"Can Ricky come with us?" Joel asked.
"I'm sorry, son, but not this time. Maybe when we are going for a day somewhere we can take Ricky with us, but not for a whole week. We'll miss him. I think maybe we could call and talk to him from Colorado. How would that be?"
"Okay," Joel said. I could tell he was not happy. I hoped that he understood.
The boys soon went back to playing with their new toys and I went into the kitchen to let Hildy know what our plans were. She was excited for the boys and for me to be able to have some time for Eric.
"Marie and I will give the house a thorough cleaning while you guys are gone, since we won't have to maintain the day to day cleaning. I suppose you are going to have her come even if you're not here?"
"Of course, she'll still be coming. Eric said that he wanted her to work at his house while he was gone, also. His dad will still be there and he would like someone to look in on him while he's gone."
I had a hard time getting the boys to put their new toys away when it came time for them to get ready for bed. It was nearly eleven o'clock before I had the last one tuck safely into bed. I made sure that the house was secured for the night and then I also headed for bed.
I spent all Tuesday morning on the phone arranging for cold weather clothes for all of us to be available when we arrived in Colorado. I checked for skiing lessons for the boys and for me. I had skied when I was in prep school in the East, but I hadn't been on skis in at least 15 years. I didn't fancy starting down a slope without getting a review of the basics. I made all the arrangements for Eric and his two while I was at it after I had gotten all of the sizes for his boys. I also made a call to the concierge for the townhouse complex to have him stock the place with food and drinks and to make sure that the housekeeping arrangements were in place. I didn't want to spend time keeping the place tidied up when we were there to have fun.
By Wednesday afternoon the boys were getting all excited about the upcoming trip. "What's our schedule?" Joel asked.
I motioned for him to follow me as I went into my study where I picked up the itinerary that the travel agent had printed out for us and showed it to him. "See, we leave San Antonio at 10:03 AM and arrive in Denver at 11: 17 AM. We have about an hour layover in Denver and then take a commuter flight to Breckenridge at 12:33 PM and arrive at 1:01 PM. That doesn't seem like it is going to take us long to get there, but you have to realize that we change time zones. We gain an extra hour. I have arranged for a driver and van to pick us up at the airport and take us to the townhouse."
"Won't we have a van so we can go someplace? Or do we have to stay at the house all the time?"
"Yes, the driver, after he gets us to where we are staying, will leave the van with us so that we can go wherever we want."
"Good," he said and went to play with Ricky and his brothers. Other than Ricky, I think the boys will miss the dogs most of all. That doesn't mean that they won't miss Hildy. It's just that she is such an influence on them that they feel her presence even when she is not there.
It was a sad scene when it was time for Marie and Ricky to leave for the evening. Joel carried Ricky to the car, while TJ carried the crutches. All of the boys crowded around and gave Ricky hugs before Joel put him in his car seat and buckled him in. Everyone waved after the car as the VW drove away. The waving continued as the car made its way down the lane.
Hildy made sure that everything the boys would need was packed in their suitcases except for what they were going to wear tomorrow. Toothbrushes and any last minute toiletries would be packed in the morning.
Thursday morning, the boys took their dogs out for the last time in a week and said goodbye to them. Then after a quick breakfast and hugs for Hildy, we loaded into the van and headed off for the airport. Traffic was heavy, but we were able to make fairly good time and arrived at the airport with just over an hour before our plane was to depart. I dropped our luggage off at the curbside check-in before I parked the van in the parking garage.
We met Eric, JR and Bran as we walked back to the terminal building. They had parked their car on a different level of the garage. As we greeted each other, I was beginning to have second thoughts of spending a week with seven active and boisterous boys. Eric and I just shook our heads at them and then managed to herd them toward the check-in desk.
Check-in was fairly simple. We had nine of the twelve first class seats, so we were the only ones at the first class check-in counter at the moment. We received our boarding passes and then headed for the gate.
As we walked down the long concourse, TJ tugged on my arm. "Can we have one of those?" he said pointing to a small food area. When I looked, I saw a tray of what looked like cinnamon rolls that had just been taken out of the oven. The man behind the counter was spreading a white icing over the top of them.
"You ate breakfast about an hour ago," I said, knowing that I was going to lose on this one.
"Yeah, but..." he said, looking at me with those beautiful eyes of his.
By this time the other six boys had seen what TJ had and were gravitating toward the food area.
I looked at Eric and he just snickered at me. "We might as well get them one," he said. "At least they're not the really sticky kind, but I'm sure that we'll have some cleaning up to do when they finish."
I went to the counter and ordered nine of the fresh sweet rolls. I handed the man $25 and received 90 cents back in change. Eric had steered the boys over to a row of seats and told them to sit down to eat their snack. I grabbed a handful of napkins and then sat down with them to eat my roll.
Thankfully our plane was on time. As we began boarding, I noticed that my boys were getting nervous. I guessed that it was because the last time we were on a plane, it had made an emergency landing. I did what I could to reassure them that this plane was not going to suffer the same fate. I don't think I was entirely successful in allaying their fears, but they faced them and we all found our seats.
The flight was uneventful. The boys kept changing seats so that they all had a chance to look out the windows. The only time they were completely still was when the cabin crew served us a snack consisting of a selection of Danish pastries and juices. I don't know why I was surprised when the boys easily finished off a couple pastries each.
An elderly lady who was sitting beside Bran took an interest in the boys as they switched seats so that each one got to look out the window of the plane. She kept smiling at them and finally said to TJ, "How old are you?"
TJ looked at her for a minute before he said, "I'm seven."
"I have a grandson who is going to be seven tomorrow. I'm going to visit him in Denver. Where are you going? She asked.
"We're going to Brickridge. I'm gonna go skiing," he answered.
"I bet you mean Breckenridge, don't you?"
"I guess. Do you know how to ski?"
"I used to when I was a young girl. Now, I'm a little too old to go skiing."
"How old are you?" TJ asked.
"TJ!" I said. "It's not nice to ask a lady her age."
"Why not? She asked me how old I was."
The lady and I both laughed. "I guess he's got us there," she said. "And for your information young man, I'm 81 years old."
"Wow! That's old," TJ said.
That caused her to laugh while I was embarrassed.
The boys were impressed with the snow covered mountains that they could see out of the windows as we circled to wait our turn to land. None of them had ever seen mountains except in pictures.
Our wait at the Denver airport was less than 45 minutes before we boarded a small commuter plane. I didn't count the seats, but there couldn't have been more than 50 seats. It seemed as if we had barely taken off from the runway before the pilot announced that we were preparing to land. I had to chuckle at the awe in the boys eyes as they saw all the snow out of the windows of the plane.
After we deplaned and walked to the terminal, I spotted an elderly man holding a sign with Johnson printed on it. I approached him and identified myself and then we headed to the baggage claim area. When he saw the amount of luggage that we had, he called over a skycap to help him take it to the curb, and then he went to collect the rental van.
We waited inside the doors of the terminal for the van to arrive and the luggage to be loaded. The pilot had announced before we landed that the temperature in Breckenridge was 3 degrees above zero (-16 C). I was looking forward to getting our cold weather gear when we arrived at the townhouse.
We were met at the townhouse by the concierge. He handed Eric and I each a set of keys to the townhouse and a garage door opener. He told us that we could go by the ski rental shop any time after 3:00 PM to get fitted for boots, skis, poles and everything else that we might need. All of our requested ski wear was in the downstairs master bedroom. He said that if anything didn't fit, that we should call him and he would see that it would be replaced.
The first thing the boys had to do was to inspect both floors of the townhouse. I checked to make sure that the food that I had ordered had been delivered. It was.
"Who gets to sleep in which bed?" Joel asked coming down the stairs.
"Can JR and I have the one with the two beds?" Bran asked. "It's just like what we have at home."
"I think that would be fine," Eric answered.
"TJ and I can take the one with the bed like at home and Larry, Lenny and Chris can have the big bed. Is that okay?" he asked looking at the twins and Chris. They nodded their agreement. "But that only leaves one bed for you and Eric..."
"That's all right. We'll manage," I said. It had been a while since any of the boys had doubled up in bed. I wondered how they would sleep. I also wondered how I would sleep.
It took over half an hour for everyone to try on the cold weather gear that had been provided for us. Amazingly, it all seemed to fit.
"Dad, I'm hungry," Lenny said as we finished trying on the clothes.
I looked at my watch and noticed that it was almost a quarter to three. The last real meal that we had eaten was breakfast. "Okay, you guys get the clothes put in your bedrooms. Eric and I will fix some sandwiches."
As we were fixing the sandwiches, I looked at the clock on the wall of the kitchen area and realized that I had forgotten to change my watch to Mountain Time. I was still on Central Standard Time. That meant that it was only a quarter to two. I didn't think we could convince anybody's stomach of that.
After a mountain of ham sandwiches, chips, a couple gallons of milk and some fruit everyone seemed to be satisfied.
Bran and Joel were standing at a pair of French doors looking out at the mountains, when Bran turned to Eric and asked, "What's that thing?"
Eric walked over to where they were standing and looked at what Bran was pointing toward. "That's a hot tub. Haven't you ever seen one before?"
"Not one that big," Bran answered. "Can we look at it?"
"Sure, let me unlock the door."
Everyone followed them into the sun room where the hot tub was located. The room was heated, but not to the temperature of the rest of the house. There was a thermostat on the wall that controlled the heating of this room. Eric lifted a section of the cover on the hot tub and the boys crowded around to look.
"It looks like it's big enough for six people," Eric said. "I'll bet that it would hold all seven of you guys. You'll have to try it tomorrow after you come back from your ski lessons.
"That reminds me, Crane, are we set up for lessons yet?"
"No, we can do that when we go rent our skis," I said. "It's almost time to do that. Okay, guys, go get the heavy coats and gloves on. And don't forget to wear a hat."
Eric and I decided to drive the van the couple of blocks to the ski rental shop instead of walking. We figured that we would be loaded down with ski equipment on our way back. We had to wait a little while when we got to the shop. There was a couple and their two daughters ahead of us getting fitted for their skis. The daughters appeared to be about 13 and 15 as close as I could guess.
"Are all of these boys yours?" the woman asked after introducing herself as Betty Sheridan.
"Five of them are mine and two are Eric's," I said, introducing myself and then Eric.
I saw the look of surprise on her face when Bran came up and said something to his dad. I'm sure that it was the first time that she had noticed he was black. "Is he... Is he really his son?"
"Not really, at least not yet, anyway. He's Eric's foster son."
"Oh, that's nice," she said.
We chatted for a few more minutes until her daughters had finished getting fitted for their skis. I learned that they had rented a townhouse a couple doors down from ours. I, also, learned that Kara, the younger daughter, was 12 and Penny, the older one, was 15. At least I was half right about their ages.
I don't usually dislike a person upon meeting them, but Cal Sheridan was an exception. I don't know why either. From all outward appearances he was an ordinary guy. I just got this feeling that something was not quite right with him. I soon forgot about them as we all started getting fitted for our ski equipment.
It took almost an hour for all of us to get outfitted. Thankfully, the shop had some video game machines to keep the rest of the boys occupied when they weren't being fitted.
"How do you walk in these things," TJ asked as he clomped over to me.
"They're not made for walking, son. They're made to fit on your skis. They keep you from hurting your ankles if you fall," I said, giving him a hug. "Are you ready to go skiing tomorrow?"
"Yeah, I saw them do it on TV one time. I hope I don't fall like that man did on TV," he said with a giggle.
When all nine of us had been fitted with everything that we would need for our outing, we made arrangements for lessons. All of the boys except Joel and Bran would be in the 12 and under group, while they, along with Eric and I, would be in the adult group. Our lessons were scheduled for 10:00 AM tomorrow. The man at the shop explained that there was a shuttle that ran every hour on the half hour to take us to the slopes. When I told him where we were staying, he suggested that we be in front of our place 10 minutes before the shuttle was due to arrive because the schedules were not always exact.
We loaded up our equipment and headed back to the townhouse. Thank goodness it was a 12 passenger van. Even at that it was full with all of the equipment that we had. I think next time we go on a trip, it will be to a sunny beach. At least there's not as much equipment needed.
When we got back to the townhouse, the boys wanted to play outside in the snow. We told them they could after they stowed all of the skiing equipment in their rooms. By this time the sun was beginning to go behind the mountains and it seemed to be getting colder. It only took about half an hour before everybody had enough playing in the snow before they were ready to come in. I had slipped into the house when I saw that they were getting cold and fixed a large batch of hot chocolate.
"That was fun," Chris said as he came into the kitchen area. "How come I couldn't make a snow ball?"
"I think it was too cold. The best snow balls are made when it is near freezing. They stick together better then," I said.
"I hope it gets warmer so we can have a snow ball fight," he said, looking at the twins.
"Yeah, you'll be sorry," Larry giggled.
"Right," Chris answered.
The mugs of hot chocolate topped with miniature marshmallows were a definite hit with the boys. Even though they were cold when they came in, they couldn't stop talking about how much fun it was to play in the snow.
"Can we turn on the TV?" Bran asked. "There is a football game on I kinda wanted to watch."
"Sure, go ahead. There's a channel guide on the coffee table. I don't know whether it's a satellite or cable system," Eric told him. "Check it out."
Bran soon found the football game. It turned out it was the Dallas Cowboys playing the Denver Broncos. They were playing in Denver and it was snowing quite heavily at the stadium. At times it was hard to see the players because of the snow.
I was never a football fan, which in Texas is considered a cardinal sin. When most people in San Antonio found out that I was not a rabid Cowboys fan, they looked at me as if I had sprouted horns.
The game did keep the boys occupied for most of the rest of the afternoon and into the evening. TJ spent most of the time sitting on my lap. I think part of the time he napped. Toward the end of the game with Dallas ahead by two touchdowns, I heard and felt TJ's stomach growl.
"Are you getting hungry?" I asked him.
"Uh huh," he said. "When we gonna eat?"
"Guys, are you ready to go eat?" I asked. I knew as soon as I asked that it was a foolish question. When weren't they ready to eat? Getting the expected response from everyone, I told them to go get their coats on. I had decided that we would eat out most evening meals, that way neither Eric nor I would have to do much cooking.
The concierge had provided us with a map showing all the restaurants in the area, along with a thumbnail description of the cuisine that each featured. There were only a couple that had dress codes other than casual ski wear, so we marked them off our list. Tonight we decided to try an 'all you can eat' buffet that was fairly close by.
After cautioning the boys to hold the noise down, we entered the restaurant. It was not very crowded so we were able to have a couple of tables pushed together so that all of us could sit together. The buffet had a large selection of dishes from fried chicken to pizza. Eric and I insisted that every plate that the boys filled had to have at least one helping of a vegetable on it. We, also, kept them away from the desserts until they had finished the rest of their meal. I think everyone made at least two trips to refill their plates except Bran. I think he made three trips. I thought that my boys could eat, but he was the winner, hands down, in the eating department. I don't know how he kept so slim.
"Does he always eat this much?" I asked Eric.
"Maybe not quite this much, but he can sure pack it away and my food bills show it. He loves to cook as well as eat. He does most of the cooking on weekends," Eric said. "He's also started lifting weights with me. He has even gotten JR to start, although JR is not as enthusiastic about it as Bran nor as dedicated."
TJ came up to me and whispered in my ear, "Can we get dessert now?"
I looked down the table and saw that the plates were mostly empty so I said, "Sure, I'll come with you. Eric, would you like a cup of coffee? I'm going to get one."
After all the food the boys had eaten, I didn't see how they could find room for dessert, but they did - and lots of it.
As we were leaving, the Sheridan couple that we had met at the ski shop arrived. We briefly chatted with them before heading for the van. The boys ran ahead of Eric and me toward the van in the parking lot.
"What's your opinion of Cal Sheridan?" I asked Eric.
"I know you shouldn't judge people on first impressions, but I find him a hard man to like. He's just a little too slick."
"That was very diplomatic," I said. "I don't know why, but I just don't like that man either. His wife seems fine and the girls are nice as well."
"Well, according to his wife, when I was talking to her, they will only be here through Sunday. She said they have to leave to go back to New Jersey on Monday morning," Eric responded.
"Aha! I thought I recognized an East Coast accent. Theirs is not as bad as some I've heard, but it's still there. I'll bet he's a member of the mafia. That's why we don't like him," I laughed.
I punched the remote to unlock the van doors and all the boys climbed in followed by Eric and I. Before I could get the keys in the ignition and the car started, all of the windows in the van steamed over. I had to wait for the defrosters to begin clearing the windshield before we could head for the townhouse. The boys thought it was funny the way they could see their breath when they first got in the van, but thanks to a good heater the van was soon too warm for that.
Later, while the boys were sprawled on the floor and couches watching some inane comedy show re-run, I looked at the instructions for the hot tub. It said that it required 4 - 6 hours for the temperature of the water to reach optimum level. The instructions warned that the temperature should never be set at 104 degrees (40 C) or higher. Eric and I decided that we would set it at 100 degrees (37.8 C). We wanted the boys to try it after we returned from the slopes tomorrow, but we didn't want them to have any chance of being injured in it.
When I asked, a couple of hours later, if anyone wanted some popcorn, it was unanimous in favor. It took about 10 minutes to pop three bags of corn in the microwave, one at a time. I split them into two bowls before setting them in front of the boys. Eric poured glasses of apple juice for the boys. I popped three more bags just in case they were needed. They were.
It wasn't long after the popcorn was gone that TJ crawled up onto my lap. "Are you tired, little one?"
"A little bit," he answered, burying his head in my chest.
"Little man, you've had a busy day," I said, kissing the top of his head. "I think it's time for all of you guys to get your showers taken and into bed. Tomorrow is going to be busy, too. Joel, will you take TJ upstairs and take your showers?"
"Sure, dad, come on TJ. Let's go," Joel said as he lifted his little brother off my lap.
With only two full bathrooms in the house it took a while for all the boys to get their showers taken. The twins and Chris had to use the shower in the master bedroom downstairs because the three of them couldn't all fit in the one upstairs. It had barely been big enough for Joel and TJ. I decided that tomorrow they could all use the shower in the downstairs bedroom.
It was nearly 10 PM when I finally got all of my sons tucked into bed. I think that TJ was asleep before I closed their bedroom door. Chris and the twins were a tangle of arms and legs when I went into their bedroom to say good night. It was as if they had never stopped sleeping in the same bed. I didn't know how they were able to sleep in that position, but all I cared about was that they did sleep. I cautioned them not to stay awake talking before I kissed them on the forehead and left their room.
Eric and I cleaned up the dirty bowls and glasses from the popcorn snack. I measured out the coffee and filled the reservoir in the coffee maker before setting the timer to start it perking at 6:30 tomorrow morning.
After we had finished the clean-up work, we sat down on the couch and talked. It was the first time that we had to be alone with no boys around. It was also the first time in a long time that we had a chance to catch up on what was going on in the other ones life.
We talked for maybe an hour before our busy day caught up with us and we decided that it was time to go to bed. Eric headed for the bedroom while I checked around the house to make sure that all the doors were locked and everything was secure for the night.
Eric was in the bed when I entered the bedroom and closed the door.