Chapter Seven

Minerva Phillips knew exactly who to recommend when Deet approached her about it Wednesday morning over coffee at his kitchen table. She hadn’t been in the week before because she was out of town at her sister’s funeral and was delightfully surprised to find that Deet had one child living with him and was expecting another soon.

“My niece Deidre would be perfect,” she said. “She lost her husband six months ago and her son was recently transferred to California. The poor dear misses her grandchildren. She took care of them during the day, you see, while Gregg and Jennifer were at work. Without Bill or the babies she’s at loose ends with herself. Having a man and children to worry about again will be good for her. She doesn’t need the money I know you’ll offer because Bill left her with a comfortable income; she needs to feel needed as a person.”

“Miss Minnie,” Deet responded, “I suddenly feel like I’ve become a haven for people who need people.”

“You always were, Dieter, you just never knew it before now.”

Minerva was the only person in the world Deet allowed to call him by his Christian name. He’d come home from school one day when he was fifteen, a bloody mess because several of his school mates had called him a faggot and attacked him as he walked home. It was the first time he ever realized that the person he was, the essence of his being, was a danger to his life. His parents were at the opening of a new art gallery at the time and Minerva had taken him into her arms and comforted him. She’d gently cleansed his bleeding body and told him she knew what had happened. She explained that her cousin Paul had gone through the same thing and she understood. When Eric and Dot returned home and saw the bandages on his face and arms, Minerva explained that she had just finished cleaning the glass doors to the patio and Deet thought the door was open and tried to walk through the glass. She had, in fact, shattered the glass door herself to support her story. Dieter never forgot what she did for him that day and loved her a great deal. There was never a question that his parents would reject him, but Eric would have been greatly disappointed to think his line would end with his son so Deet and Minerva kept his secret.

The shrill sound of the telephone interrupted their conversation and Deet answered.

“Are you sitting down?” Manuel asked.

“No,” Deet answered. “Should I be?”

“Yes,” Manuel said. “Tell me when you’re sitting because the news I have is important.”

Deet sat and grasped Minerva’s hand. “Sitting,” he said.

“Jane is being released into your custody today.”

“I thought it wouldn’t be until next week,” Deet responded.

“Judge Solari had a last minute change of mind.”

“But I’m not ready!” Deet said. “Consuela’s supposed to help me and I know she’s busy today working on Thanksgiving dinner.” He was suddenly thrown into uncertainty.

“Connie’s going with us to the hospital,” Manuel said in a reassuring voice. “She heard me telling Consuela that we need to set another plate at the table tomorrow. That girl is going to be a lawyer when she grows up, I just know it. She picks up on nuances faster than I can stop them. Put some clothes on. I’ll be there in about half an hour – Dad.”

“Is there a problem?” Minerva asked when Deet put the phone back in its holder.

“Little Jane is coming today,” he answered. “God, Miss Minnie, what did I get myself into?”

.. . .

“And my dad said I could stay the night,” Concepcion Fuentes was telling Jane Doe as she was escorted from the hospital room to the waiting car in a wheel chair. “Eric and my brother are waiting for us at your new house. I know just the room you might like. It’s on the back corner of the second floor. It’s the room I always pick when I spend the night. It’s too late to go shopping now because tomorrow’s Thanksgiving. But Friday is the best shopping day ever and my mom loves to go the malls. She’s gonna go nuts helping you pick out clothes and things for your bedroom.”

Jane eyed Connie suspiciously for she’d never been allowed to have friends and the sparkling black eyes of the girl walking beside her promised things beyond her imagination. She had only just begun to find herself a little comfortable with Eric and this new person was talking about holidays and shopping for clothes.

Jane was relieved when the car pulled into the driveway of her new home and Eric ran to open the door. A boy, obviously Connie’s brother, stood next to Eric and had a friendly smile on his face.

“I bet you two girls are planning shopping with Mom,” the dark-haired boy said. “Hi, I’m Jorge. If Connie said anything bad about me, she was just teasing.”

“She didn’t say nothing about you,” Jane said.

“It’s a sad day when a boy can’t even trust his own sister to spread rumors,” Jorge replied. He was about to explain that he was just kidding when Benji started barking inside the fence to the back yard.

For those who understand the language of animals, dogs have a certain bark that means trouble which is nothing like a friendly greeting. Benji barked at the fence and then darted across the yard again barking loudly, crouched down on his front legs as if demanding, ‘Come here!’

Deet tried to stop Jane but she opened the gate and ran toward the puppy, following Eric and Jorge.

“Shit,” Jorge said, and quickly hoped none of the adults had heard him, when he looked at a small black kitten mewling loudly next to the body of its mother who had apparently dragged herself through a small hole at the bottom of the fence. The queen had been badly mauled and was obviously not going to survive.

“Poor baby,” Jane said as she approached the frightened kitten, “I won’t hurt you.”

Deet watched as Jane picked up the tiny thing and cuddled it in her hands. It started to struggle but the girl whispered to it gently and it finally relaxed.

“Can I keep it?” she asked, almost afraid to.

Remembering Dr. Tran’s words that Jane needed something to nurture, Deet agreed that she could keep the kitten and went inside to call Dr. Whitman.

“Put on a pair of heavy garden gloves and pick up the queen as gently as you can,” Dr. Whitman told him, “and put her in your dog carrier. I’ll be waiting for you at the back door of my office. She may be lost, Deet. I’ve seen several animals from your neighborhood in the last couple of days who show signs of being attacked. I think there might be a rogue Rotweiller from what I’ve been told. I’ve already called Animal Control. There was a serious outbreak of rabies in the wild coyote population south of here this summer and it might have spread. You need to bring Wolf in for his rabies booster. The new pup is okay because he’s had his immunization. I need to take a look at the kitten, so bring it with the mother but not in the carrier.”

Dr. Whitman met them at the back door of his small clinic. He explained, after one look, that the mother cat was too severely injured for him to save and it would be best for him to put her out of her pain. Jane stared blankly at the cat and held the kitten closer.

“She were a good momma,” Jane finally said, “getting in the way to save her baby from whatever hurt her so bad. Wish my momma loved me that much.”

The room was silent for a moment until Dr. Whitman spoke softly. “My nurse will need to see the kitten, child,” he said. “She won’t hurt it, but I need for her to weigh it and see if there any scratches or bites.”

Jane reluctantly handed the kitten to Janis Wilson while Dr. Whitman removed the dying mother to another room to euthanize her.

“Is this your kitten?” Janis asked kindly. “We’ll need a name to put on her record here.”

“Kitty doesn’t have a name yet,” Minerva answered. She had accompanied them to the veterinarian’s office and was the only one in the small examining room with Jane, the nurse, and the kitten. “We only found her a short while ago.”

“I see,” Janis replied, and continued her quick check of the small animal. “I don’t see any cuts or bites, but it’s very small and seems to be malnourished. I think it’s too young to be weaned so Doctor will probably give you some special milk.” She continued her work. “Kitty’s temperature is good and I don’t see any sign of intestinal parasites.” She made a few notations on a card that still needed the name of the animal and the owner. “I’ll go tell Doctor the patient is ready and he’ll be right with you.”

Dr. Whitman’s examination of the kitten was quick and professional. When he was finished he addressed Jane. “Well, young lady,” he said, ”your kitten is ready to go home. I gave her the first of her shots to make her healthy and I’ll have Janis set up appointments for you to bring her back. We keep some special milk for little orphans like her and I’ll give you a supply to take home. You’ll have to follow the directions very carefully. Don’t try to have her sleep in your bed because she’s too little. She needs a warm box with a fuzzy stuffed animal to sleep against.”

Janis returned with the carrier and the kitten was carefully put inside. That accomplished, Dr. Whitman led Jane from the examining room. “Who do I bill this to?” he asked Deet when everything had been totaled, including a brown fuzzy stuffed kitten Jane saw and thought would be good for the kitten’s box.

“Put it on my bill,” Deet said. “I guess I’ll just keep a running tab here from now on.”

“I thought it was the girl’s cat,” Dr. Whitman said.

“It is,” Deet replied. “Jane’s my foster daughter. Say, do we have to have a name for the kitten right now?”

“No,” Dr. Whitman answered, “we can leave it blank for the time being.”

Jane, who had been quietly whispering with Manuel and Jorge, timidly said, “I got a name for her. I want to call her Miracle, ‘cause she the miracle that’s gonna replace my dead baby.”

Deet and Manuel stared at each other, the pain in both their eyes obvious. Deet wanted to pick Jane up and hold her until he could feel her heartbeat but didn’t want to make any rash movement toward her. Minerva came to the rescue and took Jane in her arms. “Miracle’s just fine, honey,” she said. “It’s a pretty name for your kitten. Besides, it’s a miracle that kitty survived the attack that took her mother from her.”

.. . .

“This isn’t quite the welcome I had in mind,” Deet told Jane when they had returned to his home and he was preparing a bottle of formula for Miracle.

Only Minerva was present because Connie convinced Manuel that Rosa’s clothes would fit Jane and Manuel, Jorge, Connie, and Eric were going to pick up enough things to last Jane until Friday.

“It’s okay,” Jane replied quietly.

She was still overwhelmed by the size and beauty of the house she would be living in. She’d asked Deet to show her the bedroom Connie had suggested and instantly agreed that she liked it. They had found a box just kitten size and she was busy lining it with an old terry cloth towel while Deet measured some of the formula into the tiny baby bottle the veterinarian provided.

“How do I feed it?” Jane asked when Deet handed her the bottle.

“I … um, I don’t know,” he admitted and the sharp look Jane gave him made him laugh. “I’ve never fed a baby of any kind before,” he told her. “We’ll ask Miss Minnie when she comes downstairs.”

“You never fed Eric a bottle?” she asked with one eyebrow arched.

“No, Jane,” Deet confessed. “I never saw him before last week. His mothers raised him until recently.”

Jane’s dark eyes grew round and curious. “He had two mommas?” she asked in amazement. “At the same time? Was they, um, thespians?”

Deet almost dropped the tray he was carrying with three cups of hot cocoa. “The proper word is lesbian, Jane,” he said, “and the answer is yes.”

Jane’s forehead wrinkled and she gave him a suspicious look. “Eric’s for real your son?” she asked and Deet nodded his head in affirmation. “You mean one of them let you fu…” the look on Deet’s face told her immediately that there were some words she would not be allowed to use. “I mean, she let you do ‘it’ to her?”

“It’s complicated to explain,” he said. “It was a medical procedure and I didn’t have to touch her at all.”

“Wow,” Jane breathed quietly as she tried to introduce Miracle to the now prepared box, “thespians must know something nobody else does. Is that in a book somewhere? I gots to learn to read.”

Deet was beginning to blush a bit at the child’s questions about sexuality and was greatly relieved when Minerva joined them.

“I put clean sheets on your bed, dear,” she told Jane. “The others weren’t dirty but they’d been there a long time. And I opened the windows in your bedroom to let some fresh air in. You’ll have to see they’re closed before you go to bed because it’s supposed to get cold tonight. It’s starting to get late,” she said. “I’d better get on home. I invited my niece to spend tomorrow with me and she likes cherry pies so I have to bake one. In fact, I think I’ll bake two and bring one over here Friday.”

Jane rushed to give her a hug and Minerva whispered, “Don’t worry about anything, little one. You’re safer here than you would be anyplace else. Oh, and when you feed the kitten, make sure she’s on her stomach. Elevate her head with one hand.”

Deet accompanied Minerva to the door and told her to be careful driving home, thanking her for her calming presence during the day.

“Jane,” he said when he returned to the kitchen to finish his hot cocoa, “we need to talk about tomorrow. We’re going to the Fuentes home for dinner and there will be a lot of people there. Manuel and Consuela both have brothers and sisters who spend Thanksgiving with them every year. You’ll be around a lot of people you’ve never met. The only ones Eric’s met are Jorge and his sisters. If you think you’re going to be uncomfortable we can stay home instead.”

“Do we got to be there all day?” she asked, “ ‘cause Miracle has to have her bottle.”

“No, we’ll go for dinner and to visit a little while. I’d like you to meet Jorge’s mother and his other sisters. Manuel’s always been my best friend and they sort of became my family when my parents died. But it’s up to you.”

“I guess it’s okay,” she agreed. “Would you help me feed Miracle?”

Manuel dropped Jorge, Consuela, and Eric at the Graschel house with an entire suitcase of Rosa’s clothes for Jane to borrow for a few days. The three quietly went upstairs to unpack and put the clothing away in the closet and dresser when they spotted Deet and Jane on the couch.

Deet had fallen asleep with a book on his lap. Jane was leaning against him, her head resting on his chest as she slept, a small black kitten nestled in her arms.


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