The first person Sean ran into was Judge Lewis; he filled Joe in on the information that he had learned about Adam's mother, and then hurried over to get Teri. "Mom, we need to hurry up and get Adam to a doctor, he's in a lot of pain!"
"Okay, we need to get everyone around then. By the way, what did you decide? Do I need to have Joe start on permanent custody papers for Adam too, or does he need to find another place?"
"He's gonna live with us, there's no way I'm gonna let him lose the only brother he has! They never even knew that the other one existed until recently; it would hurt them both to be torn apart again, now that they are finally together. I know how it would feel, and neither one deserves that." Sean said forcibly.
Teri looked at Sean, and realized that he was taking charge over the ragtag group that was suddenly becoming a family. She smiled; proud of the willingness Sean was showing to put others before himself. "Okay, Sean; Let me get John and Dan. You can figure out who is riding where and get everyone together."
"That's easy!" Sean replied, "We've already unfolded the third seat, so all of us kids will ride with you. The only argument will be who sits where, and that's easy to take care of."
"Hurry up then Sean, lets get Adam to the hospital and checked out as soon as we can."
Sean quickly got the rest of the boys together. "Load up in the Suburban. Kyle and Ty, you guys get in the jump seat in back. Cory and JJ, you get the middle seat with Adam, and I'll sit up front with Mom. Hurry up, Adam is in more pain than he'll admit to us, so we need to get him to the hospital as soon as possible to get fixed up."
By the time Sean drew his next breath, Ty was half way to the Suburban with Kyle close on his heels. JJ was not very far behind, but was catching up quickly. Sean looked at Cory, and they both took off jogging to join the rest of the crew. By the time they reached the SUV, the rest of the boys were in their seats and strapping in. As Cory latched down the rear access seat and climbed in, Sean looked around for Teri. He saw Dan and Joe getting in Dan's Camaro, while Teri had just left John as he was climbing into his squad car. Satisfied that there were not going to be any delays, Sean got in the passenger seat and waited for Teri.
John turned on his lights, and motioned Teri and Dan to fall in behind him. The three vehicles took off in a line to pick up I-80 to get into town.
Twenty minutes later they were at the Mercy Medical Center Emergency Room. After a few quick words from John, Teri and Adam were immediately taken into one of the exam rooms while everyone else went to the waiting area. There was not much conversation; the worry about Adam's condition was evident in all their faces.
After about ten minutes, a doctor came out and asked to talk to John. They went through the exam room hallway, to one of the private consulting rooms on the other side of the ER.
"Sheriff" the doctor started, "I'm Dr. Mike Jones. I need to report the boy's injuries to CPS, he has bruising over ninety percent of his body, along with welts from what appears to be a belt over most of his torso. I have to recommend his removal from parental custody until an investigation is completed, are you able to assist with that?"
"Actually," John replied, "all you need to do is write the report; the group out there is not his family with the exception of one boy, and that boy just met him for the first time today. He is being placed in emergency foster care with Teri, the mother of some of that group. In fact, Judge Lewis is out there with them; he's one of the family court judges. What passed for his father and step-mother have been taken care of, there is no way he will even have to see them again unless it's to testify against them in court."
"You don't know how much better that makes me feel, I was prepared to hold him here if I had to. As long as the x-rays show nothing, he should be free to go. Is that Teri that's in there with him now?"
"Yes. And, if at all possible, could you go over any care she needs to provide for him with her? Assuming the other five boys will let her, she will be the one taking care of Adam."
"I'll do that. Five other boys, huh? Maybe I should ask her if she needs any sedatives while she is here! Let me go see if the x-rays are done, then we should be out shortly."
Meanwhile, Teri was getting to know Adam better. As they sat in the room waiting, they began discussing the day's events.
Adam spoke first. "Teri, do I really get to stay with all of you?"
"Yes, Adam, you are moving in with us. As long as there are not any problems with your mother, you will be living here until you are grown up. The rest of the boys already consider you a part of the family, so it would take an act of Congress to get you away from them."
"You know," Adam started as tears began flowing down his face, "I think I've felt more love today since I ran out of that room, than I've felt the entire rest of my life."
Teri brought Adam into her arms. "Adam, I can promise you it's just starting. You made a good impression on all the boys this afternoon, I know for a fact every single one of them wants you to join our little tribe."
"How did I make a good impression, Teri? I was running around naked all beat up. I know for sure I said some things I shouldn't have; JJ, Cory, and Sean all three told me off. Sean was nice about it, but I could tell he did not like what I had said."
"Well, Adam, you running around naked did not mean anything, they understood why. I would bet that you being beat up had an effect on what you said, and all three of them took that into account. I think what impressed them was that even though you may have wanted to, you did not just crawl into a corner and give up. Either all those boys out there have been through some hard times, or they know someone who has. In the last day, they have went from a bunch of kids trying to solve their own problems, to a group that works together to help everyone. I think when JJ handed you those shorts; you were being welcomed into the group right then. When Sean took you to the Suburban, it was official.
"I'm so scared that I'm going to let you guys down, especially Tyler. Right now my head feels all messed up, I'm so afraid I'll do something wrong then he will hate me."
"I've known Tyler for a long time, Adam. I think he understands more than you give him credit for, and right now he is probably worried about the exact same thing. Dan is a psychiatrist, so you can see him if you need to. Listen and talk to the rest of the boys too; you will be surprised at how much they already know. Believe me, over the last weekend I've almost became numb from all the times they have surprised me."
Adam squeezed Teri tighter. "Thanks, just hearing that makes me feel lots better. I'm going to try real hard not to disappoint any of you."
"Just be yourself, Adam. Any problems can be worked out, but it's unfair to ask you to be something you are not. You are going to be part of my family; once that happens I will never give up on you or anyone else."
"Thanks Teri, I promise I'll make you proud." Adam said as he snuggled in as tight as he could without causing himself too much pain.
A few minutes later, the doctor returned. When he saw Adam cuddled up to Teri, he smiled. "That's the best thing I've seen all day. I've got some good news, the X-rays came back clear. Teri, let me show you what you need to do. I'm going to give you a prescription for some of this salve, and for something to dull the pain. He is going to be uncomfortable for about the next week, but the only place there might be scarring is on his chest. Adam, if you have some loose shorts you can wear around it would be a good idea, that way there is nothing pressing against your welts. When you have anything on that can rub against them, you need to have Teri put gauze over them until they heal, that will cut down on some of the scars and let them heal faster."
Once the doctor was sure Teri knew what needed to be done, he walked with them to the sign-out desk. It only took about fifteen seconds for them to be spotted, but then they were immediately surrounded by boys, all asking, in their own way, "Is Adam OK?"
"Settle down boys!" Teri exclaimed. "He's going to be sore, but other than that he's fine. Now let me finish signing him out so we can all get home!"
As they walked out of the hospital, Teri noticed it was getting dark already. She thought to herself "Oh, shoot. I'll bet the kids are all starving!" She waved Dan, Joe, and John over to her.
"I'm going to stop by Perkins with the boys, you can join us if you want to." she said.
They all agreed, so everyone retrieved their vehicles and loaded up for the drive.
When they arrived at Perkins, a cheer arose from the boys. Teri smiled at their excitement.
Suddenly Adam spoke up. "Teri, there's a problem; I don't have any shoes."
"What size do you wear, Adam?"
"Size 7, why?"
By this time Dan was at Teri's door. "Dan," Teri said, "Could you run over to Big K down the street and grab a pair of size 7 shoes for Adam?"
A sudden crash from behind the restaurant got their attention. When they looked over, the sight sickened them. A pair of identical boys, no more than ten, were trying to get the dumpster open. Both were dressed in shorts and old sneakers, with no shirts, and even from a distance it was obvious they had not eaten in a long time.
Before anyone else had time to react, Sean was out the passenger side door, running towards the two boys. In no time flat, he was joined by the rest of the kids; Kyle and Ty didn't even bother with the seat latch, they just went over the top of the middle seat and rolled out the open door.
The two boys at the dumpster froze, the sight of six boys running at them was more than they could handle. They were expecting the worst, and were confused when they could see nothing but concern in the faces that were gathering around them.
Sean spoke up first. "Don't panic guys, we're not here to hurt you."
The two boys visibly relaxed. As Sean looked closer, he was able to verify that they were twins. Both had strawberry blond hair, green eyes, and millions of freckles. You could count their ribs; they were so thin a slight breeze might have blown them away.
"I'm Sean; these are my brothers Cory, JJ, Adam, Kyle, and Ty." Sean started, pointing each one out. "Why don't you guys come back to the truck with us, we will convince mom to hook you up with some hot food, I can probably even get her to let you stay with us a bit."
"I'm Jacob, that's my brother Jamie. That sounds too good to be true, what do we have to do for you to get that?" The tone in his voice made it clear he was not talking about raking leaves.
The boys all figured out what he was insinuating at the same time, and as a group they all turned white.
"You mean people have made you do ... ummm ... stuff, even ... sex stuff ... to eat? That's SICK! If anyone even suggests that while you are with us, tell any of us and whoever it is will get the holy crap beat out of him." Sean then fell speechless at the disgust he felt.
"Jamie, Jacob," JJ spoke up, "besides the awesome hair color we share, you guys have something else in common with me. My full name is James Jacob Richardson, and since Jamie is short for James, that means all three of us share a name. That is enough reason for me to protect you myself."
Adam stepped to the front, and Jacob and Jamie both stared in shock as he removed his shirt. "Do you see those marks? This group standing here rescued me from nearly being beat to death by my so-called father. I really owe them my life, and now I'm going to be living with them, permanently. This time yesterday, the only one of these people I had even heard the name of was Ty, and I had been told by my father that he was dead; I had never even met him. Right now, every inch of clothing on me belongs to someone else. JJ's father is getting ready to go buy me some shoes so I can go into the restaurant, yet I have not even had the chance to really talk to him so he would know me. There ain't anyone here going to force you, but my suggestion is join us and come back to the truck. I promise, things will only get better."
There was not a dry eye in the group, even Jacob and Jamie were moved by Adam's speech. They both walked up and gave him a tentative hug, and then they each grabbed a hand, turned him around, and started walking to the vehicles, with everyone else following behind.
All the adults were standing in front of the Suburban watching as the boys turned and headed towards them. "Teri," Joe chuckled, "do you realize that I don't have group rates?"
"I'm not the one you need to tell that to, Joe. There's a certain thirteen year old who seems to have made a hobby out of collecting brothers. Tell HIM that, but leave yourself room to run." Teri replied. She then looked over to Dan. "Dan, add a shirt for Cory to the list, and some shorts for JJ. Might as well add two shirts for the new boys, I got a sneaky feeling we will need them."
Dan grinned. "I better get moving then, before they find anyone else. Do you need any extra soap, shampoo, or towels while I'm at it?"
"Good thinking, Dan. You better grab some economy size stuff, and get some body shampoo for Adam, it will be easier on him than bar soap would be."
"Will do, once the introductions are over I'll head out."
The boys walked up just then, and to everyone's surprise, Adam waved Sean back as Sean walked up to make introductions and plea his case.
"Mom?" Adam started, his face showing the need to be able to call Teri mom.
"Go ahead Adam, you are allowed to call me mom."
Relief flooded Adam's features, giving him the strength he needed to continue. "Mom, this is Jamie and Jacob. I haven't asked why, but I think they need our help as much as I needed your help earlier today. Can we help them, PLEASE?"
"It is fine with me, Adam, but there are three other people who you have to get the okay from, your brothers. Cory, Sean, Ty; Come on up front here."
They moved up front by Adam, Jacob, and Jamie.
"Alright, Adam has asked me if we can help these two boys. My guess is they will be living with us a long time if we do. This is your one chance, do any of you have a problem or concern about them joining us?"
Cory whispered in Sean's ear, and then Sean spoke up. "Cory and I are fine with it, mom. He just told me he thinks its time to make use of Mike's room. He seems to think our bed is getting full!"
Teri smiled. "That's good thinking. What about you Ty?"
"Can I talk to Kyle for a second?"
"Go ahead, angel."
Tyler and Kyle whispered back and forth for a minute, then Ty came back up to Teri. "It's okay with me, as long as they share a bedroom with me and Kyle."
The twins responded in chorus "You WANT to share a room with us!" They both grabbed Ty in a double-hug, then moved on to Kyle to do the same.
Sean peeled the twins off of Kyle, and took them to finish introductions. He introduced them to Dan first, who welcomed them to "the tribe" and explained he was off to get them some shirts, but would be right back.
Next was Joe. Sean brought the twins over to him, and began the introduction. "Joe, this is Jacob and Jamie. Guys, this is Judge Joe Lewis. He does the adoptions around here, and by the time Mom's done he should have a new car."
Both boys shook his hand, and then Jamie said, "It's a pleasure to meet you, Judge."
"You only have to call me Judge in the courtroom, we are all friends here, so just call me Joe, okay? I'll sit down with you boys later with John and get some information from you so there's no trouble. Just looking at you gives me enough reason to place you in emergency custody with Teri, so you will definitely be sleeping in a warm bed with a full tummy tonight. One question for now; is there ANY way to tell you two apart?"
Both boys instantly turned beet red, blushing from the waistband of their shorts to the top of their heads. Finally, Jacob spoke up. "Well ... there is ONE way, but we don't show it off. Jamie is ... uhhh ... well ... he's circumscribed, and I'm not." At that the twins did the seemingly impossible; they turned an even deeper red.
"Do you mean circumcised?" Joe asked.
Both twins nodded.
"Well I guess you will just have to tell me which one of you I'm talking to then, I really would rather not look down your shorts every time we talked." Joe said with a wide grin.
The humor relaxed the twins, and they returned to their normal color. Just then, Jacob saw John's car on the other site of the Suburban. "Shit, the police are here!"
Sean reacted quickly, and grabbed both of them before they could run. "Settle down guys. That's John's car. He's with us; he won't haul you in for digging in the trash. He's a good guy, I bet that when you guys sit down later, if you tell him everything you did wrong and why, he will help you straighten it out. Just don't lie to him, please."
The twins looked at Joe, asking with their eyes if Sean was right.
"Guys, I've known John a long time," Joe began, "and the last thing he ever wants is to put a kid in jail. Him and I will work together to help you, all you have to do is tell us what happened."
This finally satisfied the twins, and they relaxed in Sean's arms.
John had been watching, and saw the twin's reaction to his car. He stayed back until he was sure that Sean and Joe had calmed them, and then he headed over toward the group.
"Hey there, how you guy's doing?" John asked.
"Fine sir." The twins replied.
"John, do me a favor; DON"T ask how to tell them apart, you really don't want to know!" Joe said with a chuckle. "When we're not around the rest of the group, I'll tell you. There's no use in embarrassing these two again."
Jamie held out his hand. "I'm Jamie, that's Jacob." He said.
"Nice to meet you; I'm John, Sheriff Martin if you have to call me at work. After we get back to the house, I'll sit down with you so we can figure out what all needs done to help you two."
"Thanks John, I think we will have a lot to talk about." Jacob said as a thin smile crossed his face. "We were scared that you would take us away, but Sean and Joe said you would help us."
"That I will, Jacob. Right now the best place I know for you to be is with Teri and the boys. As long as you are honest with them, and me, you will be just fine. Now, if I'm not mistaken, I think I hear Dan's car coming; why don't we get over there with the rest of the group, so you can get your shirts and we can all go in to eat. Do me a favor; tell me your last name and where you are from so I can make sure there are no problems."
"Our last name is Stewart, we are from Grimes."
"OK, you all go on over, I'll be right there."
John climbed in his car, and called an inquiry over the radio. A minute later, he received a response.
"Dispatch to unit 3. We have a missing persons report active for one Jamie Sampson Stewart, age ten, from Grimes; and another report for one Jacob William Stewart, age ten, also from Grimes. Subjects were reported missing Saturday morning at 08:45, missing since 17:30 Friday. Do you need descriptions?"
"Unit 3 to dispatch; Negative on the descriptions, which department was that filed through?"
"Dispatch to unit 3; report filed through Polk County."
"Unit 3 to Dispatch; 10-4, be advised subjects are now in protective custody. Both subjects physical condition gives cause to believe neglect is occurring. By order of Judge Joseph Lewis, the children are now being placed in foster care until investigation is complete. Request CPS be notified, inform them to contact Judge Lewis tomorrow morning for a full report."
"Dispatch to unit 3; Copied all, Sergeant Davis requested I tell you he will handle the necessities from this end. He also said to stop working so hard, you need a break."
"Unit 3 to dispatch; 10-4, I plan to start that break right now. Tell Sergeant Davis to call me tomorrow and I'll introduce him to the work I've been doing all day. Unit 3 clear."
John got out of the car and headed over to where Dan had just parked the Camaro. As he walked up, everyone fell silent, expecting the worst. John walked directly up to the twins, knelt down, and spoke gently to them. "Boys, I have to ask you two questions. The end results of your answers will be the same, you will go home with Teri tonight, but they will make a big difference on my next step to protect you. The first question is; did you guys run away or were you told to leave?"
"We ran away, John." Jamie replied, with his head down.
"I'll ask more about that later, but now the other question. When did you run away?"
Jacob answered this time. "Right after we got out of school Friday. We went home, changed into play clothes, then left."
"Why didn't you put on shirts?" Cory asked.
"We are not allowed to play with shirts on." was Jacob's reply.
Everyone was shocked! Joe was the first to find his voice. "Boys, I never thought I would ever say this to anyone, but you did exactly the right thing running away. The only mistake you made was not going directly to the Sheriffs office, but I'll bet when we talk later I will understand your reason why."
"Here's the news you want to hear, guys." John said. "The answers you just gave matched the missing person's reports that were filed. It's obvious that you have not been fed right in a long time; you honestly could pass for an early nine years old, even though I know you are ten. That in itself is enough reason for me to do this." John turned to Teri. "Teri, are you willing to accept Jamie and Jacob into your care. This is an emergency placement; you will be contacted within a week by CPS as to whether you wish to accept it as permanent."
"Tell CPS don't waste a call," she replied, "I already accepted permanent placement. Now as soon as Dan stops picking his nose, and hands out what he went to pick up, we can go eat. Speaking of which; Ty, Jamie, Jacob, I need to see you three before we go in."
Everyone chuckled at Teri's slam of Dan. Dan got the bags out of the car, and started handing things out. "Adam, here's your army boots!" he joked as he tossed a pair of Nike's to Adam. He then pulled out three tie-dyed shirts. After looking at the tags, he tossed one to Cory and the other two to the twins. He then grinned as he announced "Will my exhibitionist son please come forward and put some pants on!"
An obviously embarrassed JJ slowly walked up. "Dad, I'm gonna kill you for that! Please don't make fun of me in public!"
Dan handed JJ a pair of shorts, then slipped in a hug. "Sorry buddy, I was just joking. You know I love you."
"I know Dad, I guess I'm just not in a funny mood right now. Thanks for the shorts."
Dan gave JJ a quick kiss on the top of his head, then turned to the rest of the boys. "How'd I do picking out stuff for you guys?"
All four exclaimed "Great, they're KEWL!" in response.
As soon as their new shirts were on, the twins joined Ty with Teri. "Okay, guys; I know that for at least the last few days none of you have ate right. Restaurant food can be hard to eat when you have had an empty tummy for a while. All three of you can get what you want, but I want you to eat slow, and as soon as you start to feel a little bit full, stop. You don't need to get sick from eating too much, and it will happen if you force yourself. I don't care if you leave half your plate, if you get hungry later I will fix you a snack. Have fun, but take it easy."
"Yes, mom!" all three answered at once, grinning.
Teri reached out and ran her fingers through the twin's hair, straightening it out some. "Let's go, guys. It's time for you to get a decent meal."
As the group walked in the door, the staff behind the counter watched in fascination. The look on the Waitress's face was priceless when they asked for a table for twelve; it turned to horror when Sean asked if they were still running the all-you-can-eat special on pancakes.