| The family courtroom at Lisbon was an austere place. There were several groups of people waiting their turns. Finally the Bailiff called for MacIver, Cate and Dorney. Jesse and Trina came forward and a social worker led Tim up to stand in front of the bench. Tim recognized Jess of course and eyed him warily. Tim’s appearance had changed. They had cut off the matted tangle of hair. He was clean and wearing clean clothes.
Judge Meadows looked at the people standing before her. They were not your traditional family to say the least. She saw a young man of twenty-five, a woman in her sixties who could have been his grandmother, and a boy. These two people were seeking custody of the boy. He was a boy nobody else wanted. He was skin and bone. They had shaved his head because of the lice and he looked like a little scarecrow. He was obviously terrified. A faded green polo shirt taken from a bag of donated clothing at the shelter was too big for him; making him look even scrawnier than he was.
Judge Meadows was facing a very unusual decision. The home these people maintained, she understood, was well run and met all requirements. But this man was only twenty-five and he was single. They did not usually award custody to people that young, and to unmarried men, never.
On the other hand, nobody else wanted this boy with his bottomless needs. His chances of getting into family care were nil and at the same time he probably was not strong enough to survive without it. She knew this was the only chance he was going to get.
Moreover the child was a criminal. He had enough charges against him to send a grown man to prison for several years. And these people wanted him. She wondered why.
Jesse spoke quietly explaining that he had met the boy three weeks earlier in Carthage. He said that he had prayed for the child and he knew that God Himself was telling him to take care of him.
Ordinarily Judge Meadows was wary of people who talked about God that way. Some of them were fanatics and some of them were far worse than that. But she sensed that this time she was being told the plain truth. After all what else could be his motive for wanting this child? This child, who needed absolutely everything, whose total possessions were in a little paper bag in his hand, this was the one he wanted. He had been told what the child’s health problems were and he wanted him, and when they were done telling him about his police record, he still wanted him
Judge Meadows was supposed to judge people; it was in her job description; it was her title. How was she to judge this young farmer, this woman and this boy? She asked herself, What mix is this to put together? And there's another boy in the home, too; what about him?
She made her decision. "I am awarding custody of Timothy Dorney to Katrina Cate and to Jesse MacIver. I could be wrong. I could be making the mistake of my career. But the alternative is returning him to the shelter. I think you can and will give him the care he needs. He will be on probation until his eighteenth birthday. He will be assigned a probatiob officer ".
She signed the papers and gave them to Jess. He said, “That’s it, Your Honor? I can take him home now?”
She replied, “Good luck.” But even then she knew this man was not relying on luck. He sincerely believed he was obeying his God in this and she remembered a quote from the Bible, “the Judge of the whole world shall do right."
Jess told Tim, “Now we can go home.”
Tim had not ‘gone home’ before because he didn't have a home to go to. He stayed in some squalid digs with his father from time to time but that was not a home. It was just a place he had to go back to because there was nowhere else. Looking up at his new governor he recognized his own powerlessness so he did as he was told. Jess had a sweater for him to put on and when he moved to give it to him Tim ducked away and put up hands to defend himself. Jesse said the words he was going to have to say many times in days to come. “Don’t be afraid of me, Tim; I will never do anything to hurt you.” But Tim was looking at big hands grown hard and callused with work. There was no question that Jesse had the power here, and Tim feared what he might do with it. Where Tim came from. a man like him would use his strength to intimidate and dominate.
Tim saw that they were turning up a driveway toward a big white house. There was a large expanse of green lawn in front and flowers in bloom. Jess said to him, “This is where we live.”
Tim thought, Wow! It's a rich house. He went inside with them, keeping as well away from the big man as he could, wary of anything he might do.
They showed him the room they said was to be his. Jess said, “It’s your room. You can fix it up any way you want.”
Tim thought, This room doesn't need any fixing. There was a bed and a dresser and a desk, an armchair and a desk chair. On a nightstand by the bed were a Bible and a lamp. Tim noted that his name was stamped in gold on the cover of the Bible.
The lady opened dresser drawers and showed him neatly folded clothes. She said, “We got you some things but you’re old enough to pick out your own clothes so we’ll take you to the stores.” There were clothes in the closet too.
Tim had never had things of his own. The idea of being taken to a store to pick anything out was new to him. He thought, these people are sure rich.
And they were clean people too, that was obvious. The woman had white hair combed back from her face in shining waves. The man was clean-shaven, wearing a suit and white shirt and tie. The big hands were working hands but they were clean and groomed with well-kept nails. Tim wanted to be clean; he'd never had the chance before.
Tim hadn't as yet said a word. Jess told him "Lunch will be ready in a few minutes. After lunch I want you to take a rest. I know you’re tired.”
Yes, he was tired. It had been a long stressful morning for him. His small reserves had been used up. He thought, Nobody ever cared before if I was tired or not. He found his voice at last and asked, “Where will I work?”
“You won’t work anywhere. You aren’t here to work. Right now your job is to get well.”
It was obvious even to Tim. If they wanted a boy to do chores, to wouldn’t be him. He knew he was not going to be of any use to them.
Lunch was a simple pasta dish deliciously prepared and lettuce and tomato slices on the side with a fruit for dessert. Tim had been well fed at the children’s shelter. He concluded, This must be how rich people eat.
Before they began eating Jess took Trina’s hand and reached for Tim’s. The boy flinched and pulled away. Again Jess promised him, “I will never hurt you!” He explained, "We're going to pray and thank God for the food. We join hands when we pray. After a moment the child gave his hand.
Tim knew no table manners of course. He decided that he should imitate Jesse and try to eat like him.
When he had finished eating and topped it off with a banana, Jess told him, “Now I want you to get some rest. You can go upstairs and rest in your bed or you can rest in the recliner in the living room. Joey won’t be home for a while yet.”
Tim decided to rest in the recliner since he had a choice. He wasn’t used to having choices. Jess untied his shoes and slipped them off. Tim was wearing odd socks and one of them had a hole. Jess threw the old socks away. "We have new socks for you to put on when you get up." He covered him with the knitted blanket from the couch. Jesse thought. I'm going to have to get better shoes than those for him. He squints when he looks around. Probably he needs glasses. Well, then he'll have them.
Trina came into the living room then. Jesse said "I have chores to attend to outside."
Trina told Tim "I'll be right there in the kitchen if you want anything."
He wondered, What could I want? Trina touched his face, bent down and kissed his forehead. Tim felt his eyes well with tears. This was a boy who would not cry for any pain. Where he came from any sign of weakness was an invitation to disaster.
Tim thought about how his life had changed. Only weeks ago He'd been on the run from the police, afraid, cold and hungry. Then the county home, which was a lot better. But now I'm in this place and they say this is my home. They want me here. She gave him a tissue, kissed him again and was about to go out of the room.
Tim spoke up, “Can I please ask you something?”
“Of course, Love.” She came back and sat beside him.
“It’s about Jess. It’s personal.”
“If it’s too personal I’ll tell you."
Tim sat up. “Is Jess born again?” It was the last question she had ever expected to hear from him.
“Yes Love he surely is! That’s not personal; everybody knows it. Where did you hear of being born again?”
“At the mission. They explained it there. I went to the mission because they give you food and I usually didn’t listen to the talk because I was too hungry. Pa said just eat the food and don’t listen to the crap ~ I mean the things they tell you because they’re hypocrites.”
“But you did listen?”
“Yes’m, the last time I went there I listened. When Brother Nate asked if anybody wanted to be born again to raise their hand and I raised mine and I said the prayer. He said if you said it and meant it you were born again and we should come up front and he would explain things. But then I saw Truck come in.”
“He’s a friend of Pa’s; he’s bad. I don’t know his name; they all call him his street name, and I’m afraid of him. He went in there sometimes to get food. I thought he might of seen me put up my hand and he'd tell Pa if I went up front, so I ran out of there. I didn’t get a chance to talk to Brother Nate. The next day Truck got busted. So we had to get out of town, or we’d be next. That was when Pa got arrested, in that old barn.”
“Tim, you became God’s child and He worked it out to have someone take care of you for Him!”
“Then He heard me when I said the prayer? I did a lot of bad things you and Jess don’t know nothing about. I thought maybe He didn’t even hear me.”
“Oh of course He heard you.”
“Will you tell Jess what I told you?”
“Yes, if you want me to, but you could tell him yourself, you know."
Tim wasn't used to feeling safe enough to go to sleep anywhere. But in this room sleep came easily.
When he woke, Jesse was sitting at the desk a few feet away, writing. Tim watched him for a little while. Finally Jess swiveled the chair toward him and saw he was awake. “Hey, you had a good sleep!” Jess got up and came over to him. “Would you like to have a look around outside?”
Tim nodded and said, "Yes.” To himself he said, Now I’ll find out what work I have to do. Jess gave him the new socks to put on and waited while he put on his shoes.
They went outside together. Jess showed him the chicks in the brooder houses. Tim hadn't thought there could be that many baby chickens in the world. These were starting to get tiny feathers on their wings and their tails. Their cheeping and chirping filled the air.
“How many are there?” he asked.
“About a thousand of these. ”
Tim’s spindly little legs were already starting to ache. They started back to the house. Tim lagged behind a little; it was uphill. Jess came back for him. “I better carry you,” he said. He lifted him easily; he didn’t weigh much. Tim felt a little strange being carried but he felt safe, too.
Jesse told him to help himself to any of the books in the bookcase. “They tell me you’re a good reader.”
Tim thought, I wonder what else they told Jess about me? There's a lot I hope he' never finds out! I really want to stay in this place! Tim chose a book and sat down to read. I really fell into something good here. I'm going be as good as I can.
Joey arrived home a little later, in time for dinner. The two boys stood sizing one another up. Joey was not really ready to relinquish his status as only child and did not see what Jess thought they needed another kid around here for.
Jesse thought, Joey likes everybody. They'll get along. There’ll be a long road ahead, but the boys will get to be friends.
The next day he had to take Tim to the dentist. Tim asked anxiously, “Won’t that cost a lot of money?"
"Don't worry about the money. The county is paying for it.” Jess wondered why it had to wait until the child was this badly off before they started paying for anything. He resolved to get everything he could for him.