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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.
This story is copyrighted by Ted Louis, all rights reserved. Distribution, including but not limited to: posting on internet sites, newsgroups, or message boards, or in book form (either as a whole or part of a compilation), or on CD, DVD or any other electronic media, is expressly prohibited without the author's written consent.
On the way to the church, I explained to the boys what I thought the funeral service would be like. Not having been to a Lutheran service since I was in prep school, I was a little unclear as to what was expected of the people attending.
We arrived about twenty minutes before the service was to begin. I found a parking space close to the church entrance in the adjacent lot. As we exited the van, I checked to make sure that the boys had not loosened their ties and were still appropriately attired. At the door we were met by an usher and shown to a pew a few rows back from the front.
Susan's open casket was placed in front of the lectern. A number of people would approach the casket, pause briefly as they viewed her, cross themselves and return to their pew.
"Dad, can I go up there, too?" Chris whispered.
I nodded before turning to the other boys and said quietly, "You guys stay here. We'll be right back."
Joel elected to go with us. We slid out of the pew and as we started toward the casket, I placed my arm around Chris' shoulder and Joel did likewise from the other side. I could feel his body tighten the closer we got to the casket. We stood there viewing the remains of the beautiful, young lady that was Chris' first real love. After a moment, he looked up at me with tears in his eyes and murmured, "Okay." I handed him my handkerchief and the three of us returned to our pew.
Thankfully the service was short and the boys were all very well behaved. When it ended, the attendees were asked to stand as the casket was closed and the pallbearers carried it down the aisle preceded by the family. I didn't know if it were a tradition in the Lutheran Church or whether it was a local custom, but the family was at the door of the church to accept condolences from people as they left. Chris, Joel and I shook their hands and made a few appropriate remarks. The other boys just shook the extended hands. Since the internment was to be in the family plots in Round Rock and few people at the funeral would be there, perhaps this was to replace the custom of offering condolences at the burial site.
As soon as we were in the van and preparing to head for home, Lenny asked, "Can we take off our ties?"
"Yes," I laughed, "you can take off your ties. You guys were very good all through the funeral. Would you like to stop for a treat somewhere?"
That was enthusiastically received by all of them. Since we had to drive by the Dairy Queen on the way home, we stopped there. I told the boys to take off their school blazers as well before we went inside for the treats. For some reason, ice cream seemed to have an attraction to the front of the younger boys' clothes. We were lucky that there were no customers waiting to be served ahead of us. It still took a while before the clerk was able to get all of our orders taken. We found that the largest booth in the place was available and the eight of us filled it to capacity. Several minutes later, two of the workers arrived with our orders.
It was a good thing that I told them to take off their school blazers, especially Peter and William. I was not sure if they got more of their chocolate sundaes in their mouths or on their faces. It took a while and a lot of wet paper napkins before I pronounced them clean enough to get into the van.
"Are you okay?" I asked Chris as we exited the van at home.
"Yeah," he said. "I'm glad I got to see her one last time. It hurts. I'm gonna miss her."
"Just remember," I said, "you have a lot of people who love you and if you ever want to talk to me or your brothers, we're here for you."
"I know. Larry and Lenny and I talked about it last night. It helped. They understand. They lost their mother. That had to be worse."
"Go change your clothes. I think your dog needs some attention," I said. "I love you, son. You're very special to me."
After supper, Donald and I were sitting in the living room with a glass of wine. Lenore was sitting in her daddy's lap. "I got a call from Kelly today," Donald said.
"Oh, he's your long lost relative. How is he doing at the university?" I asked.
"Excellent. He was all excited. His grade report came out a week or so ago and it was straight A's," Donald said. "I had the manager of my engineering and construction company get in contact with him to make sure he was planning on interning there this summer. Kelly said he couldn't wait for summer vacation to begin. That's why he called me, to thank me for the opportunity."
"What's he doing for Spring Break?" I asked.
"I wanted to talk to you about that. He's going to be on break at the same time the boys are and I thought, if you don't mind, I would ask him to join us in Las Vegas."
"Why would I mind? I liked him and so did the boys," I said. "I know William and Lenore were fond of him when we were in New Orleans while you were in the hospital there."
"Have you rented those condos again this year?" I asked.
"Yes, I only reserved the one two-storey," Donald replied. "I asked Manfred if they wanted to go with us again this year, but he said they couldn't take Brittanie out of the state, if she were still in their care. Gilda has agreed to go and look after Lenore."
"I wonder if Kelly plays golf," I said.
"I asked him that when I talked to him. He said he had never tried. He was always just trying to get by and go to college," Donald said. "He never had any time to spare and, to him, golf was a game for the rich that he couldn't afford."
"Maybe we'll have to get him some lessons while we're there," I said.
"Have you decided what you're going to do with those two lots you reserved along the golf course?" Donald asked.
"Not really," I said. "I had initially considered building a vacation home for us. The more I think of it, however, I don't think that is practical. It would be years before we could make much use of it. The only time we could use it for any length of time would be in the summers. Chris and the twins will probably be going to tennis camp each summer for the next four or so years, so they couldn't spend much time there. TJ and Peter are more interested in the horses and their dogs, plus the pool. Maybe after all the kids have gone off to college it might make sense to have a house there."
"From what Fenton said today when I talked to him, he has had a number of buyers who had asked about those two lots," Donald said. "You could probably make a tidy profit on them, if you decided to sell."
"I'll think about it," I said. "Did Fenton mention how the golf courses were coming along when you talked to him?"
"He said the Nicklaus course is completely ready. They're fine tuning the bunkers and greens, but it's ready to play. The Palmer course still has about a week of work to be done on it before it's ready for play. He also indicated that the overall manager has hired the two pros and they are getting their shops set up and ready for business. The driving range is open and the members have been making use of it for about ten days. The practice putting-greens still need about a week before they will let the members on to practice."
"It sounds as if everything will be ready for the opening when we get there in a few weeks. I know Joel is looking forward to playing both courses while we're there."
Thursday morning I asked Joel if he had gotten his paper turned in for his economics class yesterday.
"Yes," he said. "I like that class. It's interesting and really has a lot of implications for business."
"So, are you thinking of changing majors in college?" I asked.
"No way! Computers and programming and how they work are the things I still want to study," he said. "But, there are other things that interest me as well."
"Good," I said, "you need to have a well-rounded education in the humanities, as well as the technical areas. There are many college graduates who are totally unprepared to find employment because of their choices of course work. While degrees such as Art History are very interesting, there are very few opportunities to find a career using the knowledge. On the other extreme are the total techies. While they don't have the problem finding employment, they often are social misfits. All they know is technology and lack the social graces to fit into society in general. Balance is the best answer. That's my opinion, but you have to find what's right for you."
Over the next few days, I watched Chris closely and as far as I could see he was back to his normal, fun-loving self. He seemed to be spending more time with Rita, Susan's friend, than he had before and I thought it was healthy for both of them.
The following Monday, I returned to the house after dropping the kids off at school. When I settled down with a cup of coffee, I received a phone call from Carlos. "Crane, I received a message on my voice mail over the weekend from that Truman Trust. They are the ones that own that property next to yours and the Westin property. Anyway, the executor would like to sell it so the estate can be settled. It was placed in a trust while Bartholomew Truman's will was probated. It's been in the probate court for almost five years. I understand the heirs have been fighting over everything, but none of them seemed to want anything to do with that farm. The judge, on Friday, ordered it to be sold or auctioned off, if no offers existed on the property. Are you still interested in buying it?"
"Yes, I'd still like to buy it," I said. "What about the Westin farm?"
"I'm still in negotiations with Mr. Westin," Carlos said. "He wants a premium price for the land, but the market won't support what he's asking. I hope we can come to a mutually agreeable price sometime this week."
"How much does the trust want for that property?" I asked. He told me. "That's about what I thought it might be. Lower would always be better, but that's reasonable. Do it and let me know if you can reach an agreement with Westin."
"Will do, Crane. I'll call you as soon as I know anything."
The cleaning crew looked in through the door to my office. They needed to clean the room and I needed to vacate. I decided to go play a round of golf. Spring break was coming up in a couple of weeks and I didn't want to embarrass myself when I played with Joel on the new course in Las Vegas. I knew that River Crossing was closed on Monday, so I decided to drive to Canyon Lake Golf Course and see if I could join a group.
The group the starter put me with to fill out a foursome was made up of three retirees, George, Harold and Kent. I thought I did well to remember their first names. They were a jovial bunch and although they took their golf seriously, they had great senses of humor and it made for a very enjoyable round of golf. I played fairly well. I felt better after the round that I would not make a fool of myself in Las Vegas.
By the time I got back to the house it was time to get in the van and head to the school to pick up the kids. I was a few minutes early and I saw Pauline waiting for John and his sisters, so I went to talk to her. It had been a while since I had spoken to her and we brought each other up on our lives and that of the boys. She hadn't found anyone after her "encounter" with the married doctor and she seemed to be happy with that. When I saw Peter and William coming out of the school, I said goodbye to her and went to start gathering up the kids.
"Dad! Dad!" Larry yelled as he and the rest of the three musketeers ran up to me.
"What are you so excited about?" I asked, trying to look around the papers the three of them were waving in front of my face.
"There's a 5k run for charity and we want to do it," Chris said.
"When and where?" I asked.
"It's a week from this Saturday in San Marcos," Lenny answered.
"Is that what those papers are about?"
"Yes," they all answered.
"Let me take a look at them when we get home and then we'll talk about it. Okay?" They nodded and climbed into the van, chattering away excitedly.
The after school snacks came first, of course. Afterward, the three of them brought the papers that they had been holding at school to the breakfast table where I was sitting. I took one of the papers and read the information. It was a charity run for cancer. I knew right then why they wanted to participate.
"Do you know how long 5 kilometers is?" I asked.
"Sure," Chris said, "it's about 3.1 miles. We learn all about the metric system in math class."
"And you believe you can run that far?"
"We run about that far almost every day," Larry said. "We probably run more than that playing tennis."
"It says you need to get sponsors to donate money. I suppose you have someone in mind?"
"Yeah, we were hoping you might sponsor us. Maybe Donald as well," Chris said. "Do you think he might?"
"You will have to ask him yourselves. As for me, I will gladly sponsor you three. It says you need to get $100 in pledges to run," I said. "I think I can afford that."
"Thanks, dad," Chris said, giving me a hug, "it means a lot to me."
"You're welcome, son. I know it does," I said. "Now, Donald is in the living room, why don't you go ask him about being a sponsor?"
I watched as the boys each made part of the pitch to Donald. I was standing in the doorway out of sight of the boys but visible to Donald. He looked up and I caught his eye and gave him a nod.
"I think that is a great thing to do," Donald said. "It's a very worthy cause and I will be happy to sponsor you. When do you need the money?"
"We have to turn in our pledges a week from Wednesday," Chris said. "And, thank you, sir."
"Thank you from us, too," Larry said.
"How are your running shoes?" I asked when the boys finished talking to Donald.
"Mine are okay," Chris said,
"Mine are getting a little tight. I can feel my toes touch the ends," Lenny said.
"Mine, too," echoed Larry.
"Why don't you go put them on and run around the track a few times to see if we need to get you some new ones?"
"Here're our sign-up sheets," Chris said, handing me three sheets of paper. "You need to sign your name and how much you are sponsoring us for. Can you have Donald do it, too?"
"Sure thing," I said.
A few minutes later the three of them came down the stairs and headed out to run a few laps.
"Can we run, too?" TJ asked when he saw his brothers take off running.
"I don't see why not. Go put on your shoes and join your brothers," I said.
Peter and William followed TJ up the stairs to their bedroom. They soon came down ready to run. I followed them outside to watch. The three musketeers had set a moderate pace that I thought would probably be good for a 5K run. The track, more like a path around the level field they used for soccer and playing Frisbee, was a little less than a quarter mile per circuit. That meant they would have to go around the track a little over 12 times to practice for the 5K run.
The three younger boys soon fell behind their older brothers and after they had completed two and a half laps, they dropped out and watched the others run. Chris called out the number of laps they had run as they passed us. They stopped when the count reached 10. They were breathing hard, but were not gasping for breath.
"Great job guys," I said. "Tomorrow I'll join you. I've gotten out of the habit of jogging. I guess I'm getting lazy in my old age." That brought a giggle from Chris and the twins.
"Over the hill at 34," Lenny said in a stage whisper.
"You'll think over the hill," I said, "when I beat you tomorrow."
"Maybe we should give him a head start," Larry added to their mirth.
I hadn't noticed that Donald had come out until I heard him laughing. "I think you need to join us tomorrow and we'll see if you're over the hill as well," I told him.
"You're on," he said. "We'll show these three whippersnappers who's over the hill."
"Hey, guys, you need to go shower before supper," I said. "We don't want a bunch of sweaty boys at the table."
Later as we were eating, I asked the twins how the shoes felt when they ran. The consensus was that new ones were in order. I told them to find running shoes on the internet that they liked and I would go into San Antonio tomorrow and get them pairs that matched. In answer to Chris' unspoken question, I said I would get him new shoes as well.
Thirty minutes after the supper dishes were in the dishwasher and the boys had gone back upstairs to their room, Lenny called down the stairs and asked me to come up.
"We found what we want," he said, as I entered their room. "See."
The pairs that they had chosen were reasonably priced, compared to some that I had seen in the stores. "Do you all want the same?" They all nodded. "Okay, then, let's see what sizes we need. Hand me that pad and pencil and I'll write them down, I'd hate to get the wrong sizes." I added one size to the twins' shoes. Chris still had plenty of toe room left in his, so I wrote down his current size. I also printed out a picture of the shoes they wanted so that I would get the right ones tomorrow. "Homework time, now, guys." I left them to it and went back downstairs.
Tuesday morning after I had dropped the kids off at school, I headed into San Antonio to shop for shoes. I parked the van in the NorthStar Mall parking lot and went inside the mall. It was still early and there were not many shoppers who had arrived as yet. That was a relief, I hated crowds. I found the large, sporting goods store and went in and found the athletic shoe department. I browsed around looking for the shoes that matched the picture I was carrying. I didn't see them or a salesperson. I looked around for ten or so minutes and still didn't run across anyone to help me, so I left the store and went down to the end of the mall to a major department store. As soon as I entered the shoe department, I was greeted by a salesman. I showed him the picture and he immediately led me to where the matching shoes were. I told him I needed three pair and gave him the sizes. While he went to retrieve them from the stockroom, I browsed the other running shoes on display. On a whim, I decided to get a new pair for myself. I picked up a display shoe that had caught my eye and examined it. It appeared to have a lot of built-in support. When the salesman returned, I told him I wanted another pair and pointed out the one I wanted and gave him my size. He returned and rang up the sale. I picked up the two bags containing the four boxes of shoes and headed for the van. I left a very pleased and smiling salesman to have made this large of a sale this early in the day.
When I got back to the house, Gilda told me that Carlos had called. I took the three pair of shoes to the boys' room and dropped the other pair off in my bedroom before returning Carlos' call.
"Carlos, it's Crane," I said, when he answered the phone. "What have you got for me?"
"Good news, I think," he said. "The Truman Trust accepted an offer $10,000 less than they had asked. I have faxed the executor the written offer we agreed to and he said he would have it signed and in my hands later today."
"That's good," I said.
"That's not all," Carlos said. "Mr. Westin has made a counter offer on his farm that is more in line with the market. I told him I would discuss it with you and get back to him." He told me the amount of the offer. "I don't think he's willing to go any lower. Do you want me to go ahead and accept it?"
"If that's the best we can do, then let's go ahead," I said. "I'm going to have a couple farmers "over the moon" when I tell them."
"Do you want these purchased for CBJ Properties?"
"Yes, that's what the other three properties out there are owned by," I said. "Let me know when it's all signed, sealed and delivered."
"Will do," Carlos said.
The first thing the three musketeers asked when I picked them up from school was, "Did you get the shoes?"
"Yes, they're in your room," I said. "You can try them on when you get home."
They did just that. Even before they came down for their after school snack, I could hear them making typical teenage remarks about the shoes. The three of them came down the back stairs with them on and ready to go for another training run. They did, however, take time out to have the fruit that Gilda had put out for the boys. I had asked her not to have anything that would sit heavy in their stomachs as they ran.
By the time they had eaten, Donald and I were ready to run with them. "We're going to run a few laps and then we'll stop and I want you to let me know how the shoes are fitting. I wouldn't want you to get blisters." With that we were out the door, heading for the track.
After the third lap we stopped and they reported that the shoes were fitting just fine. That took less than a minute and we were back running laps. Both Donald and I were tiring by the time we had completed nine more laps, but we were not going to quit and be razzed by them. The boys had easily done all twelve laps and probably could have gone on for several more, but I think they didn't want to show up the "over the hill gang".
"Great job, guys," I said, breathing hard. "You should have no trouble in finishing the 5K. The weather forecast for tomorrow is rain, so we probably will not be able to run. You can still use the equipment in the exercise room. There will be plenty of chances to do more training laps before the race. Now, off to the showers!"
The forecasters were right for a change; it rained all day long on Wednesday. The total rainfall for the 24 hour period was a little over four inches. It would probably be a couple of days before we could run on the track again. It would need time to dry out.
I grabbed my golf umbrella as I got into the van on my way to pick up the kids from school. I got there early and was able to get a parking spot that was close to the end of the sidewalk leading from the school door. As I saw each group of the kids exiting the building, I would rush up to them and lead them to the van under the protection of the large umbrella. It kept us mostly dry. It took me five trips to get everybody into the van.
Thursday morning, I got a surprise call from Jeremy. He called to make sure it would be all right if he took some of his things to Houston and put them in the townhouse. "Of course, it's all right," I said. "That's why I gave you a set of keys and a garage-door opener. You're free to go there at any time. All I ask is that you make sure the lights are turned off, the alarm is set and the doors are locked when you leave."
"I'm going to meet my sister in Houston on Friday evening. She's interviewing with a company there and wants to see where I'll be living. I don't think she believed me when I described it to her."
"She's welcome to stay the weekend there with you, unless she has to get back to college," I said.
"I imagine she'll want to stay Friday night and get back to school on Saturday. She has to defend her Master's Thesis in a couple of weeks and it's freaking her out," Jeremy said.
The call had barely been terminated when the phone rang again. It was Carlos. "Good news, Crane. I have two signed contracts for the properties. Closing should be in about thirty days. It will take that long for the surveys and title searches to be completed. I don't see any problems on the horizon for either one of them. The Truman property has been owned by the Truman family since shortly after Texas became a state in 1845 and the Westin property has been in the family for nearly 100 years, so there are good claims on the land."
"Thanks, Carlos," I said. "You have Power of Attorney for CBJ Properties, so you can handle the closing. Just let me know when I own them. I think I'll make a surprise visit to the farm and let a couple of anxious farmers hear the good news. Keep in touch if there is anything you need me to do. Oh, would you ask that executor if it would be possible to lease the property starting today through closing? I know the guys would like to start working the land right away. If they wait until after closing, it'll be getting a little late to plant."
"Will do. It shouldn't be a problem. I'll keep you informed," Carlos said and hung up.
I told Gilda that I probably would not be back for lunch before taking the Town Car and starting for the ranch. When I pulled into the drive, I noticed that the old house had been completely torn down and all that was left was the concrete slab. As I got out of the car, Rosie hollered at me from the front steps of the temporary housing where they now lived.
"Crane, come on in here. I just made a fresh pot of coffee."
"Thank you, I could use one," I said. I checked my shoes to make sure I had not picked up any mud on my way from the car and found that I had, so I slipped them off just inside the door. "How do you like your temporary quarters?"
"It's great. We have so much more room. We've got a bedroom, there's one for the baby and Bert has his. What more could we ask for?" she said.
"They should start on the new house any day now, I hope," I said.
"Monday, is what they told us," Rosie said. "Won't you stay for lunch? Jessica had to go into town for a meeting, so I'm the cook today. Charlie, Jason and Ian should be here in twenty minutes or so."
"Thank you, I accept," I said. "I need to talk to them anyway. I was hoping to see them while I was here. Where's Bert?"
"He has two classes this morning and one later this afternoon. It's too much of a hassle to drive home and then back to his afternoon class. He just goes to the library and studies. He'll catch a sandwich at the Union."
We chatted as she went about working in the kitchen. It wasn't long before the three farmers came in the door. "Is that Crane's car?" Charlie asked as he pulled off his shoes.
"Yes, it's mine. I came to give you the bad news," I said, trying mightily to keep from smiling.