Joel Book I is available in paperback as Joel - Escape from Abuse. To purchase a copy, follow the link to my website below or go to your favorite online bookstore.
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.
This story is copyright by Ted Louis, all rights reserved. Distribution, including but not limited to: posting on internet sites, newsgroups, or message boards, or in book form (either as a whole or part of a compilation), or on CD, DVD or any other electronic media, is expressly prohibited without the author's written consent.
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All the chapters of Joel may also be found on my website at www.gvtc.com/~tedlouis/. The chapters are posted in TXT and HTML formats.
Make a difference in a foster child's life, become a CASA volunteer (Court Appointed Special Advocate). To locate your local organization or for more information, visit the National CASA website at http://www.nationalcasa.org/
Author's Note: As many of you noticed, the date of departure for Orlando in Chapter 1 was incorrect. It was mistakenly written as May 31. That would have made the Johnson clan's stay in Orlando to be over a month if they were to stay over July 4th. Of course, the date should have been June 30. Ted
I was up, showered and dressed by seven the next morning. I wanted to plan out what our day was going to be and to decide on our breakfast. One option was to have room service. Another was to eat in one of the restaurants in the hotel. After carefully considering the options, I selected one that I thought the boys would enjoy the most. That was the restaurant that served an all you can eat breakfast buffet.
After I had brewed a pot of coffee and had my first cup, I went to start waking the boys. I started first in Joel and TJ's room. Joel was awake and sitting on the edge of the bed when I entered the room.
"You're awake awfully early," I said.
"Yeah, I guess I'm kinda anxious," he said sheepishly. "I've been thinking of all the things to do today. I know it's gonna be fun."
"I'm sure everyone is going to have a great day. Why don't you wake up TJ and get him ready? I'll go wake JR and your brothers."
When I entered the other bedroom, all four of the boys were sound asleep. They looked so angelic that I hated to wake them. I gently shook first Lenny and then Larry. Both looked around before they realized where they were and then raced to the bathroom to start getting ready. I shook Chris next. He had always been one to jump out of bed the moment he was awakened. JR, on the other hand, was not easy to roust out of bed. Eric had warned me that he would be hard to wake. The other boys were finished in the bathroom before I was able to get JR moving. I wasn't sure that he was awake, but he was on his feet. I couldn't help chuckling to myself as he shuffled toward the bathroom.
I went back into the living area and dialed Marie's room. She answered almost immediately. I told her we would meet her in about fifteen minutes and go down to the restaurant for breakfast. I could hear Ricky jabbering in the background so I knew he was up and I assumed he was dressed for the day.
While we waited for JR to finish dressing, I poured the other boys a glass of orange juice. The refrigerator in the kitchenette was fully stocked with juices and soft drinks as well as an assortment of fresh fruits. JR must have heard the others eating because he rushed into where we were, still tucking in his shirttail.
I made sure that all the exposed skin was coated with sunscreen on all the boys. We would be out in the open for most of the day and I didn't want any sunburned kids at the end of the day. I also put a supply of sunscreen in my fanny pack so we could renew the protection during the day.
Marie and Ricky were just coming out of their room as we left ours.
"Hi," Ricky yelled, as he saw the boys.
"Hi," came the chorus from the boys.
Ricky ran as fast as his one good leg and his peg leg would carry him and launched himself at Joel.
"Good morning, munchkin, are you ready for some fun?" Joel asked. Ricky's head bobbed up and down and grinned. "Well then, let's go get some breakfast."
With Joel carrying Ricky, we headed to the elevator. I spoke to Marie and asked her if everything was all right in her rooms.
"Oh, Mr. Johnson, everything is wonderful. It's so fancy. Ricky just loved that big bed. It was like sleeping on a cloud. I'll hate to go back to our little apartment."
"Well, just enjoy it while we're here. This is a vacation for all of us," I said. "Did you put sunscreen on Ricky this morning?"
"No, I forgot," she answered. "He usually doesn't spend that much time in the sun. I'll have to go back to the room to get it."
"Don't bother. I have some you can put on him after breakfast. I hope you don't mind eating at the buffet this morning. The boys love a buffet because they have such a variety and you can go back for seconds."
The excitement level rose as the elevator descended. By the time the doors opened on the ground floor, everyone was talking and nobody seemed to be listening. I had to quiet them down before we headed for the restaurant.
We were met at the entrance of the restaurant by an officious looking, middle aged man, impeccably dressed. He could easily have passed for a butler in a stately old mansion. He looked icily at the boys before asking me if we had a reservation. I didn't like his attitude, but I gave him my name. He looked at his list before turning and signaling to an attractive young lady. She greeted us and directed us toward a large round table in a relatively private alcove, but within a short distance from the buffet line.
I noticed that she took particular notice of Ricky and his peg leg. It was more than a look of curiosity that he gets from most people who see him for the first time. She seemed to have a real interest in the leg.
After she seated us, she took our drink orders and indicated we should help ourselves to the buffet. The boys didn't need to be told twice. They were out of their chairs and on the way to the food before I could stand up. Thankfully, there was only one couple going through the line at the time. I saw that it might be a problem for TJ to select his food and carry a plate at the same time and I knew it would be a problem for Ricky. I thought the other boys would be able to handle everything okay.
I motioned to a busboy that was standing nearby. When he approached, I asked him if he could help my son with his plate and if there was someone else who could help Ricky. He excused himself for a minute before returning with another young man. With the problems solved, we proceeded to fill our plates with more food than I thought possible for us to eat. I tipped the two young men after they carried TJ and Ricky's food back to our table.
At the table, our waitress was there with the juice and milk for the boys and coffee for Marie and me. As we settled into our places, she placed our beverages correctly in front of us. I don't know how she remembered who was to get what, but she did. When she finished, she asked if there would be anything else. I told her we had everything we needed right now, but to check back with us in a while. She hesitated for a moment.
"Is there something else?" I asked.
"Please don't think I'm being rude, but I have never seen a leg like the little boy is wearing. You see my niece is about his age or a little older. She lost her leg to bone cancer when she was only a year old. The doctors have told my sister that they can't fit a leg for her daughter until she is older. Could you possibly tell me where your son got his?"
"He's not my son," I said, "but he is like a brother to my sons. He's Marie's son. To answer your question, there's a doctor in Houston who fitted Ricky's peg leg." Taking a small pad from my pocket, I quickly wrote down the doctor's name. "I'm sorry that I don't remember his telephone number off the top of my head, but if you're here tomorrow morning, I'll have it for you."
"Thank you so much, Missy will be so pleased that maybe something can be done for Julie. Enjoy your breakfast. If there is anything I can get you, don't hesitate to ask."
True to form, when the boys finished eating what was on their plates, they looked at me for permission to go for seconds. I told them to leave there dirty plates on the table and pick up clean ones before going through the line again. I followed them to the buffet to make sure that they didn't take food that I thought they would waste. I didn't need to worry, there was almost no food left on any plate by the time they finished.
After a quick trip to the restrooms to get the boys' hands and faces washed, and for Marie to apply sun screen to Ricky, we headed to the hotel lobby. There we were met by the guide I had hired to escort us and hopefully to help keep an eye on seven lively boys. He introduced himself as Felix Kapp. He appeared to be in his early twenties, probably a college student on summer vacation. After a brief overview of the events planned for the day, he led us out the front door of the hotel to a waiting bus. As we made our way to our seats, I noticed a couple other families with children already seated. Within a few minutes the bus took off for the theme park.
Since the park was just opening for the day, the crowds were not too bad. We were able to get on the various rides with a minimal wait. Of course, the first thing the boys wanted to ride on was Splash Mountain. They had seen it so many times on the Disney World commercials. Since Ricky was less than 40 inches tall, he wasn't allowed on the ride. Marie said that was fine, she and Ricky would watch. I don't think Ricky was too happy about that.
I think the screams of the boys, as the hollowed-out log shaped car plunged off Chick-a-pin Hill down five stories into the water, could be heard all the way back to Texas. They were screams of pure joy accented by just a little fear. Felix appeared to be enjoying the ride also.
"Can we do it again, dad?" TJ asked, as we got out of the car wet from the splash of Splash Mountain.
"After while, son, we need to do something that Ricky can ride on."
We dried off a little as we walked to the Buzz Lightyear ride. This was the first of many attractions that all the boys could enjoy. Some were a little too juvenile for Joel, or at least he thought they were.
After about an hour and a half, I was beginning to tire. I needed to sit down and rest, preferably with a cup of coffee. When I suggested it to the boys and mentioned that they could have a snack. It was met with enthusiasm. We found a place that served hot chocolate and sweet rolls for the boys. I got my cup of coffee and gave my feet a rest.
Feeling more rested; we headed off for more adventures. The ride on Space Mountain again left Ricky and Marie on the ground while the rest of us explored space. A Jungle Cruise and a ride on a Riverboat was all we got in before it was time for lunch. The wait on line for the attractions was getting longer.
We settled on the Pecos Bill Cafe for lunch. Its Western theme appealed to the boys as did the cheeseburgers and fries. For dessert we all had one of their trademark root beer floats. Ricky only ate about half of his cheeseburger, but the other half didn't go to waste. It was immediately commandeered by Joel who was sitting beside him.
We settled on a couple of benches after lunch and rested for a while before beginning the afternoon round of attractions. Ricky was sitting on Joel's lap half asleep when the Mickey Mouse character approached. Ricky's eyes got big as saucers. He hopped down off Joel's lap, and before anyone could catch him, ran as fast as he could to Mickey, grabbed the mouse's leg yelling, "Mickey!"
Mickey, to his credit, didn't freak out, but leaned over and patted Ricky on the head before gently extricating him from his leg. Felix returned from his own lunch at that point and asked Mickey to pose for a picture with Ricky. This turned into a picture taking session with all of the boys getting involved. We even had a group picture taken with Mickey and the nine of us. This scene was repeated in a somewhat more decorous fashion with Goofy, Snow White and several other Disney characters. I'm glad that Felix was prepared with several rolls of 36 exposure film.
By three o'clock, I could tell that the boys were getting tired. This was especially noticeable with TJ and Ricky. When I suggested that we head back to the hotel for a rest, it was met with mild resistance, but that was overcome when I suggested that we come back for the "SpectroMagic" Parade later this evening.
Felix accompanied us back to the hotel. As we bade goodbye to him, he told me the film would be developed and delivered to the front desk around seven this evening. Ricky was asleep in Marie's arms by this time and didn't even wake up when she opened the door to their rooms. TJ was still walking, but he was not entirely awake. I led him into his and Joel's bedroom. He crawled onto the bed and was asleep almost before his head hit the pillow. I removed his shoes and covered him with a light blanket.
I went back into the living room area to find the remaining boys lounging on the couches, watching TV.
"Dad, I'm thirsty. Can we have something to drink?" Chris asked.
"Sure, there's some juice in the refrigerator. There're some snacks in the little pantry beside the dishwasher, if you want something," I said, knowing the snacks would be consumed.
All five crammed into the small kitchenette and returned with their booty. I cautioned them not to spill anything and went to start the coffeemaker. I felt the need for a caffeine boost.
I had just settled down to my hot cup of fresh coffee when the phone rang. With the noise of the TV and the chatter of the boys, I decided to take the call in my bedroom.
"Crane, I'm glad I caught you in," the voice said that I recognized as Jack's.
"Jack, you have any good news for me?"
"Yes and no," he said.
"What does that mean?"
"Well, the preliminary check on Dirk Soznowski came back pretty clear. He is who he says he is. His credit rating is excellent. He has a good job and is well liked by his co-workers. That's the good part. The not-so-good part is that he is considered a ladies man and has been seen with a number of young ladies. None of the relationships have lasted very long before he takes up with another young lady. The strange thing about that is none of his former girl friends that we've been able to contact, had anything bad to say about him. We're still checking him out in more depth. I guess the 'not-so-good' is not-so-bad, depending on how you look at it. I think I would advise caution to any woman who got involved with him."
"Thanks, Jack. You've done an amazing job in less than 24 hours. Let me know if you find out anything of significance on him."
"I will, Crane. By the way, how are you holding up with all those boys? I don't envy you in the slightest."
"So far they haven't been any problem. We had to come back to the hotel for a rest. I think I needed it worse than the boys did. Most of the week is still ahead of us. I'll let you know later. They may bring me back in a straight jacket," I laughed.
"I know what you mean. I'm convinced that my three will put me in a rubber room before Carolyn and I get them raised. I'll give you a call as soon as we finish the investigation. Enjoy yourself."
After I hung up the phone, I wondered how or if I should tell Marie about Dirk. I wasn't even sure that anything would come of their meeting. I decided to wait and see what developed. My thoughts were interrupted by TJ padding into my room in his stocking feet.
"Did you have a nice nap?" I asked, as he climbed onto my lap.
"Uh huh," he said sleepily. "I'm thirsty."
"Well, let's go get you some juice." I struggled to my feet with him in my arms. "You're getting heavy. It won't be long before I won't be able to carry you." He didn't say anything, he just snuggled his head under my chin.
Joel had found the game controllers and had figured out how to play them on the TV when there was a knock on the door. I got up and went to answer it. When I did, Dirk was standing there.
"Mr. Johnson, may I have a word with you?"
"Certainly, come in."
"Thank you, I have just come from Ms. Salazar's room," he said. "She said that I had to ask you."
"What do you want to ask?"
"Well, I'd like to invite Ms. Salazar to a reception and dinner dance tonight. The Association of Direct Marketers is hosting it tonight in the ballroom downstairs."
"I don't have any objections, but what about Ricky?"
"I told Marie that the hotel offers babysitting services, but she is hesitant to use them. She's afraid of how they would react to his leg."
"That could be a problem. Some people are uncomfortable with imperfection. How do you feel about it?"
"He's an adorable child. I don't find his handicap repugnant in any way. I grew up with a boy next door who had only one arm. We were best friends all the way through school. I still keep in contact with him even though we're half a continent apart."
"Tell Marie that the boys and I will take care of him this evening. I would hate for him to miss out on the parade and fireworks. Now on another matter, you have a reputation of being a ladies man who changes girlfriends quicker than most men change socks. What are your intentions toward Marie? I would be very disappointed if you hurt her in any way. Do I make myself clear?"
"Yes, sir," he gulped. "I would never try to hurt her. She's an attractive woman. My only intentions right now are to show her a good time. Many of the men tonight will have their wives with them. Having someone to escort will make the evening much more enjoyable for me and I hope for her."
"What about the dress for this evening? I know Marie did not bring anything fancy to wear."
"Oh, I never thought of that. It's a little bit dressy. A cocktail dress would be appropriate. Maybe I made a mistake. I wouldn't want to have her being embarrassed by being under-dressed."
"Let me worry about that. You go tell Marie what time you're going to pick her up and that we will be taking care of Ricky."
As soon as he left, I called the concierge and told him what I wanted. I then called Marie and told her what to expect and that I would be by to pick up Ricky for the evening.
"Mr. Johnson, this is too much," she said, as she opened the door to her room.
"Nonsense, this is a chance for you to go out and enjoy yourself. Is Ricky awake?"
"Yes, he's in the bathroom. He should be finished. I'll go get him."
There was a knock on the door while she was getting Ricky. I opened it to admit an immaculately dressed woman and a bellhop wheeling a rack with perhaps a dozen cocktail dresses hanging on it.
"I'm Lucille," she said, as she brushed by me. "Where is the young lady?"
"She'll be right here. She's taking care of her son."
Marie arrived at that moment with Ricky in tow. He looked at the lady, then me and then scurried over to me.
"Hi," he said, holding up his arm for me to pick him up. As I did, he threw his arms around my neck and kissed me noisily on the cheek. I returned his kiss with the same amount of noise. That made him giggle.
"Come on, little one, let's go find the other boys and let your momma get on with getting dressed. Marie, if it's late, we'll put Ricky to bed in our suite. Does he have any pajamas?"
"Just a second and I'll get them for you. Here you go," she said, as she returned with the pajamas. "You be a good boy for Mr. Johnson. Give momma a kiss." She got one of his noisy kisses and a giggle before we left.
Ricky was greeted enthusiastically by the boys when I walked in carrying him. He wiggled out of my arms and went to sit with everyone else and watch Larry and Lenny battle each other in the video game. As I watched the seven of them, I began to realize what I had gotten myself into.
As the time for our supper reservation approached, I told the boys to go wash their hands and faces. Joel grabbed Ricky, "Let's go wash your dirty hands and face, munchkin." This elicited one of Ricky's characteristic giggles as he was swept up in the rush of the others.
I had just returned from my own bathroom when there was a knock on the door. I opened it to find a stunning Marie standing there with Dirk. "Marie, you look absolutely stunning. Come in, please. I'm sure you want to say goodnight to Ricky. He's in the bathroom getting washed up for supper."
"I can't thank you enough, Mr. Johnson. They even did my hair. And the shoes, I've never had such shoes. They didn't have to make any changes to the dress. Lucille said I was a perfect size 3."
All this time, Dirk was standing there smiling broadly. He was dressed very smartly in a dark blue tuxedo. I had to admit, they made a handsome couple.
TJ came running into the room and skidded to a halt next to me. He just stared at Marie, not saying anything. Joel and Ricky were the next to arrive followed closely by the other four.
"Hi, momma," Ricky said, stretching out his arms for his mother.
"Is that Marie?" TJ whispered to me.
"Yes, son, that's Marie."
"Wow, Marie! You look really nice," Joel said.
I guess everyone agreed. The rest of the boys were standing there with their mouths open, nodding their heads.
Marie gave Ricky a kiss. "You be a good boy for Mr. Johnson."
"Okay," Ricky replied and returned his mother's kiss.
Marie started to set Ricky down, but Joel took him from her and held him.
"Have a good time," I said. "I'll put Ricky to bed as soon as we get back from the parade. If you're back before eleven, you can come get him. Otherwise, we'll keep him overnight. Don't worry about him, he'll be fine. The boys will keep him entertained."
Shortly after Dirk and Marie left, I gathered up the boys and headed to the restaurant for our meal. The restaurant that I had chosen was not a buffet, although that was one of the choices available in the hotel. The maitre d' did not look at all pleased when he saw the seven boys and me walking toward his station. When we arrived, he pointedly ignored us for several minutes while he looked through his book of reservations. Seeing that I was not going away, he finally acknowledged me.
"May I help you, sir?" he asked, with fake civility dripping from his words.
"Yes, you may. You may treat residents of your hotel's VIP suites with respect. Now if you would be so kind as to summon the restaurant manager," I said, with the same fake civility.
"I'm sure I can handle anything you want," he said.
"And I'm sure you could have, if you had shown your patrons a little more respect. Now, I would like to speak to the manager, please."
I could hear Joel suppressing a giggle behind me. When the maitre d' saw that I was serious, he picked up his phone and spoke briefly into it. Within a minute, the manager arrived.
"How may I help you, sir?" the manager asked.
"I just wanted to let you know how rudely we were treated by this officious twit of a maitre d'. We were kept waiting for several minutes while he thumbed through the reservations before he even acknowledged our presence. Then when he did speak, his tone of voice was anything but friendly. Is this the way all your guests are treated? If it is, I think we would be able to find a place that will be more hospitable."
"No, sir, it is not our policy at all. Please forgive the slight. I will see to everything. You had a reservation for eight guests?"
"Actually the reservation was for nine people, but one won't be here. The reservation was under the name of Johnson."
"Yes, I see. Right this way, please." The manager led us to a table in a private area that was set up for nine. Seeing Ricky, he sent one of the wait staff to bring him a booster seat. "If there is anything else you need, please don't hesitate to ask. My name is Randall. Enjoy your meal."
"Thank you, I'm sure we will." I watched him retreat to the maitre d' station and speak with him. I could tell from the body language and hand gestures that he was not complementing the maitre d' on his job performance.
The meal turned out to be excellent. The amazing part of it was the boys didn't spill anything on their clothes, so we didn't have to go back to the room to change. I was proud of all seven of them for the way they acted and the table manners they displayed. Ricky's table manners weren't perfect, but just how much can you expect from a three year-old?
When we finished the meal and the check was signed, I herded the boys to the restroom and started the assembly line to get their hands and faces washed. By the time that was completed, it was time to catch the bus to the theme park for the parade and fireworks.
The bus arrived in plenty of time for us to find a good place to watch the parade. I paired up the boys: Larry with Lenny, Chris with JR, Joel with TJ and Ricky was with me. I cautioned them they were to stay close by me at all times. I wasn't too worried about security in the park, I just didn't want any of the boys to wander off and get lost.
The "SpectroMagic" Parade was worth coming back to the park. We were all stunned by the spectacle of what seemed to be millions of lights on the floats. I was most impressed by Cinderella's coach as it glided past our vantage point. The boys were disappointed when it ended, but that didn't last for long. The fireworks display started shortly after the parade ended. It was just as spectacular, if not more so, as when we viewed it from our hotel room. Ricky would jump every time there was a loud boom from the fireworks, but then he would giggle at the brilliant lights and starbursts.
It was a tired but happy group of boys that trooped back to the park exit and our bus. The crowd exiting the park took a while to clear enough so that we were able to leave. Thankfully, all the boys were able to stick with me as we made out way out. I was a little worried that we might get separated in the crowd.
Since it was late when we arrived back at the suite, I told the boys that they could wait until morning to take their showers, but I did remind them to brush their teeth before going to bed. I removed Ricky's peg leg and got him into his pajamas. It was like dressing a rag doll. He was almost asleep and was of little help putting on the pajamas. I put him in my bed and saw to it that he was fully asleep, before I went to tuck the boys in.
It had been a busy day. We had another one to look forward to tomorrow. Disney's Animal Kingdom was on our agenda.
To be continued.
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