Sunday turned out to be a very nice day. The temperature warmed up considerably from the day before. My five were playing outside with their dogs, when John returned from church.
"Mom and my sisters were at Hildy's church this morning," an excited John said as he greeted me. "I got to sit with them. They sat in the same row that Hildy and Manfred did."
"That's great," I said. "Was your dad there, too?"
"No," he said sadly. "I guess he still goes to that old church."
"Go get your clothes changed and then go play with the other boys. Dad's going to fix some hamburgers for the grill."
"Goodie," he said as he raced down the hall.
I finished making out the hamburger patties and put them on a platter. It looked like I had enough for an army or at least six hungry boys. On another platter, I arranged some carrot and celery sticks, some dill pickle spears, some raw cauliflower and a bowl of dip. I also laid out a large bag of potato chips and some cheese curls. After I had all the food ready, I went out and started the grill. Not surprisingly, the boys all came over to see what I was doing. I think they mainly wanted to find out how long it would be before lunch would be ready.
"About a half an hour, guys," I answered their unasked question.
Twenty minutes later I decided that the coals were sufficiently hot to begin grilling the hamburgers. Joel saw that I had brought out the platter of burgers and came over to see if he could help. Of course, John was right there with him. I told them to round up the boys and get their hands washed and then they could set the table, open the bags of chips, buns and set out the platter of vegetables. The boys didn't have to be told twice. They were off to their bathrooms to get cleaned up.
When I brought the grilled burgers back into the house the table had been set and everything was ready. Everyone was waiting in their places for me to set the burgers on the table. As quickly as I could, I placed a burger on a bun and handed the plate to Joel who distributed them around the table.
I thought that I had fixed plenty of burgers, but there were none left at the end of the meal.
"Thanks, dad! That was great," TJ said, taking his plate and glass to Joel who rinsed it and put it in the dishwasher.
"You're welcome, son. I'm glad that you liked it."
The rest of the day passed normally. The boys played outside part of the time. The rest of the time they played or kibitzed the others playing some of the new video games that Chris received for his birthday.
After a supper of lasagna that Hildy had made and left in the refrigerator, garlic bread and a salad, the boys started their homework. That gave me a little time to do some reading until it was time to check their work.
I still enjoyed tucking my sons into bed at night. It was a time for me to express my love for them and to show how glad I was to be their father. Even though Joel was now 13 years old, he still allowed me the pleasure of tucking him into bed. I knew at some time in the not too distant future that he wouldn't want me to do it, but for now it was still accepted.
Monday, after getting the boys off to school, I headed to the foundation office. I greeted Darcie and sat down to go over the increasing amount of paperwork of new requests for assistance. It seemed as though every CPS office in the South Texas area had heard of what we were doing and were anxious to refer cases to us. Even though we had $12 million to derive income from, we could not possibly handle all the requests that we received.
"When's Carol going to come to work?" Darcie asked after about an hour.
"She gave her notice and has agreed to work until the end of the month. I think she said she would be here on December 4th. That's the first Monday of the month. I can't wait. She could have all of these request prepared and in files for us to review, instead of us having to do all of that. She is so efficient that she could do it in half the time we spend doing it. I'm looking forward to her coming onboard."
I had just gone back to reviewing a file when the phone rang. It was Dr. Greene. "Sam, how're you doing?"
"Doing great, Crane. I just called to let you know the results of Joel's blood tests. Everything looks fine. The lab could detect no abnormalities other than a slight anemia, which is to be expected from the medicine that he's taking. Make sure that he gets red meat and lots of leafy green vegetables and he should be fine."
"That's great!" I said. "Does this mean that he won't have to take the chemo any more?"
"No, that would be premature. We'll continue it for another four to six months and then make a determination."
"I know Joel's not going to like taking the chemo for that long, but at least this medicine doesn't make him as sick as the IV form did. Thanks, Sam, I appreciate the call."
I had barely hung up the phone when it rang again. It was John's CPS caseworker, Betty Borden. After she introduced herself, she apologized for the mix-up with her not knowing that she had been assigned to his case. She seemed to be a little scatter-brained, at least that was the impression that I got from talking to her. She asked when she could stop by and talk to John and the other members of the household. I told her what time he would be home from school and she said that she would be there around 4:30 this afternoon.
As was my practice, I met the school van as it drove up. The dogs had been barking in anticipation of the van's arrival. Larry held back as the other boys and their dogs took off for the house speculating on what Hildy had fixed for their after school snack.
"What's the matter, son?"
"My tummy feels kinda funny."
"What do you mean? Does it hurt?"
"No, it sorta feels like I have to go to the bathroom, but I don't."
"Maybe you're just hungry. Go have your snack. If your stomach doesn't feel any better, you let dad know."
After they had finished their snacks, I explained to the boys that a lady was going to come by the house after while to talk to John and to the rest of us. When I told them that she was John's caseworker, my boys all had frowns on their faces remembering their first caseworker. I tried to ease their fears, but I don't think I was entirely successful.
I caught Larry before they went outside and asked him how his stomach felt. When he told me it felt better, I was relieved. It didn't seem to bother him as he played and interacted with his brothers and John.
It was about 4:45 when Ms. Borden arrived at the house apologizing for being late. She had taken a wrong turn and had to backtrack to get back on the directions I had given her. She was a very heavyset woman and was panting after climbing the front steps to the house.
I took her in, showed her John's sleeping arrangements, and gave her a tour of the rest of the house. Instead of making her climb the stairs to the second floor, I took pity on her and we used the elevator. I also introduced her to Hildy, who was in the midst of fixing our supper. They recognized each other. It seems that they both went to the same church, but had never been introduced before.
She said that she would like to see the boys, so I led her out onto the patio. When they saw us, they all came running. I introduced each of them to her. They shook her hand, but it was not a warm handshake.
I told her if she wanted to talk to John privately, she could use my study. She took me up on the offer. While she was talking to John, I had to field a million questions from my sons about what was going to happen to him. I tried as best I could to explain the situation as clearly as I could. I tried to emphasize the possible positive outcomes and minimize the negative ones.
After about half an hour, John and Ms. Borden came out of my study. John was smiling, which made me feel better. She asked if we could all gather in the family room so that she could ask us all some questions. At first her questions got only very terse answers, but as time went by and the boys didn't feel threatened by her they opened up and gave her more complete answers.
It was another half an hour when she struggled to her feet, said her goodbyes and told John she would see him on Wednesday. I walked her to her car, not wanting her to fall down the front steps. The woman could definitely afford to lose at least a hundred pounds.
Joel asked me as I stepped back inside, "Is John going to get to stay here?"
"For the time being, son. John and I have to go see a judge on Wednesday and we'll find out more then."
"Can I go, too?"
"I'm afraid not. You have school. Remember?" I said, giving him a hug. "It'll be all right. I promise. You know that John can't live here forever. Someday he needs to go home to be with his mom and his sisters."
"You wouldn't want to be away from your brothers, would you?"
"No, I guess not. But, it's fun having him live here."
"I know. We all like having John here. Now, why don't you go tell your brothers to get washed up for supper? Hildy should have it ready in a few minutes."
"Okay, dad," he said, returning my hug.
Later when I was tucking the boys into bed, I asked Larry how his stomach was feeling. I felt much better when he told me it didn't feel funny anymore.
Tuesday morning I decided I had better make contact with the consulting office to make arrangements for my one week this month. I reached Foster and after he told me that the boss was out, I told him that I would be in on Thursday and Friday this week and Monday, Wednesday and Thursday the week after Thanksgiving. He said that he would pass on my schedule. I asked him how things were going at the office. He responded that he was frantically trying to find a replacement for Carol, but wasn't having much luck. I wished him luck and we said goodbye.
In the afternoon, I took John for his appointment with Dr. Adams. I was please with John's seeming lack of depression that had so worried us earlier. Dr. Adams expressed the same thought when I talked to him after he had seen John. He said that he would see John again in two weeks because his office would be closed the whole week of Thanksgiving.
After supper I sat down with John to explain to him that I would be picking him up from school after his lunch period. That would give us time to come home and have him change his clothes and get to the court by two o'clock.
"Is my dad going to be there?"
"I don't know, son. I'm sure that your mother will be, though."
"Do I get to go home after it's over?"
"That's up to the judge. I don't think so, but you never know how she is going to rule. If I had to guess, and this is only a guess, I'd say that she will say that you will be staying here with us until after Thanksgiving. I would bet that you will be back home by Christmas."
"Thanks, Uncle Crane."
After John went to start his homework, Joel came and squeezed into the chair beside me. "What's on your mind, son?"
"Well... I was just... Can't I go with you tomorrow?" he stammered.
"You mean go to court with John and me?"
"I'm afraid not. You know that we talked about this before. I'm sorry, but you need to be in school. You already miss a lot of school for your doctors' appointments, so it's best if you don't miss any more."
"I know, son. We'll probably be here when you come home from school or possibly a little later. I don't think the judge is going to send John back to his own home just yet. John will still be living with us for a little while," I told him. He didn't say anything more. He laid his head on my chest and I wrapped my arms around him.
I think I was more nervous on Wednesday when I picked John up from school than he was. Although it would probably have been all right for him to go to court in his school uniform, I thought it would be better if he put on a pair of long pants and a button-up shirt.
Before we left the house, I asked Hildy if she would keep an eye out for the boys' van and open the gate for them if we weren't back by the time they got home. She said that she would and she would also have Manfred come home in time to meet them.
John and I got to the court about ten minutes early. There was no one in the courtroom, so we went in and sat down just inside the door. It wasn't long before Karen Lin, John's Lawyer, arrived. She took John aside and talked to him for a few minutes alone.
Ryan Ridgeway arrived, soon followed by Betty Borden and Pauline Gordinier. John immediately went to his mother and got a big hug. All the players were present. All we needed was the judge. I had barely formed that thought, when the bailiff announced Judge Goode's arrival.
"Mr. Ridgeway, thank you for your report. I know that you didn't have a lot of time to prepare it," Judge Goode said, scanning a file in front of her. "I know Ms. Borden and Ms. Lin. It's good to see you again. You must be Mr. Johnson, I presume, John's foster parent."
"Yes, Your Honor," I said.
"Mrs. Gordinier, is your husband not coming to these proceedings?" the judge asked.
"No, Your Honor," Pauline answered. "He's moved out of the house. We're separated at the moment."
"Have you been attending the counseling sessions that my colleague in Waco ordered?"
"Yes, ma'am, I have three more sessions of the recommended counseling. I will complete the last one on December first."
"Excellent. I hope that you are being helped by them."
"I am, Your Honor."
"Mr. Johnson," she said, turning to me. "Mr. Ridgeway has not recommended any additional services be provided for John. His reports states that you and your family are providing for all of his basic needs and more."
"Thank you, Your Honor. He has become like a member of our family and is treated the same as my five sons are treated. We'll be sad when he is returned home to his mother and sisters, even though we know that it'll be for the best."
"I want to talk to young John. We will be in recess until we have talked," Judge Goode said. She motioned for the bailiff to escort John to her chambers.
It wasn't but ten minutes later that they returned to the courtroom. "This case will be continued until December sixth. At that time, it is my intention to return John to his mother's care. That is contingent upon you, Mrs. Gordinier, completing the counseling sessions and I received a satisfactory report from the counselor. You are to have reasonable visitation privileges at Mr. Johnson's convenience. Mr. Johnson, you are to allow Mrs. Gordinier to have visits with her son that do not interfere with your family's schedule. I expect that you will not put any obstacles in the way of her visits. Mr. Gordinier is not to have any visitation privileges unless this court approves them in advance and never out of the presence of you or Mr. Ridgeway. John will remain in your custody until the next hearing date. If there is nothing else, this hearing is adjourned."
John went to his mother and walked out of the courtroom with his arm around her waist. I talked briefly with Karen before I went to get John so that we could go home. His mother kissed and hugged him for a long time before she released him. I could see the tears starting in the corner of her eyes as I led John to the car.
"Let's go. If we hurry, we can beat the boys home," I said, trying to be as cheerful as I could be.
"I wish I could go home with my mom," he said.
"It won't be too long. Maybe you could go visit your mom and sisters this weekend some time. I'll talk to your mom and see what she says. How does that sound?"
"Okay," he said. I could see a hint of a smile on his face.
We did get home in plenty of time to meet the boys coming home from school. I thanked Manfred for making the effort to come home in time to meet them. I explained that I didn't know how long the hearing was going to take.
Larry was the last one off the van. Lenny had his arm around his twin.
"What's the matter, Larry? Does your stomach hurt?"
"Yeah, it hurts bad," he said and the tears started trickling down his cheeks.
"Come here," I said. When I picked him up, his backpack fell to the ground. "Joel, will you take your brother's backpack?"
"Sure, dad, is Larry sick?"
"His stomach hurts. Let's get him to the house. I want to take his temperature."
I carried Larry to the house and put him down on the couch in the family room. Hildy saw us coming and began hovering around him. I asked her if she would get the thermometer from my medicine cabinet. She was back almost before I knew she was gone with the thermometer, a bottle of alcohol and some cotton balls. She deftly wet a cotton ball with the alcohol and sterilized the thermometer before shaking it down and telling Larry to hold it under his tongue.
Lenny was sitting beside his reclining brother, holding his hand. He never took his eyes off the thermometer sticking out of Larry's mouth. The other boys were all standing around watching what was going on.
"The rest of you go get your clothes changed," I said.
"Can I stay here?" Lenny begged.
"I guess that'll be all right."
It seemed like forever before Hildy took the thermometer out of Larry's mouth. I'm equally certain that it felt the same for him. She looked at it carefully for several seconds before telling us what it read.
"It's 101.5. I think we should call Dr. Greene," she announced.
"I agree," I said. I walked over to the portable phone and dialed his office number from memory. His nurse answered. I explained that Larry had a stomach ache and was running a fever. She wanted to know where the pain was located. I hadn't asked Larry exactly where the pain was the worst, so I had to ask him. When I got back to her, I told her his pain was more on his right side. She told me to hang on the line while she put the doctor on.
It was nearly two minutes before Sam came on the line. "Crane, it looks like we might have an inflamed appendix. I should be leaving here in about half an hour. I'll stop by and check him out on my way home. In the mean time, give him a Tylenol and keep him lying down and quiet."
"Thanks, Sam, I owe you one."
I told Hildy what the doctor had said and then went to get the pain reliever. When I got back, she had a glass of water ready for Larry to take his pill. Lenny resisted when I suggested that he go change out of his school uniform, but relented after I insisted. He wasn't gone but a couple of minutes before he resumed his spot beside his brother. What was even more surprising was that he didn't join his other brothers in their after school snack.
"Dad, is he gonna be okay?" Lenny asked.
"Of course he is. Dr. Greene will be here in a little while to check on him. He just needs to rest until the doctor gets here." Kneeling down beside him I hugged him and kissed his forehead, and then did the same to Larry. Larry's forehead felt awfully warm to me. I hoped that the Tylenol would kick in soon to take the edge off his pain and lower his fever.
We waited impatiently for Dr. Greene to arrive. Finally he drove up about an hour and a half after I spoke to him on the phone. I ushered him into the room where Larry was on the couch. I pulled Lenny up and held him with his back to me and my arms around him so that Sam could examine his twin.
Larry hollered out in pain as Sam pressed on his lower right side. When he took Larry's temperature, it was 100.4. After a few more minutes of examination, Sam turned to me. "It's definitely an inflamed appendix. Right now it does not appear to be in any danger of rupturing. I'm going to give him a shot of antibiotics and I'll leave you a pain pill that I want given to him before he goes to bed. I also want you to bring him to my office first thing in the morning. I'll run a simple blood test to see how serious the infection is. For the rest of the day, keep him on soft food and liquids."
Sam set about preparing the injection of antibiotics. Larry turned white as a sheet when he saw the needle and Sam told him to turn over and pulled the back of his pants down exposing his buttocks. He let out a little yelp as the needle penetrated the skin, but Sam did it so quickly that it was over almost before he finished the yelp.
"Anything else?" I asked, as Larry's pants were pulled back up.
"Yes, if there is any change in his condition for the worse, I want you to call me immediately, no matter what the time."
"You know I will. Thanks, Sam," I said, shaking his hand. He handed me a small packet containing a single pain pill before taking his leave.
For the first time since he had come to live with me, Larry didn't have much of an appetite when suppertime arrived. Hildy had fixed him some tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich. He took a few spoons of the soup and a nibble or two on the sandwich before he asked to be excused. Lenny hurriedly finished his supper and asked to be excused to be with his brother.
I knew that the twins shared a very close relationship, but I had forgotten how close after they stopped the humming communication they used when they first arrived. Now, I could almost feel the empathic connection between them.
After the rest of us finished eating, the table cleared and the dishes in the dishwasher, I went into the family room where I found Larry and Lenny lying side by side on the couch with their arms around each other. I asked Larry how his stomach felt. He said it was a little better, but it still hurt. I hated seeing one of my boys suffering and I would have gladly exchanged places with him.
Soon it was time for the boys to begin their homework. Lenny resisted giving up his place beside his twin. I insisted and he reluctantly went upstairs to begin. I don't think he ever did his homework so quickly before. He was done in less than 20 minutes and I could not find a single error. He didn't sit on my lap while I checked it as he usually did. Instead, he again took his position beside his brother. He didn't move either when the other boys went to have their evening snack. That was the second time today that he declined a snack.
I decided that I would have Larry sleep in my bed tonight, just in case his condition worsened. Naturally that meant Lenny would also be sleeping with us. When Chris heard, he insisted that he didn't want to sleep upstairs all by himself. Even though I had a king-sized bed, I didn't want four of us in it. I suggested that he ask TJ if he could sleep with him. TJ thought that was a great idea. Problem solved.
I gave Larry his pain pill, tucked all the boys in bed and then went into my study to read a couple of chapters of a book that I had started. It was nearly eleven o'clock when I closed the book and got ready for bed. Lenny was cradling Larry in his arms as I crawled into bed. Both were sound asleep.
Around 2AM, I heard a loud cry and sat straight up in bed. Larry was fighting some imaginary demon, throwing his arms and legs all around and moaning. When I switched on the bedside lamp, I saw Lenny sitting up in bed staring at his brother. I leaned over and shook Larry to wake him.
"Huh! Dad, my stomach hurts so bad," he cried through the tears streaming down his cheeks.
"Okay, son," I said. "Just lie back and try to relax. I'm going to call Dr. Sam and see what he wants us to do."
I grabbed the phone on the nightstand and quickly dialed Sam's home number. It rang about five times before a sleepy voice answered.
"Carol, I'm sorry to wake you at this horrible hour, but Sam said to call if Larry's condition worsened. May I speak to him?"
"Sure, Crane, hold on a minute."
It was about a minute before Sam came on the line. "So his condition's not any better?"
"No, his stomach really hurts. What should we do?"
"Put him in your car and take him to the hospital. I'll meet you there in 45 minutes."
"See you there, Sam. Bye."
"Lenny, dad's going to take Larry to the hospital. Why don't you go crawl in bed with Joel?"
"But... But... Dad... I gotta go with Larry. He needs me." At this point Lenny broke down in tears. "I gotta. Please, please..." His deep emotional sobs seemed to emanate directly from his very soul. I could not deny him.
"Okay, go put on some clothes," I told him. He was out the door before I finished speaking. I reached for the phone again and called Hildy's apartment. She answered it on the second ring.
"Hildy, I really hate to wake you up at this hour, but I have to take Larry to the hospital. Could you watch the boys while I'm gone? I'm taking Lenny with me and the rest of them are all sleeping downstairs."
"I'll be there in two minutes," she said and hung up.
Lenny was standing at my door pulling his shirt over his head with one hand and carrying his shoes in the other. I was still in my pajama bottoms, so I ran to the closet, grabbed some pants, a shirt and headed into the bathroom. I emerged a moment later and slipped on a pair of loafers without putting on any socks.
I picked up Larry, wrapped a light blanket around him and started for the back door. I nearly forgot to turn off the alarm system before opening the door.
"What hospital?" Hildy asked as I was shutting the door.
I placed both boys in the back seat, buckled them in, and then backed the car out of the garage. It seemed like we were never going to get to the hospital. Finally it came into view.