Integral Instruments - With prelude to Justified Voices (Book 7)

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The girls had been in their new schools for two weeks, and Piper and Elle were jumping leaps and bounds. Elle's teacher found that over exuberance from lack of learning challenges and had begun giving her more complicated assignments, taking her steps ahead of the other kids, and Piper... Piper had more than the help she now needed and was loving school, without her anxiety getting in her way.

I was worried that Arlee's schooling wasn't going well though. I had tried to talk to her about it, especially after she came home in tears, but she didn't want to talk and it broke my heart.

Something had happened that day. We all knew, because Arlee came home in tears, and Bree had called me to vent, because apparently Noah and Ian had been suspended for two weeks and no one would talk.

Today was supposed to be their first day back at school and I still hadn't gotten word from Arlee on the matter, but I had bigger fish to fry right now, and that had to do with this adoption.

The legal process was normally slow and tedious, but apparently if you were noteworthy they rushed you through.

We sat in the court’s meeting room, across from Thomas, while the judge sat at the end of the table.

“Well, Mr. O’Brien, I see that Ms. O’Brien’s lawyer has placed a good case against you reclaiming your children. She has documentation of your recent encounter, witnesses of your abandonment and a therapist report, stating that you have not seen your children in years.”

“I have, your honor,” He lied, “Not up close and personal, but I have gone to Arlee's shows. I have watched her play in the orchestra.”

“You lying piece of-” I started to stand, but Liv placed her hand on my shoulder and Ryan put his arm around my waist tightly.

"Your Honor," His lawyer tried to defend him, "My client has followed his children and proudly watched them from afar. He does care about them and love them, but his lifestyle is not that of a family man."

"You were stalking my children?!" I hissed across the table.

"Arlee was the only one I could see in public." He cleared his throat, "She's so talented."

"You son-of-a-" Ryan cleared his throat and I looked from Thomas to the judge, remembering where I was.

“I also have a testimony from one Arlee O’Brien.” He pulled out a letter that I had never seen before. It looked several pages long.

“When did she write that?” My heart stopped. I knew I was speaking out of place, but I hadn’t even known she wrote anything.

“This is most influential document in your case, Miss O’Brien and you haven’t seen it?” The judge asked me.

“N-no.” I shook my head. "What did Arlee say?"

“Well, let me enlighten you all and read some sections that I have highlighted.” He cleared his throat before reading.

“When I was young, I remember my father as being toxic. There is no more humane way to describe the man. He would leave for periods of time, without calling or even writing us, only to return more angry and bitter. Yes, we had good times, but I once read, “If the bad times outweigh the good, is there even a meaning behind the good?”

“She then goes on about several accounts that she remembers, of you neglecting her, her mother and her sisters, Mr. O’Brien.” He flipped the page as he glared at Thomas.

“Then, there’s this.” He smiled dryly at me, “My mother is far from perfect and she would be the first to tell you that, but I have watched her, totally exhausted from working all night, running after Elle as she colored on the walls, while holding Piper who was crying due to her sensory. Not once did my mother speak ill of the man that fathered me. Not once did she say she hated him and not once did she let my sisters think she was exhausted.”

I began to cry as Ryan rubbed my back.

“It takes a special woman to raise a child on her own, let alone three and one of them with special needs. My mother has never complained of being tired, being upset with us or made our different preferences out to be an issue. She has strived to make everything run smoothly on her own and has gone above and beyond for her children.”

He flipped the page again, “Ryan Ford. What can I tell you about Ryan? I can tell you that it takes a strong man to enter a house full of ladies, understand their differences and become part of their family, which he did instantly. From the very beginning, Ryan has been supportive of my goals and aspirations, he has laughed at Elle’s excitement and dealt with her squeals that none of us can stand, but most of all, he has been there for Piper. My middle sister. Piper has special needs that he has, from day one, accepted. Where she needed extra help and support, Ryan was there. He understood that she needed, someone who wasn’t going to leave and that she needed a father. Ryan is not just her protector, he helps her and I have seen her take leaps and bounds that we had never expected. These astonishing developments would not have been possible without Ryan in our lives.”

I heard a sniffle in my ear and turned to see tears streaming down Ryan’s cheeks as he wiped them away.

“This next part I found quite amusing,” The judge looked between us all as he flipped the page again, “I know he will bring it up, so I will bring it up now, to save you the trouble of having to question my mom and Ryan. I hit my birth father. I was wrong in doing so. I am not a violent person and do not get into trouble. Just please, do not hold this against Ryan. He grounded from the Orchestra for two weeks and I was mad at first, since I’ve never been grounded, but I truly do understand why he grounded me.”

“Then she goes on.” He flipped the page again and my eyes widened, “Last page, I swear.”

“Ryan is truly the best thing that has ever happened to us and I understand that my testimony may not be held accountable, but please consider it when you make your decision. Ryan is the only father my siblings have ever known and I’m proud to call him my father, whether it is approved by the court or not.”

The judge smiled and looked at me, “You have a very intelligent young mind there, Miss O’Brien.”

I smiled as Ryan rubbed my back again, “She’s my straight A, hard working, going to Julliard child.”

“That letter can’t be held accountable. He’s paying her off.” Thomas argued, “He bought her a car.”

“I bought her a car because her old one kept breaking down. She works downtown and I was terrified that she’d get hurt or in an accident.” Ryan leaned forward and hissed, “She couldn’t keep driving that thing. It’s not like I bought her a sports car, it’s fricken Volkswagen.”

“This year’s model.” Liv piped up, “Safest on the market right now.”

The judge rubbed his temples, “Mr. Ford did you finish the questionnaire you were given upon arrival?”

“What questionnaire?” I asked.

“The one compiled of what the testimonies told us to ask both men.” The judge looked right at me, “I have Thomas’s answers and now I’m awaiting Mr. Ford’s.”

Ryan went through a file in front of him, pulled out a page and handed it to the judge. The judge looked between two papers and smiled, shaking his head.

“MS O’Brien, what is Elle’s favorite stuffed animal to sleep with?” He asked.

“Elle doesn’t have one. She has a Barbie though.” I bit my lip nervously.

“Her name is Charlie.” Ryan smiled at me and I nodded.

“Yeah. That mini blonde one.”

“Miss O’Brien, what is Piper’s food allergy?”

“Gluten, but she also has issues with dairy if she eats too much.” I shrugged.

“You already stated that Arlee is going to Julliard.” He put his glasses down and looked at Ryan, “Mr. Ford, I have heard the accounts of others in detail, but I want to hear what you think of the girls personally.”

He sat back and crossed his arms, ready to listen to what Ryan had to say.

Ryan looked at me nervously, before removing his hand from my back and leaning forward on the table.

“I never, in a million years, expected to meet Meg. She had everything I was looking for in a woman. She was smart, artistic and put others above herself. Those others being her three girls.”

“The first time we all did something together, it was an impromptu hike. Arlee was being sarcastic, like every other teen I know, and she didn’t think I would last an hour with all of them,” He smiled, looking at his hands, “It made me want to prove that I could handle what they threw at me. She’s so smart and she’s a genius with a violin. She’s a kid with goals, and unlike me, she has everything mapped out to a T. She challenges me, but in a good way. She challenges me to be a better person and I think she gets a kick out of it.”

“And the others?” The judge asked.

“Well, Elle is loud and exuberant," He huffed a laugh, "Little Elle has a flare that really just sticks with you from the beginning and she gets you in trouble for laughing at her goofiness, but it’s like she thrives off of it. She does everything based on facts and needs to know everything. She’s just so factually inclined for 6 year old that your just left staring at her in awe.” He sighed and rubbed his hands on his jeans- yes, he wore jeans to the courthouse, “Then there’s Piper... Piper is the sweetest, kindest soul, but she has a lot of things stacked against her. I really just think she has an old fashioned soul, like a poet. She’s our quiet calm, before the storm called Elle hits. She melted my heart right off the bat. She has these blue eyes that just always look around and see the world as something scary and you just want to pull her in close and let her know it’s going to be okay.”

I started crying. Really crying. I knew Ryan loved the girls, but this... This was something else.

“Well, Mr. Ford, I have just one thing to say to you, but it doesn't matter, because you've been there already.” The judge sighed and looked between Ryan and I, “Welcome to fatherhood.”

“That means-” I cried as Ryan gaped at the judge.

“I have proof here in these testimonies and statements that Mr. O’Brien has abandoned his children. Including the fact that he had no idea about his middle child’s allergy, which is a huge one. The adoption was already settled before I asked what you thought of the girls Mr. Ford. I really just wanted to hear a father’s opinion of his 3 daughters.”

I was suddenly in the air, being twirled around as Liv excitedly clapped.

“I love you, Megan.” He kissed me until I was dizzy.

“Ryan, I can’t breathe.” I giggled.

“Oh, sorry, hun.” He released me, but the smile never left his face.

When I turned back to Thomas he didn’t say a word. He just glared at me.

We were out in the hallway when Thomas emerged. We weren’t meant to be, but Ryan was too excited to wait to call his brother. I didn’t mind.

“Arlee is going to Julliard?” Thomas asked curiously.

“You’ll stay away from my children.” I glared at him.

“Despite what the court says, Arlee has always been my kid,” He smiled, “She’s always had a spice for theater. She’ll come find me when she’s ready.”

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