The Little Pipsqueak

© 2012-2013 Matthew Templar
matemp1148@yahoo.com
Thank you, RCN, for your great editing.

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 copyrighted by Matthew Templar, 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.

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Thank you, RCN, for the great editing starting with this chapter. I also look forward to my grammar and punctuation lessons.

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Chapter Fifty

I must have been consumed by another dream. This one, as dreams go, seemed as real as life itself. The textures, the smells, all added up to as close to reality as possible, I thought. Still, I knew I could only enjoy the fantasy of it for a few minutes longer until my brain caught up to my senses and daylight rescued me from my memories.

I dreamed that I was lying in bed, on my side, spooned against the love of my life. I savored the smell of her clean hair against my chin. My hand reveled in the feel of tender skin that stretched around a perfect neck and flared out to create the most beautifully crafted shoulders. My hand explored down one arm until I was drawn to wrap up my warm package with that arm. I laid my hand flat against her naked breast bone and moved slightly to discover the smooth, flat chest of my ...

Wait.

Something wasn't right here. What happened to the mounds of ...?

"Pop?" I heard, but not in front of me, not where my hand had been on a treasure hunt of delightful sensations on my beloved wife's body. "Don't you think we should be getting up?"

But then ...?

My eyes opened and I saw close to my face the fine brown hair of my little pipsqueak, his back nestled as tightly as he could into my chest and stomach. But then I saw another head, turned toward me. It was that of a beautiful young boy whose eyes squinted slightly to look back into my eyes. Elliot lay on his back, a sweet, sleepy smile invading my senses.

Within my hold my other boy grew restless and tried to extricate himself from my arm which gently entrapped him.

Behind me I felt the warmth of another body come into me and hold me much as I was holding my AJ.

Jeffy must have sensed where my thoughts were leading. "We were worried about you and I said we needed to come in and protect your sleep for the rest of the night. Did it work?"

"Jeffy, it couldn't have worked better. I just hope none of you have any bruising or scrapes from me jostling around in my sleep."

"Nu-uh," said my little one's voice, vibrating beneath my chin, "You musta been really conked out. You didn't move much."

"How do you feel this morning, Pop?" asked my boy lying next to AJ. "You sleep okay finally?"

"Like that proverbial log, Elliot. Were you guys able to sleep any all crowded into my bed?"

"No problem, Pop. I slept good."

Luckily it was a king-sized bed but no bed was designed for four bodies, not even those of three young boys. Jeffy and Elliot were quickly growing into the bodies of fine grown men, sometimes I thought, right before my eyes. AJ still had some catching up to do. His lack of nurturing throughout his young life set him behind his age group in the growth department, but I could tell that good food and exercise were breaking that destructive cycle and developing the growing boy within my very grasp.

"You boys sure know how to bless someone. I can't think of any better way to wake up than to know that you love me enough to want to protect me from the monsters under my bed."

"You got 'em too?" quipped AJ.

So I tickled him and he kicked Elliot, who dove onto both of us and grabbed at Jeffy, who tried to crawl over my back and grab at Elliot at the same time. Bedclothes went flying and boys were laughing. Hysteria was rampant in the McGill house until we heard a cute gurgle and a big belly laugh from our youngest member just a few feet away.

"Ha! Will one of you go get our boy and bring him here, just for a minute or two?"

Elliot rolled off of AJ and me and soon had a bundle in his arms, squirming to be a part of the fun. As Elliot handed Lewis to me, it seemed like the baby was giving us instructions for the day. He'd gurgle and talk and kick his feet, undoubtedly telling us of his discomfort in wearing a much used diaper, something the little pooper was not at all happy with.

"Whew! He's ripe, Pop!" said Jeffy, trying to prop himself up to look over my shoulders at the rest of us sprawled on the bed.

"I'll take that as a request to change him, Jeffy. You're such a good guy for doing that."

"Yeah, but ..." he started as the other two boys laughed at the predicament he'd walked into.


"Pop, should we go get shirts on for breakfast?" asked my etiquette monitor, Elliot.

While I'd at least gotten a robe on, the boys had come down in just their PJ shorts and were sitting patiently at the table, awaiting their breakfast.

"It's okay, boys, this time. We'll need to shower and dress right after we eat."

"Dad, shouldn't we be having cereal this morning?" AJ's memories of the last time we went to court for the reason of adoption was clear in his young mind.

"Oh, well, AJ, if you remember, we slept in late because of the storm so we were in a rush. Today we have plenty of time."

"'Kay. Then can we have bacon and eggs?" he asked.

"How does that sound?" I asked the older boys, knowing full well it was among their favorite meals.

"You bet!"

"Yeah, thanks, Pop!"


I was just about to set the first of four plates full of steaming breakfast in front of AJ and Jeffy when I happened to look over at Elliot. His eyes were closed and tears were streaming down his cheeks, but he wasn't making a sound.

"Elliot, what's going on in there? Why are you crying, son?"

"Oh, Pop, I'm sorry. I'm just so confused right now."

"No need to ever be sorry for showing your emotions, son. You need to do that and what safer place than with your family."

He opened his eyes and looked up at me with a sweet smile before he continued, "It's just that for fifteen years we always said grace before we ate and I guess I got used to it."

"And you were cryin' cuz o' that?" asked Jeffy with about as much sensitivity of the average fifteen-year-old boy.

Elliot glared at him for a second then turned back to look at me as I set his and my meals on the table.

"Let him finish, Jeffy. Elliot, it sounds like there's more to this than just the prayer."

"Yeah, there is. See it's not just the grace, but whether or not I should just throw out all the bible classes and training on how to be a good Christian. After what my parents did to us, even the pastor to some extent, I'm torn between giving it all up and going back to living as I think I should as a Christian."

It was quiet for a minute while we all digested his thoughts. I wasn't a great example of leading a Christian life, necessarily, but I did try to live honestly and care for those around me. I'd gone to church a few times and while it seemed a little different, I never left there without feeling a little better than when I went in. But the churches were nothing like what must have gone on in Elliot's church or the one whose members threatened to be in front of the courthouse that very day.

"I know what you're all thinking," continued Elliot. "See, this pastor that decided I had a demon in me was new to our church. He was weird right from the start. My parents always complained about the one that left because they said he was too easy on his religion. But I always liked him and learned a lot."

"That's great, Elliot. Then I say you should do what your heart tells you to do. There are so many wonderful people out there that adhere to Christian beliefs and really try to be like Christ, not just taking what they want to use from the bible for their own agenda like the people we've met. If you want to continue to pursue a Christian lifestyle, we'll support you in it, won't we boys?"

"I guess, Pop," said Jeffy with some trepidation in his voice. "Whadda we gotta do?"

Elliot laughed. That was good to see.

"Okay, first you have to spread out your hands and we'll put two candles in them. Then ..."

Just as he said that, both boys shuddered.

"Whoa! What's that phrase they say when something happens like it happened before?"

"Déjà vu," said Elliot, slowly nodding his head and looking as surprised as Jeffy.

"Days of view? What's that mean?" asked AJ, scrunching his nose at us.

"Déjà vu. Literally it's French for already seen, but it's like Jeffy said, you feel like this has happened before, pretty much the same way. Did it take you guys back to the camp?" I asked.

"Yeah. It wasn't so much the hands and candles as it was just the whole creepy feeling of something that was s'posed to be really churchy but totally weird at the same time. Yuck!"

"Sorry, Jeffy. I should have been more careful. I felt the same thing."

"Okay, but what should we do?" asked AJ. "Do we need to go to church with you or what?"

And of course, AJ looked like he was ready to jump up and leave for church if it would help his brother in any way.

"Thank you, AJ. No, I may go back if I find a church I like, but I at least want to be thoughtful and pray again, when I need to."

"And, since this is a day where we could all use all the help we can muster, let's say grace. Will you, Elliot?"

"Sure, Pop. You guys can add something if you want. It's called a popcorn prayer because you pop in with a petition to share. That's a part of a prayer," he explained before the boys could ask.

Elliot bowed his head as did both boys when they saw him lower his. They, however, kept looking out of the corner of their eyes at what Elliot was doing.

"Dear Lord, bless this food we are about to eat. Make us stronger by its nourishment and your love for us. Please also guide us and all those involved in the adoption today. We really, really want this, Lord. So if it isn't Your perfect will, could you maybe adjust it a bit so it is?"

There was a few seconds of silence before I added to it.

"And, Lord, I think You brought me my new family. How else can we explain all the miracles that's happened just so? So, I have to believe that nothing can stand in Your way to make this happen. Whatever bumps there are, smooth them over, please. Thank you."

"Yeah, and make those church guys choke on their words, cuz they can't be Yours. Joshua said so!"

"Jeffy!" both Elliot and I said, though I have to admit there was some laughter in our voices and maybe even a "right on" in our hearts.

"Yeah, and amen!" finished AJ.

We all laughed about it and even Lewis clapped his hands and gave us a cute laugh as well.


As we drove up the courthouse there were maybe twenty adults standing on the sidewalk and in the street, blocking the steps up to the entrance and doing their best to cause a lot of noise. Dan had called us and said to just come to the front and he would guide us in and make sure the truck was parked. I'm glad we'd brought Jeb with us. I didn't want him to have to contend with this rowdy group on his own. I was afraid they'd knock him down if he were alone.

As it was, when the group saw us round the corner and slow down, they began to escalate their chanting and crowd around us. Immediately, several deputies and police officers squeezed between them and our truck and made the group back off.

"Pop, this is a nightmare. What did we do to deserve this?" asked Elliot.

"Nothing, Elliot. Some people just think they know what's best for the world. But we know what's in our hearts, don't we guys?"

My boys gave me a pretty good, "Yeah!"

Dan and Sheriff Norton met us at the passenger side next to the curb and opened the door for Jeb.

"Okay, guys, stay close and follow me. Do not stop for anything or anyone. We'll go right up the steps, through the double doors and to the elevators. I even have permission to go right on through the metal detectors so leave your guns, bombs and knives on the seats before you leave."

That got a weak laugh from most of us, but the reassurance our protector gave us was priceless.

Jeb got out, followed by the boys on that side. Jeffy helped to extricate Lewis from his car seat and I took him when I was able to get around to that side of the vehicle.

The trip to the fourth floor was smooth and pretty much without incident, except for the shouts and noise of the crowd outside.

"What an everlivin' pain in the butt!" exclaimed Jeb once we were in the elevator. "Why can't they just let people be themselves, love who they want and be kind to the others?"

"Yeah, Great Grampa, how come there's people like them? It's like they're bullies, just like when Brad and Devon were at school, huh?"

"Shore is, little one. I'm just so glad you boys know what's right and what's wrong. I love ya all heaps and heaps, ya know."

As the elevator doors opened, we were all trying to get close enough to Jeb to hug him. Lewis thought he should go to him and do his own little hug so I handed him over. Jeb couldn't have been more pleased when Lewis tried to hug him and placed a wet, sloppy kiss right on Jeb's laughing mouth.

"Pop, we didn't see Joshua. You think he's okay?" asked Elliot.

"I hope so. Maybe we'll see him when we go in."

The hallway in front of the courtroom was filled with people! There must have been over fifty waiting to see an adoption? Why in the world had we been set up as an example? I just wanted my boys to really be my boys at last.

The noise was deafening and it only added to the confusion.

Cybill and Lenore were waiting by the door to the courtroom, but I didn't notice anyone else with them, their special associate that would help us through this hell. I also saw Sidney and Harriet Connors, Jeffy's great uncle and aunt. There were a great many people we didn't know and several friends, like the Stewarts, that we did know. I was kind of looking for the Perkins boys and Judge Davenport, but to no avail.

Linda Sue came up to me and hugged me, then each boy. She greeted Jeb warmly and poked Lewis in his tummy.

"You all look so nice together," she said merrily. "Just like one happy family should."

Then she looked over her shoulder at the temporary Children Services Director, who was sitting next to a man on the bench across from the courtroom doors.

"Pay no attention to anyone but each of you," Linda Sue told us. "Today is going to be the best day for you, I, uh, promise."

She didn't sound too convinced but I let it pass.

"But where's the guys, Ma'am? Couldn't they come?" asked AJ, looking around.

"No, AJ. Dan decided they needed to stay clear of this today. He was afraid it could get a bit messy and he didn't need the distraction. I'm sorry, boys, that you won't have quite the crowd that AJ did at his adoption. But I promise to make up for it later."

Both boys nodded as though they understood. I certainly did. I didn't want my boys to be there either in the midst of such insanity outside.


The next few minutes were pure pandemonium. When the court's guards opened the doors to the courtroom every person in the hallway tried to push their way in. I actually held our group back and waited for things to calm down. I figured if anyone would get seated, it would be us.

A minute or two passed before one of the guards asked us to follow him. He led us to the front of the court amid the noise of a restless crowd. By the look of them, most were from that church. They all seemed to be looking at us in the same way, an expression of contempt and anger. I didn't even know any of them and they were mad at me and my boys?

There were several of our friends that were spread through the rest of the crowd but not too many. Like I said, I didn't see Davenport or any others, except Jeffy's relatives and the Stewarts.

Many of the assembled looked like reporters, either with pads to take notes or holding tiny microphones to record the goings on.

I was just getting the boys situated at the front table with Jeb, Lewis and AJ sitting directly behind us when we heard the bailiff as he stood to say,

"This court will demand quiet before this proceeding begins. Those are the words of Judge Harrington. Anyone not abiding by the rules she sets forth from here on will be extricated from these proceedings. No exceptions."

It still took a couple of minutes for the crowd to quiet down.

Lenore leaned over to me and said, "This is unprecedented and uncalled for. I hope the judge has the good sense to do something about this crowd. It certainly can't help."

Well, that didn't add any warm fuzzies to what I was already feeling. The joy and enthusiasm from our friends when AJ and I walked into that same courtroom not long before that day provided a completely different atmosphere than what we experiencing at the moment.

I turned to look around as I felt a tug on my sleeve.

"Pop, this is so weird," Jeffy said. "Who are all these people and why do they get to horn in on our day? It wasn't like this at AJ's adoption thing."

I sighed heavily before I tried to answer him, "Jeffy, I'm sorry about all that's happening. It's very uncomfortable for all of us. I just hope it will get better when things start. We'll just have to wait and see."

Linda Sue took the seat at the table across the aisle from us and the temporary Director took the seat next to her. Who we assumed was her husband sat directly behind her.

"All rise! This court is now in session. The Honorable Dorothy Harrington presiding."

As we watched, the chamber door that we were familiar with opened, but through it came another judge, not our Homer Davenport. The disappointment from my family was noticeable.

"You may be seated. Bailiff, please introduce the first case." She was blunt, uncharacteristic and yet, didn't even look up at anyone. Her nose was in a file in front of her. It was as though she were uninterested in us and had maybe a women's magazine in the file folder.

The bailiff read the information about our adoption, causing no stir from Judge Harrington but the crowd seemed to be getting louder. Finally the judge looked up, a bit upset.

When the bailiff was done reading, Lenore immediately stood up.

"I haven't called on anyone yet," said the judge at Lenore.

"If it please the court, Your Honor, this is all very confusing and disruptive to what should be a wonderful experience for my clients, the McGill family. May I ask that anyone that has not been called by my clients or the Children Services Division be asked to leave?"

Well, that caused a slight uproar but it only helped to seal their fate.

"Yes, I agree. I want everyone that is not personally involved in this case to remove themselves from my courtroom immediately. Anyone called by or for the family or the county may stay."

For several seconds, no one moved. Lenore pointed to the Stewarts and the Connors and signaled them to stay put.

"My patience is growing thinner than usual. I will not repeat myself. Bailiff, call the guards that are outside and ask them to come in."

That did it. As he walked to the doors at least three quarters of the crowd followed him.

"I also see no need for there to be reporters in the room. Please leave now as well or we'll be reading about your incarceration in the evening news."

My God, was I beginning to like her?

It took a while for everyone to blend into the crowd that was left in the hallway, hoping to get in at some point. The bailiff never did call the guards but returned to his seat.

"Alright, that's better. Will the attorneys for the family and the representative of the Children Services Division please verify that only key people are still in the courtroom?"

Linda Sue and Lenore stood and surveyed the people left. There were only a dozen or so. They quickly gave a nod to the judge and then sat down.

"Then let's proceed. Who is representing the county in this matter?"

Linda Sue stood as did the temporary Director, Marion Overby.

"I am the case worker for the McGill family, Your Honor. Linda Sue Cottington."

"Thank you, and you are?" the judge asked, looking at Mrs. Overby.

"I'm the director of Children Services for the county, Your Honor, Mrs. Marion Overby."

"Oh, you are? I thought a Maxine Hargrave was the director of the program, Mrs. Overby? Did she quit?"

"Well, no, Your Honor. What I meant to say was that I'm the temporary director until she returns from a medical leave." She looked a little tense at getting caught in her slight faux pas.

"Thank you for clarifying that, Mrs. Overby. In the future if you would be so kind as to come right out with the correct information these proceedings will go much faster."

I noticed a slight glow to the temporary director as she sat down heavily.

"And now, who is representing the family and that of the boys in question?"

Lenore stood up and smiled. "It is our honor to represent the McGill family, Your Honor. I am Lenore Dexter, a Board-certified attorney in the state and this is my sister, who is just finishing her law degree."

"How interesting. Then let's proceed. Mrs. Cottington, does the county wish to give testimony or call witnesses in this hearing?"

"No, Your Honor, we ..." started Linda Sue, standing before the court.

But Marion Overby stood almost immediately and interrupted Linda Sue.

"Your Honor, yes we would like to call one or two witnesses."

"Mrs. Overby, had you raised your hand, I would have seen that and allowed you to speak without interrupting your colleague. Now, keeping that in mind for the future, just who would you like to call?"

If I had been up there in Linda Sue's shoes, I would have been really upset, but she seemed to handle it with decorum and civility that was beyond me. Still, I noticed that she kept looking back toward the doors.

"Your Honor, I'd like to call on my husb ... Um, Mr. Justin Overby, an elder at St. Josaphat's Memorial Church."

"I'm sorry. What is the purpose of your husband's testimony, Mrs. Overby?"

"Um, he has facts from surveys taken that show that single men should not be allowed to adopt."

"Really? Hm-m-m. You do realize that this type of information is made available to family courts as it is made public, don't you?"

"Well, no, I didn't know that," said Marion Overby, looking down at her husband, who looked as bewildered as her.

"And, Mr. Overby, I assume you have references supporting the studies?"

Justin Overby slowly rose from his chair, his hand holding several sheets of paper.

"Um, well, generally, yes, Your Honor, but ..." He coughed once, covering his mouth.

"Either you do or you don't, Mr. Overby. If you do, and you have information about studies that I've not been privy to, then it would be interesting to hear it. If you, however, have no solid documentation of these studies, or if they're simply hearsay, then I suggest you don't waste anymore of the court's time on this subject."

Overby covered his mouth again, as if to cough but couldn't seem to clear his throat.

Just then the door in back flew open and a young man in a clerical collar quickly walked up and handed Elliot a thin binder.

"Sorry, Your Honor. I was detained in giving this to the boys. It, um, it has studies in it, complete with references and bibliography. Studies which support single men adopting and how successful it's been over all. Please forgive my intrusion."

He shyly tried to back up toward the door, getting an angry look from Justin Overby.

"And you are, young man?" asked the court.

"Um, ma'am, I mean, Your Honor, I'm just a young vicar, um, Joshua Christiansen." Joshua was slowly backing away from the front of the courtroom as he spoke, a worried look on his face. "I met the two boys at the library and we found the information together. It really wasn't that difficult to find it."

"No, I imagine not, son. Now, my advice to you is to pray that you don't disrupt my courtroom again by bursting in. Thank you for your efforts. You can go now."

Joshua had continued to back up until he hit the doors with the back of his head. He grabbed his head and winced, as did we all, then did kind of a crazy looking bow and pushed out through the doors with his rear end.

I looked at my two boys and you could have lit up Main Street at night by their smiles.

"That was Joshua, Pop!" said Jeffy.

Elliot just shook his head in disbelief.

"Thanks, Jeffy. I suspected that right after he introduced himself."

"Yeah!" His pride was glowing from him.

"May we continue? Mr. Overby, unless you still want to present your findings, you may leave."

"But what about my wife?"

"She still has work to do in here, I suspect. But I think she'll be home in time to make your dinner. Now go."

I really think I was beginning to like this woman!

Overby stood up, kind of huffed once, followed by a cough that turned into a coughing spell that lasted all the way out of the courtroom. I looked at my boys sitting next to me and they both looked back with big saucer-size eyes.

"Mrs. Overby, do you have other witnesses to call?"

"Um, no, Your Honor," she said, standing.

"Then does the county have a recommendation for this court in these proceedings?"

Linda Sue rose to speak, but Mrs. Overby stood her ground and continued.

"The Children Services Division of this county cannot in good conscience support the adoption of these two boys to a single male at this time," she stated flatly.

"But Your Honor," cried Linda Sue.

"Your turn will come, Mrs. Cottington. All in due course."

Both of the women at the table tried their hardest to make sense of that last statement. Mrs. Overby figured hers was the last word and Linda Sue couldn't imagine how she could trump what her temporary boss had just said.

"Temporary Director Overby, in arriving at your conclusion, have you briefed Director Hargrave on your decision? Is she aware of it and does she support it?"

Mrs. Overby took on the look of someone very offended, even to putting her hands on her hips.

"Now see here. With all due respect for this court, I am the director until Mrs. Hargrave returns. I have no reason to discuss this or any case with her. The decision is mine and mine alone."

"I don't think that's what we discussed when I assigned you to this very temporary position, Marion," came a voice from the back of the room.

Standing in the doorway was a woman propped up on two crutches with a gentleman standing next to her as if to support her should she need it. As she began to slowly, painfully move to the front of the room, it became clear why the man was there.

"Thank you, Mrs. Hargrave, for making the effort to be here today. I am so sorry that I needed to call you. But I can see that it will be worth all of our time and, unfortunately, your energy," stated the judge.

I was in awe! I think I was in love with that women in the black robe! I thought she was the enemy but ...

While Marion Overby stood frozen to her spot, Linda Sue immediately went to assist her boss in any way she could, helping her to the front table, even indicating her seat for the director.

"If I may," said the judge, "I believe you need to stay where you were and someone else needs to move out of the way."

Mrs. Overby replaced her hands on her hips and gave a smug look to Linda Sue.

"No, Mrs. Overby, I meant Mrs. Cottington should retain her seat. You may move to the row behind them. But please don't leave. I'm sure the director, the permanent director will want to speak to you shortly."

After some confusion, Overby finally moved to the next row back as Linda Sue and her boss stood in front of the judge.

"Mrs. Hargrave, if it's any better please sit. I certainly don't mind, not after the sacrifice you've made in attending this hearing."

"Thank you, Judge Harrington, but it's just as painful to sit as it is to stand and I've been sitting for weeks."

"Then we'll proceed. I'll ask again, does the county have a recommendation to give this court in regards to this adoption?"

Linda Sue looked at her boss, expecting her to speak, but Director Hargrave nodded toward the bench, indicating for her to answer the judge.

"Um. Oh my. I, um, yes, Your Honor. Please forgive me. I didn't expect this at all."

"I understand. Please go on."

"In the matter of the adoption of Daniel Jeffrey Connors and Elliot Spencer Palmer to Timothy McGill, the county sees no reason for delaying their union any longer. We have found that their permanent residence in the McGill household will continue to provide them with the nurturing and love they desperately have sought for most of their lives and before coming to the McGill family. To make it permanent is our hope for them. I personally can think of no one more suited to be their father, Your Honor."

I noticed a bit of a winced look on the judge's face, as though she heard something that almost hurt.

"That's quite a testament, Mrs. Cottington. Director Hargrave, do you agree with her assessment?"

"Your Honor, we have talked at length about this placement. I think it would be tragic to the two boys and to the younger boys, to say nothing of the sergeant if their adoption is not approved. I approve this adoption wholeheartedly."

"Do you people always give such enthusiastic reports on your proposed placements?"

Both women at the table next to ours simply smiled and Linda Sue took her seat.

"Your Honor, if I may interrupt for one last request?" asked the director.

"Certainly, Director. What would you like to ask me?"

"Actually, I'd like to ask Linda Sue, if I may?"

"Go right ahead."

"Linda Sue," the director asked our startled friend, "Would you be willing to take on the role of temporary director until I can return to my duties for the county?"

The shock was evident on Linda Sue's face, but looking around, the only other one that didn't see that coming was, of course, Mrs. Overby. I even saw a slight smile on Judge Harrington's face.

"Why, I, um, well, yes, if you think I can. I would love to help out in any way I can, Maxine, I mean, Madame Director."

"Done. Call me on Monday, Linda Sue." She turned to the bench. "Your Honor, we're in very good hands now. If I may take my leave, I'm very tired and sore."

"You may, Maxine. And thank you again for the sacrifice you went through to be here for this important occasion."

We watched as she left the room with the aid of the man who we found out was her husband.

"Mrs. Overby, you may now follow your director, your permanent director, out of the courtroom. Oh, and if you still have a job on Monday, I'm sure Linda Sue Cottington will want to have a little talk as well." She gave the woman kind of a devilish smile"

"Now, may we proceed? Temporary Director Cottington, do you want to call any other witnesses."

"No, Your Honor. I really see no need."

"I see. Ms. Dexter, before I ask if you wish to call any witnesses I have question nagging at me."

"Of course, Your Honor."

"What of Daniel Connors' relatives? I've tried to make it possible for families to raise their own. But you've bypassed that. I see that there are relatives of the Connors boy that live in the area. It seems like they would make a much better fit for the boy, being related to him. Why are they not here?

"Oh, we're here, Your Honor," said Sidney Connors, standing near the back. "We have given up our rights to DJ, um, Daniel because we think we're too old for the responsibility and also that it would be a travesty to allow anyone to raise him except Timothy McGill. We think he's proved himself time and again ..."

"Then sit down, Mr. Connors. I can't imagine relatives wanting to give up their nephew."

Sidney began to stand in obvious protest of that evaluation when the judge waved her hand and insisted he sit down. It was very demeaning of her. It was like she went back to her old evil self. She didn't even acknowledge him and instead lowered her head and picked up a piece of paper to read.

"Your Honor, I wonder if I may add something at this time," asked Lenore, standing.

"And just what would that be," said the judge without even raising her head from the paper she was reading.

"I would like to call on our associate in this hearing to come in now. He was tied up on another matter and has been waiting for your permission to enter. He may have something important to add."

"I don't see the point but if this person is a part of your team I will allow it. You will introduce this person, I take it?"

"Oh, I doubt that will be necessary, Your Honor, but I certainly will be honored to," said Lenore, grinning cheekily.

I was wondering who this mystery person was. I turned to look at Jeb and he had that look like he was going to pop a grin at any second. That's when I got tingles all over, hoping against hope that it was ..."

During my thoughts, Lenore had signaled to the guard at the door and he immediately turned with a huge smile on his face and opened the door to ...

The judge had gone back to reading that piece of paper with little concern over this new participant, since she had evidently already made up her very closed mind.

"Your Honor, I'd like to present Mr. Homer Davenport, our first chair in this matter."

I almost cried. Both boys gasped and Jeffy even laughed out loud. But leave it to AJ to further add to the grandeur of it all.

"Uncle Homer!" he cried from behind me.

Well, I don't think Homer Davenport could have asked for a better reception for his first case in his retirement from the chair Judge Harrington sat in.

"I beg your pardon. I think this is highly irregular." She was just about out of her chair with shock.

"Hello, Dorothy. Oh, you haven't seen irregular yet, believe me," said Homer, standing in front of the chair vacated by Lenore, who moved to the next chair. His smile was as disarming as his presence. "Really, we've just begun."

"Judge, I mean, Mr. Davenport, I don't see what you could possibly say or do that will change my mind in the slightest. I am not easily swayed even by your pompous and grandiose entrance, late I may say." Her tone was totally indignant. "And you will address this court by our proper title or be held in contempt. You have no special privileges coming in here, you know."

"Oh, of course not, Your Honor. Forgive my seeming lack of respect. It certainly was not intended."

"Fine, now sit down and let's continue, unless you have something to add before I give my decision concerning this case."

"Well, Your Honor, not so much add any testimony just yet, but I do see several chairs vacated and was wondering if you would allow us to fill them with a few colleagues, just for support, you know."

"I've had to clear the courtroom of visitors, but if they are truly colleagues, I will allow them this time. But keep in mind, except for talking to the boys in question, I have pretty much made up my mind."

"Oh, of course you have. But no, these are friends of mine but indeed they are colleagues of yours," said Homer as his arm swung around to signal the guard to once again open the outer doors.

I noticed that Judge Harrington was about to question Homer as to his last statement, 'colleagues of yours', but the door opened before she could say anything.

We waited a few seconds and then saw black. In walked a judge in his robe, then another and another! It was soon a procession of men and women wearing the dark cloth entering as though their numbers would never end. Soon ten judges, all vested in their black robes, and all with grins on their faces, shook hands with Homer, then stood in the second row of seats on the opposite side of the courtroom from us.

I had to watch Judge Harrington's reaction to the parade. She looked like she would freeze in her chair. She actually looked like she was shocked at first, then seemed to be enjoying what was taking place. Then, with the slightest look of humor in her eyes, she proclaimed,

"This is highly irregular. Please explain the meaning of this."

The last judge to come in and closest to the aisle, stepped out and started to speak in a deep voice that bounced throughout the courtroom. His was without a doubt the voice of authority and confidence.

"You're correct in your assumption, Judge Harrington, this is highly irregular and, to my knowledge, unprecedented," said that booming voice.

Homer leaned over to me and said, "He he. He's the Chief Judge of the county. He'll tell her what's what."

"This county and we, your peers, have selected you to this seat to provide a fair and equitable solution for the families and children of our county. We have given you the responsibility to provide each child, each family, each citizen of our county with a fair evaluation of any matter before you and produce a lawful and correct verdict in each case, taking into consideration the well-being and safety of all of our children in your decisions. That being said, we've only come to witness your proceedings, if we may. I'm sure we'll be delighted to see how you progress.

"Now, I believe we heard your last statement informing our former peer, and our friend, Homer Davenport, that you were just about to give your answer to the question of whether these two wonderful boys should be united as one with their foster father, Retired Gunnery Sergeant Timothy McGill. Please then, proceed with our blessings."

And, having said that, he sat down.

Slam! "Ha!"

We all looked at Homer, who had erupted with his less than respectful outcry.

"Oh, sorry, Your Honor. I, um, I think one of my suspenders popped."

All three of my boys buried their mouths in their hands and Jeb just shook his head and closed his eyes, not believing, any more than I could, the childish antics of our Homer Davenport.

Judge Harrington looked like she had been ready to say something and was frozen at the moment of opening her mouth. Again, she finally shook off the confused look and looked down as though reading her agenda.

"Well, I, um, I suppose I should be honored by such a showing of your support. However, if you become rowdy or interfere, I'll have you removed from the courtroom, just like anyone else in this room."

She got a gleam in her eye as though she had something up her sleeve when she continued, "I would like to pause in the proceedings to make a bit of a statement. Maybe we should call it a history lesson of sorts."

At least eleven distinguished-looking people and the two females at our table looked a little disturbed by her words.

"I see your look and I think that's a very good reason for me to continue. As many of you know I have a reputation that precedes me. I haven't been in a youth and family court for a long time. There was a time, however, when I was asked to sit for several months and I did have several adoption cases come before me. Two of those cases were just this sort of scenario, a single man trying to adopt a child, in one case, two children in the second case.

"Many of you also know the outcome of those cases, or rather, the statements I made following the second case that has led to my rather narrow-minded reputation."

There were a few 'huffs' and 'grunts' in the room, indicating that several attendees did, in fact, know of her reputation at that point.

"What you may not know, or have forgotten was what caused my statements. Statements, I agree, that were very harsh and one-sided at the time. But please be patient with me as I tell you why I made those statements.

"The first case that came before me involved the nicest young man attempting to adopt his four-year-old nephew because his sister was incarcerated. There was a great aunt and uncle to the boy but it was argued that they were too old to be a good choice for the boy. I was persuaded by the man's smooth attitude and his attorney, even the area's Children Services people, to let him have the boy. Within a year, the little boy was brutally murdered by his adopted father after what was determined to be weeks of torture."

There were more than a few gasps when we heard the outcome of that situation.

"The second, unfortunately, was even more horrific, if that's possible. Within less than a year of adopting two boys from a children's home, the single man took them to another country where they were enslaved by still another man that turned out to be the man's father. We don't know their outcome but it was many years ago."

I heard sniffling and looked behind me to see AJ with wet streaks down his cheeks. Lewis was trying to go to him, maybe knowing he needed some comfort just then. Instead, Jeb leaned in and they gave AJ a big hug and at least one sloppy kiss.

I glanced at my two boys next to me and saw Jeffy with wet eyes. Elliot had his head down and his hands were folded on the table in front of him. I imagine he was praying.

"Judge Harrington, if I may just intercede for a second to add one thought. Please," asked Homer. He didn't wait for permission as he proceeded. "You are correct in saying that we had no idea about those instances. I, for one, know how such an outcome can weigh heavily on one's commitment to provide a safe environment for such vulnerable ones. However, ..."

"Homer, I must interrupt you before you go any further. While my examples were many years ago, those incidents have weighed heavy on my heart every day since then. My reputation for never allowing a single man to adopt is true."

I think the crowd in the streets four floors below could have heard the gasp from the people in the courtroom.

"I would like to make it clear that since that time I have never been asked to hear a request for an adoption of a child to a single man. Sometimes legends just write themselves and over shadow the facts. But I still want it clear that my experiences still hang over me, with every decision this court makes."

There was more than a little noise coming from all over the room, people sitting up and whispering, lawyers moving paper around or making notes, Homer was looking through sheets of legal paper as though deciding the next phase of the hearing.

"I will be speaking to the boys now, but I think I've pretty much made up my mind."

I think we all wanted to gasp at her finality in the case. Some of us weren't in control of our emotions as others were. Still, knowing that she had already made up her mind was not what I wanted to hear. I couldn't think of what our next choice would be. I was in shock I think.

She leaned forward and looked at my two boys sitting next to me. In a fine, almost sweet voice, she continued, "This is the time, boys, when we get to talk about what you think should happen, about how you see things progressing and the effects on your lives from here on out. I ask that you join me in my chambers so that we can have the time to ourselves without any interruptions. What do you say?"

She certainly asked nice enough. Though she was no Homer in her attitude toward them, she did seem to show that she was interested in what they had to say. I just had no idea if it would make any difference.

Jeffy quickly turned to look up at me, but Elliot was on his feet and walking toward the door as though on a mission. His head was thrust forward and he looked like he was going in fighting. God save the Judge!

"Jeffy, bring the binder Joshua gave us," said Elliot as he headed for the door, without looking back.

Jeffy jumped up, grabbed the binder and walked quickly after his brother until they disappeared behind the solid wooden door.

Within minutes I knew what they meant when they said the silence is deafening. The waiting was hell. Why did it take so long? Didn't she realize that we were out here waiting a lifetime for her to return with my boys?

I finally looked up at the clock. Five minutes! It seemed like days, weeks!

I looked behind me and my two youngest boys were pestering Jeb for his attention. They seemed pretty calm, even relaxed, as though nothing out of the ordinary was going on.

I watched them kid and play quietly for hours, knowing we'd just missed our lunchtime, for sure, until I finally looked up at the clock. Ten minutes!

"Tim," said Homer leaning over to whisper to me, "I really like her. I don't know if I told you that before. She's a smart cookie and has seen some pretty bad cases. We heard of the two worst in her history, but she's been right on since those two. I never realized how difficult they were for her. But she's a fine women. She'll come through; don't worry."

"I wish I had your confidence, Homer. I just don't know."

"Well, I think you'll be surprised. Besides, I'm sure those two boys could change the direction of a speeding train if they set their mind to it. Ha ha!"

"Still ..."

After waiting another decade, the bailiff stood and said, "All rise!"

"For who, the Judge or Jeffy and Elliot," said AJ, quietly.

I snapped my head around and gave him the glare reserved for stern parents to use.

"Oops!"

The door opened but nothing happened. Then ...

"You sure?" That was Jeffy's voice. I could almost see his shoulder I think.

"Of course. Now scoot!" That was the judge's voice. Now what had the boy done?

Both boys finally came out of the room with the most somber looks plastered on their faces. I was very concerned about what had transpired in her chambers. I saw the judge come out and take her place. Her look was anything but gratifying. But my eyes caught something as the boys approached. There was a gleam in Jeffy's eyes. Had he been crying? No, the corners of his mouth, they no longer turned down in a smug frown but started to ...

Then the little brat erupted with the most brash guffaw, beating any Jeb might have tried, as though he'd been holding it back one second too long!

Immediately, Elliot turned to the judge, stopping in his tracks with his fists on his hips, to announce, "I told you he couldn't hold a secret until you told everyone. Didn't I tell you? I told you!"

The judge was shaking her head slowly, with a look of disappointment, at Jeffy, who had also turned to look up at her.

"Oops!" said AJ for his brother.

"Jeffy, I may just have to hold you in contempt!" said Judge Harrington in a most serious tone of voice. "Oh alright, Timothy McGill, please stand before this court."

I was so confused. I think everyone at the table was as well. I slowly stood as the boys stood before me, separated from me by the table I was leaning against.

"Timothy McGill, I have heard the testimony of several people interested in this case, but the overwhelmingly convincing testimony came from these two boys. Wait. I should probably say your two boys, as of right now. They would have fought me to the ground had I come in with any other decision in this hearing. But, I'll have to say, they handled themselves brilliantly."

Looking at my boys, Jeffy was blushing with a proud smile across his face, one I was proud of. Elliot was completely different in his reaction. His head was slightly bowed as he barely peeked up at me; he too was blushing but his was a look of humility and gratitude, something I could relate to very well right then.

"We get ta keep 'em?" blurted out AJ, practically climbing up the divider in front of him.

"You are Andrew James McGill, correct, young man?" asked Judge Harrington.

AJ quieted down quite a bit.

"Um, yes, ma'am, I mean Your Honor, ma'am."

"Yes, they told me about you."

"Oops!"

"And I think not only do they have a wonderful brother they obviously love quite a bit, but you have brothers that, it seems, would conquer anything that tries to compromise your safety."

"Huh?"

"They'll do anything to keep you safe," she said quickly with a smile.

"O-o-o-h. Wo-ow!"

As the judge and AJ conversed, almost mindless of the rest of us in the room, I looked at my two older boys. It wasn't so much that they were now mine. No, they had been and will always be mine no matter what decision came forth that day. But it was official; now everyone knew they were mine for keeps.

As my thoughts brought on a smile to my face, the two boys turned to one another. Their faces seemed to twitch and looked as though they would twist or do something strange, exaggerated. Jeffy's arms came up to hold Elliot's shoulders. They looked at each other for maybe another second, then pulled themselves into each other and bawled.

It lasted a few minutes I think. I had something in my eye so I had to look away. Through my glazed eyes I could see nothing but smiles around me. I felt some tugging at my waist and looked down to see a blurry boy of thirteen wrapping his arms around me.

But what we all heard came from the seat behind us.

"Finally! Good grief!" declared Jeb, followed by a great laugh from little Lewis.

I dragged AJ around the table and clasped all my boys, except Lewis, into a huge hug. We all hugged and tried to touch our heads together, though AJ just got to touch chins with his head. Then we felt a nudge and opened up to see Jeb standing there holding little Lewis. Lewis actually looked worried until he saw us smiling at him. Then he hunkered into Jeb, then stretched out and laughed his special laugh.

Then the clapping started. I remembered the clapping from the first adoption. It was pure music to my ears.

"Up here, up here, please. I'm not done," said the judge in her gruffest voice. "Officially, I still have to say, this adoption is complete and final and Timothy McGill is today and each day to follow, the father of Daniel Jeffrey McGill and Elliot Spencer McGill. May you live long and happy lives as the loving family you've showed me, well, us, oh my, the world, today," she said.

Then we all heard the CRACK of the gavel hitting the bench as she declared, "Court is adjourned!"

Our family was finally complete!


End of Chapter Fifty

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