I didn't know how the boys would react to my not being home to tuck them into bed on Saturday night. When I explained to them that Eric and I were going to the symphony they hesitated for a minute before Chris piped up, “Can JR stay all night with us?"
"I don't know son. We'll have to ask his dad. I think Darcie was going to stay with him," I said. "I'll call Eric and see what he says. Okay?"
At supper I discussed with Hildy what she thought about taking on another boy to take care of while we were out. She didn't seem to have a problem with it all she wondered about was where he would sleep. When I suggested that they use the three beds upstairs in the new large bedroom it was met with enthusiasm from the boys. It would be like camping out.
When I called Eric after supper to suggest JR's stay on Saturday he at first was hesitant saying the Darcie already said that she would stay with him. He told me that he would have to talk to Darcie and get back to me.
About fifteen minutes later he called and said that it was fine with Darcie. She said that Mel and she would come and help out with the boys until they went to bed, then they would go back to Eric's place for the night. That would take some of the responsibility off of Hildy.
I also made a call to Jack to see if he was available for lunch on Monday. "It's been a long time since I bribed you with a lunch," I said.
"I know this is not just out of the goodness of your heart," Jack replied. "You know that I have never turned down one of your bribes, but I would like to know what it is I'm being bribed for this time."
"You'll just have to wait and see. I have a proposition for you that I think you will be interested in. I'll come by and pick you up around noon. See you then," I said as we hung up.
I put the boys to bed and gave them a special hug and kiss since tomorrow night I would miss doing it for the first time since they came to stay with me. I think I was more affected by the thoughts of that than the boys were.
As I was putting them to bed I noticed that Joel had a couple of bruises on his arm. "How did you get those bruises," I asked.
"I don't know. I got a couple on my legs too, see. I guess I just bumped into something," Joel said.
"You're going to have to be more careful. I don't want anyone to think that I have been beating up on you," I laughed.
"No, you wouldn't do that" he said wrapping his arms around my neck and giving me a kiss on the cheek. "You love me, I know that."
I didn't sleep well. There were too many things running through my mind that I needed to take care of tomorrow. The foundation was foremost in my mind but not far behind was the time I would be spending with Eric. It was after two the last time I looked at the clock.
I still got up to swim my laps. I had been very diligent about my efforts to get back into better shape and to try to remove an inch or so from my waistline. I wasn't too surprised when Chris joined me a few minutes after I got in the pool. I was getting used to him swimming with me in the mornings. He didn't always get up in time but at least a couple of times a week he seemed to make it. About ten minutes was his endurance limit. When I noticed him tiring I would suggest that he go jump into the shower and then get the others up for breakfast.
The morning seemed to drag on as I waited for my guests to arrive after lunch. A few minutes before one the gate buzzer sounded. I activated the gate opener after verifying it was one of the people I expected. The second car was close behind. I went outside to greet my guests.
Paul Coulter was the first to step out of his car. "Crane, it's good to see you again. Your call the other day was so cryptic that I have been in a state of anticipation every since."
Darcie and Mel pulled up right behind Paul's car.
After the introductions, I led them into my study. I had Hildy prepare iced tea and some cookies for our meeting. I wanted to put everyone in a good mood for my sales pitch.
"I know that you have been wondering what I had in mind when I asked you to come here today. I have a proposition for you to consider. But first I need to give you some background.
"Paul, you may not know this but I am in the process of selling my consulting company.
"What you and Darcie both don't know is what I intend to do with most of the proceeds from the sale. I have talked with my lawyer and have instructed him to process the paperwork necessary to set up a tax exempt foundation with $10 million from the sale. That foundation is why I asked both of you here today.
"Darcie, I know that you will be looking for a job after you return from your honeymoon. The foundation that I am creating will have as its sole purpose to find suitable parents who are willing to adopt older kids who might not have the opportunity in the normal course of events and to facilitate those adoptions. The foundation will provide ongoing financial support for those couples or individuals who don't have the financial resources. I want you to run the day to day operations. I know that you cared deeply about the kids that you came across working for CPS, that's why I want you to help me make this successful.
"Paul, you probably wonder what you could do for the foundation. You once told me about your experiences with the foster home system. I want you to act as a part time advisor to keep us from becoming a ‘private' CPS.
"Now I know you probably have a lot of questions. Some I can probably answer, some I can't because the plan is just coming together."
"When is all this supposed to happen?" Darcie asked.
"I would like things to get started as soon as possible. I know it will take a while to get everything going, but the foundation will be official August first," I said. "If you agree to serve we will work out your compensation."
"Sounds interesting," Paul mused.
For the next hour I tried to answer all the questions that they had. At the end I think that I had convinced them that what I was proposing was feasible. I told them to think it over and to let me know in the next week or so if they were interested. I got their assurances that they would seriously consider my proposal and let me know.
It was a little after two when my guest left. That gave me enough time to take a swim with the boys before I had to start getting dressed for the dinner and symphony. We had a great time in the pool playing all the games that the boys had made up. Their favorite was still the very first one we had played when they came to live with me king of the hill. Their laughter rang out across the lake. I was sure that people on the south shore could hear their glee as well as mine.
"Okay guys, dad has to go start getting ready to go to the symphony. Why don't you go see if Hildy has a snack for you? But first go rinse off the chlorine and get out of your swimsuits. I think Hildy was going to bake some peanut butter cookies," I said as I lifted TJ up onto the side of the pool.
They ran off for their quick showers and I went for a longer one. I shaved again even though I had shaved before breakfast this morning. It was just after 4:30 when I finished in the bathroom. Eric was not due until around five. I took my freshly dry cleaned tux out of the closet and removed it from the plastic bag. Going to my dresser I retrieved my stockings, tie, handkerchief, shirt studs and cuff links. Hildy had laundered my formal shirt and hung it on a hanger. It was starched to perfection. My patent leather shoes were the last item to join my ensemble.
Seeing that everything was ready, I returned to the dresser and found a pair of bikini briefs that I had not worn in several years and put them on followed by an undershirt. I don't know what possessed me to wear those briefs. I guess I just wanted to be a little daring.
It took me nearly fifteen minutes to dress after everything was laid out. The most time was spent putting in the shirt studs and trying to tie the bowtie. It had been several years since I had tied one and it took some time to remember all the correct twists and turns to make it come out right. Grandpa had taught me how and he always said that you had to hold your mouth just right to tie one. I don't know if I did but I know I made some awful contorted expressions before it was tied right.
"WOW!" Joel said as he looked up and saw me enter the kitchen.
"Crane, you look fantastic," Hildy said as she stepped up to me and straightened my carefully tied tie and brushed my shoulders. I could remember as a kid my mother doing the same for my father when they had to go to a fancy dress affair.
"Yeah, dad, you look pretty," TJ chimed in.
"Thank you, I think," I told TJ as I tousled his hair.
"I never seen you dressed up like that before. That symphony must be a real fancy place," Chris said.
Larry and Lenny just stared at me as if I were a stranger before they said in unison, "Cool, dad!"
Just then the doorbell rang. It had to be Eric and Darcie, but I didn't know how they got through the gate. The boys followed me as I went to let our guests in.
JR was the first to enter when I opened the door. "Hey Mr. Johnson, you and my dad are dressed like twins," he said before being surrounded by my boys and hustled off to the kitchen so they could finish their pillaging of the peanut butter cookies.
"You guys are going to knock them dead in those outfits," Darcie said giving me a hug.
I shook Mel's hand who was next in line. Eric was the last to enter. It was a good thing or I would have stood there with my mouth open unable to say anything to the others. Eric was stunning in his rented tux. I had always thought he was a handsome man before, but tonight dressed in a tux he could easily have been a model or a movie star. I just shook his hand and ushered everyone into the living room. By that time I had recovered my powers of speech.
I told Darcie and Mel to make themselves at home that Hildy was planning to grill hamburgers for the boys for supper and they were going to ‘camp out' in the new upstairs bedroom. Eric and I wouldn't be back until after midnight.
We took the BMW. As we approached the gate it reminded me to ask Eric how they got through it without a code.
"Oh, one of your boys gave JR a code."
We made small talk as we drove to San Antonio. It was never hard to talk to Eric. He had such an easygoing attitude and he easily kept up his end of the conversation. Traffic was not too heavy so we were able to get to the Rodeo Club in plenty of time to park the car and find our table. Dinner was to be served at six so that there would be plenty of time to get to the performance which was to start at 8:30.
We were to be seated with the Dills, with whom we would be sharing a box at the concert, and the Belkins. I remember being introduced to the Belkins some years ago.
As we took our seats at the table a waiter approached and asked if we would like a cocktail or a glass of wine. I looked at the menu card on the table and saw we were having beef as the main entrée so I ordered a bottle of Beaulieu Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Private Reserve 1987. This is an excellent wine just coming into its maturity this year.
Before our wine arrived the Dills showed up. "Rebecca, Jason, it's good to see you again. It's been a couple of years hasn't it?"
"Crane, it's been too long," Rebecca said as she gave me a hug.
I shook hands with Jason and then introduced Eric. "I'd like to introduce Eric Levin. Eric, this is Rebecca and Jason Dill. Eric works with me and is a single father like I am."
I saw the strange look that Rebecca gave me but she hesitated to say anything until after they had finished greeting Eric.
"Now, Crane, what is this single father thing you mentioned? I never heard about you getting married."
"Rebecca it is a long story and some day I'll have to tell you the whole thing. The short version is that I adopted five boys between the ages of six and twelve. Four of them are biological brothers. The other one is not. They all came from abusive homes. They have been in my care for going on nine months."
"How in the world do you manage to take care of them and work at the same time," she asked.
"I have a wonderful woman that the boys have adopted as their grandmother. She lives with us and provides the feminine touch the boys need. She is an amazing woman. I could not do this without her."
"That's great, Crane. Eric, how long have you been in San Antonio?" Rebecca asked.
"I've been here about six months. I used to live in Houston before my divorce. My son and I moved here to take a job with Crane's consulting company. Our sons became good friends immediately," he answered. "They go to the same school."
The waiter arrived with our wine at that point. He offered a taste to me before he poured Eric a glass. It was superb. It would definitely complement our meal. The Dills decided to order the same wine.
The Belkins arrived just as the waiter was about to leave. He took their wine order and left. After the introductions were made all around we settled down to pleasant dinner conversation. Jerry and Patricia Belkin were an older couple in their mid sixties but they were delightful to talk to. The six of us had a very enjoyable dinner. The company was great and the meal was outstanding. From the Caesar salad prepared at our table side to the crème brûlée, everything was absolutely delicious. I vowed that I would not wait as long as I had to visit the Rodeo Club again.
Eric was a hit with both couples. His witty conversation throughout the meal kept everyone in great spirits. I was in awe and admiration with him and his easy manner. Often during his banter he would place his hand on my forearm as if making a point. I don't know if it was intentional but it certainly made a point with me.
I was sorry when the meal was over and we had to leave for the symphony hall. Eric and I thanked the Belkins for the delightful company telling the Dills we would see them at the symphony and departed for our car.
"Crane," Eric said squeezing my arm as we approached the car in the parking garage, "I don't know how the rest of the evening will go, but I have so thoroughly enjoyed myself. It has been a long time since I have spent a meal in such gracious and hospitable company. I feel like I have known these people all my life. Thank you."
As we got into the car I said, "The Dills and Belkins are good people. They are not your typical rednecks that you sometimes find in the upper social strata. That doesn't mean that they would understand or approve of a relationship between the two of us. Caution is the best course of action."
"Of course, Crane, I would never do anything to jeopardize your standing in the community."
We got to the symphony in plenty of time to find our box and get settled before the Dills arrived. Again the conversation among the four of us was light and non-controversial. Soon the curtain came up and the program began.
I had not paid that much attention to what was going to be performed until I looked at the program as the orchestra began to play. I was pleasantly surprised that the first part of the program consisted of music from Bizet's opera "Carmen." The second part after intermission was selections by Tchaikovsky. "Carmen" was my favorite opera and my favorite music from it was from Suite #1 called "Les Toreadors." If it didn't get your blood stirring I don't know what would.
At intermission we had a glass of champagne with the Dills. It wasn't good champagne but the good thing about it was it didn't make you want to have more than one glass. It gave you a reason to stay sober so you could drive home safely.
The music was great. The orchestra played with feeling and technical accuracy. "Les Toreadors" was played with the passion that I think Bizet would have applauded. I remember how much I used to enjoy coming to hear the music, but how much I hated being there alone. With Eric there beside me I enjoyed the experience so much more. I almost hated to see it come to an end.
We said our goodbyes to the Dills, thanked them for making the evening so enjoyable and headed for the car. As we settled into the car Eric surprised me by leaning over and kissing me on the cheek.
"Crane, I can't remember when I have enjoyed myself more. Thank you for making all of this possible."
"I must say it has been one of the most enjoyable, if not the most enjoyable, times I have spent. The Dills and Belkins added to my enjoyment, but being with you made it special," I said as I took his hand and squeezed it. I decided I had better get started home before I got too maudlin.
It was almost midnight before we got out of the city and headed for home. Our conversation on the way home was kept to safe topics. Neither one of us knew exactly how to proceed. I drove Eric to his house since Mel and Darcie had driven him to my place earlier.
When we arrived there was an uncomfortable silence. Neither one of us knew what to say. "I'll come and get JR in the morning. I hope he wasn't any trouble," Eric said trying to make conversation.
"Oh, I'm sure he was fine. The boys should be up and have breakfast by nine," I said.
Eric leaned toward me. I leaned toward him. It just seemed natural that our lips met. His kiss was soft and at the same time intense. I responded instinctively to the kiss.
"Thanks for a great time tonight," Eric said huskily after we broke apart. "I think I had better go."
"You are very welcome and yes, I think I had better go too. I'll see you in the morning."
As I drove the few miles back to my house I kept wondering why I hadn't invited Eric to spend the night with me. I knew part of the answer. I wasn't ready to admit to myself that I was gay and I wasn't ready to try to explain it to the boys.
I set the house alarm and went into my bedroom to change out of my clothes. When I turned on the light I noticed a lump in my bed that I knew was TJ. I turned off the light and went into my bathroom and turned on the light. I quickly slipped out of my clothes and into my pajama bottoms before walking over to the bed and sliding quietly under the covers trying not to wake him up.
"Hi, dad," TJ said sleepily as he slid over to me. "I missed you."
"I missed tucking you in also," I said and kissed his forehead. "Now go to sleep, it's late."
He turned over and curled up into a ball like he always did when he slept and was asleep before I had a chance to pull up the covers. Unfortunately sleep did not come to me as quickly. I mulled the events of the evening over in my mind and was very pleased with all that happened. It wasn't a night of wild sexual ecstasy, but a very comfortable night for starting a lasting relationship based on friendship, mutual respect and physical attraction.
I was awakened the next morning by a pair of soft lips kissing my cheek. "Good morning, little one. Did you sleep well?" I asked.
"Yeah, when you came home. I was ‘fraid you wouldn't come home," TJ said as he wrapped his arms around my neck.
"There's no way I would ever leave my TJ," I said rubbing my nose against his. "Did you have fun playing with JR last night?"
"He's lotsa fun. Hildy let us stay up late and play and everthing."
"That's great. Why don't you go see if your brothers are awake? I'll bet that Hildy will have breakfast ready soon. Eric is going to come get JR after breakfast."
TJ hopped out of bed and went to seek out his brothers while I jumped into the shower for a quick one. I decided I would give myself a break from swimming laps this morning. I justified it by reminding myself how good I had been for the last few weeks and besides my tux had not been too tight around the waist last night.
The boys were just coming out of their bedrooms after washing up and putting on some clothes when I opened my bedroom door. This was cause for all of them to get their morning hugs and that included JR.
"Good morning JR. Did you have a good time last night?"
"Yes sir, we did lots of neat stuff. I wish I had a brother so I could sleep with him. Chris said I could be his pretend brother."
Hildy must have been up early cooking. She had fixed a mountain of scrambled eggs, sausages, hash brown potatoes, biscuits with jelly, orange juice and milk. I grabbed a cup of coffee while the boys served themselves. I just hoped that there would be some left by the time everything had been passed. It is amazing the amount of food that one additional boy can make disappear.
After breakfast I helped Hildy tidy up the kitchen. "How were the boys last night? Did they behave themselves?" I asked her.
"They were very well behaved. They seem to really enjoy JR's company. They had so much fun, laughing and playing and being rowdy without being destructive. Darcie and Mel were great to have here too. They are going to be fantastic parents someday. You could see how much Mel enjoyed being around all of them. He acted like he was one of them sometimes," she chuckled.
"TJ said they got to stay up late. What time did you finally get them to bed?"
"It was about a quarter to ten before they got into bed, but it was probably after ten before they really got settled down and to sleep."
"I found TJ in my bed when I got home around 1:30. He is still a little insecure about me leaving him no matter how many times I have told him I wouldn't."
"Yes, he puts up a brave little front most of the time, but underneath he is still afraid that he will lose you like he lost his mom."
When the front door bell chimed I knew that it had to be Eric. I shook his hand and ushered him into the kitchen where I offered him a cup of coffee. He declined but went to Hildy and gave her a big hug.
"Thanks for taking care of my little rascal. I hope he wasn't any problem."
"He was no problem at all. He had a ball playing with the others. You may have a hard time getting him to go home. He said something about wanting a brother..." she said with an evil grin on her face.
"I don't see that in the cards," Eric responded.
They stayed about another hour before Eric was able to convince JR it was time to go. Reluctantly JR agreed but only after he got a promise from his dad that he could come back again sometime.
Everyone was tired and didn't put up a fuss when I suggested that they get their showers taken and get ready for bed about eight o'clock. It was just barely dusk when I tucked the last one in bed. I think they were all asleep before I left their bedrooms.
I didn't skip swimming my laps Monday morning. Chris didn't join me. All the boys were still sleeping when I finished my exercise. After I finished showering and getting dressed I went in and woke them up. They resisted getting up until I told them that Hildy had fixed pancakes and bacon for breakfast. Food is a powerful motivating factor for growing boys.
Becky Sue arrived just as I was leaving for work. She told me she was going to give the boys another swimming lesson this morning since it was supposed to be so nice out.
Carlos called me sometime after I got to work and wanted some clarification on a couple of points about the foundation but indicated that everything was going well in his efforts to get it set up and running. I spent the rest of the morning taking care of the seemingly endless paperwork required to run a business. Foster was visiting one of our client sites in Houston so Carol and I were handling his duties.
I did get away in time to pick up Jack for lunch. I drove to a little hole in the wall place that I knew served some of the best chicken fried steaks in San Antonio.
"Oh I see you are really going all out to bribe me," Jack said sarcastically.
"Just you wait. If you don't like the food here, I'll bribe you with another lunch at a place of your choice tomorrow," I told him.
The place was definitely unimpressive when you walked in. It was impeccably clean but the furniture was old and not much of it matched. I led Jack to an empty table near the wall trying to get a little privacy so that I could talk to him. We had barely taken our seats when a very large older woman approached and threw her arms around me.
"Crane, you naughty boy, you haven't been here in months. Don't you like momma's food?" she chided me.
"Momma Sara, I have been so busy and haven't been able to get here. Excuse me I'd like to introduce my friend Jack. Jack this is Momma Sara. Careful Momma he's a cop," I laughed.
I went on to explain to Jack that I had eaten almost every day in Momma Sara's place for nearly a year while I did a project for a company down the street. I was a young kid just out of college and she sort of took me under her wing.
Momma Sara left without taking our order. I knew what she was doing but Jack wondered what was going on. He hadn't yet seen a menu so he didn't know what he wanted to order.
While we waited I started to tell Jack about the foundation that I was going to set up. He thought it was a wonderful idea but wasn't sure why I was telling him so much about it so I got to the point.
"I want to use you to vet the people that the foundation proposes to assist. I haven't worked out how to do it yet but I need someone with police connections I'm sure. If you have any ideas I would like to hear them."
"Are you willing to pay for this service or is this a volunteer effort on my part?" Jack asked.
"We will definitely pay. I just don't know how we would go about it. Would I pay the police department or can I pay you?"
"Look Crane, I have been talking with my wife about setting up my own private investigation operation. If your foundation is willing to pay, you could be my first client. I have become more and more frustrated with the political in-fighting in the department."
"Jack, I hate to see you give up your pension but that's your decision. The foundation will pay you a retainer of $50,000 plus any out of pocket expenses. I want you to think it over before you give me your answer. Talk it over with your wife. The foundation will not be in operation until the first of August and it will take us some time to get up and running."
Momma Sara arrived with two large platters holding her mouth watering chicken fried steaks, mashed potatoes with cream gravy and corn. One of her waiters was right behind her carrying a tray with freshly baked hot rolls, tall glasses of iced tea and a bowl full of lemon wedges.
"Wow," Jack said. "If I eat all of this I'll have to find a place to take a nap this afternoon."
It was a struggle but we ate it all. That made Momma Sara very happy. She gave both Jack and me a big hug when we got up to leave. Believe me when Momma Sara hugs you, you know you have been hugged.
I dropped Jack off at police headquarters and returned to the office. Carol greeted me as I entered.
"Dr. Greene called while you were out and wants you to call him back as soon as possible. There are a couple of other calls but they can wait. If Foster were here he could take care of them. I think they are about some equipment we are providing to one of the clients under contract."
I sat down in my chair, picked up the phone and dialed Sam. I got his receptionist but she said that the doctor would like to speak to me and put me on hold. It seemed like forever but it was probably only a couple of minutes before Sam came on the line.
"Crane, I'm glad that you called. Could you come by this afternoon sometime? I would like to discuss the results of the physicals that I gave the boys last week."
"Sure, but couldn't you just tell me over the phone?"
"I would really like for you to come to the office. Can you make it at 3:30?"
"I'll be there, Sam."
This was not like Sam. All the other times that I had taken Joel to him for the AIDS tests he always just gave me the results over the phone. The more I thought about it the more worried I became.