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© 2014 - 2016 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 27

"Okay, guys," I said, leading them to Lenny's bed. "Sit down here and tell dad about it." Lenny and Larry sat on my left and Chris on my right. I had my arms around all three. "How well did you know Barry Wright?"

"He was in our class," Chris volunteered through his sniffles.

"He was really smart and he could sing real good," Larry added. "But he was real shy."

"And he had a bad leg and couldn't run," Lenny said. "He limped."

"Did he have any friends?" I asked.

"Yeah, everybody liked him, but only one best friend," Chris said. "He was kinda funny sometimes."

"He liked to tell jokes, if it was just one person and him," Larry said. "He had a funny laugh that made you laugh with him."

"Did any of you talk to him today at school?"

"I did," Lenny said. "We were working on a project together."

"How did he seem?"

"He was quieter than usual," Lenny said. "But we were working on our project and I just thought he was concentrating on it."

"He sat at our table at lunch," Larry said. "Lenny and I talked to him. So did George."

"Is that the George Kent who called to tell you about what happened?" I asked.

"Yeah, George was his best friend," Larry said. "They live right next door to each other."

"How about his family, did he have any brothers or sisters? Did he ever talk about his parents?"

"I think he had a little sister," Chris said. "He mentioned her once. I don't think she was in school yet."

"How about parents?"

"I never heard him talk about his mom or dad," Larry said. "I never saw them at school. He rode the school van home."

"Did he ever say anything about hurting himself?"

"No, I never heard him say anything like that," Chris said.

"Not to me," Lenny said.

"No," Larry said.

"I just thought," Lenny said. "Now I have to do our project all on my own ... Oh, I'm sorry, that wasn't a nice thing to say."

"No," I said, "that is a very natural thing to say. Don't feel bad about that at all. You've lost a classmate and a friend and some things are not making sense for the moment. When you're feeling stress, sometimes you say things that you don't really mean."

We talked for another fifteen or twenty minutes about their memories of their friend, and I tried to get them to concentrate on the positive things that they could think of about Barry. They even laughed at some of the silly jokes that he told when they told them to me.

"Guys, I want you to listen to me. There is nothing that you could have done to have prevented this terrible thing from happening. It is not your fault," I said. "Sometimes people are hurting inside and can't see any easy way of relieving that hurt. It is unfortunate that sometimes they take the only way out they feel will stop the hurt. We may never know what it was that was hurting Barry. Now, it's alright for you to feel sad for your friend, but don't let it dominate your feelings. Remember the good things about Barry. Remember what we talked about and things such as the way he laughed his funny laugh. Above all, it was not your fault. Okay?"

"Yeah, dad," all three of them answered.

"Why don't you go take your showers and get ready for bed? It's almost time." I gave each of them a hug and sent them to their bathroom.

I went back downstairs and told Donald what I had learned. He shook his head in dismay.

"Such a waste for someone so young to take his own life," he said. "Did the boys give you any clue as to what caused him to do it?"

"No," I answered. "The only thing I learned was that he was quiet today while he was working on a joint project with Lenny."

"What about school tomorrow?"

"I don't know if it's widely known at this point. Maybe I should call Headmaster Pierce to see if he has heard about it," I said. I picked up my PDA and found the number for Justin Pierce and made the call. "Mr. Pierce, this is Crane Johnson. I was wondering if you had heard of the death of one of your students."

"No," he said. "My wife and I just returned from dinner with friends and had just walked in the door when you called. Who was the student?"

"Barry Wright," I said. "What we heard was that he hanged himself sometime after school this afternoon."

"Oh, my, god! That is so sad," he said. "Has it been on the news?"

"We haven't had the TV on, but it's a little early for the ten o'clock news. What do you think ought to be done tomorrow?"

"I'll call on some counselors that I know and see if they can come to the school tomorrow and talk with the students. I'll alert our counselors to be prepared as well. I'll contact the other board members and see if we can have an emergency meeting first thing in the morning. Thank you, Crane, for bringing this to my attention. I will see you in the morning before school starts."

"Goodnight, Headmaster," I said and hung up.

"How about the younger boys? Do they know about this?" Donald asked.

"I should think not," I said. "I'm unsure as to how to let them know. I doubt that they know the boy, but I'm sure they will sense that something is wrong when they see the twins and Chris in the morning. Perhaps it would be wise to tell them that one of their brothers' friends had died and that their brothers are sad for their friend. I don't think they need to know all the gory details."

"As I recall they handled the death of Chris' special friend when that happened," Donald said. "Maybe they will handle this one as well."

"Did you send the others off to shower and get ready for bed?" I asked.

"Yes, I listened at the door where you were and could see that you were occupied and would be for a while," Donald answered. "They should be in bed by this time. Should we go up?"

"Yes, and thanks."

"Where were you?" TJ asked when we got to his bedroom.

"I was talking to your brothers," I said.

"What about?"

"I'll tell you in the morning. Now give me a hug and go to sleep," I said returning his hug and giving him a kiss on the forehead.

Peter and William followed with the same hug and kiss on the forehead. Donald repeated the process with the three. Donald said that he had already tucked Lenore in for the night, so we went on to Chris' and the twin's room.

The twins and Chris were in bed when we got there. They appeared to be in better spirits as I hugged and kissed each one on the forehead. "Good night, guys," I said before Donald and I left their room, "try to go to sleep and remember we love you."

"Good night, dad," they said and then almost as an afterthought they said, "Good night, Donald."

"I wish I could have been included in the dad part, but I guess that will come," Donald said. "At least I hope it will."

"TJ and Peter are almost there," I said. "It's taken some time for the twins and Chris to become comfortable with things and they might be thinking that you are going to steal the love that I have for them. In reality, they are still insecure. The abuse they received from their biological father, while not physical, Joel protected them and received the brunt of that, has caused them to be cautious when dealing with adult males."

Joel was still up when we got to his room. "What's going on, dad?"

I told him as much as I knew and what we intended to tell the other boys in the morning.

"That's terrible," he said. "He must have been hurting bad to do something as drastic as that. I hate to admit it but the thought had crossed my mind before we came to live with you. The only thing that kept me from doing it was the thought that my old dad would have begun to hurt my brothers. I couldn't let that happen."

"I am forever grateful that you didn't follow through on that thought," I said. "You're a great kid. You know that, don't you? I don't tell you often enough how much I love you. If you ever get that feeling or thought that you might hurt yourself, by all means talk to someone. If you're at college, you know you can always call me. It can be a very stressful time. You'll have a lot of support. Jeremy is there and so is Jimmy. It's going to be hard to let you go off to college."

"It's going to be hard for me, too," Joel said. "And I love you, too, dad. I don't think I will ever have those thoughts again. I have too much to live for now. All that bad stuff is in the past."

We hugged each other and then Donald and I left his room.

We had walked down the back stairway and were headed through the kitchen when we were confronted by Gilda. She was wearing her bathrobe and looked as if she were ready for bed. "Something's going on," she said. "Should I be aware of what it is?"

"Yes," I said. "Come into the living room and I'll fill you in." We sat down and I began telling her the story and what I thought was best to tell the younger boys in the morning.

"Oh, my," she said, shaking her head. "What about the boy's parents?"

"I don't know any other details," I said. "I'm sure that we will learn more in the morning when I take the kids to school."

"I think it would be a good idea if we talked to Hildy and Manfred to see what they should tell their girls in the morning," she said. "I'll give them a call now. They shouldn't be in bed yet." She headed back to her room to make the call. About fifteen minutes later she returned. "They said they would see if the girls knew the boy and would tell them pretty much what you planned to tell your boys."

At the breakfast table the following morning, TJ asked what I was going to tell them this morning. I tried to make my explanation as simple and straightforward as possible. TJ, being the inquisitive person he was, wasn't satisfied until I told him how Barry had died.

"Oh," he said under his breath. After a pause he asked, "Why did he do that?"

"That we don't know," I said. "Finish your breakfast and go brush your teeth."

When I dropped the kids off at the school, I went to find the Headmaster. He and a couple of the board members were in his office. After the rest of them had arrived, we started discussing the situation. No one seemed to have any more information than I had other than there would be five counselors at the school all day talking to the classes and getting feedback from the students.

Arriving back at the house later, I was greeted by Hildy, Manfred and Gilda. I poured myself a cup of coffee and sat down at the breakfast table where they were. "How did the girls take the news this morning?" I asked.

"Shocked and surprised," Hildy said. "They couldn't understand why someone would do something like that."

"Pretty much the same with the boys, other than the twins and Chris," I said. "They were closer to Barry than any of the others."

"I did learn something that may have a bearing on things," Hildy said. "I called one of my friends from church. She lives a couple of houses down from the Wrights. She sometimes babysat with four year-old Katrina. She said that the Wrights were in the process of getting a divorce and it was getting very messy. She heard that a custody battle for Barry and Katrina was very nasty. Both were charging the other with child abuse and neglect. She said, from her house, she had heard them in their back yard screaming at each other and using vile language. Once, during one of these episodes, Barry had brought Katrina to her house until things calmed down at home. Will, that's Mr. Wright, moved out of the house over the weekend."

"I can see how that might upset the poor boy," I said.

I spent the rest of the day taking care of some paperwork and handling some financial matters and contacted my broker.

The twins and Chris were still a little subdued when I picked the kids up from school. After changing out of their school uniform and having their snack, I sat down with them to check on their feelings. Although they continued to be sad for their friend, they seem to be handling it fairly well. I did learn from them that Barry's funeral was being delayed until Saturday so that his paternal grandparents could arrive. It seemed that they were missionaries in some country in Africa. They had learned all of this from their friend George. After our talk, they went out to play with their dogs. They were soon laughing and rolling around on the ground with their pets and the other boys.

I watched them closely for the next couple of days. By the time Thursday came around they seemed to be back to normal and were ready for their dance lessons. Ronnie had come home from school with the boys so he could go with them to the lessons.

The four boys were talking a mile a minute all the way to the dance studio. It was apparent that they were looking forward to the lessons. When we arrived, they went into the studio and I sat down in one of the chairs in the lounge area where I could watch them through the viewing window. It wasn't long before all the girls had arrived and the lessons started. They began the session by reviewing the dances that they had learned the week before. Using what they had learned in the box step, the instructors introduced them to the polka. That was probably because there were so many people of German heritage in the area. Next as every good Texan knows, you must learn how to line-dance. That was what they learned next. They were a little hesitant at first, but when they got into it, they really had fun doing it.

Taking Ronnie home was just as boisterous, if not more so, than the trip to the dance lesson. Ronnie's mother was not home when we arrived and I was about to take him to the neighbor's house when she drove her car into the garage.

"Sorry I'm a little late. The planning session lasted a little bit longer than expected," she said.

We said goodbye and Ronnie thanked us and we left for home.

The funeral was set for two o'clock on Saturday afternoon. I decided that only Chris and the twins needed to go and got no objections from the other three. We arrived at the fairly large Methodist Church about fifteen minutes before two. There were a number of cars in the parking lot and several young people standing around with what appeared to be their parents. The boys spoke to most of them as we made our way into the church and took seats about halfway back. Thankfully the casket was closed. There were a lot of flowers surrounding the casket, including, I assumed were the ones we had sent.

I thought the service was never going to end and I was sure that the boys felt the same. The minister spoke as did both of the missionary grandparents. I was thankful that the burial was going to be held in Fredericksburg and that we were not going to attend. I could only imagine what that would be.

"Barry would have hated that," Lenny said, as we were heading for the car.

"Why do you say that?" I asked.

"He liked it when the teacher said what needed to be said and then let us do our work," Larry added. "When Mr. Moore would go on and on, Barry would just look at the ceiling and roll his eyes. I bet he would have done the same in there."

I suppressed a smile and although I agreed with the sentiment, I said nothing.

"Can we have pizza tonight?" Chris asked as we were headed home.

"Let's see if Gilda has planned anything for supper and if she hasn't, pizza sounds good," I said.

I checked with Gilda as soon as we got home and found that she didn't have anything planned that couldn't be saved for another night. While the boys were changing out of their funeral attire, I gave Hildy a call to see if they would join us for pizza.

"I'm glad you called," Hildy said. "I was trying to figure out what to fix for supper. What time should we be there?"

"Why don't you come over around six," I said. "I thought I would send Joel and one of the boys to get the pizza so we could eat about six-thirty."

"I'll make a salad and I baked some cupcakes this afternoon so we'll have dessert," Gilda said.

Our impromptu pizza party was a success. There were only two slices of pizza left over after everybody had eaten their fill. If the cupcakes had not been in the offing, those two slices would probably have disappeared as well.

Sunday, as usual, we went to the ranch to ride the horses. Jeremy was there again when we arrived. As soon as we had greeted everybody and the boys had mounted their horses, Donald, carrying Lenore, and I went to inspect the new house. I had been notified that they had completed their work. I think that was their subtle reminder that the final payment was due. We knocked on the door of the house and it was answered by Rosie. Donald sat Lenore down and the first thing she said was, "Where's Carrie Louise?"

"Come in, come in. Carrie Louise and Elizabeth Jane are in the other room," Rosie said, pointing. "I haven't gotten all the things put away yet, but you can see how most of it looks. Could I offer you a cup of coffee?"

"Thank you, no," I said. "We just wanted to know if you were satisfied with everything. Are you babysitting today?"

"Yes, Jessica went to visit her mother in the hospital. She's not good. She seems to have given up and is going downhill fast. They had another oncologist who specializes in ovarian cancer review her files last week. I guess he confirmed that everything that could be done for her mother was being done."

"That's too bad," I said. "Have you noticed anything that is not working or that was not done to the house that's not to your satisfaction?"

"Yes, we love it. It's so much roomier than the old house. There are enough bedrooms for all of us," she said. "The only thing I have noticed, so far, is a loose tile in the master bathroom."

"Make a list of anything you think need to be fixed and get it to me in the next week or so. You can fax or email it to me and I will make sure that the builder takes care of it. You might have Ian take a look at things as well. He used to work for the builder. Have you gotten all of your things out of the temporary building?"

"Yes, I believe so," Rosie said. "I thought I would make another sweep through it tomorrow and then get it thoroughly cleaned. I don't want them to think we were messy."

"Let me know if you will need more than Monday to complete what you want to do, otherwise I will schedule for the people to come take it away."

"Where's Tracy?" Donald asked.

"He got called out about an hour ago. One of our neighbors back down towards the highway called and said one of his cows was giving birth and it was breech. He should be back any time now."

"How's everything else going?" I asked.

"No problems, I have the farrier coming on Tuesday to check over all the horses' hooves. Some of them will probably need new shoes," she said. "There's Charlie, he can probably tell you more about the planting and the rest of the farms."

"Charlie, it's good to see you," I said. "How are things going?"

"Great," he said and then spent the next ten minutes explaining everything they had planted and how many acres of each crop they had put in. It was more information than I needed, but he was so enthusiastic about it I couldn't stop him.

When he finished, I turned to Donald and said, "I think we had best go for a ride. It looks like our horses are getting restless tied up to the fence. Come ride with us Charlie, unless you have something else to do."

"I'm free. I just got back from checking on Ian and Lionel. They were mending a fence that the deer had knocked down. They should be along after while."

We spent the next hour or so riding with Charlie. About twenty minutes after we had started our ride, Ian and Lionel joined us. The three of them could not stop talking about how much they enjoyed the farm work and related more information about what was going on than either Donald or I could understand. It was gratifying that they were happy doing what they did.

When we stopped for lunch, Tracy had returned. The boys retrieved the coolers from the van and distributed the paper plates. Gilda had made a virtual pile of sandwiches that made their way quickly onto the plates along with chips, pickles, carrot sticks and potato salad. Rosie brought out a heaping platter of fudge brownies, which vanished soon after the rest of the meal had.

"Mr. Johnson," Jeremy started.

"Crane, please," I said.

"Crane, I've signed up for a summer course at Rice and I was wondering if it was alright to live in the townhouse?"

"Of course, it is," I answered. "In fact, that's a good idea. You will learn a lot about the campus and you can help Joel when he gets there this fall. I'm afraid that you're on your own as far as housekeeping services. I've got it contracted starting at the end of August."

"I think I can manage that," he said. "Maybe I can convince my girlfriend to help me keep it clean. I'm sure she would be just thrilled to do that. Not!"

"Joel and I will probably be coming down to Houston a couple of times this summer to start bringing his things. He wants to drive so that he'll know the way to get there."

"Yeah, the freeways can be a nightmare to negotiate, especially during rush hour," he said. "It seems like it's total gridlock."

The boys went back to riding after they had cleaned up and the coolers were returned to the van. I don't know how they kept all that food down with the bouncing up and down in the saddle. The adults rode at a more sedate pace.

By the time the boys had their fill of riding, the weather had turned colder. It's what Texans call a blue norther. The temperatures can drop 20 to 30 degrees in a very short time. After the horses were taken care of, we all climbed into the van and headed for home.

"Turn on the heater, dad," Lenny said.

"It's on. It'll take a minute or two for it to start putting out any heat," I said.

Everything seemed as if they were back to normal starting on Monday. In fact, after the drama of the previous week, it was almost boring. On Tuesday I went into San Antonio and picked up Joel's graduation gift. I didn't plan on giving it to him until the day of graduation. Thursday, the boys had their next to last dance lesson. This time the boys' lesson consisted of reviewing the previous dances they had learned and then the lesson turned to the more modern dances, none of which I was familiar with. Ronnie had come home with the boys for the last time. His mother would not have any more planning meetings for the summer bible school at their church the following week.

On Friday I received a call from Fenton Bigelow. He asked if Donald and I would be interested in purchasing some land that abutted our development. He described the land as L-shaped with the bottom of the L behind our land and the upright piece of the L directly to the west. The problem the owner had with the land was it did not have access to the street that ran in front of our property. His land was blocked by another piece of land owned by someone else and he was not able to negotiate a purchase of the blocking land. Fenton said that easy access to the owner's land could be made through our development.

"How much land are we talking about?" I asked Fenton.

"It's approximately 800 acres."

"Interesting," I said. "I'll need to talk to Donald about it and get back to you. How are the lot sales coming along? I haven't had time to review your latest update."

"There are still a number of unsold lots, but I expect that by early this fall virtually all of them will be sold. The inventory should be down to a handful by that time."

"I'll get back to you, probably sometime next week," I said.

Donald and I discussed the additional land later that evening. To help us in the discussion, we retrieved a plat map of the area. The area under consideration would fit nicely in with our development with one very important negative. The extra 400 to 500 lots would, when developed, put a strain on the traffic going in and out of the area through the one entrance. Unless we could acquire the land that had access to the road and add an additional entrance, it would not be feasible to handle the added traffic. We decided to ask Fenton to see if there was any way the land adjacent to the roadway could be purchased.

I called Fenton the following Monday to let him know of our decision. Without the land with road access, we would not be interested in purchasing the other property. He assured us that he would make an attempt to contact the owner and get back to us. I could almost hear the cash register in his head ringing up the commissions. As the sole agent for the property, he had made an awful lot of money. The next time we saw him he would probably be driving a Ferrari or Lamborghini.

I put the land deal out of my mind and concentrated on how the boys were dealing with Barry's suicide. I paid particular attention to Chris. He had experienced the death of two friends and classmates. If I noticed any change in his behavior, I would not hesitate to call Dr. Adam Owens to schedule an appointment for him. He had been successful helping Joel deal with his mother's death and the abuse that he had suffered at the hands of his dad.


Author's Note: Teen suicide is a growing health concern. In 2014 it was the second-leading cause of death for young people ages 15 to 24 with 5079 committing suicide, surpassed only by accidents, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. It was also the second-leading cause of death for 10 to 14 year-olds, with 425.

On a personal note, one of the suicides in the statistics listed above includes the young man with whom I spent over five years volunteering as his Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA). He tragically took his own life some four months after being adopted.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or 1-800-273-TALK(8255)


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