Lenny spent the night cuddled up next to me on the narrow roll-away bed that the orderly had brought in for us. It was a tight fit after being used to my king-size bed at home. He slept as well as could be expected. I didn't. I think that I was awake at least every hour, listening to see if I could hear Larry breathing. His sleep was a little more restless than Lenny's. The nurse was in a couple of times during the night to check his pulse and the IV.
I awoke with a start to the sound of a bedpan being dropped not too far outside our room. That was followed by a female voice berating someone for being so clumsy. I quickly checked on the boys to see if they were both still sleeping. Thankfully they were still asleep. I slipped quietly out of the bed, being careful to gently untangle myself from Lenny. Walking over to Larry's bed, I placed my hand on his forehead. It was cool to the touch. I thought that his fever was gone. The nurse confirmed that later when she came in.
As quietly as I could, I slipped into the bathroom and took a quick shower, brushed my teeth and shaved. When I stepped out of the bathroom, Lenny was standing beside Larry's bed talking to him. He said something that made Larry laugh and caused him to hold on to his side.
"Good morning," I said, walking over to them and giving them both a hug and a kiss. "How are you feeling, Larry?"
"Okay, dad, it only hurts when Lenny makes me laugh," he said, punching his brother on the shoulder.
"Ow! No fair, I can't hit you back," Lenny said in mock anger.
"Okay, guys, Lenny grab your stuff and go take a shower. We'll go get breakfast when you're done," I told him.
"Do I get something to eat today?" Larry asked. "I'm hungry."
"I know you are. You should get some soft food today. You probably won't get as much as you want but at least it won't be just liquid."
"I can't find my comb," Lenny said as he came out of the bathroom.
"Check dad's shaving kit, there's one in there," I said, pointing to my kit on the bedside cabinet.
"Good morning," Dr. Greene said, as he walked into the room. "How is everyone this fine morning?"
"Good morning, Sam," I answered. "It's good to see you so early this morning."
"Hi, Dr. Sam," Larry said. "Can I get something to eat?"
Sam laughed and shook his head. "We'll see," he said, before he started his examination. After checking Larry's vital signs and the incision, he put his stethoscope back around his neck and announced, "You're doing great. The incision looks healthy and is healing nicely. I'll order you some soft food for today. I don't want you to over eat, so it probably won't be as much as you usually eat. Later this morning, Cameron, the physical therapist, will be by to get you up on your feet. I want you to take a walk around the room this morning. This afternoon, he will be back to get you to walk some more. If everything goes all right, you may get to go home tomorrow. How does that sound?"
Larry's response was, "Yeah!"
"Are you sure, doc?" I asked.
"Yes, kids heal very quickly. As long as he takes it easy for the next week and doesn't start wrestling with his brothers, he'll do fine. I think we can also get rid of his IV."
"I know he'll like that. It may be difficult to keep him from being too active, but we'll try. Thanks, Sam," I said, shaking his hand as he started for the door.
"I'll stop by later this afternoon to check on him again," he said.
About a half an hour later, Larry's breakfast tray arrived. When he lifted the cover from the tray, his frown betrayed his disappointment. There was a hot cereal that looked like Cream of Wheat, a saucer of applesauce, a plastic container of orange juice and a carton of milk.
"It's not like Hildy's, but it's better than yesterday's meal," I told him.
"I guess," he said. "Can you open my milk?"
I opened the paper carton of milk for him and helped him pour some of it on his cereal. I inserted the plastic straw through the lid on the orange juice before telling him that Lenny and I were going to go get some breakfast in the cafeteria.
"Bring me some bacon and eggs and some toast."
"Sorry, son. That'll have to wait a day or two until Dr. Sam says it's okay."
He was disappointed, but started to eat what was on his tray before we left the room.
Hildy called shortly after Lenny and I returned to the room. She said that she had a bit of trouble getting TJ to go to school. He wanted to come to the hospital. He said he missed his brothers and his dad. It was all I could do to talk to her with the lump in my throat. I asked her if she could come and stay with Larry this afternoon. I needed to come home and take care of a few things. I would meet the boys after school and bring them to the hospital to see Larry. She said that she would come to the hospital shortly after she had fixed Manfred's lunch.
A few minutes after I hung up the phone, Cameron came in to get Larry out of bed. He looked to be a man in his mid forties with a shaved head. I could tell that he was mostly bald and he evidently decided to shave off what little was left of his hair.
"Good morning, good morning, good morning," he said as he looked at each of us. "My, what handsome young men we have here. Now, are you ready to go for a walk?"
"I guess," Lerry responded hesitantly. "Will it hurt?"
"Well, maybe a little, but we have to start getting you well. I know that you are Larry, but what's your name?" he asked looking at Lenny.
"Lenny, I want you to help me. Can you do that?"
"Yeah, I guess."
"The first thing I want you to do is to get your brother's robe. We don't want his pretty little behind sticking out while he's walking, do we?"
"No," Lenny laughed.
Up to this point, I had been totally ignored. "I'm Crane Johnson," I said, holding out my hand.
"I'm Cameron Phillips. It's nice to meet you," he said. Then turning back to Larry, "I need for you to sit up and turn so that your feet are hanging off the side of the bed." He retrieved a two-step ladder from the hall and placed it below Larry's feet. "Now scoot off the bed until your feet touch the top of the ladder. That's it. Lenny, will you help Larry into his robe? Good! Now Larry, I want you to hang on to my arm and stand up."
"A little twinge, I see. Okay, hang on tight to my arm and step down one step. Good! Now, one last step down to the floor. You're doing great. Lenny, will you get on the other side of your brother and hold on to his arm? Larry, how are you feeling?"
"Okay, it hurts a little bit."
"Well, you tell me if it hurts too bad."
Cameron walked the boys slowly around the room for several minutes before he decided that Larry had enough exercise for his first time out of bed. He and Lenny helped Larry back into bed, much to the relief of Larry.
"I'll be back to see you this afternoon. We'll go for a walk in the hall then. Lenny, thank you, you were a big help."
"That was very nice of you to help your brother like that. You did good," I said, giving Lenny a hug and a peck on the top of his head.
"He's my brother. I gotta help him," he said, blushing noticeably.
When Larry's lunch came, it was a disappointment to him as much as or more so than his breakfast. There was a bowl of what looked like thick tomato soup, a dish of strained peaches, apple juice, a carton of milk and a small cup of vanilla ice cream. The only bright spot to him was the ice cream. I thought that he was going to lick the container to get at all the ice cream.
"When dad comes back with your brothers, I'll bring you some more ice cream. What flavor would you like?"
"Strawberry!" they both hollered together.
"Okay, maybe we'll also bring some chocolate, just in case."
Hildy arrived not long after Larry's tray was taken away. She made straight for the bed and gave Larry hug, a kiss on both cheeks and on the forehead. "Are you feeling okay, honey?"
"I feel good. I got to walk around this morning. Cameron said I did good. Lenny helped."
"That's great. We miss you two at home. It's quieter," she said with a smile.
After a few more minutes conversing with the boys, Hildy turned to me, "Manny is off to the airport to pick up Horst and Frank. They were able to catch an earlier flight. They're going to spend all next week with us. I hope you don't mind."
"No, of course not, they're welcome. How is Horst doing? I haven't asked Manfred lately."
"As far as I know, he is responding well to the new medication. We'll see when he gets here. I hope he hasn't been misleading Manny. His father would be very upset. So would I."
"Lenny and I will take off. I'll leave you to entertain Larry."
"I don't know about entertaining. I brought some of his school work that he has missed. I thought it would be a good opportunity for him to start to catch up on it."
The look that Larry gave Hildy was precious. She just chuckled and started digging his books out of the bag she was carrying.
"That's a great idea. Lenny will have all afternoon to do his catching up while I take care of some business. We should be back with the boys by around five o'clock." I kissed Larry goodbye before Lenny and I left.
I called Darcie at the office when I got home to check on what was happening. She informed me that Tamika Farrell's adoption of her foster daughter, Kara, was scheduled for the 5th of December and that one of us would have to be in attendance to verify to the court that the foundation's support would continue. I told her that she was elected since I would be working at the old consulting firm the two weeks after Thanksgiving. I was going to miss at least one day there because of the hearing for John. I reminded her that Carol Banyon would be starting to work on the fourth. It would be a heck of a way to begin a job by being left alone to handle things on her second day. But knowing Carol, I knew she could handle it and come through with flying colors.
When I went to check on Lenny, I was surprise to see him so hard at work studying. "What do you say we take a break for a snack?" I asked him. We had stopped on the way home from the hospital for a burger, but I knew that wouldn't last him all afternoon.
"Yeah! Some of this is hard," he said, scrambling up from his desk.
"What are you studying?"
"Oh, I liked geography," I said as we walked down the stairs to the kitchen.
"Can you help?"
"I'll try. I'll look at your book after we have a snack."
"You're welcome, son."
After our snack, I spent the next hour with Lenny going over his geography lesson. Since it was on Venezuela, I was fairly familiar with it. I had spent a little over 18 months there with my mom and dad when I was around his age.
When it was time for the boys' van to come, we gathered up the dogs, except for Larry's and headed down the driveway. Buddy was still moping around, not playing with the other dogs.
TJ nearly tore the door off of the van trying to get out once he saw Lenny and me standing at the gate waiting for him. He grabbed Bandit, who had race through the gate the moment I opened it, ran to me and leapt into my open arms.
"I missed you, dad. I didn't think you was ever gonna come home," he sobbed into my neck.
"I would never leave you, little one. I love you too much. Dad will be home tomorrow as soon as the doctor lets Larry out of the hospital."
"I want you home now," he cried.
"I know, I know..."
Bandit by this time was tired of being squashed between us and started to fuss. I sat TJ down and hugged the rest of the boys, before we started up the driveway.
"Does Larry really get to come home tomorrow?" Joel asked, as he stepped in beside me.
"That's what Dr. Sam said might happen if Larry continued to heal. I know he wants to come home. Go make sure that your brothers get their clothes changed and then we'll go to the hospital to see Larry. We're going to stop by the store and get some ice cream to take to the hospital. We'll have your snack there."
Joel took off and quickly caught up with John, who was lagging behind the other three.
As we were driving away from the house, Manfred drove by us. We waved a each other but didn't stop
When we arrived at the hospital, Larry was not in his bed and Hildy not in the room. At first I was a little worried at their absence. I was about to go find a nurse when they both walked slowly into the room. Larry was immediately surrounded by his brothers and John. Cameron was pushed aside in the boys attempt to greet Larry. He and Hildy laughed as the boys ushered Larry to his bed.
"I see you have been for a walk," I said to Hildy.
"Yes, this is the second one that we've been on this afternoon. This was the longest. We went all the way down to the playroom at the end of the hall. They have all kinds of toys and games for kids to play with. Larry wanted to stay and play with another boy he met there, but I told him that you all would be coming soon. I think your promise of ice cream was what weighed in his decision to return."
Cameron helped Larry into bed and then told him that he wouldn't see him tomorrow because he wasn't working, but another therapist would. After he left, I broke out the ice cream to everyone's delight. Although the twins had asked for strawberry, when I took the chocolate out of the grocery sack too, they decided to have some of both. Needless to say, there was nothing left of either half-gallon of ice cream. All Hildy and I got was what was left in the cartons that the scoop couldn't get out.
TJ was not too happy when it came time to leave for home. He wanted to stay at the hospital with us. He was a sullen little boy when he left the room. I felt badly for him, but I also didn't want to leave Larry alone.
Lenny and I spent another less than comfortable night on the narrow fold-out bed.
It was around 10:30 the next morning when Dr. Greene arrived to check Larry over. The therapist had Larry up for his walk about an hour before he arrived. When Sam finished, he had the nurse change the dressing covering the incision and then announced that Larry could go home. "Larry, I want you to take it easy for at least the next week. I don't want you running and jumping or anything else that might rip out your stitches. I don't want you to have to come back to the hospital. Do you?"
"No, sir," Larry said, shaking his head.
"Good! Crane as soon as I get the release signed and you take care of all of the other paperwork, you can take these two home."
"Thanks, Sam. When do I need to bring him in to get the stitches removed?"
"Normally that would be on Thursday, but because that is Thanksgiving, the office will be closed. In fact, we will be closed on Friday also. Why don't I stop by your house on Friday and I'll take them out then. We're having all the kids and grandkids for that long weekend, so I'll probably need a break from all the commotion. Having ten extra people in the house is going to disrupt my life."
"Aw, you know you love having them come to visit," I chided him.
"Yes, it's a disruption, but a good disruption."
Within an hour of Sam leaving the room, I had all of the paperwork signed and we were all ready to leave the hospital. The orderly pushed Larry to the hospital door in a wheelchair and waited while I went to get our transportation. Since Hildy had driven the van home with the other boys yesterday, she left her car for me to take us home. Her car was an old Ford. I couldn't tell what year it was, but I guessed that it was at least ten or more years old. The inside of the car was immaculate. The outside was another thing. It showed every year of use. There were a number of dings and scratches. There were also, a number of rusted out places on the fenders. I shook my head as we got in and buckled up. I was pleasantly surprised at how smoothly and quietly that it ran once we were out on the road.
I had telephoned the house to tell them that we were on our way home, so I wasn't surprised when everyone greeted us at the front door when I pulled up.
After the boys made their way into the house, Horst came up to me and extended his hand. I couldn't help noticing the change in his appearance as I shook his hand. The last time he was here he was extremely thin and haggard looking. Today he appeared to have gained some weight and his coloring was much better. He was still underweight, but on the whole, he looked much better.
"Crane, I'd like you to meet my partner, Frank Paulis. Frank, this is Crane Johnson."
"It's very nice to meet you, Frank. I'm glad that you could join us for the holiday. Please, make yourself at home," I said, shaking his hand.
"Thank you, I'm pleased to be here. Horst has talked so much about you and your sons every since he returned from his last visit. I can see why. Your home is beautiful. I hope that you don't mind, but I used your pool last evening."
"Of course not, I'll bet that you had company if I know my boys."
"Yes," Horst said. "As soon as they heard that Frank was going for a swim they insisted they wanted to swim also. Frank was on the swim team at UCLA back in his college days."
"How did a guy from sunny California come to be in the Windy City of Chicago?" I asked.
"It's a long story, but it boils down to one thing - money," he laughed. "And I'm glad that I did. If I hadn't, I wouldn't have met this guy." He took Horst's hand, leaned over and kissed him lightly on the cheek causing Horst to blush furiously.
Hildy came to the door and announced that lunch would be ready in a few minutes. The three of us took the hint and we were off to the bathrooms to wash up.
Frank turned out to be a delightful person to grace our table. He was witty and had a marvelous way with the boys. They responded to him to such an extent that I felt a twinge of jealousy.
The days leading up to Thanksgiving were hectic. The boys had two and a half days of school before they started their vacation. Larry stayed at home and did his school work under the supervision of Hildy. I spent as much of my time at the office preparing to be gone for two weeks and for Carol's arrival.
Eric called on Monday evening. He was in a sad mood. "Crane, since dad has been here it's been awful."
"How do you mean?"
"I think he's losing his mind. He wanders around in a daze. He doesn't bathe unless I tell him to. He's always talking to himself. He doesn't make a lot of sense even when he talks to other people. I think I'm going to have to put him in a nursing home. I don't want to, but I don't know what else to do. He certainly can't live by himself and I can't look after him all the time. I have to work and I know it's having an effect on JR and Bran."
"What does Darcie say?"
"We've talk about it, but she's a little like me. She doesn't really like the idea of putting him in a home. She can't keep him. He's still quite young. He's only 61."
"If you put him in a nursing home, where would it be? Back in Houston or around here?"
"It would probably be someplace around here. At least that way we could go see him more often. Do you know of any place?"
"Yeah, I've heard of a couple of good places in New Braunfels. I'd check them out thoroughly before I'd put him in one, if I were you."
"Whatever we do it won't be until after Thanksgiving. I've asked my housekeeper to stay with him the week after, but I can't expect her to do it all the time."
"Look, I'll be working at your place for the two weeks after Thanksgiving. Let's get together for lunch and talk it over. I miss seeing you. Now that Larry is out of the hospital and on the mend, maybe I'll have a little more time for myself."
"I doubt that. Those five - no six - really keep you busy. You didn't know what you were getting into when you adopted five boys, did you?"
"No, I didn't, but I've never regretted it for a minute. They are my life and always come first."
"I know," he sighed. "I know."
By the time Thanksgiving arrived, Larry was able to eat anything he wanted, and he wanted a lot. It was a good thing, because Hildy had outdone herself with the meal. I don't know how she found time to fix it all, but I didn't complain and neither did anyone else. I think we all had to loosen our belts by the time the meal was over.
John spent the day with his mom and sisters. We all missed him. He had become an adjunct member of the family.
The day after, I sat down with Horst and Frank. I wanted to see if they would be willing to talk to Joel and John about the facts of being gay and the things that they had learned over the years including AIDS. At first they were a little hesitant to discuss personal matters with anyone that young. When I explained that I only wanted them to discuss in general what it meant to be gay in a straight world, they agreed.
Dr. Sam arrived to take Larry's stitches out shortly after lunch. Lenny was insistent on watching the procedure. Larry on the other hand, wanted no part in watching.
Horst and Frank got their chance for the talk on Saturday. I would have loved to have been a party to the discussion, but I wanted both Joel and John to feel free to ask questions that they might not with me present. The discussion went on for the better part of two hours, much longer than I had expected. I wanted very badly to ask Horst and Frank what went on, but I also wanted to respect the privacy of my son and his friend, even if it killed me.
All that Horst said, after they exited the meeting, was that the boys were highly intelligent, mature for their ages and were pretty sure of their orientation.
Later that evening, Joel came up to me and put his arms around me, "Thanks, dad, talking to Horst and Frank really helped. I understand a lot more now, and some of it's really scary."