The courtroom remained silent, except for the sound of my pounding heartbeat, which I was sure everyone in the room could hear as clearly as I did, for probably a full minute.
"And you must be Mark?" Judge Rodriguez began, finally breaking the almost deafening silence. "I would like to talk to you, then you Ronald, in my Chambers, my office. Bailiff, please escort the young man."
The clerk called out the famous 'All Rise,' order as a big cop walked toward us and the Judge started toward the door. Mark pushed behind me, positioning me between the cop and himself. "It's okay son, go with the officer, we'll be right here," I said, trying to pry him from behind me. He only whimpered.
"No, he's scared!" Ronnie barked, stepping between the officer and me.
"It's okay," I tried, gently grabbing his shoulder as he squared off with the big man, well over a foot taller than the boy.
"Come along son," the bailiff said, trying to step around Ronnie. I was able to grab Ronnie by his neck just in time to stop him from lunging his mouth at the big cop.
"Is there a problem?" Rodriguez's voice rang from the front of the room.
"My little brother's scared. You're not gonna take him," Ronnie growled.
"Ronald, this is my courtroom, I'm going to ask you nicely to sit down," the Judge snapped.
"But this is my brother! Well sir, I, I gotta protect him." The two of them stared at each other for several seconds.
"So you do. Would you and your little brother both come with me?" Ronnie glanced at me. When I nodded he whispered something to Mark and led him toward the Judge.
"Damn hippie pervert," I heard the Mother Superior's voice whisper from behind me. I somehow forced myself not to look at her.
Ten tense minutes later the door opened and the Judge walked back in, a kid under each arm. I grinned slightly when I noticed Mark was now sporting a milk mustache. Instead of climbing onto the bench he guided them to the middle of the room, in front of the lawyer's tables.
"For the record, and I'm sure I don't need to say this but," the Judge began, pausing as he clearly fought off a snicker. "For the record, Mark misspoke, but only slightly. He meant to say DRESS clothes. His comparison was to the 'Monkey Suit' some mean old parent made him wear today."
Mark blushed bright red and giggled. Rodriguez bent down and whispered something into the youngster's ear, and Mark darted behind the bench, climbing up to the Judge's desk. He and the Judge exchanged glances before Rodriguez turned back to us.
"Hearings like this make my job worthwhile. However, I have two problems with the documents filed with this court," he said, making my rectum suck wind. Cindy squeezed my hand. "I find the Brief of Formulation unacceptable, I will expect it modified to reflect a petition for adoption, and it be filed within thirty days, hearing set in ninety. Please re-file by the close of business Monday. Fast track this, folks, there is no reason not to.
"I hereby order conservatorship of these children transferred to Doctor Adam Owens effective immediately," he concluded as he turned his head slightly back toward his bench and nodded.
I just had time to look up in time to see Mark slam the Judge's gavel on the desk. "Yeah!" he shouted as he jumped off the front of the ten or so foot high desk and slammed into a tight hug against me. Ronnie was right behind, both of them encircling me with their long, thin arms as everyone congratulated us.
"Thank you and God bless you," Mother Superior said as we left the courtroom. "You are a most wonderful man, we will be looking forward to your support and counsel at St. Paul's" she added, extending her hand to me.
'Only a very few minutes ago I was a DAMN Pervert, and a DAMN Hippie,' I thought as I looked at the crucifix hanging from her habit. I couldn't resist the urge and released my pony-tail, shaking my head until my hair fell over my shoulders and into my eyes before answering, "Thanks for your thoughts, I'm sure your God is very forgiving, best of luck to you." 'Bitch', I thought as the boys and I walked to the parking lot.
As soon as we exited the building I pulled my tie loose, opening one then a second button on my stiff shirt. While the boys retrieved their book bags from Sister Opel's van we chatted about a couple of details regarding the boys' move from the Children's Home. When I turned back toward the car the boys had clearly taken my lead, both of them had stripped their ties off, pulled their shirttails out of their pants and tossed their blazers on the trunk of the car along with their satchels. I snickered but waited until I was in the car seat to pull my shirttail out.
I found a Mc Donald's on the way to the expressway for our traditional Friday afternoon treat, and thanks to the cooperation of all twelve cylinders Jaguar had fitted under the hood, we were waving at our four-legged fan club as we waited for the gate to open. I wasn't surprised when they waved and yelled at the horses when we got out of the car and darted in the house and upstairs. I didn't waste any time either, tossing the court documents on the coffee table and rushing to my bedroom, stripping out of my suit as I went.
The boys had already helped themselves to sodas and a bag of cookies, and were looking at their custody papers when I joined them in the family room. "Hi Doctor Pop," they said almost in unison, and Ronnie pushed an unopened beer can into my hand.
"When do we get to live here?" Mark asked, his voice even higher pitched than usual.
"You already do, you're going to live here from now on," I answered as I sat between them on the couch. "I love you guys, and now you're going to be my sons," I added, kissing each of their foreheads as they snuggled against me. I was a little surprised when they seemed to settle back, assuming they would want to jump in the pool or go riding, something to burn energy. Instead, they seemed to lean more tightly against me.
"Things are going to be a little crazy for a few days, I'm happy it did but all this happened much sooner than I expected, well then anyone expected. It's going to take a few days to get everything working, for us to become a full-time family, we need to talk a lot more. You guys want to go play or you want me to I tell you what is going to happen for right now?" I got a pair of nods for a response.
"Tomorrow morning we're going to do things a little different, instead of you guys going to the arcade while I go to the hospital I'm going to drop you off at St. Paul's." They both stiffened like boards and Ronnie pulled away from me. I was just able to get a new grip on his shoulder before he stood up.
"Sit down and listen to me son, you really are my son now, will you trust me?" he stared down at his shoes, but sat back down. "I'm going to take you back to St. Paul's so you can pack your belongings and tell your friends you are moving. The sisters are going to help you, I'll pick you up as soon as I finish my rounds. Will that work?"
I could feel gears meshing in Mark's little head, grinding in Ronnie's. "How long do we gotta stay there?" Mark whimpered.
"Do we HAVE to stay there," I corrected. "Until I finish my rounds, and you guys get everything packed. What a couple of hours?"
Ronnie turned toward me, his eyes zapping my skull with a barrage of hazel x-rays. "When do we gotta go back after then?" 'God, we have to work on grammar, you're not from Alabama!' I thought.
"Only when you want to visit your friends. . . Or to pick one, I mean some of them up if you want to invite them to visit us." I was glad his eyes were not, or hoped they weren't, actually sending out radiation as he studied me more intensely, for the better part of a minute.
"We're really gonna get to live here? Well, all the time?"
"Yes. You're stuck!" I replied, pointing at the custody papers on the coffee table. "You are my sons now, now and soon are going to be forever," I added as he, then Mark snuggled tightly against me. I closed my eyes and held them for I'm not sure how long, my eyes welling tears that I was sure matched their soft sobs.
"Can we go see the horses?" Mark finally asked.
"Good idea, I'm going to start some supper. I feel like grilling, how about Chicken?" They both agreed immediately and darted upstairs to get their shoes. 'Wow, did that actually work?' I asked myself.
I grabbed another beer from the bar and went to the kitchen to start supper waving at the boys as they rushed out the patio door. A couple of minutes later I was going to retrieve the court documents from the coffee table and put them in my safe, but they had disappeared. As I looked around the room I was positive I had left them on the table, but even glanced at my beer can wondering if I was losing it. I had just completed a third examination of the coffee table and family room, hoping I was not, when I heard the horses neighing and snorting.
I almost couldn't believe my eyes when I looked out the patio door. All six horses were gathered in a loose semi-circle around my boys. Mark was holding up what I was sure was their custody documents, as Ronnie scribed his finger across it, clearly reading it to their four-legged audience; I would have sworn Zeus and Zoe's eyes were following his finger as if reading it with him.
I started to open the door and call and them, hoping to retrieve the important paperwork before it was damaged but hesitated. I instead rushed to the cabinet and grabbed my camera. 'Thank God for 300 X zoom!' I thought as I recorded their summit. 'Shit, if only the audio had zoom,'
I shuttered as Ronnie half folded, half wadded the documents up and stuffed it in his waistband. 'Hey, that's why there are certified copies!' I thought as they started running around the pasture, the horses joining in like it was a school playground. 'Maybe I should start planning ahead, find myself a good therapist before I really lose it!' I set the camera down and started toward the bar when I remembered Johnny and grabbed the camcorder again.
I wasn't too surprised when a pair of thin arms wrapped around my waist as I took the chicken off the barbeque pit. "Those look yumm," Mark exclaimed, staring wide-eyed at our feast. After I sat the salad and potatoes out I had to bite my lip to keep from laughing as Mark and his brother's mouths watered, almost drooled until we sat down. They both ate like they hadn't seen food for days as they inhaled two helpings of supper.
"When do we gotta go back. . . well I mean sorta, well do we gotta go back to the orphanage after school?" Mark asked as he made an unsuccessful try at wiping the barbeque sauce stains off his chin and lips.
"No. Guys, things are going to get a little crazy for a few days, it is going to be weird. We're starting a new life and a lot is going to happen. Can we do a listen time, no getting mad or arguing until AFTER I finish?" I suggested, looking at Ronnie. I was surprised as he, then Mark climbed into my lap as a response.
"For the first part of the week, Mrs. Roberts is going to pick you up from school when I can't and bring you to my office or the hospital. We are going to changes schools, well you guys are because you live almost all the way across town from your old school, does that sound okay?"
They exchanged glances, then shrugs. "Also, I'm going to hire a, a housekeeper. She will be here when you guys get home from school, or pick you up and bring you home."
"Why can't we just come home? We don't need a babysitter!" Ronnie objected.
"I said a housekeeper, not a babysitter,"
"It's listen time, remember?" I ignored Ronnie's frown and continued, "With a housekeeper, it will be a lot less work for us. And when we get home at night I won't have to cook, and when you get home from school, I bet you wouldn't mind have an afternoon snack waiting for you!" 'Well, that worked!' I complimented myself as I watched their faces perk up.
They weren't too thrilled when I announced I was going to schedule medical and dental check-ups for them next week, but shrugged it off. When I brought up allowances their spirits brightened, not even objecting to chores they were going to be assigned in the next few days. We talked for a few more minutes before they went for another ride.
I was getting ready for bed when I heard a pair of feet pattering down the stairs. Soon Mark timidly peered into my room. "Hi Pumpkin!" I called. He shuffled over to me, clearly embarrassed. "What's wrong, you're not a shy-guy?"
"Well, ah, I'm gonna sleep in my bed, but. . ." I pulled him against me, surprised at how stiff his shoulders were. I rubbed them for a few seconds before asking him what was wrong. "Well, I was afraid you weren't here. I thought I had a dream that I lived here,"
"I'm for real, I promise," I said as I picked him up. "I'm going to be here for you for a long, long time." I held him for five minutes or so before carrying him back upstairs and tucking him in.
"Guys, it's listen to me time again," I announced as I turned onto the street leading to St. Paul's. "When you guys empty your rooms, I want you to give most of your clothes to the Home, I know there are a lot of boys that live there that need clothes. Keep anything that is special to you, but I want to buy you, well, a lot of new clothes. We won't have time today, but probably tomorrow we're going on a shopping trip, so help your buddies, okay?"
They agreed, and after a minute Ronnie asked what we had to do today. "We're having a party this afternoon, Doctor Roberts and his family are coming out to the ranch." I said. I watched their little pixie faces swap several glances, almost being able to read 'well, you ask him!' even through the rearview mirror. I let them stew for a minute or so before adding, "If you want to invite him to spend the night, his mother has already said he can." I had to bite my lip as they high-fived each other and hugged.
I had hoped to rush through my rounds and get quickly free, but of course, Doctor Murphy, all his laws with him, had visited the hospital before me. One of my patients had tried a fairly daring 'escape' during the night which took forever to sort out, another had attempted to break into the ward's medication room, which brought the wrath of Hospital Security and the local police down on the sixteen-year-old addict; 'A full moon or what?' I asked myself.
Finally, I finished my rounds and went to check on Johnny, about an hour and a half behind schedule. I made a mental note to check the lunar calendar, it had to be a full moon, as I checked his chart and half listened to a polite butt chewing from the ward's charge nurse. He wouldn't stay in bed when told, he kept trying to take longer walks than the PT wanted, causing pain in his leg. Each time they gave him Children's Tylenol, as prescribed on his chart, instead of relaxing he waited for it to take effect and was off for another walk.
I told the woman I would talk to him, repeating myself several times. But she was going to vent her anger on someone, so I let her run her mouth as long as I could. "I'll talk to him, but I am somewhat glad to see he is trying now," I commented, trying to tactfully tell her to shut up.
"Some idiot gave him pictures of some stupid horses and got him all stirred up, this fool told him if would let him ride them!" she said, pointing at the trash can. "I wish I could find out who he is, that boy is going to be a cripple, nothing more. Whoever he is should be banned from the hospital."
I slammed the boy's metal clipboard closed so hard it shook the counter. "Where are those pictures," I asked, trying to keep from punching her out. She gave me a strange look before picking up a nearby trash can, pulling the pictures out of it.
"I'm the idiot you are looking for, and I not only own these horses but promised the lad I would let him ride one if he cooperated with PT and regained his strength," I growled. I watched her blush pale then red before I reached over the counter and grasp the telephone, slamming it on the countertop. "I think you were going to have my credentials removed? I suggest you get an administrator up here."
"Well, Doctor, I didn't know it was you, I was. . ."
"You were trying to make your job easier, at the expense of one of my patients!" I snapped, trying to keep from yelling. "Return these pictures to the patient IMMEDIATELY! Unless it is life-threatening, I want you nowhere near that boy, you are forbidden to enter his room. I'm not sure if I can get you fired or not, but if you violate my orders I promise you will spend the rest of your career in the morgue giving former patients their last enemas, DO I MAKE MYSELF CLEAR?" I didn't wait for a response before adding, "Get PT up here and order a VCR for the boy's room. DID I SAY TOMORROW, OR MAYBE?" I barked.
"Good morning, Adam!" Roberts' voice rang from behind me. After our eyes met he put his arm around my shoulder saying, "Let's get a cup of coffee." He guided me to the Physicians' Lounge, pouring each of us a cup before continuing, "I thought you hippies were all pacifists, why don't you have flowers in your hair or stuff?
"You were pretty hard on her, I would bet the entire floor heard you. He's getting to you, isn't he?" I nodded. "That was not very wise, you alienated most of the staff on this shift."
"I don't want that bitch around him, she might as well work for civil service!"
"I'm going to order another EKG, and an Echocardiogram. If they are positive, let's move him out of Intermediate Care. The regular Pedi-ward downstairs would be good. Do you have any problem with that?" I just had time to agree when he looked at the door, inviting the young PT technician in.
I began to realize what Roberts was saying as I looked at the technician. He was probably my age, maybe a year or so younger, but clearly was not comfortable meeting with us, or more exactly me. I stood up and introduced myself and asked him to sit down. "Tell me about our young friend," I asked, pouring him a cup of coffee.
Ten minutes later Frank, the PT tech, and I walked to Johnny's room together. He was all smiles, enjoying his recently returned horse pictures like Christmas gifts. He insisted I tell him each one's name again, and I ended up writing their names on the back of the photos for him.
"I understand you have been getting out of bed a little more than the nurses like," I said, trying to breach the problem.
"Well, I gotta learn to walk right and stuff! Gee Mister, I gotta hurry!"
"I'm thrilled you want to, and I am also impressed that you want to work so hard. But, your body is still healing too, if you try too hard, it won't heal as quickly."
"Yeah, but all I gotta do is make my leg work. I don't give a shit about my arm right now I'll fix it later." I bit my lip about his language.
"Was that the best way to say that?" He blushed at my question. "Listen to me very carefully, okay?" I asked, getting a wide-eyed stare as a response. "We have to work together to get you well. I'm your Doctor, and Frank is your Therapist, and we both know exactly how to get you back on your feet, and out to the hospital, as soon as we can. The sooner you get out of here, the sooner you get to go see my ranch, and ride my horses, right?"
"I didn't know you're a Doctor, the old ladies said you was a fetisholigist. . . well, whatever they said." I bit my tongue to keep from laughing, but when I heard Frank's soft snicker I had to look away.
"I'm a Psychiatrist, that's a kind of doctor," I tried. "Frank is a Physical Therapist, he knows exactly how to get kids like you walking and healthy, as quickly as you can. Let's make a deal. If you do EXACTLY what Frank and the other Therapists ask of you, and try as hard as you can, but do ONLY what they tell you to, Frank and his staff will promise to get you well and out of here just as quick as they can. And, the minute Frank tells me you are ready, we'll go meet the horses. Will that work? If Frank and I promise will you?"
"Okay. But how long do I gotta? I mean I promise but,"
"If you try hard, I mean do exactly what we ask, about three weeks," Frank injected. Johnny's face sank. "We might be able to shorten that time if you help us. I promise I will try."
"Okay, we gotta start!" Johnny proclaimed, throwing his covers off as he started to climb over his bed rail.
"Okay, but stay in bed," Frank ordered, gently pushing the boy back on his pillow. "The first thing we're going to do is take you to get a couple of tests. Then we are probably going to move you to, , , my special treatment area, another hospital room."
"Yeah, okay. I mean yes sir," Johnny answered as he leaned back. I gave him the printouts from last night, and the VCR, telling him I would see him again soon.
"Thanks, Doctor," Frank said as we stepped into the hall.
"Thank you!" I countered. "He's very special to me, take good care of him," I added before I realized it. Something in Frank's eyes told me the boy had chiseled a way into his heart also.
My little angels were playing kickball with several other kids when I turned into St. Paul's. Before I stopped the car there were at least a dozen kids surrounding it, several boys hugging Ronnie and Mark as they gathered around.
"Why can't there be two of me?" Ronnie whispered. I was a little surprised when he didn't resist as I hugged him, something would normally be embarrassed about in public. "I wanta go live with you but I don't wanta leave all my friends, I'm scared!"
I pulled him and Mark against me, then risk kissing Ronnie's forehead. "You're not leaving them behind, remember I said you can invite them to come out to the ranch?" He squeezed more tightly against me whimpering something I could not understand. "You ready to go home?"
We made a quick stop at a meat market on the way home. I blew almost a hundred dollars or so on huge Tiger Shrimp and Red-fish filets, along with some beautiful prime cut rib-eye steaks that looked perfect for Sunday, but didn't really care. 'That's what I bust my ass for, I guess,' I told myself. 'Fuck it, I don't have to really pay for it until next month anyway!' I thought as I put it on plastic.
The kids were at the pasture fence as soon as I stopped the car, telling the horses every detail of their morning. I didn't see any point in arguing, knowing I would give in anyway, when they begged to go riding, and then carried the groceries and their belongings into the house. Afterward, I watched them sprint toward the tack room, wasting no time.
After I changed into shorts and a tee-shirt I opened a beer. 'A little early, but what the fuck! Party time' I told myself. After I had peeled and put the shrimp in to marinate, I went back into my bedroom and changed into swim trunks. 'Yes, this is the life,' I told myself as I watched the boys riding and having fun through the patio door in my bedroom.
I tossed the Shrimp in its marinate and was heading toward the pool and a much-needed massage from one of its water jets when the house doorbell rang. 'What are the kids doing at the front door?' I wondered. 'Did I even lock the door, no one can get past the gate.'
"Hi Adam, we used little Carl's code, I hope it was all right!" Cindy bubbled when I opened the door.
'Carl's code? Kill the kids' I added to my to-do list. I stared at her for a couple of seconds before remembering I was bare-chested and blushed. "Nice pecks!" she added as her kids rushed into the house.
"Can we go riding, Please sir," Jennifer asked. "Please, Mark and, well whatever his name is are, PLEASE?" Junior's glare vibrated across the house as it penetrated his sister before she said, "I mean Ronnie." I nodded and both kids were out the door.
Roberts joined me in the pool, but Cindy chose to sit on the patio. We talked for a few minutes before she excused herself, asking if she could ride with the kids. After a few minutes, I offered Roberts a beer and finally opened the one I had forgotten about, tossing a bowl of chips and can of dip onto a tray before returning to the patio.
Kid radar was working perfectly, and within minutes of setting the tray down one, then another youngster appeared, each of them looking like they hadn't eaten in weeks. I added a large tray of finger sausages, crackers, and cheese to the rapidly disappearing chips.
"From what the boys tell me you sound like you have a busy week planned," Cindy commented when she joined us. "They said you want to transfer them to another school, have you considered Cornerstone Academy? Little Carl has been there for three years and we couldn't be more pleased. Carl is on the board of directors."
"No Way! They gotta wear uniforms and stuff!" Ronnie exclaimed.
"Yuck!" Mark added.
"It's okay, except there are no girls," Junior whined. I had to snicker as I watched Ronnie's face sour slightly, and Mark's brighten into a thin smile. "Well but the teachers are all really neat," Junior added. I noticed something different about him as he talked.
"It's a little expensive but well worth the money. They have some of the highest academic success rates in the state," Roberts added. "They usually don't take mid-term entries, but I can arrange it."
"Yeah, it would be totally cool if you guys went there!" Junior exclaimed. As he cracked a wide smile I noticed he now had braces on the rest of his teeth.
"I see you have some new jewelry," I commented, making him blush.
"Yeah, Tin Grin!" Ronnie teased, pushing against Junior's arm with his hand. Junior pushed back as he turned red-faced.
"Speaking of which," Cindy injected.
"It's in my purse, get going," The boy rolled his eyes upward, his face broadcast 'parents suck' as clearly as a billboard before slinking into the house. A minute or so later he gave me a 'thanks, asshole,' glare as he rejoined us, hooking his headgear onto his teeth.
Roberts gave me an interesting suggestion as we talked, and Cindy asked about my search for a Nanny. An Occupational Therapist that I knew fairly well, who had recently retired from Central Baptist, was looking for part-time work. He told me she was looking to do in-home part-time care for an elderly couple or two, but I remembered how good she was with my patients.
I snickered but realized life was going to be a lot different for my boys and myself when we sat down to eat. Mark studied the table carefully, clearly looking for something that wasn't there for him. When his lost face didn't go away for a minute or so I finally asked him what he wanted, what could I get him?
"Nothing, it's okay," he almost whimpered. "Well, but I thought we were gonna have shrimp is all." From his disappointed expression, he had been looking forward to the dish.
"Here are the shrimp," I countered, setting two of the six inch or so barbequed Tiger Shrimp on his plate.
"That's not shrimp, shrimps are small. And they got that crusty stuff on them like chicken,"
"Yeah puny like you," Ronnie whispered to his brother, a little louder than I think he meant to. "Whatever, he burned the fish too," he whispered to Junior, his eyes fixed on the Blackened Redfish. He blushed when he realized I had heard him.
"Taste, I promise you like it," I told Mark, cutting into one of his shrimp with his fork, and holding it up to his mouth. He stared at it for a second and slowly opened his mouth.
"Yumm!" he declared, jerking the fork out of my hand.
"Try the burnt fish," I suggested to Ronnie. "I promise it's good." I spent most of the rest of the meal all but demanding they eat some vegetables and salad instead of tanking up on the fish and shrimp.
Sunday afternoon I unwittingly embarrassed the boys again when I served the rib eye steaks. Both Ronnie and Mark seemed to dodge them, eating only their side dishes for a couple of minutes before I snapped that they might not have ever had a steak before. "Taste," I told Mark, offering him a bite of my steak.
"Yumm!" he exclaimed. His eyes saddened as he looked down at his untouched steak.
"These are good Doctor Owens!" Junior declared. "I like to cut mine thin," he added, making a show of demonstrating how to cut a steak. Ronnie and Mark watched him, then timidly sliced into theirs. A few test slices later I watched both their steaks disappear at what had to be record speed.
"Thanks, Turkey," I whispered to Junior while the boys loaded the dishwasher. "You're a super kid," I added. I was rewarded with a quick hug from him before all three of them disappeared into the basement.
When I got to my office I could tell the week was going to be a whirlwind but was shaping up as being very productive. Monday after rounds I only had two patients in the morning and was able to not only let the boy's school know I was their guardian now, but contacted Cornerstone Academy. At first, they were not interested, but when I dropped Robert's name I was quickly offered an appointment with their admissions representative the next morning. A quick phone call and the boys' current school agreed to fax their records over. A couple of more calls and I had appointments for the boys with my Dentist for Tuesday after school and a Pediatrician friend of mine for Thursday afternoon.
When I went back to the office after lunch Mary Hope, the retired OT technician had returned my call. When I told her what I was considering she seemed interested and we agreed to meet for lunch the next day.
Johnny was sleeping during my morning rounds, but wide awake and almost bubbly Monday afternoon. He was happy as he could be to be out of Intermediate care and had the pictures of my horses taped to the walls all over his half of the hospital room. I almost felt sorry for the boy in the other bed when he groaned as Johnny insisted on playing the VCR I had brought him for what I was sure was the hundredth time asking me to narrate it.
"Wow, Mister, I mean Doc, they's your sons? They get to ride and stuff?" My jaw tightened, 'God, what hillbilly mountain did this kid go to school on?' I asked myself. "Oh, I mean Doctor, ah sir," he whimpered. 'So much for hiding your emotions, he's not fool!' I thought.
"I like Doc better, if you feel comfortable," which earned me a bright grin. "Yes, each of them owns their own horse." He looked away, I couldn't really read his face, but it was not a happy one.
"Watch!" he proclaimed, tossing his covers off and squirming off the bed. His face tightened in pain as he stood up, but limped a lap around the room. "I get to walk in here as much as I wanta! Frank said so!" he proudly proclaimed. "I can go to the nurses' thing three times a day too, I'm gonna try stairs tomorrow!"
I spent a little time congratulating him, then helped him back into bed. I was almost out the door when he called again. "Thanks Mister, you're neat!" I gave him a wide smile and was careful to wipe my eyes before going to the Nurses' Station.
By Tuesday afternoon I subconsciously started to be worried, things were just going too smoothly.
Cornerstone impressed me as soon as it came into view. It was a sprawling well-landscaped campus, set on a hillside at the edge of the hill country as well as the edge of San Antonio's sprawl. Instead of the fifty-year-old, ill-kept red brick school building, surrounded by a menacing steel fence that I had dropped my angels off in front of earlier, each of the twenty or so buildings scattered around were in as perfect condition as the grounds surrounding them. The most imposing security obstacle I found as I drove toward the Administrative Building was a few hedges and posts supporting covered awnings between buildings. It looked more like a country club than a school.
The school was owned by the Methodist Church, but was a 'non-denominational Christian' school; about eighty percent day students, twenty percent boarding. When I toured the campus I was sold. As we looked into twenty or so classrooms, the largest one contained only about fifteen students, every one of them displaying a happy, interested expression. There was also an indoor pool, and clearly state of the art gymnasium training room. The 'Uniforms' that Ronnie had objected to were blue shorts or trousers and white polo shirts. By the end of the tour, I wondered if smiles were issued along with the clothes. One of the vans the school used to pick up day students went near the ranch, and they could easily be added to the route.
Roberts had called ahead I was sure. The school had some concerns about Mark's records especially but assured me if the boys would try they could help them; insisting they interview the boys before committing themselves to accepting them. I clearly got the impression they really didn't want to take on a pair of boys fresh out of an orphanage but were willing to try. My asshole sucked a little wind as I learned their tuition for day students was six thousand dollars a school year but agreed. I agreed to bring the boys for screening Wednesday morning.
Mary was also just what I was looking for, as articulate and caring as I remembered her. We seemed to have thought alike, I had in mind for her to go to the ranch around lunch a couple of times a week and do some housekeeping before the boys came home from school..and on the other days arrive shortly before they did. Her ideas regarding salary were actually lower than what I was going to offer her. I split the difference and I hired her, contingent on her meeting the boys, and everyone being comfortable with each other and gave her directions to the ranch.
I decided to let the kids have the day off, after their interview, we would do a little shopping then meet Mary right after lunch. I had to do rounds after the Cornerstone interview, and after that, we had the day off until their riding lessons.
The trip to the Dentist was good and bad news for the boys, no cavities and a good report on tarter and hygiene, but they were not too pleased about getting their teeth cleaned, and both did get a referral for Orthodontic treatment. I was rewarded with a pair of dirty looks when I answered their question as to what Orthodontics meant.
I knew Jaguar made an excellent vehicle, but I was impressed at how well it absorbed the flack that ricocheted around it on the drive home. "I ain't EVEN gonna get shi. . . well, stuff like Junior!" Ronnie proclaimed, "I ain't gonna wear that. . ."
"Why do we gotta go to that school? It sounds barfy!" Mark joined in. 'Welcome to parenthood!' I told myself.
"I'm NOT GOING TO, Ronnie, speak English! Should we talk more about using the word Shit?" I corrected. "Come on guys, if you need braces, you need braces! A lot of kids wear them, hey, no one cares!
"Yes, you have to go to Cornerstone tomorrow, hey it's better than going to school, you get all day off!" realizing that didn't work I continued. "Let's go look at the school, you guys talk to them. After we do, if you guys still don't want to go there, we'll find another school. Will that work?"
They relaxed somewhat, but I could feel a tension between us all evening. I only got cursory hugs when they went to bed. I took a long swim after tucking them in, enjoying the release the water gave me as I swam lap after lap, but still couldn't relax. 'Are you doing the right thing?' I kept asking myself. 'Why can't we go back to when I just got to spoil them and send them back for someone else to raise, when it was all fun?' I wondered. An hour or so later, still not having an answer, my body announced it was time to get out of the pool and get in bed.
After a quick shower, I started upstairs to check on the boys when I noticed a big lump in my bed covers. When I peeked under it I found a pair of golden haloes, attached to my beautiful, sleeping angels. "Thanks, God," I whispered as I carefully slipped into bed so I didn't wake them.
As I relaxed I congratulated myself for not disturbing them. I leaned back toward their side of the bed, just in time to see a lump in the blanket slither toward me, almost like a snake. It quickly snuggled against me, throwing a thin arm over my chest and hugging me. Ronnie was right behind his brother, hugging both of us as we drew into a tight snuggle.
I was deciding how to send them back to their beds when I felt a pair of lips against my nose. "Thanks for being our dad, Dad. We love you soooooo much!" Ronnie whispered, disappearing under the covers before I could react. 'What did you want to go back to?' I asked myself. I draped my arm over both of them, stroking Ronnie's back as I felt Mark's breath, softly blowing on my chest as I slipped off to sleep.
One, then another kiss on my cheek awoke me. As I pried my eyelids open it took a couple of seconds to focus on Ronnie's pixie nose. I couldn't help noticing an additional splattering of freckles. "Can we go swimming?" he asked.
"Please?" a soft voice whined from under the blanket.
"Well, what's it worth to you?" I mumbled. I could feel Ronnie's eyes examining me as he considered my question. The next thing I knew I had a pair of soft lips kissing each of my cheeks. "That should cover it!" I responded, kissing their foreheads. They giggled and gave me a quick hug before jumping out of bed, darting toward the patio door, as usual only wearing their briefs.
We swam for a half hour or so before I sent them upstairs to shower and dress. I had planned to make them wear the dress clothes they wore to court but ended up compromising on dress slacks and button up shirts. I popped a load of frozen waffles in the microwave before rinsing off in the shower and dressing.
The boys were quiet on the way into town. When I turned onto Cornerstone's sprawling campus they began looking around, whispering to each other. "Which one's the school?" Mark finally asked.
"All the buildings are," I replied, making their little heads scan back and forth even faster. "That's their indoor swimming pool, and that smaller building is a store, right here at school. There's a golf course back there, too."
They were wide-eyed by the time we exited the car. As we entered the Administration building Mark tucked himself shyly under my arm, with Ronnie hovering only inches from me on the other side.
"Hi dudes! Hi Doctor Owens," Junior's voice rang as we entered the admissions office. Both boys looked a little surprised, but seemed to relax, as their friend approached us, wearing uniform blue shorts, knee socks, and a white polo shirt. The representative I had met with before greeted us immediately, announcing Junior was going to take the boys on a tour of the campus while he met with me again, getting no argument from my two.
"Where's your uniform?" I heard Ronnie whisper as they left.
They were almost hyper when the returned a few minutes later, still bombarding Junior with questions. They both stiffened when the representative invited Ronnie into his office, but ten minutes later he came out wearing a wide smile. Mark pushed against me like glue when she asked him to join her, but after coaxing from his brother shuffled into the office. Shortly we heard the door open, followed by Mark's high pitched giggle.
"What do you guys think?" I asked after a minute. "Let's go for a walk," I suggested after they exchanged several glances. I declined the ladies' offer to use her office, asking if we could walk around outside for briefly.
"Wow, it's neat here," Mark said. "I didn't know they made schools like this."
"Yeah, and I thought you had to wear uniforms and stuff," Ronnie chimed in. When I said they did wear uniforms he countered, "That's not uniforms, I mean what I thought were uniforms!"
"Well, you guys think you'd like it here?" They both were silent for over a minute, exchanging several more glances, almost as if communicating telepathically.
"Well but, you gotta be smart and stuff to go to a school like this," Mark whined.
"Yeah, and I bet everyone's rich, they're not gonna like a couple of orphans," Ronnie added.
I put them under my arms, cupping their thin shoulders. "No, guys, you come here to get smart. I don't know if they'd like a couple of orphans, but what about a couple of Doctor's kids? Hey, Junior likes you and he goes to school here. It's a great opportunity for you, will you take advantage of it?"
They looked at each other for several seconds before Mark looked away, pushing against me. After a long pause, I hugged them a little more tightly. "Okay," Ronnie answered. Mark immediately looked back at his brother then up at me a wide smile.
Thirty minutes later we were on our way to the uniform supply company the school recommended. While we were filling out the last of the admissions paperwork I almost couldn't believe it when the boys all but demanded to start their new school tomorrow. Cornerstone and I had been thinking Monday would be a good day, but both of us ended up giving in, they would start on Friday.
I could feel my credit card groan, even through my wallet, as we entered the store. I was surprised when the boys wanted all short pants, but after the clerk suggested the buy a couple of pair of long trousers they didn't argue. Their faces paled when she produced a school blazer for each of them to try on. She knew her business though, quickly showing them on the school's uniform list that they were only for field trips and special occasions. I was a little thankful that they didn't notice her adding a couple of neckties and dress white shirts to our stack.
Instead of taking the kids to the arcade, I dropped them off at the cafeteria while I made my rounds. I allowed another hit on my credit card, leaving it with the cashier and telling her to give them an open tab. I had to laugh when I looked back as I left, they little heads were sweeping wide-eyed between the dessert counter and the ice cream machine. 'Ah, life is so full of stressful decisions,' I snickered.
Johnny was not in his room when I checked in on him. A little concerned I started back toward the Nurses' Station. I was a few feet from it when an alto voice rang from the end of the hall. "Hi Mister, I mean Doc!" When I turned toward it the little strawberry blond was limping toward me almost at a jog. "I get to walk all the way down there now!" he proudly announced. "Oh yea look, I got PJs now!" he added, modeling his new pajamas.
Frank joined us after a minute. I made small talk with Johnny for a minute or so before Frank suggested he 'take another lap', and the boy limped off, still smiling. "He's doing remarkable," Frank began. "I'm probably going to start him on stairs this afternoon. I don't know about your end, but if he keeps doing so well from the PT side, we might be able to certify him ready to move to rehab sometime next week."
We chatted about how he was doing for a minute. I said I would talk to Roberts, and suggested a Staffing possibly for Monday morning. He turned and started walking away, but turned back to me. "By the way Doctor, that boy thinks you walk on water, you are his motivation. I've seen examples of spiritual healing before, but I would almost swear he is willing his body to heal to please you." I tried to reply, but all I could do was nod my head.
We had been home just long enough to change clothes when Mary buzzed the intercom at the gate. As usual, Mark was pressed against my hip, half hiding behind me, as I introduced everyone, but her cheerful smile and grand-motherly voice lured him, and within minutes they were talking like old friends. When I suggested I show her around the house I almost burst out in laughter when Mark jumped up, all but insisting he would.
Mary was looking around the kitchen a few minutes later when Ronnie pushed up against me. His teenage side showed through when he whispered, "Well, but can she cook?"
I think he realized he had said it a little too loud when Mary turned toward us. "Come here my little one," she asked. He hesitated, but slowly almost crawled to her, red-faced. "I'm a fat old Mexican grand-mom, I promise I can cook! Well, we have to fatten you up don't we? You're too skinny!" she said, poking his tight stomach as she pulled him against her. Ronnie's bright smile and Mark's giggle made it clear I had only two choices, hire Mary or ship them back to St. Paul's.
I gave her a house key and set an alarm/gate code for her before walking her out to her car. She wanted to come back out Friday afternoon and for a few hours Saturday to get used to our routine, and so we could work out scheduling details and such, which sounded like a good idea to me. "I bet Ronnie will decide I can cook by then!" she almost giggled as she climbed into her car.
I was slammed by a pair of wiry little bodies when I went back into the house. 'Thanks Dad, I mean Doctor Pop," Ronnie exclaimed. "I, I mean we didn't know getting adopted was gonna be this neat! You're a neat dad!"
"I didn't know life could be so neat," I whispered, hugging both of them. "Thanks guys, I love you. You know, I sure like being called Dad!" I added as I guided them to the couch. I instantly had a lap full of kids. We all closed our eyes and enjoyed each other's touch for I'm sure ten minutes or so.
"Wow, that's Mrs. Stewart!" Mark announced.
"YEAH!" Ronnie hooted. "We gotta go Pop! We love you!" he announced, both of them darting out the door.
"I love you!" I shouted after them. 'And thanks guys' I thought. 'And thanks God, thanks for giving me such a wonderful life, complete with live-in angels'.
I spent the next hour or so preparing supper and shooting video as Steward and the boys worked through their lesson. She was an even more impressive rider and instructor than her reputation. I shuddered several times as she used Zeus as a carrot, allowing the boys to ride him as a reward for excellence on their horses, but just looked away as the thousand or so pound stallion galloped at almost light speed with his eighty to a hundred pound riders.
After Junior's third phone call I got a little cross with him, "Did I say I would have them call you?" I snapped at him. I felt bad as soon as I did, adding, "They're still at their riding lessons, I promise they will call you." I paused a minute before adding, "And yes, they start school at Cornerstone Friday."
"YEAH!!! THANKS DOCTOR POP! THANKS!!! I mean Doctor Owens, sir!" he yelled into the phone, almost breaking my eardrum. "YEAH!!!. . . I mean please if they can call me sir."
"Thank you, little man," I said to the dial tone. 'Just thanks everyone,' I thought, watching my sons through the glass.
To Be Continued…