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© 2011 Ted Louis

Joel VI

Chapter 9

After a short warm-up, Bill said he was ready to play. Actually, he said he was "ready to beat the socks off Chris." That remark was greeted with hoots and boos from the twins. Chris just smiled and told Bill to serve. Chris had always been the fastest kid on the Police baseball league and it was apparent that he had lost none of his speed.

Bill's first serve was an ace. It was the only one he had during the entire match. Chris couldn't match Bill's serve for speed, but he had developed one that kicked away from the receiver. The first game went to deuce before Bill was able to win. I think that got Chris fired up, because he won the next four games in a row. Bill was able to win one more game before Chris won his serve and then broke Bill's serve to win the set.

Bill walked to the net and shook Chris's hand. "Congratulations, Chris, I hate to admit it, but I was soundly beaten by a thirteen year-old kid. Now, those guys," he said, pointing to Mike and Jake, "will never let me live it down."

"You played a good game," Chris said. "Maybe next time..."

"I think I'm going to retire my tennis racket," Bill said. "Maybe swimming is my sport."

"He could probably beat you at swimming as well," Mike said, patting Bill on the back.

"You're probably right," Bill sighed. "I guess I'm over the hill."

"Nobody's arguing with you," Jake laughed, took off running for the pool and jumped in.

I think those guys are going to get along just fine living together.

"Crane," Hildy said, as she approached. "I just got off the phone with the caterer. Everything is set for Thursday. They will be here around five to set up and the food will arrive at six. I told them not to skimp on the food with all the teenage boys that will be here."

"What did you decide on for the menu?" I asked.

"Brisket, barbequed ribs, and sausage for the meat. Ranch beans, cole slaw, potato salad and collard greens for the sides. And of course there will be all the condiments as well as sweet and unsweetened tea."

"Collard greens? I'm not sure the kids will go for those."

"You might be surprised," she said. "If they don't, I know Manny can eat his weight in them, so they won't go to waste. I'm going to make the dessert. I don't know what it will be just yet, but I have some ideas."

"You know best when it comes to food. I like collards, but I don't remember you ever fixing them."

The phone rang and I went to answer it. As I expected, it was Donald. After the pleasantries were taken care of he said, "Have Mike call Phillip Krause. He is the one administering the scholarship. He'll take care of Mike's portion of the rent on the condo. I assume the boys are going to take it."

"They indicated that they were seriously considering it, but I know they haven't called Abe to tell him. They have been busy playing with my boys," I said. "I'll remind them to call Abe when they get out of the pool."

Donald gave me the number for Phillip Krause so Mike could call. I wrote it down, not trusting my memory. "By the way," he said, "I have ordered furniture for the condo. Whether Mike and his friends rent the place or not it needs to be furnished in order to get the best rental. I'm having a pair of twin beds put in each of the bedrooms so it could handle four students. The same goes for study desks." We spoke for a few more minutes. Before we hung up, I asked if he was going to come on Thursday.

"Now that you asked, yes, we'd be delighted to come," he said.

"I just assumed you would come. What're three more people with the crowd that is going to be here?"

Afterwards I went to the pool and caught Mike's attention. He swam to the side of the pool and I told him of the conversation that I had with Donald and said that he should call Phillip.

"Let me get dried off and I'll call him right now," Mike said, climbing out of the pool. When he was dry, I handed him the paper with Phillip's number on it.

"Oh, and you guys need to call Abe if you are going to rent that condo," I said to his back. He signaled that he heard me before picking up the phone on the patio.

"Is Mike calling Abe?" Jake asked.

"Not yet, but you guys need to if you want the place. I have some news for the three of you when you're finished swimming."

"I think it's about time that Bill and I head for home. I've got to get ready for my date."

"You're welcome to stick around for supper. The boys seem to be enjoying your company."

"Thanks, anyway, but I need to take care of some things before I pick up Becky. We're doubling with Bill and his girlfriend."

After Bill and Jake had showered and dressed, I sat down with Mike and them. "Donald is having the condo furnished. There will be two beds in each of the bedrooms so if you decided to invite a fourth to stay with you, a bed would be available. You don't have to worry about furnishing the place if that was a concern of yours. But, you guys need to make a final decision and call Abe; otherwise he will try to rent it to someone else."

"That's great," Bill said. "I want that place."

"Me too," Jake responded.

"That makes three of us," Mike said. "I'll give Abe a call right now."

Mike made the call and returned saying that Abe would have sets of keys available for pick up tomorrow. They could sign the lease when they moved in or the next time they made it to Austin.

"Look, I'm taking Joel to Austin on Friday. If you want, I can pick up the keys while I'm waiting on him to take his test. It's up to you," I told them.

"That works for me," Bill said. "Jill and I were planning on going to Corpus for the next few days to enjoy the beach."

"I'm working the rest of the week for my dad," Jake said.

"That's what I'll do then," I said.

Mike went to see his friends off and I went back out to check on the five boys in the pool. Mike soon joined us. "That's really nice of Mr. Baker to furnish the condo for us."

"Yes, he's one of the good guys. It's also a smart business decision. A furnished place is easier to rent in a college town than an unfurnished one. After you all move out, he can probably double the rent."

We watched the boys playing in the pool and talked for another half an hour or so before Joel and Jimmy arrived back.

"I just got to get rich enough someday to have my own horses," Jimmy said, as he and Joel joined us. "I could ride every day."

"That's my brother the cowboy," Mike said. "So, I guess you guys had fun."

"Yeah," Joel said. "We even babysat for Carrie Louise while Rosie ran to the store. She was only gone for about thirty minutes so we didn't have to change any diapers. Thank goodness, I don't think I'm ready for that again. The last time I changed a diaper was when TJ was a baby. Yuck!"

"Where was Bert or Jessica?" I asked.

"Bert had a class and Jessica had gone to the doctor. Don't worry, dad, I know how to take care of a baby. I had a lot of experience before."

"I think you guys need to either jump into the pool or go take a shower, you smell like horses," I said. "You've got almost an hour before supper."

"I vote for the pool," Jimmy said.

That worked for Joel and they both went off to get into their swimsuits. I went to check with Hildy to see if she needed any help and to ask her where Manfred and the girls were.

"He took the girls to Sea World. They should be back shortly. I hope he put sun block on them every so often. I'd hate to see them get all sunburned."

"Something smells good. What's for supper?" I asked.

"Nothing fancy, I just fixed meatloaf, mashed potatoes and green beans. I tried a new dessert recipe. It's call Mississippi Mud Cake. Sounds terrible, but if you like chocolate, you'll love this," Hildy said. "If the boys like it, I might make it for Thursday."

Since Hildy had everything under control in the kitchen, I went back outside to watch the boys. Joel and Jimmy had joined the others in the pool when I got there. Mike was sitting in a deck chair watching the goings on in the pool. We sat there talking and watching the boys until Manfred and the girls arrived. They immediately ran to Mike.

"How are my two favorite girls?" Mike asked them, as they settled onto his lap.

"We went to Sea World," Ginny said.

"There were all those big fish that stood up on their tails and walked across the water," Jeanie said. "And we saw Shamu."

"He jumped up out of the water and splashed some water on people," Ginny added. "It was fun."

"I must say, they had a good time," Manfred said. "We spent about six hours there and they weren't ready to come home. I was."

It wasn't long before Hildy came out and announced that supper would be ready in fifteen minutes. That was all it took for the pool to empty and the seven boys took off for the showers. It was a good thing that Hildy had prepared what appeared to be a huge amount of meatloaf. By the time the meal was over, there wasn't a crumb of it left. The Mississippi Mud Cake was a hit, especially when it was topped with whipped cream. Manfred and I had small pieces and I had to admit it was good, but I could almost see the calories counting up as I ate it.

After supper, as Joel was getting ready to take Jimmy home, Jimmy went up to Hildy and gave her a hug and thanked her for the meal. I think that was the first time that I had seen Hildy flustered, but she recovered nicely and gave him a kiss on the cheek. "You come back to see us again, real soon," she said.

"I'll come back anytime I can ... if I'm invited," he said.

"I don't think that will be a problem," Hildy responded.

"Goodbye Mr. J. Thanks for everything. I really enjoyed this weekend."

"We enjoyed having you as well. You have an open invitation to visit anytime," I said.

"Behave yourself, little brother," Mike said, as Joel and Jimmy headed for the garage.

Joel returned a couple of hours later. The other boys had taken their showers and were ready for bed. "I guess you had a good time with Jimmy," I said.

"Yeah," he sighed. "I wish we could spend more time together, but he has to work all the time. He was lucky to get today off from his job, but that doesn't happen too often."

"Do you want to talk about it?"

"Yeah, but not tonight, I need to think about it."

"Whenever you're ready, I'm here."

"I know, dad. Thanks," he said, and gave me a hug before heading upstairs.

We didn't see much of Joel either Tuesday or Wednesday. He was studying for the credit by exam test he was going to take on Friday. Thursday I insisted he take some time to relax and play tennis or swim with our visitors.

The first to arrive Thursday morning was Andy Nelson and his mother, Grace. The three musketeers were there to greet him and show him where he could stash his stuff. I briefly showed Grace around and introduced her to Hildy and Mike. When I asked if she could stay and have a cup of coffee, she declined saying she had to get back home.

"The boys tell me that you have a son in college. Will he be coming this evening with the rest of the family?" I asked, as I was escorting her to her car.

"No, he can't make it. He's working the evening shift at Best Buy," Grace answered.

Grace was starting down the driveway when two cars drove through the gate which I had left open so our guest wouldn't have to be let in. Ralph Hayworth was in the first car along with his two brothers and his sister. I greeted his mother, Nancy, and asked her to wait while I greeted Corey's mother and then I would show them both around.

The three musketeers grabbed the two new arrivals and disappeared into the house to show them where they could stash their stuff.

Corey's mother was a heavy-set woman, not really fat, but just on the verge. She introduced herself as Marsha Denton. I asked her to join Nancy and me so that I could show them around. We were accompanied on the tour of the house by the three other Hayworth children, Richard, Randy and Ruth. Richard appeared to be about TJ's age while Randy and Ruth were twins and were about a year or so older than Peter.

I showed them the pool and tennis court before taking them back inside to meet Hildy and Mike. They agreed to stay for coffee. TJ and Peter joined our group and I introduced the three Hayworth children to them. "Why don't you and Peter show them your dogs?"

"Okay," TJ said. "Come on, we've got six dogs."

"Mine's named Duke," Peter told them proudly.

Mike went with them to keep an eye on all ten of the kids.

When we finished our coffee, the women decided it was time for them to leave. Marsha thanked me for the invitation and the coffee and I walked her to the front door. Nancy had gone out onto the patio to roundup her three children by the time I came back into the house. I joined her on the patio and overheard Richard whispering something to his mother.

"Can we stay, too? Please?"

"You'll get to come back tonight," Nancy whispered back to her son.

"I didn't mean to eavesdrop," I said, taking her aside. "It's no problem if you let them stay. With Mike, Hildy, Manfred and me, I think we can manage three more."

"Ruth wouldn't have any girls to play with," she said.

"Hildy's two girls would love to have some company and tonight she'll have three more girls to play with," I said. "Hildy's two are a little younger than Ruth, but not by much. Let me call Manfred and have him bring the girls over so that Ruth can meet them." I went and picked up the patio phone and made the call. Manfred said he would be here in a few minutes.

True to his word, Manfred arrived with Jeanie and Ginny a few minutes later. He introduced them to Ruth and the girls walked off to do whatever girls do. They seemed to be getting along quite well.

"I see Ruth has met our girls," Hildy said, as she joined us on the patio.

"Please don't take this the wrong way," Nancy said, "but you appear to be older than what I would expect their mother to be."

Hildy laughed, "Manny and I are fostering them at the moment. We would like to adopt them if CPS gives us the go ahead."

"Oh, I see," Nancy said. "Are you sure it wouldn't be an inconvenience if I left the other three here also? I really hate to impose."

"Not at all. I think we could round up swimsuits for them if they would like to use the pool. Don't worry, Mike is a certified lifeguard and all of my boys are good swimmers as am I."

"Daddy," Jeanie said, "can we take Ruth to our house to play with our toys?"

Manfred gulped hard before he answered, "If her mother says it's okay, we can."

"I guess I'm okay with it if you're sure it's no problem," Nancy said.

"Thanks, mom," Richard said, as he and Randy took off to join the other boys.

"Come on, girls," Manfred said, "get on the golf cart and we'll ride over to our house."

Nancy left and I went to talk to Hildy, who had gone back to the kitchen. "I saw Manfred gulp when Jeanie called him daddy."

"It happens every time either one of them calls him daddy," Hildy said. "He loves those girls so much. If anything should happen that they would be taken away from us, it would probably kill him. Me too, for that matter. They've become such an important part of our lives."

"That's not going to happen," I said. "I'm sure that Benjamin would make sure of that."

Joel had been studying all this time and hadn't met our guests. I went to his room and told him he should take some time to relax or he would be too uptight tomorrow.

"Okay, dad," he said. "I'll be down in a few minutes."

"I'll hold you to that," I said, patting him on the shoulder.

Donald and his two kids arrived shortly after five. William was delighted to see all the other boys that he could play with. Lenore headed straight for Mike who picked her up and gave her a hug. He then took her over and introduced her to Ruth who was playing dolls with Jeannie and Ginny.

I had just poured Donald and me a glass of wine when the caterers arrived to set up the serving line and the additional tables and chairs. I directed them to where I wanted everything placed and they went to work unloading everything and carrying it around the house to the back yard.

Marsha Denton was the first mother to arrive. The first thing she said after we said hello was, "Did Corey behave himself today?"

"He was just fine. He was so busy playing tennis, swimming or throwing Frisbees with the dogs that he didn't have time to get into trouble," I said. "Could I offer you a glass of wine?"

"That would be nice," she said.

I started to escort her inside, but I saw another car arriving. "Please go inside. There is a tall, good-looking man at the wet bar. His name is Donald and he'll get you whatever you would like to drink."

The Nelsons were the next to arrive. Grace introduced me to her husband Greg and their two daughters, Penny and Katrina. Penny was seven and Katrina was five. I took them inside and offered them a drink as well. Grace and Greg both accepted a glass of red wine and then went out back to check on their son, Andy.

The Hayworths were the last to arrive. Nancy apologized as soon as she got out of the car. "I'm sorry we're late. Roland didn't get home from work on time."

"No problem, please come in. Could I offer you something to drink?"

"I could definitely use something," Roland said. "It was a nightmare at work today. Everything that could go wrong, did."

We went inside and joined the Nelsons and Marsha Denton. Donald was serving as bartender at the wet bar.

"How did our kids get along today?" Nancy asked.

"I think they enjoyed themselves. I don't think they'll have any problems going to sleep tonight. They've been on the go all day. Ruth had a great time playing with Jeanie and Ginny," I said. "Hildy just loves having girls around after being around my six boys."

"You don't look old enough to have six kids," Greg said.

"They're all adopted," I said.

"You're not married?"

"No, I'm not married," I said. I thought I noticed a change in Greg's demeanor, but filed it away to pursue later if anything came of it.

We took our glasses and went out on the patio to see what the kids were doing. All eighteen kids were involved in some sort of activity from tennis to swimming to playing with the dogs and the girls were playing with dolls or just talking to each other. The caterers were almost finished setting up everything in anticipation of the food arriving shortly.

It wasn't long before Hildy came out and told me that the caterers' food truck had arrived and the food would be ready to serve in about twenty minutes. That was my cue to get the kids attention and have them get cleaned up. For just this occasion, I brought out a whistle and blew it loudly until I had all their attention. The tennis game ceased, the pool emptied and the Frisbees stopped being thrown for the dogs.

"Okay people, the caterers will start serving the food in about twenty minutes. You all need to get washed up. We'll have to double up in order for everyone to have a chance to get their hands washed. So, if each one of my boys will take one friend and take them to your room that will take care of twelve. Mike, I'd like for you to make the rounds to see that everyone get cleaned up. Nancy and Grace you can take your girls and use my bathroom and the guest bedroom. I'm sure Hildy will see to her girls and Donald, Lenore is your responsibility. I'll direct traffic."

What followed looked remarkably similar to a "Chinese fire drill", but everything worked out and all the kids were washed and those who had been in the pool were dressed. The food was nearly ready by the time everybody returned to the patio area. The serving line was finally ready and the twelve boys were the first ones in line. The other parents and I stood by to help and see that the boys included more than meat on their plates. The younger ones needed help with their plates. The six girls were next. Some of them also needed help holding their plates. Finally the remaining ten adults went through the line. Donald and I brought up the rear of the line. I was surprised at the amount of food that was still available.

By the time I had gotten my food, a couple of the boys were in line for seconds. I don't know where they put it because their initial plates were nearly overflowing. One thing that I was really surprised by was the number of the kids that took the collard greens. I noticed Manfred's plate was piled high with them.

Donald and I took seats at the table where Greg and Grace were sitting. We had a pleasant conversation covering many subjects. I noticed that his speech was a little slurred. "So," Greg asked, "how did you come to adopt six boys?" His emphasis was on the word 'boys'.

I explained how I came to foster the first of the four boys. While I said that Joel had been subject to abuse, I didn't go into detail as to the type of abuse. They were shocked when I told them about their mother being murdered by their father.

"That's four of your boys, what about the other two?" Grace asked.

Chris's story also involved abuse and abandonment by his parents. Without being asked, I went on to explain that Peter was dumped by his parents at our front gate.

"It looks like you have a thing for young boys," Greg said, with a smirk.

"I'm sorry," I said. "Just what did you mean by that?"

"It looks a little suspicious. A single man with a harem of young boys, living out here away from everything, I'm surprised that the state would allow that."

"Greg, hush up. That's no way to talk to our host. I told you not to drink so much of that wine," Grace said. "Don't ruin Andy's day with your mouth."

"Sir, I love my boys, but only as a father should. I have no sexual interest in them, if that's what you are inferring. I have taken six abused and abandoned boys and have given them a chance for a better future. My goal for them is that they grow up as caring and accepting adults. The foundation that I set up is a model for them. With Donald's generous support of the foundation, we are able to help support adoption of children who would normally remain in the foster care system. It also helps underprivileged children who need serious medical services."

I think Hildy heard what was going on at our table and took that as an opportunity to announce that dessert was being served. That caused a commotion that interrupted the conversation at the table. Donald and I got up from the table and went to where Hildy was handing out generous squares of the Mississippi Mud Cake that she had tried out on us earlier in the week. Manfred was standing beside her putting large dollops of freshly whipped cream on the cake.

As Donald and I were standing there watching the dessert being passed out, he said, "You were remarkably calm in your remarks to Greg Nelson. I'm afraid that I would have been more 'in his face'."

"It gets old, all these innuendoes from small minded people. I've learned to respond to them in a calm and reasoned manner ... at least at first. If that doesn't work, then go after them with both barrels blazing."

"Ah, the old Teddy Roosevelt axiom, 'Speak softly and carry a big stick'. In business, it is sometimes better to show your big stick up front."

Joel came up to where we were and said that he was going to his room and go to bed early. He wanted to be fresh for the test tomorrow. "What time do we have to leave? The test starts at nine."

"I think we had better leave about 7:30. That should give us plenty of time to get you there. Goodnight son."

Shortly after Joel went upstairs, our guest started gathering there things together in preparation for leaving. The caterers began cleaning up, tearing down the serving line and hauling their equipment to their trucks.

Grace Nelson approach where we were and said, "I must apologize for Greg. He had a couple of drinks before we left home and then he had three glasses of wine when he got here. When he gets a few drinks in him, he gets out of line. He's just like his father that way. Andy said he had a great time today. Thank you for inviting him. He doesn't have that many friends his own age."

"Your apology is accepted. I think you had better drive home. I'd hate to see you have an accident."

"Don't worry, I usually end up driving home," she said.

After all of our guests had departed and Hildy and Manfred had taken their girls home, I sent the boys off to get ready for bed. Lenore was in her dad's arms and it wouldn't be long before she was asleep. William was showing signs of sleepiness as well. I gave Donald a hug after he had loaded his two into the car. "Will I see you tomorrow evening?" I asked.

"I'm looking forward to spending the weekend," he said.

"I am too," I said to myself, as he drove down the driveway.


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