I rushed on home wondering if Cary had taken a sudden turn for the worse. He had been doing so well the last time we had seen him. Parking the car, I entered the house. I could hear Hildy on the phone as I closed the front door.
"I'm sure it will be all right," Hildy said into the phone. "Here he is now. I'll let you talk to him." She paused to listen and then handed me the phone. "It's Bea Meyer."
"Bea, this is Crane. I saw the ambulance as I was driving by your place. What's happening?"
"Crane, I was just asking Hildy if it would be all right for me to bring the kids by when the girls get home from school. I need to get to the hospital. My mother has gone back to Phoenix and I don't have anyone to take care of them and we haven't made any other friends who I could call on."
"Of course they can stay here. If you'd like, I'm sure that Hildy would be willing to come and wait on the girls so you could get to the hospital sooner." I saw Hildy nodding her head in agreement. "She can be there in five minutes."
"That would be great. Their school bus should be here in about 20 minutes. I could drop Cary by on my way to the hospital," Bea said.
"Oh, my God," I said. "I just assumed that the ambulance was for Cary. Who was it for?"
"I'm sorry, I'm so upset. I forgot to tell you. It was Barth. He had a heart attack. He wasn't feeling well this morning and stayed home from work. He started having chest pains this afternoon and when they got worse, I called 911. He objected, but I'm glad I did. The paramedic said it was a good thing I called when I did."
"Look, if your kids need to spend the night, Hildy has a spare bedroom for the girls and I'm sure that we can make room for Cary. My boys can always double up. Don't worry about your kids. We'll take good care of them. You just look after Barth. He needs you the most now."
"That's very kind of you. I'll call you from the hospital and let you know if I'll be staying the night there."
"Hildy's on her way to your house now. If you need some help with Cary, let me know and I'll come right over."
"I can manage him fine now that we have the van back. With the lift on it, he can get his chair in and out of it very easily. I'll bring him by as soon as Hildy arrives."
"I'll meet you at the gate to our property. I meet the boys there when they arrive home from school. I'll see you in a few minutes." I hung up the phone and then went to release the dogs. They raced ahead of me toward the gate, knowing that their boys were due home any minute.
Bea arrived driving the van before I could get the gate opened. The dogs look at the strange van, not knowing what was going on. I ordered them to stay and went to assist Bea to get Cary out of the van. I'm glad the dog trainer I had hired to train the dogs had done a good job because they obeyed my commands. I didn't want them to jump on Cary the way they do the boys.
"Hi, Mister Johnson," Cary said with difficulty.
"Hello, Cary, my sons are going to be happy that you're here," I said. I took hold of the grips on his wheelchair and helped him maneuver it off the lift as it reached the ground. As we turned around, Samson had come up behind us. He peered up at me with an almost guilty look in his eyes before he placed his chin on Cary's thigh. Cary smiled at Samson and with great effort, moved his hand over and slowly stroked Samson's head. I couldn't be mad at Samson for disobeying my command because of the happiness he seemed to bring to Cary.
"Crane, I really appreciate your looking after Cary and the girls. I don't know what I would have done otherwise," Bea said. As she started back to the van she turned to Cary and told him she would call later this evening.
"Bea, drive safely," I said. "Your family needs you now, more than ever."
I helped Cary navigate inside the gate as Bea drove off for the hospital. She was barely out of site when the boys' school van came into view. There was no holding back the dogs as the van stopped. They were at its door almost before it had come to a complete stop. After their usual enthusiastic greeting, the boys noticed Cary.
"Cary!" the twins shouted in unison. "What are you doing here?"
"Hi, guys," Cary said, as the twins and Chris descended on him.
"Cary is going to stay here for a while, maybe all night," I told them.
"Cool," Lenny said. "Let's go see what Hildy has for our snack."
"Hildy went to Cary's house to get his sisters. She'll be back in a few minutes," I said. "You guys go wash your hands and get your clothes changed. Hildy should be back by that time."
"Okay," they chorused.
The twins slung their backpacks over their shoulders and each grabbed one of the grips on Cary's wheelchair and began pushing it toward the house, Chris leading the way. The chair was electrically powered, but the boys pushed it anyway. Off the four of them went giggling all the way.
"How come Cary and his sisters are going to be here?" Joel asked.
I looked over at TJ, who was talking to Bandit, before I answered. "Cary's dad had to go to the hospital and his mom had to go to be with him."
"Is he really sick?"
"Yes, son, he is. He had a heart attack. That can be very serious."
"Is he going to die?"
"I don't know. I hope he'll be fine."
"Me, too," Joel said. "He seems like a nice man."
"I think so, too," I said, giving Joel's shoulder a squeeze.
"Dad, can John come over after supper? We have a big Texas history test tomorrow and we need to study. His mom will bring him over if you can take him home. Please?"
"I guess so. One more won't make that much difference. Would you like to invite him to eat with us?"
"He can't, he has some chores to do before he can come."
"Okay, then, call him and tell him it's fine for him to come and he can tell his mother that I'll take him home."
"Thanks, dad," Joel said, before he and Samson jogged off toward the house.
Bandit saw Joel and Samson take off, so naturally he followed suit. That caused TJ to take off after them leaving me by myself to make my way to the house. When I got there, the six boys were standing in the kitchen area waiting anxiously for Hildy. I knew Hildy had prepared a large bowl of banana pudding, so I told Joel to set out bowls for everyone and I retrieved the pudding from the refrigerator. As I filled each bowl, Joel placed it in front of the others in turn. The twins, as they did the previous time Cary was here, sat on either side of him and began taking turns feeding him as well as themselves.
I poured six glasses of milk and put them in front of the boys. I put a straw in Cary's glass so he could drink it without the aid of the twins. He looked up and gave me his crooked smile.
Joel was loading the dishwasher with the dishes that Chris handed him after they had been rinsed in the sink when Hildy arrived with Kathy and Lori.
"Sorry it took us so long," Hildy said, as she rushed into the kitchen. "The girls decided to pack a few things in case they had to spend the night. They also brought some clothes for Cary. I see the boys have already had their snacks. Is there any pudding left for the girls?"
"They tried, but they couldn't eat it all. I think there's enough for them," I said. "Oh, by the way, Joel's friend John will be here after supper, so count on one more for a snack later."
"Come along, girls," Hildy said, urging Kathy and Lori to take a seat at the kitchen table. "If we don't get you your snack, the boys may get hungry again and eat it all up." That brought a laugh from the girls.
Manfred was delighted when he saw Kathy and Lori. He and his late wife had always wanted daughters, but were unable to have any more children after Horst was born. I think Hildy was the same way. She and her first husband weren't able to have children of their own. She doted on the boys, but having girls in the house brought out a softer side of Hildy.
John arrived shortly after the supper dishes had been cleared from the table. We had fed the eight kids first since that was all the chairs we had for the table. Hildy, Manfred and I had just seated ourselves when John and Pauline buzzed from the front gate. Joel went to greet them at the door. I followed him and invited Pauline to sit with us and have a cup of coffee. She refused, saying she had to get back to her daughters. It seemed they had persuaded her that they were old enough to stay at home by themselves while she drove John over here.
Joel hugged John and they went off to Joel's room to begin their study for tomorrow's test. I hoped what they studied was history and not anatomy.
A little after eight, Bea called. She said that Barth was still in ICU and would probably remain there until tomorrow some time. "I'd like to spend the night here at the hospital," she said. "Are you sure it's all right for Cary and the girls to stay over? I know it's an imposition..."
"Bea, you look after Barth. We'll make out fine. Hildy is ecstatic to have some girls around after being surrounded by seven guys all the time. Your girls packed some clothes before Hildy brought them here. They also thought to bring some for Cary. They'll be fine. Don't worry about them."
"I'll be home tomorrow in time to take Cary for his dialysis at one," Bea said.
"Look, if it would help, one of us could take Cary for his dialysis. Just let us know where he needs to go. Let's play it by ear," I said. "If Barth is better by then and you feel comfortable leaving him, then you can take him. Otherwise, it is no imposition for us to do it."
"Thanks, I'll let you know tomorrow morning what I'm going to do."
"Would you like to speak to your daughters or Cary?" I asked.
"Yes, could you put Kathy on, please?"
Kathy talked to her mother for several minutes. When she hung up the phone she had tears in her eyes. Hildy, who had been nearby, saw this, went to Kathy and enveloped her in a hug.
"It's all right, honey," Hildy said. "Your dad's going to be fine. He's getting the best care the doctors can give him. Now, how about you come help me start getting a snack ready for everyone?"
"Mom asked me if we could bring her a change of clothes tomorrow. She told me what to get out of her closet. Can we go do that?"
"Why don't we go over to your house in the morning before the bus comes to pick you and Lori up for school and we can get everything for her then?"
I went to check on the boys to see if they had completed their homework. Chris and the twins said they only had to do some reading for their geography class. They had taken turns reading it aloud to Cary. TJ showed me that he had completed all of his homework, so I sat down with him to check it. That didn't take me very long. TJ was becoming an excellent student. His cursive handwriting was much better than mine was.
As I was getting up to go check on Joel and John, I heard Cary call my name. I went over to see what he wanted. He motioned for me to lean down, which I did. He whispered that he had to go to the bathroom. I guess he was embarrassed to have the boys help him. I nodded and he followed me in his wheelchair to the bathroom in my bedroom. I was a little apprehensive about how we were going to accomplish this. When we got to the bathroom, I asked him how I could help him. He told me what to do in his slow, slurred speech. It had been many years since I had changed a baby so I was not exactly an expert when it came to cleaning up someone who had to use the toilet. We managed with as little embarrassment to each of us as was possible.
He rolled back to the other boys and I went to check on Joel and John. I tapped lightly on the bedroom door before I slowly opened it. I was not surprised that they were both a little flushed and their clothes were in slight disarray.
"How's the studying for the test coming?" I asked.
"Fine, dad, we're going to ace it," Joel answered.
"Yeah," John added, "Joel really knows his stuff."
"So do you," Joel said, smiling at his friend.
"That's great," I said. "I think Hildy is getting your snack ready. After you have it, it'll be time to take John back home."
Arriving in the kitchen, we saw Hildy dishing up hot apple cobbler and Kathy topping it with a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream. Lori, Chris, the twins and Cary were already sitting at the table anxiously waiting for their treat. Manfred was standing by, smiling at the goings on.
The adults decided to forego the snack for the sake of our waistlines, but I think the kids made up for it.
"That was good, Hildy," Lori said. I was a little surprised that she spoke up. She had always been so shy and quiet.
"Thank you, honey," Hildy replied. "I'm glad you liked it. Would you like to help me load the dishwasher?"
"Uh huh," Lori said, smiling broadly.
"Okay, John, it's time to get you home before your mother begins to worry. Gather up your stuff," I said. "Manfred, would you mind watching the boys until I get back? I should be back in about half an hour."
"Sure thing, Crane," Manfred answered. "Maybe I'll read them a story while you're gone."
"I'm sure they'll like that. I started reading them a story last weekend. I think the book is on the coffee table, if you want to continue with it. I'm sure I bookmarked where I left off reading."
"Great, I'll do that," Manfred said. "Okay, guys, and you too girls, let's go into the living room and I'll read to you until Crane gets back."
While John went to get his things together, I noticed that Hildy had taken a seat on the couch between Kathy and Lori. The boys had taken seats on the floor, except for Cary. His wheelchair was flanked by Larry and Lenny.
Joel and John piled into the back seat of the BMW. I made sure they had their seatbelts on before I started down the driveway. In the few minutes that it took to reach John's house, he and Joel were whispering to each other. As we drove into the Gordinier's driveway, Joel asked, "Dad, will you take us to see a movie on Saturday?"
I smiled before I answered. "Do you want me to go with you or do you two want to go by yourselves?"
"Well..." Joel giggled. "We just want you to take us there and then come back and pick us up."
"I thought so," I said. "Let me know what the movie is and I'll check it out. Assuming it's not R rated, I don't see any problem."
"Thanks, dad," Joel said, letting out a sigh of relief.
Pauline turned on the front porch light as I stopped the car. I got out and went to talk to her while Joel and John went inside the house. "Don't be long," I told Joel. "We have to get back home. It's almost time to get ready for bed."
A couple of minutes later Joel emerged from the house and headed for the car. I said goodbye to Pauline and prepared to take off for home. Joel was quiet as we drove. We were about halfway home when I asked him, "Is something wrong, son?"
"Not really, it's just so unfair."
"Well, I like John a whole lot and he likes me, too. But I have to hide how much when we're at school. Why can't it be different? Why is it some people think it's so awful?"
"Son, there's no easy answer to that. Prejudice has no rational reason. Some people hate out of ignorance. Some people hate out of misguided religious beliefs. Some people hate anything that is different. I know it's not easy for you. Just know that there are a lot of people who love you for who you are and it doesn't matter to us who you love. Having said that, it is wise for you not to show too much affection for John at school or in other public places until you are a lot older."
"I guess," he said sadly.
Manfred was still reading to the crowd when Joel and I entered the house. When he heard us he looked up and then continued to read for a couple more minutes until he came to the end of the chapter.
"Thanks for babysitting, Manfred," I said.
"Dad, we're not babies," Lenny said indignantly.
"You're right. I apologize. Now, go get your showers taken and get ready for bed."
"What about me?" Cary asked softly.
"Well, if you like, you can use my bathtub. I can help bathe you, if that's all right?"
Hildy and the girls took off for their part of the house as Cary and I headed for my bedroom. Undressing Cary was no mean feat. Although he was not very tall or heavy, maneuvering him to remove his clothing wasn't easy. I had started the water running in the tub before I started the undressing. I tested the water to make sure it was neither too hot nor too cool before I lifted Cary and lowered him into the water. I managed to get him bathed with little difficulty. I think he was more embarrassed than when he used the toilet.
When we were finished with his bath and I had his pajamas on him, I lifted him into his wheelchair and we went to where he was going to sleep. The boys had worked out the sleeping arrangements. Lenny had moved in with Larry in one bed leaving his for Cary. I lifted Cary into the vacated bed and tucked him in before tucking in Chris and the twins.
"All right boys, no talking. Sleep tight, I love you."
I repeated the process with Joel and TJ before going back into the living room to catch up on my emails and other correspondences. There was nothing pressing in either so I picked up the morning paper that I had not finished before I took off for work this morning. Manfred startled me when he came in and sat down on the couch.
"Hildy kicked me out while the girls are getting ready for bed," he laughed. Then in a more serious tone, "She is in second heaven with those girls here. So am I, if the truth be told. You know we love your boys, but having girls around is something special for both of us."
"I can understand that. Hildy is surrounded by seven males almost every day. The only time she sees another woman is when she goes to church or when Marie is here. I don't think I'll adopt a daughter just so she'll have a girl to help raise, though," I said.
"No," Manfred said. "That would be a bit extreme. Before the old house burned down, Hildy and I were talking about the possibility of becoming foster parents. Maybe after the new one is complete we'll think about it again."
"That's an excellent idea," I said. "You and Hildy would make fabulous foster parents. I say you should go for it. You might want to get started on the certification process. It can take a while to cut through all the red tape."
"Thanks, I'll talk to Hildy about it to see if she's still interested. Well, the girls should be safely tucked into bed. I'll see you in the morning. Good night, Crane."
The next morning was a mad house with seven kids eating breakfast and trying to get ready for school. Hildy took Kathy and Lori and left early so that they could get the change of clothes that Bea asked for. Cary went with the boys and me as we went down the driveway to wait for their school van. I felt sorry for him as my boys got on the van and headed off to school. They waved to him as they rode off. Bea was home schooling Cary until the next semester started in hopes of getting him into Corinthian Academy. I thought perhaps that he could have a day of vacation from his studies.
After all the activity of the morning, the house was deserted when Cary and I returned. I asked him what he would like to do. He said he would like to watch some TV. I turned the set on and placed the remote in his lap so that he could choose the program he wanted to watch. I then went to finish reading the morning paper and have a second cup of coffee.
When I thought that Carol would be in the foundation office, I called to let her know that I probably wouldn't be in all day. I told her what was going on. She said she would call if there was anything urgent that neither she nor Paul could handle. I thanked her and hung up the phone.
About ten minutes and another cup of coffee later, Bea called. "Good morning, Crane. How did you get along with Cary and the girls?"
"We managed just fine. I haven't seen Hildy this happy in a long time. She and the girls really hit it off. How's Barth doing?"
"I just talked to the cardiologist. He said Barth is doing better and they were going to take him out of ICU and put him in a regular room later this morning. He's still going to be hooked up to all sorts of monitors, but the doctor said the greatest danger had passed."
"That's great news. Did the doctor give you any estimate as to when Barth could come home?"
"He said if he continues to improve, it might be as soon as Monday. Did the girls get off to school all right?"
"I assume so. Hildy went with them to your house to get the change of clothes you asked for. She hasn't returned yet. Either she or I will be bringing the clothes to you later this morning. Do you know what room Barth will be in when he gets out of ICU?"
"Yes, the room number is 714."
As we were talking I heard the front door open. I assumed that it was Hildy until I heard the familiar clump of Ricky's rubber tipped peg leg. Before I knew it, I had a lap full of three year-old.
"Hi," he said.
"Bea, sorry about the confusion. My housekeeper's little boy just climbed onto my lap. Don't worry about your kids. They're being well cared for. If Barth is up for visitors, we can bring them by this evening. I'll get in touch with you later today. Goodbye."
"All right, munchkin," I said to Ricky. "How are you this morning?"
"Fine," was his one-word response.
"You are a man of few words, aren't you?"
I stood up with Ricky in my arms and went to find Marie. I found her in the living room talking to Hildy. Ricky squirmed down, went over to Cary and began inspecting the wheelchair. He walked all around it before he stopped in front of the chair and looked up at Cary. When Cary gave him a crooked smile, Ricky proceeded to climb into Cary's lap. Cary smiled again and slowly wrapped his right arm around Ricky whose head was snuggled on Cary's left shoulder.
"That's amazing," Marie said. Looking at what her son had done. She looked at me, "He won't hurt him, will he?"
"No, I don't think he could hurt Cary. That's a great scene," I said.
"He's an angel," Hildy said in a choked voice. "I think he's found a new friend."