The following Friday was to be the first visit from Billy, and in preparation the Youngs, who had a few weeks left of summer vacation, spent the entire day disaster-proofing the house. This was in part because the couple had no idea what to expect as far as Billy’s behavior was concerned, and all they had to go on was what they had gleaned from the rumor mill, but also it served to simply release their nervous energy in a constructive way. The doorbell rang a few minutes before two in the afternoon, and by that time the Youngs had succeeded in moving vases and lamps off of low end tables to higher ground if it could be found or, if not, then into rooms with closed doors. The living room resembled a staged open house once they were done: there were no family photos remaining, no plants sunning on windowsills, no books or magazines or lesson plans scattered about the coffee table as there would generally be. It could have been anyone’s house, or no one’s. Mr. Young had taken the opportunity to move his large trash can of yard tools from the back patio into the garage, in case the kids wanted to play out back. Miles had helped, of course, without even being asked, offering to clean his room. The Youngs had been pleased by this, and gave him a few instructions as far as what could be left out and what couldn’t. He obeyed dutifully and followed the instructions to the letter. When he summoned his mother in to check the work, she knew it had been done properly, and expressed with confidence that she didn’t need to come look.
It was twenty minutes after their expected arrival time that Billy and his mother finally reached the front porch of the Youngs’ house. Mrs. Young answered the door with Miles at her side, since this was still ostensibly a play date. Mrs. Miller stood in the door in scrubs, her car still running in the driveway, trying to seem as if she were nonchalantly resting her hand on Billy’s neck but actually gripping his collar. Her hair was disheveled and she hadn’t put any make-up on. Billy was frowning and his arms were crossed over his chest.
“Billy, say hello to Miles and Mrs. Young.” He didn’t, and though Mrs. Young wouldn’t have thought it possible, his frown became even more severe.
“Thank you sooo much!” Mrs. Miller exclaimed. “Frank should be by to get him a little after six.” She gave Billy a fingertip nudge to encourage him to go inside. He ran from her as soon as her hand released his collar, shouldering his way past Miles and Mrs. Young in the doorway, and fled into the living room, throwing himself on the couch face first. Mrs. Miller sighed. “He will be fine in a minute. This is just new to him. Thanks again! You guys are life savers!”
“Miles, honey, can you go sit with Billy?” Mrs. Young asked him, and almost as if he knew better, he hesitated for a second, but then slowly turned and headed into the house.
Mrs. Miller handed Mrs. Young a slip of paper. “This has all of our contact info on it. They can page either of us if we aren’t available to answer, but obviously it may take some time for us to get to the phone. I also put Mr. Miller’s mother’s number on there, in case…well, in case you need it.”
Mrs. Young smiled faintly, glancing back into the living room, where Mr. Young was already attempting to console Billy and get him to sit up properly. Miles was sitting on the opposite end of the couch, his eyes wide, hands planted on the couch beside him as if at any minute he might need to spring up. “I am sure we will be just fine,” she said, probably trying to convince herself even more than Billy’s mother.
When the afternoon was over, and Mr. Miller had retrieved Billy, the one positive thing that the Youngs could say about the experience was that it had been mercifully brief. They would not have known this before, but five hours went by surprisingly quickly when engaged in the task of keeping track of a restless, fiercely energetic and endlessly defiant child. Billy had managed to find his way into all manner of trouble in a very short time. At first the Youngs had attempted to serve the boys a snack of carrot sticks and a glass of milk. Miles had eaten three carrots, politely leaving the fourth sitting harmlessly on his plate, and had drank calmly without gulping 2/3 of a glass of milk. Billy, on the other hand, had declared immediately his hatred of both milk and carrots, and, as if this needed proof, had demonstrated this dislike by immediately spilling his glass of milk onto the floor and smashing one of the carrots into a fine wet pulp under his foot. Two others he decided were good projectiles and were hurled across the room. The last, after some chastisement by the Youngs, he did attempt to eat, but his palette rejected the flavor abruptly and he spat it back out onto his plate. The Youngs, that they might have time to recuperate from this destruction, sent the boys outside to play. While they were still attempting to scrub the floor clean of carrot pieces, Miles could be heard shouting outside. Mr. Young ran to the back door to find Miles bundled into a ball close to the house while Billy was pelting him with a tennis ball he had found. Mr. Young rushed out, snatching the ball from Billy, and attempted to explain the difference between playing catch and being a bully. Billy, quick as a cat, snatched the ball back and threw it forcefully into Mr. Young’s face, which promptly earned him several minutes of time-out sitting in the corner of the living room while Miles got a single scoop of ice cream.
By the time that Mr. Miller had arrived, predictably later than expected, Billy had incurred three more time-outs, two for hitting Miles and one for kicking Mrs. Young in the shin.
Mr. Miller didn’t even need to ask how the afternoon had gone. No sooner had he knocked on the door than Mr. Young opened it, Billy’s backpack in hand already extended out to Mr. Miller, grasping the child’s collar in the same manner that Mrs. Miller had done.
“I really do appreciate it, Jack. You can’t know how big a help you are to us.”
Mr. Young smiled disingenuously. “I can imagine, I think.”
Billy came to visit a few more times, and the Youngs were not without hope each time that something they did for the boy might make a difference to his demeanor. They tried everything they knew to do, and Billy hated it all. Miles had never used the word hate before. It was not a word that the Youngs allowed to be used in their house, by either themselves or their son, but apparently the Millers tolerated it. Given Billy’s profuse usage of the word, had the Youngs not known his parents they would have thought the word was even encouraged. He applied it to reading, napping, healthy snacks, playing, resting, sitting, watching TV, and even to the toys and entertainments that he had chosen to bring from home.
On the fifth visit, which would come to be his last, he applied the word to Mrs. Young, who was trying to figure out a snack that Billy would like to eat. She offered him crackers, celery and peanut butter, and even finally ice cream. Though she was reluctant to give the latter to him, as it might seem to reward his insolence, she was at last ready to do anything to just get him to behave.
“I hate ice cream!” Billy shouted, when it was offered.
Mrs. Young’s patience was hardly embers at this point, and yet she maintained composure, solely through the self-discipline that years of teaching children had produced. “Well, Billy, you said you were hungry, and I am trying to find something you would like to eat. Is there anything that you would like?”
“I don’t want it from you! I hate you!”
Mr. Young heard this from the other room where he was reading to Miles, and came rushing in to aid his wife. “Young man, we do not say that to adults, ever! Do you understand?!” He, too, was finding his patience tested with these visits.
“I don’t care! I hate you!” Billy screamed, and then threw a spoon at Mr. Young. The boy darted from the table and before the Youngs even knew it, was at the front door trying to leave. They had of course deadbolted the door, having learned from his second visit that if they did not do so then they would spend half an hour chasing him around the neighborhood street. He began kicking furiously at the door, screaming, “I wanna go home!” repeatedly. Mr. Young tried to grab him, but the boy simply whirled and ducked between his legs, coming up behind him and shoving him. Mr. Young, crouched down in an attempt to gain control of the boy, was off balance, and the shove sent him plummeting forward, where he struck his head on the front door. Mrs. Young came around the corner from the kitchen just in time to see her husband sprawled on the ground in the entryway, bleeding from his temple, and Billy standing over him laughing.
The Youngs did not feel even the slightest bit guilty when they told the Millers that they could no longer keep Billy. Their consciences were clear: they had given it their best effort, and if they could not succeed in helping the boy change his behavior, then in their estimation he was beyond help. They explained as much to a weeping Mrs. Miller over the phone a few days later. Her tears, though pitiful, did nothing to sway their resolve.
When Mrs. Young hung up the phone, she embraced her husband, the two of them laughing softly with eyes closed. When they parted, they stood silently together for a moment, his arm around her shoulders, gazing into the living room at their son. He was curled up on the sofa, breathing softly, having fallen asleep reading his favorite book.
Part 4 coming soon. Almost finished. Jumping the gun a bit on posting, i guess…