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Rated: 13+ · Fiction · Drama · #2312322
The consequences of bad behavior… [#2: Embarrassment]
"Mom, do I have to? What will all my friends say?" Joey wailed.

"This will teach you how to behave decently around your elders. I'm tired of the disrespectful way you treat the "old geezers," as you call them."

Joey squirmed in his seat in the back of his mother's car as she pulled up in front of the Golden Years Senior Living facility. He scrunched down and peeked furtively over the window's edge at the building catching the morning sunlight, hoping none of his friends were around. He would never hear the end of it if they knew his mom was signing him up to be a volunteer hospitality aide at the old folks home over the summer.

If only he hadn't spray painted graffiti on Mr. Harrison's garage door! The old guy was furious, and Joey's Mom had made him spend a whole weekend repainting the door and mowing his lawn. He cringed, remembering how he'd had to lie to his friends about what he'd been doing.

Mom led him up the steps to the front door. He dragged his feet, pulling his baseball cap low in case anyone saw him. A young lady sat at the front desk. She smiled at Joey, who shrank back, wishing he could run away from the brightly-lit reception room that smelled like antiseptic cleaner and old-lady lavender air freshener.

"Hello, young man," she greeted him. "We've been waiting for you."

To Joey that felt like a jailor's welcome.

"How nice of you to want to spend your summer helping out the seniors," the woman said.

Joey felt a flush creeping up his neck and looked down at the floor. He couldn't think of anything truthful to say.

"I'm hoping this will teach him kindness and respect," his mom said. "Joey's behavior is wanting in certain areas…"

Joey waited, with sweaty hands and hurried breathing, for her to tell the woman about the awful thing he had done to make her haul him in there. But she didn't go into the details.

"Goodbye, dear. I'll be back at four to pick you up." His mom waved and left.

"I'm Rhonda," the woman announced, standing up briskly. "I'll show you around and introduce you to our guests. Don't look so scared, now—they won't bite your head off!"

He cleared his throat and gulped as he shuffled behind her down the hallway.

Rhonda explained the various care procedures and told him what his duties would be: checking in on the old people, offering water refills, sitting with them, reading books aloud or chatting. At lunch time he would assist with wheeling the food carts, serving and gathering dishes. It wasn't hard work, certainly, and Joey became interested in spite of himself.

"And this is another young volunteer. You may know him." Rhonda waved at a boy who was filling a glass of water at an elderly lady's bedside.

Joey gasped. It was Anthony, the school bully, who was a year older than him. What was he doing there? Visions of him telling all of his friends and everyone laughing at Joey made his legs buckle. He felt an overwhelming urge to run and hide as his stomach sank with a feeling of impending doom.

Anthony turned around, stuffing something inside his hoodie pocket. He's the only guy who would show up to volunteer at a nursing home wearing a skull hoodie, Joey thought miserably. He couldn't bear to make eye contact with the bigger boy.

"Well well, if it isn't my little friend Joey," Anthony said with a big toothy smile. "What brings you here? Community Service, perhaps? Did they arrest you for spray painting Harrison's place? I saw you out there last weekend."

Joey felt himself burning red from his neck to the tips of his ears. How can this be happening? Rhonda glanced curiously from one to the other.

"No, no!" He choked out. "He didn't call the police. I fixed it. My mom signed me up to help out here."

"Lucky you," Anthony laughed. "I'm here because I love working with the seniors. I've been doing this for a couple years now. It'll be on my resume when I apply for a job. Extracurricular activities and volunteering in the healthcare field are highly impressive to prospective employers."

"You're just a big meanie and everybody knows it!" Joey burst out. The memory of all the times Anthony had shoved him against his locker and stolen his lunch money made him grit his teeth and clench his fists.

"You're just jealous that I'm the one with a bright future." Anthony pushed past him and headed down the hall to the next patient, leaving Joey fuming helplessly.

Rhonda picked up the prescription bottles that sat on the bedside table and examined them. Then she gave Joey a kindly look.

"Don't worry, you'll be on the same shift only two days a week," she assured him.

"That's two days too many," Joey grumbled.

As the days passed, Joey found himself enjoying his work at the nursing home. The old people were genuinely interesting. Some of the guys were great teases who seemed to know every joke in the book, including the slightly off-color ones. There were spunky, talkative people who spun exciting yarns about their time in the armed forces. There were others who appeared crabby and irritating at first but soon became like old friends.

Joey felt a special sympathy for the ones who were in too much pain to join in any activities. They mostly lay in bed and had their meals served in their rooms. They didn't say as much, but he would take an extra few minutes to sit by them and provide company, sometimes reading a book aloud, sometimes just sitting in silence holding their hands.

The days when he had to work alongside Anthony were the worst. Joey often couldn't sleep the night before or even swallow down breakfast on those mornings. He spent hours obsessing, trying to come up with an escape, an excuse not to show up, anything to avoid the bully.

"Hey, graffiti boy, time to scrub the toilets," Anthony would say.

"That's not part of my job," Joey protested.

"It is now," he guffawed, handing Joey a bucket and a toilet brush. "I put your name on the chores list. They're so proud of you for offering your cleaning talents."

If Joey tried to edge out of it, Anthony would remind him why he was there.

"Do they really want a naughty boy like you around the oldsters? Perhaps I should tell them about the time I caught you yelling at Jones when he couldn't find his glasses."

"That was you yelling at him, you big dummy," Joey snapped. "You're the one who doesn't treat them properly."

"Try getting anyone to believe you. I'm the manager's nephew, remember? I'm the respectable one with a flawless reputation. You're just here doing time."

Each time Joey laid eyes on him it brought the same sickening hot flush of shame and anger, as well as a growing, nagging suspicion.

It seemed like Anthony was trying to make sure Joey had as little contact with the seniors as possible, manipulating him into doing all the dirty maintenance work instead. Yet Anthony seemed the least likely person to enjoy taking care of old people.

"I'm amazed at how hard you work around here, Joey," Rhonda remarked one day. "Mrs Salisbury has been asking for you. She hasn't seen you in weeks, since you started doing trash duty."

Joey's face reddened and he swallowed hard as he thought about why he was taking out the trash instead of sitting with the old lady like he used to. It seemed like every time he headed towards her room, Anthony would appear with another bit of drudgery for him to do.

Since the other boy wasn't there that day, Joey stopped in at Mrs Salisbury's room for a chat. She seemed worse off than when he'd last seen her, her face pale and weary on the pillow.

"My dear Joseph," she said, "I'm so glad you're here. That other boy is so terribly unkind."

Joey sat beside her and took her hand.

"You need to tell them he's mistreating you, Ma'am. They can get him out of here."

"They don't pay attention to me when I try to say anything, honey. He tells them I'm cranky and demented."

Joey squeezed her hand and ground his shoe into the carpet with a faint growl of frustration.

"He's the cranky demented one, not you!"

She laughed weakly and pulled herself upright against the pillow with a stifled groan.

"I wouldn't mind his behavior so much, but my pain medication hasn't been working nearly as well since he started tending me, even though I've requested that it be made stronger. I'm wondering…"

She trailed off and gave him a significant look. Something clicked in Joey's mind as he glanced from the old lady to her prescriptions on the nightstand. It made him shudder.

Anthony was there the next day, which meant Joey was saddled with cleanup chores again. He hauled out the trash, mopped the floors and loaded the dishwasher as fast as he could. It seemed to take even longer than usual to get it over with, but finally he was done and rushing down the hallway to Mrs Salisbury's room.

The door was shut. He stood quietly outside for a moment, listening, heart pounding in his ears. The sharp rattling of pills in bottles sounded from within. Hesitantly Joey put his hand on the doorknob. What if he was interrupting her while she was taking her medicine?

He pushed the door open silently across the carpet. Mrs Salisbury was lying on one side in bed, back turned to Anthony as he stood over her nightstand, shelling out pills into a ziplock bag.

"I knew it!" Joey cried out. "You're stealing her meds!"

Anthony spun around, knocking over the glass of water on the nightstand. He strode towards Joey, grabbed him by the collar and dragged him into the room, closing the door behind them.

"Shut up, you idiot," he snarled. "You realize how much these are worth on the street?"

"You're a drug dealer." Joey's voice was a hoarse whisper.

Anthony's eyes narrowed to a steely glimmer.

"How much can I pay you to keep quiet?"

"I'm not taking any of your drug money!"

"Oh, so you're gonna be a goody-two-shoes and tell on me?" Anthony pulled Joey up closer and held a clenched fist in his face. "Listen, you know how easy it would be for me to pin this on you? It's your word against mine—and I'm the one they'll believe."

Joey looked over at Mrs Salisbury, hoping she would wake up and hit the call button.

"That hag's out like a log—I put sleeping pills in their water before I do this."

"You never cared about them at all—you just want their painkillers."

"You think anyone really cares about these old farts?"

Joey's mind raced almost as fast as his heart. He leaned forward past Anthony, trying to reach the call button. Anthony swung at him, and in seconds they were exchanging wild punches like a schoolyard brawl.

They didn't notice the door burst open.

"Anthony! Joseph! Stop it right now!" Rhonda yelled. Behind her was a tall man in black: a police officer.

Joey and Anthony pulled away from each other and stood, breathless and glaring. Pills and bottles and a lamp lay scattered across the carpet, and there was a big stain where the glass of water had fallen.

"Officer Clarke here. Please explain yourselves." The officer's voice was calm and authoritative.

Anthony ran a hand through his hair, smoothed down his black skull hoodie and glanced at Joey with a smirk.

"Officer, I caught this kid stealing the old lady's medication. When I tried to stop him he started fighting me. He's no good—he's here because he sprayed graffiti on someone's house."

All eyes turned to Joey. He shrank back, wishing he could crawl under the bed and hide. His face flushed. He glanced desperately around the room. His chin quivered and his chest felt tight.

"What do you say, young man?" The policemen inquired.

"He's lying, Officer." Joey took a deep breath and tried to steady his trembling voice. "He's the one stealing the meds. I would never do that. He tried to bribe me not to tell anyone when I found him just now. It's true—you have to believe me. Really."

Silence. Joey felt lightheaded, wondering how he would explain this to his mom.

Rhonda put a hand on his shoulder.

"We believe you, Joseph." She met his searching eyes kindly. "We observed discrepancies in the patients' prescriptions, and several people complained about Anthony's behavior towards them, so we've been setting up cameras. I called Officer Clarke over this morning to review the footage."

"Cameras?" Joey repeated, perking up. A big grin spread across his face as he looked over at Anthony, who coughed and began rubbing the back of his neck, avoiding eye contact. "That's just what the doctor ordered!"

"You've put in many hours of hard work here. We're so proud of you."

Joey and Rhonda were sitting in her office. Joey blushed and sank a little lower in his seat.

"It wasn't a big deal, really. Anthony made me do all the dirty work. I hope I never see him here again."

"He may find himself doing Community Service, if the judge appoints it," Rhonda said. "In that case, we'll make sure he gets nothing but maintenance duty: trash, toilets, and dishes."

She winked at Joey.

Word count: 2283.
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