Life on the Farm

by Joe Writer Man

Chapter 23

When I turned back toward the judge and the bailiff; the bailiff, a big man, huge, in fact, was boring holes straight through me. The steel in his eyes was palpable. He walked in front of the bench, faced the judge (his back was to me), said something... what he said was inaudible as he'd put his hand over the microphone.

It was now or never.

I looked to the door that leads into and out of the courtroom, one more time.

I took in another deep breath, tensed up, and made the decision to bolt... I had to do it now or never.

I turned; ready to tear out of there, but one thing I was unaware of: Mom had stepped behind me, drew me into her arms, held me tight, and said, "This is going to be okay, James. We know why you took what didn't technically belong to you. Hang tight. Don't do anything you'll regret. You can't run your entire life." Mom then turned her head toward Dad and whispered something into his ear; I couldn't hear what was said.

Dad nodded, then whispered something into Tony's ear.

Tony looked to me, raised his eyebrows, then said to the court, "Your Honor, I humbly request an immediate recess to speak with my client. Counsel is unprepared for this latest turn of events."

Judge: Does the prosecution have any objections to a short recess?

Mrs. Stein: Your Honor, may I please address the Court and all in attendance?

Judge: Yes, please do. This issue that is brought before this Court is, while not entirely unusual, unusual. Please, proceed.

All of a sudden, I felt bubbles boiling up in my lower stomach. A fart was trying to escape. I pinched my butt cheeks together in a valiant effort to keep it inside, but then my bowels began rumbling... I knew what was about to happen... catastrophe was imminent.

I grabbed Tony's arm, yanked it down, and said, "I'm gonna shit my pants... I've got to go, now!"

Dad hearing my pronouncement, quickly grabbed me up... the last thing I heard, on the way out of the courtroom, in Dad's arms, was, "Your Honor, my client requires a recess. I assure the Court, he will return."

Dad continued carrying me, no, he wasn't only carrying me, he was running toward the restrooms close to the front doors of the courthouse. We arrived, he put me down, and I tore away, heading for a stall. I didn't bother closing the door to it. Instead, I got my pants down and sat on the toilet just as … unabated. Dad stood in front of the door, facing away, telling me that everything was going to be okay, reassuring me that he'd take up my fight. With his voice in its normal calm and gentle manner said, "James, I do not hold this against you. You had to do what you had to do in order to survive. I, for the life of me, do not understand how or why some parents do what they do, or say what they say to their children. We'll somehow make this right with the Court, and you can make this right with us... in these situations, Son, there are no hand-outs or charity, if you understand what I mean."

"Daddy, I had to steal... I had to... nobody would hire a kid... I tried... I really did. Honest. I swear..." I cried... here it was... I was going to jail... yet he said it would all work out? But, how? I did wrong... people go to jail for the stuff that I'd done... kids, too.

"I know you did, Son. I know. I believe you." Dad cleared his throat, then in a deep voice, a voice that I'd not before heard, continued, "Son, the way you have helped Miss Kay and Miss Virginia... you didn't even wait to be asked... you just jumped in there to do your next right thing... well... Son, consider your debt paid. I can't let you be a prisoner of your past, a past you had absolutely no control over or about or because of... I will not let you continue to suffer... answer me a question... it's very, very important."

I tore off tissue paper, blew my nose, tossed it inside the bowl that I refused to look into, grabbed another one, used it to wipe my eyes, then, with trepidation despite feeling assured by Dad's words, said, "Yes, Sir."

"Now remember, I don't blame you for your past. Let's just get into the present, just right now. Right now is all we have to build our futures with... is there anything else that might come up that would possibly delay, or God forbid, keep you from becoming a legal member of our family?"

Another explosion, another rebellion – escaped the hatch... the restaurants, the quick stops, the pharmacy, the... the... the... it all came out... how I'd lied to my old parents to keep from getting into EVEN MORE trouble, how I'd lied to the neighbors to keep from bringing attention to our house, how I'd lied to CPS to keep from having to go to yet another foster home, or, worse yet – juvenile.

He just listened. I wasn't interrupted... it all came out. Everything was on the table, and in the bowl.

He stepped away as I reached for the tissue, having spilled my guts, all of them, not holding anything back.

Dad asked one more question, "James, did you hurt anybody? Did you get into fights?"

"No, Sir. I swear it."

"You don't have to swear to me, Boy. I believe you. You've not given me any reason to distrust you... are you about finished up? We need to get back to Court. Let me remind you that you will not be going to juvenile... do you understand me?"

"Yes, Sir."

The door to the restroom opened. Dad looked in on me, and said, "Tony's here. I'm going to talk to him... I won't leave without you."

Tony asked, "James, are you okay in there?"

"I think so. I've just got a nervous stomach."

"Okay. We have a 30 minute recess..." Tony said, then he and Dad walked to the other side of the restroom, started talking, saying things I couldn't understand.

My butt was on fire. Each swipe of the industrial tissue paper across my tender area felt like coarse sandpaper was being dragged back and forth across raw nerve endings. I stood up just long enough to make the toilet automatically flush, then sat back down and finished cleaning up. The last wad, the first one I looked at, had quite a bit of blood on it. "Dad? Sorry to interrupt..."

I held the paper up so that he could see it. After he saw it, he turned to Tony and said, "Tony, we need to get the hearing wrapped up. My Son needs to see his doctor." To me, "If you're finished, go ahead and get yourself together. Just wad up some tissue paper... you can figure out what it needs to be for."

I continued to sit there for a couple more minutes, just to make sure.

Assured that I was okay, I joined them at the sink, washed my hands good, and dried them. Tony said, "James, your adoption is on track. You are not going to jail. I am going to ask that all charges get expunged from your record after you pay restitution. The charge is not a felony, so it won't follow you around for the rest of your life. All of this will be behind you when we walk out of the Courthouse, today. Is there anything else that I need to be aware of?"

I looked to Dad before saying, "There's some other stuff..."

"That's not going to be a problem." To Dad, Tony continued, "I hold none of James' history against him... he was up against some very big troubles, but those troubles are slowly being resolved... it's time for <looking at me> James to put them behind him... I'm here to make sure that happens."

I nodded, then reached for Tony to give him a heartfelt hug. I believed him, totally and completely.

Dad said to Tony, "We'll settle up his restitution today. He and I have worked it out so that restitution is pain in full... he's jumped in there to help out our neighbors without being asked or told. I'm proud of him, so is his Mother. As far as I'm concerned, his restitution is paid in full."

"He's a good boy, Dan. He's gotten a raw deal in his early life, but I see him changing for the good every time I see him. Shall we get this finished up?"

"Yeah!" I said, tossing the paper towel into the trash receptacle.

Tony nodded, then turned serious again, "Okay, that settles that. There is one other issue... the court brought to my attention that you are limping, James. I saw it, too. Dan, the court has his medical records... the court is curious as to why he, you <turning to me>, are still limping... can you fill me in?"

I looked to Dad, then back to Tony, "I told Mom and Dad... I've been to doctors to have it checked out... they say that it is okay, that it is healing..."

Dad interjected, "We're going to get him checked out today while we're here."

"The Court will require medical records... I don't think they'll hold up the adoption so long as the Court is assured that James is being taken care of."

I nodded, and offered, "Tony, you know I've been to doctors... they all say the same thing, that everything checks out, that there isn't anything the matter. Maybe..."

"Let's just take care of business. You have an appointment... so we'll just go from there... like I said, I don't think the court will hold up the adoption... worse case scenario they'll delay until the medical reports are all in."

Mom was standing outside the door as we exited the restroom. She wrapped her arm around my shoulder, and said, "Upset tummy?"

"Yes, Ma'am. Very upset, but I'm okay, now." I reached up and whispered in her ear, "Dad already knows... I need to see a doctor for my butt, too. I'm bleeding a little bit, and it's on fire back there."

"You have an appointment with the orthopedic surgeon from Kansas City... we'll get you in to see Dr. Blair today. She's top notch. You okay? Are you ready to officially become a Richardson?"

"Oh yeah! Oh, Mom, Tony's going to get it worked out so that I can pay restitution. He said the charges will get expunged... whatever that means."

"That's good... it means that you won't have a record. You'll have a clean slate. You ready?"

Judge: Be seated. Counsel, are we ready to proceed?

Tony: Yes, Sir. Thank you for giving us a recess. My client... his stomach became nervous and upset. He has assured me he's okay, now.

Judge: Very well. Shall we proceed? Prosecution, please continue.

Mrs. Stein: James, would you please take the stand. This is a formal court hearing so you'll need to be sworn in.

Tony stood up, but then sat back down on his own. He looked at me, nodded, then whispered, "Let's go ahead and let this play out. Just tell the truth no matter what."

I nodded then walked to the bench and took a seat in the witness chair. The bailiff swore me in, and then the judge said to Tony, "I trust that your client has been briefed, that he understands that he must tell the truth, and that he understands the full implications of perjury."

Tony stood, "Yes, Sir. He is fully aware. I am confident that this Court will hear the truth."

Judge: Very well. Let's not make this hearing into a circus. There will be no theatrics. Proceed.

Mrs. Stein: Your Honor, this will not take long. My office needs truthful answers to but 4 questions. I'm going to be direct and to the point. Your attorney has told you how important truth is. Shall we get started?

"Yes, Ma'am. I have nothing to hide. Whatever you need to know, I will tell you, and I'll say the truth.

Mrs. Stein: Okay, good. Please tell the court if you stole the money that belongs to the State of Kansas, Child Protective Services.

"Yes, Ma'am. I took the money."

Mrs. Stein: Did you know it was wrong to steal the money?

"Yes, Ma'am. Well, maybe not. My parents, my old ones that is, told me they used that money for me... I was already in State's custody... because, I uhm... ran away a lot."

Mrs. Stein looked at me, inquisitively, and then said, "They told you the money was to be used for your care while in State's custody?"

"Yes, Ma'am."

Mrs. Stein: Do you know if they actually used the money for your care? What I mean, directly, is did you have enough to eat, and adequate and clean clothes to wear?

"I guess. I guess they were right that I cost them a bunch of money to feed, and stuff. I didn't realize..."

Tony: Your Honor, may I have a moment to counsel my client to directly answer the questions for the prosecution?

Judge: Denied. Young man, you are doing just fine. I am interested in hearing your story.

Tony sat down. He nodded to me.

Mrs. Stein: Go ahead, James. It is important for us to know all the facts.

"Uhm, okay. Well, I didn't realize how much I cost them... until I had to do it on my own... I mean, well, I went hungry quite a bit, at least after that money ran out. Sorry, I didn't know what else to do."

Mrs. Stein: How long did that money last you?

"About 5 or 6 weeks... I don't know for sure."

Mrs. Stein: Did you return home?

"Sometimes... I tried to stay out of their hair... mostly not."

Mrs. Stein: Mostly not? What do you mean?

"Uhm, I tried to stay away from home." I looked to Mom. She nodded. "I, uhm, well I was a problem for them. They told me that I was an, uhm, sorry, a burden to them, that I was an accident, that I messed up their lives... so I stayed away."

Mrs. Stein: You stayed away from your home?

"Yes, Ma'am. That's what I said."

Mrs. Stein: When did you stop staying at home?

"I was 10."

Mrs. Stein: Let's see, you're almost 12, now, correct?

"Yes, Ma'am."

Mrs. Stein: Let's see, you were placed with the Richardson's on April 7th. Is this correct?

"Yes, Ma'am."

Mrs. Stein: So how are things today? Are they feeding and clothing you?

"Oh yes, Ma'am. I've gained about 12 pounds since I've lived with them. I even have my own horse. His name is Coltrane." I said proudly.

Mrs. Stein: Kewl. So how are you feeling about your placement with the Richardson's?

"Great. No, wait, it's fantastic. I love Mom, Dad, and my brothers and sister. I'm trying to be good. I haven't run away. I haven't stolen anything."

Mrs. Stein: Do you want to live with them for the rest of your growing up years?

"Oh, yes, Ma'am. Absolutely. They love me. I'm learning how to love them, too. I'm feeling safe."

Mrs. Stein: Do you have any reason to believe that this family, the Richardson's, will do anything to cause you harm or pain or injury?

"No way. Dad and Thomas teach me how to do things... well, except for my horse. <I looked to Dad>. I broke the rules about not riding my horse by myself and without him or Thomas with me. I had to..."

Tony: Objection.

Judge: Overruled. Please go ahead, James. I'm curious how this all played out.

Dad nodded. He had a faint smile on his face. He also had 'that' glint of twinkles in his eyes.

"Well, Coltrane, that's the name of my horse, came and got me. He was telling me that something was very, very wrong... I didn't know what was wrong, so, well, I got on his back...

Mrs. Stein: Were you alone? Did you just do this on your own?

"No Ma'am. My brothers Eric and Luke were with me. They followed... Coltrane wouldn't wait... I had to go right then."

Mrs. Stein: What was wrong?

"A horse was having its baby. It was a breech birth. The foal was going to die... we couldn't just let it die without doing something. Eric had birthed a horse before... so he knew what to do."

Mrs. Stein: My family has horses. I understand those emergencies, but, tell me, did your Dad find out about your breaking the rules? And who told him?

"I told him."

Mrs. Stein: Did you get into trouble?

"Kinda. I mean... nobody beat me or anything. I guess, I really didn't get in bad trouble. No, I wasn't in trouble... Dad and Mom told me that I just did what I had to do, even though I broke the rules. So I didn't get in trouble."

Mrs. Stein: I understand. Our animals are very important, but, at the same time...

Judge: I am fascinated by James' story; however we need to get back to the issues before this court.

Mrs. Stein: Of course, thank you for the latitude. I have no further questions. If I may, I would like to give the court the prosecution's recommendations, now that all of the facts are all known. First though, I do have one relevant question to ask the witness, if I may.

Judge: Yes. Go ahead.

Mrs. Stein: Have you committed any other criminal activities since stealing the check that you knew was not directly yours?

I looked to Tony. He nodded. "Yes, Ma'am. I stole from restaurants, a pharmacy (I cut my leg), fast stop shops... I only stole so that I could eat and take care of myself..."

Mrs. Stein: Do you know what the value on the stolen items is?

"Not exactly... maybe a hundred dollars. It couldn't have been much more than this... I didn't steal because I wanted anything... I was hungry... I cut my leg... that's why I stole Band-Aids and antibiotic stuff from the pharmacy. I did wrong, Ma'am."

Mrs. Stein: Thank you, James. I have enough information to make my decision. <She turned and walked to the prosecution table>.

Judge: Counsel, do you wish to cross or rebut?

Tony: If it pleases the court, I do have a few questions for my client. Thank you.

Tony walked over, looked deeply into my eyes, and said, "James, you have done a very good job of being truthful. I wish all children your age were as truthful and straightforward as you have shown the court this morning. I am going to ask you some very difficult questions. We have talked about them outside of court throughout the past several months. Now is the time to bring your answers to them into open court so that the best decisions can be made about your future."

"Yes, Sir. I have nothing to hide. My Dad says to be honest, always, that sometimes it is all a man has to give."

Tony: That's absolutely correct. Okay, here we go. Will you tell the court about the last 13 weeks that you lived in your former home, or house? What was it like?

"Do I have to? I mean, well my Mom and Dad, my parents sitting right over there <I pointed to Mom then to Dad> don't know everything... because I haven't told you Mom, Dad. I'm sorry..."

Tony: Let's back up then. Tell us, then, about what led up to those last 13 weeks in your house. Can you do this?

"I kept running away. I wouldn't stay. My Dad said that I was getting him in trouble... the police would question him why I wasn't home, at school, and stuff..."

Tony: James, what do you mean when you say 'stuff'?

"When I was stealing... stuff. Food... stuff."

Tony: I have a police report, and I also saw with my own eyes that your mother would have caused you great bodily harm had we not been there to stop it. Your Honor, the State and Federal indictments are available to you to review. The child's biological mother was charged with felony physical and emotional abuse to a child under the age of 12. Her final court hearing is pending.

Judge: Yes, I have reviewed them. James, I am sorry that we have to put these questions to you, but they are vitally important, not only for this proceeding, but they are also extremely important for collaboration with the cases against your former parents. I say 'former parents', because you are technically in the care and control of the State of Kansas. It is very likely that this proceeding will prevent you from having to testify once again. If you need a recess, then I'll kindly grant it. Maybe you would like a soft drink, to use the restroom, or to just unwind for a little while... would you like to do this?

Tony: Your Honor, Young James here has an appointment with orthopedics at 11:00am...

Judge: Very well. James, come with me into Chambers. I will not subject you to open court scrutiny. Please go to your prospective parent's, give and receive affections, go to the restroom, get yourself a soft drink, and return here in, say 15 minutes. For the rest of this courtroom, be advised that court is still in session, and that because this is a juvenile case, there is to be no media present, nor are you to speak to the media about this case. Understood. Thank you, I knew it would be. This court is in recess for 10 minutes.

I made a beeline to Mom who had her arms wide open, just waiting for me to enter them. She put her arms around me, and held me tight. I didn't want to leave them, no matter what. I was so scared, "Mom, you don't know everything about what happened. It would just hurt you, and <holding onto my need to cry I held it in>, I never ever want to hurt you. Ever."

Out of the corner of my eyes, I saw Mr. Good walk over to us. He talked to Dad in hushed tones. Dad then said, "James, you need to tell the judge the whole truth... he needs to know so that your testimony will punish your parents for their erroneous actions. If you do it now, the judge says you won't have to do it again. It's best that you get things taken care of soon as possible so that you can live your life free of baggage hanging off of your shoulders. Remember what I said about how your Mom and I are about taking care of things with our kids, you too... and you are our child whether or not the court has officially said so. Your mom and I will not be leaving this courthouse without you. It is time for you to tell your story so that it no longer has a stranglehold on your youth. As you said in the restroom... you are a Boy. And, you are almost 12... you're growing up, but let yourself be a Boy... this testimony will free you up to be a Boy. Can you do this for your mother and me?"

I looked into Dad's eyes. I felt a confidence that I'd never felt before begin to settle over me. Dad's eyes were boring holes through my soul, not in a bad way, no way... looking directly into his eyes, never wavering, I replied, "Yes, Sir... I will tell him everything, maybe then I'll have the courage to tell you, too, and you, too, Mom... I just can't do it right now. I hope you understand."

"Honey, you just take care of business. Your Dad is absolutely correct. Let me just say one thing... nothing you can say about your past will make your Dad or me think anything bad of you. You didn't ask them to give birth to you, but they, no matter why or what, had the responsibility to take care of, at least, your basic needs. I have forgiven your parents. Their 'stuff', as you say, is their loss and our gain. Now, you go take care of business. Like your Dad says, you need to get this behind you so that you can be available to us, and to one special boy who has stolen your heart, too."

I jerked back, but Dad held me in his arms, and said, "You don't think we figured things out, I'll guess. Go. Free yourself up. It's time, James. Honey, why don't you reschedule James' appointments until later this afternoon. This may or may not take some time. We don't want James to be in a hurry. This is going to last his lifetime."

Mom nodded then said to me, "Why don't you go hit the restroom before you go to the judges' chambers... it might take a while... how is your tummy feeling?"

"It's okay. I'll try."

Dad gave me $3.00 to get some crackers and a drink. I stopped in at the restroom, went into a stall, closed the door, dropped my britches, sat down, pushed down, farted, but that was all there was. I pushed down one more time. Nothing. I peed then carefully wiped up as I was sore as all hell, flushed, washed my hands then headed to the canteen.

Dad and Tony were walking toward the open courtroom, way down the corridor. Dad turned around, saw me, waved, and then he and Tony started talking. I didn't see Mom, so I went on into the canteen, grabbed up a package of peanut butter crackers, poured a Sprite from the dispenser, then walked to the cashier to pay for the goodies.

"Is that all you're going to have, Young Man?" An elderly woman with white hair and a pleasant smile asked like I was a Somebody.

"Yes, Ma'am. Thanks."

As she was ringing them up, she commented, "It's nice to see polite mannerly young people like you. Your parents must be proud of you."

"I think so... I'm getting adopted today!"

"Oh... good for you. You're a fine young man. Behave and listen to them... they're on your side."

"Yes, Ma'am... I'm pretty good... at least they say so." I said, grinning.

"That'll be $2.17."

I handed her the three dollars. She smiled, then briefly looked behind me, then turned her attention back to making change. As she handed it to me, the change came loose out of my hand, while trying to juggle the crackers and drink, and fell to the floor, scattering everywhere. The nice elderly lady apologized profusely, but when she started chasing coins, I told her that I would get them, that it was my fault. She picked up several of the coins that had landed near her feet. I sat the crackers and drink down on the counter, then went to get the rest of the change, crawling on my hands and knees get the last ones.

The very last coin had rolled under the register. I counted the change... the last one had been a quarter. I tried to get it one last time before giving up... it was just too far back there... I couldn't even touch it. I had heard some footsteps, but just figured those were customers and patrons walking in and around the canteen – until I was grabbed by the hair on my head, jerked up, and told to "Do not say a word. Act normal. Now walk... turn left at the entrance... and keep going..." The voice... this couldn't be happening... Tony said... everybody said... I was dreaming... I had to be... but... I wasn't dreaming... this was all too real... it's a real life nightmare. The voice, the strength jerked my head around so that we were eye-to-eye... the Devil. The Devil really is really real.

He didn't give me any time to react. The lady behind the counter was walking to the store room. Before she went inside the closet, she looked back my way, and that was when he took hold of my neck and held it in a vice-grip hold, cutting off all air circulation... at the same time, he manhandled me out of the canteen. I thought he was going to snap off my neck like a twig when he jerked my body toward the doors leading out of the courthouse... I couldn't turn around... I couldn't even scream... his hold was killing me... I knew it was... and I knew that I'd die if we got out of the courthouse... all I could see was up at the ceiling... when the light got really bright... I had to make one move to get away, and it had to be good, because there would only be one, and only one shot.

I grabbed his wrist... I had to breathe... I had to know what was going down... I had to know where we were going. Without any aforethought, an idea came to mind, and I acted on it... this all took a nanosecond... I screamed "RAPE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! DAD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

I'd already heard footsteps fast approaching, they were running, and they were thunderous, and then they were there... With Dad reaching out for me, the vice-grip around my neck tightened to unbearable... I was passing out... and then I saw a shiny object, and then I heard Tony's voice snarl, "Let go of him. Do it now!"

Meanwhile, Dad reached for me... both of my feet were high off of the floor, I was about ready to pass out; I was holding on by a thin ribbon of hope. Dad's eyes were frantic, then they turned to pure determination... the veins on his nose and forehead stuck out like garden hoses. His face was pissed... there's no other word to describe the look he was giving to the fuckhead holding me. Dad then grabbed the hand holding my neck, then with his bare hand bent that wrist into a very unnatural position; the bones crunched. The son of a bitch screamed... The sperm donor had no choice but to let go as he was writhing around in pain, then Dad decked the son of a bitch, yanking me out of its malevolent clutches... it was then that I heard gurgles and found that I was being spattered with blood, and so was Dad. Dad grabbed hold of me, pulled me tight into his chest… wasting no time, he quickly walked us away.

In Dad's arms, I raised myself up to that I could see back behind us, to see if Tony was okay… cops were all over the place, but I did see the top of Tony's head, though. He was standing in their midst.

We walked to Mom. While Dad did put me back on to my feet, he was careful to make sure I faced Mom and only Mom. It was then I saw sheer terror, and nothing but terror as she looked into my eyes, searching for, looking for, any sign of injury… a sudden feeling that said 'you do not fuck with a mother's cubs' bore into my soul. I shivered. She drew me into her arms and held on tight.

But then darkness took me over… the only thing I remember is: "Stop fighting me, right this minute, James. STOP IT." Dad commanded. I then came out of wherever I was, and realized that I was beating on Dad's massive back and shoulders. "Stop it, James. Just stop. There has been a terrible mistake made... you ARE safe... listen to me. Stop. Listen to me right now." His command went dead, instead, he was speaking to me very calmly, rubbing my back, holding me firmly... then his voice became very soft, and it was shaky when he said, "I promised you that you would be safe and out of harm's way... I should have gone with you... this wouldn't have happened... I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry. I'm so very sorry."

Then I heard Tony's voice... it was coming closer and closer. Dad turned me away... his arms were around me, and they were not hugging me... instead they were ordering me to stay put... but we were both wet... slick... instant rage welled up from deep inside of me... I swiveled and broke away. I was ready, and did start to scream that he, Tony was a fucking goddamned motherfucking liar, but then the air escaped without saying a single word... Tony was covered in blood... replacing the rage was sheer terror at seeing Tony... in one fell swoop, I both reached out and screamed, "NO!!!!!!!!!"

I was crying uncontrollably, sobbing, knowing he was going to die right then and there. Fuck me... I didn't care what was happening to me... but Tony... oh my God. Please help us... paramedics and guards came running over... when they saw me, they swarmed us... hands and arms were pulling and tugging... but Dad sandwiched me between him and Tony. He told the guards I was physically fine and that he thought that Tony was fine, too... and to leave us the hell alone. Mom went into "Mom Mode"... I'd never seen anything like that in my life.

"James, shush... listen to me. James, listen to me." Tony said seriously. When I looked into his eyes... they were okay... they were telling me that he wasn't hurt... but... who was?

Tony held me tight, twice cleared his throat, coughed and said, "James, it's all over. Your sperm donor will never hurt you or anyone else ever again, ever." Looking first to Dad then to me, he said softly, "Mr. Talley is now deceased. James, listen to me very carefully... <I looked and searched deeply into his soul>. I slowly nodded. He continued, very, very softly>... When your Dad pulled you out of your father's arms, the knife I was holding to his neck, plunged inside... the paramedics are working on him, but they are only working on him because they have to, it's their job, but there is a doctor there, too. The doctor says the man has no chance... because he's already dead. He's dead, James. He will never hurt you again. Do you understand what I am telling you?"

"He's dead?"

"Yes. Come with me. Dan, Vera, please come with us. I need to show James, otherwise he is not going to believe me... he has to know in the depths of his soul that his father will never again harm him. I've let James down... I told him that his father would never be out of prison; at least until James was a very old man... but that wasn't true... though I didn't know it would not be true. The man, somehow, bailed out, even though it was set at 1.5 million dollars, cash only. I do not know all the facts, yet. James, I am so, so very sorry that this happened..."

Just then, I heard Adam's voice. He was hollering with his loud booming voice. I turned in that direction. He was being detained from entering the foyer area... courthouse people and cops were milling about all over the place... I saw a group of people kneeling and standing over an area of the floor... searching, and searching some more, I saw a foot sticking out of the throng, lying on the floor with its toes pointed skyward. I looked into Tony's eyes, then back to the foot, then some other people gathered around... the foot was obscured.

I turned around. Mom had her hands on my lower back, holding me steady. Dad had never left, even though I was in Tony's arms. He reached out for me. I accepted his arms, then wrapped mine around his neck and held on tightly. Then I looked into his eyes, he said, "I don't much like this, James. Tony might be right, though. The adults in your life have let you down... we told you things that, though no fault of ours, did not turn out to be true... God, Son, I'm so sorry... I promised you... I swore to you..."

Mom said to Dad, "Dan, I think it would be a good idea for James to see this end. I believe that he can then tell us whatever he wants to tell us about his old life, without fear of being found out by those people he was afraid of." Then she turned to me, "This is hard, James. Your life will not get any easier if you cannot put closure on this part of your life. Your Dad and I will be beside you. You can stay in your Dad's arms... he won't mind... I know for sure he won't flinch... we're here for you, Boy."

I laid forward into Dad's neck, put my arms around it and held on firmly as I thought through the situation one more time, as my breathing came back to near normal. I saw the blood smeared on my arms and shirtsleeves. A shiver violently traveled up and down my arms, then up and down my back, then my right leg started cramping, and I felt so sleepy, like I could hardly keep my eyes open, like they were being held down with lead weights.

Then I felt another massive hand massaging my back, neck, legs and on up a side of my right cheek and onto my back where it lay firmly. Then I felt a kiss on my left cheek, and a voice, Adam's voice, say, "Are you okay, Little Man?"

I just shook my head 'no'. I wasn't okay, not really, not like I liked people to always think I was... I was scared, still. Another violent chill started at my upper arms, and traveled upwards into my neck, then down my back, settling in the area just above my lower region. I squeezed my hole tightly, but it was too late. Thankfully, what came out was only a fart.

I didn't care, though. I heard over and over and over again, Dad's words telling me that I was safe, that he wasn't going anywhere. Mom's arms were around my waist. She was kissing my arm, whispering her love and assurances that I would be okay, that we were okay, and that we would be okay, that this was a shock to me, that this was a shock for all of us, but that we would get through it, as a family. All of our friends were around us. The police had the situation under control. The courthouse was secure, we were secure, and finally she said that we would probably be better off at home, to put off the adoption to another day when things were worked out.

I lifted up my head, brushed away the sleep from my eyes, and said, "No. We need to go to court. You guys ARE my parents... we just need a piece of paper to say it's true, right?"

Tony offered, "Normally, an adoption proceeding is a happy, light, freeing experience for all involved... parents get a blessing and a child receives a blessing... this can still be a very joyous time for all concerned. In a very big way, this will help to put the past in its place, so that there is no way to go except forward."

And so it was.

The Judge, having been briefed about everything that had happened, summarily dismissed the charges against me, approved the adoption, then took us back into his chambers after dismissing court where he explained the grave clerical error that had occurred, which put my EX-parent (God, I love the word "EX") on the streets. He had no clue as to how the EX-parent found about the adoption, because the docket is closed to the public, because it is family court. Nevertheless, the judge also apologized. Then he asked me if I wanted to see my EX-dad's face at the coroner's office. He said that 'his' body had been hastily prepared, meaning there was no blood and gore anymore.

I couldn't decide.

Adam asked Dad and Mom for permission to take me outside for a walk. They looked at me, but left the decision solely to me.

When we got outside, Adam lit up a cigarette. I grabbed the pack, took one out, and then lit it and mightily inhaled, then let it out slowly. We sat down on a bench. I turned to him and asked, "What am I supposed to do, Adam?"

Adam nodded, "That's a very fair question. Let me tell you what I would do... but, first, I would make sure I had all the facts. Here are the facts: Number 1. The Judge, Tony and I saw your parent lying dead on the floor in that courthouse. Fact #2. You are certain that the blood on Tony, your Dad and you does not belong to any of us here, correct? <I nodded>. So, none of your family and friends were injured. Next, I made sure there were no other people, like passerby, witnesses or anybody else injured. Lastly, the coroner has made the deceased presentable; the coroner would not do this, he or she would not permit anybody in the general public from seeing the deceased, unless they were damn well positive that you are next of kin. His billfold contained acceptable identification that he is who he appears to be. So, do these facts help you?"

I nodded, then took another cigarette from Adam's pack, lit it up and took a deep drag. Adam said, "You're going to get me into trouble one of these days." I looked into his eyes, they were dancing, then he reached for my cigarette… I gave it to him after taking one more very deep inhale. No sooner had I had the breath completely in, when out came Mom, which left me in a deep quandary.

I stood up, exhaled the smoke from my lungs, looked at her and said, "Mom, you need to know that I smoke cigarettes, sometimes."

"I understand, Son. The judge is ready for us. Mr. Cisneros, thank you for all that you've done for my Son. I have no doubt he's been in very good hands with you. I am much obliged. You are welcome in my home at any time. Right now, though, we have paperwork to fill out. Would you join us?"

We walked into the courtroom. The judge motioned for us to join him in Chambers. He poured Adam, Tony, Mom and Dad cups of coffee, then handed me a Root Beer.

First of all, James, Dan, Vera, Adam and you Tony, I apologize for what happened out there today... there's no excuse, but there is an excuse... I am sorry to say that a clerical error was made that freed that man." To me, he continued, "James, you have the option to identify your father. We do, however, have ample evidence that he is indeed your former relative, but since you are no longer legal kin to him, you do not need to make any identification, unless you just want to."

Without hesitation, I replied, "I believe you guys... I don't want to see him dead... he's a nobody to me... they never cared about me when he was alive, so why should I see him dead... can we go?"

I then got up, walked to Mom, kissed her lips, then turned to Dad. He pulled me into his strong arms and held me tight, and said, "You made the right decision, My Boy. I would have made the very same one. You're growing up, but you are still my little one. Don't forget that, even when you get to be old like me."

"That goes double for me, Boy." Mom said, with tears freely flowing down her cheeks. She reached over, kissed my lips, then pulled me into her arms and said, "You're not too big to be held by your Momma."

The judge printed out the adoption certificate, certifying that my name was now: James Edward Richardson; that I was Mom and Dad's "Son" – officially, bar none.

I know that what I did next is not a part of court decorum, but I did it anyway: I walked around the desk and reached out my arms toward the judge… he readily accepted my hug and gave one of his own.

I barely remember anything else, my eyes were droopy, and my body felt heavy like lead weights had been attached to my ankles. I vaguely recall hugging Tony and Adam before we took off for home. Before Dad even had the car engine started, I was laid out across the back seat, and my eyes closed, and that was all she wrote.

"Our boy has been through so much, Dan. You have, too, Sweetheart. My, my, my, if I wasn't a Christian woman... I... I... well, Dan, I'd just hurt those damn fools who hurt our kids."

"They have a good life now, Vera. They have every chance in the world to succeed. You know, Honey, James is a good child despite all he's been through. I'm not going to press him. If or when he decides to tell us more about what happened to him during those last months at his, I hate to say this... home... I don't want to push him."

"Where does that boy keep it, Dan? He's such a sweet one. All of our kids are good, Dan... The new kids have been through so much... God's blessed us, Dan... There's no other way to explain how we came into our family."

"You have that right. I count my lucky stars each every day. Every day when I wake up my kids... I count my blessings. Honey, when Adam, Tony and I were talking outside, Adam made a suggestion, or an offer to us, to all of us."

"What's that, Dan? You know I'm not real fond of him. I don't know why."

"Maybe it's jealousy. I see how James goes to him..."

"It's a miracle he goes to any man or woman, Honey. What he's been through would break most children, I suspect. Kids are resilient, though. Give them some water, grub and a big dose of Miracle-Gro... Then just watch 'em... they flower up in the middle of a weed patch, a briar patch, even, with thorns and thistle, too."

"You're right... sometimes I'm just too harsh on people, I suppose. I have no just cause to doubt that Adam and Tony have been nothing but helpful... they were there when James needed someone more than anything... bless them for that, and for keeping him going until he could get in a real home. So what's the idea you have? I'm listening."

"Tentatively, with your approval, of course, you are the boss, and don't let anyone tell you any different, especially me."

I giggled, "After all these years, I'm getting you trained. Your words just earned you another century of marriage, Dear... so long as you don't forget..."

"Of course, Sweetheart. There are just some things a man doesn't forget. Maybe I should just show you how much I love you... maybe?"

"Oh, you old man. Well, maybe I should just show you how much I cherish you."


"Just maybe."


"It's a figure of speech."

"And a mighty fine one, too. So what's the plan, Mr. Richardson?"

"Mrs. Richardson, you, me and the family have been invited to spend the weekend at Adam's house. Getting away for a day or two will be good for everybody. I told him that I'd ask you before making any commitments. You're the boss. You have the final say so. Also, Adam will be working this weekend, so it will just be us and the children. Tony offered to take us on boat rides, too. And he says to tell you that there is a great restaurant on the lake, one that we don't want to miss. Tony, his son and Seth's boyfriend, Jim, will be at their place to lend any assistance, if we have any problems with the house."

"Yes, I like Seth. He is a good boy. Are you thinking of going down on Saturday morning? This way chores will be done... oh, we don't have any swimming clothes for the kids..."

"Uhm, Vera, I know you've noticed that James has no tan lines, right?"

"Ohhh... no way... you don't think... I was wondering... why... he's so modest... oh my... you mean they'll swim and play around without... you know... clothes?"

"Heh, we were kids once, too!"

"Yeah... but... that was years and years ago..."

"Yes. Remember, our kids are years and years younger than we are..."

"But, Stacy?"

"If Sandy's off work, then they could chum up and give the boys a run for the money... think about it... give it some thought."

"You really think we should?"

"The lake-house has 4 bedrooms. All have king-sized beds, dressers, bathrooms... I'm sure the boys will gravitate toward one another, bunk down, as will the girls... that leaves us... for maybe some maybe for some maybe."

"You old goat. I'll make up a big kettle of stew..."

"One more thing…"

"Oh? This is going to get good… ya holding out on me, are you?"

"No way." My husband said, then chortled before saying, "Well, maybe a little bit… I'd like to invite Rocky to come down with us. He needs some time away from the grueling chores… he's going to grow up too fast, Vera."

"I was thinking the same thing. I'll call Kay later today. I need to talk to her about some other things… I'll bring it up. You'll talk to James and Rocky?"

I awakened with a startle as Dad drove in the long driveway to our house, our home, my safe-place, my family, their family, our family. Dad had recently dug the bar-ditch a bit deeper to keep the rainwater from washing away that end of the road in to our house. So when he went into it, the dip caused the back bumper of the car to bottom-out just a little bit.

I stretched my arms as wide as they would go, to get the kinks out of my shoulders, and my butt was numb from sitting in one place for so long.

Then I smelled food.

Good food.

It was in the car.

Immediately, I unbuckled, moved to the edge of the backseat and peered over the front seat backs. Chick-O-Fry. Bags and bags of delectable morsels. I reached my hand into one of the sacks (lucky guess) and fetched up a handful of French fries. They make the best French fries ever... salty, flavorful, and they have a bunch of other seasonings, too. Superb.

"Thanks, Mom. Thanks, Dad." I mumbled through a mouthful of those wonderful treats.

Mom said, parentally, "Don't talk with your mouth full." Then she, too, reached in and grabbed a couple of the fries, turned to me and smiled.

The welcoming committee was out in full force as we drove up beside the house and parked. I was out in a split second... Kevin came running and screaming... then stopped and backed away, with terror written all across his face.

Then Stacy came running over to me, stopped for a brief moment, then pulled me into her arms and held on tight. She was actually crying when she asked, "What happened to you? God, are you okay? Mom? Dad? DADDY... what's happened? Why are you...?"

Eric and Luke came running over. Luke screeched to a pathetic stop, tripped and fell into the gravel. Terrorized, like a caged animal, he had this terrified expression on his face... he looked like he was about to bolt.

I reached for Luke's hand, but he was afraid... until Dad got out of the car, reached down, gathered Luke up into his arms and held him firm, whispering all the while that we're okay, that nobody was hurt in our family, and that dinner was getting cold. To the rest, Dad said, "A terrible thing happened in the courthouse today... I assure you, other than being shaken up, we're physically fine. Now, let's get cleaned up so that we can eat before it gets cold."

Dad's soft voice has a calming effect on our family. Soon, we were headed inside. I looked all around the ante room, the kitchen, the dining room, the living room, even toward the coat closet, the hutch, the beautifully shined dining room table. I just soaked it up, suddenly realizing that this is really home... my home... our home.

I felt a small pair of hands wrap around my lower waist, and some fingers hooked into my pants pocket... I looked down. Kevin had a very worried look on his face, and he was quiet. I reached down, picked him up into my arms, held him firmly, then kissed his cheek. That got me a smile, a cautious one, though. He wasn't quite convinced that I was okay, yet. That is until I wiggled my fingers into his armpit, causing him to squeal with delight. I didn't push the envelope, though. I didn't want him to go to kicking, cuz I needed to pee like a racehorse, and I needed to change clothes. Mom had washed most of the blood and stuff off my face, neck and arms, but that did nothing for what I was wearing.

Kevin leaned in, kissed my lips, smiled broadly, then wormed his way out of my arms and headed into the kitchen.

Stacy was next. She walked in just as Kevin made his exit, came to me, then wrapped her one arm around my back. She even pulled me in for a hug. Because I felt so good, despite everything, I leaned in and kissed her cheek, and said, "You're officially my sister, now. Thanks for letting me join the family... I love you for it."

"Mom wants you to take a bath, first, before you eat... I'll keep your food hot. Go on. Mom wants to talk to you. Uhm, James, I know we haven't gotten along very well."

I thought she was sincere, but she went back to her 'Stacy ways' by leaning into my ear and whispered, "You're an asshole." Then she smacked my ass with her open hand, and took off for the kitchen, disappearing from site. I had to smile.

Then it was Eric's turn. When he walked over, he didn't hesitate to pull me into a deep, deep hug, and held on tightly. I put my arms around him. He started quivering, so I held on that much tighter, as a wave of 'love' passed through me, and hopefully into him. When he pulled back, unshed tears had filled his eyes to the brimming point. I leaned in and kissed his lips, and said, "I'm okay. Dad's okay. And my old EX dad... is dead. He attacked me in the courthouse. Dad and Tony saved my life. The good that came out of it, is that I'm officially your brother, now. Forever."

"That makes you my brother, too, James. Forever." He kissed my lips. When we parted, he was smiling, which caused his face to scrunch up, and with a scrunched face, there went the tears flowing down his cheeks.

Hastily, he wiped them away. To remove all doubt as to whether HE was okay, or not, his face lit up with a great big smile going from ear to ear. Unable to contain his joy, he said, "I have a present for you... I've been trying to figure out something all day, well, it just came to me. I'll give it to you later. Somebody's here to see you, James." Then he leaned into my ear and whispered very softly, "Luke's here... he's scared..."

Eric and I came together one last time, touched our lips, then he parted away. I turned to see Luke standing about 5 feet away. The look of fright and worry and wonder was nearly taking over his body. He quivered and even had a chill cause him to visibly shake. His eyes never once left mine.

I walked to him and said, "Luke, I'm not hurt. Dad isn't hurt, thank God. A bad thing happened in the courthouse. I'm your official brother, now. You are my brother. And it's forever."

Without waiting, I enveloped him into my arms and held on tight. His came up and wrapped around my waist, and pulled me in tight. I dropped my face into his neck, took in a deep breath, and finally relaxed. I finally felt safe again. His shaking stopped, but I don't think he was yet convinced that I wasn't, in some way, hurt. While still holding onto him, but with only one arm, I took half a step back and took off my shirt and tossed it to the floor beside my foot, then I put both arms around him and squeezed hard, like our lives depended on what we were doing right then and there... maybe they did.

When I leaned in to kiss him, too, he turned his head away and stepped back. He shook his head, then turned to go into the kitchen. Then he looked at me, opened his mouth in an effort to speak, but no sound came from him, but I can read lips pretty well - "I love you." Then he was off on his way to the other room.

Mom stepped into the dining room, took hold of my arm, and urged me to go with her. When we got upstairs, she said, "Take care of your business, I'll be in to run your water." The expression on her face said to do as she said, but the most important thing that came through was her love. I had this overwhelming sense of love for her, the likes of I'd never ever felt before. I pulled her into my arms and held her firmly. She wrapped her arms around my bare waist, held me for a minute, then patted my butt and turned me toward the bathroom and gave me a gentle push.

Don't argue with Mom. You'll never win.

Remembering that I'd left my dirty shirt in the middle of the dining room, I tore down the stairs to fetch it before Mom had to remind me that I'd slipped up... actually, I didn't slip up very often... but I didn't want to make a mistake.

The shirt was already gone. Dad was walking through the kitchen and headed outside. He had my shirt wadded up in his hand. He also was carrying his clothes... I wondered where he was taking them... Then Mom called me from upstairs. She was waiting, and holding a clean set of clothes for me to put on after my bath. I debated on asking her if we could wait since I still had chores to do... I'd just get all sweaty... she pointed toward the bathroom, "I'll give you 15 or 20 minutes to take care of whatever you need to take care of... go on now, Son."

It was then that I realized my underwear were tight in a conspicuous place. I didn't even bother to look down, not until I followed her orders to a T. Even then, in the bathroom, I didn't look down... I didn't need to.

Off with my clothes, all of them. I sat down on the toilet, ready to release some 'tension' from my little upstanding citizen, but that wasn't to happen. A light knock on the door brought me back to the present. I got up, grabbed a towel, strategically placed it to conceal evidence of my growing masculinity.

She really had to scrub my hair. That's okay, though, I really like to have my head massaged and scratched and rubbed hard. She washed everything but the essentials, though she did wash my butt, saying that I was really inflamed and that there had been some dry crusty blood in and around my hole. After rinsing, she inserted the medicine applicator and gave me the last dose of medicine, and said that she would get me into the doctor tomorrow.

She left and I got dressed, brushed my teeth and combed out my hair. I then looked into the mirror to the guy standing in front of me. His eyes looked different... like he really felt at home, like he really was safe, that he was mighty damn lucky and blessed and happy despite, in spite of everything that happened today.

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