"Mom, I don’t feel safe." Fifteen-year-old Rory Falcon said.
Archer Falcon opened her eyes and tried to focus on the illuminated hands on the clock beside her bed. It was either ten minutes after midnight or two in the morning. A cool September breeze blew through the open window. A Bangor, Maine sanitation truck rolled along the street, whirling brushes spraying water and sweeping the road.
Lit by a moonbeam, Rory paced at the foot of her bed, following the path he had previously worn in the carpet. Five steps forward, five steps back. Repeat.
I don’t feel safe. Archer knew the meaning of the words. Rory's counselors used it; the high school used it; the psychiatrists used it. He was contemplating suicide.
She pulled the string on the faux Tiffany lamp next to the bed, feeling tears in the back of her eyes and tightness in the hallows of her throat. She looked at him to assess. There were no new cuts on his arms or chest. His face had narrowed over the last year and his chest and shoulders had broadened. His deep blue eyes were watery and sad. His mop of golden hair was mussed. He was wearing black flannel pajama bottoms peppered with white skulls. He wore black, even his pajamas, so people would not approach him.
Archer had prepared a written list years ago for moments like this. She no longer needed to refer to it. She had it memorized.
Speak quietly. Assess the situation. Keep calm. Involve Rory in his own care. Call crisis hotline. Call psychiatrist. Go to Emergency Room.
He stopped moving and faced her. Dark circles lurked under his eyes.
"Have you slept at all?" Archer asked.
"No, and I have a really bad headache." He pointed to the top of his head. A tear escaped down his cheek. He quickly wiped it away.
What were the best options? She didn't want to take him to the emergency room since she didn’t want him admitted to the psychiatric hospital. The last time he had been there, four years ago, he had befriended a boy who had stabbed his cousin over a Nintendo game. He didn't need to learn anything else from the teenagers there. Tomorrow was the first day of school. Would this latest crisis end by morning or would he miss the start of tenth grade?
Archer slid out of bed. “I’ll get you some Tylenol.”
In the bathroom, she shook the red and white bottle until two caplets landed in her palm, giving her just enough time to make a decision.
She returned to her room. “Let’s call the crisis hot-line.”
No longer necessary. For the moment. Five foot nine inch Rory had taken her place in bed, wrapped from head to toe in her blanket. She touched his cheek, smoothed his hair, loving the feel of him, hoping he would find his way.
At her office, Archer leaned back in her chair and thought about that morning. Rory had insisted on going to school. He hadn’t wanted to miss the first day. She had felt anxious. She wanted to excuse him from school so she could watch him “eyes on”, as the experts said. He probably would be fine. He had made his own lunch, searched for the specific black t-shirt he wanted to wear and left on his bicycle for school in a good mood.
Archer looked at the document on her desk. Motion to Decrease Child Support. She shook her head, felt anger boil in the pit of her stomach. This time, it wasn’t a client hiring her to defend the motion. It had been filed by Wayne, Rory’s father.
“What a loser,” Archer said.
“What?” Delores, her secretary, called from another room.
“Nothing.” She put the pleading down and picked up the phone, about to dial Wayne’s number, then stopped. Talking to him would get her nowhere. As usual. She thought about her response to the motion. Would You’re An Asshole be legally sufficient?
Delores walked into her office, dropping several pieces of mail on Archer’s desk. “Did you want me to schedule mediation for the Tamina case?”
“Yes, and I put some pleadings on your desk for Goodrich. I’ll need those to go out today.” Archer turned in her chair and looked at the mementos and photos of Rory hung on her law office wall, crooked no matter how many times she straightened them.
“Oh, I forgot to tell you.” Delores said. “Judge Morton called again. He said to remind you of your plans for lunch and he wouldn’t take no for an answer. Do you know what he’s talking about? I don’t have that on your calendar.”
Archer shuffled through her mail. She knew what he was talking about but didn’t want to say, yet. The phone rang. As Delores left her office, Archer stuffed the linen envelope from the Governor’s Judicial Appointment Committee into her purse.
She turned again to her wall. Rory with Grandma Rose and The Little Mermaid at Disney World. The story Rory had written in second grade that began “onca pana time”. The note from his sixth grade Assistant Principal congratulating Rory for not being sent to detention for an entire month, failing to mention that for two weeks, school had been closed for winter break. The photo of three-year-old Rory with his head in the dog’s bowl.
Her favorite photo was of four month old Rory wrapped in the little yellow blanket she had brought him home in. Only his perfectly round face was visible. His eyes were wide and alert. His mouth was formed in a happy oval.
At first, it had been cute when Rory would insist he sit under the rotating ceiling fans at Wal-Mart. It had been endearing that he would not go to day care without his toy dump truck, its wheels worn down from the constant pressure of his spinning. It had been funny that his pounding on the floor at day care during nap time disturbed the prickly principal on the floor below. His behaviors became less cute when he was almost kicked out of kindergarten for spinning on his bottom during circle time and refusing to stop. And then there was the one parent-teacher conference Archer would never forget.
“I’m retiring,” Rory’s first grade teacher had said, “unless you get Rory to behave.”
Archer had tried and failed. The teacher retired.
Could she commit to a judgeship and parenting Rory?
Delores’ voice rang out on the intercom, “Kara’s on line one.”
Archer snapped out of her trance and froze for a moment. Why would Kara, her best friend and the school principal, be calling her so early?
She picked up the phone. “Is he alright?”
“He’s drunk. Get over here. Now.”