Monday morning, after taking the boys to school, I decided to visit the Foundation office. It had been a while since my last visit. I had no doubts about how it was being run, Darcie was more than capable. When I arrived, I found Paul, Carol and Darcie all interviewing possible recipients of the Foundation's support. I settled into the small office that had been set aside for my infrequent use and began reviewing the files that the three of them had approved. Kenneth Bering, the Office Manager, poked his head in the door and asked if I wanted a cup of coffee. He said he had just made a fresh pot. I thanked him and shortly he returned with a cup. We visited for a few minutes before his phone rang and he went off to answer it.
The files I reviewed all deserved our support. When Darcie finished with her interview, I told her how well she was handling things.
"Paul and Carol are a great help. They seem to have an instinct as to which of the files are the most deserving," Darcie said. "Oh, by the way, I got a call from the Calloway Family Trust the other day. They may be interested in adding to our endowment. We have a meeting with them next week, if you care to join us."
"Thanks for the information, but I think the three of you can handle it quite nicely. I hope you'll have good news for the Board when we meet on the fifteenth of next month," I said. We talked for several more minutes and, of course, she had to show me the latest pictures of her daughter.
I returned home just in time for lunch. Before I sat down at the table, Hildy handed me two phone messages. I looked to see who they were from and decided that they could wait until after I had eaten. "How is the buying of the house next door coming?" I asked Hildy, as she sat down at the table with me.
"We just got Bea's counter offer last night. Manny and I still have to discuss it in more detail, but I think we're going to accept it. It's about what we expected to pay," she said.
"You still don't seem all that enthusiastic about it."
"I know. It's just that I've gotten so used to being here for the boys, and you, all the time, that it's going to be hard to adjust."
"Well, it's not like you are moving miles away. You'll be right next door. We can always pave a direct path between the two houses and get you a golf cart to run you back and forth. You'll only be a couple of minutes away." She smiled at the thought.
After stacking my dishes in the dishwasher and pouring myself a cup of coffee, I went into the study to return the phone calls. The first one was to Jack.
"What do you have for me, Jack?"
"I had one of the guys run a quick check on this Dr. Walter Kohler. From all reports, he is an upstanding citizen, married with two kids. The oldest one is an 18 year-old girl. She's a freshman at Texas. The younger one is a boy, 15 years old. He goes to a private school in San Antonio. Sara Kohler, the wife, is a dermatologist in private practice. Good credit rating. Both of their medical licenses are in good standing and both are highly thought of by their peers. They own a home in an upscale subdivision north of San Antonio. There is a rumor that there are marital problems, but we haven't been able at this point to confirm this. How come you're interested in this guy?"
"He's dating a friend of mine," I said.
"Oh... Well, I guess we can confirm the marital problems then."
"Thanks, Jack. You know where to send the bill." After we hung up, I wondered how I would tell Pauline or even if I should tell her. I pondered that for a few minutes and then decided to return the second call. It was to Fenton.
"Crane," he said, after I identified myself, "I talked to Arthur and told him what you thought about that one parcel and that you didn't want to counter at a higher price for it. He's not willing to budge on the price, so I guess you only bought the larger piece unless you want to negotiate some more. In the meantime, I'll go ahead and order the survey and title searches for the two parcels."
"I don't think I'm all that enthusiastic about that parcel. Let's just go with the other two. How long will that take? I'm not familiar with Nevada procedures."
"The surveys can probably be completed within a couple of weeks. The title searches are a little harder to estimate depending on whether there are any clouds on the title. Still, it shouldn't take more than three or four weeks. It's possible you could close on both properties no later than the end of November, providing the financing is arranged by then."
"That won't be a problem. These will be cash transactions," I said.
"Excellent," he said. "That always simplifies things. I'll keep you informed of the progress. Don't hesitate to call me if you come up with any questions."
"I will, and thanks for your help, Fenton. Goodbye."
I spent the majority of the afternoon talking to cleaning services to see if I could engage one to replace Connie. She was due to leave at the end of the week. I had almost given up after talking to four services. Their attitudes turned me off. One would have thought they were doing you a favor by allowing you to hire them. The last one and I hit it off right away. When the lady on the other end of the call asked me how large the house was, she was quiet for a few moments.
"Goodness, with a house that large, we'll have to send a double crew. We usually send two staff, but I see that four will probably be needed," she said. "If that doesn't work, we'll increase the number."
We agreed that the service would begin on Monday. I went to tell Hildy that I had hired Mary's Maids and when they would be here.
I was a few minutes late picking up the boys from school. They were all waiting at the designated spot when I got there so I pulled the van up to where they were instead of parking it. The twins and Chris were unusually boisterous on the ride home. I wondered what was up. I had planned on having a talk with them this evening anyway. Maybe I'd find out then what it was all about.
After the homework assignments were completed and checked, I asked the twins and Chris to accompany me to the library. "Did we do something wrong, dad?" Chris asked.
"No, son, I just wanted to have a talk with the three of you," I answered. Although I had rehearsed in my head how I would approach the sex education talk with them, when the time came it seemed a lot more difficult than I had anticipated. "We have talked before about the changes that your bodies are going through or about to go through. Sometimes these changes can be upsetting and make you feel different. Let me tell you that you are not different. All boys your age go through these changes. Your school has a good class on human biology, but it doesn't teach you much more than the basic mechanical aspects of sex."
For the next hour I tried to explain the responsibilities that I believed went along with the physical sexual act. Once we got into the discussion, it was much easier than I had anticipated when it began. The three of them had many questions, some I was pressed to answer. The discussion not only covered boy-girl matters, but also boy-boy and girl-girl matters. Birth control methods were discussed in detail. I explained to them that the only sure method was abstinence. I didn't for one minute believe that it would be their first method of choice when the time came. When their questions wound down and I looked back on the hour, I was surprised at how open they were to discussing the usually sensitive topic. Now, all I could hope for was that they would be responsible when their times came. I also suspected that we would have this conversation several more time before they were fully grown.
The rest of the week went by with nothing that disrupted our every-day routine. Friday we did have a small going away celebration for Connie. Marie had joined us since she had worked briefly with Connie. We were going to miss her, but we were happy for her as well. Later in the afternoon, I went to the school for a meeting of the chaperones for the dance on Saturday. The gathering of five parents was told what our responsibilities were and the times we were to arrive.
Saturday the boys had their music lessons, cared for the dogs and even went swimming. The weather was getting a little chilly so when they emerged from the water, they made a bee-line for the house. I had decided not to replace the pool "tent" that had been destroyed in the fire as I thought it would detract from the view of the lake. Instead, I had a retractable pool cover installed.
After an early supper, the twins and Chris went to their bedroom to change into the clothes they were going to wear to the dance. I hadn't told them what clothes to wear. I only suggested that it be somewhat more formal than their school uniforms. I was pleasantly surprised when the three of them started down the stairs. Larry and Lenny were dressed in identical dark blue slacks, light blue, long-sleeved shirts and black loafers. Chris was wearing dark grey slacks and a lighter grey, long-sleeved shirt and black loafers. All three of them looked stunning.
"You guys are going to have all the girls swooning over you," I said. That caused them to blush. As they came further down the stairs, I noticed that all three of them were wearing white stockings. "Guys, I only have one suggestion."
"What's that?" Larry asked.
"Maybe it would be better if you wore your black stockings."
"Why?" Chris responded for the three of them.
"Well, it's..." I struggled to give them a good reason. "It's really expected that when you dress up that dark stockings are the norm. Besides, the fashion police might arrest you." I smiled to let them know I was joking.
"He's right, you know," Hildy said, coming up behind me.
"Okay," the three of them said in unison, and headed back up the stairs.
A few minutes later they came back down with their stockings changed. Of course, I had to take several pictures of them all dressed up for their first dance. They resisted, but I insisted.
We arrived at the school early. I had to be there with the other chaperones so we were in place when the students started to arrive. The gym had been sparsely decorated; just enough to give the impression that it was something other than a gym. Since it was a Halloween dance, the decorations were mostly ghosts, witches on broomsticks, black cats with a few skeletons mixed in. A couple of the parents were filling the punch bowl and laying out the finger food. I saw the DJ was setting up his equipment as I looked around. By the size of his speakers I wished that I had brought along some ear plugs.
The dance was scheduled to begin at 7:30. A few boys and girls began to arrive shortly after. As they did, the DJ started playing some records. To begin with they were relatively slow and thankfully not too loud. Before long there were 30 or so young people mingling around. Few were dancing. I was standing some distance from my sons who were anxiously looking around. I assumed they were watching for the girls I had seen them talking to several days ago.
As chaperones, we were encouraged to circulate around the gym so that we could keep an eye on what was going on. In doing this, I stopped to speak with another parent/chaperone. Keith Olsen was a large man standing well over six feet and probably weighing at least 250 pounds. We began talking about our families. He had a girl in the same class as the twins and Chris and a boy in third grade. I could see the twins behind him and at an angle, several feet away from where we were standing. They were looking toward the door leading into the gym. All at once it looked like a light went on. Their faces lit up and the smiles on their faces were so broad I thought they might split. I knew at once that Toni Cantrell and Cathy Boston had arrived. Chris was still not smiling.
"This night is going to be interesting," I told Keith. "My sons have just discovered girls. The two young ladies the twins fancy have evidently arrived." I could only guess that was the case since my back was to the door.
"I know what you mean," Keith said. "My Suzy has a crush on a boy named Joe Grover."
"Oh, yes," I said, "the boys invited him to come horseback riding with us one day. Seemed like a nice kid. Well, we had better get back to our chaperoning."
As surreptitiously as I could, I watched the twins slowly make their way over to where Toni and Cathy were standing. It was a strange courting ritual. They had a goal in mind, but didn't want to appear too anxious. After making several stops to exchange small talk with some of the other boys present, they arrived at their goal. I would have loved to be within listening distance, but as it was, I was across the gym from where they were. I was just making my way around the gym and found myself directly in front of where the DJ was positioned. He chose that moment to play a record at full volume. I knew I was going to be deaf or at least my ears would be ringing for the next several days. I quickly moved away from the deafening racket.
There was no escaping the ear splitting noise that passed for music, but it was somewhat lessened as I moved to the opposite end of the gym. I looked around for the twins and saw that they were out on the gym floor, gyrating to the music with the two girls. Chris was still standing near the bleachers with a couple of other boys, looking less than happy. I started to walk over to him, when he started for the door. I looked and saw a cute girl with flaming red hair standing in the doorway. That could only be Lenore White, I thought. I was a little surprised when Chris walked straight up to her and evidently asked her to dance. He had been so hesitant when we had talked about her a week or so ago.
Consistent with my duty as chaperone, keeping my eyes and ears open to what was going on with all the students, I watched my three boys on the dance floor. Dancing and the music had certainly changed since I was their ages. The three and their "dates" spent most of their time on the dance floor. From all appearances, it looked as if they were having a good time. When it looked as if they were tiring and heading for the refreshment table, I made it a point to head in that direction. Chris and Lenore followed the twins.
"Hi, guys," I said, as I approached the table. "Are you enjoying yourselves?"
"Yeah," Lenny said. All three of the boys appeared to be a bit embarrassed by my presence.
"Who're your friends?" I asked. "Larry?"
"Yeah... Ah... This is Toni," he answered.
"This is Cathy," Lenny said.
There was a pause and then Chris said, "This is Lenore."
As each of the girls was introduced, I shook her hand. "I'm their dad, if you didn't know. It's very nice to meet you girls. I hope you are enjoying yourselves as well." I moved away from the table after taking a cup of punch, leaving the boys to their girls. I'm sure they drew a sigh of relief when I walked away.
I was glad to see the boys dance with other girls at times. This might have been prompted when one or the other of their girls was asked to dance by some other boy. When it first happened, I could see on the boys' faces that they were not too pleased. Most of the time, however, the six of them were together.
Thankfully we only had one incident with inappropriate behavior by a couple of the students. A boy and a girl had found a dark place at the end of the bleachers that was just big enough for two people to squeeze into. Keith was the one who discovered the two engaged in some very heavy petting activity. I saw him escorting the pair out of the gym, but didn't know what was going on until he returned several minutes later. He explained to the rest of the chaperones what he had seen and that he had called the parents of the two to come get them. They were being watched by the assistant principal in his office.
The dance was scheduled to end at ten o'clock. By then, a number of the students had departed. Being a chaperone, I had to wait until everyone had left including the DJ. When Toni's mother came to pick her up, the twins had to say their goodbyes. It seemed that Cathy was spending the night with Toni. It was Chris' turn to say goodbye when Lenore's father arrived a few minutes after Mrs. Cantrell left.
In order to speed up the clearing out of the gym, I asked the DJ if my sons could help him take his equipment to his van. He agreed and the boys began picking up pieces of the equipment that he pointed out to them. It was a good thing that the huge speakers were on rollers. I don't think even two of the boys could carry them. With the boys help, the DJ was packed up and gone in less than ten minutes. The gym was cleared shortly after the DJ left.
I gathered the boys, said goodbye to the other chaperones and headed for the BMW. As we approached the car, I saw two boys standing there. "Hi, guys, are your parents on the way?"
"Mine are supposed to be," the taller one said.
"Mine, too," the other one said.
"Did you call them?" I asked.
"We couldn't get anyone to answer," the shorter one said. The taller one nodded in agreement.
"Would you like for me to try and call them?" I asked. They both nodded. "What are your names and phone numbers?"
"Jason Combs," the taller one said, and then added his phone number.
"Jerry Champagne," the shorter one said. He started to reel off his number, but I held up my hand to stop him.
"Let me call Jason's home first." I dialed the number on my cell phone. It rang at least ten times before I disconnected. "Do your folks have a cell phone?" He shook his head indicating they didn't. "Okay, Jerry, let's try your folks." He rattled off the number and I dialed it with the same result, no answer. His folks didn't have a cell phone either.
Keith and his daughter came walking up to see what was going on. I explained the situation to him. "I'm not surprised," he said, as he indicated for me to walk a distance away from his daughter and the five boys. "I know both of their parents. They're probably out at some bar getting drunk." The look on Keith's face showed his disgust. "Jason lives down 281 not all that far from us, but Jerry lives over off of 306. You live over that direction, don't you?"
"Yes, we do. What do you think? Should we take them home?"
"I'm sure that neither of their parents will remember to pick them up. I think we need to get them home safely," Keith said.
"Sounds like a plan. I'll get Jerry home safely and check on him to make sure he gets into his house before we leave," I said.
We headed back to where the boys and Keith's daughter were talking. Keith and I explained what we were going to do. Neither Jerry nor Jason objected. I guess they were used to their parents not keeping their promises. I asked Jerry to ride up front with me so that he could give me directions to his house. Fifteen minutes later we were turning into the Champagne's driveway.
"That's my brother's car," Jerry said, when he saw a car parked outside the garage. I could hear the relief in his voice. "He must have gotten off early. He usually has to work 'till 10:30."
I got out of the car with Jerry and walked with him to the door of the house. "What's your brother's name?"
"I want to make sure that Tom is here before I leave you here alone," I said.
Jerry took his key out of his pocket, unlocked the front door and walked inside. I followed him into the entryway. The TV was on in the living room. Evidently Tom had heard us enter, rose up from the couch and looked at us.
"Hey, brat, I thought mom and dad were going to bring you home," he said, when he saw me.
"Naw, they didn't show, as usual," Jerry said. "Thanks for bringing me home, Mr. Johnson."
"I was glad to do it. You guys will be okay here by yourselves?"
"Yes, sir," Tom said. "We're kinda used to taking care of ourselves. Thanks for looking out for the brat."
We said goodnight and I returned to the car shaking my head. I just didn't understand some parents. The boys were almost asleep as I started the car toward home. By the time we arrived home it was after eleven and they all were asleep. I gently shook their shoulders to wake them. I don't think they fully woke up, but they did manage to climb the back stairs to their room. Five minutes later, I went to check on them and they were all in bed asleep. At least they had put on their pajamas, but I doubted that they had taken the time to brush their teeth.
Hildy and Manfred were upstairs in the family room watching the old black and white movie Casablanca on the TV. It was nearly over, so I sat down with them and watched the ending. I had seen it five or six times, but I still enjoyed watching it. When it was over, I asked them how the boys had behaved while I was gone.
"Peter missed you the most, I think," Hildy said. "He wanted to wait up until you came home. After he got ready for bed, he climbed up on my lap and wanted me to sing to him. I sang a couple of lullabies and he fell asleep on my lap. He didn't even wake up when we put him in his bed. He is such a sweet child. I would hate to see him leave."
"Yes," I sighed. "I know exactly how you feel. Now I think it's time for all of us to get to bed." I bade them goodnight and went downstairs to my bedroom.
Much too early the next morning, I heard my bedroom door open and the sounds of bare feet running toward the bed. Before I could prepare myself, there were two bodies landing on top of me. I was able to get my arms out from under the bedclothes to grab Peter and begin tickling him. That caused him to giggle and try to squirm away from my grasp.
"Don't," he gasped out. "You'll make me pee."
"Serves you right for waking me up so early," I said, kissing him on the cheek. "I love you. And you, too, TJ." He had wiggled his way into our hug.
"Are we gonna ride the horses today?" TJ asked.
"Sure, let's go this afternoon. I'm going to let the twins and Chris sleep in late this morning. We got home awfully late last night."
"Okay. I'm hungry," TJ said.
"Let dad get up and dress and I'll fix your breakfast. You guys go wash your hands and faces. Now scoot."
Hildy was in the kitchen when I got there. "I got these really great melons at the store yesterday and I thought the boys might like them with their breakfast. I didn't think you would think that's what I got them for," she said. I could see that she was dressed for church.
"Here, let me finish that. You don't want to get the juices all over your clothes," I told her. "Besides, this is supposed to be your day off."
"Oh, phooey, every day's a vacation day taking care of my boys. Anyway, I think there's enough cut up for their breakfast," she said. On her way out of the kitchen, she gave TJ and Peter a hug on their way in.
"What would you guys like for breakfast?"
"Sausages," TJ said.
"And eggs," Peter chimed in.
"Eggs and sausages it is," I said. "How about some toast?"
"Yeah," they both answered.
"TJ, can you set the table?" He nodded his head and headed for the cabinet where the dishes were stored. I retrieved the eggs and sausages from the refrigerator. Peter stood around and watched everything that I was doing. When the sausages were nearly cooked, I looked at him and asked, "Would you like to help and make the toast?"
His eyes lit up. "Uh huh."
I moved the little stool for him to stand on so that he could reach the toaster. Hildy kept the stool in the kitchen so she could reach the top shelves in the upper cabinets. I handed him four slices of bread and told him to put them in the four slots in the toaster and then push down the bread lifter. "Now all you have to do is to wait for it to pop up," I told the beaming boy. "Be careful, the toast will be hot when it pops up." I placed a plate near him so he would have something to put the toast on when it was ready. I don't think he took his eyes off the toaster. I had to chuckle when the toast popped up. It startled him and he almost stepped back off the stool he was standing on. He probably would have if I hadn't been standing behind him. He tentatively reached for the toast and took a slice with the tips of his fingers and placed it on the plate. He repeated the process for the next three slices. "Great job," I said to the grinning boy and patted him on the shoulder. "Now take the plate to the table."
By this time, Joel had joined us at the table and had watched what Peter was doing. "Way to go, Peter. May I have a piece of your toast?"
"Sure," Peter said, picking up a slice and putting it on Joel's plate.
The four of us ate our breakfast in relative quiet. I had put the rest of the scrambled eggs and sausage into the warming oven to await Chris and the twins to come down for breakfast. It was nearly ten o'clock before they came down the stairs.
"Good morning, guys. Did you sleep well?" They only grunted in reply. I fixed their plates, poured myself another cup of coffee and sat down at the table with them. By the time they had just about finished eating, they were almost wide awake. "Did you have fun last night?"
"Yeah, it was kinda neat," Larry said.
"Even though your dad was there watching you?" I chuckled.
"That, too," Chris smiled. "Lenore said you were cute."
"For an old man," I said, trying not to blush.
"You're really ancient. You're over thirty," Lenny said, getting up from the table and heading quickly into the kitchen, laughing all the way.
"Well, maybe I'm too old to take you guys to the farm so you can ride the horses," I said.
"No, no, you're really young. Thirty-three is young, right guys?" Chris said, and took off after Lenny.
I packed some juice boxes and snacks in the cooler and we took off to ride the horses. Since some of the boys had a late breakfast, I thought we could delay lunch until after they tired of riding. Bert was busy saddling up the horses when we got there. Joel and the boys helped him finish the job and then took off for the back of the pasture. Before Bert mounted his horse, I asked him where Rosie was. He said she had gone over to visit with Charlie's fiancée, Jessica Bing. I climbed on the last horse and took off after the boys, but at a slower pace. I spent most of my time riding with Peter. He was getting good at riding Lady at a fast trot. It wouldn't be long before he would be galloping with the others.
It started raining shortly after noon and cut our riding time short. With Bert's help we unsaddled our horses and brushed them down, said goodbye to him and left the farm. On the way home it started to rain hard. Instead of stopping on the way to get something to eat as I had planned, I told the boys I would fix sandwiches at home. Hildy and Manfred were there when we arrived. The first thing Hildy asked the boys was if they had eaten. When the answer was no, she went into high gear. By the time the boys had showered off the horse smell, she had grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup waiting for them.
The rain lasted the rest of the day causing the boys to be restless in the afternoon. I suggested that they practice their music. That occupied them for a little over an hour. Video games and homework rounded out the rest of the day.
Monday morning I took the boys to school and spent pretty much the rest of the day on the phone talking to Gerald, Carlos, my stock broker Roger Burton, or Fenton. I was pleased with the way things were progressing on all fronts. Mary's Maids showed up shortly after I had returned from taking the boys to school. Hildy took charge and gave them a tour of the house. The four workers went right to work. They spent six solid hours stopping only a half an hour for lunch. When they were finished the whole house was sparkling clean. Now if it would just stay that way for a week.
In the afternoon I went to the school to pick up the boys. Peter was happy to see me and jumped into my arms as I got to where he and TJ were standing. Larry, Lenny and Chris were standing in a group of students that included Toni, Cathy and Lenore. Joel came out of the school and went directly to the van. Instead of taking his usual place in the front passenger seat, he headed to the back seat in the van. This was very unusual for him to be in what I could tell was a bad mood. At home the boys headed for their bedrooms to change clothes and wash up before going downstairs for their snack. When Joel didn't come down for his snack, Hildy gave the lemon bars and milk to the other boys.
I went upstairs to see what was bothering Joel. His door was closed when I got there. I tapped on the door, but there was no answer. I knocked harder and still he didn't answer. I called his name and opened the door slowly. What I saw broke my heart.