"I'm hungry," Peter complained. "When's William gonna get here?"
"His dad said they would be here around seven o'clock," I answered. "That's about five more minutes. Do you think you can wait that long?"
"I guess so," he shrugged and walked back into the kitchen.
I watched as he approached Gilda, gave her a hug and looked up at her with his pleading eyes. Naturally she felt sorry for him and gave him a small bunch of red grapes with about half a dozen grapes on it. I shook my head as Gilda caught my eye. "The little con man," I thought. She just smiled and went back to fixing supper with Hildy.
It wasn't long before Donald drove up in front of the house. William was immediately out of the car and made a beeline into the house. It took a while before Donald had released Lenore from her car seat. She held onto her dad's hand as they approached the front door.
"Is Jeannie and Ginny here?" she asked as they reached the top of the steps.
"Not right now," I said. "They should be here in a minute or so."
I had just answered her question, when Manfred and the girls arrived on the golf cart. Lenore tried to run to the cart, but her dad held tightly to her hand until the cart stopped.
"Are you ready for the added madness with us here?" Donald asked, putting his arm around my shoulder.
"I'm sure we'll manage," I said. "They'll all be off to school tomorrow."
"There is that," he said. "I'm a little worried about how Lenore will be in the pre-school. She's never been without me or her nurse. I'm worried about me as well. It's going to be hard to drive away and leave her."
"Let me help you bring in some of your things," I said.
"Most of the stuff belongs to William and Lenore. I'll gradually bring more of our things over the next week or so. I'll need to make the trip into San Antonio every day. I can stop by the house and pick up a few things on the way back here," he said.
"I know where William is going to sleep, but have you decided where Lenore will sleep?" I asked.
"Until the apartment that Mike lived in is renovated for the three youngest boys, I thought the guest bedroom would be the best."
"That's a long way from the master bedroom," I said. "Do you think she will be comfortable there so far away from you and in a strange place?"
"It may take a couple of nights with me staying with her for her to get comfortable, but it won't be for that long until the renovations are complete, at least I hope not. I know she wants to sleep over with Jeannie and Ginny, but she can't expect to do that all the time."
"The work is supposed to start tomorrow morning and be completed by Saturday, according to Harold. It's not that big of a renovation," I said. "I just hope that he's right on his timeline."
We got the car unloaded and things put away in the bedrooms just as Hildy informed us that supper would be ready as soon as everybody got washed up. It wasn't long before the 15 of us were settled around the table enjoying one of Hildy's and Gilda's excellent meals. It was after eight by the time dessert was served and the dishes stacked in the dishwasher. Hildy volunteered to see that Lenore had her bath.
Lenore put up a little fuss when she realized that she was not going to get to spend the night with her two friends, but settled down when Hildy told her she could spend the weekend with them. She was not entirely satisfied, but accepted Hildy's promise. Hildy had a way of getting her message across.
Donald and I made our rounds to make sure that everybody got tucked in for the night and received their kiss on the forehead. Although the twins and Chris thought they were getting too old to be tucked in at night, I think they would have felt left out if I didn't follow the well-established routine I had followed since they first came to live with me. In Joel's case it was more just seeing that he was in bed and to say goodnight. Also, it was to make sure that he didn't stay up too late reading.
Donald decided to put Lenore in Mike's old room and stopped there to read a story to her. He told her that he would stay with her so that she wouldn't be frightened by sleeping in a strange bed. It was not the ideal arrangement from my point of view, but understandable under the circumstances.
Gilda was in the kitchen fixing breakfast when I exited my bedroom the next morning. As usual she was talking to herself as she went about her business. The coffee pot had not stopped perking, so I went to start waking up the boys. TJ, Peter and William were the first on my list. They quickly piled out of bed and rushed into the bathroom to wash up. As I walked by where Donald and Lenore were, I knocked lightly on the door. It was answered almost immediately by Donald opening the door. Lenore was hugging his leg before he reached down and picked her up.
"We'll be down in a minute," he said.
I was surprised that the twins and Chris were not in their beds when I entered their bedroom, but I heard a lot of noise coming from the bathroom, so I knew they were awake. As usual, Joel was awake and getting the things he was going to need for school arranged in a neat pile.
My rounds completed, I went back down to the kitchen and took the cup of coffee Gilda handed me. "Sis is getting the girls ready for school," she said, and went back to preparing our breakfast.
After finishing their breakfasts, the boys headed back upstairs to brush their teeth and put on their school uniforms. Donald took Lenore to help her to get ready for her pre-school. When everybody was ready for school, I had them arranged on the stairs and took a picture of all eight of them.
The seven boys climbed into the van while Donald and Lenore got into his car. As I drove the van out of our gate and started down the road on the way to the school, Manfred, Hildy and their two girls were waiting for us to pass and pulled out behind us. Donald had been the first to leave the property in his car.
At the school, I parked the van and the boys piled out. William looked around, wide eyed, at all the kids dressed as he was in their uniforms. "I thought we just dressed the same," he said.
"Everyone dresses in the school uniform," I told him.
Peter followed us as I led William into the building. We headed for the bulletin board where the room assignments were posted. I found William's room assignment. "Peter, do you know where his room is?" I asked.
"Yeah, I'll show him," Peter said proudly, and took off holding William's hand.
I followed them down the hallway and we made a turn to the right. Peter stopped in front of an open door and waited until I got there. The door had a paper taped to it with the teacher's name printed on it. It said, "Ms. Phelps". I tapped on the door and a thirty something woman looked up and motioned us in. I introduced myself and then TJ. "And this young man is William Baker," I said. "He is just starting at Corinthian Academy this year and will be in your class."
"William, that's a nice name. My brother's name is William," she said. "We're going to have a lot of fun and learn a lot this year. I think you'll like it here." William stood there nodding his head. "Peter, why don't you take William and show him where everything is located? The first bell won't ring for about 10 minutes."
"Okay," Peter said. "C'mon, William, I'll show you where the bathroom is and the gym and the playground and everything."
"He's a little shy around strangers. His mother and father are both dead. He was adopted by his uncle. He will be coming to school with my boys much of the time, sometimes with his dad. His dad is taking his daughter to her pre-school. It's her first day as well."
"I'm sure after a few days he'll get over his shyness," Ms. Phelps offered.
I stayed and chatted with Ms. Phelps for a few more minutes before deciding that I should leave before the starting bell rang and I got trampled. As I was walking toward the door I met Peter and William. "Peter, did you tell William where to wait for you after school?"
"Uh huh, I told him to wait by the front door for me and then we were supposed to wait for TJ," he said. "That's right, isn't it?"
"It sure is," I said, giving them both a hug. "Now, go get smart. I'll see you after school."
They walked off and I headed for the van. I noticed that Hildy's and Manfred's car was still in the school parking lot. Arriving home, I saw three trucks parked in front of the house. They all bore signs with "Nichols Construction" on the sides. As I started to drive around to the garages, Harold was coming down the front steps so I stopped to speak with him.
"Good morning, Harold," I said. "You guys are starting early. I didn't expect you so soon."
"Crane, it's good to see you again. Yes, I've got two crews here today. One of my other jobs finished earlier than planned, so now I can probably get your job done by Friday afternoon."
"That's great," I said. "By the way, how's Joey? We haven't seen him recently."
"He spent much of the summer, at least the last four weeks of it, at a wilderness camp. He has developed a passion for the outdoors and thinks he wants to be a forest ranger when he grows up," Harold said. "I kinda would like for him to come in the business with me, but ..."
"Well, that's a long way off. Maybe he'll change his mind by then," I said. "TJ has no idea what he wants to be and he's the same age as Joey." I didn't want to keep Harold from his work and got back into the van, took it around and parked it in the garage.
"Hildy not back yet?" I asked Gilda, as I poured myself a cup of coffee.
"No," Gilda responded, "she and Manny were going to get groceries on the way home. It takes a lot to feed all those hungry mouths."
"Have you decided to stick around and help raise the girls?"
"Hildy wants me to. I must confess it is an attractive idea. Those are two of the sweetest girls. I love my Celia to bits, but she was a real handful to raise. Had a mind of her own, she did. And stubborn, that girl was a poster child for the word. Got a lot of that in her still."
"You know we would enjoy having you around. The boys are very fond of you as am I. Now with two more youngsters and another adult in the house there is going to be a lot more work to be done around here and I'm not sure that Hildy signed up for all that. Plus, she now has Jeannie and Ginny to look after. The decision is yours to make. I know I speak for the boys, we want you to stay."
"Thank you, Crane, that's very sweet of you," she said. "Now, shoo. I've got to finish making these pies."
I headed to my library with my cup of coffee. I decided to call my apartment managers to see how things were going with the different complexes.
"This is Chuck Solaris. How may I help you?"
"Chuck, it's Crane. I just called to see how everything is going."
"Crane, it's been a while since we've talked. I'm glad you called. Do you remember some time ago I told you about a new apartment complex that was going up that I thought was in financial trouble?"
"Yes, that was about a year ago or so, wasn't it? What's new with it?"
"I heard from a very reliable source in the business, that the bank holding their construction loan is going to foreclose on the builder. There are all kinds of liens filed against the place. It seems that the builder has not been paying some of the trades. Anyway, if you are interested, I think you could get it rather quickly at a reasonable price. The place is about 90-95% finished. I would estimate that it could be completed in less than 60 days and be ready for occupancy."
"What's the banks name?" I asked.
"San Antonio Commercial Bank," Chuck answered. "They specialize in construction financing and are usually pretty savvy when it comes to their lending practices. This time they bet on the wrong guy."
"How much are we talking about?"
"I don't know, but it wouldn't be hard to find out from my sources."
"I'm always interested in possible investments. Check it out and let me know. Now, how are my current properties doing?"
"Occupancy rates on all properties are 95% or better. Delinquent rent payments are less than 1% overall. Maintenance problems have been minor. Phillip is checking on a reported problem at the Stone Oak complex. It seems that there was a minor flooding problem in one of the units. Phil hasn't called to let me know exactly what, but I suspect it was a stopped up toilet that overflowed."
"Sounds good," I said. "I see the financials every month, but I like to check in on you guys every so often. It makes me feel useful."
"Come on by anytime. We always have the coffee on."
"Thanks, I'll keep that in mind. Let me know if there are any problems and let me know what you find out about those other apartments."
My next call was to the foundation to speak with Darcie. She happened to be out of the office, so I talked to Paul. He said they were so busy he didn't know whether he was coming or going at times. "How's the new worker coming along?"
"Great, but Darcie said we were going to have to hire another one to keep up with all the files from CPS and requests from other agencies. I never knew there were so many young kids that needed help," Paul said. "Some of the cases make me want to scream in despair. We have been trying to expedite the most desperate of the cases."
"Sounds like you guys are doing some good things. Keep it up. The whole purpose of the foundation is to help children in need," I said. "I'll see you at the board meeting in about three weeks unless I decide to drop in before then."
"I'll see you then," Paul said. "I'll tell Darcie you called."
I decided to go upstairs to see how the reconstruction was coming. The suite of rooms that had been Mike's was being transformed into a large bedroom for TJ, Peter and William and another room that could be used for a playroom for Lenore or even another spare bedroom. Lenore would move into where the younger boys now slept. It was the closest to the master bedroom downstairs in case Lenore needed her dad in the middle of the night.
"Crane, glad you came up," Harold said. "Tomorrow morning we are going to need to shut off the water for a couple of hours so that we can run some new lines for the bathroom. It shouldn't take more than two hours, but I know it will be an inconvenience."
"That shouldn't be a problem, I'll let Hildy and Gilda know," I said. "Are you sure you're going to be done by Friday? It looks like there's a lot of work to be done."
"Yeah, once we get the plumbing run, things will go quickly. With two crews working it will go even faster."
"Well, I'll leave it to you. I'm sure I'd only be in the way if I stuck around."
It was almost lunch time, so I went to let Gilda know about the water outage tomorrow. While we were talking, Hildy and Manfred arrived carrying bags of groceries.
"There're lots more in the car," Manfred said. "Sometime I think it would be easier if we had a truck to haul all this food in."
I took that as a hint and followed Manfred out of the back door to where their car was parked. He wasn't kidding when he said there was more. The entire back seat of the car was piled high with bags and bags of groceries. It took us three trips to get it all transferred to the kitchen. Hildy and Gilda were busy storing it away in its proper place.
I spent the rest of the afternoon tending to financial affairs and was pleased with the results. While most of my investments had been converted to cash, I still held a few that I expected to recover from the current downturn in the stock market. When I looked at the clock it was almost time to go pick up the boys from school. I was anxious to hear how William's first day at his new school went.
I arrived at the school a few minutes before the lower grades were dismissed. Pauline was waiting for John and her daughters, so I walked over to her car and talked with her for a few minutes. I found out that she had dumped her doctor friend and was not involved with anyone else. When I saw the first group of students exiting the building, I said goodbye to Pauline and walked to the front door of the school.
Peter and William soon emerged, laughing and talking. I thought that was a good sign. William saw me and ran and jumped into my arms.
"How did you like your school?" I asked, knowing it was a foolish question.
"It was fun. Ms. Phelps read us a story and we played games and sang songs and had recess and counted to 100 and read a story and watched a movie and all kinds of things," he said.
"So, I guess you liked it?"
"Yeah, and I made a new friend. His name is Roger and he talks funny, but I like him."
"That's nice, you'll have to tell your dad all about your day when we get home."
It wasn't long before the three musketeers arrive surrounded by a group of five boys and three girls. "Maybe you can come over to our house on Sunday and play tennis," Chris said. At that moment he saw me and stammered, "But, I'll have to ask my dad if it's alright. See you tomorrow."
"What was that all about?" I asked when he got to where I was standing.
"Erin and Garth are going out for the tennis team and I thought maybe if it was alright with you they could come to our house and we could practice. Can they?" Chris asked.
"If it's okay with their parents, it's fine with me. When you see them tomorrow, you tell them to have their parents call me so we can work out the details. Okay?"
I was beginning to wonder where TJ was. He should have been released before the twins and Chris were. Joel exited the building talking to John. It looked like a friendly talk. TJ had still not appeared. Now, I was getting worried. I decided to go to his classroom to see if he was still there. I told Joel to stay with the other boys and I would be right back.
When I got to TJ's classroom, I saw him, through the window in the door, sitting at a desk and his teacher appeared to be lecturing him. I opened the door and walked into the classroom. His teacher turned as I entered.
"Is there a problem?" I asked.
"May I ask who you are?" she said.
"I'm TJ's father."
"In that case, you need to know your son was involved in a scuffle during the afternoon recess. We don't condone fighting," she said.
"I don't either," I said. "TJ, what happened? Why were you fighting?"
"I wasn't fighting, dad. Honest," TJ said.
"Go ahead, explain what happened."
"There's this kid, Benson," TJ started. "He's in the next grade. He was saying mean things to Percy and shoving him because he's little and he's new. I told him to stop and he told me to get lost. You told me if we saw bullying, we were supposed to try to stop it. I got in between Benson and Percy and that's when he started to shove me. I shoved him back and that's when Mr. Garland saw it. He made me come in and miss the rest of my recess and Mrs. Adams made me stay after class. I didn't think I did anything wrong. Did I?"
"We'll talk about what you might have done differently when we get home," I said. "Mrs. Adams, I assume I may take my son home now?"
"Yes, of course," she said. "I didn't get the whole story it seems."
Everybody climbed into the van and I checked to make sure William was secured in his booster seat and that everyone else had their seatbelts fastened. I saw Manfred's car heading out of the parking lot with his girls just as I started the engine of the van. We never caught up with them all the way to the house. Donald's car was there when we arrived. I was anxious to hear how the pre-school went with Lenore and how Donald handled it as well.
Harold's three trucks were still there also. "Hey, guys," I said, as they clambered out of the van, "the workmen are still upstairs. Stay out of their way and, by all means, don't go in to where they are working."
They all assured me that they wouldn't and hurried off to change out of their school uniforms and wash up so they could have their afternoon snack. As I entered the kitchen, Lenore was sitting at the kitchen island eating a bowl of chocolate pudding. Donald was sitting beside her. When he saw me he stood up and gave me a hug.
"How did things go?" I asked, motioning with my head toward Lenore.
"A little rough at first, I was told. After she got settled down and started playing with the other little girls, it went very well. I think she would have stayed longer when I got there to pick her up."
"That's good to hear. How did you handle the day?" I asked.
"It was touch and go. I called the pre-school a couple of time to check on her. I guess I'm a worrywart when it comes to her. I knew that William had plenty of support, but she was alone."
"It just shows you care," I said.
After the boys had their snacks, I asked TJ to follow me into the library. I sat him down in a chair in front of the desk and I took one beside him. "Let's talk about what happened today at school. I know you tried to do your best to stop this Benson from bullying Percy, but do you think that you could have handled it better?"
"I tried, dad. I looked around for one of the teachers, but there wasn't none and I thought Benson was really gonna hurt Percy. Everybody was standing around watching and some were laughing. That's not nice. Percy was gonna cry, so I got between them and told Benson to stop. He laughed and shoved me. I told him to stop and he laughed at me and told me to get out of the way and then he shoved me again, so I shoved him back. That's when Mr. Garland came up and saw it. I didn't want to fight, but I had to protect Percy. He didn't do nothing."
"Son, under the circumstances you did the best you could. Fighting is always the last resort, but there are times when it becomes necessary to protect yourself or others. I'm glad that you stuck up for Percy. Try not to get involved in any more fights. Why don't you and some of your friends stay close to him and see that he doesn't get bullied? Do you think you might be able to do that?"
"I think so," TJ said. "Can I go now? I want to go see Bandit."
"Sure, go see your dog."
"Troubles?" Donald asked, as I exited the library.
"No, not really. TJ was trying to protect a boy in his class from being bullied and got in trouble as a result."
"That doesn't sound fair," he said.
"It's all straightened out now. I wanted to let him know that there might be a better way in the future to handle it."
"Let's go check on the boys," he said, "and girls. Jeannie and Ginny arrived much to the delight of Lenore."
"She'll have to sleep in the guest bedroom tonight. All her things were moved there when the workmen arrived. They promised that things will be ready in the renovated bedroom for the boys by Friday. Maybe Hildy will let her girls spend the night with Lenore in her new room. That might be a step in making her feel comfortable sleeping there."
"I'll talk to Hildy. Maybe they can spend Friday night here and Saturday night at their place," he said.
All ten of the kids were playing with the dogs when we walked out into the back yard. I wondered if William was going to ask for his own dog again. I think he had forgotten about it after his dad bought him his own horse. I just hoped that it didn't turn out that we ended up with 10 dogs.
After supper, I asked my boys if they had any homework to do.
"Dad," TJ said, frowning, "it's the first day of school. You don't get homework on the first day."
"Okay, just checking," I said.
Donald again spent the night with Lenore after we had tucked the other boys into bed. I explained to TJ, Peter and William that starting Friday night they would be moving to the newly renovated bedroom next door so that Lenore could have their current bedroom. They sort of shrugged as if to say, 'big deal'. I guess as long as the three of them were together was all that mattered.
At breakfast the next morning, Lenore asked her dad, "Is it time to go to that place yet? The one I went to yesterday."
"After you finish your breakfast, brush your teeth and get dressed," Donald told her. He looked at me and then up to the ceiling. I could tell that he was relieved that she wanted to go back there today.
When everybody was ready we loaded up the van and headed for the school. I was planning on stopping by the headmaster's office to speak to him about the boy who was involved in the bullying incident yesterday. I wanted to make sure that it was nipped in the bud.