Sixteen-year-old Shade has spent years imprisoned in a dark cellar after being snatched as a young child. Events since his release have left him traumatized and desperate to die.
Dory is a lively and engaging seventeen-year-old with mental health issues that make him a slave to his dangerously uncontrollable emotions.
When Shade comes to Eastbrook secure children’s home because no place else wants him, the manager appoints Dory, for better or worse, to be his champion, an appointment Dory takes very seriously indeed.
As friendship turns into something else, something new and exciting, they struggle to find their feet as every step leads to more complications.
When a spiteful act separates them, it seems their love is doomed before it even has a chance. Then Dory falls ill and it’s up to Shade to take up the standard and be his champion, although it might already be too late.
“You can’t be serious. No. It’s out of the question.”
“Penny, you’re our last option. The hospital won’t keep him any longer. They can’t. His own family doesn’t want him, and no foster family will take him. He can’t go to a children’s home because he’s such a high risk. Frankly, I have no idea what to do with him.”
“But this is a secure unit, and that kid’s done nothing wrong to anyone but himself. Do you have any idea what kind of kids we have here? We can’t watch him all the time, and half the little bastards would be queuing up to hand him the razor blades.”
“What else can we do? He’s stable enough for the hospital to discharge him, but he can’t live alone, and no one else wants him. We’re out of options.”
“Don’t get me wrong, I feel for the kid. He’s in an impossible situation, but we’re just not set up to handle someone like him. Are you sure he wouldn’t be better in a care home or psychiatric unit?”
“Honestly? I believe that’s where he’s likely to end up, but the kid’s sixteen and has been through the most horrific experience. He deserves a chance.”
“And you think he’s going to get it here?”
Penelope Creedy, Penny to her friends, struggled and failed to keep the incredulity out of her voice. It was evident the social worker was new; she hadn’t had the idealistic desire to help everyone beaten out of her by the system.
“No, no I don’t. Not really,” the social worker said, “but the poor thing has to go somewhere.”
“I don’t understand why he can’t go to Hillcrest or Maes Y Ffynnon.”
“They won’t take him. It’s too much responsibility for them, and they can’t give him a high enough level of care.”
“Care?” Penny laughed aloud. “We don’t provide care to our kids, Donna. We provide food and shelter and locked rooms. If we’re lucky, we get them to study now and again, and a couple even go to school. Most of them are under psychiatrists and headed straight for prison. Occasionally, we see one of them turn around, but mostly we’re marking time until they can be unleashed on society and start committing their crimes.”
“That’s a very bleak view.” The social worker had a hint of censure in her voice, which made Penny defensive. Damn these idealistic idiots with their rose-coloured views.
“This is a very bleak place,” Penny snapped back.
“No worse than his last.” The comeback was soft and sincere and made Penny feel vaguely guilty. She sighed and closed the folder that lay open on the desk in front of her. She ran her finger over the name on the cover and sighed again. “It’s one prison for another, Donna. Is that really what he needs?”
“A prison he can handle, Penny. It’s freedom that’s too much for him.”
Penny’s stomach flipped at her words. “All right, we’ll give it a try. I’ll take him on a temporary basis, while you keep working to find a family. I don’t want you slacking off, thinking he’s going to be settled here. You’re to work hard at it. He’s here for three months, tops.”
“I’ll see what I can do. I promise.”
The relief and triumph in her voice made Penny’s stomach flip again. It was all well and good being an idealistic social worker, but that did the kids no good once the front gates closed on them. To think of an innocent in the middle of all this...
“I’ll bring him right over.”
“But I’ve nothing prepared.”
“He doesn’t need much. We’re holding just about everything he owns in the world in two suitcases his family dropped off at our offices.”
“Why would they do that? Why would any family abandon a child like that? Especially one who needs them so badly?” It was an all-too-frequent occurrence, and Penny had hardened over the years, but this time it hurt.
“Nine years is a long time. A child goes away and a man comes back, good as, anyway. They did their best, but when he started hitting out, then with the suicide attempt—they have other children, young ones. He was behaving... inappropriately.”
“And that’s a good enough reason? Your child cries out for help, and you send him away?”
“I’m not pretending to understand. I’m left to deal with the fallout.” Donna’s clipped response was defensive, but Penny was having none of it.
“No, Donna, I am.”
“And I can’t thank you enough. I’m sure Shade will be grateful, too.”
“I’m sure he won’t. Is Shade what we’re to call him?” Penny couldn’t help but groan inside. With a name like that, he was going to be in for some hassle with her lot. As if he didn’t have enough to make him a target.
“Given the alternative, I think so, yes.” Now it was Donna’s turn to sound incredulous.
“I’m not too sure about that either. He hasn’t been Shade for a long time.”
“I’m glad you understand.”
“Not enough. Not nearly enough.”