This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

This story is copyright by Owen Hudson, all rights reserved. Distribution, including but not limited to: posting on internet sites, newsgroups, or message boards, or in book form (either as a whole or part of a compilation), or on CD, DVD or any other electronic media, is expressly prohibited without the author's written consent.

Ten Steps Down

© 2010 Owen Hudson

Chapter 3

I couldn't believe my life was being disrupted simply because I had gone to visit a former neighbor who had been kind to me. I was both angry and frightened. I wanted to punch Mrs. Gray in the face because of her stubbornness. Mom left the room crying and Dad's face was red with anger. There was a very long awkward silence and I wanted to run from the room. But, where would I go? This had been my home for the past several weeks, and Don and Libby had become my loving parents.

Finally Mrs. Gray said, "Craig, you have no choice in this matter. You are a minor and Mr. and Mrs. Turner were never approved to foster you. I'm afraid you will have to come with me."

"You had better call in reinforcements," I said. "The only way I leave here is if you have me physically removed."

"Mr. Turner, I want you to put him in my car," Mrs. Gray said.

"Kiss my ass," Dad said. "If he leaves it will be of his own free will."

"Then I'll call the sheriff's office to have him removed," Mrs. Gray said. She took her cell phone out of her purse and punched in a phone number. Either her cell phone battery was dead or there was no signal. "I'll need to use your phone," Mrs. Gray said.

"There's a pay phone in town you can use," Dad grinned.

"Mr. Turner, you're being an obstructionist," Mrs. Gray said. "I'll have you charged with obstruction of a state official."

"You do what you have to do," Dad said.

"Craig, you're wanted on the phone," Mom said. "Take it in your room."

Mrs. Gray stood and attempted to block my way to my bedroom. I walked around her and she tried to follow me. Dad and Mom both blocked her path. She sat down on the couch and tried her cell phone again.

"Hello," I said having no idea who was on the phone.

"Craig, this is your uncle Jason," he said.

I never knew I had an uncle. Sharon and Dan never mentioned any relatives. "Who?" I asked.

"I'm your uncle Jason," he repeated. "I'm Libby's brother. Libby called me and told me what was going on there. I'm an attorney and she called me for advice. Here's what I want you to do. I want you to go with that bitch. I'll be there tomorrow morning to file an injunction preventing the state from removing you from your home."

"I'm not going," I argued. "This is my home and she can't make me go."

"Craig, I can only imagine what you've been through," Uncle Jason said in a calming voice. "I'm in St. Louis but I'll be there tonight. I'll file the paperwork first thing in the morning. Pack one or two days changes of clothes. I'm confident you will only be away from home for one day. I'll be asking the court for a CASA volunteer."

"What is a CASA volunteer?"

"A CASA volunteer is a court appointed special advocate. The volunteer will be your voice in court."

"I can speak for myself."

"I know you can, but a CASA volunteer will be appointed by the court and can talk to your teachers, friends, and anyone else that they think may give information. Will you agree to go on your own?"

"I'll go, but if this doesn't work out I'm running away."

"I'd advise you not to do that, but I wouldn't do anything to try and stop you. When you go, tell the bitch that you're going on the advice of your attorney. That will shake the bitch up. Another thing, Craig, you have made Don and Libby very happy. I'll do everything in my power to see that you remain part of our family."

After telling Uncle Jason goodbye, I packed a bag with a few things. I grabbed my book bag and went back into the living room. "Upon advice of my attorney I agree to go with you tonight," I calmly said.

I noticed a surprised look on Dad's face, and Mom mouthed, "Jason."

I tossed my bags into the backseat of Mrs. Gray's car and crawled in the backseat also. "You can ride up front," Mrs. Gray said. When she realized that I wasn't going to answer her or move to the front seat, Mrs. Gray drove away. "Look," she said. "I'm doing what I think is in your best interest."

"Bullshit, you're doing this because you think you have the power to do so. I have nothing more to say to you until after I talk to my attorney."

After Mrs. Gray stopped in town to make a phone call, we drove in silence for about twenty miles and then pulled up to a house. Because it was dark, I couldn't tell much about the house. The inside was dark and dreary. There was clutter, but otherwise the house was somewhat clean. Mrs. Gray introduced me to Mrs. Powell, my "foster mom."

"You'll share a room with James," Mrs. Powel said after Mrs. Gray left. "The school bus will be by around 6:30. The other kids eat breakfast at school, and you will too."

"This will be your bed," Mrs. Powell said as she pointed out a twin bed in the tiny room. "Did you just bring that one small bag?"

"I didn't have a lot of time to pack," I said without saying that I didn't plan to be here long.

I wasn't sure that I would be able to sleep with all of the day's occurrences floating around in my mind. However, I must have been tired and fell asleep shortly after going to bed. It seemed as though I had just gone to bed when Mrs. Powell knocked on the door saying, "Boys, it's time to get up and get ready for school."

Mrs. Powell turned on the light and the bright light that was almost blinding. I looked at my watch and saw that it was 5:30 am.

"Who are you?" The boy in the next bed, who I assumed was James, asked.

"I'm Craig," I said. "I guess you're James." James appeared to be about twelve or maybe thirteen. There was something sad about him that I couldn't identify.

"Yeah," James said. "We'd better hurry and get to the bathroom before the girls get in there."

"Is there only one bathroom?" I asked.

"There's one in Mrs. Powell's room, but we aren't allowed to use it. Did you shower last night? We're not allowed to shower in the morning."

"I didn't get a chance to shower. Do you want to go first?"

"We have to use the bathroom at the same time. We're allowed thirty minutes and the girls are allowed thirty minutes in the bathroom. I learned that you can't be modest around here."

James wasn't kidding about being modest. He used the toilet while I shaved and brushed my teeth, and then we switched.

"How long have you been here?" I asked James.

"Two miserable years," he said. "Lisa and Amanda are lucky. They will get to go live with an aunt next week."

It took almost two hours for the bus to run its route to school. On the ride there I learned from James that he was placed in foster care after his mother's boyfriend had brutally beaten him. "Mrs. Powell only keeps us for the money," he said. "You wouldn't believe the crap she feeds us. It's a good thing we get to eat at school."

After breakfast I made my way to my first class. "Craig, wait up," I heard Rachel call out. "What happened last night?"

I briefly explained what had occurred before going to my class. I was in the middle of the first class when I heard on the intercom, "Craig Phillips, report to the principal's office."

There was a sheriff deputy waiting for me when I arrived. "Craig, this is Deputy Wilson," Mr. Collins, our principal, said. "You have a hearing in family court."

"Don't be nervous," Deputy Wilson said as we got into the patrol car. "You'll like Judge Young. She is always fair-minded."

When we arrived at the court house Deputy Wilson took me to a small conference room. Shortly a nice looking man who appeared to be in his thirties came in. "Craig, I'm your uncle Jason," he said. "I was anxious to meet you, but not under these circumstances."

"Hi Uncle Jason, where are Mom and Dad?"

"They're here. I wanted to visit with you first. Tell me about the foster home where you were placed."

I told Uncle Jason everything James told me, about the home, the bathroom situation, and the about the long bus ride to school. "Uncle Jason, I'm really worried about James. Can we do something for him too? He said that Mrs. Gray rarely came to check on them. She hadn't been there for over four month until she came to tell the girls that they were being sent to live with an aunt."

"I'll see what I'll do. First we have to get you out of there. The hearing today is a show cause hearing. The decision will be made today to officially remove you from Sharon's house. I did a check on Mrs. Gray's performance at Child Protective Services and there have been numerous complaints against her. For some reason her supervisor hasn't terminated her. I intend to find out why."

"Will I have to go back to Mrs. Powell's tonight?"

"Probably not, but I can't guarantee it. I doubt we can get James out today. Mrs. Gray will give her report and recommendations. When she is finished I will grill her."

"Will I get to say anything to the Judge?"

"If you wish, I'll ask the Judge. I'll go get Don and Libby. I need to go make a few phone calls while you visit."

After I repeated what I had told Uncle Jason to Mom and Dad, Mom was in tears and Dad's facial muscles were quivering from anger. "Son, we're not giving up on getting you back," Dad said. "I promise you that."

It seemed like hours, but in reality it was just over an hour when Uncle Jason came and got us to go in to the court room. Judge Kara Young was a pretty petite young judge. However, when she started the hearing it was obvious she was in charge. After announcements and identifications of those concerned, she got down to business.

I was surprised to see Sharon escorted into the court room by a deputy. The first part of the hearing was to determine if I should be removed from Sharon's custody. Sharon stated that she never intended to give up custody of me, but that she was forced to. She did admit that she was still living with Neil. However, the judge easily decided to terminate Sharon's custody of me, and we moved on to the next part. Mrs. Gray gave her report and stated that I was placed with Mrs. Powell because Mom and Dad had never been approved. She never mentioned that Mom and Dad were licensed foster care parents.

"Mr. Morris you're next," Judge Young said when Mrs. Gray had finished.

"Thank you, your honor," Uncle Jason began. "I would like to ask the court's permission to ask Mrs. Gray a few questions."

"Alright, I'll allow it," Judge Young said.

"Mrs. Gray, how long have you been a caseworker for Child Protective Services?" Uncle Jason asked.

"Nine years," Mrs. Gray answered.

"In that nine years how many times have you been reprimanded?"

"I don't think my personnel record is relevant here."

"I'll decide what is relevant," Judge Young said. "Answer the question."

"I don't recall."

"It must be several times if you can't recall the number. Would fourteen times seem to be the correct number?"

"I said that I don't recall."

"Do you recall the case of Jessica Crandall?"

"No, I don't recall."

"Let me refresh your memory. Jessica Crandall was a case that you recommended she be returned to the natural parents without a case plan or professional evaluation of the parents. Jessica was killed two days after she was returned home."

"That was just one case."

"Oh was it? Do you recall the case of William Cordell? You recommended that William be returned home under the same circumstances. William was severely beaten and now cannot speak or even feed himself."

"Do I need to go on, Mrs. Gray?"

"No, you don't."

"Mrs. Gray, when was the last time you visited the children under the care of Mrs. Powel?"

"Last week, and I was there last evening."

"When was the last time before last week that you were there?"

"I don't have those records with me today."

"Would it be safe to say that it was four months?"

"I don't have my records and can't answer."

"Mrs. Gray, surely you can give us an approximate time frame," Judge Young interjected.

"I guess it was four months."

"Aren't you supposed to visit your clients monthly?" Judge Young asked.

"I have a heavy case load," Mrs. Gray said.

"Is your case load more than your coworkers?" Judge Young asked.

"I don't know what my coworkers' case loads are," Mrs. Gray said as she was obviously becoming upset.

"Mr. Lancaster, you're her supervisor," Judge Young said. "Is her case load larger than her coworkers?"

"No your honor," Mr. Lancaster answered.

"Will there be any further questions, Mr. Morris?" Judge Young asked.

"No your honor," Uncle Jason said. "However, my client Craig Phillips would like to address the court."

"He may," Judge Young said.

"Your honor," I began. "It is my understanding that the state and the courts are supposed to do what is in the best interest of the minor. I haven't seen anything yet that convinces me that is happening. I was beaten by my biological mother's boyfriend after he tried to rape me. Mr. and Mrs. Turner took me in and gave me a safe happy place to live. They have treated me as their own son, and I now think of them as my parents. Although they are a licensed foster care home, Mrs. Gray refused to let me stay there because according to her they didn't have proper authority. She placed me in a home that is twenty miles from my school and almost a two hour bus ride. I was to share a room that isn't much larger than a closet with another boy. There is one bathroom for four of us to use to get ready for school."

"Your honor, there are two bathrooms in that house," Mrs. Gray interrupted.

"Is that true, Craig?" Judge Young asked.

"It is true that there are two bathrooms in the house, but foster kids aren't allowed to use the bathroom in Mrs. Powell's room. James, one of the foster kids there said that if they didn't get a decent meal at school they wouldn't have much to eat. Your honor, I'm asking that you allow me to go back and live with Mr. and Mrs. Turner."

"Mr. Lancaster, I'm ordering you to remove Mrs. Gray from this case. I will also be reviewing all of her cases. If you value your own job you will suspend Mrs. Gray during this review. I'm also ordering you to look into the care of the children that Mrs. Powell is fostering. In the interim I want the children there removed until you complete your investigation and report back to me."

"Your honor the two girls are being sent to live with an aunt next week," Mr. Lancaster said.

"Why wait until next week?" Judge Young asked.

"This was Mrs. Gray's recommendation," Mr. Lancaster said.

"Mrs. Gray, why did you make this recommendation?" Judge Young asked.

"Because it is the end of the month," Mrs. Gray said.

"That's no reason," Judge Young said. "Mr. Lancaster, I want you to contact the aunt and arrange for them to live with her immediately."

"Your honor, I don't have a foster home to place the male foster child," Mr. Lancaster said.

"Your honor, may I speak?" Mom stood and asked.

"State your name," Judge Young said.

"I'm Libby Turner and this is my husband, Donald Turner," Mom said. "If you will permit, we would be more than happy to take in the male foster child in question."

"Mr. Lancaster, do you have any objections?" Judge Young asked.

"I have no objections," Mr. Lancaster said.

"If you have no objections, then please tell me why Craig was removed from the Turner home in the first place?" Judge Young asked.

"That was Mrs. Gray's decision," Mr. Lancaster said.

"Mrs. Gray, why did you remove Craig from the Turner home?" Judge Young asked.

"They didn't follow procedure in getting approved to foster him," Mrs. Gray said.

"You're splitting hairs," Judge Young said. "Your own record isn't all that clean. Mr. Morris, do you have anything else?"

"Your honor, we would like to request that a CASA volunteer be assigned to this case and James also, if he is placed with Mr. and Mrs. Turner," Uncle Jason said.

"Mrs. Richardson, can you assign a CASA volunteer to this case?" Judge Young asked the CASA supervisor.

"Yes, your honor," Mrs. Richardson stood and answered.

"Very well," Judge Young said. "I will place Craig Phillips and James..., Mr. Lancaster what is James' last name?"

"Gibson," Mr. Lancaster said.

"I will place Craig Phillips and James Gibson in the home of Libby and Donald Turner," Judge Young said. "We will schedule a review hearing in thirty days. Mr. Lancaster, I expect you to report back to me before 4:00 pm tomorrow of your findings of the Powell foster home. You are to pick up the children in the Powell home today and arrange for the girls to be sent to their aunt. You will bring James Gibson to the home of Libby and Don Turner today."

"I have some clothes there," I whispered to Uncle Jason.

"Your honor, Craig still has a few items of clothing there," Uncle Jason said.

"Mr. Lancaster, you will pick up Craig's possessions while you're there," Judge Young said.

I was a happy camper after the court hearing and hugged Uncle Jason and said, "Thank you."

"I was happy to do it," Uncle Jason said. "Now that we've met, I hope to see you more often."

"We had better get home," Mom said. "I need to get the guest room ready for James."

"That room is always clean," Dad said.

"Yes, but it looks like a guest room and not a boy's room," Mom argued.

"Mom, why don't you let James decide how he wants his room," I suggested.

"I guess you're right," Mom agreed.

"You're staying the night, right Jason?" Mom asked.

"Of course I am," Jason said. "I need to get to know my nephews."

"I gave the guest room to James, I hope you don't mind the basement bedroom," Mom said.

"Not at all," Uncle Jason said.

"I can sleep in the basement and Uncle Jason can have my room," I offered.

"No you won't," Uncle Jason said. "There's nothing wrong with the basement."

Mom got busy as cooking a big dinner soon as we got home. "I hope James likes pork chops," she said.

"Mom, after living with Mrs. Powell I doubt he will be very picky," I said.

When James arrived with Mr. Lancaster he appeared frightened and confused. He then saw me and a big smile came over his face. "Craig, did you do this?" He asked.

"I just told Uncle Jason and he arranged everything," I said. "That is Uncle Jason sitting at the bar, and this is our Mom and Dad."

Mom hugged James and told him he was welcome, and then Dad did the same. Uncle Jason gave James a big hug and said, "I live in St. Louis, but I'll soon be moving to Topeka. I'll get to see my nephews more often then."

"Did you have dinner yet?" Mom asked James. "I hope you're hungry. We're having pork chops."

"I didn't eat before Mr. Lancaster picked me up," James said. "It was just going to be a bowl of beans anyway."

"Is that true, Mr. Lancaster?" Dad asked.

"I'm afraid it is," Mr. Lancaster said. "Everything that Craig said was true. Mrs. Powell's foster care license will be revoked. The girls are being driven to their aunt's in Hays as we speak."

"Craig, will you show James to his room?" Mom asked. "I'll finish up with getting dinner on the table. James, is that all of your clothes in that one bag?"

"Yes," James said.

Mom looked at Mr. Lancaster and he said, "Yes, that's all he had. We gave Mrs. Powell a voucher for clothes, but apparently she didn't buy him any. I'll get you a voucher tomorrow for clothes for both boys."

"This is your room," I said when I showed him the guest room. "Mom said you can decorate it however you like."

"There is only one bed," James said. "Do we share the same bed?"

"No, this is your room," I explained. "I have my own room. This room doesn't have its own bathroom, but nobody else uses the bathroom across the hall. So, you will still have your own bathroom."

"Wow, I can't believe I have my own big room," James said. "I won't have to share the bath with girls either."

"You won't have to ride the bus to school anymore either," I pointed out. "You can ride to school with me."

"Do you have your own car?" James asked in amazement.

"Yes, and when you're sixteen I'll bet Mom and Dad will help you get a car too," I said. "You'll have to earn half of the money like I did and they will pay the other half."

"They let you call them Mom and Dad?" James questioned.

"They encourage it, but if you would rather call them Libby and Don they won't care," I said.

"Boys, dinner is ready," Dad came to the room and announced. "James, how do you like your new room?"

"It's cool," James said. "I can't believe I get my own room."

James ate dinner with a man size appetite. "This is really good," he kept saying.

"Mom is a good cook," I said. "We eat like this all the time."

After dinner we sat around and got to know each other. I really liked Uncle Jason and asked him if he really had to go back to St. Louis the next day.

"I'm afraid so," Uncle Jason said. "I'll need to help Ryan pack for our move to Topeka."

"Who is Ryan?" I asked.

"Ryan is my partner," Uncle Jason said. "You may as well know that I'm gay. I hope it doesn't change things."

"I don't care what you are," I said. "I can't thank you enough for what you did for James and me in court today. James, do you care?"

"I don't care," James said. "I never thought I would get out of Mrs. Powell's house until I was eighteen."

"Libby and Don, you have two very fine boys here," Uncle Jason said.

"James, do you have homework?" Mom asked.

"I did it on the bus," James said.

"What grade are you in?" Dad asked.

"I'm in the seventh grade," James said.

"I told him that he could ride to and from school with me," I said. "The middle school is right next to the high school anyway."

"That's a great idea," Dad said.

"James, this weekend we'll go to the mall and buy you some new clothes," Mom said. "Craig, you will have your voucher to spend for clothes too."

"All I need is a winter coat," I said. "James can have the rest of mine for clothes."

"Thank you Craig," James said. "I'm sure I'll have plenty."

"I doubt the state will give you enough for everything you need," I said. "I already have lots of clothes."

James yawned and Mom said, "Son, if you're sleepy go to bed whenever you want."

"Okay," James said. "Do I take a shower in the evening or morning?"

"The choice is yours," Mom said.

"We were only allowed to shower in the evening at Mrs. Powell's," James said.

"We have few rules here," Mom said. "We'll talk about those rules tomorrow. Craig, did you show him the bathroom and where the towels are?"

"Yes, Mom," I said. "I think I'll go to bed, too. We had to get up really early at Mrs. Powell's. Uncle Jason, what time do you have to leave tomorrow?"

"Not until after you boys leave to school," Uncle Jason said.

"Goodnight Uncle Jason, Mom and Dad," I said.

"Goodnight," they all said.

"Goodnight," James said. He still wasn't comfortable calling our parents Mom and Dad. I think he wasn't sure if any of this was real.

I must have been really tired because I fell asleep almost as soon as my head was on my pillow. When I woke the next morning I went to James' room to wake him to get ready for school. However, James was coming out of the bathroom when I came out of my room. "I didn't want to be late for school," he said with a big grin.

"We'll have plenty of time," I assured him. "I'll take my shower and Mom should have breakfast ready by then."

"Do we eat here and not at school?" James asked.

"I'm sure if you would rather eat and school it would be fine with Mom," I said. "I prefer to eat here, though."

After I was dressed and ready for school, I went in James' room and he was watching TV. "I can't believe that I have a TV in my room," he said. "We didn't get to watch much TV at Mrs. Powell's."

"Good morning, boys," Mom and Dad said when they saw us.

"Good morning," we both said.

"James, do you want a glass of juice?" I asked as I opened the refrigerator door.

"Yes, please," James said.

"Good morning everybody," Uncle Jason said as he sat his bag down.

"Good morning," we all said.

Uncle Jason put his arms around James and me and asked, "How are my favorite nephews this morning?"

I could tell that James was enjoying the attention he was getting. I doubted he ever had any loving attention.

"James, do you have a computer?" Uncle Jason asked.

"No," James said.

"I just bought this new one," Uncle Jason said. "I'll send my old one to you. That is, if you don't mind a used computer."

"Wow, really?" James asked.

"Really," Uncle Jason said. "I'm sure you can use it for your school work."

"Thank you, Uncle Jason," James said. He was finally comfortable calling him uncle.

After seeing Uncle Jason off and saying goodbye to Mom and Dad, James and I drove to school. "This is cool not having to ride the bus," James said.

"And cool not having to ride the bus for twenty miles," I added.

James was all smiles when I dropped him off at the middle school. "I'll pick you up here after school," I said.

"This is Lilly Upchurch," Mom said when James and I got home from school. "Mrs. Upchurch is your CASA volunteer. I'll go into the kitchen to start dinner and let you visit."

Mrs. Upchurch was a plump friendly lady who appeared to be in her late fifties or early sixties. "Well boys, how was school?" she asked.

"It was fine," we both said.

After explaining to us what CASA was, Mrs. Upchurch asked us if we were happy where we were. We both assured her that we liked where we were and didn't want to live anywhere else. "This is a thousand percent better than living at Mrs. Powell's," James said. "I even have my own room here. I get to eat breakfast before I go to school, and you wouldn't believe the dinner we had last night."

"Have either of you boys seen a doctor recently?" Mrs. Upchurch asked.

"I had a physical this summer," I said.

"What about you James?" Mrs. Upchurch asked.

"I don't need a physical," James said.

"I'm sorry, James, but you really should have one," Mrs. Upchurch insisted. "We need to know that you're in good health. You should also have a dental and vision exam."

"No, I'm fine," James insisted.

"The state will pay for everything," Mrs. Upchurch said. "But, we can talk about this later."

There were a couple of boxes addressed to James when we arrived home from school a few days later. "What could it be?" James asked.

"Remember that Uncle Jason said he was sending you a computer," I mentioned.

"Oh yeah," James said.

There was a laptop computer and printer/scanner in the boxes that were definitely not used. Uncle Jason had obviously purchased them for James. I helped James unpack them and connected them to the internet via the wireless router in the house. James could hardly eat dinner because of his excitement.

James quickly adapted to his new living environment. He loved the farm and all of the animals. He followed Dad around asking questions. Dad taught him how to drive the tractor as he did me. He was surprised when Dad paid us for helping with the farm work. "Do you mean that I get paid for this?" He questioned. "I like doing it, besides I thought we had to work to earn our keep."

"Son, we think of you and Craig as our sons," Dad said. "We don't expect you to earn your keep. When you work here on the farm you'll get paid for it."

One evening after dinner Mom said, "James, I'll pick you up at school tomorrow. You have a doctor's appointment for a physical."

"No, I won't go," James screamed and ran to his room.

Mom was shocked since James had always been obedient and always tried to please both parents. "I wonder if he's had a bad experience at a doctor's visit," Mom said.

"I'll go talk to him," I said. "He always seemed to trust me."

I tapped on James's door and there was no answer. I tapped again and still no answer. I thought I heard sobbing and quietly opened the door. "James, are you alright?" I asked.

"Go away," he said. "Leave me alone."

I ignored him and sat on the bed beside him. He didn't pull away when I put my arm around him. "Is something wrong that you don't want to go to the doctor?" I asked. "I had a physical and there wasn't anything to it."

"I'm not going," James declared.

"James, the state may take you from Mom and Dad and put you in a group home if you don't get the physical," I said. "It's one of their requirements. You wouldn't want that and I'd be losing a brother."

Tears streamed down James' face and he stood and took off his shirt and said, "This is why."

I couldn't believe my eyes. There were several huge scars across his back from an obvious beating. I couldn't help but cry too when I thought of what he must have endured. "Let me get Mom," I said. "I'll bet she can find a doctor that can get rid of those scars."

I briefly explained to Mom and Dad what I had discovered and both rushed to James' room. "James, you should have told us," Dad said. "You have nothing to be ashamed of for what that monster did to you."

"He said if I ever let anybody see them he would find me and kill me," James sobbed.

"Nobody is going to hurt you here," Dad said. "He is a coward to do this to a kid."

"James, we'll ask the doctor if he can send you to a plastic surgeon that can get rid of those scars," Mom said.

"Really?" James asked.

"I'll bet on it," Mom said.

"Can Craig go to the doctor with me?" James asked.

"If you want him, yes," Mom said.

"I'll pick James up at school and meet you at Dr. Carr's office," I said.

James seemed fine with going to the doctor when I picked him up at school. However, he was obviously very nervous when we arrived at Dr. Carr's office. "It will be fine," I assured him. "You'll like Dr. Carr."

Mom had called Dr. Carr and informed him about James' scars and his sensitivity about them. "I think we can get that fixed," Dr. Carr said. "I'll send a referral to either Manhattan or Kansas City."

"Will it hurt?" James asked.

"There will be some pain after the procedure, I'm sure," Dr. Carr said. "But, in the long run it will be worth it."

James was actually excited about the surgery. "I won't have to worry about taking my shirt off in gym class next year," he said.

Uncle Jason and Uncle Ryan got moved to Topeka before our review hearing. James and I both really liked Uncle Ryan. He was a high school biology teacher and was lucky to find a job in Topeka because a teacher resigned when her husband was transfer to a position out of state.

We weren't expecting much until we learned that Sharon had hired an attorney and filed to regain custody of me. Mrs. Upchurch came back for a second visit with me when she learned about Sharon's plans.

"I don't care what happens in court," I said. "I refuse to go back there to live. I was pretty much on my own from the time I was ten until I came to live with Mom and Dad. Mrs. Cochran did what she could for me.

"Uncle Jason came and spent the night before the review hearing so he could spend some time with James and me before going to court. His confidence gave us both confidence. Judge Young began the case much the same way as she did the first time I was there. Sharon's attorney stated that she had stopped drinking and would provide a good home for me. Judge Young asked Sharon if she was still dating the man that had abused me, Sharon said that she rarely saw him. Judge Young pointed out that it only took one time. "Have you gone to trial for the attack on Craig?" Judge Young asked Sharon.

"That trial is pending," her attorney answered for her.

Judge Young next called Mr. Lancaster who confirmed that James and I were both well cared for. He stated that he didn't think it would be wise for me to be placed back in Sharon's home. Mrs. Upchurch agreed with Mr. Lancaster's recommendation. "Both boys are very happy where they are," she said. "It would be a serious mistake to remove either boy. In fact Craig said that he would refuse to live with his biological mother even if ordered to do so. Craig and James see themselves as brothers and Mr. and Mrs. Turner as their parents."

The hearing was surprisingly short. Judge Young ruled that I would not be returned to Sharon's custody, and further that Sharon would pay child support to the state. She ruled that the child support that Dan paid would go to the state also. Judge Young ordered that James and I would remain in the custody of Mom and Dad and scheduled a review hearing in ninety days.

We were all very happy until we got home and there was a letter denying James' appointment with a plastic surgeon. It was deemed to not be a medical necessity. James was very upset, but showed bravery by saying, "I shouldn't have expected it anyway."

"Son, we'll have it done even if we have to pay ourselves," Dad said.

"I'll write a letter of appeal," Uncle Jason said. "If they turn us down again we'll go to court. I believe some bureaucrat in Topeka makes these decisions based on the dollar. James, would you mind if I took some pictures of your back to send with the appeal?"

"Ok, if it will help," James said.

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