I awoke with a start Sunday morning. When I opened my eyes TJ was staring down at my face. He was only inches away.
"Good morning, son."
"Do you still like me?" he asked hesitantly.
"No, I don't like you," I started and saw his face fall. "I love you."
His eyes brighten when he heard that. He moved closer and kissed me on the tip of my nose. "I love you too. I didn't mean what I said yesterday," he said laying his head on my shoulder and slipping his arms around my neck.
"I know you didn't. We all say things we don't mean sometimes when we're angry. Now why don't you go wash your face and hands? I'll bet that Hildy is fixing breakfast. Are you hungry?"
"Yeah," he giggled. "Your whiskers tickle."
"Dad's got to shave and shower and then I'll eat breakfast with you," I said giving him another squeeze.
He leaped out of bed and ran for his bedroom to get cleaned up and I made my way to the shower in a more leisurely manner. It only took me a few minutes for a quick shower and shave before I was able to head for the kitchen and breakfast.
As I was about to enter the kitchen area I could see Hildy sitting on a chair with TJ on her lap.
"I love you grandma Hildy," TJ said hugging her neck.
"Oh my," Hildy choked. "I love you too baby. You know you were naughty yesterday, don't you?"
"Uh huh," he murmured.
"Have you told your dad that you are sorry?"
"Uh huh, he said he loved me. He really did."
"That's good, baby. I know he loves you. Now then, what do you want for breakfast?"
"Okay, hop down and I'll fix us some pancakes."
"That sounds good to me," I said walking into the kitchen. "Why don't you go wake up your brothers and have them get ready for breakfast."
"Okay," he said jumping down from Hildy's lap and making a bee line for the bedrooms.
"You all right with his conduct yesterday?" Hildy asked.
"Yes, he was just angry. Angry that Joel is sick. Angry that he doesn't understand why Joel can't come home. Angry that he can't be with Joel more of the time. He struck out at someone he loved he knew wouldn't strike back. I can't tell you how much that hurt what he said. I knew that he didn't really mean it but it still hurt. He crawled in bed with me early this morning seeking comfort. I love all of the boys with all my heart but I must admit he has a special place in my heart."
"I know what you mean, Crane. He does insinuate himself into your heart," she said as she began preparing the pancakes.
It was a good thing that the stove in the apartment was equipped with a griddle that allowed her to fix six pancakes at a time or she would never had been able to keep up with the hungry horde that was about to descend on the breakfast table in a few minutes. TJ was the first to sit down while he waited impatiently for his brothers. Ordinarily Hildy insisted that everyone be seated before anyone was served but she made an exception this time and gave TJ a couple of pancakes to keep him from fidgeting.
"These are good, but they taste different. How come?" TJ asked.
"That's because we don't have any pure maple syrup, honey," Hildy responded. "I didn't pack it and the store didn't have any when I went shopping."
"Oh, that's okay," he answered taking another bite, dripping syrup down his chin.
Becky Sue arrived almost simultaneously with the twins and Chris. I enjoyed a cup of coffee while everyone else dug into the stack of pancakes that Hildy had ready. She was not foolish enough to think that the stack would last so she busied herself with trying to stay ahead of their appetites and out of the way of their knives and forks.
I had just poured my second cup of coffee when the phone rang.
"Good morning, Eric," I said. "How is everything with Bran this morning? Has he settled in all right?"
"He is doing just fine. He has had a ball playing with Samson. I think it was good for Samson too. Between JR and Bran I think they wore the poor dog out. He was a tired but happy dog last night."
"So I guess JR and Bran are getting along fine then?"
"Yes, so far they have been having a great time," Eric said. "What I called you for this early in the morning was to find out if the boys would like to go to Astroworld with us this afternoon? I'm taking Bran and JR. We plan to get there around one o'clock and spend the entire afternoon."
"Well, I don't know. I was thinking about seeing if Dr. Kerner or Barrow would let Joel go to the park area at the hospital so that he could see Samson. I know that Joel has a treatment today that should last several hours so I don't know if he will be allowed to leave the room. Let me call you back after I get to the hospital and see what they say. I'm sure the boys would love to go if they can't see their brother," I said.
We talked for a few more minutes before hanging up. I needed to get to the hospital to see Joel. I knew he wasn't looking forward to having the orderly help him take a bath, even if it were Rodney whom he liked.
I got four very sticky kisses as I said goodbye to the boys telling them to behave themselves and I would be back around noon. I took the van knowing that the family was not going to be going anywhere this morning. Hildy would be going to church but it was only a block and a half away so I'm sure that she would be able to walk there.
Joel had just finished his breakfast as I walked into his room. He and Tony were talking but stopped when I walked in the room. I gave Joel a hug and a kiss on the forehead before I walked to Tony's bedside and gave him a hug also. He was a little surprised but hugged me back. Neither Karen nor Bill had arrived to visit Tony yet.
"Do you want to go get a bath taken?" I asked Joel. "Hildy sent some clean pajamas for you to wear."
"Yeah, I gotta get something to wrap around my arm so I don't get this thing all wet. Last time they gave me some plastic stuff to wrap it."
"I'll call a nurse and get something for you," I said and buzzed the nurses' station.
I told the nurse what we wanted and then went into the bathroom to begin drawing the water for Joel's bath. I hoped that the nurse would be there by the time I had the bath ready. Thankfully we only had to wait a minute or so before she arrived. She quickly covered the IV shunt so that it wouldn't get any water on it.
I helped Joel out of bed and steadied him as he walked to the bathroom. He wasn't too unsteady but I didn't want him to have any chance of falling. I gave him some privacy while he used the toilet and then helped him into the tub. I left him to bathe himself but told him to call when he finished so that I could make sure he didn't fall in the tub.
I talked to Tony for a few minutes before Karen and Bill arrived. Tony seemed to have a slight cold as I talked to him and I mentioned it to Karen. She seemed to take it very seriously. It took me a few moments before I remembered that the chemotherapy that the boys were receiving in addition to killing the cancer cells also killed the cells that helped to fight infections.
I was distracted by Joel calling me to come help him out of the tub. He dried off and got into his clean pajamas. I still stayed close to him in case he got dizzy but he made it back to bed without any problems.
It was about ten minutes later that an orderly came in to help give Joel his bath. When he was informed that Joel had already bathed he responded, "That's great. I have been running behind all morning. Maybe this will help me catch up. One of the other orderlies called in sick this morning so we are short handed. Call if you need anything." And with that he left for his next patient.
At ten o'clock Dr. Barrow arrived with a nurse to begin Joel's chemotherapy. He informed us that the treatment would take a total of about five hours. There would be two IV's, each one taking approximately two and a half hours. The medication that they were going to give him would probably make him very drowsy for the rest of the day. That answered my question about taking him out to see Samson this afternoon.
"Will he be able to have visitor this evening?" I asked.
"He should be alert enough to have visitors after his supper, say around seven o'clock. I wouldn't recommend that they stay too long. This particular medication makes the patient feel very weak. He will feel a lot more alert tomorrow," Barrow said.
All this while, the nurse had been hooking up sensors to Joel's chest and talking to him quietly.
Dr. Barrow saw me looking at what the nurse was doing and explained, "This is just a precaution. The reactions to this medication are extremely rare but with his reaction to the last intra-muscular injection we don't want to take any chances. Are you going to be around for a while?"
"Yes, I'm going to be here for about another hour. I have to give the boys' nanny some time off. The poor girl didn't know what she was getting herself into when she took the job," I chuckled.
"Good, monitor his reactions for a while. I'm sure that everything will be all right," he said. He then went over to the nurse and began adjusting the drip speed on the IV.
When Dr. Barrow finished with Joel he went over to Tony's bed and began examining him after pulling the curtain. I told Joel what Eric had suggested that the rest of the boys do today. His face showed disappointment that he would not be able to go with them but he understood.
"When you get well I promise that I will take you wherever you want to go. You just name it," I said feeling guilty that we would be enjoying ourselves while he was stuck here in the hospital.
After a while he seemed to drift off to sleep so I took the opportunity to call Eric and tell him that we would be going to Astroworld with him. Then I remembered that I had not mentioned anything to Hildy, Becky Sue or the boys so I made a quick call to inform them. I reached Becky Sue, Hildy had not yet returned from church. I told her that she needn't come with us this afternoon if she wanted some time for herself but she insisted saying that she had never been to Astroworld.
Making sure that Joel was sleeping, I kissed him lightly on the forehead and quietly left for the apartment.
Hildy had returned by the time I got back. When I explained to her what was going to happen she said that she would go to the hospital and sit with Joel. She didn't think that she was up to traipsing around a theme park all afternoon in the hot Texas summer sun.
Eric, JR and Bran arrived shortly after we had eaten a light lunch. I was sure that there would be plenty of opportunities for the boys to eat at the park. We all jumped in the van and headed off to the Astrodome, dropping Hildy off at the hospital on the way.
"Why are we parking here?" Chris asked. "Isn't Astroworld over there on the other side of the highway?"
"Yes, it's over there across Loop 610 but the parking for it is here in the Astrodome parking lot. There is a foot bridge over the road. We can walk over or we can get on that train on wheels thing and it will carry us to the gate. What do you want to do? Walk or ride?" Eric asked.
It took a minute or so but finally everyone agreed that they wanted to walk so they could look down at the cars on the highway. By the time we got to the entrance to the park I think that they regretted their choice. It was a long walk on hot concrete with no shade. The excitement as we entered the park with all the rides spread out in front of us seemed to quickly revive them
It had been a long time since I had been to a theme park and they certainly had changed since then. The one ride that I always enjoyed was a wooden rollercoaster. I know there are more modern ones. Ones that go faster and do all sort of outrageous things, but the feel of the old wooden structure coasters has always held that indefinable attraction. The Texas Cyclone was one of the best in the southwest. The ride only lasted a little over two minutes but it was a fantastic two minutes.
We rode on all the rides that the boys wanted to and more than I wanted. There were some that TJ couldn't ride on because he wasn't tall enough. Those usually coincided with the ones that Becky Sue volunteered to stay with TJ while the rest of us risked life and limb. An interesting new ride just installed this year was the Mayan Mindbender. It was unique because it was an indoor rollercoaster and a lot of the ride was in the dark. I still liked the Texas Cyclone better.
Bran was a perfect little gentleman all the time at the park. I never heard him utter a single profanity the whole afternoon. He and JR were constantly together on the rides wherever possible. Bran had a great sense of humor. He had the rest of the boys in stitches most of the afternoon. He also appeared to be a bright young man. All in all he was a welcome addition to our outing.
Larry and Lenny were absolutely fearless when it came to the rides. They loved the thrill when the rollercoaster made the big drop that caused me to lose my breath. They begged to go on it over and over. Now I loved the rollercoaster but twice was enough for me and my lunch.
One of the good things about the park was when you got tired you could sit at covered tables which had cooled air flowing out of vents overhead. In the heat and humidity of late May Texas afternoons it was a godsend. We bribed the boys to sit for a while by letting them eat a shameful amount of junk food.
By five o'clock everyone was dragging. No one complained too loudly when Eric and I suggested that we head for home. This time we took the little train which dropped us off very close to the van. TJ was nearly asleep by the time we got to the van.
We left the Astrodome parking lot and headed to the hospital. I wanted to pick up Hildy on the way back to the apartment. Eric suggested when we got to the hospital that he stay with the boy while I went in to fetch Hildy. Everyone except TJ found this to be acceptable. He insisted that he wanted to go in with me. I didn't resist too much, so the two of us took off for Joel's room.
As we approached the room I said, "Son, Joel may be asleep when we get in there. If he is I don't want you to wake him."
"Okay," he said looking up at me and nodding his head.
This time, instead of running into the room and climbing up into bed with Joel, TJ walked along side me as we entered the room. Joel appeared to be sleeping. Hildy was sitting by his bed reading her Bible.
"Is Joel sleeping?" TJ whispered to her.
"Yes," she answered quietly. "He has been sleeping most of the afternoon. How did you like Astroworld, little one?"
"It was lotsa fun. But I got tired. We rode on this one that went down this slide and splashed into the water and I got all wet. It felt good," TJ bubbled.
"Alright son, let's go home and have supper. We can come back to see your brother after we eat. He should be awake by then. How about if we order some pizza? Does that sound good?"
"Oh yeah! Can we have one with that round meat on it?" he asked.
"You mean pepperoni?"
"Uh huh," he said walking up to Joel's bedside and patting Joel's hand.
As soon as we got back to the apartment I checked the Yellow Pages for the nearest Domino's. With Eric and his crew we had ten to feed. I thought that three large pizzas would be enough but to be safe I added another medium to the mix along with four orders of breadsticks. It turned out that it was a good idea. By the time we finished eating there were only two slices of pizza left and no breadsticks.
"Can we go see Joel now?" TJ asked as the last of the pizza boxes was placed in the garbage can.
"We still have guests, son," I answered. "In a little bit."
"Crane, it has been a fun day but I have to get back to Canyon Lake. Some of us have to work tomorrow," he said barely able to keep the smirk off his face.
"Yeah, it's a tough life, but someone has to do it," I laughed.
"Look, JR is going to be spending the week with my folks so why don't you bring the boys out there to visit. Samson is going to be staying also and I know he would like it. Mom and dad have a big back yard where the boys could play with him."
"That sounds great. It will give the boys a chance to get out of the apartment for a while and getting to play with Samson is a bonus. Write down the directions and your folks' phone number."
"JR, Bran say goodbye to your friends, I need to get on the road back home," Eric said.
Bran stood back while JR hugged my four until they approached him and gave him hugs also. JR grabbed Bran's hand and led him into the kitchen where they both got a hug from Hildy. A smiling Bran left the apartment with JR and Eric.
"Why don't you go jump in the shower and clean up a bit before we go see Joel. A couple of you can use the shower in my bedroom," I said to a disappearing bunch of boys.
It was about twenty minutes after seven when we got to Joel's room. He was being examined by Dr. Barrow. TJ stood at the side of the bed looking from Joel to Barrow and back again.
"Well, aren't you going to climb up and greet your brother?" Barrow said to TJ.
With a grin and a giggle TJ was in bed beside his brother in a flash giving him a hug and kiss on the cheek. Each of the other boys hopped up on the bottom bar of the side rails so that they could get close enough to give their brother at least a partial hug.
"How's he doing doc?" I asked.
"Very well, he tolerated the treatment with no difficulties which is encouraging. It will be another week before we have a good feel for the long term and whether we will have to resort to more aggressive treatment options. That is something that I don't want to worry about at the moment."
In the confusion of all the boys and I entering the room, I had not even acknowledged Bill and Karen who were sitting beside Tony's bed. While the boys were telling Joel of their afternoon adventure, all of them seemingly talking at once, I went to talk to Bill and Karen. As I walked over I noticed that Tony was wearing a surgical mask.
I guess my quizzical look was enough. "Dr. Kerner said that for the next several weeks it would be better if Tony wore the mask to help prevent him contracting any disease from us or any other visitor. His immune system has become so weak that any infection could be very serious. So for a while he is our little bandit," Karen said looking at Tony with a big smile on her face.
"Aw mom, I don't even have a gun," he giggled through his mask.
We chatted for a few minutes before Bill said that he had to get back to the motel and gather up his stuff and head for home. He had to be at work early tomorrow morning.
"Bill, don't forget to pay the motel bill before you leave. They asked me about it today and I forgot to mention it," Karen said.
"Okay, I'll take care of it," he said giving her a kiss. He then turned to Tony and gave him a bear hug and a kiss on the forehead. "You be a good boy. I'll telephone you during the week. I love you son."
"I love you too, dad. I'll miss you," Tony said.
Bill walked quickly out the door. I could see the glint of tears in his eyes as he left.
"Karen, it is none of my business, but have you considered living at the Ronald McDonald House? It is not that far away and it wouldn't cost you anything."
"No, I didn't think that we would be eligible since we are only foster parents. That would be a great help. Paying the motel bill and all the expenses of a house too is a bit much. I know where that place is. Bill and I have walked by there but I never thought about stopping. Maybe I'll stop by there tomorrow and see what they say. Thanks."
"I'm hungry dad," Joel said from across the room. "I didn't get any lunch ‘cause I slept through it and supper was kinda small."
"Let me go see if the snack bar or cafeteria is open. Chris, would you come help me? I'm sure that everyone will want something. It's been at least an hour since we had pizza."
The snack bar was about to close when we got there but we were still able to get six paper bowls filled with chocolate frozen yogurt which Chris insisted on topping with more chocolate syrup and chopped nuts. Chris carried two and I carried the other four bowls back to the room. We made it back without mishap.
I apologized to Karen that I hadn't brought any for her but I didn't think we could have carried any more. Tony did get one of the sundaes. He removed his mask long enough to enjoy it.
After everyone had enjoyed their treats it was getting time to go back to the apartment.
"Okay guys, it's time to go. Everybody say goodnight. You can come back tomorrow," I told them.
For what seemed like the next ten minutes everyone made their goodbyes to both Joel and Tony each getting and giving hugs. I let Joel know that I would be in late tomorrow because I needed to call the office and take care of some business first thing in the morning.
"That's okay, dad. Would you leave the Sherlock Holmes book? Maybe I can get some of it read. Dr. Barrow said I didn't have any chemo tomorrow," he said.
I gave him a hug and a kiss and then herded the others out of the room. At least we didn't have a scene with TJ tonight. He looked like he could fall asleep at any moment. Astroworld had worn him out. I thought all of us would be able to sleep well tonight.
Even though it was barely dark when we got back to the apartment, nobody complained when I told them to change into their pajamas, brush their teeth and get into bed. TJ was asleep when I went to tuck them in. The rest were not far from it.
I awoke to the smell of freshly brewed coffee. That meant that Hildy was getting ready to prepare breakfast. I quickly took care of my morning duties and then headed for the kitchen for a cup of coffee. I told Hildy that the boys would probably sleep in a little this morning so she could delay starting breakfast for a while.
It was almost half past eight when Larry and Lenny descended on the kitchen and were soon followed by Chris and TJ. All of them were still in their pajamas. Hildy and I got our morning hugs before they pulled up to the breakfast table. It seemed that Becky Sue was feeling the effects of our theme park visit also. She hadn't shown up for breakfast and presumably was still sleeping.
I called my office to check on things when I felt that Foster would be in. I talked first to Carol to see if I had any messages that I had to handle personally. Having been assured that there was nothing pressing that needed my attention she forwarded my call to Foster.
For the next half hour we discussed the status of our projects and the status from his viewpoint of the sale of the business. I felt reassured that he did not see any stumbling blocks that would prevent the sale from going through.
Next I had the operator set up a three way call with Carlos and Gerald to see if they had any information that would cause the sale to be sidetracked. Again they saw nothing from either the legal or financial aspects that would put up a roadblock.
I was about finished organizing my notes of the phone calls when the phone rang. It startled me because I was not expecting anyone to call this early. It was Jack.
"Good morning, Jack," I said. "What gets you up this early? I didn't think detectives got to work before noon."
"Hey, be nice or I won't tell you what I have found out about the kid you were interested in finding... ah... let's see... Benny Clausen."
"It seems from what my friend Casey says that both of the boys have come in contact with the juvenile division. Apparently their only crimes were to run away from home and be truant from school. His information is that they ran away at least twice over the past couple of years. He did not personally handle the cases. His information comes from another officer in the HPD. He knows that both of the boys were turned over to CPS because of suspected abuse in the home."
"Does he have any information on where Benny is now?"
"No, once the kids were turned over to CPS the police didn't have any reason to stay involved since no apparent crime was involved."
"Thanks, Jack. If you find out anything else, please let me know."
After I hung up I decided to make one more call before I went to the hospital. I wasn't sure that I would be able to get Darcie on the phone but dialed her number anyway.
"Hello, Darcie," I said when she answered. "This is Crane. How are you this morning?"
"Crane, I'm glad that you called. I talked to Cindi last night. She had gone to New Orleans and just got back yesterday afternoon. Oh... you don't care about that. Anyway, Cindi is my girl friend who works with CPS there in Houston.
"I'm afraid the information that she gave me is not what you had hoped for. The reason that Tony's caseworker didn't want to tell his foster parents where Benny was is that she doesn't know..."
"What?" I shouted much louder than I had intended.
"It appears that the people who were looking after Benny have moved and taken him with them. At least they are not living at their old address and CPS doesn't know where they are."