Johnny scanned the front of my house wide-eyed as I helped him out of the car. He took a few steps inside and stopped, looking around the family room and up the stairs. "Wow, this is one house?" he mumbled. "Just you live here?"
"Well, my sons and myself."
"In all of it?" he almost whispered, his face showing almost utter disbelief. He looked around again after I answered. I offered him something to drink, but he didn't answer, still scanning the house's interior. Finally, he looked back at me saying, "But, well, ah, where are the horses."
"I bet they’re back here," I replied, guiding him to the patio door. He craned his long thin neck and took a deep breath when we looked down toward the pasture. All three boys were mounted, trotting their steeds across the field, with the other horses following loosely behind. "I'm going to go upstairs and see if I can find you some shoes, then we'll go see them, okay?" I waited several seconds for a response, but the closest I got was his head moving slightly as he watched the boys ride.
I had no idea what size he wore, so I grabbed a spare pair of shoes from both Ronnie and Mark's closet. Thankfully Ronnie's were a little large but close enough to still be comfortable. I earned a wide smile from him as I slipped some socks, then laced the shoes on his feet. "Thanks M... Doc," he bubbled.
"Let's go meet my four-legged friends," I suggested as he pushed his way under my arm. I started out the door, but raced back and grabbed the camcorder.
The boys saw us about halfway to the pasture gate and galloped to meet us. Johnny started through the gate as they rode up, but pulled back, almost refusing to enter the pasture. I tried a couple of times to asked him what was wrong as I tried to coax him to come with me but he wasn't going anywhere.
"They're too big," he finally whimpered. "I didn't know they was that big!"
"They won't hurt you, they're completely friendly,"
"How come yours are so big? TV horses ain't that big!"
"They aren't that much. . . Have you ever seen a real horse or just pictures?" I asked, realizing he probably had not. He swallowed hard and shook his head he had not.
"Hi, Doctor Pop!" Mark's voice hooted from behind. I turned around just in time to catch him as he dove off his ride, wrapping his long legs around my waist.
"Hi Turkey, what would you do if I didn't catch you!" I snickered, kissing him on the forehead.
"You will!" he exclaimed. I hugged him briefly and set him down just before Junior and Ronnie slammed into a hug.
"Guys, this is Johnny, the boy I told you I invited to visit us today," I began, turning toward our now pale-faced guest. "Johnny, these are my sons, Ronnie and Mark, and our good friend Carl, Carl likes to be called Junior." The boys had just said hi to Johnny when a big black head pushed against my arm, letting out a loud snort. "Oh, I'm sorry, and this is Zoe, Ronnie's horse," I added kissing her on the bridge of her snout.
Zeus pushed his huge head against me from the other side, demanding his share of my attention.
"Wow, they won't eat you? I mean bite you?" Johnny whined.
"They're totally cool, they love us!" Mark answered, hugging Zeus' head, almost as wide as the boy's thin body.
"Come on dude, they're chilled," Ronnie added as he put his arm around Johnny's waist, nudging him into the pasture. I felt a gentle tug on the camera strap. Junior was holding the camcorder, his face asking for it.
Johnny walked a couple of steps with Ronnie, but then pulled away, slipping back under my arm. "They're too big!" he whimpered. "I'm scared!"
I guided him in front of me and wrapped my arms around his chest, causing him to push more tightly into my stomach with his back, and grab my hand with his left arm. Just as he did Zeus lowered his head and sniffed the frightened boy's torso briefly before ever so gently rubbing my forearm with his face. "Pet him right here," I suggested, stoking the animal's big head just below his eyes. "Come on, he likes you!'
Johnny cautiously released his grip on my hand and moved it an inch or so toward Zeus before jerking back. He started to reach out toward the animal a couple more times but pulled back each time. I stroked Zeus' snout, making the big stallion lower his head even more and let out a long breath, his big eyes softening from the pleasure. Finally, Johnny touched Zeus' fur for an instant, as if he was touching something to see if it would burn him.
After a couple more quick, test touches he softly rubbed the horse's nose and I slowly pulled my hand away from Zeus' face. "His hair feels neat, soft," the boy said. Zeus answered for me, pushing his huge head into a snuggle against Johnny's thin chest, much more like a little puppy than the twelve hundred pound plus beast he was. Johnny stroked the animal's jowls a few times before hugging its head and giggling, "He likes that don't he!" Zeus answered with a soft snort.
He jerked his hand back against my arm when Zoe pushed Zeus out of the way as if saying 'my turn'. He stared at her wide-eyed for a brief second before she gently pushed the side of her face against us. I started to worry when Zeus lowered his ears for a brief second (a horse's way of announcing aggression, saying 'Back Off!') but he moved to the side pushing under my arm and allowing Zoe her snuggle. Johnny giggled again and petted her. "He's neat!"
"He's a she!" Ronnie exclaimed, stroking the big animal's neck. "Come on, wanta meet all of them?" he offered, extending a hand toward Johnny.
"Go on, it's okay!" I suggested. He looked up at me wide-eyed for a second and after a little hesitation slipped out from under my grasp.
'Yes, now I know exactly why I bought this place,' I thought as I leaned back against the pasture fence and watched the boys. Johnny relaxed quickly as he touched then petted the other horses, Mark and Ronnie introducing each of them as if they were human friends. I didn't pay much attention as Junior rushed into the field to join them, until the materialistic side of me snapped into operation. 'Camcorder! Twelve hundred dollars laying in the dirt?' it thought.
"The philosophers aren't always right, this picture's worth a million words," Cindy's voice rang into my ears. When I turned around I was relieved to see her now operating the camera.
"Mary let us in, she said you were down here," Roberts said as he walked up to me. "How's he doing, that's the happiest face I've ever seen on him!" He snickered as I filled him in on the morning, and Johnny's adventure. We enjoyed watching them for a few more minutes, now all four kids and six horses playing around and interacting like ten kids on a playground. As we continued to talk I felt more and more comfortable Johnny was not only no longer uncomfortable but having the time of his life. Roberts and I decided to let them play, I think both of us thinking about the pool and the beer chest.
I called Johnny off to the side before we left the pasture. "I'm going up to the house, are you going to be okay?" I asked. Getting his nod I continued, "I want you to remember, you are still recovering, I mean you are still getting well, so don't overexert yourself. If you get tired, or if you start breathing too fast relax, okay? And I'm going to tell Ronnie, because he has a watch, but I want you to come back to the house in, let's say an hour."
He stiffened at my last request. I could almost feel gears grinding in his little head before he whimpered, "Well, but, please, I don't wanta go back that quick, I'll be good!"
"You're not going to, you don't have to go back to Hill Country then, I just want you guys to get something to drink, well and I bet the boys' Nanny will have a snack for you guys then!" I cursed myself for saying Nanny as it left my mouth but hoped he didn't snap to it. From his face, I could tell he didn't completely believe me, that he expected to go back to Hill Country sooner than he wanted.
I pulled him a little tighter against me before I said, "Oh, and I want you to make me a promise, you have to. . ."
"I won't run away or nothing I promise, please Doctor! I won't!" he cried.
"You should listen BEFORE you answer, son. I know you won't run away! I wanted you to promise you'd have fun! Can you do that?" I got a thorough scan from a pair of questioning eyes, followed by a warm smile and one-armed hug as an answer. "I love you Johnny," I said before I realized it.
After I gave up on getting Mary out of the kitchen, Roberts and I grabbed a couple of beers and went out to the patio. Cindy joined us a couple of minutes later. We made small talk for a couple of minutes before she got quiet, from her face I could tell she had something on her mind.
"Carl and I have been talking," Cindy began. She looked over at her husband nervously before continuing, "We are considering buying a couple of horses for the kids, and were wondering if we could pay you to pasture them here. The going rate for boarding seems to be. . ."
"Your welcome to keep them here, but not for pay," I interrupted. "Kick in some food from time to time, but I can’t accept your money."
"We couldn't do that, we'd insist in paying you something."
"You can work it off, I'll take it out in trade," I countered. Realizing the implication of what I had just said I added, "I already owe you a year's boarding for handling the boys' custody." Everyone snickered, probably at my red face. "The only thing I ask is no stallions, because I want to be sure only my stud breeds. If you don't mind a suggestion, buy Arabian mares, with Zeus' bloodline they could turn into an investment."
She and Roberts went on to say Junior wanted to take riding lessons, of course with my boys. Jennifer wasn't interested in lessons right now, but mom hoped to sway her. We joked for a minute about why Jennifer didn't want to take lessons, and why she didn't come today was because she didn't like horses, or didn't want to risk getting Cooties from being around too many boys. I was still snickering when Roberts added, "By the way, a little further down the road riding lessons would be excellent therapy for Johnny."
"How's your beer?" I answered.
Johnny was in the middle of the pack as the boys burst into the house later, darting into the kitchen. Shortly they began to drift back toward the patio, with plates of cookies and glasses of juice. I had to smile as I watched Ronnie, Mark, and Junior carrying extra dishes for Johnny. The boy seemed to have more stamina than I thought he would and kept up with his new friends as they rushed back into the house with their empty dishes.
After they didn't come out for a few minutes I excused myself and went to check on them. To my surprise, they were not in the kitchen or family room. "Oh, they went upstairs," Mary informed me.
"Johnny too?" I asked. She nodded he had. 'Let it go,' I told myself, 'He's having too good a time.'
He was limping pretty badly when they came back onto the patio a few minutes later. All the other boys were in swim trunks and dove into the pool. "Don't you want to go swimming?" I asked.
"I'm sorta tired," he whined. I guided him to a chaise lounge, and after he stared at it for a few seconds lifted him into it. He closed his eyes almost before his head landed on the cushion.
As soon as I sat down Ronnie climbed out of the pool and ran over to me. "He said his leg hurts," he whispered.
He was quiet the rest of the day. I was thrilled to see his extended activities had not damaged his appetite as I watched him inhale at least as much supper, then ice cream, as my two feeding machines, but he was clearly too tired to argue when I told him it was time to take him back to Hill Country.
"I wish I didn't gotta live there," Johnny whimpered as I turned into Hill Country's parking lot. "I could behave and everything if I didn't gotta."
'Change his orders, more, MUCH MORE grammar software!' I told myself. "I want you at Hill Country so you get well more quickly. You don't live there, you are a patient, a temporary patient there until you get better!" I answered. "You keep working real hard, and you will be well enough to leave soon, okay?" I added as I parked. 'And if we can find that ass hole father, or should I say sperm donor, of yours before he hurts you again' I silently added.
He was both silent and somber as we crossed the parking lot and entered the building, I was a little disappointed that he walked next to me, rejecting my arm the several times I tried to tuck him under it. We were approaching the door into his ward when he almost whimpered, "Thanks, Doc, your horses are neat. Thanks for I got to meet them and stuff. Ronnie and Mark are real neat."
"Thank you for visiting us, we all had a wonderful afternoon," I answered. I started to pull him under my arm but his face told me not to. "I hope you will come back! Remember, I promised you a ride on a horse when you are well enough, do you still want to?"
He stared at me wide-eyed as his face paled ghost white. I was about to reach and grab him before he fainted when he muttered "You mean I get to? I getta go there again?" He pushed against me burying his face into my chest before I could answer, wrapping his arm around me.
"As soon as you are ready,"
"Can I tonight? I'll do all my stuff and everything REAL fast! PLEASE DOC! I mean everything sir! I mean all my learning and everything!"
"You have to let your body heal, and recover right now. Remember, it's going to take a LOT of hard work isn't it" I answered as I stroked his back and shoulders. "If you are doing well, you want to visit again next weekend, maybe Saturday or Sunday, you choose."
"I really getta? I mean I really can?" he whimpered.
"You really getta but you gotta work very hard to get ready, promise?" I answered. 'No more beer tonight, not after that rape of the Queen's English!' I thought.
I was surprised but pleased that the boys were engrossed in their homework when I got home. An hour or so later I had finished checking their work, and was about to send them upstairs to bathe when Mark climbed into my lap. Almost immediately Ronnie pushed under my arm. "Thanks for letting Johnny come here, he's pretty neat," Ronnie began.
"Yeah he's fun," Mark said. "And he needs some friends, he don't got any,"
"Doesn't have any," I corrected. "But he has us, I was very proud of you two the way you accepted him. He really felt at home, and it was because of you two."
"What's gonna happen. . . I mean what's going to happen to him? Is he gonna have to go to Saint Puke's or something?" Ronnie asked.
'St. Puke's, okay, whatever,' I thought. 'I don't know, we haven't gotten that far'. "He is going to stay where he is for probably a few weeks until he is well. I'll let you know. I invited him to visit us again, I didn't think you would mind." I added which earned me a pair of hugs.
"When are you gonna fix his arm though?" Mark asked, his voice raising an octave." He digested my diluted explanation about Johnny's injury, deciding to tell them we weren't sure if his arm could be repaired for a couple of seconds before responding. "Well, but you're a Doctor! And you can fix anything!"
"But I'm a Psychiatrist, I only work on people's mental, well brain problems."
"Well, fix the part of his brain that makes his arm work!" Mark proclaimed.
"Thank you, Doctor, I'll take that under advisement!" I chuckled. "What about I fix the part of your brain that remembers bath time?" I added, tickling his tight stomach. "Go on guys, tomorrow's a school day!"
Their active day had clearly caught up by the time they finished their baths. I waited a few minutes after I heard the water stop running and went upstairs to tell them to get in bed, but the already had, both of them sound asleep. I tucked their covers around each of them before gently kissing the small area of their foreheads not under the blankets. As I started out of the room I turned back and stood there, watching them sleep for several minutes.
By the time I arrived at my practice after finishing rounds Monday morning, I found myself hoping the rest of the week wasn't going to be like the way my day was shaping up. Besides having a full calendar after my shortened work schedule last week, there was a policeman and an FBI agent waiting for me in the reception area, and a message from a supervisor at CPS, stating Judge Rodriguez had ordered the man to speak to me today. He all but begged for an audience, and knowing Rodriguez as I did I was sure the CPS worker's butt was on the line.
'Well, looks like it's a vending machine lunch, yumm!' I thought but told my nurse to squeeze CPS in. I told her to try and fit the cops in, but by appointment, and met with my first patient. When I came out of the appointment my nurse informed me my next patient would not be able to make his appointment, that his parents had called informing us he was in Juvenile Detention on drug charges, which didn't surprise me in the least.
I started into my office, thankful to have that time slot freed to catch up on case records and paperwork, when the nurse informed me the two cops were still waiting, that they had said they would wait as long as needed, hoping for a free time slot. 'FUCK!' I thought. "Show them in," I groaned.
The policeman was Sergeant Wilson, the senior officer that Roberts and I had met with just before moving Johnny to Hill Country. The FBI Agent looked more like a house ape than a federal agent, well over six foot tall, and even through his business suit his build said football jock. His ham-like hand completely swallowed mine as he introduced himself as Stanley Banks.
I was mildly disappointed as the Sergeant filled me in on the weekend. They had no leads as to Johnny's dad's whereabouts, but he either was on foot or in a stolen vehicle. The car they captured after the shootout at the hospital contained several weapons and most of his belongings, but they knew he was still armed, and extremely dangerous. "We found some, interesting property in the car," Wilson said, picking up his briefcase.
I stared at the several items he laid on my desk, several fairly large dog collars, two of which were connected by a short chain, along with some smaller collars. A couple of these were fastened together almost like handcuffs or leather wrist restraints, a couple more were connected together with short pieces of chain. "We also found these, and they are a little graphic," Wilson continued, handing me several photographs.
I almost gagged trying to keep from vomiting as I looked at the first pictures, showing Johnny and a younger boy, that I was sure was his brother, wearing the restraints that were sitting on my desk. The two larger collars were neck collars tethering them together. The pairs of smaller collars were leg shackles and wrist restraints as I had suspected. I felt my head starting to spin as I saw the two young teens in various poses, sometimes wearing what looked like leather gee-strings and sometimes nude.
"I'm afraid we have more," Banks added. He paused, I'm sure waiting for my eyes to focus, before handing me some printouts. "These are from the web, some of them from a kiddy-porn ring we busted a year or so ago, some from websites we are currently tracking." I glanced at the first couple of pages, showing Johnny, his brother and a few more kids in equally perverted poses before I turned them upside down over the pictures.
"We need your help, Doctor Owens," Banks voice rang into the back of my mind. "Doctor Owens?" he asked, snapping me somewhat back toward what I could not believe was reality. "I NEED to talk to Johnny. I know the boy is recovering from horrible trauma, both physically and emotionally, but I must. Besides being an FBI Agent I have two Ph. D.'s, including one in Psychology. I have authored a book on non-injurious interview techniques for sexually abused children, which is to date the accepted text for most law enforcement agencies.
"I know you well by reputation and would never presume even consider encroaching on one of your patients, but here is my resume; I would be honored if you would review it and consider our request."
His name rang a bell as I digested his statement, I had read his book, actually kept it on the bookshelf behind my desk. From his writings, the last thing I would have imagined was him as the same oversized linebacker stuffed into a business suit sitting before me. "Thank you, I would be happy to read this," I said, accepting his resume. "But I have read your book, and use some of your protocol in dealing with my patients. It's a pleasure to meet you."
I considered his request for a few seconds but was far too lost to make any decisions. "Let me reevaluate Johnny. If he is ready for all this, or when he is, I will get back with you," I offered.
"Please do Doctor. Do you remember the news coverage of the porn rings we shut down right after the holidays a few months ago? They were on national news for several days, we rescued a lot of kids. Those images, and your patient are one of the stringers we are still trying to close from that operation. There are still kids we have not accounted for, that we HAVE to save!" I couldn't believe the big ape's eyes began welling tears as he spoke.
I was so thankful I wanted to kiss my nurse when she buzzed me on the intercom, saying my next appointment was waiting. 'Yes Judge, Granny-mama Jones has been so devastated by her divorce she cannot even break par on the golf course anymore, only a million dollars a year in alimony will help her recover!' I snickered after I showed them out and I prepared for my next case. 'Yeah, fuckhead, you could have been making the big bucks spouting that shit in court!'
The CPS worker was much easier to deal with. Although he was a supervisor he would be serving as Johnny's caseworker, at Judge Rodriguez's 'suggestion'. I was pleased when he informed me he was here to support my efforts with the boy, that I would have a free hand until I was prepared to release him as a patient. He needed to speak to the child briefly to get some routine information for their records, but then he'd only get involved when I asked him to. I told him right now we needed to get the lad some clothes, which he said he would see to it.
Johnny was in a therapy session when I arrived at Hill Country that afternoon. When I checked his chart and computer I was again amazed at his progress. I also was surprised that he had spent about six hours studying on the computer today, two more than required. He had been writing and drawing on his tablet also, I had to laugh at a couple of sketches he had attempted; although I had a good idea, I had trouble telling if they were of a horse or a very strangely shaped person. 'Well, considering he's just learning to use that hand, not bad,' I thought.
"Hi Doc!" his voice rang from the door. One of the Occupational Therapists waved at me as he rushed across the room and pushed into a hug.
"You should be very proud of your patient, Doctor. He is progressing faster than anyone I have ever worked with." the therapist said. "Besides, he's my favorite patient!" she added, tousling his hair. I had to smile when Johnny looked up at me, grinning ear to ear.
"Mine too," I answered, pulling him more tightly against me.
I watched patiently as Johnny proudly showed me his accomplishments today, the ones I had just reviewed. "Oh, I made this for you, and these too," he announced, handing me some folded papers. "The nurse lady said your post to. . . I mean. . . supposed to get them," he added as I began unfolding the one with 'DOC' scribbled on it.
I had to clench my jaw and take a deep breath as I looked at the paper. At the top of the page was a slightly improved version of the sketch I had seen on his tablet. Below it was scribbling that read: 'Thank for taking me and me getting to go at your house. It is pretty. Your horses 2. Luv Johny.'
"Thank.. thank you," I whispered, trying to keep from sobbing. "This, well this is so nice of you, I will cherish it forever," I added pulling him against me. I was walking across the parking lot before my eyes cleared enough to look at the other two papers, 'Rony and Mark,' one of them read. 'Mammy' did the other.
I was surprised when the boys rushed out of my study, a room strictly off limits when I was not home, to greet me. I couldn't resist enjoying their warm hugs and greetings before asking why or just killing them for their trespass. I had just kissed their foreheads when a beer can entered my view.
"Good afternoon Adam, your face said you might want this," Mary said. "I hope you don't mind, but both boys had to use the computer for their homework, and I was afraid they would not have time," she said as I downed about half the can.
"She said it's okay," Mark whined. 'Well, time to go shopping,' I told myself.
"If Mary said so, it's fine. But I thought you guys would be riding!" I answered.
"We already did, we got home early," Ronnie answered. As he said it I remembered that Mary was going to pick them up from school for their Orthodontic evaluations today. 'Shit, I'm glad I'm not overloaded!' I thought.
"Can we go again?" Mark added.
"Only if I can too! You go finish on the computer and let me go change," I answered. Zeus was exactly the therapy I needed this afternoon.
Mary told me that after initial evaluation the Dentist said that both boys needed treatment, that his secretary would be calling mine to set an appointment next week, to review his treatment plans. After telling me supper was in the oven she excused herself and was almost out the door before I remembered Johnny's note to her.
"He's such a wonderful boy," she sobbed as she read her's, then my thank you notes. "It's beyond me how any human being could do something like that to another, much less a father to his son."
"That son-of-a-bitch is neither human or a parent," I retorted before realizing it. "Excuse my language, I apologize," I added, feeling my face redden.
"I think you worded it perfectly," she replied, wiping her eyes. "Perfectly," she repeated before leaving.
I downed the rest of my beer before rushing into my bedroom, anxious to relax with my kids, both the two-legged and the four-legged ones.
I met with the salesman that provided the computer equipment for my practice over lunch the next day. Although he paid for our meal, the burning sensation of my molten credit card, even through my wallet told me I came out the loser in our transaction. 'Yeah, well, they're worth it!' I reassured myself. 'It will be fun to watch anyway! Especially with Junior there for his first riding lesson,' I thought as I reviewed our plan.
I was on my way home from Hill Country, snickering and enjoying my visit with Johnny and his determination to progress when my cell phone rang. When growling at it didn't make it quit ringing I checked the caller ID. I felt relieved to see it was Cindy.
"Hi Adam! Do you have a minute?" she began. 'If it's good news,' I thought, but said of course I did. "I've found several horses I'm very interested in. The farm you bought Zeus and a couple other of yours from has them, they are registered Arabians. Carl and I want to go see them on Saturday, and we would like you to go with us, we respect your opinion and want your advice." I was digesting her suggestion when she added, "And the boys of course, we can all fit into my Suburban, it would be fun!"
"Hey, it's great you might have found something so soon!" I responded. After I mentally reviewed my schedule I answered, "I think I better pass though, I promised Johnny he could visit the ranch Saturday. He's not stable enough for me to break a commitment right now. You know horse-flesh probably better than I anyway, go for it!"
"Bring Johnny with us, actually I had included him in my plans. As much as he loves horses, visiting a stable of this size would be like visiting heaven to him!" she almost bubbled in response. "Besides, Carl has diagnosed it will be good for both your and Johnny's hearts." she said, and rang off before I could respond.
I was still considering her statements as I parked in front of the house. 'This is going to be interesting, well fun,' I thought. The delivery van and Stewart's truck in front of the house, and hoped my plot had worked. It had, the boys, now including Junior were romping around the pasture on the horses, totally engrossed in Steward's lessons. The computer technicians were finishing up their work in the boys' bedroom.
I just had time to change clothes and listen to Mary's instructions regarding how to warm and serve supper when work upstairs was completed, and the techs left. 'Screw it,' I decided as I said goodbye to Mary, and jumped into a pair of swimming trunks and then the pool. 'Yeah, there is a life after work!' I told myself as I relaxed in the water, leaning back against a water jet for a massage.
"Hi guys, go get in your suits and come on in, the water is great!" I said as the boys came back from their lessons. As usual, Stewart was already at the side gate and waved before letting herself out. Mark and Ronnie started stripping out of their tee-shirts and jeans when I interrupted, "Sorry guys, it's the daytime, go get into swim suits!"
I got a pair of dirty looks before they trudged inside. I waited a minute to be sure they were upstairs before quietly slipping inside. All I heard upstairs was idle chat for a minute or so before Junior, then Mark came bounding down the stairs, Ronnie right behind, all now clad only in tight Speedos. 'Well so much for a surprise!' I thought as he ran down the stairs. He was about half way down when he slowed, then stopped, looking back toward the second floor landing and rubbing his forehead.
"Come on dude, my mom's gonna be here soon!" Junior barked up at Ronnie. "Dude, your dad's waiting for us!"
Ronnie glanced between his friend and the stair landing a couple of times before rushing back upstairs and toward his room. "MARRRRK! ! ! . JUNIOR! ! !" his high pitched voice screamed. "SHIT! COME HERE, COME HERE NOW! Pop! Shit I don't believe it!" he hooted as the other two boys darted back upstairs.
"Wow!" Mark's howled. "Holy shit!" Junior added. I wrapped a towel around myself and went upstairs. "Dude, you GOT a Dell! Two Dells! Fuck, look, their 2 gig, and 500 meg, they're TOTALLY awesome! Shit, 40 gig hard-drive, wow, these are TOTALLY BAD!" Junior continued.
I had to bite my tongue to keep from laughing out loud as I looked into their room. Junior was flying between the two computers, exploring their features and programs, as my two boys watched wide eyed. The lost expression on their faces told me they didn't understand what their friend was talking about, but also were not believing there was now a pair of computers in their bedroom.
"Fuck, you've even got. . ."
"Pop!" Mark interrupted Junior. "Wow, thanks, are they really ours?" he cried, rushing to me. "Are they? Thanks Doctor Pop, I mean Dad," he added, pushing into a tight hug. Ronnie rushed over and wrapped his long, thin arms around me.
Junior jerked around, turning ghost white when he saw me. "Ah, ah, these are neat Sir," he whimpered, straightening into an erect posture that would make any West Point cadet envious. "Ah, I didn't mean to say that, well, ah I, ah, I'm sorry Sir. . . But these are TOTALLY awesome! Sir," he whimpered as his face turned from white to crimson.
I had to deflect my eyes to keep from laughing at the embarrassed lad. 'Be a parent, nail him,' one side of my brain said. 'He's a teenager, not a little boy,' the other argued. 'This is about the boys enjoying their new computers,' a little voice rang in from nowhere.
"You know quite a bit about computers!" I answered as I led my boys toward their new PC's.
"Ah, Yes Sir,"
"Will you help them learn to use them? We all would appreciate your help."
His tightening face, and the sweat dripping off his forehead told me I had pushed far enough. "Come here son," I asked, extending my arm. He stiffly shuffled to us, his face so taught he was sure he was going to his doom. I pulled him into our snuggle and kissed him on his forehead before saying, "I think you can express yourself much better than you just did, can’t you?"
"I'm sorry Sir! Well... but they are sooooo awesome! Ah, I'm sorry I said that stuff, ah, please don't tell my mom! She'll kill me, please?"
"I won’t tell her, if you promise me you will try to express yourself better in the future," I answered. 'See, you're learning to be a parent,' I told myself. He blushed and mouthed something, no air passing his lips. "I'm not mad, okay?" I suggested, offering my arm toward him.
"Thanks Pop," he whimpered as he pushed into our hug. I rubbed his back for a couple of seconds, his face buried in my chest. "I won’t do it again, sir," he added.
"You guys want to swim or play on the computers?" I asked after a minute. Not getting an answer I suggested, "Why don't you three try them out while Junior is still here to help you, we can swim later."
We had finished supper and the boys were upstairs doing homework when the phone rang, Cindy on the caller ID. "I don't suppose you’re going to tell me what my first-born got into today, he won’t," she began. I dodged her question, suggesting he was excited about the new computers. "Yeah, sure. Junior would be the worst criminal in the world, the guilt in his face gives him away so much that a total stranger could tell when he did something wrong,"
"He's a great kid, Cindy. He is a delight to have around," I tried.
The line was silent for several seconds. "Well, I made it very clear that if he screws up, you have our blessing to blister his butt," she finally said. "Whatever he did today, I hope. . ."
"Was nothing more than being a young teenager. He's just all boy," I interrupted. She teased me about guys sticking together for a minute or so and rang off.
"Thanks Dad," Ronnie's voice came from behind.
"So, you're spying on the old man now!" I quipped. "Come here, we better do something about that!" His face tightened as he shuffled toward me. As soon as he was within reach I grabbed him, jerking him against me before I started tickling is ribs and underarms. After I had him squirming and giggling like a two-year-old I mocked a thick German accent as I said, "Zat's vhat we do to spies!"
"You're silly!" Mark giggled as he pushed into my lap next to his brother. We ended up snuggling in my recliner for the next hour or so, not even noticing it was later than the boys' bedtime.
I almost couldn't believe how quickly, and quietly, my day had passed as I finished my rounds the next afternoon. 'Run kitty run!' I told my big cat as I aimed her toward Hill Country. 'Check in on Johnny and I'm home! There is a God!' I thought.
At first, Johnny was elated when I told him about our trip on Saturday. "200 horses? Do I getta. . . get to, meet all of them? I didn't know, anyone had that many!" I was still dazzled by the improvement in his language skills, over so few days, when he whimpered, "But do I still getta go see your horses, I mean get to, well and your house again? I made these for Zoe, and Zeus and Athena and Hera and all of them! Please I wanta give them to them, maybe I can read them to them?" he said, pulling a stack of folded papers out of his tablet.
I fought back tears as I looked at the scribbled notes, much like the thank you notes he had made earlier, but addressed to each of the horses. "Of course we are going to the ranch," I answered. "Well, if you will go swimming! Promise?" His bright smile answered for him. "It's going to be sort of a long day, I'm going to pick you up right after breakfast and we'll be together all day, I'll bring you back before bedtime. Is that okay?" His answer was a long, tight one armed hug. "You just have to work hard until Saturday, okay?" I told him before leaving.
The evening was equally quiet. The boys were still enthralled with their new computers. I spent an hour or so upstairs with them showing them how to operate them and enjoyed a series of hugs and thank you's before finally getting them into bed.
'One more day, and it's the WEEKEND!' I told myself as I climbed into bed, crashing almost instantly into a relaxed slumber. Late into the night, I began having what I thought was a dream, but some soft sobbing from under my covers told my half awake brain it was not. As I drifted back to consciousness there was indeed a warm little body pushed tightly against me, crying softly. The feel of his thin neck and back told me it was Mark.
"What's the matter, Pumpkin?" I whispered, brushing his hair with my fingers. "Are you okay, what's wrong?" The only response I got was him pressing more tightly against me as his sobs turned to whimpers. "It's okay son, Dad's here, please tell me what's wrong," I tried.
"I'm scared," he whined. A couple of sobs later he softly added, "I thought you were gone!"
"I'm right here pumpkin, you're safe, promise. Did you have a bad dream? What's wrong?"
"I woke up, and I was back at St. Paul's and, well I dreamed I was a dream and you were too, that I had to live there more."
"It was only a dream though, wasn't it?" I asked. 'Well, a dream that he was dreaming? He has an imagination!' I thought. I pulled the covers back, and kissed the back of his head. "Was that a dream?" He pushed his way up my chest tucking his head under my chin. "You are safe, and you are home, you're safe in what's your home forever now, I promise."
I continued to cuddle him for I don't know how long after he drifted back to sleep, until my still tear filled eyes finally closed.
Fingers softly stroking my shoulder woke me up the next morning. As I opened an eye Mark was still tucked under my chin, Ronnie was now laying next to him, looking back at me. "You're suppose to be in bed," I mumbled.
"I am," he answered. He kissed my nose before I could respond. "You're a neat dad,"
"You're a neat Turkey, but it is a school day, you are supposed to... I love you turkey," I answered before I kissed his forehead. Mark giggled softly still pressed against me. "I don't suppose all this affection has anything to do with, maybe a pre-school swim does it?" They both giggled, throwing their arms around me. I enjoyed their snuggle for a minute or so before announcing, "Okay, I'll take you to school and we will eat on the way. But Dad's has to get up, or we're going to be swimming in bed!"
They giggled again and crawled out of bed, darting toward the patio door as I rushed to the bathroom. I was almost to the patio door when my alarm clock broadcast its first assault of the morning. "Shut the FUCK up!" I growled, attacking its off button with a harsh punch.
"Ah, Dad, we were kind of wondering, well if it would be okay if Junior spent the night tonight," Ronnie asked as we were driving into town.
"You said we gotta ask first, and we did and stuff!" Mark added.
"Guys, I don't care if you invite Junior, or any of your friends to visit, but you still are not planning ahead. With no notice, do you expect his mother and I to take time out to get him fresh clothes and such? I don't think so tonight, you show me you can plan ahead for next time."
"Well but we did, Sir!" Ronnie countered. "He brought clothes and stuff when he came Wednesday, for Ms. Stewart and stuff! And he's gonna bring his braces stuff to school. See we remembered!"
'These little rats are going to end up as lawyers, or in Congress,' I told myself.
"He's gonna ask his mom, but she's gonna say he can if you do, please. . . DAD!" Mark whined.
'Senators, the first brothers to serve as Senators at the same time,' I predicted. "Boys, this has to end, you know better. From now on, two days notice when you invite a friend over," I snapped. I looked at their wonderful faces in the rear view mirror for a second before adding, "Yes, Junior is welcome tonight, but from now on. . ." 'Don't you think you are being a little strict on them. . .' Cindy's voice rang back into my mind.
"He's only pushing the call button every THREE minute to see if you have arrived THIS TIME!," the charge nurse growled as Roberts and I went to collect Johnny the next morning. She ignored my chastising glare as I reviewed his chart.
"Doc! and Doc!" Johnny howled as we went into his room. "Are we still gonna go see all them horses? Please? Please Pop. . . I mean Doc!" he asked as he hugged me.
"I'm impressed how you deal with your patients. Don't ever get too involved," Roberts whispered to me as we walked across the parking lot, Johnny embedded tightly under my arm. I gave him a one-fingered wave behind the boy's head.
He was wonderfully relaxed during our hour or so drive to the breeding farm, interacting with the other kids as if he had known them since birth, and laughing and giggling probably more than they.
All of the boys' heads began almost bouncing off the Suburban's windows as Roberts turned into the ranch. "Wow, there's millions of them!" Johnny cried, looking at the herd of horses. The other boys, and even Jennifer joined him in his enthusiasm.
As soon as the car stopped a mass of kids bailed out and rushed to see the horses, even before Cindy, Carl and I could get out and meet the ranch owner. I had just introduced the Roberts' to Santos, the owner, when I heard a whimpering cry from the Suburban. When I looked back Johnny was still sitting in the truck, tears pouring from his eyes.
"What's wrong, why are you still in here?" I asked when as I climbed in next to him.
"Please Mister. . . I mean Doctor, I'll be good I promise, please don't leave me in here!" he cried. "PLEASE!"
I tried to digest what he was saying for a couple of seconds before I realized he was still wearing his seat belt. "What happens if you push that?" I asked, pointing at the seat belt release. "PUSH, let's find out!"
He blushed between pale white and red a couple of times before pushing the release. As soon as the belt released he pushed to the car door. He was almost out it when he turned back. "You're neat Doc! You're SO NEAT!" he exclaimed, darting out the door and rushing toward the pasture fence.
We spent a few minutes evaluating the horses Cindy was interested in while the kids played with and petted the twenty or so other horses in the pasture we were in. Junior was too excited to be of any input, and Jenny was even less, so Cindy and I rode and interacted with the animals as we evaluated them.
Cindy didn't take long to make her decision, and chose two horses that were exactly what she was looking for, and after she forced her kids over, they got along with the animals immediately. As she and her husband discussed price, trying to get the old man down from the eight thousand per horse he wanted, and the other details of the sale with Santos, I looked around to check on my kids.
Johnny and Mark had climbed a fence and were in a smaller coral, petting and playing with what looked like a thin cinnamon colored foal, or maybe a yearling, a very small horse. I couldn't help laughing as I watched them playing together like they had known each other all their lives. Johnny's bright strawberry blond hair blended with the animal's beautiful ginger coat so wonderfully they looked like a match only Hollywood could create.
"The Cinnamon is a beautiful foal," I told Santos. "She looks so friendly."
"Yes, but sadly she is a yearling, not a foal. I'm sending her to auction next week. It is sad, she has a good bloodline but, didn't thrive. I'm sad for her, but I have to make a living so she's gone." He paused before turning back to Cindy. "Eight for each of the mares, I can deliver them, tomorrow?" he told her.
I watched Johnny hug the little filly and race around with her, his limp almost gone as he ran. "How much for the Cinnamon?" I asked.
Santos was clearly caught off guard by my question, but recovered quickly. "She's a good horse, just a late bloomer," he replied. Dollar signs formed in his eyes as he continued, "I'll let her go for, seven."
"A minute ago, she was going auction, she might bring a dollar a pound for the glue factory, what, she weighs about six hundred pounds? I'll wait and buy her at auction!" I paused for a minute, watching his face change back to one of an old, experienced horse trader. "Two, that will pay you well for her registration and Vet certificates. And I want a bloodline, no relationship with my stud."
Johnny howled, his timing probably the worst, or best possible, in the background as he and Mark ran around the pasture chasing the filly. Santos looked out at them before responding. "If you buy the other two, five for her. If she ever foals, she's worth that!"
"Eighteen for all three, we will write the checks right now. You pay for all the paperwork and transport them to my ranch, tonight. Instant money if you want it, our checks are good!," I countered, hoping Carl and Cindy were still committed.
"My friend, you are raping me! She is a beautiful horse, just a little small! She will grow! Twenty-five and it's a done deal!" he grinned.
"Well, I think we're done here, and I'm getting hungry. It was great doing business with you Santos, while it lasted," I answered, extending my hand to him. "Good bye," I added as I started toward Cindy's Suburban.
"Adam, I want those horses!" Cindy almost snarled into my ear. "His price is in line, don't screw this up!"
"Please call the kids, we're done here," I answered loudly. "Don't fuck it up now, I have him by the. . . I've got him, chill!" I whispered. Cindy gave me a glare that told me I might be a eunuch before we got back to our homes if I was wrong, but accepted her husband's hand as they went to call our kids to the car.
"Done!" Santos barked from behind us. "Eighteen if you pay today, I will have my driver follow you with the horses. I have papers for all of them, even the runt; I mean the yearling!"
"We are going to eat lunch before we go home, can I expect your delivery, about three?" I answered. I grinned at Santos, I hoped with as much debauchery as he had earlier at me, as we agreed and the Roberts and I paid him.
The only thing that looked like it didn't promise food poisoning from the street was a McDonald's. Of course, we got no argument from the kids, and I was soon trying to convince my mouth to bite into one of their aged, heat lamp dehydrated burgers. The kids disappeared into one booth as the Roberts and I sat down in another.
"I said it before, but remind me not to screw with you pacifists types!" Roberts said as we began eating. "You cleaned Santo's plow, thanks for your help!"
"And God Bless you for buying that filly for Johnny," Cindy added.
"I just bought the horse as an investment, she was a good deal if she grows, a good bloodline," I countered.
"Adam, don't try to lie to a lawyer, we are experts at that!" Cindy snickered. I was trying to decide what she meant when she added, "Don't bull-shit a bull-shitter. I just insist I get to handle the adoption casework."
"Not! I'm his Psychiatrist. and, I've already got two more kids than I'm ready for. I am only treating him!" Both of their faces told me I was not being believed, in the slightest.
"Well, let's get home, and greet my new daughter," I suggested, praying for some relief. "You have a pair of girls to introduce to Zeus!"
To Be Continued…