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© 2014 - 2017 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 29

Monday after I had returned from taking the kids to school, I was sitting having a cup of coffee with Gilda when Hildy and Manfred came in the back door. "Pour yourself a cup and sit down," I told them. "The pot's fresh."

"We thought you would be sitting here," Manfred said. "We wanted to ask you something."

"Yeah," Hildy said. "Are you planning a graduation party for Joel?"

"I hadn't given it much thought," I said. "After all, this is a first for me. I guess I had better get busy and get something set up."

"Yes," Gilda said. "What time is graduation?"

"It's two o'clock on Saturday."

"It should be over with and we should all be back here by around four-thirty or so," Hildy said. "Who are you going to invite?"

"If Jimmy is available, I know Joel would like to have him here. I don't know when he gets out of his classes. I should invite Marie and her family. We haven't seen Ricky for some time," I said. "I'll ask Joel who he would like to invite when he gets home from school."

Hildy and Gilda went into high gear planning the food for the party and left Manfred and me sitting there totally forgotten.

I didn't know how to contact Jimmy, so I placed a call to his brother Mike. Fortunately, Mike had just returned from an early class and answered the phone. "Mike, it's Crane Johnson," I said. We talked a few minutes before I asked what I had called for. "Do you know when your brother Jimmy gets out of his classes?"

"I talked to him last night. His last final is Thursday morning. After that, he's done for the school year," Mike answered.

"Is he coming home right after?"

"Yeah, he should be home some time Thursday afternoon."

"Good, I wanted to invite him to Joel's graduation party on Saturday after the graduation ceremonies."

"I know he's planning on going to the graduation," Mike said. "Joel asked him. I don't want to sound pushy, but could I wangle an invitation to that party? I'm rather fond of Joel and the rest of the family."

"That would be terrific," I said. "Consider yourself invited. I know three little girls that will be thrilled to see you again. We're planning to start around four-thirty or so after the ceremonies."

"I'll be there," Mike said. "It'll be good to see everyone, again."

I made a call to Marie and invited her, Dirk, Ricky and Rosemarie to come to the party on Saturday. I told her it had been way too long since we had seen them and the baby. She said they would be there.

As I was sitting at my desk wondering if there were other people that we should invite, my thoughts wandered back to when I first met a scared little boy who wasn't able to speak. Now he was graduating from high school. I'm much too young for this. I'm only 34. How could I possibly have a son graduating from high school? I smiled thinking of all the things we, as a family, had been through. There were some rough times. One of the worst was when Joel was sick and in the hospital. Even with the bad things, I wouldn't hesitate to do it all over again. Thinking of Joel's illness, it occurred to me I should call Dr. Sam to see if he and his wife might like to come to the party. I decided to wait until later this evening when he would be home.

I sat there reminiscing until I happened to glance at the clock and saw that it was time to go pick up the kids from school. I was a few minutes late getting to the school and I had to park the van farther away in the parking lot than I usually had to. By the time I got to the spot where the youngest were to wait, Peter and William were already there. They were talking to a couple of their friends and didn't see me as I approached.

"Hi, guys," I said.

"Hi, dad," they both said and gave me a hug, which I returned.
 
Their friends waved goodbye and headed off for their van and we waited for the rest of the kids to arrive. Fifteen minutes later everybody was accounted for and we all climbed into the van and took off for home.

"Dad," Larry said, "we got to study hard. We have two semester tests tomorrow and the rest of them on Wednesday and Thursday."

"Well, it looks like the Xbox time is scratched for the rest of the week," I said. "If you need any help, you can come to me or Donald."

"I can help, too," Joel said. "It hasn't been that long since I took all those classes."

"Do you still have time to have a snack and take care of your dogs?" I asked.

That made the three of them start laughing. "We always have time for a snack," Chris said.

"I figured you would."

Snacks eaten, dogs taken care of, the three musketeers went to their room and began hitting the books. It wasn't until supper time that they emerged from their room.

"How's it going, guys?" I asked.

"We have one subject studied for and after supper we are gonna study the other one," Lenny said.

"Yeah," Chris said, "we think we got it covered."

"That's great, but don't get too over confident," I said. "I know you'll do great."

After supper, I talked to Joel and told him what we were planning for after the graduation ceremonies. I told him who I had invited. "Is there anyone else you would like to have me invite?"

"I don't think so," he said. "That's going to be a lot of people anyway. I'm just glad that Jimmy's going to get to be here."

"I am, too, son."

I called Dr. Sam and asked if he and his wife, Carol, would be able to come on Saturday. After checking with his wife, he said they would be there. We talked for several more minutes. It had been several months since we had spoken.

Wednesday morning, Joel asked if he could drive his car to school. The graduates were being measured for their caps and gowns after school. They would be able to pick them up from the school on Friday. I told him that would be fine, before the rest of us climbed into the van and took off for the school.

The three musketeers thought they had done very well on their two semester test on Tuesday and they had studied hard last night for the tests they were having today.

I made another shopping trip to San Antonio after talking to the boys last night, minus Joel.

Thursday morning the twins and Chris were excited that they only had one test today. They had, in fact, done very well on the tests they took on Tuesday. They showed me their test papers last evening. I told them what a good job they had done and how proud I was of them. Donald did the same and I think that meant a lot to them.

Shortly after noon, Joel and I drove into San Antonio to pick up his new suit and pick out a tie or two to go with it. When he tried the suit on, it fit perfectly. It would be hard to tell that it wasn't custom made. He picked out two ties that he and I agreed would go very well with the suit.

"You know, son, you will need a tuxedo when you get to Houston," I said, as we walked back to the car. "We have time to get one made before you go."

"Why will I need a tux?"

"When you use the tickets at the symphony or opera, you will probably go to an opening night and a tux is the appropriate dress."

"What about Jimmy? I doubt he has a tux."

"Don't worry about that. I think something can be done to rectify that situation."

"I hope Jimmy won't be upset," Joel said. "I love you, dad." He gave me a one-arm hug. His other was tied up with carrying the suit.

I had asked Manfred to pick up the kids from school if Joel and I had not returned in time. Hildy would then have to pick up Lenore from her preschool. The van was gone when we got home, so I assumed Manfred was on his way to the school.

When they got home, the three musketeers were relieved that they didn't have any more tests and they could get their turns on the Xboxes. They also had extra time to play with their dogs. That showed by their rumpled clothes and grass stains when they came in from playing with them. Gilda just shook her head when she saw them and pointed to the stairs to their room. They returned shorty with fresh clothes.

Friday was the last day of school for all the kids. They were excited and, I think, a little sad they would not be seeing their friends every day. Joel had driven his car a bit later because he needed to pick up his cap and gown and make sure that everything fit. The graduating class was also going to have a run through of the ceremony and their seating arrangement. When he got home, it was almost noon. I had him try on the cap and gown for Gilda and me. As soon as he had modeled them for us, Gilda told him to take off the gown and she would press it. Even I could see that it was quite wrinkled from being folded up in the box.

It took a little longer to round up all the kids when I went to pick them up that afternoon. It took a while for them to say goodbye to all of their friends. As they were getting into the van, I asked them if they had cleaned out their lockers and had everything they were supposed to take home. I got reassurances from all of them that they had. Their backpacks did appear to be much fuller than usual.

After the after-school snacks had been eaten, the twins and Chris had to show me their test papers they had gotten back. All three of them had near perfect scores. "Great job, guys," I said. "I guess that means you get promoted to the next grade."

I got some strange looks, before they realized I was teasing them. "Yeah, I guess it does," Larry said, and punched me lightly on the arm. I gave them all a hug and they went off to play with their dogs.

"Have you heard from Jimmy?" I asked Joel after supper.

"I got a call before supper. He had just gotten home. He had stayed an extra day in Houston to pack up all his things and spend some time with his aunt and uncle. He said he would call me later before he went to bed," Joel said. "He needed to spend some time with his mom and dad."

"Good idea," I said. "He hasn't been home since he started college, has he?"

"No," Joel said. "He worked every weekend, so he didn't have time to come home. He's got his old job back here and starts it on Tuesday. He'll be working the noon to eight shift Tuesday through Saturday, so it'll be hard to find much time to spend with him."

"I'm sure you'll be able to find some time," I said. "You might start thinking of when you want to drive to Houston so that you're sure of the way to get to the townhouse. It would probably be a good idea to do it while the twins and Chris are at tennis camp."

"When's that?"

"The last three weeks of June."

"Has Donald decided when we are going to Mexico and stay in his hotel?" Joel asked.

"I haven't asked him recently. The last time I did, he was thinking about the last of July or the first part of August. I'll check again later."

Saturday morning I could see that Joel was a little bit more nervous than usual. To tell the truth, so was I. I walked up to him and wrapped my arm around his shoulders and said, "Let's take a walk." We walked outside and down to the tennis court and back. The main cause of his nervousness was that it was now becoming real to him that he would soon be leaving home. I tried to reassure him that he would be just fine. I think I was trying to reassure myself as well. By the time we walked back into the house, his shoulders did not seem as tense as they had been.

Gilda served lunch earlier than usual so that everybody would have time to get cleaned up and dressed for the graduation. It took a while to get all the boys dressed in their white shirts, ties and slacks. They were not too happy about my insistence on them wearing ties. Lenore was pretty in a pink dress and white shoes. When Joel came down the stairs, I insisted on taking a picture of him in his suit and in his cap and gown. I also took pictures of all the other boys and then a group shot of them altogether.

Joel and I had to be at the school early. As a member of the School Board, I was expected to sit on the auditorium stage. I would have much rather sat in the audience with the rest of the family. At exactly two o'clock, Headmaster Pierce led the board members onto the stage followed by the graduating class. They had been lined up in alphabetic order and they took their assigned seats. While this was going on, Sir Edward Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance Military Marches was being played on an organ off to the side of the stage.

When everyone was seated, Headmaster Pierce went to the podium and delivered a short, thankfully, speech commemorating the first class to graduate from Corinthian Academy. This was followed by the Valedictorian, Vickie Lin, giving her speech urging her fellow graduates to go forth and do good in the world. It also was short.

The Keynote Speaker's speech was not short, but it was interesting and was peppered with humor which made the length bearable.

Now that for which everybody had been waiting for, especially the graduating class, the handing out of the diplomas. As Headmaster Pierce called out a name, the student came forward and accepted a diploma from the President of the School Board. He shook the student's hand and posed for a picture by a professional photographer. Family members in the audience were also taking pictures. Joel was near the middle of the group. I couldn't keep the smile from my lips as he strode to the front and received his diploma and flipped his tassel to the other side of his cap. There was a tear or two as well.

It was nearly half-past four by the time Joel and I left the school. The rest of our group had left earlier to get things set up for the party. Joel had to turn in his gown and get his name checked off the list. He had bought the cap as a memento of his graduation. By the time we got home the circular drive in front of the house was filled with cars. We were barely able to squeeze the Lincoln past one of the cars to get to the garage.

Donald had been entertaining the adult guests when we walked in the back door. At the moment, he was talking with Dr. Sam and Carol. I couldn't remember if he had ever met them before or not. As it turned out, he had not. As I walked up, he asked me if I were ready for a glass of wine.

"Oh, my yes," I said. "I'm glad I won't have to do that again for four more years."

"Yeah," Donald said, "unless those three do the same as what Joel did."

"Sam, it's good to see you again and you too Carol. It's been way too long."

"We all have busy lives," she said, giving me a hug.

At that moment the doorbell rang. I had surveyed the room and notice that Mike had not arrived and assumed that it was him at the door. Seeing Jeannie standing by her dad, I said, "Jeannie, will you see who is at the door?"

"Sure," she said and headed toward the door.

"Watch this," I whispered to Donald.

"Mike!" Jeannie screamed and leapt into his arms and wrapped her arms around his neck. This caused Ginny and Lenore to make a mad dash to the front door and to surround him. It was chaos for a minute or two before Mike could get them settled down.

"Who's that young man?" Sam asked. "He is certainly popular with the ladies."

Between Donald and me, we explained who Mike was and how we had come to know him.

"My daughter is in love with Mike and I think Hildy's girls are as well," Donald said. "He is going to make a fine pediatrician when he finishes his schooling. He has a magical way with youngsters."

"When does he finish?" Dr. Sam asked.

"He has one more year and then his residency, I believe," I said. "I'll introduce you to him, if we can get him untangled from the girls. Why do you ask?"

"Carol has been after me to retire and I've been giving it some thought. Five more years and I promised her we would spend a year traveling the world," he said. "I've been looking for a young doctor to bring into the practice and then take over when I retire. Do you know if he plans to stay in the area to practice?"

I looked at Donald.

"As a matter of fact, he has committed to setting up practice in San Antonio," Donald answered.

"What Donald didn't say was that as part of his supporting Mike financially, he is obligated to practice in San Antonio. I don't know if there was a length of time specified, but I think Mike was intent on staying in the area," I said.

"You think very highly of him, I gather," Sam said. "I think I'd like to talk to the young man."

"We both do," I said.

Donald then explained how Mike had worked wonders with his daughter while none of the therapists that she had seen had done any good.

"It's not just the girls that respond to him," I said. "The boys are his fans as well."

The doorbell rang again and I went to see who it was. When I opened it, I was greeted by a five year-old rocket who launched itself into my arms. "Hi, Ricky," I said. "It's good to see you too."

"Sorry about that," Marie said. "He had been hyped up ever since I told him we were coming."

"Please come in," I said and gave her a hug around Ricky who was still clinging to my neck. "It's good to see you and Dirk again."

"Where's Joel?" Ricky asked.

"He's in the family room talking to his friend," I answered.

Ricky squirmed down and raced into the family room. It always amazed me how fast he could go on that prosthetic leg. I mentioned that to Marie as I ushered her and Dirk into the living room where the other adults were gathered.

In the other room, I could hear that Ricky had found Joel. "Joel," he yelled and I could imagine him leaping into Joel's arms.

"Munchkin," Joel said. "You're getting fat. I can hardly pick you up."

"I'm not a munchkin and I'm not getting fat. I'm a boy and I'm getting bigger. My momma says so." I could hear the sloppy kisses he was giving Joel.

I directed my attention back to Marie and Dirk. Marie was holding Rosemarie. She had grown since we had last seen her. Lenore noticed Rosemarie and appeared to be torn between Mike and a baby. The baby won, at least temporarily.

Dr. Sam and Donald had made their way over to Mike and Sam had been introduced. Hildy noticed what was going on and asked her daughters to help set out the food. With a look between Mike and their mother, their mother won out for their attention. Sam led Mike over to a quiet corner and was having a very earnest conversation with him.

"Who's he?" Ricky asked Joel.

"He's my friend Jimmy."

"Does he live here, too?"

"No."

"Okay."

"Same Ricky," I said, "always asking questions. He's really growing and still running everyplace."

"That boy never stops. I'd take his leg away from him, but he'd just run as fast on his crutches," Marie said.

"He wears me out," Dirk said. "I don't know what his teachers will do next year when he starts to school."

"Could I get you something to drink?" I asked.

They both shook their heads. "I think I need to find a place to change this one's diaper. The one good thing she is able to do is fill them regularly," Marie said.

"You know where everything is," I said. Marie nodded and took Rosemarie into the guest bedroom to change the diaper.

"People," Hildy said loudly, "the finger food is ready on the island in the kitchen. Help yourselves."

She didn't have to say it twice. The boys were the first in line to fill a plate. I just hoped there would be some left for the other guests. I shouldn't have worried. Gilda and Hildy had prepared enough to feed a small army.

As Joel was filling a plate with food from the array set out on the kitchen island, I suggested to him that he search out everyone who had come and thank them for coming. He nodded his head and I later saw him going around and speaking with our guests.

Later, Dr. Sam cornered Donald and me. "Thanks for introducing me to Mike. He is an impressive young man. Keep me informed of his progress. I think he might just be the person I would like to work in my practice."

"I think he would be a fine choice," Donald said.

"I totally agree," I said. "He has almost instant rapport with young people. I'm sure you observed that with both the boys and the girls."

"Yes, he does have a way of interacting with them," Sam said.

By six-thirty the guests started leaving. Joel was at the door thanking them for coming. By seven o'clock all the guests except Jimmy had departed. After they were gone and the leftovers were stashed in the refrigerator, it was time to give Joel his graduation presents. I took the three musketeers with me and we went into the master bedroom to retrieve the presents I had secreted there. When we returned, I had Joel sit down on the couch and handed him my first present. He tore off the wrapping to find a cellphone. I had it added to my plan so he wouldn't have to pay the bill. The second present from me was a laptop computer.

"Wow! Thanks, dad, this will make it easier to take notes in class," Joel said, getting up and giving me a tight hug.

The next present was from the three musketeers. It was an inkjet printer that could be hooked up to his laptop or to his PC. The next gift was from TJ, Peter and William. It was a gold Cross pen and pencil set. Joel gave each of the boys a hug and then sat back down. His eyes were moist with un-shed tears. "Thank you, guys," he choked out.

Lenore shyly approached Joel and handed him a small square box covered in a gold foil paper. When he opened it, he found three, fine linen handkerchiefs with his initial, J, embroidered in an ornate scroll. She also received a hug.

Donald was last to give his gift. It was an envelope containing a gift certificate for 5 rounds of golf at the Champions Golf Club in Houston. "This is great," Joel said. "I was wanting to play that course. I've heard a lot about it. Thank you."

"You will need to play as a guest with a member of the club," Donald said. "I will give you the names of three of my friends who are members and they have said they would be happy to have you play golf with them - as long as you promise not to beat them."

"I promise," Joel laughed.

I had taken Jimmy aside earlier and told him that we didn't expect for him to have a present for Joel, that his presence was all the present Joel would want. I suspected that Joel had wanted him to stay the night, but Mike had told Jimmy that he was expected to come home and spend time with his folks and his sisters.

Before Jimmy, reluctantly, left for home, I invited him to come back on Sunday and go riding with us. "Thanks, Mr. Johnson. I haven't ridden in a long time. I'll probably be too sore to start work on Tuesday."

Joel followed him out to his car and I closed the door behind him. I figured they needed a few minutes alone. I heard Jimmy's old Toyota start up and head down the driveway. I watched on the gate camera until he was through the gate and then pushed the button to close it. Joel must have watched until Mike's taillights were out of sight.

"You'll see him again on Sunday, son," I said.

"I know. He said his folks are having a family get together tomorrow, so he can't come over," Joel said.

"Anyone want something to eat?" Gilda asked to no one in particular.

"I do," came a chorus of boys' voices.

I looked at Donald and we both shook our heads in disbelief. They had made several trips and filled their plates at the buffet of finger foods only a couple of hours ago.

"Roast beef sandwiches and potato salad coming up," Gilda announced. "And maybe a slice of banana cream pie?"

"Yeah!"

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