Patrick was the perfect choice for us. He was nine years old, an independent kind of kid, able to take care of himself, as he had proven time and again having been raised by stoners, but maintaining a perfect A average in all his classes in school which we later learned he had walked to from the shabby apartment he had shared with his parents about two miles from the elementary school of the city he was living in at the time. At least until his parents overdosed and he was placed in the State's care when he was eight and a half.
Brian and I met him at one of those open house things the State owned Boys Shelter ran for prospective foster parents. Brian and I had been together for all our high school and college years and he proposed to me on the very night I was planning on proposing to him!! We both had successful careers, Brian in corporate law and me, Johnathan, as an investment councilor attached to the same law office as Brian. Within five years after we started with the firm right out of college we were pretty much financially independent.
Inheritances from our now deceased parents helped our investments, my parents dying in a bad highway crash caused by a long haul trucker falling asleep at the wheel, and Brian's dying in a small plane crash while on a flying tour of the Alaskan islands, so there was quite a bit for us to invest and I at first choose high yield, somewhat risky investments for three quarters of the four million and safer more secure investments for the remaining million, a slower, but steady return on those investments. Once our portfolio showed we had between us almost ten million we pulled the risky investments and cashed those in and re-invested those initial funds in those safe but steady earners.
Brian was so proud of me and he encouraged me to start a small but profitable private investment consultant firm that I would run from home, our home, which we had hoped to add a child to one day. So we prepared ourselves by taking the fostering classes and once I had added several private clients to my list we began to attend the local open houses offered by the State's Boys Shelter. Our home was just about twenty miles from the city and we loved the quiet of the countryside.
It wasn't a true farm as such, but we did have a hired hand to tend to the five horses we owned and the seventeen acres of crops needed to feed the horses and maintain the riding trails through the two hundred acres of fields and woods on our property. The older home had been modernized in the kitchen and the bathrooms, and the out buildings, including the barn and the hired hand cottage had been upgraded as well and spruced up a lot. Brian and I did a lot of the non technical work ourselves and it took until we were thirty to be able to say that the fixing up around the place had been completed, we were ready to find a child to share it all with.
As I said, Patrick was a perfect match with us. That proved to be true through the weekend visits and the three months that followed, right until his adoption hearing, which turned out to go very smoothly, despite Brian and I sweating bullets leading up to the hearing and during the period of the hearing where the family court judge interviewed Patrick privately in his chambers during the hearing. They both left that meeting and came back into the hearing room with smiles on their faces, Patrick running over to us and giving us each a big hug which we were delighted to return to him.
After his adoption was granted the judge then made a remark to us as he shook our hands. He explained that Patrick had expressed a deeply held desire to him, that Patrick yearned for a brother, to share his new found life with. The judge told us that we must be doing something very right if Patrick felt we had more to share with another boy, he wished us well before he left for another hearing in his courtroom.
We did talk to our new son about his talk with the judge during our celebratory dinner that evening at our favorite restaurant. We hadn't had a clue about what he had talked to the judge about and the judge thought that Patrick was trying to spare our feelings, but as soon as the words were out of the judge's mouth we knew that in one critical area we had failed our new son in trying to provide everything we could for him to have the ideal childhood.
And it wasn't that Brian and I hadn't discussed adding another child to our home, we had, but we wanted to get Patrick settled, get me settled into a somewhat routine as a stay at home dad and the owner of a very lucrative home business that would help me pass the time while our son was in school.
Weekdays Patrick and I would see Brian off to his office in the city (he was on a fast track to being named a partner in the firm, the youngest they had ever had) then Patrick would get ready for school as I cleaned up the kitchen. I usually saw him off to the school bus at the end of our driveway and then spent about an hour doing some menial household chores before even turning on the computer in my home office. By then most of the world wide stock markets were up and running and I would check on the individual investors under my care and make adjustments where indicated, checking back on those during the noon hour to see if any further tweeks were necessary.
Just before Patrick came home from school I would start to put together a snack for him, and myself, which we'd share as he told me about his day at school before we both changed into riding clothes and went for a ride on some of our trails. After our ride Patrick would get whatever homework he had been assigned done at the kitchen table as I prepared our evening meal, that way I was handy if he needed answers to questions he might have and I'd be near to look over his good work on his assignments.
It was about three weeks after his adoption, and just about Halloween when he began to talk about one of his classmates in particular. At first it was "Ben said this", or "Ben said that" and then it was "Ben and I played kick ball at recess", and then it became "the teacher asked me to help Ben with his homework" This went on for a few weeks, and although both Brian and I had told Patrick to invite Ben over either after school or on the weekends to play or ride some of our smaller horses with Patrick and Brian and me to help him, that never occurred because Patrick explained that Ben had really strict parents who demanded that he return home straight from school.
The week before the long weekend before Thanksgiving I finally got to meet Ben. Instead of riding that Thursday afternoon we had to make a run to the big shopping center just outside of our small town. There in the back of the grocery store there was a woman scolding and roughly handling a smaller version of Patrick. Ben was sobbing and telling the woman that he just took his hand off the shopping cart because he was trying to warm it up there in the very cold dairy section of the big grocery store. She raised her had back to smack him across the face when Patrick ran up and got between them and began to talk to Ben. I had left our cart and began to try and talk to the woman, hoping to draw her attention away from the boys.
It worked to some extent and I found out she wasn't Ben's birth mother, she was the second wife of Ben's father, she was a stepmother. Judging by her breath sh was also a drunk, I mean, here it was just three thirty in the afternoon and she reeked of alcohol. I offered to take Ben with us as our shopping was almost finished, and she was about to deny my request when Patrick said that would be cool as both boys had a ton of homework to do and also there were about seven other women standing and watching her, so she finally relented and told me that Ben should be home no later than seven that evening and I told her that eight would be better for us as my partner was a criminal defense lawyer and we didn't usually eat dinner until at least seven. With that I took both boys in tow and I grabbed the two packages of cream cheese I needed for my holiday baking and two gallons of milk and we three left her standing there in the dairy section.
Patrick introduced me to Ben while we were in the check-out lane and he was laughing and joking with Patrick all the way home in the back seat of the car. The two boys helped me put away the groceries and then I told Patrick to find some of his older jeans to wear as both boys would have to have something sturdy to wear while we rode horseback. Once all three of us had changed we went off to the barn to get a bit of riding in and Ben got his first riding lesson.
Ben got just the basics that day and soon the three of us were off exploring on horseback. Ben proved to be quite quick to grasp the essentials of riding and he was a delight to have with us that late afternoon. It was approaching five thirty and I wasn't surprised when Brian rode out to join us shortly after. Yes, I had fibbed to Ben's mother, but with good intentions. Having Ben around would be good for Patrick and I had tried to extend his first visit for as long as possible.
Brian got introduced to Ben and he winked at me, letting me know he saw how Patrick was reacting to having his best friend from school visit him. While the boys were a bit further ahead of us and chattering away, I filled Brian in on how Ben's visit came about. He asked if I thought that the stepmother was abusing Ben and I told him I had no doubts about that and I intended to find a way to meet Ben's father and find out what the man was like, and if he too abused Ben.
As it was I never had the chance to meet Ben's father. The next night, Friday night after he got out of work, he wrapped his car around a concrete power pole and died in the resulting fire. His blood alcohol level was three times the legal limit.
We were just finishing our dinner on Saturday, at our usual time, about 6:30pm when the house phone rand and it was a tearful Ben on the line for Patrick. Brian and I listened in on the kitchen extension and when we heard that his stepmother had told him she was sending him to an orphanage after his father was buried the weekend after Thanksgiving, Brian spoke up and asked Ben to put his stepmother on the phone, Ben told us that she was passed out on the couch in the livingroom of their apartment. Brian told Ben to pack a bag or a suitcase with some clothes and we would be by to pick him up in ten minutes or less.
Brian wrote out a note to be left in the drunken woman's apartment and he and Patrick were out the door to collect Ben and leave the note that explained where Ben was for the night and that she was to call Brian's cell number in the morning after nine. Brian explained that he could record her call that way. My spouse had something already planned, and I was sure I would hear all about it when he returned and both the boys were safely upstairs in bed.
We learned a lot more about Ben's life with his parents that night, it was not a pretty picture he created for us and we three felt he had endured quite a lot in his short life since his mother's death from cancer four years ago when he was five years old. Then his father, who paid little or no attention to Ben, married a drunk primarily to have a drinking companion, expecting her to raise his young son while he worked. We let the boys share Patrick's bedroom that night as Ben seemed to need the closeness of his best friend, especially that night.
Once the boys were finally asleep Brian and I sat and talked. We both agreed that we wanted to try and get custody of Ben and take him in permanently into our home, the question was, what was the best way to accomplish that. There was the obvious way, turning Ben over to the care of the State, and then going through the fostering process and then months later filing for adoption. That would be all well and good, but it would undoubtedly put Ben through another emotional upheaval, but Brian had another idea, an idea he had been looking into since I had told him about my experience with the stepmother at the grocery store and then after we had Ben over to our home after that and we all had time to spend with Ben and we saw the interaction between Ben and Patrick and how accepting he was of Brian and me as the fathers of Patrick.
We both gave the boys plenty of attention the next morning and during breakfast they asked if they could go for another "horse ride". Since Brian wanted to stay and take the call from the stepmom, I agreed to take the boys for a long ride and to give Ben another riding lesson beforehand. We had a great time with Ben getting to see a lot more of our property and he also got to meet our resident handyman, Carl, who kept up with all the chores on our little ranch, as Ben called it.
While the boys and I were having fun that morning, Brian was having his recorded conversation with the stepmom and was in total lawyer mode, but this time he told me that there was a lot of "protective father" in there as well. He treated her as a hostile witness in a court proceeding and the upshot of the whole ordeal was she admitted she was not going to make a suitable parent for Ben and she agreed to sign over her custody of Ben to us and in exchange for that we would not lay any claim to the insurance Ben's father had through his job as a laborer for the town's streets department. Brian didn't tell her that we could more than afford to put that and more into a trust fund for Ben, just as we had for Patrick when we adopted him.
Brian printed out the necessary forms on his computer and went to the apartment to have her sign them with a neighbor to witness her signature and to verify she was at least sober and of her right mind when she did sign the papers. Brian felt that with the impending holiday approaching he might get a friendly family court judge to process the custody agreement either Tuesday or Wednesday before the Thursday holiday.
After helping Carl groom our horses the boys and I went to the house to find Brian setting the table for lunch, a very satisfied grin on his face and a special wink for me, letting me know that everything had worked out well so far, now we just needed the court to approve of Ben's change of custody We hadn't told the boys anything about what Brian had been up to that morning, just telling them that Ben would be staying with us for quite a while and after lunch was finished and the kitchen cleaned up we all began to go through Ben's clothing and getting him to pick one of the unoccupied bedrooms upstairs for his own. Of course he picked the one right next to Patrick's.
On Monday I drove the boys to their school and went to the office to update them on Ben's contact numbers and address in his file, and entering Brian and I as his guardians. The office staff even seemed pleased that they wouldn't have to deal with the stepmother any longer.
Tuesday Brian told me that the custody papers were being reviewed and a formal judgment would be made known to us on Wednesday morning, just before court closed for the holiday the next day. The boys had school for a half day on Wednesday and I was not exactly nervous, but rather excited about the outcome of the custody filing and about eleven forty-five Brian called from the courthouse and told me we now had permanent custody of Ben. We exchanged some happy daddy words of endearment before he left to prepare to come home for the long weekend and to bring the now completed paperwork with him, and I went back to my baking for the next days celebration and fixing an afternoon snack for the boys when they got home.
I had started peeling and chopping veggies for the next day when the bus let the boys out at the end of our driveway and the rushed in, Patrick greeting me, but not his usual "Daddy, I'm home!!", no, this time he said, "I want you to meet my new brother, Ben!!". I almost had a heat attack, how did they know what had happened at the courthouse that morning? Weren't they in school all morning? Once my heart stopped racing I went to Ben and shook his hand, saying how happy I was to meet him, both boys giggling away at my antics. Brian had made it home from the city by then and Patrick repeated his introduction of Ben to him. Brian looked up at me and I just shrugged my shoulders toward him, saying I hadn't said a thing to them yet, I was waiting for him to come home.