The Boy Named Stephen

"You're quite the difficult one, Mr. Gallagher," the orderly said, sitting in the metal chair across from Stephen, who was lounging on his bed staring at the ceiling. "Some call you impossible—I like to agree with them. But I know you're difficult by choice."

"Hmph," Stephen grunted with a shrug. His hands rested on his flat stomach. His skinny legs were bent and at an angle, his feet on the bed. The only thing that was missing from this picture was a basketball to throw in the air and catch repeatedly.

Melvins didn't let patients have such objects.

The orderly half smiled and said, "You enjoy thinking you're superior to everyone, don't you? Not just the patients, but the staff…why is that?"

Stephen turned his head so he could look at her. The white hook that fell across his face slid downwards, revealing his full face. His face was more or less paler than his body. His eyes were practically two balls of coal in his sockets. He had unnaturally red lips, lips that once had a piercing before he was admitted into the hospital.

"Where's my medicine?"

The orderly sighed and stood up. She had brought in a cart earlier before sitting down to talk—well, attempt to talk to Stephen. She pushed the cart and parked it at the end of Stephen's bed and took two small Dixie cups from it and set them on his end table. She put a bottle of water next to the cups.


Stephen slowly sat up without taking his eyes off of the orderly. His gaze literally made her lose her ability to breathe. It was so intense. She always expected those coal black eyes to ignite and burn. She sat back down and watched closely as he obediently took his medicine.

After he had taken the two Dixie cups full of pills, he set them on the end table and looked at the orderly. He cocked his head, the hook of hair swinging.

"This is the part where you leave," Stephen said with a grin.

The orderly stood up and grabbed the two Dixie cups and put them back on the cart. She turned to look at him once more and said, "You think you're the big shot of this place…but let me tell you something, Mr. Gallagher—this is the Melvins Psychiatric Hospital for Troubled Kids. No one here is a big shot. Everyone here is a cause that needs to be fixed and repaired. You're far from being repaired…you're going to be in here for a long time."

She started heading for the door, pushing the cart in front of her.

"Really? Because according to DeVanski, I will be leaving in three days," Stephen said.

The orderly nearly crashed the cart into the wall in surprise.

Stephen lay in his bed, waiting for DeVanski to come in anytime to tell him that the foster parents were going to be there any minute, and to make sure that he was well prepared. He just knew it—it was very 'DeVanski' of his doctor to do.

He wasn't anticipating the strangers' visit at all. It would be his first meeting with any outsiders of Melvin in all of his years at the prison, and it would be the last, since he would be going home with them. He wasn't anticipating that either. He was neither furious nor happy about the situations that were brought down upon him. He had to face the fact that he was being forced to live with two complete strangers, where he would only disappoint them in the end, and probably end up hurting them; which was why he planned to run away as soon as those sorry fuckers were asleep.

He didn't need a foster family. He didn't need psychiatric help. He needed to be independent.

Stephen suddenly sat up; he had a jolt of unexpected energy. He got onto his feet and paced around the small white room. He began to plan his escape.

I don't know what house they live in, but I'm guessing it's either going to be a trailer trash wreck or a mansion…rich people always want to look charitable nowadays, so why not bring a hopeless cause into their home to nurture? If it is a trailer, than my best bet is to run away around three o'clock, then the neighbors probably won't notice me…if it's a mansion, chances are it is in a gated neighborhood…now that would be difficult…

The small burst of energy suddenly diffused. He groaned and fell back onto the bed. He didn't necessarily need these energy boosts for him to think, but they helped, since Stephen suffered serious writer's block. Constructing stories and strategies was always a burden.

So he resorted back to his bed and pulled out a book from his end table drawer, The Girl Who Played with Fire. He had recently became intrigued in Stieg Larsson and Swedish culture after seeing pictures of Stockholm he saw in a newspaper article; sometimes it was hard to comprehend the Swedish cities and roads, since he had no idea where those places actually were. For all he knew, Stockholm could be located two miles away from Melvin's. Stephen barely had knowledge about the outside world.

His favorite character of all time in literature, Lisbeth Salander, had just kicked a man in the balls and shot his foot when there was a knock at his door. He didn't even bother to respond since they always entered anyways.

As he expected, DeVanski was standing in the doorway.

"Lovely to see you again, Stephen," DeVanski greeted.

"Doctor," Stephen replied with a nod, setting the book back in the end table.

"Ms. Adams told me that you actually held up a conversation today," DeVanski said, closing the door and sitting in the chair across from Stephen's bed.

Stephen replied, "I wouldn't exactly call it a conversation."

"Still, it was rather exciting to hear that you made the effort to talk to her," DeVanski said, shrugging his shoulders. Martin noticed that Stephen still wasn't dressed yet. The Andersons would be arriving in twenty minutes and be waiting in the cafeteria, which had been closed for half an hour so Stephen and they could get to know one another. He hoped that he would get the sixteen year old down there in one piece.

Stephen asked, "Did she tell you that she thought I thought I was a big shot?"

"Well, no, she didn't," Martin said, a bit surprised.

"Yeah, she said I acted like a big shot, when really, I am stuck here in a mental hospital," Stephen explained, smirking a bit. "She said that I was here to be fixed and repaired—and how I was completely far from being repaired." He looked at DeVanski to see his expression—surprisingly, DeVanski's face showed no sign of emotion.

However, Martin was outraged. Amy Adams had signed dozens of contracts when she had applied here. She knew very well how that was no way to talk to a patient, no matter what temper she had.

When Amy had approached Martin an hour ago, she was completely flustered. She had complained to Martin that she did not think that Stephen Gallagher was 'right in the head' enough to go out into the real world, not with his 'pretentious' attitude, and that no one would even talk to him with 'that god-awful haircut.' After Martin had told her that the Head Psychiatrists had already determined that Stephen was functional enough to leave, she left without another word and resorted to the third floor kitchen, where she spent many, many of her breaks. No other employee at Melvin's complained as much as her. She had only worked at Melvin's for a year—he could tell that she wasn't going to last.

"Which is funny," Stephen continued, "because I always thought she loved my presence."

"What do you mean by that?"

Stephen shrugged and explained, "I feel like the nurses and orderlies like to visit me so they can just have silence for once."

Martin smiled and said, "Well, silence can be hard to come by in a place like this."

Stephen sat up in his bed and pressed his back against the wall. He sighed, "I guess you came here to say that I should get ready to meet…them." He spit the last word as though he had tasted venom.

Martin corrected, "By 'them,' you mean the Andersons."

"Yes, the couple who want to take in a loon so people will think they're being good people."

"Stephen, that is not why they want to adopt you."

"Then why not take in a normal kid? Some goodie-two-shoes with blonde hair and blue eyes with rosy cheeks?" Stephen asked, his voice suddenly icy cold.

"Because, for once," Martin said, looking right into those coal black eyes, "people understand you, and they want the best for you. And what's best for you is to be put in a loving family, one that you deserve so terribly that it troubles me as a psychiatrist to see you not in one."

Stephen had a brief moment of an emotion hat he had not experienced since he had been put into Melvin's: shock. He kept a straight face while looking at the doctor, but inside he was so bewildered about what he heard. He didn't know if DeVanski was telling the truth or merely humoring him with sugar-coated lies. Stephen was also taken back at the doctor's confession about how he was troubled that

Stephen wasn't in a loving family instead of being at a hospital. Of course, Stephen thought, all psychiatrists 'think' that—but DeVanski had said it in a passionate tone that Stephen had never had heard.

The boy realized that there had been a pause and quickly said, "Well, I guess I'll get dressed…"

Stephen got up from his bed and walked over to his dresser. Martin got up from the chair, sneaking a small smile, knowing that he had gotten to Stephen.

"I recommend wearing that striped polo and jeans," Martin said as he walked to the door. "I'll give you your privacy. I'll be right outside when you're ready."

Stephen turned his head and nodded to the doctor, murmuring, "Okay."

Martin nodded, the smile no longer on his face, and opened the door and walked out into the hallway, silently closing the door behind him, leaving Stephen in brief solitude.

For the first time in a long time, Annaiselle was perfectly content sitting at the welcome kiosk down on the first floor at nine in the morning. She sat at the desk with a thermos full of freshly brewed hot coffee, a blueberry muffin, and a computer with no new e-mails on her work account, which was a gift from God, since she was always busy at this time in the morning. It was a good sign for her, since she was going to go on a date with a man for the first time in three years that night.

She would be going on a date with a man she had met at the local jazz club, Cliché Jazz. It would be her first date since she was a sophomore in college. Annaiselle realized that being twenty-three and not involved in relationships could turn into a bad habit. The man looked nice enough, and he was going to school for pre med. Anna decided that going on a date would be a nice present for herself for staying at Melvin's for a solid six months, give or take a couple sick days.

The lazy Wednesday morning wouldn't be busy until one or so in the morning, when the families would come to visit, and food delivery trucks usually arrived around two. However, today was a bit off in Anna's schedule, since the Anderson couple was visiting again to meet their future son, Stephen Gallagher.

Anna had never personally met the infamous Stephen Gallagher, but judging by the gossip that the orderlies partook in in the break room, she had the idea that he was a psychotic stubborn boy who had a weird thing for her cousin, Martin. Though Anna didn't believe what the orderlies said about Stephen, she had to wonder what he was really like. Surely he had something wrong with him, since he was in a mental hospital, but what made him so bad? She heard that he barely talked - what's the harm in that? Quiet in a place like this is a blessing. Anna knew that sooner or later she would come into contact with him, as she would be the one unlocking the doors to let him free from the hospital.

Though Stephen was just a random kid to Anna, she wished that she would have come to Melvin's sooner, just so that she could have gotten to know him the best that a receptionist could.

Anna glanced behind her, making sure that someone wasn't making photocopies or silently sorting papers (Anna could count the number of times she had been scared shitless by turning around to see someone she didn't notice before), and quickly opened Google Chrome. The standard browser at Melvin's was Internet Explorer, but Anna couldn't stand how slow it was. She clicked on her Yahoo! mail bookmark and signed into her email.

The man that she was going to go on a date that night had emailed her.

"Slight change of plans. I have to stay at the lab for an extra hour tonight, so could we make the date at 9? Sorry about the abrupt change of plans. I hope you're still on for a nice night tonight. X -Tedd"

She sighed and replied that it was alright with her, but that he owed her a Martini for the sudden change of plans. She smiled a little to herself and closed out of Yahoo! after sending the email.

A small orange light blinked on the wall, and she spun her chair to look at the wall of four small television screens. Each one was a different angle of the parking lot in the front of the building, and every time a car passed a sensor hidden in the driveway the light went off. A black BMW was driving down the long curvy driveway to the parking lot. Anna had seen the car before—when the Andersons visited yesterday.

Why they came early in the morning for a visit, Anna had no clue. She simply pressed the button next to the screens that unlocked the front doors and rolled back to her computer.

The couple walked in a minute afterwards. The woman, if Anna remembered correctly, was Dianne, and her husband was the successful business tycoon, a local celebrity, Victor Anderson. The woman was dressed in an orange summer dress that fell to her knees with a cream cardigan over herself. Her husband, on the other hand, was dressed like he was on a business call, in a simplistic blue business suit with a tie with thin blue stripes. The only thing missing from his businessman image was a briefcase.

"Hello," Dianne greeted as they walked up to the kiosk window. "You may remember us from yesterday, we are Mr. and Mrs. Anderson. We are here to meet one of your patients—our soon-to-be son, in fact," she smiled to her husband, who clearly didn't show the amount enthusiasm she had, "for a visit."

Anna replied, "Of course I remember you fine couple. What a nice dress, by the way, Mrs. Anderson."

"Why thank you!" Dianne half-exclaimed, truly warmed by the compliment.

"Just sit down in the waiting room, and I will call you when Dr. DeVanski is ready with Stephen," Anna said, reaching for the phone.

"Sounds great," Dianne said, still smiling, with a small nod. She wrapped her arms around her husband's arm as they walked over to the two rows of seats a few yards away from the kiosk.

Martin answered during the third ring.

"What's up?" he asked, very unprofessionally.

"Mr. and Mrs. Anderson are here to visit Mr. Gallagher," Annaiselle said, contradicting her cousin's laid-back attitude. Of course, he only answered calls like that when he saw that it was the front desk calling him.

There was a pause, and then Martin replied, "Give me five minutes. I'll call when we're on the way to the cafeteria."

"The cafeteria?" Anna questioned with a tinge of curiosity. "Why not one of the conference rooms? That seems a bit more suitable."

He sighed, "Just bear with me, Anke. Five minutes."

Anna hung up the phone and glanced over at the couple. They had their eyes fixed on the television on the wall, which currently had CNN on. They were doing a story about the upcoming presidential election and how Mitt Romney was doing in the polls. Judging by the wealth and status of the Andersons, Anna looked at them as a typical conservative, wealthy, republican couple. However, she didn't know if such a family would want a kid like Stephen Gallagher in their home.

As she waited for the phone call she had a few bites of her muffin and drank a few sips of the coffee. Since the morning was slow and calm, she decided to go surfing on the Internet for the latest celebrity gossip, something that she did on her free time like any other young adult would do. She scrolled through E!s webpage, seeing articles about celebrity divorces, dating rumors, and upcoming award shows. She saw that Lady Gaga had dyed her hair brown—being a big fan of the flamboyant musician, she was surprised and excited—perhaps a bit too much.

The thought of her date randomly came across her mind again. Anna smiled to herself and felt warm and fuzzy inside, the kind of feeling that cliché romance books described. She also felt anxious.

After about five minutes the phone rang.

"On our way down," Martin said.

"I'll escort them into the cafeteria," Anna replied and hung up. As she walked out of the kiosk to tell the couple that their wait was over, she still had the thought of her date still in her mind.

Stephen looked at his image in the mirrored reflection of the elevator doors. His polo shirt was horribly oversized, so much that he had no choice but to tuck in the shirt to make his appearance a bit better. His jeans were faded and old, just like every other article of clothing he had in his possession. Martin had made Stephen brush the hook of white hair behind his right ear, revealing more of his face to his utmost (nonexistent) delight.

He was skinny—probably the skinniest in the whole Red Ward. There was a separate ward for eating disorders, in which patients varied in size from being a stick to a 'walking Twinkie,' as Stephen liked to think of them, so he was far from being the skinniest, but his weight was just above one hundred. He didn't have an eating disorder; he just had a fast metabolism as most kids have. Stephen never worked out, nor did he have any access to weights, so he had no muscle whatsoever.

Just wait until they see me, he thought. They'll vomit, I'll vomit at their fakedness, and we'll be one happy family after all.

Dr. DeVanski had just ended his conversation with the receptionist on his cell phone and slipped the device in one of his coat pockets. He said, "Excited?"

"Anxious for it to be over, is more like it," Stephen replied monotonously.

The elevator creaked on its long journey down three floors. Stephen had only been in the elevator a select number of times; usually the patients were escorted down the stairwells whenever they were 'transported' somewhere, as Stephen liked to call it. When it was only one orderly with a small group of patients, they would cruelly joke that it was their exercise for the day. Other patients would consider it a luxury, being in the elevator—but Stephen still couldn't get over how old and smelly the cramped box was.

The elevator stopped after a seemingly long time, and the doors opened after a small ding!

Stephen was escorted out of the elevator by Martin and into a wide, long corridor. At the end of the corridor was a gate, which led to the cafeteria; the other end of the corridor was to the welcome center, the ultimate source of freedom within the hospital. Stephen had never been in the welcome center; it was absolutely off limits to patients, and it was one of the most heavily guarded places in the whole hospital. One had to present an I.D. to the guard at the gate, and when the guard decided it was okay, he knocked on the one-way mirror behind him, where the person in the adjacent room would unlock the gates. If a patient, by some miracle, got to bypass that, they would then have to present themselves to the receptionist, who decided who could go in and out of the hospital.

He had never met the front desk receptionist. He knew that Martin was oddly close to her, but he knew it wasn't his wife, or else he would've brought it up sometime in the three years of being in Melvin's.

Melvin's was a primarily 'white and light blue' building. The outside of the institution was built with amazing red brick, the same brick you would see at a prestigious campus such as Harvard University. However, the inside was horribly depressing compared to the wonderful exterior. Almost all of the corridors, hallways, and rooms were painted white with light blue trim, and most of the floors were white linoleum. The bathrooms were completely white and scrubbed clean of any color. The only room that stuck out from all the others was the cafeteria.

Martin walked at Stephen's side as they approached the gates to the cafeteria.

"They'll be in there sitting at a table," Martin explained. "I will walk you over there and introduce you to the Andersons. Then I am going to go upstairs for fifteen minutes and going to give you time to know them, and for them to know you."

Stephen asked, "Will there be guards in there?"

Martin hesitated, and then said, "Yes, but it is strict policy that there must always be supervision within the cafeteria."

"Ah. Of course."

The gates to the cafeteria were different. All that was needed was an I.D. card to scan and the gates opened. Martin pulled out his and scanned it, and there was an obnoxious buzz and the gates slid open, just like a prison.

It was nothing new, walking into the cafeteria. But what was different was the emptiness. There were twenty rectangular tables with connected metal stools. The tables were put into five rows with four in each row, put exactly in place and order with each other. Not one thing was out of place. The floor was the same white tile flooring, but the walls went up two stories, and the walls were brilliant baby blue. The only wall that didn't go up two floors was the south wall, and that was because of the kitchen. The kitchen had its own room that stuck out, and on top of the kitchen was where the employees at Melvins ate in their own terrace. The employee entrance was hidden and no patient in Melvins was allowed to know exactly where it was, for security reasons. The large room was very echoic, which drove Stephen crazy, since every little sound was amplified tenfold in the room; the scraping of forks on metal plates, the clicks of shoes, and the constant chatter during meal times.

But what was new were the two people sitting at the far table facing the kitchen, and a woman standing right next to them. Stephen recognized the woman that he saw leaving DeVanski's office the other day.

"There they are," the doctor said.

The woman left once she saw Stephen and DeVanski. As she passed them she gave the doctor a smile, and even nodded to Stephen, who didn't respond in any way. He was focused on the two people sitting next to each other at the table. He only saw their backs; he wasn't sure if he wanted to see their faces.

"Come on, it's time," the doctor said, putting his hand on Stephen's back as they walked over to the table.

Remember, they're just rich pigs, Stephen thought, they don't care about you—so show them the same.

The walk over to the table was faster than Stephen anticipated. The doctor immediately greeted the couple with a warm welcome. Stephen quickly analyzed them. The man looked ridiculously rich in his business suit, and he even strengthened his image by being curt with Martin. Called it, Stephen thought. And just as he imagined, the woman was overly humble and too ecstatic, just as all the other rich housewives act when they're around other people. She even wore a summer dress with an expensive looking cardigan.

"It's so nice to see you again, Mr. and Mrs. Anderson," Dr. DeVanski said. "I would like to introduce you to Stephen Gallagher, your new son."

He's acting like I'm their newborn son…

Stephen stood still from across the table, a few yards away from everyone else. The couple turned their heads and looked at him, and at once he saw disappointment in the man's eyes. The businessman's lip twitched and his eye did too. For a brief second the man only focused on Stephen's hair, and then as though Stephen could feel his eyes on his skin, he quickly examined Stephen's attire. Stephen immediately hated the man.

"Hello, Stephen," the man said in a bored tone. "I'm Victor Anderson. Nice to finally meet you."

Stephen grunted.

The wife then greeted with a large smile, "It's so nice to finally meet you Stephen. I'm Dianne Anderson."

Stephen looked into her eyes and gave a slight nod. He glanced over to Dr. DeVanski and could tell that he was feeling tense.

"Why don't you sit, Stephen?" DeVanski asked, motioning to the stool across Victor.

"We don't bite," Dianne joked with a wink.

I beg to differ on your husband's part, Stephen thought.

Stephen hesitated, looked at the doctor one last time, and then sat down at the stool across from Dianne. Though he didn't trust either of them, he felt like Dianne was the less dangerous one—though, anyone can hide something with a smile.

Dr. DeVanski clapped his hands and said, "Well, I ought to let you get to know one another. If you need anything, I'll be upstairs having a coffee and reading the newspaper, just call."

"Oh, will do," Victor said dryly.

DeVanski left the table and exited the cafeteria through the gates.

For the first time in three years, Stephen was alone with strangers from the outside world, except for the two guards standing near the gates. The silence was unbearably awkward for the couple sitting across from the strange teenager, but Stephen found the tension a bit humorous. If he could, he wished their visit could be full of awkward silences—but with Dianne there, that wouldn't be the case.

"Oh my," Dianne said, breaking the silence. "It's so nice to finally meet you."

You already said that…

"You sure, ehm," she continued, "changed a lot since thirteen, haven't you?" She motioned to his hair with a wave of her hand.

"I guess," Stephen murmured.

Dianne said, "I like your hair. I'm glad that they let you express yourself in this institution. I wish I could pull something off as…exotic…as yours. Do you always have that strip of hair tucked behind your ear?"

What is she saying? Stephen thought. Why is she so interested in my hair?

Stephen lied, "Sometimes."


Victor interrupted, "It's a bit distracting. Perhaps a normal hair color will be a bit more suitable when you come live with us. Present yourself as the professional young man that I'm sure you are, eh?"

Stephen looked over at the man he didn't like. He said nothing and just stared at the rich pig with a cold glare.

Dianne gave a short chuckle and lightly slapped her husband's hand. She sighed, "My husband, always the conservative American man. Are you a good student, Stephen? There's an excellent private school in Louistown that would be happy to accept you."

Stephen raised his eyebrow unconsciously at the ridiculous statement.

Melvin's had a poor excuse of an education system. Certain wards within the hospital didn't offer education, simply because the patients were too delusional or psychotic to understand real world things. However, his ward, the Red Ward, was required to be schooled. His 'tutors' repeatedly told him that he wasn't serious about his education, and that he would never reach college level if he never tried his best at his studies.

However, Stephen found it backwards—the situation and the education. Stephen had no problem with learning math formulas, the history of Europe, or even how to construct perfect essays. In fact, everything he learned he learned at once. It was the outside factors—such as the tutors—that he didn't take seriously. Most of them were middle age cranks that couldn't get real jobs at schools, so they had no other choice but to work at a mental hospital. All of them treated the patients like they were dumb; however, Stephen had to agree that some of them were. He thought that if the tutors didn't treat him with respect, then he would treat them with respect. And then that was the beginning of slacking off in his studies, barely keeping a solid overall grade of a C in his schooling.

"I'm average."

"Well, average students are still excellent students," Dianne said, still smiling.

Victor argued, "Louistown Prep is prestigious, honey. They just don't accept average students…no offence, Stephen."

"Ouch," Stephen muttered sarcastically, barely being audible.

Dianne quickly changed the subject.

"Victor, I know how much you're anticipating Stephen being a part our family," Dianne said, her smile fading a little bit. "Why don't you ask him questions?"

Victor put his arms out on the table and held his hands. He cleared his throat and said, "Well, of course. I want to get to know the boy who is coming into our house. What do you like to do for fun, Stephen?"

"What is fun?" Stephen asked.

He had thrown the businessman off. Victor gave an uneasy look to Dianne, and looked back at Stephen and said, "You must have a nice sense of humor, boy. Are you implying that there isn't much to do in this place?"

Stephen smirked and waved his hand around the room.

"It's paradise."

"Well, how do you feel about hunting?"

Stephen replied, "Shooting animals…"

"Yes, that would be hunting," Victor replied quickly, his temper starting to show.

Stephen shrugged his shoulders. He murmured, "I find the idea boring and a bit inhumane, but I've never hunted, so I would feel ignorant to say that it is boring and inhumane."

That was probably the longest sentence that Stephen had ever said to anyone in Melvin's, other than to Dr. DeVanski. Victor was taken back from the comment, and quite frankly he had enough of the kid, and it hadn't even been five minutes since they've first started talking.

Dianne laughed, "Oh Stephen, I can see that we're going to get along fine. I think the same thing!"

"Except you've never hunted, so you wouldn't know what it is actually like," Victor snapped, each word enunciated and sharp.

This is working perfectly, Stephen thought.

Dianne cocked her head and looked away from her husband with pursed lips. She sighed and then looked at Steven and said, "Marriage…it's a wonderful thing. Is there anything you would like to know about us, Stephen?"

Stephen immediately asked, "Why are you here?"

"Excuse me?" Dianne asked, surprised by the haste and the unexpected question.

"There's an orphanage in Louistown with dozens of kids who need a home," Stephen said, sitting still and holding his hands just like Victor, who was smirking. "Why not go there? Why are you here, at a mental hospital, to get a psychotic boy as your son?"

Dianne looked at Victor, who just looked at Stephen with a large smirk.

"I think he might have the aptitude for prep school after all—" Victor joked.

"Stop that, Victor," Dianne scoffed, slapping her husband again. "Stephen, we didn't want an ordinary boy to come into our home. We wanted a special son, someone who needs care and to share a new light upon our home—"

Stephen interrupted, "Then why not make an orphan boy happy? My parents aren't dead. I don't have that luxury."

It was dead silent in the room then.

Dianne finally spoke, "Stephen, after reading your file, Victor and I were a bit hesitant about this decision. But do you know why we woke up at eight this morning to come visit you? Because we know that you are worth it, and we want to get to know you, and we know that we will all develop a strong bond that will last for a lifetime. You're not an ordinary boy—we're not looking for ordinary. We don't want a poster child teenager. We want you."

"This sounds like a business deal now," Stephen said, slightly laughing. "You're a nice woman, Dianne. But you don't want me. In the end, you'll realize you made the mistake in not picking little Johnny from the local orphanage. You will have made the mistake of picking the menace with the troubled background, which would ultimately be the downfall of your perfect life."

Victor laughed and said, "Boy, if we were looking for perfect, we wouldn't be here right now."

"Victor!" Dianne snapped.

"No, he's right," Stephen said, getting up from the stool. At once the guards from the gate started running at Stephen yelling at him to stay where he was. Dianne flinched and turned around to see the brawny uniformed men coming at Stephen.

Stephen put his hands behind his back and said, "Do yourself a favor and pick little Johnny, Mr. and Mrs. Anderson."

The guards took him by the arms, one of them repeatedly saying, "You aren't allowed to get up from your seat, boy."

"I want to leave," Stephen said bitterly, looking away from the couple.

"What's going on in here?" DeVanski's voice came from behind Stephen. The guards forced him to turn around and look up at the doctor, who was clutching the railing from above in the employee terrace. "Stephen, what's going on?"

Stephen replied, "I want to go back to the ward."

"You're supposed to use this time to get to know your foster parents, Stephen," the doctor explained calmly. "You still have twenty minutes—why not stay?"

One of the guards spoke up, "He got out of his seat sir, he poses as a threat."

"Just because he stood up?" Victor suddenly chuckled. "For God's sake, he's a skinny sixteen year old boy, he's no threat at all."

Stephen hung his head down and clenched his teeth.

There was another moment of tenuous silence, and Dianne sighed, "If Stephen wishes to leave, then he can."

"Are you sure Mrs. Anderson?" DeVanski questioned. Even with his eyes closed, Stephen could see the doctor's hopeless expression. The loss of hope was evident in his voice.

"Yes, but I wish to say one thing to Stephen before he leaves," Dianne said.

The guards spun Stephen around, and he raised his head and looked at the woman. She was no longer smiling, but she wasn't frowning. Her face was expressionless, but her eyes sparkled in the fluorescent lights that hung from the ceiling.

She said, "Stephen, even after only knowing each other for this brief moment of time, I want you to know that…" she cleared her throat, ignoring her husband's stare, "…despite of what just happened, I still want you in our home. As our son."


"Ultimately it will be your decision, we'll not force you to leave," Dianne continued. "But promise me one thing: you will consider it, won't you?"

Stephen glanced over at Victor, who was absolutely stunned. He met Stephen's eyes and frowned. His cold eyes were telling him that he was better off here than at their home. Stephen knew that if he decided to become a part of their family, Victor would never live it down. One way or another, Victor would make sure Stephen would not become his foster son.

"I will," Stephan muttered, and the guards pushed him forward towards the gates.

Victor was still glaring at Stephen until he had been escorted out of the cafeteria. He turned to his wife and growled, "If he comes into our house, I am moving out."

"Don't be brash," Dianne retorted. "You don't understand what a gem he would be to us."

"Gem?" Victor sputtered. "He's psychotic! The evidence is so blatant! He's a disrespectful brat who is in no way intrigued about either of us. He was right—there are better choices at other places."

Dianne got up from her stool and cried, "You don't understand, Victor!" She turned away from her husband and walked away, her sobs hauntingly echoing in the room. He sighed and got up and chased after her, disappearing into the hallway with her.

Martin stood at the railing and hung his head. He wished he had a cigarette on him at that moment.

There was a buzz! and the doors on the south wall of the welcome center opened. Annaiselle turned her head and saw the Anderson couple emerge from the corridor, the man attempting to put his arms around his wife, who was sobbing beyond control.

Anna opened her mouth to say something, but she decided it was better to just open the doors for them and say nothing. She pressed the button that unlocked the front doors, and the couple walked past without acknowledging her, and left the building. Anna looked at the televisions on the wall and saw that the wife had separated from her husband and took no hesitation getting in the car as quickly as she could.

Is Stephen really that bad? Anna thought to herself.

Anna picked up the phone and dialed her cousin's office phone. He took awhile, but on the sixth ring he had picked up the phone and answered despairingly, "Doctor DeVanski."

"Martin, it's Anna," she replied, surprised he didn't answer with the routine informality.

"Oh, hey Anke," he said, his tone still dull. "I'm a bit busy at the moment."

Anna asked, "Did something go wrong? The Andersons exited the building as though someone had died right in front of them."

He sighed and said, "Legally, I can't say anything about the meeting. But what I can say is that I failed as a psychologist, and I don't think Stephen Gallagher is going anywhere soon."

Anna wanted to ask more about the meeting, but she decided it was best if she didn't. She told her cousin to cheer up and that she would bring him lunch later that day. He thanked her, and they hung up their phone call.

Anna looked at the clock. The Andersons had gone in the cafeteria at 9:30 sharp, and they had left the building at 9:37. They weren't even in Stephen's presence for ten minutes and he had sent them running out of the building sobbing.

Maybe the orderlies were right… Anna thought.

She shook her head and opened Google Chrome to check her email. Todd hadn't responded yet. He mustn't be a morning person.