Stephanie and I ended up taking Chris to urgent care the morning following our date after a sleepless night for all three of us. As it turned out, the little guy had a double ear infection and a solid excuse for being a little cockblocker. He ended up being super clingy for the rest of the weekend but we took turns holding him in our arms and neither of us minded too much.
Although Stephanie and I were both nervous about the upcoming hearing, I tried to remain as positive as possible when I spoke to her about it. I knew we both had those worst case scenarios rolling around in the back of our minds but neither of us vocalized them.
I worked from home Monday since the baby wasn’t feeling well but he was in better spirits by that evening after the antibiotic had taken effect in his little body. He slept better that night which was good because the opposite happened in my bedroom. Neither of us could sleep but we didn’t speak, either. We both laid in bed, cuddled up together in silence.
Shortly after nine-thirty on Tuesday morning, I walked into the central court building not too far from my condo or Stephanie’s office building. I went through the metal detectors and stopped by the directory to figure out where to go to find our assigned courtroom.
I was alone. My lawyer had instructed Stephanie and me to come separately and to keep our public displays of affection to a minimum. Even though we knew our relationship was going to be put on blast, he didn’t want us being more obvious about it than needed.
When I dropped Chris off at the daycare just an hour before, it had been hard to let him go. I didn’t want to come back to pick him up later and have everything completely different. He had seemed to sense my hesitation because he cried when I passed him off to one of the caretakers in his room, something he rarely did anymore. I had rushed out as fast as possible so I wouldn’t rip him away from her or break down myself.
Rick was waiting outside the courtroom when I found the right one and he immediately stood, holding his arm out to me. I shook his hand and raked my free one through my hair.
“I hate this.”
“I know,” he replied, giving me a pat on the shoulder. “But this is just a hearing to see if she can even proceed with her petition. No matter what, she won’t be taking Chris anytime soon.”
Someone said my name and I turned to find the two detectives, Kevin Pick and Valerie Spector, walking up to us. Both were dressed for court and offered me a friendly greeting. They weren’t required to be there but wanted to be just in case the judge had questions. I was very thankful for the support Chris and I had received since the moment he had been found.
The four of us stood there talking and about five more minutes passed before I saw a familiar woman out of the corner of my eye. I turned my head and watched Angela, a woman I assumed to be her lawyer, and Angela’s parents stop across the hall from us. The questions I had about how she was suddenly able to afford bail and a lawyer were answered, though. Her parents had money, quite a bit of it, and they must have been helping her.
Angela looked a lot better than she had when she had showed up at my door that day. She was a beautiful woman, I wouldn’t deny that. With long, wavy brown hair and deep blue eyes, her face looked so delicate and regal. She was about six inches shorter than me and fairly petite and I had always joked that she was breakable.
Instead of the dirty clothes she had been wearing more than two months when she appeared at my door, she was in a navy blue pair of slacks with a matching jacket. Her hair had been left down and she was wearing quite a bit of make-up. When her eyes met mine, she smiled.
I turned away quickly out of fear that I’d do something stupid, like berating her in the hallway. If she thought walking in with a smile would just make everything okay between us, she wasn’t nearly as smart as I had once thought she was.
My rage for Angela suddenly melted. I felt Stephanie before I saw her and when I turned in the direction of the main hallway, I couldn’t help but smile.
Wearing a tan skirt suit that looked tailor-made for her body and nude colored heels that helped her shapely legs look miles long, my girlfriend strode in with confidence. Her blonde hair was pulled back in a low ponytail and she had her work bag slung over her arm. A man who was taller than me and dressed in a suit walked on one side of her while a woman dressed in black slacks and a matching jacket took her other. Thanks to the purple headscarf, I knew right away that she was Robin.
A smile hit my face automatically and a matching one did the same on Steph’s. She came to a stop next to our little group and greeted everyone while introducing the people with her. During the introductions, I glanced over at Angela and found her staring back at me. A frown marred her pretty face and I knew that she recognized Stephanie.
“Roberts versus Hart,” a bailiff called out suddenly and everyone turned their heads. Rick stepped forward, announcing he was my counsel, while the woman with Angela did the same. I followed behind Rick when he gestured for me to and I felt everyone else behind me.
The room was really cold and bland, unlike what I’d seen on TV. White linoleum decorated with random black squares lined the floor, two tables with three chairs behind each faced the front, and four benches of spectator rows were behind them. A large desk that ran the length of the room sat at the front with three computer screens and two flags. People were already behind two of the computers but the one in between them was empty.
Rick and I took our seats at one table while Angela and her lawyer did the other. Rick opened his briefcase and pulled out different documents but I just sat there, feeling stupid. Needing an anchor, I turned around and sought out the person I knew could make me feel grounded. She was sitting in the second row behind me with everyone else, and her eyes met mine almost instantly. She offered me an encouraging smile but I could tell she was nervous, too. Even so, I felt instantly better.
“Please rise for the Honorable Judge Bauer.”
I turned around and moved to my feet just as an older man in judge robes walked in. His hair was grey and balding on his head and he wore a pair of wire-framed glasses. He smiled out at the small crowd and took his seat. After a few seconds, he nodded once.
“You may be seated.” He paused again as we all did just that and then he focused on the computer screen in front of him. “We are here today to determine if Angela Roberts’ termination of parental rights was done erroneously and to decide if we are to proceed to a visitation hearing. Is that correct?”
“Yes, your honor.” Rick and the woman both said at once. The judge peered at the woman.
“Are you counsel for Ms. Roberts, the biological mother?”
She stood, buttoning her jacket as she did. “That’s correct. Fiona Mahon, your honor.”
“And you for Mr. Hart, the biological father?”
“Yes, your honor.” Rick stood, too. “Rick O’Connor.”
Judge Bauer looked between them for a moment before settling on Mahon. “You are aware, of course, that I am the judge who signed off on the termination? To say that was done in error isn’t something I take too lightly.”
“I do know that, sir. While I have no doubt that everything looked fine on paper, we have discovered some underlying information that we believed factored into the decision to go forward with the termination in the first place.”
There it was. They were going to try and use my relationship with Stephanie to screw us. Rick saw it coming, though, because he spoke quickly.
“Your honor, Christopher Hart was abandoned outside just hours after his birth by Angela Roberts. Instead of taking him to the police station, hospital, church, or fire station to ensure he was safe and to legally leave him, she chose to place him in the garbage where he surely would have died had he not been found. I’m unsure of what else matters beyond that.”
“What about the woman who found him?” The other lawyer shot back. “She found him, cultivated a relationship with the baby, then Mr. Hart, and hurried through proceedings to ensure she would have access to the child herself.”
The judge held up his hand. “I’m going to stop you both right there.” He focused on Angela’s lawyer. “That is a very serious accusation, Ms. Mahon. Am I to assume that you’re talking about DCS caseworker, Stephanie Gibson?” His eyes flicked out to the gallery behind me before looking back to the lawyer who nodded. “Yes, sir. We’ve been made aware that Ms. Gibson has been spending quite a bit of time with both Jared Hart and his son since the moment she found Christopher. She and Jared are now involved in a romantic relationship and she spends her time playing mother to the little boy while also making decisions regarding his future legally. She has abused her position for her own gain.”
I shifted enough in my chair so I could see Stephanie out of the corner of my eye. Her whole body was stiff and I could almost feel the anger emanating from her. She was also chewing on the inside of her cheek, obviously anxious.
“This is a blatant excuse to distract us from the fact that criminal charges are pending against Angela Roberts in regards to the abandonment,” my lawyer said, his voice professional but powerful.
“My client isn’t contesting that she made some mistakes but that the state has a representative who hastily made decisions based on feelings, not law.”
Judge Bauer cleared his throat and looked at the file. “Who is in charge of the Hart case file now? I’m assuming it is no longer Ms. Gibson.”
“That’s correct, your honor.” I turned completely and watched as Stephanie’s boss stood. The judge nodded his head at her.
“Ms. White. Please state your name and position for the court record.”
“Robin White, manager of Prevention and Support at DCS. As you’re aware, Stephanie Gibson is my first in command as supervisor of my division. She did find the baby that night. In fact, she saved his life as he was lethargic, dehydrated, hypothermic, and would not have had the strength to cry for much longer. Temperatures dropped to freezing that night and he would not have had a chance.” She cleared her throat and placed her hand on Steph’s shoulder. “Stephanie did come to me when she formed a friendship with Mr. Hart to ensure she wasn’t crossing any lines of impropriety. I allowed her to continue as the head caseworker because I knew she was a professional. As soon as the relationship progressed and became one of a romantic nature, she came to me and we decided together to reassign the case to this man here, Keon Swift. He is now the lead caseworker for the Hart family.”
“I see,” the judge murmured, lifting his glasses slightly before letting them fall back to the bridge of his nose. “Ms. Gibson?”
Robin sat when Stephanie stood and looked at the judge. “Your honor?”
“Tell me about the petition you brought me in February regarding the termination of parental rights.”
“Yes, sir.” She cleared her throat and kept her eyes on him as she explained how she had filed a petition to terminate Angela’s rights nineteen days after Chris had been found. She recited the state law that allowed termination due to abandonment and mentioned how she had done her due diligence in trying to notify Angela by sending a certified letter to her last known address and placing an ad in the newspaper. When she stopped talking, the judge paused for a long moment before he spoke again.
“Ms. Gibson, what are your feelings towards the minor involved, Christopher Hart? Please be honest.”