Mrs. Sheridan followed her two daughters onto the shuttle bus. As she was taking her seat, she saw Eric and appeared to be noticeably shaken. She spoke quietly to her daughters before she stood and approached Eric.
"Mr. Levin, I would like to apologize for my husband's behavior toward you and your foster son. He's not really a bad man. He does have this thing about black people, but he usually doesn't flip out like he did last evening."
"I'm sorry that it happened also," Eric said. "What ever possessed him to do something like that?"
"The only explanation that I can think of is that he stopped taking his medicine. The doctors say he has a chemical imbalance in the brain. He started taking lithium several years ago. Then about a year ago they added Abilify and Lamictal to his medications. After I found out he was arrested, I went to take his medicine to the jail and discovered that he hasn't been taking them. You see, I fill one of those pill dispensers that have compartments for each day of the week with the three pills that he is supposed to take. When I went to refill it because I didn't know how long he was going to be in jail, I discovered that all of the compartments were full. I know that this doesn't excuse his behavior, but it might explain why it happened."
"Is he taking his medicine now?" Eric asked.
"No, and that's the reason he's still in jail. I won't bail him out until he promises that he'll take them. He's safer for both himself and for us if he stays where he is for the time being," Mrs. Sheridan said. "Again, I want to apologize for my husband."
"We accept your apology," Eric said, indicating Bran, who nodded in agreement. "I hope that your husband gets all the help that he needs."
Mrs. Sheridan went back to sit with her daughters. The rest of their trip to the ski school was made in silence. That was not the case with our troop. They were as boisterous as always.
I sat and observed the younger boys' lessons while Eric went with Joel and Bran. I was pleasantly surprised at how much they had learned by the time their lesson was finished. TJ was having the time of his life. He still fell down a lot, but I could tell by his giggles that he wasn't hurt. They weren't experts, by any stretch of the imagination, but they had learned enough in the two days of lessons to be able to really enjoy themselves on the ski slopes. Best of all, you couldn't wipe the smiles off their faces when they were done.
Even though they were anxious to get to try out their new skills on the slopes, the lure of hot chocolate and sweet rolls at the coffee shop held a greater attraction at the moment. Eric, Joel and Bran joined our group shortly after we had been seated. The table was noisy with the soprano and tenor sounds of boys, each extolling their skiing prowess. The only time the noise level subsided was when the food arrived and they stopped talking long enough to gobble down the rolls and hot chocolate.
We made a couple of runs down the beginner slope the same way that we had done yesterday before we decided to head back to the townhouse for lunch. As the boys removed their ski clothing, I went to the kitchen to see what Kathy had fixed for us today. I saw the buns on the table beside the note that she had left. The note gave instructions to turn the heat to high on the crock pot containing Sloppy Joes. I was sure that the boys would enjoy this lunch.
After our lunch had settled, the boys wanted to go back and ski some more, so we did. After four runs and an afternoon snack, everyone was ready to go back and get in the hot tub.
Eric and I sat and watched the seven boys play and laugh and just enjoy themselves in the tub.
"Crane, did you hear what Mrs. Sheridan said to Bran and me this morning in the shuttle?" Eric asked.
"I only heard bits and pieces of it. What I did hear, told me that her husband is a sick man," I said. "What are you going to do?"
"I don't know. The way he made Bran feel really makes me mad, but at the same time I feel sorry for him and especially his family. I'm going to have to have a long talk with Bran. I think he has a big say in what we do. I know if it were only up to me, I would drop the charges, but only if Sheridan will seek treatment."
"Have you talked to Bran at all?"
"No, I need to get him alone. Maybe if you can get the other boys involved in something after supper, I'll try then,' he said.
"I think I can manage that. There's a National Geographic Special on TV tonight. I think that will get their attention."
About an hour later, TJ climbed out of the hot tub and made his way to where we were sitting.
"Are we gonna eat at that place again tonight? I'm hungry," he said.
"You're always hungry," I said and pulled him onto my lap and at the same time tickled his ribs. "I thought we might go to that pizza place tonight. What do you think about that?"
"Okay," he giggled and squirmed off my lap.
The rest of the boys seemed to think that pizza for supper was a good idea. It took nearly an hour for everyone to get showered and dressed to go out. We loaded up in the van and took off for the pizza parlor. When we got there, the place was fairly busy and we had to wait a few minutes before we could get a table large enough for the nine of us.
I was surprised at how good the pizza was. It was not like the pizza that you get at most of the chain restaurants. The waiter told us it was authentic Italian pizza. For dessert we had real gelato.
It was the first time I had real gelato since I was in prep school on the East Coast. Its smooth texture reminded me of Marcellino's, where my room mate and I would go every weekend for hand made gelato. It also brought back the horrible memory of my parents' death. We had just returned from Marcellino's one Saturday evening when the headmaster informed me of their deaths.
"What's the matter?" Eric asked.
"Oh, it's nothing. I just had a flashback is all," I said. "I'm fine."
"You didn't look fine there for a minute," he said, placing his hand on my shoulder.
As we were walking back to the van after settling our bill, Joel noticed the souvenir shop a couple of doors down from the restaurant. "Dad, can we go in there?" he asked pointing to the shop. "I want to get something to take back to Hildy." Then in almost a whisper he added, "And maybe something for John. I've got my own money."
That sounded like a great idea, so we headed toward the shop. I'm not to sure that the owner was pleased to see two adults and seven kids enter his shop. He hovered around the boys as if he thought they would either break something or steal something. Chris was the first to find something that was perfect for Hildy. It was a set of porcelain salt and pepper shakers with pictures of Breckenridge and the mountains on the sides. They would go nicely with her already large collection of shakers. I was quite sure that she didn't have a set like these.
We must have spent about half an hour picking out souvenirs to take home. I decided that the shakers would be from all of us and insisted that each of my boys pick out something for themselves to remember Breckenridge by. Eric did the same for his two. I thought that the proprietor was going to have a heart attack before we left his shop. He didn't complain too much when he rang up our purchases. The total was just over $200.
We got back to the townhouse barely in time to watch the National Geographic Special on Jane Goodall and her efforts to save the gorillas in Africa. Eric and Bran went into the downstairs bedroom to talk while the rest of us watched the program. TJ climbed onto my lap and the other five sprawled out on the floor in front of the TV.
Eric and Bran returned about 15 minutes into the program. Bran joined the other boys on the floor. Eric and JR sat on the couch with TJ and me. I gave Eric an asking look and he shook his head and smiled. I took that to mean that he and Bran had come to an agreement on Mr. Sheridan. I'd get more details from Eric later.
Sunday morning we slept a little later since the boys didn't have a ski lesson today. After a leisurely breakfast, I checked the shuttle schedule to see when we could get a ride to the slopes. We would have time to make a couple of runs before coming back to the townhouse for lunch.
I thought that we might take it easy in the afternoon and stay in the house. That didn't sit too well with the boys, so I looked at the activity list that we had been given when we arrived. One thing caught my eye. It was a horse drawn sleigh ride tour of Breckenridge to take in the Christmas decorations. I made a call and booked the sleigh for four in the afternoon. The tour was to last for two hours, so the Christmas lights should be on by the time the tour was about half over.
The sleigh arrived right on time. There were two beautiful horses drawing a colorfully painted sleigh with seating for probably ten adults. The boys were more interested in the horses than in getting into the sleigh. I had to grab hold of TJ to keep him from running in front of the horses and scaring them. The driver told me that the horses were very gentle and were not easily frightened. I restrained TJ while he petted the nearest horse on the shoulder.
After a little persuasion from Eric and me, we got all the boys loaded into the sleigh and were off on our tour. Our guide gave a running account of everything that we passed and between sights he expounded on the history of Breckenridge. His descriptions were not only informative, but he added a touch of humor that kept the interest of the boys and had them laughing.
The Christmas decorations on some of the homes were extravagant, to say the least. I'm sure that some of the homeowners had spent many thousands of dollars on their displays. We were all sorry when the sleigh returned us to the townhouse. We thanked our guide and the boys paid their respects to the horses before they raced to the house. I paid our guide and gave him a large gratuity for his excellent service.
I had no more than entered the front door when I met TJ and the twins. I knew there was something on their minds and I thought I had a good idea what it was.
"Dad..." Lenny started. "Can we... ah... well... Can we get a horse?"
This is what I thought it was going to be. "Let dad get his coat and heavy clothes hung up and then we'll talk. Okay?"
I needed a little time to think of a good way to explain why it would not be a good idea for us to have a horse. I went to hang up my coat in the bedroom and was followed by the three of them close on my heels.
I gathered up my other two sons and we sat down on the couch in front of the fireplace. "Guys, I know that you think you would like to have a horse. A horse is a very big commitment. It's not like taking care of your dogs. A horse takes a lot of care. There's feeding and brushing and taking care of their hooves. It also needs to be ridden. We don't have a place for it to stay. It would need a stable to let it get out of the cold in the winter or the hot summer sun. A horse is a lot of work." When I finished there were a lot of frowns on the boys' faces.
"If you guys really want to learn how to ride a horse, I know of a place over near Boerne that belongs to an acquaintance who runs a riding school. When it gets a little warmer, I'll take you over there and you all can learn to ride. Will that work?"
"I guess," Lenny answered. "Maybe we can go when we get home?"
"We'll see," I said. "Now is anyone hungry?"
There was unanimous agreement on that. After two excellent meals in two different restaurants, our meal tonight was a big disappointment. The food was tasteless, the portions were small, the service was poor and the prices were high. It was the first time that I had ever seen any food left on the boys' plates at the end of the meal.
"That was yuck!" Chris said, on the way to the van. "Can we stop and get something good to eat?"
"I agree with you, son. That was pretty bad," I said. Turning to the others, "Does anyone else want something to eat?"
"I do," Joel said. "Even the food at school is better than that."
We stopped at the Burger King and filled up on Whoppers with fries and chocolate shakes. Not the healthiest of meals, but once in a while we could afford the trans fat and cholesterol. The boys were much happier when we left there.
"Dad, may I call John?" Joel asked, after we got home.
"Sure, but don't talk too long. When you're done, we'll call and talk to Hildy. You can use the phone in the bedroom so that you can have some privacy," I said, pointing the way.
"Thanks, dad, I love you."
"I love you too, son."
Joel talked to John for about ten minutes before he came out of the bedroom. He was all smiles. I gathered my boys around me and placed the call to Hildy. It took almost thirty minutes before everyone had a chance to talk to her and explain all about their skiing, the snow, the sleigh ride and all the fun they were having. She heard the same thing over and over again as each one talked. I don't think it made any difference to her. She was just glad to talk to them.
Monday morning after breakfast, I took JR and my boys on the shuttle to the slopes for some more skiing. Bran and Eric took the van and headed for the police department. When we got to the slopes, I realized that watching all of the boys as they skied was going to be a challenge without Eric and Bran to help out. After some intense planning, I decided to send Joel and Chris off first, followed by the twins, and then TJ, JR and I bringing up the rear. The slope was such that no group ahead of me would be out of sight for more than a few seconds unless I had to stop to help one of the boys who had taken a tumble.
Surprisingly, the plan worked out fairly well. I skied fairly close to TJ. He was the only one who had the propensity to fall. He fell only once in the two runs that we made before Eric and Bran caught up with us.
Joel and Bran wanted to try snowboarding after they saw a couple of other young guys doing it. I took them over to where the boards were available for rent. The young man there gave them a few instructions on how to handle the boards before handing them a couple and telling them to enjoy themselves.
When the other boys saw how much fun that Joel and Bran were having on the snowboards, they wanted to do it also. They weren't too happy when I pointed out the sign on the shack where the boards were for rent saying they must be 12 years-old to rent a board. They had to settle for another run down the slope on their skis.
In the afternoon, we took the boys to the snowmobile rides. Each one got on behind a driver who was hardly older than Bran and went for a 40 minute ride over a trail through the woods. Eric and I stayed behind and waited for them. I was a little worried about TJ. I didn't know how he would react being on his own with a stranger, but I needn't have worried. When he came back, he was all smiles and asking if he could go again. Phil, his driver, said that he hadn't had so much fun taking someone on a ride in a long time. TJ gave him a hug before Phil had to go back to work.
We went back to Emily's for supper for another fabulous family style meal. After our bad experience the night before, this was a real treat. We didn't have to stop at the Burger King after that meal. The only thing we felt like doing was loosening our belts and lounging around in front of the TV until bedtime. Well, that is until snack time a couple of hours later. Eric and I decided to skip the ice cream topped with chocolate syrup that the boys had.
Eric and I each tucked our sons into bed and then sat down on the couch to relax for a while before going to bed.
"I never did get to ask you how things went at the police station today," I said.
"Well, it was not quite what I expected. When we got there, Sheridan wasn't there. They said that he had been taken to the local hospital. They put him in the psychiatric ward. I guess he went berserk and was tearing up his cell. The guy I talked to there said that they had to use a taser on him before they could get him under control. Bran and I agreed to drop the charges against him. The state could still decide to charge him, but I don't think that is too likely. They wouldn't have any witnesses since we'd all be back in Texas."
"In a way I'm glad that you decided to not pursue charges against him. There was something about him that I didn't like and he did act like an ass. Still... Oh, I don't know. I guess I just keep thinking of his wife and two daughters. Even if he is a jerk, he's their jerk."
"I know what you mean. There was never any indication that he was violent toward them. All I care about is that he gets the treatment that he needs and the medications that will keep him on an even keel. Well, I think I'll hit the sack. I don't know if it's the thin air or all the exercise we're getting, but I'm beat."
"Me, too," I said. "I'll go check on my boys and I'll be right there."
Tuesday morning I was awakened by a little body slipping into bed beside me. It was still dark out, but I could tell it was TJ when he snuggled in beside me.
"What are you doing up so early?" I asked.
He just murmured something that I couldn't understand before he dropped off to sleep. I raised my head up and looked at the clock. It was only 6:30. Another half hour before I had planned to get up and start breakfast. It seemed like I had only laid my head back on the pillow, when the alarm went off. I slipped out of bed as gently as I could, trying not to wake TJ.
"I see we had a visitor in the night," Eric whispered.
"Yeah, he came in about 30 minutes ago. I'm going to let him sleep 'till breakfast is almost ready."
Since this was the last full day that we were going to be in Breckenridge, we tried to pack in as many ski runs and other activities as we could. By the end of the day we were all so worn out that we didn't even want to go out to eat. When I suggested calling the Chinese take-out and having them deliver, I received no objections from anyone. The poor delivery boy had to make two trips to his beat-up old Chevy to bring in all the food that we ordered.
Wednesday morning we returned our skiing equipment to the place that we rented it from and settled up our bill. Afterwards, I called the service that provided our rental van to let them know that we would be leaving for the airport around noon. They agreed to send someone to drive us to the airport and return the van.
"Can we come back again?" Larry asked, as I was checking their room to make sure that everything had been packed. "This was fun."
"I think we might be able to arrange that," I said. "Maybe next year, can you wait that long?"
"I guess," he said. "I want to stay and ski some more, but I miss Hildy and Buddy. Can we bring them next time?"
I chuckled at that. "I don't think it would be practical to bring all five dogs. I doubt they would like to fly. Hildy might come, we'll have to wait and see."
We were all a little sad to leave the place that we had called home for the past week and to all the fun that we had. Our driver arrived right on time and helped us load our luggage. It was only a short ride to the airport. He stopped the van at the curbside check-in where a skycap took charge of our luggage. After we checked in and went through security, we still had over 30 minutes to wait before our plane was due to take off.
The small airport did not offer too much in the way of refreshments and nothing really that could be considered a meal. To stave off the boys' starvation, Eric and I purchased some popcorn, which turned out to be stale, and soft drinks. We would have about an hour and a half layover in Denver, so I knew we would be able to get something to eat there.
Our flights went very smoothly. They were on time taking off and our flight into San Antonio was even a little early thanks to a tail wind all the way from Denver. It took a while to gather all our luggage. When we had it all, I decided that I didn't want to drag it all the way to where our van was parked, so I signaled a skycap and asked him if he would take it to the curb and wait with it until we retrieved the van and brought it around. He didn't look like he was interested probably thinking that he might miss out on some tips. I handed him a $20 bill and told him I would give him another when we picked up the luggage. I saw the cash register going off in his head. $40 for maybe 10 minutes of his time seemed like a good idea.
We said our goodbyes to Eric, JR and Bran and then were on the way to pick up our van in the parking garage. I took out my cell phone as we walked and called Hildy to tell her that we had arrived. I told her to expect us in 45 minutes to an hour, depending on traffic.
We got the van and paid the storage fee before heading to pick up our luggage. The skycap was waiting for us and helped to load everything into the van. I handed him the other twenty and we were off for home.
"Dad, are we going to stop to get something to eat?" Joel asked.
"No, son, when I talked to Hildy, she said that she was fixing supper for us. Do you think that you can wait? We'll be home soon."
"Yeah, Hildy's cooking's always good."
Traffic was fairly light so we made good time going home. When we arrived at the house, Hildy was outside the garage door as we drove in. No sooner had the van come to a stop then the side and front passenger doors of the van flew open and Hildy was surrounded by five very happy boys. Each one got and gave multiple hugs and kisses. Everyone was talking and no one was listening, but it was a happy reunion. Finally, Hildy started the group moving toward the back door. I was left to deal with the luggage. I dealt with it by telling myself that it could wait until after we had eaten. I did retrieve the present that we had purchased for Hildy.
Manfred greeted us as we entered the kitchen. The boys hugged him and then made a bee line for the dog run to see their dogs. As the dogs saw their masters, they started to bark in what was easy to tell was sheer joy. The boys stayed with their friends for about fifteen minutes, petting and talking to them. I hated to break up their reunion, but Hildy was ready to serve supper. I sent the boys off to get washed up and I did the same.
Later as we were finishing up our supper, Hildy said, "Ricky has been asking for you. He wanted to stay until you got here, but Marie told him it would be too late. She promised him that they could stop by tomorrow on their way home from Eric's place."
"The boys really missed him. I did, too. He is such a loveable little boy. I hope Dr. Sam was able to find out more information on that prosthesis."
I motioned for Chris to come to me and whispered some instructions in his ear. He took off for my office and was quickly back with a small box. Since it was his idea, I thought it was only appropriate that he present the gift to Hildy.
"We got you something," Chris said and handed Hildy the box.
"Thank you, Chris," Hildy said, as she accepted the box. She carefully lifted the top off and sat it on the table. She then removed a layer of cotton that was protecting the gift from damage. "Oh, my, they're beautiful." She took each of the shakers out and examined them before setting them on the table. "I'll put them in a special place of honor in my collection. Thank you!"
It wasn't too much later that the day's activities began to show on the boys. TJ had crawled up on my lap and I noticed several yawns from the others. When I suggested that they go take their showers and get ready for bed, I didn't get any static. Since we had eaten supper so late, they didn't even miss their evening snack.
Hildy, Manfred and I sat and talked after I had the boys tucked into bed. I told them about Mr. Sheridan's attack on Bran and Eric and about what caused it. They were both shocked and saddened that Bran had to face that kind of bigotry. I told them how proud I was of Bran for the way he handled himself. They echoed my sentiments. We talked for nearly another hour before my day caught up with me and I excused myself to go to bed.
Thursday morning after breakfast, I received a call from Dr. Greene. "Sam, this is awfully early for you to call, isn't it?"
'Yes, it is," he said, with a chuckle. "I thought that I had better call you before I got too busy. Some of us have to work for a living, you know?"
"Ah, yes, the plight of the working class. How do they do it?"
"I received the blood test back on Joel. Everything is looking great. The red and white blood cell counts are well within the normal range. There are no abnormal cells that were detected. Also, the HIV test still shows no antibodies present. I think we are in the clear for HIV. We'll still run a blood test every six months for a couple of years, but I doubt that anything will come of it. As far as the leukemia goes, I think we're out of the woods on that also. We'll keep the chemo going for another five months, maybe six, and then do a blood screening about every couple of months. After that, we'll screen his blood every year when we do his school physical. I have nothing but good news today."
"That's fantastic, Sam. I'm glad that you called. Have you heard anything more on that doctor in Houston and the peg legs for kids that he is experimenting with?" I asked.
"Oh, yes, I'd almost forgotten, I did get in contact with Dr. Alverez. He hasn't fitted one of his adjustable peg legs for anyone as young as Ricky, but he said that if the family was willing to give it a try, he would fit one for him. He was interested in using Ricky as a test case to be included in an updated paper that he's working on. The only problem is getting Ricky to Houston."
"Let me worry about that," I said. "Thanks, Sam, you've made my day. Give my love to Carol. Goodbye."
I shared the good news with Hildy. When I told her about the peg leg for Ricky, she laughed. "That boy can get around on those crutches faster than most kids his age can on two good legs. I don't know what it will be like if he has two legs to walk on. He still crawls a lot, especially when he's going up the stairs and playing with the dogs. All five of those dogs just love that little tyke."
"Remind me to talk to Marie about a trip to Houston when they stop by this evening."