Chapter Five

“Good morning, Jane,” Herbert said to the girl. “Are you feeling better this morning?”

“I guess so,” she answered hesitantly.

“Jane, do you remember what we talked about yesterday? I told you a man wanted to meet you who would like you to be part of his family and you said it was okay for him to meet you.”

“I ‘member,” she said.

“Then I would like you to meet Mr. Graschel,” Herbert said as he indicated Deet.

“You’re awful white,” Jane Doe told Deet. “I’m mulatto.”

“You’re a very pretty girl,” Deet said gently.

“Momma never made me be with no white man,” she returned.

“If you and the judge agree that you can live with me, Jane,” Deet told her, “you won’t ‘be’ with me like that. You’ll have your own bedroom, and we’ll fix the door so you can lock it from your side if you’d like. That would be dangerous in case there’s ever a fire, but you could lock it if you were frightened. The other man here is my attorney, Mr. Fuentes, and he has four daughters. I’m sure one of them can stay over on the weekends, if you’d like. His son is staying with me to keep my son company over Thanksgiving week.”

“You got a son?”

“Yes, I do. His name is Eric. He was living with his mother in another state until she died and then he went into foster care for a while. Now he lives with me.”

“What you know about girls?” Jane asked him.

“I know from Mr. Fuentes’ daughters that not all little girls like to wear ruffled dresses and play with dolls. Connie plays little league soccer. Hope likes to read and write poetry. I’m going to take Eric rock climbing and you could come with us, if you want. I’d probably ask Mrs. Fuentes to take you shopping for clothes and things for your bedroom.”

“Would you hit me if I went to sit outside and look at the stars without telling you?”

“I don’t believe in hitting children, Jane. I would want to know where you are so that I would know you’re safe and not worry about you, but I would never hit you.”

“Sit in that chair over there,” Jane suddenly order and Deet, more amused by her sudden command than anything else, obliged.

Jane slowly eased herself from the hospital bed and walked toward him, her bare feet hitting softly against the floor. When she reached him she looked directly into his eyes. She held him under quiet scrutiny for several seconds before she finally said, “I guess you might do. But my name isn’t Jane, it’s Philadelphia only I don’t like it. I can’t even spell it. If I like living with you for a while, I want you to give me a better name.”

.. . .

“I granted your request to remove the child in question from Protective Services,” Judge Solari said at precisely ten o’clock on Monday morning. “Please continue with your next petition.”

“Your Honor,” Milhauser said, on shaky ground because he had no previous experience in Family Court, “You have a petition from my esteemed colleague to place Jane Doe in the custody of Dieter Graschel, pending a formal petition for adoption.”

“This is an unusual request, considering that the minor in question has suffered sexual abuse,” the judge said.

“I realize that, Your Honor,” Milhauser said, “but the man requesting custody has an impeccable reputation and his only concern is the child’s welfare.”

Angelina Solari sat behind her desk in the small courtroom. “Counsel,” she said, “you’re arguing the other side of this case.”

“If I may, Your Honor,” Manuel said, “Mr. Milhauser and I are both deeply concerned for this child. My client has her best interest at heart. He has already accepted Mr. Milhauser as counsel for his own son and accepts my colleague as counsel for the girl.”

Judge Solari sat back in her chair and asked, “Is there a reason your client thinks his son needs independent counsel?”

Deet pulled on the sleeve of Manuel’s jacket and whispered, “Can I talk to her?”

“I think I’d be interested in anything you might have to say,” the judge said.

Dieter rose slowly, cleared his throat a few times, and pulled nervously at the edge of his shirt.

“Ma’am’” he began.

“I’m not a Ma’am, Mr. Graschel. I’m a judge.”

“Sorry, Your Honor. My son Eric was assigned counsel when he was removed from Protective Services in Indiana after his mother died and her brother abused him. Mr. Milhauser and Mr. Fuentes have worked with me to determine that he would be okay in my custody. You can talk to him if you want. He’s only been here a few days but I think he feels okay with me. He’s been through a lot and we’re still trying to connect. Because my son was abused, when I heard about Jane Doe on the news I asked Mr. Fuentes if he would contact Mr. Milhauser to be her attorney and consider a petition for custody and adoption.”

“That’s very gratuitous of you, Mr. Grashel, but would you care to explain to me why a little girl who was sexually abused should be placed in your care?”

Dieter took a deep breath and blurted out, “Because I’m gay.”

Hebert Milhauser groaned and Manuel Fuentes buried his face in his hands.

“You’re gay and you have custody of your son?” Judge Solari asked. “We will reconvene at one this afternoon and I want your son present in court.”

“You just had to say it, didn’t you?” both attorneys asked Deet. “You had to come out in court?”

.. . .

“Do you know why you’re here?” Judge Solari asked Eric.

“No, Ma’am,” he replied. “I know my dad was in court this morning because he’s worried about a little girl but I don’t see what that has to do with me.”

“I’d like to speak to you alone,” the judge said.

“Your Honor, I object,” Milhauser replied.

“Sit down, Counsel,” she returned. “This is an informal hearing, not a jury trial. Please come with me, Eric.”

Eric reluctantly complied after the looks from his father and the two attorneys told him it would be okay. He was surprised when they entered the judge’s office and she removed her black robe. She was wearing jeans and a Grateful Dead t-shirt.

“Would you like something to drink?” she asked. “I can have my bailiff get you a Coke from the cafeteria.”

“No, Ma’am,” Eric replied.

“Okay then. I just want to ask you a couple of questions and I want you to answer as honestly as you can. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

“Do you like living with your dad?”

“I guess so. I’ve only been here a few days but he’s already bought me lots of clothes, a bicycle, a computer, and a puppy. He’s going to get me a pony when he finds one he likes. He asked Tio Manuel to let Jorge, that’s Tio Manuel’s son, sleep-over. I get to pick out my own room.”

“Anything else?”

“I’m going to have a tutor until the next semester starts and he’s looking for a private school. I can’t have my bedroom on the third floor of the house because Wolfgang is old and it hurts him to go up that many stairs.”

“And who is Wolfgang?”

“He’s my dad’s dog.”

“Eric, are you aware of the fact that your father is a homosexual?”

“Yes,” the boy replied. “My mom was, too. But she died and then Marcie got sick and the law took me away from her.”

“Eric, has your father made any attempt to touch you in an inappropriate way?”

“NO, MA’AM!” Eric replied. “He’s a good dad! I swear he is! I don’t think he likes boys! I want my lawyer!”

“Eric, please calm down. I’m only concerned with your wellbeing.”

“So was the judge for Child Services who sent me to live with my uncle who …” he broke into tears. “I want my lawyer. I want a fifth until Mr. Milhauser is in here!”

Judge Solari didn’t know whether she should laugh or cry. She nodded to her bailiff to summon Herbert Milhauser.

“Counselor,” she said when Milhauser entered her office, “please inform your client that he doesn’t require a fifth. My line of questioning has only been to determine the safety of himself and possible safety of the other minor in question.”

“Your Honor,” Milhauser said, “my firm authorized an extensive investigation of Mr. Graschel before sending the boy to San Antonio. He comes from a good family. He had a steady job before his parents both died and he came into a comfortable sum of money. He lives a quiet life and contributes heavily to this community’s charitable organizations. He’s one of the volunteers every year with the Elf Louise project at Christmas and gives several hours a month to the Ronald McDonald House. He’s a patron of the arts and has provided funding to several local playwrights. We found that he has never given any indication of showing a sexual interest in minors. Mr. Fuentes has allowed his children to spend extensive time with Mr. Graschel and is comfortable with that. In fact, all of the Fuentes children adore him and call him Uncle Deet.

“I met Eric at the airport when he first arrived in town and remember the frightened, nervous child he was. In a matter of a few days he has become more relaxed and is beginning to act more like a normal teenager than a cornered dog. Mr. Graschel is in the process of obtaining a child psychiatrist to help Eric work through his previous abuse and the shock of losing his mothers.”

Angelina Solari allowed Herbert Milhauser to continue until her inner humor at the situation overcame her. “Mr. Milhauser, just whom do you represent? Don’t answer.”

She rose and retrieved her robe. Eric and his attorney followed her back into her courtroom.

“Mr. Graschel,” she said when she resumed her seat, “your son speaks highly of you. I would, however, suggest that someone explain to him the difference between a fifth and the Fifth Amendment.” Her tone suddenly turned serious. “I received word this morning that little Jane Doe’s baby died so I want her to remain in the hospital a little while longer. I was with the girl this morning when she received the news and, while she doesn’t totally comprehend anything that’s happened to her, she will need around the clock medical care for a few more days. I will speak to her doctors on Friday and, if they agree, she will be placed in your temporary custody at that time. I highly recommend, although I will not require, that you have some kind of female presence in the home at least part of each day.

“It is highly unusual for a child, any child, to be placed in the custody of a single male in this state, especially a gay male. The matter before this court is ‘what is best for the child?’ I believe that you are possibly the best solution at this time for this child. You have six months, Mr. Graschel, to convince me that you are the only solution.”


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