Joel: Book Three ~ Back To Normal

Chapter Ten

I quietly explained John's presence to Hildy and Manfred while we were eating supper. Hildy was appalled at the report of John being mistreated at the school and with his parents for sending him there.

"What on earth were those people thinking? His own parents, I don't want to believe it," she hissed shaking her head. "Well, we'll just have to make sure that he knows he's welcome here."

"Yes, now how was your cruise?" I asked.

For the next half hour they told Eric and me all about their week at sea. The boys had finished their meals and gone upstairs to play while we enjoyed our after dinner coffee and the newly weds' escapades. When the tales started winding down, Eric excused himself and went to get his sons.

"Come on, guys, it's a school day tomorrow. You have homework to do," he told them.

"And mine do too," I said looking at my six. "Say goodbye to your friends and then you need to start your homework."

It took at least ten minutes for everyone to say their goodbyes. When we were walking back into the house after Eric's car was out of sight, John came up beside me, "I don't have any homework. What should I do?"

"Why don't you look at Joel's school books and see what you've missed in the week that you were out of school here when Joel isn't using one? Then you and I can discuss what you need to make up."

"Okay," he said and ran after Joel.

As it turned out, John's backlog of assignments was less that I had anticipated. The one that would take the longest was the reading he needed to do for his Texas History class. John was a bright student. He ranked in the top five students in his class not far behind Joel.

Hildy kissed all the boys goodnight and then she and Manfred went up to their apartment. It was so good to have her back. Things were getting back to normal. Well, as normal as can be expected with six active boys in the house.

After I checked all of their home work and they had their snack, they all headed to the showers and got ready for bed. At least John was awake tonight when I went to tuck him in.

"What's my dad gonna say when he finds out I'm not at that awful place?" John asked as I was tucking him in.

"I don't know, son. We'll just have to wait and see," I said. "CPS hasn't told him you are here otherwise I'm sure that he would have called."

"Why did he send me there? I hated it and I told him," he said sniffling. "I like my old school."

"Well, you'll be back there tomorrow," I said kissing his forehead. "Go to sleep."

It was nice to hear Hildy humming to herself when I entered the kitchen Monday morning. "Good morning, Crane," she said when she saw me, "a beautiful morning to be alive."

"You're in a good mood this morning," I said accepting the cup of coffee that she handed me.

"Yes, I've got my boys back," she said. "Oh, Manny went down the lane to retrieve the morning paper. He should be back any time."

"I could get used to this service," I said just as Manfred walked in the back door carrying the paper. "Good morning Manfred."

"Good morning," Manfred said handing me the paper, but retained one section. "I hope you don't mind, I started reading the sports section on the way back."

"No, that's fine. I usually read that section last. I've never bought into the fanaticism of Texans for high school and college football. I enjoy watching it but I don't obsess over either like many do."

"I don't either," he responded. "But since we were out of touch for a week, I wanted to check on my alma mater, the Air Force Academy. I wanted to see how badly they got beat up this week."

I finished my first cup of coffee and then went to wake up the boys. Even though they hadn't been up late last night they were hard to get around this morning. With a lot of coaxing and cajoling they made it through breakfast and ready for school on time. We had to meet the school van and tell the driver that they wouldn't be riding this morning.

I noticed that the suspicious car was not parked on the road as we left our property. I hoped that those ex-cons had decided to go someplace else and leave us alone. What they wanted was still a mystery to me.

Harry Lyle was a little surprised when I entered his office with John. "Mr. Johnson, what can I do for you?"

"I want to re-enroll John," I said.

"But Mr. Gordinier removed him last week and all his records were transferred to his new school. I'm afraid that one of his parents would have to be the one to re-enroll him."

I was ready for this and handed him the paperwork from CPS giving me temporary custody of John. "I think that these give me the authority to make that decision. Don't you?"

After he looked over the papers he handed them back to me. "We'll need copies of these for our records, but I think that is sufficient. Will you also be paying the tuition?"

"Yes, just like for my own sons," I said.

In about five minutes all the necessary papers were signed and John was on his way to his classes even before the bell rang. Joel was waiting outside the office to walk with John to his first class.

I headed to the foundation office. I needed to contact Gerald to sign the papers that I had planned to sign on Friday. When I called, Gerald said that he would be right over with everything that I needed to sign. Darcie informed me that the interviews for the two possible candidates for the foundation's help were set for Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning.

I shouldn't have been surprised when Hildy called and told me that Bruce Gordinier had called and wanted to speak to me. I wasn't looking forward to the call. She said that she had not given him the phone number of the foundation even though he was insistent that he needed to speak with me. I thanked her and told her that I would take care of it before I came home.

Gerald arrived with the papers that I needed to sign. That delayed my call to Bruce. After he left I had no good reason not to call Bruce other than not wanting a confrontation, so I made the call.

"Bruce, this is Crane Johnson. Hildy said that you wanted to talk to me," I said when he answered the phone.

"What the hell is this all about? You have my son kidnapped from his new school and now CPS informs me that they have custody of him and that they have placed him in your home. Why wasn't I informed about this when it all happened?" he fumed.

"Bruce, calm down. All of this happened late Friday afternoon and CPS probably didn't have time to tell you before the offices closed for the weekend," I told him. What I was doing covering for CPS, I don't know.

"Why did they remove him? That's a good religious school. They do wonderful things for boys like John," he said.

"I'm not so sure that what they do is wonderful, Bruce. I paid a visit to the school last week after I heard that John was enrolled there. I just wanted to check it out for myself. Many of the things that I heard and observed there disturbed me. I was able to see John. He violated one of their rules by greeting me instead of marching silently from his classroom. He begged me to get him out of there that they would beat him for speaking to me. It broke my heart, but there was nothing that I could do for him that day. I did contact CPS in Waco to check out whether he had told me the truth about the discipline that they use. When the caseworker visited the school, she confirmed that John had received a whipping. She verified that the marks from the discipline were still visible two days later," I said.

"I knew that they used corporal punishment, but I never thought that John would ever be on the receiving end of it," he said. "John is so timid and obedient that it never entered my mind that he would be whipped."

"Well, he was. That's child abuse according to my way of thinking. I'm not opposed to a swat on the seat of the pants to emphasize a point, but leaving that kind of marks on a child is unacceptable. Let me ask you a question. Why did you enroll John in that place?" I asked knowing the answer.

"I just wanted John to be... normal," Bruce almost whispered.

"What makes you think that John isn't normal?"

"He told me," Bruce said. I could hear the mixture of anger and disappointment in his voice. "He told me he was... he was... gay." The last word was barely loud enough for me to hear.

"Bruce, is that any reason to make your son an emotional cripple by sending him to that school? Their reprogramming techniques could have caused John a lot of psychological harm. If he is gay and they were successful in brainwashing him into not behaving in a manner his biology dictates, there is no telling what long term damage they could had done. John is a very sensitive boy, a very loving boy. Why would you want to change that?"

"I don't. I don't want my son to be gay," he said emphatically.

"Do you think he does? Would you willingly put yourself in a position to be shunned, discriminated against, ridiculed and even sometimes physically abused? You would have to be an idiot to choose that way of life. Do you think that he wants to be gay? Do you think he really has a choice in the matter? Did you choose to be straight? No, I'm sure that you didn't. You just are.

"I thought you were accepting of John after the Fullwell incident. What has changed to make you feel you had to take the drastic step of placing John in that so called school?"

"Crane, you must feel the hurt deep in your heart when you think about Joel being gay. Don't you?"

"What I feel for Joel is love and acceptance of whoever he is. I also feel sorrow. I would give anything if he didn't have to face the prejudice that he will throughout his life. I can't do anything about that. What I can do is to make Joel feel comfortable about who he is. His life will be difficult enough in our bigoted society. If he has a strong sense of self worth, he is more likely to be able to face the obstacles in life and to overcome them. John will need to be strong to face his challenges also. John's self image needs to be built up, not torn down like that place was trying to do," I said with a touch of anger in my voice. "You never answered my question. What's changed?"

"Crane, I love my son. He's my only son. The only son I'll ever have. Can't you understand? Everything that I've ever been taught in my family growing up and in my church is that what John has chosen to be is against God's will. What you say makes sense to me in a way, but I have a hard time accepting it. I want my son to be normal. Is that a bad thing?"

"No, it's not a bad thing. What's more important to you? Your happiness or John's when it comes to his life? You don't need to answer that, but at least think about it. I'd still like to know what brought on this need to take such drastic action to send John off to that place," I said in a softer less irritated tone.

"I don't know. I guess it all started when we went to a revival meeting at the Alamo Dome to hear Reverend Graham Williams preach a couple of weeks ago. He responded to the protesters outside rallying against his stand on gays by condemning them. The whole revival seemed to emphasize how sinful the homosexuals were and how they needed to be saved into the Lord's grace by giving up their sinful ways. You know how inspirational and persuasive he is. It got Pauline and me to thinking. We didn't want our son to be living a life of sin. One of the booths set up there was the God's Own Bible School for Boys. We talked to them and they gave us some pamphlets showing how successful they were at curing gays."

"Curing gays? Are you kidding me? Being gay is not a disease," I injected much more emphatically than I had intended. "Sorry for interrupting, go on."

"Anyway, it got Pauline and me thinking. We discussed it back and forth for a week before I decided that it was best for John. Pauline was less enthusiastic about sending John away from home, but she reluctantly agreed that we should at least try to help him. John didn't want to go. It was hard to make him go, but they said that they could help him," Bruce said.

"Have you ever considered how you would feel if someone tried to convince you that being straight is wrong and then went about brainwashing you to make you convert to being gay?" I asked.

"But... but, that doesn't make any sense. Why would anyone want to do that?" he sputtered.

"It makes about as much sense as what you were trying to do to John."

"Can I see my son? I mean Pauline and me. His caseworker said we couldn't unless you said it was okay."

"Let me talk to John tonight. I'll get in touch with you tomorrow and let you know," I said. I wanted to talk to Melinda Cassidy to be sure that she said it was alright.

After lunch I was able to get in contact with Melinda and she confirmed that as long as I was comfortable with John and his parents meeting and if it could be held in an area that was under my control, CPS had no objections. The next thing I did was to call Benjamin Cross. By some miracle he was in his office and I was able to talk to him directly.

"Not another one," he chuckled when I explained what was going on.

"No, I think that this one is temporary. At least, I hope it is. I don't think I'm ready for a sixth boy to raise. My hands are more than full with five," I said. "What I would like for you to do, if you're available, is to represent John. To protect his rights and see that he gets a fair shake from CPS. You know my feelings about that organization."

"I'm rather tied up with cases right now, but let me send Karen Lin to talk to you and John. You remember her, she represented you at one of the hearings for your other sons," he said. "She's really becoming a fine children's advocate."

"I was impressed with her, she's a no nonsense young lady. Have her give me a call so that we can set up a meeting," I said. "Thanks, Benjamin."

I reviewed the two files on the potential recipients of the foundations help and then spent the afternoon going over other request that we had received. Before deciding to go home for the day, I stopped by Darcie's office. "Have we heard back from the Mohr Trust?"

"Yes, I guess I forgot to tell you," she said sheepishly. "They called a while ago and want to meet Wednesday afternoon at two o'clock. Tomorrow was out for one of their board members. It's just as well, since we already have a meeting scheduled with Fenton Carnes about his application for assistance."

I got home before the boys arrived. Hildy was busy making the bed in my room as I entered the house. "I see that you're back in the swing of things," I told her.

"Yes, I guess. We're going to have to get a bigger washing machine. It has taken me almost all day to wash the sheets for the seven beds and I was using the one in my place and the one in the laundry room," she said smiling at me.

"See what you can find and let me know. I think there is room for another in the laundry room or a bigger one or whatever you need."

I changed clothes and went to let the dogs loose. As soon as I did they started heading down to the gate to wait for their boys. I followed them at a more leisurely pace. The school van rounded the curve as I arrived at the gate. Six boys jumped off the van and five dogs raced to greet them. Samson was hugged by both Joel and John. The driver waved and drove off smiling after all the boys had moved inside the gate.

I was surrounded in a group hug by all six boys and their dogs. "How was school today," I asked John.

"It was great," he said. "I like it a lot better than that other school." He ran off after the other boys, I'm sure to see what Hildy had fixed for their after school snack.

After supper I asked John to come talk to me. He looked at me as if he had done something wrong. "I just need to ask you a question," I said patting a spot on the couch next to me. When he sat down I placed my arm around his shoulders. He leaned into me before I continued, "I talked to your dad today."

"Is he mad at me?" he asked looking up into my eyes.

"No, he's not mad at you. Your mom and dad want to come see you. What do you think? Do you want them to come see you?"

"He's not gonna put me back in that other school, is he?"

"No, that's not going to happen. Your mom and dad love you and want to see you, but you know that you're going to be staying with us for a while," I said giving him a reassuring squeeze.

"Okay, I miss them and my sisters, too. Can they come, too?"

"I'm sure they can if you want them to. How about if they come visit you after supper tomorrow evening?"

"Thanks, Mr. Johnson," John said before hopping down off the couch.

I felt a little more relieved that John felt comfortable enough to see his parents. I was afraid that he might have negative feelings about them after what they had done to him. I hope that everything goes without a hitch when they come.

When I was tucking John into bed later that night he asked me, "How come you don't care how I feel about Joel? My dad does."

"Well, son, what I want for Joel and for you too, is for you to be happy. I want you to understand your feelings for each other. I want you to see if they are feelings that are going to last or whether they are short term. You have to realize that if they in fact are feelings that are going to last, then you will face a lifetime of discrimination and bigotry. I think that's why your dad is so upset when you express your feelings for Joel. Your dad really does love you."

"Why did he send me to that awful school if he loves me?"

"He doesn't want to see you hurt. He did what he did because he loved you and because his religion convinced him it was right. Religion and love are strange things. Sometimes they rob you of the ability to think clearly. Now, I think it's time for you to get some sleep," I said before kissing him on the forehead. "Good night, son. I love you."

"I love you, too," he said and snuggled down into the covers.

When I put the boys on the school van the next morning and followed it for a ways, I was happy to see that the suspicious car was nowhere in sight. I was beginning to feel better about that. Maybe Jesse chasing them that one day scared them off. I sincerely hope so.

Shortly after I got to the foundation office, I received a call from Jack concerning his investigation of God's Own Bible School for Boys.

After we had exchanged greetings he said, "Crane, we have preliminary information on seven of the ten teachers, the headmaster and his secretary, lovingly called the ice maiden by the people we talked to. One of the teachers was arrested for sexually assaulting a fourteen year-old girl, but the charges were dropped because the girl refused to testify. Two other teachers have served time in prison on assault and battery charges for physically abusing children in other so called schools in other states. The other seven teachers don't have police records. They do come from very fundamental religious backgrounds. Two of them are from Indiana. There is some indication that they either were members of or had sympathy for the Ku Klux Klan. One is from Virginia and was deeply involved with fundamentalists there. Another is from Topeka, Kansas. He was associated with Fred Phelps' group of homophobes. The last three are from Texas. They attended one of the more outspoken fundamentalist Baptist churches in the Houston area."

"Quite a bunch of losers," I said. "What about their teaching credentials? Are they state certified?"

"So far as we can determine, none of them have ever completed a college degree let alone received their teaching certificates. The headmaster, Buford Graham, does have a divinity degree from some podunk bible college in Arkansas. His secretary, Susan Beasley, is the only one with a legitimate degree. She graduated, just barely, from Baylor with a degree in history. The support staff are a mixed bag of good and bad. The security guards all have police records of some kind ranging from misdemeanors to third degree felonies. That winds up the people at the school except for the cafeteria workers. Most of them don't speak English," Jack said.

"They're not exactly the Sunday School teachers that you would expect in a supposedly religious school. What did you find out about the methods they use to reprogram the students?" I asked.

"This information was harder to get," he said. "But from what we were able to put together they use a combination of sleep deprivation followed by extensive high impact indoctrination. This indoctrination seems to be carried out either on an individual basis or in very small groups. From what our source told us there are usually two or three 'teachers' involved in the indoctrination. This can go on for several hours over days until they believe that the student is 'making progress'. Then they also use corporal punishment to enforce a strict adherence to the schools demanding conduct."

"I haven't pressed John for any specifics as to what happened to him personally. I do know that he was deprived of sleep and was severely beaten as punishment for violating a rule. Is there anything in what you've dug up that could be used to close that snake pit down?" I asked.

"There is nothing that screams out of illegality that we have found, yet. There is enough information to give to the District Attorney for him to start an investigation, if he is so inclined. I've talked to Melinda's friend in the DAs office, a Randal Bass, and he is interested in taking it on. He is, but he doesn't believe his boss, the DA, will want to take on a politically unpopular investigation. He has to stand for election and doesn't want to do anything that might upset the bible thumpers in and around Baylor University. There are many people in Waco who would agree with what Buford and his gang are doing at that school," Jack said with disgust.

"Well, keep digging. I want to shut that hell hole down. By the way, how's your family doing? You haven't brought your kids out to see us in a long while."

"Timmy asks about your boys quite often and Sarah keeps asking about wanting to come see TJ. I think she's smitten with him," he laughed.

"Yes, I think she is much to TJ's chagrin. Why don't you bring everyone out this Saturday? I thought we would have a little celebration. It was a year ago this Friday that I brought Joel home. That's reason for a celebration, isn't it?" I asked.

"It seems like it has been years, but I guess you're right. I'll check with Carolyn, but I'm sure that we can make it. And if I find out anything of importance about our friends in Waco, I'll let you know."

Darcie and my meeting with Fenton Carnes that afternoon went very well. He was a single man and at the age of 34 wanted to adopt two children. One was an eight year-old boy, Kevin, and his six year-old sister, Marie. They had been orphaned when their mother died from lung cancer. The father was murdered several years before in what police described as a drug deal gone bad. Fenton had fostered them for the last ten months. His salary as a sales clerk at a clothing store barely allowed the family to get by even with the stipend he received from CPS for fostering the two children.

"How do you provide care for the kids when you have to work on the weekends?" Darcie asked after we had talked to him for a while.

He seemed to blush slightly before he answered, "My friend stays with them when I can't be there."

"Does your friend live with you?" I asked.

This time his blush was very apparent, "I knew this wouldn't work out. It was too good to be true, but I wanted to adopt them so bad I was willing to try anything. I love them so much."  He looked up directly into Darcie's eyes and then mine, the tears shining in his eyes. "Yes my friend lives with me. I suppose I should go now." He started to get up.

"Why would you do that?" I asked. "What this foundation cares about is the welfare of the children. We are not concerned about your sex life as long as it does not involve the children. We do care about whether or not the family environment is a stable one. If you are in a committed relationship with your partner, then there should be no problem. We do run extensive background checks on everyone before we commit to financial support. That would also include your partner."

"Thanks," he said. "Sean and I will cooperate in any way we can. He loves them as much as I do."

We talked for a few more minutes before Fenton left. Before he did, we asked him to sign the consent forms to begin the background checks.

I called Hildy before I left the office for home to tell her that John's parents were going to come over for a visit after supper and asked her if she would be able to have coffee for us. Then I called the Gordinier home. Pauline answered the phone. When I told her that it was alright to come over tonight around 7:30 she sounded very excited.

The dogs and I met the school van when it stopped right outside the gate. The pandemonium of six boys yelling goodbye to their friend and the van driver and five dogs barking and jumping up on their masters was something to see. I never tired of it. I think I got hugs from everyone before we started up the drive. In their rush to see what Hildy had fixed for their after school snack, I was left to walk back to the house by myself. Manfred arrived as I was walking up the front steps.

We chatted a while before we started into the house. "Manfred, I would like to ask a favor of you."

"Sure, what is it?" he asked.

"Well, John's parents are coming to see him this evening. I don't expect that there will be any trouble, but just in case, would you be available?" I asked.

"Of course I will," he said. "What time are they coming?"

"Around 7:30, thanks."

By the time we made it into the house the boys were all sitting at the kitchen table eating sugar cookies and drinking milk. Manfred and I each risked losing a hand as we reached for one of the cookies from a huge platter whose contents were quickly dwindling.

After they had eaten their snacks, I gathered them together in the family room and explained to them what was going to happen tonight after supper. The twin's eyes lit up when I mentioned that John's sisters were coming also. I suggested that they do their homework early so that they would have longer to play with our company. With only a little grumbling they went off to their rooms to start their assignments.

As supper was finished, the dishes cleared and placed in the dishwasher, I could tell that John was becoming more and more nervous. I was sure that he wanted to see his family, but at the same time was fearful that his dad would put him back in that school. I had tried to reassure him that it was not going to happen. I just hoped that Bruce didn't do anything he would regret later.

Time seemed to go by slowly as we waited for the gate buzzer to sound announcing their arrival. Almost exactly on the dot of 7:30, the buzzer sounded. I activated the gate release and called to the boys that our company had arrived.

John pushed tightly up against my side as he watched the car approach the house.