An officer held open the door and ushered us into the courtroom. The next twenty minutes went by in a blur. I know I should’ve been paying attention to what everyone was saying, but all I could focus on was Jameson’s hand on mine as we sat next to each other in front of the judge. Suddenly, I felt Jack’s hand on my arm, gently pulling me to a stand. I looked at the judge and felt tears running down my face as he spoke the words that broke my heart.
“Mr. Simms, despite the obvious emotional connection you two share, Miss Smith is not your daughter. You are a single man, with a demanding job, and no experience raising children. Mr. Bryant is her biological father and has been searching for her for 12 years. He is married, wealthy, and has already raised a child. I’m sorry Mr. Simms, but I hereby grant custody of Amelia Smith to Donovan Bryant.”
No. This couldn’t be happening. I was supposed to stay with Jack.
“Your Honor, excuse me.” I heard Donovan’s voice. “I would also like to petition the court for the custody of Jameson Smith.”
Jack warned me Donovan would do this, but I still wasn’t prepared. Hearing him say my brother’s name made me angry. But the judge asked him to explain, so he went on.
“Mr. Simms and I both agree that the siblings shouldn’t be separated, therefore, I would like Jameson to come live with us too.” His voice sounded cold and detached, like he was talking about a business deal.
“Given the fact that you have no parental ties to this child and had never met him before this trial, I am highly inclined to deny your request, Mr. Bryant. But I am also against the separation of siblings.” The judge answered, then paused to think.
For a moment, the room was so quiet that I could hear myself breathing. The judge looked at me, his eyes scanning my face and landing on my hand, that was holding Jameson’s. His lips formed a small smile before returning to a straight line.
“Mr. Simms, do you agree with this?” The judge asked.
“I do, Your Honor. I want nothing more than to take these children home. But I would rather see them together, even if it’s not with me.” Jack stated, his voice almost overcome with emotion. The judge nodded and turned his eyes to me once again.
“Miss Smith, do you agree with this?” The judge watched me carefully as he asked.
I didn’t expect him to ask my opinion, and I didn’t know what to say, so for a second, I just stared at him blankly. Trying to figure out what to say, I looked around and my eyes landed on Donovan, his eyes wide and inquisitive, trying to decipher what I was going to say. I quickly looked away from him and my eyes met Jack’s, who silently begged me to say yes.
Finally, my gaze landed on Jameson. My little brother was watching the judge with a confused look on his face, like he couldn’t understand all the big words the grown-ups were saying and had no idea what was going on. Almost as if he sensed me looking at him, Jay’s head turned up and he smiled at me. Seeing that sweet little half-smile was all it took for me to make a decision.
“Yes, Your Honor, I agree. Like dad– I mean, like Jack said, I wish we could stay with him, but if I’m going, I need Jameson to go with me. Please, Your Honor.” I almost begged, trying to express how important it was to me that my brother stayed with me.
After a few minutes of consideration, the judge finally stated. “Well, it is definitely unusual, but since all parties agree and Mr. Bryant has already been cleared by Social Services, I hereby grant custody of Jameson Smith to Donovan Bryant. You are dismissed.”
At the mention of his name, Jay stood up, grabbed my hand and pulled it. I looked down to see his little hazel eyes questioning me, as he tried to understand what was happening. Taking a deep breath to calm myself down, and not show Jameson how scared I actually was, I crouched down in front of him and held his hands in mine.
“Jay, baby, remember how I told you that the judge is the person that decides where we’re going to live?” He nodded and waited while I took another deep breath, trying to slow my frantic heartbeat. “Well, he made the decision, and we’re going to live with Donovan now.”
My brother’s eyes widened as he started shaking his head and squeezing my hands. I pulled him closer to me and let go of his hands to cup his face with my palms, holding his head still so I could look deep into his eyes when I spoke.
“Jameson listen to me. I promise everything is going to be okay. I know you’re scared, and I am too. It’s okay to be, this is a big change and we don’t know Donovan. But the judge is a smart guy and he thinks this is what’s best for us, so we’re gonna give it a chance, okay?”
As I talked to him, Jay seemed to calm down a little, then he nodded and jumped forward to hug me, throwing his arms around my neck. Tears filled my eyes again as I held my little brother close to me and ran my hands up and down his back, trying to sooth him. We stayed like that for what seemed like a long time, until I felt a hand touch my shoulder and looked up.
“Sweetheart, he have to leave the courtroom.” Jack whispered to me.
Nodding, I stood up and pulled Jameson with me, carrying him toward the door. As I walked, I pushed a loose strand of his blonde hair away from his eyes and whispered “As long as we have each other, we’re going to be alright. I promise.”
Jay laid his head on my shoulder and sighed, finally relaxing. Just then Donovan appeared in front of me, making my entire body tense. Lifting a hand to ask him to wait, I put my brother down and gave him his tablet and headphones out of my backpack before turning my eyes back to Donovan.
“Amelia,” he started. “I know this is not the outcome you expected, but I hope you understand why I did this. I missed you, sweetheart– “
“Don’t call me that. Only my dad calls me that.” I said without thinking, and immediately regretted it when I saw a look of pain in Donovan’s eyes. I wasn’t trying to be hurtful, I just didn’t know how to act around him. “I’m sorry.” I whispered.
“It’s okay.” Donovan replied, and in just one second the pain was gone from his eyes and I wondered if I had actually seen anything there. “I know Jack means a lot to you and I have no intention of cutting him out of your life. He can come visit you anytime.” Donovan said, looking both at me and Jack, who stood beside me.
“Thank you.” Jack answered for the two of us, before he took a step forward to get between me and Donovan. “Now, if you wouldn’t mind, I would like to talk to them in private for a moment, just to say goodbye.”
“Of course, I’ll wait outside.” Donovan agreed and started walking away, before stopping to turn and look at me. “Amelia, I’ll take you and Jameson to your house to get your bags, then we can go to the airport. Are you all packed? We some time before the flight if you need to finish.”
I opened my mouth to say I already had all our things in the car, but quickly shut it again. How could I explain that I had borrowed Lucy’s car and put all of my and Jameson’s things in it in case we needed to make a quick escape? I couldn’t, so I had to lie.
“I still have most of Jameson’s stuff to pack. Jack can take us home, you should go to the airport and we’ll meet you there.” I replied, trying to keep my voice steady.
I could see in Donovan’s face that he was debating whether he should insist on driving us or give us some space. I guess he decided we needed a few last moments by ourselves, because he nodded and said he would send a driver to the house to take us to the airport. After he left, Jack stood in front of me with an inquisitive look in his eyes.
“Amelia,” He started, his voice serious and demanding. “you drove Lucy’s car here, why would you need me to drive you home?”
I sighed, knowing that any attempt to lie to Jack would be in vain, he knew me too well and could spot a story coming from a mile away.
“It was my escape plan, but I didn’t want to tell Donovan about it.” I confessed. When Jack opened his mouth to object, I cut him off. “I’m not going through with it, dad. You were right, I can’t do that to Jay. As much as I hate this situation, I’m going to try my best to make it work. For Jay.”
My words seemed to appease him, and Jack stepped forward and squeezed me in a bear hug. We stood there for a minute, holding each other without saying a word, our arms tightly wrapped around our bodies and my hands gripping the back of his shirt.
“It’s gonna be okay, sweetheart. I’ll come visit as soon as I can.” Jack promised, before pulling out of the hug to hold me by the shoulders and look straight into my eyes. “Give this a chance, okay? I know it’s not what we wanted, but maybe this change will do you some good, if you’re open to it. You deserve to be happy, kid.”
“Okay, dad. I promise I’ll try.” I said as tears ran down my face.
Jack kissed my forehead, then got down on his knees and pulled Jameson’s headphones down so he could talk to him. Not wanting to intrude in their moment, I walked over to the window, watching the people moving through the sidewalk. I didn’t realize I was looking for something until my eyes landed on Donovan, who was holding his phone to his ear, smiling while he talked. Even from afar, I could still recognize his smile, because it looked almost exactly the same as my own. I guess I wasn’t an exact copy of my mother like I used to think, since both my hair and smile seemed to come from Donovan.
Just then, Jameson grabbed my hand, pulling me from my thoughts. I looked up and saw Jack watching me with tears in his eyes. Saying goodbye to Jack was definitely one of the hardest things I have ever had to do, but I was comforted by the knowledge that he would forever be my dad, and if I needed him he would only be one phone call away. I hugged him one more time, before looking him in the eyes and whispering, “I love you, dad.”
A single tear ran down his cheek as he said, “I love you too, sweetheart.” Then he grabbed Jameson’s other hand and we walked out of the building together, ready to face whatever life had in store for us.