"Melinda, it's good of you to call," I said as I took the phone from Darcie. "What news do you have for us?"
"I was able to visit the school this morning and talk to John. It wasn't easy. At first they refused to let me see him, but when I called my friend in the District Attorney's office they relented. The next hurdle that I had to overcome was being able to interview John alone. They were insistent that one of their staff would sit in on the interview," Melinda said. "After much haggling and threats on my part to place another call to my friend, they again gave in."
"What happened?" I asked. "Is John alright?"
"Yes, John's alright now. He was right, though, when he told you they would beat him. He was still showing the welts from the discipline that he had endured..."
"The bastards!" I said interrupting her.
"I know," she said. "As soon as I saw what they'd done to him, I immediately informed them that I was removing John and placing him in CPS custody. They protested vigorously until I got my friend on the phone and he hinted to them if they didn't let me have my way he might find reason to begin an investigation of the school. John is talking with a counselor right now."
"That's what I wanted to hear. What will be done with him?" I asked.
"Well, after he finishes talking to the counselor and eats his lunch, he will go to our temporary facility where he will remain over the weekend. I understand that you have volunteered to foster him on a temporary basis until he can be reunited with his parents. Is that still your intention?"
"Yes, but why does he have to go to the temporary facility? Why can't he be released to me today?"
"There is no way that we could deliver him to you today. It's too late in the day to drive all the way to Canyon Lake and return before the office closes..."
"What if I picked him up?" I asked just a little annoyed at her bureaucratic attitude.
"I doubt if you could get here before we close for the weekend, but sure if you could make it," she said.
"Here, talk to her for a moment," I said handing the phone to Darcie. "Don't hang up."
I grabbed the phone in my office and made a quick call. When I had everything arranged I picked up on the other line that Melinda and Darcie were on and interrupted their conversation. "I'll be there by two o'clock. Have everything ready to sign him over to me."
I grabbed all my stuff and headed toward the door, but stopped briefly to talk to Darcie. "Would you call Gerald and tell him I'll meet with him on Monday? I can't make it today. Also, could I impose on you to go to my house and meet the boys when they get off the school van?"
"Of course, I will," she said.
I gave her all the particulars and then hurried to my car and took off for the airport. It only took me fifteen minutes to reach the general aviation area. I found a parking spot and then hurried into the office. They told me that the plane was fueled and ready to go as soon as I boarded it. The pilot, who was standing off to the side, came up and introduced himself to me. After we exchanged formalities he ushered me out of the office to the awaiting small jet. I approached it with a little trepidation, remembering my last flight in a private jet.
I climbed the steps to the plane and noticed that it was really quite small inside. It looked like it could only seat six in its present configuration. That was more than enough for what I needed. I strapped myself in and the pilot took his seat next to the copilot and I heard the engines rev up. About five minutes later after they had completed their final checks, we began taxiing. We had to wait another five or six minutes before we were in position to take off. It was 12:35 as the wheels lifted off the runway.
The captain came on the speaker shortly after we lifted off and announced that we would be landing at Waco Regional Airport in approximately forty minutes. That meant that I would have plenty of time to get to the CPS office by two o'clock if my limo was waiting when I got there.
I barely had time to drink a cup of coffee before the pilot announced that we would be landing in a few minutes and to fasten my seatbelt. Thankfully our landing was much smoother then the last time I flew. As we taxied up to the hanger, I saw that the limo was waiting as I had requested. I thanked the pilot for the smooth flight and told him I would return as quickly as possible.
I climbed into the limo, a new Lincoln Town Car. The driver had been informed where to take me so as soon as I was settled he took off. I had never known the traffic in Waco to be heavy except around Baylor University and we were not going near there. We arrived at the CPS office less than fifteen minutes after I had gotten off the plane.
Advising the driver to wait, I hurried into the building. The receptionist was busy talking to someone on the phone when I stepped up to the desk. She glanced up briefly at me and continued to talk on the phone. It didn't take me long to discern that the call she was on was a personal call. Looking around I saw a door marked Melinda Cassidy.
I started walking toward it when the receptionist called out, "Hey, you can't go there. You have to wait here."
"Watch me," I said over my shoulder and continued to Melinda's office. I knocked on the door as the receptionist put her phone down and screeched after me that I couldn't do that.
"Come in," I heard from the other side of the door.
I opened the door and saw a slightly overweight woman in her mid twenties sitting behind a desk piled high with folders. As I started to close the door in the face of the receptionist, I was nearly bowled over by John wrapping his arms around me.
"You came, she said you would," he sobbed.
"Of course I came. We couldn't leave you in that terrible school, could we? Are you ready to go home to our house?" I asked giving him a tight hug.
His only answer was a movement of his head and a sob.
Turning to the lady I believed to be Melinda, I asked, "What do I need to sign?"
She handed me a number of sheets of paper and indicated where I was to sign. Only then did she ask for my identification which I produced. "How did you get here so quickly?"
"I chartered a plane. I wanted to make sure that I could get here before your office closed. I didn't want this young man to have to spend the weekend in a strange place," I said and brushed the hair back off John's forehead. All this time, John had been clinging to me as if he were afraid I was going to leave him. "Are we finished? Can I take him now?"
"Yes, I have all I need," she said handing me my copies of the papers that I had signed.
"Okay, sport, let's go. I have a car waiting to take us to the airport," I said and then turned to Melinda. "Does he have anything we need to take?"
"No, we didn't take anything from the school," she said. "Thanks, Mr. Johnson, I wish all our placements went this quickly. I'll be contacting you in about a week. There will probably be a hearing scheduled in a week or so."
John grabbed my hand and nearly dragged me through the door. When the driver of the limo saw us exit the building he drove the Lincoln up to the front steps, stopped and got out to open the door for us.
"Is Joel gonna be home when we get there?" John asked leaning up against me in the seat.
I looked at my watch and did a few mental calculations. "I think he'll be there when we arrive. He'll probably be eating his after school snack or playing with Samson. He missed you."
"I missed him, too. They wouldn't let me call him or nothing. I hated that place," he said with a big yawn.
The plane was ready and waiting when we arrived at the terminal. I tipped our driver and then John and I headed for the plane.
"Wow! Are we gonna fly in this?" John asked. His eyes were as wide open as they would go as was his mouth.
"Yes, hustle up the steps and we'll be in San Antonio in about forty-five minutes," I said patting him on the back and urging him toward the steps.
The Waco airport was not that busy so we were able to take off almost immediately after we got settled into our seats and had buckled ourselves in. I don't think that John had ever flown before because he grabbed my hand and held on for dear life until we reached our cruise altitude. When I asked him if he wanted a soft drink, he only nodded. Our trip home took a little longer as we had to enter a holding pattern until we were able to land when we got to San Antonio.
I thanked the pilot and co-pilot before we exited the plane and headed for my car. I looked at my watch. It was just a few minutes after three. If the traffic wasn't too bad we might even make it home before the boys. It was just our luck. There was an accident on 281 that had traffic at a snails pace. Once we passed the accident the drive went much quicker. After I turned off 306 down our road, I checked my watch again. It looked like the boys would be home when we got there.
I hardly had the car parked when John had his seatbelt off and was out of the car. I followed quickly behind him. I wanted to witness the reunion with Joel.
"Where's Joel?" John asked looking around the kitchen.
"He went to wash his hands," Mrs. Fuentes said.
At that moment Joel appeared in the hallway. I think he must have heard his friend. He didn't say anything, but he ran to John and wrapped his arms around him and hugged him with all his might. Turning his head slightly towards John he kissed his cheek. Both boys now had tears streaming down their cheeks. They were soon surrounded by the other boys and their dogs.
Darcie opened the patio door and came inside. She had been waiting for the boys outside and didn't hear my car drive up. "Oh good, you got him," she said when she saw all the commotion.
"Yes, and thanks for coming to meet the boys. Why don't you call Mel and stay for supper?" I asked.
"I accept your invitation. Mel's at a seminar of some kind in El Paso and won't be home until tomorrow around noon," she answered.
"Joel, why don't you take John to get washed up? I'm sure that he would like a snack like you guys just had," I said urging them toward the bathroom.
"Is John gonna stay here?" Larry asked.
"For a while, he is," I said. "I'll explain everything after supper. Now, why don't you go play outside with your dogs?"
A few minutes later, Joel and John returned arms around each other. Mrs. Fuentes had set out a plate of brownies and a glass of milk for John which he immediately went after like any normal teenage boy would do. Joel stayed with him and watched him eat. After John finished, they both went outside with Samson racing before them.
"I hope this works out," I said to Darcie.
"I'm sure that it will," she responded. "You'll have Hildy here starting Sunday. She can handle anything."
"You're right. I'm just hoping I'm doing the right thing. My heart says I am but my logical brain is not totally convinced," I said shaking my head.
"Follow your heart. It won't lead you astray," she said giving my arm a squeeze.
After supper when Darcie and Mrs. Fuentes were gone, I gathered the boys into the family room. "I told Larry that I'd explain what's going on with John. For the time being he will be living with us. He'll be re-enrolled at your school on Monday. At least until the court decides otherwise, he is just like your other brothers. Tomorrow we'll take him shopping to get him some new clothes. Until then he can probably wear some of Joel's. Do you have any question?"
"How come he can't live with his mom and dad?" TJ asked.
"Well, little one, that's difficult to answer. Let's just say that there's a problem that keeps him from living there," I said.
"Okay," TJ said as if that was a good enough answer. "Where's he gonna sleep?"
"We have a spare bedroom that will be his," I answered. "Now why don't you guys go upstairs and play with your toys? I want to talk to Joel and John."
As the four boys rushed off upstairs I motioned for Joel and John to come sit beside me. "Did we do something wrong, dad?" Joel asked.
"No son, but I want you two to understand some rules while John is staying with us. I know that the two of you have strong feelings for each other. You know that I don't have any problems with that. However, I don't want either of you to do anything that would jeopardize John staying with us. That means that you both sleep in your own rooms. Do you understand?"
"Yes, dad," Joel said quietly.
"Yes, Mr. Johnson," John said.
"I think that both of you are a little young to be sexually active, but I also understand that sometimes the hormones overrule the brain. It's natural that boys around your age experiment with each other. If that happened now and if the CPS people found out, John would be taken away and probably placed in an orphanage or group home of some kind," I said. "I'm sure that neither one of you want that to happen, would you?"
"No!" they both said together.
"I trust you both to do the right thing. Now, go play with your brothers," I said giving each of them a hug.
"Thanks dad, I love you," Joel said giving me a kiss on the cheek.
"I love you, too," John said returning my hug.
"Oh, boy," I muttered to myself as they raced up the stairs taking two at a time. "I didn't know how I was going to handle five boys, now I have six to worry about."
The boys played with their toys and games until it was time for their snack. Mrs. Fuentes had made some banana pudding which the boys made disappear in no time flat. With six of them it almost seemed to evaporate.
By this time John was showing just how tired he really was. He had told me that he didn't get much sleep while he was at the school. I suggested that he go to his room and take a shower and I would find some pajamas for him to wear. He didn't object as I showed him where the towels and everything were. I laid out a pair of Joel's pajamas on the bed and left him to take his shower.
When I came back twenty minutes later to check up on him he was tucked in bed with only his face showing from the nose up. He appeared to be fast asleep. I leaned over and kissed his forehead like I do for all my boys. I hadn't noticed but Joel had followed me into John's room. He, too, leaned over and kissed John's forehead and mumbled something that I couldn't understand before standing back up and taking my hand.
"He said that school his dad took him to was really bad. They didn't let them get much sleep and they were always telling him how bad he was and told him he had to change his sinful ways. John's not sinful, is he dad?" Joel looked at me with a bewildered expression on his face.
"No, son, John is not sinful. Many people have many different ways to define sin," I said as I led him back to his own room. "Some say that dancing is a sin. Some say that eating pork is a sin. Some say that a man loving another man is a sin. What I believe is a sin is when you hurt someone either physically or mentally or emotionally. It's a sin when you don't treat another person the way you want to be treated. Do you understand what I'm trying to say?"
"I think so, dad. Do I have to like everybody? Is it a sin not to?"
"No, it's not a sin not to like everyone. Not liking someone for the way they act is natural. It would be a waste of effort to hate them. It's not necessary for you to be friends with everyone, but it is necessary for you to treat others with respect. Sometimes that will be hard to do when you really don't like the way a person acts," I said. "This is a pretty deep subject to talk about before going to bed."
"I know, dad. It's just that, I can't understand why anyone would think that John's bad. He never hurt nobody. He's shy. He doesn't have too many friends," he said and then added, "That is, except me."
"You're a good friend to him. He's lucky to have someone like you," I said giving his shoulder a squeeze. "Now, I think it's time for you to get ready for bed. I'll go tuck your brothers in and then be back for you."
Joel was in bed by the time I returned from saying good night to the rest of his brothers. "How long do you think that John can stay here?" he asked.
"I don't know, son. That's all up to a judge. He'll be here for at least a week or so, maybe longer. We need to make sure that he feels at home here. I'm sure that he misses his family and I'm sure that his sisters are missing him," I said. "You try to get some sleep now. Don't wake John up in the morning. Let him sleep as long as he wants. He needs to make up for all the sleep he missed at that school."
John slept until shortly after nine on Saturday morning. I had tried to keep the boys as quiet as possible and they tried. Five active boys trying to be quiet on a Saturday morning is almost impossible especially with five active dogs. I don't know how John was able to sleep through it all but he did. He entered the kitchen wearing his pajamas where I was reading the morning paper.
"Good morning, sleepy head. Did you have a good sleep?" I asked him as I pulled him into a hug.
"Uh huh," he mumbled still acting like he was half asleep.
"How would you like some breakfast?" I asked as I steered him to a chair at the table. "The boys had pancakes and bacon. Would you like some?"
I poured him a glass of orange juice and went about fixing him some pancakes. I thought that four pancakes would probably be enough along with six strips of bacon. By the time he finished eating he seemed to be more alert.
"Where's Joel?" he asked when he put down his fork.
"The boys are outside playing with their dogs. You go wash up and brush your teeth and I'll see about some clothes for you to wear. Then you can go play with them."
As I was clearing the table, Joel poked his head in the patio door and asked, "Is he up yet?"
"Yes, he's brushing his teeth. Why don't you get some of your clothes that he can wear until we go shopping," I said to the back of Joel's head as he took off for his room.
A few minutes later they both came into the family room with their arms around each other. "Dad, when are we going shopping? Do we have time to play some more before we go?"
"I thought that we would leave around eleven. That way we could do the shopping and then stop for lunch someplace before we came back. Is that alright with you guys?" I asked knowing what the answer would be.
"Yeah," they both said and headed for the door. Samson was waiting for them just outside.
Shopping with six boys is an experience. TJ takes on a whole new personality when he gets into a store. It must be his curiosity that takes over because he wants to look at everything and he continually wanders away. I finally assigned Joel to keep him in tow until I was able to put together some outfits for John. TJ was a little peeved when Joel made him hold his hand after he had wandered too far astray a couple of times.
"Dad, do I have to hold Joel's hand?" TJ asked.
"Why did he say you had to?"
"I don't know."
"Are you sure you don't know why?"
"Was it to keep you from wandering off?"
"Ah... I guess."
"Yes, if Joel says you have to hold his hand then you have to. Alright?"
"Okay," he said staring at the floor.
On our way out of the mall with John's new clothes, we had to stop at the Cookie Factory to get each of the boys a couple chocolate chip cookies to keep them from starving until we could get to where we were going to eat lunch. The van was stuffed by the time we got all of John's purchases and the seven of us in it. Even though they had barely finished eating the cookies, they asked how long it would be before they got to eat. Thankfully the Tex-Mex place I had picked out was not too far from the mall.
I think our waiter was constantly bringing fresh salsa and tortilla chips to our table from the time we sat down until we finished eating. It looked like John was going to fit in with the rest of the boys from the way he could put away the food. I was constantly amazed at the amount of food that my sons could eat and still not get fat. As we were finishing up, I reminded the boys that David would be there this afternoon to give them their swimming lessons about two o'clock.
"Did we get John a swimsuit?" Joel asked.
"He can wear one of yours," I said. "I'm sure it'll fit."
"I don't swim so good," John said shyly.
"That's okay, son," I said. "That's what David is supposed to do, teach you how."
"Yeah, David's neat. He'll show you how. It's easy," Joel said leading his friend toward the restaurant's door.
David was a little surprised to have another student when he came to give the boys their lessons. I explained to him that John didn't have a pool at his house so he would need more attention than the other boys to try to get him swimming comfortably.
David was wonderful. He was always at John's side giving him pointers on how to breathe properly or the correct way for his hands to enter the water. John started out rather tentatively in the water but by the time the lesson was over he was having the time of his life. He had made an awful lot of progress. Most of it was in his confidence in the water.
When the lesson was over I thanked David and told him we would like to continue the lessons as long as the weather permitted. I thought we could go until maybe the week before Thanksgiving. That would be six more weeks of lessons.
All six of the boys surrounded David as he headed for his old car saying goodbye to him. I didn't think his car was going to start when he first got in it, but finally it turned over and he drove it noisily down the lane. I wondered how he drove that into San Antonio every day. I would be afraid to get it out on the highway for fear it would conk out and leave me stranded. Oh well, I guess that the young are fearless.
After David left the boys let their dogs out and played with them around and in the pool. Bandit was mostly in the water. I believe that dog thinks he's part fish. He loves the water as much as the boys do. As the sun started going down it began to get cooler. I suggested to the boys that it was time to take a shower and get ready for supper.
Since we had a large lunch, I decided that we would have a light supper, just soup and sandwiches. The boys didn't seem to mind, especially when there was ice cream and chocolate syrup for dessert.
"When does Hildy come home?" TJ asked as I was tucking him in later in the evening.
"She should be here around supper time tomorrow," I answered and gave him a kiss on the forehead. "Good night, son, I love you."
"I love you too, daddy, but I miss Hildy. She's been gone a long, long time."
"I'm sure that she's missed you, too. Now, go to sleep. You'll see Hildy tomorrow."
Mrs. Fuentes had done a good job filling in for Hildy but it wasn't quite the same as having someone here all the time. I didn't realize just how dependent we were on Hildy. I hope it still works out with her now that she's married.
I was reading the Sunday paper the next morning when I heard the sound of bare feet and the clicking of a dog's nails on the kitchen floor. I turned and saw that it was TJ and Bandit. "Good morning, pumpkin. Did you have a good sleep?"
He just grunted and climbed up on my lap pushing the paper out of the way. Bandit sat down at my feet and looked up at us. I kissed the top of his head and held him for maybe tem minutes before his stomach growled.
"That sounds like it's hungry," I said poking him in the stomach.
"Yeah," he giggled.
"You give Bandit his breakfast and get him some fresh water and then go wash your hands and face. I'll fix you some breakfast," I said scooting him off me lap.
I knew it wouldn't be long before the rest of the boys were ready for breakfast so I prepared enough for everyone. I was right. Before I had the eggs scrambled all six of them were in the kitchen. I reminded my other four sons that they needed to take care of their dogs before they could have their breakfasts.
Dogs fed, boys fed and dress they went outside to play. John and Joel were inseparable. It was a beautiful day with the temperature heading for the mid 80s by afternoon. It was an ideal day for being outside. I decided to call Eric to see if he and the boys would like to come over. I thought I would fix something on the grill to have something ready when Hildy and Manfred got home. Eric thought it was a great idea and said he would bring JR and Bran over after lunch. I told him to bring their suits if they wanted to go swimming.
I went to the freezer and laid out a dozen steaks to thaw and then checked to see what else there was to prepare for our supper. After I had the menu set for this evening, I went out and played with the boys. They were trying to play a ragged game of soccer but every time one of them kicked the ball all the dogs ran after it and tried to grab it in their mouth to bring it back to the kicker. There was more laughing than there was soccer playing. At least they were enjoying themselves.
It wasn't long before Joel began to tire and had to sit down on the ground. Samson immediately ran to his master and laid his head in Joel's lap. John sat down with them and petted Samson. TJ found a stick and began throwing it for Bandit to retrieve. That lasted a few minutes until Bandit decided he was tired of that game and sat down and watched TJ throw the stick but didn't go get it.
"You're a funny dog, Bandit," TJ said as he sat down beside his pet and gave him a hug.
Soon all the boys had sat down in a rough circle with their pets. All of a sudden Samson was on his feet and ran a few feet from the boys and started barking and staring at the grass. I hurried over to where he was and saw what was agitating him. It was a snake about eighteen inches long. By this time all the boys had joined Samson and me.
"It's a snake," Chris said with a touch of fear in his voice.
"It's alright. It's called a rat snake," I told them. "It won't hurt you. I'm sure that it is more afraid of you that you are of it. They are not poisonous. If we leave it alone it will go away by itself. Let's go back to the patio and I'll get us something to drink. How does that sound?"
That met with unanimous approval. I went into the house to get some apple juice after asking Larry and Lenny to help me with the glasses. Joel had given the dogs fresh water in their outside bowls before we returned with the juice. We sat on the patio and enjoyed the cold juice. I asked the boys what they wanted for lunch. That brought a series of answers from pizza to Mexican to hamburgers. After a little discussion they settled on hamburgers and French fries. That made it easy. I could put the frozen French fries in the oven to brown while the burgers were on the grill.
Eric and his two arrived shortly after one o'clock to hugs all around from the boys. "Can we go swimming?" Bran asked. "I never get to unless we come over here."
"Sure, go change. Use my room. John is in the spare room," I told him.
Eric looked at me funny. "Is John staying here?"
"Oh, I didn't tell you. He has been placed in my care after Bruce, his dad, sent him to a reprogramming school up by Waco. To make a long story short, he was being physically abused there and CPS removed him and gave him to me. I guess I just assumed that Darcie had told you."
"I haven't talked to Darcie this week. And, wow, you really are a glutton for punishment taking on another boy," he said draping his arm across my shoulder and shaking me slightly.
"I know, but Hildy is coming home today so that will definitely help out. He's a good kid. If I hadn't done something, Joel would have sunk into a deep depression."
"I wonder how CPS found out about what was going on at that place. Hmm?"
"I plead guilty to causing CPS to check up on John. I had your sister call her friend who works at CPS in Waco after I had visited the place. John's self image is not the strongest and I couldn't stand by and let those religious bigots ruin a sweet kid."
"You're a good man, Charlie Brown," Eric said leaning in and giving me a peck on the cheek. "Now, I'm going to change and join the boys in the pool. It's too nice a day to waste."
It was almost six o'clock when I decided it was time to light the grill and start getting everything ready for when Hildy and Manfred returned. I wrapped the baking potatoes in foil and put them on the top rack of the grill so that they would be done when it was time to put the steaks on. I made the salad except for the dressing, covered the bowl with plastic wrap and put it back in the refrigerator. Next I cleaned the broccoli and got the steamer ready to go. Poor Eric was left to watch the eight boys in the pool while I had the easy job of getting supper ready.
When I told the boys to go jump in the shower and get dressed, Eric said, "Thank goodness, they were wearing me out. I'm in shape, but they have more energy than I have."
I just laughed and told him he was getting old. He threw a wet towel at me and went to get changed.
"Is Hildy here yet?" TJ asked as he came out of his bedroom all dressed.
"Not yet, son," I said to a sad faced boy. "She'll be here soon. Why don't you help me set the table? You can put the napkins at all the places while I set out the plates."
"Okay," he said.
"Larry, Lenny, Chris," I said as they came down the stairs. "You, guys get the silverware, glasses and the salt, pepper and steak sauce and finish setting the table."
"Okay, dad," they said and ran into the kitchen.
"That looks great," I told them when they had finished with the table. I looked out the dining room window and saw a car driving up the lane. "Hildy's here." I no more than got the words out of my mouth when TJ was out the front door closely followed by the rest of the boys, all seven of them.
Hildy had barely stepped out of the car when she had her arms full of TJ. "Oma, Oma, I didn't think you was ever coming back," he sobbed.
She was totally surrounded by all the boys all trying to give her a hug. It was hard but she gave each of them a one armed hug. TJ was in the other arm with tears streaming down his cheeks. "My kleine Junge, you know I could never leave you. I love you."
"Welcome back," I told her after the boys had calmed down.
"Thanks, it's good to be home again," she said. "We had a great time, but there is no place like home."
"If you haven't noticed, we have an addition to the family," I said pointing to John.
"Oh really, what's going on?" she asked.
"I'll fill you in later," I said as Manfred walked up and shook my hand.