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. As they figure out their new living situation, they meet Monique, a local bookstore owner who takes an interest in them.
"Hey Uncle Jeff," Abigail said as the group walked towards their house. "Who's that at the door?"
"I don't know," Jefferson said, confused. As they got closer to the house, he called out to whomever was there.
"Can I help you?" he queried.
"Yes," a woman replied when they reached her at the front door. "I'm looking for Mr. Jefferson Thomas. Do you know if he's home?"
"I'm Jefferson Thomas."
The woman's silence clearly meant she was taken aback by something, and he didn't think he'd have to work hard to determine what that was.
"Yes," the woman said, the rustling of papers suggesting she was checking something. "they mentioned something about your condition ..."
Her voice trailed off as she kept rustling.
"I don't mean to be rude," Jefferson said, "but who are you?"
"Gloria Lawson," the woman said in a brisk, business-like tone. "Children's Protective Services."
"Oh, you're the social worker," Jefferson said, remembering Eric saying he could expect a surprise visit within a few days of filing the custody papers.
"Yes. are you going to invite me inside or should we stand out here all day?"
"Oh, right. I'm sorry. Just a second."
Jefferson dug out his keys and unlocked the front door.
"Come in," he invited as the kids already hurried inside the foyer. He immediately heard them tossing aside their shoes.
"Hey!" he called after them. "You guys know you're supposed to put those by the coat rack. I don't want to trip over them. And don't go anywhere just yet. I want you to meet this lady."
When their shoes were by the coat rack, Abigail, Taylor, and Matthew were introduced to Gloria Lawson, who greeted them quite warmly.
"I'm here to make sure you guys are safe and happy living with your uncle," she explained.
"We're happy," Abigail said. It was the first time Jefferson ever heard her sound suspicious.
"I'm sure you are," Gloria Lawson said. "But you children went through a lot these last few days. I just want to make sure you stay happy."
Abigail seemed stumped by this statement.
"How about you guys go and play while Miss Lawson and I talk," Jefferson suggested.
The kids seemed to like this idea and hurried off.
"As you can see," Jefferson said more seriously to Gloria Lawson, "they're pretty happy."
"I still have some questions," Gloria Lawson said.
"Then let's sit down," Jefferson said, leading her into the kitchen.
They sat at the table and Gloria Lawson took a moment to organize some papers.
"Have there been any serious incidents of any kind since you took custody of the children?" she asked, getting right to the point. "Anything at all come to mind?"
"One," Jefferson said and, without hesitation, recounted how Taylor disappeared on the flight from Germany. Gloria Lawson took notes the whole time he spoke, her pen scraping across her pad.
"Have the kids seen a professional child psychiatrist?" she asked.
"They're going to start with that next week," Jefferson told her. "I've set up appointments for each of the girls with the councilor at their new school and the day care center where I'll be taking Matthew also has a counselor who will meet with him regularly. I can take them to a child psychiatrist if it becomes necessary."
"So you've enrolled the girls in school and you've found a day care facility for Matthew," Gloria Lawson said, making more notes. "Might I ask where?"
Jefferson gave her the addresses of the school and day care. She seemed satisfied with his choice in regards to Matthew, but she frowned when she heard where Taylor and Abigail would be going to school that Monday.
"I'm surprised that, considering your financial standing, you didn't enroll them in one of this city's fine private schools," she remarked.
"Well," Jefferson defended. "I spoke to a number of my neighbors with children, and they all say good things about our local public school. Plus, my parents were well off and my brother and I went through public school all the way and we turned out just fine."
True, he was worth almost ten million, or maybe more once Stanley and Margaret's wills went through probate, but he didn't want to define himself by his money.
"You are a college professor, correct?" Gloria Lawson asked, sounding unimpressed.
"I'm a law professor," Jefferson corrected.
"How many classes do you teach?"
"Three this semester. I have off on Mondays, but I go into the office for a few hours in the morning and get some work done."
"That doesn't seem like a substantial income," Gloria Lawson remarked, definitely now sounding unimpressed.
"I make some extra from royalties on law books I've written," Jefferson said. "And I got a trust fund and stocks from my parents, which a friend of mine on Wall Street helps me invest. That part hasn't worked out well recently, but we're doing okay. Money's not an issue."
"But something else could be."
Jefferson stared at her, waiting.
"The issue of your blindness," Gloria Lawson explained. "In all honesty, I'm concerned you will be able to always keep track of the children."
"I'll be interviewing candidates for a nanny's position to help me out," Jefferson told her. "I'll start with that after I get the girls to school."
"Do you think that would be sufficient?"
"Ma'am, if my blindness was an issue with those three kids, it would have probably revealed itself already, despite our short time together."
Gloria Lawson didn't argue, instead asking to see the house. Jefferson decided to oblige in the hopes she would leave soon.
The only real issue came up in the kids' rooms, where Jefferson was still in the process of putting together the furniture. Gloria Lawson was very unhappy with the potential danger the construction posed to the kids, despite assurances that everything was put away when not in use.
"See that it's finished soon," she said, making more notes.
Not long after that, Gloria Lawson bid Jefferson a stale-sounding good day. Before she left, she reminded him this was the beginning of his year-long probation period as the children's guardian. A judge would still have to officially him grant full custody after receiving a report from her.
"I look forward to it," Jefferson said. "Thank you."
"Why does she think we're not happy here?" Abigail asked, coming up behind Jefferson as he reentered the den after seeing the social worker out.
"It's a little more complicated than that," Jefferson told her. "Don't worry about it though. You guys are fine."
* * *
Every so often, Joan set Monique up in a standing frame in order to allow her to change positions instead of always being confined to her wheelchair. For this, she made an extra trip to see her patient, and that afternoon was such an occasion.
The standing frame was stationary, so when Monique was in it, she remained behind the counter and operated the cash register. True, she got a lot of looks from customers, but the regulars paid the frame no mind and Monique ignored the staring from the rest. Despite the fact she had no sensation from her mid-torso down, it felt good to stand up every so often.
An extra source of amusement came from watching Samuel Bridges trying not to stare at his new boss as she went about completing a customer's purchase while strapped to this odd device. But the young man was able to keep working, so Monique didn't call him out on anything. But she eventually decided to get him out of this phase where he averted looking at her.
"Hey," she called. "Do me a favor."
Samuel Bridges looked at her as best he could, waiting for instructions.
"There's a water bottle under the counter here," Monique said. "Could you get it and pour some water into my tumbler here?"
She nodded her head towards the cup strapped to the standing frame just above her shoulder.
Samuel Bridges hesitated but decided it was probably in the best interest for his job to do as he was asked. He came behind the counter, carefully stepping around the standing frame, and located the bottle. He came up with it and hesitated, looking at the tumbler, which looked like any plastic cup with a straw attached to it.
"Just pour the water in," Monique told him, remaining patient. "It's secure. There's no way you could knock it over."
Samuel Bridges seemed to be just under six feet tall, so he'd be able to see the inside of the tumbler as he filled it. He unscrewed the bottle cap and proceeded to pour the water into the tumbler. Monique pretended not to watch him but kept an eye on things anyway.
"That's good," she said when he screwed the bottle shut again and put it back beneath the counter. "See, I'm not fragile."
Samuel Bridges said nothing and returned to surveying the aisles for customers in need of assistance. Though she hadn't really been thirsty, Monique took a sip from the water anyway. It was good to see this kid start to feel a little more comfortable around her, but she knew she would still have to work on him. She rolled her eyes. Things like this were never easy.
* * *
There was one major step left in the machinery of Stanley and Margaret's deaths ... their funeral. Though the Thomas family had largely left Staten Island decades earlier, the couple had intended to return and settle down their someday. Now, they were to be buried there.
On Friday morning, Eric arrived to help Jefferson go through some more paperwork from the funeral home and to provide an update on activity at the law school.
"Everyone misses you," he said. "Some students are actually asking when you'll be back. I wish they cared that much about me. By the way, you'll find some cards on your desk when you get back."
"Good," Jefferson said. "You'll be reading them to me."
"Looking forward to it. Where are the kids?"
"Upstairs. I talked to them about the funeral yesterday evening and they've all been quiet ever since."
Eric nodded as he removed his coat and sat down at the kitchen table.
"When do your parents get here?" he asked.
"In a couple hours," Jefferson said. "I'm setting them up on the sofa bed in my office."
"You're a good son," Eric said.
"At least my mom has to stop nagging me to turn those bedrooms into guest rooms."
"What about down here?"
The first floor had a small bedroom and bathroom which could be accessed from the den. Jefferson supposed the space was meant for a butler or something back when the house was first built in the 1930s, but he wasn't sure. History suggested the owners went bankrupt soon after completing the structure and never lived in it. Jefferson's parents never considered sleeping there.
"Something they might have to consider after a night on the sofa bed," Jefferson said, though he had another idea as well.
* * *
"They're here!" Matthew called excitedly, running in and out of the den and kitchen to ensure his message was received. "They're here."
"Girls!" Jefferson called up the stairs. "Come down."
He opened his front door as his parents emerged from their town car. Knowing his home well enough to not need Presley or a Kane, he came down the front steps.
"Hi, Mom," he said. "Hi, Dad."
Despite everything, William and Beth beamed as they hugged their son. Though they'd been in constant touch by phone and e-mail since Stanley and Margaret died, this was their first face-to-face meeting.
"Can I take something for you?" Jefferson offered.
"About time," William said, thrusting a suitcase into his hand. He stayed behind to thank the driver while Jefferson and Beth entered the house.
The kids were waiting in the foyer, Matthew hurriedly describing his sighting the town car for his sisters.
"Come here!" Beth exclaimed, stretching her arms out wide. "My angels. You've all gotten so, so big."
While Jefferson's parents did use FaceTime to see the kids every so often, this was clearly different.
"So tell me," William said as entered the house and shut the door. "Is your uncle spoiling you guys to no end?"
None of the kids knew how to answer this since Abigail and Taylor weren't sure what the word spoiling meant and Matthew was completely clueless.
"Don't worry," William said with a smile. "Your grandmother and I will spoil you to no end, and trust me, that is a very good thing."
Jefferson withheld a groan.
* * *
New Yorkers their entire lives, William and Beth now lived in a small house in Charlottesville, Virginia, owning a second property near Nubanusit Lake in Hancock, New Hampshire. A twenty-year veteran of the New York City Police Department, William and four of his colleagues opened a security firm, IronDog Security, which quickly gained moderate success.
Though Jefferson's parents both decried the rash of mass shooting plaguing the country, no one could argue it helped the business grow. A number of private schools throughout the five boroughs sought IronDog's services and connections to major corporations were made through these institutions. In fifteen years, IronDog Security was now one of the top ten security firms in the United States, operating in all fifty states and often sending personnel overseas for special events. Rumors suggested they were a top contender to provide security at several upcoming Olympic Games.
While William and Beth lived in Virginia, he still sat on the company's Board of Directors. Jefferson and Stanly had each received a two-percent stake in the business upon graduating from college and were soon millionaires themselves, as happened to all of the founders' dozen children. Neither was interested in actually working for IronDog in any capacity, instead using the profits to fund their own paths. When his parents decided to move to Virginia, Jefferson bought the family's home for just under five million, a move Stanly didn't argue with as he was in Tokyo at the time. Jefferson wondered if he would have bought a similar home on Staten Island once his work kept him stateside.
* * *
"How was the flight?" Jefferson asked.
He and his parents were sitting on his small patio, watching the kids chase Presley around the tiny yard.
"Short," William said. "The way I like them. We were able to get our driver's entire life history, thanks to your mother, while coming here from La Guardia."
"I take an interest in people," Beth admonished. "And he was a nice young man."
William's grunt suggested he agreed with her on this point.
"He came here from Iran when he was fifteen," Beth described. "He became a citizen three years ago and he owns the car he drives. He seems to have done well for himself."
"An entrepreneur," William said. While he didn't disapprove of his sons' career choices, the title "entrepreneur" always meant a little something more to him.
"How is everything going?" Beth asked with a glance towards the yard.
"We're doing fine Mom," Jefferson said. "Don't worry."
"Under the circumstances, allow us some wiggle room on worrying," William said.
Jefferson nodded. He could understand this.
"The kids look a little thin," Beth commented. "Are you feeding them enough?"
"They're fine Mom," Jefferson said. "I'm not even close to being able to count their ribs."
"Please allow me to worry anyway."
Jefferson found it somewhat amusing that his mother worried about how thin other people were when she herself was only a little thicker than a rail and had probably lost some weight recently.
"How are you guys doing?" he asked as William rose to join the kids.
"We're okay," Beth said. "It's been hard, but I am glad you guys are here now. It is a high price to pay for having my grandkids closer."
Jefferson didn't miss the catch in her voice.
* * *
The room was gloomy, illuminated only by the multitudes of candles which lined the walls. The bodies were laid out in the center and Jefferson, William, and Beth stood nearby, along with Margret's sisters, Rachael and Olivia Easterling. Margret's father had walked out on his family when she was three years old and, as Jefferson had heard her say so often, her stepfather wouldn't bother making the trip unless he had assurances of there being a fat inheritance and an open bar. Her mother had died of cancer two years earlier, so she and her sisters had been the only ones left. Neither Rachael nor Olivia objected the Thomas family's burial plans for their sister.
Taylor, Abigail, and Matthew weren't at the funeral home, instead staying home where one of Jefferson's cousins baby-sat them. It had been decided not to bring them to the wake, as the atmosphere would certainly only spook them. Adding to the creepiness was Mr. Garrett Hobbs, the funeral home's director who, while being a friendly person, had the appearance of someone possibly overdue for lying in a coffin himself. So, the kids stayed away and would instead attend the funeral the next day.
As mourners came through the room to pay their respects and give their condolences to the family, Olivia took every opportunity to shoot Jefferson a dirty look despite knowing he couldn't see them. Nevertheless, it seemed to satisfy her.
When Stanley and Margret had named Jefferson as the guardian of their children, Olivia was livid. She felt she deserved the title, which was mainly what she wanted. She was a woman concerned with her appearance above all else. It was this self-centered behavior which caused Margret to not consider her as a suitable guardian. Naturally, Olivia did not agree with this assessment and conclusion.
Her other sister, Rachael, lived in a small apartment in Chicago and traveled often for work. She had accepted that she would not make a good parent with that lifestyle and easily settled for the role of the doting aunt, making Jefferson promise to let her come and visit whenever she was in New York on business. So, with that agreement reached, they got along quite well now. True, Olivia did still love her nieces and nephew, but her appearances still seemed to come first.
The wake took about two hours, after which Mr. Hobbs approached the group, his footfalls always sounding heavier than his small frame would suggest.
"Do you have any final wishes before tomorrow?" he asked in his wheezy tone.
"No, thank you," William said, being unable to speak above a loud whisper as his voice shook.
"Okay. Have a nice evening."
Mr. Hobbs shuffled away as William turned to Jefferson.
"No parent should bury a child," he said. "Take care of yourself, Son. Please."
* * *
Dinner that evening was late and a simple and subdued affair, consisting of potato salad and sausages. None of the kids said much except for answering their relatives' questions.
After dinner, the three kids got ready for bed and each asked to be tucked in. Jefferson obliged before heading back downstairs to spend some time with his parents.
"So how have they been since they got here?" Beth asked.
"They're okay," Jefferson said. "Sometimes they're quiet like now and other times they'll be happy without a care in the world."
"When do they start school?" William asked.
"Monday," Jefferson replied. "I'm going back to work on Tuesday."
"If you ever need anything, let us know," Beth encouraged. "We can be back here in no time."
"Thank you," Jefferson said.
"And remember what I said," William added.
Jefferson nodded, realizing how adamant his father sounded.
* * *
Jefferson stirred in his sleep. He quickly realized that, despite only having the kids for a short time, his hearing had already become much more acute to all sorts of sounds, and he was sure he now was hearing something out in the hallway. With Presley not stirring in her bed, he went to have a look.
When he opened the bedroom door, the sound became much more pronounced and he now knew that it was someone crying. Feeling pretty sure he knew who it was, Jefferson moved slowly down the stairs, the sound getting louder. He soon felt something brush his leg. Reaching down, he found two heads, one of which was definitely crying.
"Let me in there," he insisted and one of the girls slid over. He sat on the steps, wrapping an arm around each girl. They both leaned their heads against him as one side of his t-shirt was soon soaked with tears.
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.
Joan: Monique's nurse.
Kathy Quigley: a long-time employee of Monique's bookstore
Frank Norris: a long-time employee of Mnique's bookstore
Samuel Bridges: a new employee in Monique's bookstore
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.
Gloria Lawson: a NYC social worker assigned to determine if Jefferson is s
Feedback is always welcome. Enjoy.