"Good morning, Hildy," I said as I walked into the kitchen and poured myself a cup of coffee. "Have you checked on the construction upstairs?"
"No, but I wish they were finished. After a while that hammering and sawing gets on my nerves. The back hallway is a mess when they get done for the day with all the coming and going and hauling materials up those stairs. I know it's going to be a great addition for the boys to play in when the weather is bad, but it can't get finished fast enough for me," she said.
"Did you notice that Samson was not in his own bed this morning?" I asked.
"No, I hadn't checked yet."
"He ended up sleeping in bed with Joel and TJ. I know that many people let their pets sleep in bed with them, but I never thought it was a good idea. I never told them that he couldn't so I can't scold them for it. It is just something I want to stop before it becomes a habit."
After reading the first section of the paper and finishing my first cup of coffee I went in to wake the boys for breakfast. Before long they straggled to the breakfast table followed closely by our hobbling dog. I decided that I would not bring up Samson's sleeping arrangements until this evening.
I drove the boys down to the gate to wait for the school van because I needed to get to work early to take care of some business. Giving each of them a hug, I wished Joel good luck on his tests today. As they drove off in the van I drove off to work.
I got to the office in plenty of time to prepare for the conference call that Foster and I were to have with one of our clients in Dallas at 9:30. Foster and I went over our contract with them and discussed between us what resources we could bring to the project to do the additional work that they wanted us to do. After running through several scenarios, we concluded that the only way we could do what they wanted was to negotiate the delivery dates. We would only be able to add one more analyst to the project until the end of January when one more would become available.
The negotiations went very well with the client. They ended up satisfied with the delivery dates and we were satisfied with the additional quarter million in revenues we would derive from the additional work.
Since part of that additional work we were going to perform for the client involved designing and installing a large computer network, I called Eric at his project and asked him to drop by the office. When I told him about the work that they wanted done he was very excited about it. Having to be gone from home for two days a week for several months he was less enthusiastic about. He didn't like leaving JR but he knew that Darcie would be able to care for him while he was gone. Actually he would only be gone one night because he would fly out early one morning and fly back the following night. His part of the project would not start until the first of February.
Dr. Greene called in the afternoon to inform me that the latest test for HIV that he had done on Joel still showed no sign of the antibodies and the liver enzymes were now at normal levels.
"Crane, I think we are out of the woods as far as HIV is concerned, but I would like to do another test in six months. I know Joel won't mind not getting a needle stuck in his arm every month. He has been very good about this, much more so than a lot of my patients."
"Thanks, Sam. I know that he'll appreciate that. You and Carol should come over some weekend so that I can introduce you to the newest member of the clan."
"My god Crane, you haven't taken in another kid have you?"
"No, nothing so drastic, we now have a dog," I said laughing. I had to explain the circumstances surrounding Samson becoming a member of the family.
"Crane, one of these days they are going to take you away to the funny farm. You are what, 29 years old, raising five boys and a dog as a single parent and running a multi-million dollar business all at the same time. You are either going to kill yourself or they WILL carry you away to the funny farm."
"Sam, I have never been happier in my life. If all of this becomes too much for me, I'll sell the business to one of the big five consulting firms. A couple of them have already approached me to buy it. They have offered me over three times what I have valued it at. Right now I'm having too much fun to give it up."
After we hung up I spent the rest of the day catching up on paperwork that needed to be completed before I left the office for the weekend. Even so I was able to get home before the school van arrived with the boys, but only by a couple of minutes.
The boys hurried into the house and went straight to Samson's basket to check on him before they gave Hildy and me our usual hugs. When they went to change out of their school clothes I turned to Hildy, "I guess I know where we rate."
"We want to ride our bikes," Joel said as they finished their snacks.
"Sure, just be careful. The workmen will be here for about another half hour, so watch for their trucks and be sure to wear your helmets," I told them as they raced to get their coats.
I decided to go outside and watch them to see how well they were learning to ride the bikes. I noticed that Lenny was having a hard time keeping his helmet on. It kept slipping down over his eyes when he leaned forward.
"Come here Lenny and let me fix your helmet. You can't see with it over your eyes," I said.
I took his helmet off and looked it over and discovered the problem. One of the straps had been twisted and wouldn't let the chinstrap fit correctly. I started to fix the problem when Lenny said loudly, "Ouch."
I looked at him and said, "What's the matter? What happened?"
"Larry hurt himself," he replied.
I looked around and couldn't see Larry. "How do you know that he hurt himself?"
"Don't know, just do."
"Here, your helmet's fixed. Let's go find your brother."
Sure enough as we rounded the workmen's truck, Larry was sitting on the ground holding his left arm and tears were starting to run down his cheeks.
"What's the matter, son? What happened?"
"I fell off my bike," Larry sniffled.
"Did you hurt it bad?"
"Don't think so. I scraped my hand on the ground and banged my elbow, but it hurts."
"Let's see if you can move your arm," I said as I gently flexed his arm. "Does that hurt?"
"A little bit," he said.
"I don't think anything is broken, but we need to get that scrape on your hand cleaned and put some antiseptic on it. Let's go see where Hildy keeps the first aid kit," I said helping Larry to his feet. "Lenny will you put Larry's bike and helmet away, please?"
"Hildy, where do you keep the first aid kit?" I asked as we entered the back door. "Larry scraped up his hand when he fell off his bike."
"Come here, baby, let me look," she said to Larry. "Oh, that doesn't look too bad. Let me get a wash cloth while you take your coat off."
She took Larry to the kitchen sink and ran cool water over the scrape and then carefully took the soapy wash cloth and cleaned the scrape."
"Oh, oh... that stings," Larry said trying to pull his hand away.
"I know honey, but we have to wash the germs off. We don't want it to get infected," she cooed.
What little blood there had been had stopped by the time Hildy finished washing the scrape and rinsing it thoroughly. After she had dried his hand she opened a jar of an antiseptic salve. "Hold still now while I put this on your hand."
"Will it hurt?" Larry asked.
"No, it will just make it feel cool and it'll stop all of the hurt," she said as she applied the salve and then the square Band-Aid patch to cover the scrape.
By this time all the other boys had crowded around to see their brother being ministered to. Satisfied that he was going to live they went to hang up their coats in preparation for supper.
"Did you put your bikes away where they are supposed to be?" I asked.
Chris and TJ looked at each other and then ran back out to put their bikes in the garage. Well, maybe they will remember next time I thought to myself.
As they came back into the family room I said, "Larry, Lenny, come here a minute. I'd like to talk to you."
"Did we do somethin' wrong?" Larry asked.
"No, I just want to talk to you and ask a few questions that have been on my mind for a while. Sit here on the couch beside me," I said indicating a spot on each side of me where I expected them to sit.
I gave each of them a hug before saying, "Lenny, today when Larry got hurt you said that you felt it, is that right?"
"Yeah," he said. "Is that bad?"
"No son, it's not bad. I just wanted to know if you can tell when your twin is hurt or whatever."
"We just feel it sometimes. I don't know how it just happens, don't it Lenny?"
"Can you tell what the other one is thinking?" I asked looking first at one then the other.
"No," they both said.
"I've noticed that you guys sometimes seem to be humming to each other. I have been meaning to ask why you do that."
"When we were little, dad always yelled at us to shut up or hit us when we talked so we hummed to hide our words and he didn't yell at us no more," Larry said.
"Very clever, but I couldn't hear any words when you were humming. How do you hum and talk at the same time?"
"We do the talking real soft. I don't know how, we just do," Lenny added.
"Thanks guys! I love you," I said giving each another hug and a kiss on top of their heads. "Now go play, Hildy will have supper ready in about thirty minutes."
After they were gone I tried to hum and say something at the same time and found that there was no way I could do it. I just shook my head and wondered at the ingenuity of those two.
Before bedtime, I sat down with all of the boys and discussed the sleeping arrangements for Samson. Although what I told them was not met with universal appreciation, they agreed that Samson would sleep in his basket. I did relent and let Joel take the basket into his bedroom at night as long as he promised that Samson would remain in it all night.
Larry's arm was a little sore for the rest of the weekend but it didn't seem to slow him down too much. By Monday the scrape on his hand was sufficiently healed that Hildy didn't put a new bandage on it.
"Remember, guys," I told them as we waited for their ride to school, "JR will be riding the van home with you this evening. I want you to make sure that he gets on the van with you. Okay?"
Joel's "Yes, dad," was echoed by the other four.
I got a call from Eric Olsen's son about mid-morning with the sad news that his dad had died late Sunday afternoon. I had not visited Eric for several weeks with all the things going on with the boys and Christmas. He informed me that the funeral for his father was scheduled for two o'clock Wednesday afternoon at Good Samaritan Chapel in Boerne. After I had given my condolences to him and we hung up, I informed Foster and Carol of Eric's death. They had both worked closely with Eric while he was part owner of the firm.
The rest of the day I spent preparing for my trip to Houston tomorrow. I was not particularly looking forward to the trip. Houston's population had grown so fast in the late 70's and 80's that its infrastructure had not had time to catch up and it seemed like it was in a perpetual traffic jam. I was, however, looking forward to the business that the trip would bring in.
I met most of the afternoon with Amanda Karnes who would be the supervising project manager for the Houston project. She was an extremely capable manager and I had every confidence that she would do an excellent job for us and our client.
We agreed to meet at the airport around half past six tomorrow morning to catch the plane to Houston.
I rushed home to be there when the boys arrived, all six of them. Thank goodness they all piled off the van. Of course, I got the usual hugs from my boys and JR decided he needed a hug too which I gladly gave.
JR was in a grade behind the twins and Chris. He was almost a year younger than Larry and Lenny and about a year and a half younger than Chris. Despite the larger age gap between Chris and JR they seemed to gravitate to each other whenever they played. Chris was still very attached to the twins when JR was not around but acted almost the way Joel acted toward TJ when JR was there.
"JR, how was school today? Did you like it?" I asked.
"It was fun. It's a lot better than that old school. I like Miss Judson. She's nice," he announced.
It wasn't long after the boys had their afternoon snack when Eric showed up to collect JR. This met with much disapproval from the others.
"Come on JR. Dad has to fix your supper," he told his young son. "Get your school books and say goodbye to your friends and let's go.
"Hildy I hope he wasn't any problem. I really appreciate you doing this for me. I don't know what I would have done. I have to think of so many more things being a working single parent."
Later that evening after the boys had finished their homework, which was very light being the first day of the new term, I sat down with all of them to explain my trip to Houston.
"I want you guys to know that I will not be here when you wake up in the morning. I have to leave early so that I can catch a plane to Houston to meet with one of our customers there. I will not be back until after suppertime tomorrow night. I know that you will be good for Hildy until I return.
"Joel, you are going to be the man of the house while I'm gone so you look after your brothers, okay?"
I gave each of them an extra hug and a kiss before I tucked them into bed for the night. This was going to be the longest period of time that I had been away from them since they had come to live with me and I was already regretting having to go.
The trip to Houston went very well from a business stand point. The client was very impressed with the presentation that Amanda gave outlining how the work that they had hired us for was going to be accomplished. My job was to glad-hand the big wigs. I would have loved to manage the project myself but now with my new family that was not possible. I resigned myself to simply overseeing the company's operations.
When the meeting was over, Amanda went to visit her sister who lived in Sugar Land and I went to the Galleria to do some shopping for souvenirs for the boys. We decided to meet at Hobby airport at 5:30 to catch our plane back to San Antonio.
We didn't get back to San Antonio until shortly after seven. By that time I was anxious to get home to see how the boys were. "My god," I thought, "I'm getting to be an old mother hen," I don't think I was ever as happy to see my gate come into view. It was nearly eight o'clock when I punched the remote control to let me in.
I was taking the packages out of the car when I was nearly knocked off my feet by my five precious angels. "Hi guys, did you miss me?"
This was greeted by a chorus of "Yeah!" I could feel TJ's head nodding against my mid section. "I was scared you weren't gonna come back," TJ mumbled.
There were tears in his eyes as I squatted down to look him in the eyes. "You know I would never leave you, but sometimes dad has to go away on business. You're my little TJ and I can't live without you. I love you and I love your brothers," I said picking him up in my arms. "Will the rest of you bring my briefcase and those packages into the house? Don't look in them. They are a surprise."
Hildy met us at the back door as we entered the house. "I swear I thought they were going to wear out the carpet running back and forth to the windows to see if you were coming," she said.
Setting TJ down, I picked up the packages that the others had brought in from the car. "Let's see what I have in here," I withdrew from the large sack six Astro's shirts and ball caps and started handing them out to everyone. "There is one here for JR also. You can give it to him tomorrow when he comes home with you."
From a smaller sack I withdrew a box of See's candy which I handed to Hildy. "It's not much, but I wanted to get you something for looking after the boys for me."
"Oh, thank you. You know my weakness for sweets, but I'll bet I have help with this though," she said.
She was right about the help. As soon as the boys saw the box you could almost see the saliva starting to drip. Hildy opened the two pound box and told the boys that they could each have one piece. There were so many choices in the box it was like making a life and death decision for them to pick which piece they wanted.
"Okay guys, how is the homework coming along?" I asked after they had eaten their candy.
"It's all done," Joel volunteered. "Hildy checked it for us."
"Great! Then I guess it is bath time. Run along now while dad gets out of this monkey suit," I told them as I ushered them toward the bedrooms. I stripped out of my suit and tie and got into my pajama bottoms and then donned what was now becoming my favorite garment, my dressing gown.
As I sat on the couch reading the morning paper that I hadn't gotten the chance this morning I heard a pair of bare feet running down the hall toward the family room. A pajama clad TJ crawled into my lap brushing aside the newspaper.
"My you smell clean," I said as he tucked his head under my chin. "Did Joel shampoo your hair?"
"Uh huh," was the reply. "Don't leave me again, please."
"I wish I could promise you that, little one. Dad has to earn a living so once in a while I will have to go someplace. But I promise you, I will always come back. I promise. Nothing could keep me away from my TJ."
While we were talking the other boys joined us on the couch. "And nothing could keep me away from you all either," I said looking at each one in turn.
It was cold and rainy at the funeral for my former business partner on Wednesday. Although funerals are usually real downers, the eulogy for Eric however was uplifting and positive stressing all the good things in his life. The whole thing turned out to be a celebration of his life and not the mourning of his death. Of course his family and friends were saddened by his death but rejoiced in his life and their being part of it. "What a wonderful way of remembering a friend," I told the minister as we left the chapel.
It seemed like the rest of the week was spent discussing with potential clients what we could and could not do for them. Foster was right in his assessment of expected business for the coming year. We didn't have sufficient staff to do all of the work that was being requested from us. I instructed Foster to begin headhunting. (A process of raiding other company's employees.)
One more week until the hearing for adoption I told myself when I got to work the following Monday. Darcie called and informed me that the hearing was scheduled for 10 AM on the 23rd. I was glad to finally hear what time the hearing was scheduled for so that I could begin to lay out the plan to have everything ready.
I first called Benjamin Cross to let him know the time of the hearing and to see if he would have all the papers ready by that time. He assured me that he had all the necessary filings ready for all five of the boys and didn't expect that there would be any problems that he could foresee.
Next I called Gerald to see that he had everything ready for the trust funds to be put in place on Monday. He said that the final papers were being scrutinized by a tax attorney to make sure that everything was entirely legal and air tight.
I made out lists of reasons why I should be given the rights to adopt all five of the boys despite being a single male. I tried to think of a defense to every point that could be raised against me and by the end of the day I believed that I was prepared for the hearing.
Although the rest of the week seemed to drag on the business kept me busy. Foster and I interviewed five possible additions to the company and made offers to two of them. At least it kept my mind off the upcoming hearing most of the time.
I didn't want to upset the boys unnecessarily so I waited until Saturday evening to tell them about the hearing on Monday. I assembled them all in the family room after supper to tell them what was going to happen.
When we had all settled in I began, "On Monday we have to go see Judge Riley again so you won't be going to school in the morning."
"Why do we have to go see her again?" Joel asked.
"She is going to decide if you guys get to stay here with me permanently, that is if you want to."
"Yeah, but I thought she said we could last time," Joel said as TJ climbed into my lap.
"I want to stay here," TJ said.
"This hearing before Judge Riley is called an adoption hearing. Do you know what adoption means?"
Joel replied, "Yeah, I think so."
The rest of the boys just looked at me and shook their heads.
"If Judge Riley says it is okay, you will become my sons legally. That means that you are my sons forever and ever. No one can ever take you away. This will always be your home. You can even change your names to Johnson if you want to. Would you like to be TJ Johnson?"
"Uh huh," replied TJ giving me a tight squeeze.
"That'd be neat," Chris said. "Everone always asks me why my brothers' last names is different than mine."
"Chris, are you sure that you want me to be your dad forever? What about your real mom and dad? Do you ever think that you might want to live with them?"
"NO! They hated me," he said with tears forming in his eyes. "I tried to be good, but they hated me. They told me they wished I was dead. They did! They did!"
"Come here son," I said making room on my lap for him. "Everyone here loves you and always will."
Joel and the twins joined us on the couch in a group hug trying to soothe the now sobbing Chris. We sat like that for about fifteen minutes before I said, "Hey guys I love having you sit on my lap but dad's legs are going to sleep. How about if we go upstairs to see how the construction is coming along?" I hadn't let them go up there to see because I knew that it would probably be a mess and I didn't want to chance the possibility that they might get hurt.
This suggestion met with immediate approval so we trooped to the back stairs. Everything was pretty much in disarray when we got up there. Some of the side walls had been framed and a ceiling had been installed in about half of the attic. The two dormers that were going in on both side of the large space had been marked out but the roof had not been cut through to allow them to be finished.
Our trip upstairs seemed to take the boys' minds off our earlier discussion about adoption. The rest of the weekend went fairly normally. The boys played their video games, played with Samson, rode their bikes, fed and chased the deer and of course ate what seemed to be huge amounts of food.
When Monday morning finally arrived I was a basket case. I knew we had done everything humanly possible to make the outcome of the hearing be in my favor, I was still nervous. Something kept insinuating doubt in my mind. Even though I knew better I still questioned if there was something that we had overlooked. I just could not put the doubt out of my mind.