Years have gone by since the death of Noah his special needs son, and Wiley Cantrell realizes it’s time to move on. He and his husband Jackson try to adopt little Tony Gorzola, a deaf boy with HIV who is emotionally traumatized.
Difficulties quickly set in. Tony is a sweet boy but very damaged by abuse and neglect. And Tony’s mother, in prison, is unwilling to relinquish her parental rights. No sooner do they get the go ahead to foster Tony when another child they had considered becomes available -- the daughter Jackson always wanted.
With two children on their hands, life is complicated -- wonderfully so. But just as things begin to settle down, Tony, his immune system compromised, falls ill with pneumonia ... and Wiley and Jackson find their little family faced with crisis once again.
Since the Ledbetter family had given so much money to this institution over the years, the staff seemed anxious to help us find a child to foster and perhaps adopt.
"He agreed to meet you," Heather said, giving us another once-over with her blue eyes. "We house almost twenty children at this facility. Many would be very good choices."
"Tony's deaf," I pointed out.
"Jackson and I both know sign."
"I'm aware of that, Mr. Cantrell. It's just that Tony's had a very difficult life."
"Haven't we all?"
"I want you to be aware of other options, children who aren't quite so damaged. Tony is sweet in his own way, of course, but he's a handful. I would hate for you to --"
"I appreciate what you're trying to do," I said, "but our son was a special needs kid. We know what we're getting into."
She offered a small, polite sigh.
"Tony's room is just down here."
She led us to a small door that was firmly shut. Instead of knocking, she pushed a button on the outside of the door that would activate a flashing light inside the room. Jackson put a protective hand on the small of my back, smiled in encouragement. We waited many anxious moments for the door to open, but it did not.
Heather pushed the door open, and we saw Tony sitting on a child's bed by the window inside a small room painted an odd shade of blue that looked very institutional. Tony was looking out the window, must have seen us in the parking lot.
"Tony, you have visitors," Heather said, circling around so he could see her coming.
He turned, glanced at her.
Tony Gorzola was a slip of a boy with dark hair, fair skin, and a pinched face. Thick plastic glasses sat on a small, upturned nose. He wore faded blue jeans and a dress shirt that was awkwardly tucked into his waistband. In his arms he clutched a teddy bear that had seen better days.
He glanced at us for just a moment before frowning and lowering his eyes.
"I'll be just outside," Heather said, taking her leave.
My heart thumped uncomfortably as I walked forward and craned my neck to the side so I could look at him.
My name is W-i-l-e-y, and this is my husband J-a-c-k. We've been looking forward to meeting you. How are you?
I know you must be scared.
He squeezed his teddy a bit harder and pursed his lips.
Mrs. D. said you wanted to meet us.
If you want, you can spend the weekend with us. Would you like that?
He shrugged as if it made no difference.
We're staying with J-a-c-k's parents. They're pretty nice. They have a nice house, a swimming pool and everything. We were thinking about going shopping, watching a movie. Have you seen any good movies lately?
He shook his head.
You want to spend some time with us?
He looked at me rather frankly, not taking his eyes away this time but really looking at me, really seeing me through those thick glasses. I stared back, smiled, tried to show him there was no need to be afraid, that we weren't going to hurt him.
Very carefully, he set his teddy aside.
You ... he signed roughly, as if he didn't get much practice signing, and him ... together?
J-a-c-k and I love each other very much, and we've been together for nine years. We live in M-i-s-s-i-s-s-i-p-p-i. It's a lot warmer down there, and they have excellent food, not like the nonsense they make us eat here. We had a little boy who was deaf.
Deaf ... same me?
Where ... now?
He had a lot of health problems, and his body just got tired of fighting, so I told him to go on home and be with Jesus. I know he's happy now.
The two of you would have had a lot of fun together.
Me ... No friends.
Would you like to have some friends?