"It does look like a castle, doesn't it? It's called Medieval Times. I think you're going to enjoy your meal tonight," I said. Our driver let us out as close to the entrance as he could. I told him when I expected to be ready to leave for home. I led the still gawking boys toward our destination.
"Daddy! Daddy! Look at those men on horses up there with the sticks," TJ exclaimed. When I looked he was pointed toward two replicas of knights on horses seemingly in a joust. They were suspended above the Medieval Times sign.
"Those are knights and the sticks are called lances. You'll see a lot more of them during the show."
"You mean they got horses inside?" Chris asked.
"Yes, son, there'll be plenty of horses inside. Come along now, all of you," I said. "Let's go get checked in so we can find our seats."
I had purchased a Royalty Package that entitled us to preferred seating right next to the arena. We also got a knight's cheering banner, ours was white and black, some souvenirs and of course our colorful paper crowns to wear. We looked silly wearing our crowns, but everyone else was wearing one so we didn't look out of place. We only had to wait a few minutes before we were greeted by King Alfonso and his daughter, Princess Esperanza. That was soon followed by trumpets announcing the opening of the Grand Ceremonial Arena. We were led to the proper color coded section where we all took our seats.
I was surprised at how quickly the pavilions filled with guests. We had barely settled into our seats when, with a great flourish, the serving of the meal began. An army of serfs and wenches appeared and began to ladle a thick vegetable soup into pewter bowls on our table. The garlic and herb bread that accompanied this course smelled delicious.
This course was followed by roasted chicken, spare ribs and herb seasoned potatoes. We were served our choice of beverage. I relented and let the boys have non-caffeinated soft drinks. I think the thing the boys liked so much about the meal was that everything had to be eaten with their fingers. No eating utensils were provided. There were a lot of napkins used. Even so, there were a lot of sticky fingers being licked throughout the meal.
The dessert was a fruit filled pastry still warm from the oven. The only thing that would have made it better would have been some vanilla ice cream, but then that would have been very messy eating it with your hands.
While we were eating the master of ceremonies was telling a melodramatic story of intrigue and treachery. It's a story of a "Princess's love for a handsome, gallant Knight - and a riveting confrontation between a turncoat warrior and a surprise defender of the crown."
There were seven knights that competed in the tournament in various displays of skills including the flag toss, javelin throw and the ring pierce. The knights were known only by the colors they wore. Each of the boys chose a different knight to cheer for despite us having the banner of the White and Black Knight. Joel decided that he would be his knight. Larry chose the Red and Yellow Knight. Lenny chose the Yellow and Black Knight. Chris chose the Red and Black Knight. TJ was left to decide between the Green Knight and the Black and Red Knight. He finally decided on the Black and Red, which left the Green Knight for Ricky. I don't think it made any difference to Ricky. He just wanted to see the horses as they galloped around the arena.
When the knights had displayed their skills, the squires began preparing the arena and the knights for the Joust. As the trumpets sounded the knights appeared in full suits of armor riding magnificent Andalusian horses and carrying what looked to be 10-foot lances. The boys hollered and cheered as two knights rode toward each other on opposite sides of a low barrier. They met with a clashing of lances against armor, each trying to unseat the other. Sometimes the lances splintered. When that happened or one of the riders was unseated, the combat continued on the ground of the arena using swords or other weapons of the 11th century such as an axe, mace or bola.
These competitions continued until a champion was declared. Tonight it was the White and Black Knight that prevailed. This did not end the melodrama. It continued until "truth, honor and love eventually triumph over evil and peace is restored to the kingdom."
It was really special for the boys when the White and Black Knight approached our seating area and made his horse take a bow by kneeling on one of its front legs. The knight lowered his banner in salute to them for being his cheering section. He didn't realize or take notice of the fact that they had been cheering for all seven knights. However, our banner indicated that we were supposedly his cheering section.
By the time the two hour show was over the boys were exhausted from all the cheering and clapping they had done. Ricky had been bouncing between his mother and the boys as he was amazed by the spectacle, the likes of which he had never seen before.
On our way out of the arena, we stopped by the souvenir shop to pick up an over priced trinket for each of the seven boys. The place was so crowded that we had to wait about twenty minutes to get waited on.
Our driver was waiting outside when we exited the castle. When he saw us, he approached me and said he would bring the car around. Rather than wait, I picked up Ricky and told the driver we would follow him to where the limo was parked. I thought it would save time and I could see that the boys were getting tired. It had been a long day with plenty of excitement.
It was ten o'clock by the time we got back to the hotel. Marie took Ricky and headed for their room. As soon as we were in our rooms, I told the boys to go climb into the showers and get ready for bed. They started for their bedroom, but then JR turned back to me.
"Can I call my dad? Please?"
"Sure, son, he should still be up. It's only a little after nine there. Do you know how to dial long distance?"
"No, what do I have to do?"
"Well, from the hotel," I said handing him the phone, "you have to dial nine, then one to get long distance. After that you dial 830. That's your area code. Then all you do is dial your telephone number."
"That's easy," he said, holding the receiver to his ear.
"Is it ringing?"
"Yeah ... Hi Bran."
"It's me, dufus."
"JR," he giggled. "Who else calls you dufus?"
"Yeah, we're having a great time. I want to talk to dad."
"I love you, too, big bro,"
I decided to let JR have some privacy while he talked to his dad, so I went into my bedroom. About ten minutes later, JR came into my bedroom.
"Thanks, Mr. Johnson, for letting me call my dad. He said to tell you 'Hi'."
"You're welcome, son. Now, you had better get your shower taken and get to bed. It's getting late. I'll be in to tuck you in after while."
When I heard that the showers had all stopped, I went in to check on the boys and to tuck them in. The twins were in bed and almost asleep when I kissed them on the forehead. JR was pulling his pajama tops on as I went over to his and Chris' bed. I kissed them both and then went next door to Joel and TJ's bedroom. TJ was sound asleep. It had been a long tiring day for my little one. I kissed his forehead after brushing back a lock of hair. Joel was still awake when I went to him.
"Thanks, dad, that was so much fun tonight."
"You're welcome, son. I'm glad you liked it. I think tomorrow that we'll take it a little slower. Is there something that you'd like to do?"
"Can we go to Sea World?"
"That sounds like fun. I'll check to see what is available for everyone. I think some of the attractions may not be for Ricky or even TJ. I'm sure there are enough things for them to do. Go to sleep," I said and kissed him on the forehead. "I love you."
"I love you, too. Good night, dad."
I closed the door and went searching for the brochures that described all the Orlando theme parks. I found the information on Sea World and after reading it, I called the concierge. He was very helpful and made several suggestions as to how to handle the seven boys. One suggestion was to hire a guide to make sure that all the boys could go on the various rides without waiting for me to take a group and then take a second group as many of the rides only held four people at a time. I asked him if he knew of any reliable person who could help us. He said he did and would have him available at nine-thirty for our departure to the park.
The message waiting light was blinking when I picked up the phone to talk to the concierge. When I finished talking to him, I accessed the message. It was from Jack. His message said he had the information on Dirk that I had requested and asked me to call him, if it wasn't too late.
I dialed Jack's home number. "Hello, Jack, it's Crane."
"Crane, I'm glad that you called back. I didn't know whether you would be out on the town celebrating."
"Not likely with six kids to look after," I chuckled.
"That would be a problem. Look, what I called you for is that we completed the background investigation on Dirk Soznowski. The most damning thing we were able to turn up on him is a couple of parking tickets and one speeding violation back when he was in college. He does have an eye for the ladies and does seem to have quite a fan club. On the positive side, he is a volunteer for Big Brothers and works with Jamie, a young boy from a broken home. The boy's mother works hard at two unskilled jobs and can't spend a lot of time with him. Dirk spends at least one day a week with Jamie. He is also quite involved in a breast cancer charity. It seems his mother is a breast cancer survivor.
"He owns a condo in Thousand Oaks. Drives a one year old red Mazda RX-7. It's a real beauty. I'd love to have one just like it, but Carolyn would probably divorce me. Back to Dirk, his credit rating is on the high side.
"So, other than his love of the ladies, he's a real Eagle Scout. Actually he was one."
"Thanks, Jack, I don't know how you pulled this information together so quickly, but I appreciate it," I said. "What are you and the family doing for the Fourth?"
"Carolyn's folks are driving in from Fort Worth, so we're going to have a barbeque and watch the fireworks. They haven't been here since we moved to the lake. They'll be here until Saturday. I hope I can hold my tongue that long. Her mother and I are not on the best of terms. She always thought her only daughter marrying a cop was beneath her social class," Jack said. "Her dad is a great guy. We get along famously."
"Well, I'm sure that you'll manage. I'd better get ready for bed. We're off to Sea World tomorrow. I'll be glad to get back home so I can get some rest. Good night, Jack, and thanks again."
I checked on the boys to see that they were all sleeping before turning out the lights and heading for my bedroom. After finishing up in the bathroom, I set the alarm and slipped into bed.
Wednesday morning I awoke to a thunder storm. I looked at the clock. It was just after 6:30. I decided I might as well get up. I shut off the alarm and went to take a shower. I had just started the coffee maker when the twins came up behind me and wrapped their arms around my waist.
"What are you guys doing up so early? Couldn't you sleep?"
"The thunder woke us up," Lenny's muffled voice said into my side.
I wrapped my arms around both of them and guided them to the stools at the breakfast bar. "Hop up on the stools and I'll get you some juice." I set a couple of glasses and a cup for my coffee on the breakfast bar and then retrieved a carton of orange juice from the small refrigerator. I poured them a glass before looking to see if there was something else they might want. I found a package of Pop-Tarts. I tore open the package and dropped a couple of them into the toaster. By the time the Pop-Tarts were finished, my coffee was ready. I sat down on the remaining stool, drank my coffee and talked to my sons. It was a nice change. I didn't often get to talk to them alone. It seemed like there was always at least one of their brothers around.
It didn't last long; TJ came shuffling in after a particularly loud clap of thunder. "Good morning, little one," I said, picking him up and putting him on my lap.
"Can I have one of those?" TJ said, pointing at the Pop-Tarts the twins were eating."
"Sure," I told him. "Do you want some juice, too?"
I stood up with him and then sat him on the stool before I went to fix his Pop-Tart. While I was fixing his toaster treat, I glanced out the window in the living room. Although it was still raining, I could see the sun shining off in the distance. Maybe it would turn out to be a nice day after all.
The twins finished their juice and headed back to the bedroom to brush their teeth and get dressed. As they were rushing off, I told them to wake Chris and have him try to wake JR. "We'll help," they said, trying to hide giggles behind their hands.
I should probably have asked how they were going to "help", but I thought better of it. Maybe it was best I didn't know.
I poured TJ's juice and gave him his toaster treat when it was ready. While he was eating, I went to wake Joel. When I got to the bedroom, Joel wasn't in bed. I heard the water running in the bathroom so I knew he was awake. While I was in the bedroom, I laid out clothes for TJ to wear today. If I didn't, who knows what combination of clothes he would dress himself in for the day.
Back in the kitchenette area, TJ was finishing up his pre-breakfast snack. I shooed him back to the bedroom to brush his teeth and get dressed. I was clearing the dishes and putting them in the dishwasher when I heard a scream coming from the twins' bedroom. It sounded like JR's voice. Knowing that the twins had "helped" Chris get JR awake, I suppressed my amusement and went to find out what kind of mischief they had gotten into.
Both Larry and Lenny had expressions of the cat who swallowed the canary when I opened their bedroom door. Chris was standing beside the bed covering his mouth with both hands to keep from laughing out loud. JR was sitting straight up in bed with water dripping from his face and sputtering. "I'll get you guys for that. Just you wait."
"I'm glad to see you're awake, JR," I said. I pretended not to notice Larry trying desperately to hide a plastic drinking cup that he had probably filled with cold water and dumped on a sleeping JR. Maybe a less tolerant parent would have scolded the boys for their antics, but I wouldn't have been able to keep a straight face. I didn't think it was a serious infraction.
"Okay, guys, let's go brush your teeth and get dressed. It's almost time to go eat breakfast." I thought that would get them moving, if anything would.
I called Marie to let her know that we would be going down for breakfast in about 15 minutes. She said that Ricky was ready to go and wanted to come see the boys. I told her to bring him over, that the boys would all be ready shortly.
It wasn't long before there was a tiny knock on the door. I knew it had to be Ricky so I sent Joel to answer it. He had just come into the living area from the bedroom.
"Who's there?" Joel asked through the door.
"Me," came the reply followed by a giggle.
Joel opened the door to the giggling Ricky and was greeted by the usual "Hi." Ricky held up his arms and was quickly scooped up by Joel who received a juicy kiss on the cheek.
"Hi, Munchkin," Joel said. "Are you ready for breakfast?"
He was answered by vigorous nodding of Ricky's head.
"Good morning, Marie. Did you get a good night's sleep?" I asked.
"After I got that little rascal to settle down, it was fine. He was all wound up from seeing all those horses. He must have rattled on about them for at least a half an hour before he finally dropped off to sleep," she said.
"We'll have to take him to see our horses when we get back to Texas," I told her. "We can put him up in the saddle with me or Joel and take him for a ride. I'll bet he'd like that."
"He'd be in heaven, I'm sure."
By that time all the boys had come into the room and had greeted Ricky. It was then that I remembered that I hadn't put the sunscreen on them. Between Joel and me it only took another ten minutes to get everyone properly coated. Ricky got into the act, even though Marie said she had already applied it to him.
With everybody ready, we headed for the elevator and breakfast. The twins ran ahead and had summoned the elevator car by the time the rest of us arrived. They thought this elevator was neater than the one we had at home. This one had music piped in and mirrors on the walls. It also went faster.
Of course we went to the restaurant with the breakfast buffet again. The only thing different was the man who was usually at the front station was not there this morning. Instead there was a smiling older lady there who greeted us warmly. She summoned the young lady who had seated us the past two mornings to do the duty this morning also. I had not noticed her nametag the previous mornings, but today I took note of it. It said her name was Kari.
Kari greeted us in her usual friendly manner and was about to lead us to a table when Dirk and another man came up behind us.
"Good morning," Dirk said to gain our attention.
Marie and I turned at the same time to greet him. I was holding Ricky and it was he who greeted Dirk first with his usual, "Hi."
I shook Dirk's hand and invited him to join us. I could see out of the corner of my eye that Marie concurred with my invitation. Dirk looked at the man he had come in with who nodded at him and turned to the smiling older lady.
"Thanks, I'd like that," he said.
"I hope you're ready for watching the ravaging of the buffet line by the boys," I said, as Kari led us to our table.
"I'm not sure," he said. "My sister and I were the only ones in the family."
We settled into our seats and Kari took our drink orders. When she finished, I could see the boys were chomping at the bit to get started with breakfast. I checked the serving line and saw that it was clear of any other patrons before I gave the signal that they could go. The two busboys that had been so helpful the past two days saw us approaching the food and fell in beside TJ and Ricky. Dirk gave a curious look at the busboys before turning to me. I explained what was going on before he had a chance to ask.
With our plates full and the busboys tipped, we sat down to eat our breakfast. Dirk took a seat beside Marie with Ricky on her other side. Kari arrived with our juice and coffee.
"Mr. Johnson, I just wanted to tell you, my sister got an appointment for my niece to see that doctor you gave me the information on, Dr. Alverez. They have to be in Houston on the 29th for the appointment. My sister said to thank you. We all have our fingers crossed hoping that it works out."
"That's wonderful. I'm sure Dr. Alverez can help. Your niece deserves to have as normal a life as possible."
As we were eating, I took the opportunity to identify the boys to Dirk.
"How can you tell Larry and Lenny apart?" he asked. "They are as identical as any set of twins I've ever seen."
"It's easy when they're eating, which they usually are. Larry is right-handed and Lenny is left-handed," I answered. I got a dirty look from the twins, but they never stopped eating.
Dirk turned to Marie, "What do you have planned for today?"
"We're going to Sea World as soon as the rain lets up," she answered.
"I'm sure the boys will love it. I took my little brother to the one in San Antonio last month."
"I thought you said you only had a sister," Marie said, looking at him strangely.
"I do," he said. "Let me explain. I volunteer with Big Brothers and Sisters. I call Jamie, the young boy I volunteer with, my little brother." Turning to me he continued, "Jamie is about the same age as Larry and Lenny. He's a little shorter, but quite a bit heavier. I've been trying to help him eat healthier and get more exercise."
"I don't know how my crew stays as trim as they do with all the food they put away," I said. "They do get plenty of exercise with swimming, the horses and all the sport activities they're in. Maybe you should bring Jamie to the house sometime. I'm sure the boys would like to meet him."
"Thanks, I might just do that. Jamie's at a scout camp for the next two weeks, but when he gets home at the end of next week, I'll talk to him about it. I wish he had more friends. Some of the kids his age in the neighborhood are so cruel to him because of his weight."
"Kids can be cruel at times." I pulled out my wallet and extracted one of my business cards. I wrote my home number on the back and handed it to Dirk. "Give me a call and we can work out a day for him to visit. Bring a swimsuit and some jeans in case we go riding the horses."
"Jamie would love that, I'm sure. I don't think he's ever seen a horse up close."
"I think all boys love horses," Marie said. "After last night, it's all Ricky talks about. It was his first real close contact with horses."
"Oh? Where did you see horses last night?" Dirk asked Ricky.
"At supper," Ricky replied around a mouthful of food.
As Marie and Dirk continued their conversation, I could see the boys were itching to go back for seconds. I nodded to them and they took off for the buffet line. I followed to make sure they didn't create a scene.
As we were going through the buffet line for the second time, Jason Phillips and his family arrived. The boy looked so sad, it made me want to go up and hug him. His eyes were downcast as he walked behind his parents. His sister, Beth, was holding his hand.
I nudged Joel and nodded my head toward Jason.
"Hi, Jason," Joel said. "I'm glad to see you again. Are you having fun here?"
"Oh, hi, Joel," Jason responded. "Yeah, I guess so."
"We're going to Sea World. Have you been there?"
"No," he said barely above a whisper. "I bet you'll have fun. I have to take care of my sister today while mom and dad go someplace."
"Jason, stop dawdling. We don't have all day," Bill Phillips said to his son.
"Yes, sir," Jason said.
As they walked away, Joel said to me, "How come Jason's dad is such a jerk?"
"I don't know, son. There are all kinds of people in this world and I'll never understand all of them, especially ones like Jason's dad. Let's get back to the table. It'll be time to catch our ride to Sea World before long." I was more determined than ever to see what I could do for that sad boy and his sister.
"Mr. Johnson," Dirk said, as I sat down at the table. "I don't have any seminars all morning. Would you mind if I tagged along with you?"
"Not at all, in fact, it would help out. You're most welcome to tag along, if you think you're up to seven lively boys," I said.
"I don't know if I am," he laughed. "But I'll try my best."
We finished our breakfast and I herded my six boys to the bathroom to wash up. I made sure that they each used the toilet before we left. I didn't want to keep interrupting our visit to Sea World to find restrooms.
It was right at 9:30 when we approached the front desk. We were met by the concierge. He started to apologize profusely. The guide he had retained to help with the boys this morning had been involved in a traffic accident on his way to the hotel and wouldn't be able to help out. He said he hadn't been able to come up with a replacement as yet. I told him not to worry. We had another adult that would be accompanying us, so we really didn't need anyone to take the guide's place. He was relieved and said he would summon the van that was to take us.
Dirk picked up Ricky and we headed out of the hotel to meet the van. It arrived almost immediately. I was surprised at how luxurious the van was. It seated all ten of us very comfortably. As soon as we were all seated and buckled in, the driver took off for our adventure at Sea World.