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© 2014 - 2015 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 11

The looks on the three men's faces were priceless. I held my serious facial expression as long as I could before I started to laugh. Their expressions changed from shock or disappointment to one of, "are you crazy?"

"I'm sorry, guys. I couldn't help myself from pulling a little prank on you," I said. "Both of the properties will be part of the ranch within about thirty days."

"Fantastic," Charlie said. "That's cutting it awful close, though. We're already planting on the two farms now."

"I've asked to see if the Truman Trust will allow us to begin farming that land on a rental basis until we close on the land. If one of you will introduce me to Mr. Westin after lunch, maybe we can make the same arrangements with him," I said.

Ian held up his hand and said, "I volunteer. I've talked to him several times recently, but he didn't tell me he had actually sold his farm."

"The next thing you all need to do is to figure out if more machinery is necessary to farm all the land," I said. "You might want to look at what Mr. Westin has to see if it is in good enough condition. If it is, I'll see if he wants to sell it. If not we can always get new."

"All right, you men, get yourselves washed up, your dinner will be on the table in two minutes whether you're there or not," Rosie said with a smile.

The four of us headed for the two bathrooms to wash our hands. Although I'm sure that she said it as a joke, she also meant it, I had no doubt. The talk at the table was all about the new land and what crops would be planted and farming details that were as Greek to me as I'm sure the acronyms and buzz words that I used to use when I was in the consulting business. Their excitement did not keep them from eating the delicious meal Rosie had prepared for us.

After lunch, Ian was ready to go see Mr. Westin almost before I had thanked Rosie for the meal.

On the way to the Westin property in my car, Ian said, "I guess I had better call Lionel and tell him to get packed up and on his way. He's been calling me several times a week wanting to know if I've heard anything."

"You never said what Lionel does for a living now," I said.

"He's got a job with an insurance company in Waco in their loss prevention department," Ian said. "He's got a degree in Business Administration, but what he really loves is farming."

"Well his degree should be useful running the farm. It is a business," I said.

"Yeah," Ian said, with a smile in his voice, "he can do all that paperwork that I hate doing."

"I'm sure you'll find other things for him to do," I said.

"I'll think of something," he responded. "Turn in right here."

Mr. Westin was agreeable to leasing his land to us so that the guys could get started with the planting on it as well as the other properties. He said that a written contract for the lease was not necessary. I reminded him there was an old saying in Texas that "a verbal contract was not worth the paper it was written on." He laughed at that, but said that in his time a man's word was worth something. I shook his hand to cement the agreement.

When I brought up his farm equipment, he laughed, "That junk ain't worth nothing. It probably wouldn't last through another planting season."

While we had been talking, Ian had gone to the equipment shed to take a look at the contents. On the way back to his place, he confirmed that it was really not worth trying to use. I told him to get with Charlie and Jason and figure out what equipment they would need and to get me a list.

"We'll fax it to you tonight," he said as he exited my car. I shook my head and started for home.

True to their word, about eight that evening, I heard the fax machine beep indicating that a fax had finished printing. I went to my office and retrieved the printout. I had just sat down at my desk when the phone rang. "I got the fax," I said as I picked up the phone.

"How did you know it was us?" Charlie asked.

"Who else would be calling?" I chuckled. "Who else is anxious to get started planting that increased acreage? And besides, there is such a thing as caller ID."

"Yeah, you're right. We are sorta anxious," he said. "Have you had a chance to look at what we sent?"

"I just took it from the fax machine tray, but now that you're on the phone we can go over it." For the next twenty minutes or so that's what we did and at the end of that time I gave them the go ahead to get the equipment ordered and delivered. I would contact the farm equipment store to authorize the purchases. "And I'm sure you won't forget to get the seed, fertilizer and insecticide," I said. "Have that stuff charged to the farm account and we'll take care of the bill, as usual."

"Dad, we think the track looks like it'll be dry enough to run on tomorrow after school," Chris said to me as I was coming out of my office.

"I'll check to make sure before I come pick you guys up from school, but I think you're probably right," I said. "Do you have any sore muscles from all that running?"

"Not me," Chris said. "I was a little stiff the first couple of days, but I wasn't sore."

"Me neither," Lenny offered.

"Me too," Larry added.

"Next week, I want you three to take a couple of days off from running, especially Friday. You'll want your leg muscles to be fully recovered and fresh for Saturday's 5K," I said.

"That's what our coach said," Larry said. "He said to drink plenty of fluids before and to grab some water at the stations along the route. I guess that's what you're supposed to do, but we run that far every afternoon and we never need water in the middle of our run."

"Maybe we should practice grabbing a cup of water from one of us just like the volunteers that will be manning the water stations," I said. "I'm sure that TJ, Peter and William would be happy to be our volunteers to do that."

The next afternoon we did practice grabbing a paper cup of water from TJ, Peter, William and even Lenore. I had showed them how to hold the cups and to let go as soon as a runner had grabbed it. We had decided that on the sixth lap was when the water would be held up for us to grab. Since there were five runners, counting Donald and me, TJ was tasked with holding out two cups. It was a good thing that we really didn't need the water, because it was a comedy of errors. Timing the release of the cups was a skill that escaped the three, male volunteers. They either released the cups too soon or held onto them and caused the water to spill out. Surprisingly, Lenore did it perfectly on the first try, for which her dad picked her up, praising her and carried her for a lap. She giggled all the way around, holding on tightly to her dad's neck.

"Man," Donald said, putting Lenore down, "I think I've had it. Carrying Lenore for a lap really wore me out. An extra 30 pounds or so is more than I would want to carry in a race." He sat down on the ground beside his daughter and watched the rest of us finish our laps.

"Dad," Larry said, "can we ask a couple of our friends over tomorrow to play tennis?"

"Do I know these friends?" I asked.

"Yeah, they were here before," he said.

"Oh, what're their names?"

"Andy Nelson and Corey Denton, they were here with Ralph before, but we know that Ralph is going camping with his dad. They all go to our school now and are going to tennis camp when school's out," Larry said.

"You can invite them. What time do you want them to come?"

"Maybe ten o'clock?" Larry asked.

"That's fine," I said. "If you plan on going swimming as well as playing tennis, I had better turn the pool heater on tonight so it will be warm by tomorrow afternoon. Why don't you guys go call them to see if they can come? Make sure it's okay with their parents."

"Thanks, dad, we will," he said and scampered away.

About twenty-five minutes later, Chris came back to where I was sitting in the living room and said that Andy and Corey would be here around ten tomorrow morning.

"Did their parents say it was okay?" I asked.

"Yeah, they're going to bring them," Chris said. "Corey's mom said she would be here to pick him up at four. Andy needs a ride home. He said his mom wants him home in time for supper. Can you take him home?"

"That won't be a problem," I said. "Do you know where he lives?"

"It's a couple of streets over from where Ricky lives," Larry volunteered.

The next morning, the three musketeers were anxiously waiting by the TV showing the gate area. As soon as they saw a car drive in, they activated the gate opener and ran to the front door to welcome their first friend. I heard the commotion and followed them. The first to arrive was Andy. He jumped out of the car almost before it stopped. He grabbed his tennis racket and started talking a mile a minute to the boys. His mother, Grace Nelson, stepped out of the car and came around to greet me. We spoke briefly and I agreed to have Andy home by around five-thirty. As she started to drive away, a second car drove in.

Much the same routine was followed with Corey. His mother, Marsha Denton, said that she was in a hurry, but that she or her husband would pick up Corey at four. It seemed that they had an anniversary party planned for her sister at their house later that evening. I think she was happy to have Corey out from under her feet while she made all the arrangements for the party.

The boys had already dressed in their tennis clothes, so all five of them went directly to the tennis court and started warming up. I stood on the back patio and watched their goings on. When five teenage boys get together anything can happen. They were laughing and trash talking and generally having a great time. Soon they paired off and began playing some serious tennis. Anyone who was not engaged in the match was tasked with calling the lines. When they switched to doubles, the one left on the sidelines only called the service line.

The weather was cooperating with the boys' activities. The temperatures were in the low 70's and the sun was shining in the clear skies.

It was almost a shame to breakup their fun when it came time for lunch, but they didn't complain. I reminded them to wash up before they sat down to the lunch that Gilda had prepared for them. The rest of us joined them and listened to the interplay of the five. There was still a lot of trash talk, but as far as I could tell, there were no off-color remarks at the table or on the tennis court. I was aware that boys of that age had heard every swear word imaginable. Neither Donald nor I used that kind of language around the boys and I had never heard anything stronger than 'damn' from them. For that I was proud. I always thought that swearing was the refuge of a small mind.

After lunch the boys played with the dogs for about an hour, before Lenny came and asked if they could go for a swim.

"Did Andy and Corey bring their suits?" I asked.

"No, but they can use our extras," he said.

"Sure, go ahead," I said. "The water should be warm enough."

It wasn't long before there were eight boys in the pool, racing or dunking each other and having a great time. Joel was studying for his last CBE that he was to take a week after we returned from Las Vegas. Donald and I sat on the side of the pool trying to make sure that the horseplay did not get too rough. I was glad that Lenore was visiting Jeannie and Ginny or she might have wanted to get in the water also.

Much too early for Corey, I reminded him that one of his parents would be here shortly, as it was approaching four o'clock. The five older boys climbed out of the pool and went inside to shower and change. I followed them in and decided to make a phone call while they were showering. Donald and the three youngest remained in the pool.

When the boys came downstairs, I stopped my three and asked, "Did you wipe up any water that got splashed on the floor?"

"Yeah," Larry said. "We even dropped the wet towels down the laundry chute."

"That's great," I said. "I'm proud of you guys."

They went out the front door and sat on the steps waiting for Corey's ride to come. A few minutes after four a car drove up the driveway. In it was Corey's dad. I had never met him. At the time that the boys were here he was on assignment overseas. He stopped the car and got out. I approached him and introduced myself.

"I'm Lanny Denton," he said, shaking my hand. "Did Corey behave himself today?"

"Yes, he did," I answered. "I think they had a great time. They were no trouble at all."

"Good, when Marsha said how many boys you were going to have here, I expected a full scale riot," he joked.

"No way," I said. "They kept too busy to cause any problems. Corey's welcome to come back anytime."

"Well, son, we had better head back home. Your mom is tearing her hair out getting this fool party arranged," Lanny said.

"Hey, dudes, I'll see you at school on Monday," Corey said. "Had a blast."

Andy and the boys went back inside and up to their bedroom to play games on the computers. I hoped when it was time to take Andy home that I would be able to drag them away from those addictive games. I had followed them upstairs and stopped at Joel's open-door. "Son, when we take Andy home, would you like to tag along? I called Marie and said we were going to be in their neighborhood and thought we would drop by for a few minutes. It's been a while since we have seen them. I'm sure that Ricky would be happy to see you."

"Sounds like fun. It has been a while since I've seen the little munchkin," Joel said, smiling. "What time are you going?"

"Andy has to be home by five-thirty, so we'll leave around five. That should get him home on time," I said.

I went back downstairs and out to the pool where the rest of the boys and Donald were. It looked as if they were having fun with Donald tossing them up to splash down in the water. I watched for a few minutes before I got Donald's attention. I motioned him over to the side of the pool.

"Thanks, I needed a break," Donald said, hopping up to a sitting position on the side of the pool.

"I've got to take Andy home around five. I'll be taking all the boys. Do you want to come along? We're going to be stopping for a brief visit at Dirk and Marie's house since it's in the same neighborhood," I said.

"If you'll take William, I'll stay here with Lenore," he said. "I need to make a few important phone calls sometime this evening and that will be as good a time as any."

A few minutes before five, I went to tell Andy that it was time to get his things together and for us to leave. Donald had seen to it that those in the pool had enough time to shower and dress. Joel heard the commotion and came out of his room.

"How's the studying coming along?" I asked.

"Okay," he said with a sigh. "I'll be glad when it's over."

"This is your last one, so you can relax a little afterwards."

"Yeah, I'll only have finals to worry about."

Everybody got settled into the van and we took off for Andy's house. I was fairly familiar with the area, but when we got to the subdivision, I asked Andy to direct me to his street. It was, in fact, only three streets away from the Soznowski's. No one came out of the house as we drove up, so I got out of the van and went with Andy to the front door to make sure that his parents knew that he was home.

Andy opened the door and hollered, "Mom, I'm home."

I waited until I saw his mother appear, wiping her hands on a kitchen towel. I waved at her and turned to go back to the van.

A few minutes later we were piling out of the van at Ricky's house. He must have been watching out of the window, because he came flying out of the front door and when he saw Joel he made a leap into Joel's outstretched arms. His prosthesis did not seem to hinder his running.

"Hey, munchkin, it's been a long time since I've seen you," Joel said.

"I'm not a munchkin, I'm a boy," Ricky said, giggling.

"Yes, and you're getting to be a heavy boy, too," Joel said. "You must weigh a ton."

By this time the other boys had gathered around the two. It was pandemonium for a few minutes until everyone had been greeted. Marie soon came out of the house to greet us.

"I'm sorry Dirk's not here. He had a company golf outing," she said. "He should be here around six. Come on in, Rosemarie is still napping. She should be getting up; otherwise she won't go to sleep when we want her to tonight."

"We can't stay but a few minutes. I thought it would be a good time to stop and let the boys see Ricky. We had to drop Andy Nelson off at his house," I said. "Do you know the Nelsons? They live a few streets over."

"I've met Grace Nelson. She's nice," Marie said. "I met her when I took Rosemarie in her stroller for a walk around the neighborhood. I do that when the weather's nice. I don't know the husband, but some of the other neighbors say he drinks a lot."

"How have you been? Are you still taking classes toward your degree?"

"We're all fine," Marie answered. "I still take a class or two most semesters, if I can work it into our schedule. The way things are going, I'll be old and grey by the time I get my degree."

"It may seem as if it's taking forever, but it's worth it in the long run," I said.

About that time we could hear that Rosemarie was awake and demanding attention. "I'll bet she needs her diaper changed," Marie said. "I'll be back in a few minutes."

"My, she has grown since the last time I saw her," I said, as Marie handed her to me to hold.

"The doctor says she is going to be a big girl. Takes after her daddy."

"How does Ricky handle his baby sister?" I asked.

"He loves her to death, except when she has a dirty diaper," Marie laughed. "He won't come near her then."

"I can't say that I blame him," I said. "I think we had better be getting back home. Gilda will have our supper waiting for us if we don't get there soon. We're leaving for Las Vegas two weeks from today, but why don't you all plan to come over some time, either before or after. I'm sure that Hildy would love to see Rosemarie again, and you know how much the boys love Ricky."

"We'll try to work something out and I'll give you a call," Marie said, taking Rosemarie from me. "Thanks for stopping by."

I gathered up the boys and we headed for home. I thought that Ricky was going to get in the van with us, but Marie put a stop to that.

Sunday, as usual, we went to ride the horses. When we got there Bert was saddling up the boys' horses and leading them out of the stables. As soon as their horse appeared, they immediately mounted up and took off for the back of the pasture. I was not too concerned because they were all experienced riders. Thankfully Peter and William's horses were the last to appear, except for Donald's and my horses.

As we were waiting for our horses to be saddled, Ian and another man rode up on two of the quarter horses. They stopped, dismounted and walked to us.

"Crane, Donald, this is my friend Lionel Madison," Ian said. We shook his hand and then Ian continued, "He was so anxious to get back to farming that he told his boss he was taking two weeks' vacation and turned in his notice that he was quitting at the same time."

Lionel blushed and said, "I was sick and tired of having to wear a suit and tie every day. I'm a farm boy and feel more comfortable in a pair of Levis, a plaid shirt and a pair of boots. I must say, that I surely love riding these quarter horses. I haven't had a chance to ride in at least six months."

"Welcome to our little slice of heaven," I said. "When we come out here, all the world is left behind and we can totally relax. I would introduce you to our sons, but they are in the back of the pasture, probably racing each other. You're welcome to join them. The little girl you may have seen going into the house is Donald's daughter. She's always torn between riding with her dad and playing with the babies. Somehow I think the babies usually win."

"She keeps asking if we can get a baby of our own," Donald said. "But that's not going to happen."

We mounted up and went to see what the boys were doing. As we suspected, they were racing. Later when it started getting dark, I signaled the boys it was time to take care of their horses before we headed for home.

The next week was fairly routine. On Wednesday, the 5K entrants took their pledge sheets to school and were given detailed instructions on where and when to arrive at the starting line for their age group. We had run every evening through Wednesday. I convinced the boys to rest until Saturday when they would run the real race. Instead of running, we swam for an hour each evening.

I had been out of the habit of exercising until the boys started running. Before the boys came into my life I ran and/or swam on a daily basis. Even after I had adopted them, I still swam every morning that the weather permitted. It was this activity that helped Chris bond with me when he first came to live with us. He would get up early to swim with me. I don't know exactly how or why I had stopped the routine. If I had to blame it on anything, it was the responsibility for raising six young boys with only Hildy's help. They took a lot of my time. It was a poor excuse and I vowed to correct my laziness.

We had to be at the Outlet Mall in San Marcos by eight Saturday morning. The boys had to sign in and be assigned an RFID tag to record their finish time. The tag was attached to one of their shoe strings. Each tag had a unique identifier that would be relayed to a computer when they crossed a sensor placed on the ground across the finish line. These had to be returned after they finished the race. Joel, Donald and I made sure that the tags were securely attached to their shoes.

The boys' age-group was to start at 8:30. Their group included ages 12 through 15 and were to be arranged by age at the starting line, with the 15 year-olds in the front and the 12 year-olds at the back. I guess the thought by the organizers was the older boys would run the fastest, which made sense. Each boy in the race was given a number with their age on it that was pinned to the back of their shirt. This was to make it easy to tell which group was finishing and to make lining them up easier.

"Alright, guys," I said. "Remember what I told you. Don't get caught up in trying to beat everyone in your group. You could end up expending too much energy and it could cost you later in the race. The object for you in this 5K run is to have fun and to raise money for cancer research. Keep the pace that you have set at home and finish the race. Winning is not the goal, just do your best. Okay?"

"Sure, dad," Chris said. "I'm doing this for Susan."

The starting official called for the runners to get into their age-group. There were four volunteers, each holding up a sign that indicated where the different ages were to assemble. Surprisingly getting the different ages in their proper place went very smoothly.

It was 8:32 by the clock at the starting line when the starter fired his pistol. For the next half hour we would have to wait. I looked around to see if there were someplace we could go for coffee for Donald and me and something for our non-runners. There was a fast food place back toward I-35 that might have something that would make the waiting go faster. We only had a quick breakfast at home before we left. The boys and Lenore thought having another breakfast was great. We were in and out of the restaurant in less than twenty minutes and back at the finish line waiting for the three musketeers.

The age-group that had started 15 minutes before theirs was just finishing when we arrived. As close as I could tell from the clock, their times were around 30 minutes, with some stragglers coming in closer to 35 minutes.

It wasn't long before a lone runner from the boys' group finished his run. It was announced later that his time was 26 minutes and 31 seconds. I noted that he had the number 15 pinned to his shirt. It was another two minutes before a group of five runners crossed the finish line. About a minute behind that group was a larger group that included the three musketeers. We applauded as they crossed the finish line and cheered each one by name.

When the times were posted for their group, their times were all under 31 minutes. That meant they had run something just under 10 minutes per mile. That was a little faster than what we were running at home, but competition will sometimes spur you on to achieve a faster time.

After they had turned in their assigned RFID tag, they came running to us. I gave them a group hug and told them how proud I was of them. All they said in return was, "We're hungry."

"You're always hungry," I said. "What do you want to eat?"

"I saw a McDonalds across the highway when we drove in here," Lenny said. "They have tables outside where you can eat. We could get the Big Breakfast with Hotcakes."

"Ooh, that sounds good," Larry agreed. "I think I could eat two of them."

"Me, too," Chris said.

"Let's start with one," I said.

We climbed into the van and drove through the I-35 underpass to get to the McDonalds. Instead of going inside to get the food, we went to the drive-up window. The three boys got the meal they wanted while the rest of us only got something to drink. We found a free table, two in fact, and the boys ate their meal as if they hadn't eaten in a week.

"Still want another one?" I asked.

"I think I'm good," Larry said.

"Me, too," Lenny and Chris said at the same time.


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