"You seem to have a very open relationship with Joel," Pauline said. "You seem to be able to talk to him freely about his and John's feelings. How do you do it? Every time we have tried to talk to John about his relationship with Joel it just seems to make things worse."
"That may be your problem. Don't talk to him, listen to him. Don't let your revulsion at the thought that he may be gay cloud your love for him. Don't judge him. Try to understand him. Don't drive him away from you by criticizing him. You don't have to approve of his feelings for Joel. But for now at least he has these feelings. They may last and again they may not. I'm not at expert at this but I know I love Joel and I will no matter if he is gay," I told them.
Bruce looked like he was deep in thought before he said, "Would you consider talking with John at the same time you speak with Joel? We don't want to lose our son."
I studied both of them for several seconds before I answered. Their faces showed the desperation that they were feeling. I had ambivalent feelings about doing it but I feared that the fundamentalist Southern Baptist theology that they had been brainwashed in would prevent them from maintaining a reasonably open mind with John.
"Very well," I said. "I don't know that I'm qualified for this. I'm new at all this parenting stuff. I guess I don't have all of the baggage that comes with being one for several years."
I went to the door leading out to their patio and called for the boys to come into the house. As they entered both of them peered into the room and looked around before coming inside.
"Is he gone?" Joel asked.
"Yes," I said hugging him with one arm and John with the other. "He is gone and is not going to come back to see you ever, I promise."
Looking down at both boys I said, "I want you both to tell me and John's parents about how you felt when Mr. Fullwell talked to you. Please sit down on the couch with me and make yourselves comfortable. Let's start by you telling me what he said to you. John, I know your parents were present when he talked to you but I wasn't and I need to understand what he said."
John hesitated, ducked his head down and pushed his face into my side.
"Well... ah... John and I were tossing his football around in the back yard when that man asked us to come in the house," Joel said.
"Yeah, we were getting thirsty anyway," John added.
"Mrs. Gordinier got us a glass of juice before we talked to him. He asked me if I went to church every Sunday," Joel said. "When I told him no, he seemed to get all upset and everything. He said I was a sinner and would have to pay for that. What did he mean, dad? Is not going to church a sin?"
"No, son it is not. You know that Hildy goes to church every Sunday and she doesn't think you are a sinner and neither do I. Many people get comfort from going to church and that is fine, but many people do not attend church. Who is the better person? There are many good people who go to church. There are many good people who do not go to church. There are many bad people who go to church. There are many bad people who do not go to church. You cannot tell whether someone is good just because they attend or don't attend church.
"What else did he say?"
"He asked us if Joel and me were friends," John said.
"And?" I prompted.
"I said that we were," John responded.
Joel looked up at the Gordiniers and said, "Then he looked real serious and asked if we had... ah... you know... ah... kissed."
"And what did you tell him?" I asked.
"I said yes," Joel replied. "You said it wasn't bad."
"What did he say?" I asked.
"He got all red in the face and started saying all kinds of things I couldn't understand. He waved his arms and his voice got real loud. He seemed to talk for a long time, maybe ten minutes," Joel said.
"I know that some of what he was saying was bible verses 'cause I heard him say them in church," John added.
There was a pause of a minute or so before I asked, "Did he say anything else?"
"Yes," Joel pushed his face into my chest before he continued. "He said that God hated us for what we did and He would punish us. He said that we would be... ah... condemned to hell forever," With this, he began quietly sobbing into my chest.
When I looked at John sitting on my other side, he was beginning to cry also. I hugged him tighter to my side and let them both cry for a few minutes. I looked over at Bruce and Pauline, they were just sitting there. Their faces were blank, with no emotions showing.
When the crying had pretty much stopped, I asked: "What happened then?"
"He... he started yelling at us again," Joel said. "Then John got up and ran to his room. So did I. When I got there I couldn't find him. I looked all around even under the bed 'till I heard him in the closet. He wouldn't let me in. He was crying. Me too. That's when I called you to come and get me. Can we go home dad? Please?"
"In a minute, son," I said. "Now I want both of you to look at me. Okay?"
"There now, I asked you this when both of you were at our house but I want to ask you again. Do you think that you have done anything wrong?"
They both shook their heads no as they looked into my eyes.
"How do you feel about Mr. Fullwell and what he said?" I asked.
The only response I got was a shrug from each boy.
"Well, did you think he was right?"
"No!" Joel said forcefully. "He was tryin' to make us feel bad 'cause he didn't like what we did."
"What do you think, John?" I asked.
"I didn't like it. His words hurt me in my stomach," John said.
"Do you think what he said was true?" I asked both of them.
"NO!" came a simultaneous response from both of the boys.
"I don't either," I said. "Fullwell is a narrow-minded man. He distorts the very book he professes to believe in to suit his set of prejudices. He sees evil in everyone except himself and yet he is probably more evil than anyone else. He spouts bible verses or more accurately shouts them to drown out the voices of reason and sensibility. Anyone who disagrees with him he automatically brands as a sinner. He is a small man. His rantings are not worth causing you concern. You are both good boys and are certainly not going to be punished by God. God loves you both and so do I.
"Do either of you have any questions or want to say anything?"
"What if he comes back?" Joel asked.
"He will never, ever, say anything to you again. I can almost guarantee that. If he even so much as says hi to you, I want you to tell me. Understand?" I said.
John looked at me and said, "What if he tells everyone that we're going to hell?"
"If you hear that he is doing that, you tell me also. I will handle Mr. Fullwell and do it with great relish," I said.
"Are you guys feeling better?" I asked after a minute or so when it appeared they didn't have any more questions.
I felt both of their heads moving in the positive against my sides. "Joel, I think we should go home. John and his mom and dad need to talk and so do we. Are you ready?"
"Yeah, dad, let me get my ball glove in his bedroom. Come on John, help me find it," he said.
They both took off for John's bedroom.
"How can you be so calm?" Bruce asked when they were gone. "I had a thousand questions I wanted to ask them."
"Do you think they would have been able to answer them? They don't really understand all of this that is going on with their feelings. If you establish an atmosphere where John feels that he is not threatened, he will probably open up and talk to you about his feelings. I don't think it would be helpful to interrogate him. Love him and show him your love by your words and by your deeds. He is very vulnerable right now," I preached to them as if I really knew what I was doing. But, it sounded right.
Joel was quiet all the way home. As we got out of the car and started into the house he wrapped his arms around my waist just as he had when I brought him home the very first time.
"What's the matter, son?"
"Are you sure that Reverend Fullwell won't yell at us anymore?"
"Yes, I am positive that he won't ever bother you again. I have made sure of that. Don't you worry about that man again," I told him as I gave him a squeeze and kissed the top of his head. "You let me worry about the Reverend Fullwell. I'll bet that Hildy has a snack fixed and if we don't get in there your brothers will have it all eaten up."
The other boys had not heard us drive up. They were too busy inhaling their afternoon snack as we walked in. They didn't stop when we walked in but did look up and mumble a greeting through mouthfuls of fruit salad and whipped cream. Joel joined them after running to his room to wash his hands.
"Crane, Dr. Adams called and left a message. He apologized again for having to cancel Joel's appointment Monday. He said he would be able to see him at nine tomorrow morning and asked that you call him to confirm that you would be able to make it. His number is on your desk," Hildy said.
I was almost glad that Joel's appointment with Dr. Adams had been postponed seeing as what happened today with Fullwell.
We were at Dr. Adams office a few minutes before nine. Joel was a little nervous but did not seem to be unduly so as he went with the nurse into the treatment area. I'm sure that I was more nervous than Joel was.
About forty minutes later Joel and Dr. Adams walked into the waiting room. "Joel, I'd like to talk to your dad for a few minutes. Will you wait here?"
I followed Dr. Adams into his office and sat down in a chair that he indicated. "Crane, I want to tell you I have never come across a situation like this. Joel is an amazing young man. With all of the things that he has gone through in his young life, his mental health appears to be in fine shape. I can detect no apparent psychological effects of the abuse he has suffered. I would like to do a battery of tests on him the next time he comes. I think we should be able to go back to the Monday afternoon time. That is if one of my patients doesn't pull another dumb stunt like one did this Monday.
"I believe that your interaction with Joel has had a very positive effect on his mental health. He thinks the sun rises and sets in you. Your outward expressions of love for him have had a remarkably healing impact on him. As Dr. Carl Rogers would say your 'unconditional positive regard' for Joel has helped him to develop a 'positive self-regard' and move him toward a 'fully functioning person who is open to experience' and 'able to live existentially'.
"That is a longwinded way of saying that you are doing a hell of a good job with him."
"Thanks, he has embedded himself in my heart as have his brothers. After you run the tests on him, what do you think his treatment schedule will be?" I asked.
"If the test turn out as I believe they will, I don't think he will need as much support from me as I had originally anticipated. Let's wait for the test results before we change the current schedule," he said.
Joel grabbed my arm as I exited Dr. Adams' office and pulled me toward the door. "Let's go, I'm hungry. Hildy was gonna bake some pies."
"I guess we're going, Dr. We will see you a week from Monday," I chuckled as he dragged me through the door.
He was right, Hildy had been cooking all morning getting ready for tomorrows big dinner. Although there were only going to be ten of us, it looked like she was preparing enough for all of Canyon Lake. Two pumpkin and two pecan pies were cooling on the counter as well as two apple pies that she indicated were for our supper.
When Joel asked her what he could have for a snack she told him to get his hands washed and she would find something for him. It seemed that the other boys had their snack before we got back. As Joel ran to his bathroom to wash up, she uncovered a platter of butterscotch brownies and placed a couple of them on a plate then poured a large glass of milk.
The boys were hyper all day in anticipation of all the food that Hildy was preparing and that JR would be coming with his dad and Darcie.
Our guests arrived just after ten, Thanksgiving Day. The boys quickly took JR in tow after all the greetings were taken care of. They disappeared into the house, presumably to play with the PlayStation video games. It was still a little chilly to go swimming this early in the morning. Before long, six starving boys reappeared looking for a snack.
"I don't want you to spoil your appetites," Hildy said. "You may have a piece of fruit. We have apples, pears and bananas, take your choice."
Although they looked a little disappointed, they took what they could get and went back to their play. When I looked into TJ and Joel's room later, Lenny and JR were playing video games while Joel read his latest book to TJ. Larry and Chris were playing videogames in the other bedroom.
Dinner was an experience for the boys. I don't think that mine had ever celebrated Thanksgiving before. Their eyes nearly popped out of their heads when they saw all of the food that Hildy loaded the table down with. The turkey, which was the center piece, had to be at least twenty-five pounds. There were sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, oyster dressing, cornbread dressing, cranberry salad, giblet gravy, hot rolls and butter and white wine for the adults. The boys had apple juice so that their glasses looked like ours.
I carved the turkey, or at least started to, before Hildy suggested that she might be better at it. I had never carved one before and I was making a real mess of it. The boys were even laughing at my efforts. Hildy quickly sliced the turkey and placed some on each plate before passing them to each of us. I didn't think that Hildy was going to get anything to eat because, by the time she had served each of us some turkey, the boys were ready for second helpings. She did get to sit down and eat as the boys started to slow down their eating. I was amazed at the amount of food that we consumed. There were not an awful lot of side dishes left. The turkey had shrunk considerably from its original size. Everyone seemed to be completely full. In fact, the very thought of dessert caused everyone to groan when Hildy asked us if we wanted a piece of pie.
After we helped Hildy clean up the table, I suggested to the boys and Eric that it might be a good idea if we went for a walk to work off all of the food we had consumed. Darcie declined my offer and said that she would stay and help Hildy with the rest of the clean-up.
I decided to take everyone down the steep steps leading to the lakefront. I wouldn't let the boys go down there on their own because of the steepness of the incline. The steps had been carved out of the rocky hillside and were irregular in width and height so they could be dangerous to traverse.
I led the way with TJ holding onto my belt behind me followed by Joel, the twins with Chris between them, and finally JR and Eric. The boys thought this was a real treat since I had never taken them down to the water before. At the bottom of the steps, the slope became much less steep. In fact, it was almost flat. There was an area that probably measured thirty yards long by at its widest ten yards. It was not smooth or sandy. It was rocky with stones ranging in size from one to six inches or so. These were just the right size to throw into the lake.
While the boys were throwing stones or trying to skip them across the water, Eric and I sat on an outcropping that gave us a total overview of the area where the boys were playing. We talked of many things but mostly about our boys.
"How do you do it?" Eric asked. "I think I have my hands full with JR. I can't imagine having five at the same time."
I laughed before I answered, "I sometimes wonder myself. I consider myself to be an 'accidental' father. I always wanted children, but I never thought it would be this way or this many. I thought I would have them the usual way. Now, I doubt that is going to be a possibility. There are not too many women that would be willing to take on an instant family of five growing boys. I'm not sure that I would be willing to share them either. I guess my fate is sealed to being a bachelor."
"It is not all bad being a single father. I think it is better for JR that my ex-wife and I are no longer married. He is beginning to come out of his shell now. I didn't realize how much the tension between Simone and I was affecting him," he said. "You know he really loves to come here to visit your boys. It seems that he had formed a bond with all of them. I like it here also. It is so quiet and peaceful and you have such a magnificent view. I envy you."
"I know, this place is my sanity. I can forget everything about the hustle and bustle of the city and the office and just kick back and relax," I said. "That reminds me, have you found anything that interests you in the area yet?"
"Yes, I guess I haven't told you. There is a place that is probably two miles further on 306 that I have made an offer on. It is not a lakefront lot but it has a really nice view of the lake. Not like yours, but it is only two and a half acres. The house is in fairly decent shape so I won't have to do too many changes to it. They haven't accepted my offer yet. I expect to hear something by Monday."
"That's great!" I said. "JR could start to school at Corinthian second semester then."
"Yeah, I really want to get him out of the San Antonio schools," he sighed. "If we get the house, I'll need to hire someone to be there when he gets home from school. Do you think Hildy would know of anyone who is available?"
"I don't know, but we can ask," I replied.
Eric remained quiet for several minutes. He looked like he was deep in thought. He also looked as if whatever it was that he was thinking was disturbing to him.
Finally, I said, "What's troubling you, Eric?"
"I have been trying to decide how to tell you this or even if I should tell you," he started but stopped as if he didn't know how to continue.
"Eric, whatever you want to tell me will go no further. I realize I'm your employer, but I also know that you could get another job in a minute with your job skills. If it is about your employment, I'm sure we can work whatever it is out. If it is personal, I'm a good listener and I don't judge," I said putting my hand on his shoulder.
"Crane, it's a little of both. I've indicated to you that my marriage was not working for quite a while. Both of us were to blame for its break-up. Simone wanted something that I could no longer give her and I wanted something that she could not provide for me. She acted on her wants and I didn't. She satisfied her wants and needs with another man. I repressed my wants for the sake, I thought, of JR. Now I'm not so sure," he said quietly. "JR is my life. I fought hard to get sole custody of him. If anything happened that he got taken away from me my life would be pointless. Her adultery was the prime reason that I was able to get him. I had never cheated on Simone.
"I know I'm rambling, but what I have to say is not easy. What Simone wanted from me was sex. She was a beautiful and desirable woman, yet I could no longer make love to her. I went to a number of doctors to see if there was anything wrong with me. They could find nothing that would explain my lack of interest in sex. It was not until after the divorce that I slowly began to realize that it was not just Simone that no longer attracted me sexually. Simone had been my only sex partner and I thought that I loved her when I married her. Looking back on it with all the advantages of hindsight I know that I never really loved her. I married her because I was expected to marry her.
"I have come to the conclusion after analyzing my emotions and my troubles with Simone that I am gay," he said with a quiver in his voice. "I hope that you are not offended. I just thought that you ought to know. I hope this will not influence my employment because I really enjoy the work I'm doing and the people I work with."
"Eric, the fact that you are gay has no bearing on your job. You were hired because you are extremely talented and we needed your skillset," I said as my mind raced. "Does Darcie know?"
"I haven't told her in so many words. I think that she suspects though," he answered. "The main reason that I told you is because I find myself attracted to you and have since we first met at the Chucky-Cheese."
Before I could answer I saw TJ trip and fall into the lake. The lake bottom dropped off rather sharply about a yard off the shore. Although he can swim a little he is not a strong swimmer. I jumped off the outcropping and raced toward where he fell in. I was still about 20 feet from the lake when Chris, without hesitation, jumped in behind TJ. Chris grabbed a frightened TJ like a professional lifeguard and slowly swam with him toward the shore. When I got there they were only a couple of feet from the shore. I reached out and grabbed them both and dragged them onto the bank.