"Where's Ro?" Max asked as she led Father Doherty into the living area of the Big House.
"He got called out. I thought we'd be busier by now." Bax said honestly.
"Father Doherty, this is Bax. He's another one of the Gophers." Max said proudly.
"Brother Jacques called you gophers back at the hospital, but I don't know what he meant." Father Doherty said hesitantly.
"We 'go fer' things... and people, I guess." Max happily explained.
"Oh. Of course." Father Doherty said with a warm smile at them.
"Come on. Let's see who's in the living room, first." Max said as she led the way out of the room.
* * * * *
"Father Doherty!" Jamiah called out happily and ran across the room.
A moment later, Loquicia was running to join her brother.
"It's good to see you, too. How have you been?" Father Doherty asked warmly as he hugged the children.
"I was so worried about you! We left and you weren't here when we got here and I was afraid that you'd been killed." Loquicia cried as she held tightly to him.
"I'm perfectly fine, Loquicia. But I've missed you both terribly." Father Doherty said gently.
"Let me take him for you." Emo whispered as he approached Annie, who was still holding Colton.
Annie held perfectly still as she waited for Emo to take Colton from her arms.
"I'm surprised to see you here, Emo. How is Colton doing, this evening?" Father Doherty asked as he continued to hold Loquicia and Jamiah.
"When I got off the bus, some guy in a wheelchair thought it'd be best if I brought Colt here where he'd be warm and I could take better care of him." Emo explained with a smile at the baby in his arms.
"Brother Emo let us hold the baby." Loquicia said into Father Doherty's chest.
"Brother Emo?" Father Doherty asked with a delighted smile.
"Yeah. The kids came up with that." Emo said shyly.
"He's a brother, just like Brother Jacques. He takes care of kids that ain't even his own and treats them like they was." Jamiah said firmly.
Father Doherty considered for a moment, then looked to Emo and said, "Since the children feel so strongly about it, would you object to it if we referred to you that way?"
Emo was stunned for a moment, then he chuckled before shaking his head and saying, "Brother Emo?"
"I agree with Jamiah's reasoning. I'd be proud to include you with Brother Jacques and the twins as my most trusted helpers." Father Doherty said seriously.
Emo blinked in astonishment at the words, then finally said, "Steve's never gonna believe this."
"Is that a 'yes'?" Father Doherty asked cautiously.
"It's a 'yes'." Brother Emo said with a gentle, contented smile.
* * * * *
"I thought we'd be busier." Ben said honestly.
"I know. But Trav said that him and Jingo were sent ahead to help me make a place for our people. There are going to be other buses coming, later." Dax said frankly.
"I can tell that you trust them, but... they make me nervous." Ben quietly admitted.
"Me, too, a little. But my dad sent them here to help me with the things that I can't do." Dax said thoughtfully.
"What do you mean?" Ben asked curiously.
"Well, you've seen them. I think you can guess where and how they grew up. I think that they're here to keep the kind of people who wouldn't listen to someone like me, in line." Dax said carefully.
"So, does this mean that when your Chicago people show up, that they won't be moving on?" Ben asked cautiously.
"No. This will be their home until it's safe for them to go back to Chicago. My dad wants them to be kept together and kept safe. It's what he's counting on me to do." Dax said with a little of the fear he was feeling beginning to show in his voice.
"All the plans we've been making so far was with the assumption that the people who were arriving would be moving on." Ben said carefully.
"Do you think this is going to cause a big problem?" Dax asked cautiously.
"No. I can't see any reason why it would, but we should probably make sure that Carson and Bug know about this as soon as possible so that they can make any adjustments that are necessary to the master plan." Ben said consideringly.
"Carson and Bug, this is Oleksandr. Ben and Dax want you to know that the people coming from Chicago aren't gonna be leaving. They're gonna stay here until it's safe for them to go back home." Oleksandr said seriously.
Ben and Dax were both surprised that Oleksandr had taken it upon himself to make the announcement. But Dax finally decided that it needed to be done, and moved to Oleksandr's side to give him a quick hug as he said, "Thanks, Olex."
* * * * *
"According to the computer information, your brothers should be arriving any minute. We should probably go outside." Roris said seriously.
"Thanks for waiting with us. It might've been scary if we were alone here." Jody said frankly.
"It's okay. You guys are fun." Lawrence said with a radiant grin.
Nick shyly glanced at Lawrence, then looked away with a slight blush.
Jody noticed and rolled his eyes before saying in a tone of long suffering, "Let's get out there and face this. They're probably going to hug us half to death."
"Be glad that you have people who love you that much." Roris said as he followed the boys out of the stadium.
"Yeah. I am. But sometimes it's not fun being the one everyone's worried about." Jody said honestly.
"Believe me. I know that feeling." Roris said frankly.
Jody looked back at Roris, and considered for a moment before saying, "Yeah. You win."
Roris smiled at the reaction. It was unusual for someone as young as Jody to be able to talk comfortably with him. Most were intimidated by the wheelchair and couldn't see past it enough to get to know the person driving it.
"There they are!" Nick said suddenly as he pointed.
"You're going to like my brother. He's really awesome." Jody said to Roris with a smile.
Roris watched as Jody rushed to the curb and thought about how much he had come to admire the young man in the short time that he had known him.
* * * * *
"How are yu doin? Is everythin alright with yu?" JD asked in an unusually thick Irish accent which he only tended to use when he was extremely upset.
"I'm fine. We're both okay." Jody said as he was enveloped in JD's hug.
"You little monster. Don't you EVER run off like that without telling me again." Jorry said in a voice that was nearly sobbing as he held Nick tightly.
As Roris and Lawrence were watching the reunion, the two other boys from the car walked over to them.
"Did you watch after Jody and Nick for us, until we got here?" A young man asked cautiously, obviously afraid that he was making the wrong assumption.
"Yeah. Jody and Nick are great. I like them." Lawrence said happily.
Roris smiled at Lawrence's answer, then said, "I don't know how much we watched after them. But they hung out at the Florida check-in desk with us until we got word that you were about to arrive."
"Well, whatever you did, thank you. We've all been worried sick about them since we got separated." The other young man said honestly.
"My name is Roris and this is Lawrence." He said as he looked at Lawrence by his side.
"Oh. Yeah. I'm Collin and this is Christian." The less assertive of the two said quickly.
"It's nice to meet you. Jody told us about you, I just didn't know who was who." Roris said with a smile.
"We're supposed to be going to some guy's house. His name is Allen Thompson. Do you know where he lives?" Collin asked curiously.
"No. I don't know him. But we can find out for you." Roris said simply.
Lawrence keyed his subvocal and said, "Bug? Can you hear me?"
"I'm right here, Lawrence. How are you doing?" Bug answered immediately.
Due to the way that Carson had set up their sub-vocals, Roris also heard the response.
"I'm fine. This is lots of fun. We've been hanging out, helping at the Florida check-in." Lawrence said happily.
"I'm glad to hear that. I'm still here in Carson's room, making sure that all the computer stuff is working alright." Bug said warmly.
"I bet you're having fun. You like doing that stuff." Lawrence said with a smile.
"Yeah. It's all good times, around here." Bug answered and sounded as if he were smiling, too.
"We've got some guys here and they're supposed to stay with someone... What was his name again?" Lawrence asked as he turned to Roris.
"Allen Thompson." Roris responded immediately.
"Yeah. That's right. These guys are supposed to be staying with someone named Allen Thompson, but they don't know where he lives. Can you tell me so I can tell them?" Lawrence asked hopefully.
"Actually, I know who that is. I met him today. How about you give me a minute to arrange things and I'll have someone go there and show your new friends how to get to Allen's house?" Bug asked pleasantly.
"Yeah! That'd be great. I bet the guys'd really like that." Lawrence said enthusiastically.
"Okay, Lor. You tell the guys that someone's on their way and I'll get things taken care of here." Bug said warmly.
"I love you, Bug. Tell Oma Shoupe that I love her, too." Lawrence said quickly.
"I love you, too, Lor. Make sure you come home when you start getting tired." Bug said cautiously.
"Roris will make sure that I don't stay out too long." Lawrence said as he looked at Roris lovingly.
"Good. Make sure you stop in and see me before you go to bed, okay?" Bug asked quietly.
"Yeah. I will. I promise. I love you. Bye." Lawrence said quickly, then tapped the sub-vocal mic to turn it off.
When Lawrence looked up, he saw that all the boys were standing in front of him and Roris, waiting expectantly.
"We've got someone on the way to show you how to get to Mr. Thompson's house." Roris said seriously.
"Wow. You guys sure do give good service. I thought we'd be standing in lines and waiting for hours to do stuff when we got here." Jorry said frankly.
"We've done our best to make it as easy as possible. Since it will probably be a few minutes before your escort gets here, you have a chance to get something to eat, if you're hungry. If you'll let us know where you'll be, we'll tell your escort when they arrive." Roris said calmly.
"Yeah. They've got some really good food over at that one. We ate there when we first got here. You'll really like it." Jody said as he pointed across the parking lot.
"Don't worry. When they get here, I'll come get you." Lawrence said quickly.
"Thank you, Lawrence." Nick said shyly as a slight blush crept up his cheeks.
Jody noticed and gave an eyeroll before leading the way toward the portable kitchen.
* * * * *
As he was getting his plate filled, Trav looked up and was surprised to see that Father Kinsey was the one serving him.
"How you doin, Malcolm?" Trav asked with a smile.
"I'm very well. You said earlier that you had some things that you had to do, did everything go well?" Father Kinsey asked pleasantly.
"Yeah. The guy we came to talk to already had everything under control. I thought we was gonna have a lot more to do." Trav said happily.
The man behind Trav cleared his throat, reminding them that they were holding up the serving line.
"We have plenty of help here, tonight. Why don't you take a seat and enjoy your food. I should be able to join you before you're finished." Father Kinsey said hopefully.
"Yeah. I'll be waitin for you." Trav said quietly, then hurried away.
Father Franklin had witnessed the whole thing and fought to restrain a smile.
* * * * *
"My husband and I have volunteered at homeless shelters many times over the years, although, with him being a doctor, I don't recall him ever having the opportunity to prepare or serve food." Madelyn said thoughtfully.
"There have been many times when I have wished that we would have a doctor volunteer his services for us. So many people could have been helped with just a little preventative medicine. But, unfortunately, the majority of them ended up putting off their ills until they could no longer be ignored. By the time they reached that point, there was no quick or easy way to resolve their problems." Father Doherty said regretfully.
"I'm curious to know about the children. So far as I know, the child welfare system wouldn't ever sanction the removal of children from the state without their approval." Madelyn said carefully.
"Officially, I suppose that's true. But, you see, these children are the ones that the system likes to conveniently overlook. Whether they be non-white, openly gay, somehow disabled or whatever the reason, be it real or perceived, these children are ignored. Generally, when plans are made, they are made without them in mind. When statistics are gathered, it is without their information being taken into account. They are the phantoms in the system. Once they've been left somewhere, they are ignored, as if they never existed." Father Doherty said gravely.
"I wasn't aware that such practices were in place." Madelyn said with concern.
"I suppose that because of the overwhelming need, that it's natural for some children to fall through the cracks in the system. Places like my mission ended up being a dumping ground for those who couldn't be placed quickly and permanently." Father Doherty said quietly.
"Father Doherty's was the best place for us to be. I was afraid that they were gonna split me and Loquicia up and I'd never see her again. But when we first got there, Father Doherty promised me that we'd be able to stay together, and he's always kept his promise." Jamiah said seriously.
"Father Doherty?" Art asked in surprise as he walked down the stairs.
"Art? Oh, they told me you were here, I'm so glad to see you!" Father Doherty said happily as he quickly got up.
Art and Euan met him halfway across the room and exchanged quick hugs.
"Jim was afraid that he'd lost you. He didn't know where you had gone." Father Doherty quietly explained.
"We were recruited to go to work here, to continue our work, helping the convoy." Euan explained.
"I'm just glad to know that you're safe." Father Doherty said warmly.
"Thank you, Father." Euan said with a smile.
"As much as I would like to stay here with you, we are needed elsewhere." Art said regretfully.
"I understand. I think we all have things that we need to be doing. In fact, right now I should be checking on the rest of the children." Father Doherty said gently.
Art and Euan hurried away, into Carson's room, as Father Doherty turned to Madelyn and asked, "Do you happen to know where Ty might be?"
"All I can tell you is that if you can find my grandson, Mikey, you'll find Ty a moment later." Madelyn said fondly.
"I don't know where they are, but I can help you find them." Jamiah said quickly.
Father Doherty smiled at the boy, then held out his arm, inviting him into a hug.
* * * * *
"Hey, guys! Ken's here, he's gonna take you where you want to go." Lawrence said as he ran up to the group of boys sitting around a picnic table.
"We're just about finished. Which one is he?" Jorry asked as he looked over to the stadium.
"He's the cute guy with the ponytail. He's one of my brother's boyfriends." Lawrence said happily.
"One of?" Jorry asked cautiously.
"Yeah. Bug's boyfriends with Ken and his brother Kev. But I got to be boyfriends with Roris, first." Lawrence said proudly.
"That's great, Lawrence." Jody said with a smile.
"Yeah. I think so, too." Lawrence agreed, then waited for everyone to be finished eating.
Knowing that Lawrence was standing there, waiting on them, caused the group to finish their meal quite a bit faster than they might have otherwise.
"Come on. Ken's great. You're really gonna like him." Lawrence said as he raced ahead of them.
Nick seemed to be in a daze as he absently followed along, never losing sight of Lawrence for an instant.
* * * * *
"This is Ken. He's my brother's boyfriend." Lawrence said proudly.
"You don't have to tell everyone. Not everybody thinks it's as wonderful as you do." Ken said gently.
"You don't have to worry about us." Christian said firmly, then added, "This is my boyfriend, Collin."
"Good. Bug told me that you guys were wanting to go to Allen Thompson's house, is that right?" Ken asked to be sure.
"Yeah. He's friends with our Dads." Christian said with a smile.
"Alright, then. If you guys will get in your car, I'll be on that gator, right over there, when you're ready." Ken said as he pointed.
"Okay. We're ready when you are." Christian said happily and led the group of boys toward their SUV.
* * * * *
"Well, crap." Jamiah said as they walked out of Mikey's bedroom.
"I'm sure we'll be able to track them down." Father Doherty said without concern.
"Yeah. I know. I just thought they'd be up in Mikey's room." Jamiah said sourly.
"Do you have any idea of where else we can look?" Father Doherty asked casually.
"Well, yeah. I mean, if you want to come to my room, I can get on the computer there and we can ask Dizzy where he is." Jamiah said seriously.
"Who is Dizzy?" Father Doherty asked cautiously, remembering that Dax had told him much the same thing.
"That's the computer that's keeping track of all the stuff that's going on, right now. All the computers in the house are hooked up so we can ask him stuff if we want to." Jamiah said simply as he led the way to the bottom of the stairs.
"That sounds like something out of a science fiction movie." Father Doherty said honestly.
"Yeah. I guess. But I don't think Dizzy's gonna go crazy and try to take over the world... well, at least I hope not. I'd better be sure and be nice to him." Jamiah said slowly as he walked Father Doherty down the hall and to an elevator in the room where he had first entered the house.
"You don't want to take the stairs, do you?" Jamiah asked cautiously as he pushed the call button.
"No. Thank you." Father Doherty said with a smile.
* * * * *
"According to the directions I was given, this is the place." Ken said as he walked up to the SUV.
"So, you haven't been here before, either?" Christian asked curiously.
"No. But I know Allen. That's why Bug wanted for me to be the one to drive you up here." Ken said honestly.
"Oh. I guess that makes sense." Christian said as he walked with Ken up to the front door.
Within a second of knocking, the door was quickly opened.
"Cute stuff! Bug called and said that you were on your way. Come in!" Allen said happily.
Ken felt a little bit strange, being singled out while the others were completely ignored.
His first step into the entry hall sent a chill up his spine.
It was almost as if he'd walked eight years into the past.
Hanging on the wall, just inside the door were dozens of pictures of him and his late father.
Collin, Christian and Jorry walked past him as JD, Jody and Nick stopped to see what Ken was looking at.
"What's wrong, Ken?" Jody finally asked.
"These pictures. They're of me." Ken whispered as he was transfixed by the sight.
All three boys started looking at the pictures with him.
"Who's that with Allen?" Nick asked quietly.
"That's my Dad. He was Allen's boyfriend when I was a kid." Ken said absently.
"You mean that even after they broke up, Allen kept all this stuff?" JD asked cautiously.
"No. They didn't break up. My Dad died." Ken said quietly.
"Come on in, guys. Make yourselves comfortable." Allen called happily from the living room.
"What are the chances of that happening?" JD asked Ken in a whisper.
Ken nodded in agreement as he was finally able to force himself to stop looking at the images from his past.
* * * * *
"Dizzy says that they're in Kettle Falls. He can call Ty for you if you really need to talk to him." Jamiah said seriously.
"No. That's quite alright. I'm sure that I will get to speak with him before the night is over." Father Doherty said gently.
"Yeah. We should probably go back to the living room. I want to make sure that Loquicia's okay." Jamiah said as he looked up to meet Father Doherty's eyes.
"Yes. That seems to be the most central location. Perhaps, if we stay there, we might catch Ty or Oleksandr as they're passing through." Father Doherty said with a smile as he started to walk.
* * * * *
"Stop and have a good meal before you check in at the stadium. They'll tell you where your house will be and that should be all there is to it. All your information is already entered, so you'll just have to identify yourself. If you have any further questions or need any kind of help at all, just tell them at the check-in and someone will take care of it for you." Euan said seriously.
Art smiled at Euan's professionalism, then turned suddenly when Carson exclaimed, "Crap!"
"What?" Bug asked as he looked up from his laptop.
"They still haven't got approval from Canada." Carson said in frustration.
"Is there a problem?" Art asked with concern.
"You could say that. The Vice President's working on getting clearance from the Canadian government, but it still hasn't gone through. The only way this whole thing is going to work is if we get people fed, fueled up, rested, and back on the road. If they don't have anywhere to go, we're stuck with them. We're probably going to fill up within a day, at this rate." Carson said anxiously.
"Don't stress about it, Carson. The Vice President knows how important this is, he'll come through for us." Bug said with certainty.
Euan and Art exchanged a look, but nothing was said between them before the tone of an incoming message forced them to get back to work.
* * * * *
After the entry hall, Ken didn't think that anything could creep him out more... he was wrong.
Although the living room wasn't exactly the same as the one in the house where he had grown up, it was close enough to send another shiver up his spine.
He couldn't tell if Allen had bought identical furniture throughout the years or if he had reupholstered the furniture that he had brought from Florida. Regardless, it looked nearly identical, although in somewhat better condition than he remembered.
As Ken walked more fully into the room, he saw a vase that he remembered from his childhood. Draped over the back of the couch was the same crocheted afghan that had always been there.
"I don't know if you guys know this, but I've been Kenny's Pop since he was younger than any of you." Allen said as he walked to Ken and pulled him into a hug.
Ken wanted to pull away... actually, he wanted to run away. But everyone was watching, and he didn't want to hurt the feelings of the man who had loved his father so much.
With a casual arm still around Ken, Allen asked the group, "Do any of you know when Marc and Galen are expected?"
"Um..." JD started nervously and had to force himself to continue, as was common for him, his Irish accent became much more pronounced when he was anxious, "When we were all plannin to come here, there was a problem. Our dads pushed me and Jody out tha back door an told us to run while they kept the police busy."
Christian looked at JD sympathetically, knowing that he was reliving the experience in the retelling of it. Quietly, he picked up the narrative. "Our dads decided to stay in Tallahassee to try and save JD and Jody's dads, and they sent us ahead to where it would be safe... with you."
"I see." Allen said quietly, then glanced at Ken before saying, "It's late and I bet that all of you could use a good night of sleep. The guest rooms are all made up and I think there should be room for everyone."
All the boys seemed to be happy with the idea.
"And I've got something special for you, Cute Stuff." Allen said with a delighted smile.
Ken froze in place, not even wanting to imagine what it might be.
"I have your old bedroom, just like you left it, recreated in every detail." Allen said happily.
"I've got to get back to Bug and Kev." Ken hurried to explain.
"You can invite them over here, if you like. I wouldn't mind at all." Allen said frankly.
"No. Bug works at the Brown house. He really needs to be there. But we can stop by some other time, so we can visit." Ken said cautiously.
"Well, the lab's going to be closed until Monday, at least. So all of you can feel free to stop by anytime you like." Allen said warmly.
"Okay, Pop." Ken said reluctantly, and gave the man another hug before exiting the house and jumping on the gator as fast as his legs could carry him.
He left a notable cloud of dust in the driveway as he sped away.
* * * * *
"Excuse me. When I tried to check in, they sent me over here." A young woman said uncertainly.
"What was your name?" Ben asked casually.
"Angela Baxter." She said hesitantly.
Ben looked at the screen on his computer for a moment, then keyed his subvocal and said, "Roris, I have a note here from you about Angela Baxter. She's here at my station."
"Rory says that a guy named Emo and her baby are up at the house, waiting for her." Lawrence said quickly.
"Which house would that be?" Ben asked cautiously.
"The house where we sleep." Lawrence said simply.
"Thank you, Lawrence. Thank you, too, Roris." Ben said, then keyed the mic to disconnect.
Angela was looking at Ben cautiously.
"I was told that Emo and your baby are up at the Brown's house, waiting for you to arrive." Ben told her with a smile.
Angela seemed not to know how to feel about the announcement.
Ben turned to Dax and asked, "Do you think you'll be alright on your own for a while?"
"Sure. I can handle this." Dax said confidently.
"Then Oleksandr and I are going to drive Angela up to the house. We'll be back in a little bit." Ben said seriously.
"Okay." Dax said happily, glad that Ben was going to trust him to handle things by himself.
* * * * *
"Well, look at all of you in here." Deb said in surprise as she walked into the living room.
"I can't imagine what kind of work you have to be doing on a Friday night, while all this is going on." Madelyn said frankly to her daughter.
"That's right, Mom. You can't imagine." Deb said simply, then turned her attention to the new arrivals.
"Deb, I'd like for you to meet Father Doherty, he's from a rescue mission in Chicago. The young man is Brother Emo and the infant he's holding is Colton." Madelyn said pleasantly.
"Oh, I haven't held a baby in years. May I?" Deb asked as she looked down at Colton.
"Sure. If you don't mind holding him for a few minutes, I need to get his formula ready, he's a little overdue for a feeding." Emo asked timidly.
"I would absolutely love to." Deb said with delight as she accepted the baby into her arms.
Emo went to the bags beside Madelyn's chair and selected the things that he would need.
"The kitchen's through there. Feel free to ask if you need any help." Madelyn said as she pointed.
"No. I've got this. But thanks." Emo said quietly before hurrying out of the room.
"So, you ran a rescue mission? How did you come to be here?" Deb asked as she held Colton gently.
"That's a rather long story, I'm afraid. But, suffice it to say, I was ordered to put out all the people we were caring for and lock the doors behind them. So, rather than do that, we made arrangements to bring all those in our care to someplace safe, which happened to be here." Father Doherty said honestly.
"I'm so glad that we were able to provide a safe place for you. I hope that we'll be able to do as well for all the others that are headed this way." Deb said honestly.
"Yes. I was curious about that. I got the impression that the rescue effort was being coordinated from here, yet, I've seen no evidence of it." Father Doherty said carefully.
"I take it that you haven't been in Carson's room, yet." Deb said with a smile.
"No. I can't say that I have. But I've talked to him on the phone, then again, on the radio. If he's here, I suppose it would only be right for me to stop in and say hello." Father Doherty said thoughtfully.
"His room is right over there. No telling how many people are in there at the moment. Carson is the one in the wheelchair." Deb said simply.
Father Doherty was surprised by her speaking about a disability so casually, but decided that in living with it day after day, it had simply become a part of life.
As he stood, he found that Jamiah was immediately at his side.
Father Doherty smiled and put an arm around the boy's shoulders, then led him across the room to Carson's door.
* * * * *
Angela looked from Ben to Oleksandr a few times before timidly asking, "Is he your son?"
"No." Ben chuckled lightly, then added, "But close enough."
"What happened?" Angela asked quietly.
"I don't know his whole story, only that he ended up at a homeless shelter in Chicago. That's where I met him. When we were on our way to come here, I volunteered to take care of him and... well, it looks like it's on it's way to becoming a permanent arrangement. At least, I hope it is." Ben said frankly.
"So, you don't feel any resentment toward whoever left him there?" Angela asked cautiously.
"Well, I feel something more than resentment toward the foster parent who abused him. I'd like five minutes alone with that creep. But as far as his birth parents... I have no idea about their situation, so I can't really say." Ben said honestly.
"My parents were really poor. They put me up for adoption hoping that someone in the United States would adopt me and give me a better life than they had." Oleksandr said quietly.
"Oh? Where are you from?" Ben asked curiously.
"The Ukraine. That's one of the Russian states." Oleksandr said as he looked at Ben cautiously.
"Yes. I've heard of it. So, what happened after you came to the United States?" Ben asked gently.
"My American parents were really nice to me and loved me a lot. But... then my dad lost his job and my mom left him." Oleksandr said sadly.
"How did you end up at the shelter?" Ben asked softly.
Oleksandr shrugged one shoulder, then quietly said, "My American dad didn't have anyplace to live. So we went to the shelter. He left me there sometimes so he could look for work. One time, he never came back."
Ben held Oleksandr close to his side, as best he could and also drive the gator.
After what seemed to be a long time, but was actually about a minute, Angela finally asked Oleksandr, "Are you angry at your birth parents for giving you up for adoption?"
Oleksandr thought about it for a moment, then quietly said, "Sometimes, a little. But mostly I just think they were trying to give me a chance to have a good life. I think maybe I've got one, now."
"You will if I have anything to say about it." Ben said lovingly.
Angela didn't say anything the rest of the trip to the house.
* * * * *
"Hello, Father. It looks like you found us." Euan said happily.
"Yes. It appears that I have." Father Doherty said cautiously as he slowly walked into the room that looked like a cross between a teenager's bedroom and the bridge of the Enterprise.
"Is this Father Doherty?" Bug asked from across the room.
"Yes. Father Brian Doherty." Art confirmed.
Bug stood and walked across the room, then extended his hand.
"It's a pleasure to meet you, Father Doherty. You've done an incredible thing." Bug said seriously.
"Thank you." Father Doherty said as he shook the offered hand.
"This is Bug. He's sort of been following what we've been doing almost since we left Chicago." Euan said with a smile.
"Brother Jacques and the twins told me about you, too. If you need anything at all, please feel free to ask. It would be an honor to help you." Bug said sincerely.
"I believe I have everything I need, at the moment. But thank you for the offer, Bug." Father Doherty said gently.
"Those two, over there, are Carson and Jay. They're keeping track of everything that's going on... sort of everywhere, all at once." Euan said haltingly.
"Carson's actually keeping track of everything. I'm just keeping track of Carson." Jay said shyly.
"Whatever you're doing, please continue. You're helping an uncountable number of people with your efforts." Father Doherty said quietly.
"Just like you would do, in our place." Bug said frankly.
Father Doherty smiled at Bug, then quietly left the room.
* * * * *
"Unless I read the message totally wrong, there should be someone named Emo here with a baby named Colton." Ben said as he led the way into the living room.
"Brother Emo." Loquicia quickly corrected.
Ben turned to Loquicia and looked at her with question.
"Over there, feeding the baby." Loquicia said as she pointed.
Angela was frozen in place, standing in the living room doorway.
"Everyone, this is Angela." Ben said as he looked around.
"Colton's mother." Emo said, in case anyone hadn't already figured that out.
"It's a pleasure to meet you, Angela. My name is Deb. Welcome to my home." Deb said pleasantly, as she stood.
"Thank you." Angela said timidly.
Emo stood and walked to Angela without a word, then offered Colton to her.
"How has he been?" Angela asked as she accepted the baby.
"Fine. He's a good baby." Emo said in almost a whisper.
"Angela, it's good to see you again." Father Doherty said as he walked into the room with Jamiah still at his side.
"Yeah." Angela whispered as she looked at her son.
"Please, sit down and make yourself comfortable." Father Doherty said gently.
"Here, you can sit over here. All Colt's stuff is beside the chair." Emo said quickly.
"Thank you." Angela said softly as she took the offered seat.
Silence fell over the room as everyone watched Angela holding the baby, motionlessly.
Finally, Angela slowly turned to Father Doherty and hesitantly asked, "Were you serious about taking care of Colton, if I can't?"
"Yes, Angela. As I told you, there have been others who came to me, who either weren't ready or weren't in a circumstance where they could properly care for an infant. In those situations, I've been willing to accept guardianship and I've done my best to provide the best possible homes for the children." Father Doherty said carefully.
"But... I don't want him to hate me." Angela said as tears filled her eyes.
"We'll make sure that Colton knows that his mom loves him so much that she wants to give him the best chance at life that she can." Emo said seriously.
"Yes. And if you choose to do this, you don't have to be absent from your son's life. You can visit with him, if that's what you want. Or, if you feel it would be better for him, we could send you pictures and frequent updates about how he is doing." Father Doherty said gently.
"And I promise that I'll take good care of him. Father Doherty already said that he'd help me, and I've met lots of other people who've been willing to help." Emo said earnestly.
"Angela, I know this is difficult, but if you do this, you can be as much or as little a part of Colton's life as you want." Father Doherty quietly explained.
"Gentlemen, perhaps you could give the young woman a little time to think this through. There's no reason that this needs to be decided tonight." Madelyn said frankly.
"No. I had all day to think about it. I had an entire day without my baby in my arms, needing me, feeding off of me. After an entire day of being without him, I feel... free. For the first time in so long that I can hardly remember, I feel like me again. There's no way I would have ever abandoned my baby and risked hurting him. But, I can see how much you love him, Emo. I know that you'll take good care of him. If we do this, maybe Colton and I both can have better futures."
Emo looked at Father Doherty and quietly asked, "What do we do now?"
"I'm not quite sure. I know all the steps that need to be taken in Illinois, but I suppose we'll need to consult a lawyer who is familiar with Washington family law." Father Doherty said thoughtfully.
"I happen to know a contract lawyer who knows enough about family law to draw up a petition for the court." Madelyn said seriously.
"Oh, if you could put us in touch as soon as possible, then..." Father Doherty began to say.
"Deb, you got that?" Madelyn asked to her daughter.
"I can have it ready in under an hour." Deb said firmly.
"Thank you." Father Doherty said in surprise.
"Just so you know, your case is going to be heard in the court of the Honorable, Madelyn Murten, Superior Court Justice of Stevens County, Washington, Semi-retired." Deb said with a grin at her mother.
"And in one hour, court will be in session." Madelyn said firmly, then turned to her daughter and continued, "You'd better not make me wait."
"If you all will excuse me, I believe I have some paperwork that needs my immediate attention. Please stay close by, I'm going to need some personal information." Deb said with a smile before hurrying out of the room.
* * * * *
"Do you want to stop and listen?" Mikey asked as they approached a makeshift stage where a band was playing to an audience of about thirty people.
"We don't have time, do we? I mean, people are still arriving." Ty asked uncertainly.
"Everything is running smoothly. I know it seems like we've been doing a lot, but from everything I've seen so far, they don't really need us here." Mikey said frankly.
"Yeah, we can stop and listen for a little bit, if you want to." Ty said cautiously.
"We can do that, or just go back to the house, if you're tired. It's after one in the morning." Mikey said honestly.
"I'm not really..." Ty started to say, when they briefly heard something that might be a man's scream, coming from behind the row of porta potties, at the edge of the parking lot.
Mikey and Ty took off running at the same time, to investigate.
When they rushed around the first porta potty, they were greeted by a surreal sight.
There was a young boy, certainly not any older than they were, and he was in the process of flipping a full grown man face first onto the ground. In the time it took them to approach, the boy had his booted foot firmly planted on the man's neck, while he was holding one of the man's arms, twisted behind his back in an unnatural and obviously painful position.
"What's going on here?" Mikey asked, stopping far enough away that he could run, if he needed to.
"This asshole grabbed my junk! That's what happened!" The boy seethed, then twisted the man's arm even further to emphasize his rage.
Mikey noticed that the man's nose was bleeding profusely and quietly said, "I think he needs a doctor."
"He's gonna need a mortician before I'm through with him. You guys, take off. Leave this to me." The boy growled.
"I'm sorry, but I can't do that. My name is Mikey, and one of my jobs is to help the people who are coming here to be safe." Mikey said seriously.
The boy stared at Mikey and Ty for an instant, then seemed to come to a decision.
Before either of them knew what had happened, a horrendous litany of unspeakable horrors began to play out in their minds.
They witnessed the abduction and violation of one child after another. Many of the children were left naked and bleeding, severely injured or dead when the man was finished satisfying his lusts.
"What the fuck was that?" Ty gasped as he snapped out of the trance.
Mikey stared for a moment, trying to get his bearings. Finally, the pieces seemed to fit together in his mind and he quietly said, "That was telepathy."
"Did that guy do all those things?" Ty asked as he stared at the struggling and bleeding man on the ground.
"That, and a lot more. He's been doing this for years." The boy said as he twisted the man's arm until he heard a satisfying ::crack:: and the man let out a muffled scream.
"Mikey, let's go. He's got this." Ty said darkly.
"We can't. Someone like him needs to be in jail." Mikey said quickly.
"Jail won't make him better. There's only one cure for someone like this. If you'll just leave, he's gonna get it." The boy said seriously.
"No. That's for a court to decide, not us." Mikey said in a voice that didn't sound at all certain.
"Haven't you heard? There's no justice for kids in this world. They're not even treated like people, they're more like property. Sometimes, if we want justice, we gotta take it." The boy said firmly.
"He's right, Mikey. What he's saying is right. What he's doing is right. I know what it feels like when someone like that gets hold of you... And he's right that there is no justice." Ty finished quietly.
"Okay." Mikey finally relented.
"I know this bothers you. But if I was gonna kill this fucker, I woulda done it already. I got rules that I gotta follow, too."
"Let's go." Ty urged.
"Yeah." Mikey said reluctantly and started to walk.
"Don't leave me!" The anguished man called out.
"Shut the fuck up!" The boy screamed.
Ty and Mikey were walking around the porta potties when they heard the man groan again.
"Trust me. This is right. This is the way it should be." Ty said quietly, wanting his new friend to understand.
"He's right. Sick fuckers like this don't need to be living for a few years in prison, then put back out on the streets. They need to be put down, for the good of everyone." Sounded in their minds.
"Who are you?" Mikey hesitantly called out in his own mind.
"My name's Bruce. And I'm here to protect you." Bruce responded, then the link fell silent.
* * * * *
"Is it okay if I come in?" Lazlo asked from Carson's bedroom doorway.
"Of course. How are you doing?" Jay asked gently.
"I'm sorry I didn't come down here and help you today. I don't know what happened. I just couldn't make myself do it." Lazlo said timidly.
"It's okay, Lazlo. I know that you're trying to deal with all that's been going on. There's nothing wrong with that. Just remember that I'm here if you want to talk about anything." Jay said with an encouraging smile.
It took a moment for the words to sink in, but as soon as Lazlo was certain within himself that Jay wasn't mad at him, he ran into the room and pulled Jay into a full hug.
Jay chuckled as he returned the hug, then glanced over at Carson to find him watching, with a tender smile.
After a moment more of hugging, Jay quietly said, "Lazlo, I'd like for you to meet Art and Euan. They're from the lead bus of that big convoy that's been heading this way."
Lazlo glanced at the two boys timidly, but didn't say anything.
Jay turned slightly, so that he was facing the boys and said, "Guys, this is my new foster brother, his name is Lazlo."
"It's a pleasure to meet you, Lazlo." Art said serenely.
"Yeah. Me, too." Lazlo timidly responded, then pulled out of the hug and looked at Jay earnestly as he said, "I fell asleep for a little bit, and when I woke up, Gordon was in the living room and he said that everyone else was doing stuff to help."
"I know that Max is helping out by running deliveries for people who need things. I don't know how much help the rest of us are being." Jay said frankly.
"You're being a big help to me. I couldn't keep on going without you." Carson said honestly.
"Is there something I can do?" Lazlo asked hopefully.
"I don't think there's anything at the moment. So far, everything seems to be running smoothly. We're just keeping a watch on things in case anything happens that we need to deal with." Jay said softly.
"We're getting a surge of 'guest' users in the program. Roris and Lawrence need to be ready, because if anyone needs any kind of special help, the requests are going to be routed to them." Bug said seriously.
"Roris knows that he can ask for help if he needs it. From the looks of the rest of this, just about everyone will be free to help if they're needed." Carson said honestly, then thought to add, "Maybe we should put the Gophers on standby. I know that they'd love to help out."
"It's almost two in the morning. It's time for the Gophers to call it a night." Bug said seriously.
Carson looked at him with surprise.
When Bug noticed, he innocently asked, "What?"
Carson smiled and said, "Nothing. I'll call them in."
Bug nodded, then went back to watching his laptop screen.
"Should I help that Roris guy, if he needs it?" Lazlo asked cautiously.
"You can if you want to." Jay said with a smile.
"I want to do something to help. I feel really bad that I just sat in front of the television all day." Lazlo said frankly.
"You did what you needed to do to deal with things. There's nothing wrong with that, and no one blames you at all. We're all dealing with things in our own way." Jay said honestly.
Lazlo slowly nodded.
"Come over here. I'm going to put a subvocal on you, so that if you go to help Roris, you'll be able to call in." Jay said seriously.
"Subvocal?" Lazlo asked cautiously.
"It's like a walkie talkie that you can wear." Bug said without looking away from his screen.
"Yeah. But it's got really good range, so no matter where you go, you'll always be able to get in touch with us." Jay said as he carefully peeled the subvocal mic off a slip of paper.
Lazlo held still as Jay gently placed the mic on his throat.
"And this one goes behind your ear." Jay said quietly.
Again, Lazlo stayed frozen in place as Jay put the subvocal speaker on him.
"Good. Now, if you'll tap the strip on your throat and say your name, Dizzy will log your subvocal in." Jay said as he stepped back.
Lazlo looked at Jay uncertainly for a moment, but finally did as he was told. "I'm Lazlo Orion."
"Hello, Lazlo. I'm Dizzy. If you ever want to talk to someone else wearing a subvocal or a radio, just tap the strip on your neck and say their name, and I'll be sure that they can hear your message." Dizzy said pleasantly.
"Wow. I heard that like he was saying it inside my head." Lazlo said in astonishment.
"I'm not sure how it works. But now that you have a subvocal, you can call us if you ever need any help of any kind." Jay said seriously.
"Thanks." Lazlo said with a timid smile at his new foster brother.
"Did you need something?" Bax asked as he led the Gophers into Carson's bedroom.
"Yeah. It looks like things are under control for the moment. So I thought you guys should get some sleep while you've got the chance." Bug said as he turned away from his laptop.
"What if somebody needs something?" Max asked with concern.
"Then we'll find someone to get it for them. You guys get some sleep. It looks like you're going to be kept really busy tomorrow." Bug said frankly.
Max, Bax and Ro shared considering looks for a moment, then Bax finally said, "Okay."
"Are you gonna make us breakfast in the morning?" Max asked curiously.
"Yeah. Sure. Where are you going to sleep tonight, so I'll be able to find you to wake you up for breakfast?" Bug asked with a smile.
Once again, the three communicated with facial expressions and eye movements, before Ro said, "We promised my dads that we'd stay there tonight."
"Okay. You guys get some sleep and I'll see you at breakfast." Bug said warmly.
"Thanks, Bug. Thanks for letting us really help." Max said sincerely.
"Yeah." Bug acknowledged shyly.
At that, Max, Bax and Ro turned as one and rushed out of the room.
"What about the rest of us? Isn't it about bedtime?" Carson asked the group.
"There are still people who need our help." Art said anxiously.
"We have a backup crew who covers for us while we sleep. They're the people camped out on the front lawn. I think it's time to turn things over to them, I can hardly keep my eyes open." Carson said seriously.
"We should sleep, too." Euan reluctantly admitted.
"Before you go, you need to put on subvocals." Bug said as he closed his laptop.
All of them, including Carson, looked at Bug with question.
"There's too many people and too much going on to trust that the guys on the lawn will be able to do everything without us. If something important comes up, we need to be able to get in touch with you." Bug said firmly.
Carson thought about it for a moment, then slowly started nodding his head.
"Yes. I believe I will sleep better knowing that if there's a problem, that I will be contacted immediately." Art said decisively.
That seemed to be all that was needed, and the others, except Carson, proceeded to put on subvocals.
* * * * *
"Did yous git a place fer tanite?" Trav asked with a smile.
Father Kinsey looked at him for a moment, then quietly asked, "Would you drop the act, while it's just the two of us?"
Trav looked at Father Kinsey with surprise at the request, but finally nodded and said, "Okay, Malcolm, did you get a room for tonight?"
Father Kinsey smiled at Trav's natural language and quietly responded, "Yes. I have a room with Father Franklin. We're sharing the house with the other men from our mission."
"I was given a room to myself. The only other person in the house is Jingo, and I happen to know that she's going to be out all night. Would you like to come over to my place?" Trav asked gently.
"I'm not sure if I should." Father Kinsey said in a trembling voice.
"We can just sit and talk for a while, if you like. I'd really like the chance to get to know you better." Trav said honestly.
Father Kinsey chuckled slightly, mostly out of nervousness, then said, "You're such a blend of contradictions, I don't think one night would be nearly enough for me to get to know you."
"Then we'd better get started. What do you say?" Trav asked with a glowing smile.
"Let me tell the volunteers that I'm going to be leaving. I'll be right back." Father Kinsey said quickly.
Trav smiled as he watched the timid man rush away.
* * * * *
"Do you think we should tell someone?" Mikey asked cautiously.
It had been nearly twenty minutes since they'd spoken, but Ty didn't have to ask what he was talking about.
"I get the feeling that Bruce is part of something... you know, the way he was talking about having rules to follow. Whatever he's a part of, it's probably not something that you should go around talking about." Ty said consideringly.
"Yeah. I know something about that." Mikey said reluctantly.
Ty stopped and looked at Mikey with question.
"I don't know much. But since Bruce kind of let you know part of it, I guess I can tell you what I do know." Mikey said cautiously, then paused for a moment to gather his thoughts.
Ty waited with anticipation.
"They came here with the Vice President. They're military, but I can't tell you anything more than that..." Mikey trailed off, then hurried to add, "Not because I'm not allowed to tell you, I just don't know. I don't think they ever said."
Ty nodded that he understood.
After another moment to think about how to put it, Mikey continued, "They're all telepathic, and some of them are really, I mean, super-freaky strong. I saw one of them lift up Carson AND his wheelchair like it was light as a feather."
"So that's how that kid could beat up a full grown man." Ty said quietly.
"Well, maybe. Since they're all military, I'm guessing that they know all kinds of martial arts and stuff like that. But anyway, they came with the Vice President so that they could protect him AND us." Mikey said frankly.
"Why us?" Ty asked cautiously, remembering that Bruce had made a point of mentioning that.
"Because we're helping all the people who are trying to get to someplace safe. They think that makes us a target, so they want to protect us." Mikey said honestly.
Ty thought about it for a moment, then slowly nodded that he understood.
"That's it. Most of the rest of the stuff they talked about was techie stuff that I didn't understand. But that's who they are and why they're here." Mikey said simply.
"If that's all true, then we shouldn't talk to anyone about what we just saw. It could cause them trouble. And if they're here to keep us safe, the least we can do is keep them safe by not telling everyone what we know." Ty said slowly.
"Okay. Yeah. I just feel funny about what Bruce did. I mean, isn't that what cops and judges are for?" Mikey asked quietly.
"Yeah. But if Bruce is part of some military thing, then they have their own thing that works like cops and judges. Remember, he said that he had rules to follow? I think that's what he meant." Ty said thoughtfully.
Mikey thought about it for a moment, then slowly nodded.
"I don't think we're doing anyone any good here, right now. Everything's running fine. Why don't we go back to your house?" Ty asked hopefully.
"Our house." Mikey said with a smile.
"No. I'm just visiting. It's your house." Ty said regretfully.
"Do you have someplace else to go?" Mike asked seriously.
"No." Ty whispered.
"Until you do, it's your house, too." Mikey said firmly.
Ty smiled at his new friend, then said, "Yeah. Okay."
* * * * *
"Are you getting sleepy?" Roris asked when he noticed Lawrence yawning.
"I'm okay. Don't send me home." Lawrence said quickly.
"Actually, you guys can go whenever you're ready. Courtney just called and said that they're taking over for the command center." Victor said as he approached.
"Then I guess that we should go back to the house." Roris said thoughtfully.
"I can drive you, when you're ready." Victor said helpfully.
"Can we have sex when we get home?" Lawrence asked hopefully.
Roris looked at him in shock for a second, then shyly glanced at Victor and said, "Let's go."
* * * * *
"I'm so sorry for leaving the children with you for so long, Mrs. Murten. I was looking up some things for Lucas and lost track of time." Gordon said as he walked into the living room.
"That's quite alright. The girls have been perfect little angels." Madelyn said warmly.
"It's really late. It's long past time for you three to be going to bed." Gordon said seriously.
"But Poppa! Can't we stay up just a little bit more? Brother Emo's going to adopt Colton." Annie begged in a cranky tired whine.
Gordon looked around the room to see if anyone could explain.
"This is Colton." Angela said as she looked at the baby in her arms.
"I'm Emo." He said as he held up his hand.
"Brother Emo." Oleksandr corrected.
Emo smiled and said, "Yeah, I forgot."
"Here, you should be holding him." Angela said as she walked to Emo and handed Colton to him.
"Thank you." Emo whispered with a smile, then got a curious look.
"If he's going to be yours, that includes when his diaper needs changed." Angela said with a slight smile, which seemed to be holding back tears.
"Yeah. Okay." Emo said with a small smile in return, then got up from the chair.
"There's a bathroom right through there, if that's what you're needing." Madelyn said as she pointed.
"Yeah. Thanks. Make sure Deb knows where I went if she needs to ask me any more questions." Emo said as he picked up the diaper bag.
"Don't worry, Emo. I'll come and get you if you're needed." Angela assured him.
Once Emo and Colton were out of the room, Madelyn quietly asked, "Are you really sure about this, dear?"
"Ever since I found out I was pregnant, I've been buried under one thing after another that I had to do or was supposed to do. I haven't done anything I wanted to do in so long I'd almost forgotten what it feels like. I love Colton. I really do. But I can't be what he needs me to be and I want to have something more than just him in my life." Angela explained urgently.
Madelyn sat quietly for a moment, thinking about her words, then quietly said, "My circumstances were very different from yours. I can't imagine any way that I would ever let go of my children..."
"Is that why you're still living with your daughter?" Ben asked before Madelyn could continue.
Madelyn was startled by the question, but after a moment to consider, she chuckled as she said, "No. That's actually a more recent thing, since Fred and I started winding down our careers so we can eventually retire."
"That's something else that I can't give Colton, a family." Angela said regretfully.
"Well, if I'm understanding what's going on here, I think that it's Colton who's giving you a family." Ben said thoughtfully.
"How do you mean?" Madelyn asked curiously.
"Well, didn't they say that she can come and visit Colton whenever she wants and that they'll send her pictures and tell her how he's doing? So, it looks to me like Colton's going to have parents just like half the other kids in this country. Except that instead of his parents getting divorced, they just never were married or even a couple to begin with." Ben said seriously.
Angela thought about his words, then slowly started to smile.
"That's a very interesting interpretation of the situation." Madelyn said carefully, sounding to be impressed.
"Thank you. I mean, really." Angela said as she accepted what she was doing in new terms.
"Here he is, in a nice fresh diaper." Emo said happily as he walked back into the living room.
Angela ran up to Emo and gave him a gentle kiss on the cheek.
"What was that for?" Emo asked cautiously.
"For being such a great guy and taking good care of Colton. I just realized that everything's going to be alright." Angela said joyfully.
"Oh... good." Emo said hesitantly, then looked around at the others in the room to see if they would fill him in on what was going on.
As Mikey and Ty walked into the living room, Father Doherty exclaimed, "There you are!"
Both of them froze with equally guilty expressions on their faces.
"How are you, Ty? Is everything going alright?" Father Doherty asked with concern.
"Yeah." Ty said hesitantly, not sure why Father Doherty was asking, then in a more self assured voice he continued, "Mikey and I have been helping people. It's been great!"
"I'm so glad to hear that." Father Doherty said peacefully.
After a moment, Mikey hesitantly asked, "What's everyone doing?"
"We're just waiting on your mother." Madelyn said with a smile at her grandson.
"She's not mad or anything about us being out so late?" Mikey asked cautiously.
"No. I think she understands." Madelyn said gently, then said to the room, "For those who haven't met him, this is my Grandson, Mikey, and his helper, Ty."
"Hi." Mikey said as he looked around the room, then asked his grandmother, "What's going on?"
"Sorry that took so long, but I've still..." Deb said as she was walking into the room, but was stopped when Tommy rushed into the room from the other door.
"It worked!" Tommy said triumphantly.
"What worked?" Deb asked her son, cautiously.
"Everything! Carson's program, the volunteers, all of it!" Tommy said happily.
"Do you think I could have those papers that you're carrying before you get into an indepth discussion?" Madelyn asked hopefully.
Deb handed the paperwork to her mother, then walked to Tommy to give him a firm hug.
"Is there a problem?" Roris asked as he entered the room with Lawrence at his side.
"No, Roris. I think everything's good." Ben said assuringly.
"What do we need to do now?" Emo asked cautiously.
"Give me a moment to read this over." Madelyn said slowly as she read through the papers.
Colton blew a raspberry, which drew everyone's attention and caused a few people to chuckle.
"She said just a minute. You need to learn how to be patient." Emo said to the baby in his arms.
He thought about getting one of the girls to hold him, but when he looked at the couch, Misti, Annie and Loquicia were all fast asleep.
"Yes. Very well done." Madelyn finally said as she awkwardly placed the papers on the arm of the cushioned chair that she was sitting in, and proceeded to sign them.
Emo watched and waited anxiously.
Madelyn rifled through her purse for a moment, then came up with her phone.
Everyone watched and waited to see what she was going to do.
"No. I do not want to update Facebook." Madelyn growled in exasperation.
After another moment, Madelyn smiled and said, "Dizzy, please function as court reporter."
"Encryption enabled. Secure recording of court proceedings beginning now." Dizzy responded pleasantly.
"Thank you." Madelyn said with amusement, then noticed Emo's expectant gaze fixed on her.
"As soon as this is filed with the court, it will be official. The child, Colton Baxter is remanded to the custody of Father Brian Doherty."
"What does that mean for Emo?" Angela asked cautiously.
"Well, since Brother Emo is a minor, it would be highly irregular to grant him custody. So Father Doherty has been given custody. As Colton's legal guardian, Father Doherty will be within his rights to allow a person of his choosing to see to the needs and daily care of Colton, under his supervision, of course." Madelyn said carefully.
"So Emo... I mean, Brother Emo won't be adopting Colton, but he'll still get to take care of him?" Angela asked carefully.
"Yes. And when Brother Emo reaches the age of eighteen, if he chooses to pursue adoption, the court would look upon such a petition favorably." Madelyn finished with a smile.
"That's great!" Emo said happily, then looked down at the baby and said, "We're going to give this thing a good road test, to see how it works. And if you still love me as much as I love you in three years, then I'm gonna be your daddy."
"That's not fair!" Oleksandr called out indignantly.
"What is that?" Madelyn asked as she turned her attention to the eight year old.
"That baby gets a new daddy and he didn't even ask for one! I don't have no daddy or mommy at all! If anyone should get a new daddy it's me! It's not fair!" Oleksandr said angrily as his tears fell.
Ben picked up the angry boy and cuddled the boy to his side as he quietly said, "It's late. His emotions are a little raw."
"He doesn't have any parents?" Madelyn asked gently.
"No. I don't know his whole story, but from what I understand, his birth parents put him up for adoption, in hopes that he could have a better life. His adoptive parents fell on hard times and he was abandoned at Father Doherty's shelter. Then the CPS had custody of him and placed him with the man who beat and molested him." Ben said quietly.
"I think this one might be a bit trickier, but we should still be able to manage." Madelyn said thoughtfully, then turned to her daughter and asked, "Are you up for another one?"
"Two, actually. Look at this while I start on the next one. Ben, would you bring Oleksandr to my office. I'm going to need a few details." Deb asked pleasantly.
"Is that okay with you, Buddy?" Ben asked Oleksandr gently.
"What's she gonna do?" Oleksandr asked in nearly a whisper.
Deb leaned in and quietly said, "If I can, I'm going to fix it so that Ben's your daddy."
"Really?" Oleksandr asked hopefully.
"I have to ask you both a few questions, and depending on those answers, yes, really." Deb said with a smile.
"Let's go!" Oleksandr said happily.
* * * * *
"Ty, could I speak with you for a moment, while my daughter prepares Oleksandr's paperwork?" Madelyn asked hopefully.
It took him a moment to work up his courage, but finally Ty forced himself to step forward.
He was somewhat relieved to find that Mikey was at his side.
"It appears that while Deb was drawing up the paperwork to make it so Emo could continue to care for Colton, that she also drew up a document requesting that she and Ryan be given guardianship of you. How would you feel about that?" Madelyn asked cautiously.
"Mrs. Brown wants to adopt me?" Ty asked uncertainly.
"Well, not exactly. Adoption takes a lot longer and is quite an involved process. What Debra is proposing is that she and Ryan be given custody of you. You would live here, in this house, essentially the same as one of her children." Madelyn said carefully.
"So, what's the difference between this and being adopted?" Ty asked slowly.
"About six pounds of paperwork." Madelyn said frankly, then continued, "Also, it's a lot easier to undo the guardianship arrangement. If any of you feel that the arrangement isn't working out, the court can dismiss the arrangement and you will become a ward of the state."
"Oh." Ty said with disappointment.
"Do you want to know a little secret?" Madelyn asked quietly as she leaned in closer.
Ty hesitantly nodded.
"I haven't talked to her about this yet, so I can't be sure. But taking this step and becoming your guardian is exactly what she would do if she were wanting to adopt you. It's the first step in the process." Madelyn confided seriously.
Ty was frozen in place as he tried to process the information.
"What do you think?" Madelyn prompted.
"Can you ask her one thing for me?" Ty asked cautiously.
"What do you want to know?" Madelyn asked gently.
"If her and Mr. Brown really want me, I mean, like, forever." Ty said in a small voice.
Madelyn thought about the boy's words, but didn't know how to respond.
"When I was a baby, I was found in a dumpster. I've been in about a dozen different foster homes, and none of them wanted me, either. Father Doherty is the only one who ever kept me and didn't ask them to take me back." Ty said seriously.
"I'll ask her." Madelyn promised.
"Them. I want to be sure that both of them want me. I need to know before we do anything else." Ty implored her to understand.
"I can see how important this is, and I agree with you. Ryan needs to be in on this discussion." Madelyn said to Ty quietly, then turned to Mikey and asked, "Do you think that you could find your father? I need to speak to him."
"Yeah. I'll be right back." Mikey said happily, then ran to Tommy and whispered to him for a few seconds before the pair of them hurried out of the room.
"One way or another, we'll have this settled for you before you go to bed tonight." Madelyn said in the tone of a vow.
* * * * *
"If we keep this up, I'm going to need to hire a paralegal." Deb said as she walked into the living room carrying another stack of papers.
Ben and Oleksandr followed immediately behind her, and both were wearing grand smiles.
"I take it things went well." Madelyn said with a smile at her daughter.
"Yes. You could say that." Deb said with a grin as she handed the papers to her mother.
"Now. Let's see what we've got here." Madelyn said as she perched her reading glasses on the end of her nose and started to read.
Everyone was silent, except for Misti, who had started snoring.
While they were waiting, Mikey and Tommy returned with Ryan and Carson following close behind. Next came Jay, Bug, Art and Euan.
"Yes. This is very good. I see no reason to draw this out. As soon as this is filed with the court, it will be official. The child, Oleksandr Rodchenko is remanded to the custody of Brian Weston. If, in ninety days, Mr. Weston wishes to petition this court to adopt said minor, the court would be inclined to look upon the petition favorably." Madelyn said professionally.
"That's it, Buddy! You're my kid!" Ben said as he hugged Oleksandr firmly.
A quiet cheer rose up around the room, in deference to the sleeping girls on the couch.
Once it was quiet again, Mikey cautiously asked, "What about Ty?"
"Oh, yes. Debra and Ryan, I think Tyrell has brought up a very good point. Court is still in session, so remember that you are required to tell the whole truth. Please don't make me go to the trouble of swearing you in." Madelyn said firmly.
"Us, too." Mikey said to his grandmother.
"What was that, Mikey?" Madelyn asked curiously.
"If you might make Ty part of our family, then we should have something to say about it, too." Mikey said reasonably.
Madelyn tilted her head as she considered for a moment, then said, "Alright. All of you, step forward."
Deb, Ryan, Tommy, Carson and Mikey formed a line in front of Madelyn.
"When Ty was told that you wanted to seek custody of him, he wanted to know your intentions. I think that's a very reasonable concern. So, keeping in mind that court is in session, and that you're addressing a judge, please tell the court, and Ty, what you intend to do if I grant your petition for guardianship." Madelyn said seriously.
"I want him to be my brother." Mikey said simply.
"He's been hanging with Mikey and doing a good job on stuff. I think it'd be great if he stayed around." Tommy said frankly.
"Yeah. I've been watching things from command all day. Ty and Mikey are a great team. If he could be our brother, I think all of us would be happy with it." Carson said honestly.
"What about you, Ryan?" Madelyn asked carefully.
Ryan turned to Ty and asked, "Do you know anything about computers?"
"I can usually make them do what I need them to." Ty answered cautiously.
Ryan nodded, then asked, "What about robots?"
Ty smiled as he said, "I think robots are cool."
"That's all I needed to know. If Ty wants to be our son, I'll promise to teach him as much as he ever wants to know about robotics." Ryan said with a smile
Deb rolled her eyes at her husband, then looked Ty in the eyes before saying, "When you started hanging around with Mikey, I wanted to be sure what kind of person he was spending time with. The more I got to know about you, the more it seemed that you would be a perfect addition to our family. So, if you would agree to it, what I would eventually like to happen is for us to adopt you and make you our son."
"Then could I change my name to yours so I'd really be part of your family?" Ty asked hopefully.
"Yes. If that's what you want, we'd be proud to count you as one of the Browns." Deb said warmly.
Ty looked at Ryan, Tommy, Carson and Mikey to find them all nodding in agreement.
"What do you think, Ty? Did that answer your question?" Madelyn asked gently.
"Yes. Can we do it?" Ty asked hopefully.
"Consider it done." Madelyn said happily as she draped the papers over the arm of her chair and started to sign them.
Ty smiled at the action.
"Deb, I'm going to need one more thing from you." Madelyn said as she looked up from the paperwork.
"What did I miss?" Deb asked with concern.
"A petition to change Ty's name. The child, Tyrell Oldman is remanded to the custody of Debra and Ryan Brown. Additionally, it is the order of this court that Tyrell Oldman shall henceforth be named Tyrell Brown. The court orders that the appropriate paperwork be filed with this court before the close of business, tomorrow." Madelyn said firmly.
"I'll do it before I go to bed." Deb said with a smile at her mother.
"Then, if there is no other business, this court is adjourned. Dizzy, end the recording. Now, for God's sake, all of you, go to bed!"
To Be Continued...
Well, MultiMapper, now you've done it! it is almost noon, and I'm sitting here with tears in my eyes.
I loved this chapter! No surprise there, I guess.
Colton, Olex, and Ty all get new parents. That is so cool, or should I say Kewl?
It kinda feels like one of those soap operas where all the right things just happen to fall into place just when they need to do so. I like that.
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher