“I can’t tell you what this means to us,” Miss Phu beamed at them as she led the way through the front hall into a room on the right. “Most people who walk in that door are only prepared to foster a child or take them for a week long trial. We get so few adoptions these days.” She sighed, as if she found the whole thing heartbreaking.
Latimer smiled at her and nodded his head.
“To be honest with you, gentlemen, most of the children here are quite lucky. We’re privately funded by my family’s estate. It allows us to advertise and throw events that bring potential parents to us. I would say that the children here only stay with us a few years before leaving to find a new family.” Miss Phu continued, with a well deserved smile of pride.
Latimer could only approve and admit the truth. “Yes, it was one of your flyers that alerted us to you. With you situated so close by, we thought it seemed rather like fate.” He admitted with a sigh.
Dominic’s hand appeared on his shoulder, offering a comforting touch to drag him out of his melancholy.
“Do you know, that’s the very same thing I said to myself when I got your phone call.” She giggled, as if it was the sweetest thing in the world.
Chandler got that patented smile of his, that said he was dying to crack a joke; probably one that was rude, arrogant and outrageously inappropriate. Thankfully, Miss Phu got there first.
“If you don’t mine my asking; you have these two strapping boys already, why do you want to adopt? I believe you said you were alone, with no partner?” She asked politely.
“That’s right. I made a deal with my husband before he died that while we had the money, we would take care of as many children as we could. They need us. It’s our responsibility to use what money we have wisely.” Latimer answered her honestly. It still hurt to remember Beau and think about what they had almost had.
“I hope to adopt as many children as I can, but my boys and I have agreed that we’ll work one child at a time.” He explained their plan and watched Miss Phu’s eyes light up. “We’ll adopt one today and give them our undivided attention for a year, until they’re settled. Then, I hope we will adopt another.”
“I certainly hope so. And I’m very sorry for your loss.” She said, placing her hand on his arm.
“Thank you. It was a tragedy, but at least he went peacefully.” He tried not to take it personally or let the emotion get away with him.
Miss Phu led them past the living area, where countless children played and into the dining room, that was decorated like a library. There was a dining table with three children sitting drawing and reading.
“There are much worse ways to leave this earth.” He mused quietly.
“Yes.” She sighed as if she understood the truth of those words all too well. Miss Phu stopped at the archway leading from one room to the other, while letting out a ragged breath.
Chandler, for all his mischievous attitude, reached out and placed his hand gently on her arm. She turned and offered him a smile, while placing her hand over his, in acceptance of his offer of comfort.
Latimer cleared his throat; they were diverting from the course of the visit. Grief was something he should have got over by now, after five long years, but it only seemed that the more time that passed the more pain he felt at the loss.
“Wow, I wouldn’t have minded growing up here.” Dominic claimed suddenly, looking to the left of the reading room into what appeared to be a games room.
“These are the children in the age range you requested.” Miss Phu said, bringing them back to their task at hand.
The games room was as impressive as Dominic thought it was. There was a pool table, three games consoles attached to three big screen TV’s, mounted to the wall, and there were even two tables set up with chess boards. Children between the ages of four and twelve were playing at each game, two to each games console; dancing, singing into microphone’s and playing tennis. It seemed a happy, playful environment with well kept children and laughter.
“Him.” His youngest, Chandler, pointed to the corner, at the far side of the games room. There was a small book case against the back wall and a figure huddled up on the floor.
“Yes.” Dominic agreed instantly.
Latimer followed their gaze to a boy crouched in the corner of the room, reading a book while sitting on the floor. He was older than the child he had intended to adopt, looking somewhere in his late teenage years.
He appeared a good height with a thin, almost emaciated stature. Yet all the other children appeared healthy and happy, well fed and with a good complexion that implied they got a decent amount of sun and fresh air. The poor boy Chandler had chosen seemed the exact opposite.
Pale, quiet, hunched as if he wanted to be alone. Yet he chose to sit in the games room and not in the reading room where he would get a greater degree of silence. He was even dressed differently. He wore a grungy t-shirt and jeans torn at the knees, his feet bare and scrunched up.
His eyes were of the most startling blue. They reminded him so much of Beau, with that serious, sad look that it tore that old wound in his heart right open again.
Chandler was right; if he didn’t adopt that child his heart would ache for him and wonder about his safety and health for years to come. He looked so ill, so uncared for that he couldn’t have left him behind if he tried.
“How old is he, Miss Phu?” He asked, unable to take his eyes off the boy.
“That one? Must be around sixteen by now.” She said, sounding unsure.
“May I ask why the uncertainty?”
“I’m afraid that poor boy has been here longer than any of the others.” She lamented. “He’s a mute. He’s deaf and we don’t know if he can’t or just won’t talk. He won’t even communicate with written notes. He just spends all of his time reading.” She explained, her eyes shadowed with some kind of sorrow.
Latimer couldn’t help but wonder if it was because of the boy’s condition or because he had been with her for so long.
“He’s actually been here longer than I have. I can look up his file, if you like?” She offered, hope live in her eyes.
“Yes. I think the boys are agreed on that.” Latimer offered her a smile of reassurance. There was no way he would leave without that boy, if it was within his power to take him home.
“I’ll stay here and talk to him.” Dominic decided with a nod.
“Yes, but be sensitive.” He suggested, since they weren’t sure how the boy would react.
Chandler scoffed and gave his big brother a nudge before following Latimer out of the room with Miss Phu.
Latimer and Chandler followed Miss Phu into her office and took seats in front of her desk. It was a very well kept room; everything had its place and yet there was a degree of disorganisation that suggested Miss Phu had a system that only she understood.
She was a small, very pretty woman, nearly fifty by his guess. Dainty seemed an appropriate word. She was dressed casually, but with an old fashioned elegance.
“Here it is.” Miss Phu sighed happily as she pulled a small file from the top drawer of a cabinet behind her desk. “Yes. Rocco. I’m afraid there’s no last name on file.” She apologised. “It seems he was brought in by the police at just a month old. His parents were killed in a car accident and they were unable to trace any other relatives.” She explained softly.
“He was put here because there were no services, at the time, for a baby to be taken in by social services. He’s been here ever since.” Miss Phu read from the file, but seemed as unhappy by what she read as he was to hear it. “It says that they tried to place him with a deaf family, but because he wouldn’t talk or learn sign language they brought him back.”
Latimer didn’t believe in writing anyone off, for any reason, but particularly not because of something they could or couldn’t do.
“He’s been labelled difficult and unresponsive. An uncooperative child, who will not be easy to place, because of his lack of empathy and understanding of the world.” She read, tutting in disapproval as she lay the file down on her desk. “It sounds like poppycock to me, but I’m afraid I have to admit that he is extremely unresponsive. The poor soul is an unlucky child. He’s been taken out for multiple trail adoptions and brought back within a week.” She said, looking up at them in dismay.
“I have all the time in the world to devote to the child, Miss Phu.” Latimer promised her. There was no way he would let Rocco continue to be mistreated or abandoned just because he was deaf. “I have a vast fortune, no demands on my time except my two boys and I have the money and contacts to ensure he has counselling if that’s what he needs.” He would do whatever it took to make sure Rocco had a happy home, with people who loved him.
“I’m glad to hear it. But my calculations were wrong. Rocco is actually seventeen.” She explained, folding her hands on the desk.
Latimer smiled, wondering if that news was supposed to deter him or spur him on. Either way he wasn’t leaving that house without Rocco.
“All the better. Both my boys are eighteen.” He nodded to let her know that he wouldn’t change his mind.
Miss Phu beamed and reached into her top drawer. “Then I’ll just get you to sign the paperwork and then we can go tell Rocco he has a new family.” She said, passing over a pen and a pile of papers.
Latimer took the pen and began reading, unsurprised that Chandler smiled at him and took his right hand in his. He gave the grip a gentle squeeze in return. They had made their choice. He would adopt Rocco as his new son and together the three of them would show him how happy he could be.