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Authors: A. E. Branson

Tags: #marriage, #missouri, #abduction, #hacking, #lawyer, #child molestation, #quaker, #pedophilia, #rural heartland, #crime abuse

Equal Access

BOOK: Equal Access
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Equal Access


By A. E. Branson



Copyright 2015 A. E. Branson

Published by A. E. Branson at Smashwords



Cover Design Copyright 2015

By (



Smashwords Edition License Notes

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To my husband Andy – I can’t think of any better
person with whom to share this adventure called life.


And quake, thou quaker, before the majesty of the


--Response of Justice Gervaise Bennett to George Fox
when Fox exhorted him to “tremble in the fear of the Lord.” The
judge sentenced Fox to spend almost a year in the Derby jail on
charges that included blasphemy.



Hide me in the shadow of Thy wings from the wicked
who obstruct me, from deadly foes who throng round me.

--Psalms 17:9


“We can’t just call Social Services.” Maddie
spoke her words into the night as though challenging its

Paxton shifted uncomfortably from one foot to
the other. His distress was not from the way he was standing, but
rather from the way this conversation on their front porch was
going. “This is why we have Social Services.”

“We have it because there are people like
Shad’s mother.” Maddie turned her head to look at him. Light from
their living room window cast illumination across the concrete
porch, so Paxton could easily see her as Maddie stood at the white
railing. “In most cases I would whole-heartedly agree that’s what
we should do. But in Shad’s case I have a concern that he is so …
unique, he’d be lost in the system.”

Paxton exhaled as he thrust his hands into
the back pockets of his well-worn blue jeans.
. Any time a woman descended from Margaret
Leeds uttered those words, anyone wanting to argue against her was
wise to keep in mind that he might be arguing against a will that
was bigger than both of them. When their older daughter used the
phrase a couple of weeks ago, Paxton had been more inclined to
dismiss the notion. Erin was only twenty-two years old and not as
experienced in responding to that silent voice, which was why she
had sought her parents’ advice in how to deal with this

“Every child is unique in some way.” Paxton
reminded her.

Maddie regarded him pointedly. “There’s
something about Shad. A formal institution isn’t what he needs
right now. He’s a very troubled child –”

“Which is why we should call Social

“– and he needs far better than to be
shuffled around to foster homes while case workers poke and prod

“So just where do you propose we should send
him?” Even as the words left Paxton’s mouth he felt his stomach
flutter with trepidation.

Maddie returned her gaze to the darkened yard
for several seconds before responding. “Shad’s mother agreed to let
him spend a week with strangers once school let out for the summer.
She hasn’t been in contact with Shad these three days we’ve had him
even though
. I’m half ready to believe
we could keep him all summer and she wouldn’t care.”

Paxton’s agitation kept growing. “And then
what? Wait to contact child welfare until school starts up again?
They’re gonna look at
funny, and it’s not like we can fix
him in three months.”

“No.” Maddie’s tone became more solemn. “It
will take a lot longer than three months.”

Paxton could hardly believe she was coming so
close to saying exactly what he didn’t want to hear. “We aren’t
qualified to take in a special needs child. They train foster
parents to do that. We wouldn’t be fair to Shad as well as to

“It isn’t fair.” Maddie spoke those words as
though she were confirming a profound judgment. Then she locked her
gaze on Paxton’s. “I didn’t ask for this, either. When I told Erin
to ask Shad’s mother if she would allow him to spend a week with
us, I truly expected we would make the call ourselves.” Maddie
turned her face back toward the darkened yard. “But Erin was right.
As well-intentioned a program it is, it isn’t for Shad. He needs
stability right now.”

“What stability can we possibly offer?”
Paxton yanked his hands from the jeans pockets and folded his arms
over his chest. He leaned back against the railing to face the
front of their farm house. “It’s not like we can just ask his
mother if we can keep him longer. There’s all the issues about
guardianship and power of attorney and all that.”

“She might give him up for adoption.”

Paxton could have sworn his stomach just did
a back flip. “I’m not making myself clear.” He looked directly at
Maddie. “We can’t keep him.”

She didn’t return Paxton’s gaze but remained
standing straight and still at the railing. Even though Maddie was
dressed in the pullover blouse and khaki shorts she had worn to
work about the house and garden today, she possessed the same
tranquility Paxton was accustomed to seeing on her at First Day
meeting when she would wear a dress. A few escaped tendrils of her
upswept hair swayed gently in the breeze, but otherwise Maddie was
as calm as stone.

Paxton knew to respect her silence, but at
this moment it unnerved him. As he scratched at his trimmed
salt-and-pepper beard just to work out some nervous energy, Paxton
found himself yet again contemplating that great unanswered


His conscience was bothering him, and that
only irritated Paxton all the more. How could they hurt anything by
contacting Social Services? Shad – whose real name was Shadow but
Paxton had immediately decided that sounded too much like a dog’s
name – was only one of unfortunately thousands of children who
suffered in neglectful or abusive homes. Why did this
eleven-year-old boy start spending all his non-school time at the
library in St. Louis where Erin worked? Why was she the only one in
the staff to take notice of the quiet child who never bothered
anything? Why was it this skinny, dark-haired, brown-eyed youth
whose olive skin was already acquiring a distinct tan from his few
days spent outdoors, caused the descendants of Margaret Leeds to
have a concern about his welfare if they logically alerted the
state to remove Shad from his so-called mother?

It wasn’t that Paxton didn’t like the boy.
His heart went out to Shad. The usually silent child seemed most
content to have his nose stuck in a book or newspaper or even an
instruction manual. Paxton had him tag along during chores around
the farm, and Shad would do anything asked of him without a murmur
of either consent or complaint. To some people he might initially
seem to be an okay kid.

But Shad was socially deficient. He never
made eye contact, initiated conversation, or showed any emotion
beyond his, well,
demeanor. He did have a
tendency to tremble for a couple of seconds whenever they placed a
hand on his shoulder or back, yet still there was no change in
Shad’s expression. It was as though he went through the motions of
living in this world when in actuality Shad lived in a world within

“I honestly don’t know how long we’ll need to
keep him.” Maddie’s words jolted Paxton from his stewing. “But
right now Shad is in our care. He was given over to
.” She
cast a sidelong gaze toward Paxton. “You don’t believe in
coincidence any more than I do.”

“You’re right. I believe he was given over to
us so we could call Social Services.”

“Sometimes children fall through cracks in
that system and I truly fear Shad will be one of those children.”
Maddie remained placid but her gaze was locked with his.

As much as Paxton wanted to argue against her
premise, he was also humbled by the fact he was squaring off with a
“Leeds Woman.” From practically anybody else he would have regarded
such words as crazy talk, but he had known Maddie for most of his
life and spent over half of it in holy matrimony with her. Maddie
had earned her family’s reputation for being able to hear that
quiet whisper most others remained deaf to. Then again, there was
another descendant of Margaret Leeds who didn’t share Maddie’s

“Jill thinks we should call the department.”
Even as he invoked his sister-in-law’s name Paxton realized it
didn’t give him additional leverage.

Jill had been at their house today – without
her nearly nine-year-old daughter in tow for a change, Paxton
noticed – to help her sister finish butchering the meat chickens
Maddie raised to supplement her laying hens and Jill’s turkeys.
Jill could always be counted upon to give her opinion about any

“Jill isn’t in my situation.” Maddie smiled
ever so slightly. “She’s not the one being asked to take care of

Her last remark sent a tremor through his
? So he really was trying to defy divine

Why? What was it about the two of them that
this withdrawn waif, one out of too many needy children, had to
intrude upon their lives? What was it about this boy who now slept
in their younger daughter’s recently vacated bedroom upstairs that
it was necessary for Shad to disrupt their plans? Paxton had
enjoyed his role as a father, but his task of rearing children was
already fulfilled. Now he was supposed to be able to enjoy the
fruits of his labors: Smile for his daughters’ wedding photos
whenever that time came, then eventually bounce grandkids on his
knee. He and Maddie were supposed to be entering the next phase of
their lives together, and now they were supposed to backtrack and
take on the care of this distressed boy who was going to hit
puberty any second now? There were people who volunteered to do
this sort of thing. Why did it have to be thrust upon them?

“None of this makes sense,” Paxton grumbled.
“There’s laws about this sort of thing. Laws society made based
upon the laws of God. Why should we disregard them now and
arbitrarily take Shad ourselves?”

Maddie turned to lean against the railing and
also face the front of the house. She didn’t speak immediately, and
when her words finally surfaced they proceeded slowly and with

“Since when have the laws of men attained the
perfection of the laws of God?” She turned her head to face Paxton.
“You’re a Delaney.” Maddie paused. “You take care of your family.”
A gentle smile played on her lips. “And you’re just as determined
to uphold the Delaney notoriety as well.”

The uninitiated would wonder why Maddie was
speaking so deliberately, but Paxton knew that words inspired from
a source greater than any mere person were examined and never

Maddie continued talking, her words slow and
solemn. “Those two aspects of your family reputation are just what
you’re gonna need right now.”

Although Paxton was acquainted with
revelation on this level himself, he knew darn good and well why he
wasn’t experiencing that now. Stiff necks were a dominant trait in
the Delaney genealogy. Therefore, yet again Maddie had to

She proceeded. “It’s what Shad needs right

Paxton refused to look at her. The Bible was
full of stories about the prophets who warned Israel to repent or
they would be dispersed to the corners of the world. The thanks
they usually received from the populace for this act of obedience
often meant a thorough stoning. Paxton wasn’t about to throw rocks
at Maddie, but he was starting to feel an appreciation for why the
people of Israel became upset.

Maddie fell silent. Paxton didn’t know if she
had returned to that inner struggle or was simply contemplating the
words she’d spoken. Either way, Paxton knew he was licked. As much
as he resisted the idea, as much as it didn’t make any sense, he
was as trapped as Jonah had been in the belly of the fish. Grandpa
had warned him that marrying a Leeds Woman would make Paxton bow to
the will of God more than he would otherwise. And to think at the
time Paxton actually believed that sounded like a good thing.

But this wasn’t fair. What on Earth could he
and Maddie, simple crop farmers, offer to Shad that others
couldn’t? Come to think of it, since when had a Delaney credited
the Creator with being fair ever since Paxton’s great-great
grandfather Quaid Delaney lost his family to famine in Ireland?
Even though Quaid made his peace after settling here in central
Missouri, in the generations that followed him fathers repeated to
their children that they would be tested relentlessly throughout
their lives. Even someone as righteous as Job couldn’t escape
events that seemed like divine cruelty. And Job, while heartbroken
and sitting in ashes, had asked the logical question “Why?” The
eloquent answer he received basically boiled down to “Because I’m

BOOK: Equal Access
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