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Sunday, September 10, 2017

Phoenix from the Ashes Part 11

Written by Snarks, Rosemarie & PJ

Once they reached Oliver’s office the youngster sat nervously picking at his already cracked and scalloped fingernails while they waited for the lawyer to be available. Gideon leaned over and gently put his hand over 'Keen's, with an understanding smile, and the boy settled down. 

Oliver smiled as he watched the group when they were escorted into the conference room where he awaited them. "Good morning everyone."

James smiled. "Good morning Oliver." He shook hands with the man who then shook hands with everyone else and gestured to the seats. "Please, make yourselves comfortable."

Joaquin looked at the older man with a bit of trepidation, worried that he was going to tell him that he'd done all he could but his brothers were going back to his mother and that was that, he would never be able to get his brothers back. He began to chew on his fingernails until Gideon once again stopped him. He leaned down and whispered something in the boy's ear, and 'Keen calmed down considerably.

Once the men were comfortably settled the lawyer sat down and turned the monitor toward the people gathered. From the screen came the serious face of Mr. Green.

"Good morning, gentlemen, Joaquin. I was able to get another update on your brothers."

'Keen leaned forward in his seat, his entire attention on Forrest's face, looking for any signs that something was wrong.

"Sam has been in a foster group home for autistic children and Mikael was placed with a foster family. The Department of Social Services tried to find a place for both of them so they wouldn't be split up," he explained apologetically, "but I'm afraid no one felt up to the challenge."

He cleared his throat a little nervously before he spoke again, “Sam is not doing well in the group home. He cries all the time and has had to be put in the quiet room anywhere from two to five times a day. Mikey apparently has become even further withdrawn and either won't or can't learn sign language to assist him to communicate. The teacher is a very kind, patient woman, and she goes back every day to work with him but she admits that she hasn't made any kind of connection with him yet."

'Keen swallowed against his anger. "Quiet room?" he nearly yelled.  "They're putting him in a so called quiet room? The quiet rooms in my school weren't much more than carpet lined closets. I've seen them. I've heard the kids yelling to be let out," he said, his anger at the thought of his little brother having to undergo that same indignity growing with each passing second.  "They'd be tossed in and locked up while an aide stood by the door. Is that what they're doing to Sammy?!" he demanded.

Gideon could see the boy becoming more and more agitated and said reassuringly, "Joaquin, we’ve been informed that the quiet room in the home he's at is painted in soft, soothing colors. It has a beanbag chair and other soft, tactile items in it to help calm him. It's not like those rooms you mentioned, which I've heard about but never approved of."

Ken hugged his young friend and whispered to him to breathe, which 'Keen did until he was calm. He knew that there was more to come, there always was, so he kept his arms around the young man and held him close, feeling the trembling of the still too thin body and becoming angry at the mother of these boys who had neglected them for so long. 

The attorney, unwilling to make his next statement but finding no other way, finally said, "I also learned that the custody hearing has been moved up to two days from now instead of a week as we'd originally been told, so it's fortunate that you're leaving early." 

'Keen's eyes widened in fright. "I don't care when we leave. I'd have gone six months ago if it'd helped! You can't let her get them back! You can't! Please! You don't know what she's like... and Ick... her boyfriend... he's... vile! He..." The boy didn't even want to think about the last encounter he'd had with the odious man. "They won't be safe with her."

Ken and Mark sat quietly by, unable to add anything to the conversation, but Gideon, who had been sitting next to the boy, hugged him for all he was worth, keeping his own tears under control. Breaking down wouldn't help the young man's peace of mind. Joaquin hugged back and looked gratefully at his friend.  

From the screen, Forrest said calmly, "We will do everything we can, but I can't guarantee anything in these cases. James talked to Oliver about this as soon as he could.  Knowing you were a runaway and suspecting where you may have started out from and as soon as this situation with your brothers came to our attention, we’ve filed the petition for guardianship in plenty of time and your mother has been served with the intent."

"We have a strong case of the abuse and have submitted all the proof and required documents that are needed. The request filed by Ken and Gideon to be appointed as your brother's guardians if her parental rights are revoked has been reviewed, as has your petition for visitation.  Again, if the court believes the abuse is no longer happening, they then will restore your brothers to your mother’s care. Even if your brothers are returned to her custody, I don't foresee any problem with you being awarded visitation. She never reported you as a runaway, so the laws governing runaways for the state of Washington don’t apply here. You are eighteen and have rights as an adult, so the running away is no longer an issue, should she attempt to use that to deny visitation.”

The attorney looked at the teen with compassion. “There’s no absolutes in these cases, so be prepared for things to go her way, even if you don’t agree,” he said gently.

Once again, 'Keen blocked his tear ducts in an attempt to keep the tears at bay.

James exchanged a look with Oliver and shook his head at the situation. "You can bet I'll do all in my power to prevent those children from going back to that home, and to place them with Gideon and Ken, who can actually help them."

"Thank you, James."  'Keen looked up at the man then said fervently, "Please, please don't let her get them back!"  He felt the tears, demanding to be shed, pressing against his eyes. His brothers might have been lucky enough to end up in good places, but now they were in even more pain than when he'd left.  He'd suspected that no one would be willing to take the two of them, but he'd hoped... oh how he'd hoped. Once again, he pressed his thumb and forefinger against his tear ducts to dam up the impending tears.

"Mr. Green and James will do everything they can, Joaquin," Oliver assured him quietly.  "If there's any chance, he'll find the way."

The boy looked up at his friend and then at the lawyer hopefully, fearfully, but remained silent.

The attorney smiled gently down from the screen at the teen and said, "When you get to Washington, I'll represent you and hopefully we can get the judge to see things our way."  He told the youngster, "If there is any way for you to take them back to Maine, we'll find it."

The young man gave the lawyer an uncertain smile. He knew that these men would do all they could, but he also knew how manipulative his mother could be, and he worried for the safety of his brothers.

"So where do we go from here?" Ken asked, finally. "What's our next step?"

"If need be, I'll see what we can do about postponing the hearing if possible. If we can't postpone it, it may be possible for me to call Joaquin to the witness stand and testify to what he's experienced in the past five years, but again all will depend on the judge," Forrest Green answered.

While there had only been the hint of hopefulness on the teen's face, it quickly disappeared and he bowed his head, unsuccessfully fighting back tears.

"What's wrong, Joaquin?" Ken asked softly, putting a gentle hand on the youngster's shoulder.

"I ran," he said, his voice thick with tears. "I ran away, same as Da... Edward. That's all she has to say, and..."

Ken replied, holding the boy close, "You had your reasons, Hon. Remember your running away is no longer an issue according to Mr. Green now that you’re eighteen."

"But... my stealing... at the stores... the money I took when they were passed out... I deliberately got myself suspended from school and... and then I ran," 'Keen said, shaking his head slowly. "I'm not sure that anyone can get me out of this mess I made."

"I never asked before, I was trying to wait til you brought it up yourself," Gideon replied, "but now, with everyone here, if you don't mind telling us, what did you do that got you suspended?"

"Before I met Alfred I was sure that I was just plain old stupid. I'd do my homework and still get stuff wrong. I'd take tests and bomb. They were talking about keeping me back and I couldn't let them do that. I had to get my diploma, but when it looked like their decision was going to go through, I... started acting up in classes. Telling teachers off, stuff like that.  They tried a few other things with me but I didn't want to listen. Wouldn't listen, and I kept mouthing off, even to the principal until they finally suspended me."

"They called Callie, my mother, and she came to get me acting all long-suffering- mother-of-the-year like, promising to take care of it once we got home. But then when we got home all she wanted to do was have a joint. She blamed me for it. She smacked me upside the head and told me to get lost. She didn't want to look at me."

"Ick just looked at me, smug like. Like, I dunno, like he knew it was going to happen sometime and he wasn't surprised at all."

Gideon's normally soft, gentle eyes blazed with anger though he kept his initial thoughts to himself.

Mr. Green's full lips were compressed into a straight line. He was so angry that even if he'd tried to speak he knew he wouldn't be able to form a coherent sentence. He'd run into more of that sort than he cared to remember.

Ken closed his eyes and bowed his head. He knew that in most cases the court would rule in favor of the parent, citing that the best place for a child was in his or her own home. He also worried that the court would hold the teen's actions against him. Even though he and Gideon were excited at the prospect of having the boys home with them, they knew it was going to be a long fight with the possibility that they would lose. He looked up with a wan smile as he felt his husband's hand on his own.

Mark, feeling entirely useless and helpless, did what he could and bowed his head to pray.

James’s smokey blue eyes had darkened and his face had a stony appearance, his anger evident to those who knew him.  “I promise I will do everything within my power to make sure this situation is resolved in our favor.”

Gideon did his best not to grind his teeth. Instead he took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "We'll just have to take it one day at a time,” he said evenly.


After the meeting, they all flew to Seattle and seven hours later got settled in at Roman's house. He was happy that all of the men would be staying there rather than the hotel James had been going to arrange for them. 

Two days after they arrived, the court case finally came due. 

Joaquin looked up nervously at the men with him and tried to swallow around a lump of anxiety that had formed in his throat. "Don't worry," Gideon assured him, "I can't promise anything, but I am hoping if we get the chance to present it in court that we have enough evidence to go on to prevent your mother from getting custody of your brothers."

"But will the judge let me see them?" 'Keen asked nervously.

"That's what Ken and I are here for, remember?" Gideon said with a smile, patting the youngster on the back gently.  "And you have James and everyone else on the resort to back you up."

The boy nodded uncertainly, fiddled with the knot in his tie and checked the condition of his suit once more. He hadn't wanted the judge to see him in jeans and a tee shirt.

Attorney Green gave the youngster a reassuring smile. "First, the judge will hear the petition in regard to termination of your father's parental rights.   Then the judge will deal with the rest, no matter what the outcome."

'Keen nodded once again, but he couldn't help but to worry that something was going to go wrong

Moments later the Bailiff called them into the courtroom. The young man hoping to be reunited with his brothers soon, adjusted his suit jacket one more time and followed the official into the room with Attorney Green, James and the others close behind.

Joaquin did his best to ignore his mother sitting at the opposite table. Just the sight of her brought back memories he'd thought long forgotten. His mother, on the other hand, kept staring over her shoulder at her oldest son with a smug smile on her face until her lawyer leaned over and whispered something to her.

Not too long afterward the Bailiff re-entered the room and announced, "All rise for the honorable Judge Travis Parker."

After it was established that court was in session and everyone had retaken their seats, the judge looked out at the petitioners and mentally shook his head. He hated cases like these.

He examined the first petition. "This part of the hearing is to determine whether or not to terminate Edward Striker's parental rights. It is my understanding that the man has not had any contact with his children in the past five years, has not paid any support and when notified of their removal from their home also failed to make any contact with Child Protective Services or the children. Due to evidence produced by Child Protective Services, and the fact that the man is not here in this courtroom as summoned, the petition for the termination of Edward Striker's paternal rights is hereby granted." He signed the documents. 

Then he looked up and said, "Next, we will conduct the hearing on the return of Calla Lily Striker's children to her. I understand that one of the children is here in court today with a couple who have petitioned the court for guardianship of the minor children should the mother’s parental rights be terminated. We may begin the hearing now. Are the prosecuting and defense attorney's present and prepared?"

A man in his late forties, identified himself as the prosecuting attorney and another middle-aged man and two other younger men stood up and said, "Yes, Your Honor." 

Mr. Green also stood politely and replied in the affirmative.

The prosecuting attorney first called the CPS social worker to the stand who testified to the progress the woman had made in the accelerated rehabilitation program, and that the court ordered supervised visitations had gone as well as they could due to the children's disabilities.

Once she had testified to Mrs. Striker remaining clean and sober, clinical notes and drug testing and results were submitted to the court as proof. Unannounced home visits had determined that the home was clean and fit for the children to return to, each child having their own bed and because they were both boys close in age that sharing a room was appropriate. She also testified that to the best of her knowledge Mrs. Striker had broken off relationships with her boyfriend as well as the other negative influences whom she had been involved with. She gave a glowing report of a reformed woman.

Mrs. Striker’s attorney had no questions for the woman due to the positive report she had presented. The children’s defense attorneys also waived questioning.

James, listening wrinkled his brow and frowned in concentration. Something just didn't feel right about the testimony, but then he was not an attorney. He glanced over at Mr. Green who raised an eyebrow, but shook his head. He could already tell that despite the evidence they had against the woman, it didn't look good for them.

The prosecutor for the state called the clinical therapist to the stand, who also testified to the progress of the woman's substance abuse issues and recommended she continue to attend AA and NA groups as well as individual therapy and to find a sponsor, when asked by the prosecutor.

Mr. Green didn’t have a chance to present anything as the issues of abuse of the children appeared to be resolved to the state’s satisfaction and he could see the woman would be awarded her children and his hands were tied. Had there been continuing neglect or abuse he then could have represented Gideon and Ken and the petition of guardianship and called Joaquin and others to testify on their behalf, but as things stood, there was nothing he could do. He gave his group a frustrated look.

Once everyone had been called and had testified the judge sat in thought, mulling over all that he had heard.

James leaned over and whispered to Gideon, "I don't like or trust any of's too clean if you know what I mean."

Gideon sighed and said, "We just have to bide our time. Forrest has done all he can for the time being."

The judge spent some time shuffling the papers in front of him, pausing to read from time to time in the virtually silent courtroom. He then looked up. "Mrs. Striker, would you please approach the bench?"

Callie meekly did as she'd been told. Her lawyer had coached her on what to say and do, and she felt confident that the judge would rule in her favor as long as she kept to the script they'd practiced. "Yes, Your Honor," she said quietly, looking demurely from beneath her eye lashes.

She was dressed modestly, very unlike the usual short, tight skirts and dresses 'Keen had always seen her in. 

"The court has reviewed the evidence presented and at this time it appears you have followed the program that CPS has outlined for you to have your children returned to you. The court orders you to continue to attend your individual substance abuse therapy as well as your group after care sessions. It further orders that you will continue to attend AA and NA sessions, obtaining a sponsor. You will submit documentation of this to your therapist at your weekly visits. You are ordered to do this for the next six months. Do you agree to these conditions?" he asked, pinning her with a stern look and an edge of steel in his voice.

"Oh, yes, Your Honor," Callie replied, her voice quavering, and tears welling in her eyes. "I'll do anything to get my babies back. I know I messed up badly, and I just want them back so that I can be the mother I should have been. The mother I once was, and that I know I can be again." 

"There is also a motion by Attorney Green on behalf of his client, Joaquin Edward Striker, to be allowed to visit with his brothers on a regular basis. Despite his actions last year, the court has received numerous affidavits on behalf of the young man in question, attesting to his behavior, character, physical and mental condition and his work ethic. This court believes that the young man in question does indeed have the best interests of his brothers at heart and has missed them in the weeks since he ran away, for which he has apologized."

The judge looked at Callie. "This court hereby awards unlimited visitation rights to Joaquin Edward Striker," the black robed man declared.

Callie Striker nodded at the declaration. “Yes, Your Honor, there will be no difficulty with my son visiting with his brothers.”

The judge nodded.  "Very good Mrs. Striker. I hereby rule that the minors Samuel and Mikael Striker be remanded into the custody of their mother immediately." He banged his gavel. "Court is adjourned!"

Callie thanked the judge profusely and put her hands to her face as tears began to fall. She made a slight bow in his direction before returning to her lawyer.

Forrest, James and Joaquin noticed the smug look she shot them just before she sat down with her attorney to thank him.

Disheartened, Joaquin followed his... he wondered if he should still call her mother, or even if he wanted to... out into the hallway where the first thing he saw were his brothers. 

His mother smiled at the boys, knelt and held her arms open to greet her children who sat woodenly next to their workers, looking sad and lost.

"Sammy! Mike!" Joaquin called.

The two boys who had been sitting quietly with social workers looked around, finally focusing on their big brother. Their solemn expressions faded and with wide smiles, and on Sammy's part, laughter, ran right past their mother to their big brother, hugging him as tightly as he hugged them.

Joaquin finally held his brothers out at arm’s length, shaking his head as he took in the sight of them. Neither of them had been very big to begin with, but they seemed even smaller to him now. They'd lost weight, not that there had been much there to lose to begin with, and there were dark shadows beneath their eyes. The young man couldn't bear to see them like that so he pulled them in for more hugs.

The other men followed Joaquin out of the courtroom, pausing briefly to pick up the copy of the court's decree.  Ken, Gideon and James spoke quietly among themselves as they stood aside to witness the reunion.

Forrest stopped by the men to express his regrets and to tell them he would be available to them should circumstances change and he was needed again in the future.

The men thanked him for his efforts and expressed understanding.

Forrest shook hands with everyone before leaving to return to his office to call Oliver to share with him the outcome.
Callie, with as much dignity as she could muster under the circumstances, stood and smiled indulgently at her children.

With a final hug, unwilling to release them, Joaquin wiped his eyes and then did the same for his brothers. "Guys," he said gently, "I want you to meet some really good friends of mine, ok? This is Gideon," he said, gesturing to the first man, who had just disconnected his call and who smiled gently at the two youngsters, "and his husband Ken. That's Mark," he continued slowly, pointing to each man, "and James. They're some of the nicest guys I've ever met. Can you say hello to them for me?" he asked hopefully.  

Sammy avoided eye contact with the men but managed a shy, " 'Lo."  Mikey looked at his big brother and then gave a quick wave to the men before snuggling back into Joaquin's arms.

James turned to Callie, a polite smile on his face. "Mrs. Striker, I understand that you are working right now and your sons will have a baby sitter, however, may I suggest Joaquin perform that job for you?  You may pay him what you pay your current babysitter, if you like. As I understand it, he has a good relationship with his brothers and knows how to handle them and can keep them happy. I doubt you'll find anyone else as well qualified. He has a job nearby and he'll be able to arrange his working hours around the baby-sitting hours you will need."

Callie wrinkled her nose and gave her son a nasty look that was quickly squelched, but not fast enough for the men to miss it. "That'd be great," she said, trying to sound enthusiastic about the arrangement.  "They've missed you," she said pointedly to her oldest son.

'Keen took a deep breath and returned his mother's forced smile, "I'll just be happy to be with them again. Thanks for letting me do this." He deliberately avoided calling her 'Mom'.

Callie took a breath to argue that she had done nothing of the sort and was only doing it due to the court's order, but wisely kept her thoughts to herself.  Instead she pasted the obviously forced smiled back onto her face and replied, "But of course."

James, with his commanding presence nodded. "This will be good for all of you." He put a hand on the boy's shoulder and gave it a small squeeze of reassurance.

"Well, now that that's all settled," Callie said with false brightness as she turned to her two younger sons, "c'mon guys! Time to go home! I have ice cream!"

The young man looked up at his friend with an uncertain smile and swallowed against the lump in his throat. Turning back to Callie he said, "Gideon and Ken are really good friends of mine, and they want to get to know Sammy and Mikey.  Would it be alright with you if they stopped by while I'm there babysitting  before they need to return to Maine?" He fully expected her to say no.

Callie realized that she was being watched by all the men around her. She wanted to argue that the visitation had been awarded to Joaquin, and not these other men, but she was afraid of what would happen if she refused.

"Of course," she said, shining that fake smile on the men, "that'd be real nice."

Gideon could feel his face tighten and forced himself to relax. "Thank you, Mrs. Striker."

Ken smiled as well but had a harder time making it seem real. "Yes, that's very kind of you"

"Well then," Callie said, "we'll arrange a time and all that. 'Keen, you're gonna pick 'em up from bus stop tomorrow, right?  And take care of 'em til I get home?"

"I'll take care of them. I promise," the boy said, looking intently at his two younger brothers.

"Well, goodbye gentlemen, it's getting pretty late and I have to get these two home," she said airily as she took the boys by their hands and started to lead them away.

Sammy, realizing that he was losing his brother again began to wail and even little Mikey began to cry.

Callie realized that if she forced them out with her it would look bad so she turned back to Joaquin and said, "Why don't you come with us, and help me get them settled?"

'Keen didn't need to say a word. He approached his brothers, and took them by their hands. Sammy took a few moments more to process the situation and finally calmed down. Mikey hugged his brother's arm as they left the court house.

Callie didn't look the least bit happy but led the boys to her car.

"Well, you might as well come on over and have some ice cream too," she said to the men, not sounding very enthusiastic about the prospect.

James, in his take charge manner said, "We'll follow you Mrs. Striker and once the little ones are settled we need to show Joaquin his new digs and get him settled in as well. We'll be here a few more days to make sure everything is going smoothly before we leave." He glanced at Gideon. "Good thing that Oliver ordered that big rental car and that it's still waiting for us," James laughed, "as these guys..." he indicated the rest of the group, "say I have a lead foot." He grinned at the man.

Gid chuckled and said, "Load up and we'll follow Mrs. Striker."

James led the way to the car, knowing the rest would follow.

Callie pursed her lips and narrowed her eyes at her oldest son before pasting the fake smile on her face once again. She led them to a new car, or at least one that was in much better shape than the one she used to have, and 'Keen was happy to see that there was a booster seat in the back for Mikey.  He helped get the boys buckled in safely, and sat in the back with the youngest in the middle. 

Joaquin could feel the tension and anger coming off of his... mother... in waves, but she didn't say another word before pulling out into traffic to head to their new home.

Gideon followed the vehicle sticking to it like glue in case the woman tried to lose them.

Joaquin was impressed with the apartment his mother was now living in. There was a large living room that blended into the kitchen, and there was an upstairs with a full bathroom and two bedrooms. Sam and Mike would be sharing the larger of the two rooms which were comfortably furnished.

"Please c'mon in. We'll all have some ice cream to celebrate," Callie said, hoping against hope that the others would decline the invitation.

'Keen looked up at Gideon with a pleading expression. He wasn't ready to leave his little brothers just yet.  

"Thank you, Mrs. Striker, we'd love to," said Gideon.

Ken and Mark smiled their acceptance of the invitation.

"Never could pass up ice cream," James told her.

Ken and Mark grinned at the young man who looked relieved beyond measure as he led them into the kitchen 

"Can I help?" 'Keen asked the woman he still refused to call Mother. 

Mark who had been watching intently, noticed everything and filed the information away for later. He grinned and said, "Hope there's strawberry!" 

Callie sighed, "Yeah, I guess, it's all in the freezer there," she replied as she gathered enough bowls and spoons.

Sammy grinned and clapped his hands when he saw the ice cream being scooped out and even Mikey managed a smile.

The men all helped serve and engaged in pleasant conversation over the treat, pretending not to see the woman's barely concealed discontent.

"I'll help get them into bed," Joaquin offered. "I can read them their favorite story."

James reminded the boy firmly, "Then we need to get you settled, Joaquin."

The boy looked up at the older man, his expression grateful. "Ok, James," he said quietly. "I just want to help them get to sleep before I l-e-a-v-e." he said, spelling out the last word so that his brothers wouldn't become upset again. 

The older man smiled at the boy. "Alright then, we'll see you in a few minutes."

The young man smiled back and led his brothers into the bathroom so that they could brush their teeth. He helped them into their pajamas as he had so many times before, settled them into their beds and pulled up a chair between them prior to him beginning reading to them. Before the book was ended, the two boys, looking much better than they had earlier, were sound asleep. 'Keen closed the book, gave each of his brothers a gentle kiss on the forehead, and quietly left the room.

"I'm ready, James, guys," he said, feeling sad that he had to leave his brothers already.

Mark and Ken who had been helping with the clean-up, much to Callie's dismay, turned toward the boy with encouraging smiles. They finished drying the bowls and utensils, and with one final swipe at the sink and counters, Mark hung the damp dish towel to dry. 

"You'll see them again tomorrow. Now it's time to get you in for the night," James said.

Gideon and Ken both approached the boy and put their arms around him, each giving him a hug until the young man smiled up at them. "C'mon, Joaquin," Gideon said with a grin, "strange and wonderful things await you."

Mark smiled at the scene with his friends and their youngster.

"We're all set," Gideon said with a smile, an arm around Ken who tried not to yawn and grinned sheepishly.

"Goodnight... thank you for the ice cream," 'Keen said to Callie.  "What time will you need me tomorrow?"

Callie shrugged, tired, and grateful that the intruders were leaving. "Their buses get here around three, I guess."

“What about a key so they can get into the apartment, Mrs. Striker?” Gideon asked.

Callie hesitated for a couple of seconds then said, “I’ll ask the manager for another key in the morning.  It’d going to cost me $10 but I guess I can find the money somewhere.”

Four men reached for their wallets, with Mark pulling two fives out first.  “Money well spent,” he quipped handing the money to the bitter woman.

'Keen nodded and turned to the other men. "I'm ready," he said. Ken and Gideon still had their arms around the boy, and Mark, knowing that the young man would roll his eyes, ruffled his hair.  Laughing at the desired results, he followed the others out. 

As James and the others piled into the car he made a brief call and then punched the address into the phone and began to give Gideon driving directions from his GPS. "The caretaker of the building will meet us with the keys. He's got everything ready for us when we get there. We just need to pick up some groceries." He turned to 'Keen. "Make sure you eat the way Heath told skipping meals and you buy the things just like you've been eating at the resort," he told the boy.

With an impish grin, Joaquin assured the older man that he would, he began ticking items off on his fingers, "Hershey's chocolate bars, Twinkies, lots and lots of soda..."

James chuckled and looked at Gideon and then the others sitting in the back with the boy. "You can bet we'll do just that once we get to the store."

When Gideon pulled up in front of the grocery James hopped out and waited for the others.

Everyone slid out of the vehicle.  'Keen took a deep breath and stretched, breathing in the fresh night air. "Lead me to the Yodels!" he joked.


  1. Thank you for posting this newest chapter so quickly. I'm on pins and needles as to what happens next.

  2. Thank you for posting this newest chapter so quickly. I'm on pins and needles as to what happens next.

  3. I'm excited about the next chapter but it won't open!

    1. Try 12 again Stacy, I deleted it and re-posted it. Hopefully it works now.