TJ was sputtering but did not appear to be in any distress physically. He hadn't been in the water that long before Chris got to him. He was more frightened than anything. I sat on the rocky shore and hugged both TJ and Chris to me while the other boys including JR gathered around.
"Are you okay TJ?" I asked more to break the tension than anything.
He shook his head to indicate what I had seen that he was not hurt before leaning over and hugged Chris and kissed him on the cheek. "Thanks, Chris, I was scared," he said before leaning back into my chest.
"Let's get you guys into some dry clothes," I said as I tried to get up with them both in my arms. Thankfully Eric took Chris from me and started back up toward the steps leading to the house. The rest of the boys followed closely behind as we made our way to the house.
"Come here, Chris," I said as he came out of his bedroom showered and dressed in dry clothes.
He walked over to me as if he thought he was going to be punished or something. When he got to where I was sitting I reached out and picked him up and kissed him on both cheeks and forehead.
"What you did for TJ was a very brave thing. I'm very proud of you and I want you to know that. Your quick thinking may have saved TJ from being hurt. I love you, Chris," I told him with tears in my eyes.
TJ soon joined us and sat on my other knee. He buried his face in my chest and whimpered. "What are you going to do to me?" he asked.
"How about if I give you a big hug?" I said as I pulled him into a tight squeeze.
"Ain't you mad at me?"
"Why should I be mad at you? I was worried that you might be hurt, but I'm not mad," I said.
"But... but, I got my clothes all wet and everthing."
"Don't you worry about that. I'm just glad that my little TJ is safe. Next time I want you to promise me that you will try to be more careful. Can you do that for me?" I asked still hugging them both.
"Now, why don't you guys go outside and play for a while. I'm sure that Hildy will have a snack after a while," I said and pushed both of the boys gently off my lap but not before I gave each of them another kiss on the forehead and a swat on the seat of the pants. They ran off to join their brothers and JR who were already outside playing as if nothing had happened.
I now had to deal with the revelation that Eric had dropped on me only seconds before TJ's unplanned swim.
"Eric, I think we need to talk. Would you join me in my study?" I said as I led the way.
As I closed the door Eric said, "You really love those boys don't you?"
"Yes, I do with all of my heart and soul. They are the most important things in the world to me. I can't let anyone or anything stand in my way of being able to keep them forever. That is what makes what I have to tell you so hard," I started.
"They love you too. It shows in their eyes every time they see you and the way they come up to you and hug you for no apparent reason," Eric said. "Darcie has told me a little bit about their backgrounds and it is amazing to me that they have formed such an attachment to you in the short time you have had them with you. I would have thought that they would have had a hard time becoming close to anyone after what they have all been through, especially Joel. He appears to be as normal as any kid could be."
"That's part of the problem. I can't let them be taken from me if there is any way in the world to prevent it. Eric, you said that you are attracted to me. Well... ," I paused trying to get the right words to tell him what I had to. "I also feel a strong attraction to you. I've never felt this way about anyone before, especially a man. I always believed myself to be completely heterosexual, but my feelings for you tell me that is not the case. That is the other part of the problem.
"What do you think my chances of being able to keep the boys if it were even rumored that I was gay? In Texas, I would have about the same chance of keeping them as I would of building a snowman in July in San Antonio."
"But, why should anyone know if we were involved?" he asked.
"Eric, I have a family court judge, a CPS attorney and an ex-CPS caseworker who would like nothing better than to see the boys taken away from me. Just the hint of scandal and it would give them ammunition to take them. Oh, I might be able to win custody of them in court after a couple of years, but what would happen to them in the meantime? They are still fragile and not totally certain of their status with me. At times they revert back to the frightened little boys that they were when they first came. You could see that in the way that both Chris and TJ reacted after they changed their clothes. They fully believed that they would be punished. Thankfully this behavior does not last for long and it is getting less often, but they are not totally convinced that they will always be here."
Eric thought for a while before he said, "What does that mean for us?"
"It means that until after I adopt the boys that we can only be friends and colleagues. After that happens we will have to see what develops," I said.
All this time Eric was standing several feet from me looking into my face, when I finished he turned and looked out the window onto the patio where the boys and Darcie were playing. He stood there for a minute or two before turning back to me. "I understand, Crane. I don't like it, but I understand. I didn't really know what to expect when I told you about my feelings. I could have accepted it if you had thrown me out of your house or fired me. I guess I wasn't prepared to be put on hold and I think it will take a while before I fully comprehend it."
There was just a hint of moisture in his eyes as he spoke.
I put my arm around his shoulder and said, "Let's go relieve Darcie. It looks like the boys are wearing her out playing ball."
The rest of the day was without incident. JR fit right in with the rest of the boys as if he had known them all of his life. By seven they had worn themselves out as well as the adults. Eric announced that it was time for them to pack up and leave. JR started to complain but when he saw the stern look on his fathers face quickly started gathering his things.
There were hugs all around as our guests prepared to leave. Chris turned to me and asked, "Can JR come back again?"
"I'm sure that he can, son. He's welcome to come back anytime," I said aiming my last comment at Eric.
"I tell you what, Chris," Eric said. "We have to come back up here on Saturday to look at the house we are trying to buy and if we have time we'll stop by for a while so you guys can play. How does that sound?"
"Super!" Chris responded.
I read to the boys for about 30 minutes before I could tell that their busy day had gotten to them so I sent them off to bed about an hour earlier than normal for a non-school night. They didn't complain so I knew that they were tired. I soon followed them. My day was more emotionally draining than physically tiring.
Sleep did not come easily. Eric's revelation about his feelings for me weighed heavily on my mind. Were it not for the boys, my response to him would have been much different. I tried to conceive of a scenario that would allow us to explore a relationship without jeopardizing the boys' adoption. After an hour or so I gave up trying and attempted to go to sleep.
I don't know how long I had been sleeping when I felt someone shaking me.
"Dad! Dad, wake up," I heard Joel's voice saying through my sleep-induced haze.
"What's the matter, Joel?" I said sleepily.
"TJ's crying and I can't get him to stop."
Throwing back my covers I managed to clear my head enough to swing my legs out of bed and start toward their bedroom. "Did he tell you what the matter was?"
"No, he just started crying and wouldn't stop."
I sat on the side of their bed and gently lifted TJ onto my lap. "What's the matter, son? There's nothing to be afraid of, dad is here."
His sobbing did not let up even though he buried his face in my chest. The tears ran down his cheeks and down my bare chest. I rocked him back and forth and kept telling him he was safe and there was nothing to be afraid of for maybe five minutes. Slowly his sobbing began to subside and the tears stopped flowing as freely.
"Can you tell dad what the matter is?" I asked.
"I... I... had a bad dream. I thought I was in the water and... and... I couldn't get out. I didn't want to drown. I... I didn't want to die and be put in a big box," he said and started sobbing again.
"I know you had a scare today, but there is nothing to be afraid of now. You are safe and there are a house full of people who love you. You know that don't you?" I asked.
I felt his head nodding.
"Why don't you come sleep with me tonight, you'll feel safe there. Come on, let's get you tucked in," I said as I carried him into my room.
Usually, he curled up in a ball with his back toward me when he had slept in my bed. Tonight he snuggled up against my side and leaned his head against my shoulder. He sniffled a few times before he dropped off to sleep. His sleep was restless as was mine. I think I was awake at least every hour checking on him. Sometime during the night, Joel joined us and he snuggled up to TJ on the other side.
After my morning shower, I went to the kitchen to greet Hildy and get my first cup of coffee. Hildy was starting to fill the syrup dispenser as I walked in. I stopped and stared at the unexpected gift we were to be treated with this morning. The syrup that she was pouring was pure maple syrup from a half-gallon jug.
"Where did you get that?" I somehow gasped out.
"Oh, a friend who lives up in Vermont sends me a jug every fall. I got it the other day and thought that the boys might like it with their pancakes this morning for a change," she said matter-of-factly.
"I haven't had any of the real stuff since I was in boarding school in New England. I'm sure the boys will like it and I am positive that I will," I said.
"Breakfast will be ready in about ten minutes if you want to get the boys up. I've almost got enough pancakes ready for the hungry horde," she laughed.
"This is really good, Hildy," Joel said between mouthfuls of pancakes. "It tastes different but better."
There followed what appeared to be sounds of agreement from the other boys, but their mouths were never empty long enough for words to be formed.
The rain started to come down in buckets right after breakfast so the boys had to entertain themselves inside the house. Joel went to my study and selected a new book to read. This time it was "A Study in Scarlet" by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It was the first Sherlock Holmes mystery published in 1887. The volume was well worn from many readings. I remember my dad reading it to me when I was about the twins' age. I was pleased to see that TJ asked Joel to read it to him. I think he just wanted to be close to his brother to erase the memory of the previous night.
I busied my self by calling my private investigator to have him start a thorough investigation of Rev. Fullwell. I wanted to be prepared in case the bigot decided that I hadn't meant what I told him.
Jack called later in the morning to tell me that the extradition hearing for the Martins had been held on Wednesday and they were ordered to Louisiana to stand trial for the death of the man that resulted from the robbery that they were accused of. I thanked him for the information and again invited him and his family to visit during the holidays.
When the twins and Chris came to me complaining that they were bored, I suggested that they get one of the Hardy Boys mysteries and read it. I think I had maybe 35 or 40 of the stories and some of the earlier books were easy enough for them to be able to read. I was happy that each of them took one and began reading them. There is nothing that stimulates the imagination like reading a book.
The nasty weather put a damper on the moods of all of us the rest of the day. The only times when the boys were unaffected by it was when they were eating which for those little eating machines was quite often.
Saturday's weather was just the opposite of Friday's. It was clear, not a cloud in the skies, and warm. The ground was still wet and there were puddles of water all over. There is a strange affinity between puddles of water and young boys. They found every puddle and waded or stomped their way through each and every one. They were having so much fun that I didn't have the heart to interfere with the mess they were creating. Their screams of joy and laughter brought Hildy out onto the patio to see what was going on. When she saw, she simply shook her head and went back into the house with a broad smile on her face.
When every puddle had been explored at least once, five wet and muddy boys came up to where I was sitting on the patio with sheepish grins on their faces.
"Hi, dad," Joel said. "Can we get something to drink?"
"Yes, you may have something to drink, but I don't think Hildy would like for you to be trooping through her clean house with those muddy shoes and clothes on. Do you?" I asked.
"No," he said getting unanimous agreement from the other four.
"Well, I tell you what. You go over there to the outdoor shower and take off your muddy shoes and clothes and I'll go get some towels," I said. "Wash the mud off and then you can go into the house and have something to drink and a snack."
When I returned to the patio, I was greeted by five naked boys frolicking under the shower. I had not expected them to be so uninhibited out in the open, but then again there were no close-by neighbors to see them. I had to laugh at the five little bubble butts bouncing around, each trying to get under the single showerhead. I stood there enjoying their play until they noticed that I had returned with the towels.
"Okay, dry off and then wrap the towels around you and get some dry clothes from your bedrooms before you go to the kitchen for your snack. I'm sure that Hildy doesn't want you running around the house with no clothes on," I chuckled.
Joel helped TJ dry off and wrap up in his towel before he attended to himself. I wondered if he ever would stop seeing himself as the protector of his brothers. It can be a burden for a twelve-year-old to always put others before yourself. I wonder what Dr. Adams would have to say about that. I must remember to ask next time we have an appointment.
Shortly after lunch Eric and JR stopped by. JR was all excited as he bolted out of the car and ran to the boys.
"We got a new house. It's just over there," he shouted excitedly pointing somewhere to the east of the house which wasn't all that helpful in determining where it was.
"So you must have come to an agreement on the house," I said shaking Eric's hand.
"Yes, they agreed with my last offer and if everything goes right we could be moving in just before Christmas," he said. "The owners have already moved to Arizona, so as soon as the survey is completed and they can give me clear title we can move in. There is no problem with a mortgage since I'll be paying cash thanks to the sale of my business in Houston.
"If you are interested, I know JR would like to show your boys the house. My agent said she would leave the house unlocked for an hour or so in case we wanted to come back to see it again. She has an open house just down the road so it won't be a problem for her."
"Sure, I'd like to see it and I'm also sure the boys would too," I said. "Hey, guys, do you want to go see JR's new house?"
As I expected there was a chorus of 'Yeah' followed by a stampede to the van.
"I guess we are going," I laughed. "The van will hold all of us. All you have to do is navigate."
The house turned out to be about five minutes from our house. It was a good looking Spanish style stucco with a red tile roof. It was not large, only about 2200 square feet, but it was well laid out and in very good condition. The lot was just under two acres and had a lot of live oak trees so the setting was very nice.
The boys ran from room to room investigating every nook and cranny before they went outside to investigate the yard. JR told them that it didn't have a pool yet but his dad said they would put one in.
"Let me show you around," Eric said indicating that I should follow him. "We have two large bedrooms and a smaller one. This is going to be my bedroom. It has its own bathroom and sitting area that I think I'll use as a place for my computer."
I was admiring the view out of his sliding glass doors when he came up behind me and put his arm on my shoulder. When I turned to face him he pulled me close and kissed me passionately. I felt my body responding to him even though I tried to overcome it.
"Eric, we can't do this. As much as I would like to, my responsibilities to the boys is paramount in my life right now," I said catching my breath and trying very hard to control my emotions.
"I just had to see if my feelings were based on reality or just my imagination. I'm sorry, I know you told me that there was no way we could become involved. I think I understand my emotions better now and although I hate the thought, I will wait until your adoption of the boys is consummated before I pursue a relationship further," He said with a sad look in his eyes.