The rain clouds had completely disappeared by the time we arrived at Sea World. The park had only been open for a few minutes, so there were not too many people to contend with inside. That wouldn't be the case for very long I imagined.
On entering the park we looked at the map showing all the attractions before deciding where we would go first. We wanted to make the first Shamu show, so planning was important. I knew from the information I had on the park that Ricky would not be able to go on many of the rides due to the height requirements. One of those rides was Kraken. The height requirement was 54 inches. That would eliminate both Ricky and TJ. The twins and JR barely made it.
We decided to ride Kraken first to get it out of the way since it was supposed to be one of the most popular rides. The lines would only get longer as the day wore on. We were lucky when we got to the ride. We only had to wait for one ride to complete before we were able to board. Dirk joined us while Marie, Ricky and TJ remained behind to watch.
The first two rows of the ride were taken by others. Dirk got in row three with Joel, Chris and another teenaged boy. The twins, JR and I occupied all of row four. The description of Kraken in my brochure stated: "Kraken is a floorless roller coaster with a 151-foot tall lift, steep drops, sharp turns, speeds up to 65 miles per hour and seven inversions. The seats are open-sided and ride on a pedestal high above the track. Riders' feet dangle with no coaster car surrounding them." I hoped that the boys were ready for this. I hoped that I was as well.
After the attendant confirmed that all passengers were secured in their seats, the ride started. Now, I had always loved roller coasters, but this was the first time I had ever ridden on one of these new ones without the customary car to sit in. It wasn't long into the ride that I decided I liked the old fashioned roller coasters better.
I couldn't tell from the screams of the twins and JR whether they were enjoying the ride or if their screams were ones of terror. Mine tended to be the latter. I was not used to being turned upside down as we sped along at break-neck speeds. I was more than happy when the ride ended and my feet touched solid earth again.
"Dad, can we do it again?" the twins pleaded in unison as they each grabbed one of my hands.
"Me, too," Chris added.
I looked over at Dirk and saw him nodding his head. "Maybe after while you can. Right now, I think it would be nice if TJ and Ricky could go on a ride. Don't you?"
"Yeah, I guess," Larry said dejectedly.
For the next hour or so we rode on rides that all of the boys could enjoy. Every so often I could see the twins looking at me as if they wanted to ask me something. I knew what it was. I looked at my watch and decided that we had just enough time to ride Kraken again before we would need to stop for lunch. After lunch we would catch the Shamu show.
Joel and JR decided they didn't want to ride it again and I wasn't all that enthusiastic about it either, but I had resigned myself to another ride. I was relieved when Dirk volunteered to ride with the twins and Chris. The rest of us found a bench to sit on while the riders waited in line for their turn.
I noticed a young boy about Joel's age sitting on a bench next to us with a lady I assumed to be his mother. The boy appeared to have Down syndrome. From what I could understand of what he was saying to his mother, he wanted to go on Kraken. She was shaking her head and telling him she couldn't take him because of her heart condition. He kept at her to take him on the ride.
Joel was listening to the conversation between the boy and his mother. When I looked at Joel his eyes were glistening as if there were tears starting. He looked at me and I knew instinctively what he had in mind. I nodded my head and he stood to walk over to the boy and his mother.
"Excuse me, ma'am," Joel said to her. "If your son would like to ride on that roller coaster, I'd be happy to go with him."
My heart nearly burst with pride at my oldest son. Although he didn't want to ride it again, he was willing to so that the boy could.
"Are you sure? Danny can be a handful sometimes," the woman replied, somewhat shocked at Joel's invitation.
Danny was shaking his head up and down, "Pwease, momma! Pwease!"
"Will you be good for this young man and do what he says?"
"What's your name, young man?"
"My name is Joel Johnson, ma'am. That's my father over there," he said, pointing toward me.
"Thank you, Joel Johnson; it's very kind of you to offer. Danny has been sitting here pestering me to go on that crazy thing. You two run along and get in line," she told them.
Danny grabbed hold of Joel's arm and literally dragged him to the line waiting to ride Kraken.
Danny's mother stood up and approached me. I stood to greet her. "Mr. Johnson, I'm Janet Barstow. You have a wonderful son."
"I'm pleased to meet you, Mrs. Barstow. Thank you, I realize that more every day how great a kid he really is." I motioned for her to take a seat on the bench. As we sat down, I introduced her to Marie, TJ, JR and Ricky.
We chatted for the next 20 minutes until Dirk and the boys returned. I learned that Danny's father is a doctor and was supposed to be with them today, but had been summoned to the hospital for an emergency operation on one of his patients. Mrs. Barstow didn't want to break her promise to Danny and came to the park without her husband. She said she expected him to arrive some time after noon.
Larry, Lenny and Chris raced back to where we were sitting after their ride was over, laughing and telling each other what they liked most about the ride.
Lenny looked around and asked, "Where's Joel, dad?"
"He took Mrs. Barstow's son, Danny, on Kraken."
"I didn't think ... " Larry said before I shook my head indicating I didn't want him to continue what he started to say.
I introduced them to Mrs. Barstow and then we waited for Joel and Danny to return.
"Did you enjoy your ride?" Mrs. Barstow asked Danny, when he and Joel returned from their ride.
He was so excited that his reply was unintelligible, but the smile on his face spoke volumes. He hugged his mother and then turned and hugged Joel. This time I could understand that he was saying thanks.
"You're welcome," Joel said, returning the hug.
"Joel, you have made Danny's day. Thank you," Mrs. Barstow said.
Joel blushed at the attention. I knew he was pleased, but at the same time, he didn't think what he had done was anything out of the ordinary.
I checked my watch. It was time for us to head for our lunch reservations the concierge had made for us. We headed for "Backstage at Believe ... Dine with Shamu". It was a pricey lunch but I thought the boys would enjoy the up-close dining alongside the killer whale habitat. It was an all you can eat buffet, so I knew they would enjoy that.
Dirk excused himself as we started for our lunch. He said he had to head up a seminar this afternoon and needed to get back to the hotel to prepare. Ricky gave him a hug and a wet kiss before he left. Wiping his cheek, Dirk said he would see everybody this evening.
Our meal was truly an experience for the boys. Not only was the food good and plentiful, but we were seated right next to the glass sided pool with Shamu swimming in it. I think it was the only time in my memory that the boys actually stopped eating in the middle of a meal. It happened every time the killer whale swam up to the side where we were eating. They were captivated by the big mammal and his antics. They would see much more of Shamu when we attended the show "Believe".
I had planned the show to be the last item on our agenda for the day. I had booked seats in the "Soak Zone", so we would be wet by the time the show was finished. I figured we would want to get back to the hotel afterwards to change into some dry clothes.
Our seats for the show were in the front row next to the large pool. The performances by the dolphins doing their tricks, jumping through hoops, racing around the pool with trainers standing on their backs riding them around like horses made Ricky jump up and down, clapping his hands and pressing his nose against the glass wall of the pool. He wasn't the only one of the boys who was entranced by the spectacle being put on for them.
The highlight of the show was Shamu. It was a spectacular display of the interplay between a wild animal and human trainers. When Shamu surfaced with one of the trainers atop the killer whale's nose and was tossed high into the air, the boys were ecstatic. They could hardly stop laughing when Shamu leapt out of the water and crashed down again splashing water over the sides of the pool and drenching all of us. They sputtered and wiped the water out of their eyes. It wasn't the last time that we would be soaked. They didn't mind nearly as much as Marie and I did. I think Dirk left early so that he wouldn't have to endure the soaking.
When the show was over, a soaked, but happy, group of boys, herded by Marie and I took off for the parking lot and the van. The van driver, having been warned in advance that we would be wet, handed each of us a large towel before we entered the van.
A talkative group of boy relived the day's adventure punctuated by a lot of laughter. Although it was fairly early in the afternoon, I thought the boys had enough excitement for the day.
I thanked the van driver as we exited the van in front of our hotel. "Hey, guys, how about we change into our swim suits and head for the pool? We're already wet."
"Yeah, let's go," shouted Chris, and took off for the elevator with the rest of the boys rushing to catch up. Ricky was the only one not running after the boys. He was asleep with his head on Marie's shoulder.
"You've got a tired little boy there," I said, smoothing Ricky's hair.
"I believe all the excitement got to him. He usually has a nap about this time of the day. I think I'll put him down for a while," Marie said. "Maybe we'll join you at the pool later."
"Good idea," I said.
I swam with the boys for maybe fifteen minutes and then relaxed on a lounge chair beside the pool. It wasn't long before Joel climbed out of the pool and came to sit beside me.
"What's on your mind, son? You look like you want to talk about something."
"I don't know, dad. It's Jason. You know, I said he told me that his dad didn't hit him, just locked him in the basement of their house."
"Yes, I remember."
"I don't think he was telling me the truth."
"What makes you think that?"
"Well, this morning when I talked to him at breakfast and he looked so sad because he had to baby-sit his little sister. When I said goodbye to him, I put my hand on his back. And ... Well, it's just been bothering me. He kind of flinched when I touched him. It reminded me of what my other dad did to me and how I felt when someone touched my back."
"Thanks, son, I'll see what, if anything, I can do. I promise you that I will try. Why don't you go play with your brothers?"
"Thanks, dad," Joel said. As he got out of his lounge chair, he leaned over and kissed me on the cheek.
"What was that for?"
"Just for being a super dad."
"You're a super kid, too"
"We want to go over to the waterfall," Chris hollered from the pool.
I dived into the pool and swan with them to the waterfall, staying close to TJ. It amazed me how well he was swimming. After several trips under and through the waterfall, I saw the twins whispering to each other and looking toward the snack bar.
Without them asking, I said, "How about some ice cream?" I was almost drowned in the wake as the six of them headed across the pool to the snack bar. I was getting out of the water when I saw Marie and Ricky heading for the kiddy pool. I signaled them to come join us. I figured Ricky would enjoy some ice cream as well. I was right.
The chocolate covered ice cream on a stick that each one of them got was quickly devoured with hardly a drip being wasted. Ricky was the exception. I think he ended up with more ice cream and chocolate on his outsides than on his insides. It was no big deal, since the only thing he was wearing was a pair of swim trunks.
Joel picked up the sticky boy and carried him back to where our towels were on the lounge chairs where he began to clean the chocolate off his face and round stomach. This caused Ricky to giggle and squirm so much that he nearly slipped off the chair where Joel had sat him. "Come on, munchkin, let's get you in the water and let it get the rest of the sticky off of you," Joel said, picking up the giggling boy.
With Joel watching Ricky in the kiddy pool, Marie and I sat watching the other boys frolicking in the adult pool. Marie told me that she was beginning her GED classes on July 15th. That was a week after we got home from Disney World. Her classes were on Monday, Wednesday and Friday for three hours each night for six weeks. When I asked her who was going to take care of Ricky while she was in class, she told me that one of her neighbors in the apartment complex was going to care for him. It seemed that they swapped babysitting duties for each other. I told her if she ever needed a sitter for Ricky or if her neighbor couldn't take him for some reason, she was welcome to leave him with us. I know the boys would love to have him stay, and so would I.
"I'd better go check on Ricky," Marie said. "I'm sure that Joel would rather be in the big pool playing with his brothers than watching a three year-old."
"Oh, I don't know. I think he is rather fond of Ricky."
Marie was on her way to the kiddy pool when I saw Dirk come out of the hotel dressed for the pool. He looked around before he spotted Marie. He walked swiftly over to where she was talking to her son and Joel.
Joel came back shortly and joined his brothers in the pool. Dirk stayed, talking with Marie.
After a half an hour, I suggested to the boys that we go get showered and into some clothes so that we could go out to eat. That only got a little resistance from them as they climbed out of the pool. I walked over to where Marie was talking to Dirk and told her what we were going to do.
"Would you mind if I took Marie and Ricky to eat with me?" Dirk asked.
"Of course not," I said. "If you would rather leave Ricky with us, we would be happy to care for him."
"Thanks, but no, I want him to come with us," Dirk replied.
"Okay, we'll see you in the morning, Marie."
"Thanks, Mr. Johnson," Marie said.
When the elevator arrived and the door opened, Jason and his sister stepped out. "Hi, Jason," Joel greeted him. "Where're you going?"
"I gotta get something out of the car for dad," he mumbled, showing Joel the car keys.
"Can I go with you?" Joel asked Jason, but was looking at me.
I nodded and handed Joel a spare key card for the room.
"I guess. Won't your dad be mad?"
"No, he doesn't care. See, he gave me the card to open the room."
The rest of us got into the elevator and began our trip to the nineteenth floor.
"How come Joel went with that other boy?" TJ asked.
I hesitated a moment before I answered. I didn't want to give an answer that would bring up past bad memories and, at the same time, I didn't want to lie to him. "Joel just thought that Jason needed a friend. He hasn't had anyone to play with today since he had to take care of his little sister."
The boys ran off to their rooms to start getting cleaned up after I told them to put on some dressy clothes when they were finished. I noticed that the message waiting light was flashing on the phone. I picked up the phone and retrieved the messages. There were two of them. One call was from Manfred and the other was from Carlos. I returned Manfred's call first.
"Manfred, it's Crane. How is everything back in Canyon Lake?"
"Crane, I was about to leave the house. Everything is fine here at the house. The dogs are moping around wondering where their friends are, but that's all. What I wanted to tell you is that I'm getting ready to leave for a couple of days. Gilda's husband, William, died last night and I'm going to catch a plane so that I can be there for the funeral. I'm so glad that Hildy was there for her."
"Is Eric going to look after the dogs? Who's going to look after your business while you're gone?"
"I called Eric. He and Bran said they would come feed the dogs and let them out for a run both morning and evening. As for the business, Bran almost runs it single handed now as it is. I don't think it will suffer until I return. The services will be in the morning so I'll be back Friday afternoon in time to okay the payroll and distribute the checks. Everything else, Bran can take care of. Damn, I'm glad I've got that kid working for me. He's made my life so much simpler this summer. I hope he'll work part time after school starts this fall."
"It looks like you have everything under control. Could you give me the name and address of the funeral home? I'd like to send some flowers."
"Gilda has asked that in lieu of flowers, that people, who want to, make contributions to American Diabetes Association in William's name. I didn't know him, but Hilda said that the disease had caused him to go blind and for parts of both his legs to be amputated. She said she thought he gave up and willed himself to die although the doctors said it was a massive stroke that caused his death."
"Please express our sympathies to Gilda. Tell her she is welcome to come and stay at our house as long as she needs."
After I hung up the phone, I decided not to tell the boys the news. They didn't know Gilda's husband and I didn't want to dampen the vacation for them. I was about to dial Carlos when Joel opened the door.
"Hi, son, how did it go with Jason?"
"I was right, dad," Joel said sadly. He sat down on the couch beside me before he continued. "He didn't want to admit his dad beat him until I showed him the scars on my back and told him about how my other dad used to beat me before you adopted me. He wanted to know how I got him to stop beating me. I didn't know what to tell him. I just said that no one, not even his dad, has the right to beat him. I said that maybe he could talk to his minister or someone he trusts. He shook his head and said his minister is always saying "spare the rod and spoil the child". I gave him my email address and told him to let me know what happens. Dad, we've got to help him."
I could see the tears forming in Joel's eyes as he was talking. I put my arms around my son and hugged him to my chest. "I promise I'll do whatever I can. I promise." I held him in my arms until TJ stuck his head into the room.
"Are you going to help me take a shower?" he asked Joel.
"Sure, I'll be there in just a second." Joel wiped his eyes before heading for the bedroom.
I dialed Carlos to see what he wanted. "Hi, Carlos, what are you doing in the office this late on the day before a holiday?"
"Hi, Crane, you know me, busy, busy, busy."
We both laughed at that. "What kind of news do you have for me? I assume your call was about an update on the offer from the home builder."
"Yeah, they seem very interested in the land and have come up with a much improved offer. I still think it's below what they are willing to pay. I told them that you were still out of state and I didn't know if I would be able to get in contact with you until you returned. I put them off until next week. We can discuss the offer on Monday after you get back."
"That sounds like a good idea. I want to look over what their offer is in detail before I make any decision. I'll contact you on Monday and set up a time to come to your office. We might want to get Gerald involved, also. We could probably use some financial advice. Would you call him and see if he is available to meet with us on Monday? Let me know and I'll work around your two schedules. Was there anything else you needed?"
"No, nothing else, for now. I'll work something out with Gerald and let you know. Have a happy Fourth."
"Thanks, same to you." I hung up the phone and went to my bedroom to take my shower.
"Dad, do we have to wear these long pants?" Chris asked as I came out of the bedroom.
"Just for tonight, son. We're going to a nice restaurant and you have to be dressed accordingly."
"I'd rather go get a pizza," he grumbled, just barely loud enough for me to hear.
"We'll do that tomorrow night, all right?"
"Okay, I guess."
The trip down in the elevator was quieter than usual. I thought it would be a good experience for them eating in a restaurant where dining etiquette was observed. As we left the elevator when it stopped on the second floor where the restaurant was located, I cautioned them to be on their best behavior and to keep their voices low. I could see the twins roll their eyes and shake their heads. "Come on, guys, it's not going to be that bad. You need to learn proper etiquette. Just enjoy your dinner. I know the food is going to be great."
I don't know what the problem was with every maitre'd in the restaurants in the hotel, but when they saw six young boys approaching the door, you'd think they had an attack of apoplexy. At least this one was courteous when I gave him my name. He summoned a waiter who showed us to a table in a corner of the room, away from the majority of the patrons. A young man, who didn't look much older than Joel did, poured a glass of water for us all.
The waiter handed each of us a leather bound menu before asking me if I wanted to order a cocktail. I refused the cocktail, asking for iced tea. The boys settled for sodas. I looked at the menu and wondered what the boys would like.
"What's blackened redfish?" JR asked, wrinkling up his nose.
"As I remember, it's a fish fillet that is coated in spices and cooked in a very hot skillet until it's charred. It's good, but might be a little spicy for you. I think you might like a steak or would you like something more exotic? How about 'Roasted Loin of Berkshire Grass-Fed Veal served with Roasted Potatoes with Wild Ramps and Morel Mushroom Sauce', or 'Sautéed Lobster Tail with Golden Tomato Marinara and Mashed Peruvian Purple Potatoes'," I said reading from the menu.
"Yuck, purple potatoes, who ever heard of purple potatoes?" Lenny asked.
After I read off several more unusual dishes, everybody agreed that steak would be a good choice. I agreed also, but the veal dish sounded kind of good to me. When our waiter returned, I ordered for the table: six rib eye steaks, medium well and one rib eye, medium rare. The last one was for me.
"How come we have so many forks and spoons," Larry asked.
"Each one is used for a different course. Let's start with the spoon above your plate that is the dessert spoon. The fork on the outside on the left is the salad fork; the one next to it is the dinner fork for the main course. On the other side of your plate on the outside is the soup spoon. Next to it is the dinner knife. The small knife on the little plate is the bread knife. I know it's a little confusing, but when each course is served, I'll tell you which one to use."
"We never have this many forks at home," Lenny said, shaking his head.
"As you grow older and take your place in society, knowing which utensil to use will become more important. Not knowing could cause you to be embarrassed."
"It still seems a little silly," JR volunteered.
The young man who had poured our water returned with a basket of hot rolls and placed one on each of the bread plates. I showed the boys how to split the rolls and butter one half at a time.
When the shrimp bisque was served, I held up the soup spoon and demonstrated the proper way to use it. The bisque was excellent.
"Can I have some more? This is good," TJ said.
"There is a lot more food to come. Maybe Hildy will make some for us if you ask her when we get home."
"What's it called?" Joel asked. "I like it, too."
"It's shrimp bisque."
The baby spinach salad was next. The boys' eyes were on me as I picked up the salad fork. They followed suit. Next the rib eye steak, baked potato and asparagus were served. It really caused consternation among the boys because another knife was laid across the plate. I explained that it was a steak knife. It was only required when a steak was ordered, therefore it was not ordinarily part of the cutlery set-up.
The steak hardly needed the services of the steak knife it was so tender, but I demonstrated how to use it to cut one piece at a time. All in all, the boys did very well. I think the highlight of the whole meal was the dessert; a beautiful Napoleon built up of layers of puff pastry chocolate mousse and vanilla custard, and then drizzled with a chocolate sauce and a raspberry puree. It was almost too beautiful to eat, but that didn't stop the boys.
"That was good!" JR said. "I could eat another one."
I laughed, "Some other time, JR. I think it's time to get back to the room. It's almost time for bed."
I signed the bill for the meal and we headed back to the room.
"That was different," Joel said as we got into the elevator. "Different, but good."
"I'm glad you liked it. We'll do it again some time in San Antonio. Next time, you won't need me to tell you which fork to use." He just laughed.
Tomorrow, I decided, would be a day to relax. The only thing I had planned was to go watch the light show and fireworks display tomorrow night.