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Protecting His Own Part 22

Stop! Grant shoved her. Leave him alone, you-you bitch.

She released Connor and spun toward Grant. What did you call me?

Grant took a step back"but she grabbed his hair.

Leaning down, she yelled in his face, My daughter was a tramp with no morals and no decency. Led astray by the world. She ruined you. But I will see you brought back to the straight and narrow. God has given this awful duty to me.

Tears filled Grants eyes from painand from her words. Im not ruined.

Her grip hurt as she hauled him down the hall to the single bathroom. Bad words must be washed away. Open your mouth.

Jaw closed tight, he stared at her until she yanked hard on his hair, and he couldnt stop from cryingand crying harder as she shoved soap in his mouth. Gagging and crying, hurting and spitting, he fought her.

When he threw up, she finally let him go and drove him into their bedroom with stinging slaps.

Crying, he curled in a corner. I want Nolanman. Want Beth.

After stripping the sheets from the bed, she shut them both in the bedroom. Bad boys dont eat. Pray that you learn to be good.

Connor had crawled under the low bed, and Grant could hear his sobs.

Their grandmother was mean. Awful mean. Grant scowled, wishing hed kicked her. Or bit her. No wonder Mama ran away from her. His words were a whisper, in case she was still in the house.

Connor snuffled. I want to run away, too.

Could they? He didnt know where theyd go, but at least they wouldnt be around her.

A little while later, the front door slammed, and the house was silent.

They could leave.

Grant tried to open the door. Locked. He kicked the stupid thing. At the window, he pulled the curtains back. No screen. And her backyard didnt have a fence. Yeah, they could run away.

Hopes rising, he shoved at the window.

It didnt move.

She would have locked it; she liked locking things up. But when he dragged a chair over and stood on it, he saw the latch was busted off. Why couldnt he raise the window? On closer examination, he saw small holes around the inside of the frame.

The window was nailed shut.

IN HIS HOME office upstairs beside Beths, Nolan finished an estimate for a real estate building, stretched, and glanced at the clock. Beth was downstairs, indulging in what she called comfort reading, and the boys should be back any time now. Before shutting the computer down, he checked his emails. Ah, one from Anne. He had wondered why theyd received no report from her.

After reading the first paragraph, he went to the door and called, Beth, Anne emailed us.

Her feet thudded on the stairs as she ran up. What did she say?

Well read it together. He pulled her down on his lap in front of the monitor.

Annes initial summary stated she hadnt found anything interesting in the grandmothers background check. However, she had analyzed everyones data together and written another summary.

Drusilla reported running away from home due to her mothers religious fanaticism. Ada Brun has no life other than her church, no interests other than religion. Glimpses obtained of the subjects home reveal an altar in the living room with lit candles. Religious artwork covers the walls. Although a small television is present, the only other entertainment is a Bible and religious tracts. No other magazines or books were noted. Her life appears unbalanced to an unhealthy degree.

Yet it would be difficult to indict someone for being religious, Beth said glumly.

True. But being overly controlling and strict is a problem when it comes to children. Read this. He pointed to the next paragraph.

Follow-up interviews with the neighbors reveal all squabbles were outgrowths of the subjects complaints about various children who cut across her lawn, played too loudly in their own yards (or on a Sunday), used foul language"again in their own yards or on the street. She places high value on observation of the Sabbath. The subject often criticizes various neighbors child-raising skills, using Bible references. Although the neighbors mangled the subjects quotes, enough was remembered to find the proper references. See below: Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him. Proverbs 13:24 Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him. Proverbs 22:15 Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die. If you strike him with the rod, you will save his soul from Sheol. Proverbs 23:13-14 Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it. Proverbs 22:6 The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother. Proverbs 29:15 Beth stared at Nolan as dismay filled her heart. And she has our boys?

Im calling Price. He set her on her feet and picked up his cell phone.

Beth curled up on his office chair to listen.

Pacing around the office, Nolan eventually managed to get through to the social worker. Listen, Price, according to information we received, Connor and Grants grandmother is a fucking fanatic. Shes all about corporal punishment as set down by the Bible.

Beth held her breath. Just once, let Price be reasonable.

Nolan listened to the phone and responded, Yeah, she believes in that spare the rod and spoil the child shit. Seems like yall told us corporal punishment isnt allowed.

Prices voice was too muted to hear.

Nolans jaw turned to granite. Relatives arent under the same strict guidelines as foster parents? An action is either wrong or it isnt. For fucks sake, Price, those boys have suffered enough.

After listening for a minute, he simply hung up.

When Beth wrapped her arms around his waist, she could sense the rage emanating from him. What did he say?

He was heading out to pick them up in a few minutes anyway. Hell ask the children how it went when theyre in the car"its part of the protocol. If they complain theyve been abused, hell check into things with the grandmother.

All right, Beth said carefully. Thats a start.

He also reminded me were merely foster parents providing a temporary place for the boys until placement. Any interference with a placement will result in the children being removed to a different foster home.

A threat.

Nolan nodded.

What can we do? Beth rubbed her cheek over his worn-smooth work shirt and listened to the slow thud of his heart.

Wait and see how it went. He sighed. We have to consider the possibility Annes conclusions are wrong. Maybe the old lady will adore her grandchildren.

Maybe.

His jaw turned hard. However, if the grandmother is abusive, well rip their placement system right apart.

Beth felt old fears surfacing. Back when she was the one suffering abuse, shed dealt with social service systems. Nothing moved quickly, and some people like Price preferred not to rock the boat. Because they just didnt care.

Beth? Sir pulled her close and rested his chin on her head.

Even with her arms filled with Nolan, they still felt empty. Itll be all right.

She knew she lied.

IN THE STARKLY lit dining room, Grant pushed at the food on his plate with his fork. It was a hamburger, but not in a bun, and hed taken a bite and chewed and chewed. He didnt want any more.

His stomach was all twisty, even though they hadnt had breakfast. Hed been hungry for lunch until Grandmother had read out of that Bible book forforeverand had glared at him every time his stomach growled.

Do we go home today? Connor asked Grandmother.

The ladys mouth pinched together, and her eyes went nasty so she looked almost like Mama when she was crazy-mad. Grant felt sick; he should have told Connor not to talk at all.

Grandmother slapped the table hard enough to make the dishes rattle. This is your home.

Connor shrank in his chair, and tears filled his eyes.

Eat your food, she said.

Connor shook his head, his chin quivering.

When she started to stand, Grant said really fast, Hell throw up if he eats when hes crying.

If you two think tears will get you your own way, you have another think coming. She picked Connors food up although the plate was still full. Maybe hell be hungry again at supper.

Supper? But Werent they supposed to go home today? Grant didnt ask. Please let the Price man come back and get them. Please.

A few minutes later, when Grant couldnt force anything down, Grandmother took his plate away, too and finished her food while they silently watched. After wiping her mouth, she checked the clock hanging on the wall and frowned.

When she walked over to stand between their chairs, Grant felt his body trying to slide down. Mr. Price will ask you how this visit went. You will tell him you had a wonderful time.

Connor stared. But we didnt.

Her bony hands latched onto Connors shoulders. She lifted him, shook him hard, and slammed him back down. You had a wonderful time. She shook his shoulders again. Wonderful.

Connor was crying so hard he probably didnt hear anything.

Well remember. When she stepped back, Grant put his arm around Connor. His mouth set. Hed tell the Price man the truth. See if he didnt.

Mr. Price will let me know what you say. Grandmothers eyes were hard stones in her wrinkled face. If you say anything more than you had a wonderful time to anyone"even your foster parents"Ill know, and youll be sorry.

Everything inside Grant curled up and died. After living with Jermaine, Grant knew what she meant.

She would hurt him. Hurt Connor.

IN THE GREAT room, Nolan stood beside Price, feeling unsettled. Grant and Connor had run into the house, hugged Nolan as if theyd been gone for weeks, and hugged Beth the same way.

When shed sat down on the couch, they piled right onto her and clung like terrified kittens.

He studied them with a frown. Hell, if they could have burrowed beneath her skin, they would have. He glanced at Price. Connors obviously been crying.

Thats not surprising. Change is unsettling to a child his age, and hes been through a lot. Prices expression was smug. But theyll settle in nicely with their grandmother.

What did they say about their visit?

They had a wonderful time. Price noted Nolans disbelief. Ask them yourself.

I will.

Connor was in Beths lap, his face against her chest. Her arm was around Grants shoulders, and hed nestled against her side.

When Nolan sat down next to Grant, the boy actually crawled into Nolans lap in an imitation of his little brother. This wasnt like independent Grant at all, and he sure as fuck wasnt acting as if hed had a wonderful time. How did everything go with your Grandmother, Grant?

Grants face was against Nolans shoulder, and his voice was muffled. We had a wonderful time. He used the exact words Price had relayed.

Did you like your grandmother?

The tough little boy tensed. His answer was slower in coming. Uh-huh.

Price clapped his hands. There, see? Whatd I tell you, Mr. King? The children enjoyed their visit. Price walked toward the door. Ill start finalizing the arrangements so they can move in with their Grandmother permanently. In the interim, theyll visit so they get to know each other. Ill arrange another overnight with her tomorrow.

MOVE IN WITH their Grandmother permanently. The Price mans words circled inside Grants mind like a train on a round track. Each time he heard it, he wanted to yell, to scream, to throw things.

But this was their after-lunch quiet time. So, at the bedroom table, he colored a truck picture with long, jagged, black and red streaks. Ripping it from the book, he crumpled it and threw it across their bedroom. I hate the Price man. And Grandmother, too.

Watching with wide eyes, Connor nodded. After a minute, he quietly put his two cookies inside his fridge.

When Beth had said she had macaroni and cheese if they hadnt eaten lunch, Mr. Price said Grandmother had fed them. As soon as the man left, Connor had asked for something to eat. Theyd emptied the plates of macaroni and cheese with carrot sticks, so Beth had given them more, and they ate that too, and then her forehead wrinkled, and she asked if Grandmother had forgotten to feed them. Although shed smiled, her face didnt look right.

When Connor told her, We had a wonderful time, even her smile had gone away.

But shed given Connor two cookies. One for you, one for Grant. For your refrigerator.

With the cookies put away, Connor closed the fridge door and sat down in front of it. I dont like Grandmother. I dont want to live with her.

Me, either. Grant sat on the carpet beside him. I want to stay here.

But the man said we cant. He said Beff wants a baby girl, not big, clumsy boys.

The Price man said almost nobody adopted big, clumsy boys. Scowling, Grant held up his hands and checked them over. Was he clumsy? Nolan said he was good at swimming and soccer. But, even if he wasnt clumsy, he and Conner werent babies. Or girls.

His chin quivered. Why couldnt Beth like them instead?

Chapter end

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