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Chapter 8

The next day JD and Ben seemed to be of one mind, both sitting at their computers and working diligently on their own projects.

Occasionally, one or the other of them would stop to ponder a question, or consider the best way to phrase something, but for the most part, the clickity, click, click of keyboards was constantly chattering in their ears as they each concentrated on their work.

A lunch of cold sandwiches along with cheese curls was the only interlude in their productive day.

Neither was aware of the passage of time as they were each engrossed in their own private world of fantasy.

* * * * *

"Dr. Grant, Ron Cooper is holding for you on line one. Do you have time to talk to him?" The office receptionist asked from his doorway.

"Yes. I'll take it. Thank you, Brynna." Cliff said, then answered the phone. "Hi Ron, what's going on?"

"Cliff, am I catching you at a bad time?" Ron asked cautiously.

"Not at all. What can I do for you today?" Cliff asked pleasantly.

"I was wondering if you'd have time to come over to the Home to meet with me?" Ron asked anxiously.

"Is something wrong with JD? From the way you acted at dinner, I thought that he wasn't having any problems." Cliff asked in a rush.

"No. JD's fine. This is something else. Will you be able to meet with me?" Ron asked hopefully.

"Um, let me see. Give me a second." Cliff said as he pulled up his patient schedule on his computer. "Actually, since I've already seen my last patient for the day, I don't have anything to do, now, that can't be done later. I could be there in about ten minutes if that wouldn't be too soon."

"That would be great. Just go directly to Mrs. Usher's office when you get here. We'll be expecting you." Ron said with relief.

"What's going on, Ron?" Cliff asked cautiously.

"It would be better if I told you in person. I'll see you in a few minutes." Ron said seriously.

"Yeah. I'll be there as soon as I can." Cliff said slowly, then absently said, "Bye."

* * * * *

"Dr. Grant, it's so good to see you." Mrs. Usher said when Cliff walked into her office. "Please have a seat so we may begin."

"Um, thank you." Cliff said cautiously as he took the offered seat.

"When you and Mr. Stone petitioned to be foster parents, there was a stipulation in the agreement..." Mrs. Usher began to say, but Ron cut her off.

"Please, just ask him. Don't make this sound like a demand." Ron pleaded.

Mrs. Usher stopped and considered for a moment, then nodded her agreement. "Dr. Grant, last night we received into our care, a young boy who has been abused... in a manner... such that..."

Ron noticed that Mrs. Usher seemed to be having difficulty finding the right words, so he continued the thought for her, "As near as we can tell, he's been held captive in an apartment on the South side of town for most, if not all, of his life."

"Yes. It also appears that he has been kept restrained much of the time. Tied to a bed." Mrs. Usher added quietly, obviously fighting to keep herself from crying.

"I'm sorry to hear that." Cliff said cautiously. He then hesitantly asked, "Is there anything I can do?"

"Perhaps." Mrs. Usher said with a glance at Mr. Cooper, then said to Cliff, "Given your remarkable success with JD, we immediately thought that you and Mr. Stone might be able to help this boy; his name is Jody."

"Cliff, he can barely walk. He's absolutely terrified of everyone and everything. I'm assuming that's because his whole life, he's only ever seen the inside of his apartment and now he's suddenly been thrust into the outside world." Ron said in a desperate, urging tone.

"So you want Ben and me to be his foster parents." Cliff said slowly, seeking confirmation.

"Yes." Ron said immediately. Then, in a more controlled voice, he continued, "The way things are, there are very few options for us. The next best option for placing him would be a group home for disabled children. And I'm sure that they would take very good care of him. But I really think that with your family, he might have an opportunity for something so much better."

"And how do you feel about it, Mrs. Usher?" Cliff asked slowly, not able to believe that she had changed her opinion of gay people completely since their first meeting.

"I agree with Mr. Cooper. My job is the same as it ever was. That being, to match each child given into my care with a family that can love and nurture them, so they can become well rounded, stable adults. I believe that your family is, by far, the best chance that Jody is going to have." Mrs. Usher said sincerely.

"If you'd like, I could take you to meet him." Ron said hopefully.

"No." Cliff said quietly. "At least, not yet."

Mrs. Usher and Ron looked at him with surprise.

"This isn't a decision that I can make on my own. I'm going to call Ben and have him bring JD here. If you'll tell them what you just told me and answer any questions they might have, then we'll consider it as a family." Cliff said seriously.

"That sounds like a very wise decision." Mrs. Usher said with an admiring smile.

"Then, if you'll excuse me for a moment..." Cliff said as he took out his cell phone.

"Of course." Mrs. Usher said with a casual smile as Ron nodded.

* * * * *

"Hi love, are you on your way home?" Ben asked curiously.

"No. Actually, I'm at the Home having a meeting with Ron and Mrs. Usher right now." Cliff said frankly.

"Is something wrong?" Ben asked with concern.

"Yes. But it isn't about JD. I called to ask if it would be possible for you to bring JD down here right now?" Cliff asked hopefully.

"Sure. We lost track of time and haven't started dinner yet, so we could leave right away." Ben said cautiously.

"Yes. Please do. We'll explain everything when you get here." Cliff said firmly.

"We're on our way." Ben said cautiously, then quickly added, "I love you."

Cliff smiled and said, "I love you, too."

* * * * *

When Cliff closed his phone, he noticed that Ron and Mrs. Usher were looking away, trying to give the appearance that they hadn't been listening to his side of the conversation.

"So, while we're waiting, would you care to fill me in? Who did this to Jody? Where are they now? Does he have any family?" Cliff asked seriously.

"As I said before, this just happened yesterday, so we don't really have a lot of answers. But we'll tell you what we know." Ron said seriously.

Ron glanced to Mrs. Usher, and she began to tell the story. "There was some sort of accident that damaged a gas line in the South part of town. As a result, the custodian of Jody's apartment building had to go from apartment to apartment to relight the pilot lights on hot water heaters and stoves and such. He knocked and there was no answer, so he let himself into the apartment and found Jody tied to the bed frame."

Cliff could tell that Mrs. Usher was fighting to keep her emotions under control.

"The custodian immediately called the police and they, in turn, called us. After Mr. Cooper collected the child, the police waited for the resident to return to the apartment and later arrested her. She's in police custody now."

Ron nodded, then added, "The detectives that I talked with are pretty sure that the woman isn't Jody's parent or legal guardian. So far, she's refused to answer any of their questions."

"So he might have been abducted?" Cliff asked thoughtfully.

"That's one of the possibilities. With so little information to go on, it's hard to even guess at this point." Ron said with a defeated shrug.

"So, tell me again why you need for Ben and me to take him? Even though his situation was horrible, it still sounds like he's in a lot better shape than JD was." Cliff asked slowly.

"No. He really isn't, at least, not emotionally." Ron said quietly. "JD's reaction to his trauma was to shut down. He stopped talking or interacting with the world around him to help distance himself from his pain. Jody is feeling his pain. He's afraid and grieving and a million other things that he doesn't understand or know how to handle."

"And it's going to take time for him to deal with his issues." Mrs. Usher said frankly, then added, "Unfortunately, time is a commodity that we don't have in abundance. Children are brought to us, we do our best to determine their needs and get them placed with a family as quickly as possible to free up the bed for the next child who needs it." Mrs. Usher said frankly.

"So, you don't have any long term residents here?" Cliff asked cautiously, he had never thought to ask before.

"Actually, we do have a few, but they're older children who've been in the system for years. After a certain age, it's nearly impossible to place them, so we offer to allow them to stay here, with the understanding that they help the younger kids and first timers deal with their new situation." Ron said quietly.

"Sort of like trustees." Cliff said thoughtfully.

"If you like. But it's the closest thing to a stable home that I'm able to give them." Mrs. Usher said regretfully.

"It's going to be a few minutes before Ben gets here. I think I'd like to meet Jody now, if you'd like to introduce me." Cliff said to Mrs. Usher quietly.

"Yes. I think that's a very good idea." Mrs. Usher said with a pleased smile, "Mr. Cooper, would you take care of the introductions? I'll wait here for Mr. Stone and JD to arrive."

"Of course." Ron said as he stood. "We'll be right back."

* * * * *

"What else can you tell me about him?" Cliff asked as he walked down the hallway toward the bedrooms.

"Not much. With JD, we didn't know things because he wouldn't talk and couldn't remember. In Jody's case, I think he just doesn't know. It seems that he's been denied any type of social interaction or sensory stimulation. I don't think he's even had any exposure to radio or TV. He literally doesn't know anything about anything outside the apartment he was living in." Ron said frankly, then gestured toward one of the bedroom doors.

"I thought you couldn't remember which kids went in which rooms." Cliff said with a grin.

"That was just my way of encouraging JD to interact with us." Ron said with a sly smile.

* * * * *

Ron looked around the bedroom, then cautiously asked, "Where's Jody?"

"In there." An older teenage boy said as he pointed at the closet.

"Any idea why?" Ron asked cautiously.

"It's dark and quiet. I think he needs that." the boy said frankly.

"Cliff, this is Michael, but everyone calls him Junior." Ron said with a smile.

"Yeah. It seems like every third guy who comes through here is named Mike." Junior said with a roll of his eyes.

"It's nice to meet you, Junior. My name is Clifton Grant, you can call me Cliff." He said as he offered his hand.

As they shook hands, Ron said, "Cliff is one of JD's foster parents."

"You got JD? How is he?" Junior asked with excitement.

"He's doing great." Cliff said with a smile, "In fact, he's started talking and even smiles now."

"Really? That's wonderful. The whole time he was here, I don't remember ever seeing him smile." Junior said thoughtfully.

Cliff thought back and couldn't begin to count the number of smiles he had seen in the past weeks.

"Hang on, I've got something for you to give to him." Junior said as he hurried to one of the dressers and opened the top drawer.

"If you'll hold on to it, you can give it to him yourself. He should be here in about five minutes." Cliff said seriously.

"He's coming here? You're not... bringing him back here, are you?" Junior asked with a devastated look in his eyes.

"Only to visit, I swear." Cliff said quickly to assure the young man.

"Oh, good. I know how crappy it feels to get sent back. And with the way JD was last time I saw him... I don't know if he could handle it." Junior finished quietly.

"Just a visit. I promise." Cliff said with an assuring smile.

"Jody? Are you okay?" Ron asked quietly as he opened the closet door a crack.

There was no answer, so Ron opened the door a little wider.

What Cliff saw broke his heart.

The young boy, four or five years old by his estimate, was curled into a tight fetal ball in the floor of the closet. All Cliff could see was an angular tangle of rail-thin limbs and a tuft of wheat blond hair. The sight somehow reminded him of a pile of fallen clothes hangers.

"I don't think he slept very well last night." Junior said with a concerned look into the closet, then quietly added, "It was like he was afraid of the bed."

"Then we should probably leave him be, for now, and let him get his rest." Ron said as he eased the door shut.

"I thought he was okay. That's why I didn't come and get you." Junior said cautiously.

"I know you were watching over him. You did fine." Ron said gently. "I guess we should get back to the office before Ben and JD get here."

Before Junior could ask, Cliff said, "I'm pretty sure we'll be bringing JD in here as soon as we're done in the office, so you'll have a chance to talk to him then."

"Thanks." Junior said happily.

* * * * *

"So, are you going to tell me the truth now? Or am I going to have to start playing detective?" Cliff asked as he and Ron walked out of the bedroom.

"I'm sorry. How do you mean?" Ron asked slowly.

"Come off it, Ron. Your story doesn't add up. You received that boy last night and you're giving him to us today? I may not work in social services, but I am familiar with how bureaucracies work. NOTHING happens that fast." Cliff said as he stopped in the hall.

Ron had a look of indecision, that slowly turned to resolve.

"I didn't tell you this, and you can't repeat it, not to anyone. Not even Ben." Ron whispered.

Cliff slowly nodded.

"You're right. There are a few of us who are bending the rules for Jody's sake. The police detectives that are investigating the case have been around long enough to know what happens to kids like Jody. He's severely traumatized and barely able to stand upright. If he gets thrown into the system, he'll probably get labeled 'special needs' or worse, 'developmentally disabled', then he'll be tossed in some convenient dead-end corner where he can be forgotten. The nature of the system is to flow, and anyone who disrupts that flow is relegated to some inconspicuous bureaucratic void where they won't sully anyone's placement statistics or success rate."

Cliff was horrified at what Ron was telling him.

"I don't mean to sound like it's some kind of great conspiracy. It isn't. It's just a lot of low-level people, making a lot of low-level decisions that will result in making each of their jobs just a teeny bit easier. But the end result is that kids like JD and Jody are seen as 'too much trouble' and end up paying the price for being something other than the standard, run-of-the-mill, foster child." Ron said frankly.

Cliff thought about that for a moment, then quietly asked, "So what did you do?"

"The police detectives who found Jody called me instead of following procedure and calling the CPS office. That's nothing illegal, mind you, just irregular." Ron explained slowly.

Cliff nodded that he accepted what Ron was saying.

"Then, I took Jody to a pediatrician friend of mine to get an honest evaluation of his condition. I'm not saying that a CPS doctor would have knowingly lied about Jody's condition, but they're all so jaded that they would have probably treated Jody like a case number instead of a living, breathing person."

"Why didn't you call me?" Cliff asked cautiously.

"I hadn't planned on telling you any of this. But even if I had, I wouldn't want to put you in the position of being the attending physician of your own foster child. Down the line it might raise some questions that we don't want asked." Ron said frankly.

Cliff nodded that he understood.

"I brought Jody here and got Junior to watch after him while I filled Mrs. Usher in on what was happening." Ron said seriously.

"I'm really surprised that Mrs. Usher would be willing to bend the rules, even a little bit." Cliff said honestly.

"She does what's best for the kids. That's her priority." Ron said simply. "It only took a few minutes of conversation before we were decided that your family was our only real hope for Jody."

"What about the police investigation? If this all just happened yesterday, what can I expect?" Cliff asked cautiously.

"Expect some very understanding police detectives to visit you and ask Jody a few questions." Ron said seriously. "I promise, they won't push him and will do anything to keep from scaring him. But they need answers and Jody might be their only hope of finding them."

"I guess, as long as they're on Jody's side, that I can try to restrain my overprotective fatherly instincts." Cliff said reluctantly.

"Do that." Ron said firmly, then added, "And do your best to keep Ben from finding out about any of this. The fewer people who know, the better."

Cliff nodded, then quietly said, "Alright, but if something like this happens again, I want you to keep me in mind. I'd be willing to tread into the gray area if it would help a child."

Ron smiled and nodded his agreement before saying, "We'd better get back to the office or Ben and JD are going to end up waiting on us... with Mrs. Usher. I can't imagine any way that that will go well."

"Right." Cliff said with a smile, then gestured for Ron to lead the way.

* * * * *

Cliff and Ron walked into Mrs. Usher's office to find that Ben hadn't arrived yet.

Before they could even be seated, their attention was drawn by movement in the doorway.

"I'm sorry we took so long. The traffic was worse than I expected." Ben said as he hurried in with JD in his arms.

"Rush hour. I should have thought of that." Cliff said casually, obviously not at all bothered.

Ben gave Cliff a hopeful look then glanced at JD.

Cliff smiled, knowing what Ben was trying to say without words.

"Come here, little man. Your Pappa needs some sugar." Cliff said as he gently took JD from Ben's arms.

As soon as Cliff felt the tense little body held tight against him, his parent alarm went off. With Junior's words about being 'sent back' still fresh in his mind, he hugged JD a little more tightly to reassure him. After a moment, he finally realized that JD was probably just nervous because Mrs. Usher was in the room.

"So, why did you need us here?" Ben asked curiously.

"They've got a boy here named Jody who has some pretty serious problems." Cliff said frankly as he rubbed small circles on JD's back, trying to soothe him, "Ron and Mrs. Usher seem to think that he would benefit from being our foster child."

"Seriously? You'd allow us to take in another foster child?" Ben asked happily.

"Yes. That's what we were hoping." Mrs. Usher said quietly.

"What do we need to do?" Ben asked quickly.

"Well, the first thing I think we need to do is ask JD if he would like to have a little brother." Cliff said frankly, then looked at the boy in his arms. "He's a part of our family, so his feelings need to be taken into account."

A wide eyed stare was JD's only response.

"What do you think, JD? Would you like to have a younger brother?" Ben asked gently.

JD turned his head slightly to look at Ben, then hesitantly nodded.

"Well, I think that if you asked Mrs. Usher very nicely, she might let you." Cliff said slowly, feeling that this was an opportunity for JD to test his limits.

JD turned to look Cliff in the eyes for a moment with evident fear, but finally turned away to look at Mrs. Usher.

"Please. Mrs. Usher. Please may I have a brother?" JD asked in a barely audible voice.

Mrs. Usher couldn't answer immediately, she took a few tissues from a box on her desk, then dabbed at her eyes before saying, "Yes, JD. If you're all three agreed, then I think I have just the right little brother for you."

"Thank you." JD said timidly, then buried his face into Cliff's shoulder.

"He's made remarkable progress." Mrs. Usher said in wonder.

"Yes. He's our special little man." Ben said as he placed a hand on JD's back to offer his own assurance.

Ron smiled at the scene, then said, "Then we mustn't keep JD waiting. Let's go get him a brother."

* * * * *

"Hi JD!" Junior said joyfully. "How are you doing?"

"Hi." JD said timidly. "I'm good."

"You look good." Junior said happily. "And I think you've grown a little bit since the last time I saw you."

"Really?" JD asked with surprise, then wriggled around in Cliff's arms to try to look down at himself.

"How's Jody doing?" Ron asked cautiously.

"I think he's still asleep." Junior said with a concerned look at the closet.

"JD. There's a boy in the closet over there. His name is Jody. I was thinking that maybe you could go in there and ask him if he wants to come home with us." Cliff said gently as he let JD down to stand.

JD looked up at Cliff uncertainly, but made no move toward the closet.

"You can let him know that it's okay to be scared and that we won't hurt him." Cliff said as he looked JD in the eyes.

Finally, JD nodded and walked slowly to the closet.

"Are you sure that this is a good idea?" Ron asked cautiously.

"Yes. As much for JD as for Jody." Cliff watched JD carefully for any sign of trouble.

* * * * *

JD slowly opened the closet door, then froze when he saw the smaller boy, curled into a ball.

"Can I come in?" JD asked cautiously.

The younger boy's light brown eyes opened, and his gaze fixed with JD's.

"I won't hurt you. I promise." JD said as he knelt on the floor in the closet doorway.

Finally, the little boy hesitantly nodded.

JD scooted himself a little bit closer and said, "My Pappa said that if you wanted, you could come and live with us and be my brother."

Jody's eyes widened and he curled a little tighter into himself.

"My Pappa and my Daddy are really nice. They don't scream at me or hit me or hurt me at all, ever." JD assured.

"But I'm scared." Jody whispered.

"My Pappa told me to tell you that it's okay to be scared." JD said seriously, then added, "Please come live with us. I want you to be my brother."

"You... want me?" Jody asked in a whisper.

"Yeah. I really, really do." JD pleaded.

Jody hesitantly inched forward, then put his hand on JD's gloved hand.

Very slowly, JD turned his hand over and took Jody's hand and held it.

"See? I won't hurt you." JD said with a smile.

Jody looked past JD at the people standing outside the closet and seemed to shrink back in fear.

"If you're scared, you can hold on to me. I won't let anyone hurt you." JD whispered.

"Really?" Jody asked hopefully.

"Yeah, really. If I'm going to be your big brother, then that's my job." JD said seriously.

Jody finally closed the distance between them and hugged JD firmly.

"Now, if you get scared, just hold on to me and I'll keep you safe. You can even close your eyes if that helps." JD said in a soothing voice.

"Okay." Jody whispered.

JD coaxed Jody to stand, never letting go of him.

"You ever thought of going into child psychology?" Ron asked Cliff with a grin.

"I'm pretty sure I'm going to have all the psychology I can handle with these two." Cliff said frankly.

"We're ready." JD said as he held Jody firmly against his chest.

At first, Cliff thought that Jody was holding onto JD purely out of fear, but something about his posture made Cliff realize that Jody was holding himself upright by hanging onto JD.

"Do we need to get anything together for him?" Cliff asked curiously.

"He doesn't have much. I'll get it." Junior said as he rushed to the dresser.

"Thanks, Junior." Cliff said with a grateful smile.

"Pappa, can Junior come live with us, too?" JD asked hopefully.

Cliff looked down into JD's wide, hopeful eyes and tried to find the words to explain why that couldn't happen.

"JD, I've only got a few months before I'm eighteen. At least if I stay here, I've got a place to live until I finish high school." Junior said with regret.

"He's right. This is the best place for him to be, right now." Ron added quietly.

JD nodded, but obviously wasn't happy.

"Would there be any way that Junior could come over and visit for a night or a weekend sometime?" Ben asked hopefully, directing his question mostly at Ron.

"I don't see any problem with that." Ron said slowly, then amended, "In fact, since you two are state approved foster parents, I know that there wouldn't be a problem."

"What do you think, Junior? Would you like to come over to the house this weekend and visit with the boys?" Ben asked with a smile.

"Um... Yeah. Sure. That'd be great!" Junior said with surprise at the offer.

"I usually get out of work at around five, so why don't I swing by here on Friday just after five and pick you up?" Cliff asked casually.

"Yeah. Sure." Junior stammered. "I mean, yeah. I'll be ready."

"That sounds great." Cliff said with a smile.

"JD, I got this for you." Junior said as he held out a cloth bundle.

"What is it?" JD asked, his arms still full of terrified little boy.

Junior unfolded the bundle to reveal a black turtle neck shirt.

"I was helping go through some donated clothes and found this. So I held it out for you." Junior said quietly.

"Thanks, Junior." JD said with a smile, then turned to Cliff and said, "I think Jody needs to go home now. He's starting to shake. I think he's really scared."

Cliff looked at the horribly thin boy and could see him trembling. He couldn't tell if it was from fear, or from the strain of trying to hold himself up.

"Guys, I think it's about time for us to go. Who wants a piggy back ride out to the car?" Cliff asked playfully.

JD's eyes lit up, but then he remembered Jody and looked at him with question.

"It's really fun." JD whispered.

"I'm scared." Jody whispered in return.

"If you want to do it, I'll hold your hand all the way out to the car." JD offered seriously.

Jody thought about it for a moment, then timidly said, "I don't know how."

"Just watch me, I'll show you." JD said quickly, then released Jody and walked to Cliff with his arms up, signaling that he wanted to be picked up.

"You know the routine, little man." Cliff said as he turned to face away, then squatted down.

JD draped himself over Cliff's back, held on around his neck and brought his legs around his waist.

A moment later, Cliff hoisted him into the air.

"Wanna try?" JD asked with a smile.

Ben noticed that Jody looked very unsteady, but didn't want to draw attention to the frightened boy by saying anything about it.

"Climb on." Ben said gently as he squatted down.

After a moment of hesitation, Jody awkwardly climbed onto Ben's back.

"Just relax, Jody. I won't let you fall." Ben said quietly as he slowly stood.

"Pappa, I promised Jody that I'd hold his hand so he wouldn't be scared." JD said urgently.

"Well, promises are important." Cliff said as he walked to stand beside Ben.

It took a moment for Jody to settle into place, but Ben was careful to take gentle hold of Jody's legs, so there was no possibility that he would fall off. Finally, Ben glanced over his shoulder and asked, "You two all set, back there?"

"Yeah. We're all ready to go." JD said with a giggle as he held out his hand to Jody.

After a few hesitant starts and stops, Jody finally felt secure enough to release his stranglehold on Ben's neck and take hold of the gloved hand that was being offered.

"I'll carry your stuff out for you." Junior volunteered as he picked up the small bundle of Jody's clothes.

"Thanks, Junior." Ben said with a grateful smile.

* * * * *

"Who's riding with who?" Ben asked carefully as they slowly walked down the hall.

"I think the boys should ride with you. Your car is bigger and you've got the booster seat." Cliff said thoughtfully.

"Speaking of which..." Ben began to say.

"I'll pick one up tomorrow." Cliff interrupted.

"Is there anything we need to do as far as paperwork?" Ben asked Ron curiously as they walked at a casual pace down the hallway.

"We'll have a few things for you to sign, but we don't have them ready for you right now. We'll either mail them or I might bring them by your office. Since this is being listed as an 'emergency placement', we can get Jody taken care of first, then deal with the paperwork when we have to." Ron said frankly.

"Is it an emergency?" Cliff asked cautiously.

"Yes." Ron said simply, then added, "As wonderful as Junior has been to look out for Jody, there's no way we could have kept Jody here like this for more than a day or two. We aren't set up to be able to devote so much attention to just one child. We still have a responsibility to the others."

Before Cliff could comment on Ron's statement, Junior rushed ahead of them and opened the door.

"Thanks." Ben said with a smile.

"You guys still okay back there?" Cliff asked curiously.

"Yeah!" JD said happily.

"This is nice." Jody said more quietly as he snuggled against the warm body that was carrying him.

* * * * *

When they reached the cars, Cliff let down his passenger, then faced Junior and said, "It was nice to meet you, Junior. We'll see you on Friday."

"Yeah. Thanks for inviting me." Junior said quickly.

* * * * *

"How are we going to do this?" Ben asked as he opened the rear passenger door.

"I suppose we should put Jody in the booster, since he's smaller." Cliff said thoughtfully.

"Jody, I'm going to let you down now. Then we're going to take you to your new home." Ben said as he squatted.

It took a moment for Jody to realize that he was supposed to let go, but finally he was standing on the ground, just outside the car.

"I'm going to lift you into the booster seat. Don't worry, I won't hurt you." Ben said gently as he noticed that JD was already in the back seat on the driver's side.

"You're light as a feather." Ben said with surprise, then looked at Cliff with concern.

"We'll get some weight on him." Cliff said with quiet assurance.

As soon as Ben pulled the seat belt around the boy's waist, Jody began screaming uncontrollably.

"What is it? Did I hurt you?" Ben asked as he released the seat belt and backed away from the shrill sound.

"Jody, what happened?" Cliff asked from the driver's side door.

"Daddy? Pappa? Can I talk to Jody for a minute to find out what's wrong?" JD asked hopefully.

"We'll be right out here if you need us." Cliff said before backing away.

Ben flashed Cliff an uncertain look, but took a few steps back as well.

* * * * *

Cliff and Ben watched as JD climbed out of the car.

"Did you find out what was wrong? Did I hurt him?" Ben asked quickly.

"Jody says that where he was living before, they used to tie him up and then they'd leave him... sometimes for all day." JD said quietly.

"So he's afraid of being restrained." Cliff said, internally kicking himself for not thinking of it.

"I guess we can let him ride without a seat belt for now." Ben said hesitantly.

JD shook his head firmly. "I don't want Jody to get hurt. I'll show him how to open the seat belt so he'll know he can get out of it whenever he wants. Then I'll hold him so he'll know he's safe."

"You're going to be a great big brother." Ben said with a proud smile.

JD shrugged shyly, then ran back to the car.

"I'll see you at home." Cliff said gently, then gave Ben a quick kiss.

Ben smiled as he watched Cliff go to his own car.

* * * * *

When Ben looked into the back seat, he couldn't hold back his smile.

Somehow, JD had managed to get both Jody and himself to fit onto the booster seat that was made for one child.

Jody seemed to be content with JD's arm around his shoulders and the safety belt strapped around both of them.

"Don't worry, Jody. We'll be home before you know it." Ben said gently, then started the car.

"JD said that we have to wear this because you love us and don't want us to get hurt if the car gets hit." Jody said frankly.

"Yes. That's exactly right." Ben said as he slowly backed out of his parking space.

"Daddy? Is Jody going to sleep with me?" JD asked cautiously.

"Well, I was thinking that if I moved in with Cliff, you know, full-time. Then you could have my room and Jody could have your room." Ben said thoughtfully, then added, "That way you'd be in the room with all the books."

"But what if Jody wants to sleep with me?" JD asked slowly.

"Well, I guess that depends on whether or not you want him to sleep with you." Ben said frankly.

He glanced into the rear view mirror and found a pair of blue/gray eyes looking back at him curiously.

"As long as you want Jody to sleep with you and he wants to sleep with you, then there's no problem. Well, unless you don't get enough sleep. Then we'll have to make some adjustments." Ben said slowly.

* * * * *

"Daddy. Jody needs to use the bathroom." JD said seriously.

Ben looked into the rear view mirror and could tell that Jody was afraid of his reaction.

"Do you think he can make it to the house?" Ben asked cautiously.

JD whispered to Jody, then Jody whispered back.

Finally JD looked up and said, "No. He has to go really bad."

Ben looked around where he was driving, then signaled to make a right turn.

As he had hoped, Cliff also signaled, then followed as Ben drove the two blocks to a public park.

"There's a public bathroom right over there." Ben said as he pulled into a parking place.

Jody had the seat belt off before the car had come to a complete stop.

"Jody, do you need to be carried?" Ben asked carefully, mostly for forms sake.

From the look of the boy, he doubted that Jody could make the short walk all by himself.

Jody reluctantly nodded.

"Then, come on." Ben said as he got out of the car.

* * * * *

"Problem?" Cliff asked with concern.

"Jody needs a bathroom break." Ben said frankly as he walked around the car.

"Please, let me take him." Cliff said with concern.

"Sure. I wouldn't want you to feel deprived." Ben said with a grin.

Cliff opened the back passenger door, then easily lifted Jody off the booster seat.

"I guess you get to keep me company." Ben said with a smile at JD.

"Jody might need me." JD said seriously, then let himself out the driver's side.

* * * * *

"Pappa, I can take him in, if you want." JD said as they walked up to the restroom.

"Okay. I'll wait out here. Just call me if you have any trouble." Cliff said seriously.

JD nodded, then helped Jody to walk the few steps in to the toilet.

"Oh, how the mighty have fallen!" A queeny voice said, drawing Cliff's attention.

"Leo? I haven't seen you in... years." Cliff said with surprise.

"Look at this! Dr. Clifton Grant trawling for dick in a public park. I'm soooo happy that I lived to see the day." Leo said delightedly.

"I'm not here for that." Cliff hurried to say.

"So did your boytoy finally dump you and find someone closer to his own age?" Leo asked quickly, obviously not expecting an answer.

"Pappa. Jody's done." JD said as he walked out of the bathroom with Jody at his side.

Jody looked up at Cliff and seemed to be waiting for something.

"Like this." JD whispered, then put his arms up.

Jody looked up at Cliff, then thrust his arms into the air.

Cliff picked the younger boy up and easily settled him on his hip.

"Leo, these are my sons, JD and Jody... mine and Ben's." Cliff said proudly.

"Can we go now?" Jody asked timidly.

"Of course, angel." Cliff said, then gave Jody a quick kiss on the cheek before walking past Leo.

JD walked a few steps, then stopped. He looked up at Leo and locked eyes with him before saying, "You're a dick."

Before Leo could respond, JD dashed away to follow his Pappa and his new brother.

* * * * *

The rest of the ride home went without incident, although the boys seemed to be constantly whispering to each other.

"Jody, I need for you to hold me when we go in because it's so pretty it might make you pass out." JD said seriously.

Ben and Cliff shared a smile and both remembered how shaky JD had been when he arrived.

After a moment, Jody nodded and put his arms around JD.

Ben hurried ahead of them to unlock the door, then stood aside as JD slowly guided Jody into the house.

"Is it from malnutrition?" Ben asked in a whisper.

"Partly. I think it's also muscle atrophy from being restrained so much." Cliff said grimly.

"What can we do for him?" Ben asked in a pleading voice.

"Keep him well fed and let him play with his big brother. I think that if we're just patient, it will all sort itself out." Cliff said honestly. "Some physical therapy might help speed his recovery, but we'll only do that if he's up to it emotionally."

* * * * *

"Where's our apartment?" Jody whispered to JD as he nervously looked around.

"This is our house. We get to live in the whole thing." JD said with a smile.

Jody looked around again, but couldn't seem to wrap his mind around the concept.

"Who wants to help me make dinner?" Ben asked as he walked past the boys.

"We'll help!" JD said immediately, speaking for both of them.

"Well, come on into the kitchen so we can get started." Ben said happily, then grinned at Cliff who was carrying Jody's things down the hall to the bedrooms.

* * * * *

"JD, I'm counting on you for a salad." Ben said as he turned on the oven.

"But Jody's going to need my help." JD said with concern.

"Don't worry. You'll be able to help him if he needs you. But I don't think he'll have any problem." Ben said, then started digging around in a lower cabinet.

Jody was standing beside JD, not knowing what he was supposed to be doing.

"Boys, before you start anything else, I need for you to wash your hands." Ben finally said as he stood with a stack of mini loaf pans.

JD rushed to the table to get a chair, then scooted it in front of the sink.

Ben wiped out the pans and watched as JD helped Jody up onto the chair, then showed him where the soap was.

As soon as the hand washing was done, Ben said, "Now, Jody, if you'll get up on a chair at the table, I'll bring you the things that I need for you to do."

JD watched Jody walk unsteadily to the table, then looked at Ben with concern.

"Go ahead and start the salad. I'll take good care of him." Ben said gently.

It seemed for a moment that JD was going to argue, but finally he walked to the refrigerator and began to take out the ingredients that he would need.

"Okay Jody, this is your first job. I need for you to take these heels of bread and tear them up into little bite-sized pieces." Ben said as he placed a mixing bowl with bread slices in it on the table.

Jody looked up at him uncertainly for a moment, then started tearing the bread.

While Jody did that, Ben gathered ketchup, onion soup mix, Italian seasoning and a package of ground meat, lining them all up on the table before Jody.

"Okay, now this is going to get a little bit messy. I hope you're ready for it." Ben said with a grin.

Jody looked up with question.

"I'm going to add things into your bowl and I want you to mix them with your hands. Just squish it around until it's all mixed together really well." Ben said with a smile.

Jody looked into the bowl, then hesitantly put his hands in.

"First, the meat." Ben said, then tore the plastic off the top of the meat tray and dropped the contents into the bowl.

Jody looked up at Ben again.

"Go ahead, mix the meat in with the bread. When you've got it going, I'll start adding other things." Ben said encouragingly.

Jody finally took the plunge and started mixing the meat and bread with his hands.

JD was watching from his position at the island, and Ben noticed that he had a smile on his face.

"I think it needs some ketchup now." Ben said, then proceeded to squirt a long stream of ketchup into the bowl.

Jody looked up at him with surprise at the action.

"Mix." Ben said with a grin.

Jody continued to squish the slimy mixture through his fingers.

"Some onion soup mix, to make it yummy." Ben said, then poured half the pouch of dried onion soup mix on top of the pinkish goo.

"Some Italian seasoning, to make it molto bene." Ben said with an atrocious accent as he sprinkled a teaspoon of the seasoning into the bowl.

"And some water, to make it... um, wet." Ben said as he added a little splash of water to the mixture.

"So, once that's mixed, we'll be ready to put it in the pans." Ben said cheerfully, then lined up the mini loaf pans on the table.

"Now, Jody, for your next trick, I'd like for you to take the meat in your hands and form it into little loaves, big enough to fit in these pans." Ben said with a smile, then asked, "Do you think you can do that?"

Jody slowly nodded, then started forming the mini loaves.

"While you're doing that, I'm going to get started on some mashed potatoes." Ben said, then walked into the pantry.

JD hopped down off his chair and hurried to Jody's side.

"How are you doing?" JD asked quickly.

"This is icky." Jody whispered as he held up his hands, coated with the raw meat mixture.

"Yeah. But I bet it's going to taste really good when it's cooked." JD said honestly.

Jody looked into the bowl, then at JD uncertainly.

"Just wait, you'll see." JD said, then gave Jody a quick hug before hurrying back to the island.

"Hi guys." Cliff said as he walked into the kitchen. "It looks like you're hard at work."

"Jody's making us meatloaf." JD said proudly.

"That sounds good." Cliff said with a smile.

"Are you here to help?" Ben asked as he walked back into the kitchen with a pan of potatoes.

"No. Actually, I'm here to steal away one of your helpers if you can spare him for a few minutes." Cliff said frankly.

"Sure. It's going to take about an hour for everything to finish cooking, so I think they'll have free time." Ben said as he sat the pan of potatoes on the table.

"How close is Jody to being done?" Cliff asked curiously.

Ben watched as Jody carefully put the last formed meatloaf into its pan.

"Just about." Ben said, then picked up the ketchup and squirted some on the top of each loaf. "I've just got to put these in the oven, then he's good to go."

Ben picked up two of the pans, then said, "Do you want to help him? I need those other two pans."

Cliff lifted Jody from the chair and stood him on his feet, then handed him the two remaining pans.

"See Jody? We put these in the oven and in about an hour they'll be meatloaf." Ben said as he carefully put the first two pans in.

Once they were in place, he took the other two pans from Jody and put them into the oven, too.

"I think he may need to do some hand washing before he goes with you." Ben said with a smile.

"That would probably be good." Cliff said with a chuckle, then lifted Jody to sit on the counter beside the sink.

"So, what do you need Jody for?" Ben asked curiously as he put a pan of water on the stove.

"I just want to have a quick look at him, to be sure that he's healthy." Cliff said dismissively.

"You're going to be doctoring on Jody?" JD asked slowly.

Cliff was very aware of the sharp knife that JD had in his hand at that moment.

"I'm just going to look him over. No shots, no pills, he won't even have to turn his head and cough." Cliff said seriously.

JD put down his knife and climbed down off his chair.

"It looks like you're getting two patients for the price of one." Ben said with a grin.

"It looks that way." Cliff said uncertainly, but knew that JD wouldn't let Jody go alone without a fight.

"Come on, this will only take a few minutes." Cliff said as he lowered Jody to the floor.

JD was immediately at his side, helping him to walk.

Cliff and Ben shared a look before Cliff finally led the boys out of the room.

* * * * *

"Please relax, Jody. I'm not going to do anything that will hurt. I just want to listen to your lungs and look into your eyes, ears and throat to make sure that you're healthy. How would it look for a doctor's kid to get sick without him knowing about it?" Cliff asked frankly.

"You're a doctor?" Jody asked in a shaky voice.

"Yes. But I'm the good kind of doctor." Cliff said gently.

"He's a pediatrician, that means he went to school to learn how not to be mean to kids." JD added helpfully.

Jody looked uncertain.

"JD, come here and let me listen to your chest for a minute so Jody can see that it's nothing to be afraid of." Cliff said gently.

Jody watched carefully as JD stepped forward.

Cliff took his stethoscope and listened to JD's chest for a moment.

"Breathe in deep." Cliff said quietly.

After a moment, he said, "Let it out."



"Good. Everything sounds fine." Cliff said happily.

"I passed?" JD asked curiously.

"That's right. You passed the breathing test with flying colors." Cliff said with a smile.

"It didn't hurt, not even a little bit." JD said to Jody seriously.

After a moment of indecision, Jody reluctantly nodded.

"Just sit still for a moment." Cliff said gently as he listened to Jody's heart.

"What do you hear?" JD asked curiously.

"Come here." Cliff said, then took off his stethoscope.

"Put them on, then put it right there." Cliff said quietly.

JD listened for a moment, then started to smile.

"Yeah. I know." Cliff said with a smile at JD's expression.

"I want to hear." Jody said in a small voice.

"Here." JD said as he handed the stethoscope to Jody.

Cliff and JD watched as Jody listened carefully to his own chest.

After a moment, he said, "I want to hear you."

JD stepped forward without hesitation and presented his chest for Jody to listen.

After a moment, Jody giggled.

"Now, if I may, I'll check your lungs by listening to you breathe." Cliff said as he held out his hand for the stethoscope.

"How do you do that?" JD asked curiously.

"I just listen. If there's something wrong I'll be able to hear it." Cliff said frankly as he put his stethoscope on.

"Like how?" JD asked with interest.

"If I heard a gurgling sound, I'd know that something wasn't right, so I'd know to investigate further." Cliff said to JD, then turned to Jody and said, "Breathe in deep for me and hold it."

Jody took a deep breath, as JD had done earlier.

"Good, now let it out slowly." Cliff said as he listened carefully.

"How does he sound?" JD asked anxiously.

"Perfect." Cliff said with a smile, then glanced at Jody and said, "Breathe deep... Exhale... Good. Jody passed his breathing test, too."

JD's smile was luminous at the announcement.

"Now, I'm just going to look in your ears and eyes for a minute. Then we'll be done." Cliff said gently.

"Will you do it to JD first?" Jody asked shyly.

"Sure, as long as JD doesn't mind." Cliff said simply.

JD looked uncertain, but finally nodded his agreement.

Cliff took his penlight out and said, "Just hold still and look at me."

JD remained still, but flinched a little when Cliff shined the light on one of his pupils.

Before he could ask what Cliff was doing, he had switched to look at the other eye.

"That didn't hurt, did it?" Cliff asked with a smile.

"No, but it was weird." JD said frankly.

"I never promised you no weirdness, just no pain." Cliff said with a grin, then looked at Jody with question.

It took a moment, but Jody finally nodded his head in agreement.

Cliff quickly looked at his eyes, paying careful attention to his responses.

"Everything looks good there. You passed the eye test." Cliff said happily, then took a tongue depressor out of his bag.

"Open wide." Cliff said with a smile.

Jody looked at him strangely for a moment, then hesitantly opened his mouth.

Cliff gently used the wooden paddle to hold Jody's tongue down and angled the flashlight so that he could get a good look at Jody's throat.

What he saw made him inwardly curse, but with JD and Jody watching his every move, Cliff fought to maintain a cheerful facade.

"Good healthy tonsils. That's what I like to see. You passed the mouth test." Cliff said quickly, then dropped the tongue depressor into the waste basket by the couch.

"Are we done?" JD asked hopefully.

"Almost. I just have one more thing to check." Cliff said as he took another instrument out of his bag. "I just need to take a peek into Jody's ears."

"Are you going to look at his brain?" JD asked with surprise.

Cliff chuckled, then said, "No. It only works like that in cartoons. I'm just looking for any signs of infection. Kids your age are prone to ear infections, and they're a lot easier to treat if they're caught early."

JD waited for a moment, then hesitantly asked, "Is he okay?"

"Yes. Jody is just fine. He passed his ear test." Cliff said happily as he put his instrument away.

"Does that mean we can keep him?" JD asked hopefully.

Cliff was surprised by the question and could see that both boys were waiting expectantly for his answer. As much as he wanted to explain to the boys, he felt any but the simplest answer would probably be misconstrued.

"Yes. We can keep him." Cliff said gently.

JD broke into a full, happy smile, then hugged Jody firmly as he said, "You get to stay! You're really going to like it here. I promise."

Cliff noticed that Jody seemed to be a little bit overwhelmed, being the focus of JD's attention.

"Let's go back to the kitchen and see if your Daddy needs some help with dinner." Cliff said gently.

Within a heartbeat, both boys had their arms thrust into the air.

Cliff debated for a moment, not knowing if his back could handle the load, but one look into the boys' eyes let him know that he really had no choice in the matter.

"Come on up." He said, then lifted a boy in each arm.

To Be Continued...

Proof Reader's Notes:

After reading, I feel one large bump has been overcome. Followed by a depressed sounding Junior, who could barely believe he was being invited out.

Then there is Jody, small, frail and already attached to JD. I just hope there is no backfire in Jody staying with them. And I cant wait for the next TBC MultiMapper.

L8r's Privatecomm983
Editor's notes:

I can't understand why I hadn't put any notes on this chapter before.

Like all of MultiMapper's stories, this one continues to touch my heart.

Having been witness to this story as it was being developed, I have been crying for Jody for some time, now.

It is wonderful to know that Ron and Mrs. Usher seem to really be interested in what is good for the boys. It must have taken a great deal of soul searching on Mrs. Usher's part, to realize just how much love and concern that Ben and Cliff had, and of course, still have, for JD, and that it was very likely that their family was the best placement for Jody as well.

I wouldn't begin to say that the road ahead for this new family will be a smooth one, I mean, why should I tempt fate or for that matter, tempt MultiMapper, to make things more difficult for our heroes, but I believe that love is a very powerful healing force. Let's hope that with all the love that Ben, Cliff and JD have to offer, that Jody can begin to heal, and that he will soon know what it feels like to have a real loving family and a place where he belongs.

As always, I am ready for more!

Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher