For Lilly, life became like a dream. Although the Bazemore’s weren’t really her parents, she got to at least get an idea of what it was like to live in a real family, with a mom and a dad. She never missed a meal, had new clothes, and all of her school supplies. They even made sure she had games and stuff to do that wasn’t school.
Mrs. Lewis had never said another word to her about drugs, or asked her about the gang stuff, or anything. She even treated her like any other student, although her other two teachers seemed to watch her closely, as if she was about to steal something, or maybe try and do something else that was bad, when their back was turned.
It bothered her, but there was nothing she could do about it, so she did her best at school, and ignored it as best she could. She didn’t have any friends anymore, which the Bazemore’s hadn’t said anything about, but she knew they were worried about it. They took her places, where the three of them had a lot of fun, and they did it often. They quickly realized that one of her favorite places was the bookstore, which was one of those supersized ones, with a coffee shop and all kinds of other stuff.
She’d find books and spend lots of time there, but her biggest enjoyment was going to the park and seeing Horace. The Bazemore’s never said anything about her walks, but it was another thing they definitely were concerned about, and she knew it. She had become very good at reading people, in part due to animals, but also because everyone had certain beliefs about her. And although she’d told Mrs. Lewis she didn’t care what people thought, she knew that was a lie.
“Lilly, what would you tell them, if the Bazemore’s asked to adopt you?” Horace asked one afternoon, getting toward Thanksgiving. She’d been thinking more and more about the possibility, or maybe hoping. She still wasn’t sure, but she did know she was happy.
“I like them, and they’re really nice,” she said.
“You’re not answering the question,” he said.
“I don’t know,” she said, her eyes distant, and unseeing. “I like them. I’m happy,” she said, echoing her earlier thought.
“So, would you be happy having them as your parents? You know, that’s what this is all about, don’t you?” he asked.
She absent mindedly nodded, then looked him in the eyes, an intensity in her gaze. “I’d like them to be my parents, I think,” she said, and paused, her already intense gaze actually intensifying, “I’d like it alot.”
“Very good,” he said, although he looked sad.
“Why are you sad?” she asked, seeing the change in his expression.
“Because, it’d mean you’ll quit visiting me,” he said, then, “But it is necessary, and you’ll live the life you should have always had. It’s a good thing, it’s just that I’d lose my princess.”
She almost tackled him, as she launched herself, and wrapped her arms around him. He returned the hug, just as fiercely.
“If they decide to adopt me, I’ll still come and see you, I promise,” she said. “They might not want to adopt me, though,” she then said.
“I think they do, from what you’ve been telling me,” he told her. “Don’t be surprised if they ask you really soon,” he said. There was an underlying inflection in his voice that made her suspicious.
“You know something,” she stated.
“What could I possibly know?” he replied, putting on a perfectly innocent face, which she saw right through.
“You already know. They’re going to adopt me,” she exclaimed, unable to contain her excitement.
“Lilly, I don’t know that for sure. I strongly believe it, and I have access to information sometimes, that tells me things. From what I’ve heard, I think they’re going to try,” he said.
“Tell me everything you know,” she demanded. He began laughing, and squeezed her tightly.
“That would take too much time, my Lilly,” he said. “As for what I know about this, my answer is, no,” he said. She tried to make him talk, but nothing she did would move him to speak.
“Go home now, before it gets too late. Good night, my princess,” he said, got a parting hug, and for the first time, a kiss on the cheek. She quickly gave the three dogs a good petting, and left. One of the two larger dogs always escorted her home, so she always felt safe.
“I’m home,” she called out, as she walked into the house.
“Lilly, would you come here?” Sherri replied, from the back of the house. Her heart leapt, thinking that surely it wasn’t going to happen that soon. Not on the same day Horace told her it was possibly going to happen.
When she walked in, she knew immediately something was different, and it didn’t necessarily feel good. She sat gently on the loveseat, with Leonard and Sherri sitting on the couch. Her smile had melted off, as she sat.
“Lilly, Leonard has been ‘offered’ a transfer with his job. He can either take the transfer, or not have a job, and at his age, there’s no other jobs for him, so we have to take it. That, of course, impacts you. We spoke with Ms. Rafferty, wanting to start the process to adopt you. In the time you’ve been with us, we’ve come to think of you as our own daughter. We love you. We wanted to ask you about it before we made anything final, make sure it was something you wanted, but we wanted to be ready, if you agreed,” she said, and tears sprung to her eyes, as she saw the excitement return in Lilly’s expression. Sherri turned toward Leonard and began crying on his shoulder, the first solid clue to Lilly that this wasn’t going to end well.
“They won’t let us,” Leonard stated, not being gentle. Lilly sat, silent and unmoving. She wasn’t able to form any words, or give any reaction. Her entire world had just collapsed, in four words. Everything she’d suddenly hoped for was shattered.
The first reaction they saw was the sudden pouring of tears from her eyes. She then jumped up and ran out of the room, and out of the house. Lilly didn’t stop until she was being held by Horace, who was trying to console her, not understanding why.
“What’s the matter?” he asked, as she began settling down a little, but his question brought forth another wave of intense crying. Finally, she seemed to cry herself out, and sat back, looking at the ground.
“You were right about them asking me to adopt me, but they can’t adopt me, and they’re leaving me,” she said, her voice on the verge of cracking again. Some new tears did leak down her cheeks.
“Oh sweetheart. I’m so sorry,” he said, and pulled her to him, letting her cry some more.
Gently, he picked her up, and started walking with her through the park. She didn’t look up once, just crying on his shoulder. She woke up, as she heard a doorbell.
“Mr. Bazemore, my name is Horace and I wanted to bring her home to you,” Horace said, extending his precious burden to the other man. “She’s cried herself out, I think.”
“Thank you,” the older man said, taking Lilly in his arms, looking warily at Horace.
“If you don’t mind, could you tell me why DFCS won’t let you adopt her?” he asked.
“They wouldn’t tell us,” Leonard replied.
“I’ll see what I can dig up,” Horace replied, looking to be deep in thought.
Leonard and Sherri were clearly sceptical of the homeless man before them, but nodded politely, and closed the door. Leonard then carried her to her room, and placed her in her bed.
“We tried everything we could, and we’ll keep trying,” Sherri promised, but that only made Lilly cry again, and she curled on her side.
“Lilly, we were told you’d stay with us until just before we move, but if you don’t want to, we understand,” Leonard said.
“What if I just go with you? They won’t know, and I’ve run away before,” she said, which made Sherri start crying.
“They’d eventually find you, and when they did, they’d take you away from us, and put us both in jail,” Leonard replied, and she saw tears in his eyes.
Horace thought that Sherri and Leonard were going to ask me if I wanted them to adopt me. I was so excited I kissed him for the first time. I wish he could be my daddy. They said they wanted to, but they’re leaving, without me, because they said they aren’t allowed to adopt me, and Leonard has to be transferred somewhere else. That sentence sucked. I can write better than that. I think he said they were moving to St. Louis. That’s probably bullshit. Who would want me? Why wouldn’t they leave me? I’m a complete screw up, and they finally came to their senses.
The next morning, Sherri gently woke Lilly up, “Honey, it’s time to get up.”
“I’m awake,” she promised, but was clearly still asleep.
“Wake up, Lilly,” Sherri said again, gently shaking her.
She opened her eyes, and smiled, before the memory of the night before slammed back into her. In that moment, tears burst forth, Lilly unable to stop them.
“Oh, sweetheart,” Sherri said, taking Lilly in her arms, and holding her tight.
“It’s like losing Momma all over again, but worse,” she wailed.
“Oh God, I wish I knew what to do,” Sherri exclaimed.
“Lilly, can I ask you about Horace, I think his name was?” she asked, once Lilly had settled down again.
“He’s been my friend since I was in my first foster home,” she replied.
“Isn’t he a bit old, and...rough?” she asked.
“Like me?” Lilly asked in reply.
“Sweetheart, you’re a beautiful, intelligent and kind girl. You’re not rough, and you’re not quite that old,” she said, which brought a smile from Lilly.
“That’s the girl I know,” Sherri said, smiling back.
“He helped me when the Fangs first tried to make me join them,” she finally said. “Why when something good happens in my life does something worse happen right after it?” Lilly asked, making Sherri struggle to find an answer.
“I’m not sure I understand,” Sherri said.
“My Momma stopped taking drugs, and stopped bringing her boyfriends home all the time, and everything was like it used to be. Then she brought Randy home and he killed her with drugs. Now, I’m happy, and I want to stay with you and Leonard, but you’re leaving me and they won’t let you adopt me. It’s not fair!” she exclaimed, but rather than the tears Sherri would have expected, there was a burning anger in the girl’s eyes.
“I know. It’s not fair, and they won’t tell us why we can’t adopt you, even though we were allowed to be a foster home for you. When we signed up, we said we wanted to foster, with the intention of adopting. That was our hope all along, and they brought you, the girl we always wanted,” she said.
“I hate my life!” Lilly yelled, her anger pouring forth in her words, her expression and her movements.
“Always keep your chin up, no matter what life throws at you,” Sherri said, knowing it sounded stupid, but not sure what else to say.
“Life isn’t very nice,” Lilly told her.
“No, I guess it isn’t, sometimes,” Sherri agreed. “Now, back to Horace,” Sherri said.
“He’s my friend, and he helps me,” Lilly stated, as if there was nothing more to be discussed.
“I’m just worried about you,” Sherri said.
“It doesn’t matter what you think anymore,” Lilly said, and regretted it, as soon as the words left her mouth. The look on Sherri’s face told her how bad her mistake was. “I’m sorry!” Lilly screamed, and ran out of the house, and back to the park, tears again pouring out.
“What’s the matter?” Horace asked, when Lilly plowed into him, yet again.
“I was really mean and said something really bad to Sherri,” she said.
“What did you say?” he asked.
“She told me she was worried about me, because you’re my friend, and I told her it didn’t matter what she thought anymore,” Lilly told him.
“Oh dear,” he said. “Lilly, you need to go back, and apologize to her. She’ll understand that you’re upset and didn’t mean it, but you need to let her know that,” he said.
“I’m a complete screw up,” Lilly said.
“No, Lilly, you’re not. You’ve had some bad things happen to you, much too early in life. You’re actually doing amazingly well, all things considered,” he explained. “Look at me,” he said lifting her chin, “I was an adult when I gave up on life, and my problems were nothing like what you’ve gone through. You’re still fighting through it, too. I quit. I couldn’t take the pressure, but you’re still going strong. It’s expected that you stumble here and there. You’re just a child,” he said.
“But I hurt her, really bad,” she said.
“Like I said, she’ll understand,” he said, again lifting her chin, forcing her to look in his eyes. “Why don’t we both go and talk to her? Would that make it easier?” he asked, and she nodded.
Then she seemed to think better of it, “But she doesn’t trust you.”
“And she shouldn’t. What she sees is a homeless old man, and homeless men have a certain reputation for being bad people, or at least mentally unstable. She’s naturally worried about you,” he told her.
“Anyway, I want to talk to Mr. Bazemore, while you and Sherri patch things up,” he added, after a moment’s pause.
They walked back to the Bazemore’s house, her hand in his. Leonard and Sherri were on the porch, as they walked up. Before they got there, he stopped and looked down at her, “Do you want me to be there, or do you think you can do this on your own?” he asked.
“I think I need to do it by myself,” she said.
“Very good. I’m proud of you,” he said, giving her a warm smile. As they walked up, Horace extended his hand to Leonard who shook it without any hesitation.
“Can I talk to you, in private?” Lilly asked Sherri, looking really nervous.
“You’re strong, Lilly,” he assured her, with a gentle pat on the back.
When they got back to Lilly’s room, they both sat on the bed, both of them looking somewhat nervous.
“I’m really sorry I said that to you. It was really mean, and I’m sorry,” Lilly said, her words coming out very fast.
“Sweetheart, you’re hurt, and it’s natural to try and separate yourself from the source of the pain. That’s us, unfortunately. We love you, Lilly, and we always will. I’m not sure why this is happening, or how it will end, but we’re going to keep fighting for you. I promise,” Sherri said, and brought Lilly into a very strong hug.
“Mr. Bazemore,” Horace began, but Leonard held a hand up.
“I finally discovered who you are, Horace Wetherby,” Leonard said.
“Yes, I am Horace Wetherby. Most people have no idea who that is anymore, but it seems you do,” Horace noted.
“It took a little while for me to recall, but yes, I do. We’ve actually had dealings in the past, although they were very brief,” Leonard told him.
“I recall them well. You are an honorable man, which is not uncommon in engineers, unlike my former profession,” Horace said.
“What are your intentions, regarding Lilly?” Leonard asked, getting right to the point, although this had been Horace’s idea. Of course, he knew this was coming, in fact, needed.
“I’m only watching out for her. She managed to escape the Fangs in her first encounter with them, by sheer luck. I’ve been expecting another attempt by them, but oddly, that hasn’t materialized yet, other than the rumors they’re spreading about her. It will happen, though, and I want to be there when it does, hopefully giving her a chance to survive it,” he replied.
“From what I recall of you, I don’t think ethics were ever one of your strong suits,” Leonard said, not holding any punches.
“No, ethics definitely got in the way of my intentions, more often than not, and I built quite an empire that way. However, it finally caught up with me. I have this one small problem with that line of work. I actually have a conscience, which is incredibly inconvenient at times,” he said.
“So, back to Lilly. What are your intentions?” Leonard asked, yet again.
“As I said, I want to protect her,” he said, and sighed. “She’s brought something out in me. I don’t know how to explain it, but I care for her, very deeply,” he said, and paused again. Then, “I kind of see her as the daughter I never had, and never will.”
Leonard simply looked at him, trying to figure out the man before him, who had clearly changed from the man he had dealt with years ago, even if briefly. That man was a very well manicured man, almost to the point of looking plastic. He was a ruthless businessman, and had no qualms cutting someone’s throat, figuratively, to win the day. Horace was actually a lawyer that knew how to use the law to take over businesses in ways the owners couldn’t beat. He bankrupted many good men during his career, leaving those men and their families with absolutely nothing.
“Leonard, there are some pieces of information you are unaware of, with regard to Priscilla Lilibeth Pimlott, Lilly. The information I have factors into why I believe they are not allowing you to adopt her, and they won’t allow anyone else to, either. I had hoped they would go a different path, but they haven’t,” he said, and watched Leonard to gauge his reaction.
Not seeing anything to worry him, he continued on, “She is not a United States citizen.”
“Excuse me!`” Leonard exclaimed.
“She’s an illegal alien. Her mother came to the U.S. on a tourist visa, and never returned. From what I’ve dug up, she probably planned everything before she ever left the U.K.. She had really good forged documents, which made it easy for them to blend in quickly. DFCS either didn’t dig deep enough, or more likely, they realized what had happened, and hid it. I can only speculate, but I believe they did it for good reasons, even if those reasons are now going to hurt her,” he said.
“What reasons?” Leonard asked.
“I think, and this really is speculation, that they wanted to keep from putting her through more trauma when her mother died, so they stopped digging any deeper. If they were to reveal that she’s an illegal alien now, it could come back on them. Although I want to believe they did it for good reasons, they’re now protecting their collective backsides,” he explained.
“What do we have to do?” Leonard asked.
“Are you really sure that’s what you and your wife want?” he asked. Getting a firm nod of approval, he explained, “I can help, but this really isn’t my area of expertise. I have contacts though, who I might still be able to lean on. It’s going to be a long slow process, and it’ll cost a great deal of money, but I’ll take care of that. The first thing is to reach out to the State Department, and begin an investigation into the death of Caitlin Pimlott. Feeling that you’d want to, I already took the liberty of beginning that. To be honest, for her to have any chance at a good life, it needed to happen, anyway. From there, we’ll need to get with INS and see about having her naturalized. There may be some complications, being that she’s a minor. More importantly, I have no idea yet if she has any family to claim her back in Scotland. If there is, they will get precedent and we’ll have no legal recourse with which to challenge that. In short, she’ll be returned to Scotland.”
“Let me know what we have to do, and we’ll do it,” Leonard said.
“There are some concessions I demand, if I’m going to do this for you,” Horace said, earning a wary stare from Leonard.
“It’s not that bad, I promise,” he said, with a small smile. “I want visitation rights. Nothing legal. More of a gentleman’s agreement, which I would trust coming from you. All I want is simply the ability to see her once in awhile. She’s a really special girl, and I want to see that she does well,” he said.
“I think that would be agreeable terms,” Leonard replied, as if it was a business arrangement, and nothing more.
“Well, it seems this little girl will finally bring me out of hiding,” he said, with a sigh in his voice.
“What happens until then?” Leonard asked.
“I’ll try and keep an eye on her, as best I can,” he said, reverting to his drunken persona. “And if you provide me your new contact information, I’ll keep you updated,” he said, back in his business voice.