Before beginning to dial, I looked at my watch. It was nearly 5 PM. "No high-priced lawyer is going to be in his office at this time of the evening," I said aloud to myself. But I dialed anyway planning to leave a message to have him call me back.
I was surprised to hear a live voice answer the phone.
"Cross, Allison and Brown, how may I help you?" it said.
"Hello, this is Crane Johnson. I would like to leave a message for Mr. Cross if possible."
"Yes, Mr. Johnson, he just returned from court but he may be in conference. Let me see if Mr. Cross is available. Hold please."
At least the "hold music" was good.
"Mr. Johnson, Benjamin Cross here, I'm glad that you called. My associates have nearly completed preparing the brief that we may need to support your position."
"That's why I called. They have scheduled the hearing for one o'clock on Thursday in front of Judge Frank. Will you or one of your associates be available to support me?"
"Let's see... Yes, I have the whole day on Thursday. We should meet to discuss the strategy we will take if it's necessary. I always prepare for the worst possible outcome so nothing takes me by surprise. Are you available around ten Thursday morning?"
"Where do you want to meet? If it would be convenient, we could meet here at the house. That way the boys wouldn't have to miss any more than a half a day of school."
"I think that would work. If you could fax me the directions, it would be better than me trying to write them down. From my knowledge of the area you are probably close to 60 miles from Austin, right?"
"Yes, I measured it once, and it's 65 miles from my gate to the capitol building."
"Oh, by the way, I represented one other client in front of Judge Frank about a year ago. He is a cantankerous old bast... uh, jurist. I think our preparation for the worst case is prudent in this case. He was appointed by our infamous hard drinking, pot smoking former governor. His decisions have been overturned more often than any judge in the state. The only way he stays in office is that he has the backing of the political machine now holding sway in Texas."
"I really didn't need to hear that. The CPS caseworker said that although she wouldn't oppose my petition, she would not support it either. I'm getting very nervous about all of this."
"Don't worry! I think we will have all the bases covered by Thursday. I'll see you then. Goodbye," he said as he hung up.
I rarely have anything to drink other than a glass of wine, but now I needed a stiff drink. It had been so long since I had mixed myself a drink it took me a few minutes before I remembered where I had put the key to the liquor cabinet. Once I found it, I opened the cabinet and poured a double shot of scotch and took a big sip. Now I remembered why I didn't drink liquor very often. The liquor caused me to choke and cough as if I had swallowed liquid fire. It came spewing out my nose and generally made a mess on the floor.
Well, I guess that serves me right. I shouldn't try to solve my problems with alcohol. Look at the trouble it has cause for Joel and the other boys.
I guess the commotion I made attracted the attention of the boys because they all rushed into the study.
"What's matter, Uncle Crane?" Joel asked with a concerned frown on his face.
"Oh, I choked on some whiskey," I answered.
A look of terror passed across his face. "No! ... Don't," he shouted and ran from the study into his bedroom slamming the door shut after him.
"What's the matter?" I asked the twins.
Larry responded, "Every time daddy drank he'd hurt Joel."
"Oh, my god! How could I be so stupid?" I said rushing to Joel's bedroom door.
"Joel, it's Crane. May I talk to you?" I said knocking softly on his door. "I won't hurt you. I promised you that no one would ever hurt you again. I promised your mother I would take care of you. Please let me in."
I gently turned the knob and slowly opened the door. At first, I didn't see him. He was curled up in a tight ball in the corner of the room behind the bed. Those beautiful azure blue eyes showed more pain and terror than I had ever seen. Tears streamed down his cheeks, but no sound came from him. No sobbing, no whimpering. I slowly walked to the side of the bed nearest him and sat down.
"Joel, I won't hurt you. I can't hurt you. I love you too much. I want to protect you. Please believe me," I pleaded.
He looked at me with somewhat less terror in his eyes, but it was clear that he didn't quite believe me yet.
"Joel, I know that your dad did things to you when he got drunk. I can't make that go away. It's in the past. No one can change what happened. All I can do is give you my word that what happened in the past will never happen to you again. I love you Joel and I want to protect you." I was very near tears at this point.
I held out my hand to him hoping that he would take it. Most of the terror had gone out of his eyes but there still was a hint of distrust. Finally, after a minute or so he started to reach out his hand to mine. It took a while before he actually made contact. I held onto his hand very gently before slowly drawing him closer to me. He uncoiled from the tight ball he had curled up in and began to crawl toward me.
When he got close enough I gradually, so as not to frighten him, reached out with my other arm and placed it under his other arm. I lifted him up and set him on my lap, wrapping both of my arms around him clutching him to my chest and began to rock him back and forth, cooing soothing words to him.
We continued that way for probably five minutes until the twins and TJ silently crept in and put their six arms around both of us.
Presently, I guess everyone was feeling better because TJ asked, "Can we go swimming?"
I had to laugh but said, "Sure you may. We can always count on you to bring us back to reality, little one. And I love you for that. In fact I love all of you. Now, let's all get changed and swim until Hildy has supper ready."
We played in the pool until nearly seven o'clock when Hildy called us to get changed for supper.
As we finished eating I said to everyone, "When you get everything cleaned up and the dishwasher loaded, come into the family room. There is something I need to tell all of you. Hildy, I would like for you to be there as well."
A few minutes later everyone entered the family room. TJ hopped up on my lap, Joel and the twins commandeered the couch leaving the other easy chair for Hildy. "On Thursday," I started, "we have to go to court to see Judge Frank. He will tell us if you will be able to stay here with me a little longer. This is only the first step in what I hope is the eventual adoption of you boys as my sons."
The boys were all paying very close attention to what I was saying. "Judge Frank will want to talk to each of you to see what you want to do. Whether you want to stay with me or be put in another foster home. The choice is really yours. I want you to stay with me but what matters most is what you want and what the judge decides. Do you have any questions about what is going to happen?"
"How come we gotta see a judge? Can't we just stay here?" Joel asked.
"I wish it were that simple, but the law has to be obeyed. That means the judge has to decide what is best for you."
"That's dumb!" he responded.
"It may seem like that, but the law is designed to protect kids from bad people, people who would hurt them and do bad things to them," I said trying to believe what I was telling them.
"When you talk to the judge, I want you to be as courteous to him as you are to Hildy and me. Just be the great boys that we have come to love so much. Do you understand that you need to answer all of his questions honestly? Whatever you do don't tell any lies. That would be very bad. I don't want you to worry about it but I did think that you have a right to know what is coming up that concerns you.
"Hildy, the reason I asked you to come is I need your help on Thursday. I'm meeting with Benjamin Cross, my lawyer handling this matter, at ten on Thursday and would like your help in picking up Larry, Lenny and TJ from school at 11:30 and driving them into San Antonio to the courthouse. We don't meet with the judge until one but I don't want to be late. I also want you to be present for the proceedings. I will take Joel with me and meet you there sometime around 12:30. I think it best if you take the clothes they are going to wear at the hearing with us so they can change at the courthouse. If you can think of anything else we need to do between now and then let me know."
"I'll be happy to pick up the boys. I knew this hearing would be coming up sometime soon, and I fully intended to be there to support you and the boys. The judge would have to be an idiot not to let them stay here with you," Hildy stated rather emphatically.
"Okay, guys, go get your homework assignments. You can use the kitchen table for the time being until I can get your rooms fixed up with desks. When you're done I'll check them," I said giving TJ a hug and set him down.
Off they all ran to get their school books. Joel had the most homework, and we hadn't even done his math lesson. While the boys did their homework, I did mine reviewing the math textbook to see just what it was that they taught in seventh grade these days. I was pleasantly surprised at the text that Paul had selected. Not only was it well written and presented the material in a logical and understandable manner, but it also had a series of cumulative review quizzes every three chapters to test retention of the previous material. I decided to use these quizzes to determine where Joel was in his knowledge of mathematics and to decide where to begin.
As soon as each of the boys finished their homework, and I checked it they were allowed to watch TV in the family room. When everyone was finished we went to find what Hildy had prepared for us to snack on. Tonight it was cranberry nut bread. Earlier she had put out some butter to soften so that it would spread easier. Between the five of us, we ate the whole loaf and a quarter pound of butter. If I don't stop snacking with the boys, I'm going to gain weight. Either that or I'm going to have to get back in the habit of swimming laps every morning. Maybe even do a few more to compensate for all the additional calories I'm consuming.
After the boys had finished their snack, they headed for the bathrooms to shower and put on their pajamas.
I was in the study checking my voice-mail at the office when Joel came in and stood beside me. "What's on your mind, son?" I asked.
"I don't know... What if the judge don't let us stay with you? I don't wanta go no place else. I like it here. Why do we have to go see him? Can't we just stay here and not go?" he almost cried.
"Don't worry, son. That's why I hired a lawyer to help you stay here. He's a really smart lawyer. You go get into bed. I'll be in to tuck you in shortly," I said giving him a big hug before he left.
I finished listening to my voice-mail while at the same time checking my email. There was nothing that required my immediate attention so I went in to check on the boys and tuck them in for the night. It was starting to become a routine. First I would go into the twins' room, give them a kiss on the forehead, arrange their covers and make sure they were all set for the night. Tonight turned out a little different. Everything went as usual until I was arranging their covers. The both reached up and hugged my neck and gave me a kiss on both cheeks.
"Night Uncle Crane. We love you," they said in that uncanny way they did in unison. It was like listening to the stereo.
"Goodnight my little angels, I love you too," I said giving them an extra squeeze before I left the room.
Joel and TJ were whispering to each other as I entered their room.
"Hey, what are you guys plotting?" I asked humorously.
"Nothing, Uncle Crane," they both said. For a moment I thought I was back in the twins' room.
"Okay, no more talking. You have school tomorrow and I don't want you to fall asleep in class," I said leaning over to give TJ a peck on the forehead. "I love you little man."
As I turned to Joel, I could tell he had something on his mind but didn't know how to get started telling me. "What's on your mind, son? You know you can tell me anything."
"Well... I... ah, well... I'm sorry that I got all scared tonight. I know you won't hit me or nothing. It's just... " he stammered.
"You don't have to explain anything to me. I know you have had some rough times," I said brushing the hair back off his forehead before I leaned over and kissed it. "Goodnight you two. Sleep well."
I retreated to my study to lay out what I needed to get accomplished for the next couple of days. About 10:30 I decided I had identified everything the boys, and I had to do to get ready for the hearing and headed to bed.
Although the boys were not what I would call morning people, they didn't complain too much when I called them to get up and come to breakfast. It was probably the breakfast that got them out of bed more than anything else. Hildy had fixed blueberry pancakes and fried ham for us this morning. I couldn't resist having a couple of them despite my resolution to watch my calorie intake.
"Go get ready for school. You have 20 minutes to meet the bus. Hurry!" I told them. "I'll drive you down to the gate to catch it."
Driving to the bus I informed them that I would pick them up after school and we all were going to get haircuts. I told the driver as the boys boarded that they would not be riding home with him. Now all I needed to do was call my barber and set up the appointment.
Paul Coulter arrived shortly to begin his sessions with Joel. I was sitting at the kitchen table drinking my last cup of coffee before I began the day I had laid out for myself last night. Hildy had let him in just as she left to do her grocery shopping.
"Crane, Joel asked me yesterday when he was going to get to read a book for class. I hadn't planned to assign a book report for another week or so but he seems so anxious that I am considering changing my lesson plans to include him reading a book every week. I see you have quite an extensive library of fiction in the study. Do you have any objections to his using them for his reading assignments?" he asked.
"No, in fact, I would encourage it. He will probably read at least one book a week so I think a written book report would be a little too much to expect, don't you," I replied.
"You're correct. I think that having him give an oral discussion would be a good learning experience. It would teach him to organize his thoughts and to learn how to speak effectively. I think having him speak in a non-threatening environment will also build up his self-confidence," Paul said.
"I agree. That's a great idea," I said.
I finished my coffee and went into my bedroom to start making the phone calls on my list. First was to make appointments to get our hair cut. I knew Jose's shop opened at 8:30 so I called right on the dot. I wanted to make sure that we could get in. Jose didn't get in until later but I could set up everything without him being there. I explained to the receptionist that I needed to set up appointments for 5 haircuts for around 4:15. I wanted Jose to cut my hair since he had been my barber for the past 6 years but the boys could have anyone that was available. Since Jose's shop had six chairs it might be possible to have everyone get their hair cut at the same time.
Next, I called my office to take care of some of the voice mails I had received last night. Carol was able to handle most of them and what she couldn't Foster could.
By this time it was 9:30, so I tried the number of the Adolescent Psychiatrist that Dr. Sam had recommended the highest. Owen Adams was well known in the San Antonio area and highly respected for his service on several volunteer organizations. I really didn't expect to be able to get an appointment with him but there was no harm in trying. When his nurse answered I explained the situation surrounding Joel and the fact that he had witnessed the murder of his mother by his father. I also told her of the physical and sexual abuse he had suffered at the hands of his father.
"If you will hold for a moment I will speak to Dr. Adams," she said.
It seemed like forever, but I'm sure it was only a couple of minutes, before she came back on the line.
"Dr. Adams is interested in speaking to you before he would make a commitment to work with the child. The doctor has a half an hour available this morning. Would you be available at 10:30?" she asked.
"Well it takes about 45 minutes to get from my home in Canyon Lake to downtown San Antonio, but I can try to make it," I said looking at my watch. "What is your address?
"We are located right off of 281 just inside Loop 1604," she said and rattled off the street address.
"I'll be there as soon as I can. It should be about 30 minutes," I said hanging up the phone and rushing for the door.
Hildy was coming in just as I was leaving and I almost bowled her over. "I'll call you and let you know what is going on," I told her as I jumped into the BMW and roared out of the garage.
I was right. It took right at 30 minutes to get to his office. I must admit I pushed the speed limit a bit more that I usually do. Thankfully the cops were otherwise engaged. Since I had a few minutes before I was to meet Dr. Adams, I took the opportunity to call Hildy and explain where I was and asked her if she would administer Review Test II in Joel's math book if I didn't make it back in time.
Dr. Adams was much younger than I had expected. He was probably in his early 30's. I was impressed that someone so young had developed such a reputation in the community. I repeated much of the information I had given his nurse earlier. He took it all in asking for clarifications when I skipped over some points.
"Have you noticed any unusual behavior other than his inability to speak for a week?" he asked.
"His reaction to my drinking whiskey was unusual. Just the mention that I was having a drink of whiskey was terrifying to him. He became almost catatonic. It certainly frightened me. I don't think I'll ever have another drink without the look in his eyes haunting me" I said.
"I suppose that is to be expected based on what you have told me. Although he seems to be handling the situation fairly well, appearances can be deceiving. The psychological trauma that he has suffered could very well manifest itself later in who knows what way. I think I would like to talk to Joel. I usually keep Friday afternoons open in case an emergency comes up and if not I can get away for a game of golf," he chuckled. If you could have him here at two o'clock, I will do a preliminary evaluation of him before we decide what course of treatment he will need."
"Thank you, Dr. Adams. We will be here Friday at two," I said getting up to leave. "Oh, I guess that all depends on whether the court continues the boys' custody with me. I guess I didn't mention we have a hearing Thursday afternoon for that purpose. I will inform you if there is a change in plans. I just naturally assume that they will always be with me. I take it for granted but probably shouldn't. I don't know what I would do if they took them away from me. They have become such an important part of my life in a very brief period of time."
I rushed back to the house but at a speed more in line with the posted limits. Paul was beginning to wind up his lessons with Joel as I entered the house. Hildy was fixing lunch, and I was out of breath. If this is what parenthood is all about I wonder if I'm up to it. I'm sure that things will settle down once we have the custody issue resolved I silently hoped to myself.
Joel did surprisingly well on the math review test that I gave him after lunch. I decided that we would begin his math instruction with the material covered in Chapter 7 of the text. That could wait until tomorrow. Today I decided he could pick out another book for him to read.
I wasn't surprised when he chose 'Tom Sawyer Detective' as the next book he wanted to read. He had about an hour to start the book before we had to go pick up the other boys from school so we could get our hair cut. He used the whole hour and even took the book in the car with us.
The boys were precious at the barbershop. They had never been to one. I guess their mother or father always cut their hair before. When we arrived there were four empty chairs waiting for us. Jose was finishing up with his customer. I put the boys in the chairs with Joel the farthest away from where I would be sitting. The twins were in the next two and TJ was in the chair next to mine. I told the barbers that we wanted to just shape up the cut that they had. Make them look presentable. I didn't have to tell Jose how to cut mine. He knew from cutting it for 6 years exactly how I wanted it to look. I think TJ and the twins giggled the whole time they were getting their hair cut. The barbers sure earned their money on them the way they kept twisting and turning trying to see what was going on all around them.
I paid the bill for the hair cuts along with a generous tip for each of the barbers who had suffered through the boys' first experience in a barber shop.
"Guys, we didn't have time for a snack before, do you want to stop at the Dairy Queen and get a cone before we go on home?" I asked knowing that was a stupid question.
"YES!" came the quadraphonic reply.
"Four large cones and one small cone," I told the scratchy voice coming from the speaker.
"Try not to drip any on the seats, but if you do wipe it up with these napkins," I told them as I distributed the large cones and a handful of paper napkins to each of them and kept the small one for me. This was my feeble attempt at controlling my caloric intake.
Our evenings were beginning to be fairly routine. The boys would play or swim until dinner was ready. Then it was time for homework and a little TV before having a snack and getting ready for bed. I looked forward to bedtime for the boys. It was a quiet time, a time to get close to the boys and show them how much they meant to me.
After I tucked them into bed, I went back into my study and nearly broke down. I might have only one more night of this if the judge doesn't approve the continuation of my custody. No matter if that happened I would not give up on my efforts to get them permanently. I would spend as much as it took to make it happen or until and if the boys told me they didn't want to stay with me.
Sleep was not easy in coming. It was well after midnight before I fell asleep and then it was not a restful sleep.
I got the boys off to school the next morning telling them I would pick them up from school because we were going to visit their mother's grave this afternoon.
While Joel was involved with his lessons, I took care of some company business that needed my attention. Thankfully, it could be handled over the phone with Foster and my partner.
After lunch, I got my first chance to teach Joel his math lesson. He was really quite good at picking up the new concepts so the lesson went by faster than I had anticipated. He was not disappointed when we finished and I told him he could use the rest of the time to read his book.
TJ, as usual, was excited when he jumped in the car after school. His mouth was going a mile a minute telling Joel and me about everything that had happened in school today.
The twins were dismissed a few minutes after TJ. When they saw the Land Rover, they ran to it waving to their new friends and piled in dumping their school books on the floorboards.
"Hi guys, how was school today?" I asked the standard parent question.
"Okay, I guess," came the reply somewhat tentatively.
That didn't sound quite right so I probed further, "That doesn't sound like it's okay. What's going on that I should know?"
"Oh, it's nothing," stated Larry.
"Come on guys, you know you can tell me anything. I really want to know if there is something that is bothering you. Please. It sounds like something is not right," I said.
"It's just that... uh... well... Mr. Lansing sorta..." Lenny stammered.
"Well, he is... uh... always putting his... uh... hands on us," Larry continued.
"Yeah, and he rubs our backs all the time," Lenny finished. "I don't like him to do that. It's creepy."
"Thanks for telling me. I'll take care of it," I said trying to keep the anger out of my voice and dropped the subject.
We arrived at the cemetery and found the grave site. As we walked the short distance from the car to it the boys all held hands. TJ grabbed mine to form the final link in the chain. I was carrying the flowers that I had Hildy pick up earlier today.
I didn't know what kind of reaction the boys would have as we approached. We had left the cemetery before the casket had been lowered into the ground.
"Where's momma?" TJ was the first to react.
I tried the best I could to explain that his mother's casket was buried in the ground behind the headstone under that mound of dirt.
"Oh," was the reply he gave with a confused look on his face.
I guess death and burial are strange concepts to a six-year-old.
Joel and the twins walked up to the headstone and touched it. They didn't say anything. They just looked at it and moved their fingers over the name carved into it.
I place the flower arrangement at the base of the stone and stepped back letting the boys have all the time they needed.
Presently Joel turned around and I could see the tears in his eyes. He walked to me and put his arms around me, looked up and said, "Thanks, Uncle Crane" and started sobbing quietly.
We all had tears in our eyes as we walked back to the car.