"TJ, how come you're not in your own bed?"
"I missed you. You didn't tuck me in," he whimpered. "Oh, hi Mr. Levin. What are you doing here?"
"I was just saying goodnight to your dad," Eric said, as I turned to him and shrugged my shoulders, knowing that our plans had been disrupted.
"I'll see you out," I said. Taking Eric by the arm, I led him back to the front door where we said our goodbyes.
"Can I sleep with you?" TJ asked when I returned to my bedroom.
"I guess so. Let me get ready for bed and I'll be there in a minute." By the time I had finished my nightly ritual and returned, TJ was nearly asleep. I kissed his forehead and pulled the covers over him. I settled into my usual sleeping position, when TJ snuggled up to me, grasped my arm with both hands and laid his head on my shoulder. In less than a minute, I could tell from his regular breathing that he was sleeping. Unfortunately, sleep did not come that quickly for me.
The next thing I knew it was morning and the bed seemed to be bouncing up and down. I opened my eyes to see that TJ and I had been joined in bed by my other four pajama clad sons.
"We're hungry," Chris said, as I was squashed by him and the twins piling on top of me. It dawned on me that it was Sunday. Hildy left us to fend for ourselves for Sunday morning breakfast while she and Manfred went to church.
"Okay, guys," I said. "Let dad get dressed while you all do the same. Go!" Five wet kisses later I was in bed by myself.
A quick five minutes later I was in the kitchen trying to figure out what to fix for our breakfast. I found a couple tubes of sweet rolls in the refrigerator, eggs and some link sausages. With the oven pre-heating, I popped open the tubes of rolls and placed the contents on a baking sheet. The two packages of sausages went into a large cast iron skillet to brown. Next, I cracked a dozen eggs into a bowl ready to be scrambled.
When the boys started trickling into the kitchen, I put them to work. "Joel, will you run up to the gate and get the Sunday paper? Chris, get a loaf of bread out of the pantry and start making toast. Larry, Lenny, you guys set the table. TJ, you get the milk and orange juice out of the refrigerator. Oh, and get some butter out for Chris."
The next few minutes were organized chaos as the boys scurried around doing their assigned tasks. They were all finished with their tasks and sitting at the table by the time I had the eggs scrambled and the sausages ready. The sweet rolls were ready by the time they were half way through with breakfast. I spread the white icing on the hot rolls and brought them to the table. Before I could warn the boys that the rolls were still hot, five rolls magically disappeared from the plate.
"Dad, can we go riding today?" TJ asked, swallowing the last of his roll.
"I don't know why not. Do the rest of you want to go?" I asked, looking around the table.
Nodding heads and mumbles of what sounded like yeses around food filled mouths indicated agreement from all.
"Okay, as soon as we get the kitchen cleaned up, I want you to go take off your shorts and put on some jeans. We can ride before it gets too hot. The paper says it's supposed to get up to 92 degrees this afternoon."
Tracy and Rosie weren't at home when we arrive to ride the horses. That meant that I would have to saddle the horses. I had saddled two of them when I heard a car drive up to the house. I was glad to see Tracy get out of the car. I wasn't all that confident that my saddling skills were up to par. After the boys and I had greeted the Smiths, I had Tracy check to see that the saddles on the two horses were safe for the boys to ride. I was happy when he reported that my efforts were fine, but I gladly allowed him and Rosie to finish the rest of the horses.
I made sure that everyone had sunscreen on all exposed skin surfaces before we mounted the horses and started our ride. After starting out slowly, the twins and Chris spurred their mounts into a gallop. I knew they had ridden long enough and had enough experience, but I still had a queasy feeling in my stomach as I watched them ride off.
We had been riding for perhaps a quarter of an hour when Dirk and Jamie joined us. As Dirk came up along side of me, I reached out to shake his outstretched hand. "It's good to see you and Jamie again. Are Marie and Ricky with you?"
"No, Ricky wasn't feeling well. Marie said he had a cold," Dirk answered.
At that moment, Larry, Lenny and Chris galloped up to us and greeted Jamie. I looked at them and said, "No galloping with Jamie. He hasn't ridden a horse long enough."
"Okay, dad," Lenny replied. "We won't."
I couldn't help but notice that Jamie didn't look quite as fat as he had the last time I had seen him and mentioned it to Dirk.
"Yes, he's lost some fat," Dirk said. "I think he's been inspired by your sons to exercise more. He loves to come here and ride the horses. I've also been working with his mother to improve his diet. I try to see him at least twice a week. Each time, I work in some form of exercise. Sometimes it's walking in the park near his home. Other times, I take him to my fitness club to swim in the pool. I'd like to get him involved with some type of team sports, but I haven't found one he is particularly interested in. I think his being overweight has been the biggest negative for him when it comes to team sports. Being the last one chosen when kids choose up sides on the playground because you're fat can be a blow to a young boy's self image."
"How long have you been working with him?"
"A little over eight months. He's a different boy from the one I started seeing. It's been a great experience for both of us. I may have gotten more out of it then he has."
"Volunteering with kids has that effect on you. It always surprised me to see the change in under privileged boys when I volunteered coaching them. Knowing that someone cared for them seemed to make a big difference. It changed me too, but it didn't prepare me to become an instant father for five boys," I laughed. "I still wouldn't change things for the world."
We rode around for another 45 minutes or so, trying to keep the boys in sight. It wasn't long afterwards that they rode up wanting to get something to drink. I told them to ride their horses back to the stable and I would help them remove the saddles so they could brush their mounts. They took off at a gallop leaving Dirk, Jamie and me to follow at a more leisurely pace.
After the horses were taken care of, I got the cooler out of the van and distributed the soft drinks. Dirk made sure that Jamie got a diet soda.
We were getting ready to leave when Tracy came out of the house and approached the van. "Crane, do you have a minute?"
"Sure, Tracy, what's on your mind?"
"I had a guy stop here the other day. He wanted to know if you would consider selling the Longhorns. I told him I didn't know, but I would ask the next time I saw you," Tracy said.
"I never thought about it. They really serve no purpose on the farm. Tell him I'd be interested. You probably know more about what they are worth than I do. Why don't you negotiate the sale? I'll give you a 10% commission on the sales price for your trouble."
"Thanks, I'll call him this afternoon. I think they'll fetch a good price. The higher the price, the better it will be for both of us. I'll let you know what he says. Thanks again, for this and everything else you've done for us. Rosie and I both appreciate everything."
"You're welcome. By the way, how are your classes going?" I asked.
"Really great, it's so good to get back to college. The only bad part is that Rosie and I are separated during the week, but we know it's going to pay off in the long run. It's all right, though, I know I get a lot more studying done when I'm alone than if she were with me. I miss her, but I get home every weekend."
I asked as we started on our way, "Where do you guys want to eat? I don't feel like fixing anything for lunch."
"Yeah, Mexican," Joel said.
There was a moment of silence as they all exchanged looks and then nods of agreement.
"Okay, Mexican it is," I said. I turned the van onto 306 and headed for Pedro's Cantina.
The afternoon was spent recovering from the mountain of Tex-Mex food we consumed at lunch. It seemed that the evening came too soon for the boys. I made sure they had finished their school homework before I sent them off to take their showers and get ready for bed.
By the time Friday of the next week rolled around, I was praying for Darcie to come back to work. Between the foundation, the apartment complexes, managing my real estate holdings and talking with builders for the new house, not to mention caring for the boys, I was worn out. I even snapped at TJ and made him cry. That hurt. I had to apologize to him and hold him for quite a while before he quit sniffling.
The builders' bids started coming in the following Wednesday. I had them all by Friday. I spent much of the weekend reviewing the bids. All of them were within $25,000 of each other. I eliminated the high bid early on in my review. It was from a builder who was already on my doubtful list before I received his bid.
Harold Nicholas' bid was only $3,000 higher than the lowest bid and I knew the quality of his work, so after considering all the bids, I decided to give Harold the contract. I called him at his home on Sunday afternoon hoping to find him there. Fortunately he was. I gave him the news and asked how soon he could begin. He looked at his schedule for a few minutes and then informed me he could start a week from this coming Monday. That sounded great to me. I then asked him how long it would take to complete the house.
"Crane, that's a tough question to answer. So much depends on the weather cooperating. I'd say a minimum of eight months if everything goes without a hitch. I'm confident that by the time the boys start back to school next fall, the house will be finished," he said. "Once we can get the house closed in, I'll have a better handle on a completion date."
"Great, I'll have my architect get in touch with you to work out the details. He'll be overseeing the project and should be able to answer any of your questions about the construction. I'm looking forward to seeing the house started and even more to seeing it finished."
When I hung up the phone, I noticed the twins standing in the doorway looking like they had something on their minds.
"Dad, can Cary come over to our house?' Larry asked.
"Yeah," Lenny added. "We haven't seen him for a long time. Can he? Please!"
"Let me call the Meyers. They may have other plans." I picked up the phone and dialed the number Barth had given me when they were here the first time. The phone rang twice before it was answered. "Mrs. Meyer, this is Crane Johnson, your neighbor. My sons were wondering if Cary could come over this afternoon."
"I'm sorry, but that won't be possible. You see we had to take Cary into the hospital on Friday. His kidneys failed. I just got in from the hospital to clean up and change clothes before heading back. Barth and the girls are with him now," she said. I could tell from the sound of her voice that she was trying valiantly to keep from crying.
"Is there anything that we can do? If there is, just ask," I said.
"Thank you, but I think we have everything under control."
"Can Cary have non-family visitors?"
"They haven't said he can't, so I guess it would be all right."
"What hospital is he in?"
"He's at Methodist, room 318E."
"If you think it's okay, I'll bring the boys to visit this evening during visiting hours. How about your daughters? Who's taking care of them when you and Barth are at the hospital?"
"My mother flew in from Phoenix yesterday. She's spending the nights with the girls."
As I hung up the phone, I could see the twins were full of questions.
"Is Cary in the hospital?" Larry asked.
"Yes, he is."
"Why?" Lenny asked.
"Okay, guys, let me tell you the whole story," I said, as I started relaying what Bea had told me.
"Do we get to go see him?" Lenny asked.
"Yes, we'll go see him this evening after supper."
After I finished loading the supper dishes into the dishwasher, I told the boys to go get cleaned up and we would take off for the hospital. When we got to the hospital the parking lot was nearly filled due to some construction going on. We finally found a place to park about as far away from the entrance as possible.
Visiting hours were just beginning as the six of us entered the hospital. I located a map of the hospital in a display case on the wall inside the entrance and quickly found where Cary's room was located. It took us a while to get an elevator to the third floor because of all the people arriving to visit other patients.
The door to Cary's room was open when we got there. Bea and Barth were sitting in chairs next to his bed. The family was watching something on the TV when we walked into the room. Cary was the first to notice the twins as they rushed to his bedside. His scarred face lit up as he saw them. Larry and Lenny started talking to him, ignoring his mother and father.
I approached the Meyers and began speaking to them. Joel, Chris and TJ went to the opposite side of the bed from the twins and joined the conversation. "I must apologize for my sons for ignoring you, but they have been anxious to see Cary," I said.
"Think nothing of it," Barth said. "Cary is happy to see them again. You can tell by the look on his face. He hasn't met too many kids since we moved here other than your sons and a couple in his physical therapy sessions. I'm glad they could come and cheer him up."
"How's he doing?" I asked.
Barth swallowed a couple of times before he tried to answer. Bea spoke up instead. "His kidneys are still not working, but that's not his biggest problem. Dialysis can help with that and Barth has volunteered one of his kidneys if the doctors decide to do a transplant. It's a good match and it would mean he could get the transplant sooner than if he had to go on the waiting list for a donor." Stopping and taking a deep breath she continued, "The biggest obstacle he's facing now is his liver has almost shut down."
"Oh, I'm so sorry, is there anything the doctors can do?" I asked.
Barth had regained his composure and said, "They're going to try an experimental treatment to try and stimulate his liver. Dr. Benson told us what it was, but I can't remember the long name of the medicine he told us."
"What about a liver transplant?"
"He's on the list," Bea said. "The doctors said it could be six months to a year before one could come available that would be suitable. The experimental treatment is our best hope. Even then they said that only about one in five patients benefit from the drugs, but because Cary has some liver function, they are hopeful that it will work. We're praying that it does."
"Please let me know if there is anything that we can do," I said. "All you have to do is ask"
"Thanks," Barth said. "I think your boys are doing it. I haven't seen him this animated since he was admitted. Please bring them back."
"That's the least that we can do. I know how depressing a hospital stay can become. Joel, my oldest, was in a hospital for a little over a month while he was being treated for leukemia. If it weren't for his brothers visiting him, I don't think his recovery would have been as quick. I've read somewhere that a positive attitude can speed the healing process. If the boys can help with keeping Cary's attitude positive just by visiting with him, we will most certainly do that."
Bea said, "That's very kind of you. Your boys haven't known Cary very long, yet they treat him like an old friend. What's most amazing is that they don't seem to even notice his handicap."
"The twins have always been very empathic. It may be because they, as well as their brothers, come from an abusive background. They just seem to know when someone needs some support."
After we had been there about a half an hour, I told the boys to say goodbye to Cary. It looked like he was getting tired. I was surprised that I didn't get any resistance. They took turns saying their goodbyes and patted Cary on the hand or shoulder before they walked away from his bed.
We walked toward the elevator with the twins and Chris in the lead. Joel and TJ walked beside me. Joel touched my arm and asked in a soft voice so only I could hear, "Cary's awful sick, isn't he?"
I nodded my head and responded, "Yes, son, he's very sick."
On Tuesday and Thursday of the next week I took the boys to see Cary after they had completed their homework. By the second visit, I was encouraged by the improvement I detected in Cary. His mother confirmed that the doctors were cautiously optimistic that the experimental treatment was working.
"If prayers are really answered, then ours surely have," Bea said, dabbing at her eyes. "The doctors say that if Cary continues to improve that he can go home late next week after the treatments are complete. Of course he will still have to undergo dialysis several times a week. They won't consider a kidney transplant right now because the medication would probably cause the new kidney to be rejected. They want to wait at least a month before they will consider it."
"That's great news. I know the boys will enjoy having him back home. They seemed to have really bonded with him."
I limited the boys visit to around a half an hour. The excitement of five boys appeared to tire Cary out after that amount of time. He was still disappointed when I told the boys to say goodbye.
The boys had barely gotten on the school van Monday morning when the heavy equipment started arriving to begin the work on the new house. First to arrive was the well drilling equipment. They were to start the four wells for the geothermal heating and air conditioning units. Harold wasn't far behind. He directed the drillers where to begin the wells as I watched.
Marie and Ricky arrived followed by a flatbed truck hauling a bulldozer. I opened the door to Marie's VW and released Ricky from the confines of his car seat.
"Hi," he said, and threw his arms around my neck. "Truck."
"Hi, yourself, munchkin," I said, kissing his cheek. "That's a big truck. Good morning, Marie. As you can see, the construction on the new house is beginning. Make sure that Ricky stays well away from any of the construction. I'd hate to see this little scamp get hurt."
"I'll keep him inside so he won't get into any trouble," she said. "Mr. Johnson, I have to take Ricky to Houston on Wednesday to get his leg adjusted. Is that all right?"
"Of course it's all right," I said. "Have you made your flight arrangements?"
"No, I was going to drive."
"Nonsense! It would take you about three and a half to four hours to drive each way. That's a lot of time in a car seat for Ricky. Plus there is the hassle of driving in Houston traffic. That's never a pleasant experience. Come on in the house and I'll call my travel agent. What time is your appointment?"
"It's at one o'clock."
It took me about fifteen minutes to make the arrangements for the roundtrip tickets and a car and driver to take her to the appointment and back to the airport.
"How come you're so good to me and Ricky?"
"Marie, you and Ricky are like extended family to us. The boys love him as if he was one of their brothers. I'm very fond of the little rascal myself. Sometimes people need help. I'm just happy that I can help.
"What do you think of the new manager of your apartment complex?"
"He's okay, I guess. He's not very friendly. I haven't had too much contact with him yet. Delores, my next door neighbor, doesn't like him. She had a problem with her toilet and when she went to him about it, he told her he'd get to it in a couple of days."
"Thanks, that's the kind of feedback I need. I'll pass that along to Chuck and Phillip. The new manager's name is Simpson, isn't it?"
"Yes, I think is first name is Garrett. Chuck and Phillip were really nice," Marie said. "Everybody misses them. If we ever had any problems they were on it immediately."
"I'm sure they will take corrective action," I said. "Well, I'd better be getting to the office."
Marie went off to start cleaning and Ricky clomped off to find Hildy. As much as I would have liked to stay and watch the start of the work on the house, I needed to get to the foundation office.
I called Phillip when I got to the office and told him what Marie had told me about the new manager of her complex.
"I'll see to the problem immediately. I'll be in Simpson's office within twenty minutes. You can rest assured it will not happen again or Mr. Simpson will be history."
"Thanks, Phillip, I knew I could depend on you," I said. "Call me if you need any assistance."
I started reviewing some files for assistance. I knew I'd made a good decision in hiring Paul. He had developed a checklist where we could rate each possible beneficiary of our assistance on several categories. This made it easier to make objective judgments of each case. His organizational skills and Carol's efficient running of the office has made the job a lot easier than when Darcie and I were running the place by ourselves.
I rushed home in time to meet the boys' school van. I was surprised at the amount of work that had been done on the site preparation for the new house as I drove up the driveway. I parked the car, released the dogs and then walked back to the gate. The van arrived shortly after I reached it.
There was the usual excitement of the boys and the dogs greeting each other before I got my greetings. "Wow," Joel said, as we walked past the construction site. "They sure have torn up the place with that bulldozer. What's that thing over there that's making all the noise doing?"
"That's the well digging rig. It's drilling the wells for the geothermal heating and cooling for the new house," I said.
"That's a good question. Why don't you get on the internet and do a search for it. Then you can explain it to your brothers."
"Okay," he said. "Let's go Sampson." Off they ran toward the house.
I walked over to inspect the construction site. It sure seemed like they had leveled off a larger area than would be required by the house. As I was standing there, Harold came up behind me.
"It looks a mess, doesn't it?" He said.
"Yes, it does," I said. "It'll probably be this way for six months or so."
"It will all be worth it in the long run. We should start building the forms for the slab tomorrow. The site prep work went faster than I had anticipated. It will probably take us the rest of the week to build the forms and then the following week to do the prep work before the concrete is poured. I hope the rain that the weatherman is forecasting holds off for a few days."
"Why don't you have your son Joey ride home with the boys? If you're going to be here anyway, you could pick him up from here. I know TJ would like to have him come here."
"Thank you, that way I won't have to leave the jobsite to go meet him at the house. That will help a lot."
We talked a few more minutes before Lenny came up and tugged on my sleeve. "Yes, son, what do you want?"
"Can we go swimming? Hildy said we had to ask."
"That sounds like a great idea. Let's go get changed," I said, before turning to Harold. "Make sure that Joey has a swimsuit."
I swam with the boys for a little over an hour before I thought it was time to start getting ready for supper. The boys complained a bit, but reluctantly hopped out of the water and ran to the house once I mentioned food.
The Meyers brought Cary home from the hospital on Thursday. Bea called to let me know so that I wouldn't take the boys to the hospital expecting to see Cary there. When the boys heard, they insisted that they go visit him. Cary did look much improved when we visited later that evening. I hadn't seen Bea as happy since before he had been taken to the hospital.
On the way home from visiting Cary, Joel asked, "Dad, may I go home with John tomorrow after school?"
"I suppose. Is there a reason?" I asked.
"Yeah, our history teacher gave us a project to do and John and I are partners. We're supposed to build a model of the Alamo. We think we're gonna use paper-maché."
"Okay then, I'll come pick you up in time for supper. Will you be finished with it by that time?"
"No, we want to work on it Saturday, too."
"When is it due?"
Everything was going along fine the next week. The rain had held off and the forms for the slab were almost completed. As I was driving by the Meyer's place on my way home on Thursday, the EMS ambulance pulled out of their driveway with its lights flashing and the siren going.