STANDARD WARNING: This is a work of fiction. Any similarity to individuals, living or dead, is pure coincidence. Do not read this story if you are offended by man-to-man romance or sex. Do not read if you are underage according to the laws in the country, state/province, county, city/town/village or township where you live. There is sex between males. You have been warned!

Copyright 2001 by Nick Archer. Permission is granted to Nifty Archives, ASSGM, and gaywritings, to post one copy. No part may be copied, reproduced, republished, or reposted on another website without written permission from the author.

Family Instincts

By Nick Archer

Chapter 23

"Let’s get this over with." Matt took a deep breath and strode into the courtroom as confidently as he could. The hearing was over. Judge Kildare had ordered a brief recess, and the bailiff had just informed them that she was ready to deliver the verdict.

The air sat around insolently, occupying the empty chairs in the courtroom that looked like a classroom. It taunted them with silence, and rudely reminded them that the trial still could go either way. Rhoda had made some powerful arguments for keeping Jake. But Al’s lawyer was pretty savvy, too. He had made a strong case for giving Jake back to his natural father.

Judge Kildare glided back into the courtroom like a yacht into a slip. They anxiously searched her face for a clue – any clue – of the verdict that she was about to deliver. There was none.

They all stood respectfully until she was seated.

She sat at the bench, opened a manila folder for her notes, and began.

"I have reached a decision.

"First, I want to thank all of you for your testimony and for your professional conduct throughout the trial. Custody hearings are always tough and this one is particularly difficult. I have struggled with this verdict, and I believe I have reached a conclusion that is fair and equitable for all.

"As you may or may not be aware, Illinois family law is predicated on returning the children to the natural parents as much as possible. This is to minimize the time spent by the children in foster care or institutions. Most of Illinois’ family services are set up with one goal in mind – to keep families together as much as possible.

"Another important factor is what is in the best interest of the child. Here, the waters become a little murky. The decision is obvious if there has been abuse or neglect. Mr. Wagner has not abused his son that this court has been able to determine. His ex-wife was abusive and her parental rights have been terminated. Nor did Mr. Wagner neglect Jacob when Jacob was living with him. Mr. Wagner may have shown a lack of interest, but that is a different issue. Demonstrating a lack of interest is not against the law. If there is evidence of substance or alcohol abuse by the natural parent, then the decision is obvious. To the best of my knowledge, Mr. Wagner doesn’t abuse alcohol or illegal substances. And the case would be different if Mr. Wagner was a liar, a cheat, a bank robber or a serial killer. But I see no evidence that he is any of these

"While it may be true that Mr. Wagner has shown a lack of interest in raising his sons, that doesn’t make him a bad parent, or even a bad person. The fact that he has petitioned for Jacob’s custody shows that he is at least interested in trying. And it is my belief that we should give him that chance.

"Finally, this court had to consider what Jacob himself wants. Jacob has made it clear he would like to remain with Mr. Rosato and Mr. McGraw. Initially he did want to be placed with Mr. Wagner, but that was not an option at the time." She peered over the top of her reading glasses. "Jacob, in your letter to me, you said that everyone deserves a second chance. You were given one. And now it’s time to give your father a second chance.

"Therefore, I am awarding custody to Jacob’s natural father, Al Wagner."

Matt felt dizzy and his ears started ringing. A moan escaped Tommy’s lips. Tim’s eyes filled with tears. But Brian remained stoic.

"Mr. Rosato and Mr. McGraw will have unsupervised visitation on alternate weekends and one weeknight to be mutually determined.

"Mr. Rosato, I want to be clear that my decision had nothing to do with your non-traditional living arrangements. Mr. Wagner’s lawyer, Mr. Putana, attempted to make that a subject of his strategy. As I have told you in previous encounters, you are one of the finest parents ever to appear in this courtroom. Your compassion, skill, and the sheer pleasure you derive out of helping these young men to adulthood are evident. This decision is not a reflection on you personally, nor on your boys, nor on Mr. McGraw.

"My mandate as a judge requires me to interpret Illinois law as it applies to specific cases. And here the law is clear. Where possible, we must return children to their natural parents.

"I’m going to be monitoring this case closely. I want weekly progress reports from his counselor and social worker throughout the summer, and we will re-evaluate the frequency of the reports after Labor Day. Once school begins, I will require progress reports from his school. Jacob is required to continue counseling at intervals to be determined by his social worker and counselor.

She removed her reading glasses and rubbed her eyes briefly. For the first time, Matt noticed how tired she looked.

"Mr. Wagner, I want you to make the best of this time with your son. In a few short years, he’ll be an adult and on his own. Jacob’s success in life depends on how you raise him right now.

"I’m giving you this one chance – and one chance only – to redeem yourself to your son. Use it wisely. This is not baseball where you get three strikes until you are out. You only get one. Just one mistake and Jacob will be returned to Mr. Rosato. I don’t want to discover that you or Jacob has gotten in trouble. I don’t want to hear that you are leaving Jacob’s supervision to your older son Jeffrey or your mother. They are not petitioning this court for Jacob’s custody. You are. They are not Jacob’s fathers. You are. I understand that being a single parent is difficult. Believe me, I see people all day every day who struggle with single parenthood. It means that you are going to have to forgo some of your own needs and desires in order to be with your son. So, I’m going to be observing your progress as well, sir.

"The transfer of custody is to take place this weekend, June 10th and 11th. All Jacob’s personal belongings will also be transported at this time.

"Once again, thank you for you time. This court is adjourned."

In a tiny, brightly-lit office with two walls of windows that overlooked a vast cubicle farm and a two-way mirror on a third wall, Matt said goodbye to Jake. Tim, Brian and Tommy all said a tearful goodbye to him in the hall outside the courtroom. They each gave him a long hug as they cried.

Matt spoke briefly to Tim before Tim took the boys out to the Jeep.

Neither Jake nor Matt was crying. They held each other tightly, silently and wordlessly. Matt felt dried out, like a sponge. His head was pounding and the harsh fluorescent lighting in the tiny, stuffy room gave him the feeling that this whole day had been a bad dream.

But, of course, it was not a dream. It was reality.

"Remember the first night I stayed at you house?"


"Just before you put me to bed, I asked you a question. Do you remember?"

"Sort of. I’m not sure. Refresh my memory."

"I asked you if you kissed Brian. And then I asked you if you would do it to me."

Matt knew exactly what Jake wanted. Matt ran his hand over Jake’s head from his hairline over the top of his head and around the back of his head to the nape of his neck. There, he exerted a gentle pressure toward himself. He kissed Jake’s forehead.

A muscular female sheriff’s deputy tapped twice on the glass door to the room. "It’s time, gentlemen," she said quietly.

They parted but Matt placed his right hand on Jake’s left elbow.

"Tell them I love them."

"I will, Jake."

As if in slow motion, Jake moved toward the door. Matt held onto Jake’s left arm. Jake began a few slow steps backward while he still faced Matt.

Matt’s hand slid down Jake’s forearm to his wrist and finally to his hand. When their hands met, they gripped each other in a knot of anguish. They held hands like that for a long moment, and their arms were outstretched across the miniscule room.

It was a connection of love. It was a connection of life.

Matt released his grip first, and Jake’s fingertips slid down his wrist, to his palm, to his fingers and finally to Matt’s fingertips.

The connection was broken when the stuffy office air separated the skin of their fingertips.

Just then, Tommy appeared behind the deputy with a long, thin object. She spun around. Tommy spoke to her, although his words were unintelligible. She took the object Tommy offered. Tommy disappeared again.

She smiled sheepishly as she opened the glass door. "Mr. Rosato, your son said you wanted to give this to Jake." Matt could read the expression on the deputy’s face: What a strange gift.

Matt smiled wanly. "Yes."

It had been riding in the back of the Jeep for almost a month. She handed it to Jake.

It was a kite.

Jake’s face contorted as he broke into a sob. "Dad..." In two strides, he was back in Matt’s arms. Matt embraced him and kissed the top of his head. Matt finally allowed some tears to flow, and they dropped into Jake’s hair. Matt didn’t allow the floodgates to open completely. It would frighten Jake and make the whole situation more difficult for all involved. Matt knew there would be time for that later, alone with Tim.

"Remember our metaphor, Jake?"

Jake could only nod.

"Well, sometimes, parents do have to let go of the string."

They held each other for a long moment. The deputy rapped on the door again. Jake raised his tear-streaked face and puckered his lips.

Matt kissed him. "You’re going to fly, Jake. You are going to reach new heights. Always remember that we all love you. And if you need me to tug on your string a bit, just give me a call."

Matt let his arms drop to his sides. "Look at the front of my jacket," he said in mock dismay. "I’ll send the cleaning bill to your dad."

Jake managed a weak smile as he moved toward the door. "You’re going to send the cleaning bill to yourself?" he asked quietly. He looked directly at Matt. "I love you."

"I love you, too, Jake."

Jake followed the deputy down the hall. He was gone!

Thanks for reading, hope you enjoyed it. As always, your comments and suggestions are welcome. I read and respond to all email (even if it takes a few days) Just click on one of the links below. And don't forget to check out my website (Chapters are always posted there earlier than here) and my other story here on Nifty, Pocketful of Stars, in the Young Friends section.

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