Mr. Pierce's secretary ushered us into his office and said that he would be with us momentarily. It wasn't long before Billy and his parents arrived. I introduce myself to them. Mr. and Mrs. Sutton appeared to be very nervous as they chatted with me. Billy was silent and hardly looked up as we waited for Mr. Pierce.
"Good morning," Mr. Pierce said as he entered the room. "Mr. Johnson, it's good to see you again."
I shook his hand before he turned to the Suttons.
"Mr. Sutton, Mrs. Sutton we meet again," he said with a slight frown on his face.
"Lawrence, Leonard, William I want you to tell me exactly what happened. Don't fib to me. I want to hear your side of the incident on Friday. Who wants to start first or should I pick on one of you?"
There was a moment of silence before Lenny spoke up, "We were trying to stop Billy from picking on Jerry. We didn't hit Billy, really we didn't. We just pushed him down on the ground and sat on him to get him to stop."
"Yeah, that's all we did, we didn't try to hurt him. It's not nice for him to pick on someone littler than him," Larry added.
"Billy, were you picking on Jerry?" Mr. Pierce asked.
"No, I..," he started but stopped as he saw Mr. Pierce staring at him.
"Well... I guess I might have been. He's such a little twerp..," Billy began before he thought better of it.
"Do any of you boys have anything to add to this?" Pierce asked as he waited a minute. "Well, since no one had anything more, this is what is going to happen. For the next two days the three of you will not have any recess privileges. You will report to Room D instead of going to recess, Do you understand?" he looked at each one in turn and got a nod of confirmation from each. "Resorting to any kind of fighting or violence will not be tolerated. If there are any further incidents, the punishment will be much different. That's all for you boys. You may go to class."
I gave the boys a hug and whispered in their ears, "Do you remember what I told you?"
They nodded and went to Billy and stuck out their hands to him. He was taken aback but automatically put out his hand and shook first Larry and then Lenny's hand.
"Billy, if your parents don't mind," Larry said looking at Billy's parents, "we would like to have you come to our house on Saturday."
"Yes, we would," Lenny echoed.
Billy was completely taken by surprise. His mouth opened but nothing came out. Finally he regained his speech and senses enough to look to his parents, "Okay?"
They were equally surprised at the twins offer. They looked at me and I nodded. "Yes, you can go if you want to," Mrs. Sutton said.
The boys filed out, a twin on each side of a very mystified Billy.
Mr. Pierce looked at me, "That is rather unusual, Mr. Johnson."
"I suppose that it is. I don't want the boys fighting and the best way I thought to prevent it was to try to get them to be friends with the person they had a problem with." Turning to the Suttons I said, "I hope you don't mind my saying this, but I think the reason that Billy picks on the other kids is that he really doesn't have a friend he can be with."
"Billy doesn't make friends easily and it's been hard on him that we have moved so often. This is the third school he has attended in the last two years. My husbands old job caused us to move much too often for Billy to form any lasting attachments," Billy's mom said. "That's in the past now and we hope to be here for a good long time."
"If it is convenient, why don't you bring Billy by around 9:30 or 10 on Saturday? Bring his swim suit. If it is warm enough the boys always like to swim on the weekends. I would also like to invite you to dinner that evening. We usually eat around seven."
"Thanks, we would be pleased to come for dinner," Mr. Sutton replied.
"Mr. Johnson, thank you for your unique solution to this problem. I just wish all of our parents were as innovative in trying to eliminate violent behavior. I sincerely hope that your efforts are successful. I'm sure that it will be with both sets of parents cooperating," Mr. Pierce said. "I think we are finished unless anyone has anything else."
On the way out I gave the Suttons directions to the house.
When I got to the office I had several messages to return calls. Two of them took priority. Number one was a call to Dr. Sam. I quickly dialed his number even though I was apprehensive about what he would tell me. I knew it was probably about Joel's last blood test. I wanted to know but yet I was so afraid that the results would be a death sentence for Joel. His receptionist answered and said she would put me through to the doctor.
"Crane, I'm glad that you called back so soon. I wanted to let you know that everything is still fine. No antibodies to HIV are detectable in his blood sample. I do have one concern though, his liver function has still not returned to a level I'm comfortable with for someone of his age. It is not as abnormal as it was when I first tested him, but it still concerns me. I don't think it is anything to be overly worried about but I think we should keep an eye on it though."
"Thanks for the good and bad news, Sam," I said very much relieved. "Is there anything I should look for? His color is as normal as his brothers. They all have gotten tans from being outside, mostly in the swimming pool. It is a little harder to tell if his skin has that yellow tinge it had when he first came to me."
Sam replied, "Just keep an eye on him to see if you notice any changes in his activities. Complaints of pain in the back and side or lethargy or that yellowing of the whites of his eyes would all be things that might indicate a more serious problem. I don't want you to obsess over this. I just want you to be aware that there is the possibility of a problem.
"Well, I have patients waiting. I will talk to you later. Bye."
"Bye, Sam and thanks," I said.
Call number two was to another doctor, Dr. Adams. His office nurse put me on hold, telling me that the doctor would be with me in a minute.
"Mr. Johnson, Owen Adams here, I'm glad you called. I just wanted you to know that I have an opening when I could see Joel if you are still interested."
"Yes, I think it would be best if we did have him talk to you. Although in my non-professional observation, I can see no indications that he is anything other than a normal pre-teenage boy. I don't know how that is possible knowing everything that he has been through," I said.
"The time that I have available is at 3:00 on Monday starting next week. I think we discussed having Joel come in every other week until we can assess his situation. Is that still your thinking?" he asked.
"I believe that will be acceptable. The three o'clock time will prevent him from missing too much of the school day.
"Something that you probably should be aware of is that Joel has formed an attachment to one of the boys in his class. I think the best way to describe it is a crush. They have exchanged kisses. I don't believe that it has gone any farther. I talked to him and the other boy about how others might look at their relationship from the standpoint of them being teased or ridiculed. I don't want him to be hurt and I don't want him to feel guilty about the relationship," I said.
"That's interesting. I work a lot with young people who are gay or confused as to their sexuality. I do not try to change their orientation. I do try to have them think through their emotions to help them understand themselves and to be comfortable with whatever they are. I'm pleased that you did not freak out when you learned of Joel's interest in this other boy.
"I am somewhat heartened by it though. Not the fact that he may be homosexual but that he is able to form a relationship whether it is a sexual or a loving one outside the family unit. Very interesting, thanks for letting me know. This could be very important in his treatment," he said.
"I'll have Joel at your office at three on Monday," I said. "Thanks, doc, for finding time to see him."
The remaining calls were more routine business but they took up the rest of the morning. I did finish in time for Foster and me to take Eric to lunch. We went to Ruth's Chris Steak House. They serve probably the best steaks in San Antonio, maybe even Texas.
My attraction to Eric was still as strong as ever. I knew that I could not act on my attraction even though Darcie had hinted that it might be reciprocated. But as employer/employee it did complicate the situation. It could negatively impact the office morale if it were known that I was involved with one of the staff. Another thought also surfaced that I did not need any more complications in my life right now with the status of the boys still not fully resolved. I did not want the courts to have any reason, no matter how flimsy, to reject my petition for adoption of the boys.
I decided to try to make it home every evening as near as possible to the time the boys got home. That meant I had to leave the office around 3:30 because their van dropped them off just after four. Today I followed their van down the road to our gate. The boys didn't notice my car until Joel was about to punch in the gate code when I opened it with my remote. They turned around as a single unit and launched themselves at the car. The BMW was not meant to carry five boys with backpacks and a grown man but we did all get crammed in after each one of them got their hug. I didn't insist that they buckle-up since we were only going to the house.
"How did you guys get along with Billy today?" I asked the twins.
"He was kinda weird. He didn't pick on nobody today. He just looked kinda weird," Larry said.
"Yeah," Lenny added, "he just kept looking at us with that really weird look on his face."
As I parked the car in the garage, the boys exploded out of it to change their clothes and wash up so that Hildy would give them their after school snack. They were fully aware of the routine required if they wanted a snack.
We had just finished supper when the phone rang. When I answered it, I was surprised to find it was Bruce Gordinier, the father of Joel's friend John.
"Bruce, what can I do for you?" I asked.
"Well this may be a little forward, but could I come over and talk to you?" he asked.
"Sure, all I have planned for this evening is to check the boys' homework. I'll have Hildy put on a pot of coffee. See you in a bit," I said as we hung up.
I wondered what he wanted to talk about, but I had a sneaking suspicion as to what it was. He showed up about thirty minutes later. I activated the gate and went out front to greet him. Joel saw Bruce as we entered the front door.
"Hi Mr. Gordinier, did John come with you?" Joel asked.
"No son, he had to do his homework," he said. "How have you been?"
"I'm fine, thanks," Joel said and went back to his room to finish his homework.
"Could we go someplace where we can talk privately?"
"Of course, let's go into my study. I'll have Hildy bring the coffee in there," I said showing him the way and then went to ask Hildy to bring us the coffee.
Bruce was looking at the book lined walls of my study, "Man, you have a lot of books. It's like a mini-library."
"I can't bear to part with a book after I've read it, so I have almost every book I've ever read since I was a boy. Please sit down and make your self comfortable," I said.
After Hildy served the coffee he began, "I can't tell you the change that has come over John since he was here. He was never one for wanting to be hugged or touched before. I guess that he thought he was too big for all of that. Now he will come up to me or his mother and just put his arms around us and hug us."
There were tears in Bruce's eyes as he continued, "I don't know what happened while he was here, but whatever it was I want to thank you."
"I don't think that we did anything special. I think that I told you when you brought John to visit that all five of my boys had been in abusive homes before they came to live with me. I try to show them that they are safe and are loved. I guess we do a lot of hugging and touching and showing our love for each other. John didn't quite know what to make of it at first. I think that he realized that the boys did not think they were too old to be hugged and then he also realized that it felt good to get hugged. It didn't take him long before he was in line to get his share of the loving. I'm a hugger. Hildy is a hugger. You can't be in this house for long without getting a hug. That's just the way it is," I said.
"I love my son more than life but I was never able to show him before. Now I feel that we are so much closer. He even crawls up in my chair with me before bed and just sits there with his arms around me," The tears were really flowing down his cheeks now.
I handed him a box of tissues and allowed him to dry his eyes before I said, "It gets to you doesn't it? It happens to me all of the time. With five of them getting and giving hugs and sharing their love with me, I go through a lot of tissues."
Bruce recovered shortly and continued, "There is another matter I want to discuss with you but I don't quite know how to start."
"I think I know what you want to say and I'm sure that it is difficult for you. Am I right?" I asked.
"Yes, it is difficult. I guess the best way is to be as forthright as possible. It's about John and Joel. John says they are more than friends. Do you know anything about that?" he asked with a very pained look in his eyes.
"I know," I said. "I knew about it before John came to visit. I talked to both of them together and tried to explain that outward display of affection at school or around their friends would probably cause them to be teased at least and more likely ridiculed.
"When I first broached the subject with John, he reacted as if he thought that I was going to hit him. It took a while before he realized that I only wanted to talk to him and Joel about the consequences of them openly displaying their affection.
"I don't want Joel to be gay. Not because I think it is a sin or anything like that, I just want to protect him from the discrimination he would face. Texas is not the most tolerant state when it comes to alternative lifestyles. I think it's too soon to tell if this is going to be his sexual preference. He is, after all, only twelve going on thirteen. Many boys his age experiment with other boys but later turn out to be hetero.
"If he does turn out to be gay, I will love him just as much. He will need extra love and understanding to make up for the harsh realities that he will face outside our home.
"When I talked to John about him and Joel, he was very much afraid that I would tell you. Although I told him I would not, I urged him to talk to you and Pauline about it," I said.
Bruce looked a little bewildered. I think that my reaction to the possibility that Joel might be gay confused him. "Do you mean to say that you would approve if Joel were gay?" he asked.
"I don't think that it would make any difference to me. My only concern is about protecting Joel from being hurt until he is old enough to handle it on his own. Whether he is gay or straight is not a choice he can make. He either is or is not gay. I repeat, I will love him no matter what," I told him.
"I wish that I could believe as you do but I have always been told that homosexuality is a sin against God. A gay person is to be shunned and condemned as unclean. Our pastor is always preaching against them. It has been that way all my life. My religion is a very important part of my life and my family's lives. How can I reconcile my faith with the possibility that my son, my... my only son, could be condemned to hell?" he sobbed out this last question.
"I can't answer your theological question, and I won't try. I know most Christian religions teach that man is made in the image of God. If that is so, isn't it unthinkable that we could hate and condemn anyone made in the image of God? To me that would be a sin against God. That has always bothered me and I guess that's why I'm not a church going man," I told him.
"How can I cure him if he does turn out to be gay," he asked.
"You can't. It's not a disease. All you can do is love him. You don't have to approve of his preference but if you do love him don't force him away. You could easily lose him forever. The suicide rate among gay teens is alarmingly high. I'm sure that is not something that you want for your son. Try to understand him and above all let him know by word and deed that you love him," I said.
Bruce sat there for a minute or so before he stood up. "I don't know what to think. This is something that I never thought I would have to face. I know John has never been happier than he has been since he met Joel. I don't want him to revert back to the way he was before. We still want Joel to come visit. Maybe next week during the boys' holiday if you don't have any plans."
As we opened the study door to leave the boys were waiting for me to check their homework. They gathered around me for their hugs which I gladly gave them. Joel even gave Bruce a hug and asked "Can John come over and visit again?"
"Why don't you come to visit John? Your dad and I discussed maybe next week. Would that be okay with you?" Bruce asked.
"Yeah," he said and then led the rest of the boys into the study to wait for me to check their work.
"Thanks, Crane, I don't know that I feel any better but at least you have given me some things to think about. I believe that Pauline and I have a lot of things to think through together. If it is convenient for you maybe Joel could come over on Tuesday. The girls will still be in school since they don't start their holiday until Wednesday so John will be at home with nobody to play with."
"That sounds fine," I said. "I'll call you to confirm."
I began checking the boys' homework when the phone rang. It was Harold Nicholas. He said that his designer could come tomorrow to begin making sketches of what the remodeling of the upstairs and the grand staircase would look like. Harold said that he could bring him by around nine if that was convenient. He wanted to meet with both of us to discuss exactly what I had in mind for the upstairs. I agreed that nine would be just fine and went back to checking homework.
Each of the boys had taken to sitting on my lap as I checked their homework assignments. When it was Chris' turn he climbed into my lap. His work was showing noticeable improvement. I finished checking it and as I gave him a hug he looked up at me.
"How come I never got to sleep in your bed? Larry and Lenny said they did. Do you like them better than me?" He asked, his lower lip quivering.
"Oh no, son, I love you all the same. I didn't know you even wanted to sleep in my bed. I thought that you wanted to sleep with the twins," I said giving him an extra squeeze. "I tell you what, if you want to, how about tonight? Are you sure that you won't miss sleeping with Larry and Lenny?"
"Yeah, but... I want to sleep with you tonight," he said brightening.
"Okay, now why don't you go see what Hildy has for your snack? I smelled something really yummy a while ago," I said. I no more than got the words out of my mouth when they were off like a shot to put their homework away and wash their hands.
Hildy had fixed gingerbread and whipped some cream for their (and my) snack. Warm gingerbread and whipped cream are food for the gods. The melding of ginger and spices along with the cool smooth sweetness of the cream is to die for.
After the boys showered and got ready for bed I followed my regular routine of tucking them in but this time Chris followed me. We started with Joel and TJ. I tucked them in and kissed them on the forehead as I always did. Chris decided he had to give them a kiss also.
Next we went into the twins' room. The scene was the same. I tucked the twins in and kissed them goodnight followed by Chris giving them his kiss.
"We're going to miss you," Larry said.
"Yeah, it's gonna be strange with you not here," Lenny added.
"Yeah, but..," Chris started and then walked out of the room toward mine.
I tucked Chris in my bed and gave him his kiss. "I'll be back in a little while. I have some work I have to do before I come to bed. I won't be long."
It was almost an hour before I finished answering my email and taking all the voicemail messages. When I finally crawled into bed, Chris was sound asleep. I leaned over brushed the hair off his forehead and kissed him before I settled down to sleep.
I woke once in the night with the urge to go to the bathroom. This always happens when I drink coffee in the evening. Chris had moved over in the bed and had one leg draped over one of mine and his face resting on my shoulder. I slowly untangle myself from him and went to take care of my business. I crawled back into bed on the opposite side and went back to sleep.
The alarm rudely interrupted my sound sleep at 6 AM. As I struggled out of bed I looked over to where Chris should have been. Not only was he there, but the twins were too. Their characteristic pile of arms and legs were in that impossible sleeping position. I don't know why I was surprised that the twins joined us during the night. They had become so used to sleeping together that it probably seemed unnatural to them not to. I just shook my head, smiled and went to take my shower.
"Wake up guys," I said shaking the mass of bodies. "Time to get up."
The twins looked up with a sleepy but sheepish grin on their faces. "Morning, dad. We got lonely last night."
"Me too," Chris said. "I missed them too."
"Okay, get your hands and faces washed. Hildy will have breakfast ready pretty soon. I'll go wake your brothers," I said as they untangled and piled out of bed.
Joel was awake when I went in to get him and TJ up. "You are up early. Couldn't you sleep?" I asked.
"I was just thinking about how lucky we are to have you for a dad," he said.
My heart nearly burst, I got a lump in my throat and tears clouded my eyes. When I was able to speak I said, "Thank you, son, but I think I am the lucky one to have five of the most wonderful boys I have ever known. I love each and every one of you with all my heart and soul. My life is so much more meaningful since you have entered it."
I hugged him to me and said, "You are such a special boy. I treasure the day you came into my life. Now wake TJ up and get ready for breakfast,"