“You need a husband.”
Those four words, if ever appropriate, belonged in a different century, one where traitors were still drawn and quartered. They didn’t belong echoing off the marble floors of a twenty-first century courthouse where doing the right thing should be synonymous with helping those who had no legal voice of their own, namely children.
Unfortunately for child advocate and all-around idealist Reed Mohr, those four words, a mere five syllables, meant the difference between getting fourteen-year-old Jesse Bane out of his tenth foster home in four weeks, or consigning him to hell until the system spat him out at eighteen.
Unacceptable every way Reed looked at it. If the most expedient way to adopt Jesse was to get married first, so be it. She could remedy that after Jesse was safe.
Losing her single status was one thing. Losing her livelihood in the process was quite another. Reed Mohr hadn’t considered that the judges she ultimately answered to would strip her of the one thing she poured her heart and soul into doing well—representing the least powerful among us, the young and the elderly. But she should have, Reed thought, mentally kicking herself.
Reed knew the drill in Judge Meen’s juvenile court. Single parents didn’t adopt. Child advocates don’t take their clients home.
Children aren’t puppies, Reed.
Three words this time, bouncing in her hyper-charged brain.
Really, Reed thought? Fourteen-year-old boys who witness their heroin addict fathers inject their mothers with enough dope to kill an elephant aren’t puppies? Who knew? Apparently not Reed, who, if she wanted to keep her job, would do as instructed, which amounted to shutting up and letting this one go. Only she couldn’t do that. This one wasn’t a cause or a whim or another of the rag-tag animal misfits she dragged home. This one happened to have a name: Jesse. And she wasn’t about to let him get swallowed by the system and flushed away like waste.
“You know you cannot adopt in this county without being married,” Judge Meen said from his perch behind the formidable oak bench in juvenile court, looking down at Reed over reading glasses he didn’t actually need.
“The juvenile code does not prohibit a single person from adopting, your honor.”
“How long have you practiced law in Radkin County, Reed?”
“You know the answer to that, judge.”
“Remind me,” Judge Meen said.
“Are you willing to piss all that away for a kid you don’t know? A kid with two junkies for parents? A kid who at fourteen is already damaged goods?” Judge Meen’s voice continued to escalate, bouncing off the marble floors and oak walls as it gained momentum and smacked into Reed with the tangible force of a slap to the face.
“Jesse Bane isn’t a puppy, Reed. You can’t just take him home and train him to love you. He’ll just piss all over your house”.
Reed couldn’t control the shiver that ran down her spine at the judge’s words. She was afraid that she might be making a huge mistake. What was it about Jesse that made her think she could be a mother to a damaged fourteen-year-old boy?
Sweat began to run under her arms, behind her knees and at the small of her back, causing another involuntary shiver. Her heart beat painfully as it slammed against her ribs.
Was she really ready to lose her job?
Could she stomach being married to anyone long enough to adopt Jesse?
Could she afford to start her life over again at thirty-six?
Could she turn and walk away from Judge Meen and everything that was wrong with the juvenile justice system and pretend she couldn’t have made it better for at least one child, if she’d only found her backbone behind the twisted snake-like mass her insides had become?
No. Not today. Not tomorrow. Never again.
Reed pushed all five foot three and one quarter inches of her frame upward, standing as tall as she could, and forced herself to take a deep, calming breath, until time slowed to its natural pace again.
This was her moment. With a clarity Reed Mohr didn’t question, she knew what she did next would define the rest of her life. She took another breath and stepped forward, realizing that she was too damn old to pretend she couldn’t make a difference if she chose to.
She took another step closer to the bench, and then another, thanking the spirits above that she had the foresight to put on the one pair of heels she owned instead of her usual flats. The extra two inches helped feed her inner giant.
“You’re right, judge. Jesse Bane is not a puppy.” Reed’s chin shot up and she forced her voice not to quaver as she looked up at the judge without blinking. “I’ll have a husband tomorrow. You’ll have my petition for adoption on your desk as soon as an adoption study can be completed. Since Jesse has no family, and I know you hate burdening the foster care system, I’ll expect you to sign the order.” Knowing she was dangerously close to contempt of court, Reed added, “Your honor.”
“I’ll sign it, Ms. Mohr. But the second I do you’ll never work as a child advocate in this county again. You won’t be sending the kid back either. I’ll throw your tail in jail if you try.”
Reed gave a quick nod and swallowed past the dry knot at the back of her throat. “I understand. No refunds. No returns. No job. Thanks for clearing that up for me, your honor.” Reed smiled. It was a small smile at first, but as it gained distance, the clenching in her stomach began to ease and swallowing became easier. Her heartbeat returned to normal and the clammy feeling she’d felt earlier disappeared.
“Get out of here, Mohr, before I have you incarcerated for pissing me off. And good luck. You’re going to need it.”
It wasn’t contempt that had Reed humming her way out of the courtroom, it was a feeling of lightness that came with knowing she’d made the right call—the only call she could have made. Now all she had to do was propose to the only single adult male she could stomach living with for more than a week and hope he didn’t laugh in her face.
Charlie wouldn’t laugh at her. He never laughed at any of the crazy notions she got in her head. Charlie wasn’t a laugher, Charlie was an instigator. Charlie would understand her need to give Jesse a real home where he was loved. Jesse would be well loved at Potters Woods. Reed would just have to learn about parenting as she went. Charlie would help her, as he had from the moment she’d walked into his class as an undergraduate student with fear in her eyes and trepidation in her heart.
Reed graduated with a degree in history at the top of her undergraduate class with the support of Charlie and her aunt, Finn. Charlie pushed her to stop talking about injustice and start doing something to change it when she could—like today. Charlie was the reason Reed went to law school. Charlie and Finn were the only family Reed acknowledged since the death of her mother, at least until now. Now she would have Jesse too. All doubts that Reed had walking into the courtroom fled. She’d done the right thing. Now all she needed was a husband.
Charlie was her man. Ardent Democrat, Jimmy Buffett fan, sixty-two-year-old college professor. And he had one other thing going for him that no other man Reed respected and cared for had. Charles Renee MacIntyre the third was flaming-rainbow, flag-flying gay.
Reed wouldn’t want even a short-term husband any other way.