“It’s a notepad.”
“It’s a prescription pad.”
“Oh, it is? I just picked it up because I thought, well, everyone could use something to write on. I thought it would be useful.”
“Damn right, it’s useful. You could forge any prescription you wanted on it. This thing’s worth a fortune to a drug addict.”
“I’m not a drug addict.”
“Then where did you get this?”
Rion bit his lip. “Well, I guess I can tell you. I went with Scooter last night to find some stuff to sell you.”
“Yeah, we were looking for things you could use for the pharmy. He said you’d pay us for it,” Rion lowered his tone, “But we had to break into a lab to get it.”
“Rion, I’ve never, ever told anyone to that I would buy supplies off of them. I’ve never bought anything off the others.”
“And I definitely would never tell anyone to break into someplace and steal stuff. That’s breaking and entering. That’s a criminal act.”
“But he had a list of stuff. Coffee filters, drain cleaner, glass bottles.”
“Coffee filters? Why the hell would I need things like that?”
“I don’t know, this is what Scooter told me. He and his friends. I didn’t even find anything. He got all the good stuff. He said he needed to sort through it, and then he was going to give it to you the next time.”
“Rion, you remember what I said–if you’re doing something wrong-“
“It was Scooter. Ask him. He said you already knew about it. I’m sure he still has the stuff.”
The doctor sighed, “All right, we’ll drive by the shelter, see if he’s there.”
The doctor’s foreboding tone worried Rion. He had a sudden feeling that the car was closing in on him, that if he got out he’d never be able to get back in. If it was a real prescription pad, he could understand why the doctor would be angry. But once they saw Scooter, it would all be sorted out.
The doctor pulled up to the curb along side the Bethany L. Sayers Community Home as the sun dropped, diluting the sky with bright ginger. Rion had no idea that’s what the teen shelter was called.
“There’s Scooter,” Rion pointed out. He was playing basketball in the courtyard with some other members of the pharmy.
The doctor got out of the car and slammed the door shut in a way that scared Rion. Maybe he shouldn’t have said anything in the first place.
Scooter caught the basketball as the door slammed, and looked up. He tossed it back to his teammates and left the court. He met them at the chain link door leading inside.
“Something up?” he said.
“Scooter, Rion tells me that you were caught breaking into a building last night to steal some stuff?”
“Huh?” Scooter said.
“You had a list of things like coffee filters and glass bottles.”
Rion said, “And fertilizer, and eyedroppers. And cold medicine.” Rion noticed the rest of the basketball players had stopped playing and were staring at them.
“Is that true?” the doctor asked.
Scooter bit his bottom lip. “I have no idea what he’s talking about.”
Rion shouted, “What?! You said the doctor knew about it.”
“I was here last night,” he said. “Came here after store. I was exhausted. Vian saw me.”
“Yeah,” Vian, standing with the ball in his hand said, “And Julius, and Cooper. He was here all night.” The others nodded.
“That’s wrong. We were out. We went to some lab that was broken into already.” Rion bit his lip. He was losing this argument, even though he was telling the truth. Everything sounded like a lie.
“What’s this all about?” Scooter asked.
“Rion handed me a prescription pad. He said he found it breaking into a building with you guys looking for things to sell.”
“What?” Scooter said. “Rion, what were you doing with a prescription pad?”
Rion glared at Scooter. “It was in the building. You were there. You and Vian and Skyler.” Rion looked for Skyler in the gathering crowd, but he was nowhere. He looked up at the doctor. “He’s lying. I swear he is. Look in his room. He probably still has the stuff there.”
Scooter held up his hands. “Hey, you can look in my room if you want. All I got is my knapsack and a few tools.”
“No, that won’t be necessary.”
Tears formed in Rion’s eyes. It was his word against Scooter’s and everything he said wound up blowing up in his face. The mournful eyes of his fellow pharmy members bore into him, and he realized he was losing them.
“This is the second or third time this has happened, hasn’t it?” Scooter told the doctor. “Someone grabbing shit. Last time it was cold medicine with ephedrine. Getting harder and harder to tell the addicts these days.”
“I’m not an addict,” Rion said.
“You don’t have to be, you could be selling,” the doctor said.
“I’m not doing either!” Rion said. “I don’t make drugs. I don’t even take any.”
“Except that prozium,” the doctor said.
“Painkillers too? Jeez,” Scooter said disapprovingly.
Rion stared at Scooter, his jaw open. He couldn’t believe that he was being sold out. “You liar. You’re lying. I thought you were my friend.”
Then Rion realized that he had been used. He had been betrayed in the worst way, and was losing everything.
The doctor held up his hand, “None of that matters. The point is you obviously aren’t supposed to have a prescription pad, no question about that.”
“I’m not a drug addict. I don’t even know what ephedrine is. Look in his room. He’s still got to have the stuff.”
“I’m not going to search his room, Rion. I’m not the police, and he’s got an alibi. But you had the pad, Rion. And you admitted stealing it. I’m sorry, but I have a zero tolerance policy, you know.”
“Wha- th-that’s not fair.” Rion held back his tears.
The doctor pulled out a few bills. “Here, this is your pay for the day. I have to ask you not to show up at the pharmy anymore. Not to buy or to work.”
“But, but,” Rion couldn’t find words. He had no idea he was going to be in this situation. If he had, he would have prepared, gathered up some evidence–at least enough so he didn’t look ignorant or dishonest.
Rion pointed at Scooter. “No. He said that it was okay. That you did this all the time. What was I supposed to think? I haven’t been here that long.”
“I explained the rules to you. Clearly. You said you understood them. I can’t get more transparent than that. Please go.” He thrust out the money again.
Rion up at the doctor’s sad face, trying to think of anything to convince him. But it had become hopeless a long time ago. “I… no… please. He said it was okay.”
The doctor leaned in closer, so the others wouldn’t hear. “Please don’t make me force you,” he whispered.
Rion was stunned. He couldn’t imagine the doctor doing something like that. He took the money from his hand and turned around. Scooter turned up to the doctor “Man, I thought he was cool,” he said as Rion moved out of earshot.
Rion thought he would have a heart attack from those words. He kept his eyes down while he walked into the street with his blood money. He didn’t want to see their expressions as he was leaving. He didn’t want to know.
He should have been angry, livid, but he was just sad and stupid, gullible. His renewing faith in the goodness of people had been shattered.
He walked for hours, weaving through alleys of slate warehouses and factories, all abandoned for the night. Where he went didn’t matter, he just wanted to walk in the night, all alone.
Around what must have been midnight, he stopped at sat down on the curb in an isolated part of the industrial district. It was too dark to walk and his feet were too tired.
Rion propped his head up with his hands. The dollar bills brushed against his face. He was so numb he didn’t realize he was still carrying them. The last remnant of his only friends. Nothing more than a memory he didn’t want, like everything else. He dropped the money in the stream and they floated away like tiny rafts.
It wasn’t even Scooter’s betrayal that hurt him. It was the doctor–he wouldn’t even listen to him. He had made his decision before Rion explained a thing. Scooter had the alibi.
He wanted to say the doctor was hiding behind his zero tolerance policy, but if he didn’t stand by it, there would be chaos. You had to maintain rules in a risky business. Now the pharmy was gone. No more friends joking around. No more learning from the doctor. No more food. No more help.
He couldn’t trust anyone. They only acted according to their own selfish desires. All they did was hurt you to get what they wanted. People weren’t worth being around.
What did he do wrong? He’d been looking for his identity for five days, and here he was for the second time, back at square one. If this was life, he wished he could erase his memory again.
He heard a noise like a footstep behind him, and turned around. The silhouette of a small, fat man drifted out of the alley.
“Is the child sad?” he whispered in a shrill, child-like voice.