It took me a few moments to recover and realize what Joel was saying. The thought of adding a baby to our family was paralyzing my mind. I was too young to have a fourteen year-old, three eleven year-olds and an eight year-old and he was asking to add a baby also. I loved them with all my heart and would do almost anything in my power to make them happy, but a baby?
When I finally recovered my power of speech, I said in as soft and caring voice as I could muster, "Son, that's something we'll have to talk about."
He started to answer, but at that moment Rebecca started to cry. There was a distinct and pungent aroma that began emanating from the bundle that Joel was holding.
Darcie immediately reached for the baby. "It smells like she needs changing. If you want to see what it's like to have a baby around, you can help change her diaper."
Joel looked at me. I nodded my head and he followed Darcie to Rebecca's changing table. I watched from where I was sitting as Darcie began removing the diaper. Joel looked on intently until the diaper came off and its contents revealed. His face took on a greenish tint and I could see he was trying to stifle a gag reflex. A moment later, he turned and hurried back to where I was sitting and took a seat beside me on the couch.
He swallowed hard a couple of times before saying, "Maybe a baby isn't such a good idea after all."
"I think you're right, son. You can come see Rebecca as often as you like. She can be like a cousin to you and your brothers."
We stayed for about another half an hour before I told the boys it was time to go. Darcie had gone into the other room to nurse the baby, so we said our goodbyes to Mel and headed out the door. To my surprise we met Darcie's dad, Alan, on his way toward the house.
"Alan," I said, extending my hand, "it's good to see you again."
"Crane, same here, I just had to come see my only granddaughter," he said.
"She's a beautiful little girl, just like her mom. How have you been?"
"I'm doing much better, thanks to that wonderful little Ricky. I think he saved my life after Ethel died."
"He is a little charmer," I said. "How long are you going to be here?"
"I'll be here for a couple of days. I can't stay too long. I volunteer at the local elementary school as a reading assistant for third graders. If I'm gone too long, the kids will miss me. I'll miss them, too."
"That's great, it fills your time and it makes a contribution to the school. More people should get involved. Alan, we'll see you again, I'm sure," I said. "Well, boys, I think it's time we headed for home."
Since it was mid-afternoon when we left for home, the boys insisted that we stop for a snack on the way. There was a Dairy Queen on the feeder road just before we entered the freeway that everyone agreed was the place to stop. Thankfully the place was not that busy. We were able to get our sundaes fixed and eaten in a very short time. Cleaning up the boys' hands and faces took almost as long as eating the sundaes.
We were on the road to our house and were almost there when the road was blocked by a moving van attempting to back into the driveway of the house on the property next to ours. The house had been vacant for about a year after the owners moved to San Diego. It had been up for sale all that time, but I thought the price they were asking for it was way out of line for the condition of the house. I had noticed the for sale sign had been taken down a few weeks ago, but I hadn't heard whether it had actually been sold.
The moving van finally maneuvered itself into the driveway and cleared the road. The car waiting in front of us pulled over to the side of the road to let us pass. The car was occupied by a man and a woman in the front seat and three children in the back. The two girls looked to be around 14 and 16. I couldn't see the boy too well as he had his head turned away as we passed. I did notice what appeared to be a long scar on the back of his head running around the left side. I made the assumption that they were the new owners.
The boys and I waved to them as we passed and then drove the quarter of a mile on to our place. Hildy and Manfred were at the side of the house working on a patch of ground that appeared to have been dug up or tilled. As soon as the van stopped the boys were out and running to see what they were doing.
"Whatcha doing, Hildy?" TJ asked.
"We're making a little garden for fall vegetables. Were going to plant some tomatoes and cucumbers," Hildy replied.
"I don't like cucumbers, but I like tomatoes. When can we eat them?"
"It'll take about three months before we get any tomatoes for you. You can help with the watering of them, if you like."
"You know the deer are going to eat the plants unless you protect them," I said.
"I know that from past experiences, but Manny got some chicken wire to make a fence. I hope that will keep them out."
"That should work," I said. "By the way, did you know someone apparently bought the house down the road, that one that's been for sale for so long?"
"Yes, one of my friends at church told me that Bert and Bernice had sold their place. I haven't heard who bought it, though," Hildy said.
"It looks like whoever they are have three kids, a boy and two girls. The moving van was backing into the place as we came by just now."
"I'll have to bake something and take it to them. On second thought, why don't we invite them to come over for supper this evening? I'm sure they won't have anything in the house to eat, even if everything is hooked up," she said.
"That's a great idea. I'll run over there and ask them. Will you keep an eye out on the boys?"
I was about to get into the BMW when TJ came out of the house. "Where're you going, dad?"
"To ask our new neighbors to come over for supper."
"Can I go, too?"
"Sure, climb in."
The unloading of the moving van was in high gear when TJ and I arrived. The boy I had seen in the car was sitting in a wheelchair watching. I could see the two girls inside the house through the large picture window. They were opening boxes along with their mother. TJ got out of the car and ran up to the boy.
"Hi, my name's TJ. What's yours?"
The boy gave a startled look at TJ before he answered in a very slurred speech, "Cary."
As I approached the wheelchair bound boy, I could see that the left side of his face was terribly scarred. I was proud of TJ for not pulling back or making a face when he saw Cary's disfigurement.
"I'm Crane Johnson. It's very nice to meet you, Cary," I said extending my hand.
Cary, very slowly, lifted his right hand a few inches off the electronic controls of his wheelchair and feebly shook my hand. His mother must have seen us talking to Cary and came out of the house, followed by the two girls.
"Hello," she said. "May I help you?"
"Yes, my name is Crane Johnson and this is my son TJ. We're your neighbors down the road. We came to invite you to come over for supper."
"That's very nice of you," she said. "My goodness, where are my manners? I'm Beatrice Meyer and these are my daughters Kathy and Lori. My husband is Barth. He's around here somewhere. I see you've already met Cary."
"Yes, we have. We're not going to have anything fancy. I'm just going to throw some chicken on the grill and we'll eat picnic style. Why don't you come over around 6:30 or 7?"
"Thank you, that sounds great. I don't think we'll be in any shape to fix supper around here."
We chatted a few minutes before we said our goodbyes and headed back to the house after I gave Bea, that's what she asked to be called, directions.
When we arrived back at the house, the boys and Manfred were in the swimming pool. "Come on, TJ, let's get changed and join in the fun."
We played in the pool for about an hour before I decided it was time to start the fire in the grill. Before we got out I called the boys over for a talk. "Look, guys, we're having company for supper. The people who are moving into the house where we saw the moving van are coming. They have three children. You saw them as we came by today. One thing you need to know so that you don't react badly. Their son, Cary, has terrible scars on his face and is confined to a wheelchair. I want you to treat him just as you would any of your other friends."
"What happened to him, dad?" Joel asked.
"I don't know, son. I think it is best not to ask him. He doesn't speak too well either. He slurs his words. You may find it hard to understand him. If you don't understand him, it's all right to ask him to repeat. Just try to listen closely when he speaks."
"Sure, dad, how old is he?"
"He looks to be about the twins' ages. I didn't ask his mother. You can ask him when he gets here. All right, everybody into the showers and then get dressed, our company will be here soon."
I went to get the grill started before I went to shower and change. The fire was perfect by the time I returned from getting changed. Hildy had laid out the chickens for me and had coated them with olive oil and seasonings. All I had to do was put them on the grill. I could see, as I passed through the kitchen, that she had been working her magic in the baking department because it smelled wonderful.
It was almost seven o'clock when the Meyer family arrived. Mr. Meyer release the trunk latch as the car came to a stop. He got out and lifted the wheelchair out. It came in two pieces. One piece was the chair and the second was the battery arrangement that powered the chair. He quickly assembled it as the rest of the family climbed out of the car. He opened the back driver's side door, reached in and lifted Cary out, sat him in the chair and fastened a belt around his son.
While this was going on I introduced the rest of the family to Bea and the girls. Mr. Meyer approached and extended his hand. "Barth Meyer, Bea tells me you have met the rest of the family."
"Yes, we met earlier. These are my sons. Starting from left to right, they are TJ, Joel, Chris, Lenny and Larry."
"Excuse me, but you look a little young to have sons that old," Barth said.
I chuckled, "It's a long story. The short version is that they're adopted."
"Oh, and where is Mrs. Johnson?" he asked.
"I'm a bachelor," I said.
"Good lord, man, how do you manage?"
With perfect timing, Hildy came out of the house carrying a tray of snacks. "This is Hildy Strasser. If it weren't for her I couldn't make it. She is our cook/housekeeper/nanny and surrogate grandmother for the boys. She runs the house. And this is her husband, Manfred Strasser," I said, as Manfred appeared carrying a tray of glasses and soft drinks.
"Now, if you'll excuse me, I think the chicken need tending. Make yourself at home. I think there is some wine if you would like a drink. I don't have any hard liquor. I'll be back as soon as I turn the chicken."
Barth followed me to the grill. "It looks like you had a bit of a fire," he said, waving his arm toward where our old house once stood.
"Yes, it happened while we were in Florida on vacation. Lightning we believe. The fire department couldn't save anything except a part of the garage. Everything else was destroyed."
"That must have been painful," Barth said.
"We lost a lot of memories, but we're going to rebuild and make new ones," I said, while tending to the chicken on the grill. "It looks like this should be done in about 15 minutes."
"You have a beautiful view from here. I wish ours was as nice. At least we have a lake front lot, even if it's on an inlet. I see you have a pool also. Who do you have maintain it?"
I gave him the name of my pool service as we walked back to where the boys were gathered. The girls and Bea had followed Hildy into the kitchen. The boys were talking and laughing and for all the world acting like they had been friends with Cary all their lives. He appeared to be enjoying himself.
"Cary may sound as if he's retarded, but actually he's exceptionally bright," Barth said. "Your boys seem to have hit it off with him. I'm glad. He needs friends of his own age."
"I don't want to be nosey, but do you mind my asking what happened to him?"
"No, I don't mind. Cary was on his way home from playing flag football. It was our neighbor Darla's turn to bring her son and Cary home. A drunk driver ran a traffic light and smashed into the driver side of her car at what the police estimate was 60 miles per hour. She was killed instantly. Cary was in the back seat behind her. He was severely injured with multiple fractures. He suffered brain damage that only seems to have affected his motor skills and speech. The scars you see were caused when his head was pushed through the side window of the car. He also had damage to his liver, kidneys, lungs and heart. Most were just bruising, but his liver and both kidneys received the most damage. We're hoping that the damage will heal itself and not become necrotic. If that happens, all that can save him is a transplant."
"That's tragic. How long ago did that happen?" I asked.
"It was a little over a year ago. He goes to physical therapy twice a week, but there doesn't seem to be much improvement physically. We have hopes that his speech will improve, but our hopes that he will be able to walk again are fading."
I could see that Barth's eyes were showing signs of tears, so I changed the subject. "What brought you to the Canyon Lake area?"
"I got transferred from Dallas when I got promoted to vice-president. I work for Bailey Medical. Have you heard of them?"
"As a matter of fact, I have. The consulting company that I used to own did some business with them a few years ago. I believe the woman I interfaced with on that project was Penny something. I can't recall her last name. That's one of my faults."
"That was Penny Grossman, I'm sure. She retired about six months ago. She was a bright lady. I met her on several occasion and each time she impressed me."
"Well, the chicken should be done by now. Why don't you round up the kids? Have mine show yours where they can wash up." Turning to Manfred, I said, "Manfred, will you tell Hildy that the chicken is ready any time she is?"
"Sure thing," Manfred said and headed toward the house.
By the time I had the chicken piled high on the platter, Hildy and Bea had set the two patio tables with salad, fresh yeast rolls, baked beans, parsley potatoes and two kinds of barbeque sauce, one hot and the other mild.
Cary positioned his wheelchair at the end of one of the tables with the twins taking places on either side of him. "I'm sorry, guys," Barth said, "but I'll need to sit next to Cary. He can't cut up his food and it's difficult for him to feed himself."
"We can do it," Larry said.
"Are you sure?" Barth asked incredulously.
Larry looked at him with a look that only an almost teenager can give an adult. "Of course, it's no big deal."
The twins filled their plates and Cary's as the platters were passed around the tables. Cary's plate ended up being almost as full as theirs were. His slurred speech did not seem to hamper the conversation being carried on between mouthfuls of food. The twins alternated turns cutting up the chicken and feeding Cary. While one of them ate the other helped Cary. As if by some telepathic signal and without any overt communication, they would switch duties. Barth and Bea looked on at the scene in amazement.
"Those twins of yours are amazing," Bea said, dabbing at the corners of her eyes with her napkin. "I don't think I've seen Cary happier since the accident. I do hope they'll continue to be friends with him."
"Yes, they continue to amaze me almost daily since they came to live with me a little over two years ago," I said.
"Pardon me for asking, but how was it possible for a bachelor as young as you are to adopt five boys? I didn't think Texas was that liberated," Bea commented.
"A very good lawyer helped," I said. "Another plus was the caseworker for them was more interested in the welfare of the boys than in some outdated department philosophy. It was not easy to accomplish, but I'm sure glad that we did."
"I'd love to hear the whole story sometime," Bea said.
"I'm sure when you hear it you'll think I made most of it up. Sometimes I can hardly believe all of it myself."
"Where do your boys go to school? I've heard the public schools aren't that good," Bea said.
"I send my sons to Corinthian Academy. It's a non-denominational Christian school. It's rated among the best private schools in the area and in the top ten in the state. I've been very satisfied with the academics there. They have just started admitting girls. Up until last year it was an all boys' school. The tuition is not cheap. If you consider it, just remember they don't allow admissions except at the end of each grading period. That's a few weeks off. I can give you directions to the school if you want to check it out."
"That would be great," Bea said. "Do you think they would they take Cary?"
"I think they could be persuaded to take him. I have some influence with the school, so if they were to give you any static, let me know," I said with a smile, remembering how I convinced them to admit Bran.
As we were talking, Hildy had gone back into the house and returned with a large rectangular German chocolate cake. Manfred was right behind her carrying a half-gallon container of Blue Bell vanilla ice cream and a scoop.
"Oh my goodness," Bea said as Manfred placed a piece of the cake and ice cream in front of her. "I'll have to ride my stationary bike for 8 hours to work all these calories off." That didn't keep her from taking a bite of it. "Hildy, this is fantastic. It's so much better than my recipe. I'll have to get yours. And the frosting is to die for."
"I used to work in a bakery in my younger days and picked up a few tricks of the trade," Hildy said, as she dished up more pieces of cake.
The sky was getting dark before the Meyers left for home. Each one of them came up to me and thanked me for inviting them. Cary was the last to wheel up to me. In his slurred speech I could make out, "Thank you, Mr. Johnson."
"You're welcome, Cary. I hope you come back to visit often. I know the boys would enjoy your visits." I thought I saw a tear glistening in his eye as he guided his wheelchair toward the car. Barth reversed the process that he used to get Cary out of the car to get him back in. I wondered to myself why they didn't have a van or SUV that had a power lift that would take the wheelchair with Cary in it into the vehicle. It would have been much more efficient and a lot less hassle for Cary.
"It's almost bed time, boys. Tomorrow is a school day. Go get ready for bed. I'll come tuck you in after while."
I helped Hildy and Manfred clean up what was left of our picnic supper. After we had everything cleaned up, Hildy poured the three of us a cup of coffee. I had just sat down at the kitchen table to enjoy my coffee when TJ came in and slid up on my lap.
"Are you going to tuck us in?" he asked.
"Of course, I am," I said. "My, your hair smells clean. Did Joel shampoo it for you?"
"Yeah, it smells like strawberries. I like it."
"Okay, let's go get you tucked in," I said, helping him down off my lap.
When I got to the twins' and Chris' room, I sat down on one of the beds, "Guys, I want you to know just how proud I am of you. You made Cary feel so welcome and treated him like a friend. What's best was you didn't pity him. I think he had a great time. I hope that you will invite him back again and again."
"Well, dad, he's a fun guy," Chris said. "Why wouldn't we treat him nice?"
"That's what I love about you guys. It doesn't make any difference to you that he is different. You only see what is special."
"Is he going to go to our school?" Lenny asked.
"I don't know, son," I answered. "I told his mom and dad about your school and I think they are going to check it out. I'm not sure if the school will let him in."
"Why not?" a confused Larry asked.
"I remember when I looked into the school for you all they said they weren't set up to handle students with severe physical handicaps. I don't know if that's still their policy. We'll have to wait and see. Now it's time for you to get to sleep." I gave each one of them a special hug and a kiss on the forehead before I turned out the light and closed their door.
The next week was a busy one. I went to the foundation office as soon as I got the boys off to school. I agreed to the purchase of the large tract of land I had been negotiating for and signed the contract. My architect delivered the engineering drawing for the new house on Wednesday. I interviewed two more custom home builders and asked them for estimates for building the house. I inspected homes built by the two builders to see the quality of their construction. I also gave Harold Nicholas a set of the plans for his estimate. I gave all them 10 days to deliver to me a detailed written estimate.
Friday afternoon I was sitting in my office at the foundation reading over some files on prospective beneficiaries of our assistance when I got a phone call. It was Eric.
"Eric, it's good to hear from you. I've thought of you often, but things have been a little hectic around here without Darcie."
"I've missed you, too. That's why I'm calling. One of my clients gave me two tickets to a concert on Saturday night and I was wondering if you were available and wanted to go."
"I'll have to ask Hildy if she and Manfred are going to be home. If they are, I'd love to go. It's been too long since we've been out together. It really doesn't matter, but what kind of concert is it?"
"It's the Three Tenors. They're only giving one performance. It should be great."
"That's wonderful. I read in the paper they were going to be in town, but I had forgotten when. Even if Hildy can't look after the boys, I'll find someone else to stay with them. How about we go out to dinner before or after the concert? What time is the performance?"
"I think we should have dinner before, the concert begins at eight."
"I'll have to get a new tux. My old one was burned up in the fire. It doesn't give me much time to get fitted. I'd better get off the phone and call my tailor. I'll call you this evening and work out the details. Goodbye."
As soon as I hung up, I called Hakim to see if he could fit me with a tux by tomorrow. He asked if any of my measurements had changed in the past couple of years. I had to admit that my waist was an inch larger. He said he had a tux that he could alter the waist and have it ready for me by noon on Saturday. I thanked him and hung up.
I decided to call it a day and saying goodbye to Carol and Paul, I left the office for home.
Hildy said that she would be happy to stay with the boys while I was out. She said I should do it more often. I had to agree with her, but there never seemed to be any time. Now, I was really looking forward to our date.