Part One – Four Brothers United

Chapter One – Welcome to the Family

The fifteen year old sauntered up the crumbled stone steps and waited quietly outside the door. He sighed. His new home. The boy glanced down to his hands and gingerly fingered the deep, purple bruise on his forearm.

"Damn, Jack. Can't you carry your own bag?" Growled Robert Truman, Jack's annoying social worker. The teenager rolled his eyes as the man grumbled his way up the steps, carrying Jack's one and only bag of belongings. He scowled at his social worker. He just wanted to go back to the foster home where he could lie on his bed and write music to go along with the lyrics he had written the previous week. Instead, he was standing outside the door of Evelyn Mercer. Spare me, he thought. An old lady wanted to adopt him? Man, he'd give it a week tops.

"And don't give me that look. Come on, kid. Give it a chance. She's a sweet, old lady and guess what? You'll have brothers too." The man raised his eyebrow and smiled, but Jack stared back blankly. He waited till Robert dropped the eye contact and pulled out a cigarette from his denim jacket vest pocket. Pressing it between his lips, he patted his jeans for a lighter.

"Jack. Nuh uh. Put that out, right the hell now." Robert ordered and made a move to snatch the cigarette out the boy's mouth. Boy, Jack sure new how to make a first impression! Jack turned his shoulder away from the man, blocking his attempt to grab it and lit up quickly.

The door opened just as he exhaled, blowing smoke directly into the face in the doorway. There was a soft cough and then Robert began frantically swiping at the cloud of dusty grey smoke.

"God, sorry, sorry. Jack, you idiot. Sorry, Miss Mercer."

Jack suppressed a smirk and took a long, slow drag. He should be nervous, but when the number of foster families you've been housed with goes into double figures, you tend not to care what the family think of you. Give it a month and I'll be back at the foster home. He didn't mind too much. Yeah, the foster home had other kids, ranging from tiny babies to people his own age. It was noisy and the bathroom was always occupied, but at least he wasn't being hassled to be a part of something he couldn't care less about.

He realised he was being spoken to and looked up into the face.

"What?" He asked, continuing to smoke. He watched Robert, shake his head disapprovingly and let his chin drop to his chest. Jack refrained from rolling his eyes again.

"I said, welcome to my home." The woman smiled warmly. She was the same height as Jack, although he was a little tall for his age. Her blonde-grey hair was swept back loosely into a bun and her eyes sparkled. Jack gave a crooked smile and went to take his bag from Robert, but suddenly the woman had reached forward and plucked the cigarette from his mouth and ground it into the wall beside the front door.

"Now, let's get you settled inside, shall we?"

Jack's face must have been a picture as the social worker began chuckling softly as he followed Evelyn into the house. The boy pulled down the sleeves of his dark blue denim jacket and ran a hand through his hair. It had grown a lot over the Summer. It was thick and dirty blonde, spiking out in unruly directions.

"I was finished with it anyway." He mumbled, stepping into the house.

As soon as he was inside, the smell of apple pie lingered round his nose. His stomach growled and he placed a hand on it absentmindedly. When was the last time he had eaten? Yesterday? He shrugged inwardly. The smell was sweet and his mouth watered. He had always had a sweet tooth. Candy and chocolate milkshakes were his favourites. The teenager stole a quick glance round the house. The stairs were in front of him, carpeted with a salmon red. The walls were covered in pictures. Faces smiled down at him and he frowned and had a sudden urge to give them the finger.

He picked up the bag Robert must have dropped and slung it over his shoulder, mentally cursing as it hit off the fresh bruises on his back. He winced and looked down to his arm, now shielding the bruise underneath the denim. He shut his eyes and a ragged breath shivered from his mouth. God, the memories were still new, still fresh in his mind. He shuddered as the nightmare began playing, hitting slow motion when it came time for the disturbing scenes. He chewed his bottom lip and hung his head. He couldn't go through it again. The last family….He raised a hand over his face. No, he just wanted back to the foster home. At least the adults were always too busy with the younger children to bother with him. He could be alone and then finally he could feel safe again. Yeah, he wanted back. Soon. No, right now. He couldn't spend another second in the house. He felt so small and vulnerable. He hated that feeling. No more families. No more bad memories to pile on the already overflowing bundle. No more pain, please? Jack spun on his heel. He would just go sit back in the car. He turned around, but walked right into something, or should I say someone. He smacked right into the chest of a body.

"Were you born in a park?" The voice questioned. Jack reeled back, blinking. In front of him stood a guy, no more than twenty five. He stood, hands on hips, brown hair sleeked back, a grey wife-beater shirt and jeans.

"Kid? Did you hear me?"

The boy stared at him. The door slammed shut with one backwards kick, snapping him out of his daze. The man gave him a censorious look and brushed passed him into the living room. He heard voices from in there and by the sounds of it they were watching some sort of sports game on the television.

"Jack? Come on in here." Robert yelled through from the kitchen. Jack swallowed, heaved his bag up higher on his shoulder and walked towards the voice.

Evelyn and Robert were sitting down round the table, both smiling and Evelyn had a pen poised in her grasp.

"Sit beside me Jack. I want you to see this." The old lady beamed brightly and patted the chair to her left. The adolescent tightened his grasp around the handle of his bag and did what he was told. The papers in front of him were the final set of forms to be completed for the adoption. He felt a hand on his shoulder and his head snapped upwards.

"Are you ready?" She asked politely. He stared at her for a few moments, frowning. Why was she asking him something like that and making him watch as she signed the form? It wasn't like he was going to be staying here for more than a week anyway. Why did she make seem so final? The lady squeezed his shoulder once more.


He looked away and nodded quickly.

"Yeah." He replied casually, his knee started bouncing up and down. Evelyn took a deep breath and signed it, finishing with a dot. As soon as she had she clapped her hands and giggled.

"Welcome to the family!" She pulled him into a quick hug, in which every muscle in Jack tensed. Robert slapped him on the back and the boy balled his hands into fists as pain thundered round his body.

"Well, I'm going to head now and let you guys get settled." He looked at Jack. "I really hope this works out for you, for both of you." Robert and Evelyn stood up and shook hands and then the social worker ruffled Jack's hair.

"Stay out of trouble."

The teenager sat at the kitchen, eyes wide. Once Robert was gone, that was when the bad things happened. Once the door shut, the pain and abuse would start. His hands began to shake and he folded his arms, chewing nervously on his lip again.

Evelyn reappeared at the kitchen doorway and watched the boy. His knee was shaking and he had almost folded in on himself as he had his arms wrapped around his slim torso, hugging himself for a brief second of comfort. Just then Bobby and Angel strode into the kitchen. Jack froze and watched them slam through the door. The older guy was the one Jack had run into, but there was a smaller, well built black man. Oh God, Jack began to panic. He could feel the tight pressure round his chest. His hands were shaking so bad as he pulled out of his self-hug. Two of them? He had no chance. He'd be lucky to make it out alive with both of them. He had to make a run for it. Jumping up from his seat, he kicked it backwards and it rattled loudly as it connected with the wall and finally slumped to the floor. Jack pushed passed the old lady and sprinted towards the door. He yanked at the handle, gasping. It was locked. The door had been locked. He pulled repeatedly on the handle and used all his strength to try to open the door. His attempts were in vain. The closed door, his barrier to freedom was locked and no amount of manhandling would get it open. His eyes were wide and crazed and he slammed his fist on the wooden door in frustration.

Suddenly, he felt the two men behind him and he spun, pressing himself to the door. His lips were parted slightly, but he just couldn't make himself breathe The two men were speaking quietly to him, but Jack was in such a state, that he couldn't make out the words. Probably telling him what was in store for him and replacing his name with crude remarks. He propelled himself from the front door, heading back through to kitchen to the back door, but first he had to make it passed them.

He shoved with his hands and tried to push them away with his shoulders, but weighing only 120 pounds had its disadvantages. The man in the grey wife-beater grabbed round his waist, pinning his arms to his sides.

"No! No, no, no, no!" Jack struggled in the strong hold. "Let go of me. No. Robert! Robert!" He screamed, hoping his social worker would still be nearby.

"I'm not going to hurt you." Bobby Mercer yelled over Jack's squirming. Angel was cemented to the one spot, total confusion and surprise paralysing him. Bobby knew however what Jack's past consisted of. His heroin addicted mother killed herself, leaving him with his drunken abusive father until he was shot dead in front of him. From then on it had been a string of foster homes, but the last one Jack had been too, the man had been a soldier and decided the boy needed to be toughened up and he was daily beaten and starved for over three weeks until the abuse was discovered.

"Get off me! Help! Someone help me!" Jack hollered, but soon found himself off the floor and held in a tight embrace.

"Kid, come on calm down. No one's going to hurt you." Bobby spoke calmly and soothingly into Jack's ear. Jack felt himself out of breath from his attempts to get free and dropped his head onto the strong shoulder of the man. He sobbed whispering, "Please don't hurt me. I'll go back to the foster home. Just, leave me alone."

"Shh. It's going to be ok."

"Bobby take him upstairs. Angel go get something for him to wear to bed." Evelyn instructed. Bobby started to climb up the stairs, his heart already softening for the boy in his arms. He could feel a pool of wetness on his shoulder and realised Jack was crying silently. Once he reached the landing he walked into the back bedroom. It had recently been painted blue and had a few accessories on the desk. There was also a present wrapped in silver paper lying on the bedside table with a card.

The man lowered the teenager on to the bed and placed a hand on his cheek. "No one will ever hurt you again, Jackie." He smiled, but the boy didn't change his blank expression. Another tear dripped down his cheek.

"Here you go, man." Angel tossed a plain white t-shirt and grey sweats to Bobby, who got them with ease.

"Let's get you changed for bed, kid." Jack robotically sat up and removed his jacket. He was watching all this from behind a glass window. It felt like a dream, his mind was still spinning from earlier, his heart pounded in his ears from the adrenaline rush, but it still didn't seem real. He pulled off his black t-shirt and heard a gasp from Bobby. The man swallowed and rolled his tongue around in his mouth, suppressing the anger that was bubbling within. The boy's torso was covered in bruises. Some were red and angry, others alarmingly black and purple, some a sickening yellow and green. His ribs poked out through his skin as he pulled the white t-shirt over his head. Bobby smiled as Jack looked down on himself. The shirt was far too big. His collarbones could be seen at neck of the t-shirt and it bundled down round his abdomen. The sleeves reached his elbows. It made him look even younger and more lost than he was. He quickly shuffled out of his jeans and kicked them to the floor, pulling on the sweats. He tied the cord tightly and rubbed his eyes and cheek.

"Since it's your first night we'll let it slide that your clothes haven't been hung up, but I warn you, Ma's strict when it comes to tidying rooms." He smiled again, hoping to see it reflected back at him. Jack dropped his eyes to his hands that lay in his lap. Bobby stood up and ruffled his hair playfully before leaving him alone.

Jack sighed and could feel another influx of tears, but immediately in front of him was Evelyn Mercer. She held his hands in his and then touched his cheek. Her hands were so soft and cool, he just wanted to rest his cheek in them forever.

"Baby." She whispered and hugged him. "I've got you now. Everything will be ok." Jack stifled a sob. The woman pulled away from him and descended to her knees. As Jack sat on the bed, they were at the same eye level.

She held out her hands, palms facing towards the ceiling. "I know bad things happened to you before you came to me." He looked away from her quickly. "Hey, look at me." After a moment he looked back into her eyes. "But you're safe now."

He stared at her for a long time, before she got to her feet and rested her hand on his shoulder. "Let's get some sleep." She pulled the covers away from the pillow and he climbed under them. Then she tucked him in quietly, a soft kiss on his forehead.

Jack closed his eyes and curled into a little ball. The covers were warm and fluffy on his skin and he relaxed instantly. As soon as he shifted into a comfortable position, exhaustion took over and he surrendered to darkness. At last for a long time, his night wasn't ruled by nightmares and pain, but a new feeling of belonging centred him and finally he new he had found something worth being a part of.