[Author's note: This is a sequel to "Retrospective" and "Picking Up The Pieces" and a prequel to "Balancing the Scales" and "Truth and Consequences". MMB]
With a look on her face that deliberately disguised reluctance behind neutrality, Miss Parker surrendered her little brother into the arms of his nurse, sadly watching him stretch out his little arms to her as he called "No! Mi-mi! Mi-mi!"
"Time for your bedtime, little man," she told him, stepping forward just enough so that she could reach out to ruffle the little boy's dark hair. "I'll see you again tomorrow, Davy - you know that."
Big tears swam in his grey eyes. "But... I wanna go wif YOUuu! Not wif Nuss!" he whined as the nurse gave the imposing brunette her customary brusque nod and walked off with the whimpering child in her arms. The sounds of anguished "Mi-Mi!"s grew dim and then finally ceased as the nurse boarded the elevator to take her charge back down the to nursery.
Miss Parker returned to her comfortable office chair and sat down heavily. In an attempt to reach out to the one and only family member that she could still claim since Mr. Parker's demise and not grow nauseous, she had initiated these evening hours of playtime with her orphaned little brother after her workday was ended and before heading home to Blue Cove. While the high points of her day for the last few months, these hours were becoming painful reminders that the little boy had no life outside the Centre - indeed, had never been allowed outside the Centre Tower walls. During those precious hours she regaled him with stories from a big book filled with fairytales and often stood with him at the huge picture window talking about the beautiful view outside. She also taught him to sing all the nursery rhymes and songs and games that her mother had taught her so long ago - rhymes and songs and games that she had barely remembered until she had had a reason to.
Raines had patently disapproved of her decision, but there was little he could do to prevent the toddler's big sister from ordering him fetched nightly up to her office without risking far more general disapproval from Centre rank and file. The little boy had quickly become very attached to his big sister, the first adult who had really ever paid focused and direct attention on him at HIS level rather than pushing him to succeed. As time passed and the schedule by which he was brought to her became more fixed and consistent, however, he refused to participate with any of his educational activities the closer the time came for playtime with 'Mi-Mi', his name for her. And for the past week or so, the little boy's increasing distress as the playtimes ended and he was taken off back to his nursery had been reported and already earned Miss Parker one raging tirade from Mr. Raines.
There was a soft knock on the etched glass of her door as she was stowing the storybook and toys back into the bottom drawer of her desk, and then Sydney pushed his way through without waiting for permission. Just as regular as the after-work play hour with Davy now was the after-work car-pool and meal with the man who, in the past months, had become family to her as well. He had seen her through a car accident because of her drinking, then an emotional melt-down in the aftermath of that and the recovery period that had followed. At the end of her travails, she had found herself with a surrogate father whom she loved very dearly and who obviously loved her at least as much in return. Sydney had long since passed the point of needing permission to enter Miss Parker's office after work hours - she was expecting him at this hour, after all - although he had never abandoned the courtesy of at least giving her a little warning first.
The silver-haired psychiatrist took in the distinct look of frustration and sadness on her face and then deposited his briefcase and beret on the couch before approaching the desk. "I take it your little brother just left for the day." He took the glower aimed in his direction as an affirmative answer as he dropped himself into one of the two comfortable chairs in front of her desk. "I thought so. Nothing else upsets you so anymore."
"This is ridiculous, Syd! It's like he lives in an orphanage!"
The greying eyebrows rose matter-of-factly. "Well, technically..."
Her snapping grey eyes rolled impatiently. "Oh, don't you start too!" She rose and began pacing back and forth in front of her picture window - a window now covered with little hand-prints where she had held him up to get a better view of the sunset. "He's a little boy who deserves to be playing in the park on a swing in the sun, not drilling on his alphabet for hours and riding his tricycle in circles for hours in a 'playroom' that's more like a prison cell! My God - you'd think they had another generation Pretender, instead of the orphaned son of the former Chairman..."
Sydney shook his head in sympathy. "Parker, stop this before you get yourself all worked up. You've been over this issue with Mr. Raines how many times now? Davy is proving to be a very intelligent little boy - and the Centre is technically his guardian, now that both his parents are dead. You can't expect..."
"It isn't right that he LIVES here, Syd, and you know it."
There was a new tone to her voice tonight, a far more determined one - one distinctly reminiscent of another voice silenced decades ago. Sydney sat up just a bit straighter, unnerved. "Parker..." he cautioned gently. "What's going on in that mind of yours?"
Her pacing ceased, and she moved to seat herself in the other chair next to him. "I've been thinking that no judge, if informed of the situation Davy lives in, would approve of that child being raised in an institution when he had family outside willing to take him in and raise him."
His eyebrows flew to the highest point on his forehead she'd seen from him in quite a while, and his chestnut eyes were wide and stunned. "What?!"
"I'm going to petition the courts to grant me custody, and then adopt him myself," she announced in a very matter-of-fact tone. She watched as the silver-haired psychiatrist's jaw dropped. "It's not such a stretch," she protested. "I AM his sister, after all..."
"Do you have the slightest idea what you're proposing?" he asked her in blunt astonishment that thickened his accent slightly. "I believe that once upon a time, when faced with babysitting Debbie when she was already - what? - ten years old, you told me 'I don't do 'Mommy'.' Taking responsibility for raising a child is a big step, especially for one as young as..."
"I know that," she sighed, sinking her chin into her hand. "But I find it a whole lot more tolerable to learn to 'do Mommy' now than live with the idea that Davy will essentially grow up as isolated and manipulated as Jarod was." She anticipated the sharp look her comment earned her from the gone-but-not-forgotten Pretender's former mentor, and she put out a hand to his arm. "You know what I mean, Syd - I'm not blaming you for..."
He patted her hand. "I know you're not. And you're right in a way - except that the way Davy has been treated by his nurses and tutors all this time has been quite age-appropriate and non-exploitive, it would be difficult NOT to find similarities with Jarod's early upbringing." He rubbed beneath his nose thoughtfully with steepled fingers. "I suppose part of the rebuttal to your argument that Raines will bring out to the judge will be your record of drinking - but you finished your alcohol rehab program several months ago, along with the anger management counseling program. Your accident was also an isolated incident, so that will help. The only problem I see standing in the way of your petition is that you would being a single parent..."
"BUT with a very capable support system already in place," she reminded him with a smile. "I would like to think that you wouldn't mind functioning in the role of a grandfather-figure."
Sydney smiled back slowly, touched and pleased. "I don't think you'd have to work hard to convince me to give it a try," he agreed, "or convince Broots to play uncle, for that matter..."
"And Debbie could use the baby-sitting money, I'm sure," she added. "Not to mention that I'm well enough off financially to be able to provide adequate daycare for him while I'm at work."
"You know that Raines will probably try to insist as a condition of his cooperation that you bring him in to work with you, so that he can continue his formal training in a familiar setting," the psychiatrist warned.
Miss Parker shook her head firmly. "If I get custody of that little boy, he's never going to set foot inside this place again, Syd."
"So..." Sydney rose, looking uncomfortable with the idea of continuing the discussion where they were. "Are you ready to call it a day - and whose turn is it to cook tonight?"
"Mine," she answered distractedly, rising as well and walking over to drag her briefcase up from under her desk and slip the folders from her 'inbox' into it. "Maybe we can talk about this further at my place?"
He looked down his patrician's nose at her. "You aren't going to let this go, are you?"
"He's my little brother," she shrugged. "SOMEBODY needs to put his welfare at the top of their agenda - and who better than me?"
Miss Parker gazed across her father's old desk, massive and imposing, with calm assurance. "You don't seem to understand. I'm not asking your permission. I'm telling you what I AM going to do."
Mr. Raines pulled hard on his oxygen tank, his gasp sounding as if he were drawing a last breath. "That little boy needs to have the best..."
"Exactly my point," she interrupted him with a cold smile. "And living in an institutional setting, cared for by paid employees who care more about their paycheck than about the happiness of a little boy, is NOT 'the best' as far as I'm concerned. I intend to give him a real home and a mother who will care for him and love him the way he deserves from now on, as well as every educational advantage." She gazed at him coldly. "AND I intend to take him home with me tonight, so that he can start getting used to being outside the Centre for a change."
"You will do nothing of the kind!" Raines was furious. Who the hell was she to think she could step into a parental role with Mr. Parker's orphaned son? "He is accustomed to his quarters here at the Centre. He will STAY here."
Miss Parker rose to her feet with a resigned nod. "Very well," she shrugged. "You leave me no recourse but to document his 'quarters' here at the Centre and present THAT as part of my rationale for petitioning to become his legal guardian, asking that an officer of the court come along as my witness that I'm not fabricating anything being claimed."
Raines drew in a surprised and wary gasp of oxygen. The LAST thing he wanted was to have outsiders beginning to poke around the interior of the Centre. "On second thought," he began, and then had to stifle the rising ire that came as the result of her looking back up at him with triumph in her gaze, "you may take young Master Parker with you this evening. See to it, however, that he is back in the Centre bright and early tomorrow morning."
"Tomorrow's Saturday," she reminded the balding semi-invalid pointedly. "I'm sure it will be of great interest to the court to know why a small boy is being kept inside an institutional setting on a weekend when his sister is more than willing to..."
"You're really pushing it," Raines warned her ominously.
"I haven't even begun to push," she retorted in a calm voice. "You keep pushing at keeping Davy locked up like a prisoner in here, and you WILL begin to see me push, however."
"Is that a threat, Miss Parker?"
"Not at all," she smiled coldly at him again as she prepared to turn on her heel. "That is my solemn vow." The look of caution that came over his face as she turned gave her a great deal of satisfaction. She threw open both of the etched glass doors of the Tower office of the Chairman and stalked down the corridor. The frustrating half of her self-assigned task was finished and successfully too, she congratulated herself. Now came the fun part.
It was four forty-five, fifteen minutes until the official end of the day and a full forty-five minutes before their regularly scheduled playtime - but her anticipation had gotten the best of her. Now that she'd faced down Raines, she was headed toward the elevator that would take her down to the nursery. How much more fun it would be, she thought, if she could help Davy pack for his weekend vacation from the Centre!
A hand reached out and grabbed her upper arm roughly as she reached for the elevator button. "What the hell do you think you're doing, 'Sis'?" Lyle growled at her, dragging her to the side of the elevator.
"I'm taking Davy home with me for the weekend," she snapped back, jerking her arm from his grasp and rubbing where his fingers had dug painfully into her flesh. "At least I take an interest in him - while you go off with another of your Asian delicacies. What is it you'll be having this week - Sweet and Sour Suzy Chang from Accounting?"
"That boy's tr... education is on a very defined schedule. You can't just..."
She turned to face him, absolutely furious, with her hands on her hips. "I can't just what, Lyle? Treat him like a three-year-old who needs a day off now and then?" She glared at him. "I've already got Raines' grudging permission for this - so get the hell outta my way."
"You don't know what you're dealing with," Lyle hissed at her. "Don't get in the way; you'll get hurt."
"I suggest you listen to your own advice, Lyle," she hissed back. "Now stand aside!" She pushed past him and caught the elevator door before it could slide closed. She punched the button for the sublevel where Davy's nursery had been set up and then put her hands on her hips and glared at her twin brother as the door slid closed between them. She relaxed and leaned heavily against the railing on the edge of the elevator car, wondering not for the first time why giving the simple joys of life to a small child who was family could cause such trouble.
"Mi-Mi!" Davy yelled excitedly and jumped out of his chair at the little table and ran to her.
"There you are!" she smiled at him and swung him up in her arms with a flourish and a spin. "Are you ready for your time?" She aimed her question at the tutor who now stood sullenly at the side of the abandoned work table.
"He does have several problems to finish," the man whined, causing Miss Parker to take an instant dislike to the man.
"I'm sure they can wait until Monday," she smiled at the man without any warmth, then returned her entire attention to the toddler in her arms. "I've got something very special planned for you..."
"Monday?!" the tutor sputtered, his brows knitting together in frustration. "He is supposed to have conquered the concepts in those problems by no later than..."
"Monday," Miss Parker said to him flatly, an eyebrow raised dangerously. "This is a three-year-old, if you hadn't noticed. Three year olds do not do school work on weekends."
"Mi-Mi?" Davy was confused. "I not doing probwems tomorrow?"
"No, little man. Tomorrow you're going to be spending the day in the park with me - and tonight, you're going home with me too."
The child's eyes widened excitedly. "Really? I go wif you? OUTSIDE?" He was bouncing in his big sister's arms with so much enthusiasm that he was becoming hard to hang onto. Miss Parker laughed and set him down.
"Give me your hand, and you can take me to your bed where we can pack you up some clothes and stuff." She extended her hand to the boy.
"I don't have no cwothes there, Mi-Mi," the little one explained, "they bring me stuff every morning."
Miss Parker frowned. "What about your favorite toy? Don't you want to bring Teddy with you?"
Davy's toe scuffed on the cement floor. "Nuss said Teddy no good fo' me. Takes him away right after I come back..."
"We'll see about that," she said, leaning down and gently taking her brother's hand and then picking him up in her arms again. "Let's go talk to Nurse."
It was a short walk down a half-darkened hallway to the nursery itself, with the crib set up in a quiet and undecorated corner of the room as far away from the nurse's desk as possible. Miss Parker walked right up to the woman's desk and stared down at the white-garbed figure until she looked up, and then stared in surprise. "What are you doing here, Miss Parker?" she inquired, somewhat less than confidently.
"Where is Davy's teddy?" the tall brunette demanded without preamble, "and perhaps you can tell me why you feel that a teddy bear is 'no good' for him?"
The nurse shuddered, thinking back to the day that Mr. Raines had been to visit, seen the bear and had a temper tantrum about the distracting elements obstructing the goals of the project. "Mr. Raines ordered..."
"Give me the bear." Miss Parker shifted Davy to her left arm and held out the right hand. "Now."
The nurse could see the determination in her young charge's big sister's expression, and she bent to pull open the bottom drawer of her desk and draw out the fuzzy brown stuffed toy that had been the child's birthday present. "I was just following orders," she informed the Chairman's daughter defensively as she handed over the toy.
"That's what they said at Nuremberg too," was the sharp retort. "Now, Davy tells me he has no clothing stored here. What about all those tee-shirts I bought last week..."
"Mr. Raines..." the nurse began, starting to feel distinctly at a disadvantage.
"Where are they?" Miss Parker demanded.
The woman's face fell. "He ordered them incinerated," she admitted reluctantly.
Miss Parker closed her eyes for a moment and took a deep breath. Getting angry at a nurse in front of Davy would accomplish nothing. Instead, she opened her eyes and smiled at the little one in her arms. "In that case, I'll just have to get you some more," she told him, handing him his stuffed bear. "Here. You take care of Teddy. Let's get out of here."
"Uh..." the nurse was now definitely distressed. "Where are you taking him?"
"He's going to be out of the Centre this weekend," Miss Parker tossed over her shoulder. "Consider it a short vacation for you."
"We go Mi-Mi's office foost?" Davy chattered at her happily.
"I have to pick up some things first, and meet someone." Miss Parker grinned. Sydney was going to be very surprised - he had expressed real doubts and reservations about her plan when she'd aired it two nights before, musing that Raines would find some way to prevent her. She grinned at the thought of the expression on the aging psychiatrist's face when she walked into her office carrying her little brother.
She wasn't disappointed. Sydney's jaw dropped to the floor when the brunette breezed through her glass doors carrying a dark-haired toddler who had a teddy bear clutched tightly in one arm and the other arm wrapped tightly around her neck. "Davy, say hello to Sydney."
Sydney found himself the subject of intense scrutiny by grey eyes very much like those of the woman who meant so much to him. "Hi," the little voice said, and then the lad laid his head on his sister's shoulder shyly.
"Hello, Davy," Sydney smiled encouragingly at the little boy, then turned his surprised face back to Miss Parker. "I didn't think you could do it."
Miss Parker, in response, turned a triumphant smile his way. "Do me a favor after we're done here and call Broots - tell him to bring Debbie over for supper with us tonight. Then, while Deb keeps our little man here company, the three of us can talk."
"About my not bringing Davy back to the Centre on Monday," she answered, then set her little brother down in her big and comfortable chair. "You sit here while I get your stuff together, little man," she kissed the little one on the forehead and then bent to her own bottom drawer and the cache of story book and toys it held. "Hey Freud, you got any room in your briefcase?"
Miss Parker quickly transferred those few papers she needed to review into his briefcase, then packed as many of the toys from her drawer as she could into hers and snapped the case closed. "There. Are we ready?"
"Doesn't he have a jacket or something?" Sydney worried, nodding his head at the toddler who was playing quietly with his teddy bear. "It's cold outside this time of year, Parker, remember?"
Miss Parker's face fell. "I just found out that he has no clothing in the nursery - and most of what I've bought him has ended up in the incinerator." She eyed her fashionable leather coat critically. "And I don't think I can fit him under that."
"Let me carry him then," Sydney answered, putting his briefcase back down on the desk. "I have room under my trench coat for a little one."
She nodded and then bent to pick up the lad. "Do you think it would be OK if I let Sydney carry you for a bit?" she asked him, then waited while the boy looked at the older man with some hesitation and then turned back to his sister.
"Is he nice man?" the boy asked with a very small and frightened voice.
"Oh yes, very nice," she replied, giving her brother a reassuring hug and aiming a warm smile at the psychiatrist himself. "Sydney is a very special friend of mine, and I've known him almost all my life. He'll take good care of you. You see, the problem is that it's cold outside, and I don't have room in my coat to keep you warm until I get you to the car..."
"A ca'?" Davy's eyes were wide again. "I get a ride wif Mi-Mi?"
"Mi-Mi?" Sydney turned questioning eyes on her.
"Is it OK that Sydney holds you for a bit and keeps you warm? He'll take you down to my car, and then you'll get your ride." She refused to let either male distract her. Davy was getting excited again, and so his nod was enthusiastic. She gave her old friend a cautioning look as she carried the child to him. "He's a strong squirmer, Syd - you'll need to hang on tight..."
Sydney opened his trench coat and then caught the little boy to him through the material and helped Miss Parker fold the coat over him to protect him from the sharp wind that tended to whistle through the parking garage. Davy's little arm quickly looped itself around his neck to steady the little one in his new perch while he began studying the features of the man who carried him closely. Miss Parker shrugged into her leather coat, then grabbed up both briefcases.
"Let's blow this pop-stand," she tossed her head, and then led the way to the elevator.
Miss Parker felt a thrill of real accomplishment as she unhooked the straps to the car seat that she'd bought the night before and let her little brother loose of his restraints. She lifted him from the car and set his feet on the pavement of her driveway after Sydney's car had come to a complete stop behind hers, then stood back and watched the little boy stare about him in absolute wonder. Completely oblivious to the real chill in the air, Davy walked over to the edge of the lawn and bent over to touch the grass tentatively, smiling back up at her in amazement when the grass proved to be springy and soft. "Mi-Mi, wook!" he called. "Wook at this!"
"Oh my!" she heard Sydney remark from behind her, and she turned to see an odd combination of pleasure and extreme guilt on the older man's face. She turned back to look at Davy and suddenly realized that he was seeing Jarod in her little brother, as he must have been when suddenly exposed to a world he'd been kept from for decades. Those chestnut eyes lifted to hers filled with real pain of having more of what he'd been a part of brought home to roost very plainly. She remembered the many times over the years of the hunt that she had thrown things like this in his face, knowing him to be extremely vulnerable on this point; and now the memories of her accusations gave her a kind of guilt of her own.
"It's OK, Syd," she soothed softly, going to his side and catching at his upper arm with a gentle hand. "He's free now. You're not to blame anymore."
"But I was, Parker, I was," he blamed himself, turning his eyes to watch the toddler give a quick shiver in the chilled evening air. He took a deep breath. "We'd better get him inside," he told her, forcing himself to think of something else and become protective of this little life. "We don't want to return him to Raines on Monday with a cold. Come on, Davy," he called to the little boy and extended a hand. "You can explore outside again tomorrow, when it's warmer."
The little boy flew past the older man and trotted up to catch his big sister around the leg. "Did you see, Mi-Mi? Grass!"
"I saw," she smiled down at him, "but Sydney's right. You don't need to get too cold..."
"This is cold?" the little boy lifted curious grey eyes to his sister. "It make me aw shaky..." He lifted his arm and looked at it. "... and my skin aw bumpy!"
"I know, munchkin," she lifted the boy into her arms and saw Sydney take the hint and grab both briefcases. "But you haven't seen my house yet." She carried him up onto the porch and fumbled to get the right key into the lock."
"Me see!" Davy demanded, holding a hand out for the keys.
Miss Parker found the right one, turned it in the lock, then pulled it loose again and handed it to the boy as she carried him over the threshold and flipped on the light. "Don't lose them for me, now," she warned lightly and then set him down again as Sydney came through the door behind them and closed it against the chill outside. "Here, let me take that," she said, reaching for her briefcase filled with storybook and toys. "Davy..."
"Mi-Mi wive here?" the little boy was walking through the foyer and into the living room with eyes that had remained wide and curious. He turned and pointed to the wall. "Pretty! Not grey wike mine..." He turned around again and studied the comfortable furnishings and the tile work around the hearth, then turned back to her again as she was arranging his toys on the coffee table. "What dat, Mi-Mi?" he asked, pointing to the staircase.
"That's how I go upstairs," she replied, "and where you'll go later when it's time for bed. For now, though, I want you to stay down here with me and Sydney."
"Mi-Mi?" Sydney asked again, having shed his trench coat in the foyer and wanting to know.
Miss Parker shrugged. "It's what he's called me ever since he was old enough to begin to talk."
"BIG house, Mi-Mi!" Davy exclaimed, leaning into the dining room and seeing that the house continued through yet another door. "What dat?" he pointed.
"Kitchen," Miss Parker responded and threw and glance at Sydney, "where I have to go so we can have some supper. You hungry, little man?"
The boy shrugged noncommittally, making the psychiatrist wonder if this tyke was also being fed that unappetizing 'nutritional supplement' that had fed Jarod for years. He bent toward the toddler with an expression of confidentiality. "You know, I bet that whatever Mi-Mi makes, it won't be green," the older man suggested gently, and then was satisfied that his suspicion was confirmed when Davy turned to look at his sister again.
"No green stuff?" he asked, a wide smile on his face.
"Absolutely no green stuff for Davys," Miss Parker agreed firmly. "You want to come help?"
"YEAH!" The little boy hurried through the dining room only to come to a skidding halt in the kitchen door. "Mi-Mi, he'p," he called in a small voice, "me no wike dark..."
She moved past him and reached up for the light switch. "There. Is that better?"
Sydney chuckled as the little boy scampered past his sister and headed straight for the kitchen table and its chairs. He plunked his teddy bear on the table and grabbed hold of one of the chairs and pulled it out so that he could clamber up where he could see better. "What me do?" he sparkled at her, grey eyes dancing.
"Yes indeed, Mi-Mi," Sydney chimed in from the doorway, "what were you intending to feed your starving crew tonight?"
She was going to skewer him with a glower, but her heart wasn't in it when she saw the happy and mischievous gleam in his chestnut eyes. "That's Miss Parker to you, there, Freud..." she put on a haughty air and headed for the refrigerator.
"And its Sydney to you," came the retort, followed by a chuckle, and then Sydney moved to seat himself in a chair very close to Davy's so that he could make a quick grab should the boy lose track and try to fall from his post in excited carelessness. "And what IS for supper, incidentally?"
To which the only possible response was: "How does macaroni and cheese with hot dogs sound?"
Macaroni and cheese turned out to be a major hit, especially with a little boy who had never had anything but green and tasteless 'nutritional supplement'. About halfway through the meal, Davy and Debbie began a contest to see who could stab the most pieces of macaroni on a fork, much to the amusement of the trio of adults at the table. Afterwards, Debbie took Davy back into the living room, where they curled up on the couch near the floor lamp so that Debbie could read the boy one of his favorite stories while the adults huddled around the kitchen table.
"You want to adopt him?" Broots was just as flabbergasted as Sydney had been, but recovered more quickly. "You sure you're ready to handle a three-year old, Miss P?"
"He seems to be nice and well-mannered little boy," Sydney commented with a glance out into the living room and the top of Debbie's head over the back of the couch. "And he's VERY fond of his big sister..."
"Enough, you two," Miss Parker put her hand flat on the table. "The problem is that I DON'T want to have to take him back to the Centre when the weekend's over. I have to find something that will convince Raines and Lyle to back off, and back off FAST."
"What did you use to get permission for this little excursion in the first place?" Sydney asked quietly. "Maybe if we knew that, we'd know what direction to begin working."
She thought back quickly. "I threatened to document his life at the Centre, and bring in an officer of the court to assure that what is documented is what is really there."
"Bringing in an outsider into the Centre would mean Raines would have no place to hide his agenda," Broots smiled. "Not bad for thinking on your feet!"
"But how does that help me KEEP him here?" she demanded in a very quiet tone.
"Simple," Sydney looked up suddenly, then smiled coldly at his companions. "We get enough dirt on Raines' operation there, and put it in such a position that were Raines to object very much to what you intend, it would be exposed very publicly, very widely. I doubt the Triumverate would like the negative publicity such a move would generate."
"What kind of things are we talking about here?" Broots asked nervously, not quite stammering like he used to. "PLEASE don't tell me you guys are going to want me to do after-hours poking around Raines' and Lyle's offices again..."
"Nothing that drastic, Broots - so don't get your underwear in a knot. If we're taking Syd's advice, then we already have quite a bit of what we need from all the things we found out while looking for Jarod." Miss Parker leaned her chin into her palm. "We even have plenty of circumstantial evidence linking Lyle with several unsolved murders. I'm sure that somewhere in the mainframe would be memos or emails confirming that Raines is aware of Lyle's activities and is obstructing justice."
"And, if we want to document the treatment of children in the Centre's control, we could bring out records on people like Dannie," Broots burst out. "Syd, don't you have much of that young man's medical history somewhere in your files? I mean, you DID have him reassigned as your patient after he attacked Mr. Raines and cut Miss Parker..."
"Mmmmmm..." Sydney rubbed his steepled fingers under his nose thoughtfully. "Come to think of it, there's probably quite a bit of information on Raines' many 'extra-curricular' activities in the archives - up to and including information on Danny, on Ethan, on Angelo..." He looked around the table. "It will take time to dig it out, though. Those archives are massive."
Broots was smiling as if at an inner joke. "Not as massive or difficult as you might think, Syd. I've had to do my share of poking around in the archives before this, and I found that there's a database buried in the mainframe with cross references to the hard copy storage down on SL-25. All we'd need is to know which project or subject to look for, and I could hack in and check it out."
"Broots, that could end up almost as dangerous as poking around in Raines' or Lyle's office," Miss Parker warned. "I would imagine that database has a high-level password protecting it, and a security flag that would be sent the moment it's accessed.."
"Computers are my life, Miss Parker," the technician answered her honestly, "and those bastards have tried to hold Debbie's safety over my head as coercion more than once. It would be a pleasure to use my talent to turn the tables on them real good for once."
"Parker, you have to realize that we won't be able to manage this over a single weekend," Sydney told her carefully, knowing how she had her heart set on not returning the little boy at all.
"I dunno, Syd," Broots' voice got a little distracted. "I would think that repeating that threat to bring in that court official first thing Monday morning might convince Raines to let her keep Davy a little longer. AND I have a friend in the Office of the Child Advocate who helped me with my custody battle for Debbie who could help with any official paperwork. I can call her tomorrow morning..."
"Broots," Miss Parker's eyes told of her gratitude. "If you could do that..."
"Not to mention that both Syd and I could put in a little overtime at the office this weekend - just to see what we can dig up on short notice..."
"We'll also need to hide any information we uncover very carefully. Then we first make arrangements and then let it be known to Raines and company that should anything happen to any of us, or to Davy, that the information would come out automatically - that nothing could stop it." Sydney sank his chin in his palm to mirror Miss Parker. "We'll have to arrange that one or another of us makes contact on a regular basis that keeps the information under wraps."
"What do I tell Raines on Monday, though?"
Sydney smiled coldly. "We have a weekend to put our heads together. While you spend time with Davy, let Broots and me do some digging - we can coordinate again after supper tomorrow. I would imagine that by Sunday night, we should have that end of things planned out very carefully."
Miss Parker opened her front door. "Hi Broots. Good morning."
"Hi, Miss P," Broots answered with a smile. "This is Angela Hightower, the friend in the Child's Advocate Office I was telling you about..."
"Hello," Miss Parker put on her most friendly smile and extended her hand to the round-faced and middle-aged colored woman. "Won't you come in?"
Davy looked up from his spot on the carpet in front of the television and then jumped to his feet to run to Miss Parker at the sight of yet another total stranger. "Who dat?" he asked, slipping an arm around her leg.
"This is Miss Hightower," Miss Parker introduced him gently. "Can you say hello to her?"
As he had done with Sydney, the little boy brought forth a "Hi" in a small voice, then kept Miss Parker's leg between him and the stranger.
Miss Parker bent to give the lad a quick hug of reassurance. "Why don't you go back to your cartoons while Miss Hightower and I talk in the kitchen?"
"She nice lady?" Davy asked with big eyes still trained warily on the stranger.
"I'm sure she is," Miss Parker told him gently. "You go on now."
Angela smiled as Davy gave his big sister another smacker on the cheek and then headed back to his spot on the floor. "Sweet little boy," she commented, then followed Miss Parker as she led them into the kitchen and motioned the group to sit at her table.
"So," the Child's Advocate worker settled an assessing gaze on the tall brunette across the table from her, "what made you decide that you wanted to adopt your little brother?"
Miss Parker shot a sharp glance at Broots. "Davy has been taken care of at the Centre all his life, even before my father died," she explained carefully. "I had some issues of my own to work through when Daddy died, and once I did, I started to spend time with him - and that's when I realized that a little boy like he is doesn't deserve to be cooped up in an institution. I have the room, I have the financial stability, and I love him - and it seemed like the right thing to do."
Angela frowned slightly. "Do they mistreat him there?"
"It isn't mistreatment per se, but he doesn't get much love other than what I have been giving him one hour a day, five days a week," Miss Parker told her frankly. "His nurse is very business-like, doesn't do much more than keep him fed and clothed. His tutors are more interested in getting him to understand letters and numbers..."
"I may want to see these facilities," Angela's frown deepened. "Are there other children there?"
"Not at the moment - at least, not that I know of," Miss Parker hedged. "But there have been in the past, and they didn't fare well."
"I shouldn't imagine," Angela sniffed, then looked around the kitchen assessingly. "But this looks like a very comfortable residence. I'd like a chance to look around - see the room you have planned to make Davy's, perhaps?"
"Certainly," Miss Parker agreed, getting to her feet. "Right this way."
The tour of the house was a leisurely one. Angela immediately pointed out several safety issues that would need to be addressed without delay if the boy was to be taking up residence son, but confirmed that the situation that the little boy was being invited into certainly seemed healthy and wholesome. "I'll call and see if I can get in to see Davy's accommodations at the Centre this afternoon," she nodded as she reached the bottom of the stairs.
"Good luck," Miss Parker wished her with fervency.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean that the administration of the Centre is very sensitive to outsiders getting much of a peek at what goes on there - industrial sabotage and so on."
"I'm a Child's Advocate worker, for God's sake!" Angela tossed out in exasperation. "What do they have to fear from me? I just want to see a nursery..."
Miss Parker merely shrugged and shook her head. "I'm just telling you that you might have trouble getting that peek you want."
"I take it the Centre is open 24/7?" At Miss Parker's nod, she frowned deeply. "Then what would be the difficulty in just looking into the nursery area and schoolroom?"
Again, Miss Parker merely shrugged and shook her head, although this time without saying anything. The worker looked at Miss Parker in frustration, and then deliberately cleared her face of all expression. "Do you think that I could have a few words with Davy before I left?"
"Sure." Miss Parker motioned for them to sit on the couch and then called Davy over to her. The little boy came to his sister eagerly, teddy bear clutched close to his breast. "Davy, Miss Hightower would like to ask you a couple of questions. Do you think you can talk to her?"
The boy turned wide and cautious eyes to the stranger again, and then nodded slowly as he crawled up into his sister's lap for security.
"What do you think, Davy? Do you like it here?" Angela asked the little boy.
"Oh, yeah!" he smiled widely and quickly. "Mi-Mi gots big house wif neat stuff!"
Angela smiled. The boy's answer was so immediate, she knew he was not being coached at all. "If you had the chance to stay..."
Davy turned and gazed up at his sister longingly. "Really? Me stay wif you now, Mi-Mi?" he asked very wistfully. "Not go back to probwems again?"
"Problems?" Angela was confused.
"When I picked him up last night, he was still working some math problems with his tutor," Miss Parker clarified, then looked down at him again. "You didn't answer Miss Hightower's question, little man."
"Me wanna stay wif Mi-Mi," Davy stated quickly and firmly. "Me wuv Mi-Mi."
"And what about your nurse at the Centre?" the worker inquired gently. "Do you love her too?"
"Nuss?" Davy's nose crinkled and he shook his head. "Uh-unh. I don't wike Nuss at aw."
"Why is that?"
"Nuss is mean," he answered immediately, looking down and sad. "Her takes Teddy away aw the time, and makes me eat yucky green stuff aw the time." His face brightened. "Mi-Mi fix me macaraca an' hot dogs, and waffles in da mornin'."
Angela's brows furrowed together again, and then she was rising to her feet. "Thank you for answering my questions, Davy." She shook hands with Miss Parker again, then looked over at her friend who had stayed very quiet and unobtrusive for the entire visit. "Hey Broots - I'm going to make a call in, and then try to schedule a tour of the Centre nursery. Can I count on you for a lift?"
"Sure thing, Angela."
"Good luck," Miss Parker wished her as she opened the door for her guests to leave.
"I'll be in touch," the worker promised grimly. "I'm not liking what I just heard about his previous treatment, that's for sure..."
"Broots," Miss Parker called her friend back after the worker had headed off for the car. "Thanks."
The balding tech smiled conspiratorially. "Don't mention it, Miss P. If this gets you custody of Davy, then it was my pleasure!"
"Now you be a good boy for Sydney, OK?" Miss Parker said, pulling Davy's forelock fondly.
Davy gazed up at the psychiatrist and contentedly put his hand up and into the huge one that hung just above his head, then nodded. The older man had become quite a favorite person over a very short period of time, what with his ability to throw the little boy into the air and swing him around. He also had an air of stability and concern that Davy had never had from a male role model before, and arms that hugged tightly and warmly, and a rich and accented baritone voice that told the most interesting stories. Still... "Mi-Mi be gone wong?" he asked hesitantly.
"I have to work today, little man," she replied gently. "But I'll be home before you know it."
"I not do probwems today again?"
"No more problems for a while," Sydney told the little boy. "Today, we spend time at the park again. How does that sound?"
"Yeah!" Davy's eyes began to twinkle. He had already discovered some of the wonders of the park that was across the street from Sydney's house on Saturday with his sister. That he would get to go back so soon - and with Sydney too - was beyond exciting.
"Take care, Sydney," Miss Parker straightened and moved closer to give her old friend a gentle kiss on the cheek. "And thanks for watching Davy for me today."
He cradled her elbow as he returned the kiss. "It's my pleasure, Parker. Davy and I will have a fine time today, won't we?"
"Yeah!" the little boy exclaimed again, already beginning to bounce in excitement.
Miss Parker kissed the little boy on the cheek with a smacker, just like he liked so much, and received her own messy buss in return. She then straightened and walked back toward her car with a final wave at the two standing in the doorway. She watched Sydney bend and pick up Davy to wave again, and she noted that the older man had a quiet look of contentment on his face as he held the child close. Sydney was a big softie, she decided and smiled to herself. He was going to make an ideal Grandpa for that little boy.
"I assume you were aware that I had an unexpected visitor this past Saturday," Raines greeted her as she pushed through the etched glass of his office.
"Miss Hightower? Yes, she told me she was going to try to arrange to see Davy's abode here in the Centre..." Miss Parker continued at her leisurely pace into the office.
"I thought that we had agreed..."
"I decided to move forward with the custody proceedings immediately," Miss Parker responded calmly. "She asked to see how and where I intended to have Davy live in my home - and then expressed a need to see where he'd been living here. It was her choice of timing, not mine."
"We don't let outsiders get access to Centre facilities. EVER." Lyle shook his head as if disappointed in her. "Surely you explained that to her beforehand."
"I tried," Miss Parker answered with a one shoulder shrug. "I told her that she'd probably not get anywhere - I assume you refused her request?"
"What do you think?" Lyle hissed at her.
"Enough!" Raines bellowed as best he could. Instead, he pointed to the armload of file folders that she was carrying with her while drawing noisily on his oxygen tank. "And what, might I ask, is all that?"
"Things you need to see," She dumped the folders on the desk without further comment, then moved back to take a seat in a comfortable chair in front of the desk.
Raines sorted through the papers on his desk in a daze, while Lyle lifted a folder and opened it, then frowned deeply at what he read on the first page. "This is preposterous!" he growled, then threw the folder down on top of the rest of the stack with disgust.
Raines, however, merely looked up into lethally calm grey eyes, his face carefully disciplined to neutrality while his own fury roiled within. "All right, Miss Parker. You have my attention. Just what is it you want?" he wheezed at her.
Miss Parker gazed at her nemesis calmly. Sydney had been right after all. When presented with the kind of evidence that he and Broots had spent the weekend rounding up and copying, Mr. Raines would start seeing the writing on the wall. The evening before, the aging psychiatrist had finally ventured semi-reluctantly into the world of Pretending, taking on the persona and attitude of the Chairman to the best of his ability in order to give her practice at presenting her case, the evidence, and her demands effectively. Broots had sat to one side, half the time cheering and the other half making astute observations and suggestions on how to make the encounter a more effective one for her.
"I told you Friday afternoon exactly what I intended. This morning, I'm just showing you part of the case I would present should you decide to dispute my adoption request." She relaxed back into her chair and crossed her legs in practiced nonchalance.
"I take it these are not the only copies of this material?" the balding Chairman rattled at her.
She shook her head. "Not only are these not the only copies, but this is not ALL of what I have on hand to present." She held her head high and looked at Lyle with an equally disdainful expression. "I figure that if push comes to shove, between the Child Advocate getting a court order to check out and then publicize the kind of facility you've been keeping Davy in all this time and the criminal investigations that will start with all this evidence being turned over to the proper authorities, the benefit of doing business with the Centre will plummet. That makes your opposing my adoption petition bad for the Centre's bottom line." She settled back into her chair and apparently relaxed. "And that makes your agreeing to my terms your best option, business-wise."
"You can't be seriously considering giving in..." Lyle gaped at his boss, only to have that cold, blue glare turned on him full-blast.
"We have no choice!" was the vehement wheeze. "The kind of trouble this would make for us, both with our governmental clients as well as with the Triumverate..." Raines didn't feel he needed to continue his point further. "Where is Davy now?" he asked instead.
"Sydney stayed home today to watch him," she informed the Chairman in a matter-of-fact tone. "When I have a spare moment, I will be speaking to the day care center in Blue Cove that I'm thinking of enrolling him in."
"You COULD bring him in with you in the morning... let him continue his studies..." Raines offered in what he hoped was a reasonable tone.
The grey eyes that met his were cold and inflexible. "I will never let that child darken the doorway of this facility again," she announced flatly. "He will be allowed to grow up in the fresh air and sunshine like a normal little boy."
The Chairman pushed the folders back on his desk, as if the action could dismiss them. "So," he wheezed after a painful-sounding intake of oxygen, "when do you intend to begin this - and WHEN do you intend to bring Davy back in the meanwhile?"
"Oh, it's already begun," she announced, and then watched in triumph as those cold blue eyes once more widened in shock and dismay. "Once you refused to let a representative from the Child Advocates' Office to see Davy's quarters this weekend, she agreed to help me prepare an emergency petition for custody that is being presented in court this morning..." She looked down at her wristwatch, "...right now, as a matter of fact. If all goes as planned, I'll receive a phone call telling me I've been appointed Davy's official guardian fairly soon."
Raines and Lyle exchanged a distressed glance. "You're moving awfully fast with this, Sis," Lyle smarmed at her. "What do you know about little kids, anyway?"
"Enough to know that keeping them in prison cells isn't in their best interests," she hissed back at him. "Enough to have completely redone my guest room into something appropriate for a three year old yesterday - and that doesn't include a crib with bars on it to keep him from moving around."
"That was for his safety," Raines complained.
"That was for your convenience," Miss Parker shot back, angry. "You would take him out, play with him for a while, then put him back in his 'space' just like you've done Jarod and Angelo. And there will be no more of it." She rose.
"This is the way things will be from now on. Davy is now my son, not my brother. He will live with me, and I will take care of him and raise him the way a Parker SHOULD be raised." She bent forward and leaned on both hands on the desk. "And let me warn you both. If anything happens to me, or Sydney, or Broots, or Davy - or if you file a motion to dispute my petition to adopt him - the information I gave you today WILL be made public. I've taken great care to make sure that the information will stay under wraps for as long as both of you stay out of my hair - but that if regular contact is not made, there's nothing I or anybody else could do to stop it from coming out."
"You're playing a dangerous game, Miss Parker," Raines grated at her ominously.
"I'm not playing a game, 'sir'," she spoke very softly and clearly. "I am fighting for a little boy's right to a happy and healthy childhood. Make no mistake, I am deadly serious - and I suggest that you not attempt to cross me."
"Well, then, as your brother, certainly you won't object if I stop by, play uncle..." Lyle smiled coldly at her.
"Don't be ridiculous," she hissed. "You know full well that you're NOT welcome in my house, Lyle Parker. I mean it - both of you will stay away from me and my little br... my son!" She straightened, glared at them both, then stalked toward the etched glass doors. "Don't test me," she said quietly, then turned with a clear warning in her gaze. "You WILL lose."
She could hear the sound of happy voices from the living room as she pushed her way through the front door, and very quietly she walked over and peeked through the archway to see what was up. Then she gaped, for Sydney was on all fours on the floor in front of his hearth, growling over his shoulder, with Davy astride his back screaming with laughter. She leaned into the jamb of the archway with a chuckle, disclosing her presence. "I take it this is an example of your best professional work as a child psychiatrist, Doctor Green," she laughed.
"Mi-Mi home!" Davy shouted and slid precipitously from Sydney's back to run and then jump up into her arms.
"Absolutely," Sydney answered, not even wanting to try to recover his professional demeanor. He'd been having far too much fun being totally silly for a change. "You just weren't supposed to be home yet and walk in on our play therapy session." He climbed back to his feet slowly. "Well?" he asked, his eyebrows rising.
She knew what he wanted to know, and she smiled widely. "As of two o'clock this afternoon..."
"YES!" the psychiatrist shouted and rushed to her side and threw his arms around her in his elation. Miss Parker used her empty arm to cling back, almost choked with tears at the experience of having someone celebrate so thoroughly WITH her for a change.
"Mi-Mi? What wong?" Davy asked suddenly. "Is Sydney in troubo'?"
"No, baby," Miss Parker answered him gently. "Sydney's happy, like I am." She patted Sydney's back and then gestured for him to back away and allow her to look more directly at the boy. "I have a very important question for you now - and I want you to think about what your answer will be. Can you do that?" She watched the little boy nod solemnly. "What would you say if I told you that you could live with me from now on?"
The grey eyes widened, and the little boy stared. "Mean it?" he asked in a very small voice.
"Cross my heart," she said, making the child's vow gesture. "AND what would you say if I told you that I can be your mommy from now on too - if you want to call me that?"
"A mommy!" The word was whispered, reverent, and Parker was suddenly caught about the neck tightly by two little arms that held on very, VERY tight. "Mommy..." he tried the name on for size. "MY Mommy..." He leaned his head onto her shoulder. "MY Mommy."
"And that makes Sydney your Grandpa," she finished with a smile meant for her old friend, whose face lit up from within.
Sydney came up behind the little boy and put his arms around them both. He kissed the top of the little boy's head, and then the cheek of the woman. "That makes us family, Davy," he said softly, feeling the little boy turn and kiss him messily on the chin.
"Family? Sydney is Mi... Mommy's Daddy?" Davy asked, lifting his head from her shoulder with questions in his eyes.
Miss Parker's gaze met Sydney's, and with a thump of her heart realized that their close relationship, kept private for so long, was on the verge of being acknowledged openly. It was about time. "Yes, baby," she told him without breaking their gaze, "in all the ways that really matter, Sydney's my Daddy just like I'm your Mommy now."
Davy nodded contentedly and then, slowly, began to bounce in her arms. "Me gots a Mommy AND a Grandpa!" he suddenly exclaimed with delight. "Me gots a bedroom wif a real bed, and a Teddy who stays wif me aw da time. Me gets to pway in da park again and swing..."
Sydney could help but chuckle at the little boy's listing of his riches. "Yes, you do, Davy. We are a real family now." He bent around the small form and kissed Miss Parker's cheek. "Thank you, Parker. You have no idea what this means to me."
"Yes, I do," she said, the arm not holding Davy moving to encircle him in a return gesture. Miss Parker closed her eyes and soaked up the feelings of her new son in her arms and her surrogate father with his arms around them both. She did have a family now - one that mattered very much to her. "How lucky we are!" she exclaimed softly to nobody in particular.
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