Living in the Canyon Lake area of Texas is an ideal place to raise children. It's far enough away from San Antonio to be removed from the crime and violence of a big city and it has a beauty that takes your breath away. My five adopted sons love the lake and the surroundings as I do. Those are the good things. The bad thing is when you try to fly to places like Orlando, Florida to visit Disney World, you can't fly direct. You have to make connections either through Dallas or Houston.
The best connections we could make were through Dallas. We were scheduled to fly out of San Antonio shortly after eight in the morning of Sunday, June 30. That meant I had to get the boys out of bed at five AM in order for them to have a light breakfast and make it to the airport on time. Hildy had made sure the boys' and my suitcases were packed the night before. It took some doing but I had convinced Marie and Ricky to spend Saturday night at the house so I wouldn't have to make a side trip to pick them up on the way to the airport. Ricky didn't object, in fact he thought it was fun. He loved the boys as much as they loved him. JR spent the night with us as well.
Sunday morning, Hildy had breakfast ready for us by the time I had the boys up with their teeth brushed, hands and faces washed, and dressed. I think the only thing that kept them awake was the food on the table. The only one who seemed to be fully awake was Ricky. He was jabbering away to no one in particular. Only a three year-old could be that enthusiastic at 5:30 in the morning.
It was a tight squeeze getting all nine of us in the van along with our luggage, some of which ended up on the roof rack. We got to the airport in plenty of time. I dropped everyone and our luggage off at the curb in front of our terminal and checked in using the curbside check-in. After I dropped off the car at the long term parking, I joined the rest of the family in the terminal.
By this time the boys were wide awake and hungry again. We had enough time to enjoy one of the sinful Cinnabon cinnamon rolls before boarding the plane. Our group occupied nearly all of the first class seats. There were an elderly couple and a twenty something year-old man taking up the remaining seats.
Joel occupied the window seat next to the young man. Marie and Ricky sat in the seats across the aisle with Ricky by the window. TJ and I had the seats directly behind Joel. Chris and JR were across the aisle from me. Larry and Lenny were behind TJ and me. The elderly couple was in the two remaining seats across from the twins.
Despite the two breakfasts that the boys had all ready eaten, they still had room for the breakfast snack that the airline served us. I chose to have only the juice and coffee.
I noticed in the hour long flight to Dallas, that the young man sitting opposite Marie was carrying on quite a conversation with her. I could not hear much of it because of the chatter coming from TJ, Chris, JR and the twins. I did hear enough to learn that he was on his way to Orlando for a marketing conference.
We landed at the Dallas-Fort Worth airport just over an hour after we left San Antonio. By the time we deplaned it was almost 9:30. Our connecting flight wasn't scheduled to depart for another forty-five minutes. We did have to change terminals. We had arrived at Terminal C and our flight to Orlando was to leave from Terminal A. I paired up the boys and instructed them to stay by my side. I picked up Ricky and we started toward the rail system that would take us to our departure terminal.
The young man who had been talking to Marie joined us as we took off. He introduced himself to me as Dirk Soznowski. As we walked, I found out that he worked for a direct marketing firm in San Antonio. He was scheduled to conduct seminars at the marketing conference on Monday through Wednesday. Since Thursday was the Fourth of July, he had decided to stay over and leave for home on Friday.
As we walked, Ricky fell asleep with his head on my shoulder. His early morning liveliness had worn off. He didn't wake up until we were in the rail car on our way to Terminal A. He must have heard the excitement of the boys as the unattended car took off with a jolt. Part of the time the car was in a tunnel and at others it was high above the surroundings. The car came to a stop much too soon for the boys, with the screeching of the cars brakes and the announcement over the speakers indicating we had arrived at our destination.
"Can we ride some more?" Larry pleaded.
"Sorry, son, we need to get checked in for our flight to Orlando," I said. "You'll get to ride it again when we come back on Saturday."
It wasn't long after we had reached our departure gate before we began the boarding process. The seat assignments were the same as the flight from San Antonio, but since the plane was larger there were more first class seats.
After we were airborne and the seat belt sign was turned off, I told the boys they could unhook theirs. Ricky took advantage of Marie undoing his seat belt to slip out of his seat. As was his custom on our previous flights to Houston, he started greeting everyone.
"Hi," he said to Dirk, before slipping by him to get to Joel. He greeted Joel the same way and reached his arms up for Joel to pick him up.
"Hi, yourself, munchkin," Joel said, reaching down to grab him.
Ricky stood up on Joel's lap and looked over the back of the seat at TJ. "Hi," he said. When TJ answered him in kind, he ducked his head and hid behind the seatback, giggling.
"Ouch, munchkin," Joel said. "Your peg is hurting my leg. Here, sit down on my lap and look out the window. See the pretty clouds?"
"He seems to be comfortable flying," Dirk said to Joel. "Has he flown before?"
"Yes, sir," Joel replied. "He's flown several times to Houston with his mom and my dad. He had to go get fitted for his leg."
"I see. He gets around really well with that, doesn't he?"
"Sometimes too well. Before he got it, he could crawl almost as fast as he can run now. Now he can get into more things. Can't you, munchkin?"
"Uh huh," Ricky said. He reached up, pulled Joel's head down and gave him a noisy kiss on the cheek.
"Thank you, munchkin, I love you, too," Joel said, returning the kiss. "How could anyone not love you?"
Ricky sat for a few minutes looking out the window of the plane before he started getting restless. He squirmed off Joel's lap and started to go back to his mother, but he stopped in front of Dirk and, to his mother's and Dirk's surprise, held up his arms for Dirk to pick him up.
Dirk picked him up and sat him on his lap, where Ricky started playing with Dirk's tie. I don't think he had ever seen a tie before. I wore one sparingly and only when I had a business meeting. I had always removed it before I had come home. Ricky was fascinated by it. Dirk seemed to enjoy having Ricky on his lap.
Ricky looked up at Dirk and, with an innocent look on his face, said, "I go poo-poo."
Dirk got a strange look on his face and turned to Marie, "I think you better handle this. I don't think I'd know what to do."
Marie laughed and got out of her seat. "Come here, Ricky. Let's go check you out."
Ricky giggled as he and Marie headed forward to the lavatory. Thankfully, it was unoccupied. I wondered how both of them were going to get in there since there is hardly room for one person. They managed somehow.
The power of suggestion, it works every time. As soon as Ricky and Marie were back in their seats, TJ decided he had to use the restroom. That started everyone else taking turns. I think they were more interested in seeing the facilities than any urgent need to actually use them. By the time everyone had his turn, the flight attendants were preparing to serve our lunch.
I had to show the boys how to flip up the arm on their seat and pull up the tray to put their food on. They each had to try it several times until the novelty wore off and the flight attendant came by with the meal.
The food was really quite good. We were served a small salad with French dressing, a generous slice of roast beef, potatoes au gratin and steamed broccoli. The boys had milk to drink. For dessert we had a small, in the boys' estimation, piece of chocolate cake.
Soon after our food trays were removed, the in-flight movie began. I showed the boys how to put the ear-phones on so they could hear the sound. It was Apollo 13, starring Tom Hanks. Although it was rated PG, I thought there was enough historical significance in it to allow the younger boys to watch it. At least there wasn't any sex or physical violence in it. The boys were fascinated by all the rockets and space capsules. Ricky fell asleep on Marie's lap while the movie was playing.
No sooner had the movie ended when the seatbelt sign went on and the pilot's voice came over the speaker system informing us that we would be landing in approximately 15 minutes.
"We're not gonna crash are we, daddy?" TJ asked me.
"No, son, we're not going to crash. We'll be on the ground in just a little while. If your ears get to feeling funny, try yawning," I said, showing him what I meant. "That'll help."
The pilot did an excellent job of landing. It was one of the smoothest I had ever experienced. As we were preparing to leave the aircraft, I complimented the pilot, who was standing at the doorway of the plane.
"Thank you very much," he replied, and then with a grin, "I wish they were all that smooth."
As we entered the terminal, I spotted a middle-aged man displaying a sign with "Johnson" written on it. I herded our group over to him. I introduce myself to him and learned his name was Bob. He directed us toward the baggage claim area where we had to wait for nearly a quarter of an hour before the luggage began arriving on the moving belt. Another ten minutes and we had retrieved our luggage. Bob had engaged two skycaps with carts to load all the bags.
Dirk had followed us to the baggage claim area to get his bags, but also, I think, to talk to Marie. She did not seem to object to his company. When I asked him at what hotel he was staying, I learned he was staying in the same hotel we were. I invited him to accompany us in the limo I had hired, but he refused, saying he had a rental car reserved. We said goodbye to Dirk and followed Bob to the exit.
The limo was waiting for us at the curb as we left the terminal building. The limo company, realizing the amount of luggage that nine people would be bringing, had provided a van just to carry our bags. I'm glad they thought of it because I never would have. Bob directed the skycaps to put the bags into the van and I handed them a generous tip.
The driver opened the door of our 1996 stretched Mercedes to allow us to climb inside the limo. The interior was luxurious with soft leather seats and easily seated the nine of us with room to spare. Bob climbed into the passenger seat beside the driver and we took off for the hotel. I noticed a small TV behind the front seat. I handed the remote to Joel and whispered for him to turn it on.
"Wow! This thing's even got a TV," Chris exclaimed, as the TV came on.
"Cool!" the twins chimed in.
"I never seen one in a car before," JR said.
With the remote, Joel switched through the channels until he found one that was showing a program about elephants. The channel met with everyone's approval. The program had ended and another program about penguins in the Antarctic had begun before we arrived at the hotel. I was glad for the TV because the ride from the airport to our hotel was long and less than scenic. It was nearly four o'clock, local time, by the time we reached our destination.
Bob was the first to exit the limo and scurried off into the hotel. He soon returned with two bellhops pushing carts to retrieve our luggage from the van that had pulled up behind the limo. While Bob was gone, the limo driver had gotten out and opened the door for us.
We entered the lobby of the hotel and approached the front desk. I introduced myself to an attractive young lady. She greeted me cordially, but not what I would consider warmly. When she located our reservations, her manner and demeanor became much more solicitous. She motioned for a man to come to the desk. I noticed from his nametag that his name was Clarence and he was an assistant manager. I had reserved a three-bedroom suite for the boys and me as well as a one-bedroom suite for Marie and Ricky. Clarence quickly issued us our pass-keys resembling credit cards, wished us a pleasant stay and asked us to follow him.
Clarence walked with us toward a bank of elevators. As we were walking, I noticed Dirk had arrived and was signing in at the front desk. Clarence held the door open while all nine of us entered and then he followed. Our luggage was taking another elevator because there was not enough room in the one we took. It didn't take long for the elevator to reach the nineteenth floor. We stepped out and followed Clarence down the hall to first Marie and Ricky's suite. He opened the door, ushered them in, and briefly showed them around the room. Naturally, the rest of the boys had to see, too.
Their suite consisted of a good sized living room, a small kitchenette and a good sized bedroom with a king-sized bed. There was also a full bath off the bedroom and a half bath just inside the entrance to the suite.
The bellhops with the luggage arrived at that time. Marie pointed out her luggage to one of the bellhops who took the bags and placed them in the closet in the bedroom.
I told Marie I would give her some time to unpack her suitcases and I would call her when I got the boys settled. I ushered the boys back out into the hallway and we followed Clarence to our suite. It was just down the hall from Marie and Ricky.
Of our suite's three bedrooms, one had two queen-sized beds, one had a single queen-sized bed and the third had a king-sized bed. Each one of the bedrooms had a full bath. Our living room was larger than the one in Marie's suite as was the kitchenette. I hadn't noticed if there was a balcony in Marie's suite, but ours had a large one that overlooked a lake and had a view of the Disney World Theme Park.
After the bellhops had been tipped and departed followed by Clarence, I asked the boys, "Which bedroom are you guys going to take?"
"Can we have the one with two beds?" Lenny asked. "Larry and me can have one and Chris and JR can have the other."
"Is that okay with you two?" I asked, directing my question to Chris and JR.
"Yeah, it'll almost be like at home," Chris answered.
"JR, how about you?"
"Yeah, that'll be fun."
"Joel, TJ, which one do you want?"
"We'll take this one," Joel said, leading TJ into the bedroom with the single queen-sized bed.
With the bedroom assignments taken care of, I told the boys to sort out their luggage. Since all the suitcases were on rollers, it was easy for them to wheel them into their rooms. I took mine to my room and began unpacking. When I finished, I went into the twins' room to help them with their unpacking. Chris and JR were sitting on a small love seat with the twins at their feet watching TV.
"Come on, guys, help your old dad unpack your clothes. Each of you choose a drawer in that chest. There're four drawers, so each one of you can have your own. We'll hang some of the stuff in the closet. I could have probably done the job faster by myself, but I thought it was good training for them.
When I went to check on Joel and TJ, I found that Joel had all ready finished putting away both of their clothes. I should have known. Joel is so organized.
I called the boys into the living room and asked them if they would like to go for a swim. They seem to like the idea, so I sent them back to their rooms to change into their swimsuits. I picked up the phone and dialed Marie's room. When she answered, I told her we were going to take a swim and invited her to come along. At first she was hesitant until I told her that the hotel had a kiddy pool that Ricky could play in. I told her we would meet her in the hall in fifteen minutes.
Marie was holding Ricky when we met in the hall. I hadn't thought about it until I saw that Ricky was not wearing his peg leg. Of course he couldn't wear the leg in the water.
"Come here, munchkin. Do you want a piggyback ride?" Joel asked.
"Yeah, piggyback," Ricky answered, holding out his arms.
Joel backed up to him and Ricky threw his arms around Joel's neck and wrapped his one good leg around Joel's waist. The stump of his other leg just barely reached around Joel's side. Joel put one arm under Ricky's good leg and grabbed the stump with the other hand and off we went toward the elevator.
The hotel description that I had received when I made the reservations said that the pool was large. I didn't realize just how large it was until we stepped outside. It was huge.
"Man, I never saw a pool that big," Joel said.
"Look, there's a waterfall," JR exclaimed, wide-eyed.
I spotted a group of lounge chairs and steered the boys toward them. We slipped out of our sandals and piled our towels on the chairs before heading for the water. Marie had spotted the kiddy pool, took Ricky from Joel's back and headed for it. I checked the depth markings on the side of the pool before I let the boys enter the shallow end.
TJ jumped in and began splashing his brothers when a lifeguard came up to me. "I'm sorry, sir, but I think he is too young for this pool," he said, pointing to TJ. "Maybe the kiddy pool would be a better place for him."
"Is there an age limit for this pool?"
"Not really, sir. He is rather small. How old is he?"
"He'll turn eight next month," I said. "He's a fairly good swimmer. He and the rest of my sons have been taking swimming lessons for almost two years. His brothers and I will keep an eye on him. We'll make sure that he is safe."
"Very well, I just want to make sure that nobody gets hurt while I'm on duty," he said. "Enjoy your swim."
"I appreciate your concern, and thank you."
The water was great therapy after sitting in the plane for three and a half hours and then the long ride from the airport to the hotel. The boys were having a ball, swimming and splashing each other, and exploring the strange pool.
"We want to go over to the waterfall. Can we, dad?" Chris pleaded.
"I don't see why not. Everybody stay together. I don't want anyone to get away from the group. The water is about five feet deep at the waterfall so you'll have to be swimming all the time."
The boys thought that swimming under the waterfall was great fun. Each time they did, they would come up laughing. It didn't take long before I saw that TJ was getting tired so I told the boys we had to head back to the shallow end of the pool. We had been in the pool for nearly three quarters of an hour, when I suggested that we get out and rest. It was then that TJ spotted the sandy beach near the pool and headed for it.
I don't think that any of the boys had seen so much sand. It was clean, soft, white sand perfect for digging into with your toes. There were small buckets placed strategically around the sand that you could fill with water from a tap so you could wet the sand to make sand castles. It wasn't long before Ricky joined the boys in the sand.
Castles were built and destroyed. Ricky's attempt to help often caused the castles to be destroyed. I don't know if this was on purpose, but he sure got a kick out of doing it. Each time his giggle got higher.
It wasn't long before TJ came up to me and whispered in my ear, "Can we get some ice cream?" He pointed to the snack bar located to one side of the pool.
"I think that's a good idea," I said. "Come on, guys, let's go get ice cream."
Joel picked up Ricky and we headed to the snack bar. We had just arrived at the snack bar when I heard a voice say, "Marie, it's good to see you again." When I turned toward the voice, I saw it was Dirk. The boys were more interested in getting some ice cream than greeting Dirk. I said hello to him before turning back to the task at hand.
I signed the chit for the ice cream and then directed the boys to a couple of tables nearby where we could sit and enjoy our treats. Dirk joined us with his own ice cream treat. It was then that I really took notice of him. He was not what would be called handsome, but he was far from being homely. I guess pleasant would be a good word to describe his looks. Dressed in swim trunks and sandals, his toned and tanned physique showed off nicely.
It was quite obvious that he was making a play for Marie and she was doing nothing to dissuade him. I learned he was twenty-six, single, had his master's degree in marketing from the University of Texas, and was a vice-president of the direct marketing company where he worked. I was a bit surprised that someone so young was all ready a vice-president. He had an easy way of talking and didn't seem to talk down to Marie because of her lack of attaining his level of education. All in all he was a pleasant person to be around.
When the boys had finished their ice cream, I suggested we grab our towels and head back to the rooms for a shower. Dirk looked disappointed when we got up to leave. I took pity on him and told him we were going to have supper at the Cassius Buffet around seven if he wanted to join us. He readily agreed. We went on our way to the rooms and he dived into the pool.
I sent the boys into their rooms to get their showers started and I went into my bedroom to make a phone call.
"Jack, I'm glad I caught you before you took off for home. I want you to do a quick check on someone. This is for me personally, so charge it to me and send the bill to Gerald." I went on to give him all the information that I had on Dirk. Jack said he could probably have some preliminary information for me by late tomorrow afternoon. If I wanted a full blown background check, it would take a few more days. I told him to go ahead and do the full background, but I wanted the preliminary report tomorrow.
After I hung up, I wondered if this was any of my business. Marie is only my employee, not a member of the family, after all. I tossed that around for a while in my mind while I was showering, before I decided she was important to us and I didn't want to see her get hurt.
I went to check on the boys and found Joel combing TJ's hair. They were both dressed in shorts, polo shirt and sandals. When I entered the other bedroom, the four of them were sitting in their underwear on the floor watching cartoons on the TV.
"Okay, guys, let's get up and dressed. You can watch TV after you're dressed." I turned the TV set off and then dug out what I wanted them to wear before I went out into the living room.
I checked out the living room, familiarizing myself with the amenities before heading into the kitchenette. I opened the refrigerator to find it fully stocked with soft drinks and juice. I sat six plastic bottles of apple juice on the bar separating the kitchenette from the living room. I figured the boys would be thirsty. I grabbed an orange juice for myself since there was no more apple juice.
I turned on the big screen TV in the living room to the cartoons that the boys had been watching and waited for them to come out of the bedroom. It didn't take long before all six of them were either sitting on the couch or the floor, drinking the juice and watching the mind numbing cartoons.
A few minutes later there was a knock on the door. I answered it to find Marie and Ricky standing there.
"Ricky wanted to come see the boys. I hope that's all right," Marie said.
"Of course it is. Please come in. Would he like some juice? The boys are having some."
She looked at Ricky who was shaking his head "yes".
"What would he like? Orange or grape juice?"
"I think we'd better make it orange. Grape stains so bad."
Ricky took the juice I handed him, went and climbed onto Joel's lap to watch the cartoons with the boys. Joel held the juice while Ricky sipped it through a straw. When the other boys laughed at something on the TV, so did Ricky. I don't think he knew why they were laughing.
As it neared seven o'clock, I asked the boys to go wash their hands and to put their juice bottles in the trash. Since the Cassius Buffet was an informal dining establishment, I didn't make the boys change clothes. I did put on a pair of long pants and a button-up shirt. Marie was dressed nicely in a simple blouse and skirt.
We arrived at the entrance to the buffet to be met by Dirk. I had made reservations for nine when I had called in earlier before I had invited Dirk to join us. I didn't change the reservations. I figured they could make room for one more. Our server showed us to a large round table that easily seated the ten of us. She took our drink orders and then invited us to visit the buffet line. That met with the boys' approval.
I cautioned the boys to make sure they held onto their plates. I didn't want to see their food on the floor. Fortunately, there were three young men whose job it was to help with situations like this, they grabbed two plates each, and positioned themselves between two of the boys. This allowed the boys to load the plates without me worrying that they were going to drop them. I think this allowed the boys to load their plates even fuller than if they had been carrying them.
I tipped each of the young men after they placed the plates on the table and thanked them for their courtesy. Our server arrived with our drinks, milk for the boys, ice tea for Marie and me, and a beer for Dirk.
The mountain of food on the boys' plates was quickly consumed much to the astonishment of Dirk. "How can they eat so much?" he asked.
"I don't know where they put it, either. Our grocery bill at home looks like the figure for the national debt," I laughed. "They are still not through. There is still the dessert buffet."
Dirk just groaned and shook his head. When the boys heard the word dessert, their ears perked up.
"Can we go get some dessert?" TJ asked.
"Sure," I said. I had just about given up on correcting them to use may instead of can when they were asking permission.
I followed them to the dessert line and watched as they loaded up plates with pastries and frozen yogurt. I had a piece of cherry pie with frozen vanilla yogurt on top. Tomorrow I'd have to visit the lap pool.
It was a little after eight when we returned to the room. Dirk had said his goodbyes to all of us at the elevator on the ground floor. I invited Marie and Ricky to join us and stay for the fireworks display. I thought the balcony would be an ideal place from which to watch. We would have an excellent vantage point. When it came time for the display, I opened the sliding doors and ushered the boys onto the balcony. Marie and I stood behind them with me holding Ricky.
The fireworks started literally with a bang. It caused everyone to be startled. Ricky even let out a little cry. That didn't last long until he was completely enthralled with the brilliant burst of color and machine gun-like rapid explosions. The air was filled with oohs and aahs from the boys. They were all sad when it was over.
"Don't worry, guys, there'll be another one tomorrow night. Now, I think it's time for you to get to bed. Tomorrow is going to be a busy day. We're going to spend the day in the Magic Kingdom. I know you're going to like that."