I poured myself a cup of coffee and sat down at the kitchen table. Hildy was busy fixing the breakfast that the boys would be enjoying shortly. It had now been three months since I had adopted the boys. I had never been happier in my life. I now had a sense of purpose for my life. Hildy also seem to be happy with her new life as the boys surrogate grandmother.
"Hildy, we need to talk about how we are going to take care of the boys this summer," I said. "They finish their school year the middle of May. That is only 16 days away. I think that we are going to need some help. I can't expect you to be their sole caregiver while I'm at work."
"They are a handful," she chuckled. "But you are right. I'm not as young as I used to be and I don't think that I can watch them and do all the housework and cooking at the same time."
"Well, perhaps we could find a nanny to help out during the summer. Maybe not a real nanny but someone who could help you out and still take on part of the responsibility of the boys," I said. "There might be a college student home for the summer who would be able to help out. Do you know of any of your friends who have college kids that might be interested? I think that Eric is going to have the same problem with JR."
"I'll ask my girl friend Janice. She has two daughters going to UT (University of Texas). Both of them were studying to be teachers the last I knew. They might be interested in earning some money and get some first hand experience working with kids," Hildy said thoughtfully. "That might solve both yours and Eric's problem. I'll call Janice right after we get the boys off to school."
I had just settled down with the morning newspaper when TJ crawled up on my lap and hugged my neck. "My, you are up early, little one," I said kissing the top of his head.
"Uh-huh, I couldn't sleep," he mumbled into my chest. "My tummy said it was time for breakfast."
Giving him a squeeze I said, "Why don't you go wash your hands and face while I wake up your brothers. By that time Hildy will have your breakfast ready. How does that sound?"
"Okay," he said slipping down off my lap and then padded off to the bathroom.
As I entered Joel's bedroom, Samson lifted his head over the side of his basket and looked at me making sure I was a friend before he hopped out and stood beside the bed looking at Joel. I gently shook Joel and Samson helped by licking him on the ear. That woke him up in a hurry. The first thing that Joel did was to hug Samson.
"Good morning, boy," he said. "Oh, hi dad."
"Get washed up, Hildy has breakfast almost ready," I said shaking my head knowing that I had taken second billing to a dog.
Samson followed me into the twins' and Chris' bedroom to make sure that I got them awake also. They jumped out of bed at the mention of breakfast.
It is amazing how much that Samson has changed since Joel first found him. His leg has healed nicely although he does still favor it. The treatment to rid him of heart worms was a very bad time for the boys. The treatment almost proved fatal for him. It involved a medicine which contained arsenic and it made him very sick for about two weeks before he began to recover. His coat now shows no sign of the mange that he had when we found him. It has a normal healthy shine. He is just a normal healthy mutt. With the money I spent on his veterinary bills I could have bought an AKA registered prize winning champion show dog. However, I don't think the boys would have had as close an attachment as they do to Samson. I must admit that the mutt had grown on me too.
He is still very much Joel's dog. He loves all the boys but you can tell that there is a special bond between him and Joel.
After breakfast I walked the boys down the lane for them to catch their school van. Giving each of them a hug and a reminder to behave themselves at school they hopped on the van and were off. The weather was so nice I almost decided to play hooky and stay home from work. April and May are two of the best weather months in south central Texas. It is not too hot and it never gets cold. It is ideal for outdoor activities. Reluctantly I gathered my stuff together and went to work.
"Happy May Day, boss," Carol said as I entered the office. "Here are a couple of contracts that you need to look over and there was a call from William Weller again. He would like for you to call him back. He said it was important."
"I'll bet I know what he wants. He has been bugging me for a couple of months," I told her. "When Foster comes in have him see me. I would like to talk to both of you."
I had just finished reviewing the contracts that Carol had given me when she told me that Foster had arrived and would be in as soon as he got a cup of coffee. The contracts would stretch our already stretched resources to the limit or beyond, but would bring in a considerable amount of revenue. I always hated to turn down consulting work but if Foster couldn't come up with some more consultants I didn't see how we could take on the additional work.
"'Morning, Crane," Foster said cheerily as he walked into the office with his big mug of coffee that he was famous for carrying with him at all times. "I see you have the Halverson and Becket proposals. They could keep up to 12 to15 staff busy for the next year and a half."
"Yeah, I see. But do we have the staff to make it work? I thought from your last staff report that everyone was already pretty much committed to existing projects."
"That's true they are. I think that I have a way of getting the staffing that we need to do both of the projects. There is a small consulting firm in Austin that is having trouble staying afloat. I know Jim Carson, the owner, and have talked to him about either subcontracting some work to him or absorbing his staff into our company. I think he would prefer to subcontract, but my preference would be to hire his staff. That way we have much more control over how the projects are done. Jim is a damn good project manager and I am confident that the people that he has recruited are first rate."
"Why don't you contact him and set up an appointment when we could meet to discuss things with him."
Just then Carol walked in. "Sorry I'm late. That phone has not stopped ringing since I walked in this morning."
"The way the business is growing we should probably think about getting you some help. I know that the tech assistants can help out once in a while so that you can at least get away for a bit, but that still doesn't give you much time for us. Foster and I can keep you busy just doing our stuff let alone doing all the things the consultants need you to do. Anyway, think about it.
"The reason I wanted to talk to both of you is related to that William Weller who wants me to call him back. He is a senior partner from A***. They want to buy CCC. They have made a very attractive preliminary offer for the company. In fact it is much more than what we have valued the company at. Most of that is of course for the ‘goodwill'. They are very much aware of our reputation for quality work and want to cash in on it by buying us out rather than starting up their own office here. What is your reaction?"
There was a brief silence before Foster said, "What would happen to all the people? What about Carol and I?"
"I have not discussed any specifics with him. If I should decide to sell, I would make sure that all of the staff be given the option of remaining for a period of not less than one year. The only reason that I am considering the offer is that I'm finding it more and more difficult running the business and taking care of five active growing boys. With summer coming up, the boys will need even more of my attention. They need me to be with them. They need a full time parent."
"When would all of this happen?" Carol asked.
"The timing of any buyout has not been discussed. We need to carry on as if it is not going to happen. We have to take care of business and give our clients the best that we have to offer. I have not made a final determination to sell and you will be the first to know as soon as any decision has been made. Also, I would appreciate it if the rest of the staff does not hear of this until the decision is made. I thought the two of you should know since I depend so heavily on you."
"Thanks, Crane," Foster said. "I know that it is your decision alone, but for what it is worth I would prefer to keep working for you. This business has flourished in the last year or so and I think it has a lot to do with the professionalism and dedication to the clients that has been characteristic of your attitude. It is infectious with the staff."
I called Weller after Foster and Carol went back to their work and agreed to meet with him next Monday. He was going to fly in from London just for our meeting. "I guess these guys are really serious about the buyout if they are willing to spend a couple thousand or so to fly in just for few hour meeting," I thought out loud.
The rest of the day was spent with the minutia that occupies most of a manager's time that those aspiring to the job never think about. I was ready when it came time to leave in order to be home when the boys got off the school van.
The van was a little late in arriving so I had time to park the BMW and walk down to the gate to welcome the boys. The van arrived a couple of minutes after I got there. TJ was the first off the van followed by the twins and JR with Chris bringing up the rear. When the driver started closing the door, I panicked. Joel had not gotten off the van.
"Where's Joel?" I asked looking at the other boys.
"He went home with John," TJ said.
"Why did he do that?"
"I don't know," TJ replied as he started up the lane to the house.
"He said he had some homework that John and him had to do," Lenny volunteered.
I was a little upset as I walked back up to the house. The first thing that I did when I got there was to ask Hildy if Joel had told her he was going to John's house after school. When she said that he had not told her, I really became upset. This is the first time any of the boys had done anything that I thought I might need to punish them for. What would be the appropriate punishment I wondered? I guess it is time to sharpen the parenting skills.
I tried to be calm as I call the Gordinier house. "Pauline, this is Crane Johnson. I understand that Joel is there. May I speak to him please?"
"Oh, hello Crane," Pauline answered. "Yes, Joel is here. He and John are doing some homework they brought home from school. Just a minute and I'll get him."
"Hi, dad," Joel said cheerfully.
"Joel, I'm a little disappointed that you didn't let us know that you were going to go home with John tonight. I was worried about you when you didn't get off the van."
"I'm sorry, dad. I guess I forgot to call you. Can you come get me about six o'clock? We'll be done with our homework by then. Thanks, dad, I love you. Bye."
He hung up before I could even say goodbye to him. This was not like Joel. Something strange was going on.
I got to the Gordinier's house a couple of minutes before six. As I rang the doorbell, I had not decided what I was going to do with Joel let alone what I was going to say to him. Bruce answered the door.
"Come in Crane. It has been a while since you've been here. It's good to see you again. Have a seat. I'll tell Pauline that you're here."
"I really don't have a lot of time, Bruce. I just came to pick up Joel. Hildy will have supper ready by the time we get back."
"Okay then, I'll go tell Joel to get his things together."
Pauline came into the living room where I was and we chatted for a few minutes before Joel came in carrying his school books, stuffing them into his back pack.
"Hi, dad," he said giving me a hug.
"Are you ready to go? Do you have everything?"
Joel hugged Bruce and then Pauline before he and John dashed out the front door giggling like a couple of school girls. He had dumped his back pack in the back of the BMW by the time I had said goodbye to everyone. John gave him a quick hug before he saw me and turned a bright red.
I wrapped my arms around John, giving him a hug also. "It's alright, son."
"Thanks, Mr. Johnson," he said into my chest returning my hug.
As we drove home I gently scolded Joel for not calling either Hildy or me to let us know what he was going to do. I tried to get across to him that we were worried about him and that if anything happened to him we would be devastated.
"I'm really sorry, dad," he said quietly. "I won't do it again."
When I looked over at him I could see a tear running down his cheek but strangely enough he had a funny little smile on his lips.
I still hadn't decided on what form of punishment that made sense for his transgression when I punched the remote to open the gate to the property. Something was going on but I couldn't put my finger on it. As we rounded the curve in the lane leading up to the house I saw eight or ten cars parked on the drive.
Parking the car in the garage, I again looked over at Joel who was unbuckling his seat belt.
"Happy birthday, dad," he said and kissed me on the cheek.
"You little stinker, you did this on purpose didn't you?"
"Yeah, we fooled you," he giggled as he hopped out of the car grabbing his books.
I had no more than stepped inside the back door when I had my arms full of TJ and surrounded by the other three in a group hug.
"Happy birthday, daddy," TJ said in my ear. "Hildy said I did a good job ‘cause I didn't tell you."
"You sure did," I said setting him down. "You all fooled me."
The family room was crowded with people including Dr. Sam and his wife Carol, Eric and JR, Darcie and her friend who I would later find out was Mel and Foster and Carol from the office. Jack and his wife and three kids were also here. Harold Nicholas and his son Joey were here. Bruce and Pauline had evidently followed us because they and their kids came in the front door shortly after I had greeted everyone.
I don't know where Hildy had hidden all of the food that was now spread out on the kitchen table and counter tops. I had seen no evidence of it when I left to pick up Joel.
"Hildy, I know this was all of your doing. I didn't think anyone knew when my birthday was," I said as I gave her a hug and a peck on the cheek. "Thanks."
"Actually, it was Joel's idea to invite everyone and he wanted to make it a surprise. I hope you weren't too hard on him for not calling you about going to John's tonight after school. That was the only way I thought that we could get you away from the house while everyone arrived. Bruce and Pauline were in on it too."
It turned out that there were fifteen kids and fourteen adults including Hildy and me. I think that there was enough food to feed twice that number. Everyone had brought some kind of dish for the party, but I think that Hildy had prepared the majority of it. There were salads and casseroles, relishes and chips, meats and gravies, potatoes and all kinds of vegetables, breads and rolls but I didn't see any desserts.
We encouraged the kids to take their plates outside to save wear and tear on the carpets. Sam had brought some folding chairs and tables so there was plenty of room for all of them to sit. Hildy saw to it that they all had enough to eat and drink before she filled her own plate. The dining room table was meant to seat twelve but we were able to get all fourteen adults around it by squeezing everyone together. There was hardly a need for a place for Hildy and Carol Greene. They were up seeing to the kids more than they were seeing to their own meals. Carol was loving it, she didn't get to see her grandchildren very often and to her a house full of kids was heaven.
Darcie sat next to me and told me about Mel. They had been dating for several months. He was working for Southwestern Bell as a manager in their IT department. It sounded like it was getting to be serious between them. You could tell by the way they looked at each other.
"Crane, I want you to know that I submitted my resignation to my boss at CPS today," Darcie announced.
"Oh, really? Why?" I asked.
"I can't be part of an organization that cares so little for the kids that they are supposed to protect. The final straw that broke the camel's back came this past weekend. There was a four year old boy who was starved to death. The family had been reported to CPS three times in the last twelve months. The first two times the case worker investigated, but never even saw the child in question. The first report to CPS was that the boy had been beaten and had two black eyes. It was also reported that the boy was forced to drink out of the toilet to quench his thirst. The case worker reported that the accusations were unfounded. The third report of abuse was not even investigated and the people reporting the incident were informed by letter from the regional director's office to the effect that they should keep their noses out of it that CPS knew what they were doing.
"The boy died Sunday in the hospital after being taken there when he lapsed into a coma. He weighed less than sixteen pounds when he died. We have since received a report that he had his mouth taped shut with duct tape and also that his hands were taped to his crib to keep him from getting out of bed. He had been forced to lie in his bed for so long that he had developed bed sores. The only good thing, if you can call it that which came out of this, was the two other children were taken from the house and placed in foster care."
There were tears in my eyes to match the ones in Darcie's eyes when she finished telling the story. "I cannot understand how anyone, let alone a parent, could cause a child to be harmed. It is just unthinkable," I said.
Her story put a damper on the party for a while but the sound of the kids laughing and having fun outside soon brought things back to normal. It seemed like there was a steady stream of them trooping in to get more food. Much as they tried the supply of food did not entirely disappear. The adults did not do all that badly when it came to eating either. I know I was stuffed by the time I finished.
Just when I thought I could not eat another bite, Hildy literally wheeled out on a cart a very large, two layer, rectangular chocolate frosted cake with thirty lighted candles. As she did the assembled crowd began singing Happy Birthday.
"Make a wish daddy," TJ said.
"Yeah, make a wish," echoed Joel.
"I don't know what I could wish for. I have almost everything a man could want, five wonderful boys that I can call my sons and friends that fill my life with joy," I said and then tried to blow out the candles. TJ helped. I did have one wish that I did not share with the assembled crowd.
Hildy cut the cake and gave me the first piece. She then cut the children their pieces and Carol Greene helped by adding ice cream to theirs. Even after cutting twenty-nine generous pieces of cake there was still a third of it remaining.
Joel sat his cake plate down and stood up as if to make a speech. "Dad, we told everyone not to bring you presents. Is that alright?" Without waiting for my answer he went on, "But we wanted to give you something."
With that he stepped into my study and brought out a wrapped package and handed it to me. My hands were trembling as I carefully removed the wrappings to find a box about a foot long, ten inches wide and an inch or so thick. As I started to remove the lid of the box I was surrounded by all five of my angels. When the lid came off I found a professionally taken, beautifully framed photograph of the five boys posed on the new staircase.
I couldn't find my voice for a minute.
"Don't you like it?" TJ asked looking into my eyes which were now filled with tears.
"It is the best present I have ever received," I whispered. "When did you get this taken?"
"When you went to Dallas a couple of weeks ago, Hildy had the man come and take the picture," Joel answered.
"And you guys kept this a secret that long? I can hardly believe that," I said giving TJ a squeeze. "Thank you so much, I will treasure this forever."
I got up and gave each of the boys a hug and a kiss on top of their head before they went back to eating their cake and ice cream. I passed the photograph around the room for all to see.
I think that TJ was glad when everyone started going home. Jack's little girl Sara followed him around like a puppy dog again. The same cannot be said for Larry and Lenny. They spent most of the evening with Linda and Cassie Gordinier. It looks like I might have to have ‘that talk' with them or at least begin their education into the facts of life. Samson was the only member of the family who was absent. The crowd of people was too much for him. He hid in the bedroom until almost everyone was gone before he poked his head around the corner.
Because it was a school night our guests with children started leaving around eight o'clock. Carol Greene insisted on helping Hildy clean up and get everything put away. Sam, Eric and I stood out on the patio talking while my boys and JR played. Carol came out and joined us for a few minutes after finishing with Hildy. It wasn't long before she gave me a hug and wished me a happy birthday and then she and Sam left leaving Eric and me standing there. About fifteen minutes later Eric called JR and told him it was time to go home. JR started to complain, but his dad gave him the look that said ‘don't even think about it'. JR turned to the other boys and gave them all a hug before rushing to me for a hug.
The boys went to their rooms to get their baths started while I went to talk to Hildy.
"Thanks for all the work that you did to get the party organized. I don't know how you got the boys to keep the secret as long as they did," I said as I gave this large woman a squeeze.
"It was my pleasure. The boys helped out a lot and so did everyone else. Crane, you have some very loyal friends who hold you in high regard," she said. "What do you think the odds are that the boys will want another piece of cake before the go to bed?"
"I think the odds are very high," I said laughing.
"I think that I know what your secret wish was," Hildy said looking me straight in the eyes. as I sat down in a kitchen chair.
"What?" I asked as I sat down in a kitchen chair.
"It was probably that you wished you had someone nearer your own age you could share your life with. Am I right?"
"Crane, I have known you and worked for you for, what, nearly seven years. In all that time I have seen you throw yourself into your work and for the last six or seven months into saving these boys from the clutches of CPS. You have never considered your own needs. It has always been some thing or some one. I may be stepping over the line as an employee..."
"Oh, Hildy, you are much more than an employee. You are a part of this family. You should know that."
"I know that I act that way sometimes and I'm glad that you don't mind. Getting back to what I was saying, there is someone who is very interested in becoming closer to you. And from what I can tell you are also interested in reciprocating. I can't say that it would be my preference, but more than anything I want to see you and the boys happy."
"Am I really that obvious?"
"No, but I know you pretty well and I guess I have always been able to read people."
"Daddy, did you like your party?" TJ asked as he jumped into my lap.
"It was the best party I ever had and do you know why?"
"'Cause the cake was so good?"
"No, the cake was great, but it was because you and your brothers are my sons."
The boys did have another piece of cake like Hildy and I thought they would.
"Now I know one little boy who is going to be a tired little boy if he doesn't get to bed soon," I said picking TJ up and started toward his room.
He put his arms around my neck and giggled softly into my shoulder. I carried him back to his room and sat him down on his bed. Joel was just leading Samson back into the bedroom after taking him out for him to do his business before settling down for the night.
I sat down on the bed and reached over to give Joel a hug and his kiss. "Thank you guys for the surprise party. I will never forget it. And the photograph I will treasure as long as I live." I tucked them in after receive a hug and a kiss on the cheek from each of them.
The scene was repeated in the other boys' bedroom. This time I received three very wet kisses and a group hug from the three of them. "Goodnight my angels sleep tight. I love you."
The bed beckoned me as I buttoned up the house for the night even though it was still early. It was not even 9:30 when I slipped under the covers.
To Be Continued.
The incident that Darcie described to Crane concerning the four year old who was starved to death while CPS did nothing was based on an actual occurance in San Antonio. The really tragic part of it was the boy died on Christmas Day. If you would like to read newspaper reports of that incident follow this link: