"… I can see that, Harm," I say, running a hand through my hair. I look at Mac. "What were the two of you thinking?"
Harm and Mac lock eyes and Harm shrugs. "The kids got abused, Ellen. We'd been fighting that feeling for two weeks, ever since we let them go to the Newton's, and yesterday we just had to go there."
I eye the both of them. They're both lawyers, they know that they can get into trouble because of this. I heave a sigh. "What you did is unacceptable; you know that, don't you? Not to mention illegal?" Their faces tell me that they know that. Not that any of that mattered when they were going to get the kids back. "Harm, you know as well as I do that you guys don't have any rights when it comes to these kids, right? You're not their temporary guardians anymore. Haven't been for the past two weeks."
Harm folds his arms in front of his chest. "We know that, Ellen. But let's put it this way: you would know if something was wrong with one of the eight kids you have at home. And you would want to make things better; you would want to protect them, right?"
Okay, so the guy has a way with words. Yeah, that is exactly what I would do. Absolutely. "Of course," I murmur.
Harm just looks at me, not saying anything. He has made his point and he knows it. But that doesn't mean that that justifies what they did yesterday. "The difference between you and me is, Harm, that the kids I have at home, are my responsibility. These kids weren't your responsibility anymore when they left this house two weeks ago."
Mac shifts Shireen in her arms. "Ellen, Gabe, Noa and Shireen had been staying with us for the past three months. And Harm and I have been a little lax and we realize that. We should've done something a whole lot sooner. We should've made things permanent. Shireen was a healthy baby when she came out of the hospital with us, Noa and especially Gabe talking to us was amazing. It still is. And when you've made that kind of progress with kids who have been abused for as long as they've been living, in just three months, you don't stop feeling responsible for them because they move out of your house."
I sigh again and lick my lips. Mac is making a case here, and the worst part is that she knows it. "You know you have a point, Mac."
When they called me this morning that they wanted to see me, I was confused. Especially when Harm told me that they were back in the house. Last thing I knew before this morning was that they had moved out of the house when the kids went to the Newton's. So, surprise that I saw two little heads up the stairs when I entered the house. And that Shireen was contently lying in Mac's arms when I went into the living room. What they basically did was kidnap them. I don't get it. Harm says that the kids were abused, but there was never any sign that the Newton's would be abusive when either one of us has visited them. But knowing Harm, he'll have a good reason to say so.
"Why are you saying that they've been abused, Harm? What kind of proof do you have?"
Within seconds I'm looking at a stack of Polaroid's. Polaroid's of the kids. Of little bodies, limps, covered in bruises. Involuntarily, I gasp. Is this what the Newton's have done to them? Seriously?
My eyes travel up to Harm's face and he nods. "Yeah," he softly says. "That's my proof. That's what the Newton's did to them in just two weeks, Ellen. Two freaking weeks." He leans his hands on the backrest of the couch, close to Mac's shoulders. His eyes are sad, and so are Mac's. Can't really say that I blame them.
I look back at the pictures. These are only from Gabriel and Noa. "What about Shireen?"
Mac swallows hard and takes a deep breath. "She doesn't have any bruises… she is underfed and has been neglected. It's not terrible, but not healthy for an almost four-month-old."
Not any of this is healthy; no matter how old you are. It's not healthy for any of the kids, and it wouldn't be healthy for us if we were in this position. Sighing again, I run a hand through my hair. This is insane. If it is true… Think, Ellen. It is true. You've seen the pictures. You're seeing the expression in Harm and Mac's eyes. There is no way that this isn't true. Think.
"Have they said anything?"
Harm lifts his head. "Who? The Newton's or the kids?"
"The kids." For a split second my eyes turn to the hallway.
They both shake their heads. "They haven't said anything about this, no." Mac stokes over Shireen's little head. "Gabe cried his eyes out when we took the pictures yesterday, and for him, that's a good thing. He usually doesn't say anything and he sure as hell doesn't cry easily."
I nod absently. If CPS really made a screening mistake… Damnit. This is crazy. "They'll investigate it. And if the Newton's really did this, they'll pay. You know that, right?"
Before either of them can answer, Gabriel and Noa run into the room. "Daddy!"
Harm catches the two of them in his arms. "I thought I told you guys to stay upstairs?" But he isn't mad. Not really.
"We know, Daddy," Gabriel says.
They call him daddy? What's up with that? The last time that I was here, right before they moved, they didn't call him daddy. Thinking about it, the last time I was here, the kids were already in bed.
"Then what are you guys doing here?" Harm looks from Gabriel to Noa and back.
Noa wraps her little arms around Harm's neck and kisses his cheek. "Missed you, Daddy."
Harm grins. "Is that why you came down?"
Gabriel nods eagerly. "Now we're downstairs and we don't miss you anymore."
"What do you think, Mom? That a good enough reason to come downstairs?" Harm asks Mac.
Mac looks up, smiling. "Honestly, I think that's the best reason I've heard so far."
Suddenly, something hits me. This is a family in the most meaningful way of the word. None of these kids are theirs, but Harm and Mac love them as if they were. They became a family. It's so obvious… I can't believe I didn't see this any sooner! Seeing how the two of them interact with the kids… This is the home the kids deserve. I'll admit that what they did yesterday is still wrong, but now I'm watching them with the kids, I can understand why they did it. Harm and Mac became parents. And seeing their faces now, they're loving every minute of it.

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