Finally Finding Freedom This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

May 11, 2012
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The clock ticks slowly and I wait for the minute to change. I have to wait until exactly 6:30 before I can get out of bed to begin getting ready for school. If it is even 6:29 my father will shuffle out of his room and beat me until I am black and blue; I would deserve it though. I would have been disobeying him and a bad child deserves punishment. The clock finally ticks and it is time to get up. I wait until it is 30 seconds past 6:30 so that I can be sure that I am on time. I have thirty minutes to be walking out the door.

My little sister Gracie was sleeping until I got out of bed. She is not a light sleeper because she knows that she must have her guard up all the time. It is sad that she fears the nights when our father comes to “tuck her in”. When he comes into our room in the middle of the night we both know that one of us is in big trouble. There are only two reasons that he comes into our room. He is either drunk and looking for a special type of friend or he is in one of his rages where all he wants is blood. He normally will take Gracie out before me because he has learned that it hurts me more to see little Gracie hurt than it does for him to hurt me.

“Jakey?” Gracie whispers, “Is it time?”

I don’t say anything but I nod my head. I know it is still dark and that Gracie can barely see me but I nod rather than say a word. Gracie throws off the ancient blanket that she has slept with every night she has been allowed that comfort, for her entire life. It was given to her by a nurse at the hospital on the day she was born, it has been one of the only blankets she has ever had in her life.

I slide my legs out from under the covers and make my bed. Robert likes a clean house. I cannot stand calling Robert my father because he has never acted like a parent to me or Gracie. He has acted like a prison guard who only wants to hurt us until we are old enough to get the heck out of here. I cannot wait until I turn 18 because I will then be able to go out on my own and then when I am far enough away, I can call Child Services and get my little Gracie away from there too. I think about that every single night. I dream of being able to live in a nice apartment where we always have enough food to eat, blankets to curl up under, and enough money to treat Gracie like the princess she really is; I want her to have the happy perfect life that she has seen only in Disney movies that she sees in school.

I am deep in thought about what Gracie and my life could be like when Gracie takes a sharp breath in.

“What’s wrong Gracie?” I whisper in her direction.

“I hurted my toe. It hurts really bad,” she says, whining before the tears begin to flow. The gentle tears quickly become sobs of pain and ache. I want to comfort her but then I hear something from the next room over.

“Gracie. Get. In. The. Corner. Now,” I sternly whisper. She walks into the dark corner just as Robert barges in through the door.

“What in God’s name is going on in here? Can’t you even get your butts out of bed and get ready for flipping school without waking up the entire damn house?” he turns to Gracie, “This is all your fault. You’re the one making all the noise,” he looks at Gracie, with a disbelieving and stunned expression, “Are you crying? You have no reason to cry, you stupid little brat. Do you want me to give you something to cry about?”

He keeps yelling but I tune him out. I want to stand up for Gracie, to help her. I know I can’t though. It would only cause more trouble; it always causes more trouble, so I get my stuff that I need for the day and walk into the other room to get ready. I take off my shirt and change into one of my less dirty ones. It still reeks of sweat and dirt because laundry only gets done once a month (if that) for me and Gracie. Robert leaves the room about a minute later. In the next few minutes Gracie has changed into the clothes I laid out for her the night before and come out into the kitchen. I can not even tell that she had been crying a few minutes ago, she looks like the Gracie I see when I drop her off at school. She is a totally different person at home than at school. It’s a crazy change from one to the other.

Gracie walks out into the kitchen and chugs a glass of milk before grabbing her torn up sneakers and sliding them on.

“Here. Put this on, it’s cold out today,” I say offering her my sweatshirt. She takes it and puts it on. It looks almost like a blanket on her, but at least it will keep her warm while we walk to school. We step out the door and close it lightly behind me. Gracie and I walk for a few minutes before either of us says anything. I am not the first one to talk, it is Gracie with her soft, sweet voice.

“Jakey, I want out of here. I don’t like our house no more. It’s not fun there, it’s scary,” she says her bright blue eyes filling with tears. I don’t have any clue how to help her. There isn’t much I can do. There are only two options; I can go talk to someone at school and get them to get us out of that Hell or Gracie and I could try to make it in the world on our own. Only one of those options is a rational choice that could ensure that we keep our lives.

“Gracie I need you to promise me that you won’t say anything to anyone at school today. OK? I’m going to fix everything. I promise,” I say bending down on a knee so that I am looking her in the eyes. She smiles ever so slightly. I kiss her on the cheek and then we take two separate roads to get to school. I walk another mile and a half to Thomas Grove High and Gracie walks about 500 feet to the doors of the elementary school.

I have a plan now. First thing this morning I am going to go visit Mr. Stork, my guidance counselor and tell him everything that is happening at home and he is going to call the police. I will ask that the cop take me over to the elementary school so that I can be there when he goes to talk to Gracie. Gracie and I will both tell our sides of the story and then the police officer will take us to the station where we will wait until they find a place for us to stay. I can do this, I have the courage to finally stand up to Robert. He will not win this battle; he has won many battles before now but today Gracie and I will end the war, victoriously.

I walk in through the East doors of the school and go to my first bell teacher’s room.

“Mrs. Lee?” I ask, quietly.

She looks at me and says,

“Yes Jacob? What do you need?”

“Well I am going to go talk to Mr. Stork this morning. I don’t know if I will be back in time for class. I am just letting you know that I am here today and asking if I have anything that I will need,” I reply. Mrs. Lee gives me an approving nod and says that I can get my homework later. I have a feeling that she knows what I am going to talk to the counselor about. She has seen me cover the bruises, I have made excuses for Robert, and she has never once questioned me. I wonder why not?

“Okay. Well if I don’t see you today, have a nice day,” she pauses, “and keep your head up, Jake. You’re a strong kid.”

She goes back to her filing, and wipes her face. She is obviously crying. I decide it is best to just go about my business so I turn about face and walk towards the front office. I sit in the chair for about 5 minutes until someone asks me what I need.

“Can I speak with Mr. Stork please. It’s quite important,” I say.

The wrinkled-faced secretary nods and tells me to go on back to his office.

“Be sure to knock first. Wouldn’t want to be impolite, now would we?” I hear her say as I get about halfway down the hallway. I stand in front of the door to Mr. Stork’s private office for a few seconds, second guessing myself. I think,

'No Jacob Anthony. You will do this, right now. Think about Gracie; she is too innocent and small to have to deal with this type of thing.”

I knock.

“Come in,” Mr. Stork’s always cheerful voice calls. I crack open the door and take about a step inside. He tells me to take a seat and that he will be just a few minutes. He has some very important paper work that he must turn in to the state before the start of the day. I sit, in complete silence. Mr. Stork types feverishly on his keyboard.

He looks at me after he is done submitting whatever paper he was finishing. He calls me by name; this strikes me as a bit odd because he has about 350 students that he counsels one-on-one. How could he remember all of our names? I’m quite impressed.

“Now Jake. What is it that you wish to talk about?” he asks, his compassionate eyes are trained on me. I have his full attention.

“Well. Um sir, I need to talk about Robert ,” I say.

He asks who Robert is and I quickly correct myself. I tell him that Robert is my father.

“Well, the thing is….” I trail off as the tears flood my eyes. Mr. Stork lets me cry for a few seconds until I can catch my breath again and then he urges me to continue. I am having trouble speaking. I am fumbling over my words and at this point I am sure that Mr. Stork just thinks that I am some weird kid with mental disabilities.

“Jacob, you know you’re safe here? Don’t you?” he asks.

“Yes. It’s just that this is hard to talk about,” I wait and then realize that there’s the student confidentiality thing, or whatever. I can’t get in trouble for telling him because he is only here to help me.

“Well, I need some help. My life at home isn’t going too well right now, and I have absolutely no clue how to fix things. My father, well it seems like he hates my and my little sister and that he thinks life without us would be better,”

Mr. Stork purses his lips,

“Why do you think that?”

Here comes the big confession. I banish the tears from my face and put up a barrier so that no more can escape my eyes. Now, I am ready,

“Well, he has never been afraid to whip us if we do something bad but as of recently it’s become more of a game to him. He will come in and hit us when he’s bored, tired, lonely, drunk, or angry about something totally unrelated to his life at home. He scares me. I never know what horrible or cruel thing he will do next,” I pause to take a few breaths and Mr. Stork says,

“Before we go any further with this I think it would be best to get another witness in the room. Would it be okay with you if I call one of my detective friends who works at the police station? He specializes in this type of thing and can probably take care of things better than I can; I’ll even ask him to pick up your sister? You said it was a sister, right?”

I nod and wait for him to pick up the phone.

“You’re a strong kid, Jake. I’m proud that you trusted me enough to talk about it. Now that you have admitted that there’s a problem, we can find a solution.

He hangs up and looks me in the eyes.

“I have made a call to the local police station. They are going to go pick up your sister and bring her over here to be with you. They are going to ask you both some questions and decide how to approach the situation from there. Now, Jacob. Is there anything you want before they get here?”

I am about to tell him that I am fine for now, but then my stomach grumbles. My tummy answered the question for me.

“C’mon kid. Let’s go get you something to eat,” Mr. Stork says as he gets up out of his office chair.

Gracie is waiting for me when Mr. Stork and I get back from eating in the cafeteria. She gets up out of the seat in the office when I walk into the room. She hugs me, holding on tight as if I was going to disappear if she let go. She tells me she loves me over and over again. I tell her I love her too and then we sit down. Gracie crawls up into my lap and rests her head on my shoulder. I feel my shirt dampen with her tears.

“It will be okay, Gracie. Calm down,” I tell her.

The officer sits down in Mr. Stork’s desk chair and Mr. Stork takes the seat next to Gracie and I. The officer introduces himself as Detective Tyler Newman. He says that he is here to hear our story and help us in any way that he can, he tells us that if we need some time to gather ourselves we can wait a little while, that we are 100% safe here, and that he wants us to feel like w can tell him anything.

I am the first to talk. Gracie lifts her head when she hears my voice. I tell Detective Newman,

“My father, Robert is a very abusive man. He has been this way since I was 11 and Gracie was 3 years old. He hits us constantly, refuses to feed us, takes away our clothes and blankets, and he does much more inappropriate things to Gracie. He needs to be stopped and this was the only thing that I could think to do. I have wanted to get away from him and that house for years but I knew that I couldn’t leave Gracie and that if I brought her along with me that we would have no chance of surviving.”
I had practiced what I was going to say to the officer all morning. I thought about it while I was talking to Mr. Stork and while we were eating. I practiced it enough so that there was no emotion left in me. I cried the first 5 or 6 times and then the tears just stopped. I knew that it made the story less believable because I showed no emotion, but I couldn’t stand it if Gracie saw me crying. I knew that I would have to be strong as possible for her.

“Strong men don’t cry. Babies and weaklings cry,” Robert used to tell me when I would cry because he had hurt me. I stopped crying years ago and learned to show that ‘I was strong enough to take whatever he could throw at me’ strategy was a better one.

Detective Newman looks at Gracie and asks her if she has anything to add to the story. She nods her head and from then on I block out everything that she says because I am too scared to hear what had happened to her when I was not there to protect her.

“Well kids. I think I have heard enough,” Detective Newman says.

“Wait. What happens to us now? Do we go to the station with you or do we have to go back to Robert?” I ask, beginning to panic.

“I promise you that nobody is ever going to make you go back to Robert. Your time with him is over. I am going to take you both up to the station and we are going to try and find another relative that you can live with. Gracie plug your ears,” he says to Gracie and waits until she does to begin talking again, “Or in the worst case scenario you both will be placed in the Foster Care System until you turn eighteen and then you can sign for Gracie and you two can leave. Now let’s go. Thank you Daniel,” he says to Mr. Stork.

This type of thing that happened at school (a few hours of talking and explaining) happens for about the next two days. We spend our nights at the station, sleeping in the chairs. Detective Newman stays with us. He tells Gracie that he will stay there to “make sure that Robert doesn't come back.” Through those couple of days we visit with two different psychologists, medical doctors, counselors, and detectives. They all ask us to tell them our story and for each of them the story has been the same. There is nothing to change because we can’t change the past; we can only change our future and the present. To the people who ask us about our lives we tell them,

“Yes our father beat us. Yes we want to get away from him, but we don’t want to go just anywhere. We want to be with people who genuinely care about us, not just people who can tolerate us. No, we do not want revenge against him, we only want the amount of justice that is fair to both parties. We just want to be happy. Plain and simple.” Of course, we elaborate much more, but it all ends up the same in the end. I am exhausted from lack of sleep; I feel like I’ve done nothing but talk for the past 72 hours, and don’t get me wrong. I love finally being able to voice my opinion with 100% honesty; it’s great but I don’t think it is fair. I realize that all these people are here to help us, but I don’t see how making us repeat ourselves ten times a day is accomplishing anything. That’s just my opinion.

I have spent most of my free time sleeping, eating, and talking to Detective Newman about things totally unrelated to the case. I have learned that he and I both like playing games, reading, and running (along with a bunch of other things.) He makes me laugh, smile, and forget about the case. I have only known this dude for a couple of days, but through it all he has been supportive. He tells Gracie and I that we can come talk to him about anything, even once our case is resolved. He has taken us out for pizza and spaghetti, a thing that I haven’t had in years. He is beginning to restore my hope for humanity. He has proven that there are still good, bighearted people out there. I feel like I can trust him, and that feeling is kinda new to me…. but it feels right. I like having someone that I can tell my every little secret and trouble to and not be scared that they will judge me. He seems to care about me more than anything or anyone else.

Three days and two hours after we leave the school Gracie and I are sitting in two chairs at the police station eating some pizza and drinking chocolate milk. Mr. Newman is still on the phone, trying to contact our family to see if anyone will take us in (as he has been doing on and off for a while.) Of course, nobody on Robert’s side of the family will take us in because they see nothing wrong with Robert. Detective Newman is now trying the last couple of people on our mom’s side of the family. He is currently talking to our Aunt Josie, the second to last person on the list. She will say no, because she has 4 kids of her own and barely enough money to take care of them. It looks like Gracie and I are going to be considering ourselves a couple new prisoners of the Foster Care System.

“Okay. Yes ma’am I understand. Well thanks anyways. Goodbye,” I hear Detective Newman say and then he puts his head in his hands and lets out a long sigh. He tries to call our great uncle, Harold as the very last resort. Harold cuts him off and hangs up the phone before he even get the chance to explain the situation. Newman gets up and walks into the back and begins talking to a man in the big office. I assume he is the chief here, he keeps shaking his head. I sneak over to the door to try and hear what they are saying, I hear,

“Tyler, you know that it is unfair for you to get this involved with a case,”

“But sir these kids won’t make it through the system. They need me, and that little girl Gracie is such a sweet girl and her brother is an amazing kid. I’ve spent a bunch of time with them both and I can see that they need me. Please sir! Please, I’ll fill out the paperwork as soon as possible. These kids deserve better, I can be that better choice for them….” he trails off. The big, husky man across the desk sits there for a minute or two, considering and contemplating. He finally looks at Newman and gives him a stern look.

“Fine. You can have this one chance. I will fill out the temporary custody agreement papers for you. Tyler you have to understand though, you are these kids’ final chance. If this doesn’t work out not only does it look bad for the department but it will come back and hit these kids too. I want you to be totally sure that this is what you want before you go making rushed decisions.”

“Sir, I can promise you right now that I will make this work. These kids make my day. Have you not noticed me walking around with that smile on my face, talking to those kids every chance I get? I promise you sir, you won’t regret this.” Tyler Newman says and then I hear the door open. I try to act casually and wander around as if I heard nothing, but I can’t stop the smile from cracking.

“Hey Jake. Get Gracie and come with me,” Newman says poking his head out the door of the office.

“Okay,” I say, motioning Gracie to come over with me.

Gracie walks, somberly over to me and Tyler escorts us back to his boss’ office. He is wearing a huge smile.

“Hey there kids. I’m Police chief Grey. Now, I have something I want to talk to you two about,” he says looking not at Gracie and I but at Mr. Newman. Mr. Newman notices this and takes it as his opportunity to say something. He speaks up,

“Bruce? Don’t you think it would be better if the kids heard this from me? Seeing as I am the one who made the choice in the first place?”

“Yes Tyler. I think that would be just fine. Go ahead, the floor’s all yours,” Bruce says in his deep but somehow still monotone voice.

Tyler gets up and stands in front of Gracie and me. He bends down so that he is at our eye level and he says,

“How would you two feel about coming to stay with me and my wife, Kristy? Truthfully, we couldn’t find a place suitable for you to stay so that you both could stay together and be totally happy. Look, I care about you kids. You know that, right? Really, I do and because I care I thought it would be better for you. What do you guys think?” he says, tentatively.

I am stunned. I had overheard the conversation that Tyler and his boss had, but I didn’t think he was talking about being a foster family for me and Gracie. I don’t really know how I feel about all of this, but Gracie seems okay with it because she gets up and rushes over to hug Tyler. I take that as my cue to get up or say something. We all wait a minute, a bit afraid to say anything. I, personally am waiting for some reality show host to jump out of the corner and tell us we’re on TV, but it doesn’t happen. So, I venture out and ask,

“Well, have you talked to your wife about any of this?” I ask.

He smiles,

“Yes I have. She thinks it would be wonderful to have a couple more bright, smiling faces wandering around everyday. I’ve told her all about you both and she says you sound like pretty cool cats. Her words, not mine. She’s kind of a dork…. but anyways. You in?”

He looks at me, inquisitively and all I can think is ‘wow, I’m going to have an actual family.’

“Heck yeah. I’m in. How about you, Gracie?”

Gracie just smiles.

“Well, how about I call Kristy and we all go out for some lunch?” Tyler asks.

Without waiting to hear a response he pulls his cell phone out of his pocket, presses a number on his speed dial, and begins talking. He walks out of the room and leaves us to have a little talk with the chief.

“Now you two do realize that you won’t be able to go back to your house? Right? Don’t worry about anything though because we are going to send over a team to go collect all your stuff and arrest your mother and father. In a couple of months they will have a court date and you both will have to come give a testimony. You’ll have to come tell a bunch of people why they should go to jail. Do you understand?”

Gracie and I say yes and he continues talking about what will happen when we go back to school and how people are going to be at Tyler’s house a lot just to check up on us and see how everything is working out. We tell him that we’ll be fine and not to worry about us. He says okay and hands me a slip of paper with his phone number on it, just in case and then dismisses us. When we leave, Tyler is sitting in the waiting chairs outside of chief Grey’s office. He gets up and gives us both a hug and then walks out to his car. We get into the backseat.

“Okay, so I need to run back to the house to change clothes and we can pick up Kristy. We can go eat at the park and then do anything you two want. Is there anything you can think of that you for sure want to do?”

I cannot think of anything specific, but I know what Gracie will say. She has always wanted a puppy, but of course we were never allowed to have one. Gracie being her out going self with the nonexistent word filter says,

“Can-- Can we get a puppy?” her voice sounds hopeful and full of excitement. Tyler laughs and looks at us in the rear-view mirror.

“What kind of puppy are we talking? Do you want a big puppy or a little puppy?”

I can’t believe that he is even giving this a thought. He is already inviting us into his home to live there; we are going to be taking his food, space, time, and money and now he is willingly bringing in another mouth to feed? All I can think is ‘wow.’ Gracie’s voice raises to a squeakier and more girlish.

“A big one. A big puppy that will sleep in my room and that will always want to play with me. I want that puppy,” she says. Tyler, glancing in the mirror says,

“Well Gracie, how about we talk more about this with Kristy and then if she says it’s okay than we can go to the shelter and pick you out a puppy.”

Gracie squeals. She quickly slips into her own world, most likely filled with puppies and other stuff. I can see her mouth move as she stares out the window and every few minutes she whispers a name; she is thinking about what she can name her puppy. I talk with Tyler while we drive through town. He asks me what type of things I like to do, what my favorite subject is, if I like the Colts, and what type of things Gracie and I will need for our rooms. He doesn’t stop to hear any of my answers, so when he is finished questioning me I reply to all the questions with a straight line of answers.

“I love writing songs and stories and stuff like that. I’ve been told that I have a talent for drawing, but they’re really just doodles. I love English and hate math. I haven’t ever seen a football game, and to be totally honest Gracie and I need just about everything imaginable for our rooms.”

“Well, okay. I’m sure we can work everything out. We will also have to stop by the school and pick up your enrollment forms. The house is in another district, so you’ll be attending Chase Valley High School. That’s where Kristy works, she teaches history so you might have her as a teacher. Oh, and on our way home we will also have to stop by the market so that we can get a bunch of food,” Tyler says.

In about 20 minutes we pull into a driveway. The house in front of me is the typical, suburban house complete with white picket fence. Tyler opens the car door for Gracie and walks up the driveway, Gracie clinging to his arm as he walks. We take a couple steps in the front door and the smell of baking cookies wafts from another room.

“Ty? Is that you?” a female voice calls from around the corner.

“Yes, sweetie. It’s me, and I have a couple of kids who would like to meet you,”

Ty leads us into the wide, open kitchen where a woman stands wearing jeans a hoodie and an apron. She looks to be about 27 or 28 years old, the same as Ty. She stops what she is doing and rushes over to Gracie and I.

“Hiya! I’m Gracie. Are you my new mommy?” Gracie asks. Man, the kid sure doesn’t waste any time .Kristy seems thrown off guard, but she quickly recovers. She hugs Gracie and says,

“Well I know you’ll be living here for quite a while. You can call me mommy, Kristy, or whatever you like baby-doll.”

Gracie giggles,

“I’ll call you Mommy,”

Gracie hugs her again and then Kristy gets up to hug me. She squeezes me tight and then asks if I’d rather be called Jake or Jacob. I tell her that she can call me whatever she’d like and she laughs.

“Are you kids hungry?”

“I’m starved,” I say, rubbing my stomach.

She laughs again and picks up the picnic basket off the floor. I tell her that I’d be happy to take it for her and she hands it off to me. We walk about a quarter mile down the road in front of the house to a park. We sit down on a fleece blanket in the grass and begin to pass around the food. I fill my plate with grilled chicken, fruit, potato salad, and macaroni and cheese. Kristy fills a plate for Gracie. It overflows with grapes, PB&J sandwiches cut into heart shapes, and some macaroni. I smile at her and she gives me her cute, toothy grin.

Ty starts up the “dog conversation.”

“So Kristy, I think that there is something that these two little rascals want to talk to you about.”

Kris-- Mom gives us the inquisitive look and Gracie takes that as her cue to jump in and say something. She stammers, still getting used to calling someone her mom,

“Mo—mom? I want to get a puppy,” she says looking at Mom.

'Well, I think that can be arranged.”

Kristy seems so cool with it. I look at my new dad and mouth the question ‘Have you talked to her about this?’. He moves his fingers around on his phone like a spa. ‘I texted her,’ he mouths. Behind our little “conversation” I hear Gracie squeal in happiness. I turn back to my new found family. Gracie sets her plate on the blanket and announces,

“I’m not hungry anymore, Mommy. Can we go get the puppy now?”

Everybody, including me laughs. Ty goes over and gives her a big hug and kisses her cheek before he tells her that she has to eat her food and wait until everyone else if full before we can leave. She sighs but says okay and begins to scarf her food once again.

It feels weird to be sitting here, laughing and having fun with these people. I barely know them, but they found a special spot in their heart for me. I have to get used to calling Ty my dad and Kristy my mom because as of right now they are such as heck doing a better job than anyone else has ever done. I can already tell that from here on out my life is going to be pretty darn good. I sit there and think, I have about 2 months before school starts up again for me. I was pretty good at waiting until the last 2 days of school before saying anything to Mr. Stork. I knew that if I waited, I wouldn’t have to get his sympathy look everyday until the end of the year. By doing it the way I had, I feel I spared myself much embarrassment and trouble. Thank the Lord. I am drifting into my own little world when I see that my entire family is getting up from the ground and putting everything back in the car.

“Okay Gracie. Yes we can go now,” Dad says. Gracie squeals and jumps for joy.

“Puppy! Puppy! Woof! Woof!” she shrieks.

I walk over to my mom and talk to her,

“Are we really getting a dog?” I ask.

“Yeah, I mean Gracie really wants one. If it will make her happy than of course we will,” she replies after a moment of thought.

“Wow, but you guys just gave in so willingly. How?”

“Well Jake. You see, we already love you two. You are both such strong kids who deserve the world. Ty and I have always wanted kids, but I have always felt that I wanted to adopt kids who needed me to be there for them so when Ty called after he picked Gracie up from school he said that he had just met the most amazing little girl ever. He also said that she has a big brother who was smart enough and strong enough to stand up for himself and Gracie. He said that he knew that you both would be split up by the Foster care system and that it wouldn’t be fair for you to have fought so hard and so long for Gracie only to be taken away from her in the end,” she pauses, but I cut in.

“So, to help keep me and my sister together you and Ty agreed that you would adopt us into your own family?” I can see the tears well up in her eyes as she says yes. I reach my arms out and hug her tight. I thank her at least 10 times.

“Thank you Mom,” I say one last time before Ty closes up the trunk and starts the engine. We drive to the shelter. Gracie talks the entire way, and everyone just listens to her and asks her questions. I stare out the window and imagine scenes from my new life. I think of Mom driving me into school with her, and finally having Christmas presents under the tree, and playing with our soon to be dog, and playing with Gracie, Mom, and Dad.

We spend the rest of the day getting used to our new house (the other officer went and collected all of our stuff a couple hours earlier and delivered it.) We had our first family dinner and then talked about getting Gracie a puppy.

“We can wait until tomorrow to get the puppy. I just want to be with my Mommy, Daddy, and my Jakey today,” Gracie says, acting much more mature than she should. Mom and Dad say that is very generous of her and promise to take us to the shelter in the morning. We sit in the living room and play twenty questions for a little bit before we go up to get ready for bed. We also have to go shopping for new clothes and stuff in the next couple of days, but Mom said that she will take us on Monday or Tuesday. Gracie wanders into my room, with the stark white walls and small four- post bed. My room was the guest room before today but now it has been changed into my room.

“Jakey? Can I sleep in here tonight?”

I tell her of course she can but then she has this moment of realization. I ask her what she is thinking about and she says that she can go crawl into her mommy and daddy’s bed because now she won’t get in trouble.

The next morning I wake up at 8:57, the latest I have slept in during my entire life, except for the one time that I got chicken pox and had to stay in my bed. Even that only lasted one day though and then it was beck to waking up at 6:30 in the morning. I get out of bed, feeling totally rested and happy for once. It takes me a moment to realize that I am not with Robert anymore; I realize that I am free. I can walk through the house without having to worry about waking anybody up, I can go open the fridge and pour myself two glasses of milk and drink both of them, all by myself.

I throw on one of my old tee-shirts, and a pair of black basketball shorts that used to be Dad’s and make my way down to the kitchen. Mom is standing in the kitchen pouring something into a skillet.

“Good morning, honey. Are you hungry? I’m making pancakes and bacon. Gracie’s awake and watching cartoons in the front room; you’re welcome to go in and watch with her until breakfast is ready,” she says.

“Okay. Do you need me to do anything for you before that, though? I can set the table or wash dishes or something if you need me to,” I say. She shakes her head and tells me that breakfast will be ready in about 10 minutes.

I go sit down in the open recliner in the front room and watch Sponge-Bob Square-pants with Gracie.

“Hey Jakey, guess what!” Gracie says in her sing-song voice.

“What?” I ask.

“Today, we are getting a puppy!” she exclaims.

I tell her that I already know this and that the puppy is going to be all hers and she can name him whatever she wants and that she can take him for walks and outside to play and everything. As I say all of this I realize that if she does all of this then I won’t have nearly as many chores to do, assuming that I have very many in the first place.

“Breakfast!”Mom yells from the kitchen. Gracie and I walk into the kitchen where Mom has already laid out our plates stacked with pancakes and strips of crispy bacon. I thank her for cooking for us and then once we are all gathered around the table we pray. We ask God to bless the food we are about to eat and thank him fr bringing all of us together.


“Amen,” we all echo after Ty.

We all take our seats and begin to eat. The pancakes are that perfect fluffy texture and the warm syrup makes them melt in your mouth. I can’t remember a time when I have had food this delicious. I take a second in between stuffing my face to thank everyone for everything that they have done for Gracie and I in the past like 48 hours. It is unbelievable that people still have such a large amount of compassion for kids like us; they have officially restored my faith in humanity.

We wander into the animals shelter, Gracie holding onto Dad’s hand. The chipper worker lady greets us at the door,

“Well hello there! Is there anything I can help you with?”

Dad extends his hand and the young man shakes his hand.

“Yes sir. We are looking for a dog,” he says.

“Okay. Well if you will follow me I will take you back to the kennels and you can have a look around and see if there’s any little guy you like. Okay?”

“That sounds like a plan,” Dad says, following the guy in a green hoodie back to the back. Gracie is right by his side and Mom and I following at a slower pace. Gracie is pretty much dragging Dad to the back and he has to take big steps to keep up.

The first kennel has a slow, older looking dog huddled in the back to the cage and a short-legged beagle howling loudly at us. A few cages down there’s this beautiful chihuahua with drooping ears and big green/brown eyes. He yips playfully at us and jumps up against the wire of the cage. That’s when Gracie saw him.

“This one Daddy! I want this one!” she is pointing to a small little chocolate lab who is playing with the water in his bowl.

“Oh. So you like little Hershey, here? Do you want to take her out back for a little while and play with her?” the guy asks.

“Yeah. That’s be awesome!” Gracie shouts. The worker unlocks the cage and puts a leash on the puppy. As he walks us outside he gives us a little information on the little guy.

“He is about 3 months old. He is a full blooded lab. We got him about a month ago when his owner could no longer afford to care for him. He is very playful and good with kids. He loves to curl up in your lap and just go to sleep. I think he would be a very good dog for a family with kids.”

Dad looks at Gracie as she is running around with Hershey.

“How big do you think he will get?”

“Well,” the shelter helper guy begins, “he is about 40 pounds right now. Most dogs of this breed reach from 60 to 80 pounds. Well, actually now that I think about it they can get as fat as you let them. If you don’t go out and walk them and feed them right they can get 100 pounds if not more.”

Dad nods his head and says,

“Okay. Well we will have a quick talk about it and get back to you.”

The guy goes and wanders around the property and then Dad calls Gracie over to him.

“Okay sweetie. What do you think about this puppy?”

“I love him Daddy! Can we get him?”

Dad nods his head and tells her that she has to be sure that this is the puppy that she wants the most. She says yes and Dad wanders back inside to fill out the papers.
3 MONTHS LATER: The Update

It has been 3 months since Gracie and I were taken away from Robert and placed into the care of Ty and Kristy Newman. They take excellent care of us, give us everything we need, and are always there when we want them. It took about a week for Gracie and I to be totally settled into our new home, used to our new family, and beginning to forget about all the things that had happened to us in the past. Ever since we met Tyler and Kristy our lives have been changed for the better.

We started back at a new school about 4 months ago. Gracie loves it and I am already seeing myself flourish. My grades have jumped from the C+ or D’s that they used to be to the B+ and A- that I am earning now. I can go down and see my new-ish Mom any time that I want to because she is normally just a few doors down the hall. I don’t have to walk to school in the freezing cold because I have a caring parent who will drive me to school. Gracie has made a lot of new friends and is constantly having sleepover parties. She is doing very good with keeping her grades up as well. She asks for help with her homework and studies all the time.

Gracie has turned into a totally “Daddy’s girl” as our Dad, Ty would say. He is the person she sits by at the dinner table, plays catch with in the yard, goes for bike rides with, and talks to; even though she spends a lot of time with our dad she insists that I am still her best friend. She and I work on homework together and I am the only one who will sit down for hours and play “Barbie: Princess Adventure” with her. I love her to death and will never let anything separate us again, physically or mentally. She is the best little sister I could ask for, she makes my days a little brighter and the sun shine a little stronger. I make sure to tell her that every night before she goes to bed so that she will always know that I will be here for her.

Hershey, our little chocolate lab, is doing very well also. He is about as rambunctious and playful as a puppy can be; he loves to play fetch and go for walks. He is very loving and protective of his family though; he sleeps with Gracie every single night just to make sure that no harm comes to her. He’s a total sweetheart though. His bark is way worse than his bite, I promise.

I am doing perfectly fine. As I said before I have brought my grades up and continue to work hard at school. I have gotten my learner’s permit and am getting closer to getting my driver’s license everyday. I can’t wait until I can hit the open road; I can go on road trips with my friends and go out and pick up pizza when I am hungry or do any number of things that would have been “against the rules” 4 months ago. I am super happy now and add to the mix of having a wonderful family, good grades, and more freedom than I ever thought imaginable; I now have fallen in love. I met this girl, her name’s Rebecca. We met in homeroom on the first day of school and we instantly clicked. She was new this year too and was about as lost as I was; we got to talking and realized that we were both into a lot of the same things. About a month later I asked her to go out on a date with me. She said yes and we made a date for the following Friday. We went to the movies and saw this super funny action movie starring Dwayne Johnson and we starting dating after that. She is one of the best things that has happened to me. She is sweet, understanding, quirky, easy to talk to, and drop dead beautiful.

Becca was there for me through everything that has happened lately. She took a day off of school to come with me to the court hearing for Robert and she stayed up late with me for the days before to make sure that I was going to be able to say everything that needed to be said. She came and sat in the very front row, and reassured me the entire time I was there. Robert ended up going to jail and he is not scheduled for a parole hearing for quite a long time. He is not going to be given back custody because Ty and Kristy are our new legal parents. They gained temporary custody of us before the case but that was changed to full custody after Robert was sent to prison.

A lot has happened in the past 4-6 months, but it is all better now. Gracie and I are the happiest we have ever been. We are well cared for and loved, something that seemed so foreign to us a few months ago. Robert is gone, far enough away that he won’t be able to hurt us ever again. We are finally safe. Now, I am ready to put this nightmare behind me and move on with my life.

“Cheers to our new and wonderful family. I love you guys,” I say and drink the sparkling water as I watch the ball drop on New Years with my family.

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