"MOMMA! MOMMA! DON'T! NO! NO! DAD NO! AAAHHH!" I was up and out of bed as if I had been shot out of a cannon. Running across the hall to Joel and TJ's bedroom I entered the room and flipped on the light. Joel was sitting upright in bed, eyes wide open with tears running down his cheeks. TJ was propped up on one elbow staring at his brother.
I rushed to the bed and sat down next to Joel putting my arms around him and cradled him to my chest. As I stroked his back his breathing became regular and when I looked down at him his eyes were closed and he appeared to be sleeping. I held him a few moments longer before I laid him back down on the bed. I'm sure that he had been asleep through all of this.
My next concern was TJ. He still appeared to be shaken by what had just happened. "Come on TJ, let's go get a glass of milk, okay?" He took my extended hand and I led him to the kitchen.
At the bedroom door we ran into Hildy who was coming to see what all the commotion was about. She followed us to the kitchen. The concern on her face was readily apparent as I explained what had just happened. She took charge and began fixing some cocoa for all of us putting miniature marshmallows in TJ's cup.
TJ sat on my lap and drank his cocoa. By the time he finished he had calmed down and was getting very sleepy. I stood up and carried him into my room and placed him on the bed. Saying goodnight to Hildy, I climbed into my bed and kissed the top of TJ's head before rolling over and tried to go back to sleep. Sleep was illusive for nearly an hour as I mulled over the events of the night. It was 3:30 the last time I looked at the clock.
My alarm jolted me out of a fitful sleep at 7:00. TJ was curled up in a ball snuggled against my back. I hated to get up but I knew this was going to be a busy day. I reluctantly got out of bed and into the shower. After my morning ritual I slipped on a pair of chinos and a polo shirt and headed to the kitchen for a cup of coffee.
Hildy was already up making biscuits and sausage gravy along with scrambled eggs for the boys. I grabbed a biscuit and a cup of coffee before going into my study to plan out my day. My list of things to do today grew in length the more I became convinced that I would try to get long term custody of the boys. First on my list was to call Joyce, but that would have to wait until the CPS office opened.
With my plan of action completed I returned to the kitchen to join the boys and Hildy for breakfast. It did my heart good to see the boys eat. I'm sure that Hildy will be going to the grocery store a lot more often. When the feeding frenzy had subsided I told the boys to go wash up and brush their teeth.
It was at breakfast that I got my first clue as to how to tell the difference between the twins. I hadn't noticed before but Larry was right handed while Lenny was left handed. So as long as they were eating I could tell them apart. I also noticed that they rarely said anything directly to each other. This struck me as being a little odd since they both carried on conversations with TJ and Hildy and tried to include Joel.
"Guys, I want you to help Hildy clean out her new apartment this morning. Her new furniture is supposed to be delivered this afternoon around 2 o'clock," I told them as they came back into the family room dressed for the day. "This afternoon I think we will have time to swim and maybe go out on the lake in my boat. Do you think you might like to do that?"
Getting the expected response I said "Go tell Hildy you are ready to help her clean. The quicker you get done the sooner we get to go boating."
At 9 o'clock I dialed Joyce's number on the card she had given me. "Joyce, this is Crane Johnson. I have a few questions I need to ask you," I said when she answered.
"Good morning, Crane."
"First, do the twins and TJ know what has happened to their mother?"
"Not that I know. I never told them anything except that their parents couldn't take care of them for a while. That may have been 'a little white lie' but until everything gets straightened out I thought it would be okay."
"Should I tell them what is really going on? I think it would be the best but I don't want to mess anything up. I have already determined that Joel knows. Actually, I'm sure he saw what happened."
"Oh, my god! How did you find that out?"
"I asked him a few yes/no questions. Also, he had a nightmare last night and screamed out in his sleep."
"Okay, use your best judgment as to how and when you tell the boys about their mother. Just do it as gently as you can. I know it is not going to be easy."
"Second question, what should I do about their school? I don't think it would be advisable to go back to their old school. Everybody there probably knows more about the situation than the boys do and they might be subjected to humiliation."
"You're right about the school. The schools there in Canyon Lake are pretty good from what I hear. If you are planning to try to get long term custody of them that is where they should be enrolled."
"You read my mind. That was my next question. How do I get the process started to be qualified as a foster parent or foster home or whatever the right term is?"
"Well there are a 'couple' of forms to fill out and then there will be an extensive background check. I'll have Theresa drop them off to you this evening. I had a strong suspicion that you were going to ask so I have already started some of the preliminary steps. Theresa told you the other day that the investigation would be very intrusive. I hope you are up for this."
"I am. The only blotch on my record is I was once ticketed for speeding several years ago when I was in college just after I got my first car. Since then my record is both clean and boring. You already know a lot of my financial situation but my accountant will be able to provide much more detail. If you would like to save Theresa a trip around to this side of the lake you could fax the forms to me. My fax number is 830-935-xxxx."
"Oh, that would probably work out better. I'll fax them as soon as I get off the phone."
After saying our goodbyes we hung up. Check one item off my list.
Next on my list was a call to Jack Hogan. I dialed his number at police headquarters.
"Hello, is Detective Jack Hogan there?" I asked when the phone was answered.
"Yes, just a moment. I'll get him," the voice said.
"Detective Hogan, how may I help you?"
"Good morning, Jack. It's Crane."
"How are you doing? Have the boys driven you to drink yet?"
"No, they haven't yet. In fact they have been extremely well behaved."
"Give them time. Timmy has his good and bad days. Right now he is having his bad days. Anyway that's my problem. What can I do for you?"
"Well, I was wondering what has been done with the boys' mother. Has the body been released by the coroner?"
"I was talking to the detective in charge of the case just a few minutes ago. He said that the autopsy had been completed so I would imagine it could be released if anyone claimed it. Why, what are you planning on doing?"
"Well you know I never got to bury my parents after their accident. There were not enough recognizable remains from the crash so everything was buried in a mass grave. That has always bothered me. I want the boys to have some closure. I know it is going to be painful for them now, but in the long term at least they will have been able to see her one last time and say goodbye."
"You know she was shot several times in the face and head don't you?"
"Yes, I heard. I also know that they can do marvelous things to repair damage so as to make it all but invisible."
"That costs a lot of money to have that done by skilled undertakers. Are you willing to do that?"
"Yes, I am. I think this will help me as much as it will help the boys."
"Okay then, I'll call the morgue and tell them that the body is going to be claimed by her sons' foster parent. Do you know which funeral home you are going to have take possession of the body?"
"Yes, I'm going to contact Broadmohr. I know them by reputation and I think they can do what I want. Thanks, Jack. I appreciate what you have done. By the way, do you have any objections to me using you as a reference on my foster parent application?"
"No, I don't object. Do you really know what you are getting yourself into?"
"No, I don't but I've got my mind made up."
"Okay, I'll see you Friday. Bye, Crane."
Check another item off my list.
The call to Broadmohr went very well. They said they would pick up the body this afternoon and then let me know when and if the repairs could be made to it. They agreed to pick out a casket in the middle price range and to arrange for a plot in a local cemetery.
One more item checked off the list.
Next I got the number of Benjamin Cross' law office in Austin from information and called the number. His secretary answered and asked me some preliminary questions about my proposed business with her boss before I was finally put through to him.
"Mr. Cross, my name is Crane Johnson and I would like to retain you to help me get custody of four young boys. My lawyer recommended you as one of the best in your field and I want the best."
"My, you are direct Mr. Johnson. I like that. What makes you think that you need to utilize my services?"
"Well, from my reading of the CPS workers here I get the distinct impression that they don't take kindly to a single male seeking custody of any child let alone adolescent boys."
I went on to describe the circumstances that led me to have temporary custody of them and my desire to make the arrangement permanent.
"I see, Crane. Although there is no legal prohibition against you seeking custody, the courts are not inclined to grant such a petition. If you can pass the background check, I think we can make a strong argument for such a petition. I like cases like this. They challenge the courts to do the right thing and not to be bound by old outdated precedence and prejudices. They also challenge me. I am not cheap. I bill at $750 an hour. My junior partners bill at lesser rates and they will be doing a lot of the ground work and research. You can probably count on at least 200 hours of which about one quarter will be my time. Do you still want me to proceed?"
"Yes, I do. I'll have my accountant send you a check for $10,000 as a retainer so that you can begin to represent me. I figure that is about 10% of what your bill will be. I hope that we never have to go to court but I want to be prepared in case we do."
I went on to detail how I could be contacted also who my accountant was and business partner.
Another item checked off my list.
No sooner had I hung up the phone than I heard Hildy and the boys come into the kitchen for their morning snack.
I made one more quick call to a testing service to set up an appointment for the boys to be tested tomorrow morning. As I grabbed another cup of coffee from the pot, I asked Hildy, "How are you getting along? Are they helping or hindering?"
"They are doing great. They have been busy as little beavers. We're almost finished. I just need to scrub the floors and vacuum the carpets and I'll be done," she replied. "I'll leave them with you while I finish the last little bit if you don't mind."
"No, that'll be fine. I need to have a talk with them anyway. One I am not looking forward to," I said getting a strange look from all of the boys. "You guys finish your snacks and then come into the family room."
The boys all had serious expressions on their faces as they entered the room.
"Please sit down. TJ, come sit on my lap. What I have to tell you is not easy to do. You have been told that your parents cannot take care of you for a while. At least that is what everyone except Joel has been told. While that is true it is not the whole truth.
"Before I go on I want you all to know that in the few short days that I have known you I have grown to love you as if you were my own sons and I will always feel that way. You are always welcome in my house and I want to be sure that you know that.
"The bad news that I have to tell you is that last Friday your mother was hurt very badly. In fact she was hurt so badly that she died." At this point my voice was shaking and my chest was so tight that I could barely get the last sentence out. That was rather blunt but if I had not just come out and said it I probably would not have been able to get it out at all.
The reaction of the twins and TJ was not unexpected. All three burst into tears and started sobbing uncontrollably. I clutched TJ tightly to me and Joel, bless his heart, did the same to the twins. I was so proud of him I wanted to hug him as well but TJ was my first concern at the moment.
Perhaps ten minutes later the crying began to subside. I'm glad I had thought to bring a box of tissues in with me earlier. It came in handy to dry all of our eyes and blow our noses.
"Can you listen to me now? In a couple of days we are going to have a small memorial service for your mother. You will be able to see her for one last time before she is buried. I know this is going to be difficult for you. It is all right to feel sad. It is even all right to be mad. Don't try to hide your feelings. If you feel like crying go ahead, it is okay. If you want to talk to me or Hildy we will make time for you. You are the most important things in our lives right now."
The boys had nearly calmed down by the time I finished. The twins looked up at me and in unison said, "How?"
I looked at Joel and asked, "Joel is it alright with you if I explain to them what I believe happened to your mother?"
The tears started streaming down Joel's cheeks but he nodded his head to indicate that it was okay.
Clearing my throat I started, "Last Friday you were locked in a closet of your house weren't you?"
Getting nods from three heads I continued, "I think that you also heard several loud bangs or what you may have thought to be firecrackers. Those were gunshots. They came from a gun your dad fired at your mother. That is what caused your mother's death. I am so sorry, but that is what happened. Joel saw it happen and was threatened by your dad. That shock of seeing your mother killed and the threats from your dad to him if he ever told anyone about it is probably the reason that Joel can't consciously speak. I think the term for it is hysterical aphasia. The last bit of bad news, I swear, is that your dad has been arrested and is in jail."
The reaction of the boys to the news that their dad had been arrested was not what I expected it to be. The fact was they did not react at all. It was as if they didn't care. This prompted me to ask, "Did your dad ever harm you in any way?"
TJ was the first to respond. "He used to whip me with his belt when he was drunk. I didn't like that 'cause I didn't do nothing."
The twins chimed in that he used to hit them every time he came home drunk.
"Did he ever do anything besides hit or whip you?" I asked.
One of the twins, I think it was Larry, said "He tried to make me put my hand in his pants once, but I ran away and hid. And sometimes he used to stick his hands down our pants and play with our pee pee." The other twin nodded in agreement.
"Thanks, guys. I think the people from CPS will probably want to talk to you about this sometime. I want you to know I am very proud of you for telling me about it. I can assure you that will never happen to you again as long as I have anything to say about it," I said with as much conviction as I could muster.
"Joel, you are safe here. Your dad can never harm you again. However he threatened you, it is over. He will never get out of jail and be able to harm you again," I said looking him directly in the eyes.
"Okay, let's get our swimming suits on and swim for a while. I think we have about an hour before Hildy will call us for lunch," I barely got that out of my mouth before they were all off to the bedrooms. Oh, the resiliency of youth!
We swam and enjoyed each other's company for over an hour. I tossed the boys so they could cannonball each other and played what was becoming their favorite water game; king of the hill. They soon wore the hill down and I had to sit on the side of the pool and watch them play.
Soon Hildy called us saying that lunch would be ready in about 20 minutes and she expected us to be dressed and ready when it was ready. It looked like a flock of ducks hopping out of the pool and rushing to the bedrooms. I made a quick call to the marina to have them prepare my boat so that we could take it out later this afternoon.
"Have you boys ever been fishing?" I asked. They all shook their heads no. "Well, this afternoon after Hildy's furniture is delivered we will go to the marina and try our luck with the fishing pole. I have asked Darrell at the marina if he would go with us and show you all how to fish the right way. It has been a long time since I have been fishing so it will be good to have someone along who knows what he is doing."
The furniture was delivered right on time and set up in less than half an hour. We were on our way to the marina shortly after 2:30. Since I didn't have lifejackets that would fit the boys, I rented some from the shop there. The fishing poles were also rented.
We slowly motored around the lake for the next three hours. Darrell had as much fun as the boys trying to teach them how to cast their lines. Not too many fish were caught but we did have a lot of laughs. The boys all looked sad as we coasted into the marina, but brightened when I told them we could do it again this weekend. We turned in our poles and lifejackets and then piled into the Land Rover for the trip home.
Hildy was not too impressed with our meager catch. Since there was not enough fish to feed us all she said she would make some gumbo with it. She shooed us all out of the kitchen and told the boys to go get a shower taken because they all smelled of fish. She didn't tell me but I clearly understood the order also applied to me.
Shortly after supper the busy day began to show on the boys. They all sat on the couch with TJ on my lap leaning against me just relaxing and watching TV. As soon as it started getting dark outside I said, "I think you guys have had a full day and need to get some sleep. Tomorrow is going to be busy also. In the morning some people are going to come and give you tests to determine if you have any learning problems and to assess where you should be in school. In the afternoon we are going to go to the school and see about getting you enrolled. Everybody off to bed. I'll be in to tuck you in a little later. Say goodnight to Hildy, then hit the sack."
I went to see Hildy to let her know what was going on tomorrow. She was anxious for me to see the apartment now that she had time to get is set up the way she wanted.
As we walked around her newly furnished apartment it became apparent that the place could stand a good coat of paint. When we had originally looked around, I guess we were more intent on the furnishings. "If you will pick out the colors that you would like or wallpaper if that is what you want, I'll get someone in to do it," I said.
"Oh, that won't be necessary. I can do it," she responded.
"I think that you will have plenty to keep you busy looking after the four boys plus me. With them around, cooking will be almost a full time occupation. Besides, if I get someone in to do it you will only be out of here for a day or at most two while it is being done. I know you need some privacy away from the boys and me," I told her.
"Crane, I think what you are doing for those boys is about the most wonderful thing I have ever seen. I can see why the boys have worked their way into your heart. They are four of the most well behaved I have known. I feel the same way about them as you do. I have just got to believe that CPS will let you keep them. It would be a crying shame if they had to go to a group home or orphanage. I cannot see them being split up. TJ especially, he is so dependant on the others. He would probably die of a broken heart if they were separated."
"I couldn't bear that either. That reminds me, I have arranged for a simple memorial service and burial for their mother. I don't know just when yet. Broadmohr is supposed to let me know when they will have the body in condition to be viewed. Just a few people will be invited. I was thinking the boys, you and I and possibly Jack Hogan and I suppose Joyce Gehrig from CPS. I can't think of anyone else. The boys don't know of any relatives, no aunts or uncles, no grandparents or even close friends. They did not seem to be members of any church so I don't know if we should try to have any clergy there or not. What do you think?"
Hildy thought for a moment before answering, "It might be comforting if we had a minister there. The pastor of my church would probably be willing to say a few words of comfort. He wouldn't know her, of course. Maybe I can find out a little information about her from the boys. I would hate to have her buried without having a prayer said for her."
"Okay, you talk to your pastor. Tell him to plan on either Friday afternoon or Saturday morning. I think that Broadmohr will have the body ready by that time. I'll let you know as soon as they call me."
I started to turn away to go tuck the boys in but something came to mind, "Have you seen the twins talk to each other? It just hit me. I see them talk to TJ and Joel, but they never seem to converse with each other. Am I seeing this correctly or just not observant enough?"
"Come to think of it, I haven't either. I have often seen them standing side by side staring off in the distance not saying anything. Then, all at once, as if on cue they both take off to do something. I thought it a little strange but had never really thought too much about it. But now that you mention it, it does seem a little odd."
I left to tuck the boys in bed. The twins were asleep when I approached their bed. I brushed the hair off their forehead and kissed them gently not wanting to wake them. They looked so peaceful and angelic.
TJ was still awake when I entered his and Joel's bedroom. I sat down on the bed beside him and leaned over and gave him a kiss on the forehead. Then I did the same for Joel who was asleep. As I started to get up to go to my own bedroom TJ grabbed my hand and held on keeping me from getting up.
"What is it TJ?" I asked.
"Uncle Crane, I wish you were my daddy," he sobbed.
My heart nearly stopped. "I wish I were too my little one. You go to sleep now." I kissed him again and tucked the covers around him before racing out of the bedroom.
I spent the next three hours filling out the paperwork that Joyce had faxed to me earlier in the day. It was hard keeping my attention on them. TJ's words kept coming back to me making my eyes tear up and my mind wandered.
"I have to make this happen!" I swore to myself.