"Come on, Joel. We don't want to be late for your appointment," I pleaded with him. I knew he didn't like going to see Dr. Sam, but it was time for his chemotherapy. My heart went out to him every time he needed his treatment.
"Do I really have to?" he looked at me with those beautiful eyes with such pleading that it broke my heart.
"Son, you know if there were anything that I could do to cure your leukemia right now, I'd do it in a heartbeat. Dr. Sam says that you're getting better but we have to continue the chemo for at least another six months," I said hugging him to my chest. "You've been so brave and I'm so proud of you."
"But it makes me so sick afterwards. Why does it have to make me so sick?" he said with a sob in his voice.
"I wish it didn't but Dr. Sam says that it's the medicine killing all the bad cancer cells," I said giving him another hug and steering him toward the door. "I love you, son."
Joel was quiet all the way into San Antonio. I had the feeling that he was trying to again come to grips with his illness. I was too. I hoped that someday I would wake up and it would all be a dream. I knew it wouldn't, but when it's your child that is hurting the hope is always there.
Dr. Greene greeted us shortly after we arrived at his office. "Good morning, Joel. How are you feeling today?" he asked as he extended this hand to him.
"I'm okay, I guess," he answered heading into the examination room.
"Sam," I said as we trailed Joel, "is there anything you can give him to keep him from being so nauseous after his treatment?"
"That's one of the things I wanted to talk to you about today. I've had a conversation with Dr. Kerner. He has suggested a new treatment that doesn't involve intravenous chemotherapy. It also should eliminate most, if not all, of the nausea," he said as he began to examine Joel.
"That would be great, wouldn't it son?" I asked looking into Joel's eyes.
He shook his head in agreement. The thermometer in his mouth prevented him from speaking.
"I'll still need to take a blood sample every time you come," Sam said looking at Joel. "What I'll need to do before we can start you on the oral medication is to test you to see that you won't have any allergic reaction."
"Thanks, Dr. Sam," Joel said as the thermometer was removed from his mouth.
"Okay, son, I have to give you an injection just under the skin and then we'll need to wait about an hour to see if there is any reaction. I'll bet that you could talk your dad into taking you to Liza's for one of her delicious sticky buns while you wait. I wish I could go with you, but Carol would kill me. She has me on a strict diet," he said sadly patting his ample stomach.
He had only been to Liza's one time before but Joel's eyes lit up at the thought of one of those big sweet rolls dripping caramel and covered with pecan halves. My mouth started watering at the thought also. I settled for a cup of coffee while Joel ate his high calorie treat and washed it down with a cup of hot chocolate.
We had to wait a few minutes before we were ushered back into Dr. Sam's examination room when we returned. Sam took a look at the site on Joel's arm where he had made the test injection. After he looked it over thoroughly he announced, "It looks like you get to take the capsules instead of getting an IV."
"Yea," Joel shouted.
"Here's what you're going to have to do. There are twelve capsules. Four of them are pink, four are white and the other four are yellow. You have to take one of each color every hour until they are all gone. You should take them with some food like a slice of bread or a cookie but no milk. Fruit juice is okay but don't drink milk for about an hour after you have taken the last three capsules. Is that clear? Do you have any questions?" Sam said handing me a pill bottle with nine capsules in it. The other three he handed to Joel and went to the sink, filled a paper cup with water and gave it to him. "Take these three now. I think that your sticky bun will serve as the food. You just shouldn't take them on an empty stomach."
Joel was much happier on the way home than when we went to town. He was his usual exuberant self jabbering away about school and the new kids enrolled this year. After a while he became quiet and I saw him turn toward me out of the corner of my eyes, "Dad, when is Hildy getting married?"
"Son, she's getting married on the thirtieth of September. That's twelve days away. Why?"
"Who's gonna take care of us while she's gone? Who's gonna cook?" He asked.
"Well, I've asked Mrs. Fuentes to come in and clean the house and fix our supper for the week that Hildy is gone. And I guess that I will just have to be the one to take care of you guys," I said reaching over and punching him lightly on the shoulder.
"I didn't mean it like that," he said laughing. "It's just that Hildy's always there. I know we'll miss her."
"I know she'll miss you guys, also. I hope that the work on her new apartment is finished before she returns from her honeymoon. Harold said it should be done by the end of the month."
"Dad... Can I ask you something?"
"Sure, I hope you know that you can ask me anything. What is it?"
"Well... I love TJ... But, well... Can I have my own room?" he ended with a rush.
"Of course you can have your own room. Do you think TJ will mind?"
"He might... Maybe."
"Let me talk to him. Maybe I can convince him it's his idea. I know that you're growing up and need some privacy. All teenage boys do," I said to him. "I was a teenager once, you know."
"Thanks, dad, I knew you'd understand."
The house was a flurry of activity when we arrived. There must have been ten workmen running around in organized chaos. Harold was there talking with Nathan, the man I knew as foreman of the renovation project. When he saw Joel and I get out of the car he came over to us.
"Crane, I'm glad that I caught you. If everything goes without a hitch, we should be finished by Friday. The only thing that might delay us is the new garage doors," he said.
"That's great news, Harold. I'm sure that Hildy will be happy to hear that. She's anxious to get back into her apartment after almost six weeks. It's beginning to get to her as her wedding date approaches. There are so many things for her to do," I said. "About the garage doors, that's not a problem. The van and Hildy's car have been sitting out for a while anyway. At least we can drive them in under shelter until you get them installed."
"The area we are leveling back behind the house is almost finished," Harold said. "I do have a suggestion for you though. I think that you should put up a fence along the lake side. The slope drops off rather quickly and one of the boys could go tumbling down if they stepped off the edge."
"I never thought of that. Go ahead and put one up. Just do something that won't block too much of the view. Maybe something like a chain-link fence about six or eight feet high. What do you think?"
"Let me see what I can do. I'll give you an estimate before I do anything."
"Thanks, Harold," I said as I ushered Joel toward the house. "It's almost time for your next set of capsules, Joel."
"Okay, I'll go get something to eat," he giggled as he ran ahead of me.
"And then it's time to start work on your lesson that you're missing at school today."
I took out the set of capsules that he was supposed to take when I got to the kitchen. He was already eating a couple of chocolate chip cookies that Hildy had baked fresh. They looked so good I had a couple of them myself even though I didn't need to take any pills. I told Hildy about him not having any milk until an hour after he finished his series of capsules. She said that he had already told her, that's why he was drinking apple juice.
"Dad, can we go watch John play soccer after everybody gets home from school? Bran's going to play too."
"Sure. What time does it start?" I asked.
"I think about five."
Turning to Hildy I said, "I think that they play three thirty minute periods so it will probably be around seven or after before we get back for supper. If you have anything planned, just leave something for me to warm up."
"No, I don't have anything planned. Manny is coming over to finalize some things for the wedding around seven. I'll tell him to come for supper, if that's alright?"
"That's fine. Oh, did Harold tell you that your new apartment should be ready by the end of the week?"
"No, but that'll be a relief. Living out of a suitcase is getting old," she laughed.
Joel finished the last of his capsules at one o'clock and his homework shortly after. I took him outside and we walked back to the area that Harold's workers had leveled off and sodded to create a large play area for the boys. It was almost large enough to play soccer on. I thought I might erect a backstop so they could play some baseball, also.
"Hey, this is gonna be neat. Samson is gonna love to play Frisbee here. Aren't you boy? I hope he doesn't run off the side," Joel said patting Samson on the head.
"Harold is going to put a fence along this side," I said pointing to the drop off.
Joel and Samson played for a while on the new play field before he started to tire. At my urging he agreed to come in the house and lie down for a while until his brothers got home from school.
When it was almost time for the van to arrive bringing the boys home, Joel, five dogs and I walked down to the gate to wait for them.
As the four boys jumped off the van waving goodbye to their friends, their dogs were trying desperately to get through the gate to greet their masters. When I opened the gate four dogs flew through it and leapt into their boy's arms.
"Come on, guys. Let's go get your snack and then we're going to watch Bran and John play soccer."
"Hi, dad," TJ said as he jumped into my arms and gave me a kiss on the cheek.
"Did you have a good day at school?" I asked returning his kiss.
"Yeah," he said wiggling down. "Come on Bandit, let's go."
The soccer field was only about twenty minutes away so we got there about ten minutes before the match was to begin. Mrs. Carson had brought Bran and JR to the field. When she saw me she asked me if I would watch JR. She had to go to her Sweet Adeline practice and couldn't wait until Eric was there to care for him. The boys and JR acted like they hadn't seen each other for weeks instead of the couple of hours since school let out for the day.
I took a seat on the bleachers where I could keep an eye on the boys and watch the match as well. Joel spotted John and quickly went to talk to him on the sidelines. The twins were standing on either side of a young boy in a wheelchair. I wondered who he was since I don't recall ever seeing him before. JR and Chris were talking to Bran until the coach call the team together to get ready for the start of the match.
"Are those twins yours?" an attractive woman of about thirty-five asked pointing toward Larry and Lenny.
"Yes, they are," I responded.
"I thought I saw them come in with you. I'm Helen Davis. My son, Roger, is the one with them," she said.
"Crane Johnson, I said extending my hand to her. "It's very nice to meet you."
"Roger has talked a lot about your twins. They seem to be the only ones not afraid to talk to someone in a wheelchair."
"Oh, does your son go to Corinthian also?"
"Yes, he just started this year. We moved here after his father and I divorced."
"Well the twins are really rather outgoing. I'm glad that they have been a friend to Roger. Has he always been in a wheelchair?"
"No, he and his father were in a car accident about a year and a half ago. Conrad, that's my ex-husband, was not injured. Roger's spine was compressed leaving him paralyzed from the waist down. The doctors have told us that it might be possible for him to recover. I keep hoping, but..." she trailed off.
"That's good to know that there's some hope, at least," I said.
As the match progressed I watched as Larry and Lenny took turns pushing Roger up and down the sidelines as the action switched from end to end. Joel, TJ, Chris and JR seemed to always be nearby.
Helen and I chatted as we watched our boys and the action on the field. She was amazed when I told her I was a bachelor raising five boys. She said it was hard enough for her raising Roger and his older brother. That was the first time she had mentioned that she had another son.
"Bryan is my older son," she said. "He's out there on the field. He's number 28 on the red team."
At that moment Eric arrived. I shook his hand and then introduced him to Helen. After a brief conversation he left to go see JR. Our conversation returned to Roger, his condition and how the family was coping with his disability. She said that he was putting up a good front about being wheelchair bound but that she often heard him crying in his bed at night.
"Have you ever heard of Dr. Leon Yankowitz?" I asked.
"I met him several years ago while doing a project for his medical practice in Houston. He's a Neurosurgeon that was doing some experimental surgery on spinal cord injuries when I met him. In fact the consulting company that I used to own still consults for his practice from time to time. It might be worth your while to see if he can do anything for Roger," I explained.
"That would be great, but I doubt that we'll be able to," she said bitterly. "You see the insurance on Roger is maxed out and I doubt that I could afford him. Conrad has to pay for the boys' education until they are eighteen, but the settlement that I received from the divorce has barely been enough to get us resettled here. My current job doesn't pay well enough to afford the kind of money needed for a specialist like that."
"Look, I have to go into the office tomorrow. I'll call Dr. Yankowitz and ask what he would charge for an initial consultation and then I'll get back to you. I would hate to see Roger confined to a wheelchair if there were any hope of him getting out. What's your phone number?" I asked as I pulled out my PDA ready to enter it.
Eric came back to sit with us shortly thereafter. I told him that the boy in the wheelchair was Helen's son and that the tall kid on the red team wearing number 28 was her older son, Bryan.
"How old is Bryan?" Eric asked. "He's certainly taller than most of the other boys on the teams."
"He was fifteen in May, but he has really had a growth spurt. It's all I can do to keep him in clothes and shoes - forget it. I think he outgrows them before he's out of the store," she laughed.
"I know what you mean," I said.
"I'm just beginning to know," Eric echoed. "Bran is starting to grow like a weed. He turned fifteen at the end of August, but he is nowhere near as tall as Bryan."
"Which one is Bran?" Helen asked.
"He's number 12 on the blue team," Eric answered.
Helen searched the field for a little before she said, "You mean that black boy?"
"Yes, he's my foster son," Eric said with obvious pride.
"Oh," Helen responded.
There was a lull in the conversation before Helen said, "I'm sorry. I was just a little surprised that your foster son was black. I've tried to make sure that my sons never saw any prejudice in our family. Now that I think about it, Bryan has mentioned a boy in his class named Bran. He never mentioned that he was black. He just said that he was a good student and always willing to help the other kids with their studies."
"That's Bran," Eric said. "He really gets after JR if he hasn't done his homework, but he's always willing to help if JR gets stuck on something. In fact JR is more likely to go to Bran with a homework problem than he is to come to me."
"Dad, I'm thirsty," Joel said as he approached us. "Can we get something to drink?"
"I guess that'd be alright," I said digging a $20 bill out of my wallet. "Get something for your brothers and their friend. Get something for JR also."
"Thanks, dad," he yelled as he ran off waving the money.
It was about a quarter to seven when the soccer match finished. We hadn't been paying that much attention to the score so we didn't know which team won. It didn't really matter who won. What was important was that the boys enjoyed themselves and that they learned teamwork and sportsmanship.
"Dad... Can Roger come play with us sometime?" Lenny asked as he pushed Roger's wheelchair to where we were standing.
"If his mom says it's alright, he may," I said turning to indicate Roger's mother.
"Oh... Ah... Mrs. Davis... Can Roger come to our house and play?" he stammered.
"Yeah, can he?" Larry piped in.
"Please mom!" Roger begged.
"I think that would be okay," Helen said looking at me.
"Why don't we make it this Saturday," I said. "I'll work out the details with you when I call tomorrow after I've talked to Yankowitz."
"Dad, can John come too?" Joel asked.
"You have to ask his mom and dad," I said.
"Can he, Mrs. Gordinier?" Joel asked.
I turned to see Pauline standing a few feet behind me when she responded, "Yes, I guess so, as long as he behaves himself."
"Thanks, mom," John said hugging his mother.
"Eric, why don't you bring JR and Bran? We'll make it a swim party. David will be there to give the boys their lesson," I said. Then turning to Helen, "Does Roger go in the water?"
"He used to swim a lot before the accident, but we don't have a pool now," she said.
"Bryan is invited, too if he would like to come. Oh, by the way, David Wilson the young man who gives my sons their lessons is Red Cross certified as an instructor and life guard. He's very good with the boys. I'm sure that he won't mind a few more."
I hustled the boys to the van and we hurried home. I didn't want Hildy to have to hold supper for us any longer than necessary. As it turned out Manfred was parking his car as we drove up the driveway. After saying a quick hello to him the boys made a beeline for the dog run to release their friends.
Supper was a simple affair. Hildy had fixed meatloaf, escalloped potatoes, fresh green beans and cole slaw. It may have been simple but the boys devoured it as if it were a gourmet meal.
After supper the boys cleared the table, rinsed the dishes and loaded them into the dishwasher before they went to play with their dogs. Before going outside they checked to make sure that their dogs had fresh food and water. One of the cardinal rules for having a pet was to care for it every day.
"Okay guys, you have half an hour and then it's homework time," I said to them as they exited through the patio door.
Joel had already done his homework so he chose to read a book while the other boys did theirs. Samson curled up at his feet and napped.
After I had checked all of their homework, I took TJ aside. "Come here and sit on my lap my little man," I said extending my arms to him.
TJ climbed onto my lap with Bandit in his arms. I cuddled him for a few minutes, rubbing his back and petting Bandit.
"This is nice," I said. "I don't get to hold my TJ often enough. You're growing up so fast. Pretty soon you'll want your own room for you and Bandit."
"Umph," was all he murmured.
I waited a few minutes just enjoying the warm feeling of him on my lap. "Do you think you might?"
"Yeah, but... won't Joel be lonesome?" he asked in a soft voice.
"He might be, but he has Samson and you'd have Bandit to keep you company. If you want to move into a new bedroom you let me know. We have enough to choose from."
"What if I want to keep mine?" he asked.
"You mean have Joel move to another bedroom?"
"Well, I suppose that's possible. That way you would stay right across the hall from my room. Do you want me to ask Joel?"
"Maybe tomorrow," he said and snuggled further into my chest.
"I love you little one. You bring joy to my life," I said kissing the top of his head. We sat there for a few more minutes before Bandit started squirming. "I think you had better take Bandit outside."
"Yeah," TJ giggled. "He needs to go."
After the boys were all in bed I looked up the office number for Dr. Yankowitz. I didn't know how this was all going to play out but if there was anything that could be done to get Roger out of his wheelchair, I wanted it to be done. I considered whether the foundation could possibly be of use. The stated reason for it to exist was to assist the adoption of normally unadoptable children. I guess I would need to check with Carlos Martinez, our attorney, to see if we would be able to help.
I spent the rest of the week fulfilling my commitment of a week a month with my old business. Most of that time was spent working with the newer consultants who aspired to become project managers. I sometimes wondered why anyone would want to manage computing projects. The tons of paperwork that must be handled is enough to give a person ulcers, not to mention the frustration of managing a group of prima donnas.
I was able to contact Dr. Yankowitz's office to see what an initial consultation would cost. Carlos also informed me that the way the tax exempt foundation was set up the language was broad enough in scope to include any child that the foundation found to be in need of financial assistance for whatever in the opinion of the board the child needed. Therefore, there was no reason that we couldn't help Roger if we decided to.
Helen was delighted when I told her what Yankowitz's consultation would cost. I also told her that if he thought that there was something that could be done for Roger I knew of a foundation that might be able to pay for the costs. We also decided that she should bring her boys to the house around 9:30 since the swimming lessons would start at ten.
David agreed to the additional boys being added to the swim lessons. When I told him one of the boys would be a paraplegic he asked if he could bring his fiancé to help. It seemed that she was studying to be a physical therapist and was also a certified life guard. I thought that was a great idea and told him I would pay her the same as I did him.
Friday was a big day. Hildy's apartment renovation was completed and she moved her stuff back in with the help of the workmen. The elevator that I had installed worked great. It would allow her to reach her apartment by either the stairs or elevator. It also allowed access to the upstairs game room and the twins' and Chris' bedrooms. That seemed like an even better idea when I considered how we would have gotten Roger upstairs without carrying him. I thought that might embarrass him unnecessarily.
It also was the day that I talked to Joel about moving to the other bedroom next to his original one. At first he was hesitant but after he thought it over he agreed. His biggest concern seemed to be the PlayStation and his video games. I told him he could take them to his new room and if TJ put up a fuss I would get another system for his room.
TJ asked if he could invite Joey to come on Friday. That would make eleven boys for the entire day. When I told Hildy what was going on the first thing that she did was to make out a list and head for the grocery store.
I was glad that Harold had suggested the fencing along the playing field. The one he came up with not only protected the boys from accidentally plunging down the steep slope but it also was very attractive and didn't block the view of the lake.
Friday evening the dogs and I met the school van as the boys jump off. They were all excited about their friends coming tomorrow but not too excited to greet their pets. Since it was one of those hot September South Texas afternoons the boys wanted to go swimming before supper. I thought it was an excellent idea and we all headed to the house to change into our swim suits.
As the boys were finishing getting ready, Hildy asked if it would be possible for me to order in pizza since she had been busy getting her apartment straighten up after the workmen left. I assured her that would be fine. I knew that the boys wouldn't object. They loved pizza as much as I did.
We swam and played for about an hour and a half before I told them to get a shower taken and dressed. I decided that we would go out to have pizza instead of bringing it home. A new Italian place had opened up on 281 that I was anxious to try. I had heard the food was good and that the pizza was fantastic. Hildy declined the invitation to join us opting to finish up working on her new apartment.
It was a little after six when we got to the restaurant and it was already getting crowded. We had to wait a few minutes before the hostess seated us. She handed us the menus and told us who our waitress was going to be. I had started looking over the menu when I heard familiar voices behind me. When I turned around I was surprised to see Eric followed by JR and Bran.
"I see you had the same idea," Eric said as the hostess shoved another table up against ours so that we all could sit together.
"Yeah, Hildy was moving back into her new apartment and didn't have time to fix supper so I thought we'd try out this place," I said.
"I've heard good things about it," he said. "What looks good on the menu?"
"Everything sounds good. I'm sure the boys will want pizza but I was thinking about the veal parmesan. I just hope it's made with real veal. I think a glass of Chianti would go good with that," I said putting down my menu.
"Dad, how many pizzas should we get?" Joel asked.
"Does everyone want pizza?" I asked. Getting a unanimous response I said, "Well then three large ones will probably be enough. Let's try a combination, a pepperoni, and a sausage pizza. That should satisfy everyone."
As with all boys, when you get seven of them together they tend to get a little loud. Eric and I had to quiet them down a couple of times before the food came. After that there was not much conversation as they demolished all three pies. Thankfully we had ordered French fried onion rings and some bread sticks or we might have had to order another pizza.
"Are you ready to have a dozen boys at your house tomorrow?" Eric asked chuckling.
"There are only going to be eleven, and yes I think I am. You could always lend a hand, you know," I retorted.
He reached over and placed his hand on top of mine, looked me in the eyes and said, "I'd love to."
"Great! You're hired," I said grabbing his hand and squeezing it.