Hildy volunteered to take the change of clothes to Bea at the hospital while I stayed with Cary. When she returned, she informed me that Barth was doing much better and that Bea would be coming home to take Cary for his dialysis.
Ricky was fascinated by Cary's wheelchair, especially when Cary started it up and took his little friend for a ride. Ricky's giggle could be heard all over the house. We could even hear Cary laughing along with Ricky.
I decided that everything was well in hand at home, so I told Hildy I was going to the foundation office. Before I left, I stopped to talk to Harold to see how the construction of the new house was coming along. I was pleased that the drilling of the geothermal wells had been completed. The construction site was a whole lot quieter without the noise of the drills. Harold said that the construction was right on schedule if not a little ahead. It couldn't be finished soon enough for me.
"Do you know a Keith Long?" Carol asked, as I settled into my office.
"Yes," I said. "Why?"
"A Keith Long called earlier this morning for you. He didn't say what he wanted, but asked that you give him a call. He said it was important," she said and handed me a note with a phone number on it.
"Eric and I sat with him and his wife at the Three Tenors concert," I told her. "They were a very nice couple. We had a conversation about the foundation during intermission."
I dialed the number Carol had given me and waited for it to be answered. "Long Investments," a female voice announced.
"This is Crane Johnson. Mr. Long called and asked me to return his call."
"One moment, Mr. Johnson, I'll put you through. Mr. Long is expecting your call."
A few moments later, "Mr. Johnson, thank you for returning my call. My wife has been bugging me to call you ever since we talked at the concert. She, well we, would like to talk to you some more about your foundation. Would it be convenient if we came and visited you at your office on Monday?"
"But, of course," I said. "What time would be convenient?"
"I was thinking about ten, if that is all right."
"Ten would be fine. Would you like to meet with some of our board members at that time?"
"I know it's on short notice, but if possible, that would be great. Coral was very impressed with what you told her and wants us to help in any way we can. What's the address of your office?"
I gave him the information and we chatted for a few more minutes before terminating the call. This looked promising.
Saturday morning was foggy and misting so I didn't take the boys horseback riding. It wasn't too foggy to play in the pool. After lunch, Joel came and sat down beside me on the couch.
"Dad, is it all right if John and I go some place and eat supper before we go to the movie?"
"Sure, where did you have in mind?"
"There's that Mexican restaurant near the theater. We could go there."
"That's a good idea. What time do you want to go?"
"I thought if you could take us there by six o'clock, we would have time to eat and get to the movie by the time it starts at 7:20."
"That would mean we would have to leave John's house around 5:30," I said. "What time is the movie over?"
"I don't know exactly, but the late movie starts at 9:15. That means we should get out about nine o'clock. Can you pick us up then?"
"Yes," I said, putting my arm around Joel and giving him a hug. "You will be careful, won't you?"
"Yeah," he said. "Thanks, I love you, dad."
"I love you, too, son."
I was amused at Joel as he got ready for his date that evening. I think he tried on a half a dozen outfits before he made his selection.
"Dad, may I use some of your after shave lotion?" he asked, with just the hint of a blush in his cheeks.
"Follow me," I said, leading him into my bathroom. Pointing to the three in my medicine cabinet, "Which one do you want?"
"I don't know. Which one do you like best?"
"Here's one I think you'll like," I said, handing him the one that had the least strong fragrance.
Joel took the bottle, removed the cap and sniffed it. "I like that," he said. He poured a little into the palm of his hand before he rubbed his hands together and then onto his face.
"Are you ready?"
"I guess," he said nervously.
"Do you need any money?"
"I've got some," he said timidly.
I handed him two twenty dollar bills. "Here take this. You are going to pay for John, aren't you?"
"Yeah, thanks, dad."
We headed out to the car to go pick up John. When we arrived at the Gordinier's house, John must have been watching out for us. He was on the doorstep before our car came to a stop. Joel got out and gave John a hug. Pauline came out the front door just as I turned off the car and got out. I spoke to her briefly outlining the evening for her and telling her that John should be home by ten. Joel and John got in the back seat of the car, leaving me to chauffeur them.
I went into the restaurant with the boys. I wanted to make sure that they would not have a problem. It's a good thing I did. I had stayed back as they had approached the person in charge of seating customers. He took one look at the two 14 year-old boys and informed them there was no seating available. I was close enough to hear what was said. Joel and John turned and started to leave. I shook my head at Joel, indicating for him not to speak to me as I walked up to the man.
"How many?" the man asked.
"Two, please," I replied.
"Smoking or non-smoking?"
"Right this way, sir."
"Oh, it's not for me, it's for those two boys," I said, pointing at Joel and John.
The man stammered for a moment before he said, "But ... But, it's our policy to not seat youngsters without an adult."
"May I ask why?"
"They usually don't have the money to pay and the restaurant gets stuck with the bill."
"If they can show that they have the money to pay for the meal, would it make any difference?"
"I guess that would make a difference," he said.
"Joel," I said, motioning him to approach. "Show the man that you have enough money to pay for the meals."
Joel opened his wallet and showed the man the two twenty dollar bills that I had given him plus his own money.
"Very well," the man said. "Follow me."
I gave Joel and John a smile and turned toward the door.
In spite of myself, I worried all evening until it was time to go pick up Joel. As I drove into the parking lot of the theater, I could see that the movie was just being let out. I parked the car and walked up to the entrance to wait for the boys. A few minutes later they emerged from the theaters laughing and talking. I don't think they even noticed me until I called out their names.
"Hi, dad," Joel said, after I got their attention.
"How was the movie?"
"It was great. There was a great car chase and it was so funny. We laughed 'til our sides hurt."
"Yes," John said. "Thanks for bringing us. It was a lot of fun."
"I'm glad that you enjoyed yourselves. Now I think it's time to get you guys home."
"Dad, can we stop by some place for a snack?"
"I think we have enough time, if we go through the drive-through. There's a Wendy's on the way, would that be okay?"
"Yeah," they both said in unison.
The drive-through lane was not busy when we got there, so it didn't take too long to get the two large Frosties. I decided I would forgo another snack since I had one with the other boys before I left the house.
Thirty minutes later we drove into the Gordinier driveway. I stopped the car in front of the house and let the boys out. John thanked me again for driving them to the movie as they exited the car. I remained in the car in an attempt to give them a little privacy. I tried not to snoop, but I did see them exchange a quick kiss just before the porch light came on and the front door opened.
Joel quickly said goodbye to John and climbed back into the car. I waved to Pauline and started the car.
"Did you have a good time tonight?"
"It was super, dad. We had a lot of fun. It was nice to get away from my brothers for a while and be alone with John. I love my brothers, but sometimes it's nice to get away. That's not bad, is it?"
"I understand, son. You've always been the one to look out for your brothers. That's a heavy responsibility for someone your age. You shouldn't feel badly about wanting some time to yourself away from them. That's part of growing up. They know that you love them."
The house was dark by the time we got home, except for a light in the kitchen. When we entered the house, Hildy and Manfred were sitting at the kitchen table. She appeared to be making out a grocery list and he was reading a newspaper. I sent Joel to get ready for bed and I sat down at the kitchen table. Hildy was curious about how Joel's "date" went. I shared as much as I knew before I said good night and went to check on the boys. They were all sleeping soundly except for TJ. He evidently had heard Joel come in. He had climbed into bed with Joel and had snuggled up against him. I tucked them both in and gave then each a kiss on the forehead before heading to my own bedroom.
Sunday the weather was terrible. The rain was coming down so hard and the wind was blowing so hard that visibility was about a tenth of a mile. It was so bad that Hildy and Manfred stayed home from church. This was the first time I knew of that happening since Hildy moved in with us.
Thankfully the rain let up around two o'clock in the afternoon. By that time my voice was giving out from reading a book to them and they had gone through all of their video and other games. When the sun came out, we headed for the pool to blow off some steam. Manfred joined us and Hildy went off to the grocery store to stock up for the coming week.
An hour or so later, Hildy returned with her mini-van loaded down with groceries. I rousted the boys out of the pool and told them to put on some shoes so we could help her carry the groceries into the house. With their help, the groceries were soon unloaded. The boys hung around watching Hildy put away the food.
"I suppose you guys want to be paid for your help," Hildy smiled, noticing that she had an audience. Extracting a two pound package of vanilla sandwich cookies from one of the bags, she opened it and placed it on the table. "Joel, get some glasses out of the cupboard for you and your brothers and I'll get the milk." The glasses were on the table before she had time to retrieve the gallon of milk from the refrigerator.
"Thanks, Hildy," TJ said, as she poured his milk.
"Yeah, thanks," the others echoed.
"You're welcome," she replied, as she finished pouring the milk all around.
On Monday morning Marie and Ricky arrived as we waited for the school van to pick up the boys. They all had to talk to Ricky through the window of the VW while they waited for the van. It arrived less than a minute later. After saying goodbye to Ricky they climbed in the van and waved to us as they drove off.
I left for the office shortly after the boys left for school. Over the weekend I had been able to contact all of the members of the board of ASEC. All of them, except for Jack, agreed to come to the office to meet with the Longs at ten this morning. Jack had to fly to Houston to testify in a criminal case his agency had investigated. Even Darcie was going to be there. I think she missed being involved in the foundation's business.
Right at ten o'clock the Longs arrived. Carol showed them into the conference room where the board members were already present. I started to make the introductions, starting with the Woods. Before I could begin, Keith reached out to shake Nathan's hand.
"Nathan, Doris, it's good to see you again," Keith said. "It must have been a year or so since we were at the opera with you. How have you been?"
"Good to see you and Coral, too," Nathan said. "We don't get out as much as we used to. Age has slowed us down. When Crane told us that you and Coral wanted to meet the board members, Doris and I cancelled our plans to be here. I hope this means you're going to part with some of your ill gotten gains."
"What do you mean ill gotten gains? I worked my tail off for everything I've got, you old reprobate," Keith said laughing.
"Well, I see you all have met. Let me introduce you to the rest of the board."
With the introductions finished and we had all settled down around the conference table, I asked Keith if there was anything specifically he would like to discuss.
"As you know from our conversation at the concert, I was adopted as a young boy," Keith began. "Over the years, Coral and I have contributed to a number of charities that promote or support adoption of youngsters in foster care. After the concert, Coral insisted that we look into your charity. Everything we learned about it has been favorable. The only complaint that we heard was that you weren't able to help as many youngsters as people in the foster care community would like. That's understandable given your long term commitment to the families of the adoptees."
"Yes," I said. "That has been a dilemma for us. We see so many files of deserving families that we have to turn down because we have to marshal our funds. Our endowment of over $42 million, thanks in large part to the generous contribution of the Woods, generates enough cash to assist a fairly large number of families. If we weren't careful, however, we could easily obligate all of our funds. That would effectively shut down help for any new families."
"From what we've learned about your foundation," Coral said, "it's going to take up to eight years before the aid to some of the families that you assist will terminate, thus freeing up monies for helping more families. Isn't that right?"
"Gerald could give you more precise information, but I believe that is essentially correct," I said, looking at Gerald for confirmation. He nodded in agreement. "We hope that someday our endowment will be sufficient to generate all the cash necessary to handle the need. I don't think we will ever get to the point where we can, or want, to help everyone referred to us."
"I agree," Keith said. "You must remain selective and help those who are the most deserving."
"Keith, for crying out loud, get on with why we came," Coral said impatiently.
"Yes, dear," Keith said, rolling his eyes up toward the ceiling. "We are impressed with the work that you do and we want to help. Coral and I are equal partners in all of the Long businesses. We have decided to each contribute $25 million to ASEC."
"Wow!" I exclaimed. "I'm speechless. I can't thank you enough. This will certainly allow us to help a lot more foster kids."
Once the news sank in, everyone on the board was thanking the Longs at the same time. It was pretty much chaos for a few minutes.
The board's celebration of the foundation's good fortune was interrupted by the sound of a baby crying. Darcie had, without my being aware, left her sleeping baby in her office next door to the conference room and apparently the noise of the celebration woke her. Darcie rushed to her office to check on Rebecca. Shortly she reappeared carrying Rebecca. The baby immediately became the center of attention. I had to admit she was a beautiful child.
After taking care of a few details concerning the generous donations from the Longs, they left with Nathan and Doris Woods. The other board members left shortly afterwards. Only Darcie, Paul, Carol and I remained. Carol was now holding Rebecca and talking baby talk to her.
"Crane, the Longs' donation is going to mean so much for a lot of kids in foster care," Darcie said. "I'm really looking forward to coming back to work."
"And when do you plan on returning?" I asked.
"At the end of next month. I have a babysitter all lined up."
"That's great. I hope the sitter is reliable."
"Mrs. Bolton is our neighbor. She lives right across the street, so it'll be very convenient. She raised five children of her own and raised one of her grandchildren for a couple of years. I'm sure everything will work out fine, she's a lovely lady. Now I think it's time for Rebecca and I to get on home."
After Darcie left, Paul and I went over a couple of files we had received requesting our assistance. One family looked like a good candidate while the other one was doubtful. We decided to have Jack run the background check on the best candidate and verify their home study.
I left the office in time to get home to meet the boys when they were to arrive. I began to worry when the van hadn't arrived at its regular time. I was about to get back into my car to search for it when the van appeared and the boys piled out to be greeted by their dogs. I noticed that Joel shied away from me and instead of getting his usual hug rushed off with Samson at his heels.
"Joel was in a fight, dad," Chris said to me, after getting his hug.
"What?" I said in shock. That was definitely not like Joel. "When did this happen?"
"Right after school."
"Who did he fight with?"
"A guy in high school. I think his name is Donald."
"Do you know what the fight was about?" I asked Chris.
"I don't know. I saw the guy talking to Joel and then he shoved Joel and almost knocked him down. Joel grabbed onto him to keep from falling and then they started wrestling. Mr. Granger came over and stopped it."
"Thanks for telling me, Chris. I know you just wanted to protect your brother. Now run along and get your snack before your brothers eat it all." That was all it took and he was off at a dead run.
Joel avoided me until after supper. I caught his eye and motioned for him to follow me into my bedroom. "Son, you have been avoiding me all evening. Is there anything you want to tell me?"
Tears began to form in his eyes before he began. "I'm sorry, dad. I know you don't like for us to fight and I didn't want to, but ..."
He broke down and began sobbing. I wrapped my arms around him and cuddled him to my chest. "Do you want to tell me about it?"
After a short pause while he regained control, he said, "Donald Grossman is in the class ahead of me. He's new in school this year. He thinks he's better than anybody else. He's big and is always mouthing off. Today he was making fun of me and John for going to the movie together. I guess he saw us there."
"What exactly did he say to you?"
"Well ... You know ... He said we were queers and then he laughed at me and asked me if I kissed John. I told him to mind his own business and he tried to shove me down. I grabbed his arm so I wouldn't fall down and then he grabbed me and started swinging at me. I threw my arms around him so he couldn't hit me too hard. That's when Mr. Granger stopped the fight."
"Did you throw any punches?"
"I'm glad that you didn't, but under the circumstances I could have understood if you had. What did Mr. Granger say to you both?"
"He said he would have to tell the headmaster about it."
"Is there anything else you want to tell me?"
"Just that I'm sorry, dad."
"Would you like for me to do anything? Do you want me to talk to Mr. Pierce?"
"I don't think that would do any good. Donald would find out and it would make him even worse. He's a bully."
"Listen to me, son. No one, and I do mean no one, should ever have to put up with being bullied at school. I won't tolerate you or anyone else being bullied. The school should be made aware of what is going on, if they don't already. If they know about it and are not doing anything about, then I'll try to make them see it is in their best interest to do something." I gave him a hug and kiss on the top of his head. "Now, go in my bathroom and wash your face. Then go do your homework."
"You're welcome, son."
I went to the family room and picked up the book I had been reading. After a while I realized that I had been looking at the same page for at least five minutes and hadn't read a word. My mind had been on what Joel had told me and what I should do about it. I considered several options, but it all came down to one thing; I was not going to allow Joel to be bullied.
I was still mulling things over in my mind when TJ squirmed onto my lap and planted a kiss on my cheek.
"What was that for?" I asked.
"'Cause I love you," he giggled.
"Well, I love you, too. Is your homework finished?"
"Do you want me to check it?"
By the time I had finished checking all the boys' homework, I had decided what I was going to do about Joel and the bully.