Seeing the weekend had been so hectic, we didn’t celebrate Dion’s birthday until Monday, which was his actual birth date. We merely had a small party for him at the house, nothing very elaborate, but it was sufficient to let him know we cared about him and he was important to each of us.
The next couple of weeks were fairly hectic as Brandon and I tried to squeeze in time to do our Christmas shopping in between work and taking care of the boys. They were all really busy as well, doing homework and studying for tests as they neared the end of the second marking period. Some were also busy practicing for the holiday concerts and other school functions, which left us very little time to do anything else.
Brandon and I were on the way to work on Tuesday morning, December 12th, when my mobile phone rang. “Aunt Sally, I’d ask why you’re calling so early, but I think I have a good idea what your answer would be.”
“I’m sure you do,” she replied.
“Hold on while I put you on speaker phone so Brandon can hear too, because he’s driving today. Ok, what’s up?”
“I know this probably isn’t a good time, but there’s a situation I hope the two of you can help me with.”
“I take it you have another boy who needs a place to live,” Brandon interjected.
“Yes, he came to my attention yesterday, but his situation worsened late last night.”
“Ok, give us a rundown,” I told her.
“The police were called yesterday and asked to do a welfare check on a family, because the man hadn’t showed up for an important 8:00 meeting. The responding officer said the family’s car was in the driveway, but no one answered when he rang the doorbell and knocked on the door. He ended up breaking in and found the husband and wife unconscious and unresponsive in the downstairs bedroom, so he called it in, and then attempted to air out the house.
After that he went around checking out the rest of the house and discovered their son in an upstairs bedroom, also unconscious. When the officer attempted to rouse the boy, he said the kid appeared disoriented and his speech was slurred, like he was intoxicated. A short time later, multiple ambulances arrived at the house and transported the family members to the hospital.”
“I take it the parents didn’t make it,” I stated, fairly certain about how she was going to reply.
“The husband never regained consciousness and passed away shortly after they reached the hospital. The wife was in a similar condition, but she didn’t succumb until later that night.”
“And what was the cause of their deaths?” I wanted to know.
“Carbon monoxide poisoning.”
“And the boy survived?” Brandon followed.
“Yes, but only due to the fact that he wasn’t exposed to the same amount of the gas. I was told by the responding officer that the parents’ bedroom was on the first floor and their door was open. The boy’s bedroom was on the second floor and his door was closed.”
“Lucky for him. Is he expected to pull through?” I followed.
“Yes. He’s been on oxygen since he was admitted and appears to be doing much better, although the doctors want to observe him for another day.”
“A wise precaution,” I stated as I considered the boy’s situation.
“So why did the police notify you before both parents were deceased?” Brandon wondered.
“We were notified by the hospital, not the police, in case the mother didn’t make it. They were hoping we could locate other family members, and we did our best, but unfortunately both sets of grandparents are deceased as well. Neither the mother nor father had any siblings, nor could we find any other relatives. That’s why I’m calling you and Danny now.”
“Did they locate the source of the carbon monoxide?” I asked next.
“Yes, the fire department investigated and discovered it was due to faulty ventilation on the furnace. As the firemen were canvassing the neighborhood to see if they could discover any relevant information, one of the neighbors gave them a valuable clue. He said the man was having a problem with the furnace over the weekend and tried to fix it himself to save money. It seems he must have inadvertently dislodged two sections of piping that were meant to remove the deadly gas, and this allowed it to seep into the house.”
“I hope it was an accident,” I thought to myself.
“Do you know the boy’s name and age?” Brandon pressed, getting down to the basics.
“Yes, his name is Tristan Schneider and he’s ten years old.”
“That means he’s younger than Benny and Joshie, and older than Wyatt,” Brandon mused.
“I wouldn’t bother you with this, but I’d hate to see this poor kid spend Christmas in a group home after losing his mom and dad. He needs to be with someone who will be sympathetic to his situation, and being around other kids would probably help too.”
“We understand completely, and seeing we haven’t taken in any new boys over the past few years, it’s fine. Our sons should be a big help as well, because they’ll be able to empathize with what Tristan’s going through. Brandon and I will drive over to the hospital after work to meet him.
“Great, I’ll meet you there.”
After ending the call, I turned to Brandon and spoke. “I hope you don’t mind that I answered for both of us.”
“No, and I would have told her the same thing. In fact, when Aunt Sally was telling us about this kid, I couldn’t help but think about what Elliot went through.”
“Although the circumstances between the two cases are different, I’m certain we’ll have to help this boy deal with the emotional trauma of losing his parents, much the same as we did with Elliot.”
“I’m sure we will, although it shouldn’t be quite as severe as it was with Elliot.”
Brandon and I talked about the situation again while we were eating lunch, and then as soon as we finished work we drove over to the hospital. Aunt Sally was already there and met us as we entered the lobby.
“Please let me speak with the boy alone first, and then I’ll call you in and introduce you. I was only able to break the news about his mom and dad an hour ago and he didn’t take it very well. He’d been under the impression that they were merely in another part of the hospital, which was true, but he didn’t realize their bodies were in the morgue.”
“So what happened when you told him?” Brandon asked, since he was the nurturing type.
“At first he told me I was wrong and they were just in another part of the hospital, so I asked the nurse to verify what I’d told him. When she did, he began to sob hysterically and I did my best to comfort him. I stayed with him until he calmed down, and then it was time for me to come here to meet you. He didn’t want me to leave, so I told him I had to use the restroom to soften the impact. He made me get the nurse first, because he didn’t want to be alone, and he also made me promise that I wouldn’t be gone very long.”
“You’re still as tactful as ever, but you’d better get back there so he doesn’t get too upset,” Brandon urged her. “We’ll stay in the hallway until you’re ready for us, but I’m anxious to meet him.”
“Me too,” I readily agreed.
We followed Aunt Sally to the boy’s room, but waited until she called us in. A few minutes later she opened the door and invited us to join them. “Tristan, these are the gentlemen I just told you about and they’ve offered to let you live with them once you’re released.”
Tristan looked at us suspiciously, and the first things I noticed about him was his jet black hair and sparkling blue eyes.
“Are you guys married?” he asked without any prelude.
“Yes, and we hope that doesn’t bother you,” Brandon answered, praying it wasn’t going to be a problem.
“Nah, it’s ok.”
“I’m glad to hear that. I’m Brandon and this is Danny.”
Tristan nodded his understanding and then spoke again. “Do you have any other kids?”
“Yes, we have four sons, and their ages are 21, 18, 16, and 13,” I informed him. “One of my brothers also lives at the house with us and he has two sons, ages 12 and 6.”
“Most of them are older than me, but that’s ok. I just never lived with so many people before.”
“I think you’ll like it,” Aunt Sally interjected. “They have a big house, lots of land, and the other boys are all really nice.”
“K, cuz I don’t got no place else to go anyway,” he told her, and then he looked at us. “My mom and dad are dead.”
After saying this, his face scrunched up as if he was in pain and tears began trickling down his cheeks. Brandon immediately moved to the bed, sat down beside him, and pulled Tristan into a hug as his sobs began in earnest.
“Go ahead and let it out,” Brandon whispered. “We’re here for you now.”
Tristan cried for a few minutes, with Brandon doing his best to comfort him, until eventually he was merely panting and trying to control his breathing as he regained his composure. After he’d calmed down, Aunt Sally bid us all goodbye and left the room, but Brandon and I stayed with Tristan and answered more of his questions until his dinner tray was delivered.
“Tristan, we’re going to leave now and let you eat, but we’ll come back and pick you up tomorrow, so we can take you to our house to meet the other boys,” I advised him. “Does that sound all right to you?”
“Yeah, and thank you,” he added while looking up at Brandon and flashing a weak smile.
“You’re welcome and we’re going to take good care of you.”
“K, cuz I wasn’t sure what was gonna happen to me when I found out I didn’t have a mom and dad no more.”
“We’ll be your new family,” I said as reassuringly as possible.
“But I won’t have a mom, will I?”
“No, but you’ll have two dads, and the other boys seem to like that.”
“K, I guess I will too.”
Brandon and I gave Tristan a hug before we left and then headed home. Aunt Sally showed up shortly after we did, so we walked outside again to greet her.
“I’m glad you’re here, because now you can give me a hand,” she said as we approached. “I picked up Tristan’s belongings from the house earlier, packed everything in boxes, and placed them in my car. I thought about giving them to you at the hospital, but I figured it would be easier if I brought them here instead.”
“That was a wise choice,” I agreed. “Does he have a lot of things?”
“There are several boxes full. Some are in the trunk and the rest are on my back seat. If you don’t mind, you can help me carry them into the house.”
“Let us do that for you, and you can go inside and chat with Dad in the meantime.”
She unlocked the trunk and then headed toward the house. Brandon and I each grabbed a box and followed her inside. We stacked the boxes on the floor in the foyer and then prepared to get the rest, but Ryan, Benny, Joshie, and Wyatt came out of the family room and stopped us before we got to the door.
“What have you guys been doing and what’s in those boxes?” Ryan wanted to know.
“We’re going to be taking in another boy and the boxes contain his belongings,” Brandon explained.
“How old is he?” Wyatt quickly followed.
“So he younger than me and Benny, but older than Wyatt,” Joshie mused.
“Yes, that’s correct,”
“When will he get here?” Benny asked next.
“We’re going to bring him home with us tomorrow, but we’ll explain everything to you later. For now, you boys can go out to Aunt Sally’s car and carry in the rest of the boxes. Just put them here with the others, and don’t forget to shut the car doors and close the trunk once you have everything.”
They nodded and raced outside, so Brandon and I went to chat some more with Aunt Sally. “Do you know what time he’ll be released from the hospital?” I asked first.
“It will happen before you get out of work, so I’ll pick him up and take him to the office with me. It will be easier if I do that, rather than have one or both of you reschedule appointments so you can leave early. I’ll bring him here later, after you’ve had time to get home.”
“I appreciate that, but we told Tristan we were going to pick him up and bring him home with us,” Brandon stated. “Rather than have him think we’d lied to him, why don’t you take him back to the hospital and we’ll meet you there.”
“Sure, I can do that and we’ll wait for you in the lobby,” she agreed.
We invited Aunt Sally to stay for dinner and she agreed, and then she and Dad poured themselves a cup of coffee and carried them to the dining room table so they could sip and chat. I went to make sure the boys had done what we’d asked, while Brandon went to help Trey in the kitchen. I was pleased to discover the boys had stacked the remaining boxes on the floor and I thanked them.
“Do you want us to carry them upstairs?” Ryan asked.
“Not tonight,” I responded. “You can do that tomorrow night after Tristan decides which bedroom he wants to use.”
“Oh yeah, I didn’t think about that,” he agreed, and then they headed to the family room until dinner was ready.
During dinner, Brandon asked Aunt Sally where Tristan went to school and discovered it wasn’t the same one our sons attended. It wasn’t a problem, though, but we’d have to enroll him and have his records transferred. It might actually be better for him in the long run, because his former classmates wouldn’t be able to pester him with questions about what happened. Danny and Brandon feared if they did, it might cause him to think about his parents’ deaths again, which could reopen very painful memories, and he certainly didn’t need that. The biggest drawback was that he’d be changing schools with just a week remaining before the second marking period ended, but that might actually work out better as well.
When the boys finished eating, they went off to do their homework, and as soon as they were out of earshot I asked Aunt Sally another question. “What about the funerals? Are we expected to take care of those or will you or someone else do it?”
“I hadn’t really thought about it, but since Tristan is now a ward of the state I suspect we should be handling it. I’ll assign someone to that task tomorrow, and someone else to handle the estate. I doubt there will be much left over after covering their funeral expenses, but you can put whatever remains in a college fund for Tristan.”
“I’m glad we don’t have to go through that process again, like we did with Elliot, but we’ll still have to take Tristan to the calling hours and funeral and deal with the aftermath.”
“Yes, but I know you boys will do fine. You did an excellent job with Elliot during that time.”
“Maybe, or we might have just been lucky that Elliot got through it and turned out as well as he did,” Brandon offered.
“Don’t sell yourselves short and take credit where credit is due. I’m certain Elliot would agree with me that you two did the most to help him through that time.”
“Or maybe Joshie,” I challenged. “He was the one who got through to Elliot and got him to talk again.”
“Then maybe he’ll be able to help here as well, but I have faith that the three of you will do everything possible to help Tristan through this rough time.”
“I’m sure the other boys will help too,” Brandon offered, which caused Aunt Sally to nod in response.
After Aunt Sally left, Brandon and I went to check on the boys and see if any of them needed help with anything. None of them did, so we urged them to shower and get ready for bed, and when they finished we went back to say goodnight and tuck them in.
“Seeing me and Benny are closest to the new boy in age, do you want us to try to help him too?” Joshie asked. Even though he wasn’t our son, we’ve always included him and Wyatt in our nightly ritual before their dads did the same.
“Yes, that would help a lot and we’ll appreciate anything you boys can do for him. I remember how good you were with Elliot, and I’m sure Tristan will benefit from something like that as well.”
“Ok,” he added, but before Brandon and I left the room he added something else. “I’ve never heard of anyone named Tristan before.”
“It’s not a common name and it’s fairly old, but I’ve heard of others with that name and it seems to be gaining popularity again.”
“How old is it?”
“I’m not exactly sure, but I think one of King Arthur’s knights was named Tristan.”
“Wow that is old!”
Before we left the room, we both kissed Joshie on the forehead and thanked him for offering to help and for being such a great kid. Then, we headed downstairs to chat with Dad.
“Brandon and I are debating whether we should send Tristan to school when he first gets here or wait until after the Christmas break. The funeral will be held during that time, which will probably be hard on him, and I doubt he’d be involved in much academically.”
“You’re right, it would probably be better if you waited before sending him to school,” Dad offered.
“The downside is that neither of us can take off time from work to be here with him. If we keep him out of school until after the holiday, would you mind watching him while we’re gone?”
“Of course not, and I’ll be happy to watch him for you. Come on, guys, you should have known that and didn’t even have to ask.”
“I know, but we thought it would be rude if we didn’t ask first. We don’t want you to think we’re taking you for granted or taking advantage of the situation.”
“I appreciate that, but you know I’m here to do whatever is needed. In fact, if you and Brandon hadn’t agreed to take over the Hotel, then I’d probably still be the one taking in these boys. I’m glad you two are in charge now, because the boys relate better to you than they would have with me.”
“Oh, they all love you and you would have done fine.”
“They love me as a grandparent, not as a parent. They need someone younger to fill that role.”
“But there are plenty of young kids with older parents.”
“Maybe so, but I’m not so sure they can relate to them quite as well as they would if their parents were younger.”
That was an interesting point, and something I’d never considered before, but I still believed Dad would have been able to handle it if he was still in charge.
The next day at work, Brandon and I informed our staffs that we were taking in another boy, because we’d probably be bringing Tristan to the office in the future for check ups. For my part, I could probably do those things at home, but I wanted him to see where we worked and what we did. I also wanted to point out that we’d named this place in honor of our two brothers who died much too young. I hoped knowing that might help Tristan bond with us more easily, since he’d know we’ve suffered through similar tragedies.
I’m not sure about Brandon, but I couldn’t stop thinking about Tristan throughout the rest of the day. To begin with, I noticed one of my patients had a similar appearance, which caused me to think about him again. Then, another boy came in with a breathing problem, and even though it was caused by an allergic reaction, it still reminded me of Tristan’s near fatal encounter with a deadly gas. I also thought about him as I was walking through the waiting room on my way to lunch, because I spotted the toys and wondered what kinds of things he liked to do. There was still a lot to learn about him, but we’d take it one step at a time.
As soon as Brandon and I finished with our last patients of the day, we asked our staffs to close up the offices so we could head over to the hospital. They readily agreed and we thanked them for doing it, and after watching and listening to Brandon on the way to the car, I hopped into the driver’s seat. I felt Brandon was far too antsy to concentrate on driving and getting us there safely, so I felt it would be safer if I took the wheel.
“Damn, we never asked Tristan what types of things he likes to eat!” Brandon unexpectedly announced, sounding slightly panicked. “I hope Trey takes out something he’ll enjoy.”
“Trey’s smart enough to figure it out, just like you did. If he didn’t happen to think about it, we can always fix something else for the three of us or order pizza, cuz I’m sure all kids like that.”
“Do you think Tristan will be ok staying with Dad during the day? They don’t even know each other yet.”
“Dad is great with kids, and Tristan doesn’t know us very well either. He’ll have time to get to know everyone tonight, and we’ll explain the situation to him before he goes to bed.”
“Do you think he’ll be all right sleeping alone in a strange room?”
“We’ll ask him that after he chooses a bedroom. If he does, we can give him a choice of sleeping with us or having one of the other boys stay with him tonight. If he doesn’t, we’ll show him where our room is as a precaution, so he can join us later if he suffers a panic attack.”
“Do you think he’ll be ok with not going to school right away?”
“I think any kid would be happy to hear that he’s getting an extended vacation. Don’t worry so much. Everything is going to work out just fine.”
“I hope so.”
When we arrived at the hospital, I found a space in the parking lot, because I wasn’t sure how long this would take and didn’t want the car to get towed because it was parked illegally in front of the lobby. On the way there, we looked through the glass partitions along the front and spotted Tristan waiting with Aunt Sally. He hardly reacted when he saw us entering through the sliding doors and wasn’t smiling, so it made us wonder if he was having second thoughts.