The three boys simultaneously released their seat belts and began clambering out of the SUV. First out was one of the twins wearing a red shirt and immediately turned to help his younger brother step out quickly followed by the other twin wearing a blue shirt. After all three had exited they stood in formation almost as if for inspection. The youngest was cute as most kids his age are but the twins were drop dead gorgeous and as identical as any two humans could be. Both Theresa and I literally gasped as we got a good look at them. It took a moment before either one of us could find our tongues.
Theresa recovered first and asked the youngest "What is your name?"
"Timothy Jay Andersen, but I like to be called TJ," he replied startling both of us with his adult like answer.
"Hi, TJ, it is nice to meet you." Turning to the twin in the red shirt she asked what his name was.
"Lawrence Jay Andersen, but I like to be called Larry," he replied in the same manner as his younger brother.
Not to be outdone the other twin in the blue shirt responded "Leonard Jay Andersen, but I liked to be called Lenny."
"Come on guys, let's go get something to drink," I said as I turned toward the house. Theresa followed me as she wrapped her arm around TJ and ushered him into the house. Larry and Lenny followed making several detours to inspect the fountain and other landscape details in the front of the house.
When we got all three of them to the kitchen I opened the refrigerator and told them to help themselves to the soft drinks. It is a good thing I wasn't standing in front of them or I might have been trampled.
TJ turned to me and asked "Do you have any chips?"
I choked back a snicker at his boldness but replied "Of course I do, TJ. But I don't want you to eat too much and spoil your lunch. We are going to eat soon," I went to the pantry and retrieved a package of potato chips and one of pretzels and placed them on the breakfast bar before opening them.
The kids were just beginning to stuff their mouths full of chips when Joyce entered through the patio door with Boy in tow. The boys at the bar all turned in unison and jumped down from the stools and ran for Boy and began hugging him. All three of them were talking at once and asking questions. It looked as though Joel (I'm sure that is him now) was trying to speak but nothing was coming out. He was becoming more frustrated and I saw the tears of joy at being reunited with his brothers being replace with tears of frustration the more he tried to talk.
Seeing this I went to him and wrapped my arms around him, looked into his eyes and softly whispered in his ear that it was all right. I picked him up and carried him to the couch in the family room with the other three kids following so closely behind that I could feel them rubbing up against my legs. When we sat down TJ crawled up on my lap with Joel and kissed his brother on the nose. The twins sat on either side of me wrapping their arms around all of us. I kept repeating softly to him "It's okay! It's okay! You're alright. Your brothers are here. You're safe now. No one is ever going to hurt you again. I promise, I promise."
I hadn't noticed but Dr. Sam, Theresa and Joyce had all followed us into the room and were gathered around watching. As I looked up I couldn't see them clearly because my eyes were filled with tears that were streaming down my cheeks. "What are we going to do? What is going to become of them?" I asked to no one in particular.
Before anyone could answer the back door opened and my housekeeper charged in carrying a large basket which I knew had to be our picnic lunch. Mrs. Ramirez, Hildy Ramirez, is not what you would expect from someone with an Hispanic surname. She is actually third generation German-American having grown up in New Braunfels. She married a Mexican-American which is the reason for the Ramirez last name. Her long grey-blonde hair is tightly braided and wrapped around her head like a halo. She is tall, nearly six feet, and big boned but not fat. Her heart is pure gold, but she looks like she could snap you in two if she had a mind to. When she enters a room you have no doubt who is in charge.
Setting the basket down on the kitchen counter, she strode into the family room. "Now, who do we have here?" she asked looking at the boys surrounding me ignoring the adults.
"The little one on my lap is TJ. Joel is the other one. The twin with the red shirt is Larry and the one in blue is Lenny," I told her.
"Oh you guys are so handsome. You look good enough to eat," she beamed which got an unexpected reaction from all the boys as they jerked back as if she was actually going to eat them.
Hildy (pronounced hill-dee) just laughed and reached into her pocket and brought out a tissue and wiped the tears from my eyes and cheeks. I had forgotten that I had been crying. As I said when she enters a room she dominates it.
"Come on boys, I need some help with the food in the car. The faster we get it unloaded the quicker we will get to eat. TJ, Larry, Lenny can you help? Joel will you help also?" she queried.
The boys all jumped down from the couch and followed her as if she were the Pied Piper. Soon each of the smiling boys returned carrying a portion of our picnic. Hildy was the last in holding up one of her delectable three layer chocolate cakes and a half gallon of vanilla ice cream. She put the ice cream in the freezer and the cake on the counter before directing the boys to take their burdens out the patio door to the large table at one side of the patio.
"We'll be ready in about ten minutes," she said over her shoulder as she closed the door.
It was only then that I realized that I hadn't introduced the other guests to her. "Oh, well, we can take care of that over lunch," I thought rather embarrassed at my oversight.
True to her word, almost exactly ten minutes later Hildy stuck her head in the door and announced lunch was ready. Turning to me she said "We need another chair for the table. There are nine of us and only eight in that set. Grab one of the kitchen chairs and a couple of those large cushions so we can get TJ high enough to reach the food."
I did as I was told. Upon reaching the table I was amazed at just how much food she had prepared. There were two large platters stacked high with sandwiches, one ham and the other ham and Swiss cheese. A large bowl of warm German potato salad (my favorite), one of cole slaw, a Dutch oven full of ranch beans, a plate heaped up with a variety of cheeses, chips, dips, ice tea, soft drinks along with a full compliment of condiments. There was barely room for us to put our plates.
After we got TJ settled onto his throne, we all sat down and started filling our plates and passing the items we could reach. I took this opportunity to introduce Theresa and Joyce to Hildy. She already knew Dr. Sam.
Hildy made sure that the boys got their plates filled to overflowing before she was content to fill her own plate. I must say that even TJ did a yeoman's job of polishing off nearly as much food as his older siblings.
Not a lot of conversation took place until everyone's stomachs were almost full. All the adults pushed their chairs back and groaned at the amount of food we had eaten. There was very little food left in any of the cutlery. The mountain of food that I thought I would be eating on for a week had dwindled to perhaps enough for a light supper.
Hildy stood up and asked "Who's ready for some chocolate cake and ice cream?"
Naturally every one of the boys raised their hands and all but Joel hollering "Yes! Yeah! Oh, boy!" You would not have thought they had eaten a couple thousand calories just minutes before. The adults on the other hand all politely refused.
"Larry, Lenny can you help me?" Hildy asked. Getting a positive response she turned and went back into the kitchen followed closely by the twins.
I couldn't believe the size of the cake slices on the plates that the twins returned with. She must have cut half of the cake in four pieces. Then on top of that there was what looked like a pint of ice cream piled on the plate. We all just chuckled and shook our heads as Hildy returned with two more plates laden down like the ones the twins carried.
As soon as the plates were placed on the table all four of the boys dove in like they hadn't eaten a thing.
"God," I thought. "I'd have to swim an extra hundred laps to work off all those calories."
"Hildy, will you watch the boys for a while? I think the rest of us have some things to decide," I said.
Dr. Sam, Joyce and Theresa all followed me back into the house. Before anyone could even sit down I asked, "What is going to happen to those boys? God, you can't send them to an orphanage or a group home. The worst thing that could happen to them is to be separated. I can't let that happen."
Joyce started "Well they can't stay here. They..."
"Why not?" I interrupted before I even thought about what I was asking.
"You are a single man. That's why. It is just not done," she answered giving me a strange look as if I was totally stupid.
"If I were a single female would that make a difference?" I retorted with more vehemence than I realized.
"Of course it would. You just don't put young children, even boys with a single male. It's just not done," she repeated.
"What? Do you think I would molest them? Good God, what kind of monster do you think I am? I could never hurt a child," I said becoming very emotional. Turning to Sam I asked "Sam have I ever given you any indication that I'm a pedophile? Or some other kind of creature that could harm a kid?"
"No Crane, all I have ever seen in you is joy when you have been around my grandkids. I have never seen you happier than when you are playing with them. I have even mentioned it to Jack Hogan your policeman friend. He is of the same opinion that I am. You are not a threat to any child, boy or girl. He said that he is amazed at the rapport that you have with the little league team. The boys on the team all seem to adore you. It is the highlight of their day when you can give them individual attention. I would trust my grandkids with you any time and never bat an eye."
"Thanks Sam. I appreciate the endorsement," I blushed at his words.
"If it were possible to have the boys stay with you how could you take care of them? You have to work. Who would be here to be with them after school and to send them off in the mornings?" Joyce asked.
"No, I don't have to work," I said. "Maybe I should give you a better idea of my financial situation. This house that sits on 35 acres of prime land is free and clear. I own 80% of a very successful consulting company that generates over $200,000 after taxes for my use. That does not count the consulting fees I receive for projects I personally manage. Last year that amounted to slightly over $150,000. And I don't work full time at it. My investments, according to my financial adviser's last statement, total well into the millions.
"So you can see I don't have to work. I work because I want to and to have something to keep me occupied.
"As far as having a female around to provide the motherly touch, I'm sure that I can convince Hildy to accept my offer to move into the apartment over the garage to become my fulltime cook, housekeeper and nanny for the boys if they are allowed to stay."
Joyce looked a little taken aback when I finished. Turning to Theresa she said "What do you think? What are the possibilities of getting Judge Frank and our supervisors to buy into this?"
Theresa was a little surprised at my rattling off my financial status so openly. Although I live well, I certainly do not live up to my income. Finally she said "I don't know but I think we can make a case for Crane to seek custody of them at least temporarily. I have the authority to issue emergency temporary certificates for foster parents and I am very tempted to do just that.
"Just look out the patio door at how happy the boys are together out there in the yard, it seems a shame to take them back to that 'group home'. The conditions and atmosphere here are one heck of a lot better then they are there. They certainly appear to have taken to Hildy. Look at them!"
"I think we should ask the boys if they would like to stay here at least temporarily don't you?" Joyce offered.
Everyone nodded their heads in agreement. "Crane, ask Hildy to bring the boys in and let us talk to them while you convince her to live here at least while the boys remain. Okay?" Joyce directed.
I did as I was asked. It was not hard to convince Hildy to stay. She was living in a mobile home that was over 20 years old and on its last legs. She had also formed an attachment to the boys in the short time that she had been around them. As I was talking to Hildy we heard the boys loudly proclaim their desire to stay here. Their big question was if they could go swimming.
"Well it looks like things are settled at least where the boys are concerned," I chuckled. "I don't have any swimming trunks for them but I can get some this afternoon. All we have to do is go to the mall."
Hildy and I went back into the family room and I was about to ask what the decision was when Theresa spoke up, "I'll have to get some forms from my house to fill out the temporary foster home certificate. I should have it completed and back to you by around 5 this afternoon. It will allow you to have custody for up to two weeks or until the Family Court rules differently, which ever comes first. It will give you the authority to seek medical attention for them in case it is required. CPS would have to approve any charges that exceed the limits in the foster home certificate. If you want to try to keep the boys longer you will have to undergo a thorough background investigation that, believe me, is VERY intrusive."
"Now on another matter," Joyce started, "the boys don't have any clothes other than what they have on. The police won't allow anyone into their house to retrieve anything until the investigation has been completed. That could take up to a week before they are finished."
"Don't worry about that," I said almost choking. "We will head down to Crossroads Mall and I'll get them everything they need. We'll leave just as soon as you give us the okay. Also, Joel will be undergoing a series of medical procedures Monday morning to determine the extent of any sexual and physical abuse. I will personally see that any test that Sam even remotely considers necessary will be done and I guarantee that the bills will be paid."
As soon as everyone was satisfied that we had taken care of all the details Theresa, Joyce and Sam left for their homes with Theresa promising to get my temporary certification prepared and delivered to me before nightfall.
Hildy and I herded the boys into the Land Rover and headed back into San Antonio to get them outfitted. There is no way I could give a coherent account of our shopping spree. It was the first time I had ever had four rambunctious boys in a mall. TJ especially seem to have the uncanny ability to melt into the background every time my attention was diverted from him. I swear he was 6 going on 15. I spent most of my time hunting him down and getting him back to the group. Hildy was fantastic in equipping the boys with clothes for every contingency. I don't know what all I signed for. I just know that the total for our shopping spree came to $2,554.91. I think it could have been more but we were running out of room to stuff it in the Land Rover.
The twins and TJ were chatterboxes all the way back to Canyon Lake. All four of the boys could barely contain themselves digging through their packages and holding various items up for all to admire. Joel was still the only one who was silent. It was killing me and I could see that it also bothered the other boys. I could even detect some moisture in Hildy's eyes as she looked at him.
By the time we reached home everyone was exhausted. "Okay guys, let's get all of these packages unloaded and into the house. We have to figure out where all of you are going to sleep until Hildy's apartment is cleaned up and ready for her. Larry and Lenny do you want to share a bedroom?"
"Yes!" they answered in unison.
"And for the time being, Joel, would it be alright if TJ shared your bedroom?" I asked.
Joel nodded and gave his youngest brother a quick hug.
"Okay, Joel, go show TJ where to park his stuff. You other two take the bedroom right next to Joel and TJ's. Hildy, that leaves the other one for you for the time being. Why don't you go get some of your stuff from your place and I'll lay out some chicken so we can barbeque when you get back.
"Alright guys, hop to it. Get your new clothes put away and get into your swim suits and we can all get wet. Go!" I told them.
The evening went by very quickly. The boys swam and horsed around in the pool until almost dark. I didn't last that long. After about an hour I retired to a lounger and just enjoyed their endless energy. Our dinner on the patio turned into another one of Hildy's feasts. The boys topped off their meal with the rest of the chocolate cake and some more ice cream left over from lunch.
"Hey guys, everyone into the showers to wash off the chlorine and get into bed. It has been a long and busy day," I ordered around nine o'clock.
Thirty minutes later I was tucking in the twins. "Good night boys! How am I going to tell you guys apart? I guess we will just have to get you name tags to wear," I laughed then kissed each one on the forehead. Although I said that in jest, I could not detect even the subtlest difference between the two. I knew this was going to present a real challenge.
Joel and TJ were snuggled together in the queen size bed in their room when I entered. I kissed both of them on the forehead as I had done the twins and told them good night before going into my own room.
Although I hated it, I decided that sleeping in the nude would not work with the house full of people. Reluctantly I retrieved a pair of pajama bottoms and slipped into bed.
"God, what have I gotten myself into this time? Am I capable of raising these kids? ..." I fell asleep asking myself one question after another.