After we left the restaurant, the stretch Hummer Donald had hired took us on a tour of the Las Vegas strip so that the boys could see all the lights up close. I could only imagine the electric bill for all the lights, but I guess the dam, which we had seen earlier in the day, was there to provide the electricity. I think Peter was the most impressed with the sights, at least he was the most vocal. By the time we returned to the condo, Lenore was asleep and had to be carried up to bed. The boys were not far behind. We got the boys tucked into bed and then went back up to the main floor.
Surprisingly, the weather had cooled down from the near 100 degree temperatures of earlier in the day and it was comfortable enough to sit out on the deck and enjoy a glass of wine before going to bed. We talked more about my becoming a member of the board of directors of Donald's corporation. I learned even more about the extent of his businesses. There was the trucking company with somewhere around 150 long haul trucks, a recreational vehicle manufacturing company with factories in three states as well as retail outlets to sell them. He also owned two large shopping malls in Texas. These were in addition to the auto dealerships and the construction company. Before we went back inside, I told Donald that I would serve on his board of directors if my nomination were approved by the stock holders. He just smiled at that and said he was sure they would.
Friday morning, we took off early for the airport to catch the helicopter for our flight to and over the Grand Canyon. Our pilot was able to give us a fantastic view of the wonder as we flew some 15 to 20 miles up and down the canyon. Afterwards, we landed at an airstrip and took a van to the canyon where we got a close-up look at it. The twins and Chris saw that you could take a ride on a mule to the bottom of the canyon and wanted to try it. I had to disappoint them. We didn't have the time to take the slow trip down and even slower one back up to the rim.
While TJ had no problems looking out of the helicopter windows down at the canyon, when it came to looking over the edge from ground level he wouldn't approach the rim. I'm a little bit acrophobic myself, so he and I stayed a few feet behind the railing at the viewing site. I noticed that Amanda had a firm grip on Lenore's hand. She also appeared to be somewhat uncomfortable with the heights. Joel and the rest of the boys went right up to the railing and leaned over and looked straight down. I was happy that Donald was right there beside them making sure that they didn't lean out too far.
We spent several hours browsing the sights, having lunch and listening to a guide give us more facts about the canyon than we really wanted to hear. Before we started back to the helicopter, the boys wanted to buy a few souvenirs. That exercise took almost an hour for everyone to decide exactly what they wanted to buy. Finally we were on our way back to the helicopter.
It was late afternoon by the time we reached the airport in Las Vegas. We were all pretty much worn out as we gathered up everything and started to load into the stretch Hummer to take us back to the condo.
"Hey, guys, do you want to go out to eat tonight or should we order pizza in?" I asked.
"Pizza!" was the unanimous chorus.
That was fine with me. I just wanted to grab a hot shower and slip into a pair of shorts and a T-shirt. When we got to the condo, I planned to send my brood to shower and change. There had been a lot of dust blowing while we were at the Grand Canyon and we all felt a little gritty.
As we approached the condo, Donald pointed out a pizza restaurant a few blocks away. "I wonder if they deliver," he said as we passed the store front.
"Yes, there's a sign in the window that says they do," I said. "Did anyone get the phone number?"
"I did," Joel said.
"Can we go swimming?" TJ asked in the elevator.
"Do you want to go now or after we have the pizza?" I asked.
"After, I'm hungry now," he replied.
"Let's eat and then see if you still want to swim," I told him. "Anyone want any special kind of pizza?"
"Sausage!" "Pepperoni!" "Lots of cheese!" "None of those little fishy things!"
"How about if we get a variety so everyone can get what they want?" I said more than asked. "Joel, write down that telephone number so we can call and order the pizzas."
Thirty minutes later everybody was freshly showered and waiting for the pizzas to be delivered. It didn't take long before the doorbell sounded and there was a rush to the door. There were two young men standing there holding the pizza boxes and the paper sacks holding the rest of our order. Donald handed the young men several bills and told them to keep the change.
"Thanks, mister!" they said, when they looked at how much he had given them. "Thanks a lot!"
Besides the four large pizzas, there were garlic-bread sticks, fried mozzarella, and thin-sliced onion rings. It looked as if we had enough food to feed an army, but I was wrong. By the time we were finished eating there was nothing left but a few crumbs.
"Do you still want to go swimming?" I asked TJ.
"I'm too full. I think I'll just watch some TV," he said.
"I think that is a good idea. Let's go downstairs and watch on the big TV," Donald said.
Joel helped Donald and I clean up before we joined the other boys and Lenore who were already watching TV. All the boys except for Joel were sprawled on the floor in front of the TV. They had found a movie and were engrossed in it. It looked familiar to me as I settled down on the sofa. Then it dawned on me, it was an old Disney movie called Big Red, starring Walter Pidgeon along with a young boy whose name I couldn't remember and of course the Irish Setter.
As Donald settled onto the sofa, Lenore climbed off Amanda's lap and came over and climbed up on her dad's lap. "Did you have a good time today, Punkin?"
"Uh huh," she murmured.
"Are you ready to go home?" he asked.
"Can we go see Mike?"
"One of these days, honey. One of these days."
It wasn't long before she had fallen asleep on his lap. A little while later he caught Amanda's attention and he got up from the sofa and carried his sleeping daughter upstairs followed by her nurse. Fifteen minutes or so later, he returned and took his place beside me.
By the time the movie was over, William had fallen asleep and Peter was almost there. Since they had taken their showers earlier, Donald and I picked up our youngest boys, took them to their bedrooms, got them into their pajamas and put them into bed. TJ had followed us and had climbed into his bed. We kissed our boys goodnight and I went to check on the twins and Chris.
"Can we stay up a little longer?" Lenny asked. "We're not tired, yet, and we want to watch this show."
"Okay, but only until the program is over. Thirty minutes," I said. "I'll come tuck you in."
"Thanks, dad," Chris said.
Thirty minutes later as I started down the stairs, I heard the TV being shut off. I gave them a few minutes and then went into their bedroom and tucked them in. Afterward, I went to check on Joel. He was propped up in bed reading a text book he had packed in his suitcase.
"Don't stay up too late," I said.
"I won't, dad. I just want to finish this chapter," he said.
I went back upstairs and found Donald pouring a glass of wine. "Do you want one?" he asked.
"Sure, but I think it's too hot to sit outside tonight. We'll have to drink it in here," I said. Going over to the stereo system, I selected a CD from the collection and put it in the player.
"That's nice," Donald said, handing me the glass of wine. "I think I have that in my collection, but performed by a different orchestra or at least a different arrangement and I'm sure a different chorus."
"It's Beethoven's Mass in D Major, Opus 123. I've never heard it by this orchestra, the Nashville Symphony."
We finished our wine about the same time as the CD finished. We turned out the lights and put the wine glasses in the dishwasher before we headed off to bed.
I was awakened from a sound sleep by a noise in the outer room. I crawled out of bed, slipped into a pair of shorts and went to investigate. As I opened the bedroom door, I saw a light in the kitchen and realized that it was the cooks beginning their preparations for our breakfast. I went back into the bedroom and went about my morning routine. Donald woke up as I was finishing in the bathroom.
"You're up early," he said, looking at the bedside clock.
"I heard a noise in the kitchen and discovered the cooks had arrived to start breakfast. I decided I might as well stay up. I could smell the coffee as well and that was an additional incentive."
I went into the kitchen, poured myself a cup of coffee and took it to the table where the morning newspaper had been placed, I assumed, by the cooks. I skimmed the headlines and a few of the articles in the first section before turning to the business section. I checked the previous day's prices of the few stocks that I still owned and then turned to the editorial page. I skimmed over a column by a left-wing loony and one by a right-wing reactionary. I wondered to myself if there were really intelligent people who actually believed that crap. My musings were interrupted by the sounds of multiple feet on the stairs.
"Hi, guys," I said, "did you sleep well?"
"Yeah," Larry said. "We smelled breakfast. Is it ready?"
One of the cooks must have heard his question because she said, "In about two minutes."
"Just enough time for you to wash your hands," I said. That caused a stampede downstairs to their bedrooms. They were back in less than two minutes and were sitting at the table when the cooks brought the plates of French toast and sausages and placed them in front of the boys. It was a good thing there were several pitchers of syrup on the table or there might have been a tug of war to see who got to use it first.
Joel joined his brothers a few minutes later, closely followed by Donald who grabbed a cup of coffee before sitting down at the table. Lenore arrived almost immediately after her dad had sat down and climbed onto his lap.
"Good morning, honey, Are you hungry?" Donald asked. The only answer he got was her nodding her head against his chest.
The cook placed a plate in front of Donald and asked if she should bring another for Lenore. Donald shook his head and started cutting the French toast and sausage into small bite-sized pieces. Lenore must have been hungry because she ate nearly all the food on the plate.
The boys had eaten everything on their plates and the cooks had replenished them with more and that was now nearly gone.
"Guys, if you want to go for a swim, we have a couple of hours before we have to head out for the airport," I said. The rest of the food on their plates disappeared as if by magic and they took off for downstairs to get their swimsuits. I decided that I had better go along with them since I knew there was no lifeguard on duty and Wayne wasn't going to be here today.
We spent an enjoyable hour in the pool swimming laps and just messing around having fun. Donald had stayed in the condo to take care of some business so I had all seven boys to look after. Lenore and Amanda had also remained in the condo. I think Lenore's interest in swimming was mostly centered on Mike.
Shortly before noon, we arrived at the airport and boarded Donald's private jet. After we were airborne and the pilot informed us we could remove our seatbelts, Glen announced that he would be serving lunch. That got the boys' attention.
We had a strong tailwind all the way back to San Antonio and we arrived nearly twenty minutes ahead of schedule. Unfortunately that put us right in the middle of rush hour on 281. The trip home from the airport took us a half hour longer than it normally did. I instructed the boys to take all of their dirty clothes and leave them in the laundry room.
Hildy and Gilda greeted us as we walked into the kitchen area. After a round of hugs for everybody, I asked them what they were doing here. "I thought you were supposed to be on vacation."
"We thought you all would be all worn out when you got home," Hildy said, "so we decided to fix supper for you. Manny has the grill about ready to start some chicken breasts and a few ears of sweet corn he picked up at the farmers market. The girls are helping him. Gilda and I are fixing the side dishes."
"It's two hours later here than where we left and we had lunch on the plane. I doubt that the boys will complain about having supper so soon after lunch," I said. "I think what we need most right now is something to drink."
"As soon as the boys come down from putting their stuff away," Gilda said, "I'll have something for them to drink. I hope they like strawberry Kool-Aid."
I went to return my shaving kit back in my bathroom and to unpack my suitcase. When I returned to the kitchen, the six boys were sitting at the table drinking Gilda's Kool-Aid.
"Hey, dad, this is good," TJ said. "How come we don't have this all the time?"
"Well, for one thing, it has a lot of sugar in it. It's all right to have it once in a while, but you don't need all that sugar, you get more than enough in your snacks. When you're finished I think you might want to go see your dogs. Maybe they have forgotten you."
"Duke wouldn't forget me," Peter giggled. "He loves me."
It wasn't long before they were running out the door, headed for their dogs. They yelled, "Hi Manfred," but didn't stop to talk to him or to the girls. I followed them and went to see if I could help Manfred with the grill.
"Where did you get the corn? It's a little late in the year, isn't it?" I asked.
"An old buddy of mine, Gunther, always plants two crops, one early and one after the first is half grown. This comes from his second crop. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. This year he had a bumper second crop. I hope the boys like it."
"I don't think we've ever had corn on the cob fixed on the grill. How do you do it?"
"I leave the husks on and just keep turning it so all sides get cooked," Manfred said.
"We're going to have a lot of shucking to do for the kids. I don't think I'd trust them to clean the ears of all the silk."
"Ah, a little corn silk never hurt anyone," Manfred chuckled.
It took all four adults to shuck the corn so that the boys could start their suppers. One thing about corn on the cob is you need to liberally slather it with butter and a sprinkling of salt. It is delicious, but very messy. There is almost no way you can eat it without getting butter on your face. Your hands suffer the same fate. It was a good thing that Hildy had provided a stack of paper napkins.
"I got stuff in my teeth," Peter complained, after we had finished eating.
"That's what happens when you eat corn on the cob," I told him. "Go in the house and wash your hands and face. When you finish, I'll show you how to get it out."
"Okay," he said, and ran off to the house.
It was a humorous situation trying to show Peter how to use dental floss to remove the corn stuck between his teeth. After several tries he finally learned and a few minutes later he was satisfied that he had all the corn removed.
Although it was still early by Las Vegas time, I got the boys sent off to get ready for bed shortly after 9:30, but not without a bit of grumbling.
"How come William's not staying here tonight," Peter asked, as I was tucking him in. "He always stays here on Saturday."
"They had to go to their house tonight," I said.
"Is he going to ride with us tomorrow?" Peter asked.
"His dad said they were," I said.
"Good," he said, and gave me a hug.
I had a pretty good idea that the three musketeers would not go right to sleep. They were, however, in their beds when I went in to check on them. I just hoped that they would stay in them.
Joel, as usual, was sitting up in bed reading a text book. "Don't stay up reading too late," I told him.
"You always say that, dad."
"You're right, I do. And you always say you only have a few more pages to read. How many is it tonight?"
He flipped through a few pages and then smiled and said, "Eight."
I went to my bedroom and picked up a book that I had started before the trip. I decided to read for an hour or so before I turned in for the night. About ten minutes later, the phone rang. I wondered who could be calling this late as I picked up the receiver. "Hello."
"Crane, it's Eric, I'm glad I caught you before you went to bed."
"Eric, it's good to hear from you. How's the wonderful world of California?"
"It's fine, but it's not Texas. However, we're here at Darcie's. We got in a couple of hours ago. I was hoping that we could come visit you and the boys while we're here."
"I'm sure we'd all love to see you and JR again. Did Bran come with you?"
"Yes, we're all here, although he went to see Shane a little while ago."
"I'm surprised that has lasted with them being separated this long. How's he doing at Stanford?"
"He had a straight A average for his first year. His friend Elijah has been a good influence on him when it comes to studying. Although he is a year ahead of Bran, they spend a lot of time studying together. As far as I can tell they're just good friends. Elijah has a girlfriend, sort of."
"Sort of?" I queried.
"Yeah, they seem to date occasionally, but from what I could see it isn't a real romance."
"We sort of got off the subject a little here. Why don't you plan to come over sometime Monday afternoon? The boys could swim or play tennis..."
"Play tennis?" Eric asked.
"Yes, tennis. Chris and the twins really got into tennis this past year, so I had a court built for them. They use it almost every day that we're here or weather permits."
"That's nice. Bran and Elijah play a little when they have some free time. There's a tennis club not far from where Elijah lives. I think they do it mostly for exercise and to blow off a little steam. And, by the way, I think Monday afternoon will work out fine. How about if we come over around two?"
"That'll work. I'm looking forward to seeing the three of you and I'm sure the boys are, too."
We ended the call and I went back to reading my book. About an hour later I decided to go to bed.
Hildy was in the kitchen making preparations for breakfast when I came in to pour myself a cup of coffee. "Sunday is one of your days off," I said.
"Gilda is fixing breakfast at our house, so I thought I'd give you a hand before we went off to church."
"Before I forget, Eric, JR and Bran are coming over tomorrow afternoon and staying for supper."
"Oh, that's wonderful. It will be good to see them again," Hildy said. "Will Donald and his two be here also? The girls missed having Lenore stay with them this weekend."
"No, I don't think they'll be here. If Donald calls, I'll invite them. What do you think we should do? Throw some steaks on the grill, or what?"
"Why don't I fix fried chicken? I'll bet they haven't had any good old Southern fried chicken since they left here," Hildy said.
"That's up to you, but isn't that an awful lot of work for as many as will be here?"
"Not that much and Gilda will be here to help out," Hildy said. "You know, I think she is getting serious about selling her house and moving here. I hope so. It has been great having her around and the girls love her and she dotes on them."
"That's great," I said. "Now get out of here and I'll take over. You've done all the hard stuff." I gave her a hug and she headed out to get in her golf cart.
We were finishing breakfast when the phone rang. I went to answer it while the boys cleaned up. It was Ron Williamson. "Good morning Ron, what can I do for you this morning?"
"I was wondering if your invitation for Jamie and me to ride your horses was genuine."
"Of course it was. In fact we will be leaving for the ranch in about an hour or so. We need to fix a bunch of sandwiches and the rest of the boys' picnic lunch. We'll make a few more for you and Jamie. A friend of ours and his two children will be joining us to ride, also."
"Oh, in that case we had better make it another time. We wouldn't want to intrude."
"Don't be silly. You will not be intruding and there are plenty of horses for everybody to ride. I'm sure Jamie would be interested in seeing the baby colt as well."
"Okay, then, Jamie and I should be there around eleven," Ron said.
Jamie and Ron were just getting out of their car when we drove into the ranch. I hadn't told the boys that Jamie was going riding with them. When they saw him they rushed up to him and started talking, all at the same time.
After I had greeted Ron, I said, "Guys, I'll bet that Jamie would like to see the new colt. Be sure you don't go into the stables unless Charlie is with you."
"Hey, Mr. Johnson, I'll go with them to see the colt," Bert said. I hadn't seen him approaching us.
"You sure you can manage all of them?" I asked.
"Joel can help keep them in line," he said.
"I'll go with you," Ron volunteered. "It's been a long time since I've seen a new colt. How old is it?"
"Four weeks last Friday," Bert answered.
Before they took off, Donald arrived in his Mercedes. William was out of the car as soon as it had come to a stop and he joined the others as they walked over to see the colt.
"That one," Donald said, pointing at his departing son, "nearly drove me crazy from the time he got up until we left to come here. He would have been here at seven this morning. He wasn't too happy about not getting to stay over at your place last night either."
"I got a few complains relayed through Hildy that her girls were disappointed that Lenore didn't get to stay as well."
We'll have to correct that," Donald said.
"Soon," I said. "Is Lenore going to have to have her nurse?"
"Not after her pre-school starts, I think. Between your boys and Hildy and Manfred's girls, she will be well looked after. That is if the invitation to move in is still open."
"Yes, we're looking forward to it. I think I need to tell you that one of my old friends is coming to visit with his sons tomorrow. He was a special friend, but for various reasons, it didn't work out. You're welcome to come as well."
"Thanks, but I think it would be best if you were allowed that time with him and his sons without my being there," Donald said.
"Thanks," I said. "I need to know if there are any unresolved feelings still lingering in the background."
"Crane, you know that you are very special to me and my family. I want us to make a go of a relationship. Whatever you decide after you see your old friend, I'll understand. My feelings for you will not change."
"You're a good and understanding man, Donald Baker," I said, and then gave him a long hug. "Those are some of your most endearing qualities."
"Dad, you should have come to see the colt. He's getting bigger already. He's so cute. I can hardly wait for him to grow up," Lenny said. "We're gonna go ride now. Jamie is gonna ride your horse. Okay?"
"Sure, son, I'll ride one of the quarter horses," I said. Seeing Ron trailing behind the other boys, I motioned him over to where Donald and I were standing. "Have you ridden much?"
"It's been a while," he said.
"Why don't you ride close to Bert in case you get into trouble? I don't think anything will happen. The horses are very well behaved, but don't take any chances."
"Thanks, I will," he said and headed for the stables.
Donald and I walked over to where Lenore was playing with Carrie Louise. "I think Lenore would take your daughter home with us, if she could," Donald told Rosie.
"When she's fussy, I would consider letting her go with you," Rosie said, with a smile.
It was nearly five o'clock when the horses were brushed down and we got ready to go home. We said goodbye to our friends and climbed into the van and took off for the house.
"Jamie really had a good time," Larry said. "He really likes riding. I'm glad he could come."
"Yeah, he's fun," Chris said.
"We'll have to make sure that he comes back again," I said.
When we got home, I fixed a quick supper after sending everybody to shower.
Later, when I had retired for the night, I wondered what would happen tomorrow. Seeing Eric again might bring back the feelings I had for him. Sleep did not come easily, my mind and emotions were in turmoil.