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© 2014 - 2017 Ted Louis

Joel VII

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Chapter 30

We all went to the ranch to ride the horses on Sunday. Even Lenore rode with us for a while. I think the main reason was that Tracy and Rosie had taken the baby with them when they had gone to visit friends and attend church with them. Bert had stayed at home, thankfully, and was able to saddle the horses for the boys. He was assisted by Jason, Charlie's "little" brother.

Later we were joined by Ian and Lionel. It had been a couple of weeks since we had seen them. They rode with Donald and me for a bit before I asked, "Where's Charlie and Jessica today? Charlie usually rides with us."

"They had to go to a christening in San Marcos," Ian said. "They should be back around lunch time."

Which they were, and Charlie joined us after lunch riding one of the quarter horses. "I think one of the mares is pregnant," he said, after we had ridden for a while. "I just need to find a good vet to check her out."

"Tracy is going to get you for that," Donald laughed.

"Yeah, he probably will," he replied.

On the way home, Lenny said, "Dad, we have to go back to school on Tuesday to get our report cards."

"What time?" I asked.

"I think they said ten o'clock," Larry answered.

"Can we go to the tennis store next week?" Chris asked. "We need new tennis shoes and maybe new tennis rackets. Ours are kinda worn out."

"Maybe we can do that tomorrow, if something doesn't come up," I said.

"Can we go, too?" TJ asked.

"Sure, why not."

Monday morning it looked as if it was going to be a gorgeous day. It was so nice that I took my coffee and newspaper out onto the back patio. Donald joined me for a cup before he headed off to work. I had let the boys sleep in. It was almost nine o'clock when they started straggling down the stairs. Joel was up at his usual time. He was eagerly awaiting Jimmy's arrival, which was supposed to be around ten. Gilda had gone upstairs and brought Lenore down for breakfast. After the boys had finished their breakfast, I told them to go brush their teeth and get dressed. It looked like a good day to go shopping for tennis supplies.

Shortly before ten, the gate buzzer sounded and Joel let Jimmy's car in. He went out to greet Jimmy as he drove up to the front of the house. They hugged each other as Jimmy exited the car and then they headed around to the garage to get Joel's car. He had already put the cooler into it that Gilda placed the lunch she had fixed for them. A few minutes later they drove out of the garage and down the driveway.

I gathered the other boys together and we got loaded into the van in preparation for our shopping trip in San Antonio. Gilda was going to care for Lenore while we were gone.

"Dad, I need new shoes," Chris said. "Mine are getting to small."

"We do, too," Larry added.

"Yeah," Lenny agreed. "And some shorts. I'm afraid mine are gonna split every time I stretch for a ball."

"That'd be funny," Larry chuckled.

"Yours are tight, too," Lenny fired back. "Yours, too, Chris, so don't laugh."

I could see that this was going to be an expensive trip. We arrived at the tennis shop just after 10:30 and, other than one other customer, we were the only customers in the store. I ushered the boys back to a display of tennis rackets as a sales clerk approached.

"How may I help you?" he asked me. His nametag read Clark.

"Clark, my sons are looking for new tennis rackets."

"As you can see from the wall display, we have a large selection to choose from," Clark said. "Was there any particular brand or head size they are looking for?"

"What do you think, guys? Do you see anything that interests you?" I asked.

"Can I look at that one?" Chris asked, pointing to one hanging on the display wall. It was too high for him to reach.

Clark moved a small stool over to the wall and retrieved the racket in question and handed it to Chris. The twins gathered around and all three took turns handling it. They spent nearly ten minutes testing the grip, finding the balance point and in general getting the feel of it. They tested several other rackets, but always came back to the first one.

"Well?" I inquired.

"I like this one," Chris said. The twins nodded in agreement.

"You're sure?" All three nodded. "Okay then, Clark, we'll take six of them. Have them strung with multifilament at 55 pounds."

Clark shook his head as if he didn't believe what he heard. "Six, sir? You do realize these are rather expensive rackets."

"Yes, I'm aware of that. When will they be available?" I asked.

"Our stringer doesn't come in until after lunch, so the best estimate would be late this evening."

"That's fine. We'll pick them up tomorrow afternoon. Now, the boys also need new shoes."

A smiling salesman led us to the shoe department. One by one the six boys sat down and had their feet measured and shoes selected. Clark stacked the six shoe boxes on the checkout counter and was about to start ringing up the sale when I told him we wanted to look at tennis apparel. His eyes tended to lose focus, but the grin on his face got even wider. Several minutes later he was piling a mound of shorts, shirts, socks and jockstraps on the counter along with the shoes.

"Will you be needing anything else?" Clark asked.

"Do we need tennis balls?" I asked the three musketeers.

"Yeah, dad," Lenny answered.

"Might as well add a half dozen cans of balls," I said. "I think that will be all."

"Yes, sir," he said, and started scanning the barcodes. It took him several minutes to go through all of the items. When he finished, I handed him my credit card. I was almost afraid to look at the total. He handed the card back to me after he had swiped it. As Clark was processing our purchases, the other salesman, whose customer had left without purchasing anything, came over to help put the items into large plastic bags. "Thank you so much. Would you like some help out with the bags, sir?" Clark asked.

I looked at the number of bags and then at the boys and decided that the seven of us could manage. "Thank you, but I think we can handle it." I gave Peter and William a lighter bag each and distributed the others to the other four and myself. The still grinning Clark held the door open for us as we made our way to the van.

"Thanks, again, sir," Clark said. "I'll make sure the rackets are ready when you come back tomorrow. Have a great day." I know that if he worked on commission, we made his day, if not his week.

I decided to take the boys to a different restaurant instead of the usual McDonalds or Wendy's. There was a Red Robin not too far from where we were and I was hungry for one of their gourmet burgers.

"We've never been here before, have we, dad?" TJ said.

"That's right," I said. "I think you'll like their hamburgers."

Peter and William were unable to finish their hamburgers, but Chris and the twins made sure that nothing went to waste and that included the French fries.

On the way home TJ asked, "Can we have your old tennis rackets?"

I waited for the tennis players to answer before I interjected, "I think that would be a great idea. While the guys are at tennis camp, you can play tennis at home. I'll help you learn how to play and score."

Joel and Jimmy had finished their horseback riding and were sitting at the breakfast table enjoying one of Gilda's snacks.

"Wow!" Joel said, as he saw all the packages we were carrying in. "Did you buy out the whole store?"

"Not quite, but we made a good run at it," I said. "Hi, Jimmy, did you enjoy riding again after such a long while?"

"Yeah, but I know I'm going to be hobbling around at work tomorrow," he answered.

"Okay, you guys, go get the marking pen and write your names on the inside of your new clothes and then take them into the laundry room so they can be washed."

"Gilda," Jimmy said, "your snack was delicious. If I lived here, I would get fat as a pig." He gave her a hug. "Sorry I have to run. My folks want me to go with them to my aunt and uncle's for supper and I need to get a shower taken. I don't think they would like to smell sweaty horse all evening."

Joel walked with him to his car. I made sure that the other boys were busy and didn't have time to watch out the front window.

Tuesday, we picked up the report cards from school and then the three musketeers and I went to pick up the tennis rackets. Joel stayed home in charge of the three youngest boys.

The next weeks passed quickly and soon it was time for the twins and Chris to go to tennis camp. It was their second time, so they were in a more advanced group this year. On Sunday all the other boys went with us to drop them off. Our usual Sunday horseback riding had been skipped. We helped them to check in and get assigned to their rooms. With the help of the other boys, all their things were carried into their temporary quarters. They gave us hugs as we started back to the van. I thought it would be easier this year to see them wave goodbye to us as we drove away, but it wasn't. I knew they were in good hands and would make new friends, but it was still hard leaving them there.

"When can we drive to Houston, dad?" Joel asked on the way home.

I thought for a moment before I answered, "If the weather is fine, let's try to do it on Wednesday."

"Okay."

"Why are we going to Houston," TJ asked.

"It's just going to be Joel and me," I said. "He needs to take some things to the townhouse and to make sure he knows how to get to it. I'm afraid that you can't come on this trip. Next time, okay?"

"But, dad ..." TJ said.

"Sorry, guys," I interrupted, "but that's the way it has to be. Joel's car will be loaded with things he's going to need and there won't be room for you to ride along."

We rode back to the house pretty much in silence. I knew there were some unhappy boys. Maybe I could contrive with Manfred to come up with an activity that would keep them occupied while we were in Houston. It would take a bit of planning, but I had something in mind.

Later Sunday afternoon I was talking to Donald about Joel and my trip to Houston. I mentioned that I was going to ask Manfred if he would consider taking TJ, Peter and William to either Sea World or Fiesta Texas while we were gone.

"I have a better idea," Donald said. "I'll skip work Wednesday and take them. If Manfred would like to come along, that would be great. Maybe we could convince Hilda and Gilda to come along as well. That way the girls could go. Four adults should be able to handle six active youngsters."

"That sounds like a good idea. I'll give Manfred a call and see if they can come over for supper and a glass of wine," I said.

I went to check with Gilda to see if she had started cooking yet. As it turned out, she was just about to get things ready. When I told her what I planned, she immediately went into high gear and started making plans. While I was in the kitchen, I picked up the phone and called Hildy to see if they could come. They agreed and twenty minutes later, they arrived. Hildy was carrying a large, three-layer cake that she had finished frosting after I called.

As supper time approached, the smells from the kitchen were tantalizing. The aroma must have drifted upstairs, because it wasn't long before it enticed the four boys downstairs. Hildy asked me to pour a couple glasses of red wine. I opened a bottle of merlot and did what she asked. I handed her the glasses and she took them to the kitchen for her and Gilda. I poured glasses for Manfred, Donald and me and settled down to wait to be called to supper. While we waited, Donald and I discussed with Manfred our plan for Wednesday.

"The weather is supposed to be great all week," Manfred said. "I think Fiesta Texas would be our best choice. There are plenty of things for kids of all ages to do. I'm sure Hildy would agree it's a better choice."

"What would I agree?" Hildy said, as she came into the living room to get us for supper.

"I'll tell you after supper, dear," Manfred said.

Supper was messy, but it was good. We had a salad, spaghetti with meat balls and garlic bread. Before Hildy's cake was served, we had to get washcloths and clean up the kids. The napkins that we had insisted that they tuck into their shirt collars did capture much of the sauce. There was spaghetti sauce all over the younger ones' faces and a couple of them even had it in their hair. Hildy's cake was delicious, as usual. I was tempted to refuse it, but I was lacking in willpower when it came to Hildy's baking.

When we told Hildy and Gilda about our plans for Wednesday, they agreed that Fiesta Texas was the right choice. Donald said he would arrange for the tickets and asked if they could use the van since there would be ten of them.

"Of course you can. That van is going to be just sitting in the garage if you don't take it," I said.

"Dad, do you have anything planned for tomorrow?" Joel asked, when he came down from his room.

"Nothing special, why?"

"I thought I might go see Jimmy tomorrow. He's not working on Mondays."

"We'll probably swim sometime and the boys want to learn how to play tennis and keep score," I said. "Go see Jimmy."

"Thanks, dad."

"Are he and Jimmy serious?" Donald asked when Joel had gone back to his room.

"I think they are as serious as anyone at that age can be," I said. "So far it has not caused any problems with his studies. I just hope that will continue to be the case. I think Joel is levelheaded enough to keep the relationship in perspective. He knows that college is going to be his top priority."

"He has a good head on his shoulders," Hildy said.

Monday, while Joel had gone to see Jimmy, I took TJ, Peter and William out to the tennis court and I gave them a few pointers on hitting the ball. I had them practice hitting forehands and backhands by tossing tennis balls at them to hit. TJ had watched his older brothers enough that he could hit the ball almost all the time. It didn't always go where he wanted it to go, but we didn't have to chase too many of them that went over the fence. I think Peter and William had the most fun. At times they were laughing so hard that they couldn't swing the racket. The next time we did this, I would try to show them the serve.

It had become quite warm by the time we finished the tennis lessons. "Dad, can we go swimming now? I'm hot," TJ said.

"Great idea," I said. "Go put on your swimsuits and I'll beat you to the pool." I had it easier. I didn't have to go upstairs to get suited up. As it was, I was just barely able to jump into the pool ahead of TJ.

"No fair," he said, splashing water at me and laughing. "You cheated."

It wasn't long before Manfred, his girls and Lenore, joined us in the pool. "Gilda called us to say you were having a pool party and that we were invited."

"Glad you could come," I said.

The day on Tuesday followed the same pattern of tennis, swimming and then later in the day indoor activities as it got too hot to stay outside in the sun. Joel joined the activities on Tuesday. That evening, he began packing some things in his car that he wouldn't need until college started. I was surprised at the amount of stuff that he loaded into the back seat and trunk of his car.

"What time should we leave in the morning?" Joel asked.

"I think around nine. By that time the sun should be high enough that it won't be in your eyes as we are driving east," I said. "It should take us about three hours, give or take a few minutes either way depending on traffic and road construction."

"That's what I thought," Joel said.

"Have you planned out your route?"

"Yes, I went online and used MapQuest. I printed out the detailed instruction and studied them," he said. "I think I could find the way without using them, but I'm going to take them along just in case."

Wednesday morning, I was pouring my first cup of coffee when Joel arrived in the kitchen. "Good morning, dad," he said.

"Good morning, yourself. You're up early," I said.

"I wanted to be wide awake when we started out," he said.

"What could I get you for breakfast, honey?" Gilda asked Joel.

"Could I have a couple scrambled eggs and some bacon? I'll fix my own toast and orange juice."

Donald joined us at the breakfast table. It was strange seeing him in shorts and polo shirt instead of his suit and tie. "What time are you planning to leave for the park?" I asked.

"Well, the park doesn't open until 10:30, but I would like to get there early to beat some of the crowd," he said. "If we leave here about an hour before that, we should be there when the gates open."

"Be sure to take plenty of sun screen. It's supposed to be hot and sunny until late afternoon when they say a front will move in and bring some rain," I said. "If the weather looks like it's going to be bad by the time we are planning to drive back, we may stay the night and come home tomorrow morning. I'll give you a call if that happens."

Soon, three excited boys and one excited girl came down the stairs for breakfast.

I gave everybody a hug as Joel and I loaded into his car. "Have fun at Fiesta Texas today," I said. "I'm sure you'll have more fun than we will just sitting in the car all the way to Houston. Be sure to put on plenty of sun screen."

"Bye, dad. Bye Joel," they hollered and waved as we drove down the driveway.

"Okay, you're on your own," I said. "I won't say anything unless you ask. Okay?" I looked at the gas gauge and saw that he had filled the tank, probably on Monday when he visited Jimmy.

"Thanks, I thought you might want to be a back-seat driver," Joel said, grinning at me.

"Boy, are you ever in for it."

The sun was just high enough in the sky that when the sunshades were turned down, it was not shining in our eyes. Joel was driving a few miles per hour under the speed limit all the way to Seguin where we entered onto I-10. He then set the cruise control to the speed limit and relaxed. He didn't seem to mind that so many cars and trucks were passing him. We chatted about inconsequential topics for the first 50 miles or so.

"How's Jimmy like college?" I asked.

"He likes it great. He's made a few friends that are in his classes. A couple of them get together at the library to study between classes. Now that he has that scholarship, he saves a lot of the money he makes working for a better car." Joe said. "You probably noticed that his old Toyota is not in the best of shape."

"Yes, I did. It's a wonder that it made it home from Houston."

"He has almost enough to make a down payment on a newer used car. He plans to ask his dad if he will co-sign so he can get it before he goes back to school. By the end of summer he's going to have more saved. I would like to help him, but I know he wouldn't like that."

"I'm sure he wouldn't. I get the impression that he really wants to be independent and wants to make it on his own," I said. "That's a good thing. How does he like living with his aunt and uncle during the school year."

"They're really nice. They treat him like he was their own son," Joel said. "They never had any children of their own. The best part is that they only live a few blocks away from the campus, so he can walk, which is great, if it's not raining."

"It rains a lot in Houston, I know. The time I spent doing a project there it seemed like it rained every day."

It was nice talking to Joel, one on one. With six other brothers needing my time, it did not leave enough time for chats like we were having.

Three hours later we intersected with Loop 610 and began a turn to the south to follow it as it turned east. At the intersection of South Main Street we exited the Loop and turned north toward our destination. As we approached Rice University we turned off onto the side street that led to the townhouse.

"Good job, son," I said, as he pulled the car around behind the townhouse and clicked the garage door opener and drove the car into the garage. Jeremy's car was not in the garage as we had expected it to be. We got out of the car, closed the garage door, and opened the door leading into the main floor. Joel checked the alarm when it started beeping as we entered. He entered the code and the beeping stopped.

"I wonder where Jeremy is," Joel said.

"Well, it's lunch time. Maybe he went somewhere for lunch. He could have gone to have lunch with his girlfriend," I said. "Shall we get started unloading your car?"

"Yeah, and then we can go get something to eat," he said. "I'm getting hungry."

It took us about half an hour to get the stuff out of his car and into his room. Joel arranged the things as we brought stuff in. He always was meticulous.

"I see Jeremy has his exercise equipment set up. I'm sure he will let you use it," I said. "You will probably be less active once school start than you are when you're at home."

As we entered the garage after setting the alarm, the garage door began to open. Since we had not activated the opener, we supposed that it was Jeremy returning. It was.

"Hi, guys," he said, once he had exited his car. "I forgot that you were coming today."

"It's good to see you," I said. "We're just heading out to find something for lunch. If you haven't eaten, why don't you come along?"

"Thanks, but I just ate. A couple guys in my class and I went to a Cajun place and had red beans and rice."

"Was that Treebeards?" I asked.

"Yes, you know about the place?"

"I haven't eaten there in years, but when I was doing a project here some years ago, I went there often," I said. "Joel, are you up for Cajun food?"

"Sounds good. We don't get that in San Antonio," he replied.

"Parking is a pain downtown, but we were lucky to find a place," Jeremy said.

Joel and I got into his car and backed out of the garage. "You'll have to give me directions. I don't know where this place is."

"I think I can find it," I said, and proceeded to give him instructions. Jeremy was right about parking. We drove around the block several times before a spot became available and Joel quickly took it. The food was as good as I had remembered it.

After eating we went back to the townhouse and spent some time with Jeremy. Joel was anxious to hear all about Rice. It was approaching three o'clock when I suggested to Joel that we should get started back to avoid Houston's horrible rush-hour traffic. As it was, by the time we turned onto the Katy Freeway (I-10) it was already beginning to build. I could tell that Joel was a little nervous driving. We stopped for gas in Sealy, once we had gotten out of the worst of the traffic.

Once we were back on the freeway, I could see dark clouds off to the south. I hoped we would be home before the rains came. We were not that lucky. It started raining hard as we were approaching Flatonia. I knew there was a place where we could park and wait out the worst of the rain. We had tuned the radio to a station that gave us the weather. They said that it was a narrow band of showers that would produce heavy rainfall before moving through the area. When we got to where I planned to have Joel park the car, it looked as if others had the same idea. The parking lots of the truck stop and McDonald's were almost full.

As predicted, the heavy rain lasted about twenty minutes and then the sun came out and the heat with it. While we had been sitting waiting for the rain to end, I had used my cellphone to call home and let them know we were being delayed. Hildy said she would hold supper for us. We used the restroom and purchased small soft drinks at the McDonalds before getting back onto the freeway. The rest of the way home was uneventful.

"How was your day?" I asked, as I was surrounded and hugged by the three boys. "Did you have fun at Fiesta Texas?"

That started the three of them all talking at once telling me all about their day and all the rides they went on. It was obvious that they had enjoyed themselves.

"You're just in time," Gilda said. "I was about to put the food on the table."

The sole topic of conversation at the supper table was the trip to Fiesta Texas. Even that did not stop the food from disappearing from their plates.

As Donald and I were relaxing after supper with a glass of wine, he told me all about their day and how much fun the boys and the girls had. William and Lenore were too small to go on some of the rides, but there were enough things for them to do that kept them busy.

"Joel asked me the other day when you were planning on all of us going to Mexico," I said.

"Originally, I had thought we would go this summer, but recently I've pretty much determined that it would be better to go during Spring Break next year. The weather wouldn't be as hot as it will be this summer," he said, "and the possibility of a hurricane will be less."

"You're probably right," I said.

On Sunday, we went to visit the three musketeers. They were all excited by all the things they were learning about strategies and game plans as well as honing their serve and volley techniques. I was pleased that they were having fun and learning. As we left them, I informed them that we would not be back to see them next week because they would be going to Schlitterbahn water park next Sunday.

Two weeks later we went back to John Newcombe's Tennis Camp to pick up the boys. They were well tanned despite my instructions to use the sun screen. While I was waiting for the boys to get all their things together, one of the tennis coaches approached me. I recognized him from last year.

"It's been a pleasure having your sons here again this year," he said. "Have you given it any more thought of sending them to a tennis academy for more training?"

"No, not really," I answered. "I want them to have as normal a home life as possible. Sending them away to some place in Florida or California would be contrary to that. I don't think they have a professional tennis career in mind."

"They have a lot of talent and could easily make a good living on the professional tennis circuit in a few years," he said.

"Thank you, but unless and until they tell me that's something they want to do, tennis will be an avocation for them not a vocation. I don't want to see them end up acting like some of the young players on the pro tour."

"Well, if you change your mind, I can recommend several academies that would groom them for the tour."

On the way home, I was thinking in a few years I would have to have a serious discussion with them to see if they were interested in playing tennis as a career.

The rest of the summer passed quickly. The kids spent most of their time just being kids. The dogs got a lot of attention as did the horses. We went riding at least twice a week, sometimes more. Swimming and tennis occupied much of their time. TJ was becoming a better tennis player, thanks to his older brothers. William and Peter weren't all that interested in playing tennis as much as just hitting the tennis balls. They didn't care if the balls even went over the net. On several occasions, some of their friends were invited to the house for swim parties. In turn, they were invited to friends' houses to play. Joel played golf with some of the guys on his high school team and a couple of times I played with him. He also made time to see Jimmy whenever possible.

The middle of August came much too soon for me. It meant that Joel would be leaving for Houston to begin his university studies. I was going to miss him sorely.

"Dad, I'll need to put some of my stuff in the van. I can't get it all in my car," Joel said, the day before he was scheduled to leave. The rest of the boys, except for TJ, and I were going to follow him to Houston in the van. TJ was going to ride with him to keep him company.

"Sure," I said. "Do you have everything you're going to need?"

"Yeah, my room is looking pretty bare," he said. "If I'm forgetting anything, I can always get it when I come home during breaks."

"Do you have the credit card and ATM card I got for you?"

"Yes, they're in my wallet."

"And the check for your tuition?"

"Yes, dad, don't worry" he said.

"You know I'll worry."

"I know," he said and gave me a long hug.

The day came for Joel to go for Freshman orientation the following day. We finished loading up Joel's car and the van and started for Houston. It was a long three hours. It would have been even longer for the boys if Donald hadn't come home one day last week with three, small handheld video game players. That kept the six in the van occupied most of the way. They had to share them, but I think they enjoyed kibitzing the players as much as being a player.

Arriving at the townhouse, Joel pulled his car into the garage and I parked the van right behind him. With all the boys helping, it didn't take all that long to get all of Joel's things carried in and up the stairs to his new bedroom. It didn't take long for Joel to have his room arranged and everything put away to his satisfaction. He said he would set up his computer after we went to get some lunch. The other boys agreed that it was time to eat.

We all climbed into the van and took off to find someplace to have our lunch. I wasn't in the mood for fast food, so I rejected suggestions that we stop at McDonalds. I thought I remembered an Olive Garden not too far from the campus and headed there. The lunch crowd had mostly gone back to work so we were able to be seated immediately.

When we had placed our orders, the wait staff started bringing our salads and breadsticks. The breadstick had hardly been placed on the table when they were gone. It seemed as if there was a waiter making constant round trips to the kitchen and our table refreshing the supply of breadsticks. I thought for sure that the boys were filling up on breadsticks and not be hungry for their meal, but that was not the case. They even wanted dessert.

We went back to the townhouse and found that Jeremy had returned. When Peter and William saw him they surrounded him with hugs. "How are my two little friends?" he asked, picking them up one in each arm and at the same time tickling their ribs. Their giggling and squirming almost caused him to drop them.

"You remember the rest of my brothers, don't you?" Joel said.

"Of course I do," he said, and greeted each one by name.

We talked with Jeremy for a few minutes, before I told the boys it was time we got started back home. This caused them to groan. They weren't looking forward to another three plus hours in the van. To be honest, neither was I. Joel walked us out to the van with the other boys hanging onto him.

"Son, if you ever need anything, just give me a call," I said. I wrapped my arms around my oldest son and held on for a long while.

"I will, dad," he said. "I promise."

The boys took turns giving Joel hugs before climbing into the van. Joel waved goodbye to us until we lost sight of him. His brothers in the van did the same.

It was quiet in the van for quite a while. I did hear a couple of sniffles. I tried very hard not to join them. Eventually, they took out the game players and the sounds of video game were being heard. We had to make a pit stop in Flatonia for the boys to use the restroom. They saw a Dairy Queen down the street and pleaded with me to let them have a snack. I didn't see how they could possibly be hungry after everything they had eaten a couple of hours ago, but I agreed. Rather than have a possible mess in the van, we went inside for their snack.

Back on the road, we made good time and were on FM 309 an hour or so later and getting close to home. I turned the van south off 309 onto the road that would take us to the house. When we had gone about a mile down the road, we passed what looked like a young teen boy walking along the side of the road.

"Why was that boy crying?" TJ asked.

"I don't know," I said. "I didn't notice."

"Shouldn't we find out?"

"Yes," I said, stopping the van. "He may be hurt."

I got out of the van and was followed by all six of the boys. The boy evidently didn't see us stop the van or start walking toward him, until we had almost reached him. His head was down and I could see that his clothes were torn in several places.

"Why are you crying?" TJ asked, as he had run ahead to the boy.

The startled youth looked as if he were going to dart into the ditch and the woods beyond.

"Son, are you hurt?" I asked when I got to him.

He didn't respond other than with a hiccup.

"Please tell us what's wrong," Chris said, putting his arm around the sobbing boy.

"She beat me and threw me out," the boy said through his sobs.

"Who's she?" I asked as gently as I could.

"My foster mom," he replied.

"Do you have any place to go to?" I asked.

He shook his head.

"You can come with us," Lenny said, with a pleading look at me.

"Sure," I said. "Get in the van with us."

He was reluctant at first, but with the urgings of the boys, he finally began walking with them to the van.

After everyone was securely fastened in their seats, I put the van in gear and resumed our way home. "What have I gotten myself in this time?" I thought to myself.

END OF BOOK 7

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