Chapter Fourteen

Winter withdrew for a little while, common in south Texas. The temperature returned to mid-sixties during the first week of the new year. Eric admitted he preferred the warmer temperature and wondered how his old friends were coping with the freezing cold in Indiana.

He enjoyed his first days at his new school. Deet had considered several of the private schools in town, relying heavily on the opinions of Angelina Solari, Consuela Fuentes, and Pieter Mussleman. He finally decided on the one recommended by Pieter based on the fact that it was co-ed and receptive to children raised in same sex families. Pieter’s cousin Amelia and her partner Vivian had two daughters enrolled in New Concepts Academy and it was the only school he considered appropriate for Eric and Katia, when she was ready.

“The girl who sits next to me in history class is Korean,” Eric related during the evening meal after his first day. “She’s real smart and kind of pretty.”

“Does she have a name?” Deet asked.

“Oh, yeah, sorry. Her name is Kim. She knows English, Korean, and Spanish. Mr. Parker, the principal, said she’s going to be my buddy until I learn my way around and get to know the rest of the kids. She’s nice.”

“Is she gonna be your girlfriend?” Katia asked.

“Give me a break,” Eric replied. “I just met her. Besides, she kind of likes a guy named Scott. I know why because he’s the best looking dude in the whole school. He’s on the varsity football team and Kim says he wants to play football when he goes to college in Austin.”

The dinner conversation was the same every evening of Eric’s first week at school. He talked about his teachers, classes, and the new friends he was making. Deet listened without comment as Eric kept returning to the subject of Scott, wondering if he should ask Tran if it would be a good idea to have a quiet conversation with the boy about sex and sexuality.

Things were going well with the children settling into a comfortable routine. Eric enjoyed school and Katia applied herself to her private lessons with Pieter. Her reading skills improved almost daily and even Pieter was amazed at her grasp of mathematics. There were no objections from either child at the amount of homework that had to be finished each evening.

. . .

Deet lay in bed one night listening the rain outside, his thoughts on New Year’s eve and Tran. They hadn’t spoken since and Deet was afraid that Tran’s battle with his ethics had ended with ethics winning over love. Thunder rumbled in the distance, seeming to echo Deet’s tumultuous thoughts.

Lightning flashed across the sky followed a loud clap of thunder. Seconds later Deet heard the sound of small slippered feet scuffing quickly across the hardwood floor of his bedroom.

“I’m scared of storms,” a frightened voice whispered. “Can I sleep with you?”

Deet lifted the covers and felt Katia’s quivering body press against him. “It’s okay,” he said. “You’re safe here. The storm’s several miles away.”

“It still scares me,” Katia returned.

“Would you like me to read to you until it stops?” Deet asked.

At her nodded affirmation Deet started to get up. “I’ll be right back,” he said. “I’m going to get that book Jorge gave you for Christmas. I think you’d like to hear about the magic princess and her unicorn instead of the mystery novel I was reading earlier.”

Katia pulled the covers over her head and tried to overcome her fear as she waited. She’d spent too many nights hovering under cardboard boxes during storms when she and her mother had been homeless on the streets of New Orleans, Houston, and San Antonio. Thunder and lightning had frightened her and she’d received little comfort from a mother in an almost constant state of drug induced oblivion.

“Got it,” Deet said as he returned. He pulled the covers down enough to get back in bed when something caught his attention. “Oh no,” he said laughing, “no cats under the covers.”

“But Miracle purrs and helps me sleep,” Katia said.

“You might not squash her if you roll over on her but I could,” Deet explained as he removed the black kitten. “She can sleep on top of the covers.”

Katia reluctantly parted with Miracle and snuggled against Deet as he began to read. “Once upon a time, a very long time ago, a pretty little girl lived in a deep forest.”

. . .

Deet had barely finished reading the first chapter of the story when he felt Katia relax against him. She released a deep sigh and was asleep. He closed the book and put it on the table beside the bed and was about to turn the lamp off when Benji jumped on the bed. Before he could tell the pup to behave and go to sleep he noticed that Benji wasn’t in play mode. Something was bothering Benji and Deet remembered Wolf’s behavior Eric’s first night with him.

Deet slid away from Katia as carefully as he could, not wanting to wake her just now. Not bothering to worry about slippers, he hurried to Eric’s room across the hall. The boy was tossing fitfully in his sleep and Deet reached him just as a scream of unspeakable horror escaped. Anger, concern, and heartache battled for dominance in Deet’s mind as he took his son in his arms and shook him awake.

“It’s a nightmare, Eric,” he whispered. “No one is going to hurt you here.”

Eric’s eyes flew open, filled with fear at the memories which had rushed over him during the nightmare. He clung to his father and began to cry uncontrollably. Nothing Deet said stopped the sobs that wracked his son’s body and Deet realized the boy was beyond his control.

“To hell with ethics,” he said to himself as he picked Eric up in his arms and carried the boy to his room. Katia was awake and sitting up in bed, her eyes wide with fear. Deet grabbed his cell phone and called Tran at home. Eric needed help and he hoped Tran’s medical oath would overcome any reluctance to have contact with him.

. . .

“I don’t like to medicate children,” Tran told Deet thirty minutes later when he joined him in front of the living room fireplace, “but I had no choice this time. Eric’s nightmare was extremely traumatic and I had to give him a tranquilizer.”

“Is he going to be alright?” Deet asked.

“It’s hard to tell at this point,” Tran replied. “He might be fine when he wakes up … or he might retreat into his fears. I’d like to be here when he wakes, if that’s okay with you.”

All thought of a relationship with Tran had disappeared from Deet’s mind with Eric’s nightmare. “I was hoping you would,” he said.

“I’ll put fresh sheets on the bed in the room next to Eric’s,” Deidre said. The storm had kept her awake and Eric’s scream had brought her downstairs to see if she could do anything to help. Realizing there was nothing she could do, she had started a pot of strong coffee.

“Thank you for coming,” Deet told Tran as he began to relax. Katia sat next to him on the couch, clinging to him in fear and confusion. “I didn’t know what else to do.”

“It’s fortunate you were with Eric when the nightmare turned ugly,” Tran said. “He needed to know someone loves him.”

“I would have been asleep but Katia was afraid of the storm and I was reading to her,” Deet answered.

“How are you feeling?” Tran asked the little girl. “Do you want to talk about the storm?”

“Not now,” she answered. “I was scared of the noise. I guess Eric was scared of a lot more.” She was quiet for a moment then asked, “Is it okay if I sleep with Eric tonight instead of you, Daddy? I promise I’ll be real still and just hold his hand. If he gets scared in his sleep again maybe he’ll know I’m there.”

“We need to talk,” Tran said when Deet returned from tucking Katia in with Eric and kissing her goodnight.

Deet poured two cups of coffee and returned to the living room. “I think so, too,” he said.

“First, you realize that it might take years before either of the children can put their abuse behind them. Katia will probably heal more quickly. Girls tend to mature at an earlier age and she’s doing remarkably well. She’s too young to fully comprehend what happened to her and she didn’t have the additional shock of being chained and beaten as well as raped. As heinous a crime as child prostitution is, I don’t think she suffered the extreme mental trauma Eric did.”

“What more can I do for her?” Deet asked.

“Just what you have been,” Tran said. “Make sure she knows she’s loved and safe. Keep her daily routine the same. She’ll let you know when she’s ready for changes. Don’t let Rick talk you into putting her into one of his classes until she asks. Private lessons with him will be enough for now.”

“And Eric?”

“He’s been through more than any child should have to bear,” Tran said. “Unfortunately it happens all too often and there are no simple answers. As with Katia, love and a safe haven will be very important. He’s intelligent enough to know that you want what’s best for him. But he’s also extremely sensitive and that’s the danger. The six months he spent being, what basically amounts to tortured, had a tremendous impact on his psyche. It’s always lurking in the back of his mind. They both need continuous counseling.”

“I know,” Deet replied, “and that’s a problem.”

“I’ve already made my recommendation to the judge,” Tran said. “I can’t continue a professional relationship with you.”

“What are the chances of a personal one?” Deet asked.

“I’m not sure,” Tran admitted. “As the family therapist I was in a position of power over you which can be construed as coercing sex. I promise that it’s not what I had in mind but it still treads closely on abuse of my position. I could lose my medical license.”

“But you didn’t coerce me,” Deet said. “I really have feelings for you.”

“I know,” Tran replied, “but it’s a good idea for us to put any kind of relationship on hold for a while.”

“The kids will miss you.”

“I’ll stay in touch,” Tran said, “for their sake.”

. . .

Deet sat next to Manuel Fuentes in Angelina Solari’s family courtroom on the morning of the fifteenth of January. Another cold front had moved through and the temperature hovered near freezing so Deet was wearing a pair of gray wool slacks, a blue shirt, and dark gray pullover sweater.

Katia was dressed equally as warm in a pair of thick jeans over warm tights, and a light green sweater. She sat by her attorney, Herbert Milhauser.

Family court was summoned to order and Judge Solari picked up the paperwork in front of her. “We’re here today to rule on the adoption petition filed on behalf of Dieter Graschel and the minor child, Philadelphia,” she said. “Everything seems to be in order, but I’ve received a second petition that I think bears a great deal of weight on my decision today.”

The judge looked over the top of her glasses – first at Deet and then at Katia. “I believe this second petition is perhaps more important than the first although I must say, Mr. Milhauser,” she said as she removed her glasses and laid them in front of her, “I was most surprised that this one was not actually filed with the court. Do you have any knowledge of this second petition?”

Herbert looked totally perplexed. “No, Your Honor,” he said. “This comes as a complete surprise to me.”

“Mr. Fuentes?” Judge Solari asked.

“Not that I’m aware of,” Manuel replied to the unspoken question.

“Very well then,” the judge said. “What I have before me is a petition on behalf of Philadelphia Latasha Anderson to adopt Dieter Marshall Graschel as her father. The petitioner further asks that this court legally change her name to Katarina Jane Graschel.”

Judge Solari smiled to herself as she considered the petition. It was almost perfect with the exception of several misspelled legal terms, and signed by Philadelphia Anderson – witnessed by Jorge Fuentes and Eric Graschel.

“The most important part of my job,” the judge said as she put her glasses back on, “is to determine the welfare and future of the children who come to my court. I have spent a great deal of time going over all the evidence in this case. I have a preliminary report from Dr. Tran Van Nam, who has advised me that he believes Dr. Martin Allison is better suited to continue with the family at this point. I also have a report from Pieter Musselman regarding Miss Anderson’s scholastic progress, which I find very impressive. Rick Jordan, at my request, has provided his written opinion of the suitability of the Graschel home for the child. I asked Mr. Jordan for this because several of his dance students are from broken or abusive homes and he has a special insight with these children. I’ve taken all of this into consideration but wish to address the second petition first. I’d like to see Philadelphia in my chambers.”

Angelina removed her robe and fixed a cup of hot cocoa which she handed to the nervous child sitting quietly in her chambers. “Why do you want to adopt Mr. Graschel?” she asked.

Katia studied the cup in her hands before she looked at the judge. “Well,” she began, “I heard Mr. Milhauser and Mr. Fuentes say how single guys can’t ‘dopt in Texas. And I heard on the tv that lots of people don’t want gays to have kids. I really, really want to stay where I am, Ma’am. Eric might need me if he has another bad dream. Daddy, I mean Mr. Graschel, takes good care of me. And Deidre said I could talk girl stuff with her if I want to. There’s a little girl who rides her bike on the street and she waves at me when she goes by the house. I think she lives pretty close and I’d like to make friends with her. So Jorge thought maybe I could get around the whole ‘doption thing if I ‘dopted instead.”

Judge Solari sat quietly at her desk and appeared to consider what she’d just heard. Her decision had been reached weeks earlier but the child, acting more like an adult than most of the adults Angelina knew, deserved her petition to be taken seriously.

“Let’s go back to the courtroom,” she finally said.

Katia sat next to her attorney and squeezed his hand as hard as she could when the courtroom was called back into order.

“After weighing all the information provided against the statutes of this state,” the judge began, “I’ve decided to allow the petition for adoption. There are no precedents for a child to adopt a parent so I’m going to approve the adoption of Philadelphia Anderson by Dieter Graschel instead and use the second petition to support my ruling. I am also granting the legal name change of the minor, Philadelphia, to Katarina Graschel. Now, if there is no other business this court is adjourned.”

Angelina removed her robe and allowed herself to share in the joy Katia was anxious to spread around. She had barely dismissed court when the girl leaped from her chair and threw herself into the arms of her new father. The attorneys congratulated each other and Deet, profusely thanked Angelina, and hugged Deet’s new daughter.

“Party tonight,” Manuel announced, “my treat. I’ll reserve the Grey Moss Inn dining room. You’re invited, Your Honor. And before you say you can’t … it’s for Katia.”

“You couldn’t keep me away, Manuel,” she replied. “My legal duties have been discharged and I enjoy celebrating with friends. Is it alright if I order a certain child psychiatrist to attend?”

“You bet,” Manuel replied.

Angelina smiled and added, “Oh, by the way, Manuel, please inform the next generation of Fuentes legal counsel that I expect him to clerk for me when he learns the correct way to phrase a petition.”


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