A cool drizzle fell across Port St. John thanks to the passing of Hurricane David. The hurricane’s damaging high winds cause all manner of grief including, but not limiting itself to local power outages. The nearby Indian River overflows claiming parts of US1 resulting in forcing all, but the most determined of residents to remain inside the safety of their homes.
A new black 1979 Mercedes-Benz 450 SL carefully navigates the debris-covered Kings Highway to avoid the mess made of US1. The car merges onto Grissom Parkway after traveling on the poorly maintained road. The car slows and turns onto an old dirt road across from the Tico Airport.
The reddish-brown leaves of ancient oak trees block a direct view of the Stadler Group Home from the roadside. The sedan drives through the rain along the long quiet country road towards the wooden two-tone Victorian style home. A home with a history all its own that has stood on this heavily wooded land for nearly a century.
Inside the sedan, Dr. Samuel Stadler struggles to see through the falling rain. He scratches at his bushy chestnut beard. A young twelve-year-old Anna in the passenger seat digs through her coat pockets and produces a pair of black-frame glasses. She stares out of the car windshield with a look of clear disappointment on her face.
“Don’t like it.” Anna shakes her head and huffs loudly.
Dr. Stadler reaches across the car seat and rubs her head playfully. “We built this place to help kids just like you.”
Anna recoils in offense at his remark. “Kids like me?”
Dr. Stadler cringes and attempts to disarm the situation. “I mean kids who need help.”
Dr. Stadler parks the car in front of the group home’s sign on the circular gravel driveway. He steps out of the vehicle and opens her door for Anna. She watches him open her door and rolls her eyes.
“You think we will make friends this time?” She asks point-blank.
“I don’t know. Can you give the therapy a chance, this time?” Dr. Stadler shrugs at her comment.
Anna exits the car pushing her bag into Dr. Stadler’s chest. He bits his lip stopping himself from scolding her and gestures for her to follow him. They walk onto the wooden porch that surrounds the lower floor of the group home.
The earthen smell of the tropical rainfall and wet wood of the porch fill their senses. They stop at the heavy wooden double doors of the group home. Dr. Stadler shakes the water from his beige trench coat.
Anna pulls away not approving of the unexpected shower. “Thanks, Doc.”
Dr. Stadler cringes realizing his mistake. “Sorry about that, Kiddo.”
A heavy wood entryway door swings open, announcing Dr. Stadler and Anna with a loud groan. They enter the group home. He turns closing the door filling the air with a quick and crisp squeak.
“I gotta get this door oiled.” Dr. Stadler opens and then closes the thick wooden door a few times before finally closing it. They remove their dripping jackets and places them on the redwood coat rack standing next to the entryway door. The rack groans under the added weight of two new jackets.
Anna looks around with an expression of curiosity. “You think you could have found a more run-down dump?”
Dr. Stadler huffs. “Sure, it is a fixer-upper, but it suits our needs.”
Anna shakes her head at his words walking beyond the entryway. She follows the plush burgundy carpet into the foyer. Dr. Stadler walks next to her and gestures right then left. “My office is through there and that’s the general living room.”
Anna walks into the living room seeing two worn leather sofas that sit inside a sprawling clutter. She looks across the room to the massive, stone-framed fireplace noticing the protective black iron screen set in front of the roaring fire inside. She sees pictures on top of the mantel. “Cozy.”
Dr. Stadler smiles in response to her comment. “Keeping it simple. No distractions. We have a dining room and kitchen in the back, and the bedrooms are upstairs.”
Anna rubs her hands next to the fire. “How many children are here?”
Dr. Stadler counts on his fingers while mouthing silenced words. “Six including you.” Dr. Stadler motions for her to follow. “Let’s show you to your room.”
Dr. Stadler and Anna move from the living room returning to the foyer. He points to their left. They follow the red carpet to the end of the hallway.
She looks genuinely impressed by a wide Rotunda. Inside the rotunda, a majestic staircase runs along the left-hand side of the room ascending to the second floor.
To the right side of the room is a short hallway ending in three doors.
Dr. Stadler points into the hallway. “The center door takes you to the kitchen. The door to the left leads to the dining room. The one to the right opens into the game room… Well, it used to be the garage.”
Dr. Stadler gestures for her to follow him up the staircase.
“I’ll show you around a little later. Let’s get you settled in your room upstairs.”
Anna ascends the beautifully carved wooden staircase to the second-floor landing behind him. She stops on the staircase looking out of the huge wood frame window. She watches several storm clouds race across the dark sky above the small town.
“Are we sharing a room?” Anna asks.
Dr. Stadler stops near the top of the staircase and pants. “Yes, you’re rooming with Emily.”
They reach the second-floor landing and she takes in her surroundings. She points counting three closed room doors with personal posters and room labels on each. He motions for her to continue walking. At the end of the landing, the hallway continues to their left.
She sees three additional doors with labels. The room at the end of the hallway reads “MEDIA ROOM,” the second to the last reads. “John and Tyler,” and the door nearest her reads. “Emily and Anna.”