John's words startled me and for a moment I didn't know what to say. I didn't want to over react, but at the same time, I wanted to try to defuse any thoughts that he might have about suicide.
"Son, do you love your mother?"
"Sure, she's my mom."
"Okay, do you love your sisters?"
"Of course," he said rather testily.
"Does your mother love you?"
"How about Rachel, Cassie and Linda, do you think that they love you?"
"Do you think that your mother would be sad if you were, as you said, dead?"
"Yes," he said looking into my eyes.
"And your sisters, would they be sad, too?"
"Yeah, I think so."
"I know that they'd be sad. I'd be very sad if anything happened to you. You're like one of my kids and I love you."
"But my dad hates me," he said again sobbing.
"John, I think that your dad really does love you. He just has some issues about you telling him that you're gay. He can't seem to separate his love for you from his hatred of gays. Right now, the hate appears to have the upper hand. You have to give him some time to get his thinking straight."
"But, what if he never does?"
"Well, he'd miss out on having a great son. It would be his loss."
"But, my sisters need a dad."
"Do you think that if you were gone, they would be able to forgive your dad for being the reason? Do you think your mom would love your dad knowing that he was the reason she didn't have a son any more?"
"I don't know," he said barely above a whisper.
"And what about Joel? He wouldn't have his best friend. How do you think he'd feel?"
"I'd feel really bad," Joel said stepping around from behind the recliner.
"How long have you been there?" I asked motioning him to come join us in the recliner.
"Long enough to hear that I could lose my best friend," Joel said as the tears started to trickle down his cheeks.
John buried his head in my chest and began crying again. I held both of the boys as they cried quietly. When they seem ready to stop, I said, "John, I want you to promise me that you will come and talk to me if you ever have any thoughts of hurting yourself. Do you promise?"
"Yes, sir, I promise."
"If I'm not around, I want you to promise me that you will talk to Joel, okay?"
"In the mean time I'm going to make an appointment with Dr. Adams. He's the one that Joel goes and talks to every month. He can help you.
"Now, as much as I love you guys, I'm going to have to ask you to slide off my lap. My legs are going to sleep," I said giving each of them a kiss on the forehead.
"Thanks, dad," Joel said as he placed his arm around John's shoulders and steered him toward the patio door, Samson leading the way.
"Damn, I feel so helpless," I said to myself. "I hope I did the right thing."
After a hastily thrown together supper, I sent the boys off to do their homework and the lessons that they had missed on Friday. It wasn't long before TJ came to me carrying his spelling book and asked if I would help him. For the next half hour, I quizzed him on his words until he had them down perfectly. By that time, the other boys had finished their homework and were waiting for me to check it.
In bed later, I wondered if John would really keep his promise to come to me if he had thoughts of hurting himself. I made a mental note to call Dr. Adams as soon as I got into the office in the morning. Then I remembered, it was the week I had to spend at the consulting office. I'd still make the call. I also wanted to talk to the office manager to see if there was a way I could get out of my one week a month duty with them.
I put the boys on the school van with a sense of apprehension that I hoped I didn't project to them. TJ tightly hung onto Joel's hand as they stepped on board the van. I knew that my fears were irrational since the kidnappers were safely locked up in jail. That still didn't set my mind at ease, but I wanted the boys to return to their normal routine as much as possible.
Driving to the consulting office, I wondered how they would feel about me wanting to get out of my contract to work for them one week a month. It wouldn't hurt to ask, but I was prepared to fulfill my commitment if they weren't agreeable. Carol greeted me when I got to the office. I chatted with her for a few minutes before the rest of the consultants started to arrive. She told me that a new partner had taken over managing the office. His name was Derrick Williamson. I asked her to see if I could get in to see him sometime today. She said he had some free time at two and put me on his schedule.
I spent the morning in more coaching sessions for would be project managers. During a break during the morning session I called Dr. Adams to see if I could get an appointment for him to talk to John. He was with a patient, but his nurse said that she would have him call me when he was free.
When he called back, I explained to him what my concerns were for John. He agreed that we had to intervene as quickly as possible. Looking at his schedule he said that if I could bring him in tomorrow at four he would do a preliminary assessment. I thanked him and told him we would be there at four.
At two o'clock, I went to see Derrick. He was a distinguished looking man that I judged to be around fifty years of age. He was very pleasant and gave the impression that behind the smile and friendly exterior laid a superior intellect. After the formalities of the introductions were out of the way, I broached the subject I wanted to talk to him about.
"Mr. Williamson, as you are aware, I am obligated to spend one week every month working here at the office."
"Yes, I'm aware of that. Is there some problem?"
"Yes and no," I said. "I enjoy what you have me doing training new project managers, but since I sold the company, other things are taking more and more of my time. What you may not know is that I started a foundation with the proceeds from the sale. I find that running it and caring for my five sons and now another foster son is stretching me a little thin."
"My God! You mean you have five, no six, boys? At your age?"
I laughed and gave him the Reader's Digest version of how I came to have my family. I didn't tell him the circumstances of John's placement.
"That's an amazing story. It reminds me a little of my own family. Marge and I have three adopted children, two girls, 4 and 5, and a boy who just turned one year. And before you ask, my wife is ten years younger than I am," he said, I'm sure looking at the astonished look on my face when he gave his children's ages.
"My youngest is seven and the oldest is thirteen. But, back to what I wanted to talk to you about. What would the company's position be if I asked to be let out of my contract to be here one week a month?"
"I can understand your situation, but I can't make that decision unilaterally. I need to run it by the Senior Partners. Weller was the one who negotiated with you, wasn't he?"
"Yes, he was."
"I have a meeting in Chicago with him and three other Senior Partners tomorrow. I'll bring up the subject with them and let you know what their thoughts are."
"Thanks, that's all I can ask for."
When I got back to my office, I called Darcie. I had meant to call her this morning, but had gotten busy and never got around to it. I was glad that I did finally call her. She had good news from the Mohr Trust. They had decided to give the foundation a two million dollar grant. It was an unrestricted grant although it was understood that it would be used for the main purposes of the foundation.
"Crane, the word's really gotten out about what we're trying to do," Darcie said. "The phone has been ringing off the wall all morning. The mail's so heavy that I haven't been able to get through half of it so far. We've also received five faxes this morning that I haven't had a chance to read. If this keeps up, we're going to need a secretary or an assistant to help out."
"At least we're being recognized for what we're doing. We may need to get that extra person. I won't be into the office either today or tomorrow. I'll try to get in on Wednesday sometime," I said. "Don't panic, we'll get to all of the requests as soon as we can."
"I know, it's just that knowing the hopeless situation that some of these kids are in, it kills me not to be able to solve all of the problems immediately."
I had to cut our conversation off because it was getting time for me to head home to meet the boys' van. I certainly didn't want to miss it tonight. I just hoped that TJ would be all right.
The van turned down our road right behind me. When I got to our gate, I called the house on my cell phone and asked Hildy to let the dogs out. They knew what time it was. All five of them came bounding down the lane in anticipation of their boys coming home. I parked the car just inside the gate to wait for the van's arrival. As I got out of the car, I was nearly knocked down by five dogs greeting me enthusiastically. When they heard the van coming - it was still out of sight - they lined up at the gate and began barking. As the van rounded the curve they began dancing around and trying to get through the gate. I let the van stop before I opened the gate and let them squeeze through.
Five happy dogs greeted six happy boys. TJ was first off the van. As he jumped down the last step, Bandit leapt into his arms trying to lick his face off. TJ hugged his dog and ran to me. I picked him and his dog up and gave him a kiss on the cheek. In return he gave me a kiss on one cheek and Bandit licked the other.
"I don't know if we can all get into the car, but we can try," I said opening the door and getting in.
Chris and the twins piled into the back seat with their three dogs. TJ and bandit climbed into the front seat.
"Dad, John and I will walk," Joel said.
"Okay, see you at the house."
When we arrived at the house, the boys and their dogs quickly exited the car and ran inside to see what Hildy had fixed for their snack. I looked down the lane to see Joel and John walking hand in hand with Samson running circles around them. John seemed to be happy. I hope that he knows that his death would cause more hurt to his family than his father being absent from the family.
I waited for my two stragglers as they strolled up the lane. As soon as John saw me he jerked his hand out of Joel's. I walked up to them and drew them into my arms.
"I love you guys. John, if you and Joel want to hold hands, I don't have any problems with it. You do need to be careful outside our home. Some people wouldn't understand. Now, I think you had better get your clothes changed and washed up before your brothers eat all of Hildy's snack."
Later that evening, Eric called to see how TJ was doing. I told him that I thought he was doing very well considering everything that had happened to him. As I was talking to him, I sifted through the unopened mail on my desk. One piece caught my attention. I opened it while we chatted away about a new project that he was about to take on. It was a reminder that the Patron's Dinner for the San Antonio Symphony was one week from this coming Saturday. I had set aside the first notice a couple of weeks ago when it first came, but had forgotten all about it.
"Eric, how would you like to attend a fancy dress dinner?"
"A week from Saturday."
"What's the occasion?"
"It's the Patron's Dinner for the San Antonio Symphony."
"You mean it's like that one we went to before."
"Yes, only this one doesn't have a concert after it. This one is only to raise money for the symphony."
"That might be a little too rich for my blood. I can't afford to donate a lot of money."
"Don't worry, I've got that covered. Do you want to go?"
"Sure, I'd liked to."
"Great, I'll make sure that Hildy and Manfred can watch the boys that night."
We talked for a few more minutes before the boys started coming for me to check their homework. TJ sat on my lap as was usual while I checked his homework.
"How was school today?"
"No," he giggled. "Lots of them asked me about those bad men who took me."
"What did you tell them?"
"Well, they asked me if I was scared and I said no, but I really was."
"Did you tell them how brave you were?"
"Huh uh, I didn't know I was brave."
"Well, you were and if anyone asked you, you tell them your dad said so," I said kissing the top of his head.
"Okay," he said jumping down off my lap making room for Lenny who was next up.
When it was John's turn to have his home work checked, I told him, "Tomorrow I'll pick you up from school at three o'clock."
"Why? Did I do something wrong?"
"No, I made an appointment with Dr. Adams like I told you I was going to do. We have to be at his office at four. That'll give us plenty of time to get there and still have time to get you a snack at the Dairy Queen down the street from his office. How does that sound?"
"Oh, boy! Can I have a hot fudge sundae?"
"Sure, with nuts and whipped cream, too."
"And a cherry?"
"And a cherry."
"I wish my dad was like you," he sighed.
"Give him some time," I said enfolding him in my arms. I couldn't think of anything else to say.
While the boys were devouring their bedtime snack I asked Hildy if she and Manfred would be able to take care of the boys while Eric and I went to the dinner.
"Crane, you don't even have to ask. Of course we will. You need to get out more with other adults. Isn't the last time you've been away from the boys on a social occasion the time you and Eric went to the symphony?"
"I guess it was. My life has been full enough with just them."
"Nonsense! You need the company of someone your own age."
Yes, ma'am," I said giving her a hug. "You're way too good to me, you know that don't you?"
"Go on, now. You need to get these boys to bed."
I had just put my light out and had gotten comfortable in bed when I heard my door open and the padding of little feet on the carpet. I knew immediately who it was, so I lifted the covers and let TJ in.
"What's the matter, little one?"
"Nothing," he said snuggling up to me.
"Okay, good night," I said giving him a kiss on his forehead.
I knew that he needed to feel safe, but I hoped that he would soon be comfortable sleeping alone, again.
When I awoke the next morning, TJ was in his usual position. He was curled up in a ball with his back up against me with his head barely peeking out from under the covers. He looked so angelic that I couldn't resist leaning over and giving him a peck on the cheek before I got out of bed.
I reminded John that I would be picking him up from school. I told the others that I wouldn't be at home to meet them when they got home. Manfred had agreed to meet them instead.
I took Joel aside and whispered to him, "Watch TJ, I think he needs someone he feels safe with."
"Got you, dad, I'll take care of him."
"Thanks, I knew I could count on you."
I spent the morning coaching the new project managers on how to minimize and manage "scope creep" in their projects. Regardless of how well a project is defined upfront, the customer will invariably want changes and/or additions as the project progresses. By putting a monetary value on the request, you can usually forestall many of them. Detailing the impact on scheduled delivery of the final product is also effective. "Remember," I said, "any changes to project cost or delivery date must be agreed to in writing by both customer and consulting management."
Although this concept is very simple, it is the hardest lesson a new project manager has to learn. The desire to please the customer often clouds their otherwise good sense.
I briefly had a chance to talk to Carol and asked her if she would join me for lunch on Wednesday. I also asked her where Foster was. I hadn't seen him yet this week. She said that he was on vacation in Las Vegas. He went every year for a week, but usually it was around Thanksgiving time.
I left the office shortly after two so that I wouldn't be late to pick up John. As it turned out the traffic was so light that I was able to get to Corinthian by a quarter to three. John was right on time. We drove into the Dairy Queen with plenty of time for him to get his hot fudge sundae. I was very pleased at his upbeat attitude. I hoped that this was an indication that his thoughts of suicide had passed.
While I was waiting for Dr. Adams to complete his preliminary evaluation of John, I made a call to Darcie to see if she could join Carol and me for lunch tomorrow. I asked her to meet us at one of my favorite restaurants downtown on the River Walk when she accepted. I still had about half an hour to kill before John would be done. I decided to walk next door to the bookstore to see if there was anything new that I wanted to buy.
I browsed the bookstore for maybe twenty minutes and ended up buying two books that I had heard were worth reading. I made it back to Dr. Adams office with about five minutes to spare.
John came out of the office smiling at Dr. Adams.
"John, I want you to wait here while I talk to Mr. Johnson. It'll only be a few minutes."
"John, will you hold my books for me while I talk to Dr. Adams?"
I stepped into Dr. Adams' office and took the chair like I did when I brought Joel here for his appointment. "What's your assessment?"
"John is very confused. He definitely has thoughts of suicide. I can't tell from this preliminary assessment how serious he is about carrying through on them. We, however, must take them seriously. I would like to see him every week for the next three weeks. If this time is convenient, we can set the appointment for the same time every Tuesday. I'm also giving him a prescription for an antidepressant. These drugs are somewhat unpredictable in some young people, so you will need to watch him carefully for any change in his behavior. If you notice anything, call me immediately. If it's after hours, my answering service can reach me. Don't hesitate to call. Do you have any questions?"
"None other than how often and any other information that I need to know about his medication."
"Here is a pamphlet on the drug and instructions for administering it. I'm only going to give him a one month supply. I don't like to medicate teenagers any more than is necessary. I hope that in a month we will have made some progress in resolving his suicidal thoughts. I have taken the liberty of calling the prescription into the pharmacy at the HEB up the street. It should be ready by the time you get there."
"Thanks, doc, we'll see you next week," I said shaking his hand.
I told John that we had to make a quick stop before we could head home. Thankfully the prescription was ready when I walked up to the counter. It took us longer to get home than normal because of the rush hour traffic.
When we got home, I read the information that Dr. Adams had given me on the antidepressant he prescribed for John. Reading the information was almost frightening. Some of the side effects were the same as what the medicine was supposed to prevent. Dr. Adams' instructions were for John to take half a tablet for the first six days and then a whole tablet from then on. He suggested that the tablets be taken in the morning with breakfast. I hoped that this medicine would make a difference.
"Oh, gross!" I heard Chris say as I was stepping out of my office.
"What's the matter?" I asked as he walked toward me.
"Joel and John were kissing. That's gross."
For a moment I was at a loss for words. When I recovered, I said, "You kiss your brothers, don't you? I kiss you and you kiss me. Is that gross?"
"No, but, they were kissing on the mouth. That's different."
"I see. We'll talk about this after supper. I think it's time for all of you to get washed up. Go tell your brothers."
Later, at the supper table I said, "Listen up guys. We're going to have a family meeting after you have finished and have your dogs brushed and fed. We'll meet in the family room."
They had several questions that I brushed aside saying that I would answer them all at our meeting.
When everyone was assembled in the family room, I began. "Before supper, Chris saw something that he said he thought was 'gross'. What he saw was Joel and John kissing." I looked at Joel and John. They were both turning a bright red. "Joel and John are special friends. They are the kind of friends that like to show their affection for each other. Now, while I would much prefer that they show the kind of affection that Chris saw in private, in a house with six kids and three adults, finding privacy is difficult.
"The purpose of meeting is to tell all of you that I would be very disappointed if any of you told your friends or school mates about what Chris saw. It could be very hurtful to Joel and John. I want you to understand that this is very important. You are not to discuss this with anyone outside of your brothers. Do you have any questions?"
"Are Joel and John queer?" Chris asked.
"Calling someone a queer is not a very kind thing to do. Where did you hear the word queer?"
"A lot of the kids call the sissies queers."
"Is that a nice thing to call them? Would you like to be called that?"
"No way, it's a kinda mean thing to call somebody a queer."
"Do you know what queer means?" When they all shook their head, I continued. "One of its meanings is homosexual. That usually means two males can love each other like a mother and father do or like boyfriend and girlfriend. It can also apply to two women. There are a lot of people who disapprove of this. Sometimes they even hurt the homosexuals. Many times it is just hurting them with words. Other times they beat them up and sometimes even kill them.
"Another word that is often used these days is gay. It means the same thing, but calling someone gay doesn't have the same effect as calling someone queer."
"Then are they gay?" Chris asked.
"That's not an easy question to answer. Maybe yes, maybe no, only time will tell. They're still young and could someday decide that what they feel for each other right now was just a part of their growing up. It is also possible that one or both of them are gay.
"What I want you to remember is what I said earlier. Telling anyone outside the people in this house would cause embarrassment to Joel and John. It could also cause someone to really hurt them. I'm sure that you don't want to see either Joel or John get beaten up by somebody, do you?"
"No," TJ said and ran to Joel and jumped onto his lap. He threw his arms around his brother's neck. "I don't want nobody to hurt you."