Was It Fate?

Prologue: Losing It All

I was seven years old when my life turned into the proverbial mother of all train wrecks. The date was December 19, 2008.

Mom, dad and my baby brother James were coming home from a hospital visit. James, who was 3 years old, had come down with a nasty cough that just wouldn't go away, and mom and dad had taken him to the hospital while I was in school so he could be examined.

I was a latchkey kid, largely because I didn't cause trouble at all, I preferred to go straight to and from school every day.

So, as you might suspect, I was at home by myself when the news came on. I wasn't paying it a lot of attention, at least, not initially.

Then the moment came that changed my life, and it was not a change for the better.

I glanced at the TV when I heard something about a nasty pile-up in the downtown area of the city. To my eternal horror, what I saw when I looked at the screen was the nearly crushed remainder of my dad's car, a 2006 Buick LaCrosse he had bought a few months before.

How did I know it was my dad's car? Well, I saw the licence plate at the back of the car as a camera panned around it. Mom and dad had spent some time since little James was born teaching me to look at and memorize things, like the phone number, address, and licence plate.

With my mom, dad and little brother all having been declared dead at the scene, the only relatives left were my mom's parents, Benjamin and Rosemary Fielding. There was no way at all that I wanted to be with them, as the old bastard had punched me in the face two years before. My dad had been just down the hall and heard me screaming after being hit. Let's just say dad gave the old bastard a piece of his mind.

My dad didn't give a shit that the old bastard had served in Vietnam, there was no reason at all to hit a five year old child in the face.

If my dad's parents had still been alive, I probably would have ended up with them, but they were lost in a plane crash while returning from a vacation the year before I was born. My only choice now was to end up with the old bastard and his useless wife or to run away.

Well, I chose the second option. I threw a few changes of clothes into my school backpack, added a few other items, then checked every room in the house for money that might have been left behind. Dad had a safe in his office, and was dumb enough to leave the code for it sitting in the main drawer of his desk there. It only took me a moment to open the safe, where I found $500 and a bunch of paperwork.

I took the money, ignored the paperwork, closed the safe and spun the dial on it to reset the lock mechanism.

I headed back up to my room, where I dug through the closet and found an old sleeping bag which I quickly tied to the bottom of my pack.

I grabbed my pack, then carried it to the closet in the front hall of the house. I pulled out my winter parka and put it on; the weather was slightly nippy but not too cold, so I didn't zip the coat up completely. I slung the pack over my shoulders, then left the house for the last time.

I slipped out into the night air of an early winter evening in Philadelphia, looked up and down the street, then started walking.

I wasn't a particularly socially conscious person, but I had heard of a few soup kitchens that offered meals to homeless people.

I slowly wandered along the city streets until I passed by a large store that had been left unrented or unsold for many years. At least, I think it had been quite a while, as the signs showing the building was for sale or rent were covered in dust, dirt and what looked like bits of mold.

Anyway, as I was walking past the place, I saw that a side door near the back of the building looked like it was open. A closer look revealed that the door was damaged and had warped so it could no longer fit in the frame. I pulled the door open enough to get in, then looked around.

The place was fairly big, about forty feet wide, I guess and roughly seventy feet long. There was a partial upper floor covering half the space.

The sleeping bag was rated to about -22°F, so it should be able to keep me warm through the cold, windy winter nights.

I lived in that rundown building for just over eight years. I am amazed the city left it to rot, but I guess some building's owners just don't care.

During the time I was there, I picked up cans and bottles and took them to recycling places, which gave me a bit of cash now and then.

For meals, I usually wandered down to Jessup's Place, a small building that was home to a group led by a nice family that had made their life's work the feeding of the homeless. They had bought the building, rebuilt the kitchen and turned it into a rather decent soup kitchen.

They usually offered two meals a day, a lunch at 11:30 AM and a dinner at 5:00 PM.

To this day, I have no idea why they didn't report me to the authorities. I may have been small, but I wasn't afraid to do a little work here and there, so I often offered to help with the dishes after a meal. To my surprise, they accepted my help, and I became a regular there.

The folks at Jessup's sometimes allowed me to have a bath or shower there. I would usually do that about once or twice a week.

At night, I would go by Vincenzo's Deli just as they were closing, and sometimes Vincenzo would pass me a big sandwich from the leftovers.

Then the second big change of my life happened, all because of a pretty girl I saw one spring morning on the street as I walked to Jessup's.

The time and date was 10:32 AM, April 17, 2017. How do I know that? I'd used some of the money I'd scrounged to buy a semi decent watch.

Chapter 1: In Over My Head

I haven't the foggiest idea why I grabbed her by the arm and asked her if I could spend some time with her.

By the time this happened, I'd grown up, reaching 5'8" tall and filled out a fair bit, although I was still lean and fit thanks to all the walking.

Well, when I grabbed her and asked her that, she tried to pull away. That just made me hold on tighter, which was my big mistake.

You see, I had no idea that she was the daughter of a city councilman, nor that she would have guards following her wherever she went.

A few seconds passed as she tried again and again to pull away, then I heard the thuds of several sets of heavy feet approaching.

I looked up just in time to see the first guy getting rather close. I let go of her, twisted sideways and lashed out hard with my right foot.

The poor guy couldn't stop in time. My foot went straight up between his legs, hitting him square in the crotch. He screamed and fell down.

The second guy was not too far behind him. I barely managed to get on my feet again as he approached.

He tried to grab me, but I evaded it by dropping down. I kicked out again and my left foot smashed into his ankle. He dropped to the ground, clutching it and moaning something that I couldn't quite make out. That was when the third guy came running up.

This one looked like he could be the brother of the first guy, and like that one, he walked right into a full on crotch kick. Three down.

By this point, I was freaking out at what I had done. The girl shoved me hard and I ended up running face first into the fourth guy's fist.

The lights went out, as they say. Next time I knew anything was when I woke up in a cell in one of the city's police stations.

That was when I found out just who she was. I hung my head, knowing I was screwed, to be absolutely blunt about it.

I'd been sitting there for a while when my name was called and I followed a big, beefy officer to an interrogation room.

The big guy looked down at me as I sat at the small table there, picked up a folder and read through the information in it.

Then he looked at me again, shook his head and sighed. "Kid, you're in deep trouble. The girl you attacked is Councilman Jackson's daughter."

To say that I blanched when he said that would be a major understatement, I was so shocked I actually fainted on him.

You see, Councilman Jackson is a man who would be referred to by some as "the kingmaker", he was a very powerful man in the city.

When I was revived a minute or two later, the officer told me I was being charged with four counts of assault. He went on to say that I was damn lucky that I wasn't being charged with sexual assault, and that was only because the girl, Kathleen, said I hadn't touched her that way.

"We looked up your name when you were brought in, that led to us discovering the deaths of your parents and little brother. There's been a 'missing, presumed dead' notation about you on our files for the last five years, then you pulled that stunt today and got caught.

"The ones that filed the missing person report on you were your maternal grandparents. About two years after you disappeared, they decided there was nothing left here for them and went down to Florida to live on a houseboat. They were lost at sea in a storm about a year later.

"That means you have no relatives, as the files for your parents both showed that they were single kids. We already knew about your dad's parents having passed away, as that's filed in the city's records and not hard to find. So, kid, now we have to decide what to do with you.

"At the moment, we're going to send you to a psychiatric unit for a 72 hour assessment. After that, you'll be seeing a judge about this."

Chapter 2: Assessment And Court Appearance

The officer escorted me back to the cell, then left me there for a while.

About an hour or so later, I was taken out of the cell by another officer, who placed me in the back of a car and drove me to the hospital where the assessment would take place. The sun was shining brightly as we drove along, but my life looked pretty gloomy at the moment.

The officer hauled me into Children's Hospital, then up to the psych unit where the assessment would take place. I was shown to a room.

I guess the officer was giving the people there the info about me and the request for the 72 hours assessment. Eventually, a nurse came in and talked to me for a few minutes, asking if I understood why I was there. I informed her that I did understand and that I would cooperate.

I spent the next three days talking with several doctors. They had me do a variety of tests, IQ, aptitude and other stuff that could be used to determine my status when I went up before the judge on Friday morning. As I said, I cooperated and I was generally treated fairly well.

Since I had been brought to the hospital in the late afternoon on Monday, the police had informed them that I would be picked up early on Friday, as it didn't make any sense to haul me out of the psychiatric unit earlier just to have me sit in a cell at the police station all night long.

The officer showed up just after I had finished my breakfast on Friday morning, and we were soon returning to the courthouse.

I was placed in a cell by myself, I suppose to keep me safe from others while I waited to see the judge and find out what was happening.

I'm not sure just how long I was in there, but I had started pacing shortly after I arrived, and I was still pacing when my name was called.

I quietly followed the officer down the hallways, into an elevator. I didn't see what floor we were going to as the officer was between me and the wall plate with the floor numbers. The trip up wasn't very long, then I was led down a hallway, into a courtroom and seated at a table.

I had been there for about five minutes or so when a semi-dapper older man approached me, offering his hand to be shaken.

"Hi, Peter, I'm Robert O'Dowell, your attorney. I'm going to help you today, just be patient and stay quiet unless someone speaks to you."

I nodded and turned back to face the judge's bench just in time to hear the bailiff saying, "All rise. This court is now in session, the Honourable Judge Raymond J. Percivalle presiding." After the judge had seated himself, the bailiff spoke again, "You may all be seated now."

Once people had settled down again, Judge Percivalle asked what the current case was that was before the court.

The bailiff stated, for the record, "State vs. one Peter Andrew Browning, four charges of assault, Your Honour."

The prosecution lawyer stood up, saying, "I'm Jeremiah Albertson, an assistant district attorney for the city, Your Honour. The defendant here is charged with assault against Kathleen Penelope Jackson, better known as Councilman Philip Jackson's only daughter. He is also charged with assault against three of the four guards who were following some distance behind Kathleen last Monday morning.

"The assaults upon two of the three guards, namely Phillip and Patrick Kelson, were well placed kicks to the genital area. Phillip is still in hospital at the moment, as one of his testicles was ruptured by the boy's kick, and he is receiving treatment for that at Pennsylvania Hospital.

"Patrick was a bit luckier, as the kick didn't hit quite as directly as the one to Phillip had. There was some swelling and a fair bit of bruising, but swift treatment at Pennsylvania Hospital prevented it from becoming life-threatening. Patrick is off work for a week while he recovers.

"Dean Jerrod, the third guard that was assaulted, will be off work for some time, as the kick he received resulted in a broken ankle.

"The fourth guard, Joshua Barron, captured the young man by knocking him out when Kathleen shoved the boy at him.

"All of that is what is given in the various police reports, Your Honour. I also have the results of the psychiatric assessment on the young man. The doctors there have all declared that he is of sound mind and fully capable of standing trial for his actions, Your Honour."

Judge Percivalle nodded, "Thank you, Mr. Albertson. Are we going to be proceeding to trial on this matter, then?"

"That remains to be seen, Your Honour. The Philpotts have offered to take the boy to their home for troubled boys," came from Mr. O'Dowell.

Judge Percivalle nodded again, asking, "Are they in the court? Ahhh, yes, there they are. Reginald, Patricia, you wish to help this boy?"

Reginald Philpott, a reasonably wealthy man who had chosen to work in turning young men's lives around, replied in the affirmative. Patricia also gave an affirmative response to the Judge, saying, "Your Honour, this young man has been lost in the system for several years now. From what we have learned, he has lived on the streets at an unknown location apparently since just after his family was killed in a car crash. He has never, I repeat, NEVER, been violent before. I believe his actions this past Monday to have been taken in fear of his being hurt or killed."

The Judge sat up straight on his bench, musing for a minute or two. "No previous record of any kind?"

Mr. Albertson stood briefly, "No, Your Honour, no criminal record at all. In fact, from stories we've heard, the boy picked up litter. We know that he has been heard to say to people in Jessup's Place that he picked up bottles and cans and turned them in at recycling centres."

Judge Percivalle nodded again, then spoke, directing his comment to me as I sat at the defence table. "Peter Andrew Browning, please stand."

I did, and the judge continued speaking, "It is my decision that you be placed in the care of the Philpott Home for Troubled Boys. You will be required to follow any rules they have there, plus I am placing a curfew on you, 10 PM on weekdays, 11 PM on weekends. Is that clear?"

I nodded, then said, "Yes, Your Honour."

Judge Percivalle looked down at me, nodding again, then turned to the Philpotts, "His freedom rests in your hands now, guide him well."

Chapter 3: First Day At The Home

One thing that I didn't tell you earlier was my birthdate, which was April 19, 2001.

I had turned 16 while the assessment was being done. I guess I was lucky that I was arrested shortly before my sixteenth birthday; from what I heard later on from one of the residents at Philpott's, things could have been much worse if I was sixteen before the arrest occurred.

Anyway, I followed the Philpotts out of the courtroom, then down to the main floor, where we waited for my ID and belongings. We were there for a good twenty minutes before an officer showed up with my backpack, which I had been carrying when the assaults occurred.

We had to wait a good ten minutes longer before another officer showed up with my ID and some paperwork, which the Philpotts signed.

I put my watch on and slung my pack over my shoulder as we headed out of the courthouse, after stuffing my wallet in a pocket on the pack.

They led the way to what looked like a brand new long body van, you know, one of the ones with like four sets of seats in the back. The guy, Mr. Philpott, I guess, was going to be the driver, his wife took the front passenger seat and I ended up on the front bench seat behind them.

Once I had placed my pack on the seat and had my belt on, Mr. Philpott pointed the van toward the exit from the courthouse parking lots.

I think I dozed off in the seat for the rest of the ride, as it took a couple of shoulder shakes from Mrs. Philpott before I was fully aware again. I looked out through the front windshield and saw a very, very big house. This had to be the residence where I would be living.

Mr. Philpott turned to me, "You make sure you follow the judge's directions, Peter, you'll have a lot less trouble that way, you hear?"

Then it was Mrs. Philpott's turn to speak, "The house rules are posted just inside the main entrance and on a wall in the kitchen."

I nodded, grabbed my pack from the seat and followed the two of them into the house.

They gave me a quick tour, then led me up to a room on the third floor, where I was introduced to Bobby Sampson, my new roommate.

I placed my pack on the bed against the left hand wall. I suppose I was a surprise addition to the house, although I didn't ask about it. Mrs. Philpott headed back down the stairs, leaving me in the room with Bobby, who was a fair bit shorter, maybe 5'3" tall to my 5'8".

Bobby grinned, then asked me, "So how did you end up in here, Peter?"

I sighed, then replied, "Do you remember hearing about the kid who put down three of Kathleen Jackson's guards on Monday?"

I swear, Bobby's eyes darn near boggled, they were open very wide when he heard that. "That was you?" he squealed. "Holy cow!"

"Yeah, well, no need to go telling everyone in the house, ya know? Calm down, huh?" was my oh so erudite response.

"Okay, okay. It's just, ya know, you got a bit of a rep as a bad boy when everyone here heard about it," he replied.

I nodded and laid down on the bed, thinking I might be able to relax for a while, but no, Bobby told me I needed to go to the linen cupboard and get some sheets and a light blanket for the bed, as the Philpotts required that each child's bed be made and kept neat every day.

"It's part of the rules, Peter. You don't want to start off on a bad footing with them, hmmm?" he enquired.

I nodded, then went about making the bed like my dad had shown me many years before, just like he had done it in the army.

Bobby looked at me as I finished and grinned, asking, "Darn, Peter, where the heck did you learn to make a bed like that?"

"Before my dad married my mom, he served in the army. He did two tours in Afghanistan, then met mom and left the army," I replied.

"Huh, that would explain it," Bobby chuckled.

At that point, a rather loud bell sounded somewhere nearby, startling the heck out of me, while Bobby just laughed at my being startled.

"That's the meal bell, they ring it for each meal, breakfast, lunch and dinner. The food's pretty good here," Bobby stated.

I followed him down the stairs and into a huge dining room, where a very long table with settings for about twenty people was located.

I watched as Mr. Philpott took the seat at the head and his wife went to the foot of the table. The kids sat where they pleased.

I decided that sitting next to Bobby was acceptable, so I dropped into the chair beside the one he took and looked at all of the food. Good gods, there was a lot! Two large chickens, roasted as they were still in the pans. I could see carrots and potatoes in with the chickens.

There was a rather large bowl with salad in it, plus another with green beans and a third, not as large as the other two, containing gravy.

The only oddity that I could see was that one of the boys, at least, I assumed it was a boy, was wearing a skirt and blouse with knee socks.

Once we had taken what we wanted to eat, I leaned over and whispered in Bobby's ear, "The girly looking one, that's a boy, right?"

He nodded and whispered back, "I'll explain about Sasha after dinner."

The food was very good, as good as the food at Jessup's had been, maybe even better. I finished what I had, then refilled my plate after I had noticed that several of the older boys had done so. I managed to clear that plate of food just as fast as the first one, I guess I was hungry.

The meal ended with Mrs. Philpott telling two of the boys, Jack and Will, to do the dishes. She then told another boy, Paul, to clean the table. A fourth boy, Roger, was asked to sweep the floor in the dining room once Paul had finished his chore. The boys were quick to comply.

I followed Bobby back up to our room and closed the door to give us a bit of privacy. "Please explain about Sasha?" I enquired.

"Hmmm... Sasha has been here longer than I have, I guess about three years now? His name has always been Sasha, so he got ridiculed as a younger kid because a lot of kids thought it was a girly name. I think he started wearing girl's clothing about a year after I got here. I've been in the house for a bit over two and a half years myself, and since Sasha starting wearing girl stuff, he's acted more and more like a girl."

"He sure looks like a girl from what I saw down there. Have they taken him to see anyone about it?" I asked.

"Yep, Sasha has been seeing a psychologist for about two years. He's been on blockers for almost that long, I don't know if he's on hormones or not. He might be, though, as he seems to be developing up here," Bobby pointed at his chest, "Or maybe he has fake breasts."

"Huh, well, as long as Sasha minds their own business, I'll mind mine. I'm going to grab some snooze time, I'm feeling a bit wiped out."

Bobby nodded and left the room. I stripped down to my undies, then crawled under the covers and was soon asleep.

I managed to sleep for about three hours, then woke up to see bright sunlight gleaming through the window.

I put my clothes back on and wandered downstairs to see what was happening.

To say that this place ran to big rooms would be polite, I spotted most of the kids in what could only be a huge living or family room. I walked in, then stood near the door as I heard Mrs. Philpott ask them all a question, then wait to see if any of the boys were able to answer it.

I giggled, then gave the answer when no one else said anything. Mrs. Philpott smiled and said, "Correct. Would you please join us, Peter?"

I nodded and found an open spot not far from Bobby. I noticed that Sasha wasn't very far away, quietly listening like everyone else.

The lesson, I guess I would have to call it that, continued with Mrs. Philpott asking us about various parts of the country and the world.

While she was teaching us, I noticed a clock on the side wall of the room. The time on the clock was 4:25 PM.

She ends the lesson a few minutes later, asking for me to go with her, as she wanted to give me some tests to determine my school level.

She asked Sasha to start making the meal, which would be pork cutlets with baked potatoes. Sasha nodded and headed to the kitchen.

Mrs. Philpott took me into a nice little office room, which I soon learned was her work space.

She gave me a bunch of sheets with various types of questions on them, including a couple that were essay questions.

"I want you to work on these this evening, I'd like to have them back in the morning if you can finish them by then, please," she requested.

With sheets in hand, plus a pencil that she gave me, I wandered back into that big living room, over to a low table set against one wall. I picked up a couple of cushions, placed them on the floor in front of that low table, and sat down, then started going through the questions.

I have to admit, I had a fair bit of difficulty with some things, like algebra, advanced English and science.

I did manage to do fairly well with the spelling and basic maths, geography was something that I liked a lot. I know I was way behind most of the other kids here in most subjects, but I'd had access to the public library system and used that to learn about many places in the world.

I did manage to do the two essays she wanted; neither was particularly long, but she wanted to know just what I knew. I'm quite sure that I had a lot of errors in the essays, mostly grammatical ones, but I hoped that she wouldn't be too upset by that when she read them later.

By the time that the bell rang to tell us that it was dinner time, I'd done the essays as I said, and about half of the rest of what I'd been given.

I saw Mrs. Philpott as she was exiting her office and handed her the papers for the items I had finished, then held on to the rest. I informed her that I was going upstairs to put the remaining 'tests' on my bed for now and that I would continue working on them after we finished eating.

She nodded, telling me to be quick about it. I was back downstairs a few minutes later and sat down next to Bobby like I had at lunch time.

Hoowhee, the pork cutlets were perfect. I put just a bit of apple sauce on mine, as that was how I learned to eat them way back when.

When the meal ended, Mrs. Philpott asked Bobby and I to do the dishes, a boy named Brent to wipe the table and a boy named Elmer to sweep the dining room floor once Brent was finished his chore. Just like at lunch, no one made a fuss at being asked to do the chores.

Bobby and I were soon in the kitchen, placing dishes on the counter wherever space could be found. I started running the water, making sure it was hot enough to actually be useful, then added a bit of dish soap and carefully placed the first bunch of dishes into the sink.

I'd done this fairly often at Jessup's Place, so it was not a big deal for me. Bobby was surprised at how quickly I went though the piles of dishes, surprised enough that he asked me about it. I told him about doing it at Jessup's in exchange for being allowed to eat meals there.

It took us about forty-five minutes to finish doing the dishes, including the pans which had been soaking for a while as we did the rest. The pans were the hard part, as we had to scrub them pretty thoroughly, but that was something I had been doing for years, so I wasn't surprised.

Once the last pan had been set in the drying rack, and the dish towels had been hung on their hooks, we wiped down the counter tops. The floor was clean, but I decided that a quick sweep wouldn't be amiss, so I asked about where to find the broom, then swept the floor.

Bobby was slightly surprised that I went out of my way to do something I hadn't been asked to do, so I explained to him that sweeping the floor after doing dishes was something I learned at Jessup's. I then told him that I could have also mopped the floor and he giggled.

We left the kitchen and headed back up to the room we shared. I hadn't really looked at the room closely when I had entered it before, but there was a small desk near each bed and a large shared closet along one wall. I grabbed the unfinished tests and dove back into the work.

I honestly forgot that Bobby was even there, and it took him nearly yelling in my ear before I could pull myself away from the papers.

"What's up, Bobby? No need to yell, guy."

"Uh huh, tell me there's no need to yell when I've been trying to tell you it's snack time for the last ten minutes," Bobby snorted.

"Okay, okay, I'm coming, you don't need to twist my arm!" I giggled back at him as we left the room and headed downstairs again.

Snack turned out to be apple pie and a scoop of ice cream, either vanilla or chocolate. I picked chocolate, of course.

The slices of pie were pretty big, I'd guess about a sixth of a pie each, which meant they'd made at least four pies at some point today. As the pies were still quite warm, they must have been finished recently, then allowed to cool a little before we all came downstairs.

I finished my pie, then turned to thank Mrs. Philpott, who informed me that Jimmy had baked the pies, using his deceased grandma's recipe. Well, that made me turn to see which child was Jimmy. It didn't take long to see the young teenage boy hiding behind some other boys.

I laughed as I politely thanked Jimmy for the delicious pies. That thanks was followed by many of the other boys adding their own.

I guess the day had been fairly stressful for me, as I yawned rather loudly, then apologized while covering my mouth.

I headed upstairs not long after that, grabbed a fresh towel and washcloth from the linen cabinet and took a quick shower.

I even washed my hair, and for some reason, I also conditioned it, using a bottle that was sitting at the side of the tub against the wall.

I have to admit it felt good, and my hair was a lot easier to comb out once it was dry. Perhaps I would use the conditioner more often.

I dropped the now used washcloth and towel into a hamper just outside the third floor washroom, then walked into the room.

I turned the lights off, climbed into my bed, pulled the sheet and blanket up just under my chin, and was soon asleep.

Chapter 4: Time Marches On

That was pretty much the way things went in the home. I learned that Mrs. Philpott was more than qualified to teach us all. It took me until mid-afternoon of the day after I arrived there before I completed the last of the tests she wanted me to do and returned them to her.

After that, I sat in with the other boys and tried to follow along with whatever they were learning. It seems Mrs. Philpott had split the boys into smaller groups, based on the knowledge and intelligence each displayed, then moved from one group to the next for various lessons.

I was sitting at first with the younger boys, most of whom were maybe eleven or twelve, perhaps thirteen.

I didn't really mind, as I hadn't had any formal education at all for over eight years. Everything I knew came from stolen books or the internet.

Just before the dinner bell rang on the second day, Mrs. Philpotts led me into her office and had me sit down for a moment.

"Peter, you are at a grade three level for things like science, anything beyond basic maths and English. For history, you're roughly at a grade six level, which is better than I expected, honestly. You really shine, though, when it comes to geography, you're at a grade ten level there.

"You have never had any physical education, obviously, as you weren't in school at all for over eight years by what the court records said.

"I'm guessing that you managed to stay reasonably fit with all the walking from one place to another. Is that correct?" she asked.

I nodded, adding a quiet, "Yes, Mrs. Philpott."

"I'm going to have to work with you quite a bit to get you up to speed on science, math, English and history. Along with all of those, I want to add economics, as that may be useful to you later in life. Knowing how to use money and manage it wisely is a good thing in my opinion.

"Political science will help you to understand how governments work on local, national and international levels. If Mr. Philpott and I hadn't been informed of your case while you were undergoing the psychiatric assessment, you would be in a jail cell right now looking at hard time. That would have been due to the immense power Councilman Jackson holds in our city at the moment. If he wants something, it happens."

"I don't know if psychology might interest you or not, but that could be another very useful educational option for you."

"Whatever you decide, I will do my best to help you to attain it." The dinner bell rang. "Time to go and have dinner, lad. Off we go now."

I followed her out to the dining room, where I found one of the boys carrying a very large roasting pan carefully over to the table. One of the other boys let him know where the large wooden board was, and the boy slowly set the large roasting pan on the board, then stepped back.

Oh, darn, that smells good, good enough that it rivals Mrs. Jessup's roast beef recipe. I quickly took a seat at the table next to Bobby.

Well, that was the start of it all, I guess and I soon settled into the routine of life in the Philpott home.

Even if this was a residence for troubled boys, it didn't seem like one. Everyone was well behaved, except for occasional issues like Bobby's maternal grandmother's birthday. He wanted to send her a card, but anything like that had to go through the Philpotts first.

I guess the going through the adults bit was to prevent things from being sent out that were inappropriate, but to deny a birthday card?

I found that one hard to believe, and actually asked Mrs. Philpott why it had been denied, as it was obviously hurting Bobby a lot.

"It's a legal issue, Peter. His grandmother, the one he wants to send a card to, is doing hard time for uttering death threats against her middle child, one of Bobby's uncles. The uncle had her charged and the death threats overheard by others were enough to get her fifteen years.

"Perhaps it might not be an issue if she were in this area, but she is in another state, and we don't want convicts knowing the address here."

Ahhh, that made sense. "So it's a safety issue, specifically to protect the safety of everyone here?" I asked, which got a quick yes as a reply.

I thanked her for listening, saying, "Let me try talking to him, maybe I can get him to understand that it's not because of him alone."

I went upstairs and found Bobby lying on his bed, crying into his pillow.

It took me a good forty minutes, but I finally managed to get Bobby to see that it was denied to protect everyone here, not to upset him.

He still wasn't happy about it, but when he realized that something like that could put everyone's safety here at risk, he let the issue go.

I didn't normally get into hugging others, but Bobby sure looked like he needed one at that point, so I wrapped him up in a tight one.

He finally squirmed out of it, then ran down the stairs, heading into the living room to have fun with some of the other boys.

The days slowly went by, then the weeks followed suit, and before I knew it, I had been living there for almost two months.

I was making a fair bit of progress in science, history and math, but was still having some difficulty with English. Thanks to what Mrs. Philpott had said after that first testing, I was also studying political science and economics. I was starting to think about taking psychology, too.

In just under two months, according to Mrs. Philpotts, I was doing much better, almost at my grade level for history and math, just a year or two behind for science, mostly biology and chemistry, although there were some preliminary physics lessons to catch up on as well.

The biggest change for me, though, wasn't in my lessons, but in my ongoing interest in Sasha and his going through the real life test. I only found out about that when I overheard a conversation between Mr. Philpott, who had been a medic in Afghanistan fifteen years ago, and Sasha, where Mr. Philpott mentioned that the real life test was a requirement many psychiatrists and psychologists placed on transitioning people before they would be allowed to have the surgery to change their physical characteristics, i.e., in Sasha's case, to make a neovagina.

Sasha had been complaining that the real life test was too strict. Mr. Philpott then asked, "Would you be ready for that operation right now?"

Sasha thought about it for a brief moment, then said no, to which Mr. Philpott then asked him why he was complaining about it.

Sasha's response was no real surprise, given that it was coming from a teenager. "Because I don't like waiting! I hate it!"

Mr. Philpott said to him then that, hate it or not, sometimes one has no choice but to wait, that's a part of growing up and being an adult.

That discussion had me thinking a lot. To be blunt, I was quite fascinated by Sasha, who looked pretty, if not beautiful, most of the time.

I'm not sure just when that fascination turned into a desire to follow in Sasha's footsteps, so to speak, but my feet were now on that path.

It took another month before I said anything. I must have surprised Mrs. Philpott when I asked if I could see the psych that Sasha sees on a bi-weekly basis. When she asked me why, I said, "I'm not absolutely sure yet, but I think I may be like Sasha about wanting to be a girl."

To say that that comment floored her would be an understatement, she was quite obviously shocked.

After a bit more discussion with her, she did agree to contact the doctor and ask if they could see me after a visit with Sasha.

Chapter 5: Time Marches On 2

I started seeing the psychiatrist Sasha has been seeing in later July. Her name is Elizabeth Ketterman, she's helping me to work through all the anger and grief that I never truly experienced after the deaths of my mom, dad and little brother 8.5 years ago.

She is also helping me to find myself. When I expressed that I might be like Sasha, she asked me if it was some kind of hero worship or something of that nature. I told her that I didn't really know, but that seeing Sasha being happy as a girl struck a deep chord in me.

It took a few more bi-weekly sessions before she felt she could say anything about it. Her comment then was a simple, "Perhaps."

By the time the summer was winding down and August was fading into September, she decided to support me and put me on blockers.

I hadn't grown much in the months between April and the end of August, maybe an inch in height, but I was still quite lean.

I was ecstatic when she put me on the blockers, even if she said I would likely not be prescribed estrogen for another four to six months.

For the last month or so, I had been asking everyone in the home to call me Petra instead of Peter, I figured it would be easy to remember.

In September, Mrs. Philpott took me into court, this time to start the process to have my name legally changed to Petra Annette Browning. I had never had an issue with my surname, as it came down to me with a history of three generations of men who served in war time.

I had known that my dad had served in Afghanistan before meeting my mom, but it wasn't until I had been at the home for a few months that Mrs. Philpott came to me one evening and handed me several copies of newspaper articles about my paternal grandpa and great-grandpa.

It seems my grandpa had served in Vietnam and his father, my great-grandpa, had served in the last years of World War II and in Korea.

Maybe, just maybe, if I could clear my name after that stupid incident that happened last April, I might be able to follow in their footsteps.

The weeks and months continued to pass as I began to feel more and more comfortable in how I felt about myself.

Early December arrived and with it, a brief taste of snow that lasted a short while, then melted.

Dr. Ketterman finally approved my being placed on estrogen along with the blocker. I hugged her hard at that point, crying on her shoulder.

The days slowly marched on toward Christmas, a time that held the hope of turning my life around and making something good of myself.

Chapter 6: Was It Fate?

Then a huge surprise appeared one afternoon, in the person of Kathleen Jackson, the councilman's daughter.

I'm not sure how she found out where I was, but there she was, standing in the doorway gawking at my changed appearance.

I may not have been on hormones until just a short while before her visit, but I'd been dressing and living as a girl for over three months now.

When she finally was able to speak, she stated, "You have changed a lot since we first met. You seem to have settled down well here."

I smiled at her as I replied, "I have, and a fair bit of it is due to having found myself. The rest is because this place is totally awesome."

"I talked to my father the other day. I'm not happy about it, but he has had you under his eye ever since that day. To be blunt, he didn't think you would be able to straighten yourself out, he actually expected you to go off the rails, maybe hit one of the Philpotts or something like that.

"When he found out in the latest report that you were doing as well as you were, he was surprised, no, let me correct that, he was shocked.

"I argued with him for over an hour two days ago and then called the Philpotts to say I was coming. They told me nothing about you, only something about a court order that stipulated your name was to be kept out of any possible news circulation to protect your privacy.

"Perhaps we might try again? I don't mind at all that you are transitioning. Maybe this time we can start off on the right foot."

I was overwhelmed, but a moment later, that ugly possibility of a criminal record raised its head again.

I asked her about that. Her reply was that she could convince her father to drop the charges against me, thus clearing my name.

That hit me even harder than the fact that she was interested in me as I was now, and I jumped forward, hugging her and bursting into tears.

Was it fate that I lived on the streets all those years until the day I ran into her?

Was it fate that I did run into her? That I actually assaulted her and three other men that day?

Was it fate that I ended up in the care of the Philpotts, where I met Sasha, who eventually got me thinking about changing my own life?

Was it fate that I eventually decided to live as a girl? That I was put on blockers, then on estrogen a few months later?

Was it fate that she showed up here, nine years to the day after I lost my mom, dad, and brother? That she offered me a new family?

Was it fate that she gave me the chance to clear my name? That doing so might let me follow three generations of good, decent men?

Whether it was fate or not, only time will tell. I do know, though, that I hope to be with her for the rest of my life.

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