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| Category: || General Fiction |
Posted:|| September 28, 2020 Views: 36|
Chapter 32 of the book Par Angusta Ad Augusta
Jefferson needs help now more than ever.
A law professor gets a family and a bookstore owner offers advice.
Previously in "Par Angusta Ad Augusta":
After his brother and sister-in-law are killed in a car accident overseas, NYU law professor Jefferson Thomas brings his young nieces and nephew to live with him in Manhattan. Meanwhile, local bookstore owner Monique Vasquez continues running her family's business while pursuing a relationship with Jefferson.
Jefferson was sitting on the couch in his den, his eyes red from sleep deprivation. He had managed to get Abigail back to bed and he wound up spending the rest of the night on the floor of the twins room, letting Taylor stay upstairs in his bed. He had still been unable to go to sleep and he just reverted back to the same thoughts he had had prior to Taylor coming up the night before.
Jefferson wasn't sure what to do next. He knew he had to get Abigail into therapy. True, she slept through the rest of the night and she seemed to be okay, but she was being quiet, which was unusual for her. Plus, more nightmares were sure to come. She needed professional help.
Anya hadn't gotten back from Connecticut yet. Jefferson had no idea how he'd explain to her what had happened.
Suddenly, there was a thud. Startled, Jefferson looked around. More sounds followed and he realized someone was knocking on the rear sliding glass door. Not knowing what to expect and bracing himself for an ambush, he moved towards the door.
"Hey," Monique snarled when he slid the door open.
Surprised, it took Jefferson a moment to organize his thoughts.
"Oh God," he said. "We were supposed to ... last night ..."
He'd remembered to cancel the baby-sitter, but he'd forgotten to cancel the actual date.
"Oh, so you do remember," Monique said angrily. "Tell me something ... do you still know how to answer phones? Because I called every number I have for you repetitively and never got an answer. I waited at that restaurant for two hours before I used my better judgment and gave up."
Jefferson was unable to come up with anything to say.
"Do you have any idea how embarrassing that was for me?" Monique asked. "I am sitting there at that table, dressed up for you, and everyone keeps looking at me, wondering what I'm doing there by myself, in a wheelchair no less. I thought you were better than the others, but you've obviously proven me wrong. Tell me something ... was it ever real? Did I ever matter?"
"Monique ..." Jefferson stammered. "I ... I do care about you. It's just ... I ..."
He turned and, on unsteady legs, walked back to the couch and sat down. Monique followed him. Having lashed out at him, she was able to focus again and She could now tell he was upset about something else than just missing their date. Her anger began to soften.
"Jefferson," She demanded. "What's going on? Talk to me."
He looked at her and she could see tears welling up in his eyes. He swallowed many times before he seemed to be able to speak again.
"Abigail ..." he said in a choked voice, "Abigail ... at the party ... some kid groped and cut her."
"What?!" Monique asked, her anger now completely replaced by immeasurable shock.
The confession seemed to have been the final straw for Jefferson, who broke down crying. Monique reached out and put her arms on his shoulders, looping her hands around his neck. She wanted so badly to ask, but she was now also having trouble finding the words.
"Was she ..." she began, "I mean, did he ..."
Catching her meaning, Jefferson shook his head.
"No, she's okay," he replied. "not that he didn't try."
"My God, Jefferson," Monique said. "What happened?"
She was sure it was painful for him, but they were far past the point of letting this go. She needed to know.
"It happened yesterday afternoon," Jefferson said. "At the block party."
He went on to recount the previous day's events. Monique listened quietly while looking into his eyes, noticing he probably hadn't been able to sleep since then.
"Where's Abigail?" she asked when he was finished.
"Upstairs," Jefferson replied. "She's been up there all morning."
"How's she sleeping?"
Jefferson told her about Abigail's nightmare.
"Is she eating?" Monique asked, not knowing what else to say.
"She had some cereal this morning," Jefferson replied. "God ... yesterday she was such a happy kid, greeting everyone. Today, she's barely speaking ... all because of what that animal tried to do to her."
He clenched his fists.
"Jefferson, don't," Monique said, noticing this. "You have to be the clear-headed one in this. Abigail's confused and scared. You have to show her everything's gonna be okay. You have to show her she has you."
"How am I supposed to do that?" Jefferson asked. "Gloria Lawson is going to be all over this. I'll be lucky if Abigail or any of them are even allowed to live here anymore."
"You can't think that way. It's gonna be okay. I'm going to help you guys get through this. It'll be okay."
"I don't wanna lose them," Jefferson whimpered.
Monique moved one hand back to her chair and undid the straps holding her shoulders up against the seat. Her upper torso now free, she pulled Jefferson close to her, using him as a prop to hold herself up at the same time. She wrapped her arms around him and held him there, comforting him as he cried.
"You have to pull yourself together," she told him when he had calmed down a bit. "There is a little girl upstairs who needs you to be her rock. I know you and I know you can do that for her."
"I wanna make it right," Jefferson said.
"You can't. You can't do that. You can only help her recover and move on. They're all gonna need you now more than ever."
Jefferson took a few deep breaths. He looked at Monique and she knew she'd officially adopted the role of being his rock in this.
"Listen to me," she said. "You're not gonna do anything just yet. You're gonna use today to calm down and just keep everyone else calm. Then, tomorrow, you start with the next step. I'll be here for you ... I promise."
She planted a soft kiss on his forehead.
"Thank you," Jefferson said, leaning his head against her shoulder.
"Don't worry," Monique told him.
Jefferson managed a weak chuckle.
"You missed out on being a shrink," he remarked. "You study this or something?"
"Only as a minor at Syracuse," Monique replied.
They shared a laugh.
"I've gotta hit the head," Jefferson said.
"Sure," Monique said, using her arms to push herself up against her wheelchair again. "Go ahead. I'll hold down things out here."
Thankfully, there wasn't anything to really "hold down" right then.
Jefferson got up and left the room as Monique managed to strap herself back into her wheelchair while propping herself up with one arm. As she was finishing up, she saw Abigail coming down the stairs.
"Hey kiddo," she said. "Hi."
Abigail was startled, having clearly not expected to find Monique in the den. She came over, taking slow, deliberate steps.
"Where's Uncle Jeff?" she asked, stopping a couple feet from the wheelchair.
"He went to the bathroom," Monique assured her. "He'll be right back. Do you need something?"
Abigail shook her head. Monique noticed the cautious stare she was giving her and realized she didn't fully trust her either. She felt a surge of anger at this. She then noticed the hospital bracelet Abigail was wearing. She figured Jefferson had forgotten to cut it off, or maybe he hadn't dared to try.
"You want me to help you get that off?" Monique asked, gesturing at the bracelet.
Abigail looked at it and then back at Monique, making no other movement.
"Come on," Monique said. "I'll help you."
Abigail hesitated before following Monique into the kitchen. Monique checked through a few drawers before finding a pair of scissors.
"Hold out your wrist," she prompted.
Abigail definitely seemed to be battling with her inner demons about this idea. Monique set the scissors on the counter and waited, saying nothing.
Finally, Abigail slowly raised her wrist with the bracelet on it. Monique carefully retrieved the scissors and encircled the plastic bracelet with the blades.
"Hold still," she said.
Abigail nonetheless flinched as the bracelet was cut, even though she wasn't touched. She seemed to realize this a second later as Monique was throwing the bracelet in the trash.
"Thanks," she said quietly.
"Sure thing," Monique replied as she put the scissors away.
She moved closer to Abigail, who didn't move at all, reached out, and lightly grazed the girl's hair with her fingertips. Abigail seemed to be about to move away, but she stood still, looking up at Monique.
"I miss my mom and dad," she said in a soft voice.
"I know," Monique said.
She took a deep breath.
"My dad died when I was young," she said. "I wasn't much older than you."
She was seventeen when the heart attack struck, but she wasn't about to bring numbers into this.
Abigail stared at Monique, seeming to process this revelation.
"Do you miss him?" she asked.
"Yeah," Monique said. "He taught me so much about running a bookstore. I miss him every day."
She remembered coming home from school one day and being told by her grandmother that her father went to the grocery store and collapsed in the dairy aisle. He was dead before the paramedics arrived.
Monique imagined this little girl and her siblings being home with a babysitter and suddenly learning their parents weren't coming home from dinner as planned. Tears welled up in her eyes.
Without thinking, Monique draped her arm around Abigail's shoulders. The girl flinched again but then allowed herself to be pulled closer to the wheelchair.
* * *
Jefferson came back from the bathroom to find Monique and Abigail in the den. The three of them decided to play UNO and when Matthew and Taylor came down a bit later, they joined in as well.
Abigail didn't talk much during the game, but she was nevertheless actively participating. Monique watched Jefferson as he kept an eye on her, in the process not keeping an eye on how she was holding her cards. This resulted in her losing her grip and dropping them on the floor, something which amused all three kids.
"You find that funny, huh?" Monique asked with a slight smile as Jefferson went to retrieve her cards. "Take a more careful look at those cards. I would have had you all beat."
She was pleased to see Abigail smile at this.
* * *
The doorbell rang. Jefferson got up to answer it. Monique, who had been looking at a drawing of horses that Taylor had made, glanced his way before returning her attention to the drawing. Abigail was reading on the couch while Matthew was playing with his blocks.
Monique became alarmed when she heard the doorbell again, where it was then rung repetitively, similar to how she'd knocked on the sliding door earlier. She wondered who else needed to talk to Jefferson so urgently.
The ringing stopped when Jefferson greeted whoever was at the door. Things became anything but pleasant when the woman began yelling. Monique looked at the three kids.
"Why don't you guys go up to your rooms for a little while," she suggested as calmly as she could.
"Who's that?" Taylor asked, having obviously heard the yelling. Abigail and Matthew also looked up.
"I don't know," Monique replied. "Just go upstairs and your uncle will take care of it ... please."
"But my castle," Matthew said, pointing at the structure he had been building. "I don't want it to get wrecked."
"We'll make sure it won't get wrecked," Monique promised, becoming anxious as whoever was at the door kept yelling. "Just go on upstairs."
The three kids abandoned their activities and headed up the steps. Thankfully, they were out of sight just as Gloria Lawson pushed her way in. She scowled at Monique.
"Where are they?" she demanded, turning on Jefferson, who had followed her in. "I want to see them."
"They're upstairs ..." Monique began as calmly as she could.
"I want to see them," Gloria Lawson demanded. "I don't know what kind of freak show you're running here, but I am putting a stop to it now."
She paused to catch her breath, but she definitely was not finished.
"First, I hear that you let one of the girls become a victim of sexual abuse," She continued. "And now you and your girlfriend are stonewalling me."
"We're not trying to stonewall you," Jefferson said while Monique decided to keep quiet. "Just calm down. I don't wanna worry them. They've been through enough already."
"Yeah. Ever since they came here, there have been problems. Well, I am putting a stop to it now. I should have said something from the start. What was I thinking? No blind person can handle kids, especially if he's got a paralyzed squeeze to deal with on the side."
Jefferson said nothing, clearly unsure of what to say.
"Get them down here now!" Gloria Lawson demanded. "I'm taking them with me now!"
Monique could see Jefferson's worst nightmare becoming a reality. He was speechless. Gloria Lawson was too busy mumbling angrily to notice this. She walked across the room, kicking Matthew's half-finished castle and sending the blocks flying off in all directions.
"Bring them down now or I'm calling the police," she said to Jefferson, who hadn't moved yet. "I'll have you arrested for obstruction and reckless endangerment, and I'll have them take your girlfriend here as well ..."
"Now wait just a minute," Monique said, unable to stay silent any longer. "Lady, you are out of control. Think about what you're doing and what this would do to those kids."
"Who are you to tell me anything?" Gloria Lawson asked. "I didn't ask for your opinion and I certainly don't want it."
"I'm someone who has watched this family grow closer almost from the beginning. And you know what I've seen? I've seen a guy stepping up to take on the responsibility of three kids who have suffered a loss no child should ever have to experience. He has worked hard to make them as comfortable and as happy and well-adjusted as he could. And on top of that, he's got one heck of a support system from his friends and family ... one that you folks should use as a model for others to live up to."
"I doubt that. I'm now here because a little girl was nearly raped."
"The only one you can blame for that is a disgusting snot-nosed punk who will hopefully never see the light of day again. And if you're going to use this against Jefferson, know that I will not sit back quietly while you try to rip his family apart."
"Oh really?" Gloria Lawson asked. "And what are you gonna do?"
"I'll call your bosses and tell them about your perceived notion that blind people aren't fit to raise children, which you've had fixed into your brain from the beginning," Monique replied. "And then I will call everyone I know who can back me up. I'll have them call your bosses. Just think about it ... your colleagues ... other children ... their parents ... all of them calling in about you. That's probably not the best thing."
She was tempted to add, "I've got a bookstore's worth of customers and I'm not afraid to use them" but decided to forgo this clichÃ©. Besides, she could tell this was having an effect on Gloria Lawson. The woman had taken a step back and seemed to be considering whether or not to take the threat seriously. Monique looked at her with a confident smirk.
"Jefferson loves those kids," she said. "He'd do anything for them. The only reason he's not saying something is because he's too stunned from you threatening to take them away from him. That's his worst nightmare right there."
Gloria Lawson looked at Monique and then at Jefferson, studying each of them for a couple seconds. She turned around and left without another word. Jefferson seemed to regain control of himself and silently went to lock the front door. Coming back, he went over to Monique, and hugged and kissed her.
"You are amazing," he said.
"Thanks," Monique said, smiling. "I thought you needed some backup."
They kissed and held each other for a few minutes before finally breaking apart.
"I wonder if you've seen the last of her though," Monique pondered. She could tell from the expression on Jefferson's face that he didn't want to think about that right now. The last twenty-four hours had taken their toll on him.
"Tell me something," he said. "Were you serious about what you said earlier?"
"Of course," Monique said. "I'd do it in a heartbeat. I've got a bookstore's worth of customers and I'm not afraid to use them."
"When you run a bookstore and have a love for the kids who come in, you get to know a few foster kids along the way. Sometimes you wind up meeting their case workers. You build relationships that way. I think you lawyers call it 'networking'."
"Wow. You really are amazing."
"I know," she said. "It's nice to hear though."
"Hey Uncle Jeff!" Taylor called from upstairs. "Is it okay to come down?!"
"Yeah, sure!" Jefferson said. "Come on down!"
All three kids were soon back in the den. They stood in a huddle, looking at Monique and Jefferson. They all wore apprehensive expressions on their faces.
"Why was Miss Lawson yelling?" Abigail asked.
"Don't worry about that," Jefferson replied. "It's taken care of."
"She said she wanted to take us with her," Taylor said but seemed unsure of how to continue with that thought.
"Don't worry about it. It's taken care of. You guys aren't going anywhere."
All three kids looked relieved. Matthew's eyes then fell on his destroyed castle.
"It's ruined!" he wailed. "It's ruined! You promised and it's still ruined!"
He looked directly at Monique.
"I'm sorry," Monique said. "I couldn't stop her ..."
Her voice trailed off. She wasn't sure if it was right to paint Gloria Lawson as the bad guy in the kids' eyes. As mixed up as her beliefs were, she was still just trying to do her job and keep them safe.
"Come on Champ," Jefferson said. "I'll help you fix it."
"It has to be just like it was before," Matthew insisted. "It has to be just right."
"We'll figure it out. Don't worry."
* * *
Anya came home from Connecticut about an hour later. While Monique entertained the kids out in the backyard, Jefferson sat her down and told her everything, from the party right up to Gloria Lawson's visit. Anya was silent, shocked by the whole thing.
"Are you all right?" she finally asked.
"I'm working on it," Jefferson replied.
"And Abigail?" Anya asked, seeing the girl through the sliding glass door. "Is she all right?"
"We're working on it," Jefferson replied.
"I am here for you," Anya said as though this needed to be made absolutely clear. "I am here for all of you."
She got up and headed out to the backyard. A minute or so later, Monique came back into the house to find Jefferson sitting on the couch with his head in his hands.
|The book continues with Chapter 33. We will provide a link to it when you review this below.|
I have rearranged this story a bit. It is now thirty-eight chapters (instead of the original forty-two.)
Cast of characters:
Jefferson Thomas: a blind NYU law professor.
Presley: Jefferson's guide dog.
Monique Vasquez: a bookstore owner in Manhattan
Abigail and Taylor Thomas: seven-year-old twin daughters of Stanley and Margaret Thomas. Nieces of Jefferson Thomas.
Matthew: four-year-old son of Stanley and Margaret Thomas. Nephew of Jefferson Thomas.
Anya Motkova: Jefferson's new live-in nanny.
Stanley "Stan" Thomas: Jefferson's brother. Killed in a car accident in Berlin.
Margaret "Maggie" Thomas: Stan's wife. Killed in a car accident in Berlin.
Gloria Lawson: a NYC social worker assigned to determine if Jefferson is s
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