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Mito medical kidnap file.., p.13
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       Mito, Medical Kidnap Files #1, p.13

           P.D. Workman
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  Chapter Twelve

  GABRIEL WAS STILL SITTING at the writing desk in the kitchen when Heather got home. She put down the baby carrier and looked at him, cocking her head to the side. “I thought I’d find you in bed. Feeling better?”

  “Couldn’t sleep.”

  “Oh… well, at least you’ve had some time to rest.” She looked at her watch. “You need a snack?”

  It had been a couple of hours since breakfast. Gabriel nodded. “Yeah, that would be good.”

  “What do you want? Granola bar?”

  “Yeah.” She was careful not to get bars that were full of dairy and sugar, but the higher protein ones, like athletes used.

  Heather went into the kitchen and got him one. Gabriel started to unwrap it.

  “How was school?” he asked politely.

  “Oh, it went okay. They have concerns over Josiah’s behavior. Like we didn’t already know there were problems going into this. We did talk to them about him before he started attending. But somehow… it always comes as a surprise. Then they want to know how to manage him.”

  “He talks too much?” Gabriel guessed.

  Heather chuckled. “Yes. Among other things.”

  Gabriel chewed on a bite of the granola bar, thinking. Heather got baby Alex out of her car carrier and took off her jacket. Alex looked like a big bug with her thick glasses.

  “Who represents me?” Gabriel asked.

  “Who represents you? How do you mean? I do, for things like school and doctor’s appointments.”

  “What about in court?”

  “In court then Mrs. Scott represents you. She’s the one that is in charge of your welfare at that level.”

  “But she doesn’t do what I want her to.”

  “Well, no, it’s not like that. She tells the court what is going on, what would be best for you, and then they decide. So in some ways, the judge represents you too. Because he’s listening to everyone and sorting out what is best for you.”

  Gabriel peeled back the wrapper farther. “But he’s not listening to everyone. No one is listening to me.”

  “I know it’s kind of hard to wrap your mind around. How everyone else could be deciding what happens to you. But we really do have your best interests in mind.”

  “Do I get a lawyer?”

  Heather frowned. She put Alex belly-down on the floor. The baby tried to push up on her hands, but her head and body seemed to be too heavy for her. Gabriel felt sorry for her.

  “No, you don’t have a lawyer,” Heather said slowly. “DFS has a lawyer and I assume that your mom has a lawyer. But not you personally. Sometimes the court appoints a guardian ad litem. But they haven’t in your case.”

  “What if I want one?”

  “What is it you’re worried about, Gabriel?”

  “I want to go back to my mom, and I want to get off of these stupid drugs. If I could explain to the judge, he’d understand everything…”

  Heather patted Alex on the back. “I know it must suck to have everybody else deciding what’s best for you, Gabriel. But they—we—do have your best interests in mind. Going back to your mom wouldn’t necessarily be the best thing for you.”

  “You don’t know my mom. You only know what they’ve told you.”

  “I suppose that’s true. But I don’t think you understand all the issues that your mother has had with your care, either.”

  They were just talking in circles. “I want to talk to the judge,” Gabriel repeated. He tried to keep his voice steady and strong, to sound mature and grown up instead of like a little kid.

  Heather scratched her temple. “I guess I can give Mrs. Scott a call, find out when the next time is that your case is coming up before the court. Let her know that you’d like to attend.”

  “Yeah. If I can just explain to the judge…”

  Heather stood up. She ruffled Gabriel’s hair as she walked by him. “Just… don’t get your hopes up, Gabe. There are a lot of other factors for the judge to consider. Kids aren’t taken away from their parents without due consideration. There were a lot of factors working against your mom.”

  At lunch, Gabriel was able to eat more than he had before, since his stomach didn’t feel as sick, and he hoped that eating more would stave off the vomiting. He felt so guilty about skipping his morning pills that he went ahead and took his lunchtime ones. And forty-five minutes later, he was in the bathroom puking his big lunch back up again. Heather stood in the doorway between heaves, giving him a frown.

  “I was really hoping after how well you did this morning that we were past this,” she said. “Did you have enough to eat? What do you think is different?”

  Gabriel rubbed the sore muscles of his stomach. “I didn’t take them this morning.”


  He felt better confessing it. “I just feel so bad when I take them; they make me so sick. I just… couldn’t. I needed a break.”

  “You can’t do that, Gabe. We need to keep the chemicals in your body at a consistent level. You can’t skip doses.”

  Gabriel wasn’t sure how much of the pills he could actually be absorbing when he was throwing up less than an hour later.

  “It’s like chemotherapy,” Heather said. “Even though the side effects are bad, you have to keep taking it to get the good effects.”

  “It’s not going to cure my mito,” Gabriel pointed out, “and I’m not feeling any better.”

  “You may not be noticing it because it is so gradual. But I think you’re managing a lot better than you were when you first got here. You can make it up and down the sidewalk. I see you walking around the house without having to lean on anything or take as many rests. Even this morning; you had the opportunity for more sleep, but your body didn’t need it that much. Normally, you would have been conked out the minute your head hit the pillow.”

  Gabriel rested his head on his arm, propped on the toilet seat. Probably not the most hygienic place to be resting, but he didn’t think he was done being sick yet.

  “If I had my braces, I could walk better. Why won’t they let me have braces?”

  “They want you to build up the muscles in your legs, instead of letting them atrophy by having them immobilized all the time. And it is helping, don’t you think?”

  “No,” Gabriel snapped. He closed his eyes, shutting her out.

  Collin wasn’t at the supper table, which Gabriel was relieved about. He sat picking at his dinner and tried to think of how to bring up Collin’s behavior to the Foegels without putting himself at risk. As soon as they talked to him about it, Collin would know that Gabriel had squealed, and Gabriel had to room with the guy. There was no escaping.


  He looked up at Heather, realizing suddenly that she had been talking to him, and he had completely zoned out thinking about Collin.

  “Sorry… what?”

  She shook her head, rolling her eyes at Matt. “I said I talked to Carol—Mrs. Scott—about your request to be in court the next time your case was heard.”

  “Oh! What did she say?”

  “They’re doing a review next Tuesday. It’s just supposed to be a routine thing, filing updated reports and so on, but she figured if you wanted to be there, to see the judge and feel like you had a voice, there shouldn’t be any issues.”

  “Tuesday? I can go on Tuesday?” Gabriel’s heart pumped faster and harder. He couldn’t believe that he was going to be able to get in to see the judge so quickly. He figured they would put him off for a couple of weeks at least. Maybe even a month. If he could talk to the judge on Tuesday, explain everything to him, maybe he could even be back with Keisha by the end of the week. He could go back to his old life. Like nothing had ever happened. “That’s great!”

  “Glad you’re pleased. Now, Monday we’re going to have to go to the clinic, so I need you to—”

  “Monday? Why? It hasn’t been two weeks!”

  “No, but you’re having such a difficult time with the meds th
at they want to see you again. Do an update, see if there’s something that they need to tweak.”

  “I don’t want to go back there so soon!”

  “I thought you wanted them to do something to make you feel better,” Matt said, putting down his fork and looking at Gabriel. “You should be happy that you don’t have to wait for so long.”

  “Well, I… can’t they just take me off of them? Or take me off of whichever one is causing the trouble? Why do I have to go back?” Gabriel was aware that he was whining, but he really didn’t want another trip to the clinic to be poked and prodded, and to have Dr. De Klerk get after him for skipping a dose and being such a whiner about the whole thing.

  “I’m sorry,” Heather said, her voice firm. “They want to see you. It’s not exactly how I planned to spend my day either, Gabe. But we have to put up with the inconvenience in order to find out what will work for you and make you feel better.”

  Gabriel swore under his breath, staring down at his nearly-full plate. He knew that he shouldn’t. Heather was just doing what a foster mom should, even if it meant four hours of driving and an hour or two of waiting for him. That was a long time for her to take out of her day too. And she would have to arrange for afterschool care for Josiah and Luce, and Gabriel had an idea that it wasn’t too easy to find people to take the two children.

  He lifted his head to look at Heather again. “Do I have to see Dr. De Klerk? Or just the nurses?”

  Heather’s eyebrows went up. “I don’t know. Does it make a difference?”

  “I dunno.”

  “Gabe? Do you have a problem with Dr. De Klerk? He’s a very busy man; I know he can come across a little gruff, sometimes… impatient…”

  “Yeah. I guess that’s it.” Gabriel looked back down at his plate.

  “Well, don’t you worry about that. If you want, I’ll stay with you, and I can act as a buffer. He can talk to me instead of you.”

  It was a tempting offer, but Gabriel thought that might be worse. De Klerk would think he was being a baby, and Heather would end up pressuring Gabriel instead of protecting him. She wasn’t like Keisha. She didn’t really care how he felt. Just whether they were cooperating with DFS and the clinic. She thought that whatever the clinic said was right.

  “No. Thanks.”

  She looked at him for a minute and then shrugged. “Okay. So Monday to the clinic, and then Tuesday for your hearing.”

  Gabriel nodded. Hopefully, they would withdraw the meds that were making him sick on Monday, so that he only had a few more days to take them. It still felt like an eternity.

  Gabriel was asleep when Collin came in to bed. Collin didn’t turn the overhead light on, but turned on the lamp. He towered over Gabriel for a moment, looking down at him. Gabriel froze, sure that if he moved a muscle, Collin was going to smash him. Collin reached out a big hand and shoved Gabriel’s shoulder, pushing him down into the mattress and letting it spring up again.

  “You keep your mouth shut,” he ordered. “I don’t want your scrawny little butt making any trouble for me; you got it?”

  Gabriel nodded, his heart thudding so hard in his chest that it made him cough.

  “I can’t hear you,” Collin pressed.

  “Yes,” Gabriel said.

  “Yes, what?”

  “Yes, sir.” Gabriel hoped that was what Collin was looking for.

  Collin nodded. His eyes were narrow, glittering with the reflected light from the lamp. “All I want is to be left alone. I got another year in foster, maybe two if I’m lucky and can get an extension. That’s how long I got to get picked up by a scout. After that, I’m on my ass in the cold, hard street. Flipping burgers or begging for money, with no place to live and no team to play for. I just want everyone to leave me alone, so I get my one chance to get on a team.”

  “Yes, sir.”

  “So you shut up and don’t make any kind of trouble for me. Or I’m gonna be seriously pissed. If I’m gonna get in trouble anyway, I’m gonna mess you up to make it worth my while.”

  Collin gave Gabriel’s shoulder one more shove, then turned away to get ready for bed. Gabriel watched him; his eyes squinted almost shut so that it would look like he was going back to sleep. He hadn’t really looked at Collin’s body before, embarrassed by the bigger boy’s physique and lack of self-consciousness as he changed. This time, he did look, assessing him. Did Collin have what it took to become a professional football player? Or at least to be scouted by a college team and given a scholarship and paid-for dorm?

  Collin’s body was big and bulked up with muscle. He wasn’t fat and sloppy like some of the football players that Gabriel had seen. His muscles were well-defined. Cut. Size and strength weren’t all it took to make a good football player, but Collin moved with self-assured grace, his movements quick and economical. In the light from the lamp, Gabriel could see silvery marks on his back and arms. Scars. Collin had a big tattoo on one shoulder and an armband tattoo around the other arm, a geometric monochrome black pattern.

  Collin didn’t turn back around and look at Gabriel, but climbed into bed, reached over to turn off the lamp, and was quiet. Gabriel listened to his slow, steady breaths, waiting to fall back asleep.

  Gabriel had been dreading going to the clinic and yet anticipating it at the same time. If he just knew that they were going to fix his meds, he would have been excited about it. But there was no way to know what they were going to do. Heather and Matt were patient and reassuring, telling Gabriel every time that he threw up that the clinic would get everything taken care of, and that the meds were helping. Pretty soon, he would be all better, able to do all the things that a normal kid could do. Somehow the toxic chemicals were going to change his metabolism so that he had all the energy he needed and none of the adverse effects of mito. Gabriel knew that wasn’t going to happen. He had wished, prayed, and daydreamed about it many times. He knew it wasn’t going to happen.

  At the clinic, they read through his log and made him explain everything as if Heather hadn’t already called the clinic to report Gabriel’s problems on a daily basis. The nurse who took Gabriel’s weight noted it down and shook her head.

  “You have lost weight,” she accused. As if he had somehow done it on purpose.

  “Yeah. I keep throwing everything up when I take the pills.”

  “You need to eat and drink enough before you take them.”

  “And then I throw up more!” Gabriel insisted.

  “Honestly,” she shook her head and scribbled something else on his chart. Gabriel couldn’t see what it was, but imagined it was something like ‘patient is uncooperative’ or ‘patient refuses to follow instructions.’ He closed his eyes and waited for directions about where to go and what test he was supposed to take next.

  In the end, he didn’t even see Dr. De Klerk, which was a huge relief. He was just shown into the final exam room, where a nurse or intern came in to give him his instructions. It was a young Asian man, who ran his fingers through his hair as he looked at the clipboard. He sat down on the rolling stool and didn’t look at Gabriel as he went through the instructions.

  “Okay. We’ve added an antiemetic to your protocol. That should keep you from throwing up and make a big difference to how much of the meds you can absorb. Hopefully, that will let you put on some weight again. We’ve switched you to a different antihistamine; Benadryl causes drowsiness in a lot of people, and we want you to be alert and energetic, don’t we? I think the nosebleeds are probably just a result of throwing up and tearing those membranes. We’ll just keep an eye on the leg cramps and see if they resolve themselves.”

  Gabriel scowled. “The muscle cramps are really bad!”

  “I think they’ll probably go away as your body gets more used to the medications. In the meantime, keep on with gentle heat and massage, that’s the best thing for them.”

  “What about painkillers? Can’t I have Tylenol or aspirin or something for the pain?”

  The intern looked at Gabriel
for the first time, glancing up from the clipboard. He flipped through a couple of pages of the clipboard, but Gabriel didn’t see his eyes going back and forth. He wasn’t actually reading anything.

  “No painkillers allowed on your protocol at this time,” the man said, and let the papers fall back into place on the clipboard. “Do you have any other questions?”

  Gabriel sighed in exasperation and swallowed his anger and frustration with a big lump in his throat. “The protocol isn’t helping. I want to just go back to what I was doing with my mom before.”

  “You haven’t been on the protocol long enough to evaluate whether it’s making a difference or not. Especially when you aren’t able to absorb the full dose of medication. Give it some time. We’ll see you back in… two weeks.”

  The intern stood up, and swept out of the room without so much as a wave or ‘good-bye.’ Gabriel sat there for a minute, wondering what he was supposed to do next. A nurse poked her head in the door.

  “All done? Let me take you back to your mom,” the young blond said, with a pretty smile that made Gabriel feel flushed. He looked down at the floor as he followed her out, pretending that he needed to watch his feet to make his way down the hall. A couple of twists took Gabriel out to the waiting room where Heather sat tapping on her phone.

  She looked up at him and smiled. “All set, then?”

  “Yeah. I got a couple of new prescriptions. Did they give them to you?”

  “Got them. We’ll stop at the pharmacy downstairs before we go. Do you want another wrap from down there?”

  Gabriel shifted his weight. “No… maybe something else this time.”

  “What do you want?”

  “Just… I dunno. Something from the gas station. Nuts or a granola bar or something.”

  “I have granola bars for emergencies in the car. Does that sound good?”

  “Yeah. Sure.” Gabriel wasn’t too keen on the weird wraps from the juice bar. But he also wondered how long the ‘emergency’ granola bars had been sitting in the car. Just what constituted a granola bar emergency?

  “Sounds good,” Heather enthused.

  They walked out to the elevator.

  “So they’re putting you on something for nausea,” Heather observed. “That’s good. I think that’s the worst side effect. If you can get over that, you’ll be much happier.”

  “Uh-huh…” Gabriel had to admit that being able to eat a meal without throwing up again sounded like heaven. He hadn’t realized before what a blessing it was to actually be able to eat. He couldn’t imagine how bulimic girls managed to make themselves throw up all the time. It was awful. “But they didn’t give me anything for the muscle cramps.”

  “Maybe they’ll go away on their own. If not, we’ll just keep doing what we have been.”

  “That’s not helping. They could at least give me painkillers or a muscle relaxant or something.”

  “Let’s work on one thing at a time. This will help, and maybe by the next time we come back, the muscle cramps will be gone. And you’ll be feeling a lot better, being able to eat.”

  Gabriel watched out the side of the glass elevator as it descended, keeping any other complaints to himself. He already knew whose side Heather was on. If she voiced any complaints or didn’t follow the clinic’s instructions to a T, they knew what would happen. DFS wouldn’t have any problem taking him away from the Foegels just the same as they had from Keisha.

  In spite of the antiemetic, Gabriel was feeling pretty queasy when they walked into the courthouse. He was beginning to regret his insistence that they let him appear before the judge. He was feeling small and inadequate. He didn’t know what he was going to say to the judge if they decided to let him talk. He didn’t want to see Carol Scott and her red manicured nails. He didn’t want to hear the allegations about Keisha repeated. He didn’t want to be there at all.

  “Not much farther,” Heather said, putting her hand on Gabriel’s back as he slowed.

  “I’m just… sorta nervous.”

  “You don’t need to worry. You don’t have to be eloquent. You don’t even have to address the court if you don’t want to. You’re here, and that’s a big thing. Just sit back and listen, and see what you think. You’ve never been to a court hearing before, right?”

  Gabriel tugged at his collar and the tie around his neck. It was too tight, choking off his breathing. Heather had insisted that he couldn’t appear in court in a t-shirt, or even in a nice polo or button-up shirt. It had to be a crisp white, long-sleeved, button-up shirt with a tie. Like he was going to a wedding or a funeral. Even at weddings and funerals, he’d been able to get out of wearing a white shirt and tie before. Unless the invitation said formal, and nobody he knew ever did formal.

  “No, it’s my first time,” he choked out.

  “It isn’t anything to be scared of. It’s formal, but nothing to worry about. No one is going to yell at you or criticize you. It’s all for your welfare.”

  “Yeah. Okay.”

  They arrived at the correct courtroom. There was an electronic announcement board, and Gabriel’s name was on the screen. It made him feel even more queasy. Heather rubbed his back gently and pointed him toward a bench to wait on. Gabriel sat down and massaged his shaky knees. He really wished that they would give him his braces back.

  “You’re doing a lot better at the walking,” Heather offered. “You’re getting around a lot better these days.”

  He had even noticed it at the clinic, where he hadn’t needed a wheelchair to get around like he had the first day. And he had been able to walk down more than one corridor at a time. But he didn’t want to think about that. He just wanted to get out of there.


  Keisha’s voice ran through him like an electric shock. Gabriel sat bolt upright, his head whipping around to see her before he even had a conscious thought.


  “Oh, I’m so glad that you came!” Keisha rushed over to hug him. Gabriel stood up to hug her, but after a moment, she was pushing him back down to the bench. She sat beside him, winding her arm around behind his back to give him a squeeze.

  Gabriel hadn’t even thought about her being there. He had been so focused on getting a chance to talk to the judge and to tell his story that he hadn’t thought that she and her lawyer might come to fight for his return as well. It was silly, thinking about it, that he hadn’t.

  “How are you?” Keisha whispered in Gabriel’s ear.

  Gabriel looked around for Carol Scott, but she wasn’t present yet. “Mom… I didn’t know you’d be here.”

  “Of course, I am! Sometimes they don’t notify me of a hearing until a few hours before. But I’m here for every single one.”

  Gabriel felt warm and comforted by this. He hadn’t been able to fight for himself, but she had been there. Every time.

  Keisha stroked his face. “You’re so thin, baby. It makes me so mad that I was getting some weight on you, and they went and did all this… you look like you’d blow away in a strong wind!”

  “It’s better now. The meds were making me throw everything up; but they’ve got me on something now to calm my stomach down.”

  “My poor baby. That must have been so awful. And I couldn’t be there for you, to take care of you…” She shook her head, her eyes dark and full of pain. “I just can’t forgive myself for letting this happen to you. If I had known a couple of months ago what I know now… I would have taken you to that damn clinic. It makes me so mad!”

  “It’s not your fault. I don’t think you should have either. It wasn’t just you. I still wouldn’t go there, if I had any choice.”

  “Shh. You can’t say that. Don’t let anyone hear you talking like that.” She glanced around at the gathering people. “We just have to go along with it.”

  The courtroom doors opened. A court clerk in a brown uniform looked around and announced: ‘Gabriel Tate hearing.’

  “That’s us,” Heather said, touching Gabriel on
the shoulder.

  He looked at her, and she laughed self-consciously.

  “I guess you knew that,” she giggled.

  Gabriel and Keisha got up. They all went into the courtroom. The judge wasn’t there yet; the room was empty. They went up to the front row of seats and sat down. Gabriel leaned his cheek on Keisha’s tightly curled hair. He closed his eyes and inhaled the familiar scent. He’d almost forgotten what she smelled like, but it all came flooding back as they sat there. Everything about her brought back rushes of memory. The way she moved, the way she talked, her touch on his skin. And her smell.

  “I love you, Mom,” he whispered. “I’m so glad you’re here.”

  “You too, baby.”

  Other people filed in behind them and sat down. Gabriel glanced back now and then but didn’t recognize most of them. Were they just spectators? There to see how a hearing was run? He hadn’t expected there to be any kind of audience. He thought it was rude to keep turning around and looking at people, so he stopped and just faced the front.

  The clerk announced Judge Kenneth Dreyer’s name, and everyone stood up. Gabriel hurried to get to his feet. The judge walked in and glanced over the courtroom. He sat down, and the clerk advised everybody to be seated. Gabriel sat back down again.

  “Markus, nice to see you,” Judge Dreyer commented. “I thought you’d be taking advantage of the good golf weather.”

  Gabriel turned around, his chest tight. Dr. Markus De Klerk was sitting a couple of rows behind him, looking just as proud and arrogant as ever.

  “Can’t ignore my civic duty,” he said in a lazy drawl.

  Dreyer nodded. He looked around at the other people filling the courtroom. “What is this?” he demanded. “I don’t think I declared this an open courtroom, did I?” He glared at the court clerk.

  “Do you want a closed hearing?” the clerk asked.

  “Yes, closed,” Dreyer snapped, looking down at the papers on his desk.

  “Only those with a direct connection with the case will be allowed,” the clerk advised. “Everyone else, please leave the courtroom.”

  There was the hum of low voices and feet shuffling as the spectators made their way out of the courtroom.

  “Damn vultures,” Dreyer muttered. “Everybody else here has a direct connection with the case? Who are you?” he demanded of Mrs. Foegel.

  “I’m Gabriel’s foster mother.”

  The judge considered this for a minute, then nodded. His eyes focused on Gabriel. “I assume that you are Mr. Gabriel Tate.”

  Gabriel nodded, swallowing. “Yes, your honor.”

  “The biological parent,” Judge Dreyer observed, nodding at Keisha and making the title sound like a curse. “And her lawyer. The good doctor. Where is the social worker?”

  “Here, your honor,” Carol’s voice rang out as she hurried up the aisle. “I’m sorry I was late. I… ran into some road bumps.”

  He glared at her for a minute. “You’re lucky I don’t hold you in contempt,” he growled. “Leave time for unexpected delays when you are coming into my courtroom.” He looked around the courtroom at the small group, then straightened his papers, tapping them into a neat pile. “This is a progress hearing on minor Gabriel Tate. Court is in session. We’ll hear a report from the social worker.”

  Carol stood up, smoothed her skirt, and outlined Gabriel’s status in a few sentences. He was out of the hospital and in foster care. He had attended at the mito clinic and was following the protocol. He had had a supervised visitation with his biological mother. Carol believed that he was doing well and was in the best place for him. She sat back down.

  Dreyer nodded. “That all sounds satisfactory. Dr. De Klerk, did you have anything to report?”

  “Gabriel has been following the mito protocol, with one exception…” De Klerk paused to let this sink in. Gabriel stared down at his hand. He hadn’t realized that Heather had reported his failure to take one dose of his medication. “He is progressing satisfactorily in all areas.”

  Dreyer nodded and wrote something down.

  “Your honor,” Keisha’s lawyer spoke up. “I believe that Gabriel has, in fact, lost more weight since he started the protocol.”

  Judge Dreyer’s gaze shifted over to Dr. De Klerk for his response.

  “Gabriel lost some weight initially,” De Klerk confirmed. “But we made some changes to his treatment, and I believe we have it under control now. Gabriel was in the weight clinic previously. As we are all aware. But I’m sure we will see an improvement in a couple of weeks at his next evaluation.”

  Dreyer nodded. “That sounds reasonable.” He looked around. “Anything else to report? Mrs.—ah—Foegel?”

  Heather rose a few inches out of her seat, looking like she was curtsying. “No, your Honor. Gabriel is fitting in and working hard.”

  She landed back in her seat again.

  Dreyer picked up his gavel. “Good. We will meet again—”

  “Your honor,” Keisha’s lawyer protested. “The biological parent would like an opportunity to speak. Gabriel himself is in the courtroom today, and I think he would like to be heard. His input in these proceedings is very important—”

  “The biological parent and the minor are not scheduled to speak.”

  “It’s vital that the court hears all viewpoints—”

  “We have heard from the biological parent before,” Judge Dreyer growled. “Repeatedly, in fact. The court has been more than generous with its time with Mrs. Tate.”

  “What about Gabriel? This is the court’s first opportunity to hear from his own mouth—”

  “This court does not hear from children. We know that Mr. Tate has been influenced and indoctrinated by his mother for years. We are just going to hear Keisha Tate’s words parroted back. And as I said, this court has indulged Mrs. Tate repeatedly in past hearings.”

  He rapped the gavel down.

  “We are adjourned. Let’s get another update in a month. If there is anything before that, please make an application to the court.”

  He stood up and walked back out through the small door at the back of the courtroom. Gabriel sat with his mouth hanging open in disbelief. “That’s it? Is it over? He didn’t even give me a chance!”

  Keisha gave his hand a squeeze and looked at him with a helpless expression. “That’s how it’s been right from the start. At least he didn’t throw me out this time.”

  “He threw you out?”

  She nodded. “He hasn’t been as ‘indulgent’ as he makes out. He doesn’t want to hear from us.” Keisha turned around and looked at Dr. De Klerk. “Only from his cronies.”

  Gabriel was afraid to turn and have Dr. De Klerk look at him. “Shouldn’t there be some kind of rule about him hearing from a friend? Shouldn’t he let a different judge hear it?”

  “The rules are pretty narrow. He doesn’t have to recuse himself unless they are in business together or something like that,” the lawyer said, hearing them and leaning toward them.

  Gabriel looked at the lawyer. “He’s allowed to say that I can’t speak when the whole hearing is about me?”

  “I’m sorry, but… yes. He’s not required to hear from you. Most courts would allow you to speak, and would take the wishes of a fifteen-year-old into account, but he doesn’t have to. And he gave a reason; he didn’t just deny you. There’s nothing we can do about that.”

  “Can’t we… appeal it? Go to his boss, or a higher court or something?”

  The lawyer shrugged helplessly. “The judge is the highest authority in this case. There is a court of appeal, but for rulings. This wasn’t a ruling, just a procedural question. And one with clear precedent.”

  Gabriel looked at the lawyer. He’d heard ‘no’ buried in the answer somewhere. He turned his head slightly toward Keisha. “Maybe you need a new lawyer.”

  “Mr. Holland has been very helpful, Gabriel. You haven’t seen all that we’re up against. Judge Dreyer is…”

  “A prominent judge, w
ith lots of political cachet,” Holland murmured. “You have to be extremely careful of your step with a judge like that. There could be a lot of negative… repercussions.”

  “You don’t want to be debriefed,” Gabriel guessed.

  Holland smiled. “If you mean disbarred; yes, you’re right.”

  “Oh.” Gabriel shrugged. “Right.”

  Keisha pulled Gabriel’s head against her, cuddling him. “We’ll beat them somehow, Gabriel. I’m not giving up. I’ll get you back home.”

  Gabriel blinked and sniffled. He took a deep breath, giving her a hug back. “I know.”

  “Folks, if you would move along, please. We have another hearing coming up,” the court clerk said, motioning that it was time to leave.

  They all walked toward the door, Gabriel and Keisha still holding each other, even if it did make it more difficult to walk down the aisle without tripping.

  “When is our next visitation?” Gabriel asked.

  “I don’t know yet.” Keisha sighed. “They said that you need more time to settle in at your foster home without me stirring things up. So I’m trying to keep my distance, but still keep nudging them for a new date.”


  She rubbed his back. She glanced over at Heather, who was talking to Carol Scott a few feet away. “How is your foster family? Is it okay?”

  “Pretty good,” Gabriel said, thinking about Collin. “They try to make things easier. The hospital never helped me with anything. And they’re better about my food allergies and snacks. But… it’s not home.”

  “No, I know. Are they feeding you good? You’ve lost so much weight.”

  “Mostly at the hospital, and then throwing up with these drugs. But it’s better now. I can eat again.”

  “Sit down here,” Keisha ordered, motioning to the bench they had been sitting on earlier. She could feel his legs shaking as she held onto him. She touched his leg when he sat beside her. “You don’t have your braces on. What did you do with them?”

  “They took them away at the hospital.” At the familiar tightening of her lips, Gabriel rushed to defuse her anger. “But I’m doing okay without them. My legs are getting stronger. Please… don’t cause trouble over it.”

  “They can’t take them away! Your hypotonia—you need them.”

  “Don’t. Please.”

  She shook her head. “All right… but…”

  “Just don’t. They’re not going to let me go back to you if they think you’re going to interfere with the medical treatment.”

  “Okay. Okay, I hear you, Gabriel. I’ll keep my mouth shut. But it makes me so mad!”

  He didn’t tell her about their removing him from all his meds at the hospital. He could just imagine how that would go over. She would be furious if she knew everything that they had done at the hospital.

  “Gabriel, I’m sorry, but we have to go now,” Heather hovered nearby, not wanting to interrupt the moment. “I have to be at Luce’s school this afternoon.”

  Gabriel kissed Keisha’s cheek. “I’ll see you… soon.”

  “I love you, Gabriel… don’t forget that.”


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