It took me a few seconds to come up with a reply. "TJ, I know you love Peter, all of us do. I can't promise you that the judge will let him stay with us. What I can promise you is that I will make sure that Peter is in a home where he is safe and happy. Look at me, son," I said, turning him so that I could look him straight in the eyes. "Dad doesn't lie. When I say that I'll make sure Peter is safe and happy, I mean it."
"I know, but I want Peter to live with us," TJ said, ducking his head under my chin.
"I love you, Timothy Jay Johnson," I said, wrapping my arms around him. We sat that way for a few minutes before he began to stir. "Why don't you go see what your brothers are up to?"
"Okay," he said, and started to climb down from my lap. Before he got completely off my lap, he threw his arms around my neck and gave me at tight hug. "I love you."
"Not as much as I love you," I said. That caused him to giggle before running off to find his brothers. I picked up the book I had put aside when TJ sat down beside me. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Peter slipping from behind the couch and heading for the stairs. I wondered how long he had been there and how much he had heard.
As the boys were having their evening snack, I asked them how their music lessons had gone.
"I like it better when we get our lessons here," Joel responded.
"Yeah," the twins said in stereo.
"Mrs. Shultz said she would help me play along with the music when I get my cast off," Chris said.
"She said I was doing good," TJ said.
Later after I had tucked the boys into bed, I went back to the book I had been reading and read another couple of chapters before I turned in.
I was surprised when I entered the kitchen early Tuesday morning that Hildy was not there. I started the coffee brewing and began to fix breakfast for Joel and me. I was about to go upstairs to see if Joel was up when Manfred came down the stairs. When he saw me he said, "Hildy's not feeling well this morning. I told her to stay in bed."
"What's the matter? Is it serious?" I asked.
"I don't think it is anything serious, but she is running a fever and I didn't want her to give whatever she's got to the boys. If she's not feeling better by lunch time, I'll see if I can't persuade her to let me take her to the doctor."
"Manfred, could you stick around until I get back from taking Joel to the golf course? Connie should be here around eight."
"Sure thing. Hildy gave me instructions to relay to Connie. As hot as the weather has been, the lawn care business is kind of slow."
I started for the stairs just as Joel was coming down them. "Good morning, son. I was just coming to see if you were up. Hildy isn't feeling well this morning, so breakfast will be cold cereal and juice unless you want to eat something at the club."
"Cereal is fine," Joel said. "I can't believe Hildy's sick. She's never sick."
"Crane, don't worry about the other boys' breakfast. If you're not back by the time they get up, I can fix them something. Hildy always cooks, but I know my way around the kitchen. I just don't get the chance when she's around. She's very possessive of her domain," he laughed.
"You're right about that," I said.
Joel finished his cereal and went to check to see if he had all of his golf equipment ready to go. I finished my cup of coffee and then went to find him. He was loading his golf bag into the trunk of the BMW as I entered the garage.
"Dad, I'm going to need some new golf shoes before school starts. These," he said, pointing to the shoes, "are beginning to pinch my toes."
"Maybe the clubhouse will have a pair that will fit you. We'll check when we get there." The pro shop had a pair in Joel's size. Of course they were more expensive than what the same pair would have been in a sporting goods store, but he needed them now. I got him checked in and as he headed for the driving range, I headed for the car. I made sure he knew to call me when he finished his round.
"Hildy's sick," TJ whimpered into my shirt, as I entered the breakfast area.
"I know, son. Maybe we can go see her after while. You finish your breakfast and then go brush your teeth and get dressed."
I was pouring myself another cup of coffee when the phone rang. It was Theresa Shannon. "Good morning, Theresa. I hope you have good news for us."
"I've got news, I don't know how good it is," she said.
"What is it?"
"Perhaps the best of the news is that Peter's parents have been located in Victoria and have been arrested on charges of child abandonment and neglect."
"That's good to hear. Are they still in jail?"
"No, for some reason the judge there in Victoria let them out on their own recognizance. The other news is that of the two family members that were possible placements for Peter, only one was found to be satisfactory. The aunt has four children of her own, all under the age of six, and no husband. As far as we can determine, all the children have different fathers. She's living on welfare and food stamps. The department would not consider recommending her as a foster parent. The uncle is married with one child in a reasonably stable home environment. When he was approached about the possibility of having Peter come live with him, he was not all that enthusiastic about the prospect."
"Does that mean Peter will be able to stay with us?"
"The only thing I can tell you is that for the time being he will remain in your care. The court has scheduled a hearing for next Tuesday to decide whether the department will be given temporary managing conservatorship. Until the parental rights are terminated, that's the best we can hope for. We'll need to have an adversarial hearing before that can happen. This could drag on for several months."
"In that case, I had better start thinking about his schooling. I'm sure that I can get him enrolled at Corinthian Academy, but I had better do it soon. School begins in a couple of weeks. Let me know when we need to be at court next week."
"Court usually begins at nine. It depends on the docket and where Peter's case is on it as to the time you need to be there. It's best to be there at nine and hope his case is near the top of the docket. Judge Bono is a stickler for promptness. If everybody is not there and ready when she calls the case, she moves it to the bottom of the list. That means it could be late afternoon before it gets recalled."
"We'll be there. I'll see that Peter is represented by a lawyer."
"At this point, a lawyer for him is not necessary. Having said that, it can't hurt for him to have one and it will save the court the need to appoint one. I almost forgot, Peggy Callahan will be Peter's caseworker. She should be contacting you later today to set up a time to come visit with Peter. I was only filling in until she returned from maternity leave."
As soon as I got off the phone with Theresa, I made a call to Benjamin Cross' office. I was lucky that he was in his office and not in court. I explained what was going on and asked if he has someone in his office that could represent Peter. He said that they had a bright young lawyer who had only been with their firm a few months who would be available to do the job for Peter.
"Is he any good?" I asked. "You know I don't care what the costs involved are."
Benjamin laughed, "Crane, I don't hire just anyone off the street. Hal Brisbane is as good as they come. He has a great future in the practice of family law. I'll have him give you a call and set up a time when he can come and discuss the matter."
"Thanks, Benjamin. I knew I could depend on you to help."
"Can we go see Hildy now?" TJ begged, snuggling under my arm.
"Okay, but you have to be quiet. She might be sleeping." We headed up the stairs with the other boys trailing behind. I tapped lightly on the outer door of their quarters.
A weak voice answered, "Come in."
We entered to find Hildy reclining on the couch. "Sorry to bother you, Hildy, but this one insisted on coming to see how you were," I said, patting TJ on the head.
"I'm going to be fine, little one," Hildy said. "It's just a pain in my side and I'm running a fever. If I hadn't had my appendix taken out years ago, I'd think it was appendicitis."
"I think you should go see the doctor," I told her.
"Manny said he was going to make an appointment for me this afternoon, if possible. He can be very persuasive when he wants to be," she chuckled. "He brought me a tray with my breakfast on it and insisted that I eat at least some of it."
"All right, guys, let's go and let Hildy get some rest," I said. "Hildy, I'll bring you something up for lunch."
As I closed Hildy's door, Lenny asked, "Can we go swimming before it gets too hot?"
"That's a great idea. Chris, go get the stuff to wrap your cast and the rest of you go and get your swimsuits on."
We spent the next couple of hours playing in the pool. Peter stayed in the shallow end of the pool with TJ most of the time. The twins and Chris involved him in their water games as much as possible and he seemed to enjoy the games. I was about to tell the boys to go get showered and dressed for lunch when Connie came out and told me I had a phone call from a Mr. Brisbane.
The boys and I hopped out of the pool and as we walked to the house, I removed the plastic protecting Chris' cast. Having dried themselves on the towels they had taken to the pool, the boys made a dash for their rooms to shower and change. I went to pick up the phone.
"Mr. Johnson, my name is Hal Brisbane. Mr. Cross asked me to give you a call and set up a time to speak to you about representing a foster child in your care. When would be a convenient time?"
"I'm free this afternoon and tomorrow morning. I have a board meeting tomorrow afternoon. I'm also free all day on Thursday. Friday, I'm available in the morning."
"I think this afternoon would be best. What time could you have the boy here?"
"That's a problem. Mr. Cross may have told you that I have five other boys and ordinarily I could leave them here with Hildy. However, she is not feeling well, so that leaves me as their sole caretaker. It would be much more convenient if you would be able to come here."
"I don't know..."
"I'm sure that Benjamin will approve. He's made the trip here. He should still have the directions to the house. If I don't hear back from you, I'll see you here around two o'clock this afternoon."
After the call, I quickly went to take my own quick shower and dress. The boys were hanging around the kitchen area looking starved. They had missed their mid-morning snack while we were in the pool and although it was early, I decided that I'd fix lunch for them. That met with universal approval.
I looked into the refrigerator to see what there was to make sandwiches. There was some ham, potato salad, carrot and celery sticks, raw cauliflower and broccoli, as well as some sour cream and onion dip which I thought would go well with the vegetables. I started setting everything out on the counter meaning to make the sandwiches, but the twins started carrying everything to the table while TJ and Chris retrieved the bread and chips from the pantry. I got the plates, glasses and silverware. Peter just stood there wide-eyed watching until being ushered to the table by TJ.
"C'mon, Peter, I'll help you make a sandwich," TJ said.
I went to find Connie to invite her to have lunch with us. I had an ulterior motive. As soon as Joel called, I would need to go to the golf course to pick him up and I wanted to ask her if she would mind the boys while I was gone. When I found her, she readily agreed. I could always have loaded the boys into the van and taken them with me, but that would have lengthened the time needed for the job.
As I left to pick up Joel, I told the security guard that I was expecting a visitor and to let him in if I wasn't back by the time he arrived. He wrote Hal Brisbane's name in his authorized entry notebook and I drove off.
Joel was waiting outside the pro shop when I arrived. He was having an animated conversation with Perry Caine and didn't notice I was there. Perry noticed me first as I walked up to them.
"Mr. Johnson, you should have seen how this guy played today. He beat me by three strokes and I'd given him a stroke a side because he said he hadn't played very much this summer. I think I was hustled," Perry laughed.
"Yeah, dad, he had to buy the cokes," Joel said, punching Perry lightly on the arm.
"Perry, thanks for inviting Joel to play with you today. He's wanting to get in shape for the golf team this fall. I hate to run, but I have someone coming to the house shortly. Joel, grab your clubs and let's get on the road."
"Bye, Perry, thanks for the cokes. Maybe next time..." Joel laughed.
"Yeah, yeah, next time I get a stroke a side," Perry said, and went back inside the pro shop.
On the way home, Joel gave me a stroke by stroke account of his game. The most amazing thing I heard out of the one-sided conversation was that he only had 27 putts. That's something only the pros accomplish. I was impressed and told him so.
Hal Brisbane arrived a few minutes after Joel and I returned. I offered him a choice of either coffee or iced tea. He took tea and after tasting it asked for sugar. We normally only keep unsweetened tea in the house. I guess he was from the South, although his accent didn't betray that fact. After he had added three heaping teaspoons of sugar into his tea and found it to his liking, we went to the library to discuss Peter's situation. I gave him all the information that I had about the upcoming hearing before he asked to meet his new client.
I left the library to get Peter. The boys were all upstairs playing. I took Peter aside and told him I wanted him to meet a man.
"He's going to be your lawyer when we go to court next week."
"What's a lawyer?"
"That's someone that looks after you in court."
"But you and Hildy look after me."
That stumped me for a bit. "Yes, we look after you and make sure you have food and clothes and a place to sleep. A lawyer looks out for you in a different way. His job is to tell the judge what you want. I know it's a little hard to understand. Trust me, Mr. Brisbane is your friend. Now, take this and give it to Mr. Brisbane when we go see him," I said, handing Peter a dollar bill.
He looked at me funny, but took the handed bill and took my hand. We walked down the stairs and into the library where I introduced him to Hal. Peter followed my suggestion and handed him the dollar.
"Thank you, Peter, it's very nice to meet you," Hal said.
I was surprised at how easily Hal interacted with Peter. They talked for a few minutes until Peter was comfortable with him before he asked Peter if it was okay for them to talk alone. That was my cue to assure Peter that I would be right outside. He nodded and I left the library and closed the door. I knew Hal had to talk to Peter privately, but that didn't make it any easier for me.
It was only a few minutes before they opened the library door and came out. Hal had his arm around a smiling Peter's shoulder. "Peter, go play with your friends, I'll see you again next week." Peter looked up at him, nodded his head and ran up the stairs to the other boys.
"How did it go?" I asked.
"I don't know if it's your intention to raise him, but my impression is that he would be devastated if he had to leave here."
"I'm sure you're right. My other sons would be just as devastated as well," I said, and then realized I had included Peter as one of my sons. I thanked Hal for coming and told him I would meet him at the courthouse Tuesday morning.
Connie met me as I was coming back inside after seeing Hal off. "I didn't see you when you came back earlier," she said. "Manfred took Hildy to the doctor while you were gone. He said it would probably be late before they got back. Do you want me to stay until they get back?"
"I don't think that'll be necessary, but thanks for asking. You have your own family to look after. The boys and I will be just fine."
It was after five o'clock before Hildy and Manfred returned from the doctor's office. Hildy was not looking any better; in fact she was looking worse than she had this morning when we saw her. Manfred came back downstairs after getting Hildy settled.
"Crane," he said, pulling me aside, "I'm going to take Hildy to the hospital tomorrow morning."
"What's the matter with her?"
"Gall bladder, they're going to have to remove it. Dr. Jones is going to remove it tomorrow afternoon."
"How long will she be in the hospital?"
"If everything goes well, she should be home in about three days. It will be a couple of weeks before she is anywhere near back to normal. When Dr. Jones told her she was going to have to go to the hospital, the first thing she said to me was 'Who's going to take care of my boys?'."
"That should be the last thing on her mind. The boys and I can take care of ourselves."
"That's what I told her, but she still worries about being laid up for so long."
"I think we can take care of that. Don't tell her, but I'm going to call Gilda and see if she can come and stay with Hildy. From what I've seen of her, she is as strong willed as Hildy and won't let her overdo."
"That's a great idea. I wish I'd thought of it," Manfred smiled.
"I'll make the call," I said, and turned to go into the library. When Gilda heard the news, she said she would be here as soon as she could get a flight. I told her to start packing and I would call her back with her flight information. After hanging up, I called my travel agent and made the arrangements. He got her a flight that left at eight. I also arranged for a limo to pick her up and take her to the airport and one to bring her here from the San Antonio airport. I called Gilda back and gave her all the information.
When I found Manfred, he was reading a story to Peter and TJ. I took him aside and explained what I had arranged. He offered to drive into San Antonio to pick her up, but I said that she would be picked up by a limo service and delivered to our front door. I told him that she probably wouldn't get here until midnight or after.
Not wanting to mess up Hildy's kitchen, I suggested to the boys that we go out to eat supper. We ended up going to a Tex-Mex place and came home stuffed. The boys were so full that they didn't even ask for an evening snack.
Later I put them all to bed and after notifying the security guard to expect a limo around midnight, I settled down to read my book. By the time midnight rolled around, I was beginning to nod off. It was nearly twelve-thirty before the gate buzzer sounded. I activated the gate opener after verifying that it was the limousine service that I had ordered.
I stepped out the front door as the limo stopped. Gilda stepped out before either the driver or I could open her door.
"Gilda, it's good of you to come on such short notice," I said, hugging her and kissing her cheek.
"It's my pleasure, Crane. You and Hildy need me and I'm more than happy to come help. Hildy's told me about the new house. I can't wait to see the whole thing in the morning."
By this time the driver had unloaded Gilda's luggage and had put them down on the steps. "If you would, please bring those into the house," I said to him. "Come on in, Gilda and I'll show you to your room." The driver picked up the luggage and followed us into the house and to the guest room. I gave him a generous tip and thanked him.
"This is magnificent," Gilda said, as we walked through the house to the guest room.
"I hope you'll be comfortable. If you need anything, don't hesitate to ask. I know you must be tired from the trip, so I'll let you get settled. I plan on going to bed. Good night."
I was up by seven the next morning and saw Gilda in the kitchen talking to herself as she had the last time she visited. I could also smell bacon cooking. Thankfully the coffee was ready. I needed it after the short night's sleep.
"You didn't need to start breakfast," I said. "I brought you here to take care of Hildy."
"Fiddlesticks," she replied. "I love cooking and since my husband went to the nursing home then passed away, I haven't had a chance to do what I love. Beside, I know those boys will be hungry when they get up."
"There's been an addition since you were here the last time."
"Hildy said you'd taken in another stray. By the way, I envy Hildy being able to cook in this kitchen. It's to die for, as the kids say."
"It's all her doing. She hired a kitchen designer and this is what they came up with. Have you seen Hildy yet this morning?"
"Not yet. I thought I'd take a breakfast tray up pretty soon. I think I could find her rooms from how she described the house plans to me, but I haven't done much exploring just yet. I know she's not supposed to eat much before she goes into surgery, but coffee and juice should be all right."
"The elevator is just around the corner. You won't have to carry the tray up the stairs."
Manfred arrived at that moment and greeted Gilda. "It's good to see you again. We've missed you. You haven't visited since the wedding. Hildy is going to be surprised to see you. I didn't tell her you were coming."
"I was about to take her some coffee and juice. Shall we go up together and surprise her?" Gilda asked. "When do you have to take her to the hospital?"
"She has to be there by ten. The operation is scheduled for two," Manfred answered.
I poured myself a cup of coffee and checked to see what else Gilda had in the works for breakfast. It looked like she had fixed enough for an army, but I was sure that the boys would put a big dent in it.
Except for Peter, the boys greeted Gilda as if she were another surrogate grandmother. Peter held back until Gilda gave him special attention and then he warmed up to her, also. When Connie arrived for the day, I introduced her to Gilda. They hit it off immediately and began talking like old friends.
When I heard the elevator begin to descend, I knew it would be Hildy and Manfred. I went to meet them when the elevator door opened. Hildy wasn't looking any better this morning and was leaning on Manfred for support. I took hold of Hildy's arm and suggested to Manfred that he bring the car around to the front door since it was closer than the garage. The boys gathered around us as we made our way slowly to the front door. They each had to give Hildy a hug before she got into the car. Gilda got into the back seat and the three of them took off for the hospital.
"When's Hildy coming home?" Lenny asked.
"I don't know for sure, son. She may get to come home on Friday or Saturday. We'll just have to wait and see."
"Who's going to take care of us?" Chris asked.
"Well, Gilda will be here part of the time and Connie is here as well. I'll be here most of the time, also. Joel can help out as well." That seemed to satisfy them.
I went to talk to Connie and explain that I had a board meeting for the foundation this afternoon and asked if she could keep an eye on the boys while I was gone. I told her that Joel would be mainly responsible, but that if there were any problems, I would like to have an adult as a backup. She said she would be happy to watch the boys. I planned to be home before it was time for her to leave for the day.
Next I went to find Joel. "I have to go to the foundation office this afternoon and need you to watch your brothers while I'm gone. Do you think you can do that?"
"Sure, dad," he said. I could see the pride in his eyes that I was giving him the responsibility.
"Connie will be here if you have any problems, but I know you can handle things," I said, giving him a hug.
I left for the foundation shortly after noon. I wanted to talk to Carol to see if she had found her replacement. When I arrived at the office, I found her in the conference room getting things ready for the meeting. I asked her about her replacement and found out that she had interviewed two people and had one more scheduled for tomorrow. So far, the first two both looked as if they could handle the job.
The board meeting went off without any problems arising. I did have a difficult time keeping my mind on the meeting as two o'clock approached. My mind was on Hildy.
"You seemed distracted in the meeting," Darcie said afterwards.
"Yes, I was. Hildy's being operated on and I couldn't help but think about what we would do if anything happened to her."