Joel Book I and II are available in paperback as Joel - Escape from Abuse and Joel and Family. 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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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/
We had just finished our lunch when Eric's dad arrived. I hadn't seen him since he went back to Houston to live. He looked like the way he did before his wife died. I was a bit surprised because at one time Eric was seeking information on nursing homes where he could put his dad. The first thing he did when I invited him into the house was to pick up Ricky, who had followed me to the door.
"Hey there, little buddy, how have you been?" Alan asked, giving Ricky a hug.
"Hi, gran'pa," Ricky squealed, and gave Alan a sloppy kiss on the cheek.
"My, you have grown bigger since the last time I saw you and heavier, too. You're getting to be a big boy." Ricky's response was one of his characteristic giggles and tucked his head under Alan's chin.
Eric rolled up in his wheelchair and greeted his dad, "Hello, pop. You know you didn't have to drive all the way here. I'll be able to take care of myself in a day or two."
"Nonsense, it gave me a reason to come visit my grandson and from the looks of you, it will be a while before you are really able to care for yourself, let alone the boys. Anyway, I was getting bored sitting around the house. I've fixed everything that needs fixing, redone all the landscaping, painted the shutters and cleaned out the garage. What more is there for me to do?"
"I'm glad you came, dad. I know JR and Bran will be happy to see you."
"Mr. Levin," I said, "we just finished lunch, but if you would like something to eat, I'm sure that Hildy will be happy to fix you a plate."
"That would be most welcome," Alan said. "I drove straight through. If you'll show me where the bathroom is, I need to wash up. Hey little buddy, I have to wash my hands. I need to set you down."
"Okay," Ricky said, giving Alan another sloppy kiss.
No sooner had Alan come out of the bathroom than Ricky was back, wanting to be picked up. Alan obliged and sat down at the kitchen table with Ricky on his knee.
"Ricky," Marie said, as she came into the kitchen. "Get off Mr. Levin's lap and let him eat his lunch."
Ricky looked downcast and started to climb down, but Alan stopped him. "Marie, I owe this son of yours my life. If it weren't for him giving me his unconditional love after Ethel died, I would probably be in a nut house somewhere - or at least a nursing home. He never gave up on me and made me live. He got through to me when no one else could. He's my little buddy. Aren't you?"
"Yeah," Ricky answered with a giggle.
While Alan ate the lunch that Hildy fixed, Eric and I sat and talked with him enjoying a cup of coffee. Every once in a while Alan would sneak a potato chip to Ricky whenever Hildy or Marie weren't looking. He was almost through eating when the phone rang. Hildy answered it.
"Eric," she said, holding out the phone. "It's for you. He said he was a lawyer."
"I hope it's not one of those ambulance chasers wanting me to sue," Eric said, reaching for the portable phone Hildy was holding.
Eric wheeled his chair into the living room and spoke on the phone for several minutes before he returned to the kitchen.
"That must not have been one of those shysters," Alan said.
"No, pop, it wasn't. It was a lawyer for the Baughman family. They want to settle any claims I might have and keep it out of court and the press as much as possible."
"What kind of settlement are they proposing?" Alan asked.
"First, they will replace my car with a top of the line Lexus or any other car of my choice," Eric said. "That's in addition to anything that the insurance companies end up doing. He offered a very generous cash settlement as well as paying for all of my medical bills and physical therapy that I'll need. The only stipulations were that I sign away any right I might have to sue Mr. Baughman's estate at a later date and that I not talk to the press about the accident or any settlement we reach."
"What are you going to do, son?"
"I don't know, pop. I need to talk to my lawyer. I told their attorney I would get back to him in a day or two."
"What kind of cash are they talking about?" Alan asked.
"The figure he tossed out was $200,000. I got the impression that this was a starting point for the negotiations. Oh, and another thing, he said they would deliver a loaner car to the house this afternoon. We can use it until I decide on the replacement car. I get the distinct impression they don't want this to go to court and be splashed all over the newspapers."
I looked over at Alan and saw that Ricky was asleep in his arms. "Here, let me take him. It's time for his nap." I picked Ricky up without him waking and took him into the twins' bedroom. I placed him on one of the beds, removed his shoe and covered him with a blanket. "Have a nice nap," I told him, before kissing him lightly on the forehead.
Eric and Alan decided to take off for their home. I gathered up the clothes for all three that they had brought here and took them to Alan's van. Eric maneuvered the wheelchair next to the sliding door of the van. It was quite an ordeal getting Eric out of the wheelchair and into the back seat, but we managed it without causing his ribs too much pain. I offered to drive over to Eric's house to help get him out of the van, but they declined my offer saying the task of getting out of the van would be easier.
Later, I met the boys' school van when they came home from school. This time there were six dogs to greet the seven boys. I decided to wait to tell JR and Bran about Eric going to their house until after we got to the house.
"Where's dad?" JR asked, as we entered the house.
"He and your grandpa are at your house. After you have your snack, I'll take you guys home - Charlie, too," I said.
The large plate on the kitchen piled high with chocolate brownies was enough to take their mind off of their dad. At least it did for a little while. As soon as the snack was consumed, Bran and JR packed up their school books and Charlie and we took off for their house. I stopped long enough to see how Eric and his dad were doing before I returned home.
"Dad," Joel said, as I entered the house. "Golf starts next week and I need a new pair of golf shoes. My old ones are too small, they hurt my feet."
"Well, we're going into San Antonio to a music store on Saturday to look at a keyboard for the twins. Remind me and we'll stop at the sporting goods store also. Do you need anything else?"
"I'll need some golf balls and tees and a new glove."
"We might as well get everybody stocked up for their sports. I assume that spring soccer and baseball will be starting soon as well. I'll need to check with your brothers to see what sports they want to be involved in this year."
Joel went off to play with the other boys and Sam, and I went to talk to Hildy. "Hildy, do you know of anyone who gives piano lessons?"
"I can think of a couple people. Who's going to take lessons?" she asked.
"The twins want to. Since we don't have room for a full sized piano in here, I told them we would get one of those electronic keyboards to use until we move into the new house. I'm not sure where we'll put a piano in the new house. When you talk to the decorator again, ask him where he would put it. I'm not anxious to listen to hours of scales, but I think it's a good idea that they take lessons."
"I think the best person for Larry and Lenny would be Bernice Shultz. She's very good with children. She has four of her own. She plays the organ at church. I know she gives lessons and she doesn't live that far from here. If you want, I'll ask her at church on Sunday."
"That would be great. I'm taking the boys to get a keyboard on Saturday. Maybe she would have a suggestion as to the best piano to get for the house once she knows how it will be used. I'm betting that the keyboard is not the only thing that will leave the music store Saturday."
"Well, Bernice gives other music lessons besides piano. She's quite musical. If I remember correctly, she has a master's degree in music from SMU. I know she teaches violin and guitar, also."
The rest of the week, both Larry and Lenny kept reminding me that we were going to the music store. I just hoped that they were as enthusiastic once they started taking lessons and having to practice. I had a talk with all of the boys to see what sports they wanted to be involved in this spring and summer. Joel wanted to concentrate on golf. Chris selected soccer. Larry and Lenny were torn between soccer and baseball and thought they would like to try both. TJ was eligible for a junior baseball league, so he decided on that. I had them all take out their sports equipment to see if they needed to be replaced. Not surprisingly, everything needed to be replaced. They had all grown so much, everything was now too small. Most of the equipment was still in usable condition. I decided to check with their coaches to see if someone on the teams could make use of it. It was too good to throw away.
Saturday morning we all piled into the van and headed for San Antonio. The music store was our first stop. There was an amazing array of musical instruments on display. I explained to the clerk what we had in mind and asked him to suggest something that would be appropriate. He took us to a display of about a dozen keyboards and pointed out three that would serve the twins' purpose. He recommended that we purchase one that had at least 61 keys. He said the ones with a full set of 88 keys were best for advanced students. That let the twins out, at least for the time being.
I checked the sound that each one of them produced and to see if the keys felt like the response from a real piano keyboard. I was certainly no expert since I hadn't played a piano in close to 20 years. I was surprised that I still remembered how to play a piece of music that my teacher made me play all those years ago. It wasn't perfect by any means, but it was a reasonable rendition to my ear.
While the twins and I were trying to decide on which keyboard to purchase, TJ looked on with fascination. Joel had wandered over to where the guitars were on display and, much to my chagrin, Chris had found the drums.
At last, after much discussion with the sales clerk, we decided on a Yamaha electronic piano with all 88 keys. It was more than I had anticipated paying for a keyboard, but it was of good quality and would be useful if the twins became more proficient. I might even try my hand at it again. Maybe I wouldn't dislike it as much as when I was force to play when I was a kid.
"Can I play the piano, too?" TJ asked.
"If you want to, I don't see any reason why you can't," I answered. This was the first time I had heard him express any interest in music.
I told the clerk to set the keyboard, amplifier and accessories aside while I went to check on Chris and Joel. Chris was sitting behind a set of drums that any professional drummer would die for. The clerk walked up behind me and said, "Your son has good tastes in drums. That's the best set we have and there's probably not a better set in the state."
"Chris, that set is way too advanced for you. Is this something you would like to try?"
"Let's look at a starter set," I said. Then turning to the clerk, "What do you recommend for him to start out with?"
"Over here is a set that most start out on. It consists of a bass drum, a snare drum on a tripod, a small cymbal and usually a kick drum. The complete set is less than $300," he said.
"How about lessons?" I asked the clerk. "Where can he learn how to play them?"
"We have people who can give lessons. Lessons can be arranged most any time that is convenient to the student. They are usually held once a week for an hour. I might add, if for some reason your son finds that he doesn't like playing the drums after he's tried for a while, we have a re-sale shop over on Broadway that accepts musical equipment on consignment," the clerk said.
"If I bring him in for lessons, do I have to bring his drums with him?" I asked.
The clerk chuckled and said, "No, we'll have a setup similar to his that he can learn on. He would only need to bring his sticks and brushes."
"Great, I didn't relish hauling them with us every week. Okay, Chris, if you really think you want to learn the drums, we'll get that set."
I checked with the clerk on when I could bring Chris in for his lessons. We decided that Wednesdays at five o'clock would work, so I contracted for the lessons.
With four of the boys taken care of, we headed over to where Joel was having an animated conversation with another clerk. "Hi, dad, I was just looking."
"I can see that. Did you see anything you liked?"
"Yeah," he said hesitantly. "But I don't need anything."
The way his eyes stayed fixed on a shiny red and chrome Fender, I could tell he wasn't being completely truthful. "Look, son, your brothers are getting their choice of musical instruments. If you want to learn to play that guitar, that's all right."
"But it's $400. I don't have that much saved out of my allowance."
"Why don't you let dad worry about how much it costs. What I want for you is to broaden your experiences. If that means learning to play the guitar, I'm fine with that. Is that the one you want?" I could see the clerk nodding his head behind Joel's back. "It's yours, if you want it."
"Thanks, dad," Joel said, and threw his arms around me and gave me a hug. When he stepped back, I could see his eyes glistening with the beginning of tears.
I went with the clerks to pay for our purchases and asked them to get everything ready and we would be back to pick everything up in an hour or so. We had more shopping to do and I didn't want to tempt anyone with that much stuff in the back of the van when it was unattended in the parking lot. By the time the amplifiers, cables and other accessories were added in, the bill came to a little over $3,000.
Thankfully the stop at the sporting goods store was less expensive. We did leave there with armloads of sports equipment. I was beginning to wonder if we would be able to get everything loaded into the van when I saw the small mountain of musical equipment waiting for us at the music store. With some of the bulkier boxes securely lashed to the roof rack and the rest stuffed in the rear seat and in the aisles, our overloaded van began the trek home.
"Are we going to go ride the horses today?" Chris asked as I parked the van in front of the house.
"I think it would be better if we waited until tomorrow afternoon. We have all of this stuff to unload and get put away and I'm sure that you want to try it all out." I wasn't sure that I was ready to hear Chris banging away on his new drums, the twins and TJ on the keyboard or Joel on the electric guitar. I knew I had to come up with a solution or the racket would drive us all up the wall.
We finally got everything unloaded from the van and I sat down to have a cup of coffee and tell Hildy what was going on. She was busy fixing lunch, but listened intently as I told her of each boy's choice of instruments.
"You know that Beatrice can work with Joel as well as the twins and TJ," she said.
"I remember you telling me she taught guitar. I suspect, if she takes the job, that she will be here several days a week. How long are her lessons?"
"I'm not sure, but I think that for beginners they are half an hour. I'm sure she could do all three of the keyboard lessons in one visit."
"When you talk to her tomorrow, be sure you let her know what she is getting herself into with this crew."
"Dad, will you help us set up the keyboard?" Larry asked.
"Sure, do you know where you want to put it?"
"Yeah, in our bedroom," Lenny answered.
"Where's Chris going to set up his drums? Is there room for it in the bedroom, too?"
"If we move all the beds together there will be," Larry answered proudly.
"You're probably right. Let's go see how everything is going to fit."
It took almost an hour to get everything unpacked and assembled before Hildy called us to lunch.
"Oh, I almost forgot, Harold stopped by earlier," Hildy said, as we were eating. "He wanted to talk to you about something. He didn't say what."
"Good, I hope he's still here. I had an idea on the way home that I want to discuss with him," I told her. I finished my lunch and went to find Harold.
I found him inspecting some of the drywall work that one of his subcontractors was in the process of installing. The inspector that was here on Friday had approved all the plumbing and electrical work. Harold was pointing out to the subcontractor a defect and was informing him that it needed to be corrected.
Harold waved to me and when he was finished with the subcontractor, came over to where I was standing. I was amazed at how fast the drywall was going up. We discussed the items that Harold had on his list before I brought up my idea.
"Harold, you know that space over the garages," I said. "What would it take to change it from a storage area that we planned, to an area that the boys could use to practice their music?"
He thought a moment before answering. "The biggest problems I see with that is there is no HVAC system planned for that area and it isn't insulated. The insulation is no problem. One of my guys can do that in half a day. I'll need to get the electrician back to install some more outlets. I'll have the drywall guys finish it off after I get it insulated. I'm not sure that we can use the geothermal units for heating and cooling since all the ductwork and units are all ready in place. I'll check with my HVAC contractor to see if it's possible to run off one of the units. If not, the only solution is to put in a separate heat pump for that area."
"But, if you don't see any major problems, go ahead and do it. I know it's a change order and it'll cost more but it will be worth being able to isolate the noise - I'm sorry, I mean music that will be coming from there."
Harold laughed. "It won't be too costly. The heating and cooling will be the major expense."
"By the way, I haven't seen Joey with you recently. I think TJ misses him."
"There's this wonderful lady that moved into the house just down the road from us who takes care of him while I'm here. She has twins, a boy and a girl, about Joey's age. He loves to go there. He and Jimmy have a great time together. I think they just tolerate Gloria, the sister. It's good for Joey to have other kids to play with."
"That's not a problem around here. There's always someone to play with."
When I got back to the house, it was bedlam. Hildy was smiling and shaking her head at the sounds of the drums, the piano and the guitar all making noises that could not be construed as music.
"I hope Bernice works miracles," I said. "Maybe I'd better show them how to use the headphones. I wish the drums came with them."
With headphones attached to the keyboard and guitar, the house was a much quieter place. The drums were still raising the decibel level in the house, but even that seemed to take on a more rhythmic sound. Maybe we would survive this musical maelstrom.
The phone rang and I headed for my bedroom to try to have a quieter space to answer it. It was Jack Hogan. "Jack, what can I do for you?"
"I just called to tell you we finished the cursory background check on Bertram Lance Cooper."
"Oh, Rosie's brother. I almost forgot about asking you to check him out. What did you find?"
"Nothing serious. He's had two minor traffic violations for speeding and gotten into a couple of scuffles with some of the town bullies that got the cops called. From all reports, he's a very bright boy, but doesn't appear to be living up to his potential. He's got a quick temper that flares up, but he calms down just as quickly. No serious girl friends. He's dated several, but never got too involved. Most of the people we talked to had good things to say about him. He's a hard worker, but most said he rebelled against a domineering father."
"It doesn't sound like he's a bad kid, just needs a little direction and some freedom. Thanks for the info, Jack."
"No problem, Crane. How's the new house coming along?"
"Slowly. Harold says it'll take another three to three and a half months to complete. I can't wait. It'll be almost a year that we were burned out of the house."
When I hung up the phone, I noticed that the drumming had stopped. The boys were not in the house as I exited my bedroom. I looked outside and saw them kicking the soccer ball around. The dogs were trying to play, also. It was a very funny sight. Five boys and five dogs each one trying to keep the ball away from the others.
On Sunday, I finished putting things away after we had eaten lunch. The boys had cleared the table, loaded the dishwasher and were in their bedrooms getting ready to go ride the horses. Hildy and Manfred arrived home from church.
"I see we're too late," Manfred laughed.
"Yes, the hungry hoard has eaten everything in sight," I rejoined.
"Manny, behave yourself," Hildy said, playfully swatting Manfred on the arm. "Crane, I talked to Bernice after church today. She said she has Thursday evening free to give lessons, but wants to come and talk to you tomorrow evening around seven. I told her I thought that would be okay. If you have something planned, I can call her and reschedule."
"No, that will be fine. Thursdays will work. Wednesdays I have to take Chris for his drum lessons. Did she say what she charged for the lessons?"
"I didn't ask. I'm sure she wants to discuss that with you."
We were interrupted by the boys rushing into the room. "Hi, Hildy. Let's go dad, I want to ride Lady," TJ pleaded.
"Okay, you guys go get in the van. I need to change into my jeans and different shoes. And take the cooler by the door with you, if you want something to drink later."
The boys were waiting impatiently in the van when I got there. We were at the ranch in a little over 15 minutes. When we drove up, Bert was on his knees working on a flowerbed. He was so intent on what he was doing that he didn't notice us until Joel spoke to him.
"Sorry, Mr. Johnson, I was concentrating on straightening out sis's flowers. She never did have a sense for plant arrangements and patterns that are appealing. We went to the nursery yesterday and picked out a bunch of annuals. Come back in six weeks and see if you like what I've done." Bert said, getting up and brushing off the knees of his pants.
"You like doing that?" I asked.
"Yes, sir, I've always had a green thumb. I like experimenting with different plants. What I really like is to crossbreed different flowers and see what happens. I've produced some really strange looking flowers, but most of them turned out to be sterile."
"Sounds like you're a budding botanist. Is Rosie here?" I asked.
"Yes, sir, she's lying down. She's not feeling well today. I think she overexerted herself yesterday. Tracy is in there with her. Go on in. I know Tracy wants to talk to you."
"Will you help the boys get the horses saddled? I'll be there as soon as I talk to Tracy and your sister."
"Let's go guys. I think I remember which horses you want. Oh, Mr. Johnson, do you care if I ride with you?"
"Of course not, saddle up one of the spare horses. I'm sure the boys would love to have you ride with us."
I knocked on the back door and saw Tracy sitting at the kitchen table intently reading a text book. He frowned at the interruption, but smiled when he saw it was me. "Mr. Johnson, please come in. I was trying to get a little studying done while Rosie is resting. Would you like a cup of coffee? The pot is always on when I'm studying."
"No thanks, I just wanted to check on Rosie. Bert said she was not feeling well. Nothing serious, I hope."
"She's doing better. I told her not to do so much yesterday, but she insisted she needed to do some baby shopping. You know how long it takes women to shop. Then she wanted to go to get some flowers to plant in the flowerbeds. I think she was on her feet too much. If you want to talk to her, I don't think she's asleep."
"Don't bother her. Let her rest. How are your studies going?"
"Fantastic. I want to thank you again for that computer. It has made my work so much easier. That paper that I told you about is almost finished. What would have taken me weeks to type and make corrections, I can do in days now. It leaves me more time to study. The prof said the paper couldn't be over 20 pages. With the word processor, I can write as much as I want and then cut or rearrange to fit the restrictions. That computer is going to get me an A on that paper, I know."
"I'm glad it's making your life easier. Now, I think I had better go get saddled up. The boys will be wondering what happened to me. Tell Rosie to call me if she needs anything. I mean that. Okay?"
"Thanks, Mr. Johnson, I'll tell her."
We rode for a little over an hour before the boys decided it was time to have something to drink. They did their now usual routine of leading their horses into the stable and helping each other removed the saddles. After brushing down their mounts, they hurried to the van to get the cooler. I saw Bert looking after the boys as they took the cooler out of the van.
"There's more than enough for the boys. Go help yourself to something cold," I told him.
"Thanks," he said, ran over to the cooler and took out a pint of apple juice.
I got a drink for myself and started for the house. I was about half way there when Rosie came out of the back door. "How are you feeling, Rosie?"
"I'm doing better. It's hard to make myself slow down. There are so many things I want to do before the baby is born. Yesterday taught me a lesson, though. Tracy scolded me, so to keep him from worrying, I promised him I would take things easy."
"Good, if you need any help around here, let me know. We had talked earlier about having someone help while you were pregnant. I can still get someone if Bert can't, or doesn't know how to do something.
"I know, Bert knows how to do everything around a ranch, but his heart is not really in it. I think he doesn't mind it as much now that dad is not bossing him around. Those two always seemed to be at loggerheads."
As soon as the boys had finished their drinks and said goodbye to Bert, we took off for home.
"Dad, can you show us how to play that song you played at the music place?" Lenny asked.
"I guess I could," I said. "But, I really think it's a little too complicated for you right now. How about if I show you something simple that you can easily learn?"
That was greeted with unanimous approval.
After quick showers for all of us to wash off the sweaty horse smell, the boys grabbed me by the arm and led me into their bedroom to the keyboard. They had already turned it on and had it warmed up. I sat down and with one finger picked out the tune to Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. Lenny scooted onto my lap and watched intently as I repeated the tune. He moved my hand away from the keys and tried to repeat what I had done. I was surprised when he only missed one note, which he immediately corrected. He then played it again with no errors.
Larry was next to take my lap. He had been standing on my left side watching me and Lenny as we picked out the tune. His playing was perfect except for the last note when he struck two adjacent keys at the same time with his finger. That made the other boys laugh and him blush. The second time through was error free.
TJ was next. He had been watching, but he was standing on the other side of the keyboard facing me. "It looks different from here," he said, as he sat on my lap.
"Here, let me show you again," I said. "Watch carefully."
It took TJ three times before he was able to play it all the way through. He had fun. Even when he made a mistake, he would laugh at himself.
Chris and Joel even took turns learning to play the tune.
By suppertime the continuous repetition of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star was really beginning to get on my nerves. I had to try to remember another one finger tune or this one was going to drive me crazy. I hope Bernice can work magic - and quickly.
To be continued
Your comments and criticisms are welcomed and encouraged. I try to answer all emails including flames. Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org, please put Joel in the subject.