"I hope that Joel is not in for a letdown if something happens to his and Jimmy's relationship," I said. "He's been hurt once before with John."
"You can't protect him from everything," Donald said. "He has to learn to handle things in life as they come."
"I know," I sighed. "If you had seen the beaten and fearful young boy he was when I found him you'd understand why I want to protect him."
"You're a good man, Crane Johnson," Donald said, giving me a hug.
Joel and Jimmy came into the family room where Donald and I were sitting. "Hi, Mr. Johnson. Hi, Mr. Baker," Jimmy said.
"Hi, Jimmy," I said. "It's good to see you again. Did you bring your swimsuit? It looks like it's going to get hot today."
"Yeah," Jimmy answered. "I also brought my boots to go riding ... Maybe?"
"Of course, you could do both. You could ride after lunch and swim later this afternoon. It's up to you guys how you want to arrange your time. Just let us know if you're not going to be here for a meal," I said.
"Don't worry about that," Mike said. "I don't think my brother has ever missed a meal." That brought a chuckle from the rest of us and a frown from Jimmy.
"Joel, show Jimmy where to stash his stuff," I said.
Joel looked as if he wanted to ask a question. I nodded my head in answer to his unasked question.
"Come on, Jimmy. You can put your stuff in my room."
Jimmy looked between Joel and me. When he saw that I was smiling, the panicked look on his face was replaced with a big grin. He and Joel took off for upstairs.
"It's okay, Mike," I said. "I trust them both not to do anything stupid."
"I know," Mike said. "I've always tried to protect him because he's gay. But, with me going off to college I guess I'll have to trust him to look out for himself."
"You're right," I said. "Look, I don't want to pry into your business, but did your talk with Alice convince her that running off with Leon was not in her best interest?"
"I hope so. We talked for nearly three hours last night. When she's away from that bum, she seems to have a clearer vision of what her life would be if she goes with him. But when she's with him, she's completely under his control. That's so unlike her. She has always been so strong willed."
The twins and Chris walked into the family room where we were sitting. It looked as if they had something to ask, but didn't know which one of them should ask.
"What's up, guys?" I asked.
They looked at each other and then as if by some sign, Larry began, "You said we could ask some of the guys we met at the tennis camp to come for a visit. Can we?"
"Of course you may. As I recall there was Corey, Andy and Ralph. Are they the ones you want to invite?"
"Yeah, that's them," Chris answered.
"Okay, why don't you call them and see if they can come, let's say either Wednesday or Thursday. Once you get a date when they can be here, I want to talk to their parents. I suggest that you wait until after lunch to make your calls. They may not be home from church right now."
"When's lunch?" Lenny asked.
"In about an hour and a half. You have time to play some tennis if you want to," I said. That was all they needed to hear and they were off to change. TJ, Peter and William heard us talking and followed them upstairs as well.
Over the noise of the three of them running to their rooms, we could hear music coming from the upstairs. The sounds of a piano and a guitar were drifting down the stairs.
"Sounds like Jimmy has found your piano," Mike said. "Of all of us kids, he was the only one that mom didn't have to threaten to make us practice."
"He appears to have a talent for it," Donald said. "They play well together. I assume that it's Joel on the guitar."
"I'm sure it is," I said. "The boys have not been as diligent about practicing their instruments this summer. I need to find another music teacher for them. Mrs. Shultz is not going to be able to resume teaching them. Her stroke has left her partially paralyzed."
"I'd like William to have some sort of music training, but Lenore might be a little young to take lessons seriously," Donald said. "If you find a teacher, let me know and I'll discuss giving William lessons with her or him."
"Dad," Joel said, as he and Jimmy came down the stairs after the music stopped, "we're going to make some sandwiches and get something to drink and then go ride the horses. Is that okay?"
"Sure, there's sliced turkey and beef in the refrigerator as well as sodas. Chips in the pantry and Hildy made some cookies. They're in the cookie jar," I said. "Why don't you take that small cooler to keep everything in so it won't spoil?"
Mike laughed, "There's not much chance of that happening. It'll all be gone before they get to the ranch, if I know Jimmy."
Jimmy gave his brother a dirty look and stuck his tongue out. That brought a laugh from the rest of us.
"Well, you'd better make extra," I said. "I'd hate to see you guys go hungry."
From the number of sandwiches that were being made, I didn't know if everything was going to fit in the small cooler after they got the ice and sodas in it. They did have to leave the chips out since they didn't need to be kept chilled.
"What time do you think you'll be returning home?" I asked.
"What time is supper?" Joel asked.
"We'll be back by then," Joel said.
"Take my cell phone in case there're any problems. Have you called Tracy and Rosie to let them know you're coming?"
"Yeah, Bert said he'd go riding with us."
"Have a good time," I said to their backs, as they headed out the back door.
Donald and I walked outside to check up on the other boys. Larry was playing tennis with Lenny while Chris watched. TJ, Peter and William were playing with the dogs. Chris soon switched off with Larry after Lenny won the match. When an errant ball was hit over the fence surrounding the tennis court, it landed near where the dogs were. Sam, who was the nearest, grabbed it in his mouth and ran off with it, chased by the other dogs. It wasn't long before there was a pile of dogs all trying to get the ball away from Sam. TJ, Peter and William soon joined the six dogs. Peter was the one who eventually ended up with the dog-saliva covered tennis ball.
We continued to watch the antics of boys and dogs until, as if by some inner clock, they stopped playing and started toward Donald and me. I looked at my watch and knew immediately that it was lunch time.
Donald and I started an assembly line in the kitchen to make sandwiches. We were soon joined by Mike who helped speed up the process. It was all we could do to keep the sandwiches from being eaten as soon as they reached the end of the assembly line. They would have if I hadn't sent them off to wash their hands.
Mike said, "I got a call from Jake a little while ago. He and Bill are going to meet here tomorrow morning and then we're going to Austin in one car. They're going to be here around 8:30. I think that will give us enough time to meet Abe at ten. By the way, Donald, what's Abe's last name?"
"Sorry, I should have told you. It's Groniki. When his ancestors arrived on Ellis Island their name was unpronounceable to the person registering them, so he wrote down the name of the city in Poland that they came from as their last name. From what I understand, that happened quite a lot back in those days."
"I guess that's not all that strange. Our family got its name, Potter, from the occupation of one of our ancestors," Mike said.
"If they want to come a little earlier, they could have breakfast before you guys take off for Austin," I said.
"I don't know," Mike said. "They weren't too enthusiastic about having to get up early enough to get here at 8:30."
"Can we go swimming?" TJ asked when he finished his lunch.
"Okay, but stay in the shallow end of the pool and give your lunch a rest before you start swimming," I said.
The six of them took off like a shot to change.
"I'd better get changed also," Mike said.
"I think I'll call Hildy and see if the girls want to swim," I said.
"If they know Mike is going to be in the pool, they'll be here before you hang up the phone," Donald laughed. "I'd also like to see my daughter."
About ten minutes later the golf cart arrived carrying Hildy and the three girls. Manfred brought up the rear some 50 feet behind them. "They wouldn't let me ride. They said I was too heavy and it wouldn't carry all of us," he called out, putting on a sad face. That brought some giggles from the girls as they scampered to the pool.
Of course Mike was the center of attention for the girls. It was surprising the way he got them to try new swimming techniques. In the short time that he had been working with them, they had all become reasonably comfortable in the water and not bad swimmers for their ages.
Later they all took a break from swimming to have a snack that Hildy prepared for them. Mike was sitting with us as the younger ones ate their snack. "Mike," Donald began, "what does it cost for room and board in the graduate dorm?"
"I looked into it some months ago and went to have a look at it, but when I visited, it was as noisy as my old apartment. I don't recall what the fees were. Why do you ask?"
"I just remembered that the scholarship that I set up was going to cover the cost of your room and board and I think it was based on the dorm fees. My people handled all of that, but since you will probably be living in the condo, that money can be applied to your rent and combined with the $200 a month for living expenses, you can easily afford the rent. I'll check with Phillip when I get to the office in the morning. He's the one that will be paying all the bills for your education."
"That would sure make it easier to say yes to the condo," Mike said.
Everybody went back into the pool. Donald and I decided to join in. After we changed and dove into the pool, we were the targets for a rousing game of dodge ball. Every time one of us got hit by the ball, it would be the cause for loud cheers. Even the girls got into the act. Of course we made it easy for them to hit us with the ball. Mike helped in that respect.
We were still in the pool when Joel and Jimmy came back from riding. Without a moment's hesitation, they changed and cannonballed into the pool, splashing us all.
"How did the riding go?" I asked, after I quit sputtering.
"Man, I'd love to have one of those quarter horses. It's like lighting a rocket when they take off. Charlie and Tracy rode with us, too. They're nice guys," Jimmy said.
"I'm glad that you enjoyed yourself. You'll have to come ride again. We usually ride either Saturday or Sunday almost every week during the school year. You're always welcome," I said.
"Thanks, Mr. J. I'd like to, but I usually work weekends during school year."
"Well, you have a few weeks before school starts, so any time you're free give Joel a call and come on out."
I hadn't noticed that Hildy had put a ham in the oven when she was fixing the kids' snacks. When it became time for me to begin thinking about fixing something for supper, I asked Manfred if he and Hildy were going to join us for supper. He laughed and told me that Hildy already had everything under control. I wondered what he meant and headed to the house to find out. Indeed, she did. The dining room table was set for 15 and the wonderful aroma of baked ham was filling the house.
"You know this is supposed to be your day off, don't you?"
"Fiddlesticks," she said, taking something out of the refrigerator. "I love doing this for my boys ... and girls."
"Well, is there anything I can do to help?"
"You could select a wine that would go with the ham."
"I think I can handle that," I said, and went to the bar area to see what I had that would go well with it.
Jimmy didn't need any urging to fill his plate this time. It was piled just as high with food as was Joel's and the rest of the boys' plates. I was beginning to wonder if the food was going to be gone before everybody had filled their plates. I should have known better. Hildy was prepared for the possibility and brought out more food just in time to see the last scraps disappear from the serving plates.
After we finished eating, I asked the twins and Chris if they had contacted their friends to see if they could come to visit. They gave me this blank stare before a realization set in.
"Oh, my gosh," Chris said. "We forgot. Is it all right if we call them now?"
"Sure, I think they should have their suppers over by now," I said. "Go into the library and make the calls."
About twenty minutes later, the three of them returned all smiles. "They're all going to come over on Thursday about nine o'clock," Larry informed me.
"Yeah, we told them to bring their tennis rackets and swimsuits," Lenny added. "And we told them that you would call and talk to their parents tomorrow. Okay?"
"Yes, that's fine. Maybe we can have their whole families over in the evening for a barbeque. Do you know if they have any brothers and sisters?"
"Andy has a brother who's in college and two younger sisters," Lenny said.
"I think Ralph has two brothers and one sister," Larry said. "He was always complaining about them bugging him, so I think they're younger."
"Corey doesn't have any brothers or sisters," Chris said. "His dad's in the Air Force and he's gone a lot."
"Thanks, guys," I said. "I'll call them tomorrow and see what we can work out. Go check on your dogs and see that they have food and water."
"You're going to have a house full if they all can come," Donald said. "I did a quick calculation and I came up with 24."
"Looks like I'd better call the caterer," I laughed. "I'm sure Hildy might balk on such short notice."
"What would I balk on?" Hildy said, coming in from the kitchen.
I explained to her what I had in mind and she agreed that bringing in a caterer would work out the best. She said we should discuss it in more detail after we knew how many people would be coming. She then rounded up her family and began getting ready to head for their home. Jeanie and Ginny said their goodbyes and climbed into the golf cart. This time they let Manfred ride.
As it began getting dark outside, the kids started straggling back inside. I checked the TV listing and saw that there was a nature program on PBS. I suggested that they all go into the family room and watch. Joel and Jimmy went upstairs and started playing the piano and guitar. The younger kids sprawled out on the floor in front of the TV. Donald and I took places on the couch. It wasn't long before Lenore crawled up on Donald's lap and wrapped his arms around her.
When the program was over, Donald announced that it was time to head for home. William started to complain, but he soon realized from the stern look Donald gave him that he might be jeopardizing his visitation rights if he continued complaining. Lenore had fallen asleep on her father's lap. She was still sleeping as Donald got her buckled into the car seat.
William got hugs from all the boys before he climbed into the car. Donald got one from me. "I'll call you tomorrow," Donald said, and climbed into the car and drove down the driveway.
"Okay, guys, it's bath time and then to bed," I said.
I gave them a half an hour before I started making my rounds to tuck them in. I started with TJ's and Peter's room. "Is William gonna come live with us?" Peter asked, as I sat down on the side of his bed.
"Maybe one of these days," I answered. "Would you like that?"
"Uh huh, I like him," Peter said.
"Would that be alright with you, TJ?" I asked.
"Yeah, we could sleep in here. It's not too crowded," TJ answered.
"We'll see," I said, and then gave them each a kiss on the forehead. "Good night, I love you."
"I love you, too," they said in unison.
The twins and Chris were sitting on two of the beds facing each other and from what I heard, planning what they were going to do when their friends visited. I listened at the door for a few seconds before Chris noticed that I was standing there. Their discussion was interrupted and they each went to their own bed.
"You can continue your plans in the morning. Right now you need to get to sleep," I told them. "I love you guys." I kissed each one of them on the forehead and turned out the light as I left the room.
Joel and Jimmy were deep in conversation as I approached their room. "Don't stay up too late," I said from the doorway. "You have all day tomorrow to talk. Good night. I love you, son."
"I love you too, dad," Joel said, without embarrassment and much to my surprise considering his special friend was there.
I was in the kitchen Monday morning making the coffee when Mike entered the area. "Good morning," I said. "The coffee will be ready in a few minutes. Help yourself to some juice. Hildy should be here shortly to begin fixing breakfast for the boys." I had barely uttered those words when Hildy arrived and handed me the morning paper.
"Anything special you want this morning?" she asked, tying on an apron.
"Oh, I don't know. How about pancakes?"
"Okay, that's easy. Now, shoo. I'll let you know when the coffee is ready," she ordered.
"We've got our orders, Mike."
Hildy went about the breakfast preparations while Mike and I each read sections of the paper. A few minutes later Hildy placed cups of coffee in front of us. "Everything is ready," she said. "As soon as the boys are up, I'll start making the pancakes. The griddle is ready to go. It's a little early for them to be up. Mike, are you ready to eat?"
"How many pancakes?"
"Three will be enough," Mike said.
"Thanks, I'll pass," I said. "I'm not a growing boy like some people."
Hildy laughed and went back to the kitchen to start Mike's breakfast. I don't know why I was surprised when I heard the sound of bare feet on the stairs.
"We're hungry," TJ said, as he and Peter entered the breakfast room.
"Did you wash your hands?" I asked, after getting a morning hug from both of them.
"We forgot," Peter said.
"Use the bathroom in the hall," I told them. "Hildy will fix your pancakes when you finish."
It wasn't long after TJ and Peter were eating their breakfast that we were joined by Chris and the twins. At least they had washed their hands before they came downstairs. When they all had finished eating, I sent them back upstairs to get dressed. Joel and Jimmy had not come down for breakfast yet. I decided to go wake them so that they would be out of the way when the cleaning service arrived at nine.
I knocked on Joel's door. "Wake up, guys. Hildy has breakfast ready."
"Okay, dad," a sleepy sounding Joel said.
I went back downstairs to finish reading the paper and have another cup of coffee. A few minutes later the two of them arrived and I got a hug from Joel. They had no more than sat down at the table when Hildy placed plates in front of them, each with four pancakes and several little sausage links.
"There's more," she said, and headed back to the kitchen.
Shortly before 8:30, the gate buzzer sounded. Mike confirmed that it was Jake's car and activated the gate opener. "I should be back around noon," Mike said, and headed for the front door.
Later I made calls to the parents of the boys' friends to make sure that everything was set for Thursday. All the parents agreed to come for barbeque Thursday evening, except for Corey's dad who was on assignment in Iraq.
I had just finished making the calls when Joel and Jimmy came into the library. "We're going to go riding again. We'll be back this afternoon sometime."
"Okay, have Hildy pack you some sandwiches," I said.
"That's okay, we'll grab something at McDonalds or Wendy's," Joel said.
"Be careful," I said. "Do you need any money?"
"No, I've got enough, thanks," Joel said, as the two of them left the library.
It was almost one o'clock when Mike and his friends got back from Austin. Before they hardly got in the door, Hildy was inquiring if they had eaten lunch. When they said they hadn't, she went into high gear fixing plates for them.
"How was the condo?" I asked, after Jake Andersen and Bill Akers had been introduced.
"Wow, it was great," Mike said. "Penthouse living, I could get used to that."
"You can say that again," Bill said. "The only thing is it's unfurnished."
"I wouldn't worry about that," I said. "Donald said that could be worked out. And with his connections ..."
"He does make things happen," Mike added.
"So, are you guys going to rent it?" I asked.
"I'm willing," Jake said. "It's too good an opportunity to pass up, in my opinion."
"We told Abe that we'd let him know this afternoon," Mike said.
"Don't let the fact that it's unfurnished figure in your decision. Donald said he could take care of it. You can take that to the bank. He has more connections than a phone company. He'll see that it's furnished," I said. "What are your plans for the rest of the day?"
Both Jake and Bill shrugged and said they didn't have any plans. "I need to pick up my girlfriend at eight," Bill said. "Other than that I'm free."
"We have a swimming pool and a tennis court if you're interested."
"Swimming sounds great," Jake said. "The only problem is I didn't bring a suit."
"You look about Mike's size. He could probably lend you a suit. Bill you're about my size. I'm sure I have something that would fit you. The boys have a dozen tennis rackets in case you want to try that. I've got three tennis fanatics that would love to have some new competition."
"How old are the tennis players?" Bill asked.
"Thirteen, but don't let their youth deceive you, right Mike?"
"Yeah, Chris spotted me three games and beat me 6-3. The twins are phenomenal doubles players and not too shabby singles players either."
"This I've got to see," Bill said.
"You've been warned. Don't come crying to me with your tail between your legs when they beat up on you," Mike joked.
"I think they are out on the court right now. Follow me, Bill, and I'll get you some tennis shorts and a shirt. Your shoes are fine," I said.
"You'll be sorry," Mike said in a sing-song voice.
"We'll see about that," Bill shot back. "I played on my high school team and we went to the state."
I got Bill dressed and he picked out a tennis racket. We headed toward the tennis court where the boys were playing. Jake was torn between going swimming and watching Bill's match.
"Chris, this is Bill Akers. He would like to play a set with you," I said.
"Do I have to spot him any games?" Chris asked.
"No, I don't think that will be necessary," Bill said. "I'll play you straight up."