Everyone assembled sat at the table, except for Logan and Francis. They were asked to leave the room. The mother, with her cadre of lawyers, sat at the far end of the table, the grandmother sat beside her lone attorney, an older woman with a kind face, and the staff of the school sat together at the other end. Also gathered were two social workers, and a judge, who was set to make the ultimate decision as to where Francis would go. One of the social workers was reciting her findings to those present.
"I found Francis to be a very bright, friendly and loving boy. He does show signs of retarded development, both physically and emotionally. But over the past year, with each visit I have made here, he has shown improvement. He does quite well in our testing, and seems to be adapting well to the school and his environment."
While she spoke, Stella's army of lawyers whispered and confered, only half listening. The second social worker then began his findings.
"Francis does indeed show signs of emotional trauma. He is decidedly immature for his age. He has the maturity of a nine or ten year old. He also carries extensive emotional scars. He refuses to discuss any aspect of his two years on his own. One can only speculate what happened to him during that time. He may never completely heal from that experience. I agree with my colleague, that he does seem well adjusted here, however, one must consider that he is isolated and protected here as well. We all saw how he reverted into himself when faced with the stress of seeing his mother once again. It would be my recommendation that he receive psychiatric treatment in a facility better suited to care for him."
Xavier listened intently to the social workers findings, occasionally mentally scolding Scott before he could comment. "Yes, I agree that Francis is scarred. However, are we so certain that scarring occured during the two years he was on his own, or could it have happened before that time? We all know his history. We know he rarely went to school. We know he was frequently left on his own, for days if not weeks at a time." He now leveled his gaze at Stella, who sat stoically opposite him. "We know that something happened to him that caused him to run away."
Now one of her lawyers interupted. "Yes, that is all well documented. He ran away because he was hurt and afraid. His house had blown up, and his mother was seriously injured. He was frightened and alone."
Xavier never averted his gaze. "Is that all?"
He received no reply to his question from the person he directed it to. Instead, another lawyer picked up where her colleague left off.
"My client has had problems, there is no denying that. However, she has received treatment for those problems, and is now ready to take her son home. To care for him and to love him-"
The judge interupted. "This is not a court, Miss Walker." He took a sip of his coffee. "What I would like to know is what is this boy's relationship with this Mr. Logan? Just who is this man?"
Xavier smiled. "Logan is employed here at the school. He handles our security, and is a bit of a handy man. He found Francis, being assaulted, and brought him back here for us to care for him. It is no secret that we have taken in many children who are runaways. We immediately contacted the authorities, were notified that Ms. Fahey had given up her parental rights, and while I myself have become guardian to many of our past and present students, it was decided that Logan should become his guardian, as they had developed a close bond with one another. I believe the decision was a good one, as Logan has become a surrogate parent for the boy."
"I see." The judge rose from the table to stretch his legs, and began circling the table. "And Miss Fahey. I understand you currently are employed?"
Again, one of her lawyers answered for her. "Yes. She is a receptionist in a large medical practice. She has an excellent work record and-"
"Please, a simple yes or no." The judge crossed to the window, and noted the object of the discussions outside, walking in the wet grass, following behind his guardian.
"So, does Francis receive medical treatment here? And does he receive psychiatric treatment as well?"
Xavier answered him. "Yes. Dr. Grey is in charge of his medical care. And I have sessions with the boy on a regular basis."
The judge continued watching the two lone figures outside. He watched as two rather large dogs approached them, and leapt on the big man, and then the boy, knocking him down, and licking him. He watched as the big man clapped his hands, and the dogs fell back, their tails wagging. The little boy struggled to his feet, obviously dripping wet now. The big man waved his hand, and the dogs ran off, to frolic in the wet grass. He then went to the boy, and began to brush him off. He finished with a sharp swat on the boys butt, after which he turned and trotted off, with the boy chasing after. The judge smiled.
He turned back to face the room, and walked back to the table. He focused on the boy's grandmother. "And what do you have to say?"
She shot a quick glance at her daughter, who did not return it, before beginning. "I do not feel that my daughter deserves the right to have Franky, er, Francis back. I have been trying for years to get the boy away from her, to take care of him myself. He was not being taken care of, and I believe he was severely abused, both mentally and physically." The mother sat frozen in place, her face expressionless. "I made the very painful mistake of telling her I had heard from Francis. It was after that when she informed me that she was going to get him back. I felt that it was in the boy's best interest that I stop her. He belongs with family member. A family member that loves him, and will not treat him as an object." Her face was stern.
The judge listened impassively. "Well, that is my job here isn't it? To deem what is in the best for the boy. Where should he be? Should he remain here, go with his grandmother, or be returned to his mother? Dr. Grey, would you call Francis and Mr. Logan in please?" Jean nodded, rose, and left the room. "I think I should hear from the boy. Would everyone please step outside, so I can talk to him?"
Everyone silently rose, and filed out of the room.
Logan entered the room. The judge welcomed him. "Ah, Mr. Logan. Um....where is the boy?" He then saw a small tuft of hair peek out from behind the big man. "Oh. Come in, and have a seat please."
Logan did so, chosing a seat at the opposite end of the table from the judge. Francis stood behind him, barely visible.
"Oh, Francis, please have a seat. I don't bite." The judge tried to smile warmly.
Logan turned and nodded, and the boy slid onto his lap. "I think this is the best you're gonna get."
The judge nodded. "I see. Well. My name is Judge Hanson. I think you already know that I am here to make a very important decision about you Francis." Francis said nothing, his emerald eyes wide and frightened. "I understand you like it here, am I correct?" Logan cleared his throat, and the boy nodded weakly. "Can you tell me how you feel about Mr. Logan?"
Francis glanced at Logan, who nodded once more. "He's ok."
"He's my best friend."
"So I hear. What about your grandmother?"
"I miss her. She makes good muffins."
Judge Hanson smiled, seeing that the boy was relaxing a bit. "What kind of muffins?"
"The ones that look like cupcakes."
"Uh, I meant what flavor?"
"My favorite, too."
Francis smiled. They continued this pattern of small talk, discussing Logan, and the boy's grandmother for some time. With each passing minute, the boy relaxed a bit more, until he returned to his usual self, bouncing on Logan's knee, smiling and giggling. The judge also noted Logan's behavior, calm, stoic, and very observant. Finally, it was time to discuss the boy's mother.
"Francis. Do you miss your mother?" The boy suddenly froze, and his smile disappeared. He made no reply. "Do you?" He nodded weakly, which surprised Logan. Francis lowered his head, and his eyes filled with tears again. "Then how come you hid behind Mr. Logan when you saw her?" The boy shrugged, his head still down. "Don't you want to see her?" Now the boy shook his head. "Why not?" Another shrug. "Are you afraid of her?" This time, the boy gave no reaction.
Logan was beginning to tense up. He could feel the boy begin to tremble again. "Is this necessary? He doesn't want to talk about his mother." He struggled to keep the venom out of his voice, but was unsuccessful.
"Yes, Mr. Logan. This is very important. Now Francis. You haven't answered my question. Are you afraid of her?"
Francis began to weep. "Yes."
"I just am."
"Did she hit you?"
The boy nodded. "Sometimes, when I was bad."
"And she used to leave you home alone?"
Another nod. "But she always came back."
"Can you tell me what happened the night your home blew up."
Logan felt the boy stiffen. "No."
"I don't like to talk about that. Can I go now?"
"No, not yet. Why don't you like to talk about it?"
"I just don't. I gotta pee."
"We're almost done. You were hurt, weren't you?"
"And so was your mother?"
"Uh huh. I really gotta pee."
"Ok. One more question. Did you cause the explosion?"
Logan had had enough. "What the hell is this? He said he doesn't want to talk about it! Just leave him alone!"
The judge barked back at him. "I asked the boy a question, and I want an answer. Francis, did you cause the explosion?"
Francis turned to Logan, and wrapped his arms around his neck. As he cried into his shoulder, he let out a muffled, "yes."
Judge Hanson sat back, and sighed. "Ok. You can go to the bathroom now. We're through."
Logan sat with Francis in the darkened kitchen. Francis stared at his peanut butter sandwich, sitting untouched in front of him. Logan was at a complete loss as to what to do, what to say, so he just said nothing, and sat quietly with the boy.
After a time, Xavier came in. He saw the two dejected people sitting there. "Gentlemen, how are you doing? You aren't eating your sandwich, don't you like it?" He received no answer. "You made quite an impression on Judge Hanson, Francis. He said you were a very nice young man. And he was impressed by you as well Logan. He could see how much you care for the boy."
"Yeah, right. So what happens now? Do all these people piss off, and we get back to normal?"
"Judge Hanson must make a decision."
"How does it look?"
"Pretty good." He noticed Francis raise his head. "Very good. He is pleased at your progress here. He sees that you are happy and healthy."
"Does that mean I can stay here?"
"We'll see. But as I said, it looks very good for you."
Logan was warmed by the boy's smile. Just a little while longer, and it will all be over.