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TOO FAR TO SAY FAR ENOUGH
By NANCY RUE
David C. CookCopyright © 2012 Nancy Rue
All rights reserved.
Every Monday morning I quit.
Before I even crawled out of bed, sometimes even before I clawed all the way from dreams to the mental pile of stuff I was going to have to try to make a dent in, if it was Monday, I said, out loud so there could be no misunderstanding: "God, you're going to have to find somebody else to be your prophet, because I'm done. You got a recovery group I can get into?"
Sometimes I'd imagine such a group—a place where I could sit in a circle with other people who were in way over their spiritual heads and say, "Hi. I'm Allison, and I'm a recovering prophet."
Seriously. The women of Sacrament House could nobly go to Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous and Prostitutes Anonymous (okay, I made that one up), and begin to see themselves healing. Ninety meetings in ninety days was a requirement for them.
But there was no Prophets Anonymous. There was no recovery from being one—although at times I would have given up my Harley to escape it—and there was nothing anonymous about it. I knew. I'd tried that.
That particular Monday, however, I skipped quitting. I didn't even give a nod to the stack of not-yet-done stuff teetering just beyond my reach, waiting for one more thing to topple it over. Because that late-August Monday, almost exactly one year since I'd caught twelve-year-old Desmond Sanborn trying to steal my house key, I was standing in front of a judge, about to adopt the boy.
It was enough to make the whole precarious pile disappear.
The Honorable Charles Walton Atwell the Third swept his eyes, decidedly reminiscent of a basset hound's, over the crowd gathered in the gallery behind Desmond and me. Normally a transaction such as this would have taken place in his chambers, but there was nothing normal about our group. We had everything from a social worker, two attorneys, and a real estate broker to a row of recovering ladies of the evening and another of HOG members in sleeveless T-shirts, holding their motorcycle helmets respectfully under their arms. One elongated look at the motley cloud of witnesses overflowing his office, and Judge Atwell had ordered us all into the courtroom. Desmond gave that his signature stamp of approval by high-fiving said judge and saying, "Good choice, Mr. Your Honor, sir."
Judge Atwell now dragged his ancient face down with his hand and went into a pause as lengthy as his chin. I remembered that about him. You could practically go out for a cappuccino during one of those conversational gaps. Beside me, Desmond shifted his negligible weight from one lanky leg to the other. I put a cautionary hand on his shoulder and prayed he wouldn't blurt out, "Mr. Your Honor, sir, you takin' a nap up in there?"
Finally His Honor nodded gravely at Chief, who stood looking even taller than his six-foot-plus on the other side of Desmond. I suspected that judicial gaze was as much about Chief's graying ponytail as it was about the solemnity of the occasion. He must have been satisfied with the fact that at least Chief was clad in Brooks Brothers all the way down to his black wing tips, because he said, "Mr. Ellington, you may proceed."
"Who's Mr. Ellington?" Desmond whispered to me. His version of sotto voce was like sandpaper on a two-by-four.
"Do you have a question, son?" the judge said.
"I was just askin' who's Mr. Ellington," Desmond said.
"That would be your attorney." Judge Atwell moved his head in slo-mo to regard Chief. "I assume you've introduced yourself to your client."
I could see the spray of tiny lines at the corner of Chief's eyes crinkling, but he nodded with the proper sobriety.
"Oh, you talkin' 'bout Mr. Chief," Desmond said. "No, he introduced hisself to me a long time ago. We go way back."
"I'm relieved to hear it."
The judge indulged in another snail-caliber pause and then nodded once more at Chief. Behind us, I heard Jasmine's nervous giggle, followed by Mercedes's unmistakable shushing. Like most of the Sacrament House Sisters, they were both virtually allergic to all things judicial. Mercedes wasn't going to take a chance on being escorted to a cell.
"Your Honor," Chief said, using the courtroom voice that made people involuntarily improve their postures, "I introduce Allison Chamberlain to the court."
His Honor and I nodded at each other. I was no stranger to the man or his courtroom.
"Ms. Chamberlain, would you state your name?" Chief said.
"Allison Eugenia Chamberlain," I said, and then squeezed the lifeblood out of Desmond's shoulder. Even though we'd rehearsed this so he wouldn't go into convulsions of hysteria over my middle name, I couldn't trust him not to at least snicker.
He remained snicker-less.
"And do you verify that you have appeared today to adopt this child, Desmond Edwin Sanborn, born August 26, 1999?"
"I do," I said.
"Do you know any cause that would legally prohibit this adoption?"
I knew none whatsoever, although everybody and their sister had tried to make one up. "No, I do not," I said.
"The rights of Desmond Sanborn's biological parents have been terminated?"
I couldn't help cringing at that one. His mother herself had been terminated. As for his father, the monster had never had any rights as far as I was concerned.
"Yes," I said.
But I still stopped breathing and sneaked a look at the judge. Chief had assured me this was all a formality, that there was no way anybody was going to protest the adoption at this point. Still, I'd been blindsided on this before.
Judge Atwell nodded as if his head was too heavy for his neck, and I allowed myself a breath. According to Chief, one more question and I would be Desmond's mother.
"Ms. Chamberlain," Chief said. "Would you please tell the court why you want to adopt this child?"
I felt more than saw the sudden slant of Desmond's huge brown eyes, made browner by his cinnamon-shaded, half-African face. During our rehearsals I had threatened to come out with, "Because who else is going to put up with him?" or "I've invested too much in groceries for the kid to kick him out now." I never had told Desmond exactly what I was really going to say, and at that moment I still didn't know myself.
I'd rejected "Because his mother wanted this," and "Because I want him to survive to adulthood." Even though both were true, neither was adequate, and if I said, "Because I love this boy more than I have ever loved anyone in my life," I would have, to use Desmond's words, "gotten all emo." I had assured him there would be no emo. As for telling him I had been nudged by God ... Judge Atwell and I had been down that road before.
Evidently endless pauses were the sole privilege of His Honor. He squinted down at me from the bench and said, "Not having second thoughts are you, Ms. Chamberlain?"
"No, sir," I said. "I just can't seem to find the words."
"Now that is a surprise."
I looked at Desmond, who despite his new, manly cut-close-to-the-scalp haircut and the tiniest of hairs sprouting on his chin, seemed suddenly as vulnerable as a four-year-old. Then I did what I'd learned to do in situations of the utmost importance: I opened my mouth and let God come through.
"I want to adopt this young man because he's been given to me to love," I said. "And to love him is a privilege."
Yeah. Couldn't have said it better myself.
The little-boy Desmond popped away, and my adolescent Desmond slipped cleanly back into place and presented a fist for me to knock mine against. Somebody, probably one of the HOGs, whistled through his fingers. Judge Atwell banged his gavel, though not much louder than Mercedes's "Y'all got to hush up now. We 'bout to get throwed out."
Another record-breaking pause ensued, during which the judge scowled over the papers in front of him, picked up his pen, put it down, took it in hand again. Desmond was beginning to squirm under the death grip I had on his shoulder, and even Chief reclasped his hands in front of him. It was all I could do not to shout, "What is the problem?"
Finally Judge Atwell looked up, this time at Desmond. "I have one question for you, son," he said.
I shot Chief a This wasn't in the script look, but he kept his gaze riveted to the judge.
"Ask me anything you want, Mr. Your Honor, sir," Desmond said. "I got nothin' to hide." He grinned. "'Cept the Oreos I ganked from the snack drawer."
I came just short of snapping his collarbone in two with my fingers.
"Petty theft is handled in a different court," Judge Atwell said. "What I want to know is ..."
Desmond gave it eight seconds before he held out his palms, face quizzical.
"I want to know if you realize that most parents have to simply take what they get when they have children."
"Oh, I know that thing," Desmond said. "I seen me some ugly babies, now."
Somebody in the back seemed to be choking on a hairball.
The judge nodded toward me. "That woman standing beside you—"
"Big Al," Desmond said.
"She is not making you her son because she has to; you know that, don't you? She chose you—"
"I got to stop you right there, Mr. Your Honor."
"Desmond," I hissed. "You can't interrupt—"
"Go on," Judge Atwell said. "Let's hear what you have to say."
My eyes met Chief's over the top of Desmond's head. His were sparkling so hard I could almost hear them.
"Big Al does have to adopt me. If she don't, she be in some big trouble. We talkin' epic, now."
"Trouble with whom?"
"Trouble with the big Daddy. If Big Al doesn't do what God be tellin' her to do ..."
Desmond's ellipsis rivaled any the judge could leave. Judge Atwell pulled his chin nearly to his navel as he turned his houndish eyes to me.
"I do recall that about you, Ms. Chamberlain," he said. "You call yourself a prophet, don't you?"
"If I might speak for my client," Chief said.
"There's no need. I think we've tried that case before, right here in this courtroom." For a sliver of a second, something that might have been a smile quivered around the judge's long lips. "And as I recall, God won."
"Amen," someone muttered behind us.
"Now before this turns into a prayer meeting ..." Judge Atwell picked up his pen again, trailed his finger down the paper, and wrote with the careful deliberation of a preschooler gripping his first fat pencil.
"Ladies and gentlemen," he said, "this adoption is final." Then he pulled up one corner of his mouth and added, "I think that calls for some applause."
Applause wasn't the word for it. The cheers of thirteen people, pent up for months by the fear of hoping for too much, burst like a tsunami over the courtroom. Arms of all colors were flung around backs, and squeals, whistles, and assorted versions of "amen"—liturgical to downright Pentecostal—rose in joyous cacophony. The only thing powerful enough to bring it all down was Desmond, standing up on the railing that separated us from the gallery and waving his adolescent arms in the air.
"Desmond!" I said between clenched teeth. "What the Sam Hill are you doing?"
"I just got to say something," he said.
Chief wrapped his fingers around the back of Desmond's shirt and transferred him to the floor. I looked frantically at the judge, who was either in the midst of one of his pauses or had simply passed on from shock.
"Can't you control your kid, Classic?" Chief whispered to me.
"Your honor, we apologize," I said, and gave Desmond a death stare.
"Sorry, Mr. Your Honor, sir," Desmond said. "But I got to check something out, now."
Judge Atwell resurrected himself and looked at me. "Are you sure this boy isn't genetically related to you?" Before I could answer, he turned back to Desmond. "What is it, son?"
"I just got to make sure somethin' is right 'fore I leave here."
Desmond glanced at me and added, "Sir." Like that was going to keep me from throttling him later.
His Honor held up two of arguably the world's longest fingers and beckoned to Desmond. He approached the bench with surprising propriety, while I anticipated a lecture from His Honor about Desmond's behavior or his impudence or his grammar. But Judge Atwell merely picked up the paper before him and handed it to Desmond.
He frowned at it, lips moving as his eyes trailed down the page. I had seen the document myself and had had to have Chief and Kade—both attorneys—translate. Desmond was only making it through eighth grade English by the skin of his big ol' white teeth, so I didn't see how—
"Yeah, baby. That's what I'm talkin' about." Desmond grinned up at the judge, his marvelous mouth extending lobe to lobe. "You got it right."
"And what is that?"
Desmond swiveled to take in the crowd, which was still in unanimous inhale. "Y'all can call me Desmond Chamberlain now, 'cause that is my name. Yeah, baby!"
No one waited for His Honor's permission this time. The cheering went on long after Judge Atwell retreated to his chambers. I didn't have a chance to thank him, not with half the crowd bawling on one shoulder and the rest of them pounding on the other. I was sure Judge Atwell was just grateful to have me out of what was left of his hair.
* * *
The group was sorting itself into a variety of vehicles out in the parking lot of the St. John's County Courthouse by the time I signed the paperwork under Desmond's scrutiny. Ulysses, Stan, Rex, and the rest of the Harley Owners Group members had already roared out on their bikes, led by Hank, who was wearing what she called her Sunday-go-to-meetin' helmet, an amusing term when delivered with her Boston accent. Five of the seven Sacrament Sisters—Jasmine, Mercedes, Ophelia, and our two newest, Gigi and Rochelle—were loading into the van, having given the motorcycles a wide berth, although ten months ago they would have ridden with Evel Knievel if it would have helped them get high. Besides Chief and Desmond there was only Owen Schatz, looking far younger than his seventy-something years next to Ms. Willa, fifteen years his senior. He had evidently refused all help transferring her from her wheelchair into his Lincoln.
"When did Owen get a new car?" Chief said.
Desmond paused, helmet halfway on. "When he started seein' Ms. Willa."
"'Seeing' her?" I said. "Like dating, you mean?"
"I don't think they datin'. Just talkin'. There ain't nothin' goin' on." Desmond wiggled his eyebrows. "Yet."
"Keep us posted, will you?" Chief said drily.
"Oh, please don't," I said. "Who are you riding with, Desmond?"
It was a pointless question. If given a choice, he was always on the back of Chief's Road King in a heartbeat, especially since two weeks before, Chief's orthopedist had cleared him to ride again after a five-and-a-half month recovery from a leg injury. If I'd had a choice, I would have been there too. As close as I could get.
But Desmond was already swinging a lanky limb over the seat of my Softail. I fought back the "emo" gathering in my throat.
"You're not dressed to ride with that lady," Chief said.
"What lady?" I said.
"I got my brain bucket," Desmond said, motioning with his helmet, "and you know she never let me ride without every part of my body covered up even when she knows Imma get heat stroke."
"You've got the wrong jacket on," Chief said. "Here. Try this one."
He reached into one of the studded saddlebags on his bike and produced what appeared to be ten pounds of leather. I could feel my eyebrows lifting. Granted, Desmond's arms were growing so fast he needed new gear about every three months so his wrists didn't stick out like poles, but I'd just gotten him a denim jacket that should last him until Thanksgiving. Okay, maybe Halloween.
But Chief unfolded a soft, muted-black garment and held it out to Desmond as he climbed off my bike. "Congratulations present," he said.
"That is sweet," Desmond said, though he, too, looked a little mystified. It was, after all, ninety-five Florida degrees, each one soaked in equal parts humidity.
Chief motioned with his chin. "What's sweet is on the back."
Desmond turned the jacket around, and I lost control of my emo. Just beneath a full-out screamin' Harley Davidson emblem, the letters D.C. were embroidered, thick enough for even Ms. Willa to see from a hundred yards.
It was one of the few times I ever saw my boy without the perfect retort. Chief rescued him by holding out his fist. Desmond didn't tap it. He threw his arms around Chief's substantial chest and buried his face.
That kind of joy was still unfamiliar enough to make me wonder if it really belonged to me.
* * *
Classic II, my Red Hot Sunglo Heritage Softail, purred like a lioness beneath Desmond and me as we followed Chief. He might still walk with a slight limp, which I personally found sexy, but he rode like he and the Harley were one streamlined, bad-dude being. I'd been back on my bike six weeks longer, after my own injury, but I never hoped to handle a motorcycle with that kind of hunky confidence.
Excerpted from TOO FAR TO SAY FAR ENOUGH by NANCY RUE. Copyright © 2012 Nancy Rue. Excerpted by permission of David C. Cook.
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