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Chapter 2

"Good morning, love. Did you sleep well?" Ben asked groggily.

"Just fine. Go back to sleep." Cliff whispered as he got out of bed.

"I wish I could, but last night I realized just how much work I have to get done this morning." Ben said as he forced himself to sit up.

"Did you have any problem getting JD to go to bed?" Cliff asked curiously.

"Oh, no. He was a perfect little angel." Ben said with a broad smile.

"Still, I should have been there with you." Cliff said regretfully.

"It really wasn't a problem, and besides, you needed the sleep; your patients deserve a well rested doctor to care for them." Ben said frankly.

"Thanks for being so understanding." Cliff said as he sat on the edge of the bed, then leaned in to give Ben a loving kiss.

"Mmmm. Good morning." Ben purred.

"I'd love to show you how good a morning it can be, but I need to jump in the shower." Cliff said as he reluctantly stood.

"While you're doing that, I'll make us some breakfast." Ben said as he scooted to the edge of the bed.

"Just as long as it's something quick. I don't have much time to spare." Cliff said frankly.

"Isn't that why you have a 'waiting' room?" Ben asked with a grin.

"Oh sure. You do know that the only thing worse than a sick cranky kid is one who is bored out of his mind because he's been made to wait too long, don't you?" Cliff said with a chuckle.

"Go on, then, get cleaned up. Breakfast will be ready by the time you're out of the shower." Ben said as he pulled on a bathrobe.

* * * * *

Later, as Ben was sitting at his computer, reading over his manuscript, the phone ringing broke his concentration.

"Hello?" Ben answered cautiously, not able to imagine who would be calling so early.

"Hello. This is Ron Cooper. We met yesterday."

"Oh, right. Good morning, Ron. This is Ben, what can I do for you this morning?" Ben asked as he relaxed back into his chair.

"Well, I'm sorry for calling so early, but I just had to check to see how things are going with JD, before my first appointment. I guess the little guy got to me a lot more than I realized, and I'm kinda worried about him." Ron admitted shyly.

"I can certainly understand that. I've known him for less than a day, and I'm already totally hooked." Ben said casually, then added, "But everything's fine."

"Did he have any nightmares last night?" Ron asked cautiously.

"No. I didn't hear a peep out of him all night. He was sleeping soundly last time I checked on him." Ben said happily.

"Oh, that's good. Maybe this is going to work out, after all." Ron said, sounding relieved.

"It's been working, so far. I have to say that I'm really surprised, though. I didn't expect JD to be such a tactile child. He's always wanting to be held and picked up." Ben said frankly.

"Really?" Ron said with surprise. "JD was very resistant to any displays of affection while he was here. He wouldn't let anyone touch him."

Ben thought about it for a moment, then said, "Well, maybe it's different when it's his idea."

"I'll consider it a very encouraging sign. Has he talked at all?" Ron asked curiously.

"Not a single word. But he's been really good about letting us know what he wants. I don't know that his speaking would make much of a difference."

"I'm so glad that this is working out, so well. I didn't want to give you any additional pressure yesterday, but you should know that you two are JD's last hope at a normal life." Ron said seriously.

"How do you mean?" Ben asked curiously.

"Well, unfortunately, as sweet as JD is, there's no way he could stay here long term. If we hadn't found a good family to place him with, our only other option, given his condition, would have been a mental hospital." Ron said frankly.

"Does he need to be in a mental hospital?" Ben asked reluctantly.

"Oh no. Not at all." Ron said immediately. "But to put it bluntly, it would be a place we could have put him, so we can focus on helping the constant flow of children who go through our system."

"Oh God! That's horrible." Ben gasped.

"I know. And I promise you, it doesn't make me sleep any better at night." Ron admitted reluctantly. "But sadly, there are times when budgets, staffing and other resources force us to make those decisions so we can help as many kids as possible. I'm just very glad that it didn't have to come down to that in JD's case."

"Me too." Ben said quietly, then remembered something he had been thinking about earlier, "What should we do about school for JD? I mean, I can't imagine him being able to go into regular classes the way he is now."

"No, I think that would be a recipe for disaster." Ron agreed. "Why don't you give him a week or so to get settled in and comfortable. While he's acclimating, you can check into hiring a tutor or maybe even home schooling him. He was in the hospital most of last year, so he would probably need a tutor to get caught up to his grade level, anyway."

"I don't know about that. He was reading a book last night that I'm pretty sure was college level. And I could tell that he understood it." Ben said frankly.

"Yeah. Well, there's no doubt that he's a little reading sponge." Ron said with a chuckle, "But he'll still need the help in his other subjects, I'm sure. Besides that, the state requires their 'standardized tests' be given to every child, so you'll need to prepare him for that. No matter how brilliant he is, the test score is all that CPS will see, and base their decisions on."

"I'll do my best." Ben said frankly.

"I am certain you will." Ron said gently.

"I was thinking about taking JD to the store today, to get some clothes and things. How do you think I should go about that with him being afraid of women?" Ben asked carefully.

"I think you'll have to use your own best judgment on that one." Ron said honestly. "From the sound of it, you've already made more progress with JD than I ever did. You'll need to test his limits every so often, so if you think he's ready, I'd say, give it a try."

"I'll have a talk with him about it later and take it from there." Ben said thoughtfully.

"That sounds like a good plan." Ron said happily, then quickly added, "I have to get to work, now. Remember to call me if you have any problems at all."

"I will." Ben promised. "Thanks for checking on JD."

"I had no choice, I love that kid." Ron said with a chuckle, then quickly said, "Gotta go. Bye!"

"Bye." Ben said, but heard the click in his ear before the word had fully left his mouth.

Ben smiled, then went back to proofreading his manuscript.

* * * * *

A movement out of the corner of his eye caused Ben to look up.

JD was standing in the doorway, dressed in faded blue jeans and a white turtle neck shirt. He was up and awake, but still looking a little bit sleep rumpled.

"Good morning, JD. Did you sleep well?" Ben asked with a smile.

He didn't expect a response, so wasn't surprised when JD continued to stand and stare at him.

"Well, since you're up, how about we make some breakfast?" Ben asked as he stood.

JD continued to stare, then very slowly began to raise his arms.

"Of course." Ben said with a chuckle, then walked over and picked JD up.

* * * * *

"You can have eggs, cereal, pancakes or waffles. All you have to do is find a way to let me know what you'd like." Ben said as he lowered the boy to stand on the floor.

JD walked to the refrigerator and took out a carton of eggs.

"Eggs and toast. A very sensible choice." Ben said happily, then looked on with surprise as JD pulled a chair over to the stove.

"No, JD. I don't want you using the stove." Ben said seriously.

JD turned to look at Ben, and somehow, his huge blue/gray eyes looked even bigger as he silently begged.

Ben felt his resolve crumbling, then a vague memory surfaced of something his mother had done for him, when he was JD's age.

"I have an idea. Wait right there. This will only take a minute." Ben said as he rushed out of the kitchen and into the pantry.

He returned a moment later to find JD standing on the chair in front of the stove, waiting patiently.

"Okay, here's the plan." Ben said as he walked to JD's side. "I'm a bit worried about you working around an open flame with the gas stove. So here's an electric skillet, for you to use. You can still cook breakfast for yourself, but this way, you're not as likely to catch yourself or the house on fire."

Ben noticed JD's expression and could tell that he didn't understand.

"Come on over by the refrigerator, and I'll show you how this works." Ben said, as he sat the electric skillet on the counter.

Ben smiled as he watched JD get down, scoot the chair over, then stand on it beside him.

"First, plug the skillet in right there." Ben said as he pointed at the outlet.

"Now, set the temperature control to 350. I think that should be about right." Ben said, as he watched JD carefully.

"That's good. You're going to need some butter or oil, so you can go get that, now, while it's heating." Ben said slowly.

JD got down off the chair, then went to the refrigerator and took out a stick of butter.

"We should use the butter from the table, first." Ben said as he hurried to get it.

JD put the stick of butter back in the door of the refrigerator, then accepted the butter dish from Ben.

"I'll get you a spatula." Ben said as he reached beside him to a container of utensils on the counter.

JD accepted the spatula, then used it to scoop up about two teaspoons of the butter.

Ben smiled, happy to see that JD had a good idea of what he was doing. He noticed that JD had left the eggs by the stove, so he moved them beside the electric skillet.

"While you're doing that, I'll make some toast." Ben said as he kept careful watch on what JD was doing.

When the butter started sizzling, JD adjusted the temperature down a little bit, then cracked two eggs into the skillet.

A moment later, JD hopped down off the chair and walked to the stove.

"Did you need something?" Ben asked curiously.

JD tried to reach to the back of the stove top, but couldn't quite make it.

"Oh, I see, salt and pepper." Ben said suddenly, then reached them down for him.

JD rushed back to his chair, then quickly turned the eggs over.

The toaster popping up startled Ben. He had completely forgotten what he was doing.

"Plates are in the cupboard right in front of you." Ben said as he buttered the toast.

JD gave Ben a quick smile, then opened the cupboard and took down a plate.

"Remember to unplug the skillet when you're done." Ben said as he walked to the refrigerator to pour a glass of juice.

By the time he returned with the juice, JD had his eggs on the plate and was carrying them toward the dining room.

"You can eat that here, at the kitchen table, if you want. We usually only use the dining room if we're going to be sitting down to a full meal together." Ben said casually.

JD diverted from his original course and placed his plate on the kitchen table.

"I hope you like orange juice." Ben said as he sat the glass by JD's plate.

Ben smiled as JD scooted the chair from the counter back over to the table.

JD sat down in his chair, then looked up at Ben, as if he was waiting for something.

"Oh, no. I had my breakfast a couple hours ago." Ben said quickly, then thought for a moment before adding, "But I could use a cup of coffee. Go ahead and start and I'll be there in a second."

JD turned his attention to his food and began to eat.

Ben poured himself a cup of coffee and took the seat across from JD.

He smiled to himself as he watched JD dunk the corner of his toast into the runny yolk of his egg.

Even though JD had been through things that Ben couldn't imagine, he was happy to see JD doing something so typically childlike.

"You make fried eggs better than Cliff does." Ben commented absently.

JD looked up from his plate curiously.

"It's true." Ben said with a shrug. "He may be a brilliant doctor, but he can't make fried eggs worth anything. Maybe one of these mornings, we could make him breakfast in bed, you can make the eggs. I know he'd like that."

JD briefly smiled, then went back to eating his breakfast.

"When you're done with that, I'll show you how to clean the electric skillet." Ben said thoughtfully. "That way, it'll be ready if you want to cook something else later."

JD stopped his chewing long enough to smile at Ben again.

* * * * *

As Ben was waiting for his computer to boot up, he glanced at JD and said, "Well, I have some work that I have to get done this morning. So if you'd like, you'd be welcome to sit in here with me and read, while I do my work."

JD walked out of the room and returned a moment later with his book.

"You can pull up a chair or stretch out on the bed. Just make yourself comfortable." Ben said as he got settled in at his computer.

After a few minutes of reading his manuscript, Ben glanced over to see what JD was doing. He jumped a little when he found JD standing right behind him, reading over his shoulder.

"Would you like to read my new book?" Ben asked with a smile.

JD's answering smile was more of an answer than Ben had expected.

"Let's see..." Ben said as he considered, then realized the perfect solution.

"I bought this netbook to use when I travel. But I ended up needing a full sized laptop, this thing was just too small for me to get anything done." Ben said as he picked up the small laptop computer from the lower shelf of his desk.

"This should be perfect for you." Ben said happily as he booted it up.

"Give me a second to make a copy of the file, then you'll be able to read at your own pace." Ben said with a smile.

He cleared off a little space beside him at the desk and gave JD his own little dedicated workspace.

"Okay. You're all loaded up and ready to go. Here are the 'page up' and 'page down' keys. That's probably all you'll need for right now." Ben said as he checked to see that the screen was tilted at a good angle for JD.

"Let me know if you need anything else." Ben said with a smile before getting back to his own computer.

* * * * *

A tapping on Ben's arm drew his attention away from his reading.

"What's up?" Ben asked curiously.

JD pointed at a passage of text on his screen.

Ben read it, then asked, "Yeah. What about it?"

JD started hitting the 'page up' key repeatedly. When he finally stopped, he skimmed over the page of text and quickly found what he was looking for.

Ben read the passage that JD indicated, then started to chuckle.

"It looks like you caught me." Ben said with a smile. "Our hero started the day with brown eyes and ended the day with blue ones."

JD looked up at Ben curiously.

"Let me fix it." Ben said gently, then changed the word on the screen. "There you go. All better, now. He officially has blue eyes."

JD looked at the screen, then up at Ben with wonder.

"Yeah. That's the great thing about being an author. If you don't like something, you can make changes." Ben said with a grin at JD's awestruck state.

JD reached up to touch the keyboard, but then slowly withdrew his hand.

"How about this?" Ben said thoughtfully. "Why don't I set up the word processor so you can write your own story?"

JD slowly turned and looked at Ben cautiously.

"You know what it's like when you read. Sometimes when you're reading something, the author doesn't do what you would have done. He turns left when you wanted him to turn right. Well, when you're the author, you get to make those decisions. Go ahead and tell a story the way you think it should be told." Ben said as he opened a new window on the screen.

"And if you get tired of writing, you can just use the mousepad to click on that tab and you'll be right back where you left off in my story." Ben said happily.

JD looked at Ben, then down at the small laptop.

Ben watched as JD started to type, using the two-fingered 'hunt and peck' method.

Once he was confident that JD was going to be able to use the word processor, Ben went back to work on his manuscript.

* * * * *

Ben found a few passages of text that he wasn't entirely happy with, so he decided to rewrite them so they would be a little more understandable.

As he was finishing, he noticed that JD had stopped typing and was watching his every move.

He glanced over and saw that JD was looking at his gloved hands and trying to position his hands the same way on his smaller keyboard.

"I tell you what, JD. While we're out shopping today, I'll pick you up a typing tutor. It will teach you how to use all your fingers when you're typing." Ben said casually.

JD stared at Ben for a long moment, then went back to typing using his 'hunt and peck' method.

Ben glanced at the time on his computer and was surprised at how late it was.

"But I think that right now would be a good time to take a break and have some lunch." Ben said with a smile.

* * * * *

"How about I put together some sandwiches for us. And if you like, you can dish up some of the salad you made yesterday." Ben said as he opened a loaf of bread.

JD walked to the refrigerator and retrieved the bowl of salad.

"Here are some plates." Ben said as he handed the plates down from the cupboard.

JD took the plates and transferred them to the table.

"Since I don't know what you like, I'll go ahead and make a plate of sandwich fixings and let you build your own." Ben said as he placed lunch meat on a plate.

He glanced over and saw that JD was carefully dishing salad onto both of the plates at the table.

Ben walked to the refrigerator and took out a tomato and a head of lettuce, then said, "We have milk, juice and water here to drink."

As he placed the head of lettuce in the sink, he added, "I think there are some sodas in the bottom shelf of the fridge if you'd like one of those. We don't drink them often, I usually just have water."

Ben noticed movement at his side and saw JD reaching for the cabinet.

"What do you need?" Ben asked as he opened the cabinet door.

He followed JD's reaching hands and realized that he wanted the drinking glasses.

Ben chuckled as he said, "Yeah, we'll probably need those."

JD took the glasses to the table, then proceeded to take the water pitcher and the milk jug from the refrigerator.

"That'll work." Ben said with a smile.

"I'm going to have mustard with my sandwich. Go ahead and get whatever you'll be wanting and put it on the table." Ben said as he finished placing lettuce leaves on the plate.

"I think that's everything we're going to need." Ben said as he placed the plate on the table. "Get some bread and build whatever kind of sandwich you'd like to eat."

JD looked around the table, then got off his chair and started scooting it across the floor.

Ben watched curiously to see what JD was doing.

A moment later, JD returned with a package of hamburger buns.

Ben thought about it for a moment, then said, "Sure, why not?"

JD moved his chair back to the table, then proceeded to make himself a ham and cheese sandwich on a hamburger bun.

"You know, that looks good. I think I'll try one of those." Ben said, then took a hamburger bun from the package.

As he was finishing, JD scooted the mustard jar toward him.

"Thanks." Ben said with a smile.

"This is really good." Ben said, sounding impressed. "I guess I'll need to keep hamburger buns on hand for something other than hamburgers."

After a few quiet minutes of eating, Ben finally decided that it was time to talk about their plans for later in the day.

"I've noticed that we need a few things around the house. Plus I'd like to pick up some new pajamas for you and maybe another pair of gloves." Ben said, trying to sound casual.

JD looked up from his food, paying Ben due attention, but not reacting otherwise.

"You see, the thing is, Ron, you know, Mr. Cooper back at the home, he told us that you have a problem whenever you're around women." Ben said slowly.

JD's expression froze and it was like Ben could see the light go out in his eyes. It was like the little boy that had been there a moment before was gone, suddenly replaced with a wax figure.

Ben considered the reaction that JD had to the mere mention of women and decided that there was no way that he would be taking JD to the store after lunch. But maybe with Cliff's help...

"Like I was saying, I'm going to need to go to the store for a few things." Ben continued slowly. "And if you'd like to go with me, so you can pick things out for yourself, you'd be welcome to come with me."

JD didn't move or give any obvious reaction, but Ben could see a flicker of something in JD's eyes that revealed that he hadn't completely shut himself down.

"If you wanted to come, Cliff or I could carry you. I know you like that. And if we come across any women while we're out, you could just hold on to us and we'll keep you safe." Ben said cautiously, knowing that one wrong word might leave JD sitting and staring for hours on end.

JD still wasn't moving, but his expression seemed more thoughtful than vacant.

"And if you don't want to go, one of us will stay home with you." Ben said seriously. "You don't have to do anything. It's your choice."

JD seemed to be thinking, but all in all, Ben felt that he might have handled the conversation the right way.

"We won't be doing that until after Cliff gets home this evening." Ben said as he injected cheer into his voice. "I just wanted to mention it to you now so you can think about it and decide what you want to do."

JD got out of his chair, then walked around the table to stand in front of Ben.

Before Ben could try to guess at what JD wanted, the boy raised his arms.

"Sure." Ben said with a chuckle, "Come on up here."

* * * * *

Ben spent the rest of the afternoon reading and was finally able to finish proofreading his manuscript. JD was at his side the entire time, hunting and pecking on his small laptop with single-minded dedication.

"Oh wow. I don't know about you, but I need to get up and move around after sitting for so long." Ben said as he stood and slowly stretched.

JD continued to type, not reacting to Ben's words at all.

"Take a break when you've finished your thought. I'll be in the kitchen, fixing us a snack." Ben said casually then waited a moment for any reaction.

Of course, there was none. So Ben went into the kitchen and started looking through the refrigerator. He was considering what kind of snack he could make with the meatballs when he remembered something.

He took down a notebook from the top of the refrigerator, then found the recipe that he wanted.

After a moment of reading, he went to the pantry to see if he had all the ingredients that he needed.

* * * * *

JD walked into the kitchen to find Ben carrying an armload of packages.

"Pull up a chair. We've got some cooking to do if we're going to get this done before Cliff gets home." Ben said as he sat the packages on the island.

Ben sorted everything out in front of him, then looked at the recipe again. He was about to say something, but the beep of the microwave drew him away.

He returned to the island to find JD reading the recipe carefully.

"What do you think? Can you manage it?" Ben asked curiously.

JD pointed with one gloved finger at the first item on the recipe.

"I've got the butter right here. It should be just soft enough for you to work with." Ben said as he sat the butter on the island right beside the mixing bowl.

JD glanced at the stove, then looked at Ben curiously.

"Yeah. I've already got it preheating." Ben said with a grin.

JD looked at the recipe again, then went to work.

Ben watched for a moment to see that JD understood how to follow the instructions.

After watching JD carefully measure out white and brown sugar, Ben quietly said, "I'll get the baking soda ready for you to use."

Ben carefully dissolved a teaspoon of baking soda in two teaspoons of hot water. When he turned back to the island, he saw JD trying to mix together the butter and sugars. He was holding the bowl with one hand while struggling to stir with the other.

"Let me show you how to do that." Ben said gently as he walked to JD's side.

JD stopped and looked at Ben cautiously.

"Here, like this." Ben said as he took the wooden spoon from JD's gloved hand and picked up the bowl.

He steadied the bowl against his chest and gave a few slow stirs with the spoon.

"You have better leverage this way." Ben said simply, then placed the bowl on the counter top in front of JD.

There was a moment of hesitation, then JD picked up the bowl and tried to mimic Ben's actions.

"Hold it a little bit lower, and you can tilt it." Ben said, then helped JD move the bowl into a more comfortable position.

"There you go. That should work just fine." Ben said with a smile as he took a step away.

JD started mixing, then smiled up at Ben when he realized how much better it worked.

"If you want, I'll add ingredients while you stir." Ben said slowly, watching carefully for JD's reaction.

After a moment, Ben supposed that JD would have stopped stirring and given him 'the look' if he had objected.

Ben carefully cracked an egg, then added it to the batter.

He detected a slight smile as JD continued to stir.

Ben added another egg and waited for a moment for it to be incorporated into the batter before adding vanilla.

JD's stirring was much smoother with the added liquid. Ben noticed that JD was leaning slightly to read the recipe for what was next.

"Baking soda." Ben announced as he held up the small cup.

After adding the baking soda, Ben also added a little salt.

When the batter was smooth and fully mixed, Ben said, "Here's where it get's tough. What do you think about changing places with me?"

JD looked up at Ben curiously.

"I'll mix while you add ingredients for a while. When you add the flour, it gets harder to mix." Ben said seriously.

JD's response was to place the bowl on the counter.

"I know the recipe doesn't call for it, but I think the cookies turn out better if you use sifted flour. So measure the flour into the sifter, then while you sift, I'll mix." Ben said seriously.

JD absently nodded and Ben fought not to react to the casual action. Whether JD knew it or not, he was being lured out of his self-imposed isolation.

As JD sifted flour, Ben continued to stir.

When the last of the flour was sifted into the dough, Ben said, "Now you have a decision to make. The recipe calls for two cups of chocolate chips, but as you can see, we have chocolate, white chocolate, butterscotch and peanut butter chips. It's up to you to decide which kind of chips we'll be using."

After a moment to consider, JD took the package of chocolate chips and started pouring them into the measuring cup.

At about the one cup mark, JD stopped, then took the package of white chocolate chips.

"Good choice. My mouth is already watering." Ben said with a grin.

JD looked up with an actual smile before filling the measuring cup to the two cup mark.

"Add them in the bowl." Ben said as he started stirring again.

JD unceremoniously dumped the measuring cup into the mixing bowl, then started filling it with walnuts.

Ben glanced at the clock, then said, "This is going to work out fine. Cliff should be getting home at just about the time these come out of the oven."

JD had a trace of a smile and the smile had reached his eyes.

The warmth in Ben's heart was nearly overwhelming as he could see the transformation in the boy before him.

"I think it's done. I'll get the baking sheets so you can start scooping." Ben said as he walked to the cabinet by the stove.

JD scooted the bowl in front of him, then looked at the recipe again.

Ben wiped down the baking sheets with a dry towel, then sat them on the island. "Just scoop up big spoonfuls and drop them on the pan. They don't have to be pretty, they're going to spread out as they bake."

After the first clump of dough hit the pan, Ben said, "Now leave a little room between them so they have plenty of room to spread out. We have two big pans so there's no need to crowd them."

JD absently nodded, then put another clump of dough on the pan.

"Perfect." Ben said happily. "While you're doing that, I'll get to washing some of these dishes."

JD glanced at Ben and smiled before turning his full attention back to his work.

* * * * *

"If we're going to be doing this very often, I'm going to need to get a stand mixer, like my mom had. It'll make the job a lot easier." Ben said casually as he washed the dishes in the sink.

JD was scraping the bowl to get enough dough together to make the last clump.

Ben dried his hands on a dishtowel as he walked over to the island to check on JD.

"Those look perfect." Ben said with a smile. "Here's a timer. Set it for ten minutes while I put the pans in the oven."

"Now that the cookies are baking, all that's left to do is wash the mixing bowl. And, of course, the one who mixed the dough gets the honor of licking the spoon."

JD looked at Ben curiously, then at the spoon.

"It's okay. The cookies are in the oven, so you're allowed." Ben said gently.

JD cautiously picked up the spoon, then took a tentative taste.

His reaction to the taste was a broad smile.

"Yeah. I know." Ben said with a grin.

JD hesitantly offered the spoon to Ben.

"No. That's all for you." Ben said warmly.

JD happily licked the rest of the dough off the spoon as Ben took the mixing bowl to the sink.

"Scoot your chair over to the sink and wash the last of the dishes while I clean down the counter." Ben said with a smile.

* * * * *

"Something smells good!" Cliff said as he walked into the kitchen.

"JD's been cooking." Ben said proudly.

"I can't wait to try some." Cliff said as he put an arm around Ben and gave him a quick kiss.

JD walked in front of the pair and looked at Cliff as he put up his arms.

"I missed you too, JD." Cliff said warmly, then leaned down to pick up the boy.

"Come here and give me some sugar." Cliff said before kissing the boy on the cheek.

As JD snuggled into the hug, the timer went off.

"I'll take care of that." Ben said as he moved to the stove.

JD watched from Cliff's arms as Ben transferred the cookies to a cooling rack beside the stove.

"Those look good." Cliff said hungrily.

"JD made them. I just coached him." Ben said with a smile.

"So what's on the agenda for tonight?" Cliff asked curiously.

"Well, I was thinking that we need a few things from the store. I talked to JD about it earlier, and we haven't decided if he's going to the store or not."

"Hmm. Yeah, I can see some problems with that." Cliff said thoughtfully.

"I was thinking that if we all went together, that one of us could hold JD while the other runs interference." Ben said slowly. "That way JD could go out with us and do things and we could keep him safe."

Cliff considered for a moment, then pulled back to look at JD and said, "You know that you're safe when I'm holding you, right?"

JD looked Cliff in the eyes, but didn't give any obvious reaction.

"I tell you what. If you're scared, you can hold on to me. I won't let anyone hurt you." Cliff said gently. "You can even close your eyes if that helps."

After a moment, JD closed his eyes and rested his head on Cliff's shoulder.

"I guess that's settled." Ben said with a smile at the tender sight.

"So are those cookies about ready?" Cliff asked hopefully.

"Just about. Would you like some coffee to go with them?" Ben asked casually.

"That sounds perfect." Cliff said as he snuggled the boy held tight to his chest.

"Have a seat while I get it ready." Ben said as he began to set up the coffee maker. "How was your day?"

"Mostly the usual. A few sore throats, one sprained wrist and a boy with a pencil eraser stuck in his ear." Cliff said as he carefully sat down, continuing to hold JD as he did so.

"How did he manage to do that?" Ben asked with a chuckle.

"I've learned not to ask." Cliff said with a grin.

Ben took the milk jug and two glasses to the table while the coffee was making.

"JD, do you want to pour us some milk?" Ben asked casually as he walked back to the stove.

After a quick hug, JD got down off Cliff's lap and carefully poured two glasses of milk.

"This morning you were saying that you had a lot to do today. Were you able to get it all done?" Cliff asked curiously.

"Yes. In fact, JD even caught a mistake that I totally missed. I finished the manuscript about an hour ago and sent it off to my editor." Ben said happily.

"It sounds like you might need to put JD on your payroll as a proofreader." Cliff said with a chuckle.

"It's possible." Ben said frankly as he placed a plate full of cookies on the table.

Cliff took a paper napkin from the middle of the table, then took two cookies from the plate.

JD watched him, then took two napkins and put two cookies on each.

He placed one napkin by each glass of milk.

"Thank you, JD." Ben said as he sat a cup of coffee in front of Cliff.

"Mmmm. This has to be the best cookie that I've ever tasted." Cliff said in a low voice.

Ben smiled at the reaction, then picked up a cookie and took a bite.

"Oh, wow! That is good!" Ben said with actual surprise.

JD smiled with pride, then carefully took a bite of his own cookie.

"So, what do we need from the store?" Cliff asked as he relaxed back into his chair.

"Pajamas, maybe some new gloves, I thought about getting JD a few toys." Ben said thoughtfully, then quickly added, "And I wanted to get JD a typing tutor program."

"Typing tutor?" Cliff asked with surprise. "Isn't he a little young for that?"

"He's typing already, the tutor will just make it easier for him." Ben said frankly.

"It sounds like we should be able to get everything we need at Target." Cliff said casually.

"That's what I was thinking." Ben said before picking up his second cookie.

"JD, try this." Ben said, then dunked the edge of his cookie into his milk.

A puzzled stare was JD's first reaction, but finally he took his cookie and tried dunking it.

JD's eyes went wide as the taste registered.

"Good, huh?" Ben asked with a grin.

Another quick dunk was JD's answer.

* * * * *

"Hop up on the booster seat, little man." Cliff said as he stood outside the back door of the car.

JD looked curiously at the large, chair-shaped cushion, then slowly climbed onto it.

"See that? Now you can see everything without having to stretch." Cliff said as he belted JD into the booster seat.

Ben looked over his shoulder to see JD looking around curiously.

"Any plans for dinner?" Cliff asked as he got into the passenger seat of the car.

"I wanted to wait and see what you felt like having." Ben said honestly.

"Hmm... well, I think that since we're going out to the store anyway, we could go out to a restaurant." Cliff said carefully.

"I thought about that too, but I think JD is taking a big enough step by going to the store. What would you think about driving through somewhere?"

"We could do that." Cliff said thoughtfully, then suddenly added, "If you wouldn't mind going a little bit out of our way, I could phone in an order to Harry's for carry out."

"Hey, that'll work." Ben said happily. "I can't get enough of their blackened chicken."

"I've noticed." Cliff chuckled.

"How you doing back there, JD?" Ben asked as he looked into the rear view mirror.

To his surprise, JD met his gaze and had a slight smile on his face.

"Good. We'll be there in just a minute, so just sit back and enjoy the ride." Ben said happily, remembering the solemn, unresponsive passenger they had had the day before.

"Now remember, I'm going to be holding on to you. So all you need to do if you get scared is hold on to me a little bit tighter to let me know how scared you are. If it gets too bad for you, I'll take you out to the car." Cliff said gently.

JD turned his gaze to Cliff and gave a hesitant smile.

"Good boy. I'm proud of you for being willing to try." Cliff said gently.

JD's smile widened at the words.

* * * * *

"It doesn't look too busy." Ben said absently as he easily found a convenient parking space.

"Yeah. It looks like early on a weeknight is the time to go shopping." Cliff said as he internally braced himself for the coming expedition.

When the car came to a stop, Cliff automatically got out and went to the back door to help JD.

To his surprise, JD didn't have any trouble getting the seatbelt off. He was sitting in the booster seat, waiting patiently.

"Come on, little man." Cliff said gently as he lifted JD out of the seat. "Just remember what I told you. Hold on to me as tight as you need to so I'll know how you're feeling."

JD put his arms around Cliff and rested his head on Cliff's shoulder.

Ben smiled at the scene as he walked with Cliff and JD across the parking lot and into the store.

* * * * *

"JD, look at these." Ben said as he pointed at a selection of gloves.

The boy's tension seemed to ease slightly when he saw what Ben was pointing at.

"They've got a better selection than I expected, but not much in your size." Ben said thoughtfully.

"Hey, look at those." Cliff said as he pointed to a pair of fingerless gloves.

"That's exactly what I was looking for." Ben said happily, then picked up the gloves. "But they're adult sized."

"These look like children's sizes. Let's see what they've got." Cliff said curiously.

"Well, I like this pair, with the design on the back. But since I'm not the one who's going to be wearing them, I suppose it's not up to me." Ben said frankly.

"JD, I'm going to put you down so you can get a better look at the gloves and maybe try them on if you're interested." Cliff said gently before letting the boy down.

There was a moment when JD seemed to be frozen in place, but finally his interest in the gloves got the better of him.

"That pair has a matching beanie." Ben said as he pointed to another pair of gloves.

"So do these, and they're blue and gray. I think they'd look great on JD." Cliff said happily.

JD cautiously slipped his glove off his right hand and tried on a pair of black gloves with a skeletal hand drawn in white on the back.

"That's cute." Ben chuckled.

"And anatomically accurate." Cliff added in an impressed voice.

Ben rolled his eyes slightly, then noticed that JD was looking at the blue and gray gloves with interest.

"Look at this." Cliff said as he moved a little further down the aisle.

"What is it?" Ben asked curiously.

"These gloves aren't for winter. They're just for show."

"And for girls." Ben added seriously.

"Yeah, but they're not frilly or anything." Cliff defended.

"I guess not." Ben said slowly.

"I just thought these might be more comfortable than those winter gloves he's been wearing. If nothing else, it would be something he could wear around the house." Cliff said seriously.

Ben nodded, then said, "Put them in the basket. We'll give them to JD and he can decide if he wants to wear them or not."

Cliff looked through the selections and found two pair of small black gloves.

"What did you decide on, little man?" Cliff asked happily.

JD was holding the black skeleton gloves and the blue and gray gloves, with a conflicted look on his face.

"Good choice." Cliff said decisively. "Put them in the cart."

JD looked up at Cliff with confusion.

"You can have both pairs of gloves. That way you can choose what you want to wear, just like you choose your shirts and pants when you get dressed in the morning." Cliff explained slowly.

JD looked down at the gloves in his hands for a moment, then up at Cliff with a smile.

"Ready to head to the pajama department?" Ben asked with a smile.

JD quickly put the gloves into the cart, then thrust his arms into the air.

"Touchdown." Ben said with a chuckle.

Cliff smiled as he leaned down to pick up the boy.

* * * * *

"Can I help you find anything today?" A sales clerk asked as she approached.

Cliff felt the arms around him tighten and JD's face press into his shoulder.

Ben automatically walked to intercept the woman and said, "No. We're finding everything just fine."

"I'll be on the next aisle if you need anything." The woman said cautiously as she noticed the obviously terrified child.

"Thank you." Ben said politely, then waited for her to leave.

After a moment, Cliff whispered, "She's gone now. Are you okay?"

JD's hold on Cliff relaxed slightly.

"What else do we need to get?" Cliff asked with a worried look into Ben's eyes.

"Toys." Ben said as he put two pairs of sweat pants into the cart.

"Can it wait?" Cliff asked with concern.

"No. I don't think so." Ben said seriously.

At Cliff's look of surprise, Ben explained, "He's seven years old and he has no toys. None at all. We don't need to buy out the store, but I really think it's important to get him something to play with."

"Let's go." Cliff conceded.

* * * * *

Cliff looked up and down the aisle before cautiously letting JD down to stand on his own.

"Go ahead and look around. See if there are any toys that you'd like to have." Cliff said gently.

JD looked at the games for a moment, then started roaming down the aisle, looking at things.

Ben stayed slightly ahead of him as Cliff trailed slightly behind.

Finally, JD found a yellow dump truck and picked it up.

Ben and Cliff both smiled as JD got down on the floor and started driving it around.

After a moment of just standing and watching, Cliff said, "Go ahead and put that in the cart, JD."

JD looked up at Cliff as if he had forgotten he was there.

"We're buying that for you. Put it in the cart." Cliff said more quietly.

JD looked at the truck in his hands, then up at Cliff with disbelief.

"Yes. Really." Cliff said insistently.

JD walked to the cart that Ben was pushing then, rather than drop the truck in, he offered it to Ben.

It took a moment for Ben to realize what JD was doing.

"Sure, I'll put it in the cart for you. We wouldn't want it to get banged up." Ben said gently.

JD gave Ben a quick smile, then turned to Cliff and raised his arms.

"You can pick out another toy if you'd like." Cliff said tenderly.

JD continued to stand with his arms held high.

"Alright then. Did we get everything?" Cliff asked as he hoisted the boy onto his hip.

"We still need to get the typing tutor. But I thought we could get that on the way to the registers." Ben said frankly.

"I was thinking that even though JD has been a real trouper tonight, we might not want to tempt fate by taking him through the checkout." Cliff said slowly.

"I agree. Go on ahead and I'll meet you at the car." Ben said with an appreciative smile as he handed Cliff his keys.

"Be thinking about what you want to eat. I'll get the phone number and we can place the order before we leave."

"Good plan." Ben said with a smile, then leaned in and gave JD a quick kiss before saying, "I'll see you in a few minutes, little man."

JD smiled slightly, then cuddled into Cliff's chest.

* * * * *

"What was the damage?" Cliff asked as Ben opened the car door.

Ben took the keys from the ignition as he said, "Less than $200. Really reasonable for as much as we got."

Cliff nodded his agreement as he watched Ben load the bags into the trunk.

Ben came around to the passenger side and opened JD's door.

"I thought you'd like to have this with you." Ben said as he handed him the yellow truck.

JD accepted the truck with a smile.

Cliff watched as JD held the truck, almost reverently. It was like JD just couldn't wrap his mind around the fact that it was really there.

"Did you get the number to Harry's?" Ben asked as he settled into the driver's seat.

"Yes. Are you ready to order?" Cliff asked as he took out his phone.

"I was ready back in the store." Ben said frankly.

Cliff held the phone to his ear, then a moment later he said, "I'd like to place an order for carry-out for Dr. Grant."

"I'll have a catfish platter." Cliff said, then handed the phone to Ben.

"I'd like the blackened chicken with a side of red beans and rice." Ben said with a hungry smile.

After a moment, Ben asked, "What do you have on your kid's menu?"

"Hamburger, chicken strips, fish, shrimp, macaroni & cheese or a corn dog?" Ben asked into the back seat.

Cliff watched curiously and couldn't see any change in JD's expression.

Ben nodded, then said into the phone, "Chicken strips."

After a moment, Ben looked at JD again and asked, "Grilled or fried?"

Cliff watched JD even more closely, trying to detect any clue as to what the boy wanted.

"Fried." Ben said into the phone, a moment later he said, "Yes. Twenty minutes will be just perfect."

Cliff accepted the phone from Ben, then looked into the back seat again.

JD had a slight smile on his face, while he played quietly with his truck. On any other child, Cliff probably wouldn't think anything of the expression. But to see JD smiling, for no particular reason, warmed his heart to the point that it threatened to spill over into tears.

* * * * *

When they got home, Cliff took the carry-out food to the kitchen while Ben brought the bags into the living room.

All three had good appetites and enjoyed the meal immensely.

Cliff cleaned up after dinner as Ben took JD to his room to go through the purchases.

"I'm going to wash the clothes we bought before you wear them. Sometimes if you don't do that, they itch." Ben said as he removed tags and labels.

JD walked cautiously to the bed and picked up one of the pairs of gloves.

"What would you think about cutting the ends of the fingers out of the black pair?" Ben asked casually.

JD looked up at him curiously.

"I noticed when you were typing today that with your gloves, your fingertips are bigger than the keys. If we cut the end of the fingers off the gloves, then you could still cover your tattoos, but you'd also be able to type." Ben said conversationally.

JD slowly took off his worn black glove and slipped on a black glove with the skeleton pattern on the back.

Ben stopped what he was doing to check to see how the gloves fit.

"Those look good. Come into the kitchen and we'll fix them up for you." Ben said as he picked up the pile of clothes.

* * * * *

"If you've got anything that needs washed, I'll be doing a load of laundry in the morning." Ben said as he walked through the kitchen.

"I can't think of anything." Cliff said as he tied the kitchen trash bag closed.

Ben placed the clothes in the laundry room, then walked back into the kitchen to find JD waiting by the island.

"I don't know if anyone has ever told you this, but when you carry scissors, you should carry them like this, with the point away from you." Ben said as he demonstrated, then added, "And, of course, you should never run with them."

Cliff watched the impromptu lesson with a smile.

"Now that you know that, I can ask you to bring me the scissors if we need them for something." Ben said happily, then said, "Show me where you want your gloves cut off."

JD looked down at his hands, then up at Ben curiously.

"The fingerless gloves they had at the store were cut just above the second knuckle. If we cut yours like that, then a little bit of your tattoos would show. Then again, if you cut it lower, the material might bunch when you flex your finger. So you need to decide how much of your fingers you're willing to let us see. I think, the shorter the fingers, the more comfortable your glove is going to be." Ben said thoughtfully.

"And you have other pairs of gloves. So you can cut these down and still have those to completely cover your hands when you're around other people." Cliff suggested helpfully.

Ben nodded his agreement.

JD looked down at his hands and considered for a moment before hesitantly pointing to the second knuckle.

"Okay." Ben said happily. "I'm going to cut it a little bit long, then we can trim it back to where you want it."

Ben waited for a moment, then quietly said, "Give me your glove."

JD slowly took the glove off, then dropped it on the counter top, quickly hiding his hand after dropping it.

Ben took the glove and snipped off one of the fingers. He glanced to see if JD was having any adverse reaction to the sight, but he seemed to be fine.

Snip, snip, snip. And the job was done.

"Here, try it on before I do the other one." Ben said as he offered the altered glove to JD.

There was a long moment before JD shyly raised his hand long enough to take the glove.

He slipped the glove on, then looked at his hand curiously.

"Let me see." Ben said as he leaned in a little closer.

JD held his hand out.

The barbed wire pattern carried on down each of JD's fingers and terminated at the fingernail. But the pattern seemed to work well with the black gloves and the overall effect was pleasing.

"You can barely see the tattoos. If someone didn't know they were there, they probably wouldn't notice." Cliff said with a smile.

Ben looked at the hand again and thought that Cliff was exaggerating quite a bit, but still, if it would make JD more comfortable, at least around them, he was willing to go along.

"That looks good. Go ahead and give me the other one and I'll do it to the same length."

JD handed over the second glove more easily than he had the first.

Ben quickly made the alteration, then handed the glove back to JD.

"Now you officially have choices. You can wear your full gloves or your cut down gloves." Ben said happily.

"And you also have the sheer gloves, in case the ones that you're wearing are hot." Cliff added.

Ben nodded, then said, "But for right now, I think it's time for your bath. Go on and get your things together and I'll start your bath water."

JD looked up at Ben cautiously.

"Trust me. You'll like this." Ben said as he looked JD in the eyes.

After a moment, JD slowly turned and walked to his room.

"What's the plan?" Cliff asked curiously.

"I bought bubble bath and a few bath toys, including a rubber ducky." Ben said with a cheerful smile.

"For him or for you?" Cliff asked with a grin.

"It's one of my happy memories. I hope it will end up being one of his." Ben said, then asked, "Want to help me get it ready?"

"I'd love to." Cliff said as he started to walk with Ben.

* * * * *

JD walked into the bathroom and stopped just inside the door.

"I think I got the water just right for you." Ben said happily.

JD looked at the sudsy bathtub, then back at Ben with question.

"It's fun. You can get in the tub and play with the suds and the toys until your toes shrivel up." Ben said with an ear to ear grin.

JD's incredulous stare made Cliff break into laughter.

"Give it a try." Ben said with good humor. "What have you got to lose?"

For a moment it looked like JD might have an answer.

"Here are your bath toys. Just go ahead and have fun. Don't forget to brush your teeth before you go to bed. And we'll be in to say goodnight when you're all done." Ben said as he handed JD a net bag with a boat, a submarine and a wind-up scuba diver, along with the aforementioned duck.

* * * * *

Ben and Cliff were in their bedroom, and had become engrossed in the paying of monthly bills. When Ben realized that it had been over an hour since they had left JD in the bathroom, he hopped up and hurried to the door.

"What's wrong?" Cliff asked as he also stood.

"JD. We need to say goodnight." Ben said as he walked into the hall.

"I'm sure he's fine." Cliff said as he followed.

"I know. I just want to make sure he's in bed and give him a kiss goodnight." Ben said as they walked into JD's room.

The light was already off, but there was enough light spilling into the room that they could see that JD was sound asleep with his arm wrapped around the yellow dump truck.

Ben felt the tears falling down his cheeks and put an arm around Cliff to hold him.

Cliff gave Ben a chaste kiss on the side of the head, then slowly guided him to walk out of the room.

To Be Continued...

Editor's Notes: I am duly impressed. There aren't too many people who could take a child who had been so badly treated, and who was so totally frightened and show him how wonderful it is to be loved and to be able to love someone else.

Cliff and Ben are right at the top of my list of good guys. I can see many good things ahead for this wonderful family.

Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher
Proof Reader Notes: Yes, Darryl to open one's house to a child in need is good, but to open one's heart to heal the emotional pains of a child in need, speak's volumes of the love freely shared by Cliff and Ben.

Robert AKA Privatecomm983
Author's Note: I would just like to give special thanks to D&B for lots and lots of help on this story. Their contributions made this story what it is. -MM