The Castaway Hotel: Next Generation Book 4

Chapter 48 – A Time of Uncertainty

The next couple of weeks were fairly uneventful, although Danny was keeping a close eye on the potential pandemic situation.  In fact, one night he asked to speak with Dion and me after the boys went to bed. 

“I know the virus hasn’t reached this area yet, but it’s bound to get here eventually, since international flights are continually landing in New York City and Philadelphia,” he began.  “I’m worried, because they say people with underlying medical conditions and those over 65 are most at risk, and that would include Dad and TJ.  Dad’s not only over 65, but he and TJ both have underlying medical conditions, and this has me greatly concerned.  If the virus arrives locally, they’ll be calling on all physicians to help out, and this would include me.  Not only that but working at the Health Center means Brandon and I are around people who might be infected, not necessarily the kids, but their parents, and that scares me too.”

“So, what are you going to do about it?” asked Dion. 

“I’m not sure, but I know I’ll have to do something.  Brandon and I just can’t take the chance of bringing the virus home – there’s too much at stake if we do.”

There was an added emphasis to his most recent comment on March 6th, when Pennsylvania confirmed its first COVID-19 patient.  On the same day, it was announced that 21 passengers on a cruise ship in California had tested positive for the virus.  Then, on March 9th Mayor Bill de Blasio stated there were 16 confirmed cases in New York City, and on March 11th the W.H.O. declared COVID-19 a pandemic.  On March 13th, a travel ban on non-US citizens arriving from Europe went into effect, and on March 19th California issued a statewide stay at home emergency.  Even though this was happening on the other side of the country, other things were happening closer to home, so it might be a sign about what was yet to come. 

By mid-to-late March many colleges were suspending classroom instruction and going to remote learning via the Internet.  Even though our college students weren’t entirely sure if this was a temporary or permanent solution, they began returning home.  They felt they could always go back if the situation changed, but they could learn online at home just as well as in their dorms.  

Since we weren’t sure if any of them might have already been exposed, we booked rooms for them at the local hotel for a two-week quarantine period.  Ryan and Noah were going to share a room, and we let Ian stay with Elliot, but Holly had to stay alone.  We had them order their meals through room service and told them to have housekeeping leave fresh towels and clean sheets so they could change their beds themselves to prevent any unnecessary contact.  The meals and supplies could be left outside their door, and they could retrieve them after the person left, and then they could return those items the same way. 

Unbeknownst to us at the time, Danny and Brandon had made an appointment to stop and look at a small, two-bedroom ranch house on their way home from work on Saturday.  They felt that if things continued to get worse, they might have to temporarily move out of the house to avoid putting Dad and TJ at risk and they wanted to have an option if it came to that. 

Amid all these concerns about the pandemic, something else occurred that had nothing to do with the virus.  On March 22nd, Beth went into labor.  Although there were no confirmed cases locally, it didn’t mean others weren’t already infected and not yet showing symptoms, so it was a risky time for this to happen.  Her gynecologist took extra protective measures with the delivery, and even under these unusual conditions, Beth gave birth to a healthy six-pound, eleven-ounce (3 kg) baby girl.  She and Cole decided to name her Rachel Elizabeth Currie. 

Danny received a telephone call shortly after dinner, and we heard his end of the conversation. 

“That’s great and I’ll be right there.” 

“What was that all about?” asked Brandon. 

“Beth just had her baby and that was Cole calling to ask if I’d come to the hospital and examine her.” 

“Can we go with you?” asked Dad. 

“Yes, you and Pop can go with me if you want, but you’ll both have to put on a gown and a mask.  We can’t be too careful right now.”

“That’s not a problem,” they agreed. 

Dad and Pop then rode to the hospital with Danny and welcomed their new granddaughter, but Danny encouraged the rest of us to wait for now.  We’d get to meet Rachel and congratulate Beth and Cole when the situation began to settle down. 

Throughout the remainder of March, the cases in New York City were growing exponentially and the US death toll due to COVID-19 was growing.  That’s when Danny, Brandon, and Pop decided it was time to take action and told us about it on the final weekend of March. 

“The three of us have talked it over and made a decision,” Danny announced after lunch on Saturday.  “We feel that due to our jobs and the fact that we come into contact with many members of the community, and some of them may already be infected with the virus, we present a sizeable risk to the family.  For that reason, today we’ve agreed to rent a small two-bedroom ranch house that’s located between here and the Health Center.  We’re going to move into it today and tomorrow.” 

“What about us?” screamed Xander. 

“You boys are going to stay here with Grandpa Josh, Uncle Dion, and Uncle Trey and they’ll be taking care of you for us.  There’s a new disease spreading around the country and we just don’t want to take the chance of bringing it home.”

“Is the house furnished?” asked Dad. 

“No, but we don’t need much.  We’ve decided to see what items we could rent from one of those rental places, and then we’ll pick-up a few other things from Good Will or the Thrift Store.  We may also have to buy a few other items, because we’ll just be packing up our clothes to take with us.  We’ll keep in touch, but only over the phone or on the Internet, because our main concern is to make sure all of you stay safe.”

“Do you need any help doing this?” asked Dion. 

“No, I think the three of us can take care of everything,” said Brandon. 

“Are you sure it’s necessary for you to go to this extreme?” I followed. 

“We think it’s the best and safest way to go,” answered Pop.  “We’re primarily concerned about Josh and TJ, since they’re at the highest risk, but we also want the rest of you to be safe.” 

“How long do you think you’ll need to do this?”

“That will depend on how long it takes to control or defeat the virus,” answered Danny.  “As soon as they get a handle on it, either by finding a way to quickly diagnose those infected so they’ll be able to quarantine from the rest of society, or by coming up with a cure or vaccine that is effective against it.  Once those things happen, we’ll be able to return, and I hope it doesn’t take very long, but that may not turn out to be the case.”

“Ok, we’ll hold down the fort here until you return,” stated Dion.   

Although Danny and Brandon’s sons were slightly upset by their dads’ decision, it wasn’t a big change for them and their lives wouldn’t be completely upended.  Dad, Dion, and I would make sure they were well taken care of and things would continue as normal, as much as possible. 

We didn’t go to church on Sunday, due to the risk of being around so many other people.  Even though the boys seemed to miss getting out of the house and going to church, they missed going to brunch even more.  I think the diner missed us too, but unfortunately, we won’t be doing either of those things until the situation with the pandemic is under control. 

On Monday, Dad was watching the news while we were eating breakfast when Governor Wolf came on the screen.  That’s when he announced that the Pennsylvania Department of Education had decided to close all K thru 12 schools in the state temporarily. 

“So, we don’t have to go to school?” asked Hayden. 

“Not for a while, but we’ll be doing a few things with you at home,” I replied.  

“Do we hafta do that?” followed Hunter. 

“Yes, because we don’t want you falling behind.”

“What about me?” asked Revin. 

“We’ll also include you in whatever we do,” stated Dion, “and we’ll talk to your mom about this as well.”

The school district was going to try to utilize remote instruction online, although we weren’t sure how long it would take to set up the process or how effective it would be.  Therefore, we decided it would be best if we had our own backup plan, so Dad, Dion, and I sat down to discuss how we were going to do it. 

“I can handle the reading and language arts classes,” I offered. 

“And I can take care of the history and social studies classes,” said Dad. 

“I was pretty good at math, so I can probably handle the math lessons for the younger boys,” followed Dion, “but you guys may have to help me when it comes to Joshie and Benny’s math lessons.” 

“But what are we going to do about the science classes?” asked Dion.  “Danny or Brandon would have normally taken care of that, but they’re not here now.”

“We’ll just have to ask the boys what they’d been studying in their science classes and then put our heads together,” suggested Dad.  “I’ve got another idea about that as well, and it’s something I saw in a television commercial one day.  It’s a company called Little Passports and it offers history and science-oriented packages for kids ages 6 to 12.”

“That sounds perfect for our situation,” I concurred.  “We’ll check out their website and see what they have to offer.”

“We could also keep an eye on the programming for the Science and National Geographic channels to see if we can use some of their shows to supplement what we’re doing,” offered Dion. 

“That’s a good idea,” said Dad, “because I was planning to see what was on the History and Travel channels to see if I could incorporate their shows into what I was doing.”

Noah was in the room with us at the time and overheard our conversation.  “If you want, I can help Joshie and Benny with their math and science lessons, and I can teach the science lessons to the other boys as well,” he offered.  “I don’t want to brag, but I’m pretty good at both.”

“Thank you.  That will help out a lot,” replied Dion, while breathing a sigh of relief.

“I’m sure we’ll be able to work this out,” I said reassuringly.  “I may be required to also teach virtual classes, but I can do that from home, and then I’ll do my part when I’m not teaching online.”

“I should be totally free,” stated Dion, “because I doubt they’ll have me teaching voice lessons or holding chorus practice remotely.”

We then went online to check out the Little Passports website, and after examining the packages they offered, we decided to get a history and science package for each pair of boys to share.  We ordered the World Edition and Science Junior packages for Xander and Wyatt to share, and then we ordered a USA Edition and Science Expedition for Hayden and Hunter.  We got the same packages for Tristan and Revin, so I think we had the basics taken care of.

When Becky showed up that evening to pick up Revin, we sat down to chat with her. 

“Are you going to be able to work from home?” asked Dion.

“No, there’s no way I can do that with my job.”

We then explained to her about our concerns for Dad and TJ and told her what Danny, Brandon, and Pop were doing to protect them. 

“Does that mean you’d prefer that I not come here?”

“That would probably be best, since you’re working with the public on a daily basis.”

“So, you don’t want me to bring Revin either?”

“We were thinking he could stay here with us, since we’ll be holding classes for the boys too.” 

“Damn, I hate the thought of us not spending time together or not seeing him every day, but that probably would be best.” 

“You can still keep in touch with him by phone or online,” I suggested.  “I know it’s not a perfect solution, but this way you’ll still be able to talk with him and kept track of how he’s doing.”

“Yes, so that will have to do.  Thank you so much for doing this for him, because I don’t know what I’d do with him otherwise.  I can’t afford a sitter for him for all that time and I can’t afford to take off from work either.” 

“Don’t worry, because we’ll take good care of him.”

“I know you will.”

Danny and Brandon called that evening, once they heard about the schools being closed, and we explained what we had planned. 

“That sounds great, and we should have known you’d do something like that,” stated Danny. 

“Yes, it sounds perfect, so now I’ll do something for all of you,” stated Brandon.  “Rather than having any of you go out to do your grocery shopping, I’m offering to do it for you.  I know you don’t like the plastic bags the stores use and you have your own canvas and insulated bags, so just leave those on the porch along with your shopping list and give me a call to inform me it’s ready.  I’ll pick everything up for you and drop it off on the porch later and I’ll give you a quick call as well, just in case you didn’t see me dropping it off.”

“That’s really thoughtful of you,” Dion and I told him. 

“It’s just another layer of protecting Dad and TJ,” added Danny. 

“And we thank you for that too.” 

When the call ended, we began debating if we’d overlooked anything.  That’s when we decided that in addition to the boys’ educational needs, we were going to make certain they went outside and got some exercise as well.  The snow was nearly gone and the weather was getting warmer by the day, so in another week or so they’d be able to use the tree house again and play outdoor games.  Dion even dug out an old wiffle bat and a couple of wiffle balls, one solid and the other with holes in it.  We figured they could play four-on-four games, because the wiffle balls didn’t travel as far. 

We also found the old volleyball net and the weighted poles that we used to hang it from, but we’d have to order a new volleyball for the boys to use.  We also decided to order two four-foot by three-foot (0.9 m x 1.2 m) pop-up soccer goals and a new soccer ball as well, so that should give them plenty to do. 

Now that we had their educational and physical education plans set, there was a new development.  Governor Wolf issued a ‘Stay at Home’ order and directed all state residents to shelter at home and limit their movements in public places, except for performing essential duties, such as grocery shopping.  He also urged those who were able to work from home to do so and insisted that whenever we had to go out to follow social distancing rules by maintaining a six-foot distance between us and others.  Regrettably, those who were considered to be essential workers, such as doctors, nurses, utility, postal, and emergency workers, along with grocery store employees and others, were still required to show up at their places of employment. 

That weekend, Dad got a panicked phone call from Ricky. 

“What in the hell am I going to do?” he shrieked.  “Our wedding is planned for May 23rd, but what are we going to do if the stay at home order is still in effect?” 

“Calm down and we’ll work something out,” said Dad soothingly.  “The schools had a similar problem and you can probably use the same strategy they’re employing.  You can hold a virtual wedding online using ZOOM and the rest of us can watch it from our homes.  That way, you and Tiffany can still get married and, if you want, you can renew your vows in a church service once this pandemic is under control. 

“Just contact those you sent invitations to and let them know you may have to do this, and we can always have our wedding gifts shipped to you, because we don’t need to put anyone’s health at risk.”

“That’s a great idea and I’ll have Tiffany contact the minister to see if he’s willing to do this.  If he is, we’ll contact the hall to let them know we may have to cancel the reception if things aren’t under control by then.  Thank you for always being here for me.”

“You’re welcome, and its part of my job.”

“Tiffany and I both appreciate it.”

Now that Ricky’s crisis had been dealt with, life went on.  Several days later, the boys received the first Little Passports packages and were busy checking them out.  We were all getting comfortable with this new system, when at the end of the second week, Governor Wolf made another announcement.  He informed the public that all K-12 schools in Pennsylvania would remain closed for the remainder of the school year.  This wasn’t terribly earthshaking for us, because we felt we were already prepared to handle it and, depending on how long the current health threat lasted, we might continue doing it through the summer as well. 

On April 13th, we were in for still another surprise, but this time a more pleasant one.  Dustin called to let Dad know that Katie had just delivered a seven-pound, one-ounce (3.2 kg) baby boy. 

“We’re going to name him Winthrop Jefferson Currie,” he stated proudly, and then he held his phone so we could see the baby as Katie held him. 

“He’s adorable, but that sounds like a high society name,” stated Dion. 

“Yes, it does, so what made you choose that name?” I followed. 

“Winthrop was Katie’s grandfather’s name and Jefferson is her Dad’s middle name.”

“Ok, that makes sense now,” agreed Dion. 

“But we’ll just call him Win, unless he’s in trouble,” joked Dustin.

“Yes, I think all parents do that,” agreed Dad.  “In fact, we don’t just use their proper first name, but we usually add their middle name as well.”

“Except sometimes when you couldn’t remember our middle names,” teased Dustin before laughing. 

“Yes, that happened a few times because there were just too many of you that sometimes I forgot which middle name went with whom.  Anyway, congratulations to both of you and I hope I get to see my new grandson in person fairly soon.”

“As soon as it’s safe,” agreed Dustin.

When the call ended, Dad pointed out something else.  “Speaking of grandsons, I believe Benny’s birthday is coming up in a couple of weeks, so we probably should start planning for it.”

“Yes, I believe it’s on the 30th and he’s turning 16,” I agreed. 

“I’ll ask Joshie if he knows what Benny might want for his birthday and then we can order it online,” stated Dion. 

“We need to call Danny and Brandon and coordinate this with them,” suggested Dad.  “Even though they won’t be here, Benny is their son and we should work it so they can see what’s going on at the party.” 

“When Benny and Joshie go up to take their shower,” I added, “you can call them and put your phone on speaker so we can all hear.”

“That’s a great idea.”

When Dad called them a short time later, we told Danny and Brandon what we were thinking about doing.  “That sounds good,” said Brandon, “but I can’t believe we won’t be there.”

“We’ll ZOOM the entire party so you can see everything as it’s happening and even take part,” I offered. 

“And you can drop his presents off and leave them on the porch the next time you stop to get the materials so you can go grocery shopping for us,” said Dad.  “I’ll keep the presents in my room until the party.” 

“Thank you for doing this for us,” stated Brandon. 

“Hey, it’s the least we can do, after all you’re doing for us,” said Dion. 

“I’m just doing your grocery shopping, but you’re raising our sons, taking care of their education, and now you’re also arranging a birthday party.”

“You’re doing a lot more than just our grocery shopping,” corrected Dad.  “You moved out of the house to keep me and TJ safe, and I’d say leaving your family to protect us is doing a great deal.”

“Ok, we’re all doing a lot to help each other,” relented Brandon. 

“Yes, and that’s what families do,” agreed Dad. 

Dad pulled Benny aside a couple of evenings later so he could ask him what he wanted for his birthday dinner and what type of cake he wanted.  

“Do you know how to make that chicken stuff they had at the restaurant on New Year’s Eve?”

“Do you mean the Chicken Cordon Bleu?”

“Yeah, that’s the stuff.  Kylie couldn’t finish hers and let me take a bite, and it was really good.”

“Yes, I can make that for you.”

“Good,” he replied, and then we discussed what he wanted to have with it. 

“And what type of birthday cake do you want?”

“This may sound crazy, but could you make a chocolate chip cake with cream cheese frosting?”

“Sure, that won’t be a problem, but I’d better make the chocolate cake with the fudge frosting too, for the other boys.” 

“Are my dads gonna be able to come?”

“No, since they’re staying away to protect the rest of us, but we’re going to ZOOM the party so they can see everything and wish you a Happy Birthday.  I’ll also arrange for your dads to pick up a slice of both cakes for each of them, and I’ll wrap it up and leave it on the porch so they can pick it up after work the next day.  That should help to make up for missing your party.”

“I guess, but it’s gonna be strange not havin’ them here.”

“Yes, we’ve all had to make a lot of adjustments.” 

Benny’s birthday was on a Thursday this year, so after we finished eating dinner, I called Danny and Brandon.  After telling them what Benny had wanted for his birthday dinner, I made the ZOOM connection, and we added the Shays, Aunt Sally, and Richard as well, since they usually came to these parties.  Dad and Dion then carried in the cakes, and the one Dad was carrying had a large ‘1’ and ‘6’ on top, and that caused Danny to ask a question. 

“What type of cake is that?”

“Benny told Dad he wanted a chocolate chip cake with cream cheese icing.” 

“That’s different,” commented Brandon.

“Yes, it is, but Grandpa Josh made a chocolate cake with fudge icing too,” chimed in Benny.

Once the candles were lit, Danny, Brandon, Pop, and the others on the ZOOM connection joined us in singing Happy Birthday to Benny, and then he made a wish and blew out the candles.  As Dion was helping him cut the first cake, I cut the other one, and the boys went out to get the presents we’d ordered for him, while Dad came in carrying other presents. 

“These are from your dads, and these are from Grandpa Jake and me.”

“Benny, if you don’t mind your gifts not being wrapped, we’ll order something for you online and have it sent to you,” said Uncle Steve. 

“Nah, that’s fine,” agreed Benny. 

“We’ll do that too,” confirmed Aunt Sally and Richard. 

“Ok, and thank you,” he replied. “I’ll open these presents after I’ve eaten my piece of cake.” 

“And if you let me know which cake you want a slice of,” Dad told the others on ZOOM, “I’ll wrap it up and leave it on the porch for Steve and Richard to pick up after work tomorrow.  I’m sure Richard can drop off Sally’s piece and I’ll label each one so you know which is for whom.”

“Damn, this is good,” Benny said after taking a couple of bites of the chocolate chip cake. 

Since the other boys had chosen to have a piece of the other cake, we ended up putting a couple of slices of the chocolate chip cake on another plate so they could all taste that one.

“It’s good,” said Wyatt, “but I still like the other one better.”

Most of the other boys agreed with him, but that didn’t matter, because Benny still liked the chocolate chip cake best. 

Once he finished his slice, he started opening his gifts and thanked those who gave him each one.  He spent a little longer thanking his dads as he told them how much he missed them and wished they were here.  They said they wished they were with us as well, but we all had to do what was best for everyone. 

When the party ended, we gave the boys some time to chat with Danny and Brandon alone before we ended the connection.  We then let them do whatever they wanted for a couple of hours before having them get ready for bed.  That was certainly an unusual birthday party, although I think it went well.  I’ll be happy when things get back to normal.