Chapter Six

“Are you sure it’s okay?” Eric whispered to Deet on Tuesday morning as they stood outside Jane Doe’s hospital room.

“It’s fine, son,” Deet replied. “Judge Solari told me she wants Jane to meet you. Just remember that Jane’s not her real name. It’s up to her if she wants to tell you her name or not.”

Eric took a deep breath when Deet pushed the door open. He was really proud that the judge trusted his dad enough to give this stranger a chance to live with them. He knew instinctively that he shouldn’t ask the girl any questions about what had happened to her, and he certainly hoped she didn’t ask him anything. He wasn’t ready to talk about what had happened, not even with his dad.

“Hi, I’m Eric,” he said as he slowly entered the room.

“Hi,” Jane answered. “My name’s Philadelphia, but don’t you dare call me that. You can just call me Jane until maybe your dad ‘dopts me.”

Eric relaxed and quickly crossed to stand by her bed. “That’s okay,” he whispered. “His real name is Dieter and he won’t let anybody call him that either.”

Philadelphia, who was beginning to become non-existent, peered around Eric at Deet. “I gots to put Philadelphia behind me,” she said quietly. “That child had a lot of sadness. She made a baby, but it died. Poor baby never had no chance.”

Eric wasn’t sure what to say because he’d never known a girl who had a baby before. “Maybe it’s in heaven with God,” he offered.

“I don’t know much about God,” she replied. “He never done much for Philadelphia.”

Uncomfortable, and finding himself closer than he wanted to his own experience, Eric changed the subject. “We have a new puppy,” he said. “It doesn’t have a name yet.”

“Mr. Graschel? I’m Doctor Tran,” a man said quietly to Deet while the children slowly gauged each other. “May I speak with you for a few moments?”

“Certainly,” Deet replied and the two stepped into the hall.

Dr. Tran Van Nam was a small man, the son of South Vietnamese refugees who had settled in San Antonio. “I’m the hospital child psychiatrist. I understand you’re going to have custody of Jane and will be placing her in counseling. Judge Solari requested that I give you the names of several of my colleagues for you to select from. I’m very concerned about Jane. She’s going through a period of denial and disassociation. It’s the only way she can cope with her physical and emotional trauma, and quite normal. But she’s going to have to accept what’s happened to her if she’s to experience any emotional growth at all. I’d like to suggest family counseling as well. One of the greatest reasons emotionally disturbed children fail is that the adults they need the most have no concept of how to help them.”

“What is your assessment of Jane?” Deet asked.

“She has no self-esteem at all. She puts up a brave front of being a tough little girl, but she’s terrified inside. She’s twelve trying to act sixteen when she’s feeling like she’s six years old. Her baby was premature and had multiple health problems. While she barely has any concept of the fact that she was a mother, she knows that she lost something that was part of her. Girls today go into puberty at an early age and her hormones told her brain that she’s supposed to be nurturing right now. I suggest you provide her with a pet to care for. Also, she’s had very little formal education. She’ll perform very poorly on any intelligence test because she was kept out of school. That doesn’t mean she’s not a bright child, because she is. Again, and this is only a suggestion, she needs a private tutor willing to begin at a first grade level with her.”

“Dr. Tran,” Deet interrupted, “do you take on private patients?”

“My time is limited, Mr. Graschel, because of my duties at the hospital.”

“How many hours a week do you think would be needed to work with a family?”

“At least three times a week,” the psychiatrist replied.

“Would you be willing to accept us as patients?” Deet asked. “I can sense your compassion for Jane. And I need someone who cares as deeply as you do. You see, Eric was sexually abused before he came to live with me and has already had one horrible nightmare that he doesn’t remember.”

Dr. Tran looked up at the tall man who stood beside him, stricken by the pleading look in the blue eyes. “Very well,” he agreed, “I will accept your family as private patients.”

.. . .

“Daddy!” Eric exclaimed as Eric entered the hospital room after his conversation with Dr Tran, “we picked a name for puppy!”

“You had better luck than I did then,” Deet said as he smiled at the children. “I have to give him a long fancy name for his kennel registration papers. What are you going to call him?”

“Benji,” Eric and Jane said simultaneously.

“Hmm,” Deet murmured. “Benji sounds good to me. Benji of Willis-Helotes, High Potentate of Beloved Children.”

“Huh?” Eric asked. “What kind of name is that?”

“He has a pedigree, Eric. That’s like a long list of family names registered with the American Kennel Society. It means he’s somebody in the dog world.”

“Do he know that?” Jane asked, completely confused at the idea of a dog being anybody at all.

“I don’t think so,” Deet replied.

“Seems useless,” Jane said, beginning to think of herself more as Jane than Philadelphia.

Deet laughed. “You’re right. He’s just a little thing who likes to chew on my slippers. Benji it is then, and the AKC be damned.”

“UM! What you said!” Eric immediately said and Deet looked puzzled. “You told Jorge we couldn’t say bad words and you just said one.”

Deet began to laugh again. “Guilty as charged,” he admitted. “Do I get a warning or do I have to pay for that mistake?”

The children whispered together for a minute and Eric finally said, “You get off with a warning this time.”

Deet felt a bit left out for the rest of their visit. Eric did most of the talking, telling Jane about the Fuentes family. He found he respected the tough exterior Jane was trying to project while at the same time his heart broke that this little girl had been so horribly abused. It had infuriated him when he learned that his son had been beaten and raped by a family member. He couldn’t even begin to describe his feelings for the woman who had prostituted her daughter, and cringed when he thought of the number of men who had used this innocent child.

He would leave the legal maneuverings to Herbert and Manuel, but was already considering his plan of action to see that he would be allowed to adopt Jane. She could have a lock on the inside of her bedroom door as he had promised, until she felt comfortable enough to realize that he and Eric would be her protectors, not her tormentors. He had a housekeeper, an elderly lady named Minerva, who came in once a week but only because she was his parents’ retired housekeeper and didn’t believe a single male was capable of mopping a floor. He planned to ask her if she could recommend a full time, live-in housekeeper who would be able to relate well to Eric and Jane. Consuela Fuentes had already agreed to provide him a list of possible tutors for Eric and now Jane would be included. Dr. Tran’s secretary was to call him and set up appointments for the children individually, and all of them as a family.

Deet was accustomed to thinking methodically after his many years working for the Texas DHS. He could call fine, intricate points of policy from the depths of his mind three years after leaving the agency. Years of being pressed by the demands of the state legislature to do excellent work, acceptable by the Federal watchdog, the United States Department of Agriculture, with increasing cuts in budgeting and staffing, had taught him to make mental lists. Each thing on the list was prioritized and checked off when it had been accomplished. As far as he could tell, the only thing left now was to bring Jane home.

When he went back to court in six months he planned to have all of Jane’s school work and comments from her tutor in one neat vanilla folder. He wanted to ask Manuel if buying a camera to take pictures of the children as they grew would be a good idea, bearing in mind that a gay male is always branded a pedophile by bigots and homophobes.

.. . .

“I think Jane should be released Wednesday,” Dr. Tran remarked to Judge Solari that evening when they met for drinks. Their friendship was an old one, for his role and hers in the lives of children often passed through her court.

She nodded her head. “I was hoping you would say that,” she replied. “I think Jane needs to be in a stable situation as soon as possible. But I have two concerns. First,” she said as she held up one manicured finger, “is that Eric has only been with his father a few days. Second,” and another finger joined the first one, “Thursday is Thanksgiving. Is it wise to release Jane to Mr. Graschel the day before a family holiday?”

“The greatest tragedy,” Dr. Tran said, “is that Jane has no concept of Thanksgiving. I asked her if she would prefer to be in the hospital or with her guardian for the holiday and she told me she only knew about it from television and thought it was just something made-up.”

Angelina Solari buried her face in her hands and choked back sobs. Slowly wiping away her tears she finally said, “Our jobs never get any easier, do they?”

“No, they don’t,” he replied, “but sometimes we make a difference in their lives. He didn’t even look at the list of family therapists I had, you know.”

She raised her head and looked at her old friend. “He didn’t?”

“No, he asked me if I would take them as private patients.”

“Did you agree?” she asked.

“Of course, I did,” he replied.

The judge smiled an evil smile and said, “And I suppose it should take years of therapy? You should get to know each other pretty well.”

“You’re a bitch,” he answered. “You know I can’t become involved with someone I’m seeing on a professional basis.”

“Get the children started on the road to recovery; use your professional knowledge to get that hunky German to let go of that rod he’s got stuck up his backside, and I’ll order a change of therapists by this time next year if your professional opinion is that the children won’t be harmed. That is, if you think you’d like to pursue Mr. Dieter Graschel at that point.”

He sighed. “For years I have treated you to glasses of expensive wine and season tickets to off-Broadway shows at the Majestic Theatre. Now my plan begins to pay off.”

“Now who’s the bitch?” she asked. “And I thought you did it because you love me.”

“I do,” he answered. “I always have, and always will. But you have a husband and two children waiting for you at home and Tom will pulverize me if I keep you out too late. Go home and embrace your children. I have to get back to the hospital. Little Jane Doe isn’t the only child on the pediatric ward who’s suffered abuse. I have to prepare reports for you to go over in court tomorrow.”


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