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The Best Thing
“Vroom, vroom.” The words weren’t very loud; in fact they were barely a whisper from the little boy who’d promised to be silent.
She spared him a quick glance, her fingers never ceasing to speed across the keys.
The district attorney, Mr. John Witcomb, has called for the arraignment of Mr. Richard Thompson to be postponed pending-
She started in surprise. “Sir. I’m sorry. I was just working on the article.”
“How much longer do you think-is that a child Ellie?”
Her eyes flickered over the little boy who also glanced up then back at his trucks. “Yes sir. He won’t be any trouble.”
“I didn’t know you had a child.”
She ignored his comment and told him she’d bring the article out when it was done.
He hesitated a moment, glancing back at the boy before nodding. “You do that. You keep writing like you have been and you’ll definitely be in the running for that assistant job.”
“Thank you sir.” He closed the door behind himself and she turned back to her article.
“Yes?” She didn’t look up from her notes and he paused. “What is it Brady?”
“When is Mama coming back?”
She froze, raising her head slowly to meet his eyes. Maggie’s bright green eyes. Maggie’s dark brown hair. Just like that it all came back.
“Is this Ellie Michaels?”
“Yes it is.”
“I’m afraid your sister has been in an accident.” An accident. That was what they called it when some drunken idiot ran a red light and killed a woman. A young woman. A single mother.
“She’s not coming back.” She told him firmly.
He crept closer, slowly. “Doesn’t she love me?”
She bit her lip to keep the tears at bay, faltering over the keys. “Of course she does.”
“Then why won’t she come back? I’ll be a good boy. I promise.”
She couldn’t help it then. She held out her arms, holding him close as the tears ran silently down her cheeks. “It’s not her choice. She would come back if she could.”
His eyes met hers again. “But why can’t she?”
“She … she just can’t come back. She’s gone away and she can’t come back.”
“Miss. Michaels-“ Sally stopped short in the doorway. “I’m sorry. I’ll come back.”
“No.” She wiped away her tears and gestured the boy back to his toys. “What is it Sally?”
“I-I have a Mr. Matthews on line 2 for you.”
“Thank you Sally.” She cleared her throat and picked up the phone with barely a glance at the still tearful little boy. “Hello Mr. Matthews how can I help you?”
“Is this Ellie Michaels?”
“Yes it is.” She replied warily.
“My name is Gordon Matthews. I’m the social services agent assigned to your case.”
“My case? My sister left Brady in my custody. I didn’t realize there was more than that involved.”
“Well you see your sister can’t just leave her child with anyone. We have to make sure the person is fit to raise him.”
“I can take care of him just fine.” She replied, shifting the phone so she could type while she talked.
“I’m sure you can Miss. Michaels, but I must make an investigation.”
“What do you need to investigate?”
“Do you know a Brandon Marks?” She paused a moment. Brandon Marks was someone to her but it took a moment to place the name.
“He’s Brady’s father.”
“Do you know how we can reach him?”
She stilled at his words. “He’s not going to get Brady.” There was no way she was going to let Brandon take Brady away from her.
“If he would like to take in the child-“
“Why wouldn’t he?” The tone of voice Mr. Matthews used told her that he was merely placating her. He really didn’t care what she had to say about Brandon.
“The boy is still his child and if he wants to-.”
“He’s been married. He doesn’t know about Brady and I’m sure neither him nor his wife would want to.” He explained about the rights of parents. About how, if Brady’s father wanted him he could take him. How it might be better for Brady to be raised by his father.
Ellie explained that Brady didn’t know his father and that the last thing a four-year old boy who’d just lost his mother needed was to be thrown into a stranger’s home. He informed her that he would do a thorough investigation into both her and Brady’s father to see who was better suited to raise the child before saying goodbye.
She glanced over at Brady then back to her computer. There was no way she was going to let Brandon Marks take her nephew from her. She was far better suited to raise him than Brandon. Brandon didn’t even know him.
“I have to get this done Brady.” She cut in, turning back to her article.
He fell silent immediately, turning rather forlornly back to his toys.
“Auntie Ellie what’s for dinner?” She looked up from her computer at the boy and then at the clock. 8’o’clock. They’d been home two hours.
“What do you want for dinner?”
“There’s some in the freezer I can-“
“Can we go to McDonalds?”
“I have to get this done tonite Brady. I don’t have time to go to McDonalds.”
“Please Auntie Ellie? Please can we go?”
“Brady I have to get this done.”
“But I want to go to McDonalds. I want to play.” He retorted, grabbing at her arm.
“You have toys in your bag.” She told him, shaking off his hand to go back to her work. “Go play with those.”
“But I want to play at McDonalds.”
“I have to get this done. I will put the other ones in the oven. Now go.” He nodded slowly and walked away. She programmed the oven and the timer and sat down for the few minutes it would take for dinner to cook.
The beeping timer woke her abruptly and she turned it off.
“Brady come on it’s dinner.” He sat at the table while she separated a few nuggets for him and herself. She set his plate before him and took hers to her desk, continuing to work. A loud crash jarred her from her notes and she ran to the kitchen. Brady sat on the floor with the pan and the chicken nuggets on the floor around him. “What happened?” She asked, exasperated.
“I-I wanted some more.” He sobbed around the fingers shoved in his mouth. She crouched beside him and held out her hand.
“Let me see.” He showed her his bright red fingers and she carried him to the sink, running water over them until the colour faded back to normal and he’d stopped crying. “Now just sit in the chair okay Brady? Please?” He nodded and she went to work picking up the mess and sweeping up the crumbs.
“I’m still hungry.” He told her quietly. She sighed, turning to the fridge. Milk, yogurt, two cans of soda, a jar of jam and a carton of eggs were all that was scattered over the shelves. She pulled out a container of yogurt, handing it to the boy who opened it unhappily but without a word.
The article wasn’t done though she’d wanted to finish it tonite. So she sat back down at the computer, barely noticing when Brady left the kitchen, put on his pajamas and softly sang himself to sleep. The quiet, familiar lullaby however drew her attention. An all too familiar lullaby her own mother used to sing to her and Maggie. At least before she got too busy to spend any time with them. The song slowed and then died out as the singer drifted off to sleep. She quickly shook herself out of her revere. The past was the past and that was where it would stay.
It was almost two hours later that she finally finished the article and glanced in at Brady, curled in a ball in the guest room, before going on to her own.
Maggie rushed around in her fitted jeans and t-shirt, her hair thrown back in a messy ponytail as she gathered up her things haphazardly. She was going to the mall. Even though it was dark and Maggie didn’t see well in the dark. For some reason she didn’t protest. She didn’t insist her baby sister go shopping in the morning, didn’t insist on going with her to drive. Instead she simply watched her grab her things and throw them into the giant sack she called a purse.
Maggie knelt to kiss her son before she left. “Goodbye Baby. You be good for Auntie Ellie.”
“I will Mama.”
“And you take good care of my baby.” She added with a hug for her sister.
“I always do Maggie.”
“I won’t be gone long.” She called over her shoulder.
Beep beep beep. She sat up quickly at the sound of the alarm. Maggie. Maggie wasn’t down the hall in the guest room like she was supposed to be. Maggie wouldn’t be getting her son ready to go back home. Instead today was the day they would put her baby sister in the ground.
She’d kept Brady. It was the only conciliation she had. Brady had asked to stay, begged really, and she’d finally given in. But Maggie … Maggie she’d let go. And now she would regret it for the rest of her life. Because she’d been so anxious to get back to work, she’d been so anxious for Maggie to just finish what she needed that she’d let her go without question.
“Mama!” The sharp call jarred her into motion.
“Brady?” Tears tracked down his face as he clutched his bear to his chest. “What’s wrong honey?”
“Auntie Ellie … I had a bad dream.” She’d assumed as much but what was she supposed to do? What did you do with a child who had a bad dream? Brady never spent the night at her house, not without Maggie anyway.
“What … what was it about?”
“There was a monster. A giant monster and it was coming to get me.”
“There’s no such thing as monster’s Brady.”
“But he was there. He was going to get me and-“
“Brady there’s no such thing. There are no monsters. Come on we have to get ready to go.”
“W-where are we going?”
“Today is the funeral Brady. Your Mama’s funeral.” He stared at her silently as she walked to his bag. There weren’t any dressy clothes in the bag. Maggie hadn’t planned on having to attend a fancy event with her child. But there was a nice pair of jeans and a cute button-up shirt. “Here. Get dressed Brady. I have to go get ready.” Within a few minutes they were both walking out the door, she hurrying him to the car, rushing to buckle him in.
“I have to go to the bathroom.” He told her as she started to climb in the front seat.
“Brady-Wait til we get there.”
“But I can’t. I have to go now.” She sighed, unhooking him from the seat and leading him back to the house.
“Hurry up.” As soon as he walked out the door of the bathroom she was herding him toward the car.
“But what about breakfast?”
“We can skip it today Brady we have to go.”
“But Mama says that it’s the most important meal of the day.” he insisted, stopping in his tracks.
She tugged at his arm to get him to move again. “Brady we have to go. We don’t have time.”
“Okay. Fine. We’ll stop and get something on the way all right?” He nodded slowly as she buckled him in again. They arrived at the church early, seeing all of Maggie’s friends filling the pews. The hour long service, followed by the half hour burial seemed to take forever. It was torture watching them lower her sister into the ground. And bad as it was for her Brady was worse off. Tears poured silently down his face and he clung to her tightly, watching unblinkingly as the coffin was lowered into the ground and covered with dirt.
“Where are we going?” Brady asked, rubbing the tears from his eyes, as she hurried him along toward the car.
“I have to get back to work.” He fell silent as she led him into the building. She’d just walked into her office when the phone rang.
“Miss. Michaels this is Gordon Matthews. I’m calling to tell you that Brandon Marks would like to raise his son. He will be coming to pick him up tomorrow.”
“No. He can’t have him. I won’t let him take Brady.” Not now. Not after she’d just lost Maggie. She couldn’t lose Brady too.
Brady glanced up at his name, watching her and she turned away, lowering her voice.
“You can try to sue for custody.”
“Maggie left Brady to me. Not to him. Doesn’t that mean anything?”
“It means you have the right to go to court about it.”
“I want to. And I’m keeping Brady until that time.”
“Mr. Marks has the right to take his child now.”
“I’m not letting him. Brady stays with me.”
“I’ll see what I can do for you and let you know.” She sat still and silent while Brady sat in a corner on the floor, not saying a word.
“Ellie. Can I talk to you a moment?” Was everything going to happen today? She’d just buried her little sister. Enough was enough for one day. What else could be happening?
“Of course.” She followed her boss from the room, stopping by the reception desk. “Sally could you keep an eye on Brady for just a minute?”
“Of course.” She left the little boy by the front desk for a moment and went into her boss’s office.
“Ellie I wanted to tell you that the assistant editor job is yours if you want it. I recommended you last week and the office in New York called today. They want you there in two weeks.”
“Thank you. Thank you so much sir.” She rushed out of the office feeling better than she had in the past few days.
It wasn’t for almost a week that Mr. Matthews called her back.
“Miss. Michaels. This is Gordon Matthews.”
“Yes Mr. Matthews what have you found?” She adjusted the phone to type, feeling exhausted. Between Brady and work she wasn’t getting much sleep.
“I’ve arranged things so you will have a hearing in one week. You and Mr. Marks will meet with a judge and we will decide who will be best for the child.”
“In one week?”
“Yes. July 17 at 10 am.” She took down the date and time as well as the place.
“Thank you Mr. Matthews. I’ll be there.” She hung up the phone feeling rundown. How could she prove to a court that she was a better person for Brady than his own father? The next few days were a blur. She found someone to watch Brady but it was so expensive she realized quickly she couldn’t do it permanently. How had Maggie managed on her waitressing salary to support herself and Brady? She was having a hard time on a reporter’s salary.
Even now it had only been a few weeks but she’d had to buy Brady clothes and food and some toys. Maggie’s house was just too far to drive to after a whole day of work.
The next week was a blur. She found a sitter to stay with Brady while she was at work from about 7-6. Lily even stayed later sometimes, making dinner and putting Brady to bed. It was expensive but at least she could get her work done and not have to worry about Brady.
On the day of the hearing she hurriedly e-mailed her article to her boss and headed to the courthouse two hours early. Brady was hers and she was going to prove that she was best for him.
Her lawyer was waiting and she quickly filled him in on her case. She had a steady job as a reporter making good money, she had been taking care of Brady for the past few weeks, Brady knew her and Maggie had left Brady to her.
“Even so this could be a hard case to win.”
“I’m counting on you to win it for me.”
He led her into the courtroom, and she looked for the first time upon Brandon Marks. He looked good in his black suit with his two attorneys standing beside him. They all stopped speaking and stared at her as she passed by. They knew who she was. Brandon’s calm stare nearly drove her crazy. This was her nephew. He had only just found out the child existed. Her lawyer pulled her away however before she could say anything to him.
They didn’t have to wait long before the judge entered and they were all allowed to be seated.
“So this is Mr. Marks who is the father of the child in question is that right?”
“Yes Your Honour.” He replied.
“And this is … Miss. Michaels? You are the aunt of the child?”
“Yes Your Honour.”
“Now Miss. Michaels what exigent circumstances do you believe warrant your raising this child in place of his father?”
“Your Honour Brady is my nephew, my sister’s son. In her will she left him in my care.”
“That’s all very good Miss. Michaels but it doesn’t help our case. This case is to determine what is best for the child.”
“Brady doesn’t know his father Your Honour. Mr. Marks didn’t even know he had a son until only a couple weeks ago. Brady had known me his whole life.”
“Is this true then Mr. Marks? You did not know about the child?”
“No Your Honour I did not.”
“And in these past two weeks have you tried to see him or talk to him at all?”
“No Your Honour.” She let out a deep breath. This was starting to look better for her and worse for Brandon.
“All right then. Well let’s move on with this case then.” He proceeded to ask each of them a number of questions about their life and how Brady would fit into their life. He asked about how they planned to take care of him, where he would go to school and what kind of family they had.
Things began going downhill fast for her as soon as the questions began. She was an admitted workaholic, she planned to continue taking care of Brady the way she had been. She told the judge about how she had hired Lily to take care of Brady and that she would enroll him at the public school. There was no one else in her home and she had no other family aside from Brady.
It was obvious the judge wasn’t impressed with what she said. He asked about Lily. What she knew, how she’d found her. He asked about her job and how well she did on her salary. He seemed to know that she hadn’t thought about school and had decided to send Brady to public school on the spot. It made her nervous when the judge turned to Brandon and asked him.
“I have a wife and two daughters at home. They’re all very excited about Brady coming to live with us. We’ve already started getting a room ready for him and I’ve already enrolled him at Kingston Academy. They have an excellent preschool program that both of my daughters attended. Also I’ve already looked into a playgroup for him outside of school. There’s one right near the house. When he’s not in school we already have a full-time nanny for the girls who would be happy to look after Brady as well.”
The judge was already smiling and nodding as Brandon outlined his plan for Brady. As Brandon went on to talk about how they’d started readying a room as soon as they found out about him and how they were so excited to have him the judge continued to nod. It was obvious he was very pleased with Brandon and she would have an almost impossible struggle ahead of her.
Her lawyer even admitted it when they left. “This will be a lot more difficult than I thought.”
“I need you to win this for me.”
“One question, do you want to win because you love Brady? Or because you can’t stand to lose?” She scowled at him and hurried home but his words echoed in her ears.
Lily was sitting on the couch when she got there, flipping through channels and a magazine at the same time. “He just went to bed. We had some peanut butter and jelly for dinner. You might want to pick up some more groceries you’re getting kinda low on things to feed him.”
“Thank you Lily. I’ll see you tomorrow.” She walked Lily out and headed to Brady’s room. He lay curled up in the center of the bed, so small. As she sank down onto the bed beside him he stirred, looking up at her blearily.
“Hi Auntie Ellie.”
“Shh. Go back to sleep Brady.”
“G’Nite.” He agreed without protest. She brushed his hair back from his face as he closed his eyes. Yes he was her nephew and Maggie had left him to her, but she loved him more than anything and would do anything for him. If that meant letting Brandon Marks take him away from her then that’s what she would do.