Sunday morning I got up to fix the boys their breakfast. We had all slept a little longer than usual. I guess it was because it was still dark outside. Heavy clouds had rolled in overnight making it darker than usual at this time of the morning.
After I fed the boys and they were putting the dishes into the dishwasher, Peter asked, "Can William come again? I like him."
"Yes, of course, William can come visit us," I said.
"Is his daddy going to buy him a horse?" TJ asked.
"I think he might. He said he was going to see about it. How about Lenore? Did you like her?"
"I guess," TJ said. "She's okay... for a girl."
I had to chuckle to myself at that comment. I'm sure he would change his mind in a few years. The boys took off to care for their dogs and to play with them for a while. It looked like it was going to start raining at any minute all during the day, but it never did. It was just one of those depressing days without sunshine.
The afternoon musical concert put on by the boys for my benefit had just completed when the phone rang. It was Donald.
"Crane, I just wanted to thank you for the great time William, Lenore and I had yesterday. William is still talking about getting to ride a horse. I don't think I have any option other than to buy him one. Lenore was so happy getting to hold and play with the Smith's baby, she asked me if we could have a baby."
"What did you tell her?" I asked, trying not to laugh out loud.
"I tried to explain to her that it was not possible, but I don't think she understood. Getting back to William and his desire to have a horse, I thought I might look into the matter tomorrow. I talked to Tracy Smith earlier and he said he and Rosie would be happy to look after any horse I bought. I asked him how much they would charge for the care. He gave me a number that was way lower than I thought was reasonable. It was about half what I was prepared to pay. We settled on an amount closer to what I believed to be appropriate."
"If you do find a horse for William, please don't buy a stallion. A mare or a gelding would be better. I'm not sure I want to have a lot of ponies running around. Two of my quarter horses are pregnant and that's all I need."
"Don't worry, I think a stallion would be a little more than William could handle. I was thinking of something more in line of the little horse that Peter was riding. William said he wanted one like Lady. I'll probably end up getting one for Lenore as well. She may not want to ride now, but she may in the future. Tracy said that Bert would be glad to teach William how to ride and control his horse. I really liked that whole family. They treated us like part of their family."
"I couldn't ask for better people to run that place," I said. "I want you to feel welcome to go riding anytime you want to, once you get a horse for William. I always call ahead to see if they can get the horses saddled. Not all of the boys are able to lift the saddles."
"Yes, I know. I'm sure I could lift the saddles, but I wouldn't trust myself at this point to get everything done so that it would be safe to ride."
"Ah, one thing I wanted to mention before you go. It's about the trust you're setting up that will benefit our foundation. I discussed the possible income from that trust with the foundation staff. We came to the conclusion that we would not be able to use all of the income for the stated purpose of the foundation. We would like to expand the scope to include children with physical disabilities who would not be a normal part of our mission. The concentration would be on children from low-income families who could not afford state-of-the-art support. We would provide funds for prosthetics, wheelchairs, scooters, braces, physical therapy and any other need that we discover."
"I think that is wonderful. You might also consider supporting surgery to correct birth defects or other abnormalities."
"We never considered that. That's a great idea. I'll bring this up at our board meeting this week. We have scheduled a special board meeting to discuss the change in our charter so that we can proceed with this new mission. If you want, I'll nominate you for a place on our board of directors."
"Thanks, but I think I want to remain in the background. I would like to be kept informed as to how the money is being spent."
"I'll make sure you receive a copy of the annual audit."
"One more thing... There's a performance of Fiddler on the Roof at the Majestic Theater on Friday and I was wondering if you were available to go. I have one of the Starlight Suites."
"Impressive! I'll have to check with Hildy, but I don't think that will be a problem. Thank you, I'd be very pleased to go. I saw it on Broadway a number of years ago when I was in prep school. The music is wonderful."
"We'll work out the details later in the week, but plan on having an early dinner before the play. I'll have my driver pick you up."
That was nice, I thought after we hung up.
I decided that I didn't want to fix supper, so I took the boys to have pizza. I didn't get any objections from them. The boys and I had just climbed out of the van at the pizza place when a car parked beside the van and honked. When I looked over it was Dirk, Marie and Ricky. The boys surrounded the car as soon as they saw who it was. Ricky was greeted enthusiastically by all the boys, but he ended up with Joel carrying him into the restaurant.
"How've you been, munchkin?" Joel asked.
"Fine," replied Ricky.
"We haven't seen you for a while," Joel said. "How's your puppy?"
"Buppy's good," Ricky said. Then in a stage whisper, "He went pee-pee on the floor and mommy got mad at him." That brought a laugh from those of us who heard his remark.
Our waitress pushed two of the larger tables together so that all ten of us could sit together. Ricky, of course, had to sit beside Joel. We consumed an enormous amount of pizza. There was one lonely piece of pizza left on one of the many plates when everyone was sated. I had noticed throughout our meal that Marie looked like she had something she was bursting to tell. As the waitress took away the chaos that our feeding frenzy had created, she looked at Dirk and got a nod from him.
"I was going to tell Hildy first, but I can't hold back any longer," she said. "Ricky is going to have a little baby sister."
"Congratulations, that's wonderful news. When's the baby due?" I asked.
"The last week in May or the first week in June."
"What does Ricky think about this?"
"That's hard to say," Dirk offered. "When we told him, he just said, 'Oh,' and went back to playing with Winston. I hope he won't resent his sister when she arrives. He's a little spoiled from all the attention that he gets now."
"I'm sure he'll love his new little sister. He'll be her big-brother protector as she gets older," I said.
As we were walking to our vehicles, Marie asked, "Will Hildy be home this evening?"
"I believe so. There were lights on when we drove by. She's still probably getting everything settled in the house. I'm sure she would enjoy having you drop by, especially when she hears your news. Send Ricky over to our house if he gets restless."
It wasn't long after we got home that it was time for the boys to take their showers and get ready for bed. They had eaten so much pizza earlier that they even passed up the usual evening snack.
"My tummy hurts," Peter told me as I was tucking him in bed.
"You probably ate too much pizza. Let me get you something for that," I said, and went to get a couple antacid tablets. "Here you go. Chew these and take a drink of water. You'll feel fine in a few minutes." I kissed him on the forehead and left to check on Larry, Lenny and Chris.
I was pleasantly surprised when I got to their room that they were already in bed. I made my rounds of each one before I turned out the lights and closed the door. Joel, as usual, was sitting up in bed reading a text book.
"Son, I don't want you to burn yourself out studying all the time."
"I won't, dad. This one is fun to read."
I took a look at the cover and saw that it was a Western Civilization text. "What do you like about it?"
"Hmm. I think it's learning about all the people who've had an influence on the way we live nowadays. Memorizing all those dates in not as much fun, but I guess they put everything in perspective. It's also interesting to see how the culture has changed over the centuries."
"How much more do you plan to read?"
"Just one more page and then I'll turn out the light."
Hildy was almost bubbling the next morning when I went to get my first cup of coffee. "Isn't it wonderful?" she exclaimed.
"I suppose you mean about Marie and Dirk."
"Yes, she said they had pizza with you all last night and told you. I can hardly wait until she's born," Hildy said, and went back to fixing breakfast.
"Would you be able to stay with the boys on Friday evening?"
"I'm sure we can. I don't know of any plans that either Manny or I have. May I ask where you are going?"
"Donald asked if I would like to go to the Majestic Theater to see a play."
"Oh. He's a nice man and his kids are very well mannered. Lenore is so shy I just want to hold her and protect her from the world."
"You'll probably be seeing them more often," I said
"You're not rushing into things too fast, are you? You were sort of down after Eric moved."
"No, I don't think so. We're just friends... for now."
"How's your tummy feeling this morning?" I asked Peter, when I went to wake him up.
"Okay," he answered, rubbing the sleep from his eyes.
His stomach was certainly 'okay' if the amount of breakfast he consumed was any measure. After taking the boys to school, I spent the morning taking care of business and gathering up and organizing documents that I would need when it came time to file my taxes. While Gerald and Carlos maintained the majority of my financial records concerning the apartments and the real estate holding, they didn't have records of my stock holdings and trades. The capital gains taxes were going to be excessive this year since I had liquidated a lot of my stock holdings.
Right after lunch Kenneth called from the foundations office to inform me that he had set up the special board meeting for Wednesday at noon. He said that the only time he could get everyone together was over lunch and Wednesday was the only day. "I can't believe how busy all these people are. I thought a lot of them were retired," he said, before he hung up.
Everything seemed to be going too smoothly with our family. We hadn't had any crises in quite a while. I was waiting for the other shoe to drop. It didn't take too long for a minor crisis to pop up. After lunch I had just settled back in my comfortable lounger with a book that I had been wanting to read when the phone rang. It was the school calling.
"Mr. Johnson, your son Chris has been in a fight with another student. Would it be possible for you to come to the school and speak with him? He and the other boy won't talk to anyone about why they were fighting," the counselor said.
"I'll be there in about twenty minutes," I said.
I was glad that the cops weren't out with their radar guns or I would definitely have been pulled over for speeding. I was at the school in just over 15 minutes. The headmaster's secretary directed me to the middle school counselor's office. Opening the door to the office, I saw Chris sitting on one side of the room and another boy, whom I didn't know, sitting on the opposite side. It was easy to see that they both had been involved in some sort of physical confrontation. There was a little dried blood around Chris' nostrils, the left sleeve of his school uniform was ripped at the seam, and it looked as if his right eye was going to be black. The other boy looked as if he had received equal damages.
I sat down beside Chris and was about to ask him why he had been fighting, when the counselor came out of the interior office and introduced himself to me as Gabe Grant. "Would you like to use the conference room next door to speak with your son?"
"Yes, thank you, I think I need to talk to my son alone," I said, taking Chris by the arm and leading him to the indicated room. I closed the door and wrapped Chris in a hug. I could see that he was close to tears and I wanted to let him know that whatever he had done, I still loved him.
"I'm sorry, dad," he sobbed. "But he..."
"Sit down, son, and dry your eyes. You know I don't approve of fighting, but I want to know why you thought it was necessary."
It took him a few moments to compose himself. "It started in health class. Everybody had to talk about their family. I told about all my brothers and how we got to live with you and you adopted us and how Peter was living with us 'till you could adopt him. You are going to adopt him, aren't you?"
"Yes, I plan to adopt him as soon as the court says I can. Go on."
"Mrs. O'Toole asked about my mother and I said we didn't have one. She asked what happened to her and I said we never had one. That's when Jordon started laughing. After class he said you must be a fag if you never had a wife. I said you wasn't a fag and told him to take it back. Then he started saying, 'Your dad's a fag. Your dad's a fag. Your dad's a fag.' and pushed me. I told him to shut up and pushed him back and he hit me. I guess I got mad and hit him back and the fight started. Mr. Brown and Mrs. O'Toole pulled us apart and took us to Mr. Grant's office."
"Son, while I appreciate that you stood up for me, it's not necessary. Six boys living in a house with a single man is bound to raise questions. We are a rather unconventional family. Fighting is not the answer when someone questions the way we live. Try to ignore what they say. If they don't stop, then you should report it to Mr. Grant. Also, let me know about it. The school has a policy against taunting, harassing or bullying. Let the people in charge of the school try to solve the problem. If they can't or don't, then I'll get involved, but don't you try to solve the problem. You will only get in trouble if you do. Can you do that for me?"
"I guess, but I still don't like him calling you names."
"Thank you, son," I said, and gave him another hug. "I love you."
"I love you too, dad."
"Let's go talk to Mr. Grant and see what your punishment is going to be for fighting." The punishment he received was for the rest of the week to spend the lunch period, after he had eaten, in the counselor's office instead of being allowed to play with his friends in the gym or outdoors if the weather was nice. Any further incidence of fighting would result in a three-day suspension.
Larry and Lenny were full of questions as they climbed into the van, wanting to know all about Chris' fight. They weren't in the same health class as Chris, but they had heard about it from some of their friends who were.
"Hold on, guys. Let's wait until we get home and we'll sit down and discuss it," I said.
"Okay," the twins groused in unison. They were not too happy to have to wait to hear the story of their brother's fisticuffs.
Chris retold his story to his brothers as soon as we entered the house. Their reaction was very much in support of their brother. "Jordon is a jerk," Larry said, when Chris finished.
"That is not a nice thing to say about one of your classmates," I said.
"Well, he is," Lenny piped up, supporting Larry. "He's always bragging about how much money his dad has and how big a house he lives in. All he does is brag about things."
"What's Jordon's last name?" I asked.
"Hampton," Chris answered. "He says his dad is a big shot in some company called GEG."
"Well, I don't want you guys to follow Jordon's example," I said. "Now, go change clothes. I know Hildy has a snack ready for you. I could smell it before I left the house to go to your school." I had to snicker as they took off to change. I knew a little about GEG. It was an investment company and Jordon's dad was one of their traders. They specialized in futures contracts in energy in particular and to a lesser extent in other commodities. The rumors going around in the financial circles, that I was tapped into, didn't have a high expectation that they would be in business much longer. The gossip was that the company found itself on the wrong side when some contracts came due and were unable to deliver. I guess that's one of the reasons I never dabbled in futures, too much risk.
Hildy gave me a questioning look and inclined her head toward Chris when the boys had settled down for their snack. I mouthed, "Later." She nodded and went back to making sure the boys had enough snack. It didn't take them long to finish their treats and go off to take care of their dogs.
I explained to her what had happened to Chris. She shook her head and said, "Are you going to punish him for fighting?"
"I don't know. I don't want him fighting and at the same time, in a way, I'm proud of him that he sticks up for his family. I have to think about it."
"Well, if you want my two cents on the matter, a talking to him about your expectations regarding fighting is enough. He's a good kid. Maybe all he needs is some more alone time with you."
"Ouch, you really know how to hurt a guy. Sometimes I get so wrapped up in them that I don't give them enough individual attention," I said, ducking my head.
Hildy hugged me and said, "You're a good man, Charlie Brown." She laughed and turned back to her kitchen.
I turned and started to go check on the boys when I saw Joel standing around the corner from the kitchen in the breakfast area. "You're not really going to punish Chris, are you?" he asked.
"You were listening?"
"I don't want you all to fight... except as a last resort. I'm a little disappointed that he didn't think before he got involved in the fight."
"We know that, dad. Chris knows that. But the guy was insulting you. That's a whole lot more serious than if he was insulting Chris. He would have laughed it off if that were the case. He's only 13 and he doesn't always think before he acts. I guess we never tell you enough how grateful we all are that you saved us. When someone insults you or calls you names it hurts. I don't know what I would have done had I been in Chris' shoes. Maybe I would have done the same thing. I don't know."
"How did I end up with such a smart kid," I said, wrapping him in a hug.
"Just lucky, I guess," he snickered in my ear.
"And a smart aleck, too," I said, releasing him and giving him a pop on the seat of his pants. "Let's go check on your brothers."
After supper, I had decided on Chris' punishment. I asked him to come with me to the library where, after closing the door, I delivered his sentence. "Son, I want to make sure that you understand that I don't want you to fight unless there is no other way to handle the situation."
I held up my hand to keep him from continuing. "I'm not going to punish you this time, but I want you to promise me that you will try your best not to get into any more fights. Can you do that?"
"Yes, sir," he said, looking down at the floor.
"There is one more thing that I want you to do. I want you to apologize to Mrs. O'Toole for your actions."
"I will, dad. I promise."
"I know you will. You always keep your promises." I gave him a hug and led him to the door. When I opened it there were five, guilty-looking boys standing there trying to hear what Chris and I were talking about. I had to laugh at their expressions. When they saw a smiling Chris, their expressions turned to relief.
The special board meeting of the foundation on Wednesday went as I had expected. A change to the charter was passed unanimously. Afterwards I discussed with Darcie the possibility of hiring another person who could help us evaluate the disabilities cases. With the anticipated increase in the numbers of requests for assistance, we both agreed that it would be wise. Darcie said she would put out some feelers, but we probably wouldn't need to add staff until the new financial support was in place. I left it up to her to determine the timing and selection of any new staff additions.
I left the foundation and got home just in time to climb out of the BMW and into the van so that I could pick the boys up from school. I asked Chris how his detention was going when he got into the van.
"Okay, I guess. It sure is boring sitting in there all by myself."
"At least you get a lot of your homework done, don't you?"
"Yeah, but I'd rather be with the other guys instead."
"I think that's the point, so you'll think next time before getting drawn into a fight," I said. He shrugged and ended the conversation.
Joel was the last one to climb into the van. I had seen him walk out of the building with John. They were having what appeared to be a serious conversation, but they were smiling. I was tempted to ask what it was all about, but thought better of it.
Friday morning after I returned from taking the boys to school, Donald called. "My driver should arrive at your place at five o'clock. I'm sorry that I can't be there with him, but I have a meeting that lasts until 4:30. He'll bring you here to my home and then we'll go to the club for dinner. The play starts at eight. I thought we would walk to the theater since it's only two blocks."
"What's the dress for the evening?" I asked.
"Since it's opening night for the play, I thought semi-formal would be appropriate. I assume that you have a tux?"
"Of course. I'm looking forward to the evening."
"I am as well. I'll see you around 5:45 unless you get caught up in traffic. Oh, by the way, I went horse shopping earlier this week."
"What did you buy?"
"I'll save that subject for this evening."
When we hung up, I went to check on my tux. I tried on the pants to make sure that I could fit into them. I was thankful I still could, even without holding my breath.
"Oh, wow! Look at dad," TJ said, when he saw me coming out of my bedroom dressed in my tux. "How come you're all dressed up?"
"I told you the other day that I was going to a play with William's dad tonight."
"Yeah, I forgot."
"You do look nice," Hildy said, stepping in and straightening my bow tie.
A few minutes before five, the gate buzzer sounded. I looked at the gate monitor and saw a stretch limo. I pushed the button to open the gate and began admonishing the boys to behave themselves for Hildy and Manfred. The boys followed me out the front door and waved goodbye as I stepped through the door of the limo being held open by the driver. It was a very comfortable ride into San Antonio. About thirty minutes later we arrived at Donald's house in Olmos Park. It was an older home in the Georgian style. The circular driveway took us to the front door of the house.
Before I could open the door, the driver was out and was holding it open for me. I don't know how he was that quick. Donald greeted me at the top of the steps and invited me in for a cocktail. "Will we have time and still make it to the club for dinner?" I asked.
"Change of plans," he said. "I decided to have Chef fix us a meal here. He's very good."
"That's fine with me. It will give me a chance to tour your lovely home. How do you keep all these beautiful things from getting broken with two young children in the house?"
Donald laughed, "What you're seeing is the formal area of the house. There is a whole different area where we actually live. I only use this part of the house for entertaining. It's much too formal for my taste. This was my parents' house. I have a condo in a high-rise downtown that I lived in until my sister and mother died. It was not a very good place to raise William and Lenore so I moved here. Now, what can I get you to drink?"
"I'll have a glass of red wine, if you have one open, otherwise, whatever you have."
"I have a good Australian Shiraz that I'm dying to try. What do you think?"
"That will do nicely," I said.
"Two Shiraz, coming up. Make yourself comfortable, dinner should be ready shortly."
The wine and dinner were excellent and much nicer than dining at the club. Soon after we finished with a delicate dessert that I couldn't begin to describe, Donald indicated that we needed to head for the theater. He picked up the house phone and ordered the limo to be brought around front.
"You promised to tell me about your horse shopping experience," I said, as the limo started down the driveway.
"It was an experience. I took a friend who owns a stable of horses out near Fort Stockton. He was in town on business and I persuaded him to help me. I'm glad I did. We went to three different places before I found two small horses that I thought would be perfect for William and Lenore. They were delivered to your farm late this afternoon. Rosie called me when they arrived. She said they were beautiful. I trust her judgment when it comes to horseflesh."
"That's great. Are you planning to take the kids riding tomorrow?" I asked.
"Yes, I haven't told William about his horse. It's going to be a surprise when he gets there tomorrow. Bert's going to work with him."
"We will more than likely see you there. Saturday has turned into our horseback riding day."
Our driver let us out in front of the Majestic. Donald told him to pick us up at eleven. The Starlight Suites lived up to their reputation. The play was a wonderful production of Fiddler on the Roof. It was almost as good as I remembered the play that I had seen on Broadway.
On the way home after the play, Donald opened a small refrigerator in the limo and extracted a bottle of champagne. After he opened it, he poured us each a glass.
"To a new friendship that I hope will last," he toasted, and touched his glass to mine.
"To friendship," I responded.
"I meant that," he said. "I think we have a special bond. I want us to get to know each other better."
"I feel the same way. I have a very limited circle of friends. I have a lot of business associates and acquaintances. The one really close friend recently moved to California."
By the time we reached the house, we had finished the bottle of Champagne. The driver exited the limo and held the door open for me to get out. Donald followed me to the door. "I hope we can do something like this again," he said.
"I do too," I replied.
He gave me an all too brief hug, turned and entered the limo. I watched until it exited the gate before I entered the house.
For information on the Majestic Theater and the Starlight Suites check out this link http://www.majesticempire.com/