The boys and Brett were playing ping-pong in the basement when she got home. She had called Brett right when she left the hospital and given him more of the details. Brett heard the garage door and left the boys playing while he went upstairs. In the kitchen leaning up against the refrigerator he found Stephanie, red eyes and all.
He pulled her into his arms. His chin resting on her head he asked, “You know what we have to do?”
“She’s ours.” Tears had crept into the edges of his eyes as well. “I’ve always wanted a daughter and this little girl desperately needs a family.” Stephanie pushed back from him her hand to her mouth and she slid down the refrigerator onto the floor. He quickly joined her.
“How could you possibly be thinking that too?”
“Sweetheart there’s a reason we work so well together.” She cried into his shoulder. They had been married for 18 years and there were times when they finished each other’s sentences. Times they could talk to each other with just their eyes. But tonight was the most amazing time this had ever happened.
Walking out of the hospital, before she even talked to Mrs. Ellis and found out the whole story, she had already known in her heart what they needed to do. Having Brett say it only made her more sure. “What about the boys?”
As if they sensed something the boys walked in. “Mom, Dad what’s wrong?” The boys had come upstairs and seen their parents sitting in the kitchen floor holding each other crying and immediately worried.
“What happened?” Jake was kneeling beside his Mom.
Brett helped her up. “Everybody is OK.” Both boys let out audible sighs.
“Then what is wrong?” Tyler, their younger son asked. “Mom never cries”
Brett took over. “Lets all get off the floor and have a seat at the table.”
Stephanie was unsure how to go about this. Emmy hadn’t wanted anyone else to know, but there was no way to talk to the boys about this potentially life changing decision without telling them the whole story.
“You all remember Emmy from our team?”
“Of course she’s the best player you’ve ever had?” Tyler quipped.
Stephanie smiled. “Yes that’s her. Well we found out a few weeks ago that she has been living at St. Thomas Children’s Home.”
“So her parents are gone?” Jake asked.
“It looks that way.”
“That’s horrible.” The boys were outraged.
Brett added. “But that’s not the worst part. Your Mom has been noticing things. She has lost a lot of weight since this summer, was late to practice a couple of times, then she got sick at halftime on Tuesday.”
“Mom it sounds like Michael. He was at St. Thomas too. Does she have a drug problem?” a friend of Jake’s in Middle School had been at St. Thomas for a drug problem. He had seemed to get better there and joined the basketball team and was doing well. Then he fell in with the wrong kids and the addiction was more than he could overcome. Michael was now serving time in an adult prison for shooting a man in a drug deal downtown.
“That’s what we were afraid of.”
“Then today she wasn’t at school or practice and no one called to give any explanation. I finally found her at the Children’s Hospital.” The boys’ eyes were wide wondering what had happened.
Brett stepped in again. “Guys this is very confidential and you may not share this with anyone. Do you understand?”
Both boys agreed so Stephanie continued to tell them about Emmy and her situation. She told them about the cancer and about her being alone.
“So you just left her there, by herself?” Tyler was suddenly mad at his Mom.
“What do you mean, son?”
“Mom you have to go back and stay with her. I would be terrified if I was there by myself and I’m so much older.” Stephanie put her hand over her sweet son’s.
Jake had been sitting beside her, “Mom, this might sound crazy, and you might say I haven’t thought this through, and I haven’t, but why can’t you guys adopt her?”
Tyler jumped in “Yes. Then we can be her family.”
Stephanie and Brett looked at each other with tears and smiles. They had raised great kids and this was a sign from God that this was meant to be. “What do you think Mom?” Tyler’s big puppy dog eyes pleading.
“How do we even do this?” Stephanie asked Brett.
He laughed, “I have no idea. But I bet the guy from St. Thomas could get us started.”
Stephanie pulled her phone from her back pocket and dialed his number it was after eight o’clock in the evening but she was hoping to leave a message that he would get first thing in the morning. After three rings he picked up. “Mrs. Miles how did the visit with Emmy go.”
“Mr. Case we want to adopt Emmy.” He almost choked on the peanut he was eating. When he had seen the number on his caller ID he had hoped that she was calling with good news about Emmy, but this was more than he could have ever imagined.
She was nervous when he paused and started coughing. “Sir, my husband and I are both teachers, we have two sons who are in high school. They are outstanding young men and a testament to our parenting.” Without giving him a chance to say no she continued. “We have come to love that little girl and don’t want to see her spend another night going through this alone.”
“Mrs. Miles that is the best news I’ve heard in a long time.”
“Yes. That kid deserves a break in life and today when you called I secretly hoped that you might consider fostering her, but adoption would be so much better.”
“Oh that’s great to hear.” She gave the boys and Brett a thumbs up.
“Mr. Case how do we even begin and how long would it take?”
“Well we’ll start with getting you approved to foster Emmy, because that is a much quicker process and I can even get an emergency order pushed through. How soon were you talking?”
“How about tomorrow?”
He choked again. “Mr. Case, that child is laying in a hospital bed fighting a life threatening disease alone. I’d be there tonight if I could.”
“Mrs. Miles I completely understand. I wish I could do more for her myself. But with 20 other kids, most of which are a bigger danger to others than themselves, good kids, like Emmy, fall through the cracks. What does Emmy think about this?”
“We haven’t said anything to her. We weren’t sure if this was really a possibility or how long it might take.”
“You should talk to her. It’s a definite possibility. I will contact the director first thing in the morning. She’s pretty good about answering on the weekends and then we need to find a judge to issue an emergency order. This will start the foster care process. There are several things, like background checks, and home studies that will have to be completed. Then once she is officially placed with you as foster parents we can work on the adoption process. The one snag to this process will be that no one has ever determined what happened to her mother. So there has never been an official termination of parental rights. We assume that she was abandoned but need an official termination or there will be some extra steps to the process. But we will jump those hurdles when we get there. Do you want me to talk to Emmy?”
“Tomorrow morning we’ll go visit and ask her if she would be OK with that and we will let you know.”
“I can’t imagine her saying no, but this is Emmy we are talking about and she may say it would be too big a burden. Assuming you can get her past that, I’m going to go ahead and begin working through the process first thing in the morning. You just let me know as soon as possible.”
“Thank you so much sir.”
“No Mrs. Miles thank you. You are about to change a child’s life forever.” She looked around the table at her family as they sat there listening trying to listen to as much of the conversation as they could.
She ended the call and Brett asked “So?”
“So tomorrow morning if we get the OK from Emmy Mr. Case will push an emergency order through and when she’s released from the hospital she comes home with us.” The boys gave each other high fives. Brett grabbed Stephanie and hugged her.
“Wait Mom you said if Emmy says OK, why wouldn’t she?” Jake was suddenly concerned.
“Well Emmy isn’t an ordinary kid. We could push it through without her OK, but it would be better if she wanted it.
“Why wouldn’t she want to?”
“She’s been alone a long time and…”she didn’t know how to say it “she doesn’t want to be a burden or for people to feel sorry for her.”
Brett added “That’s why she didn’t tell anyone about being sick or why she was late to practice.”
“So we just have to convince her that we need her here.”
Stephanie smiled. “That’s all we have to do.”
Tyler was sure “we can totally do that.”
Stephanie had trouble sleeping. Her mind was racing. What if this wasn’t the right decision? This would drastically change their lives, were they ready for that? Emmy might need lots of care. But then again how could they not handle it, she’d been doing it all alone. The question that was burning at her heart though was what if Emmy didn’t survive this. Stephanie didn’t know how she’d do with losing a child. Wow it was strange how Emmy already felt like hers.
Stephanie had actually gotten pregnant with Jake while they were still in college and before they’d gotten married. Thankfully a trip home to Brett’s parent’s, where the couple came clean, and everything was quickly planned and within a month a small wedding ceremony was held at their family farm.
When Jake was born eight months later no one was any the wiser. There were probably some who teased about the honeymoon baby but no one ever came out and asked. Two year later on the first try Tyler was conceived. Then coaching jobs were accepted and time became scarce. So they decided that two perfect healthy boys was enough for them.
With kids coming so quick and so easily they had never entertained the idea of adoption. Before tonight Stephanie had never thought about what it would be like. Several friends had adopted from overseas and one of her old player’s parents had hosted foster kids, but it wasn’t something she’d ever felt called to do. Until tonight.
“Can’t sleep?” Brett had felt her tossing and turning.
“Nope!” He flipped on the light beside the bed and pulled her close.
“We made the right decision right?”
“Yes. That I don’t doubt for a moment. I’m more worried about convincing her.” Brett had worked a lot with Emmy in the summer and then early in the year on defense and some point guard skills. He knew that she was what he’d have called a loner. She was fine not being the center of attention, of standing off to the side until she was needed.
He’d given her a couple of things to work on and said they would keep at it until she got them. He was surprised when he started working with her at the next practice and she had the moves down cold. Brett had asked her about it and she said “I worked on them over the weekend. I didn’t want you to use all your time on me.” From that point on he never had to show her something more than once and she always had it down by the next practice.
While she didn’t like to be the center of attention she did light up with praise. After the first game of the season when she’d used one of the moves he’d shown her to break a press he gave her a big five and said “nice move.” She smiled from ear to ear and he could have sworn that her eyes got bluer.
“Do we know what happened to her parents?”
Stephanie hadn’t yet told him about the potential problem with adoption that Mr. Case had mentioned. “Not really. Mr. Case mentioned tonight that Emmy doesn’t know. All he could say was that she had entered the system when she was 8 years old. He gave me a number to her elementary school. I couldn’t wait so I called Cyndi and who used to work there and she got me the principal’s home number.”
“Apparently Emmy’s mom left for work and didn’t come home. It was a year before anyone knew.” She told him the story Mrs. Ellis had shared about the night they had discovered Emmy living in the gym. “He did say that while it looked like a case of abandonment they couldn’t rule out the possibility of her mother being dead. If we can’t locate her then we have to go through some extra steps.“
“Can you imagine an 8 year old living alone?”
“Today as I left I hugged her and I couldn’t help but wonder how long it had been.”
“Lets get her home and we’ll make up for that.” Stephanie laid her head on Brett’s chest after he turned out the light and finally fell asleep listening to his heartbeat.