As Donald and I sat watching the kids and adults on their mounts appearing and disappearing over the hills in the pasture, Mike drove up. He and a girl I assumed was his sister, got out of his car and walked toward us. I stood up as he introduced Alice to Donald and me. Alice was an attractive girl, but not what I would call a raving beauty.
"Alice, it's nice to meet you," I said. "Do you like to ride?"
"I haven't for a couple of years, but I like to," she replied.
"I think all the horses are being ridden at the moment, but if I know the boys, they will be heading in soon. It's about time for a snack. Speaking of eating, have you and Mike had lunch?"
Mike answered, "We stopped at that new Soup and Salad place after I picked up Alice. But..."
Hildy and Jessica must have heard Mike's car drive up because they arrived just in time to hear Mike's answer. "Sit down," Hildy commanded. "There was plenty left after the boys had their fill. We'll fix you all a plate."
"Better do as she says, Sis. Hildy runs a tight ship," Mike said.
"This is a beautiful place, Mr. Johnson," Alice said. "It's so peaceful out here."
"We enjoy it and the kids love coming out here to ride the horses," I said. "Here comes Manfred and Charlie. It looks like they've had enough riding for the day, so when you've finished eating what Hildy is preparing for you, the horses are available for you and Mike to go for a ride."
After they had eaten, Mike mounted the quarter horse that Charlie had been riding and Alice climbed on the Arabian and they took off for the back pasture to join the boys. It was easy to tell that Alice was no stranger to riding.
About thirty minutes later, the herd of boys came racing toward the house. That was a signal for Hildy to set out the snacks. As they were getting back on their mounts, I said, "Go have one last ride. We'll be going home shortly."
"That was fun, Mr. Johnson," Alice said. "I think, I'd best not ride anymore or I'll be sore tomorrow. It's been quite a while since I've ridden a horse."
"You'll have to come again. Maybe when Mike comes home from college he'll bring you out again. You're always welcome," I said.
"Thanks," she said, looking down at the ground.
We gave the riders about half an hour before we called them in to go home. It took another half an hour to get the horses brushed down and into their stalls. As we were heading to the van, TJ asked, "Can we get pizza for supper?"
"You're always hungry," I replied, giving him a one armed hug. "I think that's a wonderful idea. When we get home, I'll order some."
I told Hildy what we were planning and she agreed that a pizza party would work. I didn't hear any objections from the kids when they heard about the plans either.
The three vehicles caravanned home carrying the 15 people. I had invited Rosie and Jessica to bring their families and join us, but they declined. When we got home, I gave the boys a choice of taking showers or jumping in the pool to rid themselves of the horsey smell. It was a no-brainer for them and they ran upstairs to don their swimsuits. Joel heard the commotion and joined the rest of the crew in the pool.
I showed Alice her room where she could change. Mike had insisted that she bring her swimsuit. I didn't know if Mike had a chance to try to convince her that her decision to follow Leon was foolish, but she did appear to be having a good time. By the time 12 people were in the pool, it was near capacity. That didn't seem to put a damper on the fun everybody was having. Mike was surrounded by the three youngest girls all wanting his attention. Alice just stood back watching them and shaking her head.
As supper time approached I conferred with Hildy about how many pizzas I should order. We decided that four of the large, 18 inch pizzas and 6 orders of breadsticks would be enough along with the salad that she was preparing. I called in the order and was told that they would be ready for pick-up in 30 minutes.
"I'll go pick them up if someone will tell me how to get there," Donald said.
"I'll go with you and show you the way," Manfred volunteered.
"Pick up a gallon of vanilla ice cream when you pass that little store," Hildy told Manfred. "I haven't had a chance to make any dessert. I'll heat up some chocolate syrup and make hot fudge sundaes. I'm sure nobody will mind."
"Will a gallon be enough?" I laughed.
"You're right, get two gallons, Manny," Hildy said.
There wasn't a single piece of pizza or a breadstick left by the time we finished eating. It was a good thing that Manfred brought home two gallons of ice cream because the first one disappeared almost as soon as Hildy opened it and started dishing it out.
After the dishes were loaded into the dishwasher and the kids were settled in the family room watching TV, the six adults took cups of coffee into the living room. We had all eaten too much pizza, not to mention the hot fudge sundaes.
"Do you always have all these people here every weekend?" Alice asked.
"Pretty much," I said. "You're the only extra one this weekend."
"Thank you for letting Mike bring me to visit. Your home is beautiful and the kids are so well behaved. Are they always so good?"
"Most of the time they are. Sometimes they argue among themselves, but nothing serious. They usually work it out without my intervention," I said.
"I'm going to miss all of this when I start back to college," Mike said. "I've got to go see about renting a place to live in Austin before classes start."
"When do classes start?" I asked.
"Two weeks from next Tuesday," Mike answered.
"We're all going to miss you, honey," Hildy said.
"Thanks, I'm going to miss you all, too," Mike said.
"Just because you're not going to be working here much longer doesn't mean that you can't come back to visit. You know that you're always welcome. We'd enjoy having you visit," I said.
"If you don't come and visit, I'll have to bring Jeanie and Ginny to Austin to visit you. As it is, they're going to really miss you," Hildy said.
"Let me give you the name of a friend of mine in Austin. He owns a number of apartment complexes in the area. He may be able to help you find a place," Donald said. "Heck, why wait. Let me get him on the phone and check out what he has available. Donald pulled out his cell phone and scrolled through his contact list. "Ah, here it is."
He stepped aside, but we were still able to hear his conversation.
"Abe, it's Donald Baker. How are you?" ... "How long has it been?" ... "I didn't realize it had been that long. We need to get together soon." ... "Yeah, I know, good intentions, etc., etc." ... "Look, I did have a reason for calling you. A young man I know is going to be attending UT in a couple of weeks and is in need of a place to live. Do you know of something near the U that is not outrageously priced?" ... "You got to be kidding. I didn't know that dad hadn't sold that condo. After Janet graduated, I just assumed it was sold." ... "Really? Is it available?" ... "I'll have Mike Potter give you a call on Monday to set up a time to look at the place." ... "Say hi to your sons for me. Goodbye."
"Sounds like he might have something," I said.
"Yes, it seems that I own a condo in Austin. Janet lived in it while she was attending the U. After she graduated, she lived in it until that bum she married finished his degree. It seems that Abe's been the property manager since she and her husband moved out. When she died, the property reverted to dad and then to me. I don't remember it being on the property list when the will was probated, but the lawyers handled all of that. I was more concerned with the businesses. Anyway, Abe has had it rented all this time. The last renters moved out three weeks ago and he has had the place fixed up with new carpet, paint and all new appliances," Donald said. Turning to Mike he continued, "The place is about four blocks from the campus, is about 1700 square feet, on the top floor of a four storey building, has two bedrooms, two and a half baths, a fully equipped kitchen, washer and dryer, parking garage for two cars and on-site, full-time management. I used to visit my sister there. It's a nice place."
"Mr. Baker, that sounds nice, but I don't know how I can afford a place like that," Mike said. "Maybe this Abe can show me something that is more in line with my budget."
"What rent were you hoping to pay?" Donald asked.
"$500, $600 tops."
"Do you know another student who you might rent the other bedroom to?"
"Yeah, I know a couple of friends who'll be med students this fall."
"The place rents for $1800 a month. Do you think the three of you could share the rent?"
"I can call them and see if they've found any place to live."
"Why don't you go give them a call now and see?" Donald said. "If they haven't, maybe they can go see it with you on Monday."
After Mike had left for his room to make the calls, Alice asked, "Why are you doing this for my brother?"
Donald answered before I could. "Mike has great potential from what I can see. Besides, my daughter is in love with him. He has worked a miracle with Lenore that I never thought possible. All the therapists that she had seen never helped her to come out of the shell she put around herself when her mother died. A couple of meetings with him and she is a normal, happy little girl. He has a gift that I want to see flourish. I can never repay him for what he has done for my Lenore."
Hildy joined in, "You saw the way my girls reacted to him. He has a natural way with kids. He'll be a great pediatrician."
"Ditto," I said. "We will sorely miss him when he leaves for college. Listen to him. He's smart, but more than that he has heart and common sense. That's a rare combination."
Mike came back shortly. "Jake and Bill are both interested in seeing the place. Bill has been looking and about to rent a place, but he wasn't all that thrilled about it a mile from campus. He wanted to know if it was furnished."
"Unfortunately, it isn't," Donald answered. "I think we can work something out so don't let that bother you. What was this Bill going to pay for the place he thought about renting?"
"He said $900. He can afford it. His folks have money and are paying for it."
"How about Jake? What's his budget?"
"About the same as Bill's," Mike said.
"If you charged each of them, say, $800, your share of the rent would be $200. Do you think they would go for that? They don't need to know what you pay. Of course you would have to share the utilities," Donald said.
"I don't know. That sounds like I'd be cheating them."
"Well, if it would make you feel better, you could pay all the utilities. I think I would draw the line at any long distance phone charges, however. I'll give Abe a call back and tell him to meet you at around ten on Monday morning at the condo. I'll give you the address and directions. Go call your friends back and see if that time is convenient for them."
Mike left to call his friends and make the arrangements and Donald went to call Abe. That left Hildy, Manfred, Alice and I. After a brief moment of uneasy silence, I asked, "Alice, would you like something to drink? I was thinking of opening a bottle of wine."
"Thanks," she said. "I only drink wine occasionally. We never had it at home."
"Red or white?" I asked.
"White, if you have some open."
"I'll get the glasses," Hildy volunteered.
While Hildy and I were occupied, we heard Manfred say to Alice, "I understand you have a boyfriend."
"Yes, we've been dating for over a year."
"It must be serious. What does he do?"
"He works for a package delivery service, but he's going to quit," she said.
"Oh, really," Manfred said. It was apparent that he didn't know what was going on with Leon. I was surprised that Hildy had not clued him in. "Did he get a better job offer?"
Hildy was trying to signal Manfred to stop asking questions, but he wasn't looking at her waving her arms.
"No," Alice answered. "He's moving to Montana."
Finally Hildy got Manfred's attention and the slicing motion across her throat was enough for him to get the message.
"That's nice," Manfred said, ending the conversation.
"Here's your wine," I said, handing Alice a glass. "I hope you like it."
She took a sip and nodded her head. "This is quite good."
Mike returned and refused the wine. Donald came back into the room, but he didn't refuse the wine.
"Everything is set with Jake and Bill," Mike said.
"Abe will meet you at ten at the condo. Here I've written down the address and directions," Donald said, handing Mike a piece of paper.
"Thanks. Sis, can we talk ... privately?" Mike asked. "Let's go up to my rooms."
"Okay," she said. "May I take the wine with me?"
"Of course, you may," I said.
We enjoyed our wine and had a second glass before Hildy and Manfred decided it was time for them to head to their house and put the girls to bed. "I assume that Lenore will be joining us," Hildy said.
Donald smiled, "If I said no, I would have a rebellion on my hands. I'll come with you and tuck her in."
That left me alone in the living room, so I went to check on the boys. They were watching some silly comedy program on TV. I sat down on the couch beside Joel.
"Dad, did you remember that I need to go to Austin to take another CBE on Friday?"
"I remember. Is Jimmy going to take an exam at the same time?" I asked.
"No, he can't take his exam until the middle of September. It's the last one he has to take and if he passes, he'll graduate at the end of the first semester."
"Have you given any thought to where you want to go to college?"
"Yes, I've gotten catalogs from the five schools I'm looking at and have done a lot of research on the internet. I plan to apply to all of them. When the time gets closer, will you take me to visit the campuses?"
"You know I will. Have you decided what you want to major in?"
"Not exactly, I'm torn between Computer Science and Mathematics. I like them both."
"The two fields are very closely related. Have you thought of a double major? That way you wouldn't have to decide at the bachelor level."
"I might not be able to finish in four years if I did that."
"Son, what makes you think you have to finish in four years?"
"Well, I have to get a job."
"You have a trust fund that will pay all of your expenses all the way through your PhD if you want to go that far, even further if you want to. There is no way you can ever spend it all on your education. Never let your decision as to the university or the level of your education be influenced by money."
"Thanks, Dad, you're the greatest," he said, wrapping his arms around me and giving me a squeeze.
"I think you're the greatest, too," I said, returning the hug.
I sent the boys off to brush their teeth and get ready for bed. I usually started with TJ's and Peter's bedroom to tuck them in. I figured that Donald would be back by the time I got to their room so tonight I started with the twins and Chris. Joel was studying when I knocked on his door.
"I only have a few more pages to go," he said, before I could say anything. I smiled and told him goodnight.
TJ was sitting on Peter's bed reading to him and William when I got to their room. I glanced at the book and saw that there was just one more page to be read. Donald entered the room as TJ closed the book and climbed back into his own bed. We kissed each of our boys and then headed back downstairs.
"We can take the wine with us," I said, picking up the bottle and my glass and heading toward the bedroom. Donald picked up his glass and followed.
Joel was up and dressed before Donald and I had breakfast ready. "Good morning," he said, going to the refrigerator and getting out the orange juice.
"Good morning to you too, son," I said. "What gets you up so early?"
"I wanted to get some things done before Jimmy got here. What time do you think they'll be back from church?"
"They're usually back by 10:30 if they go to the early service," I answered.
Mike entered the kitchen at that point. "Is my sister up?"
"We haven't seen her," Donald replied.
"I'd better go wake her if we're going to make it to church on time," he said, and headed off to the spare bedroom.
The coffee was ready by the time Mike came back. "When do you have to leave for church?" I asked.
"We've got about half an hour, but as long as it takes Alice to get ready, we'll be lucky to make it."
"I heard that," Alice said, coming into the kitchen. "I don't take that long and you know it."
"Breakfast is pretty much ready," I said. "It's help yourself. The scrambled eggs are ready as is the bacon. Donald is making the toast. There's fruit and juice and most importantly the coffee is fresh."
"Coffee is what I need after my big lunk of a brother kept me up so late talking," Alice said. "I think I'll have some fruit as well."
Mike smiled, but didn't say anything. I hoped that meant he had persuaded her. The phone rang before anything more could be said. It was Hildy wanting to speak with Donald. I figured that her girls wanted Lenore to go to church with them. I was right. Donald confirmed it after he hung up the phone.
"Alice, will you be coming back here after church?" I asked.
"Thanks, but I need to take care of some things at home," she said. "I really appreciate being invited. This is the best time I've had in a long time."
"You're always welcome here. You could always bring Jimmy out and go riding again. I think Joel would like that," I said. I looked over at Joel and his face was noticeably redder than normal.
All at once I heard what could have been thunder, but it wasn't. It was six boys coming down the stairs. William ran to his dad and gave him a hug. "Are we going riding again today?"
Donald laughed, "You'd go riding every day if it was up to you. I may just take you out to the ranch and leave you. You could sleep in the stables with your horse."
"Okay," William said, finding his place at the breakfast room table.
"I give up," Donald said. "As much as that boy loves horses, he just might grow up to be in a rodeo."
I dished up the breakfast and Donald took the plates to the table. Mike and Alice decided it was time to take off for church. Alice came to me and gave me a hug. "Thanks for the great time I've had. And thanks for all you and Donald are doing for Mike." She then went to Donald, gave him a hug and then they headed out the back door to the garage.
"I didn't expect that," Donald said.
"Me neither," I said. "I'm curious about how Mike's talk went with her last night. I surely hope he was able to convince her of the foolishness of her and Leon's plans."
"Yes," Donald said. "She's a bright girl. It would be a shame for her to waste her intelligence in some backwoods survivalist camp."
By this time the six eating machines were finished with their breakfast. "We're gonna go play tennis," Chris said, as the dishes were loaded into the dishwasher.
"You'd better take care of your dogs first. They'll think you've abandoned them," I told them. "Brush your teeth first."
That caused the six of them to reverse course and head back upstairs.
"After I take care of Sam, I'm going upstairs to study for a while before Jimmy gets here," Joel said.
Donald and I sat down for our breakfast and a leisurely cup of coffee. It wasn't long before the rest of the boys came barreling down the stairs and out the patio door. "Never a dull moment around here," Donald mused.
"It's not going to get any less hectic if you and your kids move out here."
"I'm looking forward to it," Donald said. "I hope our living together won't cause any problems with your boys."
"I think they are getting comfortable with you spending the weekends here. I don't think it's going to cause any problems for them. I'm not as sure about some of their friends, although there are not many who actually come here to visit."
We took our dishes to the kitchen and after loading them in the dishwasher, I started it running. I poured us another cup of coffee and we walked out to the patio to watch the boys playing with the dogs. Joel came back to the house and left William to play with Sam. Sam didn't seem to mind, he was just happy to have someone play with him.
It wasn't long before the tennis matches began. Larry and Lenny evidently won the toss and played the first singles match. The winner of the first set, in this case Larry, played Chris in the second match. TJ, Peter and William acted as ball boys. Eventually everybody got to play, even Peter and William. Chris and TJ played Larry and Lenny in doubles.
Eventually they all got tired and came up to Donald and me and asked for something to drink. They followed me into the house and I poured them glasses of apple juice.
Around ten o'clock, Joel came down from his bedroom. Every so often he would get up and go look out the front windows. Donald and I were barely able to suppress our smiles at his anticipation. Every sound from outside would cause him to make another trip to the windows.
It was easy to tell when Mike's car drove into the garage. Joel was at the back door before the garage door opener had completed its task.