations. He walked to his office door, locked it, and closed the hall window blinds. He took out a cigarette from the fresh pack and walked over to the windows behind his desk and opened one of them.
He popped the cigarette in his mouth and lighted it with a lighter he kept in his pants pocket. He took the first inhale and exhaled, the smoke running out of his mouth like a smooth stream.
He saw two people walk towards a black BMW down in the parking lot. He noticed Diana's blonde hair and Victor's balding black hair.
As they got in the car and drove away from the hospital, Martin couldn't help but to think whether or not he made the right decision in telling them that Stephen was a suitable kid. He had said farewell to the couple with a good word about Stephen—he had said that Stephen was quiet, peaceful, and was never a bother (he exempted the first year of Stephen's stay at Melvin's from his opinion…new patients were always a killer, it wasn't fair to include the first year for long-term patients in opinions). He had never noted that Stephen could be unpredictable, and that he was very self-protective of himself, and how he's used violence in the past to some orderlies for being demanding. It wasn't harsh violence; it was just a few kicks and slaps, which all the patients have done before. But as Martin had done, he had exempted the violence that had happened in Stephen's first year.
Was Stephen ready to be released from Melvin?
Martin suddenly had the urge to visit Stephen at that moment. He glanced at the clock and it read four, which meant that Stephen was being given his medicine at that moment, which meant Stephen wouldn't be in the mood to talk to anyone, even Doctor DeVanski.
He decided he would visit Stephen first thing in the morning, exactly an hour before the Andersons arrived to meet him.
Martin needed to make sure that Stephen would act accordingly.