General Fiction posted September 30, 2020 Chapters:  ...33 34 -35- 36... 

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It's time for the custody hearing.

A chapter in the book Par Angusta Ad Augusta

Chapter 35

by teols2016

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.

"Abigail!" Beth called up the stairs. "Abigail, sweetie! Come on down!"

Abigail came downstairs, wearing a green and white dress. Beth began to fuss with her hair, which had been washed and brushed earlier, causing the girl to complain loudly.

"You have to look nice," Beth told her. "It's an important day,"

This didn't seem to convince Abigail, who was now trying to escape.

"You know," William remarked, "lawyers have to always dress nicely when they go to court. Your uncle does the few times he actually goes."

"I'm never becoming a lawyer!" Abigail shrieked and Anya couldn't resist laughing.

Beth eventually let her go and she went over to her grandfather, who surely wouldn't dare touch her hair.

Taylor came down soon after, wearing a similar blue-and-white dress. Though she complained, she didn't make as big a fuss when Beth put the finishing touches on her hair.

Matthew was the easiest. He wore a child's size suit, complete with a clip-on tie. His hair was combed and Beth quickly found there was no more she could do to it.

Eric and Amy soon arrived. The kids were loaded into their minivan with Amy and Beth while Jefferson, Presley, Eric, Anya, and William drove to the courthouse in William's rented sedan.

* * *

Monique steered her wheelchair down the corridor. Following the directions a court officer stationed by the metal detector gave her, she found the elevators. One arrived upon being summoned and she entered it. As she was selecting the sixth floor, she heard someone call out.

"Hold that elevator, please!" the man was saying.

Monique did so and Jason Green soon slid in next to her.

"Miss Vasquez," he said, recognizing who he was with. "How are you? How's the book business?"

"It's good," Monique replied as the doors slid shut and the elevator began its ascent.

"And now you're here to support Jefferson and the kids. Very good. It's always nice to have someone in your corner when you do this sort of thing."

Monique nodded.

"What are the chances that Jefferson will get the kids permanently?" she asked.

"I'd say it's about 50-50 right now," Jason Green replied after thinking it over for a moment. "I mean, there's a good case, but any little thing could cause a judge to go the other way."

Monique nodded and swallowed a lump in her throat as the elevator doors opened on the sixth floor. What did "the other way" mean?.

"Here we go," Jason Green said, leading the way.

"Here we go, Monique agreed.

* * *

While Jefferson, Presley, and Eric sat at the petitioner's table, Abigail, Taylor, Matthew, William, Beth, Anya, and Amy took up the first row of the courtroom's gallery. Several more people who had come to show their support sat in the rows directly behind them. A lawyer for Children's Protective Services sat at the other table. Eric said he knew her and didn't expect trouble.

"She just has to be here," he whispered to his friend and client.

Monique pulled her chair up along the far side of the gallery where she wouldn't be in the way. Because of traffic, she had barely made it on time and had not had a chance to wish Jefferson luck. And of course she felt a bit unnerved by what Jason Green had said in the elevator. The man was nice but he had been brutally honest. Monique kind of wished he hadn't been.

At 9:00, the bailiff called for everyone to rise for the Honorable Judge Maurice Battles. The judge strode in, followed by his clerk, and took his seat at the bench.

"Be seated," he instructed.

He waited another minute for the clerk to get set up and then asked her to call the case, which she promptly did.

"This hearing is to determine if the minors Abigail Thomas, Taylor Thomas, and Matthew Thomas are to remain in the sole, permanent custody of their uncle, Jefferson Thomas," Judge Battles said. He took a moment to sort out some papers in front of him. "Are the parties ready to begin?"

Eric and the attorney from Children's Protective Services affirmed they were.

"Are the minors here today?" Judge Battles asked.

"Yes, Your Honor," Eric said, pointing out the twins and Matthew for the judge's benefit.

Judge Battles nodded.

"I will say that I have received many letters of support for Mr. Thomas," he said. "I have also reviewed all other documentation regarding the minors, including a report by Jason Green of Children's Protective Services. Is Mr. Green present today?"

"Yes," the attorney from Children's Protective Services said, pointing out the social worker.

"Mr. Green, please step forward and give your final recommendation to this court."

Jason Green rose and stepped through the gate separating the gallery from the tables and the judge's bench. He gave Jefferson and Eric a quick glance before turning his attention to Judge Battles.

"Your Honor," he said, speaking slightly more slowly than usual. "You've read my report. I haven't left anything out. In the short time that I've known Jefferson Thomas and his nieces and nephew, I have seen a family being formed out of a tragedy. Jefferson shows genuine love and affection for these kids, who reciprocate. True, there have been bumps in the road, but this man has a support system that I have rarely come across before in my eleven years of doing this job. As you have seen for yourself through the letters you have read, not only has Jefferson Thomas stepped up to a responsibility that he had committed to years ago, but others have come to his aide in order for him to be successful at it. Friends, family, colleagues, and students ... they are all behind Jefferson on this. In my opinion, this is a model that the rest of us should live up to. Jefferson Thomas is a smart man, and he knows to ask for help when he needs it. Therefore it is my recommendation that Abigail, Matthew, and Taylor stay right
where they are, as stated in my report."

He stood there, waiting silently.

"Thank you, Mr. Green," Judge Battles said. "You may sit down."

Jason Green did so and Judge Battles looked at Jefferson and Eric.

"Does the petitioner have anything else before I give my ruling?" he asked.

"Your Honor," Eric said. "My client would like to make a statement."

"Very well. The floor is yours, Mr. Thomas,"

Jefferson rose. Despite having not made many court appearances, he knew where the bench was. Some things were consistent, no matter which courtroom served as the venue.

"Three years ago, my brother and his wife were working on updating their will," Jefferson said. "They asked me to sign the agreement that stated that I would be the guardian of their three kids if anything ever happened to them. I agreed and I admit that at the time, I never believed it would ever be necessary. How many times do you actually know such a thing will happen? Then, five months ago, I got a phone call. My brother and sister-in-law were killed in a car accident and it was time for me to stick to my commitment. Knowing how serious this was, I didn't give it a second thought and brought the kids here to live with me. And over the past few months, I got to know them ... and honestly, I now could not imagine my life without them. Your Honor, I made a promise to my brother and my sister ... please let me keep it."

He sat down again.

The courtroom was quiet except for the occasional whisper as Judge Battles made some notes. Matthew began fidgeting in his seat and Beth settled him down. Abigail whispered something to Taylor, who giggled, but neither of them seemed to be inclined to share their funny secret.

"I'm prepared to make my ruling," Judge Battles said.

Everyone's attention immediately turned back to him.

"Mr. Thomas," the judge said, "it is abundantly clear to me that you love your nieces and nephew. However, such a love is not enough to persuade me to grant you custody."

Jefferson was about to react when Eric grabbed his arm and squeezed it, signaling him to wait.

"Such a responsibility requires more," Judge Battles continued. "It requires humility and a willingness to ask for and accept assistance from those around you who might know better. It requires you to understand and accept that mistakes will happen. It requires you to not dwell on these mistakes but rather to learn from them and use this knowledge to your benefit in the future as you move ahead."

Monique thought Jefferson already knew all this. What was this judge getting at?

"The life of a child is something that must be handled with care," Judge Battles said. "My job is to make sure that each of my decisions is in the best interest of the child ... not their parent and not their guardian."

Eric wished he would get to the point.

"Therefore, Judge Battles said, "it is my decision that you meet the criteria and I hereby award full permanent custody of Abigail Thomas, Taylor Thomas, and Matthew Thomas to their uncle, Jefferson Thomas."

A murmur erupted through the courtroom. Jefferson, whose heart had been racing all morning, now felt like it had stopped. Eric was grinning. From his seat in the gallery, Jason Green was smiling. Monique could feel tears coming on. Amy and Beth were both crying.

"Order!" Judge Battles called, banging his gavel. "Order! Order!"

The noise slowly died down again.

"I would like to add a personal note for the record," Judge Battles said. "I have to agree with what Mr. Green said. The system of support that has surrounded Jefferson Thomas over the past few months is indeed a model for the rest of us to look up to and to implement in our own lives. It is my hope that this system does not falter as the children continue to grow."

He looked at Jefferson.

"Mr. Thomas," he said. "Please be aware that your two-year probation period does continue. A social worker will continue to monitor your home during this time and will submit periodic reports to me. I still hold the authorization to revoke custody."

"I understand, Your Honor," Jefferson said.

In the gallery, Jason Green nodded.

"Very well," Judge Battles said. "We'll have a five-minute recess before the next matter."

He banged his gavel again.

Everyone began rising from their seats. Jefferson, Presley, and Eric made their way into the gallery and met up with Anya, William, Beth, Amy, Taylor, Matthew, and Abigail. All three kids looked at Jefferson.

"Does this mean we still get to live with you?" Taylor asked.

"That's right," Jefferson said. "You guys aren't going anywhere."

"Yea!" the kids cheered.

Jefferson smiled.

"Congratulations," Anya said.

* * *

Monique took out a tissue and wiped her moist eyes. A sense of relief was washing over her. Jefferson now had full custody of the kids. True, Children's Services was still going to be watching him, but she felt there was nothing to worry about now. Jason Green seemed honest and trustworthy.

She considered going over to Jefferson to congratulate him. But he was surrounded by a lot of other people, including Jason Green, who spoke to him briefly before leaving the courtroom. Monique decided to just go home. She could call Jefferson later.

She turned around and headed for the exit. But then, someone called her name, stopping her. She turned to see Jefferson working to make his way over, having extracted himself from the crowd of family and friends who wanted to congratulate him. Eric was saying something as he got closer to Monique.

"Hey," Jefferson said, reaching her. "Sorry we didn't speak earlier."

"That's okay," Monique assured him. "I barely made it in time. Traffic was a nightmare."

She reached out and manage to grab hold of Jefferson's hand. She clasped it in both her own.

"Congratulations," she said. "You did it."

"Thanks," Jefferson said, beaming. The judge's ruling still seemed to be sinking in and he was silent for a moment.

"Hey," he said, "we're all going out for lunch to celebrate. You should come with us."

"Okay," Monique said. "Sure."

"And you'll finally get to meet my parents," Jefferson added as they went to rejoin the others. "You won't be able to bug me about that anymore."

Monique laughed and beamed.

* * *

The doorbell rang.

"I'll get it!" Abigail announced as she ran towards the foyer.

Jefferson wasn't far behind her and Anya came downstairs to see what was going on.

The visitors turned out to be Cassandra Kingman, her husband, Darren, and their daughter, Tiffany, who were coming by for lunch. Remembering her, Abigail, Taylor, and Matthew greeted Cassandra enthusiastically.

"Hey you guys," Cassandra said. "How are you doing? I've missed you."

All three kids answered at once, each trying to narrate their own exciting adventures in New York.

"Hey guys," Jefferson said. "Easy, easy. Let her breathe."

The kids quieted down and scattered, seemingly off to find something they wanted to show the guests. Cassandra turned to Jefferson.

"So," she said. "You've had full custody for a week now. Congratulations."

"Thanks," Jefferson said and introduced the Kingmans to Anya.

"Sorry we couldn't be there for the hearing. I just couldn't get off work in time."

Jefferson nodded.

"And I hear you have a new lady in your life," Cassandra said. "How is she?"

"She's great," Jefferson said, wondering how she knew that. "I'm pretty lucky."

"That's good. I'm glad."

Jefferson nodded, thanked her, and turned to Darren.

"I believe I owe you a beer," he said.

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.

Eric Nelson: Jefferson's colleague and best friend

Amy Nelson: Eric's wife and Jefferson's friend

Beth and William Thomas: Jefferson and Stanley's parents. Abigail, Taylor, and Matthew's grandparents.

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.

Jason Green: a NYC social worker assigned to determine if Jefferson is suitible to have permanant custody of his nieces and nephew. Gets the case after the previous social worker, Gloria Lawson, asked to be reassigned.

Feedback is always welcome. Enjoy.
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