Copyright 2005-2007 Ted Louis

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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Joel IV

Chapter 3

(Note:  One of my readers again caught me with my research down. Animal Kingdom did not open its doors until 1998. The year that this part of the story is taking place in is 1996. I'm claiming literary license. In my fictional world of the Johnson clan, it's already open. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.)

It was just past eleven, because the news had only begun, when Marie and Dirk arrived. I was waiting on the weather forecast to see what we could expect for tomorrow's adventure.

"I'm sorry, Mr. Johnson, the time just slipped away," she apologized.

"It was my fault," Dirk said.

"No problem. Did you have an enjoyable evening?"

"It was fun. I haven't dance like that in a long time. Dirk is a great dancer," Marie said. "I'm afraid his toes will never be the same. I was stepping on them all evening."

"That's not quite true. I only remember you stepping on them twice all night," Dirk said, smiling at her.

"Well, I'm glad you had fun. The boys and I had a fantastic time at the parade and fireworks display. I was afraid that Ricky would be frightened by the noise, but he really liked the light show. We'll have to go again before we leave. You should really see it."

"How's Ricky?" Marie asked. "Did he behave himself?"

"He was an angel. The boys made sure that he was never bored. I put him down in my bed about an hour ago. He was asleep before I could get his pajamas on. I checked on him about 15 minutes ago and he was out like a light."

"I'll go get him and take him back to our room. He might be frightened if he wakes up in a strange bed," Marie said, heading for the bedroom.

"If you'll grab his stuff, I'll carry him," I whispered. "He looks like an angel, sleeping so peacefully like that."

Marie chuckled quietly, "He's anything but an angel. I think he has a little devil in him."

"Don't they all. I know that my five do."

"Is there anything I can help with?" Dirk asked. I hadn't noticed that he had followed us into my bedroom.

"You can open the doors for us," Marie said. She opened her purse, withdrew the key card for her hotel room and handed it to Dirk.

By this time, I had gently slid my arms under the sleeping Ricky and had him cradled in my arms. Marie picked up his clothes and his peg leg. She looked around to make sure that she had everything and we were ready to go.

As we passed by Joel and TJ's bedroom, Joel opened the door and stuck his head out. "What's going on?" he asked.

"Go back to bed, son. We're taking Ricky back to his room. I'll be back in a few minutes."

He pulled his head back in and closed his bedroom door. I didn't think we were making that much noise to wake him. He had always been a fairly sound sleeper.

Ricky didn't wake up during the short walk to his room or when I placed him gently on the bed. I gave him a light kiss on the forehead before I pulled the cover over him.

Returning to the living room, I saw Marie give Dirk a quick kiss on the cheek. He smiled and turned to leave. I said good night to Marie and quickly followed Dirk out the door. He was a few steps ahead of me, but I quickly caught up with him.

"Just a minute, Dirk," I said, as I touched his arm. He stopped and turned around to face me. "Remember what I told you. I'm very protective of Marie and Ricky and don't want them to be hurt. It looks as if Marie is starting to have feelings for you. Make sure you don't mislead her as to your intentions."

"Mr. Johnson, I have no intention of misleading her. I find her to be a very attractive woman. She's intelligent, despite not having a lot of education. She's witty and a good conversationalist. I don't know what will happen between us. All I can say is that I will try to be honest with her at all times."

"I guess that's all I can ask," I said, shaking his hand. "Good night, Dirk."

"Good night, Mr. Johnson."

I was up and showered by seven Tuesday morning. I thought I would let the boys sleep in a little. Yesterday was a long day and I'm sure that they were worn out, I know I was. I started the coffeemaker, went to the door and opened it to pick up the newspaper the hotel provided every morning. A few minutes later the coffee was ready. I poured myself a cup and began reading the paper. The newspaper, if anything, was worse than ours was at home. About the only thing worth reading in it were the comic strips, the sports section and the financial page.

I was on my second cup of coffee when I heard the patter of little feet. I pretended I didn't hear them until TJ insinuated himself under my arm and onto my lap. I gave him a squeeze and a kiss on top of his head. "What are you doing up so early, little one?"

"I'm not little," he giggled.

"No, you're getting to be a big boy, but you'll always be my 'little one'. Is Joel still asleep?"

"Uh huh."

"Are you ready to go to Animal Kingdom today?"

"Yeah, I want to see the lions and tigers and elephants and giraffes and monkeys and ever'thing."

 "I'm sure you'll have fun. Now, why don't you go wake up Joel? Both of you jump in the shower and start getting ready. I'll go wake your brothers and JR."

"Okay," he said, slipping down off my lap.

Larry and Lenny were awake, but still in bed talking quietly to each other when I entered their bedroom. Chris and JR were still sleeping. I told the twins to go start taking their showers. When I heard the showers running I stepped to the other bed and shook Chris. He sat up in bed immediately.

"Hi, dad," he said. It still amazed me how wide awake he was as soon as he woke up. I needed my first cup of coffee before I was that wide awake.

I went around to the other side of the bed and began the process of waking JR. It took a minute or two before he was semi-conscious. I asked Chris if he would make sure that JR didn't go back to sleep and to get him into the shower as soon as the twins were finished. I thought JR might be awake enough by the time the twins finished showering.

It was a few minutes after eight-thirty by the time all the boys were finished and dressed for the day. I placed a call to Marie's room. When she answered, I told her we would be going down to breakfast as soon as I got the boys coated with sunscreen, which I thought would be about twenty minutes. She said that Ricky was ready to go.

Joel helped me put the sunscreen on his brothers, so it didn't take the full twenty minutes. We exited the room and I went next door to let Marie and Ricky know that we were ready. I was greeted by an enthusiastic "Hi" from Ricky as he held up his arms to be picked up. With him in my arms, we headed for the elevator.

The boys were all in favor of visiting the breakfast buffet again this morning. I didn't object since it was probably the fastest way to get everyone fed. We were again met this morning by the same officious looking man who looked disapprovingly at us yesterday. Thankfully the young lady who had attended to us yesterday was also there. She led us to the same table we had before. As she took our orders for drinks, I extracted a piece of paper from my pocket and handed it to her. It was the phone number and address of Dr. Alverez that I had promised her yesterday morning.

"Thank you, I hoped you hadn't forgotten about this. My sister was so excited when I told her about the young boy's leg. Missy and her husband are willing to do anything or go anywhere if there is a chance to help Julie."

"I hope your niece is able to be helped," I said. "It's not the perfect solution, but it has sure made a difference in Ricky's life. He still has to use his crutches at times, but not much."

She left and we headed to the buffet line. I signaled the busboy that had helped us yesterday. He nodded and grabbed the other busboy and came to our aid. There wasn't nearly as much food left on the buffet when we finished as there was when we started through the line. I thanked the busboys when we got back to the table and slipped them a generous tip.

When we finished, I took the boys to wash up and to make sure they went to the toilet. I didn't want to be half way through one of the walking tours and have to find a restroom in the Animal Kingdom. Escorting six active boys in a restroom in a fancy hotel is only for the brave of heart. I don't think I met the criteria, but I did survive.

I had decided that we didn't need a tour guide today. Although Felix had done a good job yesterday, he wasn't available today. I would decide after today if we needed a tour guide for the rest of the week.

We headed out the front door of the hotel to meet the bus that was to carry us to Animal Kingdom. The bus had not arrived when we got there. While we were waiting, Joel struck up a conversation with another young boy about his age. He and his family were waiting on the same bus. I noticed that the boy was keeping an eye on his little sister who appeared to be about five years old. The boy's parents seemed to be paying no attention to either of their children. They were having what appeared to be a very serious discussion with their backs turned to the rest of us.

I saw the bus pulling into the pick-up area and told the boys to get ready. As the bus was pulling up to where we were, the little girl must have seen the big picture of Mickey Mouse painted on its side and ran out in front of the bus. The boy talking to Joel saw what his little sister was doing and yelled, "Beth, stop!" He lunged for her.

The bus driver saw what was happening and slammed on the brakes. Although the bus was not traveling very fast, I knew that he was not going to be able to stop in time. The boy was able to reach his sister, grab her shirt and yank her out of harms way. His momentum, however, carried him into the path of the bus. He collided with the front of the bus and was knocked for several feet. The bus was able to stop in time not to run over him.

As soon as the bus was able to stop, Joel and I ran to see how the boy was. Marie had grabbed the little girl and was hugging her. It was only then that his parents took notice of what had happened.

"Jason, what the hell are you doing on the ground? You're supposed to be looking after Beth. Get off the ground," the man said in a threatening tone of voice.

I was shocked at the man's reaction and comments. I was also disturbed by the look of terror on Jason's face as he looked at his father. I had seen that look before a couple of time with Joel when he first came to live with me when he had to talk about his old dad.

I helped Jason up and said to him loud enough for his father to hear, "That was a very brave thing to do, son. You saved your sister from being seriously injured. Your parents should be very proud of you." I gave him a hug before turning to his father. "You have quite a young man there. You must be very proud to have a fine young man like him for a son."

"Well ... I ... Yes, of course. Are you all right, son?" the more than slightly confused man stuttered. His son just nodded his head.

"My name is Crane Johnson. Your son is a very brave young man. He risked getting seriously injured to protect his little sister. He must love her a lot," I said, extending my hand to him.

The man paused for a moment before he shook my hand. "Bill Phillips, it's nice to meet you," he said perfunctorily. "That boy was supposed to be watching his sister. We can't trust him to do anything right."

"Oh, really? I thought he was doing an excellent job. I don't think anyone would have predicted that your daughter would run out in front of the bus. Did that ever cross your mind?"

"Well, no, but he should have been more careful."

"If you didn't think she would do something like that, and you are considerably older than he is, what makes you think that he would have more insight into what she would do? I assume that he is not the primary caregiver." I could see that he did not like the direction this conversation was taking, but I couldn't resist getting in one more dig. "I always assumed it was the parents' responsibility to see to the safety of their children." I didn't like this man and was not going to pretend that I did.

He didn't answer. He turned on his heels and went to his daughter where his wife was. During this time the bus driver had gotten out of the bus and was checking on Jason to see that he was all right. He was insisting that Jason be checked over by the hotel's nurse.

Evidently one of the hotel staff had seen what had happened, because a nurse showed up at that moment. She checked Jason over and declared that he was all right except for a couple of bruises on his right arm and shoulder. She told him if he felt any aftereffects, he was to come to the medical office immediately.

The excitement delayed our start to Animal Kingdom by about fifteen or twenty minutes. I caught Joel's attention as we were starting to board the bus. "Joel, do you remember what you did when I invited some of the kids and their foster parents to the house? Why don't you sit with Jason on the way?" He looked at me funny for a few seconds and then it dawned on him what I had in mind.

"Sure, dad," Joel said with a smile, and headed to where Jason was standing off to the side of his parents. He was back with Jason before the rest of the boys had finished boarding the bus.

The bus driver made sure that all the passengers were on board before he got in and closed the door. As he drove off, he started his spiel about how long it would take to get to our destination and a little about the history of the Disney World complex. We had heard most of the same thing yesterday when we took the bus.

I was sitting across the aisle from Joel and Jason, but I was unable to overhear their conversation. It looked as though Jason was doing the majority of the talking.

When we arrived at Animal Kingdom, I suggested that we take one of the walking tours before it got too hot. Nobody objected so that's what we did. This way we could take our time watching the wild life. We started with the Maharajah Jungle Trek. The boys were so excited that it was hard to keep them together as we walked through the paths. When we came upon a tiger sunning itself on a large bolder, the boys were amazed. I'm no expert in tigers, but I told the boys I thought it was a male because of its size. It took a while for the boys to get their fill of the tiger before we moved on. I think Ricky would have stayed there all morning watching the tiger. He was doing a little dance and clapping his hands. He got plenty of stares from the other people on the trail. Finally, Marie had to pick him up so that we could move along.

The scenery was absolutely beautiful everywhere you looked. "Look at the big pig, daddy," TJ said, pointing to a black and white animal.

"I think that is a tapir. See his long nose. He does look a lot like a pig," I told him.

We spent about an hour wandering through the trails. Each new animal had to be pointed out and it became a contest as to which one of the boys spotted the next animal. By the time we had wended our way through the trails, the boys were ready for a snack. I spotted a coffee shop at about the same time the boys did. I was literally dragged to the shop. I had to admit that a cup of coffee about that time sounded good. Also, a place to sit down for a while didn't sound too bad.

The boys settled for blueberry muffins and assorted juices or milk. Marie and I had their 'shade grown gourmet' coffee at an outrageous price. We were just finishing our coffee when Lenny came up to me.

"Can we go see the elephants now?"

"I think that would be a good idea. At least we can sit down for the Kilimanjaro Safari," I told him. "That's where we'll see the elephants."

We were in luck, a tour was about to start. The nine of us took up nearly half of the seats in the vehicle. It looked like a cross between a truck and a school bus with the sides removed and painted with tiger stripes. The ride was more like a truck. The boys loved it and they did get to see elephants, a mother giraffe and her baby, a couple white rhinos, and we caught a fleeting glimpse of a cheetah as it disappeared into the undergrowth.

Since there was still time before lunch, I suggested we take another walking tour to work up our appetite, as if that was necessary for the boys. Ricky was getting a little weary of all the walking so I picked him up and carried him.

The Pangani Forest Exploration Trail was our next attraction. As boys will do when they see a gorilla, they try to imitate one. They were acting like fools, but since they weren't hurting anybody, I didn't scold them. I did urge them along, which accomplished the same thing. They were blown away when we walked through the underwater hippo viewing area. They just stood there with their mouths open in amazement. I was impressed as well. Ricky, by this time, had fallen asleep with his head on my shoulder.

We were all pretty tired by the time we had made our way through the entire trail. I could see the hungry look in everyone's eyes. The only thing to do was to find a place to eat lunch. I didn't want to have a heavy meal because I had a surprise planned for this evening.

The information that the travel agent gave me suggested that we have lunch at the Restaurantosaurus. I thought the boys would enjoy all the dinosaur artifacts. I was right. They enjoyed them almost as much as they did the hamburgers and French fries, not to mention the 'mammoth' strawberry shortcake. Marie ordered one hamburger for her and Ricky to share. That turned out to be a good idea, because the burgers were so large that I found it hard to eat all of mine.

It was nearly two o'clock by the time we finished our lunch. There was one more thing I thought the boys would enjoy before we headed back to the hotel.

We found our way to the Kali River Rapids attraction. When I got there I was worried that Ricky wouldn't be able to go on it. The height requirement was 38 inches. They had to measure him and he passed with a quarter inch to spare. He did have to stand up straight and stretch a little, but the important thing was he made the height requirement. The wait to get on the ride was about twenty-five minutes.

Finally our turn arrived and we got into this round 'raft' with a man and his two daughters. We readied ourselves making sure we were secured and the adventure began. There was lots of screaming and laughing as the raft twisted, turned, tilted and flowed down the Chakranadi River. It went over a waterfall to the screams of all on board and finally we were drenched by geysers spraying water.

I'm glad that Ricky was able to go with us on the ride. I think he giggled and clapped his hands all the way through. Twelve wet people got off the raft when it stopped.

"Okay, guys, since we're already wet, what do you say we go back to the hotel and get into the swimming pool?" I asked.

No one raised any objections, so we headed back to the bus loading area. I hoped that I would get some quiet time to talk to Joel about what he learned from Jason on the way to the park. We hadn't seen the Phillips family since we arrived at the park. That wasn't all that unexpected. The park is fairly large. It's around 500 acres.

The bus had left about fifteen minutes before we got there, so we had to wait a while before the next one arrived. Our clothes were almost dry by the time we climbed into the bus for our return trip to the hotel.

We had time to swim in the hotel pool for a couple of hours before we had to get ready for the surprise I had in store. I did get a chance to talk with Joel privately. He sat beside me in one of the loungers as we watched the other boys frolic in the water.

"Did you learn anything from Jason when you talked to him?"

"A little, at first he didn't want to talk about it. I told him some of the stuff about me and then he started to tell me stuff about him. He said his dad never thinks he does anything right and always yells at him. His dad never hits him, but he gets punished a lot. His dad locks him in the basement without any lights and won't let him out for like all day."

"Did he say anything about his sister?"

"Yeah, he said he takes the blame for some of the things his sister does so she won't get punished. She's afraid of being locked up in a dark. He said it freaked her out the last time she was punished. Dad, is there anything you can do? Jason wants to run away from home, but that would leave his sister there by herself."

"Did Jason tell you where they live?"

"He said they live in Wichita, Kansas."

"I don't know if there is anything I can do. I'll need to talk to Darcie. She may have some contacts with CPS in other states. If not, we'll have to try other ways of trying to make things better for Jason and his sister, Beth."

"Thanks, dad, I hate to think of Jason being treated like that. He's a nice boy."

"No, thank you. Did I ever tell you what a special young man you are?"

"Aw, dad, I just don't want to see anybody be treated like I was before you found me."

"Let's go join your brothers in the pool. How does that sound?"

"Great! Beat you!"

Ricky and Marie were having fun in the kiddy pool. Every once in a while I could hear his characteristic giggle over the noise level in the pool.

It was getting toward time for us to leave to get dressed, when I saw Dirk and a couple of other men coming toward the pool. They were talking earnestly and he didn't seem to notice us until he was almost ready to dive into the pool.

"Mr. Johnson, it's good to see you again," he said, looking around, I'm sure for Marie. "Did you and your sons enjoy Animal Kingdom?"

"Yes, we did thanks. The animals were a big hit with everyone. We were just getting ready to leave for supper."

"Oh, where are you going?" Dirk asked.

"It's a surprise for the boys. It's something medieval."

"Ah, I think I know that place. There's one in Dallas I've been to. I know you'll enjoy it."

I rounded up the boys and got them dried off, before going to the kiddy pool to get Ricky and Marie. Ricky saw us coming, clambered out of the pool and started crawling toward us.

Joel was in the lead and reached Ricky first. Joel took the towel, which he had hanging around his neck and started to dry Ricky with it.

"Piggy!" Ricky said, as Joel was finished.

"Okay, munchkin, I'll give you a piggyback ride." Joel turned around so the twins could pick Ricky up and get him in position on his back. With Ricky's arms around his neck and his own arms hooked under Ricky's leg and stump, they started off toward the hotel, Ricky giggling all the way.

Dirk saw us walking by and got out of the pool to talk briefly with Marie. His tanned and toned body would catch the eye of many women and, for that matter, men.

When we got back to the room, I noticed a large envelope on the coffee table that had not been there when we returned from Animal Kingdom. I picked it up to discover it contained the photos that were taken the first day that I had neglected to pick up at the front desk. The message waiting light was blinking on the telephone. I sent the boys in to shower and dress while I check the message.

I picked up the phone and accessed the voice message.

"Crane, this is Carlos. I wanted to let you know that I received a call from a home builder who wants to buy some of the land you own. I told him you were out of town and wouldn't be back until next week, but he wanted me to contact you right away. He said they are interested in purchasing eight hundred to a thousand acres to start a new upscale subdivision. He has two of the properties you own in mind. I asked him what price he had in mind per acre. I had to laugh in his face when he named his price. It was almost an insult, but I know they want one of the properties badly. It adjoins a small piece they already own. Anyway, let me know if you are interested in pursuing this. I'll talk to you later. Bye."

That was interesting. I did buy the property as an investment and if I could make a decent return, I would definitely consider a sale. I didn't have time to call Carlos right away. I guess it would have to wait until tomorrow. I only had time to get my own shower taken and get dressed before it would be time to leave.

I had finished dressing and had checked the boys to see that they were ready when the phone rang. When I answered it, the voice on the other end informed me that the limo had arrived. I hung up and immediately called Marie's room and asked her if they were ready. She was. I told her to meet us in the hall.

"Where are we going, dad?" Chris asked once we were in the elevator.

"You'll see in about twenty minutes."

It only took about fifteen minutes once we were in the limo. The boys were excited trying to guess where we were going. They kept looking out the windows. Every time we drove by a restaurant, they would ask if that was where we were going. I'd just shake my head as we drove on by.

The noise stopped and all eyes were focused out the window on the building as we drove into the parking area.

"That's a castle," JR finally said.

To be continued.

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