I looked at my watch as I was leaving the Animal Shelter and noted that it was almost half past noon. Not only was I hungry but Chris had baseball practice and I had to coach the twins' practice this afternoon. I had enough time since Chris' practice was not until two o'clock and the twins' wasn't until three.
As I drove up the drive to the house I was met by TJ chasing Bandit toward the car. I stopped before I reached the house afraid that I might run over Bandit. TJ scooped up his puppy and opened the car door and climbed in.
"Hi, dad," TJ said hugging Bandit.
"Hi, son," I said reaching over to give them both a hug. "Are you and Bandit having fun?"
"Oh, yeah," he enthused. "I fed him and we went all around the house and he even went swimming with us. He's a good swimmer. He paddles all around and climbs up on my back in the water. He's funny and he only had one accident, but Hildy said it was alright."
"I'm glad you guys are having so much fun," I said as I drove the car the rest of the way to the house and parked in the garage. "Have you had your lunch yet?"
"Yeah, we had tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches," he said. "I dunk'em in the soup. Do you?"
"Yes, I do," I said. "I wonder if Hildy has some left for me. I hope you didn't eat it all."
He didn't answer as he took off around the corner of the house with Bandit at his heels. When I entered the house Hildy told me that the tomato soup was gone but that she could fix me a sandwich and some potato salad that she had prepared for our supper. I thanked her and went to wash and change.
While I was eating my lunch, Becky Sue joined me at the table to tell me that she would be unable to be the lifeguard for Larry and Lenny's birthday party next Friday. She did, however, have someone who was willing to do it. The persons name was David Wilson. He was a sophomore at UTSA (University of Texas San Antonio), nineteen years old and Red Cross certified. When I asked if I could meet with him before I made the final decision she informed me that he could meet with us tomorrow afternoon after he got off work.
"If he has a job how is he going to be able to work next Friday?" I asked.
"This is his last week on his summer job. He helps his uncle build houses in the summer," she said. "I think he will get along very well with the boys. He has four younger brothers and one sister at home. Besides he's cute."
"I thought you had a fiance," I told a blushing Becky Sue.
"I do, but he says that he can look, so I can too."
"Have him give me a call and we can set up a time to meet. Thanks." I said.
When I told TJ that he couldn't take Bandit to the ballpark he decided to stay at home with Joel and Becky Sue. He said that he and Bandit were going to take a nap. So I gathered up Larry, Lenny and Chris and took off for the ballpark.
Chris ran to say hi to his coach after I had parked the Land Rover. He was one of the first kids to arrive so I went to talk to Coach Leonard. We chatted about our teams and how much the boys had improved since the start of the season. Before long the rest of the team arrived. I told Chris that the twins and I would be practicing on field number three when he finished with his practice and for him to come there and wait for us to finish. I pointed to our practice field to make sure that he knew which one it was.
As Chris and his team began their practice, I got a ball out of the Land Rover and began playing catch with the twins. For almost ten year olds they weren't too bad at catching the ball and delivering it to the other one as if they were throwing it to a base for an out. We did this for maybe fifteen minutes before I told them to rest and watch Chris' practice. I didn't want their arms to be too tired to practice when it was our turn.
Peter Hammond, our assistant coach, arrived with his son about a half an hour later. When I saw him drive up I ushered Larry and Lenny over to our practice field. The team that was practicing on it was just wrapping up their session as we approached. Peter and I got busy putting out the equipment so everything would be ready when the rest of the team arrived.
Practice went as usual. It always amazed me at the wide variations in abilities and athleticism in our little group of boys. Some of them couldn't walk and chew gum at the same time and others could make spectacular diving catches and come up throwing the ball. Peter and I made it a point that each and every boy on our team knew that he was appreciated and most of all had fun.
After the practice was over I had the twins help me get the sodas and snacks out of the car. Chris joined us in enjoying the refreshments. I think this was the boys' favorite part of practice.
I waited until all the boys had been picked up by their parents before we started home.
"Dad..." Lenny started.
"Are we really gonna go... you know... get our puppies tomorrow?" he asked.
"Yes, son, we're going to go see what they have at the shelter. If you see one that you like we'll take it home. If you don't see a puppy that you like we can check some other places until you do find one. Remember, this is your birthday present so don't expect another present next week. Okay?"
"Yeah," all three chimed in.
Becky Sue was getting ready to leave when we got home. She said that she had spoken to David and that he would call around eight tonight to set up some time to meet. I thanked her before she gave each of the boys a hug, said goodbye to Hildy and left for home.
Hildy met me at the kitchen door and told me that Harold had called and would be by tomorrow at three to discuss the plans for the renovation of her apartment unless he heard from me to the contrary. I didn't know of anything that would conflict with that but I asked her to be available to go over the plans also. If Manfred was available he was welcome to be there as well.
"Daddy," TJ said jerking on my shirt tail, "Bandit is so smart. He knows he's 'posed to go outside to go to the bathroom."
"That's great, son," I said giving him a hug.
"But sometimes he doesn't know until it's too late and when he gets to the door he has a accident. But he really wants to go outside. He just doesn't know too soon," he said.
I tried not to laugh but a snicker slipped out. "He'll learn," I said looking at Hildy and shaking my head.
"Samson's trying to teach him, dad," Joel said as he came into the room. "He goes to the door and barks and Bandit follows him outside. I don't think Samson has to go as often as Bandit. You're not mad at him are you? He really does try."
"No I'm not mad at him. In fact, I'm very proud of how quickly he's learning," I said leaning down and scratching Bandits ears. "You're a cute little devil aren't you?"
Bandit rolled over and waited for someone to scratch his belly. He got several volunteers.
I received a call from David Wilson right at eight o'clock. I told him what I wanted him for and he sounded excited about doing it. He even agreed to come early and help with the games. That made me happy since neither Becky Sue nor Mary Jane was going to be available. He told me he was working on his degree in Child Psychology and thought it would be fun to work with kids other than his brothers and sister. I asked him to come around ten and he could meet the family and help me set things up for the party. I decided after talking to him on the phone that I didn't need to meet him in person. I trusted my instincts and Becky Sue's recommendation.
Later when I was tucking the boys into bed, Chris and the twins were so wound up about going to get a puppy tomorrow that it took a long time before I was able to quiet them down. Even after I had gone back downstairs every once in a while I would hear one of their high pitched giggles. I knew it would only get them started again if I went up there so I just waited until sleep overtook them. It was probably only a half an hour after they were usually asleep but I suspected that they would be difficult to get up in the morning.
I was wrong. I heard their footsteps on the stairs before I had finished my first cup of coffee. They rushed into the kitchen and surrounded a surprised Hildy with a hug and received a kiss on the top of each of their heads before they descended on me. All three tried to climb on my lap at the same time.
"Whoa, guys, I don't think my lap will hold all of you," I said. I gave each a hug and a kiss and directed them to a chair at the table. "You are up awfully early aren't you? Do you have anything special you plan on doing today?"
"Dad!" came the indignant response from all of them.
"Can we go to the animal place now?" Larry asked.
"They don't open until ten o'clock. That's over two hours from now," I told three disappointed boys. "Eat your breakfast. I'll go get your brothers out of bed."
When I went into the bedroom I panicked. TJ was not in the bed and he wasn't in the bathroom. I was about to shake Joel when I noticed TJ curled up on the floor with Bandit tucked in his arms. "That little stinker," I muttered much relieved. Reaching down I picked him up and sat down on the bed cradling him in my arms. Bandit tried his best to climb up my leg but wasn't able to make it.
"Morning, dad," a sleepy TJ murmured.
"Good morning," I said kissing his forehead. "How come you were sleeping on the floor?"
"Bandit was lonely," he said burying his face in my chest.
"Okay, Bandit was lonely. I see. Go get your hands and face washed and then take Bandit outside. Hildy will have breakfast ready when you come back in."
Off he ran with Bandit in hot pursuit. I woke Joel and then went back to the kitchen to finish my coffee.
I had never seen the twins and Chris as fidgety as they were this morning. They kept checking the clock until finally at a quarter to ten I relented and we got in the van to go see if we could find them a puppy. TJ and Joel were going to stay at the house with Becky Sue. The shelter was about twenty-five minutes away but you would have thought it was hours as antsy as the boys were.
The shelter was just opening when we arrived. It is a volunteer organization, so strict business hours are not rigidly adhered to. A lady wearing a nametag with Mary on it showed us back to the kennels where she told us they only had ten dogs up for adoption. There were others but they had not been spayed or neutered so they were unavailable. Two of the kennels held full grown dogs. Both were large breeds that I thought inappropriate for the boys. There were also two schnauzers but all they did was bark constantly. I was glad that the boys didn't show any interest in them. The next kennel held a litter of five beagle mix puppies.
Mary informed me that these five had just become available for adoption. There were three males and two females. I hadn't seen them when I was here yesterday and a couple of the ones that I had seen were no longer around. She opened the kennel and the boys went in to inspect the puppies when they showed interest. They were immediately surrounded by all five of the beagles.
I could tell it was love at first sight as the boys hugged and played with the pups.
"Dad, can we have these?" Chris asked.
"If you want you can each pick out one," I said emphasizing one.
"But..." Lenny started.
"No... you can only have one. We don't need any more."
That didn't meet with any great enthusiasm but they accepted that it was final. They set to the task of trying to decide which one each of them wanted. After changing their minds a dozen times, at least, they made their final decisions. As it turned out all three that they picked out were the males. They were nearly identical, but with just enough variation in their markings to be able to tell the difference. It took a little while to sign all the paper work, get the shot records of each pup and pay the neutering fee and other charges.
"Okay, guys, let's go get your new puppies their beds and collars. We had better stop and get some more dog food, too. I may have to start buying it by the truck load," I laughed as we got into the van.
We stopped at the local pet supply store and picked up the items including a supply of flea collars. Fleas and ticks are big problems with all the trees around the area. None of the dogs that we were now the proud owners of would be satisfied being exclusively house dogs. We had always let Samson have free run of the thirty-five acres but now with five dogs I didn't think that would be a good idea at least not until they were older. There were a lot of critters that they might come in contact with that could be dangerous to them including skunks and rattle snakes.
As we were driving home I asked, "Have you decided what you are going to name your new friends?"
Larry was the first to respond, "I'm gonna call mine Buddy."
I could see in the rearview mirror Lenny looking hard at his new pet before he said, "Buster, that's what his name is."
"I think I'll name mine Rusty," Chris finally answered.
"Well, that's settled. Let's get these guys home and introduce them to the rest of the family. I think Samson will be the most important introduction."
I was right. As soon as I parked the van in the driveway Samson was there to greet us. When each of the boys stepped out of the van with their new charge Samson sniffed each one in turn. Apparently satisfied that there was no threat to his position as number one dog he turned and led the group back into the house.
Hildy stopped work on lunch and gave each of the dogs a hug as they were introduced to her. "You're going to have to tell me how I can tell them apart. They all look so similar," she said after they were all greeted.
This started a long dialog from the boys on the merits and special markings that each of their dogs had. I must admit that I had to look very closely to discern the subtle coloration differences among the puppies. Chris' was probably the easiest to tell apart. His dog had more brown coloring than the other two. I'm sure that I would mix them up for quite a while.
Bandit took to the three new puppies as if he was one of their litter. Before we had any accidents I told the four boys to put their pups on leashes and take them outside. I was left with the task of bringing in all of the dog paraphernalia that we bought at the pet store.
By mid-afternoon I had to make the boys put their dogs in the new doggie beds to give them a rest. They had been wrestled with every since we brought them home and I could tell they were getting tired. Becky Sue said she would read the boys a story while their pets rested. They ended up with each dog in their basket with their master lying on the floor next to it while Becky Sue read a story to them. Since Bandit's basket was downstairs he slept in TJ's lap on the couch next to Becky Sue.
Harold arrived with the renovation plans shortly after three. Manfred had arrived earlier and had been introduced to all of the new arrivals. The plans had turned out better than I had anticipated. Konrad, Harold's designer, did an excellent job taking what I thought I wanted and making plans that were not only functional but were esthetically pleasing in relation to the rest of the house. With the new addition the total living area of the house would be just over 7000 square feet.
One feature he had proposed was an elevator to Hildy's garage apartment. Although she was not in any way handicapped, if she stayed around as long as we hoped the day might come when climbing stairs would not be something she looked forward to doing. Both Hildy and Manfred were pleased with the plans and believed that their apartment would be more than sufficient for their needs after their marriage.
After a few very minor changes to the plan I gave Harold the go ahead to begin the renovation with the proviso it would not begin until after next Friday. I didn't want any construction going on during the twins' birthday party. He laughed and said that he probably couldn't start construction until the end of the month that all of his crews were tied up on other jobs.
Saturday was a madhouse. Chris had a ballgame at one o'clock and the twins' game wasn't until four. Joel wanted to go watch John play soccer at two. I was beginning to feel like a stereotypical 'soccer mom'. I finally asked Manfred if he would mind taking Joel to the soccer match. Thankfully he agreed.
It was difficult for the boys to leave their puppies at home but we put them in the fenced area and made sure that there was plenty of food and fresh water for them while we were gone.
By six o'clock when we all had gotten home no one was in the best of moods. That soon changed when the boys retrieved their puppies. It's a wonder what caring for another creature can do to lift your spirits. How can you stay in a bad mood when a puppy is giving you such unconditional love?
Sunday we took the boat out on the lake and had a picnic lunch while idling around the water. Again we left the dogs at home. I couldn't see us taking five dogs and five boys on a boat with a twelve person capacity. The boys loved the water even if we didn't fish. It was too hot for good fishing so we just cruised around for about four hours taking in the sights. I let each of the boys sit in the captain's chair and steer the boat when there was no boat traffic near us.
That evening Eric called and hinted that he wanted to come over. It didn't take me long to invite him to come. I think he had a lot on his mind and needed someone to talk to. I was happy to oblige.
The boys were happy to see JR and I was surprised to see that Bran was still with them. I was surprised but happy. JR, of course, was beside himself when he saw all of the new puppies. He gave his dad such a pitiful look that would have melted the coldest heart.
"Okay, JR" Eric said. "Next week we'll go look."
"Thanks, dad," JR said jumping into his dad's arms and giving him a kiss on the cheek.
The boys went off to play with the dogs while Eric and I went into the kitchen for a glass of iced tea. After we fixed our tea we went back to watch the boys play. Eric didn't say anything for a long time, he just watched the boys with a far away look in his eyes.
Finally I said, "Eric, something seems to be on your mind. Do you want to tell me about it?"
"Yes, I really need to bounce something off of you. I'm trying to get Bran to foster him. Dad is not capable of handling him at the moment. His grief over mom's death is overwhelming him. I've talked to Bran's caseworker and I've gotten temporary custody of him. I guess I need to know if I'm crazy for wanting this."
"You are probably asking the wrong person," I said. "Sometimes I think I was crazy to take on raising five boys. I will say one thing. I have never for even an instant regretted doing it. I love them more than my own life. But, I think you need to answer a couple questions for yourself. Are you doing this because you truly want him as part of your family? Or, are you doing this to help your dad out?"
"I've been asking myself the same questions. JR and he have become inseparable. He's like the big brother that JR never had. I do love him. At least I think I do. I'm confused. What am I going to do? How am I going to raise both of them? I have the financial resources, especially after my inheritance from mom," he said covering his eyes with both hands.
"The logistics of raising them both is the easy part. I think that the hardest part of raising Bran would be the prejudice that he would face in our overwhelmingly white area. For that matter you would also be on the receiving end of that prejudice because you would be raising him. Are you prepared for that? And another thing, he says he's gay. My God, gay and black in a redneck county, that is a lot of baggage for one youngster to carry. If he ever got exposed... Are you willing to face that?" I asked putting an arm around Eric's shoulders.
"You know, you're not making this any easier for me. I came here for answers and all you've given me are more question," Eric teased.
"What are friends for?" I retorted. "Come on, let's round up the boys. It's about time for their snack. Hildy made a strawberry-rhubarb cobbler that I'm dieing to try. You go see to it that they wash up. I'll set out the vanilla ice cream to top the cobbler."
With seven eating machines, it didn't take long for the cobbler and ice cream to disappear.
"Say goodbye to your friends," Eric said after we had cleaned up from the boys' snack. "It's time to go home. I've got to figure out who is going to take care of you guys while I'm at work."
"Look, Eric," I said. "I don't think this is a long term solution, but why don't you bring them by here tomorrow. Maybe Hildy will have an idea of who might be available to stay with them and fix their meals at least temporarily."
"Yeah, can we dad?" JR pleaded. "Then I can get to play with the dogs."
"Okay, but just for tomorrow. Now scoot yourself out to the car. Thanks, Crane, I didn't mean to dump them on you," He said and gave me a hug.
The week of the twins' birthday was filled with trips by the other boys to buy presents for them and with shopping for new school uniforms. School was due to start on Wednesday the twenty-first. I discreetly made a call to Corinthian Academy on Monday to see if the new freshman class was full. I was please to find out that there were still a few vacancies that hadn't been filled.
"What have you done about Bran's schooling?" I asked Eric when he arrived to pick JR and Bran up Monday evening.
"O Lord," he said. "I hadn't even thought of that. I guess there have been too many things on my mind to even consider it. I wonder if JR's school has any room and if I can get Bran enrolled at this late date?"
"I checked. They do have room in the new freshman class. I took the liberty of scheduling him for testing on Wednesday morning. If you can't take off work, I'll take him to the school and pick him up after the test."
"Crane... Thanks, I really appreciate you looking after Bran's interests. I guess I'd better get my act together if I'm going to be the father to two boys," he said.
"So, you've decided?" I asked.
"Yes, I'm going to fill out all of the paperwork to qualify to be a foster parent and then try to get Bran assigned to me on a permanent basis. Oh, by the way, I have a Mrs. Carson coming tomorrow to stay with the boys. I haven't met her but I did talk to her on the phone and she seems quite nice. I'll let you know if I can't take Bran in for the testing."
Tuesday morning I made a few phone calls to Carlos, Gerald, to my stock broker and a few others. When I was satisfied that I had all my finances and legal affairs in order I took Joel, TJ and Chris to buy the twins' birthday present. Larry and Lenny stayed at home with Hildy and the dogs.
Eric called in the evening to let me know that he wouldn't be able to take Bran in for testing. He had to go to Dallas for his project there. He would be back on Thursday evening. Mel and Darcie were going to spend Wednesday night with the boys and Mrs. Carson would be there during the day.
Wednesday morning all the boys piled into the van as I got ready to go pick up Bran for his testing. Bran appeared to be very nervous as he climbed into the van and waved goodbye to JR. He soon calmed down in the company of my sons. By the time we got to Corinthian he was laughing and having a good time with the other boys. He held back a little as we trooped into the school.
Harry Lyle met us in the headmaster's office. I introduced Bran to him and said that he was living with Eric Levin and his son JR. Something struck me as odd as I talked to Harry but couldn't quite put my finger on it. He said that the testing and interviews would take about four hours and we should plan to be back around one o'clock. We all gave Bran a hug and I told him to try his best saying we would pick him up and take him to lunch when he was finished. He was the only prospective student taking the test today.
I called Mrs. Carson when I got home and told her I would come by and pick up JR and take him to lunch when I went for Bran. Naturally everyone wanted to go so the van was going to be full.
We arrived back at the school shortly after twelve-thirty. I thought possibly since there was only one student being tested that Bran might finish early. It turned out that I was right. The boys went to play on the playground equipment while I went in to check on Bran. He was just finishing with his interview when I approached the secretary's desk. Bran looked like he was about ready to cry as he walked toward me. He didn't say anything, just wrapped his arms around me and buried his face in my shirt front.
"What's the matter, son?" I asked.
No response he just looked at me and shook his head.
"Why don't you go out side and play with the other boys. Take a right after you go out the door and you will find them. Let me talk to Mr. Lyle."
He nodded and walked toward the door.
I walked to the secretary's desk and asked to see Mr. Lyle. She told me that she would see if he was available and asked me to take a seat. I had to wait about five minutes before Lyle arrived.
"Mr. Lyle, it's good of you to see me. I was curious about the results of Bran's test and interview. His foster dad is out of town and asked me to get the results."
"Well... Ah... This is a little delicate. You see, he didn't pass the interview portion of the exam," Harry said.
"What do you mean? What part of the interview didn't he pass?" I asked.
"The interviewer didn't think he would fit in with Corinthian's... traditions."
"And just what does that mean?" I asked becoming more distressed.