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This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
This story is copyrighted by Ted Louis, all rights reserved. Distribution, including but not limited to: posting on internet sites, newsgroups, or message boards, or in book form (either as a whole or part of a compilation), or on CD, DVD or any other electronic media, is expressly prohibited without the author's written consent.
Chris stood there for a moment staring at the nurse before turning toward me. His expression was a mixture of disbelief, shock, anger and sadness. "Dad," he whispered hoarsely. "No, no, no ..."
I wrapped my arms around him and held him. I could feel his body shaking. He wrapped his arms around my waist and we stood there for a minute or so. Noticing a small waiting area across the hallway, I quietly said to him, "Let's go over there so we can sit down and talk." I steered him over to a couch and sat him down. Thankfully there weren't any other people in the waiting area.
"Why, dad? The operation wasn't supposed to be that serious. Why did she have to die?"
"Son, that's a question that I can't answer. I wish I could, but I can't," I said. "She was very special to you, wasn't she?"
"Yes," he said, looking up at me. His eyes were filled with unshed tears.
"It's always difficult to lose someone who is special to you. I understand that, but that doesn't make it easier for you. What can make it easier is if you will remember all the good times that you spent with her. Think of the things that you did to make her laugh or what she did to make you laugh. How it made you feel to be with her. It's all right to be sad, but don't let it overwhelm you. What do you think Susan would want you to do?"
"I don't know right now," he said. "I'm going to need to think about it." After a pause, he continued, "Can I go to the funeral?"
"Of course you can. We all will go," I answered. While we had been sitting there, I had noticed a man and woman talking to the nurse at the desk. The woman looked in our direction and began walking toward the waiting area followed by the man.
"Excuse me," she said. "Are you Chris Johnson?"
Chris looked up, confused and said, "Yes, ma'am."
"I'm Susan's mom. Thank you for coming. I know it can't be pleasant for you, but I just had to tell you how much Susie loved the card that you and your class made for her." She paused for a moment and wiped her eyes with a tissue. "She was looking forward to your visit. You would have been the first to come. She propped the card you made up on the side of her bed so she could see it. She was looking at it when ... when ..."
The man, introducing himself as Gary Reynolds, said, "They said it was going to be touch and go after the surgery. The cancer had surrounded the lining around her heart and they weren't able to remove it all. There wasn't much hope for the long term. The doctors told us the cancer didn't cause her death, it was an aneurism that developed in her brain that took her from us. We didn't think it would be so soon. We were just thankful that she wasn't in pain at the end." He took his wife in his arms and led her to the other couch in the waiting area.
Later, after Marsha Reynolds regained her control, they got up to leave. "Mr. Reynolds," I said, "when the arrangements have been made, please give me a call. My son would like to attend." I handed him my business card and he nodded, indicating that he would.
Chris surprised me by going to Mrs. Reynolds and giving her a hug, which she returned.
"That was very nice of you. I'm sure she appreciated it," I told him.
"Dad, what's an aneurism?"
"It's a weakness in the blood vessel, usually one of the larger ones. As the pressure develops in the vessel, it blows up like a small balloon. When it gets too big, it bursts and the person bleeds internally."
"Oh," he paused and thought a moment before asking. "Can't they stop it?"
"If it's detected in time, they sometimes can. In this case, because Susan was probably still receiving pain medication, it could have gone unnoticed."
"I wish the doctors could have."
As we were headed for the elevator, I queried, "Shall we stop on the way home and get something to eat, or fix something when we get home?"
"Can we stop at Sonic and get something to eat in the car? I just want to be alone with you and talk some more."
"Sure," I said, draping my arm over his shoulder, "if that's what you want."
That's what we did. We spent at least an hour sitting in the car eating burgers, tater tots and drinking milkshakes. I don't know whether it was the isolation of being in the car or the food that loosened Chris up, but he was more open about his feelings than he had been at the hospital. By the time we were on our way home, I felt much better about the way Chris was handling Susan's death. I would still keep a close eye on him.
When we got back to the house, Chris went up the back stairs to his bedroom and I went through the house to see what everybody else was doing.
"Where's Chris?" Larry asked.
"Guys, come here and sit beside me," I said, sitting down on the couch. Larry sat on my right and Lenny on my left. I put my arms around them and continued. "Chris' friend Susan died this afternoon before we got to the hospital."
"Oh, no!" Lenny exclaimed. "Chris really liked her. What happened?"
"Susan had cancer and when they operated on her they found it was very serious. A burst blood vessel in her brain caused her death." I said. "Chris is very upset, so I want you to be supportive of him until he has had some time to adjust to it."
"Sure, dad," Larry said. "We can do that."
"I'm counting on you," I said, giving them both a hug.
"I overheard what you said to Larry and Lenny," Donald said. "How do you think Chris will end up handling this?"
"I wish I knew," I responded. "I felt pretty good after we talked while we ate, but I intend on keeping a close eye on him for a while. I don't think he would do anything stupid, but..."
"He's got a great support group," Donald said. "I think they'll see that he gets through this extremely emotional period. Do you know when the funeral will be?"
"No, I asked Mr. Reynolds to let me know. Chris wants to go. It won't be easy for him, but I think it will help, in a way," I said.
Later that evening after I had checked to see that all the homework had been done and the boys had gone off to shower and get ready for bed, I made my rounds to tuck them in.
"What's Chris so sad about?" TJ asked when I got to his bedroom.
"His friend Susan, who we went to see at the hospital, died," I said. "He didn't get to see her."
"Oh," TJ said. "Was she his girlfriend?"
"I guess you could say that," I said. "He liked her a lot."
"Maybe he needs lots of hugs," TJ volunteered.
"I think he does. Maybe you could remember that in the morning."
"We'll hug him, too," Peter said for him and William.
"Good, now how about giving me a hug and going to sleep," I said.
Donald was there as well and got his hugs from all three.
My next stop was to the three musketeers' bedroom. I shouldn't have been surprised when I opened their bedroom door to find all three of them in one bed. Larry and Lenny were on the outside and Chris was in the middle. I stood there for a moment looking at the three of them.
"Dad ..." Lenny started.
"It's all right, son," I said. "Just make sure that you get some sleep. I don't want any sleepy boys in the morning." I leaned over and gave each one a kiss on the forehead. "Sleep tight, I love you."
"Is he going to be all right, dad?" Joel asked, as I stopped by his bedroom before going back downstairs.
"Time will tell, son. I don't want you spying on Chris, but I would like for you to tell me if you notice any significant change in his attitude or demeanor. I don't want Susan's death to be a contributing factor to depression in Chris."
"I will, dad," Joel said. "We all have to look out for our brother."
"Thanks, son," I said. "Say hi to Jimmy for me."
"How did you know I was going to Skype him?"
"Don't you almost every night?"
"Yeah, I guess I do."
"How does he like the university?" I asked.
"He says it's a lot different than high school, but he really likes his classes. He's got a pretty full schedule and spends a lot of time studying and doing homework. He plans on coming home over Spring Break."
"Will it be the same time as yours?"
"Yeah, but I told him we were going to be in Las Vegas for the first week. Do you think he could ... maybe, that is ... go with us?"
"Let me think about that," I said. "I'll let you know in plenty of time to arrange things. It's still about a month away."
As the boys came down for breakfast the next morning, TJ was the first to go to Chris and give him a hug. He was followed quickly by Peter and William. "We love you, Chris," TJ said. That was echoed by both Peter and William.
"Thanks, guys," Chris said, returning their hugs. "I love you, too."
After that, food was the center of attention. I was pleased that Chris seemed to be back to his normal self.
I dropped the kids off at the school and went to find the headmaster to inform him of Susan's death. Mr. Pierce has not heard the news, so we sat for a while discussing what the school should do. It was finally decided to hold an all school assembly to let the students know the news and to let them know that counselors would be on hand to speak with anyone who wanted to.
I stayed for the assembly and then headed home. In the breakfast rush, I had not thought to inform Gilda of the news, so I poured a cup of coffee and asked her to join me. I explained to her about Susan's death and Chris' attachment to her.
"Oh, that poor boy," she said, dabbing at her eyes with a tissue retrieved from her apron pocket. "Is he all right?"
"So far, he seems to be handling it well," I said. "I think I'll need to keep a close eye on him for a while. I don't think he would do anything stupid, but you read so much about teenage suicide these days that I don't want to take any chances."
"Is there anything I can do?" Gilda asked.
"Just let me know if you notice anything different in his demeanor," I said. "He's going to be sad. That's to be expected, I just don't want that to turn into depression."
I took my coffee and went into my office to make some telephone calls. The first one was to my apartment managers, Chuck Solaris and Phillip Brown, to see how things were at the complexes. Usually it was Chuck who answered the phone, but today Phillip answered. Phillip was the hands-on half of the team seeing to all the issues with maintenance of the units, where, Chuck was more of the paperwork person.
"This is Phillip Brown, how may I help you?"
"Phillip, it's Crane. How are things going?"
"Hey, Crane, it's good to talk to you. You just missed Chuck. He went to the bank to deposit the rent checks that we received over the weekend. What can I do for you?"
"Just checking to see how things are going," I said.
"Couldn't be better," he said. "We did the inventory of rented apartments this morning and all buildings are at least 94% occupied. One is completely rented. It's too bad Chuck's not here, he was going to call you and suggest that the rents on the Stone Oak complex be increased when the existing leases are up. That area is really booming and our rents are well below the prevailing ones at other places in the area."
"I don't think a moderate increase would be out of line. I don't want any increase to impact the overall occupancy rate," I said. "Tell Chuck to use his best judgment. You are in charge of the overall management and I expect you to make that decision. You have more information than I have."
"Thanks," Phillip said. "I'll tell him when he gets back."
I finished my coffee and looked at my watch. I decided I had enough time to drive in to San Antonio and check with Darcie at ASEC. I told Gilda on the way out that she could reach me on my cellphone. It was just as well that I was vacating the house, the cleaning crew was there and I needed to stay out of their way.
I parked the car in the closest space I could find to the offices and headed for the entrance. The first to greet me as I walked in the door was Kenneth Bering, the Office Manager.
"Crane, what brings you to our humble abode?" he asked with a smile.
"Just came to make sure you all were not goofing off."
"Hardly," he said. "Even with the two new associates, it's still impossible to keep up with all the requests for help."
"I'm glad we have the resources to do as much as we can. Are Darcie and Carol in?"
He looked at the multi-line phone on his desk before answering. "It looks as if they are both on the phone."
"How about Paul?"
"No, he's out checking on a supplier of prosthetics that he is considering giving some business. Could I get you a cup of coffee? It could be a while before either one of them is off the phone. I know the pot is fresh."
"Thanks, but if you haven't changed things since I was last here, I'll get it." I found the coffee pot and poured a cup and went back to visit with Kenneth. We chatted for a few minutes in between his answering phone calls and re-directing them to associates not on their phones.
He noticed a light on his phone go out and said, "Darcie is off her phone. I'll let her know you're here."
Darcie came out of her office looking rather harried. "Crane, nice to see you. It's been too long. Come into my office, I need to run something by you."
I followed her and sat in a chair next to her. "Don't tell me, you need more help. Am I right?"
"Yes," she said with a sigh.
"How many more do you think you need?" I asked.
"At least two, but there's a problem," she said.
"Space. We don't have room to put them."
"Is there any place close that would fill your needs?"
"There's a place down at the end of this office park that's vacant. It's nearly twice as big," she said. "I can't see us outgrowing it any time soon."
"Do it," I said. "Call Carlos and have him negotiate a lease. It shouldn't take much time if the place is vacant. And, go ahead and hire as many people as you need. There's enough money coming in to do more than we're able to do now. Help as many as we can that are truly needy."
"I'll make the call," she said. "Do I need board approval before I do any of this?"
"I'll take care of the board. Just do it."
We talked for a while longer and I invited her to a late lunch, but she declined. She was meeting with a CPS supervisor. I was invited to tag along, but I declined that invitation and headed back to the house. By the time I got there the cleaning crew had finished and had departed.
Since I had some free time, I decided to read some more of the book I had started about a week ago. It was a book by John Grisham, titled Skipping Christmas. While the author writes great narratives, his political philosophy often intrudes into many of his stories. The reviews of the book called it "a hilarious look at the chaos and frenzy that has become part of our holiday tradition." I haven't finished the book, but I, so far, have not found anything hilarious about it.
I read until it was time to go pick up the kids from school. I was particularly interested in seeing how Chris was. TJ, Peter and William were, as usual, the first to exit the school and run to give me a hug. Jeanie and Ginny were the next out of the school building. They were with a group of other girls. The three musketeers were the next to exit. I was happy to see that Chris was laughing and talking to several other boys in the group of six or so.
Joel was the last to arrive. As soon as he got to the car all the others assembled and climbed into the van. "Dad, the golf team is going to play nine holes down at Canyon Springs tomorrow after school. Is it alright if I drive my car tomorrow?"
"Of course," I said. "Are you coming straight home afterwards?"
"Yes," he said. "I have a paper to finish for my Economics class. It's due on Wednesday. I just have to proof it and put it in the format the teacher wants."
From what I could hear as we drove home, Chris was fully participating in the usual banter.
I got a chance to talk to Chris alone while I was checking over his homework. "How are you feeling today?"
"Okay," he said. "It's going to be different without Susan, but I can't do anything to change that. I'll miss her. I talked to Rita at lunch. She's going to miss her more than me. She's known her longer. They started in kindergarten together. Has Mr. Reynolds told you when Susan's funeral is?"
"No, but I'm sure he has had to do a lot of arranging things today," I said. "He'll probably call tomorrow. Unless they have family coming from a long way away, I suspect that it will be on Wednesday. I'll let you know."
After all the kids were in bed, Donald and I settled down to enjoy a glass of wine and each other's company. About thirty minutes later, the phone rang. When I answered, it was Gary Reynolds.
"I'm sorry to be calling so late, but today has been rather hectic," he said.
"Think nothing of it," I said. "We were just sitting here talking."
"You asked when Susie's funeral was going to be. There will be a viewing tomorrow evening between seven and nine at Furgus-Collins Funeral Home in San Antonio. The funeral will be held Wednesday afternoon at two at Saint Francis Lutheran Church in New Braunfels," he said, letting out a long sigh.
"Thank you for letting us know," I said. "Please let me know if there is anything that we can do. You only have to ask."
I hung up the phone knowing that the man was mentally and physically exhausted. I did not know how I would handle it if I had to bury one of my sons. It was too frightening to contemplate.
I decided against going to the viewing on Tuesday. Although this was a Southern tradition, I had always thought it to be rather barbaric. I did plan to order flowers to be delivered to the funeral home.
When Chris came downstairs and had eaten his breakfast Tuesday morning, I told him of the funeral arrangements.
"Rita said there was to be something called a viewing sometime before the funeral," Chris said. "What's that and are we going?"
I explained to him what they were and my feelings about them.
"That sounds kinda sick," he said. "I don't think I want to go to that."
"I'm going to order flowers to be sent to the funeral home from the family. Would you like to have me send some in your name as well?"
"Yeah, I'd like that," he said. "Susan liked white mums. Can you get some of those?"
"I'm sure I can," I said. "Now, you had better round up your books and homework or we are going to be late."
I ordered the flowers as soon as I returned to the house and was assured that they would be delivered to the funeral home well before the viewing this evening.
I had just finished ordering the flowers when Hildy and Manfred arrived with Brittanie. "Crane, the girls just told us this morning about Chris' girlfriend. How is he handling it?" Hildy asked.
"So far, so good," I said. "I think we'll need to keep an eye on him for some time until he has fully come to grips with the fact that she's gone."
"Yes, it's hard for someone his age to accept death, especially a death of someone that young and someone he cared for."
"How's this beautiful little girl?" I asked, picking her up from the baby carrier.
"She's perfect," Manfred said. "We are going to miss her something terrible. Her caseworker told us it will probably be two or three weeks before her mother is sentenced. If it's a prison term, then the judge will probably terminate their parental rights and CPS will place Brittanie in a pre-adoption placement within days. Hildy and I would like to keep her, but they say we are too old to adopt an infant. I suppose they're right, but that's not going to make it any easier to give her up."
"Since we are still an approved foster home," Hildy said, "the caseworker said she might have a twelve year-old girl for us after Brittanie has been removed. She said the girl may be removed from her family at the next CPS Court hearing. If the mother has not met the court's drug rehab steps laid out for her, the girl will be removed, at least temporarily."
"Are you up to raising a twelve year-old girl?" I asked. "That is a very difficult age and coming from a family where drugs were used is not going to make it any easier."
"That's true," Hildy said. "However, living out here in the country, far away from the drug scene, might do the girl some good."
"Does this girl have a name?" I asked.
"We haven't been told that or a lot of other information that we'll want to see before we agree to foster her," Manfred said. "We have to think of our own daughters and the impact it might have on them." Hildy nodded in agreement.
"Oh, by the way," I said, "can you pick up your girls from school tomorrow? I'm collecting the boys at noon so that we can get ready for the funeral at two."
"Of course," Manfred replied.
Over coffee, we chatted until Gilda arrived back from the grocery store and summoned all of us to help unload and put away the purchases. It wasn't long before Brittanie began to fuss, which was the signal for them to take her home to attend to her diaper.
Again, as I picked the kids up from school, I couldn't detect any sign of depression on Chris' part. "How was school, guys?"
"Terrible," Larry said. "Mr. Gilmore gave a pop quiz in math class."
"Why was that terrible?" I asked. "Didn't you know how to do the problem?"
"Yeah, but I made a stupid mistake," Larry said.
"He made an addition mistake," Lenny laughed.
"It's not funny," Larry said, punching his brother lightly on the arm. "It was a ten point quiz and I only got nine."
"We got all ten," Lenny said, indicating Chris and himself.
Wednesday morning at breakfast, I could tell that Chris was a little tense. I took him aside and tried to comfort him.
"What do we have to wear to the funeral?" he asked.
"I think your school uniform, but with a white shirt and tie with your school blazer." I said. "Gilda and I will have everything laid out for you to wear when I bring you home from school at noon."
"You won't forget will you?" he asked.
"No, son, I won't forget."
I didn't forget and was there right on time to pick them up and bring the seven of them home for lunch and to get dressed.