"I got a letter from Dr. Alverez's office. They want me to take Ricky in for a check-up next Wednesday," Marie said. "They told me that the temporary peg leg that he has now will be replaced with one that is specifically fitted for him. Heaven only knows how much faster the little rascal will be with it."
"I agree. What time do you have to be there?" I asked.
"His appointment is for one o'clock. I should be able to get him there on time if I start early. I'll need the day off, though."
"Don't worry about the time off. I'll make flight arrangements. If we fly out of San Antonio it only takes about 45 minutes to get there. It's too bad we can't fly into Hobby Airport, but only Southwest flies directly there from San Antonio. Their flights are cheap and the service is usually on time, but they only have one class of seats. One of my friends in college used to call them the "head 'em up, move 'em out" airline for the way they handle boarding and no seat assignments, just take the first empty seat. I may be a snob, but I prefer to have an assigned seat.
"If we get to Houston by ten-thirty or eleven that should give us time enough to have a quick lunch and get to Dr. Alverez's office by one. We should be able to be back in San Antonio by around five or so unless Ricky's appointment takes longer."
"Thank you, Mr. Johnson, but really, I can drive him there. It's too much for you to go to all that trouble."
"Nonsense, it's no trouble. I'll have Carol make all the arrangements and then all we need to do is to show up at the airport. I want to make sure that Ricky gets all the best. He has a special place in this family. Everyone loves him."
"Thank you," Marie said, dabbing at the corners of her eyes.
The rest of the week went by without anything dramatic happening. Joel would come home from school, change his clothes, play with Samson for a bit and then take his golf clubs out to the play area and practice for about an hour or until it got too dark to see the ball. I was surprised that he was taking the game so seriously, but I was glad that he was having fun with it. I have known friends, when they first took up the game, who would get so frustrated and angry at their lack of quick progress that they would throw clubs or beat the ground and swear. When Joel hit a bad shot or whiffed the ball, he would just laugh and try again. That made me very proud of him, as if I could be any more proud.
Saturday morning, John came over to the house to work with Joel on a school science project. They spent the better part of the day with their materials spread out on the dining room table. John ate lunch with us and then the two of them went back to their project. I looked in on them several times to check on their progress. They were always working very close together, but each time I checked I could see that they were working and making progress. I could often hear them giggling when I was not in the room. When they finished at around five o'clock, Joel asked me if I would take John home. Of course, Joel had to come along.
Pauline and the girls greeted us as we drove up to their house. I got out of the car and talked to Pauline while John and Joel went off with John's sisters. We talked for a few minutes before I asked her, "What have you heard from Bruce?"
"Not much. It's been several weeks. The last time I spoke to him was in the lawyer's office where we were working out the child support agreement involved in our legal separation. At least he's still making those payments. I heard from one of our mutual friends that he's still working at the company," Pauline said.
"I was hoping that he would come to his senses," I said. "He doesn't know what he's missing by cutting you and the kids out of his life for something that is so unimportant."
"I know," she sighed. "He just can't get his head around John being different."
A few minutes later I collected Joel and we headed back home. Hildy would be upset if we weren't there when she had supper ready. Manfred had been kind enough to volunteer to watch the other boys while Joel and I had taken John home.
Sunday afternoon, with the temperatures hovering in the low 40s (~5 C), I decided to take the boys to a movie in New Braunfels. We hadn't been to a movie in some time because many of them I didn't consider appropriate for kids their age. It wasn't often that there was a G rated film that I could take them to see. Of course, we had to load up on popcorn with lots of melted butter and soft drinks to wash it down.
After the movie it was nearly time for supper. Since we were on our own for our Sunday meals, the boys wanted to go to the Tex-Mex restaurant in the same shopping center where the movie theater was. I agreed and we walked across the parking lot to it. The food was good and plentiful. We left the café with our stomachs full.
When we got home, I made the boys start their homework while I took care of some of my finances. I started gathering the information that I would give to Gerald to figure my income taxes.
Monday, Darcie and I interviewed two sets of parents wanting to adopt and needing the foundation's help to qualify. Between the two families, they were going to adopt five children. Two of the children had special needs being confined to wheelchairs as a result of spina bifida. We agreed that if the background checks were clean, the foundation would provide the needed support.
Tuesday, Joel had his appointment with Dr. Greene for his chemo therapy and blood tests. Every time we went, Joel would ask how many more times he would have to go.
"Three more times," Sam told him. "After that, if your blood tests come back clean, you'll only have to get your blood check about every three months for another year. You can do that can't you?"
"I guess," Joel answered. "I'll be glad when it's over."
"We all will," I told him, giving him a hug.
Sam gave us the rest of Joel's pills and we headed back to the house. Joel would stay home from school the rest of the day so that he could take his medicine on schedule.
I stayed home and conducted some business over the phone. The negotiations to buy one of the ranches that I was interested in purchasing were not going well. The larger parcel of land consisted of 9,846 acres (3,987.6 hectares). The owners were asking $1,100 per acre. Only about 8,000 acres were suitable for development. The rest was either too steep for building or was in a flood plain. CBJ Properties had offered $750 per acre for the entire acreage, which figured out to be around $925 per acre for the usable land.
After having discussions with Gerald, Carlos and the real estate agent, I increased the offer for the property to $800 per acre.
Wednesday morning I gave all the boys a hug before I left to pick up Marie and Ricky. As I drove into the apartment complex, I was pleased that the grounds were in much better condition. The area around the garbage dumpsters was cleaned up and the place in general looked a lot cleaner. I didn't have time to stop and talk to the managers that I had hired to take care of the place, but it looked like they already had started making a difference.
Ricky jumped into my arms as I entered the apartment. "Good morning, munchkin. Are you ready to go flying again?"
"Uh huh," he said, shaking his head.
Marie greeted me and then picked up a small bag, which she explained contained a change of clothes in case Ricky had an accident or got something spilled on him.
Thankfully our flight was on time and we arrived at Houston Intercontinental at about 10:30. It took us another hour to get the rental car and drive into Houston. We stopped at an Applebee's near the Medical Center for lunch before going to Dr. Alverez's office.
We were a few minutes early for Ricky's appointment, so we took a seat in the waiting room. Ricky's attention was immediately drawn to another boy who looked to be about 6 or 7 years of age and also had a peg leg. He went over to the boy, looked at the peg leg and then touched it. "You gotta leg like mine," he said, looking up at the boy.
The boy didn't say anything. He just turned his head and buried his face in his mother's side. I felt sorry for the boy. It was clear that he was not comfortable with his artificial limb. Marie saw the boy's discomfort, went and brought Ricky back to where we were sitting.
A few minutes later a nurse came for Marie and Ricky. I decided to stay in the waiting room and read a book that I had brought along while they were engaged. I had been sitting there reading for maybe a quarter of an hour when Timothy Bartholomew Edward Buffet IV, or Tim as he liked to be called, came in with his mother. I hardly recognized him. He had lost a lot of weight and there were dark circles around his eyes. He evidently recognized me because he came over and sat beside me.
"Hello, Tim," I said, as he sat next to me.
"Hi, Mr. Johnson," he said. "Is your little friend here today, also?"
"Yes, he came back to be fitted with a more permanent peg leg. What brings you back here?"
"They have to adjust the socket on my prosthesis. It's too loose."
As we talked, his mother came over and sat beside him. She looked rather haggard and sighed heavily as she took her seat. A couple of minutes later, the nurse came for Tim.
"Mrs. Buffet, please forgive me, but Tim does not look well. He has changed considerably in the month since I last saw him."
"Mr. Johnson isn't it?" she asked, to which I nodded. "I think I told you last time that we had found out that his cancer had come back. This time it's very aggressive and has spread throughout his liver and kidneys and now into his lungs." At this point she had to stop and wipe her tears. I moved over to the chair next to her and placed my arm around her shoulder. She recovered somewhat and continued, "He's being very brave about it, much braver that either his father or I. We keep praying that the radiation and the chemo will help, but the doctors don't give us much hope."
"I'm so terribly sorry. Is there anything that I can do?" I asked.
"No, he has the best doctors and is receiving the latest drugs and radiation treatments that are available. We are willing and able to spend as much as is necessary to try to find a way to save our son. We are approaching a point, though, where the quality of his life has to be balanced with the length of his life. Timothy says he will tell us when the treatments are no longer bearable. At that point the doctors have promised us that they will keep him as free of pain as they can." There were still tears in her eyes, but there was also a look of pride in them for her son.
"I can only imagine how you feel," I said. "I nearly lost my son to leukemia last summer and I was totally devastated. Thankfully, Joel is in recovery and we have every expectation that he will be cured of his cancer. I admire your son for his courage. You and your husband must be very proud of him."
"We are," she said, and then lapsed into silence.
About ten minutes later, Ricky came running out of the examination area at full speed. He launched himself onto my lap and held up his new peg leg.
"See," he said pointing to it.
"I sure do," I said, giving him a hug. "Do you like it?"
I looked at Marie, "Are they finished with him?"
"Yes, he won't have to come back for two months unless it starts hurting him or something," she replied.
"All right, munchkin, let's go home."
I turned and said goodbye to Mrs. Buffet and told her I hoped that they would find the miracle for which they were praying.
We still had a couple of hours before our return flight to San Antonio, but I felt that it was best if we headed back to the airport anyway. After returning the rental car and checking in at the ticket counter, we headed through security and to the VIP lounge.
The lounge was nearly half full when we arrived. Ricky was immediately the center of attention. He never met a stranger. Despite Marie's best efforts at keeping him corralled, he managed to say "hi" to almost everyone in the lounge. A couple of the women in the lounge even picked him up. That didn't last long. He wasn't much for sitting still. There were too many other people to see and talk to.
Ricky was restless on the flight home. Marie had forgotten to bring his coloring book. The cabin steward brought him some juice and a set of pilot's wings that he pinned on Ricky's shirt. That kept him occupied for several minutes, which was just enough. It wasn't long before we began our descent into the San Antonio airport.
On the way back to the apartment, I asked, "Marie, it's none of my business, but what happened to Ricky's father?"
"No, it's all right. When Orlando found out I was pregnant, he wanted me to get rid of it. I couldn't do that and he wouldn't marry me. He took off for California. He has some relatives there. That was four years ago. I haven't heard from him since," Marie said.
"Orlando? What's his last name?"
"He doesn't pay any child support?" I asked.
"Do you know if he is still in California?"
"I don't know. One of my girlfriends said that she saw him in San Antonio about a year ago, but none of my friends have seen him since."
"You really should get a court order requiring him to pay child support. After all, Ricky is his son, too. He needs to share the responsibility for supporting him."
"But we were never married. How can I make him pay child support?"
"It doesn't matter whether or not you were married to him. Is his name on the birth certificate as the father?"
"Yes, but he's never even seen Ricky."
"Look, if you're interested in pursuing child support, I'll help you. I'm sure that you could use the extra money."
"The extra money would be nice. I don't know, though. Let me think about it."
"Sure, just let me know when you've thought it through."
As I dropped Marie and Ricky off at their apartment, I noticed that the apartment managers, Chuck Solaris and Phillip Brown, were talking earnestly to a couple of teenage boys. I decided to stop and talk to them before I left for home.
I parked the car near the leasing office and started toward where the men were standing. The conversation between Chuck and Phillip and the two teenagers was rather loud. Phillip was the first to notice me as I walked up.
"Mr. Johnson, it's nice of you to stop by. Is there something that we can do for you?" Phillip asked.
"No, I just wanted to stop by to see if there were any problems."
"We were trying to explain to these two young men that the use of illegal drugs on the property would subject them to being excluded from the premises."
"Are they residents?" I asked.
"Yes," Chuck answered. "They live with their parents over there in Building 2."
"The new lease agreement spells that out very clearly. What caused this confrontation?"
"Phil noticed the odor of marijuana smoke when the two of them passed by. He stopped them and explained the policy on illegal drugs. They became rather belligerent and threatening," Chuck explained.
"I didn't accuse them of using drugs. I just tried to explain that I thought I detected the smell of marijuana and wanted them to be aware of the consequences if they used it on the premises," Phil said.
Chuck turned back to the two young men and asked if they understood the consequences of their actions if they were caught using drugs. The boys nodded and then headed toward their apartments.
"Good, you handled that well. I hope we don't have to evict anyone for illicit drug use, but use your best judgment. By the way, when are the contractors supposed to start work on fixing up the playground?"
"They were supposed to be here today, but I got a call this morning saying they would be delayed until tomorrow. The new playground is going to be great for the kids here. I have a drawing of the proposed layout. I know the kids will love it, especially after what they have now," Phil said. "The fence people are scheduled to start putting up the perimeter fence on Monday. If the weather holds out, they should be finished by the end of next week."
"Have you been able to complete an inventory of the needed repairs for all of the apartments?" I asked.
"We have about 90% of that done. We are having a few problems finding some of the tenants at home when we stop by for the inventory. Some were reluctant to let us into the apartments until we explained what we wanted to do. Overall, we have had great cooperation from the majority of the tenants. There have been a couple of exceptions," Chuck answered.
"Well, you have my complete support. Are all of the security officers in place now?"
"We need one more for a full rotation. Mr. Hogan said he should have someone for us to interview this evening. If that one works out, we'll be set," Phillip said. "Most of the residents are very happy that there's a uniformed police officer on duty around the clock. They say it's cut the vandalism down to almost nothing."
A few minutes later, I left for home to see the boys. When I got there, they were just about to sit down at the supper table. I received hugs from all of them before I rushed to my bedroom to change clothes and wash.
I was sitting in the family room after supper, reading the morning paper that I didn't get to read this morning, when TJ climbed onto my lap. "This is nice," I said, as I kissed the top of his head and gave him a squeeze. As I brushed the hair off his forehead, it felt rather warm. "Do you feel all right?"
He coughed a couple of times before he answered, "I feel kinda funny and my throat hurts some."
"You're probably coming down with a cold. Let's go get you some children's Tylenol and some orange juice. That should make you feel better." I picked him up, carried him into the kitchen and sat him on the counter. I knew that Hildy kept the thermometer in one of the cabinets. I found it and placed it under his tongue. A minute later I read the temperature. It was 99.6. A little bit of a temperature. I poured a glass of orange juice and took the bottle of Tylenol out of the cupboard, read the directions and then handed TJ two tablets and told him to swallow them down with the orange juice.
The rest of the evening, TJ stayed close to me, either sitting on my lap or sitting beside me so that I could have my arm around him. When it was time for bed, he wanted to sleep with me. I put him in my bed and then went to tuck the rest of the boys in for the night.
"What's wrong with TJ?" Joel asked as I was tucking him in.
"I think he is coming down with a cold and doesn't feel too good. We'll see how he feels in the morning. Good night, son. I love you."
"I love you, too, dad."
TJ had a restless night, which meant that I didn't get much sleep. He tossed and turned and coughed a lot. Around four o'clock, I got up and gave him two more Tylenol because his forehead was feeling hot. He tried to blow his nose, but it was too stopped up.
I got up when I heard Hildy in the kitchen starting breakfast. "I think I'm going to keep TJ home from school today. He had a pretty rough night," I told her as I walked into the kitchen.
"Oh, my goodness, what's wrong?"
"I don't think it's anything serious, just a cold. He has a cough and complained of a sore throat. It's a wonder they don't have more colds being exposed to all the other kids at school. I gave him some Tylenol around four. I'm going to let him sleep as long as he can."
"Did you take his temperature?"
"I took it last night. He had about a degree of fever. I'll take it again when he wakes up. Well, I'd better go get the rest of the boys up or they'll be late for school."
"Where's TJ?" Joel asked, sitting down at the breakfast table.
I explained that he was still in my bed because he didn't feel well and was going to stay home from school. Joel immediately got up and started for my bedroom. He quietly opened the door and tiptoed to the side of the bed. He lightly brushed the hair off TJ's forehead and leaned down to kiss his brother. TJ stirred, but did not wake up. I had followed Joel and witnessed again the protective nature of Joel toward TJ. I placed my hand on Joel's shoulder and indicated with a tilt of my head that we should leave TJ alone.
"Is he going to be all right?" Joel asked.
"Yes, son, it's just a cold. He should be fine in a few days. He needs lots of rest."
When the dogs returned to the house after seeing the boys off to school, Bandit sniffed all around and then headed for my bedroom. He scratched on the door with his paw until I opened it. He ran over to the side of the bed and sat there looking up at his master. With a slight whimper, he jumped up on the bed and snuggled against TJ's back. Ordinarily I would have made him jump back down off the bed, but under the circumstances I thought that TJ needed all the comfort he could get.
I called the office and spoke to Carol. I told her I had a sick son and would be working from home today.
It was about nine o'clock when I heard TJ coughing. I went to check on him. He was propped up against the headboard petting Bandit and talking to him.
"Good morning, son. How do you feel this morning?"
"My throat hurts and my nose is stopped up," he said.
"We'll see what we can do about that. You run and go to the bathroom and then wash your hands and face. I'll get your bathrobe and slippers. Maybe Hildy will fix you some breakfast."
Bandit followed us to the kitchen where Hildy took charge of TJ's health care. The first thing that she did was to feel his forehead, followed in almost the same motion by the thermometer being placed in his mouth.
"99.8, I think we need a couple of children's Tylenol," she said. "Then I'll fix you some breakfast and some of my special hot tea with honey. How does that sound?"
"Yeah, I'm hungry, but my throat hurts to swallow."
"The tea and honey will make it feel better," Hildy said, giving him a kiss on the top of his head.
TJ sipped the tea while Hildy scurried around making him a couple poached eggs, toast and orange juice.
"That was good, Hildy. My throat feels a little better now," TJ told her, when he was finished.
Now Hildy brought out the big guns, the Vicks. She ordered TJ to remove his pajama tops so that she could rub his chest with a liberal amount of the pungent smelling salve. After satisfying herself that she had applied enough, she covered it with a clean kitchen towel and fastened two corners of it behind his neck with a safety pin. While helping him to put his pajama top back on, she told me to get the heating pad and a quilt out of the linen closet. She led TJ into the family room and told him to lie down on the couch. She had me plug the cord of the heating pad into the electrical outlet.
The heating pad controls were set to medium and placed on TJ's chest. The quilt was spread over him to keep him warm. Hildy told him to stay there and try to get some rest.
After Hildy had gone back to the kitchen, TJ asked me, "Daddy, will you read me a story?"
"Sure, what would you like me to read?"
"I like that story about Tom."
"I'll bet you mean Tom Sawyer. Just a minute and I'll get it."
When I returned from retrieving the book, Bandit had curled up on the floor in front of the couch where TJ was. TJ's hand was hanging down so that his fingers could lightly stroke his pet's fur.
I read to him for a little over half an hour before I noticed that he was asleep. I felt his forehead and was convinced that it felt less warm than it had earlier. I turned the heating pad controls to low and went into the kitchen for another cup of coffee.
The rest of the day was spent much the same way. By the time the rest of the boys came home from school, I had read over a third of the book to him. I was able to take care of some business during the times when TJ was sleeping.
By Sunday, TJ was feeling much better. His fever was gone and he only had an occasional coughing spell. He was anxious to go back to school on Monday. I had called the school and had the twins bring home his books and assignments so that he wouldn't fall too far behind on his school work.
TJ slept in my bed again Sunday night. He didn't have a single coughing spell all night. When he asked if he could go back to school when he woke up, I consented. Things were back to normal. Now, all I could hope for was that Joel and the others didn't come down with a cold. It would be even worse if I did and God forbid if Hildy did.