On Ahead

Chapter Three

 

We arrived at the hospital and were directed to Tony's room by the nurse at the nurses station who also told us that Karen was on her way, but that Tony had another visitor right now, but he was unrestricted as to how many visitors he could have, and it was just one woman, so we were encouraged to go into the room, and maybe we could cheer him up. As soon as the heavy door was opened the twins rushed in and were surprised to find Lucy sitting on the bed holding a weepy Tony.

I recognized him right away; he was one of the library's "little helpers". Once a child reached their teens they were called interns, the volunteer network that kept many a public library functioning, much like the adult volunteers, the so-called "friends of the library" who helped in the adult sections, these little helpers, and interns, were primarily shelving in the children's rooms and helping the children's librarian with the activities, crafts, gaming clubs, reading and tutoring that went on in the children's and young adult areas of our library.

The twins were asking their "Grand" what she was doing here, and Tony was staring at Neil and me through his "raccoon eyes", the result of his broken nose. He seemed really surprised to see us and he croaked out, "Mister David, Mister Neil, you guys really came for me? Is what Miss Lucy saying true? You really want me to stay with you?" (It's a Southern thing, a kind of show of respect to your elders, without using last names, and you can't get much more southern than Key West) Neil and I went to the other side of the bed and we both hugged him, telling him how sorry we were about the loss of his parents and his injuries in the accident, and that yes, we really wanted him to join us at our home with the twins. He finally grinned so much that the white splint taped to his nose threatened to come loose as his skin stretched tight with his big grin, but it did stay in place. He knew the twins and although we had asked the twins not to mention the accident they wanted to know why Tony had that white thing taped over his nose?  Could he breathe through his nose? How did he blow his nose with that thing on it?

While Tony tried to answer the twins, Lucy told us that after our call, she had come right over to see Tony and try to break the news to him that Neil and I were going to be taking him home with us when the doctor said he was ready to leave the hospital. She said we didn't have much to worry about, Tony was reacting normally about his parents' loss and was really looking forward to joining us at our home, she told us she thought he'd fit right in, if we knew what she meant. I asked if she was sure and she told us that he identified as gay, even at his age. She said we should look at his arm cast and then talk to Tony himself, but she thought we'd be great role models for the lad and she'd let us know if she noticed any problems while the boys were in her care.

Sure enough, there on his cast was a rainbow flag sticker, and under it was a note, "From your friend John", this was all inside a drawn heart. We sat and chatted for quite a while, about an hour and just as I was about to go and see what was keeping the doctor, she and Karen walked in together. The doctor made one last check of Tony and pronounced him fit to be released from the hospital. He looked over at Neil and me and we both gave him two thumbs up and big smiles. His worried look changed to one of relief and we left Lucy with the three boys and went with the doctor to sign him out of the facility.

The doctor gave us some instructions about the care Tony would need for his nose and broken arm and we signed where it asked for a parent or guardian to and we thanked her for her care of Tony and she told us it had been her pleasure and that unless anything else occurred, she wanted to see him in her office in about 4 weeks. One of her office assistants would call and set up an appointment for that. We then went back to Tony's room and picked up our three boys and said our good nights to Lucy. Karen walked us out and told us that over the weekend we could meet her at Tony's house and then we could take whatever he needed out of it. We stopped at KMART (our only big department store on the island) on the way home and picked out some clothing for Tony, three complete sets, and some new sneakers since his had not survived the crash and he was wearing hospital slippers at the moment.

The next day, Saturday, we went through salt water irrigating Tony's sinuses, so phlegm wouldn't be building up and we reminded him we'd have to do that a couple of times a day, along with cleaning his nose out with a Q-tip® until it was healed enough to blow it. He chuckled and said he was just thankful that we cared enough to do it for him. When that was all done he asked if he could phone his friend John and let him know where he was, in case his mom took him to the hospital to see him, he didn't want them to find he had already checked out.

We told him to treat everything as he would in his own house as we hoped he'd feel comfortable here. We made a note that he could use a cell of his own if he didn't already have one at home. Karen called me on her cell and laughed right away, telling me she had tried our home phone and when she got a busy signal she remembered we now had a teenager in our house. She told us she had some time this afternoon and would like to meet us at Tony's house to ascertain what he wanted to keep from it. She figured if we each, Neil and I, drove a vehicle we should be able to get most all he wanted in one trip.

We met her there about 45 minutes later and we told Tony we understood this was going to be hard for him to do, but he could take his time and if he needed a few minutes by himself to just tell us and we'd get out of his way. We met Karen there and she had keys for the house to let us in. We all went to Tony's room where he showed us what he wanted to take, and Neil and I began to load my SUV up with his computer and a bookcase, that would look really nice in his new room. When we got that loaded we took some empty boxes Karen had thought to bring with the contents of his bookcase and the two boxes of clothing they had already packed. On subsequent trips we took all the hanging clothes he said still fit and some funny T's he thought would be cute to see on the twins, who were very happy to be included in some way. He also had us pack some of his old toys for them and we thought he was being very considerate. We told him the sheets wouldn't fit his bigger new bed, but the comforter would if he wanted that and the pillow shams to match to go too. He then went around the house, selecting things like pictures and photos he wanted.

He also asked if we had a place for the long case wall clock that hung in the bedroom hallway. It was a traditional long case 8 day movement chiming clock by Trend and was extremely beautiful in its simple mahogany case and we told him we could hang it on the wall outside his bedroom if he wanted and he said he always slept better hearing it tick-tock away and he said he knew how to silence the chimes if that was to prove too much for us all. There were some fine knick-knacks and his father's humidor and pipe rack he wanted to keep and then he said he needed to get a few things from his parents' bedroom.

Neil and I kept loading things into both our vehicles while he had some time by himself and when he came out he had a box full of things he wanted so we closed the top of that one and loaded it up with the others. He went to a kitchen drawer and took out a metal lock box then sat and showed us that this was where the family had kept their "emergency stuff". He pulled a small key from under the drawer and showed us adults what was in there. There were the family's passports, the deed for the house, and the paid off mortgage booklet. Underneath all this was ten thousand dollars in cash, all still with the bank wrappers around the hundred-dollar bills. Under the money were the birth certificates for all three of them. Out on the carport, he had a newer bike and a skateboard so those also got packed up. Karen asked if he thought he had everything and when he hesitated I told him to take another look around the two-bedroom cottage by himself and if he needed one or all of us we'd be right outside for him.

He went back in and his eyes were quite red when he came back out with some more family photos, but he was polite enough to thank us for helping him get the things from his old home. Karen, Neil and I all got hugs and the twins held his hands as they went to my SUV where the child seats were installed and the three of them settled in the back, with Tony in the middle, looking after the twins. Max and Bill were really enamored of their big "brother" and it seems they were worming their way into his heart, too. Neil and I told Karen right then and there we wanted to adopt him and that we wanted his placement with us to be permanent, and we'd call Darryl on Monday to start the ball rolling. She said that she didn't think it would take this long for us to come to the realization he was meant to be with us.

It did take us a while to unload both cars, but the look of satisfaction on Tony's face, once he started to put his belongings where they belonged in his new room, was worth all the climbing up and down the stairs. Once I had found the stud in the wall in the upstairs hall closest to, but across the way from his door, I installed the bracket the tall clock hung on and then Neil and I got the clock hung and leveled front to back and side to side. Tony then came out of his room to show us how it was wound once a week and how the weights and the pendulum were hung. He set the chimes to Saint Michaels rather than the traditional Westminster and we let him set it going. I don't think I had ever thought of a clock's tick-tock as being masculine, but as it ticked away at 10 minutes of four Neil said to me, not even thinking of Tony standing there, that he thought that was the most butch sounding clock he had ever heard ticking. I nodded my agreement, but we were both made aware of Tony's presence when he added that its feminine side came out on the quarter hours and the hour, and it was a perfect blend of masculine and feminine.

On the hour the most beautiful chiming began, followed by the striking of the hour. Tony told us that a quarter of the tune rang out at the first quarter hour, half the tune at half past the hour, and three quarters of the tune at a quarter of the hour, so if you got used to the tune, and you heard it chiming, you could have an idea of what time it was. He then asked if we could help him set up his computer station.

As we turned to help set up the computer desk our doorbell rang and when Neil answered it there was the cutest blond with a mop of curly hair standing nervously at our door, asking timidly if Tony was here. Tony and I had heard this, and Tony told me that that was his friend John and asked if he could come up and help him. I reminded him that this was his house now too, so Tony went down to greet his friend and introduce him to Neil and the twins who had raced downstairs to see who was here.

I must say that Tony, with his dark-toned Italian coloring and his own mop of dark curls, and his pale and blonde friend certainly looked good together. Tony made the introductions, introducing Neil as Mister David's husband, and Max and Bill's other father. John asked if he was the man who owned that cool hat shop, On Ahead, on Duval Street, and Neil replied he was, and John told him that his parents owned the Art Gallery kitty-corner from his shop. He said his parents thought they had the punniest shop on the street, because his dad's name was Art, but when they all saw his signs going up they knew they had been bested, or at least out punned. Both young teens laughed at this and then Tony took John upstairs to show off his new room.

Neil and I got the computer desk all reassembled and placed the components on it and John took over then and with Tony's one-handed help they had it all connected up and running in two minutes flat. As Neil and I left them in Tony's room I thought I saw them exchange a kiss, but Neil was asking a question about the beautiful clock now installed and still ticking in the hall opposite Tony's door and his butt distracted me.

We had a guest for dinner, and I don't think it will be the last time John eats with us, not by a long shot. During his inquisition, I mean dinner, we found out about his dad, Art and his mom, Loretta, and their gallery and the apartment they lived in, actually the whole second floor of the house just across the next street, Eaton Street. It was a very big house and his parents owned it and rented out the two first floor apartments.  He had an older brother who was away at college in Amherst Massachusetts, studying to be a college instructor in Art and an older sister who was married to a Marine and they lived in California. He told us his parents knew he was gay before he did himself and they were his second biggest fans, he said this as he looked at Tony with the cutest puppy dog eyes. Tony told us then that he and John had been boyfriends since the fifth grade and now they were in the 8th and still boyfriends.

John said he hoped we didn't mind if he and Tony were gay, and then he coughed and said he was sorry, he hadn't really thought about whom he was talking to, and we all had a good laugh at the now blushing John. He really was a sweet kid, and we told him that as long as they kept the mushy stuff in Tony's room, and not in front of the twins, just as we did, we were alright with their relationship. We did tell them that an occasional kiss was alright, but we only did that and not much else, where the twins could see us.

We asked if Tony's parents or John's had allowed sleepovers and they both assured us they all had, and they told us up front that they had to keep their room door open when they were both in each other's room. I told them we could possibly discuss this at another time, not at the dinner table, but if they answered our questions correctly we might have a slightly more relaxed policy than Tony's folks had had. They looked excited about this, and they lingered at the table while the twins went to the family room to watch a TV program. When they were safely in front of the TV we asked the boys some hard questions, like: Just how active were they? Did they ever fool around with anyone else? Were they hoping to be together for a long time?

They answered that they only kissed and rubbed on each other right now, but they had talked a lot about trading blow jobs, they never fooled around with any other person, and didn't really want to, and yes, they knew they were really young, but yes, they wanted to be together forever. They knew the odds were against them, but they really didn't have any interest in anybody else, so they figured they were one guy kind of guys and they were quite happy with that. Neil told them that after we had a talk with John's parents we might get them to cut the boys some slack in the open-door policy, but not to count on it right away; we'd just have to see what happened when that time came.

John left for home about 9 PM and we could hear that Tony was talking to him on the upstairs phone in the hall; it must have been 2 minutes after John had walked the less than a block home. Tony and the twins were allowed to walk over to the shop Sunday afternoon after we had returned from services at our local MCC church and we found out that Tony and his parents had all attended there sporadically throughout the year, not just holidays, kind of like Neil and I did, but now with the twins and Tony with us we thought we might be attending more than once a month or so. Neil had to cover the afternoon shift until Lucy started because Missy and Karen were starting their Christmas vacation this afternoon and Neil had stepped in to fill the gap. He called as soon as all four boys showed up at the shop, John had run across from his parents' gallery to meet our boys outside the shop. The twins were both trying to sell Tony and John caps and Neil said they had him and his customers in stitches and he had sold a dozen of his "On Ahead" fitted caps since this had begun. I told him that if he could keep them all occupied I might run out and get Tony a pay as you go cell at the drug store and he told me to go for it, he would try to keep them in the shop for a while yet.

He called me on my cell about 25 minutes later, telling me the boys were antsy to get home for a holiday TV movie they wanted to all watch, and since I had gotten a phone and a little something for the twins and John, so they didn't feel left out of anything, and I was only a half block from the house, on my way back, I told him the boys could start walking home, and as I turned the corner 60 feet from the lane and right where I had first seen Neil, there were the boys, coming toward me, all of them with new caps on their heads, big grins plastered on their faces. The older boys stood at the end of the lane as the twins ran along the sidewalk toward me, begging me to look at their new hats, again with the "On Ahead" logo on the caps.

We went back to our house and the boys all wanted to know what was in the bags I was carrying, so I showed them the picture books for the twins, the artist's pads and pencils for our sometime guest John, and the cell phone for Tony, which earned me a kiss on the cheek from him and I reminded him to give Neil one when he arrived home, since it was from both of us. The teens went to Tony's bedroom to set it up and I heard them on the house phone setting up Tony's account to get him fully functioning on the cell. Once it was operational I received the first call on my cell, Neil received the second on his. It wasn't a true smartphone, it was more a semi smartphone. You could, of course, make and receive calls, but not connect to the internet. Texting was available, but you were charged a premium for that.

 

His phone came with triple minutes for life and I warned him that when he got his allowance every week he should save some from it and we would split the cost of whatever minute amount he wanted to buy. It worked out very well, and he explained it all to John's parents and they liked the idea of it so much that they bought another just like it for one of John's Christmas presents.

The twins were easy to shop for, for their Christmas presents, but Tony proved to be harder. Neil finally called to Tony one night just about a week after he had been with us and a week before Christmas, and asked him to write down 20 items on a pad, starting with the most wanted and give it to us in the morning.

 

When we looked at his list the next morning before going to work and after he had gone to meet John for their bus ride to school, we were amazed. #1, I want to be a real member of this family. #2, I need a new monitor, mine has a crack in the screen. #3, My bathing suit is getting embarrassingly small, I seem to be hitting a growth spurt, in the spurting department, I'd love a new black one. #'s 4-20, Did I tell you I'd like to be a real ADOPTED member of this family, I'm growing to love everyone here as much as I love John, can we make that a New Year's resolution?

That meant a call to Darryl and Karen, but it was all worth it as between them they had hounded the family court and arranged for a hearing the morning of the 22nd, at ten in the morning. The monitor was a no-brainer, we had already gotten him one as I think it was I who had hit the door frame as I placed it in the car when we moved it here, and the swimsuit we could pick up at Graffiti men's wear on one of our lunch breaks. We decided that John would get one of the same style with the pouch in the front, maybe a light blue for him as Tony wanted a black one. We also had our accountant get us 4 shares in Microsoft for Tony and we had already gotten him new underwear and 4 pairs of good jeans and 4 pairs of shorts of the style he liked and another pair of new sneakers, but not from Kmart this time, these were Nike after all, all that and two hundred dollars for "date" money and I think except for his stocking we had Tony covered.

The twins, on the other hand, were quite easy to shop for. They made no bones about asking for something or other they had seen either on TV or something some other kid had been seen with at the library, so we made note of those things and also some educational age-appropriate computer games we bought for the game system we got for their room. Of course, new clothing, as they were going to be going to kindergarten starting in January, and new footwear for them too. We also bought two big fancy goldfish for them to add to the big pond, which they visited at least twice a day, usually before their nap time and before bedtime, when the pond lights would be turned on for them. It did seem to help them sleep better.

The morning of the 22nd we told everyone to dress for church, as if it was Christmas Eve, and as we got into our car I told the boys to leave room for John as we were going to pick him up at the corner. We made our pick up and drove to the courthouse and the boys were all so excited about Christmas that they didn't realize we weren't at the church until they piled out of the car. We went in and the twins started clapping as soon as they saw we were entering the hearing room they had been in not all that long ago. The bailiff came over and asked Tony to follow him and the twins just told him to do it. We gave him nods and he went off with the man and 20 minutes he arrived back with the judge, one that I knew well, and he shook our hands, telling Neil and me we had a great son there. The papers all signed and his new birth certificate in hand we started to leave when Tony asked about his new name, and the judge slapped his own forehead and told Tony he was sorry, he had the form right here and had forgotten it. He asked how Tony wanted his name and Tony replied that he wanted the same as his brothers had, so Tony, on his adjusted birth certificate, became Anthony Clark Blainey, with my Clark and Neil's Blainey. He hugged the judge and we all shook his hand, wishing him a wonderful Christmas.

We took Tony and his bestest friend John for a special burger lunch at Old Town Mexican Restaurant as a treat before taking them on to school (they only had three days this week before their Christmas holiday began, so both we, and John's parents thought this was a good reason for them missing this morning's classes). Our table was celebrating, and Tony even told Gail, the owner, that he had gotten a new name that morning, and when our check came she had given us our meals all at half price. We made up the other half in our tip to our very patient waiter.

On Christmas Eve we went to the hat shop, so we could relieve Lucy, who had volunteered to cover the shop until 1 PM and watch the twins for us while we finished some last minute gift wrapping. She was at the register and the twins were replacing some caps on the shelves the display caps were on. The ones they were replacing matched the ones on their heads, their favorite "ON AHEAD" caps. Lucy told us she had sold out all the XLG and large sizes of all 4 colors of those fitted caps and only had 7 or 8 of assorted colors and sizes left in the stockroom, Neil might want to check up in the attic before she left to see if there were any more up there. She said the last-minute shoppers all seemed to want the same caps as the twins had on and they would replace stock as she rang up each sale and they had been steady at it since she opened at 9 AM.

The boys wanted to stay and help Neil, so I decided, since all the other chores were done, to stay and help also, at least until Lucy returned after she had her lunch and a rest. She was going to run the shop from 4 to 8, if business warranted her being open even that long. Neil had bought a really nice card for her and put in it a Christmas check for five thousand dollars for her as a way of letting her know how much he appreciated her help in the shop and with the twins and Tony. The check was drawn on our household account and the card was signed by both of us and all the boys. Neil was going to present her with the check when he left her there to lock up before he came home to us for dinner about 5.

We did have a fun evening with the twins, and Tony and John joined us for a Christmas themed movie after they had dinner with John's parents, our concession to having John join us for our Christmas feast the next afternoon. After the twins were asleep and John had returned to his house, Tony helped us with placing the twins' gifts under the tree in the family room, and helping in the assembly of the little bicycles we had bought for them. Neil hung the stockings by the fireplace with care, in hopes…….OOPS, wrong story, wrong century…..Neil affixed the stockings along the bannister for the stairs going up to the second floor and when all was done, we three headed for bed after Tony thanked us once again for bringing him into our family, and we thanked him for having the courage to join us.

After we were pretty sure the boys were all asleep Neil and I shared our love for each other, and our family, at least twice, before sleep finally overcame us. We woke a bit early, we didn't want to be naked and smelly when the twins woke, wanting to see if Santa had been. We were just getting dressed after our communal shower together and we let them come in while we finished and then we told them to go wake up their brother and we would meet then downstairs. Neil and I went down and I turned on the Christmas lights as Neil put the turkey in to start cooking. It was a start to the great holiday we were all to enjoy.


Comments, suggestions and even criticisms always appreciated at Art West