Castle Roland

Ten Steps Down

by Owen Hudson


Chapter 4

Posted: N/A

James put up a brave front, but I could tell that he was disappointed that his appointment with the plastic surgeon had been turned down. "At least I have a nice home, great parents and brother now," he said to me on the drive home from school one day. "I wouldn't have had any chance at all for the surgery if I was still at Mrs. Powell's."

"I'm sure Uncle Jason can get it done," I said in an effort to encourage him. "Besides, Dad said that he and Mom would pay if the appeal was turned down."

"Mom and Dad didn't give me the scars. It isn't their place to pay. Maybe I could save enough money and pay for it myself," James said.

"That would take you years," I said. "We're a family and we'll figure out a way. I heard Dad tell Mom that he could sell enough cows to pay if need be."

"I wouldn't want Dad to sell part of the herd. I want to play sports next year, but I'm not going to if I have to take my shirt off in front of the other guys," James confessed. "I'd be too embarrassed to do that. How much do you think it would cost?"

"I wouldn't know, but let's look online and see what we can find out," I said. "Hey, I'm low on gas and need to stop at the Quick Mart."

"Hello, boys," we heard a familiar voice say as I was pumping gas.

I looked around and saw Mrs. Upchurch, our CASA volunteer, pumping gas at the next pump.

"Hello Mrs. Upchurch," we both said.

"How are you boys doing?" Mrs. Upchurch asked.

"Just fine," James said and got into the Jeep and slammed the door.

"Is something wrong?" Mrs. Upchurch asked.

"The state denied his appointment to see a plastic surgeon to get the scars removed from his back," I explained. "His biological mother's boyfriend beat him and left some really bad scars."

"I'll talk to him and then see if I can get something done," Mrs. Upchurch said. "Your review hearing is next week and I'll mention it in my report."

Mrs. Upchurch chatted with James for a few minutes and then ended the conversation with, "I can't make any promises, but I'll recommend that Judge Young order the state to pay for the procedure."

"We have company," James said when we turned into the driveway when we got home.

"It's Uncle Jason and Uncle Ryan," I said. "I didn't know they were coming for a visit today. Maybe they're here for the weekend."

"I hope so," James said. James loved the attention that our uncles gave him. "Uncle Jason, Uncle Ryan," he shrieked when he saw our uncles.

James and I were both greeted with hugs from our uncles. "How are our favorite nephews?" Uncle Ryan asked.

"We're your only nephews," James giggled.

"Then that would make you our favorites," Uncle Ryan teased.

"I didn't think you would be here until next week," I said.

"Our appeal for James' procedure was denied and Judge Young has agreed to hear our case against the state," Uncle Jason said. "I didn't want to mention it until now because I didn't want James to worry about it. Judge Young agreed to hear the case tomorrow since there is no school and you wouldn't be missing school. I've also subpoenaed William Palmer, the state official that signed the denial letter. "

"What happens if we win and the state appeals the decision?" Mom asked.

"If they do it would create a lot of bad publicity for them," Uncle Jason said. "I'll personally see to that."

"Come on Craig, let's go change clothes and help Dad with the chores," James said. James didn't see helping on the farm as a chore, and he seemed to enjoy it.

"He did all of the chores early so you could visit with your uncles," Mom said. "I sent him to the store and he'll be back soon."

"Jason and I got you boys a gift," Uncle Ryan said. "James, Jason said that you admired his digital camera. Target was having a really good sale on them."

"Wow!" James exclaimed. "Thanks Uncles, it isn't even Christmas yet."

"Yes, thank you Uncle Jason and Uncle Ryan," I said.

"We expect you both to e-mail pictures to us," Uncle Jason said. "Now, I need to go over the case with you. You'll both be testifying. You both know Judge Young and you should be comfortable with her. The difference will be that the state will have their attorney and he may question you. If he does he may not be gentle with you. Don't let him get you upset. Don't volunteer any information either. I'll ask you questions that will give the judge the information we want out. James, Judge Young may want to see your back. Would you be okay with that?"

"Not in front of everybody," James said.

"If she asks, we'll request that she do so in her chambers, would that be okay?" Uncle Jason asked.

"If Craig can come with me," James said.

"We'll ask the judge," Uncle Jason said. "I'm sure she will permit it."

Uncle Jason spent the next hour asking some of the questions he thought the opposing attorney might ask. When he finished he said, "You boys are ready. I don't see how their attorney can trip you up."

"Craig, I'm scared about tomorrow," James confessed just before we went to bed.

"I'm sure it will work out for you," I said.

"What if it doesn't?" James asked.

"Then Uncle Jason will try something else," I said. "Remember how he got you out of Mrs. Powell's house?"

"Yes," James said.

"He'll do the same this time, I'm sure of it," I said.

We arrived at the court house shortly before the 9:00 am schedule. Mom, Dad, Uncle Ryan and I sat in the gallery. Uncle Jason and James sat at the plaintiff's table. Uncle Jason was doing a great job of keeping James calm.  When Judge Young arrived at the bench I was sure that she gave James a quick smile.

As the plaintiff, Uncle Jason went first and called me as a witness.  After asking a few basic questions such as how long I'd known James and how we met he asked, "What is your relationship to the plaintiff?" Uncle Jason asked.

"He's my foster brother."

"Have you seen the plaintiff's back?"

"Yes, I have."

"Describe what you saw."

"There are several large raised red scars on his back."

"How did you happen to see these scars?"

"Mom told my brother that he had a doctor's appointment.  He became upset and said he wasn't going. I went to his room to try and calm him down. He finally told me that his biological mother's boyfriend beat him. He didn't want to go to the doctor because he didn't want anyone to see the scars. He did agree to let me see."

The state's attorney chose not to ask me any questions and Uncle Jason called Dr. Carr. "Dr. Carr have you had the opportunity to examine James Gibson?" Uncle Jason asked.

"I have," Dr. Carr answered.

"What were your findings?"

"He is in good physical condition. He had several large scars across his back. Mentally he is very fragile because of the scars."

"Objection," Mr. Cordell, the state's attorney said. "Unless Dr. Carr is a psychiatrist he isn't qualified to evaluate the plaintiff's mental health."

"Dr. Carr, what are your qualifications to come to that conclusion?" Judge Young said.

"I suspected that James was having a lot of issues with the scars and had him evaluated by a psychiatrist," Dr. Carr said. "I have the psychiatrist's report here." I never knew that James had seen a psychiatrist.

"Very well, you may continue, Mr. Morris," Judge Young said.

"What were your recommendations?" Uncle Jason asked.

"I referred him to a plastic surgeon for evaluation for scar removal."

The state's attorney tried to get Dr. Carr to say that James would probably be okay in the long run without the scar removal, but Dr. Carr stood his ground.

When James was put on the witness stand he explained how he got the scars and how he was embarrassed to take his shirt off. "I want to play sports next year, but I'd be too embarrassed to let anyone see my scars."

Mr. Cordell declined to question James. I think he knew the sympathy was already with James and he didn't want to appear too aggressive.

Uncle Jason next called William Palmer to the witness stand. "Mr. Palmer, are you the person that ruled that the scar removal procedure for James Gibson was not a medical necessity?" Uncle Jason asked.

"I did after I consulted with our medical director."

"Why didn't the medical director sign the letter of denial?"

"He reviewed the records."

"That's not what I asked. I asked why he didn't sign the letter of denial."

"He is a very busy person and I normally sign."

"Did you make any type of recommendation to your medical director?"

"I did."

"What was that recommendation?"

"That the procedure was not a medical necessity."

"Mr. Palmer, what is your medical background?"

"I don't have a medical background, but I've worked in this position for almost twenty years."

"Do you believe that James Gibson might benefit by having the procedure?"

"Yes, but it wouldn't improve his health. The state has a limited budget for these types of procedures."

"Mr. Palmer, do you drive a state vehicle?"

"Objection," Mr. Cordell said. "Whether Mr. Palmer drives a state vehicle or not isn't relevant."

"Your honor, if you'll bear with me I will soon show the relevance," Uncle Jason said.

"I'll allow this line of questioning for now, but I expect relevance soon," Judge Young said.  "You may answer the question."

"I do drive a state vehicle," Mr. Palmer said.

"Would that vehicle be a new Crown Victoria?"

"Yes, I've been driving it for about two months."

"What did you drive before this vehicle?"

"I drove a Taurus."

"How old was that Taurus?"

"It was almost a year old."

"Was it in good running condition?"


"Why did you exchange it for a Crown Victoria?"

"I do a lot of driving and as you can see I'm a big man. It wasn't very comfortable."

"Mr. Palmer, do you think the difference in the cost of those two vehicles would equal the cost of the scar remove for James Gibson?"

"It might."

"Don't you feel guilty driving that Crown Victoria when a young man can't have a medical procedure recommended by his physician?"

"Objection," Mr. Cordell said.

"I'll withdraw the question," Uncle Jason said with a smile knowing that he had made his point.

Mr. Cordell asked Mr. Palmer a few questions but in spite of everything gained no advantage in doing so. Jason rested the case and the state's attorney called no witnesses.

"Before I rule on my decision I would like to see these scars," Judge Young said. "James, would you mind showing me your back in my chambers?"

"Okay, if my brother can go with me," James said.

"I will allow that," Judge Young said. "Mr. Palmer, I want you to see this too."

"I hate this," James whispered to me on the way to the chambers.

"I know," I said. "In the end it will benefit you though."

"James, would you take your shirt off for us please?" Judge Young asked.

I heard Judge Young gasp when she saw James' back. I had seen James' back before, but it still shocked me when I saw the scars.

"Mr. Palmer will you look at his back and tell me why it doesn't qualify for scar removal?" Judge Young asked.

"I'll admit it is bad," Mr. Palmer said. "However, cosmetic procedures have a lower priority than other procedures."

"Mr. Palmer, doesn't the state pay for mental health procedures?" Judge Young asked.

"Yes, we do," Mr. Palmer admitted.

"I can't see how these scars wouldn't cause emotional issues," Judge Young said. "They sure would for me. We'll go back into the courtroom and I'll make my ruling."

When we returned to the courtroom Judge Young began, "Some of us have to deal with physical scars. Others have to deal with emotional scars. This young man has had to deal with both physical scars and emotional scars. This young man is now placed in a loving home, but no amount of love can cover the horrific scars on his back. Mr. Palmer I'm appalled that you ruled the scar removal procedure to not be a medical necessity. I'm ordering you to send a letter of approval within ten days. Mr. Palmer the state has the right to appeal my decision. However, to do so would be a grave mistake. The press would have a field day with that decision."

It was jubilation that afternoon during lunch at the Pizza Hut. "I can't wait to get this over with," James said just before he enjoyed a slice of pizza.

"Why don't we schedule it during your Thanksgiving break?" Mom suggested. "That way you won't miss school."

"Or I could do it the week before Thanksgiving break," James said. "If I did that I could really enjoy Thanksgiving."

"The surgery is on your back and not your stomach," I teased.

"Yeah, but after eating Thanksgiving dinner I want to lie on my back and watch football," James countered.

"Thankfully for Uncle Jason and Judge Young you're getting the procedure done," I said.

"Yeah, thank you Uncle Jason," James said.

"I was happy do to it," Uncle Jason said.

"How did you dig up that stuff about Mr. Palmer's cars?" Dad asked.

"It helps to have friends," Uncle Jason said. "I have an old friend from high school that works in that department. Do you remember Rich Torres?"

"I sure do," Dad said.

"Rich thinks Palmer is on his way out because he has made so many bonehead decisions in the past. It has really made the department look bad," Uncle Jason said.

"Libby, I'm giving you the evening off tonight," Uncle Ryan said as Dad and Uncle Jason argued over who would get the privilege of paying the bill. "I'm making dinner tonight. I'll need to stop by the store on the way back to the house though."

"Thank you Ryan," Mom said. "What do you need from the store?"

"I'm making salmon en croƻte and I want to buy some salmon," Uncle Ryan said.

We were all in good spirits when we got back home. James and I offered to do the chores, but Dad insisted that he help also. "With all of us working it won't take long."

"In that case, I'll help too," Uncle Jason said.

"Craig, do you think I'm crazy?" James asked as we loaded feed on the truck.

"Of course not," I answered. "Why would I even think that?"

"In court today everybody kept saying that I had emotional scars," James said. "Also, Dr. Carr sent me to a psychiatrist."

"We all have emotional scars. You have physical scars also. You're very strong to survive that and be the person that you are. You have nothing to be ashamed of. I thought I had been through a lot until I met you. Few people could endure what you have and become the person you've become. I'm proud to have you be my brother."

"Thank you Craig."

"Don't mention it."

"Do you ever wish that Mom and Dad were our real parents?"

"As far as I'm concerned they are our real parents."

"I mean that they officially were our real parents."

"Maybe someday they will be. I guess it would be great if they adopted us. I don't know about you but I'll never go back to live with my biological parents."

"I don't know who my biological father is. I'd run away before I would go live with my biological mom."

Dinner was delicious. Uncle Ryan proved that he was as good of a cook as Mom. James and I even had second helpings. After dinner we visited for a while and I noticed that James was yawning. Mom must have noticed it too and she said, "James, you've had a long day. If you're tired go on to bed. Your uncles will be here for the whole weekend. You'll have plenty of time to visit with them."

James hugged everyone good night and then went to bed. The rest of us visited for a while and then Mom and Dad excused themselves before going to bed. Mom began to gather up the cups and glasses from our after dinner drinks. "Go on to bed, Mom," I said. "I'll do it."

"Thank you, Craig," Mom said. "Goodnight, I'll see you in the morning."

After taking the dishes to the kitchen and putting them in the dishwasher I went back to visit with my uncles for a while longer. When I returned Uncle Jason and Uncle Ryan were kissing. I hadn't thought of their relationship as being sexual before, but for some reason it really turned me on. I'd seen Mom and Dad kissing before, but this was different, it was very erotic.

"I'm sorry, did we embarrass you?" Uncle Ryan asked.

"No, not at all," I said. "I just wanted to say goodnight and ask Uncle Jason a quick question."

"Sure thing, Buddy," Uncle Jason said. "What's the question?"

"What will happen to James and me after all of the court hearings?" I asked.

"Probably your biological parents' parental rights will be terminated and then you'll be eligible for adoption, Uncle Jason said. "It's unusual for teenager to be adopted though. Most remain in foster care until they age out. You don't have to worry about Don and Libby putting you out."

"I'm not worried about it myself," I said. "James worries about be taken away. He said that he wished that Mom and Dad could adopt us."

"I get so angry when I think about what you boys have been through," Uncle Ryan said.

"What I've been through is nothing compared to what James has suffered," I said. "Anyway goodnight, I'll see you in the morning."

I went to bed thinking about James and what he had endured. All he wanted out of life was to be loved. He wasn't angry at the world as most would be. I know that Mom and Dad love him, and I couldn't love him more if he were my blood brother. Still there were times that he seemed very sad. It was as if he felt that he didn't deserve the love and kindness that he received from our family.

We had a great weekend with our uncles. They took James and me to see a movie. The only movie theater in our town was a two screen theater, so there wasn't much to choose from. We let James choose the movie. His choice wasn't one that we would have picked, but it turned out to be better than expected. We were really surprised to learn that James had never been to a movie theater before.

Before Uncle Jason and Uncle Ryan went back home to Topeka, it was decided that we would celebrate Thanksgiving at their house if James' procedure could be scheduled the day before. Uncle Ryan was worried that it would be too uncomfortable for him to ride all the way back home right after the procedure.

"I'll come back home right after the procedure and then drive back for Thanksgiving dinner," Dad said. "The animals will have to be taken care of.

"Couldn't you get a neighbor to do it," Mom asked.

"I don't know who I would get," Dad said.

"I'll bet my friend Jon would do it," I said. "I can ask him at school Monday."

The letter arrived the next week approving James' procedure. He was to be evaluated by the plastic surgeon in Topeka the following Wednesday. Mom and Dad would pick him up at school at noon since he had a late afternoon appointment. Dad suggested that we pay Jon to help me with the chores that day since he would be doing them over the Thanksgiving break. It would be a chance for him to learn what needed to be done.

The review hearing before Judge Young the next week was rather routine. Mrs. Upchurch stated that neither James nor I wanted to be reunited with our natural parents, and that we were both happy where we were. Mr. Frazier, Mrs. Gray's replacement, recommended that parental rights for our natural parents be terminated since they had not maintained contact.

I could tell that James was nervous about his appointment that day as we drove to school. "I wish you could go with us today," he said.

"I'll go with you when you have the actual procedure," I promised. "I need to be here to show Jon how to take care of the animals while we're gone when you have the procedure done."

"I'll see you tonight," James said when I dropped him off at his school.

"Bye James," I said. "I'd wish you luck, but I don't think you need it. I love you."

"Bye Craig, I love you, too" he said as he waved goodbye.

I was sad to drive away a leave James. He had depended on me since I met him at Mrs. Powell's. I hoped this procedure would give him back what he had lost. He had been a victim twice; once when his biological mom's boyfriend beat him and then again by the system that was supposed to protect him.

"Why are you so gloomy?" Rachel asked when she and Jon joined me for lunch.

"I'm concerned about James," I said. I had told Jon and Rachel knew about James' scars.

"I thought this appointment was just for an evaluation," Jon said.

"It is, but James is an emotional wreck," I said. "He has been through so much, and these things really upset him."

"You love him like a brother, don't you?" Rachel asked.

"He is my brother," I said.

"Well, you know what I mean," Rachel said.

"I know what you're saying," I admitted. "I feel protective of James. He has been through more than anyone should have to endure.  Jon, you've been through some of what James has."

"Yes, but I wasn't left with scars," Jon said. "And, I was never put in foster care like he was."

The first bell rang to let us know we had ten minutes before our first class after lunch. "I'll follow you to your house after school," Jon said as he placed his tray on in the return tray window.

"We really appreciate your help," I said as I left for my class.

"Grandma said that you're to come over to our house for dinner," Jon said as we finished feeding the livestock that evening.

"Thanks, but I want to be home when Mom, Dad, and James get home," I said.

"They probably won't be home until around seven or eight, right?"

"Yes, around that time."

"You can eat and then go right home. Besides, when Grandma says to come and eat, you'd better come."

I had only met Jon's grandma a couple of times, and I would have to say that he was right. "Okay, I hope she won't mind if I eat and run. I know that isn't very polite."

"Grandma will understand," Jon said.

Jon and I had the feeding done in a short time. I was amazed at how strong he was, but I guess he was used to tossing sacks of feed around. Fortunately most of the feed was in bulk and it didn't take long to fill the automatic feeders.  By the time we finished the wind was now stronger out of the north and the temperature was dropping fast.

Dinner was delicious. Grandma Gretta served a pot roast and homemade hot rolls. For dessert she served deep dish apple pie that was out of this world. After helping Jon clear the table and load the dishwasher I looked at my watch.

"I won't be offended if you have to go," Grandma Gretta said. "Jon explained what was going on."

"Thank you Grandma," I said. "I didn't want to be rude. Thank you for the delicious dinner."

"You're welcome," Grandma Gretta said.

When I left it was snowing, and this worried me since my family was on their way home. The roads already had a covering of snow. I had no experience driving in snow and ice, but I made it home safely. Mom, Dad, and James still weren't home, but I didn't expect them this early even in good weather.  I knew that Dad was an experienced driver in bad weather, but I still worried.

I tried watching TV, but couldn't focus on the program. After about an hour the phone rang, and I rushed to answer. "Hello, Mom," I said when I saw her cell phone number on the caller ID.

"Craig, the weather is really bad," Mom began. "Don said that we should be home in about an hour. Did you eat dinner?"

"Yes, Mom," I said. "Jon's grandma invited me to dinner. What did the doctor say about James?"

"He will do the procedure the day before Thanksgiving," Mom said. "I'll fill you in when we get there."

"Okay Mom," I said. "Bye, and tell Dad and James bye."

"I will," Mom said. "Bye."

After an hour and a half my family still wasn't home. I began to worry and debated if I should call Mom. I decided to wait another thirty minutes since the weather was near blizzard conditions. I was about ready to call when I saw the lights of Dad's truck turn into the driveway. When they came in the house I was so happy to see them that I hugged James, then Mom and Dad. James mumbled, "Hi." And then he went straight to bed.

"He is exhausted," Mom said.

"What did the doctor say?" I asked.

"He is sure that can surgically eliminate the scars," Mom said. "He may later do a dermabrasion treatment later to smooth it even more. James liked the doctor and he seems upbeat about the procedure."

"Mom, James is the bravest person I know," I said. "Most would be filled with hate if they had gone through what he has."

"Son, you're absolutely correct," Dad agreed. "I'm so proud of both of our sons."

"Mom, Dad, James is really worried that we will be taken from you," I said. "He loves you, me, and this farm. He worries that the state will send him back to live with his biological mother."

"Over my dead body," Mom said. She looked directly and Dad and he nodded yes. "We were going to tell you this later, but Jason is working on the paperwork for us to adopt both of you. We were going to wait until after your biological parents' parental rights were terminated. We debated about telling you, but we want to wait until later to tell James. He would be really heartbroken if the adoption were denied."

"James is stronger than you think," I pointed out. "This is probably the first time in his life that he has ever been loved. I think you should tell him now. He would find out anyway when we went to court. If you told him now he would have something to hope for."

"Libby, Craig is correct," Dad said.

"Yes, I think he is," Mom said. "Craig, remember when you said that I was so wise? Well, you have made me proud of your wisdom."

"When will you tell him," I asked.

"When you guys get home from school tomorrow," Dad said.

"They already announced that there was no school tomorrow," I said. "I should have told James that before he went to sleep. He'll be up early and get ready for school."

"He was so tired and sleepy that he wouldn't remember it in the morning anyway," Dad said.

"I'll put a note on his bathroom mirror," I said. Before going to bed I put the note on James' mirror that read, "Go back to bed! No school today."

I woke the next morning when James jumped on my bed saying, "Craig, you should see all of the snow we got. There is no school today."

"Who do you think put the note on your mirror?" I asked somewhat annoyed, although it was difficult to be annoyed with James.

"Oh," James said with a giggle as he jumped on top of me and pretended to pen me down. This was so unlike James. He was normally very subdued.

James crawled under the covers and began to tell me all about his doctor's appointment. "I won't have to be embarrassed to take my shirt off," he said.

"James, you have nothing to be embarrassed about," I said. "None of this is your fault."

"I tell myself that, but my mind isn't listening," James said.

I sensed closeness to my brother that was even deeper than I had since I knew him. I wished that I could take away all of the pain he had endured during his lifetime.

"Breakfast is ready," Dad said when he knocked on my door that was partially open.

"I'm starving," James said as he popped from under the covers. "Let's go see what Mom has for breakfast."

"I have to use the bathroom first," I said. "Don't eat it all up before I get there."

James' good mood was contagious during breakfast. After breakfast James and I cleared the table and loaded the dishwasher while Mom and Dad finished drinking their coffee. "We need to talk to you two," Dad said when we finished.

A panic look came over James. I almost smiled since I knew what was about to be said.

"As you probably know the next court hearing will be whether or not to terminate the parental rights of your natural parents," Mom began. "Jason is positive that those rights will be terminated."

"What will happen to Craig and me?" James asked as his voice trembled.

"Jason has already completed the paperwork for us to adopt you two," Dad said.

I don't think James realized for a few seconds what Dad said. Suddenly he was all smiles and he ran and hugged Mom, Dad, and then me. "For real?" He asked.

"If that is okay with you two," Mom said.

"Hell yes," James said. "Oops! I'm sorry. I mean, for sure."

"What about you, Craig?" Dad asked as he was still laughing at James.

"Hell yes," I agreed.

"Do we have to keep our last names?" James asked.

"Only if you want to keep it," Mom said.

"I want to be a Turner," James said. "What about you, Craig?"

"We're the Turner family," I said. "I have no reason to keep the Phillips name."

James was giddy all morning and could hardly keep his mind on the board games we were playing. Our board game was interrupted by the phone. "Do you have electricity?" Mrs. Cochran asked when I answered.

"Yes, do you not have electricity, Mrs. Cochran?" I asked.

"No, it went off a couple of hours ago," Mrs. Cochran said. "I'm wrapped up like a mummy."

"Tell her that I'll bring her here," Dad said when he overheard my conversation.

"Dad said that he would bring you here," I said.

"Oh no, it is too dangerous," Mrs. Cochran protested.

"You can't stay there in the cold," I said.

"Let me talk to her," Dad said as he took the phone. "Margret, pack a few things and I'll be there as soon as I can. I don't know how long it will take though."

Apparently Mrs. Cochran agreed since Dad began dressing for the cold. "I'll go with you," I said.

"Me too," James said.

"No, you boys stay here," Dad said. "If I go off the road, there is no need for all of us to get stranded."

Shortly after Dad left James said, "Let's go do the chores so that Dad won't have to be out in the cold when he gets home."

"Good idea," I said. "We had better dress warmly though."

We had finished all of the chores when Dad finally arrived home with Mrs. Cochran. James and I rushed to the garage to greet Dad and Mrs. Cochran. "What a nice warm house," Mrs. Cochran said when we escorted her into the house.

"Margaret, Would you like a cup of hot coffee?" Mom asked.

"That sounds wonderful," Mrs. Cochran said. "I'm just about to warm up though. The heater in the truck felt great after the coldness of my house."

"Craig, would you mind giving your room to Margaret?" Mom asked.

"Not at all," I said. "I'll use the basement bedroom."

"I don't want to take your room," Mrs. Cochran said. "I'll be comfortable in the basement."

"No, there is no bathroom down there," I said. "Going up and down the stairs would be too much for your arthritis."

"Let me warm up and then we'll go do the chores," Dad said after Mrs. Cochran relented to sleeping in my room.

"Craig and I did them already," James proudly announced.

"Thank you, boys," Dad said. He then said to Mrs. Cochran, "We are so lucky to have these two as our sons."

"I'm so happy for them," Mrs. Cochran said. "I miss having Craig as a neighbor, but I know he is loved here. Did you know that Jim Frazier from Child Protective Service came to visit me Tuesday?"

"We weren't aware of that," Mom said. "I wonder what's up."

"I think it has to do with terminating parental rights," Mrs. Cochran said. "He wanted to know if Neal was still seeing Sharon."

"That bastard should be in jail," Dad said. "Is he still seeing her?"

"Yes, but not as often," Mrs. Cochran said. "I think he is more interested in women with young boys. I understand that Neil pled guilty and got probation with an order to stay away from children. I don't know the exact wording, but I agree with you that he should be in jail."

"Jason may want you to testify that you've seen Neil there," Mom said. "Would you be willing to do that?"

"Of course I would," Mrs. Cochran said.

"If you'll excuse me, I'm going to fix us a light lunch," Mom said.

"I'll help you," Mrs. Cochran said.

"It's just soup and sandwiches," Mom said. "You keep the men company."

After lunch James had the opportunity to get to know Mrs. Cochran. She even played rummy with us and proved to be a better player than James or I was. After we grew tired of playing cards, she told about growing up in the area before many of the current modern conveniences.

"Do you have any grandchildren?" James asked Mrs. Cochran.

"No, my only child died from leukemia when she was seven years old," Mrs. Cochran said.

"I'm sorry," James said and gave Mrs. Cochran a quick hug. "I'll be your grandson."

"I'd like that very much," Mrs. Cochran said.

"Then Craig would be your grandson too," James surmised.

"I've always thought of Craig as my grandson," Mrs. Cochran said.

"You know it doesn't take blood to make a family," Mom said. "Look at the love this family has."

"You are so right," Mrs. Cochran said.

"Since you're family, would you join us for Thanksgiving at Ryan and Jason's?" Mom asked.

"Yes, please go with us," James pleaded.

"Would they have room for me?" Mrs. Cochran asked.

"They have a large house, and I'm sure we'll have room," Mom said.

The day of James' surgery finally arrived. I think it was a good thing that Mrs. Cochran went with us because she seemed to have a calming effect on him. "Tell me about the old days," he said as we drove to Topeka.

"I remember when we got our first television," Mrs. Cochran said. "It was a black and white, but it was before color TV. I would rush home for school to watch the Mickey Mouse Club."

Mrs. Cochran had managed to take James' mind completely off of his impending surgery.  He was completely relaxed when we arrived at the surgical center.  However, his nervousness came back as we entered the building.  I admired his bravery. I knew he wanted to bolt out the door and run.

Mom and Dad were allowed to go back with James, and Mrs. Cochran and I waited in the waiting room. After about an hour Mom and Dad came out and said that James was taken back for his procedure. The doctor expected the procedure to take about two hours.

"What a brave little boy he is," Mrs. Cochran said.

"He certainly is," Mom agreed. "He has been through so much in his short life. I cringe to think of what his life would have been like if Craig hadn't cared enough to ask Jason to help him."

"Isn't it strange how life works out," Dad said. "We lost Patrick and we still miss him and grieve our loss. But, we now have two wonderful sons."

After more than two hours the doctor came out and told us that the surgery was complete and that he expected good results. "After James has healed we'll bring him back for a dermabrasion," he said. "For the most part the scars will be completely gone."

"Will he be in any pain?" Mom asked.

"He will have some discomfort," the doctor said. "I've written a prescription for some pain medication if he should need it.  The nurse will be out in a few minutes with some printed instructions.  I'll need to see James again Tuesday for suture removal. We'll likely not see any real results for about three to six months."

"He's going to be disappointed about that," I said.

"I'd like to get my hands on the person that did that to him," Dad said.

"Cowards like that would run like a scared rabbit," Mrs. Cochran said.

The nurse came out and said that James was in recovery and that two people could go back. Mom and Mrs. Cochran went back to be with James when he woke. After what seemed like forever the nurse brought James out in a wheel chair. Mom and Mrs. Cochran were close escorts. James gave us a sleepy grin.

Mom was right; Uncle Ryan and Uncle Jason did have a big house. Both uncles greeted us at the door and took charge of James. "Do you need to lie down?" Uncle Ryan asked.

James shook his head no, but he was obviously still not fully awake. "Come in the den and you can lie on the couch and still visit with everyone," Uncle Jason suggested.

"You'd better lie on your stomach," I said as we tried to make James comfortable.

"I had better go find a drug store and get his prescriptions filled," Dad said.

"Give them to me and I'll go get them filled," Uncle Jason said.

We managed to get James to eat a little before he went to bed. He and I would be sharing the bedroom with twin beds. "I'll take good care of him," I promised Mom when we put him to bed.

I woke the next morning hearing James crying. "Are you in pain?" I asked.

"It looks worse than it did before the surgery," James said. "I went to the bathroom and looked in the mirror and it looks awful."

"The doctor said it would," I said. "He said it would take three to six months for results."

"Really?" James asked.

"Really," I promised. "He also said that later he would do a dermabrasion procedure that would make the scars nearly impossible to see. Remember too that you still have sutures in your back."

Thanksgiving was a wonderful family celebration. Uncle Ryan and Uncle Jason outdid themselves with a fantastic Thanksgiving dinner. James seemed to savor the celebration in spite of the discomfort from his recent surgery.

James tolerated the ride home Friday better than most would. Mom had insisted that he take some pain medication before we departed. James objected but in the end Mom won out. When we arrived home he wanted to help with the chores, but that was quickly overruled by the entire family.

After dinner I offered to drive Mrs. Cochran home, but Dad thought it would be best he drove her home. Mom agreed, but I did ride along with him.

After James' sutures were removed it required the entire family to keep him away from the barns during chore time. "You are not to go out there until after Christmas," Mom warned him.  After a few days James gave up his argument.

It was a few days before the hearing to terminate parental rights of James and my biological parents. James and I were busy doing homework when Mom called out, "Craig, you have a phone call."

"Who is it?" I asked.

"I don't know," Mom said. "I didn't ask."

"Hello," I said when I picked up the phone.

"This is your dad," the man said.

"You have the wrong number," I said. "My dad is here."

"I'm your real dad," he said.

"My real dad is here," I said. "If you're Dan Phillips, you're no longer my dad."

"Don't hang up," he said. "I want to see you before the court hearing."

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