Dave Strider used to be a cool kid. He had a lot of dorky friends, had a silly, sweet girlfriend and a kind, supportive sister. He had everything a cool kid could ever want and sometimes more, if you considered his insane yet ironic gang leader bro, a puppet filled house and swords in the kitchen more. But Dave Strider was no longer a cool kid. He stopped being one ever since he took a turn on the wild side. He stopped being a cool kid the minute he smoked his first cigarette, had his first beer and trashed his first hotel room, leaving his date with the damage.
He wondered where it all went wrong, but he already knows the answer. Things were never the same since his bro died. Gang fights, you know how they go. Someone always has to get hurt. Dave never thought for one minute that it would be his bro, though. Even though he gave him a hard time, Dave always looked to him as strong and unbeatable. Someone who carried around a sword that epic had to be awesome, right?
There's always someone more amazing though and in this case it was one Jack Noir: gang leader extraordinaire. But, what really was extraordinary about him? He had the face of a dog, and short messy hair, but that was nothing. He was intimidating, but bro was more intimidating. Everything Jack was, bro was more of, so why was it him that had to die? Dave figured Jack played greasy. He probably waited until they were alone to sick the rest of his gang on an unsuspecting bro. Stupid gangs. Dave hated them all and it was their fault that he was where he was right now.
If Dave had just grown up with his sister, Rose and her mother, he wondered if that would change things. Would he still be the ironic douchebag he was today? Or would he be someone else? He most definitely wouldn't be doing community service, that much was certain.
"Dave, are you okay? You're spacing out again," she looked worried. After everything, Dave hated to see her like that.
"Sorry, Jade, I'm fine. I'm just not looking forward to working at a hospital, that's all." It was understandable, though, that he felt that way. After all, he witnessed his brother die at one.
"It'll be okay. You're only working here for a little while as community service, then you'll be free to do whatever. Well, not whatever. There are boundaries you know, and you crossed them. That's why you're here. Don't forget that, Dave."
Dave hated that she was right.
She leaned forward and hugged him tightly. This was goodbye, he knew. It was goodbye long ago, when Dave started to get out of control. He wondered why she stuck around as long as she did before she finally broke up with him, even when he cheated on her. Did she love him? Well, wasn't he the biggest douche for doing all those horrible things? Didn't he feel guilty? The answer is yes to all, but he was Dave Strider. He was too far gone to care.
"Rose and I are going to lunch with Ms. Lalonde today, but we'll be home by the time you're done. I'm looking forward to hearing how your day goes." And with that, she gave him a casual peck on the cheek and took her leave. Dave didn't know why watching her leave pained him so. It was almost as if she represented his life and all he cared about. All of it had a funny way of disappearing.
"Mr. Strider?" a tall, lanky woman came to greet him at the entrance of the hospital. He turned to face her, pushing his shades up and crossing his arms in their usual fashion. "Ah, I thought it was you," she smiled. "Welcome to the Skaia Hospital for Youth."
"Yeah, whatever," he put his hands in his pockets and shrugged.
"Well," she smiled softly, "care to follow me and I'll show you around?"
Dave didn't speak as she led him down the hallway, pointing out things he honestly didn't give a damn about. She showed him the hospital map and the general area where he'd be helping out and all the while he just sighed and nodded, taking it all in without really taking it in. "Alright, we're going to get you to start cleaning the cafeteria. Don't be bothered if there are some patients in there getting a bite to eat. We encourage you to stay focused on your task."
"So, what, I'm not allowed to talk to the patients?" Dave wasn't really planning on making conversation, but the fact that he wasn't allowed to chit-chat pissed him off.
"We'd prefer it if you'd stay on task," she repeated, still smiling.
What? Dave thought, am I not good enough or something?
"We have the cleaning supplies prepared. There's a bucket and a mop that you can roll down the wheelchair ramp to the cafeteria. Wash and scrub the floors and walls and make sure there's no food or gum under the tables. Some of the patients do that occasionally." She pointed to the janitor's closet, "You'll find everything you need in there. Good luck."
Dave watched her walk off. He shook his head and opened the closet door, grabbing the mop and rolling the bucket out. He unwillingly pushed the bucket down the wheelchair ramp, and in doing so; he passed by a boy in a wheelchair. He was pushing himself up, seeming to be out of breath. Dave heard him mumble, "This would be easier if I could use my legs…"
Shortly after him, a very tall guy wearing clown-like makeup and polka dotted pants ran up, "Tav, wait up, lemme help you out man!" His eyes were lazily drooping down and he had on this smile that told Dave they were similar in some parts. It was clear to Dave that he wasn't sober and for a brief moment, he felt an odd connection to the guy. Shaking it off, he continued on his way.
The cafeteria was a very clean place already, but smells of antiseptic lingered around the front archway making Dave lose his appetite. He pulled the mop out of the water bucket and begrudgingly washed the floors, taking a five minute break every now and then.
He was there for nearly two hours and nearly twenty minutes more before he realized someone had come into the cafeteria and sat down. Dave looked up in time to see the other boy stand up from his seat, leaving his food untouched. He was about Dave's age, but much shorter and weaker looking. He had thick, square shaped glasses and messy black hair with bangs that fell on the bridge of his nose.
"You're not gonna eat that?" Dave knew he wasn't supposed to talk to the patients, but that just made him want to do it even more.
The boy looked up at him, a little surprised. "What?"
Dave knew it was a mistake. He shouldn't have done it, but he stopped cleaning again strode on over to the boy, whose dark eyes followed him the whole time. "You should at least eat something. You're in a hospital for a reason, right?"
He smiled, three teeth larger than the rest peaking out in a cute manner. Dave pushed his shades up, feeling embarrassed for the strangest of reasons: a boy smiled at him. He didn't catch what the boy said to him next before he scurried off, but he was left standing there with a mop in his hand, wondering what, exactly, just happened.
He looked to the table, where the untouched food still laid. He picked up the plate and took a bite of the meatloaf before chucking the rest in the garbage and continuing back to work.
Dave still remembers the first time they met. He still remembers those eyes, those teeth and that laugh. Especially that laugh—it was that very thing that kept Dave going through his time there and it was that very laugh that kept him coming even after everything was over.