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"Hey Daddy, I brought you some helpers." Cliff said cheerfully as he walked into the kitchen.
"That's good. Because I have a half finished salad on the island that's wanting some attention." Ben said as he stood over the stove, chunking potatoes into a pot of boiling water.
JD kissed Cliff on the cheek, then released his grip, his signal that he was ready to be let down.
"Do you have anything that you need for Jody to do?" Cliff asked curiously.
"If you wouldn't mind helping him, you two could set the table." Ben said as he finally finished with his potatoes.
"Actually, I need to make a call. But it should just take me a minute." Cliff said as he looked at Ben with question.
"That's fine, this is going to need to cook for a while, so there's no rush." Ben said with a loving smile at his partner.
Cliff carefully placed Jody on a chair, then left the room at a deliberate pace.
* * * * *
After searching the desk, Cliff found the business card with Ron's number.
"Hello?" Ron asked cautiously.
"Ron, it's Cliff. I need to get the names of the police detectives assigned to Jody's case." Cliff said without prelude.
"Sure, but is something wrong?" Ron asked with immediate concern.
"I did a quick evaluation of Jody to assess his overall health and found signs of forced oral copulation. I'm required by law to report it to the police, and I thought that telling his detectives would be the best way to do that." Cliff said honestly.
After a long silence, Ron quietly said, "I know about the damage to his throat. The pediatrician that examined him also reported that Jody shows signs of being anally raped. The damage is consistent with long-term, repeated abuse."
"Why didn't you tell me?" Cliff asked in astonishment.
"I'm really sorry about that. Please, let me explain." Ron said reluctantly, then quietly continued, "If I had told you about it before you got to know him, you might have decided that it was too much for you to handle. I thought that Jody's well-being was too important to take that risk. I'm sorry for misleading you. My only defense is that I was trying to do what was best for Jody."
After a moment to consider the words, Cliff reluctantly admitted, "You're probably right. We might have thought it was more than we could deal with."
"And now?" Ron asked hesitantly, obviously afraid of the answer.
"There's no way we could turn our backs on him now. For better or worse, Ben and I will see him through whatever he has to face." Cliff said in resignation.
"What about JD? How is he handling this?" Ron asked with concern.
Cliff chuckled, then said, "JD is as happy as he can be. He said he's always wished for a little brother."
"I just hope that the reality of it will live up to his expectations." Ron said slowly.
"I'm not worried about that. JD is a good boy with an enormous heart." Cliff said with a smile.
"Yes. He is." Ron agreed, then continued in a more professional voice, "I'm going to contact the police detectives on Jody's case and they'll probably be calling you later tonight."
"Thanks, Ron." Cliff said quietly.
"By the way, I've meant to ask, what have the detectives on JD's case said about what's going on with his mother?" Ron asked curiously.
"Nothing. I got a call back from the detective who took my report, but no one has ever contacted us about JD." Cliff said honestly.
"That might be for the best. Just let me know if they contact you." Ron said carefully.
"What are you worried about, Ron?" Cliff asked cautiously.
After a long thoughtful moment, Ron responded, "Let's just wait and see how it plays out. You've got enough on the plate in front of you without having to worry about something that might not ever happen."
Cliff didn't know how to respond to that.
"The microwave just went off, so my dinner is ready. Call me if there's anything else I can do." Ron said quickly.
"I'll do that. I'll see you tomorrow when I pick up the boys from their counseling appointment. I assume you'll want to see them both." Cliff said absently.
"Yes. That will work out best. I'll see you then." Ron said with a smile in his voice, then hung up the phone.
Cliff slowly stood and thought about Ron's words, then returned to the kitchen to set the table, with Jody's help.
* * * * *
It turned out that Jody's 'helping' consisted of him clinging to Cliff's side and carrying one plate at a time as Cliff ferried him back and forth from the dining room to the kitchen cupboard.
Ben watched with amusement, also keeping an eye on JD so that he didn't injure himself by paying more attention to his new brother than to his salad making.
"It's time for the meatloaf to come out of the oven. I think Jody will want to be here for this." Ben said with a grin.
Cliff carried Jody to the oven and waited for the unveiling.
"You remember the meat that you mixed up? Well, here it is." Ben said as he opened the oven door.
Jody stared at the mini loaf pans with wonder.
Using potholders, Ben pulled the oven shelf out slightly, then took the loaf pans out and sat them on the stove top.
"We need to let them cool down just a little bit so they can firm up. But can you smell that? It won't be long before we're ready to eat." Ben said happily.
"And Jody made the meatloaf?" Cliff asked, wanting to be sure that Jody understood that it was his accomplishment.
"That's right. I think JD started a family tradition. When you join our family, you get to cook something for the whole family." Ben said with a smile at Jody.
"What's left to do?" Cliff asked as he looked around.
"I need to mash the potatoes. You guys could get the drinks." Ben said hopefully.
"We can do that." Cliff said with a smile.
Ben watched curiously as Cliff whispered with Jody. After a moment, Jody gave a timid nod.
Cliff smiled, then carried Jody to stand in front of Ben.
"What do you want to drink?" Jody asked shyly.
"I think I'd like a glass of milk." Ben said with a contented smile.
"Then our next stop is the refrigerator." Cliff said happily, then carried Jody away.
"How's the salad coming, Little Man?" Ben asked as he mashed potatoes by hand with an old-fashioned potato masher.
"I'm done. I wanted to make it extra nice for Jody." JD said timidly.
Ben left his potatoes for a moment so he could walk to the island.
"Wow. That is one beautiful salad!" Ben said in an impressed voice.
"Do you think Jody will like it?" JD asked cautiously.
"I'm sure he will." Ben said with a smile, then thought to ask, "Do you know where my camera is?"
"You mean the one beside your computer?" JD asked slowly.
"Yes. Would you go and get it for me? I can't really leave this right now." Ben said as he went back to mashing potatoes.
"Yeah." JD said before racing out of the room.
"Where's JD?" Cliff asked as he returned to the kitchen with Jody clung to his side.
"Getting something for me." Ben said frankly as he added a splash of milk to the potatoes.
"That's pretty." Jody said as he pointed at the salad on the island.
"Yes. JD made that." Cliff said with a smile.
"He made it extra nice because you're here." Ben added frankly.
"He made it for me?" Jody asked hesitantly.
"He made it for all of us, but he made it especially pretty because you're here and he wanted you to enjoy it." Ben said honestly, then took a spoon and tasted the mashed potatoes. He scrunched up his face and gave a slight wince.
"Not good?" Cliff asked when he saw Ben's expression.
"Needs salt." Ben said, then quickly grabbed the salt container.
"Here it is." JD said as he hurried into the kitchen, carrying the camera.
"Good. Will you get up on your chair so I can take a picture of you with your salad?" Ben asked hopefully.
"Really?" JD asked with surprise.
"That's right. It's beautiful work, there should be a record of it." Ben said before tasting the mashed potatoes again.
The smile on his face gave evidence that the salt improved the mashed potatoes greatly.
"Can you take a picture of Jody, too?" JD asked hopefully.
"Sure. I plan on taking his picture with his meatloaf." Ben said honestly.
JD smiled at the announcement.
Ben snapped three or four pictures of JD, just to be certain that there would be a good one.
"Go ahead and take the salad to the table." Ben said quickly, then turned to Cliff and said, "Would you put Jody on the chair?"
"I'd rather hold him." Cliff said frankly, then quietly added, "It's been a long day for him. I don't know how long he'd be able to stand."
"Okay. That will be fine." Ben said, then hurried to take the meatloaves out of their pans and place them on a serving platter.
"Those look fantastic." Cliff said as his mouth watered.
"Jody did some good work." Ben said gently as he fussed over the platter to make it look just right.
"Now squat down a little bit." Ben said as he backed up and looked through the camera.
"Jody, look at me." Ben said slowly.
After a long hesitant moment, Jody looked up, then broke into a smile.
Ben quickly snapped the picture, then two more, just to be safe.
"JD, would you like to have a picture of you and Jody together?" Ben asked with a smile.
"Yeah!" JD said enthusiastically, then climbed onto the chair and immediately pulled Jody into a hug.
Cliff slowly backed away, knowing that JD would support his new brother.
"I guess I don't have to tell you to smile." Ben said before snapping the picture.
After a few more clicks, Ben finally lowered the camera.
"Well, now that that's out of the way. Who's hungry?" Ben asked as he set his camera aside.
Cliff and JD immediately said, "I am!"
"Then let's eat." Ben said as he picked up the platter of meatloaf and carried it into the dining room.
"JD, what do you want to drink?" Cliff asked quickly.
After a moment to consider, JD said, "Milk would be good."
* * * * *
"What's the matter, Jody? Aren't you hungry?" Ben asked with concern.
Jody's eyes filled with tears as his lower lip started to quiver.
"Let me talk to him." JD said to his parents, then climbed onto the chair with Jody and put an arm around him.
Cliff and Ben watched curiously as the boys whispered to each other.
Finally, JD moved off the chair and walked around the table so he was standing right before Cliff and Ben.
"He says he's never had food like this. He doesn't know what to do." JD said quietly. "All the food he's ever had was the kind in a wrapper that you eat it with your hands."
"Will you show him what to do?" Cliff asked JD hopefully.
JD nodded, then quietly said, "But it'd help a lot if you didn't watch him while he's eating, at least until he gets used to it."
"We won't stare at him while he's eating, but we might look at him if we're talking to him." Ben said gently.
JD seemed to consider, then finally nodded his agreement.
"Okay, then, let's enjoy this meal!" Ben said loudly enough for Jody to hear.
JD went back to his place, then scooted his chair over so that it was closer to Jody's.
"This is a fork, you hold it like this." JD said quietly as he demonstrated.
"Mrs. Usher said that he hasn't ever experienced anything outside the apartment where they found him. It looks like we're going to have to teach him the absolute basics." Cliff said slowly.
"I'm sure JD will be a lot of help with that." Ben said thoughtfully.
"Yes. But I can imagine that JD and Jody might get frustrated if he can't master all these new skills quickly. We really need to keep an eye on them to see that they aren't making unrealistic goals." Cliff said frankly.
"Good! You did it." JD said happily.
Ben and Cliff glanced over to see that Jody was happily chewing a bite of food.
"Isn't it good? You made that!" JD said happily.
Jody looked down at the meatloaf on his plate, then at JD in wonder.
"Yeah! I know!" JD said joyfully. "Do you want to try some of the salad? I made it really good, just for you."
Jody looked down at the salad on his plate, then looked at JD nervously.
"Just watch me, I'll show you how." JD said confidently.
Jody watched as JD slowly speared some leaves of lettuce with his fork.
"Then you eat it, like this." JD said happily, then demonstrated.
Jody glanced at Cliff and Ben who appeared to be talking to each other, then hesitantly tried to get some salad onto his fork.
JD watched his progress and seemed to be about to say something, but was just able to hold himself back as Jody finally was able to get a single piece of lettuce.
"Yeah! Just like that." JD said happily.
Jody smiled at him briefly, then guided the fork to his mouth.
"Mashed potatoes are next. They're easy." JD said, then scooped up some mashed potatoes on his spoon.
Jody watched, then mimicked his movement and was soon enjoying a mouthful of mashed potatoes.
"Now you've had some of everything, so you shouldn't have too much trouble." JD said happily.
Jody still looked nervous, but was able to repeat his earlier success as he continued to eat.
* * * * *
The meal took longer than most, simply because Jody was having difficulty mastering the use of eating utensils.
When they were finally done, Cliff stood and waited for what he knew was to come.
Both boys were soon standing before him with their arms in the air.
"JD, why don't you ride with your Daddy? You wouldn't want him to feel left out, would you?" Cliff asked, then flashed an urgent 'help me' look at Ben.
"But Jody might need me." JD said anxiously.
"If Jody needs you, I'll carry you over to him, just like we did at the home." Ben said seriously.
"Okay." JD finally said, reluctantly.
"You know that I love you, right?" Ben asked quietly as he lifted JD on to his hip.
JD nodded casually, as though it never occurred to him to think otherwise.
"Well, because I love you, I like it when I get a chance to hold you like this." Ben said gently.
JD looked at Ben curiously for a moment, then moved in to give Ben a firm hug, followed by a kiss on the cheek. "I love you, too, Daddy."
"Have we figured out the bedroom situation yet?" Cliff asked as he held Jody in his arms.
"I think that for right now, we should be flexible on that one." Ben said thoughtfully.
"JD, would you mind if Jody shared your room for a night or two? We'll see how he does, then decide what to do next from there." Cliff asked gently.
"It's scary being alone at first. I want Jody to stay with me." JD said frankly.
"Just let us know if either of you is having a problem so we can help." Ben said gently.
JD increased his hug on Ben, then whispered, "I will, Daddy."
"Good." Ben whispered in return, then gave JD a quick kiss on the cheek.
"How about we give Jody a tour of the house?" Cliff asked suddenly.
"Can we play pool?" JD asked hopefully.
"I bet that Jody's tired after all the excitement we've had today. I think that we should show him around, and then maybe spend some time in the living room." Cliff said in a leading tone.
"Jody, can you read?" JD asked curiously.
After a moment of hesitation, Jody reluctantly shook his head.
"That's okay! I can teach you how. It's fun!" JD said happily.
Cliff and Ben shared a look of uncertainty, but neither had the will to discourage JD from teaching his new brother the thing that he enjoyed so much.
"First stop, the bedrooms." Cliff said, then carried Jody out of the room.
Ben held back a little, then quietly said, "You'll need to remember to be patient with Jody. He's younger than you are, so he might not be able to do everything that you do."
"But he doesn't know anything about anything! I want to teach him how to cook and read and write and type and... and everything!" JD said quickly.
"I know. But think about this..." Ben said carefully, "How would you feel if I sat you down and made you learn how to sew a quilt?"
JD scrunched up his nose a little, then hesitantly said, "It sounds kind of boring."
"Yeah, it does to me, too." Ben admitted with a smile. "But some people enjoy quilting. What I'm trying to say is that Jody may not be interested in everything that you are. Go ahead and show him things, but if you see that he's not enjoying the things that you like to do, try something else. Help him to figure out what he enjoys."
"Are you guys coming with us or not?" Cliff asked from the doorway.
"Yeah. We'll be right there." Ben said toward Cliff, then quietly said to JD, "Just think about it."
JD nodded, then snuggled against Ben as he was carried out of the dining room.
* * * * *
"This is going to be our room!" JD said as they entered.
Ben let him down and watched as JD ran to the toy box and started pulling out the small collection of toys that he had accumulated since his arrival.
"See? These are my favorites! I have a dump truck and a fire engine." JD said proudly.
"Do you want to go look at the toys?" Cliff asked Jody quietly.
Jody shook his head and held on to Cliff more firmly.
"The next time we go shopping, we'll be sure to take Jody down the toy aisle so he can pick out some toys for himself." Ben said with a smile at the timid boy.
JD looked at Jody, then at Ben with confusion.
"Remember, not everyone likes the same things." Ben whispered.
JD's gaze went back to his toys and he seemed to be having difficulty with the concept that, to Jody at least, they weren't the greatest toys ever.
"I know what!" Cliff said happily, drawing all attention to him.
"Why don't we all go in the living room? That way Jody can have a chance to relax for a while and deal with all these new things before we start throwing more at him." Cliff said cheerfully.
JD looked up at Cliff cautiously, then down at his toys.
"You can bring your toys into the living room to play if you'd like." Ben suggested quietly.
After a moment of thought, JD said, "I think I'd like to work on my story."
Ben smiled at the answer and said, "Me too. Let's go get our laptops while Cliff and Jody get settled into the living room."
JD looked curiously at Ben for a moment, then broke into a smile as he said, "Come on, Daddy."
* * * * *
By the time Ben and JD had their laptops and cords all gathered up, Cliff and Jody were already settled in together on the couch.
"Hit that button, right there." Cliff said as he pointed at the power button on the remote control.
Jody cautiously did as he was told, then his entire body jerked with surprise when the television came on.
"All you have to do is push that same button again to turn it off." Cliff said gently.
Jody looked up at Cliff uncertainly for a moment, then cautiously pressed the button, while watching the TV at the same time.
When the screen went blank, Jody broke into delighted giggles.
Ben put a hand on JD's shoulder to snap him out of his staring and encourage him to continue on to the coffee table, where he could set up his little netbook.
"Now, when you want to watch TV, all you have to do is push that button and it's on." Cliff said gently.
Jody looked down at the remote, then up at the TV. Cliff smiled as he watched Jody trying to hold the remote where he could see the TV as he pressed the button.
When he finally turned the TV back on, Cliff hugged him gently and gave him a kiss on the side of his head.
"That was great, Jody." Cliff said warmly, then quietly added, "Now, do you see this button with up and down arrows on it? That will change the channel. You can use that to look around until you find something that you want to watch."
Jody experimentally pressed one of the buttons, then marveled at the television when the program changed.
"Go ahead and change the channel, this isn't actually a show, it's a half-hour long commercial for a washcloth." Cliff said frankly.
"Why is that guy screaming?" Jody asked timidly.
"Because he wants you to buy his washcloth." Cliff said honestly.
"If you buy it, will he be quiet?" Jody asked hopefully.
"No, he'll keep screaming so you'll buy more. Go ahead and change the channel." Cliff said with a loving smile at his newest son.
* * * * *
Ben noticed that JD seemed to be having trouble concentrating on his work. Every few minutes his attention would shift to Jody and Cliff cuddled together on the couch.
"You know, if you ever want a hug, I'd be happy to hug you." Ben said gently.
JD was startled for a moment that he had been caught staring, then said, "I know, Daddy."
"You know, you're going to be at home with Jody all the time, all day, every day. It's good that your pappa is getting to spend a little time with Jody." Ben said carefully, watching for JD's reaction.
Finally, JD slowly nodded.
"How's your story coming?" Ben asked with a smile.
After a moment to consider, JD slowly said, "I know what I want to say, but I'm having trouble figuring out how to say it."
Ben smiled warmly, then said, "You and me, both."
JD looked at Ben with surprise.
"It gets easier with practice, but there's always a little bit of a struggle in crafting the words to really convey your meaning." Ben said honestly.
"Yeah!" JD said with a grin.
"If you get stuck on something, just ask for my help. If you tell me what you're trying to say, then maybe if we put our heads together we can come up with a good way to say it." Ben said warmly.
JD and Ben both winced when the television channel changed to a really annoying infomercial.
"Do you want to go into the other room where we can write with less distractions?" Ben asked carefully.
"No. I want to do stuff with Pappa and Jody." JD said immediately.
"You're right. Tonight isn't about the writing, it's about all of us doing the things that we enjoy, as a family."
* * * * *
The phone ringing drew everyone's attention.
"I've got it." Cliff said as he awkwardly reached around to the end table without dislodging Jody from his chest.
"Hello?" Cliff said as he checked to see that Jody was comfortable.
Jody's full attention was on the television.
After a moment, Cliff said into the phone, "Good evening. Yes, I'm Dr. Grant."
"Oh, yes. Thank you for calling so quickly."
After a long moment of listening, Cliff carefully said, "I see. Yes, I think that's a good idea, but before I agree, you should be aware that my other son, JD, is absolutely terrified of women."
"Yes. I think that's best." Cliff said as he glanced to see if JD was listening to his side of the conversation.
It appeared that JD was working on his story and paying him no attention, although Cliff suspected that JD was very good at 'looking like' he wasn't paying attention.
"That sounds good. Do you need directions?" Cliff asked casually.
"We'll see you soon." Cliff said pleasantly, then hung up the phone.
"Are we having company?" Ben asked curiously.
Cliff looked down at Jody, who was snuggled close to his chest, then quietly spelled out, "P-O-L-I-C-E."
JD looked up from his laptop with wide, frightened eyes.
Cliff made a quick shushing motion, then gently said, "It's just for a visit."
JD seemed uncertain, then looked to Ben for assurance.
The concerned look on Ben's face didn't exactly put him at ease.
"What do they want?" Ben asked in a voice that betrayed his concern.
"To visit. That's all." Cliff said gently as he looked into Ben's eyes, then he glanced at JD.
Ben followed his gaze, then realized that he was unintentionally causing JD to be afraid.
"Well, if they're coming over for a visit, maybe we can make them something to snack on." Ben said, trying to sound cheerful.
"Him." Cliff corrected, "There's only one of them coming."
Ben nodded, then asked, "JD, would you like to help me fix something for our company?"
After a moment of thought, JD quietly asked, "What do they eat?"
Ben chuckled at the question, then encouraged JD to walk with him out of the living room.
* * * * *
After making some snacks to be served later, JD and Ben went back to the living room and were soon clicking away on their respective laptops.
Cliff and Jody were watching TV together.
It seemed that every few minutes, Jody would find something in what they were watching that he didn't understand and timidly ask Cliff about it.
Although, television might have many shortcomings, in this circumstance, it was a godsend. Jody was getting to learn about a variety of new things in the outside world in a safe and nonthreatening way.
Finally, the sound of a knock on the door caused everyone to look up from what they were doing.
"You guys relax. I'll get it." Ben said as he stood and placed his laptop on the coffee table.
A moment after Ben walked out of the room, JD stood and followed.
Jody was transfixed on the television and completely unaware of anything happening in the room.
* * * * *
"Hello." Ben said as he opened the door.
"Dr. Grant?" The large man asked cautiously.
"No. I'm Ben Stone. Cliff is in the living room with Jody." Ben said carefully.
"I'm Detective Booker. I called Dr. Grant earlier about visiting with Jody to see how he's doing." The detective said in a calm, professional voice.
"Yes, please come in." Ben said as he backed away from the door and gestured for the detective to enter. Ben nearly tripped over JD who was hiding behind his legs.
"Are you going to take Jody away?" JD asked in a small voice, still mostly hidden.
"No. I'm just here to make sure he ended up in a good place where he'll be happy." Detective Booker said in a gentle voice.
"He's my little brother, and I'm going to take really good care of him." JD said in a small voice that betrayed his fear.
Detective Booker smiled at JD and quietly said, "I'm glad that Jody is going to have a big brother to take care of him. When I found him, he was very scared and completely alone."
JD put an arm around Ben's waist and held on with a firm grip as he said, "He's gonna be happy here. I promise."
"Detective Booker, I know this may be an unusual question to ask, but do you have any tattoos?" Ben asked slowly.
After a moment to get over the unusual question, Detective Booker responded, "Yes. I have a few of them."
"I think that JD might be a little bit more comfortable around you if he could see for himself that not only are you a police detective, but also a regular person like him." Ben said in a leading tone.
The detective looked at Ben curiously for a moment, then started to unbutton the sleeve of his shirt.
"We're supposed to keep any tattoos hidden, because the department says that they look unprofessional." Detective Booker said as he rolled up the sleeve.
JD was watching from his safe position behind Ben's legs, but hesitantly ventured forward when he saw the tattoo on the detective's forearm.
Detective Booker knelt down and offered his right arm to JD, for his inspection.
The body of the tattoo was somewhat vague and undefined, but it was surrounded by large wings, framing it.
"This one is an angel. I got it to remind me that before anything else, I'm here to help." Detective Booker said in a gentle tone to JD.
Finally, JD left his secure place by Ben's legs and took the offered arm.
He traced the image on the man's forearm for a moment with his index finger, then hesitantly turned his head up to look the police detective in the eyes.
After a long silent moment, JD released the detective's arm and cautiously pulled the sleeve up on his right arm, to reveal the intricate web of tattoos.
Without a word, JD pointed to one particular tattoo on his arm and began to trace it with his finger.
Detective Booker stared at the tattoos on the child's arm for a moment, then followed JD's finger and realized that the pattern he was tracing was of a small angel.
"Look at that! We have nearly the same tattoo." The detective finally said in surprise.
"See, JD? Detective Booker is a real person, just the same as you and me." Ben said quietly from behind his son.
"My friends call me Gerry." Detective Booker said, mostly to JD.
"It's nice to meet you, JD." Detective Booker said quietly.
"You just want to see that Jody is okay?" JD asked cautiously.
"Yeah. When I met Jody, I promised him that he'd end up in a better place. I just wanted to come here so I could be sure that I kept my promise." Gerry said gently.
"My daddy and my pappa are really nice. They don't yell at me or hit me or hurt me or anything. Jody's gonna like it here." JD said in a small voice.
"I believe you, JD. Do you think I could go in and visit with Jody now, just so he'll know that I kept my promise?" Gerry asked quietly.
JD seemed to be conflicted for a moment, but finally nodded his agreement.
"Jody's in the living room, watching TV with Cliff. JD, why don't you take Gerry into the living room while I get us something to snack on?" Ben asked quietly.
JD glanced up at Ben, then slightly nodded.
Detective Booker noticed that JD was careful to roll down his sleeve before he offered his gloved hand.
Once JD had Detective Booker in hand, Ben left for the kitchen.
* * * * *
"Pappa, this is Gerry, he's a police detective." JD said as he led Gerry into the room by the hand.
"It's nice to meet you, Gerry. I'm Cliff. Please excuse me for not getting up." Cliff said from his place on the couch where Jody was snuggled tightly into his side.
"That's fine. I just stopped by to visit for a few minutes. How are you doing, Jody?" Detective Booker asked gently.
At the sound of his name, Jody finally turned his attention away from the television.
"Let's turn this off while we have company." Cliff whispered as he took the remote control from Jody's hand.
"Do you remember me, Jody? We talked yesterday." Detective Booker asked as he carefully took a seat on the couch, the other end from Cliff and Jody. JD was standing by the arm of the couch, watching everything cautiously.
After a moment to consider the question, Jody uncertainly nodded.
"I told you that I'd make sure you ended up someplace nice. Do you like it here?" Detective Booker asked with a tender smile.
"JD said that he wants me to be his brother." Jody said in a nearly nonexistent voice, then added, "No one ever wanted me before."
"It's nice to be wanted." Detective Booker said with a smile, then asked, "What about your new parents? Are they treating you nice?"
Jody considered the question, then turned his head to look at Cliff, who he was laying mostly on top of. Finally, Jody said, "Yeah."
"JD, would you help me?" Ben asked from the living room doorway.
It took a moment for JD to tear his gaze away, but finally he looked toward Ben and nodded.
"That's all I came for, really. I just wanted to be sure that you were happy." Gerry said as he looked into Jody's light brown eyes.
"I got to help JD and Daddy make supper, tonight." Jody said timidly, then added, "It was real good."
Gerry smiled at the statement, then said, "Well, if they had you helping them, I guess that means that you're part of the family."
After a moment of thought, Jody slightly nodded his agreement, seeming not to be certain of it.
"If your parents don't mind, I'm going to be coming by to check on you every now and then, just to be sure that you're still happy. Would that be alright with you?" Detective Booker asked gently.
Jody stared off into space for a moment, then turned around and looked at Cliff with question.
"I think it would be wonderful if you'd stop by to visit as often as you like." Cliff said assuringly.
"Would you like some snacks?" JD asked as he placed a platter with several small finger foods on the coffee table.
Gerry looked at JD with surprise at the offer.
"Daddy said that since we was gonna have company, it'd be nice to make you something to snack on." JD quickly explained.
"Well, normally I wouldn't, but these look too good to pass up." Gerry said as he looked over the variety of snacks being offered.
"Can I get you something to drink? We have coffee and sodas and juice and milk." JD asked hopefully.
"I think some coffee would be nice, but just a small cup. I can't stay long." Gerry said, slightly stunned by the offer.
JD dashed out of the room as Ben passed him in the doorway.
"Did JD make those?" Cliff asked curiously as he looked at the tray of snacks.
"Yes. He prepared everything when he knew we were going to have company. I put the hot hors d'oeuvres in the oven when Gerry arrived, but JD took care of everything else." Ben said proudly.
Gerry picked up a napkin, then carefully took one of the puff pastries.
"Be careful, that might still be hot." Ben cautioned, then turned to Cliff and asked, "Would you like anything to drink?"
Cliff glanced at the boy in his arms, then said, "I think some root beer might be nice. And Jody would probably enjoy some, too."
"One regular and one child-size, coming up." Ben said with a grin.
Once again, Ben and JD passed each other in the living room doorway.
"Do you like cream or sugar or anything in your coffee?" JD asked, then placed a surprisingly complete coffee service on the coffee table.
"No. Just black, but thank you." Gerry said with surprise at the young boy's manners.
JD poured a cup of coffee, not quite full, then offered it to Gerry on a saucer.
"Thank you." Gerry said with a smile.
Jody was staring at the tray of snacks and seemed to be holding onto Cliff more tightly than before.
"Would you like a snack, Jody?" JD asked as he picked up the tray and offered Jody a napkin.
"Didn't you make that for Gerry?" Jody asked in a whisper.
"I made it because Gerry was coming over, but I made enough for everybody to have some. Go ahead, just pick out whatever you think looks good." JD gently encouraged, and Gerry took notice of JD's accent.
After a moment of indecision, Jody hesitantly took a cracker with summer sausage and cheese stacked on it.
"Those are really good." JD said with a smile, then turned to Cliff and asked, "Would you like some, pappa?"
"Yes. Thank you." Cliff said with pride in JD's behavior.
JD handed him a napkin, then held the platter as Cliff selected something to snack on.
"I'll put your root beer on the table." Ben said quietly as he placed two glasses of root beer on the end table beside Cliff.
"Thanks." Cliff said with a loving smile up at Ben.
"How do you like your snack, Jody?" Gerry asked curiously.
"This is real good!" Jody said happily around his mouthful of food.
Although Cliff's first instinct was to tell Jody not to talk with his mouth full, he held it back. He didn't want to do anything that might discourage the boy from eating in his frail condition.
"This pastry is amazing. My wife is a good cook, but I don't think she ever made anything that tastes like this." Gerry said in amazement.
"I can write down how to make it, if you want." JD offered quickly.
"No. You don't have to bother." Gerry said with surprise at the kind offer.
"It'll just take a second." JD said before dashing out of the room.
"Did I understand that right? Did JD make all this food?" Gerry asked cautiously.
"Yes. He prepared everything. I think he's still too young to use the stove by himself, but he planned and prepared everything else while I supervised." Ben said proudly.
"Jody, I think you ended up in a very good place." Gerry said with a smile at the small boy still clinging to Cliff's chest.
Jody nodded his agreement at Gerry, then his gaze shifted to the platter of snacks.
"I'm going to have another one, would you like some more?" Gerry asked as he picked up the platter.
Jody hesitantly nodded.
Gerry offered the platter to him and Jody selected one of the puff pastries.
"I had that last time, those are really good." Gerry said with a smile, then took one of the cheese and cracker combos from the tray.
Jody smiled at Gerry, then carefully took a big bite of the flaky crunchy pastry.
"Here, I wrote down how to make it. It's real easy." JD said as he hurried back into the room.
Gerry accepted the index card from JD, then said in surprise, "You've got really good handwriting."
JD shrugged, then walked to the coffee table to get himself one of the snacks.
* * * * *
Conversation continued on for a few minutes on general topics until Gerry finally excused himself to leave.
"Cliff, could you walk me out?" Gerry asked, trying to sound casual in his inquiry.
"Sure." Cliff said carefully, understanding that Gerry wanted to talk privately without alerting the boys.
"JD, why don't you show Jody where to wash his hands after those snacks?" Cliff asked gently.
"Yeah! Come on!" JD said happily.
Cliff carefully stood Jody before him and made sure that he had his footing before letting him go on his own.
"I need to pee." Jody said in a small, frightened voice as he looked timidly at Cliff.
"Go with JD. He'll show you where it is." Cliff said gently.
Jody walked somewhat unsteadily to JD as all the adults watched.
"I'll walk you out." Cliff said to Gerry in nearly a whisper, then glanced at Ben and smiled.
Once they were both in the hallway, Gerry quietly said, "Ron told me that you needed to make an official report of suspected abuse, so I wanted to get that out of the way while I'm here."
"Thank you. I wasn't sure what I was supposed to do, since Jody was already the subject of an investigation." Cliff said frankly, then gestured toward the front door, inviting Gerry to talk with him outside.
"You did just right. If you ever have any questions or concerns about anything to do with Jody, call me, anytime, day or night." Gerry said as he offered Cliff his business card.
"This is more than a job to you, isn't it?" Cliff asked curiously as they reached the front door.
"This time, yeah." Gerry said frankly.
"We'll take good care of him, I promise." Cliff said as he looked Gerry in the eyes.
"I believe that you will." Gerry said honestly, then broke into a smile as he said, "But I think that having JD on his side will probably do more good for him than anything any adult could come up with. That boy has really impressed me."
"He's our special little man." Cliff said warmly, then switched to a professional voice as he opened the door and asked, "So, what did you need to know for my official report?"
* * * * *
When Cliff came back from his talk with Gerry, he found Ben alone in the living room.
"Where are the boys?" Cliff asked curiously.
"JD asked me if they could take a bath." Ben said with a smile.
"I guess your investment in those bath toys is about to pay off." Cliff said as he settled into his place on the couch.
"I hope they have fun." Ben said with a wistful smile.
"I think they will." Cliff said quietly.
"I should probably go in and check on them." Ben said thoughtfully.
"I think they'll be fine for a few minutes. JD will call us if there's any problem." Cliff said as he scooted over on the couch a little bit so he could snuggle next to Ben.
"When we first started trying to be approved as foster parents, I never imagined that we could get a child as wonderful as JD. Now that we have Jody... I don't have words." Ben said quietly.
"I know." Cliff whispered, then they both went silent as they heard splashing and giggling coming from the bathroom.
* * * * *
Getting the boys to bed took less effort than either of the adults would have imagined. The boys weren't necessarily happy with the idea at first, but neither of them fought it.
Soon, both boys were loosely tucked into JD's bed, side by side. Jody seemed to be nervous, but JD was able to put him at ease with just a few gentle words.
As Ben and Cliff were about to leave the room to let the boys try to sleep, Ben had a thought.
He walked to the edge of the bed and sat down.
Both boys watched in fascination as Ben made hand gestures, telling the story while singing them a bedtime song.
The itsy bitsy spider crawled up the water spout.
Down came the rain, and washed the spider out.
Out came the sun, and dried up all the rain,
and the itsy bitsy spider went up the spout again.
* * * * *
A shriek from the depths of hell ripped Cliff and Ben out of their peaceful sleep.
Before Ben could get his bearings enough to realize what was going on, Cliff was already out of bed and running for the door as he pulled on his robe.
As the reality of the situation finally dawned on Ben, a fresh wave of panic flooded over him and he fumbled to get out of the bed and put on his robe as quickly as possible.
* * * * *
By the time Ben got to the boys' bedroom, Cliff was kneeling in the closet doorway, speaking in a low gentle voice.
Ben took a step toward the closet, then noticed the wide-eyed terrified expression that JD wore as he sat up in his bed, clutching the blanket tightly around him.
"Are you okay, Little Man?" Ben asked gently as he walked to the bed and carefully sat beside JD.
"I didn't do anything wrong to Jody! I promise!" JD said as tears fell down his cheeks and he seemed to be on the edge of bursting into full sobbing.
Ben pulled JD into a firm hug, then whispered, "I know, I know."
"He started saying stuff. I thought he woke up and was saying something to me, but I don't think he was really awake." JD said as he clutched to Ben desperately.
"Could you make out what he was saying?" Ben asked gently as he rubbed small circles on JD's back.
"No. Not really. I could just tell that he was real scared." JD said in a voice that sounded quite a bit calmer than just a moment before.
"I'm sure he's just having some bad dreams about the things that happened before he came to stay with us. It may take a while before he knows for sure that all of that is over and he's really safe." Ben said tenderly, then gave JD a kiss on the top of his head before he renewed his hug.
"But it's nice here. He's safe now." JD said in a conflicted voice.
"Yes. He is. But from what little we know about Jody's life before he came to live with us, I think it's safe to say that it was very different. So far, he's only known one way of life, so it's probably going to take some time for him to adjust to being in a new situation." Ben said carefully, hoping that JD would understand.
"So, even though it's nice here, it's still scary because it's different?" JD asked carefully.
"Yes. I think that's a big part of it. But I think it also has something to do with the fact that Jody hasn't ever been outside his apartment before. Even though I don't know everything you've been through, I know that you've been in the hospital and the Home before coming to us. So you've had some experience at dealing with changes. Jody's never had to face anything new or different." Ben said softly, then noticed that Cliff was standing, carrying Jody in his arms.
"But what can I do to help Jody not be afraid? I want to help him, but I don't know what to do." JD said quietly and sounded to be on the verge of tears.
"I don't know if there's a right answer to that. I think that all we can really do is try different things until something works." Ben said apologetically.
"I'm going to take Jody into the living room for a few minutes to talk with him. Would you guys mind making him some warm milk to help him get back to sleep?" Cliff asked as he stopped in the doorway.
"Go on. We'll take care of it." Ben said as he looked at his partner adoringly.
Cliff smiled at the expression, then continued out of the room with Jody in his arms.
* * * * *
"Hot milk sounds kind of gross." JD said as Ben carried him into the kitchen.
"I agree. But if your Pappa says that that's what's best for Jody, then that's what we're making." Ben said as he placed JD on the floor to stand.
"Can I help?" JD asked hopefully.
"You can do a lot more than help. I'll talk you through it so you can make it in your electric skillet. That way, if Jody needs warm milk again some other time, I'll know that I can ask you to fix it for him." Ben said with a smile at his son.
JD smiled up at Ben and quietly said, "Yeah."
* * * * *
"Can you give us a minute or two?" Cliff asked as Ben and JD walked into the living room with the warmed milk.
"Sure. I'll just leave this here." Ben said as he quickly placed the mug on a coaster on the coffee table.
JD was confused, but accepted Ben's hand and walked out of the living room without protest.
* * * * *
"Why doesn't Pappa want us in there?" JD asked quietly once they were alone.
"I think that he and Jody are talking about something that's very difficult. We need to be patient and give your Pappa time so he can help Jody deal with what's bothering him." Ben said carefully.
"But Jody can talk to me! I want to help him!" JD said in a voice that revealed his frustration.
Ben pulled JD into a firm hug, then quietly said, "I know you do. But I think that the best way we can help Jody right now is to give him time to talk privately with Cliff. I'm sure we're both going to have plenty of chances to help Jody in the next few weeks."
JD slowly nodded into Ben's chest, then looked up suddenly at the sound of movement in the doorway.
"I think Jody is calmed down enough that he can try to get back to sleep, now." Cliff said as he walked into the kitchen, carrying Jody gently in his arms.
"Let's go, then. I'll clean this up once the boys are in bed." Ben said as he lifted JD onto his hip.
"I made the mess. I can clean it up." JD said quickly.
"No, Spider. It's more important for you to be with your brother right now. He needs you. I'll take care of it." Ben said gently, then gave JD a kiss on the cheek.
Cliff smiled at the action, then led the way out of the kitchen.
* * * * *
"Jody..." Ben began to say, then amended, "Both of you, if you get scared or need us for anything at all during the night, you can come to our bedroom."
"You won't be mad?" Jody asked cautiously as he searched Ben's eyes.
"No. Not at all. You can ask JD about it if you like and he'll tell you. We won't be mad, even a little bit." Ben said with an assuring smile.
Jody seemed to be uncertain, but finally gave a reluctant nod.
"Goodnight boys. Have a good sleep." Ben whispered, then leaned in and gave each of the boys a kiss on the cheek.
As soon as Ben had stood, Cliff took his place and kissed each of his sons goodnight.
"Remember to come and get us if you need anything at all." Ben said gently from the doorway.
A look of apprehension crossed Jody's face, then he turned and quickly whispered something into JD's ear.
Both men watched and waited.
Finally, when Jody was finished whispering, JD looked at his parents and asked, "Would it be okay if we leave a light on for Jody? He says that when he woke up in the dark he forgot where he was and thought that maybe he'd dreamed coming here and was really back in his old home."
"I'll leave the hall light on for you. That should be enough light for you to remember where you are, and it'll also help if you need to get up and go to the bathroom before morning." Ben said gently.
"Thanks, Daddy." JD said with a loving smile at Ben, then turned to Jody and asked, "Is that okay?"
Jody slowly nodded.
"Goodnight boys." Cliff said gently before withdrawing into the hallway.
Ben made a point of leaving the bedroom door open about a foot wide as he followed.
* * * * *
"I suppose we should wear something to bed in case we have company." Ben said as he walked into the bedroom after cleaning up the kitchen.
"Yes. I think that would be best, just for a night or two, until Jody gets settled in." Cliff agreed.
"You and Jody were talking pretty seriously in the living room. Is it anything I should know about?" Ben asked as he walked to his dresser to get a pair of boxer shorts.
"Yes. Come over here." Cliff said as he patted the spot next to him on the bed.
Ben quickly pulled on the boxer shorts, then climbed onto the bed to sit beside his partner.
"I really wish I didn't have to tell you about this, but since you're going to be taking care of the boys by yourself, you should really be aware of everything that's going on." Cliff said as he put an arm around Ben and held him gently.
"What is it? Just tell me." Ben said with concern at Cliff's words.
"I guess there's no delicate way to put this." Cliff said in prelude, then quietly continued, "According to what Detective Booker has been able to put together and what Jody just told me, it seems that the woman who held Jody captive was prostituting him out to pedophiles."
Ben froze in shock at the words.
"There's no telling how long it's been going on, but when I examined Jody, I could see signs of forced oral copulation. That's why I called Detective Booker, so I could make a report." Cliff continued as he held Ben firmly to his side.
Ben continued to sit rigidly and stare as he fought to process the new information.
"Although I didn't check for myself, Ron told me that when Jody was examined yesterday, that there were also signs of anal rape." Cliff continued more quietly, wanting to get all of it out in one go so he wouldn't have to say it again.
"How could anyone..." Ben started to say as tears began to fall down his cheeks.
"I don't know, love. I realize that JD's mother was mentally ill, so I can forgive what she did to him. But what was done to Jody was purely evil. It was perpetrated by a woman who knowingly held him captive and actively sought out men to pay her for the 'use' of Jody." Cliff said bitterly.
"I don't know what to do for him. How can we help him deal with... I can't even imagine what his life must have been like." Ben said as his tears freely fell.
"I think that all we'll be able to do is our best. I think that's all that anyone could do in this situation." Cliff said gently.
"I don't know if I can handle it." Ben said as he turned to look at his partner with fear in his eyes.
"You can. We can. We have to. Because our only other option would be to give him back to Ron and Mrs. Usher and hope that they can find a place for him that isn't absolutely horrible." Cliff said seriously, then added more quietly, "I couldn't do that to Jody. No matter what it takes, no matter how strong we have to be for him, we're keeping him."
"I didn't mean..." Ben stammered, but Cliff silenced him with a kiss.
"I know. You were just voicing your fear, not saying that you didn't want Jody." Cliff reassured him.
"Do you think he's alright?" Ben asked as he looked toward the bedroom door with concern.
"He has JD to watch over him. If there's any problem at all, I know that JD will come and get us." Cliff said as he pulled Ben close to comfort him.
"When we talked about being foster parents, I never imagined... I thought it would be hugs and cuddles, maybe the occasional skinned knee." Ben said distantly as he returned Cliff's hug.
"I know. But if you could go back and change anything, would you do it differently?" Cliff asked in a soothing voice.
Ben thought for a moment, then said, "No. I wouldn't change a single thing."
"Me either." Cliff said with a smile, then moved in to give Ben a firm kiss that was more comforting than passionate.
After a moment to enjoy the wonderful feeling, Ben glanced at the clock and said, "You'll have to get ready for work in a few hours, we should get some more sleep."
"Yes. I have a feeling that tomorrow is going to be a very long day... for both of us." Cliff said frankly.
"I love you." Ben whispered as he snuggled into Cliff's shoulder.
Cliff reached awkwardly with his free hand until he found the light switch on his nightstand and turned off the lights.
"I love you, too, Ben." Cliff said as he brought his free arm around to encircle Ben in a protective hug.
Now that was a nice way to end the chapter, especially after Jody's panic attack.
I can see that life will indeed not be taking place, completely, in the valley of cuddles and snuggles, but that's another story, and we'll not be getting into that, now.
It was nice that Detective Booker had some tattoos, and that one of them was, in fact, very similar to one of JD's. I am pretty sure that JD would have done everything he possibly could have, to protect Jody, if he felt that Detective Booker would have posed any kind of threat to Jody.
Now that everyone has had a chance to get to know each other, and Cliff has explained things a bit more fully, to Ben, I am pretty sure we will be seeing more of Gerry Booker.
It really is a nice surprise to see not only a good police officer, doing his job the proper way, and above all, really caring about Jody, and wanting the best for him, but to also know that we have at least two child case workers who are willing to do whatever is necessary to give the children in their care the best possible outcome.
I don't think for a minute that life is going to be easy for Ben, Cliff, JD and Jody, but hopefully, as time goes by, things will become easier and easier.
Thank you MM for another wonderful chapter!
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher