(Author's note: A reminder that this part of the story takes place in 1995. For those of you who have written telling me that the Oilers no longer play in Houston and the Astros don't play in the Astrodome any more. I am aware of it. I am also aware that the Oilers left Houston in 1996 to later become the Titians in Tennessee. Also that the Astros now play in their new stadium first named Enron Park and now called Minute Maid Park.)
Thursday morning I was awakened by a loud clap of thunder. I jumped out of bed and went to check on the boys to see if they were awakened by it also. Thankfully they had slept through it somehow. Although it was a little early I decided to take my shower and get ready for the day.
Hildy was in the kitchen when I finished in the bathroom. I could smell the coffee brewing before I even opened the bedroom door.
"Something smells good," I said to her as I walked into the kitchen. "What do you have in the oven?"
"Blueberry muffins," she replied. "The store had some nice looking fresh blueberries when I went shopping the other day. I hadn't made any for awhile so I thought that the boys would enjoy them."
"Me too! I love blueberry muffins. I hope you have butter to put on them."
"Of course, you can't eat blueberry muffins with margarine."
The muffins were not quite finished baking when Chris and TJ appeared closely followed by Larry and Lenny all still in their pajamas.
"Did you boys wash your hands?" Hildy asked. That got an immediate response from them as they turned and rushed back to the bathrooms.
The suitably cleansed boys arrived back in the kitchen as the muffins were being removed from the oven. After hugs were received and given all around, they settled themselves into their chairs at the table. Hildy began dishing up the scrambled eggs, bacon and hash browns for each of the boys. A large basket of muffins was placed in the center of the table.
"Those smell yummy," TJ said grinning at Hildy.
"Yeah," chimed in the other three.
I managed to get one of the muffins and spread a generous portion of butter on both halves of it. "Hildy, these are terrific. I have never tasted better."
After finishing my muffin and coffee I looked out the window and saw the rain still pouring down. It looked like one of those Houston days where it would rain all day without letup. I just hoped that the streets didn't flood. I had been in Houston some years back when there was a heavy rain and some of the streets around the Medical Center had flooded. I didn't want anything to prevent me from getting to see my son.
At around nine o'clock I decided to call the Levins to see if Benny had arrived. The phone rang several times before it was answered.
"Good morning, this is Crane Johnson. I was wondering if Benny had arrived yet."
"Oh, Crane, I'm glad you called. Benny arrived about two hours ago. The poor kid is scared to death. The Bensons had literally starved the boy as part of their scam to get money from people to pay for bogus medical treatment for him. They told people he had cancer and needed an operation to save his life. His head has been shaved. It just breaks your heart the way he has been treated," Alan Levin said.
"Is he alright? Does he need medical care?"
"I've call a doctor friend who said he would take a look at Benny at ten o'clock. Ethel is feeding him some oatmeal right now. He looks like he is afraid to eat, like he thinks he'll be punished if he does eat it."
"Let me know if he needs specialized help. I have a vested interest in him and want him to be well taken care of," I told him.
"I think he will be all right physically. He just needs to put on the weight that he has lost. What has been done to him psychologically may take longer to heal. Getting to see his brother again will probably go a long way in helping him to recover. I think that can wait a day or two until he is comfortable in his new surroundings and begins eating normally."
"Alan, I want to thank you and your wife for taking in Benny and for that matter Bran. It's good to know that there are still people who care what happens to kids in trouble."
"Crane, no thanks are necessary. Ethel and I have become very attached to Bran in the short time he has been here. I guess we didn't realize how much we missed having kids in the house until he came to us. And having our grandson here for a week also has been a great help. JR and Bran have really hit it off. I know he is going to miss JR when he goes back to Canyon Lake."
"Let me know what the doctor says about Benny. I would like to reunite him with Tony as soon as he says it's okay."
"I will. That Cindi Sessions is supposed to be here shortly to check on Benny. I hope she gets here before we have to leave for the doctor's office. I'll call you after we get back from there."
"Thanks, goodbye," I said hanging up the phone.
Grabbing my umbrella, I bade the boys goodbye and headed out the door. I had decided what I was going to give Joel for his birthday so on my way to the hospital I stopped off at the shop and told them exactly what I wanted. They said that they would have it ready for me around one o'clock and I could pick it up then.
When I entered Joel's room a nurse was trying to convince him that she was going to give him a sponge bath and he was not having any part of it. It was all I could do to suppress a chuckle.
"Nurse, I'm Joel's dad. If it is alright with you I'll see that he gets bathed. Now if you will provide something to cover his IV I will see to everything else."
"Thanks, dad," Joel said as the nurse left the room. "It's kinda embarrassing."
"I know, son. Are you going to sit in the tub or are you going to try to stand for a shower?"
"I think I'll have to sit down. I'm still a little dizzy and feel kinda weak."
"I'll start running your bath then," I said heading to the bathroom.
The nurse returned with the plastic wrap for Joel's arm and I assisted him into the bathroom and the tub. "Give me a shout when you finish and I'll help you get out of the tub."
While Joel was enjoying his bath, I spent the time talking to Tony and Karen. I was very happy for him when Karen told me that Dr. Kerner had said that the results of Tony's latest blood tests show an excellent response to the chemotherapy. Although he was not completely out of the woods yet, Kerner said that he was better than 90% certain that a complete remission was possible. He would still have to undergo long term treatment, but if everything continued as it was he would be able to go home in a couple of weeks.
"I'm done, dad," Joel said from the bathroom.
I grabbed the towel as I entered and wrapped it around him then helped him out of the tub.
"My hair is coming out," Joel said with a frown.
I looked closely at his scalp and sure enough there were spots where the hair was definitely thinning. "Well, we knew it was going to happen. It just means that the chemotherapy is working. I know you might feel embarrassed about it but whether you have hair or are bald your brothers and Hildy and I all love you just the same."
I steadied him as he slipped on the clean pair of pajamas that Hildy had sent for him.
"Dad, can I call John?"
"Of course you may. Do you remember all the numbers you have to dial?"
"Yeah, I wrote them down on my tablet."
I handed Joel the telephone after I helped him back into his bed.
"Karen, may I buy you a cup of coffee? I have something I would like to discuss with you."
She looked at me quizzically but got out of her chair and followed me out the door. "What is it, Crane?"
"Let's wait until we get to the cafeteria," I said.
I went through the serving line while Karen sat at a table waiting for me to bring the coffee. I set the cups on the table before I began. "Karen, I have some news about Benny..."
"What is it? Tell me, please!" she interrupted.
"He's okay. He is in Houston. I'm not sure how it happened exactly but he was rescued and, I assume, smuggled across the Mexican border and brought to Houston. He has been placed with a foster home. He's being well taken care of."
"Oh, thank God!" she exclaimed and buried her face in her hands. "I can't wait to tell Tony. He has been so worried about his brother."
"That is up to you but it might be a few days before he would be able to see him. The Bensons, who were his former foster parents, starved and abused him. He should be at the doctor's office right now to see if he has any serious problems. His new foster parents are the parents of a couple good friends of mine. I know that they will take good care of him. It might cause Tony more agitation knowing that Benny is in town and not being able to see him than if you waited to tell him."
"Crane, you're right of course. When do you think he might be able to see him?"
"That all depends on what the doctor's report is. If he finds nothing seriously wrong with him it shouldn't be but a day or two. From what I have been told he needs to get some nourishment and some loving. He will get both of those things from the Levins. He will also have a couple of young boys to play with. Their eight-year-old grandson is with them this week and they also have a teenage foster son."
Karen dried her eyes as we headed back to the boys' room. "Please let me know anything that you find out about Benny. I want to tell Bill everything I can when I talk to him tonight. I know he feels the same way I do about that boy."
"By the way, we plan to have a little birthday party for Joel this Saturday. I have a small conference room spoken for where we can all get together. Please don't think that you have to buy a gift for him. He will get more than enough presents from his brothers and the rest of his friends. We want you all there because Tony has been a good role model for Joel in the way he has accepted his treatment. It has made Joel feel more secure despite the horrendous things that both the boys have had to go through. I know that Joel feels very close to Tony. All my boys are fond of Tony."
Joel was still on the phone to John when we entered the boys' room. When he saw us he started to wind up his conversation. "I hope I can come home in about two or three weeks, and then you can come over to our house. I miss you. I wish I could play on the soccer team with you. Maybe next year I can. Bye," Joel said and hung up the phone.
I saw that he was upset so I sat down on the side of his bed, gathered him in my arms and hugged him. "I know that being sick is a real bummer. I wish this never happened to you but it did. We don't like it but we have to deal with it the best way that we can. I know you miss John. He is a good friend to you. Maybe he can come see you one of these days." I continued to hold him for several minutes.
"Thanks, dad," Joel said. "Sometimes it gets to me. I wonder why me? I know there is no answer. It just seems so unfair."
"I know, son. I know."
I stayed and talked with Joel until his lunch was brought in by Rodney. Rodney was his usual jovial self. His light hearted attitude was infectious and soon both boys were smiling and giggling at his antics.
I opened the carton of milk for Joel and made sure that he would be able to eat all of his lunch before I left to pick up his birthday present. I told Joel that I would be back with his brothers this evening. I felt that I should spend some time with his brothers this afternoon. I also wanted to find out about Benny from Alan. Thankfully the rain had stopped before I left the hospital.
The news about Benny was mostly good. His main problem was malnutrition. He had suffered some bruising and a few scrapes but overall he was in pretty good condition physically. His mental condition on the other hand was less positive. He was very nervous and was fearful of nearly everyone. The only one with whom he seemed to be able to trust was Mrs. Levin. He clung to her like he expected her to desert him. Ethel was the perfect grandmother type. She was a woman who could best be described as a little on the plump side. All Benny seemed to want to do was to sit on her ample lap and be hugged which she did with relish. Alan related all of this when I talked to him on the phone.
I made another call to Collin Cupp to find out just how they had managed to get Benny out of Mexico so quickly. After we exchanged pleasantries he began to relate how it all happened.
"As you know we had traced the Bensons to Piedras Negras, Mexico because of another investigation that we had ongoing. Two of my investigators were observing their activities. We decided that the best way to carry out the rescue was the direct approach. The investigators simply contacted the Bensons and laid out the information that we had gathered and then came the big lie. They told them that the Mexican state of Coahuila de Zaragoza had issued an order for their arrest and that the investigators would assist them in making an escape on the condition that they, the Bensons, provide a complete statement detailing their arrangement with Venisti and his wife and also hand over the boy to the investigators. They readily agreed. I guess the thoughts of a Mexican prison were not pleasant ones.
"Anyway, we were able to get a video taped confession of their deal to exchange a $5000 'contribution' to Venisti's campaign in exchange for them getting a foster child so that they could run their scam. Whether the Venistis were aware of their plans for the boy is an open question. They also admitted their abuse of Benny."
"Where are the Bensons now?" I asked.
"They are still under observation by my investigators. They have moved to Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. That's not too far from El Paso," Collin replied.
"Okay, how did you get Benny out of Mexico?" I asked.
"That took a lot of coordination. We had contracted a small plane across the border in Eagle Pass from a gentleman whose reputation and occupation were to say the least suspect. He agreed to fly into Mexico and pick up a passenger. On the Mexican side of the border it required that we make certain payments to the police and to the operator of a small landing strip where our plane was to land. One of our female investigators accompanied the pilot on his low level flight across the border to pick up Benny. Everything went smoothly until the plane was on its return to Eagle Pass. Just as they were crossing the Rio Grande they sighted a border patrol spotter plane. Janie, our investigator in the plane, said that she thought she was going to 'lose her lunch' several times as the pilot took evasive actions to lose the spotter plane. The plane she was in was running without lights and it was nearly dark out. The pilot darted in and out of clouds, dove nearly straight down, circled back and took sharp turns that Janie said she was sure would tear the wings off. But in the long run they did manage to evade the border patrol and land at a remote strip where we had a car waiting. The pilot of the plane had surely done this all before since it didn't seem to faze him one bit."
"I can see why Benny may be a little frightened from his experience," I chuckled. "Collin, I want to thank you for your agency's excellent work in the quick recovery of Benny. Send your bill to my accountant and send me a copy of the video tape. I have plans for it."
After talking to Collin, I call the office and talked to Foster to see how things were going. I was both relieved and disappointed that my presence was not necessary. I was winding up my conversation with Foster when Eric came on the line. He told me that he would be driving down to Houston on Saturday morning to pick up JR. I told him about the birthday party that we were going to have for Joel on Saturday afternoon and asked him if he would do me a favor. He agreed so I told him what I wanted him to do.
I made a couple more telephone calls to firm up the preparations for the party and then went to see what the boys wanted to do this afternoon. I found them at the kitchen table where Chris and Becky Sue were trying to teach the others the game of 'Old Maid'. From appearances Larry and Lenny were learning quickly. However, TJ was another matter. He was more interested in making patterns with his cards on the table.
I don't know where they got the deck of cards. Becky Sue must have brought them because I didn't think we had any in the house.
"Hi guys, are you having fun?"
"Yeah dad, but TJ won't play right," Chris complained.
"Well he might be a little young to play 'Old Maid'. Maybe we can find some other card game that he could learn. What would you guys like to do this afternoon?"
"Can we go to a ball game?" Lenny asked.
"Yeah!" both Chris and Larry said enthusiastically.
"Me too!" TJ piped in.
"Let me check the paper to see whether the Astros are playing in town today." I picked up the paper and scanned the sports section for the schedule. "The ballgame starts a 7:05 tonight. If you want to go we should probably go see Joel this afternoon. Does that sound alright?"
"C'mon," TJ said. "Let's go."
"Whoa there. Go get washed up and I'll see if I can get some tickets to the game." I checked with Becky Sue and Hildy but neither one of then was too enthusiastic about going so it was going to be me and the four boys. I started to call the ticket office and reserve tickets for the five of us when I had a bright idea. I called the Levins and talked to Alan to see if he, JR and Bran would like to go to the game. I didn't think that Benny would be ready to go yet but I made the offer to Alan just the same. He said that Benny was still recovering but the rest of them would like to go. I told him to meet us at the Will Call window at 6:45.
Then I made the call to the ticket office and reserved a box down the right side in back of first base. I was lucky to get such good seats. The box would actually handle ten people so I reserved all ten.
I had four boys waiting impatiently for me when I finished my call.
Joel was surprised when we showed up since I had told him I was spending the afternoon with his brothers. He understood when I explained it to him but was not happy that he couldn't go to the game as well. It tore my heart up too that he couldn't go but I knew that the rest of the family couldn't just stop living because Joel was sick. My mind knew that but my heart didn't like it.
Our visit included as it always did a trip to the cafeteria for a frozen yogurt sundae. Tony was also included in the excursion. The six boys never seemed to stop talking.
"Tony always seems so much better after your boys visit. He is in so much better spirits after they leave. I know it does as much good for him as it does for Joel," Karen said dabbing at the corner of her eyes with her handkerchief.
"I must say they are amazing boys," I said. "I am truly blessed that they came into my life."
It wasn't long before both Tony and Joel started showing signs of fatigue. Karen and I noticed it at about the same time and suggested that we return to the room. Although the boys grumbled a little I think that they could see that our patients were getting tired so they didn't put up too much of a fuss.
I told Hildy when we got back to the apartment that since I was taking the boys to the ballgame this evening that we would eat junk food at the ballpark. She said that she would put out the antacid.
A little after six, I loaded the boys into the van and headed to the Astrodome to meet up with Alan and his crew and to pick up the tickets from the Will Call window. As it happened they were waiting for us at the window when we got there. As soon as my bunch saw JR and Bran they ran up to them and surrounded them with hugs. I hadn't told them that we were going to have company at the game.
As Alan and I herded the boys toward the entrance he recognized a young Hispanic man with his son who appeared to be about seven or eight years old. "Hey Fernando, how are you doing?"
"Mr. Levin, it's good to see you," Fernando replied.
"Crane, this is Fernando Cruz. He repaired our roof when a limb fell on it in a storm earlier this year. He did a quality job.
"Fernando, this is Crane Johnson and four of these 'rug rats' are his sons," Alan said sweeping his hand to indicate the boys. "The other two are my grandson and my foster son."
We exchanged small talk as we walked toward the gate. Fernando's son clung tightly to his fathers hand with one of his hands and in the other clutched a baseball glove to his chest.
"Are you going to catch a ball tonight?" I asked him.
He just looked down at his shoes so his father answered for him, "It's not likely. We are way back up in the 'cheap seats'. It would have to be a powerful foul ball to reach us."
"Well look, I have two extra tickets for our box. Why don't you sit with us? It's right behind the dugout down the first base line," I said. When he started to decline I interrupted, "If you don't use them they'll go to waste. Besides I'm sure that these six 'rug rats', as Alan called them, would love to have your son join them. What's your son's name?"
"Mr. Johnson, thank you so much for your hospitality. My son's name is Antonio. He is a little shy around strangers."
"He won't be around strangers long if I know these guys," I said as I handed the tickets to a young female ticket taker at the gate.
By the time we found our seats after seemingly walking a mile inside the dome, Antonio was beginning to come out of his shell and was interacting with the rest of the boys. I found out that he had just turned seven which made him only a couple of months older than TJ. He grabbed a hold of Antonio's hand and introduced him to his brothers and friends as only a six year old could do.
"This is Chris and this is Larry and this is Lenny and this is JR and this is Bran and I'm TJ." All of the boys said hi as they were introduced. "What's your name?"
"Antonio," he said shyly.
"C'mon, you can sit by me," TJ said taking one of the seats in the front row of our box.
The box's ten seats were arranged in two rows of five. After a little shuffling we ended up with Larry, Lenny, TJ, Antonio and Fernando in the front row and the rest of us in the second row. The adults were seated by the opening to the box so that none of the kids could slip out without us knowing about it. JR sat between Bran and Chris.
Shortly after we were seated a handsome young man approached us to take our food order. I took a look at the menu before telling the boys what they had available. I should have known that they would want hot dogs, chips and cokes, at least to start out with. Alan and I decided on the bratwursts with sauerkraut and hot mustard. When it was time for our guests to order Fernando politely refused saying he would go to the food court and get something for Antonio and him. I could tell that he was uncomfortable with the prices of the items on the menu. They were high almost to the point of extortion but for the convenience of not having to fight through the crowds and waiting in line to me they were worth it.
"Fernando, I do not wish to embarrass or insult you, but tonight you and your son are my guests. Please order whatever you and Antonio would like."
"Can I have a hot dog too, dad?" Antonio asked.
Seeing the pleading look in his son's eyes he relented. "Yes you can, son. Thank you Mr. Johnson, sometimes it's hard to give my son all the things I would like to being a single parent."
The game started a few minutes after our order was taken but before it was served. The Cubs came up to bat and were put down in order. The Astros were more successful in their half of the inning when the first two batters got a hit and a walk. Jeff Bagwell batting third hit two foul balls in our general direction but not close enough for Antonio to get to use his glove. On the third pitch he hit a towering home run just inside the foul pole down the right field line. It was a good thing our food hadn't arrived by that time or it would probably have gotten spilled when the boys all jumped up and cheered Jeff as he trotted around the bases to be greeted at home plate by the two runners whom he had driven in.
The rest of the game was less memorable than the food that was consumed. At various times after our original order we ate nachos, peanuts, cotton candy and ice cream bars. The nachos were messy. By the time they finished eating them the boys' hands and faces were covered in the cheese sauce. I had asked for the jalape¤os on the side because I didn't know whether any of the boys would like them. Chris and Bran were the only ones brave enough to try them with the nachos and they both liked them to my surprise.
Taking the boys to the restroom was an experience. The urinals, if you can call them that, were long porcelain troughs with a drain in the middle and a small amount of water trickling down from a horizontal pipe with holes in it. There was room for three or four of the boys to line up to urinate at one time. My crew had never seen anything like it before and could hardly do their business for laughing. TJ and Antonio were not tall enough to use it with out Fernando and I holding them up which caused the boys to laugh even harder.
It was nearly ten o'clock when the game ended with the Astros winning 5-2 over the Cubs. Antonio never got to use his glove. There were a couple of foul balls that were hit into the stands near us but not close enough to catch. By the end of the game Antonio had really come out of his shell. He was laughing and talking with the other boys like they were old friends. It was good to see the way that he and TJ got along. Although the seating arrangement was in a constant state of change, the two of them always seemed to remain seated together.
As we were leaving the Astrodome I heard Fernando say to his son, "I hope the last bus hasn't left yet."
"Where do you live Fernando?" Alan asked.
"We live just off Richmond near Eldridge," he answered.
"That's not that far from our house. Why don't you ride with us? I have the minivan so there is plenty of room."
"Thank you Mr. Levin, we would like that."
Before we parted Fernando tanked me profusely for the hospitality that he and his son had received. He was truly sincere in his thanks. I knew that he could not treat his son to the type of evening that they had experienced tonight. It made me even more grateful for the blessings that I had.
Hugs and goodbyes were exchanged all around and then we headed off to our van and they went to find Alan's minivan.
It was nearly eleven o'clock by the time we got home after fighting the traffic to get out of the dome parking lot. TJ had fallen asleep and the twins were nearly there. I had to carry him into the apartment. He woke up enough to change into his pajamas but was not coherent enough to brush his teeth. I told the boys that they could take their showers in the morning before I tucked them in bed.
My head barely hit the pillow before I was asleep. The next thing that I knew there was a tapping on my bedroom door. I glanced at the clock as I struggled out of bed. It was 7:45. I slipped on my dressing gown before opening the door. Hildy was there looking concerned.
"I thought something might be wrong. You never sleep this late," she said.
"It was a late night. The game seemed to go on forever and the boys didn't want to leave. I imagine that they will sleep in a bit this morning also. Let me get my shower taken and then I'll get them up."
It was eight-thirty before I was able to get the boys up. I think they could have slept more but Hildy had breakfast ready and waiting for all of us. I was finishing my bowl of cereal when the phone rang. It was Alan Levin.
"Good morning Alan. Do you have a couple sleepy boys this morning?"
"Yes, I thought I was going to have to hire a derrick to haul them out of bed."
"Same here. What could I do for you?"
"Well, my problem is not with JR and Bran. It's Benny. He has been crying and asking for his brother. The kid is inconsolable every since he found out that he is in Houston. Do you think it would be all right with the Boises if we took Benny to see Tony?"
"I am absolutely positive that it would be. Karen is very anxious for them to be reunited. What time do you want to be there? I'll go to the hospital early and prepare Karen for his visit."
"I thought we would try to get there around ten o'clock. Do you think that would be okay?"
"Yes, I'm sure it would be." I gave Alan the instructions on how to get to Tony's room before we hung up.
I told Hildy what was going to happen before picking up another book for Joel since he had finished the last one I took.
"Can I go see Benny too?" TJ asked.
I'm afraid not, little one. There will be too many people there and he might get more frightened than he already is. Besides, you have to take your shower. Remember? And don't forget to brush your teeth," I told him as I gave him a hug and a kiss on the top of his head. "I love you."
The other three lined up for their goodbyes as I started to leave for the hospital. I gladly obliged.
Karen was coming back from the cafeteria with a cup of coffee as I approached the boys' room. "Karen, I'm glad that I caught you. I hate to spring this on you but the Levins want to bring Benny in to see Tony. I told them I didn't think you would have any objections..."
"Oh no, no objections. There is never a day that Tony doesn't ask about his brother. It has been hard to keep from telling him about Benny. When are they going to bring him?"
Looking at my watch I answered, "Alan said that they would try to be here around ten. That is about twenty-five minutes from now. Do you want to tell Tony or do you want it to surprise him?"
"I think surprise. I don't think he could stand the suspense of waiting even twenty-five minutes."
We went into the room and tried to act as natural as possible. I gave Joel the new book and placed the other one where I would remember to take it home. I was telling Joel about the ballgame we went to last night when Alan Levin poked his head in the door. I was about to introduce Karen to Alan when Ethel entered the room ushering Benny ahead of her.
Tony looked over at Benny for a moment before recognition set in. "Benny, is that you, Benny?"
Benny turned to Ethel and asked, "Who's that?"
"Benny, it's me, Tony," he said ripping off his surgical mask.
Benny looked hard at the unmasked Tony before he realized it really was him.
That was all it took. Benny launched himself at Tony and was in the bed with him before any of us could react. "Tony!"
"Benny... Benny... Benny, I missed you so much," Tony sobbed as he wrapped his arms around his brother. "Where have you been? What did they do to you? You're so skinny."
There was not a dry eye in the room as Benny clung to Tony for dear life. They cried and laughed at the same time. Their emotions were raw. They didn't seem to be able to get close enough to each other.
Karen placed her arms around both of the boys and just held them, enjoying the love that they radiated for each other. After a few moments she looked up and I think saw Ethel for the first time. "Thank you for caring for Benny. Tony has been so worried about him. It's so wonderful to have them together again. I can't tell you how much this means to both of us and Bill too, when he learns about it."
Several minutes later Tony and Benny recovered enough from the initial shock of seeing each other to begin talking to each other. They had a million questions for each other and both were trying to ask them at the same time.
Karen interrupted, "Tony, you need to put your mask back on."
"Is she your mom?" Benny asked.
"Yeah she's my foster mom and I have a foster dad now too. His name is Bill. You'll like him. He's great. We have a house out in the country and a yard to play in. Dad and I like to play catch in the back yard. That is we did before I got sick."
"What's the matter? How come you're sick? Why don't you have no hair? Why do you have to wear that mask?"
"I have leukemia and I lost my hair 'cause the stuff they put in my arm makes it fall out. I'm supposed to wear my mask so I don't get more germs to make me sicker. How come you're so skinny? You didn't use to be skinny."
"My foster mom and dad wouldn't let me eat hardly nothing. They hit me if I tried to eat very much and they cut my hair all off too. They said I hadda look sick. I'm glad I'm not with them no more. Gram is taking care of me now. She's nice."
"That's Gram over there. That lady," Benny said pointing at Ethel.
At that point Ethel stepped over to the side of the bed and introduced herself to Tony. "Hi Tony, my name is Ethel and that man over there is my husband. His name is Alan."
"How come Benny calls you Gram if your name is Ethel?"
Before she could answer Benny spoke up, "She's like our old grandma before she died. Besides she lets me sit on her lap and she's all soft and warm. I like sitting on her lap."
"I like having you sit on my lap, too. You can do it as much as you want, son," Ethel said.
Noticing that everyone was just standing around I suggested, "Why don't the rest of us leave the boys and let them catch up on the time they have been separated. We can all go to the cafeteria for hot chocolate or something. Don't worry you two, we'll bring some back for you."
As we started to leave Karen spoke up, "Mrs. Levin, would you mind staying here? I would like to talk to you and I want to stay here in case the boys have any questions."
"Of course, I would like to talk to you also," Ethel answered.
"Alright guys, there is food to be had," I said as I began pushing Joel's wheelchair out the door.