While waiting for the CPS case worker to arrive the phone rang. When I answered it, Eric was on the line. He said that JR and he had driven to Houston and wondered if it was alright to stop by and see the boys. I naturally agreed and gave him directions to the apartment complex. Since he had lived in Houston he was familiar with the area where the apartments were located. He said that they would be here in about fifteen minutes since they were just passing the Galleria on the West Loop.
I'm glad that he was used to driving in Houston traffic. There was no way I would drive and use a cell phone with all the crazy drivers on the freeways.
It was nearing eleven o'clock and I wanted to be back at the hospital by around noon to see if Joel had been returned to his room. Too much was going on and I was in danger of losing track of everything when the doorbell rang. When I answered it, a young man who looked to be in his mid twenties was standing there.
"Hello, my name is Chad Dinkens with CPS. Are you the person who call about a Bran LaBeau?" he asked.
"Yes, please come in. I'll go get Bran," I said showing Chad into the family room.
"I would rather talk to you for a moment before I see the boy. I need to gather a little more information if you have any."
"Well, there is not a lot I can tell you. My first contact with Bran was about two and a half hours ago," I stated before reciting everything I knew about him. It only took a couple of minutes to tell the story.
"Is there someplace private where I may talk to Bran?"
"Just a moment," I said going to the kitchen to ask Hildy if Chad could use her apartment to talk to Bran. I knew she wouldn't mind but wanted to ask her anyway.
She agreed so I showed Chad to the other apartment and went to get Bran. The boys were having a great time playing in the pool with Becky Sue when I arrived. I motioned for Bran to come to me.
"Is something the matter?" he asked.
"No, there is a man here from Social Services who would like to talk to you. Here's a towel. Dry off and come with me, please."
He complied and we started to walk the half a block back to the apartment. We were just about to cross the driveway to the apartment when Eric and JR arrived in their car. They pulled into a parking spot and began to get out of the car when I saw that they had another passenger with them causing me to smile. I stopped long enough to greet and briefly introduce Bran to them. Telling them I would be right back I continued to Hildy's apartment with Bran. It only took a minute and I was back to give them a warmer welcome.
I gave JR a big hug and then did the same to Eric.
"What brings you guys to Houston?" I asked.
"A couple of reasons," Eric said. "First we wanted to see Joel if possible and second Samson is pining for his family. He won't eat. All he does is mope around all day long. He lays at JR's feet and moans."
"Come here Samson. Let's go find your boys," I said grabbing hold of his leash. "The boys are at the pool."
We walked back toward the pool with Samson pulling at the leash. We got almost to the gate leading into the pool when the boys spotted us coming. There was a sign saying that animals were not allowed in the pool area but it didn't matter, we never made it that far. Four very wet boys descended on us and were greeted by one very happy dog. I think they were wetter after their greeting than when they got out of the pool from the licking they got from Samson.
After Samson had been properly greeted the boys then turned to JR and Eric each getting enthusiastic greetings. Becky Sue also got a greeting from Samson but not as wet. As my boys and JR got caught up on the four days that they hadn't seen each other Eric and I did the same.
"What's the story with that kid, Bran?" Eric asked.
I briefly explained what little I knew about the situation leaving out the part about Bran saying he was gay. "He is talking to a caseworker from CPS right now. I don't know what the outcome is going to be. He has no place to go. As far as I know there are no close relatives in the state who could take him. I really feel for the kid but I don't think that I could take on any more responsibilities right at the moment. Hey, maybe you should take him," I chuckled.
"Whoa! Let's not get carried away. Sometimes I think JR is too much to handle. But, you know that kid did look vaguely familiar. What is his last name?" he asked.
"I wonder if he is related to the LaBeau who worked for me as a network technician a couple of years back. His first name escapes me at the moment but he was a black man and as I recall fairly short maybe five-six or seven. I had to fire him because of his foul mouth around my clients. Some of them refused to allow him on their sites."
"That sounds a lot like Bran's dad. We only had one very unpleasant meeting but this guy's name was Harry..."
"I'll bet that's him," Eric interrupted. "Now I remember, his name was Harrison but everyone called him Harry. I never met his son. I only saw pictures of his wife and kid on his desk. Did you meet his wife?"
"No, I didn't see a wife when I went to their apartment with Bran and he didn't mention his mother when I talked to him," I said. "I hate to run, but I need to get to the hospital to see if Joel is out of ICU yet."
"Wh... What's the matter? Why is Joel in ICU?" Eric sputtered.
"Oh God, I guess you haven't heard. Joel had an allergic reaction to one of his medicines and went into shock. They told me he might be released back to his room around noon and I need to be there when he get back."
"Ah, I see. Is there anything I can do?"
"I don't think so, Eric. Thanks for asking. Wait, maybe there is. Could you drop me off at the hospital?"
"Sure, no problem. Will we be able to see Joel today?"
"I don't know. Dr. Kerner said he didn't want more than one or two visitors for him at any one time after he got back to the room." Then turning to the boys I said "Come on guys, go jump in the shower and get ready for some lunch. Dad has to go to the hospital soon."
"Can Samson come in the house?" TJ asked.
"Yeah, I guess but only for a little while. We are not supposed to have pets in the apartment."
We all headed for the apartment to get cleaned up for lunch. I just assumed that Eric and JR would stay so I headed to the kitchen to tell Hildy. I then went into the bedroom and changed clothes getting ready to go to the hospital. I could hear the boys laughing and carrying on in the shower as I changed.
I asked Eric where he and JR were going to stay while they were in town when I returned to the family room.
"We stay with my parents when we come to town. It gives JR a chance to be spoiled by his grandparents as if he isn't spoiled enough by me," he laughed tousling JR's hair.
"Aw dad," JR complained, "I just combed my hair."
Just then the doorbell rang. When I answered it Chad was standing there with Bran.
"Mr. Johnson, I wanted to thank you for calling us so that we can help this young man," he said.
"What is going to happen to him?" I asked.
"For the weekend he will be going to a shelter. The first of the week he will be processed into the system and then we will begin a search for a foster family for him. That usually takes from two weeks to a month to locate him a proper family to live with."
All this time Bran was standing there looking down at his shoes not saying anything.
"You mean he may spend up to a month in a so called ‘shelter'? That is not acceptable! From what I've heard about these shelters, all they do is shelter the public from what is going on in there. Eric, do you know any foster homes in the area that might be willing to take an emergency placement?"
"I know of one. Let me make a phone call and I'll check to see if they are agreeable," Eric said and headed to my bedroom to make the call in private.
My four freshly scrubbed boys emerged from their bedroom and joined us in the family room bringing Samson with them.
"Hi Bran," TJ said. "Did you see our dog? His name is Samson."
Bran knelt down as Samson approached and Bran began scratching him behind the ears.
"He likes you," TJ said to Bran.
"I like him too," Bran said. "I never had a dog."
"I have a family that will take emergency placement of Bran," Eric announced as he returned to the room. "They are licensed to have up to six foster children and at the moment they don't have any. Chad, I know that you can make the placement because my sister worked for CPS."
"I'd have to confirm that information. Who are these people and where do they live?"
"They live out in Hedwig Village and their names are Ethel and Alan Levin," Eric said with a smile. "They are my parents."
"I'll need to confirm the information," Chad said as he walked to the phone and made a call to CPS. Within a few minutes he returned. "The information you provided was correct. I will have to inspect the residence before I could leave Bran there but if everything checks out I think it is a viable option for him."
"Good, I'll call mom and dad and let them know you are coming," Eric said.
When Eric came back he gave the address to Chad before he left with Bran. Chris and JR helped Bran take his clothes and things to Chad's car.
"I've got to get to the hospital. You guys stay here and be good for Hildy and Becky Sue. If the doctor says that you can see Joel I'll come back and take you to the hospital. Give me a hug and then go eat your lunch."
Eric and I left for the hospital. Most of our conversation centered on Bran and why a father would kick his son out of the house. Although I didn't really think it was my business to tell Eric that Bran told me he was gay, I told him anyway. I figured that his parents had a right to know in case they had a problem with it. I was relieved when Eric reassured me that they would not be freaked out.
"When I came out to them, they just looked at me and asked me why it had taken me so long to realize it. It seemed they had suspected since I had been in high school," he said.
Eric let me out at the hospital entrance and I made my way to Joel's room as quickly as I could. It was getting very close to noon and I was hoping that I would get there before he did. As it turned out they were wheeling Joel down the hall on a gurney when I rounded the corner of the hallway to his room. I rushed to his room to be there when they lifted him from the gurney to his bed. He looked so pale and fragile that my heart nearly broke.
"How are you feeling son?" I asked as I took hold of his hand and leaned over and kissed his forehead.
"Not too good," he whispered in his raspy voice. "I'm kinda hungry."
Dr. Barrow walked in as we were talking. After we got the formal amenities out of the way I said to him, "Joel says he is hungry. Has he been able to eat anything?"
"I have ordered a tray for him which should be here very shortly. He hasn't had anything since breakfast so I'm sure that he is starved," Barrow chuckled.
Before he had finished his examination of Joel, the lunch tray arrived. It was quickly devoured by Joel. I think he liked the cup of chocolate ice cream the best because it soothed his throat.
While Joel ate I asked Dr. Barrow about visitors and was told that he could have a couple of visitors at a time but they were not to stay too long and tire Joel out. I also asked when he would be able to go outside in his wheelchair. He indicated that if Joel continued to improve from the reaction that he might be able to go out tomorrow afternoon.
I talked with Joel for about an hour after Barrow left. I explained that Eric and JR had come to town and wanted to come see him this afternoon. I also told him about Bran. The more I talked about Bran the sadder Joel's expression became.
"What's going to happen to him, dad?"
"I don't know son. For the time being he is going to be living with Eric's mom and dad. I don't know what is going to happen to him after that. We'll just have to wait and see."
I picked up the phone and called the apartment to let them know that Joel could have visitors and that I would be home shortly to get them. Eric came on the line and suggested that he load everyone into the van and drive it to the hospital thus saving me an unnecessary trip. I thought that was a wonderful idea, it would give me more time to spend with Joel. I told him that I would meet everyone in the lobby in about twenty minutes.
I had to wait several minutes for the boys to arrive. It seemed that the parking garage was nearly full and Eric had to park the van farther away. As soon as I saw them I knew who was going to be first to visit Joel. TJ could barely be restrained.
"Guys, listen to dad. Only two of you can go in at a time so a couple of you will have to stay in the waiting room while the others go in to see Joel. I think that TJ wants to go first, so who wants to go with him?"
Chris was selected to go with TJ. I escorted everyone else to the second floor waiting room and then started toward Joel's room with TJ pulling on my arm. As we approached Joel's door, TJ again released my hand and bolted into the room and climbed over the guardrails on the bed. When Chris and I entered the room he had wrapped himself around Joel and was crying on his shoulder.
"I was so scared when dad said you were really sick," he sobbed. "I want you to come home. I don't want you to be sick."
Chris had approached the bed from the other side and had reached through the guardrails and was patting Joel on his shoulder. He couldn't get close enough to give him a kiss like he would ordinarily have done.
We had only been in the room a couple of minutes when a stern faced nurse walked in. Looking at Joel's chart she announced in her best authoritarian voice, "There are only supposed to be two visitors at a time for this patient. One of you will have to leave. And what is that kid doing in the bed with him? Get him out of there immediately."
"Nurse..." I started looking at her nametag. "Nurse Grantham may I see you in the hall please? You boys stay right there."
Taking her by the elbow, I gently but firmly led her out the door and closed it behind us. "Now, Nurse Grantham, Dr. Barrow told me that I could bring Joel's brothers in to visit him two at a time and that is what I plan on doing. I don't care what the chart says that's what I'm going to do. Their visits do more for his mental well being than all the medicine that this hospital has."
"But..." she sputtered but realized from the tone of my voice that I was determined to have my way. "Okay, but that kid had got to get off the bed."
"We'll see. What difference does it make?"
"It's against hospital policy to have two people in a bed," she said smugly.
"Lighten up a little. What harm is he doing? None! He's comforting his brother in the best way he knows how. It comforts both of them. Dr. Kerner doesn't seem to have a problem with it so why should you? I respect that you are trying to enforce hospital policy, but my only concern is for my son's, all my sons', health and well being. If that means breaking hospital rules then so be it," I said and turned and reentered the room leaving her standing there staring daggers at my back.
"I hope you gave her what for," Karen said as I stepped back into the room. "She's the nastiest nurse on the floor. She's hassled Bill and I for things we've done. I don't think she cares a whit about her patients, just the bloody hospital rules."
"Well, I hope that she won't bother us any more," I said returning to Joel's bedside.
Chris was telling Joel all the things that had happened to them since yesterday afternoon. You would have thought they hadn't seen each other for days if not weeks. At least he was doing all the talking and all Joel had to do was nod or give a grunt at the appropriate times. I let them talk a few more minutes before I suggested that they let the twins come see Joel. Chris was not happy but agreed to leave. TJ was having none of that. He just clung tighter to Joel and the tears started welling up in his eyes.
"Why am I such a softie?" I asked myself and agreed to let TJ stay a little longer. I took Chris to the waiting room and got the twins and led them to the room. I intended to persuade TJ to leave so we wouldn't be violating Dr. Barrow's orders. That didn't work.
"I'll be in deep kimchi if Nurse Grantham comes back but what the heck," I muttered.
I didn't think I spoke loud enough for anyone to hear so it surprised me when Karen said, "If she does, one of the twins can visit Tony."
"Oh... Thanks, I didn't think you could hear that," I said looking up with an embarrassed smile. "I'm sure they want to talk to him too." I was right. Larry and Lenny split their time between the two beds. It gave them both a chance to talk to someone at the same time.
Hildy and Becky Sue were the next two to visit Joel. I stayed in the waiting room while they visited. I didn't want to leave the responsibility for watching my three as well as his son. JR was awfully quiet as we sat in the waiting room. He seemed very uncomfortable. When I asked Eric about it he said the JR had never been in a hospital and really didn't know what to think. JR said it smelled funny.
Last to visit Joel were Eric and JR. While they were visiting Joel I took the other boys to the cafeteria to get them something to snack on. It had been a couple of hours since they had eaten. This time they wanted the frozen yogurt but they wanted chocolate syrup and nuts on it. After I got the boys settled with their snack I left them with Hildy and Becky Sue and fixed a couple more of the sundaes before heading to Joel's room.
I didn't think until I was almost to the room that I had not brought a sundae for JR. As I entered the room I said, "Sorry JR, I didn't bring you a sundae but if you want to go to the cafeteria you can join the other boys. I'm sure your dad will buy you one."
I raised the head of Joel's bed so that he was in a more upright position before I handed TJ and him their treat. JR took one look at the sundaes and began tugging his dad toward the door. I gave Eric directions to the cafeteria as he was being pulled out the door.
Then it hit me. Not only had I not brought anything for JR but I had also neglected to get something for Tony. "Oh, Tony, I'm sorry for my bad manners, I should have brought you some yogurt too. Bill, if you will go get him some I will pay for it."
"Thanks Crane, but we were about ready to take Tony out for a little ride around in his wheelchair. I think it would be a good idea to go to the cafeteria so that he has a chance to talk to your sons again."
I hadn't notice the wheelchair sitting in the corner of the room until Bill mentioned they were going for a ride. Karen pushed the chair up beside the bed and Bill lifted Tony with great tenderness into it.
A half an hour later Bill and Karen were back wheeling Tony who looked absolutely exhausted. "I think we over did it with Tony today. He was having so much fun talking to your boys we didn't notice he was getting so tired," Bill said. "You're blessed, Crane. Your sons are so friendly they treated Tony like he was one of their brothers."
"Thanks Bill, they are good kids," I said before turning to TJ. "I'm going to go get your brothers and then we need to go back to the apartment and let Joel rest also."
TJ shook his head indicating he didn't want to leave. I just nodded my head yes and went to get the others.
I found the rest of the clan still in the cafeteria. At least they weren't still eating. I gathered them up and we headed back to Joel's room. I told the boys that they could go in one at a time to say a quick goodbye to their brother. The rest of us stayed outside the door while each one went in and climbed up on the bottom bar on the guardrail and gave Joel a kiss. Hildy and JR also made the trip. When all were finished I entered the room and told TJ it was time to go.
"No! I don't want to go," he said sticking out his lower lip.
"Yes son, we need to let Joel have some rest. You can come back tomorrow," I said reaching over the guardrail to lift him out of the bed.
"No, I wanta stay with Joel."
Joel looked into TJ's eyes and said in his still raspy voice, "You have to go with dad. I love you TJ, but you have to go."
"Come on, give your brother a hug and a kiss and then lets go. Everyone is waiting," I said lifting TJ out of the bed after he got and gave a hug and kiss.
TJ started crying loudly like his heart was broken as I carried him out of the room to join the rest of the family. He cried all the way to the van and all the way back to the apartment. No one could console him or get him to stop crying.
When we got to the apartment I carried my still sobbing son into the family room and sat down on the couch with him on my lap.
"TJ, I know you miss Joel very much but he has to stay at the hospital to get well. I would like nothing better that to have him come home with us back to Canyon Lake."
"I don't like you! I don't want you to be my daddy no more!" With that he tore out of my arms, ran to his bedroom and slammed the door.
It was as if a knife had been thrust through my heart when I heard those words he uttered. I sat there in total shock as were the other boys who had been sitting around us. For what seemed like an hour I couldn't catch my breath.
I saw Hildy heading for TJ's room, "No Hildy, I'll handle it in my own way. Don't scold him."
Hugging the rest of the boys, I left the apartment and returned to the hospital.
"What's the matter dad?" Joel asked after I had been there a little while. "Is something wrong?"
"Nothing for you to worry about, son. It's just that TJ was so upset about having to go home today. I worry about him."
"Me too. I always tried to be there to protect him and now I can't."
We sat there in silence for quite some time with our own thoughts until Dr. Kerner came in for his evening rounds. He went first to Tony and checked him out before coming to Joel.
"How are you doing this evening Joel?" Dr. Kerner asked.
"A little better, I'm still kinda dizzy when I sit up."
"That's to be expected. Have you been able to eat anything today?"
"Yeah, but my throat still hurts a bunch."
"That should go away in a day or two but I'll prescribe some Tylenol so that you will be able to sleep without pain. Tomorrow you have another treatment. Not the kind that made you sick but one through your catheter. This one will take a good four hours to complete so you'll have to stay in bed all that time. I'll have an orderly come help you take a bath after breakfast and we'll start the treatment right after that. Does that sound okay?"
"Yeah, I guess. Can't I take a bath by myself?"
"Sure, the orderly will just make sure that you don't fall and hurt yourself. You may still be a little dizzy tomorrow morning."
I stayed until Joel's pain relievers were delivered and then gave him a kiss and hug before I left. Walking to the van I remembered that I hadn't eaten since breakfast. I hoped that Hildy had some leftovers so I could get something quick to eat.
The boys were in the shower getting ready for bed when I got back to the apartment. Hildy was able to rustle me up a substantial meal in very short order. She even insisted that I eat the large piece of blueberry pie with a dollop of whip cream on top. I didn't have the strength to argue and really didn't want to.
I went to tuck the boys in bed as always. When I got to TJ he turned his back to me so I kissed the back of his head and told him I loved him. My heart felt like lead in my chest. I struggled to breathe and to keep from crying as I walked quickly to my bedroom. I went through the motions of preparing for bed as though I were a zombie.
Sleep refused to come. I wondered how I was going to resolve the problem of TJ's first defiance of me. I could understand his distress of being separated from Joel. I realized that it was his strong emotional bond to Joel that caused him to act this way but I still couldn't allow him to continue in his defiance.
I considered every course of action that I could think of and rejected all of them. I guess I'll have to have a talk with Dr. Adams if this continues. I looked at the clock, it said ten minutes before three and I hadn't been to sleep. A few minutes later I heard the faint sound of a door being opened. I lay there not making a sound. A moment later I felt someone climb into bed with me and then snuggle up against my back.
Slowly I turned over so that I was facing my snuggler. I was not too surprised when I saw it was TJ.
"Are you okay, son?"
"Um... Do you hate me?"
"Oh no, I could never hate you. I love you so much, even when you're naughty. You are my little TJ."
"I'm sorry, daddy. I'm sorry."
"I know son. Now go to sleep. It's late. I love you," I said kissing his forehead. This time he did not turn away. He was asleep in less than five minutes and I was not far behind.