In the seconds that it took me to respond to Joel's plea to have Peter remain with us, my mind flashed back to the day some three years ago that I found Joel. I was in the same sort of quandary then as I felt now. At that time it didn't take me too long to make up my mind about keeping Joel, even after I found out that he had three brothers. Even taking in Chris was not a hard decision. I loved all of my adopted sons as much or more than if they were my own biological sons. The question before me that I had to resolve was whether a sixth boy was something I wanted to take on to raise.
"Look, guys," I said, "Mrs. Shannon will have a lot to say about where Peter lives. She'll be here shortly and we can discuss it with her. Peter may have a mom or dad that misses him and is looking for him."
Peter was shaking his head in the negative. From what Theresa Shannon had said when she was here last was that his parents had abandoned him. Maybe she would have more information when she arrived.
"But he said he doesn't," TJ said.
"I'll talk to Mrs. Shannon when she gets here. I know there are some things that she will have to do. There are all kinds of paperwork that will need to be filled out. I'm sure that she will need to take Peter with her, at least for a while."
"But..." Joel started.
"Let's just wait to see what Mrs. Shannon has to say," I said.
"Okay," Joel said, with obvious disappointment in his voice.
"Come on, Peter," TJ said. "Let's go play with my toys."
As they left, I saw Hildy standing at the kitchen island watching what had gone on. She turned around, picked up the coffee carafe and brought it over to where I was sitting and freshened my cup.
"You know they are going to get their way, don't you?" she said, with a knowing smile.
I sighed, "Yes, you're probably right. A lot depends on what Theresa finds out about his parents. It probably won't be as easy as it was for the other boys if his parents are still around. Joel's dad had killed his mother and Chris' parents wound up in jail. It was relatively easy to get custody if you don't count the battle I had with CPS and a corrupt judge. This time there will have to be a hearing for CPS to gain at least Temporary Managing Conservatorship."
"You don't really think a judge would allow his parents to retain custody if the story that they abandoned him at your front gate is true? That would be unthinkable," she said.
"Hildy, you never know what can happen in a family court. Our only hope is that the hearing will be held in Comal County. The family court judge is one tough lady and from what I hear has no sympathy for abusive parents. It all depends on where the family lived. If it's Bexar County, anything could happen."
"He's such a sweet kid," she said, looking in the direction that the boys had disappeared. "TJ has really taken a shine to him."
"I can see that," I responded. "He seems almost afraid of me, for some reason. I wonder what his relationship was to his father."
Hildy went back to the kitchen and I went back to finish the paper and my coffee. I had just finished my coffee and was returning my cup to the kitchen when the gate buzzer sounded. I checked the security camera and saw that it was Theresa. After punching the button to open the gate, I went to the front door to wait for her to drive up and park her car.
"Good morning," I said. "Please come in, there are a few things that I would like to discuss with you." I led her into the library where we took our seats in two leather wingback chairs.
"What would you like to discuss?" Theresa asked.
"I was wondering what you've found out about Peter's parents."
"I did a little checking over the weekend. I was called into the office for another situation, so I checked to see if we had a file on the Johansens. We did. I can't reveal what was in the file, but I can say that I've asked our lawyer to file an emergency request with the court to remove Peter from their custody. I'm sure that the judge will grant the request in part due to the information that Peter gave me at our first meeting."
"Will that be a formal hearing?" I asked.
"No, we'll present the judge with the information that we have and he'll make a decision based on that. A formal hearing will be held within 30 days to determine if the state should get temporary or permanent custody of Peter. His parents can be present and object to the department's request for custody."
"What will happen to Peter in the mean time?"
"To begin with, he'll be taken to the office where a psychologist will evaluate him. Since Dr. Greene has already given him the once over, he won't need to be seen by another doctor. Then, after I have completed a mountain of paperwork to process him into the system, he will be placed in an emergency foster home until a more permanent one can be found."
"Would it be possible for him to be placed here? My sons have become attached to him."
"I don't see any reason why that's not possible. You need to realize that if our investigation of the family and close relatives turns up suitable candidates, the court will no doubt place Peter with them. These investigations do take time and it could be anywhere up to 90 days before the department has the results. It's quite probable that Peter will be placed with a relative if they check out. The state has mandated that a child be placed with a close relative if a suitable one is found."
"I'm aware of that, but I don't think my sons would necessarily agree when it comes to Peter. Thank you, Theresa. When will we know if Peter will be able to stay with us temporarily?"
"I would guess that everything, including the psychological evaluation, will be complete by early afternoon. If you will be here, I could give you a call around two o'clock."
"I'll look forward to your call. Now, I think we had better go find Peter."
We found the boys in the music practice room over the garages. TJ was trying to show Peter how to play a tune on the keyboard. The other boys were all gathered around watching and giving Peter words of encouragement. They didn't hear us come in until we had walked up and stood beside them.
"Hi, Peter, do you remember me?" Theresa asked.
Peter looked up from the keyboard and nodded his head.
"Will you come with me for a while?"
Again he nodded. TJ looked at me with a frown on his face and wrapped an arm around his young friend.
"It's only for a little while," I said. "Didn't you hear Mrs. Shannon?"
"Are you sure he can come back?" TJ asked Theresa.
"I'm sure he can," Theresa responded, and motioned for Peter to come to her.
With a quick look up at TJ, Peter began to walk around the keyboard toward Theresa. TJ maintained his arm around Peter as they walked.
"Would you like to walk with Peter to my car?" she asked TJ.
TJ just nodded as he led Peter out of the room and started down the stairs. Theresa and I followed. Joel and his brothers brought up the rear. Peter received hugs from all the boys before he climbed into Theresa's car. As they drove away, TJ looked up at me with tears streaming down his face.
"Is he really gonna get to come back?" TJ asked.
"Mrs. Shannon said she would call us around two o'clock to let us know. I'm confident that Peter will be able to spend some time with us. Now, dry your eyes and let's go inside so I can hear you play the piano. Mrs. Shultz said you were getting really good. I think Hildy would like to hear it also. You can use the piano in the conservatory. How does that sound?"
"Okay, can Lenny play, too?"
"Of course, he can. Run upstairs and get your music and I'll tell Hildy we're going to have a concert." I thought the music would distract him from thinking about Peter. I don't know what his reactions would be if at some point Peter was placed with a relative. We would have to cross that bridge when we came to it.
Hildy was delighted when I told her about the mini concert that was about to happen. She looked at me and smiled. She knew exactly what I was doing.
TJ came running into the conservatory with his sheet music. Lenny followed closely behind him. It took TJ a little while to get his music set up just right and the bench in the right position so he could reach the pedals.
"Mrs. Shultz says this song has some French name, but I can't say it. She said its other name is Can You Plant Your Cabbage So? I think that's a funny name for a song," TJ said. He played the short piece, but when he finished he said, "I made a mistake. Let me play it again." This time he didn't make any mistakes.
Next it was Lenny's turn. Like TJ had done, he fiddled with his sheet music until he got it to his satisfaction and adjusted the bench. "Mrs. Shultz wants me to learn this one," Lenny said.
"What's it called?" I asked.
"Going Home," he said. "It's by some guy named Dork."
"I think you mean Dvorák," Hildy corrected. "It's part of his work From the New World."
"Yeah, that's what Mrs. Shultz said," Lenny agreed. He began playing and didn't make a single mistake.
We all applauded when he was finished as we had done when TJ finished his piece. I knew now that I had started the mini concert that we were not going to get by without hearing Larry and Joel play the guitar and Chris play the drums. But, since it wasn't feasible to bring all that equipment down stairs, we all trouped up to the practice room to hear the rest of the concert.
Larry had pretty much decided that he liked the guitar better than the piano, so we had switched all his lessons to coincide with Joel's. Both Larry and Joel did a good job taking turns on the one guitar. Joel's piece was more advanced than Larry's, which was to be expected. When it came time for Chris to play the drums, Joel played along with him. I was thankful for that. Listening to a drum solo was not my idea of enjoyable music. Some really good drummers can pull it off, but a beginner can't.
When the concert was over, Hildy announced that she had made some lemon bars. It didn't take long for the boys to evacuate the practice room and head for the kitchen. They were waiting impatiently when Hildy and I reached the kitchen. Soon there were glasses of milk and lemon bars in front of all of them. Even I grabbed a bar before they were gone.
The rest of the morning and early afternoon went by without incident. I did notice the boys checking the clock to see what the time was. As it got closer to two o'clock, they all tended to be where I was. When it was straight up two o'clock, TJ was by my side and said, "You said Peter was going to come back."
"Mrs. Shannon said she would call as soon as all the paperwork was completed. I'm sure she will call as soon as she can. Didn't she tell Peter he was only going to be gone for a while?"
"Yeah, but..." TJ said, with a tear trickling down his cheek.
"Come here, little man. Sit on dad's lap and we'll wait for Mrs. Shannon to call."
The other boys took seats around the family room and stared at TJ and me, not saying a word. The ticking of the clock on the fireplace mantle seem to be extraordinarily loud as we waited for the call.
Our wake like silence was interrupted by Hildy coming back from grocery shopping. "Would you boys help me carry the bags into the house? There's somebody outside who wants to see you," she said.
"Who is it?" Joel asked, as he and his brothers got up from their seats to go help her.
"Come see," Hildy responded.
I was curious as well, so I followed everyone out the side door to where Hildy's station wagon was parked. By the time I had gotten outside, the boys had surrounded a car that was parked next to Hildy's. I could see it was Theresa Shannon's car. TJ was tugging on the door handle that wouldn't open until Theresa operated the lock release switch. Once the door was open, it seemed like all five boys were trying to reach in and release Peter's seatbelt. It didn't take them long to get him free and on his way into the house.
"I guess that means you and I carry in the groceries," I said to Hildy.
"Yes, I guess it does."
Theresa stepped around the car and spoke, "I'm sorry I didn't call. I got called out on another case that was on the way here and when I tried my cell phone, I didn't have any signal. I didn't think the boys would mind if I just brought Peter here. I hope you don't mind either."
"Of course not, Peter is welcome to stay," I said. "Please, go on into the house while I help Hildy with these bags of groceries."
It took Hildy and I four trips apiece to get all the groceries into the house. I left her to put everything into the pantry and refrigerator while I went to talk to Theresa.
"Crane, I need to tell you that we have identified four relatives of Peter who may be suitable to place him with. It will take some time to run the criminal background checks and do a home study on them, if they express an interest in fostering him. There is no assurance that any of them will want to raise him at the present time. Two of the grandparents are elderly and are probably not good candidates. The other two, an aunt and an uncle, are younger. They both have families of their own. They're probably the best candidates. We'll check them out first."
"Have you been able to contact his parents?" I asked.
"No, the caseworker who is familiar with the family tried to contact them at their last known address, but without success. It may take a few days to find them, but if they are still in the area and not trying to hide or become anonymous, we should be able to track them down."
"What did the psychologist say about him?"
"As you might expect, an exact diagnosis of any problems is difficult in the one hour that Dr. Brown spent with Peter. She did say that he did appear to be suffering from a slight depression, but she didn't think it was serious and probably normal under the circumstances. She also noted that he showed a fear reaction when the subject of his father was broached. That may explain why he doesn't respond to you. You probably represent his father to him."
"I was going to suggest that he be seen by Dr. Adams. He's the one my sons have seen. He's excellent with children, but if Peter is having problems with male authority figures, maybe that's not the best course. Maybe I'll talk to Dr. Greene. His wife, Carol, was a psychiatric nurse and has a master's degree in psychology. It's possible that she could work with him. She does some volunteer work with the foundation from time to time."
"I think that's a good idea," Theresa said. "She helped with one of the cases I sent to your foundation. It was the Alasondro children."
"When will you know whether the judge will grant the department custody of Peter?"
"I spoke to the department lawyer this morning. He is preparing all the necessary papers to present to Judge Kincaid in chambers tomorrow morning. Right now the department has assumed responsibility for him as an abandoned child. Going before the judge is a formality just in case there are any legal challenges later on. It will also give us the right to seek medical attention for him if the need arises."
We spoke for a few more minutes before Theresa went to find Peter to say goodbye to him. He and TJ were busy playing with a radio controlled car in the upstairs family room. Hildy followed us upstairs and announced that there was a plate of cupcakes waiting in the kitchen. We were nearly run over as the boys raced down the stairs. Peter was right in the middle of them. It looked like he was going to fit in just fine.
Theresa left, telling me she would call if she had any more information on Peter's parents.
Later that evening we were just finishing supper when the phone rang. I went to answer it while the boys cleared the table and put the dishes into the dishwasher. It was Bea Meyer.
"Bea, it's good to hear from you. It's been a while since we've seen Cary. How is he doing?" I asked.
"Cary's doing fine. That's not why I called. Barth has had another heart attack and is being taken to the hospital."
"I'm sorry to hear that. Is there anything we can do?"
"Yes, I'm sorry to ask, but is it possible for me to bring Cary and the girls over while I go to the hospital? My mother is going to fly in to take care of them, but she can't get here until around noon tomorrow."
"We'd be happy to have them stay. We have a spare bedroom for Kathy and Lori and I'm sure Cary would be happy staying with the twins and Chris. They have plenty of space in their room. Don't worry. We'll take good care of them. You just take care of Barth and call us if you need anything at all."
"Thanks, Crane, I'll bring Cary and the girls over as soon as we can get their things together."
We hung up and I went to tell the boys and Hildy that we were going to have company. As soon as Hildy heard, she headed to the spare bedroom, muttering under her breath about towels and sheets, to see that everything was ready to accept company.
"Can Cary stay in our room?" Chris asked.
"I don't know why not. It's up to him where he wants to stay," I answered.
I was glad that Mrs. Shultz had called and cancelled the guitar lessons for this evening. There were enough things going on without having to take time out to drive Joel and Larry to her house for their lessons.
It was about twenty minutes after Bea had called that the buzzer sounded indicating that they were at the gate. I activated the gate release and went with the boys out the front door to meet the Meyers. Hildy and Manfred followed us a few moments later.
"You've added to your family, I see," Bea said, as she walked around her van and noticed Peter.
"In a way," I answered. "It's a long story."
Kathy and Lori exited the van and were greeted warmly by Hildy. The boys were more intent on watching the ramp lower from the side of the van so that Cary's wheelchair could exit. I had to make them stand back so that the ramp wouldn't strike them on its way down. Bea released the latches that held Cary's wheelchair in place before he guided his motorized chair down the ramp. He was greeted enthusiastically by the boys.
"Girls, grab your things out of the van. I want to get to the hospital as quickly as I can," Bea told her daughters.
"Joel, will you get Cary's things and take them upstairs?" I asked.
"Hildy will show you where the spare bedroom is," I told the girls.
There were two steps to navigate on the front porch, but with Chris and the twins' help, they were able to get Cary and his wheelchair into the house.
"Crane, I can't thank you enough for doing this at the last minute. I didn't have any place to turn in such a hurry," Bea said.
"It's no problem," I said. "I'm sure Hildy is glad to have some girls in the house for a change and the boys love to have Cary visit."
"Here's my cell phone number, if you need me for any reason," she said, handing me a slip of paper with the number written on it.
"Don't worry about a thing here. Go make sure that Barth is okay," I said, walking with her to the driver's door of the van. "Let us know if there is anything that you need. Drive carefully, the last thing your children need is for both of you to be in the hospital."
"Crane, I think you've started a children's home here," Manfred said, as we watched Bea drive off.
"It's great, isn't it?" I answered, as we turned and walked into the house.
Walking through the kitchen on the way to the family room, I noticed that Hildy was busy at the stove and looked to be fixing a meal. When she saw the confused look on my face she said, "Those children haven't had their supper. I guess in all the confusion of their father being taken to the hospital, they didn't have time. If you'll tell the boys to bring Cary downstairs in about ten minutes, I'll have everything ready. It's not going to be fancy, but it'll fill them up."
"Do you think you can get by without fixing something for the boys?" I asked with a smile.
"I've got that covered," she replied, turning back to the stove.
I went to check on the kids, all nine of them. They were in the upstairs media/family room playing with toys, video games or just playing with the dogs. Somehow all the dogs had been let in and they were having a field day with all the new friends. A giggling Peter was on the floor with Bandit crawling all over him and licking his face. Sam had made friends with Cary. He was sitting at Cary's feet with his head in Cary's lap. Cary was slowly stroking Sam's head and smiling his crooked smile.
I approached Lori and Kathy to tell them that Hildy was fixing them something to eat. "Is Cary able to eat by himself or does he need help?" I asked.
Lori answered, "He can do some things like lifting a spoon to his mouth or hold a sandwich, but can't use a knife to cut up anything."
"Would it be better if an adult helped him or would he feel more comfortable if one of the boys helped?"
"I think it would be all right if Larry or Lenny helped him. I think they did once before when we were here," Kathy volunteered.
It wasn't long before Hildy called up the stairs that the food was ready. All the kids took off for the bathrooms to wash up before six headed for the stairs, while Larry, Lenny and Cary headed for the elevator. It was a tight squeeze for the three of them to make it into the small elevator, but that didn't stop them. You could hear their giggles as they rode all the way down to the ground floor. I herded the dogs outside and then went to check on the kids.
The Meyers kids had a full meal that Hildy had magically whipped up in no time. My five, or is that six, had a snack. Larry and Lenny sat on either side of Cary and helped him with his meal. It did my heart good to see them treat Cary so well. It was obvious that Cary enjoyed the attention the twins were giving him.
After they finished eating the boys went back upstairs to resume playing. Kathy and Lori asked if they could play the piano. I was hesitant until they told me they had been taking lessons for over three years. I was impressed when they sat down and played without music. They even played a piece for four hands. I thought I recognized it, but couldn't put a name to the piece. When they finished, I asked them what it was. As soon as they told me it was Tchaikovsky's Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, I felt really stupid. I had heard that piece many times, just not on a piano played with four hands.
They played the piano for the next hour, trading places after every piece. Hildy had come to sit in the Conservatory with me when she finished in the kitchen. I wondered if TJ and Lenny would ever be as good as the girls were, or if they would stick with their lessons for three years.
At bed time I went upstairs to get the boys started taking their showers. TJ and Peter went off to his room, Joel went to his, and the twins and Chris headed for theirs. I wondered how Cary was going to get his shower when he asked, "Mr. Johnson, can you help me with my bath?"
"Certainly, Cary, there's a tub in the boys room or we can use the one in my bathroom. Which do you prefer?"
"Could I use the one in your bathroom?"
"Sure, let me get your bag and we can go right down," I said. I grabbed his bag out of the boys' room and met him at the elevator.
"Wow, that's a big tub," Cary said, when he saw the whirlpool tub in my bath. "I've never seen one that big."
"I'm glad you like it. I've never used it. You'll be the first." It was then it dawned on me how much better Cary's speech was than the last time he was here. I didn't mention it to him. I didn't want to embarrass him.
He first needed to use the toilet. We went through the same procedure that we did the time before when he was here. It took a while to fill the tub with enough water so that he could have his bath. I let him soak for a bit with the jets turned on. He was having a ball, but it soon came time to get serious about the bath. After I had bathed him and dried him off, I wrapped him in a big bath towel and carried him into the bedroom and placed him on the bed. I dug his pajamas out of his overnight bag and got him dressed. I thought I could detect more muscle movement in his arms than before. I certainly hoped that he was regaining more voluntary movement. I placed him in his wheelchair and off he went for the elevator.
By the time we got back upstairs, the other boys were all dressed in their pajamas, ready for bed. I ushered Larry, Lenny, Chris and Cary into their room. Larry and Lenny had decided to share a bed and let Cary have one of theirs to himself. I lifted Cary into the vacant bed, tucked him in and then went to tuck in my three sons. With a warning for them to go right to sleep, I left to check on TJ and Peter.
Again Peter pulled the covers up over his head when I went to tuck him in. I really hoped he would warm up to me and trust that I was not going to hurt him. Joel was in bed when I went to check on him.
"Thanks for letting Peter stay here, dad," Joel said, as I sat down on the side of his bed.
"He deserves a good home. That may be with us or it might be with one of his relatives. There is a real possibility that he won't be allowed to stay with us except temporarily," I said.
"If one of his relatives is found to be able to provide an acceptable home and they want to take Peter and raise him, the judge is going to say that's where he will live. We may not like it, but that's what the law says," I said. "Don't worry about it. We'll give him the best home we know how, no matter how long he stays. Now, go to sleep."
Hildy was coming out of the guest bedroom as I came down the stairs. "The girls are all settled," she said. "They're worried about their dad."
"I'm sure they are," I said. "I was hoping that Bea would have called to let us know how he was getting along. This is his second attack. That's not a good sign. For his kids' sake, I hope everything turns out for the best."
"I'm sure it will," Hildy said. "It's sure nice to have some girls in the house for a change. Well, I think it's time for Manfred and I to go to bed as well."
"Goodnight, Hildy, and thanks. I could not run this nut house without your steadying hand. I don't tell you often enough just how much we appreciate everything you do for us."
"It's a labor of love," she said, and gave me a quick peck on the cheek. "Goodnight."
I went into my bedroom and picked up a book that I had been trying to finish. There were only about thirty pages to read. After finishing the book I put it down intending to take it back to my library in the morning.
The next morning I woke up to the summer sun streaming into the window of the sitting area of my bedroom. I had neglected to close the curtains before going to bed. I looked at the clock. It was 6:25. I considered rolling over and going back to sleep, but then thought better of it, knowing that with nine kids in the house they would be up soon wanting breakfast.
After showering and completing my morning routine, I picked up the book I had finished reading the night before and headed for the library. As I was placing the book back on the shelf, the phone rang. I wondered who it could be calling this early as I picked up the receiver.
"Crane, this is Bea Meyer. I'm sorry to call this early. I hope I didn't wake you."
"I've been up for some time," I said. I noticed that her voice sounded much more nasal than I had remembered. "How's Barth?"
"That's why I called. Barth died early this morning."