The following week, the final agreement was presented to Donald and me. A Nevada corporation was set up that would be responsible for the development of the project. We were designated as co-chief executives of B&J Property Development Corporation. Donald's California based construction company was licensed to do business in Nevada and began preliminary surveying and staking out the streets and other amenities of the community. The city was nearing completion of the road that would pass to the north of the development. Completion was scheduled for late May or early June, in plenty of time for construction to begin on the community.
Plans for the two golf courses were presented to us by the respective designers in early May. The designs included lots adjacent to the courses for houses and for several high-end condominium buildings. With minor exceptions, Donald and I approved the plans and construction on the courses was scheduled to begin in late June.
Between my duties with the Nevada development and the boys' activities, I was kept very busy. The twins and Chris were occupied with tennis; Joel with his golf; TJ decided he wanted to play soccer instead of baseball; while Peter started T-Ball. I attended as many of the school sporting events as I could. Sometimes it was impossible when two events were scheduled at the same time. Riding horses nearly every weekend, along with practicing their musical instruments, and caring for their dogs left the boys with very little free time.
The middle of May, I was contacted by Peter's caseworker. She told me the hearing for Peter's adoption was scheduled for the last Tuesday in May. She re-confirmed that I was still interested in going through with the adoption.
"Ms. Callahan, if I didn't go through with the adoption, I would have open rebellion from the other five boys. That's not the reason that I want to go through with the adoption, however. I have grown to love Peter as much as I do my other sons and can't imagine our lives without him."
"I had to check for the record," Peggy said. "I didn't want to show up for the adoption hearing only to have you say you were not going through with it."
"Not a chance," I said.
With Joel's sixteenth birthday coming up on the third of June, I started going out of my way to have him drive the BMW. I knew that as soon as that day came, he would be bugging me to take him to get his driver's license. I wanted him to develop confidence in his driving abilities as well as experience in as many situations as possible. Overall, I was impressed with his driving skills. He was cautious without being timid. Timid drivers did not fare well among the aggressive Texas drivers.
By the time school was out for the summer on the nineteenth of May, Joel had taken and passed a test to receive credit by examination for another class. He said he wanted to test out of at least one more course before the summer was over. I didn't for a moment think that he wouldn't succeed.
On the Monday night before we were to go to court for Peter's adoption, he crawled up on my lap. He didn't say anything. He laid his head on my chest, took my arms and wrapped them around him. I could sense that something was bothering him. Finally I said, "What's the matter, son? You can tell dad."
He was quiet for a moment and then said, "TJ said you were going to adopt me."
"Yes, I am."
"Is it going to hurt?"
It was all I could do to keep from laughing, but I did. "No, son, it's not going to hurt. It means that you are going to be my son for ever and ever, just like TJ. Why did you think it was going to hurt?"
"Rico told me."
"Who is Rico?"
"He's my friend at school. He got adopted."
"Did he get hurt?"
"How did he get hurt?"
"His dad spanks him all the time."
"Why would his dad do that?"
"I don't know. Sometimes he can't hardly sit in his desk 'cause he's been spanked."
"What's Rico's last name?"
"Well," I said, "I don't spank my other sons and they are all adopted and I won't spank you either."
"I'm glad," he said, lifting his head up and planting a kiss on my cheek.
"I'm glad, too," I said, returning the kiss on the top of his head. "Now, I think it's time for you to go find TJ and have him help you get ready for bed. You have to be well rested because tomorrow we have to get you adopted." I gave his ribs a tickle as he jumped down from my lap.
"Okay," he giggled, and ran off to find TJ.
I made a mental note to talk to Peggy Callahan at court tomorrow about Rico Bradley.
"Where are your two helpers?" I asked Hildy, as I was pouring my first cup of coffee the next morning.
"Manny is getting them ready so we can go to court with you all this morning."
"I had to make sure that the boys would dress up a bit when I went to wake them this morning," I said. "By the way, do you know a Bradley family?"
"I know a couple of Bradley families. Patricia and Eldon go to our church. They're a real nice couple with two teenage sons. Eldon has a brother, Myron. I've never met his wife. I think she was married before and had a young son when she and Myron married. Why do you ask?"
I told her of my conversation with Peter last night. She was first amused at him being worried about being hurt because he was going to be adopted, but then angry when I related his story about Rico. "I'm going to bring the subject up with Peggy this morning at the hearing."
"I wonder if Eldon knows about this." Hildy mused. "I'm on a church committee with Patricia. I think I need to call her about some committee business when we get back from court."
The boys arrived for breakfast which ended our conversation. Thankfully they managed to make it through the meal without spilling anything on their dress-up clothes.
We arrived at the court house early for the adoption hearing. As it turned out, there was another adoption that was scheduled before ours. It gave me a chance to speak with Peggy Callahan before Peter's turn. She listened intently to what I related to her and made notes in the notebook she was carrying. After hearing all that I had to say, she said she would check into it. I knew that CPS was busy and the caseworkers were overloaded, but I wasn't going to let this be swept under the rug and not at least investigated.
The adoption hearing ahead of ours only took about 15 minutes before we were called before Judge Bono. "I see you have the whole family with you this time," she said, remembering the last time in court when the other boys had remained in the gallery. "And I see you have added a couple of girls to the mix."
"No, Your Honor, they are staying with Mr. and Mrs. Strasser, but I guess you could say they are part of the extended family. CPS has told me I've reached my limit," I said.
"Ah, yes, six is the limit," Judge Bono said. "Well, let's get this young man a forever family."
The rest of the hearing was fairly routine. CPS was asked what their position on the adoption was. I was asked if it was my intention to raise Peter as my natural born son. Peter was asked if he wanted to have us as his forever family. This took about ten minutes before Peter was declared to be Peter Joseph Johnson. All that remained was for photographs to be taken of all of us with the judge and we were on our way out of the courtroom.
"This calls for a celebration," I said. "How about we go over to Naegelin's Bakery for some apple strudel?"
"What's apple ... that thing you said?" Peter asked.
"You'll like it." TJ informed him.
"This is yummy," Peter said, after taking his first bite. "I like apple stu-thing."
"Strudel," TJ said. "Strudel."
"Yeah, that," Peter said, around a mouthful of strudel.
Mike had not been able to be with us for the adoption. He had a meeting with his academic advisor to assist him in transferring his credits to UT Austin so that everything would be complete and ready for him when he entered med school in the fall. He arrived home a few minutes after we did. He saw Chris coming down the stairs with his tennis racket in hand. "Are you ready for me to beat you - again?"
"Yeah, right! What was the score last time? Oh, yeah, now I remember. I think I beat you 6-2, 6-3," Chris said.
"You were just lucky," Mike responded, with a smile.
"Grab your racket and I'll show you how lucky I am today."
Larry and Lenny had come down the stairs and heard the conversation between Chris and Mike. "We'll call the lines," Larry said.
"Now I know why I lost the last time," Mike said, pretending to pout. Mike went upstairs to change and the three musketeers headed for the tennis court.
"Dad, Benny Olsen called and wanted to know if I could play golf. He and a couple of other guys have a tee time for twelve-thirty at Canyon Springs," Joel said.
"That's fine. Do you need a ride?"
"No, Benny'll be a senior next year. He has his own car."
"Should I know this Benny?"
"He was on the golf team this year. He's the tall, skinny guy with red hair and freckles."
"I remember him. I guess I never knew his name. Who else is playing?"
"His brother Cameron, he's in my grade, and Tony Platt. Tony will be a senior, also. He's not on the golf team, but he's a good golfer."
"Well, you had better grab a sandwich and get your stuff together. Do you need any money for the green fees?"
"Nope, I hardly ever get to spend any of my allowance. I've got everything ready to go and Hildy's fixing me a sandwich. Thanks, dad."
Ten minutes later the gate buzzer sounded and Joel activated the opener. He was munching on a cookie that Hildy had baked as he headed for the garage to get his clubs. I followed him. I wanted to meet the boys he was going with. With the last of the cookie stuffed in his mouth, he lifted his clubs and shoes into the back of what looked like a new, bright red Ford F-150 XLT pickup.
As Joel settled onto the rear bench seat, I handed him my cell phone. "Call me if you have any problems.
"Sure, dad," he said, pocketing the phone.
I spoke to the three others in the truck. I remember having seen all of them at one time or another. "Have a good time, guys. Drive carefully, Benny," I admonished.
"Don't worry, Mr. J. Ain't no way I'm gonna mess up my truck," Benny replied. "Besides, my dad would ground me if I got a ticket."
"Good for him. You guys have a great round." I watched as they drove back down toward the road. It was the first time that I had allowed Joel to ride with a teenage driver since the incident when Bran drove. I gave a sigh and walked back into the house. Hildy must have noticed the look on my face.
"Our little boy is growing up," she said. "Everything will be fine. You can't keep him in a protective cocoon forever."
"I know, but I don't have to like it. I still think of him as that scared, little boy that I brought home, dirty and traumatized."
"Look at him now," she said. "He's bright, self-confident with a good head on his shoulders and a son anyone would be proud to have. You've done a great job with him and the other boys."
"Thanks, but you've been a major stabilizing factor as well. I couldn't have done it without you."
I went off to see how the tennis match was going. Peter and TJ were throwing Frisbees for their dogs to catch and retrieve. There was a lot of laughter coming from the tennis court. As I got closer I could hear the trash talk that was going on. I couldn't help but laugh along with them.
"What's the score?" I asked Lenny, who was on the nearside of the court.
"Chris is up 5-4 and it's 40-30," Lenny replied.
Chris was serving. I watched his serve swing wide just inside the line. It caught Mike leaning the other way, expecting it down the middle.
"No fair," Mike said, walking up to the net to shake Chris' hand. "Next time I'll get you."
"In your dreams," Chris responded, shaking Mike's offered hand.
"Time for lunch, guys. You can play some more later," I told them.
"Doubles," the twins hollered in unison, taking off for the house.
"Chris has a lot of potential," Mike said, as we walked. "He could improve his serve, but he's got a really solid game."
"I thought that last serve was pretty good," I said.
"He does have pretty good disguise on it, but he could improve the speed some. He was telling me that you were sending the three of them to the tennis academy this summer."
"Yes, I've signed them up for a three-week session at John Newcombe's Tennis Ranch. It starts the second week of June."
"I've heard they have some great instructors there. It'll do all three of them a lot of good. If Larry and Lenny keep improving, by the time they graduate they should be the top ranked doubles team in the state. They are that good."
"I know they are all better than I am at this point," I said. "But, don't tell them I said so."
After lunch, the boys let their meal settle for about a half an hour before they went back to playing tennis; doubles this time. I decided if I was going to watch them play, I was going to have to have some shade. Standing out in the Texas sun watching them play gets very hot. I thought a table and chairs with a large umbrella might just do the trick.
I expected Joel to be home from his round of golf sometime around six o'clock. As the time approached, I started worrying. I began to imagine all kinds of horrible things that could have happened to them. As I was standing looking out the front windows, the phone rang. I jumped at the sound and nearly ran to answer it.
"Hello," I said, picking up the receiver.
"Hi, dad, it's me," Joel answered.
"Is something wrong?"
"Well, yeah, I guess you could say that."
"A drunk ran into Benny's truck."
"Are you all right? Was anybody hurt?" I asked, trying to control my panic.
"I'm fine, just a little shaken. Benny hit his head on the door and got a pretty bad cut. The EMS guys took him to the hospital to get some stitches. The rest of us are okay. It scared us, though."
"That's good that you're all right. Where are you now?"
"We're still with the pickup. The cops just finished taking statements from us. They said we could call someone to come get us. Can you come?"
"Of course," I said. "I'll be there as soon as I can. Where exactly are you calling from?"
"We're at the corner of 281 and Stone Oak."
"I'll be there in 15 minutes. Stay there!" I hung up and went to tell Mike that I had to leave and for him to watch the boys while I was gone. I passed Hildy on my way to the garage and told her I had to leave and I'd be back later. She gave me a funny look, but I didn't take time to explain why I had to leave.
On the way to where Joel was, I didn't exactly stick to the posted speed limit which was 65 mph. I pushed that by at least 10 mph. The intersection where the accident happened was notorious. In fact, that was the same intersection where Eric got broadsided and had his leg broken.
The tow truck had arrived and had started to get the pickup ready to be hauled away. I spotted Joel and his two friends standing by watching the operation. The pickup was on the right shoulder of the northbound lanes. I made a U-turn at the light and stopped in front of the tow truck. I got out of the BMW and ran back to where Joel was.
"Are you sure you're okay? Should we go to the doctor?"
"The medics checked me over and I'm fine. I'll probably have some bruises tomorrow, but no cuts or broken bones. I can't say the same for my clubs, though. When that guy hit the back side of Benny's truck, all our clubs went flying. Most of them got run over by cars trying to get around the wreck," Joel said.
"Don't worry about the clubs, they can easily be replaced. Tell me how this all happened."
"Well, we had just finished our round. I played really well for not having golfed here in a while. I shot a 71," Joel said proudly.
I held up my hand. "You can tell me about your game on the way home. I want to know how the accident happened."
"Oh, yeah. We had just pulled up to the corner. The light was red. There was another car in front of us. When the light turned green we started through the intersection. We were just about across the southbound lanes when out of nowhere this guy slammed into the back of the truck. You can see where he hit us. Right there at the back wheels. He hit us so hard we spun around one and a half times and ended up there on the shoulder. The tailgate flew open and everything back there flew all over the road. I was afraid the truck was going to rollover."
"How fast was the guy going?"
Tony spoke up at that moment. "The cop said he must have been going at least 60. One of the drivers that had stopped at the light said he saw the guy coming up behind him and at the last minute the drunk swerved into the left lane and plowed through the intersection and hit us."
"The guy must have been really plastered," Cameron said, "he never even hit his brakes before he ran into us."
"Was he injured?" I asked.
"Pretty bad, I think," Joel said. "His car rolled over twice and he wasn't wearing his seatbelt. The EMS guys rushed him to a hospital before they took Benny."
"Dad's gonna be pissed," Cameron said. "That truck was only three months old."
"I think your dad will be happy that you and your brother are all right. The truck can be replaced. Insurance will take care of that. Have you been able to get in touch with your mom or dad?"
"No, they went to visit grandma in the nursing home up at Kerrville and I guess the cellphone reception is bad there. I left a message on their voice-mail."
"Tony, how about you? Have you contacted your folks?"
"Yes, but they are in Dallas," he answered. "They won't be home until tomorrow and there's no one else at home. I don't have any brothers or sisters."
"All right, then," I said. "Cameron, let's go check on your brother and then I'll take all you boys to our place. Do you know which hospital they took Benny to?"
"The EMS guys said they were taking him to BAMC1."
"Get in the car and let's go get him." When we loaded what was left of the golf clubs, bags and golf shoes in the trunk, we got into the car. I drove north until I found a place to turn around and we headed for the hospital. On the way, I told Joel to call home and tell Hildy that we were going to be late and not to hold supper for us. We would grab something on the way home.
BAMC was a busy place when we got there. It was one of the few Level I trauma centers in San Antonio. It took us a while to find Benny. The doctors had taken care of him, but they had wanted him to stick around for a while to make sure he didn't have any more symptoms. They had shaved a place on the left side of his head and had put in eight stitches to close the cut. The bleeding had stopped and a nurse was about to put a bandage in place.
"They took an x-ray of my head and said everything was okay," Benny said, when we asked how he was.
"They probably didn't find anything in there that could be hurt. How can you hurt a vacuum?" Tony joked.
"I'll get you for that," Benny said. "Just wait until you least expect it and I'll get you."
"Oooh, I'm scared," Tony laughed.
After Benny had filled out a ton of paperwork, the doctor released him. Luckily he had a copy of his family's insurance card, which made things a lot easier.
On the way to the car, I called Hildy and gave her a thumbnail description of what had gone on and that we would be home after we had gotten something to eat. She insisted that we come straight home and she would fix something for us. It didn't faze her a bit when I told her there would be three extra teenage boys to feed. I knew better than to argue with her.
On the way home, my cellphone rang. Since Joel still had it, he answered. It was Cameron's mom calling for him. He had given the number to it when he left the voicemail earlier. He explained to what was going on and they would be at our house when they got back in town. He handed the phone back to Joel and had him give his folks directions to the house.
We were all stuffed by the time we finished eating Hildy's throw-together meal. Naturally the other boys and Mike sat with us while we ate and listened to the details of the accident. Benny and Cameron's folks arrived shortly after the dishes were cleared and everybody had adjourned to the family room. I invited Charles and Clarissa in for a cup of coffee. They came in but declined the coffee. They had to hear the whole story of the accident. This was the fourth time the boys had to repeat it so far.
"I'm sorry about the truck, dad," Benny said.
"That truck is the least of my worries. When we got the message that there had been an accident and that you had been hurt, all I could think of was: 'God no! Please, God, don't let it be serious.' I never once thought of that stupid truck," Charles said, through a tight throat.
"Mr. Johnson, thank you so much for taking care of everything for us. We owe you," Clarissa said.
"Think nothing of it. I'm sure you would have done the same if you were in my place."
I insisted that Tony stay with us in the guest bedroom until his folks returned tomorrow. He was about my size, so I let him borrow some of my clothes so he could shower and change. His folks arrived around three on Wednesday. I was a little surprised that they treated the accident so lightly. At least I didn't detect any real concern when Tony told them about what had happened.
The next week didn't pass quickly enough for Joel. We had a party for his birthday consisting only of the boys, Mike, Jeannie and Ginny as well as Hildy, Manfred and me. He would have gone directly from the party to get his license if I would have let him. He agreed to wait until Monday, but he really didn't like to have to wait.
He survived the weekend without his driver's license, but he reminded me first thing Monday morning of my promise to take him to get it today. We were at the Department of Public Safety office shortly after they opened and before noon he was a newly licensed driver. Of course, he wanted to drive and I allowed him to. Our first stop was at a sporting goods store for a new set of golf clubs. The only salvageable club from his old set was his pitching wedge.
While we were there, I bought the twins and Chris two new tennis rackets each. At least now I wouldn't have to run to the shop to have a racket restrung every time they broke a string. With them going to the tennis academy next week they would need the extra rackets.
Taking the three musketeers to the tennis academy on Sunday was traumatic for me. They were all excited and couldn't wait to get there. I wasn't sure that I was ready for them to be away from home for three whole weeks. I never believed in separation anxiety before, but after I had dropped them off, I felt something that I had never felt before. The sense of emptiness was almost palpable. The other three boys were going to be around, but that emptiness was still there.
It was the longest three weeks of my life.
1 BAMC - Brooke Army Medical Center (Pronounced "bam see" by the locals)