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© 2014 Ted Louis

Joel VII

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This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

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Chapter 5

It wasn't long before I heard the boys start down the stairs. I had just gone into the bar area to open a fresh bottle of wine when I saw Jeremy coming down the stairs carrying a giggling William on his left hip and holding on to Peter with his right hand. "I think I'll take these two back to the barracks with me," Jeremy said.

"I'm afraid they are already spoken for," I said. "Besides, they would eat you out of house and home."

"Joel showed me that music/exercise room. That's quite a setup you've got there," he said. "I may try to get in a few reps in the morning before these three drag me to the tennis courts. They think they can whip me. I don't think any thirteen year-olds can beat a twenty-two year-old."

"Hold that thought," I said. "Those thirteen year-olds are pretty good. I think they'll give you a run for your money.

"Hey, guys, did you wash your hands?"

"Yeah, dad," they chorused, before heading off to set the table.

Jeremy fit right in with the boys in the eating department. He had seconds on everything.

"Miss Gilda, that was the best meal I've had since I returned to the states," Jeremy said. "I'm afraid that I made a pig of myself, but it was so good I couldn't resist."

"Thank you, son," Gilda said. "I enjoy seeing my boys eat and you sure did fit in. I hope you saved room for dessert. I made a chocolate-sauce cake with whipped cream on top."

"I shouldn't have had that last helping of potatoes and gravy," Jeremy groaned. "However, I just might have a spot where a small piece would fit."

"Larry, Lenny, Chris, would you please help me carry the dessert in from the kitchen?" Gilda asked.

The three of them jumped up and followed her to the kitchen. They each returned carrying two plates. They placed a plate in front of each of their places and went back to the kitchen for more. They returned and gave each of the remainder of us our dessert.

Jeremy looked at his plate and shook his head. "Is this what you call a small piece?" he asked, looking at Gilda.

"You're a growing boy," she said. "I know you can handle it."

He did.

"How do your boys stay so thin if they eat like this all the time?" Jeremy asked.

"I guess it's because they are so active. We have a little less than a quarter-mile track laid out that they run two or three times a week, weather permitting. They play tennis and swim, and there's the exercise area they use quite often. Plus, they go riding the horses, usually every Sunday. It's rare that they sit around in the house watching TV," I said.

"I wondered that myself, when I first came to live here, but I soon saw all the physical activity they were engaged in and I understood," Donald said. "You'll get a better idea tomorrow when they take you on in tennis. Not only will they challenge you in tennis, but swimming as well. You will probably be glad when Sunday comes so you can go back to the barracks to get some rest."

I could see that the twins were getting restless. "Okay, guys, you're excused," I said. They got up from the table and started clearing the dirty dishes. "Jeremy, would you like some coffee? We always have some brewed."

"That'd be great," he said. "Do they always clear the dishes?"

"Yes, that's part of their assigned tasks," I said. "It's such a habit now, that they don't have to be reminded to do it. Let's take our coffee in the living room."

"You have a great family," Jeremy said, once we were settled in the living room.

"We think so," Donald said, lifting Lenore onto his lap.

"Lenore is a little shy, isn't she?" Jeremy observed.

"With most men, she is," Donald said. "There was an exception. A young man named Mike lived here for a while before he went off to UT. He cared for the boys when Crane and I had to be away. Lenore took to him right away and was very sad when he went off to college. In fact, Hildy and Manfred's two girls took to him the same as Lenore. He was a very charismatic young man."

"Is Mike gonna come?" Lenore asked, looking straight into her dad's eyes.

"No, sweetheart, Mike is at college. We'll try to see him when he comes home for Spring Break."

"Did you take care of your dogs?" I asked when the boys joined us in the living room.

"We were going to check on them to make sure they had fresh water," Joel said. "Jeremy, would you like to see our dogs?"

"Sure, I've finished my coffee. Lead the way," he said. "We had two poodles at home when I was growing up. Pure bred, AKA registered, never did like those two. They weren't the kind you could wrestle with in the yard. They always smelled of perfume."

"That's not our dogs. They love to roughhouse with us and chase Frisbees," Larry chimed in.

"Mine likes to swim," TJ said proudly. "His name is Bandit."

"I like that young man," Donald said, after they all had gone outside. "He doesn't seem to be putting on an act for us. He seems genuine."

"I agree," Gilda said, as she entered the room. "Crane, is the offer still open to stay here for a while? I love that baby, but I'm not used to being awakened in the middle of the night. I think Hildy would really like my room for the baby, but doesn't want to hurt my feelings by asking me to move."

"Of course the offer is still open," I said. "The guest bedroom is in use right now, but you can have that one after Jeremy leaves on Sunday."

"I thought I might use one of the bedrooms in the new addition," Gilda said. "It would be private and I wouldn't be interfering with the rest of the family."

"You're right. That's a good choice and if you ever babysat Lenore while Donald and I were away, she could stay in the other bedroom," I said. "When do you think you'll make the move?"

"Sunday afternoon is what I thought," she said.

"If you wait until we get back from the ranch, the boys and I will help move your stuff," I said.

"I'd be glad to help as well," Donald added.

"Thanks, but I thought I would just bring a few clothes and shoes and my toiletries. I can get most of what I plan on bringing on the golf cart," she said. "I don't think it will take over two trips."

"All you have to do is holler and we'll be more than happy to help," I said.

"Thanks," Gilda said. "It's time I headed for home. I'll tell Hildy and Manfred when I get there. After that big supper, I fixed some fruit salad for the boys' snack."

"It's getting chilly out there," Jeremy said, as all the boys streamed back into the house. "Do you mind if I use your phone? I need to call my girlfriend."

"Go right ahead, there's a phone in your bedroom," I said.

"Dad, Jeremy said they had a dog in Iraq, but it got killed at the same time his buddy got hit by that IUD," Lenny said.

"I think you meant IED," I said, trying to suppress a laugh. "An IED is an Improvised Explosive Device." I decided not to try to explain what an IUD was.

"Oh, yeah, that's what he said," Lenny agreed.

About fifteen minutes later, Jeremy re-joined us. "That was a short phone call," I said.

"Yeah," he said, "she was getting ready to head to the library. She has a big research paper due the end of next week and it's freaking her out. She'll do fine, but she wants so badly to get an A in that class she can taste it."

"Where does she go to school?" Donald asked.

"A&M. She's getting her Masters in Organic Chemistry at the end of May, if her thesis is accepted," he said. "There's no doubt in my mind that it'll be accepted. Beth is really smart. She wanted me to go to A&M with her right out of high school, but instead I joined the Air Force. For me it was the right decision. She wasn't so sure, but she still waited for me. I'm grateful for that."

"What's she going to do after she graduates?" I asked.

"She's interviewed with several major chemical companies. I think she would like to go on and get her Doctorate. She's having trouble making up her mind. The money the companies are offering is awfully tempting," he said.

During the conversation with Jeremy, William slipped in and squeezed into the big chair beside his dad. He whispered something in his dad's ear.

"Gilda said she made some fruit salad. Are you hungry already?" Donald asked.

William giggled and nodded his head.

"Son," I said to Joel, who had been sitting listening to our conversation, "will you help your brothers with the fruit salad?"

"Sure, dad. Come on William, I'll get you a big dish," Joel said.

"With lots of whipped cream?" William asked, scrambling out of the chair and heading for the kitchen.

"Oh," Jeremy said, "they can't possibly be hungry this quickly. It's only been, what, two hours?"

Donald and I just laughed. "And you wanted to take him and Peter with you? We told you they would eat you out of house and home."

"Now, I believe you. I think I'll pass on anything more to eat tonight," Jeremy said, patting his stomach.

Joel returned a few minutes later. "I decided that I would pass on the snack tonight," Joel said. "Jeremy, where all were you stationed in the Air Force?"

"Well, after basic training here in San Antonio at Lackland, I was sent to Biloxi, Mississippi for four months of training on how to maintain radio equipment. When I finished the technical training, I was sent to Travis AFB in California. I was there for almost two years before being sent to Iraq. I was there for 18 months and then transferred to the embassy in Kabul Afghanistan. That's where I got shot. I was only there a couple of weeks. The doctor in Kabul thought the bullet was still in my chest, that's why they sent me to Wiesbaden, Germany to the hospital. They initially told me I would be there for six weeks, but after four the Air Force sent me back here to San Antonio. I was ready to leave after a couple of weeks. I've got about two and a half months to go before my enlistment is up."

"What are you going to do after you get out of the Air Force and start at Rice?" Joel asked.

"As I told your dad, I'm going to Denver to see my friend who lost part of his leg in Iraq. The last time I talked to him, he sounded kinda down. Maybe I can cheer him up. He's a great guy. We were together virtually 24 hours a day in Iraq. He was assigned to my unit about a month after I arrived there myself. The guy he replaced was a little strange. We didn't hit it off, so I was glad when Phillip got there."

"I'd better go check on the other boys. It's about time for them to get ready for bed," I said.

"I may turn in as well," Jeremy said. "I was up at six this morning and have been going all day. Besides, I have to rest up so that I can be ready for the tennis challenge."

"Coffee will be ready by 6:30," I said. "Don't open any windows or outside doors unless Gilda is in the kitchen. She will have shut off the alarm."

"Being out here with no one around, I wouldn't think an alarm system would be necessary," Jeremy said.

"There have been some unpleasant things happen out here in the middle of nowhere that I'll tell you about sometime. The alarm system is the only level of protection that we have now," I said. "There's an alarm clock in your bedroom if you want to set it. Feel free to use the exercise equipment in the morning. The boys should be up by eight and as soon as it warms up a bit they will drag you to the tennis court. Good night."

I got the boys tucked into bed and shortly thereafter, Donald and I also retired.

Saturday morning, I had just poured myself a cup of coffee and picked up the morning newspaper when Jeremy came out of the guest bedroom. He was dressed in shorts, tee shirt and tennis shoes.

"I'm going to go lift weights for a while," he said. "I think I can find my way."

"If you go up the back stairs, the door will be just off the top floor landing," I said, pointing the direction to the back stairs.

Gilda heard him talking and came into the breakfast area where we were. "Can I get you some juice? Breakfast won't be ready for another half hour at least," she said.

"A glass of orange juice, if you have it."

He followed her to the kitchen and I returned to my coffee and the paper just as Donald arrived. He poured himself a cup of coffee and began sharing the newspaper.

"Good morning, honey," Gilda said, as Joel entered the kitchen. "Breakfast will be ready in a bit. Have some juice while you wait."

"I looked in on Jeremy in the music room," Joel said. "He's lifting a lot more weight than I do."

"You don't need to have a weight lifters build to play golf," I said. "You need to have a strong upper body and arms to get the most out of your drives. Building too much bulk could interfere with your swing. That reminds me. Those people from Rice are due here on Tuesday."

"I guess I'd better talk to them," Joel said without much enthusiasm.

"Look, son, the decision is entirely up to you. If they want you for the golf team and you want to, then go for it. However, if you don't want to make that commitment, that's fine as well. I'm sure that you would still like to play golf from time to time. There are a lot of good courses in the Houston area that are open to the public that you can play."

"I'll hear what they have to say before I make up my mind for sure. I want to know how much time it will take and how long the season is," he said. "I know it would be a bigger commitment than the golf team in high school."

We heard a lot of good natured kidding from Jeremy and the three musketeers as they came down the back stairs. "Would you believe it? This guy," he said pointing at Chris, "actually thinks he has a chance to beat me in singles."

"How many games do you want me to spot you in the first set?" Chris asked, lightly punching Jeremy on the arm.

"Ow! Ow! Ow! There you go trying to injure me just so you'll have a fighting chance," Jeremy said with his best puppy dog face.

"In your dreams, flyboy," Chris giggled.

"Breakfast will be ready in ten minutes," Gilda said. "Somebody needs to set the table."

"Not me," Jeremy said. "I need to take a quick shower so that I don't offend anyone at the breakfast table."

It was interesting to see the interaction between the boys and Jeremy. The more I saw it, the more I was convinced that he was the right person to room with Joel.

Fresh from his shower, Jeremy was just in time to join us at the breakfast table.

"The weather forecast in the paper said that the temperature should be in the lower 60's by ten o'clock," I said. "That should be warm enough to start the tennis challenge."

The friendly banter continued throughout breakfast. After the breakfast dishes had been cleared away and stacked in the dishwasher, the boys went to take care of their dogs. Peter and William each grabbed ahold of one of Jeremy's hands as they headed out to see the dogs.

"Crane," Donald began, "I made a few phone calls when I found out that Jeremy was going to come this weekend." He noticed my frown and went on. "Not checking on him, but on his folks. I had heard that Jeremy's dad, Webster, had made some bad business decisions and had lost a lot of money. While the family is not destitute, it would be quite a strain on them to give very much financial support to Jeremy while he's in college. They already have a daughter in college to support. I think one of the reasons that she is interviewing for jobs instead of making plans to go on for her doctorate is the financial burden her education is placing on them."

"If he does turn out to be the ideal roommate for Joel, I think something can be worked out to help alleviate the financial stress," I said. "I am assuming that he will be receiving his GI Bill benefits. That's not enough to take care of all of the expenses of a college education, but it will at least give him some assistance. I think your son and my youngest already have their votes cast for him."

"There's not much doubt about that," Donald agreed.

We walked out on the patio to watch the boys and their dogs. As usual, they were chasing and being chased by the dogs. Every once in a while, one of the boys or Jeremy would stop and toss a Frisbee. That would set off a mad scramble between the dogs and the boys to see who would catch it.

During a pause in the action, I heard Chris holler, "Hey flyboy, are you ready to get trounced? I think it's warm enough to play now."

"You're on, kid, just show me where to pick out a racket," Jeremy said.

He followed the boys inside and came out shortly with a racket and headed for the tennis court. Chris opened a new can of balls and the two of them began warming up. It was plain to see that Jeremy was no stranger to a tennis court. After about four or five minutes of hitting various shots including serving to both courts, Larry was called in to spin a racket to determine who would serve. Jeremy won and they took their positions. Larry, Lenny, Donald and I were drafted to call the lines. Joel was elected scorekeeper. Peter, William and TJ were the ball boys and Lenore was the cheering section.

Jeremy had a pretty good serve and could hit the ball harder than Chris could, but Chris was quicker around the court. No matter where Jeremy hit the ball, Chris was always there. Jeremy won the first game on a miss hit by Chris that sailed over the end line. They changed ends and Chris served. His serve was not as fast as Jeremy's was, but Chris could make the ball curve left and right making Jeremy stretch to return the serve and putting himself out of position to hit the next ball. Chris easily held serve at love. Jeremy looked a little stunned. Chris won the next two games before Jeremy was able to hold his serve. The set ended with Chris winning it 6-2.

"Congratulations, Chris," Jeremy said, as they shook hands. "You won't tell anybody about this will you?"

"I thought I'd call the Sports Director of the Express-News and give him a scoop: 13 y/o trounces Air Force flyboy in tennis." Chris said and took off running with Jeremy right behind him. They soon returned with Chris slung over Jeremy's shoulder.

"Crane, are you sure this kid isn't a ringer?" Jeremy grinned and put Chris back on the ground. "When's he going to turn pro?"

I laughed at the questions. "When he graduates from high school and wants to test the waters on the tennis circuit, we'll discuss it. Right now, the most important thing is his education."

"Jeremy, do you want to play doubles?" Larry asked.

"Sure. Who are the teams?"

"Lenny and I will take on you and Chris."

"Okay, but wouldn't you like to have Chris playing with one of you?" Jeremy asked.

"No, we're good," Larry said.

Jeremy looked at me and shook his head. I nodded my head and mouthed, "It's okay."

It was okay. The twins held their own and when the score reached 6-6, I suggested that they call it a tie. They all looked at each other and reached a silent consensus before shaking hands all around.

As we were walking back to the house, Gilda came out onto the patio. "Lunch is ready anytime you are."

"Give us a few minutes to clean up and we'll be ready. I hope you didn't go to a lot of trouble," I said.

"No it's very simple. Sloppy Joes, potato salad, chips and vegetable sticks. It couldn't be simpler," she said and went back inside.

Ten minutes later we were sitting around the table eating our lunch.

"What's for dessert?" TJ asked when he had finished his Sloppy Joe.

"Before dessert, the first thing you need is a wash cloth. I think you got more of that Sloppy Joe on your face than in your stomach," I said. "That goes for you as well, Peter."

Gilda was way ahead of us. She had a wet cloth ready and proceeded to clean both of the boys' faces. "Now that you're all cleaned up, you two can help me bring in the cookies from the kitchen." She couldn't have asked for two more willing helpers.

With everyone's stomach full from lunch, we all decided to rest a while. The talk was inconsequential. Most of the talk centered around Jeremy's travels and where all he had been in the Air Force. An hour or so later, I looked out of the window and saw the sun shining brightly. I stepped out onto the patio and found that it was getting quite warm.

I stepped back into the house and said, "Boys, if you want to take a swim, I think it is warm enough out there." I didn't have to tell them twice. In a wink, they were off to their rooms to change into their swimsuits.

"That sounds like a good idea," Jeremy said. "I'm glad I brought my swimsuit. Maybe I can beat at least one of the boys in a swimming race."

Donald and I just laughed and went to put on our swimsuits.

Swimming turned out to be non-competitive. There was a lot of horse play and laps being swum, but no races. Everyone appeared to have a lot of fun. I was glad to see that Joel and Jeremy spent a lot of time talking to each other, sometimes quite seriously and other times laughing and joking. Peter and William climbed all over Jeremy and had him toss them into the air to splash down in the pool giggling and wanting more.

I spent about an hour in the pool before deciding to get out and get some sun. Donald joined me and we sat watching the antics going on in the pool. A short while later, Jeremy climbed out of the pool and took a lounge chair beside me.

"I thought I was in pretty good shape, but those guys wore me out," Jeremy said. "I can see why they don't gain any weight. They must have burned a couple thousand calories already today."

"I've stopped trying to keep up with them," I said. "I hope you don't mind, but I have invited our next-door neighbors over tonight for pizza. Hildy, that Gilda's sister, has taken care of me for close to seven years now. The only reason she's not doing it now is that they are fostering a six or seven week-old baby and Gilda was available. She and her husband, Manfred, have adopted two young girls. The boys think of Hildy as their grandmother.

"I've heard the boys mention a Hildy," Jeremy said. "I'm anxious to meet her. She sounds like a great person."

"That she is," Donald said. "She is a diamond in the rough, if there ever was one."

"It's nice the way the boys look after Lenore when you're not in the water with her," Jeremy said. "One of the older boys is always beside her making sure she is safe and having fun."

"She's like the little sister they never had," I said. "Well, I think it's time to get the boys out of the pool and send them to the showers. We'll be ordering pizza after while."

Without too much grumbling, the boys climbed out of the pool and headed inside to shower. Hildy and her family arrived as the boys started trickling back down stairs. I introduced Jeremy to Hildy and Manfred. Hildy took over and introduced Ginny and Jeanie.

"And who is this little one?" Jeremy asked, getting a closer look at the baby in Hildy's arms.

"This is Brittanie," Hildy said.

"She's beautiful," Jeremy said. "May I hold her?"

"Of course," Hildy said. "Be sure to support her head."

"She's a doll," Jeremy said, sitting down on the couch. "I want to have a lot of children when we get married. My girlfriend only wants a couple, but I'd like five or six."

"Five or six would be a handful," Hildy said. "Wait until you have to get up at two in the morning to feed them and change dirty diapers. That always tends to bring a realization that one or two might be enough."

"I suppose," Jeremy said. "They are so cute at this stage. How can you not want more?"

"Wait until you get married," Manfred said. "My first wife and I only had the one. We would have liked to have another, but it was not to be."

"I think it's time to order the pizza," I said. I sensed that Manfred was reliving the loss of his son and I wanted to change the subject. "How many should we order?"

Hildy looked around and counted everyone. "I think four of the large pizza should be enough."

"Just to be on the safe side, let's order five," I said.

"You're probably right," Hildy laughed.

We decided what kinds of pizza we wanted and I called in the order.

"Joel, why don't you go pick up the pizzas and take Jeremy with you?"

"Sure, dad. Should I use the credit card?" Joel asked. I nodded.

Thirty minutes later they came back carrying the five boxes containing the pizzas. The boys had the table all set and were anxiously waiting for Joel and Jeremy.

All during the pizza feast, Hildy quizzed Jeremy on his family and she finally determined that she knew his mother through a charity they had both volunteered with some years ago. "Please remember me to your mother," Hildy told him. He agreed he would.

Later, the day's activities caught up with the boys and I sent them off to bed. They didn't put up any resistance to going to bed early. Donald put Lenore down for the night and then the adults and Joel sat around for a while talking. Manfred and Hildy had taken their girls back to their house shortly after the pizza had been devoured.

When Joel started yawning, I suggested that he go to bed as well. Jeremy said he thought that was a good idea and headed for his room. Donald and I finished our glass of wine and decided to make it a night.

Sunday morning, when I looked out the window there was a dense fog obscuring the view of the lake. I just hoped that it would burn off before we went to the ranch. Although the boys were good riders, the possibility of one of the horses stepping in a hole and throwing one of them, made me a bit concerned. Fortunately the fog cleared by the time breakfast was over and we readied to head out.

"Crane, I'll follow you in my car. That way I can go back to the base without the need to come back here," Jeremy said.

"That's a good idea. I'll have Joel ride along with you, in case we get separated. Okay, guys, you can help carry the coolers to the van," I said. It didn't take long and we were on our way to the ranch.

"Who saddled up the horses?" Jeremy asked as he got out of his car.

"I would imagine it was either Bert or Jason or both," I said. "Joel, why don't you go introduce Jeremy to everybody? We'll be with you guys shortly. I need to speak to Tracy for a minute."

"Hi, Crane," Tracy said, when he saw me walking toward their house. "They're supposed to begin putting in the new septic system tomorrow."

"That's great," I said. "I thought it would take them longer to get the county's approval, knowing how slowly they generally move. How long did they say it would take to finish the project?"

"Ralph Blanton said it would take two days as long as the weather held out," Tracy said.

"So, by the end of the week things should be ready for the temporary housing units," I said. "I'll make the calls and see when they can bring in the units. When I contacted them earlier they said they could move on a day's notice. I'll let you know."

I headed for the fence where my horse was tied up waiting for me. I climbed on and took off for the back of the pasture where I knew the boys would be. I shouldn't have been surprised when I arrived, that Jeremy was racing against the other boys.

When he finished one race, he came up to where I was. "I can't even win at horse racing. My ego is taking a beating," he said with a smile. "It must be they gave me a slow horse."

I laughed and said, "I'm sure that's it."

"Crane, I don't know when I have enjoyed myself more," he said. "You have such a wonderful family. I envy you. Heck, I envy the boys for being brought up in such a loving and supportive environment. I thank you for the opportunity to spend this weekend with you all."

"Jeremy, we have enjoyed having you visit with us. I know two young boys who are going to miss you. Peter and William have taken quite a shine to you," I said.

"I hope that you will invite me back, but not before I work on my tennis game," he laughed. "I still can't believe a 13 year-old beat me so badly. I have been truly humbled."

Jeremy went back to get into the racing rotation. Joel completed his race against Jason and rode his horse up next to me.

"Dad, Jeremy and I talked on the way out here," Joel said.

"And?"

"I want him to room with me at Rice."

"You're sure?"

"Yes," he said, "I can't think of anyone that would be a better roommate. Will you talk to him and see if he is willing?"

"I'll talk to him right after lunch."


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