Saturday morning I woke up at around six thirty. I figured that I should get an early start to be ready for our guests later in the morning. After I showered and dressed I went to the kitchen and was not surprised to find Hildy there already working on getting the food prepared for the boys. That was no small task to prepare enough for eleven boys ranging in age from seven to fifteen.
Hildy was busy stirring up one of her fabulous chocolate cakes as I poured myself a cup of coffee and made a couple slices of toast. "I think I'll let the boys sleep in until around eight o'clock," I told her.
"Once they smell food, I wonder how long they'll stay in bed," she chuckled.
"You've got a point," I said buttering my toast.
She had no more than put her cake pans in the oven when I heard bare feet on the stairs. When I looked up, Larry and Lenny were hurrying down the stairs.
"When's Roger gonna get here?" Lenny asked when they hit the bottom of the stairs closely followed by their puppies, Buddy and Buster and Chris' puppy Rusty.
"It'll be at least two hours," I told them as I gave them their morning hug. "How come you two are up so early?"
"We thought we was gonna oversleep," Larry said. "Roger said we could ride in his wheelchair today."
"I see. Well, why don't you take your friends outside and then go get washed up and dressed. Try not to wake your brothers. We'll see if we can get some breakfast for you when you come back down. Now scoot!" I told them giving each a playful swat on their behinds.
"It looks like they'll be eating in shifts,' Hildy said.
"Is there anything I can do to help?"
"No, I have a couple of ham, cheese and mushroom frittatas in the other oven that should be ready in about fifteen minutes. I'll stick some biscuits in with them. That should satisfy them for a while. I can keep them warm until everyone is ready for breakfast," she said.
"You think of everything. What are we going to do while you are on your honeymoon?" I asked wrapping my arm around her shoulder and giving her a squeeze.
"Ah, go on, you'll do just fine. It'll only be for a week, besides Cora Fuentes will fix your supper. Now, get some juice out of the refrigerator for the boys. I'll get the table set."
The twins were back down the stairs before Hildy had finished setting the table. After they let the puppies back inside, she turned the task over to them and went to check on the frittatas and put in the prepared biscuits. I poured them a glass of orange juice while they waited for their food.
Chris came bounding down the stairs just as Hildy was cutting the first frittata. "I didn't know where you were," he said frantically. "You weren't there. Rusty wasn't there. I thought you was gone."
"It's alright, son. They just got up early is all. Go get washed and dressed. Hildy'll have your breakfast ready when you come back down," I told him as I walked up behind him and gave him a hug. As I put my arms around him he melted into me. I could feel his heart beating a mile a minute. I kissed the top of his head and turned him back toward the stairs. I didn't want to over react to his panic of waking up alone. I had never seen this side of Chris before. I always thought that he was fairly self confident. When he looked up at me I could see a tear in the corner of his eyes. I was about to say something else to him when Rusty came bounding into the kitchen and jumped up pawing Chris' legs.
"Hi, Rusty, I didn't see you when I woke up. Come on, boy, let's go get ready for breakfast," he told his dog and ran toward the stairs and his room.
I decided to go wake up TJ and Joel to get them ready for breakfast. I went first to TJ's room. He wasn't there which wasn't a big surprise. I then opened the door to Joel's new bedroom and sure enough TJ was in bed with Joel. Bandit was sleeping on the floor next to the bed on TJ's side. I couldn't help from smiling as I shook the boys awake and told them to get washed for breakfast.
Finally everyone was at the breakfast table, although in different stages of eating. "What smells so good?" TJ asked Hildy.
"That's a chocolate cake I have in the oven, honey," Hildy said patting him on the head.
"With chocolate frosting?"
"Yes, TJ, with chocolate frosting. Just like you like it."
"Oh, boy!" he said hopping up into his chair.
After eating the boys went to brush their teeth and to make sure that their dogs had fresh water and food. By the time they had finished their chores the gate buzzer sounded and Eric and his boys arrived. Eric had said that he would bring the boys over early to help me prepare for the onslaught.
Everyone went to the front door to greet JR and Bran. After their greeting, they all ran off leaving Eric and me standing there.
"Thanks for coming, looking after eleven boys full of piss and vinegar just might be more than I bargained for," I said placing my arm on Eric's shoulder and leading him toward the front door.
"Glad to do it. Maybe we can get some time alone?" he asked looking into my eyes.
"That might be difficult. We'll see," I said.
When we entered the kitchen and Eric had paid his respects to Hildy, I poured us both a cup of coffee. We took our cups and went out onto the patio where the boys were playing with the dogs. The five dogs were in heaven having two more boys to play with.
"You should have brought JR's dog," I said only half heartedly.
"Yeah, that's all you needed. Another dog to deal with. Don't think JR didn't suggest it. He insisted that Charlie wouldn't be any trouble."
David Wilson arrived shortly thereafter. I could hear him coming up the driveway. His old car had a very distinctive and loud sound. The boys heard it too and raced around the house to greet him. Eric and I followed. David was holding the passenger door of his car for a very attractive young lady. When she stepped out I would have sworn she was a life-size version of a Barbie Doll. Put the two of them together and they looked like they should be the figures on a wedding cake.
"Mr. Johnson, I'd like you to meet my fiancé, Celia Lansing," he said as he ushered her toward Eric and I.
"Celia, it's good to meet you. And please call me Crane," I said. "Let me introduce Eric Levin. He's JR's dad and Bran's foster dad."
"I'm very please to meet you both," she said. Her voice was strong but soft and very pleasant to listen to.
"This is JR and this is Bran," Eric said putting his arms around each as he introduced them.
"And those are my crew," I said pointing to the five boys mobbing David. "Hey guys, say hello to Celia."
After the introductions were completed, we all went inside.
"When is the boy in the wheelchair going to arrive?" Celia asked.
"They should be here in about fifteen or twenty minutes. His name is Roger Davis. He has an older brother, Brian, who will be coming also," I answered.
"I'm anxious to meet him," she said. "I need to have a subject to work with as part of my practicum and was hoping that I could work with him."
"You would, of course, have to speak with his mother. I doubt that she would have any objections. They are going to see a specialist in Houston to see if there is any way that he could regain the use of his legs. Even if that's possible, I'm sure that he would need some kind of physical therapy to recover after not having the use of his legs for a year and a half. His mother doesn't have much money..." I started to say.
"Oh, I couldn't charge them anything. I wouldn't have my license and it'd be illegal," she said quickly.
"Well, if you need to change into your swimwear, you can use my bedroom which is the first door on the right down this hallway and the spare bedroom at the end of the hall. David, you know your way around. Make yourself at home, both of you," I told them.
"Thanks," David said as he and Celia headed down the hall. I noticed that they both went into the spare bedroom.
When they came out of the bedroom, David was a little flushed. He looked gorgeous in his swim suit and she was equally stunning. They were indeed a most handsome couple. I could visualize them both in a Hollywood movie.
I called the boys and told them to get changed into their swimsuits. The seven of them took off for different bedrooms to change.
When the gate buzzer sounded I saw two cars on the security camera waiting to enter and another one coming up the road that I knew was Joey's dad's car. I opened the gate and went out the front door to greet the arrivals. The first car to stop was Pauline's carrying John.
"Hi, Mr. Johnson, where's Joel?" an excited John asked.
"Hello, John, Joel is in changing into his swim clothes. Grab your stuff and go change. Joel is in the room next to his old bedroom," I said giving his shoulder a squeeze.
"That boy," Pauline said shaking her head. "He would have been here an hour ago if I'd have let him. Bruce is spending time with the girls today so I have the day all to myself."
"Lucky you. Well, you know John's always welcome, anytime. Won't you stay for a cup of coffee? I think Hildy just made some fresh," I said motioning her to the door. "Let me greet the rest of our guests and I'll be right there."
By this time the second car had parked and Helen Davis and her older son Brian had gotten out of the car and were taking Roger's wheelchair out of the trunk. Harold parked his car directly behind theirs. He got out and offered to help but was told that Brian could handle it.
"Where's TJ?" Joey asked as he scrambled out of his dad's car.
"Joey, where are your manners? You didn't even say hello to Mr. Johnson," Harold chided his son.
At that moment Chris, the twins and TJ bounded down the steps shouting at their friends. Harold and I just shook our heads. Brian had set up Roger's wheelchair and then in one swift motion reached into the car and lifted his brother up and put him in the chair.
In all the commotion I was able to greet all of our guests and introduce them all to each other. We then headed inside for a cup of coffee while the boys went around to the patio to play with the dogs. David and Celia were talking to Hildy and Pauline when we got to the kitchen.
"Celia, this is Helen Davis. Her son is the boy in the wheelchair that we were talking about. Helen this is Celia Lansing," I said.
Celia and Helen went off to one corner of the kitchen to talk while Hildy poured the rest of us a cup of coffee and set out a plate of Danish. I could swear that the boys possessed food radar because no sooner were the Danish on the table then they all came rushing in.
"Dad, can we have one of those?" Chris asked.
"Okay, just one. I don't want your stomachs to be too full when you go in the water. You might get a cramp," I told them.
I don't think I hardly got the word okay out of my mouth before there were eleven boys reaching for a treat. Hildy was prepared and set out another large platter of Danish. Larry and Lenny grabbed the platter and held it out for Roger to choose from first since he wasn't able to maneuver his chair close enough to serve himself.
The sweet rolls disappeared very quickly into the mouths of the boys. They looked longingly at the few that remained on the plates but when they looked at me with an unspoken question, I shook my head no.
"Go show your friends where they can change into their swimsuits," I said. "Remember, Hildy has a chocolate cake she is baking that you can have with your lunch. Now run along it's almost time for your lesson."
David and Celia left us and headed for the swimming pool to wait for the rest of the boys.
Helen joined us at the table dabbing at her eyes. "Celia said she would like to work with Roger," she said. "I didn't know that people could be so kind. First you set us up with Dr. Yankowitz and now he's going to get the physical therapy that he needs."
"I meant to ask, have you set up an appointment with Dr. Yankowitz?" I queried.
"Yes, we meet with him on Wednesday morning. We're driving down on Tuesday and spending the night with my cousin in Sugar Land. Brian is raising a stink," she said. "He doesn't want to go and miss his soccer practice, but I don't want to leave him alone."
"Look, Helen," Eric said, "I don't want to butt in but, why don't you let him come home with Bran? They're getting to be pretty good friends. Mrs. Carson will be there when they get home and then I'll take him to practice when I get home."
"Are you sure? I don't want him to be a burden," Helen said.
"It won't be a problem. Bran has practice on Tuesday evening at five. That's probably the same as Brian's," Eric responded. "I assume his practice is over on South Access Road."
"Yes, I'll check with Brian, but I'm sure he'll agree. Thank you!"
Brian came out of one of the bedrooms pushing Roger. The twins were rushing ahead to open the patio door so that they could all go outside. The adults followed close behind. When Brian saw the pool he began pushing Roger's wheelchair faster and faster heading directly toward it. Roger was squealing and giggling at the same time as they approached the pool. As they got to the edge Brian stopped the wheelchair and Roger went flying out into the pool still giggling like a maniac. Brian was in the pool almost at the same time as his brother making sure that Roger was alright.
"I'll get you for that," Roger sputtered.
"You'll have to catch me first, you little runt," Brian laughed as he stayed just out of reach of his brother as he tried desperately to swim toward his tormentor.
"Don't worry, they always play like that," Helen said when she saw the shocked expression on our faces. "There is no way Brian would ever let anything happen to his brother."
David and Celia got the swim lessons started which, today, mainly consisted of organized games and races.
Harold, Pauline and Helen took off shortly. I told them that they could come pick up their son around seven o'clock this evening after the boys had their supper. Eric and I sat watching the boys' antics for about an hour. He told me all about a new project that he was involved with at the office and I told him about the foundations work. He said that whenever he saw Darcie, all she could talk about was the foundation. He said that he had never seen his sister happier.
Celia always seemed to be at Roger's side making sure that he was safe and that he participated in the activities. Although the lesson was to last for about ninety minutes there was a lot of times when the boys were sitting on the edge of the pool as David or Celia demonstrated some new stroke or technique to them.
After about an hour Eric and I went to get the barbeque grill started. I had convinced Hildy that the boys would be happy with a picnic outside. I was going to grill some hamburgers and hotdogs. She would fix the sliced tomatoes and vegetable sticks. Eric volunteered to open the potato chip bags and put them in bowls as well as setting out all of the condiments.
The boys were almost sad when their lesson was over, but the smell of the hamburgers on the grill convinced them that it was time for lunch. Everyone said their goodbyes to David and Celia and then headed for the outdoor shower to rinse the chlorine off before they sat down at the picnic tables. Brian and Bran helped Roger stand under the water and dried him off before putting him back in his wheelchair. The three of them were laughing and giggling so hard that it was all they could do to hold him up during the process.
Since we were having a picnic lunch, Hildy didn't insist that the boys put on shirts in order to eat. I had fixed twenty hamburgers and twenty hotdogs hoping that would be enough to feed everyone. The way they started to disappear I was beginning to wonder if I would have to grill some more. I think Bran and Brian were having a contest to see who could eat the most. That is, before I told them that Hildy had fixed a chocolate cake for dessert so they had better save some room. That at least slowed down the contest.
All but one hotdog had disappeared when Hildy arrived with the cake. I could see that she had cut the three layer cake into twelve pieces. She was also carrying a 31/2 gallon plastic container of vanilla ice cream by the wire handle.
"Bran, will you and Brian go in the house and bring out the stack of paper plates, the ice cream scoop and the forks? They're sitting on the kitchen counter. Thanks," she said as the two boys took off for the house.
It didn't take long for them to return with the articles requested. Hildy barely had time to take the lid off the ice cream container. She placed a slice of cake on a plate and then handed it to me and I put a large scoop of ice cream on it and gave it to Eric who past it to one of our guests starting with the youngest, Joey. It didn't take long with our assembly line to get the cake and ice cream distributed. Hildy and I refrained from having any dessert, but Eric didn't. It was a difficult choice for me to make but I really needed to watch my calorie intake and Hildy didn't want to have to let out her wedding dress.
All the boys pitched in to help clean up after lunch. Since we had eaten off of paper plates and cups there was very little to carry back into the house. Most everything went directly into a garbage bag.
"What's everyone going to do now?" I asked.
"Roger wants to see our video games," Larry said. "Me and Lenny are gonna take him up and show him our room."
"Lenny and I," I said getting a quizzical look from Larry. "That's fine. I think the elevator will hold the three of you."
"You got an elevator?" Roger asked surprised.
"Yeah, it's neat. It's for Hildy, but we can use it sometimes," Lenny explained.
"Bran and I are going to practice our soccer," Brian said. "Maybe throw the football, too."
"Have Joel show you where the balls are," I said. "TJ, what are you and Joey and JR going to do?"
"I'm gonna show 'em my room and all my stuff. Chris is gonna show JR how to play my new video game," TJ said grabbing Joey's hand and heading for the house.
"We're just going to watch a little TV for a while," Joel said as he and John also headed for the house.
"I'll stay out here and watch Bran and Brian. I might even show them some of my old soccer style, that is if I can remember it. I haven't played in about ten years so I might be a little rusty," Eric said with a grin.
"The shape you're in that shouldn't be a problem," I said patting his toned stomach. "I'll keep an eye on the boys inside."
As I walked in the house I could hear the elevator operating. I thought that was strange since the boys had been in the house long enough to have made it to the upstairs several minutes ago. I walked back to where the elevator door was only to hear giggling coming from it. The door opened and there were the twins and Roger.
"Hi, dad," Larry said looking sheepish.
"Is there something wrong with the elevator?" I asked.
"No, dad, we were just showing Roger how it worked," Lenny responded.
"You know you're not supposed to play with it, don't you?"
"Yes, sir," the twins said in unison.
"Okay, take Roger upstairs. I'll be up in a minute," I said giving them as stern a look as I could muster without my face betraying a smile.
I went to check on the boys in TJ's room. Chris and JR were on the floor with the video game controllers in their hands. Chris was giving JR pointers on the game. TJ and Joey were digging through the chest that held the mountain of toys that TJ had received for Christmas and his birthday. TJ pulled out the first toy that he had received after he came to live with me - the Tonka Truck. The big yellow truck had a few bumps and scrapes but it was still his favorite toy.
Seeing that they were all occupied, I went to check on Joel and John. They were sitting side-by-side on the couch in the family room in front of the TV. As I approached I heard them whispering. I didn't want to startle them so I cleared my throat before I got too close to them. It did startled them a little.
Joel turned and looked over his shoulder, "Hi, dad."
"How are you guys doing? There is some juice in the refrigerator if you get thirsty," I said.
"Thanks, Mr. Johnson," John said.
I headed upstairs to check on the twins and Roger. When I got to the top of the stairs I saw Roger sitting on the floor propped up on a couple of pillows with Larry sitting beside him. They were totally involved in one of their latest video games. Lenny on the other hand was in Roger's wheelchair racing around the game room as fast as he could make the wheelchair go, which wasn't that fast.
"Hi, dad, this is fun," Lenny said a little out of breath as he stopped the wheelchair right in front of me.
"I'm sure that it is for a while, but I bet you wouldn't want to be in it all of the time, would you?"
"No, I guess not," he said.
"It sucks," Roger volunteered.
"Well, son, let's hope that Dr. Yankowitz can help when you see him next week.
"Yeah," Roger said with a sob.
I quickly sat down beside him and put my arms around him. He buried his face in my shoulder and started crying. His shoulders shook as the sobs wracked his body.
"It's alright, son. It's alright," I whispered in his ear.
We sat like that for several minutes with me stroking his back and trying to soothe him. I motioned for Larry to bring me the box of tissues on one of the boy's study desk. When he handed it to me I indicated for him and his brother to leave us. They did, going down the stairs.
"I'm sorry Mr. Johnson. Sometimes it gets to me. I hate being in that damn chair," he said as another sob wracked his body.
"I wish that I could say that I understand, but I can't. I've never been confined to a wheelchair. I can't really understand what it means to not be able to use your legs. But if Dr. Yankowitz says that there is anything he can do for you, I'll make sure that whatever he recommends you will get."
"Really? But mom says that the insurance won't pay anymore."
"Well, I know of a foundation that helps young people like you. I know that they will help," I told him as I helped him dry his eyes. "Are you feeling better?"
"I guess. Where did Larry and Lenny go?"
"I sent them downstairs. I thought that you needed some private time," I told him giving him another hug which he returned.
"Thanks, I'm not really a baby."
"I know you're not. You are a very brave boy. I think that's one of the reasons that the twins like you so much. They see you as a strong boy, not as a boy with a handicap. I want you to know that crying is not a sign of weakness. It's a sign of someone who has genuine feelings. Don't ever be afraid to show your emotions. Look, if you ever need to have someone to talk to, don't be afraid to call and talk to me. I know you don't live with your father and I'm not trying to take his place, but if you need a man to talk to I'm available."
"Won't Larry and Lenny care?"
"No, I'm sure they won't care. They love you, too," I said giving him another hug.
"Can you put me back in my chair? I need to go to the bathroom."
"Sure, do you need any help?" I asked as I lifted him into his wheelchair.
"No, once I get into the bathroom I can do everything by myself. It's just hard getting into my chair from the floor," He said as he took off for the bathroom.
I went to get the twins while Roger was occupied.
"Is he alright?" Larry asked.
"Yes, he's fine. Sometimes it just gets to be a little overwhelming being confined to a wheelchair for him. Just let him know you care about him and not because he is confined to his chair," I said giving each of them a hug and a kiss on top of their heads.
The rest of the afternoon went smoothly. Brian, Bran and Eric came in for a drink after an hour or so which triggered a round of snacks for all of the boys. Thankfully Hildy had a supply of juices and a large batch of peanut butter cookies which quickly disappeared.
I think Hildy started preparing supper as soon as we had finished our lunch. She had something in the oven that smelled delicious. There was a mountain of chicken legs, thighs and breasts on her preparation table being readied for her to start breading and frying. I don't know how many potatoes she had peeled but there was a large pot full of them waiting to be cooked. She was humming and there was a contented smile on her face as I helped the boys clean up from their snack and load the dishwasher with their glasses.
"Hildy, you are a wonder. It seems the more cooking you have to do the happier you are. You are truly an indispensable part of this family," I said giving her a peck on the cheek.
"Oh, go on. You'll turn an old lady's head," she said blushing.
Supper was simple but delicious. Hildy's southern fried chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans with bacon and almonds along with hot bread rolls kept conversation from the boys to a minimum. Most of the conversations centered around asking for someone to pass this or that plate for seconds or thirds.
"Be sure to save room for dessert," Hildy said as the plates started to clear. "There's cherry cobbler and whipped cream."
Eric and I groaned but the boys all reacted positively. We settled for a cup of coffee while the boys downed large bowls of cobbler topped with huge dollops of sweetened whipped cream.
"Hildy," Brian said, "that was fantastic. I don't think I've had a better meal in I don't know how long. You can come cook at our house anytime."
"Thank you, son, but I don't think my boys would let me leave here," she laughed.
"You got that right," Joel said.
"Alright, guys, let's get the table cleared and then everyone get your stuff together. Your parents will be here shortly," I told them.
The table was cleared and the dishwasher loaded in no time. Eric and I retired to the family room with our coffee soon followed by the rest of the boys. I turned on the TV for them but they didn't seem to be too interested. They were more interested in talking among themselves.
It wasn't long before Harold arrived to pick up Joey. He thanked me profusely for inviting Joey today. He said that he got called to check on a possible remodeling job in San Marcus and Joey hated to go with him to do that. They left a few minutes later with him promising to invite TJ over to their house some weekend. TJ waved to his friend until Joey was out of sight.
Bruce was next to pick up his son John. Joel and John went outside while I talked to Bruce. I invited him to stay for a cup of coffee but he said he needed to get back home. His day out with his daughters had worn him out. I laughed and told him he should have had eleven boys to watch. He agreed that he probably had the easier job.
I saw over Bruce's shoulder Joel and John embracing. I didn't know how he would take it so I continued to talk to him and kept him from turning around. When the embrace broke I started walking Bruce back to his car.
"Thanks for inviting me, Mr. Johnson. I had a great time," John said as he gave me a hug.
"You're welcome, son. Come back any time."
With a quick hug for Joel, John climbed into his dad's car and they took off down the lane.
"Did you have fun today, Joel?" I asked.
"Yeah, dad," he said. "I know John would've liked to play soccer with Bran and Brian but he knew I couldn't play so he stayed with me. I liked that."
"He's a good friend," I said putting my arm around Joel's shoulder and led him back into the house.
Helen arrived a few minutes later to pick up her boys. "Did you boys behave yourselves?" she asked.
"Oh, mom," Brian moaned.
"They were perfect angels," I said rolling my eyes which drew a laugh from both of her boys. "No, really, they were very well behaved. They're welcome to come back anytime."
"I'm glad. I'd hate for them to misbehave. Okay, guys, get your stuff together. We need to get home," she said.
Brian got his and Roger's things and placed them in Roger's lap and then wheeled his brother out the front door and down the two steps to the driveway. He set the brakes on the wheelchair, opened the car door and lifted Roger into the car and fastened his seatbelt before taking the chair to the rear of the car. Helen punched the remote control for the trunk and Brian collapsed the chair and placed it in the trunk.
"Thanks, Mr. Johnson, Roger and I had a great time. Tell Hildy we really enjoyed her cooking," he said patting his stomach.
"It was a pleasure having both of you. You'll both have to come back soon," I told him.
Larry and Lenny were crowded around Roger's window saying goodbye to him as Helen and Brian got into the car. Bran shook Brian's hand through the window before Helen started the car. The twins waved to their friend until they could no longer see him in the quickly fading light.
"Well, me and the boys better take off, also," Eric said.
"Do you have to?" I asked hopefully.
"We're supposed to go to Darcie and Mel's house tomorrow morning. They want us to go to church with them and I said we would. It means getting everyone up early. Neither one of the boys is what you would call a morning person. I'm sorry we didn't get a chance to have some time alone," he said.
"Me too," I said sadly, "maybe next time. Hey, guys, go help JR and Bran get their stuff together."
That left Eric and me alone for a minute or so. It gave us only enough time for a quick kiss before the boys started coming out the front door.
There never seemed to be enough time for us. Someday...