I waited anxiously as Bruce and Pauline got out of their car. John's sisters were first out and ran to their brother. Rachel reached her brother first, threw her arms around him, and kissed him on the cheek. Linda and Cassie were not far behind. They surrounded their brother in a group hug. All of them were talking at the same time and no one seemed to be listening, but it was joyful talking.
His parents approached somewhat hesitantly, but when John disengaged himself from his sisters he walked quickly to his mother and gave her a hug. He looked at his dad for a moment before he went to him and gave him a less enthusiastic hug.
"Bruce, Pauline, it's good to see you again. Please come into the house, I think Hildy has prepared coffee for us," I said as I shook Bruce's hand and then Pauline's.
The twins gravitated to Linda and Cassie as we headed up the steps to the house. That left TJ, Chris and Rachel to bring up the rear. Nobody said anything as we walked into the house. I showed Bruce and Pauline into the family room before turning to the twins and Chris. "Why don't you show the girls your toys upstairs? We'll have a snack later."
"Okay, dad," Lenny said and led the way up the stairs. All the rest followed him except for Joel and John.
As the five of us took seats in the family room, Hildy and Manfred came in carrying a tray with the coffee that I asked her to prepare. She had also fixed hot chocolate for Joel and John. I introduce Manfred to them before he and Hildy retreated to the kitchen but remained within earshot of the family room.
There was an uncomfortable silence as everyone concentrated on their drinks. Finally, I said, "Bruce, you said that you wanted to see your son. Is there something that you wanted to say to him?"
"Why did you let them take you away from the school?" he asked John with a steely tone to his voice.
"I didn't let them, dad. She took me. I didn't have anything to say about it, but I was glad she did," John said. The last was almost defiant.
"What do you mean? You're glad that she took you away? That place was going to help you. I don't understand. Don't you want to be normal?"
"Dad, I hated that place. It really sucked..."
"Watch your mouth, young man."
"But it did. Everybody hated it. Jimmy and me were gonna run away before Miss Cassidy took me. I couldn't stand it. I hope he got away, too. If I couldn't run away I was gonna kill myself," he said looking squarely at his dad. Joel, who was sitting beside him, moved closer so that their shoulders were touching.
"Crane, may I speak to my son alone?" Bruce asked.
"I'm sorry, Bruce, but that's not possible. Melinda said that I could allow you to see John, but only under my supervision. What is it that you want from John?"
"Well, at least could we talk without Joel here?" he asked.
"No," John protested, "he's my friend. I want him to stay."
"John..." Bruce started but was interrupted when Pauline placed her hand on his arm.
"Bruce, did you hear what your son said?" I asked.
"That he wanted Joel to stay."
"No, before that."
"That he and some other kid were going to run away."
"No, that he was going to kill himself if he couldn't run away. Didn't that sink in?"
"But, he would never do that. That's just talk."
"I've done a little research on that subject," I said. "From what I've read, some sources say that over half of teens committing or attempting suicide are gay or lesbian. What John said is a real possibility and shouldn't be dismissed as 'just talk'. Think about it. Would you rather have a dead son or a living son who was gay?"
"That's a ridiculous choice. I don't want either one of those options. What I want is a normal son who will abide by God's teachings. What the Bible says is absolute and it says that homosexuality is sinful," Bruce said with almost a smirk of superiority.
"Bruce, I won't argue theology with you. What I will remind you of is that Jesus never once condemned homosexuality. He did preach that we should treat others as we want to be treated. Can you honestly say that you would like to be treated the way that John was treated at that school? The school that you sent him to? To be cured?
"He's your son, but he's been placed in my custody because he was being physically abused at that fundamentalist snake pit. I'm sorry, but I can't hide my disgust of that place."
The conversation went on for another forty-five minutes or so. Pauline was quiet most of the time. She did offer an occasional comment. At times, however, Bruce became very loud and upset and at times bordering on the abusive. Most of his outbursts centered on his very inflexible religious beliefs. It would probably have gone on longer if it weren't for TJ coming in and climbing onto my lap.
"Can we have our snack now?" he whispered in my ear.
"Of course you may," I laughed. "Go tell Hildy that you're ready for your snack and I'll go get your brothers and the girls." I think that TJ felt a little left out because the twins were playing with Linda and Cassie while Chris and Rachel were playing together.
I suggested that the Gordiniers, Joel and John take seats at the dining room table while I went upstairs to get the other kids. I didn't have to tell the kids upstairs twice. At the mention of a snack, I was nearly bowled over by the rush to get to the table. Hildy and Manfred were serving the warm cherry cobbler topped with whipped cream when I entered the dining room.
As they were leaving both Pauline and Bruce gave John a hug. "I love you, son," Bruce said as he released his hug.
"I love you, too, dad."
"Do you want to come home?" Bruce asked.
"Yeah, I want to come home, but not if I have to go back to that school. I won't go back there. I won't," John said firmly.
I could see the hurt in Bruce's eyes when John said that. He almost said something, but then turned and walked to the car and got in. John's sisters hugged him and then ran to the car. John looked as though he was about to cry as the car drove off down the lane. I pulled him close to me and held him until the car was out of sight.
"Why can't he really love me?" John said looking up at me.
"I think he does love you, John. But he's fighting a battle with himself. You're his son and he loves you because you are his son. On the other hand, his church says that he should hate you because you told him you were gay. It may be a while before one side wins the battle. For your sake, I hope that it's his love for you that wins," I said.
I sent the boys off to get their showers taken and then tucked them into bed. John was still upset when I tucked him in so I spent extra time trying to settle him down. I was only partially successful. Later that night I thought I heard him crying. I got up and listened at his bedroom door. I could distinctly hear the sounds of his sobs.
I tapped lightly on the door before I opened it. As I sat on the edge of the bed, John threw his arms around me and his sobbing became even harder. All I could do was to tell him everything was going to be all right and rub his back. After maybe five minutes his sobbing tapered off.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Johnson. Sometimes I just feel like I'm all alone," he said wiping the tears from his face with the sleeve of his pajamas.
"You're not alone, son. Everyone here loves you. If you ever need to talk to someone, I want you to know that I'm always available for you. I don't have all the answers, but I'm a good listener. Now, I know that your family raised you to address adults as Mr. or Mrs., but since you're living here, why don't you call me Uncle Crane? That's what my sons called me before I adopted them. Do you think you can do that?"
"Sure... Uncle Crane."
"That's better. Why don't you try to go to sleep? It's a school day tomorrow," I said tucking him in again. "Good night, son."
"Good night, Uncle Crane."
John seemed to be better in the morning. While the boys were getting ready for school after their breakfasts, I thanked Manfred for staying close last night. I was glad that he was not needed, but was thankful that I had back-up had Bruce gotten out of line.
I saw the boys off to school and then headed to the office. As usual I followed the school van until I felt sure that the suspicious car was nowhere to be seen. It was going to be a busy day with interviewing a couple for possible assistance from the foundation and then meeting with the people from the Mohr Trust in the afternoon.
Darcie was in the office when I got there. She was busy going over some new requests for assistance when I stepped into her office.
"I sure hope that the Mohr Trust comes through with some money," she said. "We are getting more and more request from people who really would like to adopt and could use our support. I know we can't help everyone, but it's hard not to try and help them all."
"I know it's hard. We have to marshal our resources and try to help the ones that are the most deserving of our help. By the way, I don't tell you enough that you are doing a fantastic job in screening the applicants," I said.
At nine o'clock Marie and Jesus Ballesteros arrived for their interview. She worked at a local dry cleaning store and he worked at a call center for one of the financial institutions. They wanted to adopt two sisters, age 9 and 11. Neither of them had much schooling, although Jesus had received his GED. Marie had only finished the tenth grade. She had to drop out of school to care for her dying mother and to help support her younger brothers and sisters. Jesus had been wounded in the Gulf War and had a noticeable limp. I learned later that he had lost a leg. He received a small military disability pension. Their combined income, including the pension, barely put them above the poverty level.
After talking to them for an hour, both Darcie and I were convinced that they deserved the foundation's support. We needed to determine the amount to recommend to the board if the background check turned up clean.
The meeting in the afternoon with the board of the Mohr Trust went very well. They seemed to be enthusiastic about what we were trying to do. We met with them for over two hours. When the meeting ended, they said that we would be informed of their decision for a grant by the end of next week. I had hoped to know something before then but I understood that there were many organizations that also wanted funding from them and that it took time to sift through all of them.
Because the meeting lasted so long I wasn't able to get home in time to meet the boys school van. I had called Hildy earlier and asked if she would look out for the boys until I got home. She said that Manfred was home and that he would meet them with the dogs when the van arrived.
The boys were finishing their after school snack when I walked in the back door. TJ greeted me with a hug and a sticky kiss on the cheek from the baked apple that he had just finished eating. "That's the sweetest kiss I've ever received," I said receiving a giggle from TJ. The other boys crowded around for their hugs, which I gladly gave.
I thanked Manfred for meeting the boys before I went to change clothes. Since it was an unusually warm day for the second week of October, I decided to go for a swim. I had been very lax about swimming my laps since the boys went back to school. When the boys saw that I was going swimming, they decided that they wanted to swim also. I loved playing in the water with them. Even though John was not a strong swimmer, I think he had as much fun as the others did. TJ, John and I took on Joel, Larry, Lenny and Chris in a spirited game of water polo. There was more laughing and dunking than real water polo, but we had a great time.
It seem like we had only been in the pool a short time before Hildy came to the patio door and told us that supper would be served shortly. "Alright guys, go jump in the showers. We wouldn't want to be late for supper."
After supper while the boys were busy doing their homework, I called Eric and invited him and his boys over on Saturday to celebrate the one year anniversary of the boys coming to live with me. As I hung up, I realized that I hadn't told Hildy of my plans. She was still in the kitchen cleaning up from supper when I told her what I wanted to do. She thought it was a great idea and immediately began planning the menu.
Checking homework took a little longer now that there were six sets to check every night. Even John took his turn for a place on my lap when I got to his homework. At thirteen both he and Joel were getting a little big to sit on my lap but I still enjoyed it.
Before bed, all five dogs had to be taken outside to take care of business. The boys didn't like it too much, but I insisted that they clean up after their pets. A small plastic sandwich bag reversed over one of their hands solved the picking up problem. I told them it was better than stepping in it while they were outside playing.
Thursday morning Karen Lin called to set up a meeting to talk to John and me to see what she needed to do to represent him for his upcoming hearing. I told her that I didn't know when the hearing was scheduled. We decided to meet later this afternoon when John got home from school. She said that Benjamin had given her the directions to the house and thought that she could be there around three-thirty or four o'clock.
She arrived only a few minutes before the boys arrived home from school. I offered her a cup of coffee, then excused myself to let the dogs out, and headed down the lane to meet the boys. As usual I took second billing to the dogs when it came to being greeted by the boys. I took John aside and told him that a lawyer was here to talk to him about his status with CPS. I explained to him that she was here to protect him and to make sure that he was treated fairly when the hearing was held.
Karen's meeting with John had to wait until the boys had finished their snacks. She was very good with John, putting him at ease almost immediately. Although I sat in on the meeting, I, for the most part, took no part in it. Karen was mainly interested in finding out from John what he wanted to happen. When she finished and John had gone to play with the other boys, she asked me what I thought should happen to him.
"I would really like to see John back with his parents. I don't know if that is possible seeing the way his father feels about John's professed homosexuality. If there were some way that the court could make it a condition that Bruce receives some sort of counseling before John could be returned to the home, I would feel better about it," I said. "I think Pauline is accepting of her son and wouldn't be a problem."
"Are you willing to continue temporary custody of John?" Karen asked.
"Of course," I responded. "I'm very fond of John. He's a sensitive boy and I think that he feels comfortable here. I think, in a way, that it's good for him to be here. He has a chance to interact with other boys. At home he only has three sisters and there are no boys in his neighborhood that are near his age."
I invited Karen to stay for supper with us but she declined saying that she was meeting her boyfriend in San Antonio. I told her that I would give her a call when I learned when the hearing was scheduled.
On Friday morning I received a call from Melinda Cassidy telling me that a hearing had been set for the following Wednesday at two o'clock to determine John's status. I immediately called Karen Lin's office in Austin and left a message for her giving all the details on the hearing.
I had invited Darcie and Mel to come to the party on Saturday but they were taking his mother to visit her sister in Dallas and weren't able to attend. I called Dr. Sam to see if he and Carol could come help us celebrate. He said they had no plans and he knew his wife would love to come see the boys again. He chuckled when I told him I might be able to scrounge up a bottle of that Merlot that he liked so well.
That made it a total of nineteen people that would help us celebrate our one year anniversary. I felt kind of bad for Jack's little girl. She would be the only girl among the ten boys.
When I got home early Friday afternoon, Hildy said that Carol Greene had called and insisted on bringing something to the celebration. They had decided that she would bring a tray of appetizers, something that both the adults and kids would like. Hildy was busy preparing food for tomorrow as well as getting ready for our supper.
I hadn't quite reached the gate when the school van pulled up and the boys burst out. Five dogs took off at a dead run to greet their owners. I followed at a more sedate pace. "How come you guys are early?" I said looking at my watch.
"Two guys on the route weren't in school today so we didn't have to make as many stops," Joel said as he put Samson down and gave me a hug. "JR said that he and Bran were going to come over tomorrow. How come?"
"We're going to have a little celebration. Remember it was just one year ago today that you spent your first night here. And tomorrow marks the day that your brothers came to live here. I thought it was appropriate that we celebrate two of the happiest days in my life. Jack Hogan and his family will be here also as well as Dr. Sam and his wife."
"I forgot. It doesn't feel like it's been a whole year," Joel said throwing his arms around my waist. "I'm sure glad that you found me."
"Me too, son. You and your brothers have given my life a whole new meaning," I said kissing the top of his head. "Now, go get your clothes changed or your brothers will have all the food eaten before you get there."
Off he went after his brothers and John. I stood there for a while and wiped the tears out of my eyes before starting up the lane after them.
Hildy was setting out a large platter of peanut butter cookies and glasses of milk when I made my way into the house. The cookies were still warm when I grabbed one before they were all gone. The preparations for tomorrow were well under way. I asked Hildy if there was anything that she wanted me to do to help her.
"Yes, stay out of the way," she said with a mischievous smile.
"Yes ma'am," I said giving her a quick peck on the cheek.
"Go on, now, you'll have an old woman blushing," she said and gave me a playful shove.
After supper I explained to the rest of the boys what was going to happen tomorrow and the reason for it. They seemed excited to have some of their friends coming over. Since it wasn't a school night, I let them spend an extra hour watching TV. There was a National Geographic special on the animals of Australia that I thought they would enjoy.
When it was over TJ crawled into my lap and asked, "Can we get one of those wala bears? They're cute."
"You mean Koala bear. They're not really bears, they're marsupials. That means that their babies are born not fully formed and then make their way to the safety of a pouch on their mother's stomach. They wouldn't be good pets. They need a special diet of certain tree leaves that don't grow naturally in Texas," I said. "Besides they are mostly active at night."
"That's okay, I have Bandit," he said jumping down off my lap and picking up his dog.
I let the boys stay up until ten o'clock before I sent them off to get their showers taken and to get ready for bed. Although Joel and TJ now had separate bedrooms, TJ still wanted to take his shower with Joel. Joel didn't seem to mind and he made sure that TJ got clean.
Saturday morning, Hildy was scurrying around in the kitchen when I walked in. Manfred was already up sitting at the table reading the morning paper.
"Manfred," I said after I had greeted them, "have you heard anything from Horst?"
"As a matter of fact, I have. He called last evening. He started on the treatments and they appear to be having some positive effect. It's not a cure, but it may allow him to have a longer life expectancy. I'm hopeful," he said barely able to choke out the last.
"That's wonderful! Please give him my best the next time you talk to him. Make sure that he knows that he is welcome here anytime," I said. "That goes for his partner, too."
"Thanks, that's very kind of you under the circumstances," he said. "I'll tell him."
"Not at all, he's part of the family now. Let's see, Hildy is the boys' surrogate grandmother. That means she's my surrogate mother and since you married her that makes you my surrogate step-father and Horst then becomes my surrogate step-brother or something like that," I said laughing.
"That's too complicated for me," he said handing me part of the morning paper.
I let the boys sleep in until eight o'clock. They were still sleeping soundly when I woke them, but the dogs helped me to get them up by jumping on their beds and licking their faces. John didn't have his own dog to help me wake him up but Samson followed me into his room and helped. Samson seemed to understand that there was a special bond between Joel and John and he responded to it by accepting John as a friend.
Everyone was a little anxious waiting for the celebration to start. One or another of them kept asking what time it was and how much time before our company would get here. At ten o'clock the gate buzzer sounded. When I checked the video camera I saw it was David. It dawned on me that I had forgotten to call and tell him not to come, but since he was here it might just solve the boys' impatience problem. It did. For the next ninety minutes the boys were totally occupied with their swimming lessons. I invited David to stay for our celebration, but he said that he and his girlfriend were meeting friends later on this afternoon.
By the time the boys had showered the pool water off and had eaten their lunch it was time for our guest to start arriving. Eric, JR and Bran were the first to arrive followed shortly by Jack and his family. Dr. Sam and Carol were the last to arrive. I think that Carol had prepared enough appetizers for an army. She came into the house carrying a large tray and Sam was right behind her with another equally large tray. One tray went into the refrigerator while the other was placed on the coffee table in the family room. As soon as the kids saw it, at least half of its contents disappeared. I don't know where they put it. My six had finished lunch less than thirty minutes ago, but they still managed to down a number of the appetizers as if they hadn't eaten a thing. Even I couldn't resist eating a couple pigs-in-a-blanket before they were all eaten by the kids.
The women took over the kitchen and indicated strongly to the men to stay out of the way and to mind the children. So Dr. Sam, Eric, Jack and I took the boys and Sarah outside to play. The dogs joined us much to the delight of Sarah. She took an immediate liking to Bandit. I think that TJ was a little jealous of her because Bandit sat down beside her and put his head in her lap. He soon overcame his jealousy and they both began playing with Bandit. Now instead of following TJ around all the time, Sarah spent her time following Bandit.
Eric and Jack had joined some of the older boys playing a game of touch football. Dr. Sam and I were watching from the sidelines and cheering them on.
"Crane, you know that patient that your foundation sent me to examine, Bruce Collinsworthy's foster son Alan. It's a good thing you did. After we ran some tests we discovered that he has Myotonic Muscular Dystrophy. Fortunately the progression of the disease is usually fairly slow, but it does need to be monitored," Sam said.
"Is it curable?" I asked.
"Not yet," he said. "There are a number of things that can be done to make his life easier as the disease progresses. He should be well into adulthood before there is significant disruption to his life."
"Although the foundation's support will cease when Alan turns 18 or has completed four years of college, we will see that he gets the medical support he needs until that time," I said
"Crane, I think your foundation is doing great things. I hope that you will be able to receive support from other members of the community. To that end, I will treat for free those children that the foundation is assisting. Carol and I have talked it over and felt that this was one way we could support you and your efforts. Also, Carol was a psychiatric nurse when I married her and she still maintains her license. If there is something she could help you with, I know she would be willing. I think she gets bored staying at home now that all the kids have gone."
"Sam, that's very generous of you. I'll have Darcie contact your office to see how we can coordinate the medical needs of the kids that we help. As far as Carol helping out, I'm sure that we will be able to call on her. Again, Darcie would be my best resource to say how we could use her. I'm just a computer jockey. I leave a lot of that stuff to her. But, thank you for the support. I'm sure that the foster parents and adoptive parents will welcome your support."
"I'm getting to old for this," Jack panted as he came up to Sam and me.
"You're just letting yourself get out of shape since you left SAPD," I said patting him on the back. "It's your cushy job as a private investigator, sitting around all day with your feet up on a desk."
"I wish," Jack said. "You have me running around all over Texas checking up on your foundations applicants. I don't see my desk but about once a week and even then don't have time to put my feet up."
"At least you're busy, it sounds like," I said. "Business must be pretty good. Any regrets leaving the police department?"
"None what so ever," he said. "In fact, business is so good that Carolyn and I are thinking about moving out here to the hill country. We've even been looking at houses out here."
"That'd be great," I said. "Have you found anything you like yet?"
"There's one that I really like. Carolyn does too. It's over on the south side of the lake not too far from the golf course. It has a view of the lake, but it's not a lake front lot. We're going back to see it again tomorrow afternoon. We may make an offer on it then."
"When would you plan on moving then?" I asked.
"We would like to move around the time the kids finish first semester. That way it would be less trouble transferring to a new school. I wish that the school your boys go to had a class for Jack Jr. Even with them adding a new grade every year he is always going to be one year ahead of their offerings. He will probably end up going to Smithson Valley. He's getting into sports and I hear that they have a good athletic program," Jack said. "Timmy and Sarah could go to Corinthian, but I'd hate to have them going to separate programs from Jr."
"Well, you never know," I said. "I've heard that Corinthian has been getting a lot of requests to open more grades in high school. I doubt that they would open a senior class, but it's possible that they might start a junior class in addition to the scheduled sophomore class. Check with them, what do you have to lose?"
The boys' play was interrupted by Carol and Carolyn bringing out sodas and the heaping tray of appetizers. As soon as they saw the food, they made a beeline to it. When their hunger was sated, which corresponded with the last of the tray of food, they went back to playing.
Eric had joined us while the kids were enjoying their treats. We all sat around chatting while the boys got involved in a game of soccer. Sarah was left out. She climbed up on her dad's lap and promptly went to sleep.
"Eric, how's your dad doing?" I asked. "Is he adjusting to being alone?"
"No, he's not doing well. He's visiting his sister in Victoria right now. Mom's death has been very hard on him. He can't seem to function on his own and he won't talk to a grief counselor," Eric said. "If I had the room, I'd have him come and stay with me. I know he wouldn't be happy, but I don't know what else to do."
"Give him some time," Dr. Sam said. "If he doesn't come around, you may have to really insist that he see a counselor. If he continues to grieve, it could affect his health."
We continued to talk until the sun started to set. I suggested that we take the boys inside and get them washed up for supper. Sarah was still sleeping in her dad's lap until he shook her to wake her.
Sometime while we were outside, Manfred had returned and was helping get everything set up to feed the nineteen people. He had been gone for most of the day checking up on his lawn and landscaping business.
Hildy had fixed one of her usual fantastic meals. The table fairly groaned with the amount of food that was placed on it. By the time the meal was over, everyone was stuffed. Before we left the table, I had fresh glasses of Merlot poured for the adults and grape juice for the children.
I stood up and asked everyone for their attention. "First of all, I want to thank everyone for coming today. Each and every one of you is special to us. All of you, in some way, helped to bring our family together. One year ago yesterday, Joel spent his first night in this house. One year ago today, Larry, Lenny and TJ came to live with us. Those two days have changed my life. My life is so much fuller than I could have ever imagined. Although Chris didn't come into our home until several weeks later, we are celebrating his inclusion in our family as well. These five young men have made me happier than I ever thought possible.
"I ask you to raise your glasses in a toast to my five sons. Joel, Chris, Larry, Lenny and TJ you are the lights of my life. To my sons," I said and raised my glass.
After everyone had taken a sip, Joel got up and proposed his toast, "To our dad, the man who saved our lives."