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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 28

The rest of the week passed without any drama. The first three days of the week, the weather was cold and rainy. The boys spent a lot of time indoors except when they were taking care of their dogs. The Xboxes, musical instruments and the exercise equipment got a lot of use. On Thursday, the boys had their last dance lesson before their school dance on Saturday. As I had anticipated, I was asked to volunteer as a chaperone for the dance. I think volunteer is not quite the way I would describe it, but I agreed in any case. Friday, Fenton called and said he was unable to get the owner of the blocking property to agree to sell, so that put a stop to any thoughts of developing the other offered property. I wasn't too disappointed as I thought we should wait to see the current development through to completion before we took on another big project.

The three musketeers were all excited as time approached for the dance. It was not a formal dress-up dance, but I insisted that they wear nice, long-sleeved, buttoned shirts and dress slacks. I was more formally dressed in a suit and tie. Before we left for the school where the dance was being held, I took several pictures of the boys, individually and as a group.

As one of the chaperones, I had to arrive early. The boys rode with me and we arrived a half hour before the 7:00 start of the dance.

"Dad," Larry asked, "what if a girl says no when I ask her to dance?"

"I don't think that is very likely," I said. "If she does, just be very polite and ask another girl. Maybe she is waiting for someone special to ask her. It might even be one of your brothers."

"Why would she want to dance with these two, when she could dance with me?" he said, dodging punches on his shoulders by the other two.

"'Cause you're the ugly one," Lenny said to his identical twin. That caused all three of them to start giggling.

"Listen, you guys," I said as we were getting out of the car at the school, "I want you to have fun tonight. You've learned to dance and I don't want to see you standing around and not dancing. If a girl turns you down when you ask her to dance, it's no big deal. If a girl asks you to dance, I expect you to be gentlemen and dance with her. It would take a lot of courage for her to ask you."

"I want to dance every dance," Chris said.

I went with the boys to the gym where the dance was going to be held. The deejay was just beginning to set up his equipment. They wandered over to watch what he was doing and were asked to help him bring in some more of his equipment from his van. There were a couple of girls in the gym, as well. I assumed they were daughters of the other chaperones. Seeing that the boys were settled, I started toward the headmaster's office to meet with the other chaperones. As I approached his office, I was met by a man that I had never met before.

"I assume you're here for the same reason I am," I said. "My name is Crane Johnson." I held out my hand and shook his.

"Yes, I got roped into this by my daughter," he said. "I'm Joe Caine. It's good to meet you. I understand you're on the board."

"Yes, I am," I said as we entered the headmaster's office where two women and the headmaster were talking. I knew one of the women, but my terrible memory for names was about to let me down again when her name popped into my conscious memory. "Mrs. Littlejohn, it's good to see you."

"Likewise, Mr. Johnson," she said. "But please call me Melody. Have you met Constance Gregory?"

We exchanged greetings and everybody agreed to use first names.

Headmaster Pierce outlined for us what our duties were for the evening. One of those duties was to check the restrooms every so often to see that nothing was going on that shouldn't be.

As we started back to the gym, I asked Melody if one or both of the girls I has seen in the gym were hers.

"Just one of them," she answered. "The redhead, Rita, is mine. The other one is Gloria Black. She's a friend of Rita's and her parents couldn't bring her so she came with us. She's going to be staying the weekend with us."

"Joe, what's your daughter's name?" I asked.

"It's Gloria. My wife is bringing her a bit later."

Before I could ask, Constance volunteered, "My husband is bringing my son, Gary, later as well."

"Well," I said, "I have three son that are here tonight, Chris, Larry and Lenny."

"Are they all the same age?" Joe asked, looking at me in surprise.

"Pretty much, Chris is a little older than the twins, but by only a few months," I answered. "All three of them are adopted."

"How in the world do you cope with all three of them?" Constance asked.

"I have a good support system," I said. "Our household has a total of eight children ranging in age from 16 down to 4."

"Did you adopt all of them?" Melody asked.

"No, I only adopted six of them," I said. "My six came from abusive homes. My partner adopted his sister's two after she died. Lenore is the only girl and the youngest one, but she has seven very protective brothers."

There was silence while that information had a chance to sink in.

"Dad," Larry said, as the three musketeers ran up to me, "you should see the stuff Conrad has."

"Who's Conrad?"

"The deejay," Chris said, as if I should have known who Conrad was. "He's got a computer hooked up that controls the music. It's really neat."

"Yeah," Lenny agreed. "Come on, you gotta see."

"Whoa! Where are your manners? I want you to meet these people. They are the other chaperones, Mr. Caine, Mrs. Littlejohn and Mrs. Gregory. These are my three sons, Chris, Lenny and Larry," I said, pointing at each of them.

The boys shook each of the chaperones' hands and uttered the appropriate responses.

"Alright now, let's go take a look at Conrad's equipment," I said and led them to where Conrad had set up his equipment. I looked around the gym as we walked and noticed several more young people had arrived. The setup that Conrad had was really quite impressive. He was about to play the first music, which turned out to be a slow number. "Okay guys, it's time to show your stuff."

They headed toward where a group of girls were standing and each one of the boys led their selected partner to the middle of the dance area. Unfortunately, that left one girl standing there by herself, but was soon rescued by Ronnie who had just arrived. "Hi, Mr. Johnson," he said, as he passed me by.

By now, it looked as though most of the classes had arrived. There were several groups of boys standing around talking. I walked up to one of the groups of four and asked, "Are you going to dance?"

I got some mumbled responses. I knew what was going through their minds. They didn't want to be rejected if they asked a girl to dance. "Look," I said, "you're supposed to be having fun tonight. You're not going to ask a girl to marry you, just dance with you for one dance." That got an embarrassed giggle from them. "It's just a dance. I'm sure you know all of the girls who are standing over there. They came here to dance, you came here to dance and it would be a shame if you went home tonight and hadn't danced at least one dance. I tell you what. Let's walk over to that group of girls and as a group you can ask them to dance. There are four of them and there are four of you. Okay?"

They nodded their heads and with a little coaxing, we started over to the girls. "Ladies, these young men would like to dance with you," I said when we had arrived, and left them standing there. I didn't look back until I had crossed to another group of boys. When I did look back, all four of the boys were leading a partner to the dance area. I did this same thing with two more groups of boys over the next two dance numbers.

"Nice," Joe said. "I can remember the first time I went to a dance and was scared to death to ask a girl to dance. I wish someone had done for me what you've done for those boys. Their egos were not on the line by what you did."

"Thanks, but it was not an original thought," I said. "One of the teachers where I went to prep school used the same trick on me and a group of my friends. By the way, have you been to check the restroom."

"Yeah, I had to go, but there wasn't anyone there when I got there. I think you had them all dancing," he chuckled.

The music over the next half hour or so, varied from the slow to fast. It seemed as if the dance floor was always fully occupied. There were few on the sidelines, but I think everyone danced most of the time. I did have to urge a couple of boys to get involved. They went and got their own partner without my help.

The deejay announced there would be a fifteen minute break. That was the first time that my three were off the dance floor.

"Are you having fun?" I asked as they gathered around me.

"Oh, yeah," Chris exclaimed. "I danced every dance. I only dance twice with one girl. The rest were with different ones."

"That's my dancing fool," I said, giving him a hug.

"I hope he plays some more fast ones," Lenny said.

"Me too," Larry added.

"Why don't you guys go get something to drink," I said. "There's some punch and cookies over there on the table."

"Yeah, I'm thirsty," Larry said. "Dancing is thirsty work."

I decided to make my rounds of the restroom. I didn't find anything out of the ordinary, so I went back into the gym.

"Crane, congratulations on getting all those boys to dance," Melody said. "Constance and I were watching what you did. I think the ice is truly broken. I was wondering ..."

"What is it?" I asked.

"Well, you know there is one girl who hasn't dance with anyone yet and I was wondering if you might be able to get one of the boys to dance with her. She's not a very pretty girl and she's very shy."

"What's her name?" I asked. "Can you point her out to me?"

"Her name is Penny Wells and that's her standing over there by the exit." Melody said.

"Let me see what I can do," I said. I had an idea, but I wasn't sure how it would play out.

I walked over to where my boys were and asked them to follow me over to a quiet spot. "Do you know Penny Wells?" I asked.

"Yeah, we all do," Lenny said. "She's really smart, but she so quiet. She never says hardly anything."

"She hasn't danced with anyone yet tonight," I said. "What do you think we should do about that?"

"You want us to ask her to dance?" Chris asked.

"It would be a nice thing if you did. I'm not going to tell you that you have to ask her, it would just be a nice thing to do."

They looked at each other and I saw a slight nod from each of them.

When the music started back up, I saw Chris heading for where Penny was standing. He spoke to her and then led her by the hand to the dance area. Her face was almost glowing. When the number was over, Lenny cut in and danced with her and then Larry did the same with the next number. Fast number started and she shook her head indicating that she didn't know how to dance to it. Chris, to his credit, saw what was happening and he brought his dance partner over and it looked as if they were going to teach her how. By the time the number was over Penny was laughing and having a good time. She was even asked to dance by a couple of other boys. I don't know if my boys had put them up to it, but what mattered was she was having a good time.

"Crane," Constance said, as she approached, "do you know how to waltz?"

"Well, I used to be able to," I said. "I haven't done it in a number of years."

"I've asked the deejay to play a waltz and I think we should show the kids how it's done," she said.

"Okay, but you had better watch your toes," I laughed.

The deejay announced the next number was going to be a waltz. That was met with groans from many of the students. Constance and I walked out on the middle of the dance area and when the music started, we began. It was surprising how quickly the dancing lessons that I had back in prep school came back to me. Shortly we were joined by the three musketeers and Ronnie along with the four girls they had taken dance lessons with. It had been a long time since I had danced and I thoroughly enjoyed it while the music played. At the end, we were given a round of applause by the kids who stayed on the sidelines.

"Thank you, Constance," I said. "It has been a long time since I've done that."

"You should do it more often," she said. "You're really quite good at the waltz."

"Way to go, dad," Chris said, as he and my three approached.

"Yeah, dad," Larry put in, "where did you learn to dance like that?"

"They didn't teach us some of those steps that you were doing," Lenny said.

"When I was going to prep school, we had to learn how to dance," I said. "We had a lot more than the four lessons that you guys had. Now, go have fun while your old dad recuperates."

The deejay kept the music going until 9:30, except for short breaks every half hour. Only a few of the students left before the music ended. Some of their parent had come early, assuming that their kids would be tired of standing around. Most of them were surprised to find their children still enjoying themselves dancing. By 9:30, almost all of the parents had arrived to pick up their kids. As one of the chaperones, I had to stay until all of the kids had been picked up and the gym had been cleaned up.

The boys helped Conrad pack up his things and haul them to his van. When he had everything stowed away, he came back in and spoke to me. "I've played at a lot of student dances, but I have never seen as many of the kids participating and having such a good time. I really enjoy it when I can look out and see the dance floor filled with happy kids."

"I'm sure that they all enjoyed your music." I said. "You had just the right mix to keep them interested." I shook his extended hand and he turned and left.

We spent a few minutes more straightening up the gym before the four chaperones, the headmaster and our children headed out the door of the gym. Headmaster Pierce locked the door and we all started for our cars. I noticed someone standing over toward the parking lot and as we got closer, I could see that it was Ronnie.

"What are you still doing here?" I asked.

"I'm waiting on my mom," he said. "She was supposed to pick me up."

"Did you try to call her?"

"No, I thought she'd be here," he said. "She's probably just running late."

"Let me try to call her," I said, pulling out my cell phone. I dialed the only number I had for Ronnie's mother, but it just kept ringing before it went to voicemail. "Does she have a cell phone?"

"Yeah," he said and gave me the number.

I dialed the number and it went immediately to voicemail.

"Come on," I said. "We'll give you a ride home and look for your mom on the way."

We were about halfway to Ronnie's house when he yelled, "Stop, that's my mom's car."

I pulled over and could see that the car had a flat tire on the front left side. I looked around, but couldn't see his mother or anyone else. I got out of the car and checked her car. There was no one in it. I was about to call the police when I heard someone yell at me. It was Ronnie's mom. She was coming up the road. Evidently she had gone to the only nearby house to call the school. That was confirmed as soon as she got to where we were.

"Mom, I was worried about you. What happened?" Ronnie asked, as he hugged his mother.

"Well, you can see I had a flat and when I tried to call your father the battery on my phone was dead. I walked back to Mr. and Mrs. Olsen's house and called your father. He's on his way to come fix the tire. Crane, I'm so glad that you brought Ronnie," she said. "I've been worried sick. I tried to call the school, but no one answered."

At that moment, a car drove up and a man got out.

"Hi, dad," Ronnie said, giving the man a hug. "Mr. Johnson gave me a ride."

"Crane Johnson," I said, extending my hand.

"Mathew Spenser," he replied. "It's nice to meet you. My son had told me how you chauffeured him around so he could learn to dance. I'm sorry I couldn't have been here to do it."

"It was no problem," I said. "The boys enjoyed having him come home with them. Do you need any help changing the tire?"

"No thank you," he said. "I have AAA on the way to take care of that. Joan, why don't you take my car and get Ronnie on home? I'll wait here until the roadside assistance gets here and drive your car home when it's fixed."

We said our goodbyes and got in the car and took off for home. I parked the car in the garage and we went inside. "Come here, guys," I said extending my arms to them. "I want to tell you how very proud I am of you three." I put my arms around the three of them in a group hug. "I think you made a young girl very happy by what you did tonight."

"Aw, gee, dad," Chris said. "We were gonna try and dance with every girl there. We would have danced with Penny anyway."

"That may be true, but because of what you did, some of the other boys asked her to dance as well," I said. "She will always remember your kindness. And, so will I. I love you guys so much. I am so glad that you are a part of my life. Now, go get ready for bed. It's late." I gave each of them a kiss and sent them up the back stairs.

"How did it go?" Donald asked.

"Very well," I said, sitting down beside him on the couch. I went on to describe the evening and how proud I was for what the twins and Chris had done.

"It must have taken a lot of guts for them to do that," Donald said. "They could have been ridiculed by some of their classmates for what they did. Peer pressure is very powerful for boys that age."

"I hope this has taught them that all people have value, not just the attractive ones. Penny was not ugly by any standard, but she was plain looking," I said. "I don't think I will ever forget the look on her face and the wide smile she had as Chris led her onto the dance floor. And the smile stayed there as the twins followed after Chris and asked her to dance. I don't think the smile left her face the rest of the night."

"You have every right to be proud of them," Donald said.

"Did the rest of the boys put up any resistance about going to bed?" I asked.

"Not at all," Donald answered. "When I went to tuck William in for the night, TJ was reading Peter and him a story. I had to wait until he came to the end of the chapter, which wasn't very long, before I got them all tucked in."

"TJ loves stories. When they first came to live with me, one of their favorite things was to have me read to them. TJ would sit on my lap as I read. He never wanted the story to end."

Gilda was in the kitchen the next morning when I went to pour myself a cup of coffee. "It's Sunday morning. You don't have to fix breakfast for us on Sunday. It's supposed to be a day off."

"Phooey! What would I do with myself if I didn't fix food for my favorite people," she said. "I'd just be sitting around trying to figure out what to do. That's what I'd be doing. Everything is ready. All you have to do is take it out of the warming oven. We're going to early church services, so I probably won't be here when the boys get up. I've made the sandwiches and put them in the coolers along with everything else you'll need for your trip to ride the horses."

"You're too good to us," I said. I walked up to her and gave her a hug and kiss on the cheek.

"Oh, go on with you. You'll make an old woman blush."

She went back to her room to get ready for church and I went to read the Sunday paper and drink my coffee.

Our Sunday at the ranch to ride the horses went as usual. Rosie briefed me on what the farrier had done when he was here last week. Several of the horses had to have new shoes and a few needed their hooves filed down. Over all their hooves were in good shape. The place looked different with the temporary housing removed. Tracy said they would get the area where the housing had been smoothed out and reseeded.

When I asked about Jessica, Rosie said she and Charlie were at the hospital again. Her mother had taken a turn for the worse and was not expected to live more than a few days.

"How is Jessica holding up?" I asked.

"Charlie says she puts up a good front when she's at the hospital in front of her mother, but not so good when she gets home. She was very close to her mother. She was the only girl in the family and the youngest," Rosie said.

"If there is anything they need or if we can do anything, all they have to do is ask," I said. "And if you know of anything they need, you be sure to let us know."

"Thank you," Rosie said. "You all do so much for all of us already, but I'll let Jessica know."

Since both of the babies were taking a nap, Donald convinced Lenore to ride on her own pony alongside him and his horse. That lasted about fifteen minutes before she wanted to go back to the house. The two little girls held a greater attraction for her than the horseback ride.

"Dad," Joel said on the way back home, "I need to get a new suit for graduation."

"Oh, that's right. I'd forgotten about you needing a new one," I said. "Let's plan on going into San Antonio tomorrow night and see what we can find. It's too late to have a custom suit made, so we'll have to find what's available at one of the men's stores. Have you gotten the schedule for the graduation ceremony?"

"Yes, I put it on your desk in the in-basket," Joel said.

"I guess I overlooked it. I think I have to be there as a member of the board, but I wouldn't miss it for the world in any case. When's your last day of classes?"

"We get out on Wednesday," Joel said.

"How come we have to go until Friday?" Larry asked.

"Because you're not graduating," I answered.

It was such a nice day when we got back home that I decided that we should put something on the grill for supper. I didn't hear any objections to that, so I took some steaks out of the freezer and put the package under running water to thaw. Donald said he would make a salad and I started looking for a vegetable to round out the impromptu meal. Ice cream would have to suffice for dessert.

Gilda arrived back from visiting friends of hers and Hildy's shortly after we had finished our supper and had everything cleaned up. She turned down an offer to grill a steak for her saying she had already eaten. She did accept a cup of coffee. I told her of my plans to take Joel to get a new suit tomorrow evening and asked if she could watch the rest of the boys until Donald got home. She agreed.

Monday evening as soon as I had returned from school with the kids, Joel and I took off for San Antonio. I had picked out a couple of men's stores that I thought would have something suitable and something he would like. I parked the Lincoln in a parking lot within walking distance to both of the stores and we proceeded to the first and closest one. Joel explained to the salesman what he wanted the suit for and basically the color choices he was interested in. I took a seat in the store's very comfortable waiting area and watch while a selection of suits was presented to Joel. After looking them over and feeling the material, Joel selected one he wanted to try on. He disappeared into a dressing booth and emerged a few minutes later wearing it. The one he had chosen was a dark blue, single breasted, three button suit. It appeared to fit him fairly well, all though it would need some tailoring to really fit properly.

"What do you think, dad?"

"It's a handsome suit," I said. "It would do very nicely. How about that pin-striped one?"

"I was going to try that one on next," he said.

He changed into the next suit and emerged from the booth wearing it. This one was dark grey with a lighter colored pin stripe. It was a beautiful suit, but it didn't really look as good on him as the other one did. He stood in front of the mirror and looked at himself and then wrinkled up his nose.

"I like the other one better," he said.

"I have to agree," the salesman said. "This one washes out your color, whereas the other blue one enhances it."

"That makes three of us," I said. "Are there any others you want to take a look at?"

"I don't think I'll find any one that I like better." Joel said.

"Good, then. Go put on the other one and we'll have the tailor mark up where it has to be tailored," I said.

Joel came back with the other suit on and was told to step up on a low stool. An older man with a bushy, white mustache marked the suit in several places where it needed to be fitted. Joel decided that he didn't want cuffs on the pants. It took about ten minutes for the man to finish. The salesman said that the suit would be ready for pick up Thursday after noon.

Since we didn't need to go to the second store that I had picked out, we decided to walk down to the River Walk and get something to eat. It has been a while since we had eaten Mexican food.

On the way home after we had eaten, Joel reminded me that he would need a new tie to go with the new suit. I told him when we went to pick up the suit and he tried it on, that we would shop for a tie to match the suit.

The closer it came to Joel's graduation, the more it began to hit me that he would be leaving home in a few months. I wasn't sure if I were ready for that yet.

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