“Max?” David asked, perplexed at seeing the young boy. Max wasn’t looking at him, his head was casted downwards as he fidgeted with his back pack straps.
“Hey David.” He said, his voice was strained, he was shaking too. It was a big contrast to the rebelious and sacrastic young boy he had gotten to know each summer he spent at Camp Campbell.
He stepped aside, letting the boy enter the little forest shack, when David wasn’t consuling the camp he was working as the forest ranger. His private shack was located not that far from the camp, a bit closer to the town, he brifely remembered telling Max about it a long time ago, but he didn’t expect the boy to have payed attention if he was being honest.
Max sat down on one of the chairs at the wodden table in David’s kitchen space, he didn’t say anything as he held his bag close, the head of his teddy bear was poking out of it. David glanced at the scene, concern starting to spread. He knew this behavior, the trembling, avoiding eye contact, staying quiet.
He knew it way too well.
Oh god, how didn’t he notice anything before?
He went to the kitchen pantry, taking out a cup for the young boy to use. “Apple juice?” He asked, his word were cutting through the thick atmosphere like a knife. Max doesn’t answer.
David sighs, he purs a cup anyways and brought it over to the table. “Max.” He said in a gentle tone, “Can I see your face please?”
the boy tensed up, “Max please.” David said, gently reaching for the boy’s arms. Max let him, still trembling but not resisting.
David carefully took the backpack, placing it on the ground. What he saw on Max’s face was what he already suspected he would see. There was dried blood on his chin trailing down from his nose which looked bruised, there was also a nasty bruise on his eye. Despite knowing what was probably awaiting him David still felt somewhat shocked seeing the boy’s face in such a condition, “Fucking hell.” He breated out without really meaning to, he really didn’t have the nerves to keep his no cursing rule alive right now.
Max flinched, David met his eyes, the one that wasn’t bruised was blood shot and puffy, like he’s been crying for a very long time. God, what did these people do to him?
David gently reached for his face, Max flinched again, causing the man to pause. “Can I?” He asked, waiting for the boy to give him permission. Max nodded, still tense, still trembling as David gently touched around his nose, checking how bad the damage was. “You want to tell me who did this?” He asked, the nose didn’t feel broken, which was good he supposed.
There was silence, David sighs again as he lowered his hand from the young boy’s face, he reached for Max’s trembling little hands and gave them a firm squeeze.
“Listen,” he started, trying to meet the other’s eyes again, “When I was your age…my step dad used to hit me.”
That caused the boy to stare at him, David could understand why, it wasn’t often that he opened up and actually admitted how awful his childhood really was.
“Back then, I felt helpless. I didn’t feel like I could tell anybody, because I thought it wasn’t really abuse, because he was my father so…he had to love me, right? And…. because I didn’t think anybody really cares. But…I was wrong. There are people who care Max. I care.”
“He’s been drinking….again.” Max’s voice was small, scared, and David had a hard time to supress the boiling hatred he felt.
“He had said he would be better….promised to never do it again….and he did get better for a bit, he just ignored me, but he then did it again and I just…I didn’t know where else I could go.” His sentences came out in broken chunks, he was trying not to cry, David could tell.
“What about your mother?”
“I don’t know…she was passed out on the floor with a bottle of whisky….again.”
David heared enough. “Okay, first lets get your face cleaned up. I will get you some ice for that eye and the nose. We’ll go to the police afterwards.” He declared, rubbing gently circles into Max’s palm.
Max tensed up at the word police, David could understand why, Max was a smart kid, he probably knew just as well as David that the child protective service was anything but perfect.
“I promise you Max.” He said as he gently brushed over the boy’s head, “I will never let anybody hurt you again.” Max’s small hand was gipping his as if his life was depending on it and David could tell, this was the start of something big, for both of them.