© 2011 Ted Louis

Joel VI

Chapter 1

Hildy was beginning the breakfast preparations when I entered the kitchen. She was humming to herself as she went about fixing a large pan of cinnamon rolls. I startled her when I spoke. "Good morning."

"Oh, I didn't expect anyone to be up this early."

"Well, it is almost seven."

"Yeah, but ..." she started as Donald entered the kitchen.

"Good morning, Hildy. How did my daughter behave herself last night?" he asked.

"Jeanie and Ginny loved having her stay over. Manny and I did have to calm them down a couple of times before they settled down to sleep. Typical girl sleep-over. They were still sleeping when I left to come over here. I think my girls are going to kidnap her and not let her go home with you," Hildy chuckled.

"Maybe we can do something about keeping that from being necessary," Donald said, looking at me.

"Yes, maybe we can," I said.

Hildy cocked her head and raised an eyebrow, but didn't say anything before she went back to finishing the breakfast preparations. Donald and I took our coffee and went out on the back patio to enjoy the cool of the morning.

"About what we mentioned in there last night, we never got around to talking about which of our homes we would be living in," Donald said.

"You have a beautiful home in town and I know it's been in your family for a long time. We have this place. What it has to offer is both an asset and a liability. It's fairly remote which is good for privacy and has great views, but it's not close to anything. You have to drive to shop or go to a movie or do a lot of things that living in-town offer," I said. "On the plus side is the school the boys attend. It's one of the best private schools in the state."

"Crane, I'm not wedded to my house in San Antonio. It's a nice place and I have no intentions of getting rid of it. I would keep it as a place to entertain business clients. As I noted when you first saw it, for me it's much too formal for comfortable living and the less formal family area would be too small for both our families."

"Until Mike leaves for college, we will be a little cramped for bedroom space. Lenore can have what's now the downstairs guest room. I'm sure that William will be happy sharing the bedroom with TJ and Peter, at least for a while. Mike's apartment can be reconfigured to make a larger bedroom for the three youngest boys after he's gone to college," I said.

"I would bet that Lenore will spend a lot of time with Jeanie and Ginny like she did last night," he said. "What do you think your sons' reactions will be to us moving in here?"

"I don't think there will be any problems with them, except maybe for Chris. He's not all that comfortable with Joel's sexuality. It's not hostility, but somewhat uneasy. I don't think it would be a good idea for you and the kids to move in before my three musketeers get back from tennis camp. That might be too much for them, especially Chris, to take in all at once."

"You're right, Crane," Donald said. "I need to go into the office this morning. I have a couple of meetings that I need to attend. We'd better get our act together and go to our house to change clothes."

"Leave Lenore and William here," I said, holding up my hand to stop his protest. "There are plenty of either TJ's or Peter's old clothes that I'm sure will fit him. The same goes for Lenore. One of the girl's clothes will fit her. Besides you don't have a nanny to leave them with."

"You drive a hard bargain," he laughed. "I doubt that either of them will object."

We went back into the house. I explained to Hildy that his kids would be spending the day with us. Donald went to gather his personal items before returning to the kitchen. "If you're not going to stay for breakfast, you'd better grab one of Hildy's cinnamon rolls to eat on the way."

"They do smell delicious," he said. "I'd best go tell William that he's going to stay here today." Turning to Hildy, he asked, "Will Lenore be coming over here for breakfast anytime soon?"

"Manny called a few minutes ago and said they were getting ready to head over. They should be here by the time you come back from talking to William."

It was easy to tell that William was in favor of staying the day with us. He and Peter came running down the stairs whooping and hollering their approval. TJ and Donald followed them at a slower pace. As they got closer to the bottom of the stairs, the aroma of Hildy's cinnamon rolls reached TJ and he left Donald behind and ran to the kitchen. I'm sure he was afraid they would be gone before he got one ... or two.

Manfred and the three girls came in through the door to the garage and joined the three boys salivating at the kitchen bar. Donald walked over to Lenore and spoke with her briefly. She grabbed him around the neck and gave him a kiss on the cheek. I guess she approved of being allowed to stay and play with her new friends.

"Everybody, go sit down at the table," Hildy instructed. "I'll bring breakfast to you there."

I walked out with Donald as the six youngsters scrambled to take seats at the breakfast room table. Manfred followed them to the table. Donald and I shared a hug and a quick kiss before he climbed into his car. "I'll be back sometime between five and six," he said, and drove off.

Joel and Mike had joined the group at the table by the time I returned.

"Crane, I just got a call from Marie," Hildy said. "She has to take the baby to the doctor today for a scheduled check-up and her babysitter just called her to say she couldn't come because she was sick. She wanted to know if she could bring Ricky over while she went for the appointment. Dirk had already left to catch an early flight to Houston. I told her we would love to have him here today. It's been a while since we've seen him. I hope that's okay with you?"

"What's one more?" I laughed. "Of course, he's always welcome here. We'll get a chance to see Rosemarie again. How old is she? Three weeks?"

"Yes, three weeks today. She said she would bring Ricky by around nine."

"Who's this Ricky?" Mike asked.

Joel gave him a brief description of who Ricky is and how we came to know him.

"The house cleaners will be here this morning, so you will have to stay pretty much outside and out of their way," I said. "You can swim or play tennis or play with the dogs or whatever else you can find to do."

"Who wants to go swimming?" Mike asked.

There was almost unanimous approval of that idea. Joel was the only one who didn't raise his hand. "I need to study some more for the CBE¹ test on Friday," Joel said. Then looking at me, "Can you take me to Austin that day?"

"Of course, I can. What time do you have to be there?"

"The test starts at nine."

"Okay, now if everybody is finished with breakfast, you need to go brush your teeth and get ready to go swimming or whatever you plan to do," I said.

Manfred took the girls and started for the garage, but not before they each gave Mike a hug. "We'll be back as soon as they get changed," Manfred said with a smile.

I decided to join the swim and went to my room to change. When I came out of my bedroom, the doorbell rang and I started toward the door to see who it was. It had to be Marie since we were expecting her and very few other people had access codes to get in the front gate.

Before I got to the door, Joel was there ahead of me. He opened the door to be pounced on by Ricky. "Hey, are you glad to see me?" Joel asked a giggling boy.

"Yeah, it's been forever since I seen you," Ricky said.

"It's been at least two weeks," Joel said, tickling the squirming boy in his arms. "Do you want to go swimming? All the other boys are. There's even a new boy here."

"Uh huh, I get to swim at my house. Buppy doesn't like the water, but I do."

"Marie, did you bring a suit for him?" I asked. "Come on in, everybody's waiting to see Rosemarie."

"There's a suit in the bag he dropped when he jumped on Joel. When I told him we were coming over here to see you all, he nearly dragged me to the car he was so excited."

I picked up the bag and handed it to Joel. He took it and Ricky and headed for the spare bedroom to get him ready to go swimming. I followed Marie into the kitchen where Hildy was cleaning up after breakfast. The hired cleaning service did the rest of the house, but the kitchen was Hildy's domain. When she saw Marie all work stopped and she rushed to take the baby from Marie's arms and sat down and started cooing at Rosemarie.

"My how she's grown," Hildy said. "She's so beautiful."

After we had all gotten to hold Rosemarie and make baby talk to her, Marie said she had to leave to make the doctor's appointment. She promised to come back and have lunch with us. "Behave yourself," she admonished Ricky, as he and Joel emerged from the spare bedroom.

He waved to his mom and then said to Joel, "Let's go, I wanna swim."

"Okay, munchkin."

"I'm not a munchkee, I'm a boy."

That brought a chuckle from all of us. I followed Joel and Ricky out to the pool. Mike, as usual, was surrounded by Jeanie, Ginny and Lenore. He was trying to give them a few tips on swimming. Manfred was in the pool with TJ, Peter and William tossing a beach ball with them.

Joel got Mike's attention and handed his little friend to him. "Hi, Ricky, my name is Mike. Do you know how to swim?"

"Uh huh, Joel taught me," Ricky said.

"Actually it was a boy named Ty who did the teaching, but Joel helped," I said, slipping into the pool. I stayed close to Ricky and William after I introduced them to each other.

I overheard William's stage whisper to Peter, "How come he doesn't have all his leg?"

I didn't hear the reply, but it seemed to satisfy William.

We had been in the pool for nearly an hour when Hildy brought out a couple plates of cookies. She was followed by one of the cleaners with a tray containing individual cartons of juice. They had hardly been set down on the picnic table before the kids seemed to evaporate out of the pool. Ricky was not to be denied his share and started to crawl toward the picnic table. I grabbed him and carried him to the snacks. I didn't want him to skin his knees on the stone decking. Manfred and I were able to snatch a single cookie each before they disappeared from the plates.

I wondered how long it would take, but shortly after everybody was back in the pool, Joel joined us. I knew he was torn between preparing for the CBE and playing with his little buddy, Ricky. His appearance made the little boy happy. He immediately threw his arms around Joel's neck and then climbed onto his back.

"Horsey!" Ricky giggled.

That started things and for the next hour all of the adults and Joel had a kid on their backs playing 'horsey'. I, for one, was glad when Hildy came out to announce that lunch would be ready in about twenty minutes.

"Okay, everybody hit the showers," I said. "I think we've all had enough swimming for the day."

Marie arrived just as we had all settled in around the table. As soon as she had the baby put down on the bed in the spare room, she joined us. Of course, Hildy had to ask about everything that the doctor had said about Rosemarie.

"She's gained a little over a pound and has grown about an inch. She said that Rosemarie was doing just fine and was perfectly healthy," Marie said. "I think she's just perfect, unlike someone I could mention."

Joel picked up on that. "Well, I think he's perfect, too. You could always leave him here."

"There are times I would like to leave him," Marie said. "He has a mind of his own at times and stubborn as a little mule."

By the time we had finished lunch, Rosemarie was fussing for her lunch. Marie went to nurse her while the boys went out to play with the dogs. As they were heading out of the house, I noticed that Ricky's prosthesis looked as if it were too short. It was really the first time I had seen him walk on it since he had arrived. I followed him and caught up with him as they were letting the dogs out of their run.

"Ricky, come here a minute," I said, squatting down.

He gave me a frown, but did as I asked. I examined the leg and discovered that it had been extended as far as the mechanism would allow and the socket appeared to be a little too tight on his lower leg. I told him to go play with Joel's dog Sam and I went back into the house.

I had to wait until Marie had finished nursing Rosemarie and come back into the family room before I was able to speak to her about Ricky's leg. "It looks like Ricky needs to have his prosthesis replaced," I said.

"Yes," Marie replied, "he has one that's being made for him. It's supposed to be ready for the final fitting on Thursday. He's growing so fast these days. I think he outgrows clothes before I can bring them home from the store."

"Good, just remember to send the bill to Gerald. And be sure you give the old leg to one of those charities I told you about. It can help some other less fortunate kid walk."

"We've made arrangements for it to be donated to the Limbs for Life Foundation². We investigated several before deciding on that one," Marie said.

"By the way, how is Ricky getting along with his new baby sister?" I asked.

"He loves her most of the time. He's a little less in love with her when it's time to change her dirty diapers. He runs out of the room when it comes time to do that, not that I blame him. It's not my favorite thing to do either," she said. "He likes to hold her after she's had her bath and smells nice."

"I'm glad the boys had passed the diaper stage when I got them. I don't know if I could have dealt with that. I have a weak stomach when it comes to dirty diapers." I replied.

Hildy laughed, "You'd have survived. Love can overcome a lot of things, including dirty diapers."

"Yeah, maybe, but I'm still glad I didn't have to find out if that were true."

"Speaking of diapers, we had better head for home. I used the last one I brought before I fed her," Marie said. Turning to where Ricky was playing with Joel, "Ricky, let's get your things together. It's time to go back to our home."

"No, I don't wanna go. I wanna stay with Joel."

"Ricky!" Joel admonished. "When your momma tells you to do something you don't tell her no. You're getting to be a big boy and big boys mind their mommas. Now, let's go get your stuff."

"Okay," he said, looking down at the floor. "Are you mad at me?"

"No, I could never be mad at you. I love you."

"I love you, too," Ricky said, as Joel picked up his little buddy and went to retrieve the bag he brought.

"I wish he minded me that well," Marie said, shaking her head.

We all followed Marie, Ricky and Rosemarie to their car. While Marie got Rosemarie settled in her car seat, Joel made sure that Ricky was securely fastened in his. Ricky gave Joel a hug and a kiss on the cheek before Joel closed the back passenger door. We could see Ricky waving all the way down the driveway to the gate.

At Mike's urging, the boys followed him to the music room to practice their instruments. An hour later they came back down and went outside to play. Manfred and Hildy took the three girls back to their house so they could play with Jeanie's and Ginny's toys. There were plenty to go around. I could attest to that having seen what could have passed as a toy store in one of their upstairs spare bedrooms.

It was nearly six by the time that Donald returned. He brought with him a change of clothes for both William and Lenore. I greeted him at the door. "How did your day go?"

"I hate meetings. They seem to suck the life out of me and they go on forever. Well, maybe not forever, but a one-hour meeting always seems to last two. When I got back to my office, my secretary had a stack of phone messages that needed my immediate attention. The only useful thing I accomplished today was to engage a nurse to watch Lenore and William while I'm at work, and that was only made possible because of my secretary screening them for me."

"I hope you didn't make a long term commitment for the nurse," I said.

"No, just for a couple of weeks," he said. "How have those two of mine been behaving today?"

"They've been no problem at all. Everybody went swimming this morning. The girls spent the afternoon at Hildy's house playing with all the toys over there. Mike showed William how to play one of the keyboards in the music room and then he played video games with Peter. He even took a nap along with Peter. I think the swimming and playing with the dogs and the other activities wore him out."

"It sounds like they had a full day. I can see that I may have a hard time getting them to go home." He was right.

Later as they were getting ready to leave, Lenore and William both begged to stay. But with a promise to come back this weekend to ride the horses, they reluctantly changed out of their borrowed clothes and followed their dad to the car. They weren't the only ones that didn't want them to go. TJ, Peter, Jeanie and Ginny were also sad-faced as their two friends rode away.

After supper, Joel went to study for his upcoming test; TJ and Peter were watching a program on TV about wild animals in Africa; Mike had gone to his room; and I had settled down in my chair with a book and a glass of wine.

I had been reading for a little over half an hour when Mike came down the stairs. "Crane, I heard you were taking Joel to Austin on Friday to take that test. Right?"

"Yes, we have to be there by nine."

"I was talking to my little brother, Jimmy, a while ago. He also has to be there to take a test, but his car is having problems. I don't want him out on the interstate until he gets it fixed. Would you take him with you on Friday?"

"Sure. Why don't you have him come over Thursday? He can have supper with us and spend the night with you."

"Will it be okay if I go pick him up? That way he won't have to drive that old Toyota. It must have a couple hundred thousand miles on it."

"That won't be a problem. You can go pick him up anytime. It'll be good to see him again. He and Joel got along really well when he was here before."

"Thanks, I'll go tell him," Mike said, and headed back to his rooms.

I went back to my reading until I was interrupted by TJ and Peter coming in to where I was sitting and perched themselves on the arms of my lounge chair. I knew immediately that they wanted something and I thought I knew what it was.

"What are we gonna have for our snack?" TJ asked.

I was right. "I think Hildy made a banana pudding for us. Go wash your hands and then come sit at the bar. I'll dish you up some. Tell Joel," I said to their disappearing backs.

They were sitting at the bar before I had time to get bowls and take the pudding out of the refrigerator. Joel was a few seconds behind them. The pudding looked so good that I fixed myself a bowl after I had served the three of them. I especially liked the layer of vanilla wafers on the bottom. From what I could tell the boys liked it all. At least their bowls were scraped clean as proof.

I saw very little of Joel the rest of the week. He would eat with us then go back to his room and study. He was determined, not only to pass the test on Friday, but to achieve a high score.

Wednesday I met Donald in his office for another status update on the Las Vegas project. Les Gomez gave us some good news. The earth moving had started for both of the golf courses. That was a week earlier than we had anticipated. The utility companies had begun digging the trenches to bury the utility lines.

Fenton Bigelow gave us an update on the sale of home sites. He had four golf course lots under contract since we talked last week and three others that abutted the planned green space. There were several other buyers that had expressed interest in home sites, but no offers had yet been made. Home construction on the sites could not begin for at least six months until all utilities were installed. He said he would fax the contracts for the sales as soon as the meeting was over.

It took nearly a half an hour for all seven contracts to be received. As each one was received, we marked on a large, wall-size plat the location of each sold lot. Three of the golf course lots were on the Nicklaus course and one on the Palmer course. The surprising thing was that the contracts were for full price. We had authorized Fenton to negotiate up to a 10% reduction in the listed price of the lots, if it were necessary to make the sale. Each of the four one-acre golf course lots was sold for $185,000. The three lots not on the golf course were sold for $150,000 apiece.

On Thursday, Mike left to pick up his brother right after lunch. It was after three when he returned with him. This time Jimmy brought a swimsuit with him when he came and didn't have to borrow one of mine. He and Joel hit it off again. They seemed to be very comfortable with each other as if they didn't have to hide anything from the other one. I was glad that Joel was developing another friend. He had been a little down after his and John's relationship had collapsed. I didn't know if there was any more to this new one other than friendship, but it was at least making Joel happier than he had been.

The boys and I had been in the pool for almost an hour when Jeanie and Ginny arrived ready to get into the pool. As usual, they latched onto Mike. He didn't seem to mind the attention that they demanded of him.

Off to the north and west I could see dark clouds forming. It looked as if we were going to get some rain later. About fifteen minutes later I heard the low rumbling of thunder. "Okay, everybody, it's time to get out of the pool. If you can hear thunder, it's possible to be struck by lightning. It's about time to get ready for supper, anyway."

Manfred gathered up the girls and they headed back to their place. The rest of us toweled off and went inside the house to shower and dress for supper.

"Was that thunder I heard?" Hildy asked, as we trouped into the house.

"Yes, it looks like we're in for a good soaking later," I answered. "That'll make Charlie happy. He was beginning to worry about his crops. Mmm, something smells good. What's for supper?"

"Fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, corn on the cob and cherry cobbler for dessert."

"Sounds good, I hope you made plenty. I'm sure that Jimmy has worked up an appetite."

"Leave the boy alone. I'm glad he likes my cooking and besides, when have I ever run out of food?"

I took that as a rhetorical question and headed for my bedroom to shower and dress for supper.

I was a little surprised as we were eating, that Jimmy's plate was not piled as high as I had expected. Hildy noticed it as well and asked, "Jimmy, don't you like my cooking?"

"It's really great, ma'am," he answered.

"It doesn't look like it from your plate."

He looked at his brother before he answered. "Mike told me not to make a pig of myself."

"And just when did you ever listen to what your brother said?" Hildy asked, and passed the bowl of mashed potatoes to him. "Here, fill that plate up with all you want."

Before he had finished piling on more potatoes, she handed him a platter of fried chicken followed by the gravy and the plate of corn. Finally she was satisfied that he had enough. She looked at Mike and shook a finger at him, but didn't say a thing.

Despite all the food that Jimmy had eaten, he still had room for Hildy's cherry cobbler topped with vanilla ice cream. I had a small dish without the ice cream. Afterwards, Manfred and I took our coffee into the living room while the girls and my two youngest watched a video. Hildy joined us after she had cleaned up her kitchen.

I made sure that Jimmy and Joel went to bed early. I wanted them to be well rested for their test in the morning.

Friday morning we were on our way to Austin by 7:30. That would give us enough time to get there, find a parking place, find the building and get them checked in. I allowed Joel to drive and he did a good job. He only made one wrong turn, but quickly got back on the right road to get to the University. As it turned out we got there in plenty of time and the building where the tests were to be given had not been unlocked yet. There were several people standing around waiting for the doors to open. Jimmy knew a couple of them and introduced Joel to them.

After they got checked in and found the rooms where their exams were to be given, I told them I would be back for them in a couple of hours. They were allowed two hours to take the exam. I walked to one of the many coffee shops that seemed to be everywhere around the campus. I walked into the first one I came to. I could tell from the distinct odor that coffee was not the only thing that was consumed in it. The place reeked of marijuana smoke and there was a definite haze in the air. I decided that I needed to find another coffee shop. Thankfully, there was a Dunkin' Donuts shop about a block farther on down the street. I figured it would be free of marijuana smoke and their coffee was pretty good as well.

I was tempted by the array of donuts, but I resisted and only had a large cup of coffee. I finished my coffee and decided to walk around the campus. I found the LBJ Library and Museum and spent some time browsing through some of the exhibits. It was interesting. He was not one of my favorite presidents, but it was informative to see some of the things on display from his presidency.

I walked back to the building where Joel and Jimmy were taking their exams. They weren't finished when I got there. I only had to wait about ten minutes before all the students streamed out of the exam rooms.

"How was it?" I asked Joel as he approached.

"It was tough, but I think I did really well."

As Jimmy approached, I asked him the same thing. "It was easier than I thought it was going to be. I'm glad I studied, though. There was one problem that I had to work hard at solving, but it was the only one."

"I'm starved," Joel said. "Can we stop and get something to eat? We didn't have much breakfast."

"Me, too," Jimmy agreed.

"Okay, I'll drive and we can stop at a fast food place. That way you can eat on the way home." That's what we did.

When we got home, Hildy had lunch waiting for us. You would have never known that they had eaten about an hour before from the amount of food they consumed.

____________

¹CBE - Credit by Exam - The program enables students in grades 6-12 to earn credit for a specific subject by achieving a passing score on an assessment exam.

²The Limbs for Life Foundation is a global nonprofit organization dedicated to providing fully functional prosthetic care for individuals who cannot otherwise afford it and raising awareness of the challenges facing amputees. http://www.limbsforlife.org/


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