Both Bran and JR were a couple steps ahead of me as we approached the front doors of the hospital. They ran into the automatic doors that didn't open fast enough. I heard Bran mutter a cuss word under his breath as the doors finally slid to the side to let us in. The three of us rushed over to the front desk.
"Where's my dad?" Bran asked.
"What's your dad's name, son?" the receptionist asked, as she positioned herself in front of her computer terminal.
"Eric Levin," JR said, before Bran could answer.
The receptionist typed something into the computer and then said, "Your father was brought into the emergency room about 90 minutes ago. There has been no update since that time. More than likely he's still there."
"Where's the emergency room located?" I asked.
"If you will follow that red line painted on the floor, it will lead you there," she said.
"Thanks," I said, over my shoulder as I took off after the boys.
I think the red line took us the long way around, but we finally got to an area of the hospital with 'Emergency' painted on the glass door. We walked up to the desk where a pretty young black nurse was sitting.
"Is my dad here? His name is Eric Levin," JR asked.
She looked down at a clipboard and then answered. "Yes, he's still here. He's with Dr. Kim."
"How is he?" I asked.
"Not too bad," she said. "He was unconscious when he was brought in. According to the latest update I have, he has regained consciousness, but his leg was broken. I believe Dr. Kim is setting it now. He also had some cuts and bruises, but nothing too serious. If you'll have a seat over there, I'm sure Dr. Kim will be finished soon."
We walked over to the area the nurse had pointed out and sat down. There was a policeman sitting there. He appeared to be filling out a form of some type. He looked up as we sat down.
"Are you folks here about an Eric Levin?" he asked.
"Yes, we are," I answered.
He stood up and offered his hand. I shook it before he continued. "I'm Officer Overa. I'm the investigating officer for the accident that Mr. Levin was involved in."
I introduced myself and the boys before asking, "How did the accident happen?"
"As far as we can tell without talking to Mr. Levin, we believe the other car ran the stop sign at the intersection of Stone Oak and 281 and struck Mr. Levin's car on the driver's side. That's a bad intersection. There are more accidents at that intersection. I wish the state would put traffic signals there. That's beside the point. The other driver, unfortunately, was killed. He was thrown through his windshield and flew over Mr. Levin's car and landed on the other lane of the highway and then slid into the ditch. He wasn't wearing his seatbelt. He must have been going at a high rate of speed when he ran that stop sign. We have every reason to believe that the other driver was under the influence. There were several empty beer cans in the car along with a half empty bottle of vodka. We'll know more when the blood workup comes back."
"Why was Mr. Levin airlifted to the hospital?" I asked. "From what the nurse told us, his injuries weren't that serious."
"The first officers on the scene couldn't tell how serious Mr. Levin's injuries were. Air Life was actually called to transport the other driver. He was still alive, but by the time the paramedics arrived he had died," Officer Overa said. "Air Life was there by that time and Mr. Levin was unconscious when they were able to extract him from his car. The paramedics decided to airlift him to the hospital. I saw him before he was put into the chopper. He looked like he was really messed up. There was a lot of blood."
Hearing that, JR began to whimper. I looked over and Bran had wrapped his arms around JR and was trying to comfort him.
A few minutes later an older man in green scrubs, whom I guessed was Dr. Kim, approached. "Are you here about Eric Levin?" he asked.
"Yes..." I started, but was interrupted.
"Can I see my dad?" JR blurted out.
"Of course you can," Dr. Kim said, smiling at JR. "Your dad's getting cleaned up. You can see him in a couple of minutes."
"How is he?" I asked.
"He's doing quite well considering what he has been through. He has a slight concussion, three cracked ribs, several cuts that required stitches, lots of bruises, but the most serious injury was the broken leg. He will be on crutches for maybe six or seven weeks while his leg heals. Both the tibia and the fibula were broken. The fractures were clean and neither had broken the skin, which is good. There is less likelihood of infection. He will be as good as new when it's healed. Mr. Levin will need to see an orthopedic doctor in about a week to make sure that everything is healing properly. Well, I think that he should be ready to see visitors. If you'll follow me, I'll take you to him."
JR was immediately at the doctor's side, almost pushing him to make him walk faster. Dr. Kim put his arm around JR's shoulder and I heard him say, "Your dad is going to be fine."
Dr. Kim drew back the curtains around the area where Eric was sitting in a wheelchair wearing a hospital gown. He had a cast on his left leg that went from his toes to mid thigh. The leg was held nearly straight out by the foot rest on the wheelchair. There were several bandages on the left side of his face and head. The hair had been shaved off the entire left side of his head. JR ran and wrapped his arms around this father's neck, the tears streaming down his cheeks. Bran was right behind JR with his arms around both of them.
"Are you all right, dad?" Bran asked.
"I'm going to be fine. I'll be sore for a week or so, that's all," Eric said, giving JR a kiss on the side of his head. "The leg is going to take longer. You guys will have to help your old dad. Can you do that?"
"Sure, anything," Bran choked out.
"When did they say you could go home?" I asked.
"Dr. Kim said I could go any time. I have to fill out a lot of paperwork for insurance and that sort of thing, but as soon as that's finished, I can go," Eric said. "And, I think there's a cop that wants to talk to me."
It was nearly half an hour later that all the paperwork had been completed and the cop was finished. While Eric was taking care of that I went to the car and brought it up near the emergency room entrance. I retrieved a blanket from the trunk of the car where I kept the emergency kit. Eric didn't have any clothes that were wearable. They had all been cut off either by the paramedics at the scene of the accident or the emergency room staff when he was brought in.
Eric was wheeled to the car where the orderly helped him into the back seat. Eric had to stretch his cast out on the seat. This made it tight, but JR climbed in behind his dad having to nearly sit in Eric's lap in order for the door to close. I spread the blanket over Eric and then stowed the crutches they had given him in the trunk. Bran climbed into the front passenger seat.
"I think it would be a good idea if you all spent the next few days at our house. Until your ribs are better, using the crutches will be difficult. You'll need help getting around and you are in no shape to take care of your house and fix meals for the boys even with Marie coming in twice a week. It'll be a little crowded, but I'm sure we can make room."
"That's very kind," Eric said. "I'll need to get some clothes from the house. I can't wear this hospital gown all the time."
"I'll take the boys over first thing in the morning so they can pack some things before they go to school. We can get you some clothes at the same time. You're about my size. I'm sure some of my things will fit you, temporarily."
"Dad," Bran looked panicked. "How am I going to get to class tomorrow night? Your car is all messed up. We've got a big test coming up Thursday. I have to be there for the review he's going to give us."
Before Eric could answer, I said, "Bran, if you promise to be careful, you can drive this car to your class."
"Thank you, sir. I'd ask Shane, but he doesn't get off work in time to come pick me up and get us to class on time."
When we arrived at our house, we were faced with a dilemma. Eric's ribs were too sore for him to use the crutches the hospital had given him and we didn't have a wheelchair. I thought that I could probably carry him, but that would still run the risk of hurting his ribs. I thought for a minute before I remembered my office chair. It had castors. I told Eric to wait and I would go bring the chair to the car. It was not easy getting him out of the car and into the chair, but we finally made it without causing him too much pain.
With Bran on one side of the chair and me on the other we were able to wheel Eric into the house. The boys were all in bed, but Hildy and Manfred were still awake. When they heard the commotion, they came to see what was going on. Hildy began fussing over Eric, asking all kinds of questions. I went to check on my sons. They were all asleep except for Joel. I explained to him that Bran and JR would be staying with us for a few days and asked if he would mind TJ sleeping in bed with him. That would make room for Bran and JR to sleep in TJ's bed. He agreed and moved over to one side of his bed. I removed the covers from TJ and lifted him up and placed him in Joel's bed. He never woke up. He would probably wonder in the morning how he got into Joel's bed.
Hildy peeked her head in the door and saw what I was doing before hurrying away to get fresh linen for TJ's bed. A minute later, she had the bed stripped and the fresh sheets in place.
An hour later all seven boys were in bed and asleep for the night. Eric asked if I had an old pair of pajama bottoms that he could use. He said he would have to cut the bottom half of the left leg off so he could get it over the cast. I scrounged around in the bottom of my drawer to see what I could find. I really didn't have any old pajamas, since they had all been destroyed in the fire. I found a pair that I didn't like all that much and didn't care if they were cut up.
Twenty minutes later everything had gotten back to normal. Hildy and Manfred had gone back to their room, the boys were all asleep and Eric and I were in bed. I turned out the lights and pulled the covers up over us. "If it weren't for this bum leg, this would be nice," Eric said.
"Yeah, almost like our trip to Colorado," I said.
I awoke at five and slipped out of bed, trying not to disturb Eric. I figured the medicine that the hospital had given him would make him sleep soundly. I could hear Hildy in the kitchen preparing breakfast for the boys. It would be about an hour before they had to get up, but knowing Hildy, she probably had something special planned. I was right. When I entered the kitchen for a cup of coffee, I saw she was mixing up a batch of biscuits. It looked like she was fixing enough to feed the Air Force recruits at Lackland AFB. On the stove, I could see she was browning a couple pounds of sausage to make gravy to go with the biscuits. Now I would really have to get back into the pool to do my laps.
"I think I'll stop and get a wheelchair at that medical supply store where I picked up the crutches for Ricky when he first came with Marie," I said. "It doesn't look like Eric will be able to use his crutches until his ribs heal and I don't think using my office chair to get around is practical. A wheelchair would be much better."
"Did you think to call Marie? You know it's her day to be at Eric's place, right?" Hildy asked.
"Oh, no, I forgot all about that. I have to take Bran and JR over there to pack some clothes for them and Eric, so I'll stick around and let her know about things when she arrives. The boys can catch the van from there and tell the van driver they will be picked up from our place for the next few days. Marie will probably still need to clean their house. I'll tell her to stop by here when she finishes there."
"I forgot to tell you something in all the confusion last night," Hildy said. "That nice young man, Tracy Smith, called. He said something about a computer. He was talking so fast and sounded so excited that I could barely understand him. I did understand that he said he would call you this evening when he gets out of class."
"Thanks," I said.
Later I made the rounds waking up the boys. JR was the hardest one to get up; Bran woke up in a cheerful mood. Nothing had changed since our skiing trip to Colorado. Once he smelled breakfast, however, JR climbed out of bed.
"Mr. Johnson, can you get us to our house in time for JR and me to take a shower and get some clean clothes before the van comes?" Bran asked.
"As soon as you finish breakfast I'll run you guys home," I said. Turning to Manfred, "If Eric wakes up before I return, will you help him?"
"Sure thing, I won't leave until you get back. The lawn and landscape business is a little slow this time of year, so there is nothing pressing at the office that one of the workers can't handle," Manfred said.
Bran and JR barely had time to get a quick shower, put on clean clothes and throw a couple days worth of changes into a suitcase before the van arrived to pick them up for school. I looked into Eric's closet to see if I could find something that he might be able to wear. I decided on a couple sweat suits, some underwear and athletic socks. I added his shaving equipment, toothbrush and paste to the suitcase. Marie arrived as I was closing up the suitcase.
"Hi, Mr. Johnson, where's Mr. Levin?"
I explained to her about Eric's accident and that he and his boys would be staying at our house for a few days. She was shocked at the news, but was happy that Eric was okay.
"What should I do about Thursday? I'm supposed to clean their house again."
"With everyone at our house, I'm sure that we can use you there every day until they return home. Eleven people can create a lot of messes," I laughed. "Why don't you stop by the house when you're finished here?"
"Okay, since I won't have to fix a meal for them before I leave, I should be finished early."
Ricky was sitting on the floor playing with JR's dog. "If you can manage, bring the dog with you when you come. It looks like Ricky is having fun playing with him or I would take him with me."
"He and that dog are great pals. It'll be no problem to bring him with us. The problem will be with Ricky leaving for home without him. When he's here, Charlie is his best friend. When he's at your house, Bandit is his best friend. I don't know how he will choose when both dogs are together. That kid loves dogs."
"Every boy should have a dog. When you and Dirk get married, you'll have to get him one."
I took the suitcase and put it in the car before taking off for the medical supply store. They had several wheelchairs that would work. I selected a motorized one. I thought it would be easier on Eric's ribs if he didn't have to exert himself pushing on the wheels. The rent for it was very reasonable. The store clerk helped me put it in the trunk of the car. It was too big for the trunk lid to close completely. We had to tie it down with some rope.
Thank goodness that Manfred was still home when I arrived. I needed help with the wheelchair. Eric had been busy while I was gone making calls to his dad, Darcie, his insurance company and his office to let them know what had happened.
"Dad said he was going to come and stay with us," Eric said. "I don't know how much help he'll be, but he wouldn't hear of him not coming."
"When's he going to be here?" I asked.
"He said he'd start for here tomorrow morning. It should take him about three hours. He doesn't drive that fast. I expect him around noon or thereabouts. Darcie and Mel are going to come later this evening. I hate to have everyone barge in on you."
"No problem. Why don't you call Darcie and have them come for supper?"
"I agree," Hildy said. "I haven't seen that baby since she was a newborn."
"Well, if it's not too much trouble..." Eric said.
It was going to be a house full for supper even if Bran wasn't going to be there. Eric made good use of the wheelchair, but still needed some help managing in the bathroom.
Marie and Ricky arrived before the boys got home from school. They had brought JR's dog. Ricky had Charlie on a leash and was being pulled toward where the other dogs were still in the dog run. "Stop, Charlie," Ricky giggled.
I followed Ricky to where the other dogs were, removed Charlie's leash and put him in dog run. I picked up the still giggling Ricky and carried him back to the house. "Come on, munchkin, let's go see Hildy."
"Okay, I like Hildy," he said, hugging my neck.
One of the reasons I think he liked Hildy was because she always had a snack for him. This time was no exception.
After Marie and Eric had confirmed that he would need her on Thursday to clean his house, she and Ricky left. She declined our offer to stay and have supper with us, saying that Dirk was going to come over to her place tonight.
Later, the six dogs and I greeted the seven boys as they got off their school van. JR and Bran were surprised to see Charlie greet them.
Bran grabbed a snack and began studying for his night class. Hildy wouldn't hear of him leaving the house without fixing a couple sandwiches and some fruit to take with him. I handed him the keys to the BMW and told him to drive safely. I wasn't worried about him being reckless; it was the other drivers on the road that troubled me.
At the same time that Darcie and Mel buzzed from the gate, Tracy called. "Mr. Johnson, thank you. I can't tell you how much this computer is going to help."
"I'm glad, Tracy. I should have thought of it when you went back to the university. I hope you can make good use of it."
"Oh, I will. I've got a big paper due in two weeks and I didn't know how I was going to get it done. The computers in the library are always busy. When you can get on them, you're limited to one hour," he said, the emotion clearly showing in his voice. "Now I can do all my work here at the room. I don't know how Rosie and I'll ever repay you."
"You can repay me by doing the very best you can. Remember our bargain," I said. "I have faith in you. I hate to cut this conversation short, but our company has just arrived."
Hildy came into the house carrying Rebecca and cooing to her. "This is what we need, some girls in this house," she said.
"Bite your tongue, woman," I said, frowning menacingly at her. "This house has enough confusion without adding another boy or girl to it. She is sweet, though."
All the boys surrounded Hildy and Rebecca, vying for Rebecca's attention. She hid her eyes in Hildy's shoulder and then peeked out at the boys. After doing this several times, she reached her arms out to JR. He took her from Hildy's arms and sat down on the couch with the other boys crowded around.
"She loves JR," Mel said. "She never cries when he's holding her. It's amazing."
Hildy headed for the kitchen to finish preparations for our supper, Darcie followed to see if she could help.
"How're you getting along in your wheelchair?" Mel asked Eric.
"It's a bloody nuisance, but without it I'd be totally helpless," Eric said. "I'll be glad when I'm able to get around on crutches. The worst part is going to the bathroom. I need help to get out of this thing because my ribs are still too sore for me to push myself up. The doctor said it would be several days before the soreness went away. I can't wait."
"Eric, I forgot to ask you when you said you had talked to your insurance company, what are they going to do for you?" I asked.
"The drunken guy's insurance company is anxious to settle. Between his company and mine, I should come out pretty much whole. Henry, my agent, told me that I should wait on any settlement until I know for sure my injuries are not more serious than we now believe," Eric said.
"That's a good idea. You might want to contact a lawyer, just in case the other guy's insurance company has a change of heart," Mel said. "Do you know who the other guy was who crashed into you?"
"Yeah, my agent gave me his name. It's on that pad by the telephone. Will you hand it to me, Mel?"
"His name was William Baughman, Jr. Have you heard of him?" Erick asked.
"Good lord!" I exclaimed. "What kind of car was he driving?"
"Henry said it was a classic; a 1961 Jaguar XKE. I think he almost cried when he told me. Henry is a classic car buff. He sounded more upset about the Jag being destroyed than the death of Mr. Baughman."
"I don't know him, but I know of him. He owns one of the largest strings of new car dealerships in this part of Texas. If you drive I-35 from Laredo to Dallas, you'll see at least one Bill's Autos in every city of any size."
"Hey, I even bought my Lexus from one of his dealerships. It's no wonder his insurance company wants to settle quickly. They're probably expecting me to file a lawsuit."
"I'm sure you can get your Lexus replace with a new one, at the very least," Mel said.
"Supper will be ready in a few minutes. Everybody go get washed up," Hildy ordered.
Mel took Rebecca from JR so that he could race after the other boys to get his hands washed.
Supper was a simple feast. Hildy had fixed her famous fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, corn on the cob that we slathered with butter, and homemade bread rolls. All the adults groaned as she brought out dessert, a warm rice pudding served with heavy cream. I wondered just how many laps in the pool I'd have to swim to wear off all the calories.
The boys helped Hildy clear the table when we were finished eating and loaded the dishwasher. Even JR helped.
Darcie and Mel left shortly after 8:30, but not before Hildy had a chance to sit and hold Rebecca for a while. For the first time since I had met Hildy, I felt sorry for her that she and her first husband had never had children. I know she loved my boys as if they were her own grandchildren, but there was something about her holding that precious little girl that made me feel sad for her. Hildy had tears in her eyes as she gave Rebecca to Darcie as they prepared to leave for home.
"She's such a little doll," Hildy said, as she waved to the departing car. She turned quickly, rushed back into the house and went directly to her room.
Manfred evidently saw the concerned look on my face. "She'll be all right. Seeing Rebecca and holding her brought back some painful memories. She's probably never told you this, but she gave birth to a little girl who only lived a few hours. I'm told the baby died in her arms. Both she and Emilio were devastated, particularly when they found out that Hildy could never bear another child. She never speaks of it."
"I'm so sorry," I said. "I didn't know."
I sent the boys to start their shower and preparations for bed. It took a while for all six of them to shower with all the clowning around and giggling that went on. After a couple of admonitions to settle down, they were finally in bed. JR complained that he was the only one who was in a bed by himself. It would be a while before Bran would be home. His class didn't let out until nine o'clock.
It was a little after ten when Bran drove up the driveway. I think Eric and I both drew a sigh of relief when he walked in the front door.
"How did class go, Bran?" Eric asked.
"Great, if the test is anything like the review Professor Blake gave tonight, it's going to be a breeze."
"Don't get too overconfident. You still need to study for it," Eric said.
"I know, dad. Will it wake the guys if I take a shower?"
"Use the shower in my bedroom," I told him. "I think it's far enough away from the boys' bedrooms so that they won't be disturbed."
Later while I was in the shower, Eric gave himself a sponge bath as best he could while sitting in the wheelchair. I helped him into the one legged pajamas and then into bed.