It suddenly dawned on me that I had scheduled two things for the same time. Paul Coulter was due at nine to start tutoring Joel, and I was scheduled to meet the headmaster at Corinthian Academy at the same time.
Hildy said that she would explain the conflict to Paul while I met my appointment. This is not at all like me. I am usually schedule driven. All the years managing IT projects has made me acutely aware of time management. I guess the events of the past week have interrupted my usually logical thinking. I can think of four good reasons for it.
Those four good reasons suddenly appeared looking like they were starving as Hildy and I were talking.
"Good morning guys. Did you sleep well?" I asked.
Their only responses were barely audible moans and mumbles. They didn't fully revive until they had consumed the bacon, eggs, hash browns and toast that Hildy had fixed for them and at least a gallon of milk and orange juice.
"Okay guys, go wash up, brush your teeth and get dressed for school. You have twenty minutes before you have to meet the school bus. Joel, you need to dress too, just as if you were going to school with your brothers. But while you are waiting for Mr. Coulter I want you to start writing the summary of 'Tom Sawyer' now that you have finished it. If you don't finish your writing before he comes you can complete it tomorrow morning. Now scoot," I told them.
"Hildy, would you please call Dr. Sam's office to set up an appointment for another blood test for Joel? See if we can get one say around two or two-thirty either today or tomorrow. I think his nurse is in the office at 8:30. Then call my office and leave a message for me. I'm going in to check on things after my meeting at Corinthian. Also, until we get to know Paul Coulter better I would appreciate it if you would remain close by just until we are comfortable with him. Am I being too paranoid?"
"No, any time you bring a stranger into your home it is always best to be cautious. I have laundry to do as well as cleaning the boys' rooms so I will be around anyway," she responded.
Soon the boys appeared freshly scrubbed and ready for school. I noticed that they all seemed to need a haircut. It reminded me of all the mundane things that I needed to add to my life now that there were others in it. I'd better call my barber to see if he can get us all in because I could use a trim also.
I drove the three down to the road to catch the school bus. It came about two minutes after we arrived. I told the driver that the boys would be riding the bus home after school and asked him about what time his route took him by here. He told me between 4:20 and 4:30 he usually made it to this stop. I gave all three of the boys a quick hug before they got on the bus and then went back to the house to get ready for my morning appointment.
Although I was generally familiar with the area where Corinthian Academy was I had never been there. I got out my map of the area and decided what route I would take to get there and how much time to allow to make the trip. I decided that it should take me about twenty minutes to drive there. I dressed and was ready to go fifteen minutes early so I sought out Joel. He was in my study busily writing his book report for me.
"How's it going, son?" I asked entering the study.
"Good! There is so much I want to write I can't write it fast enough. This is like reading it all over in my head. It's fun, can I read another book when I'm done? Please!" he begged.
"Of course you may. There are several more books by Mark Twain on the shelves if you want more of his books. If you want another one about Tom Sawyer there are a couple more, 'Tom Sawyer Abroad' and 'Tom Sawyer Detective'. You might also enjoy 'Huckleberry Finn', but you may choose any book you want to read. Mr. Coulter may have you read something for his class, you know.
"Well, I better run to my appointment. I'll see you this afternoon. Hildy will be here if you need anything. Goodbye," I said giving his shoulder a squeeze before I left the room.
It took twenty-two minutes to drive to Corinthian Academy from the house. The administration building was an impressive sight. It looked like some sort of Greek temple with six very tall columns across the front. I chuckled as I looked at them. If I remembered correctly from my ancient history class they were Corinthian columns.
I entered the building, found the headmaster's office and introduced myself to the secretary. She said he would be with me shortly. I sat in a comfortable over stuffed chair and took in the rest of the furnishings. They exuded an atmosphere of quality without being opulent. I think the best description would be tastefully elegant.
Before long, just at nine o'clock, a tall thin man of about 50 years of age approached and introduced himself.
"Good morning, Mr. Johnson. I'm Justin Pierce, headmaster here at Corinthian Academy."
"Good morning. It is a pleasure to meet you."
"Please come into my office. Would you like a cup of coffee?"
"No thank you. I had one just before I left to come here."
"Very well. Now, what is your interest in our school?"
"I have four foster children, boys, that I am interested in giving the best education that is available. The county school where three of them are attending is lacking in what I consider the necessary facilities for a proper education. The fourth is being home schooled by a tutor. These children come from an abusive background. I want to give them the opportunity to overcome any handicap they might have brought with them. To that end, I am interested in seeing what you have to offer for their education."
"Tell me, what are the ages of your boys?"
"TJ is six. The twins, Larry and Lenny, are 9 and Joel is 12."
"That would make them in first, fourth and seventh grades. Right?"
"Let me explain to you about our program here. We put a very strong emphasis on the basics. Reading and writing English correctly is a specific emphasis. Math and the sciences are stressed as well. That does not mean that the so-called soft curriculum is ignored. We believe that the student should be exposed to art and music. Their physical education is also important. We do not have a football program. That may be heresy here in Texas, but we believe that the physical training that we provide should be something that will last a lifetime. We enforce strict discipline, but do not resort to corporal punishment. We rely on our parents to be partners in maintaining an atmosphere where learning can take place. We do not abuse ourselves with the notion that the students will always be perfect little angels. When situations arise we deal with them immediately and in a manner that serves as a learning experience for the boy.
"This brochure explains in much more detail how the academy is structured and the programs we offer. If, after you have read it, you want any more information I would be happy to provide it to you."
"What about class size and teacher qualifications?"
"Our academic classes are limited to 22 students. The physical education and music classes such as the choir may be twice that size. But the student-teacher ratio is never more than 22 to 1. Teachers must be state certified in the subjects that they teach and are required to take additional college level courses to keep up to date in their area of emphasis."
"This all sounds great. May I have a look around the campus? I am interested in the physical plant also."
"Of course, I'll have my assistant show you around and answer any questions that you might have as you go. His name is Harry Lyle. When you are finished please come back here and I'll explain to you the admissions policy, uniforms and costs. The information is covered in detail in the brochure."
The tour with Harry was quite informative. The physical plant was not new but had been very well maintained. It seemed to be divided into two sections, one for K-4 and the other 5-8. I was impressed with the number of computers I saw in the classrooms. We did meet a couple of teachers on their free period and I was taken by their enthusiasm and positive attitude.
We spent nearly 45 minutes touring the facilities before returning to Mr. Pierce's office.
"Ah, Mr. Johnson, how was your tour? Any questions?"
"No, Mr. Lyle did a good job. You said you would explain the admission policy..."
"Yes, we require that each applicant be tested and interviewed before acceptance. This is mainly to assess their placement in the correct class and to determine if the child understands what is expected of him. We are not equipped to handle children with 'special needs' so we also use these to screen them out. Limited physical handicaps we can deal with but the profoundly handicapped are beyond our current capabilities.
"The school uniforms are what you have observed. The white polo shirt with the Corinthian Academy logo and the tan slacks or walking shorts with white stockings and white athletic shoes," he said.
"What about tuition?" I asked.
"We are not inexpensive. The tuition for each child is $6,500 per school year. That, of course, is prorated if enrollment is not for the full term."
I did some quick multiplication in my head and came up with the figure $26,000 a year.
"That is a little more than I expected but I think it would be worth it. When could the boys be tested?" I asked.
"Well, we don't accept students in the middle of grading periods. The current grading period ends a week from this Friday. We could set up an appointment for later this week or the first of next which ever would be the most convenient," he offered.
"I think perhaps that next week would be best. We are supposed to have a court hearing this week, I don't know exactly when right now," I said.
"Good, contact my secretary and she will make all of the arrangements. Do you have any more questions?"
"No, I don't think so. Thank you very much for your time. It has been most interesting," I said getting up to leave.
My mind was racing as I drove to the office. Foster was parking his car as I drove into the parking lot.
"Hi Crane, I'm glad you came. I need for you to approve the Latham Oil contract. They are anxious for us to get started. Oh, by the way, how are you and your new family getting along? I don't envy you taking on four active boys. I think they would drive me up the wall," he said as we walked into the office.
"We are doing fine, but I have to admit they are a handful. Thank goodness they are so well behaved. Let me check with Carol to see if I have any messages and then I'll look at the contract," I told him.
Carol had two messages for me. The first from Hildy said we had an appointment with Dr. Sam for Joel's blood test today at 2:15. The second was also from Hildy for me to call Jack Hogan.
I went into my office and glanced through the papers and mail in my inbox but nothing required my immediate attention so I dialed Jack.
"Hi, Jack," I said when he answered. "What can I do for you?"
"Crane, thanks for calling me back. There are two investigations going on right now that involve the boys. One is the result of the 'Suspected Abuse' report that was filed by Dr. Greene and the other is the murder investigation of the boys' mother. Joel is the center of each of them as the star witness. The two investigators both would like to interview him as soon as possible."
"Oh boy, I don't know, Jack. He has just recovered his voice and has just been through the trauma of his mother's funeral. I'm not at all sure that he is stable enough to be interrogated yet. I want him to see a psychiatrist before he has to go through that. How long do you think we can postpone this?"
"Not very long, they want to fast track this as much as possible. The DA wants to get to trial with this before the election. She is running for re-election and thinks this would be a feather in her cap if she can get a quick conviction. Politicians, I think that lady would try her own mother if she thought it would bring her a few extra votes. Anyway, I'll see what I can do, but I'm sure I can't get you too much more time. I'll let you know," he said and hung up.
Something more to worry about. Oh, the joys of fatherhood.
I looked over the contract that Foster had for me and approved it. The contract was worth $650 thousand in gross to the company. About 20% of that would drop to the bottom line. With all the expenses that were piling up associated with my boys, this would be a welcome addition to the company's coffers.
Before leaving the office I chatted with several of the associates who were not out working on other contracts. As I left I told Carol that I would try to check in with her two or three times a week until things got settled at home.
When I got home Hildy had just cleaned up the lunch dishes and had put everything away. I made myself a quick sandwich before going to the study to check on Joel and Paul Coulter. I apologized to Paul for not being there today but had messed up and scheduled something else at the same time. I also told him we would have to cut his time short today because we had a doctor's appointment at 2:15 and would need to leave shortly to make it. Paul responded, "Would it be possible to start Joel's lessons at 8 o'clock? That way we would be done by noon and you would have time to take care of all the things I know you have going on now."
"I think that is a great idea. The other boys have to meet their bus at 7:30 so eight will be no problem," I said. "Let's start tomorrow morning then."
"Oh, and I have looked at the assignment that you gave Joel for the book report and have incorporated it in my lesson plan. I have seen what he has written so far and am impressed at his retention of the salient facts of the book. The spelling and writing style could use some work but we can work on that," Paul said.
Paul left and Joel and I followed shortly. We arrived at Dr. Sam's office right on time. I told the nurse who we were and why we were there. She ushered Joel into an examination room and told me that the doctor wanted to speak with me.
I was just getting settled in the waiting room when Dr. Sam appeared.
"Crane, come in. I have Joel's test results and need to discuss them with you. I didn't think they would be here until tomorrow but I'm glad they are so you won't have to make an extra trip."
My heart was in my throat and was beating twice as fast as normal as I followed him into another examination room. I didn't want to know what he was going to tell me but I had to know no matter what. The results would not change my love for Joel and my intention of giving him a permanent home with me.
I am not a religious man, but I prayed harder than I ever had that the results were negative.
"The results of the test for HIV were negative..." he started.
"Oh thank god!" I exclaimed.
"That's the good news. However, we are not out of the woods yet," he continued.
I guess my face showed my confusion and consternation.
"We will need to repeat this test every month for the next 5 or 6 to be sure that there are no viruses present. Depending upon when or if he has been exposed it could be up to six months before the virus is detectable," he concluded.
"Doc, I don't know if I can take the suspense, the not knowing. This has been eating away at me since our last discussion and now you tell me it is going to go on for another 6 months?" I groaned.
"I know it is not going to be easy for you but you have to be strong for Joel. I don't think it would be wise to tell him why he is going to have to have a blood test every month. There is no reason to worry him. He has enough on his plate right now," Sam advised.
"You're right. I'll worry enough for both of us," I said trying to smile.
Joel was in the waiting room when I came out with Sam.
"Come on, son, let's get home. I bet Hildy will have a snack ready when we get there and your brothers will be getting home soon too," I said as I put my arm around him and led him to the car.
I was right. Hildy had made a jellyroll pan full of lemon squares. Joel and I couldn't wait for the others. We sneaked a couple before they got home.
At 4:15, he and I walked down to the gate to wait for the boys. As we did he asked "Why do I have to get so many blood tests?"
I decided I would have to tell a little white lie, "Well, I never asked you but I think from looking at your back that you had been beaten and possibly kicked or punched in the back. When you first went to see Dr. Sam it was discovered that you had some liver damage. The blood tests tell us whether your liver is getting better. It has to be monitored for a while until we know it is back to normal. I know you don't like to have them stick a needle in your arm but it is necessary."
He looked at me with those beautiful eyes that seemed to be searching my soul and said, "Okay."
The school bus arrived and discharged the three rambunctious boys. They waved to their new friends and hollered "Bye" to the driver then ran to the gate. TJ trailed the twins but when he arrived he jumped up and threw his arms around my neck hugging me tightly.
I was a little surprised at this and said to him. "What's this all about? Are you happy to be home or something?"
"My tummy feels good when I'm here," he said.
"Well, I'll bet your tummy will feel even better when you see what Hildy has for your snack," I snickered as I set him down and swatted him on the behind.
He giggled and ran to catch up with Joel and the twins who had started up the lane to the house. I think that hearing Hildy had a snack for them increased the speed at which they were walking. It didn't take long for them to reach the house, deposit their school books, change out of their school clothes and get to the kitchen ready for their snack.
Even though Joel and I had eaten a couple of the lemon squares earlier it didn't stop him from enjoying a second helping. They jabbered about their day at school and Joel told them about Mr. Coulter and having to get a needle stuck in his arm at which all the boys cringed.
I had barely entered my study when the phone rang.
"Hello," I said.
"Hello, Crane, this is Joyce Gehrig from CPS."
"Yes, what can I do for you?"
"I just wanted to tell you that most of the preliminary background checks have been completed. We only have to interview two more of your references. They were not available today or we would be pretty much complete."
"That's good," I said with a sigh of relief.
"In fact, we have sufficient information to schedule a hearing before Judge Frank on Thursday afternoon at 1:00. Can you and the boys be there?"
"We will be there. Is there anything I need to be prepared for? I've never done anything like this before."
"No, nothing special. You probably should have in mind a convincing story to tell the judge just why it is you want to continue custody of the boys. He will also want to talk to the boys individually and probably as a group, so you need to prepare them for that. I wouldn't advise you to tell them what to say, just tell them what is going to happen and why this is happening. If you need any more information between now and then you can give me a call and I'll try to help."
"Thanks, Joyce. I know you were not too keen on the idea of me having custody of the boys at first. I hope you have changed your mind."
"Well as a general rule, I am still not convinced it is the best in all cases. I am inclined to believe this might be an exception to the rule. I will not oppose your custody of the boys, but I will not champion your cause either."
"Thank you for your honesty. We will see you Thursday at one," I said as we hung up.
"I guess I had better call Benjamin," I said to myself as I picked up the phone again.