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Mrs. Heins tipped her round face to the judge and nodded. I couldn't hear what she said.

The judge held up the piece of paper. "There is no father listed on the birth certificate," she said.

I glanced quickly in Amanda's direction, trying to get a better sense of what this meant.

"In absence of this information," the judge continued, "I would like Mrs. Heins to look into this matter, though finding the father will be nearly impossible and we certainly can't spend the taxpayersmoney on futile pursuits." She adjusted the case file in front of her. "Under these circumstances, it is the responsibility of the court to make a decision in Spring's best interests. And given what I have heard here today and what I have already heard from Mrs. Eckleburg and from Mrs. Heins after her interview with Spring, it's clear that Spring should continue to stay in her home with the person who loves her..." She offered me a perfunctory smile.

Even at that point, it hadn't entirely registered that we'd won.



"... With regular court review until Mr. Hunter completes the adoption process. Mrs. Heins, would you go get Spring for Mr. Hunter?"

There was cheering around me and someone pounded me on the back, but for a moment, all I could do was sit in my chair and absorb the sudden turnaround. Then I stood up and I hugged Amanda, muttering thanks into her shoulder.

"You really came through for me," I said, lifting my head up.

She kissed me on the cheek. "You're welcome. This was the way this was supposed to turn out." She turned toward my briefcase. "You might want to skip the Groucho glasses, if you have any future legal battles to fight, though."

And then Billie was standing next to me. I grabbed her and squeezed. Burying my face in her neck, I whispered, "Thank you for your help...for everything."

She held me tighter. "The judge made the right decision. Spring loves you." She pulled back slightly and took my face in both of her hands. "And I love you."

As I stared into her eyes, I found that I couldn't say anything.

"I wasn't ready for this," she continued. "I really thought I wasn't ready. But the last couple of days without you, without Spring, without what we have together I felt completely lost."

"It's been you for a long time," I said to her.

"I know. I feel the same way."

"Guess we've both done a pretty good job of hiding it."

She smiled. "Not anymore. I'm not exactly sure how this works, but I think we're in this for good."

I held her and kissed her neck and wanted more desperately than anything to get started on our new life as a family. When I looked over Billie's shoulder, I saw Amanda hugging Jim and I laughed out loud.

And then I saw Spring out of the corner of my eye. I reached for her and she jumped into my arms. We hugged for a long time and I'm not sure I ever would have let go if she hadn't leaned toward Billie so she could hug her.

As Amanda continued to flirt with Jimbo, I saw Stephanie Eckleburg and walked over to her. Spring was once again latched around my neck.

"Mrs. Eckleburg, I want to thank you and let you know I appreciate your concern for Spring. If it wasn't for you," I searched for the words, "accelerating the process and watching over Spring, we wouldn't have gotten to this point."

She nodded and smiled. "I'm glad it turned out the way it did. There are some responsibilities I'm not too crazy about." She turned to Spring. "You're a lucky girl to have such a persistent friend. He loves you more than you'll ever know. She looked back up to me. "Will I be seeing the two of you tomorrow?"

"I think we're going to take tomorrow off, Mrs. Eckleburg. Maybe go to the park. Would you like that, Spring?"

"Duh."

Stephanie laughed and then turned to leave.

Spring tugged at my hair. "D, we're gonna stay together, right?"

"From now on. You, and Billie, and me."

She hugged me. I loved those hugs.

When we turned around, my friends were waiting for us. Jim was carrying Amanda's briefcase.

"Hey, D-Man," Jim said, setting the case on the table, "pretty good day, huh." He leaned in and winked. "Maybe for both of us," he said in a whisper.

Amanda waved over her shoulder as she and Jim left.

"Congratulations, Dylan," Mr. Mason said, putting his hand on my back. "h.e.l.l, I never thought we'd find that Godd.a.m.ned bank. Sorry for the language, Spring. Hank, Laurel, and I must have called 200 of them this morning. However..." Mason's face grew serious. "I'm very disappointed in you both. I received a call this morning from John Waverly. He told me he talked to you both about a VP position here in New York. Is this true?"

Hank's ears perked up.

Mason didn't allow either Billie or me to answer.

"Do you know how embarrassed I was to learn you both turned him down after I pushed so hard for you? Boy, was he p.issed. Sorry again, Spring. I told you both I couldn't afford you, and now you've put me in a bad position. So, I'm going to have to fire Hank. Tough break, Hank."

Hank's eyes grew large.

"Just kidding." Mason laughed and slapped Hank on the back. "And you two," he leaned in close, still laughing, "we'll work out the details of this later, all right?" Mason winked at us and turned to leave, with his arm around Hank.

I set Spring down to close my briefcase when Billie whispered in my ear. "I turned Waverly down first."

"Nope, I did."

I closed my briefcase. "We're really gonna do this, right?"

"We're already doing it."

"I really love you."

"Which makes you an incredibly lucky man."

"Don't I know it."

"Hey D," Spring said, jumping up between us, "know what I really want to do?"

I looked up at Billie and then to Spring. "Anything you want."

"I wanna go home."

"That we can definitely do."

We all held hands while Spring led us out of the courtroom.

Spring was the cute one.

Billie was the gorgeous, brilliant one.

And I was the one who could keep the last few plates spinning for the rest of our lives.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons living or dead, is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of either the author or the publisher.

The Story Plant.

Also by Michael Baron:.

When You Went Away.

Crossing the Bridge.

The Journey Home.





CHAPTER DISCUSSION