Copyright 2005-2008 Ted Louis

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.

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Joel IV

Chapter 30

I must say that Harold did a marvelous job overseeing the construction of our new home. His attention to detail produced a product that he could truly be proud of. We loved the layout and all the amenities that it afforded us. After living in our temporary quarters for nearly a year, it was a relief to begin the process of moving to the new place.

As the time to move into the new house approached, the boys chose their bedrooms. The upstairs bedroom on the far side of the house from my bedroom had been designed to accommodate the twins and Chris. There was no way the 'three musketeers' would be separated. Joel's choice was the one in the middle of the upstairs with access to the balcony. That left TJ with the remaining one on the front of the house. It had the advantage of being close to Hildy and Manfred's quarters and to the stairs leading down with easy access to my room.

It took a full week for the designer to move in all the new furniture and accessories and place them where he wanted. All we had to do was to move our clothes and personal items.  At last, on May 31st, everything was in its place and we were ready to spend our first night in the new house. I had some misgivings as to how the boys would react sleeping in strange rooms in a strange place. Although, I was confident that Joel would handle it well, I wasn't as sure about the other boys, especially TJ. He had always had his bedroom next door to or had shared Joel's room. I decided to let the boys have their dogs sleep in the rooms with them. The boys thought this was a great idea. While we had been in the temporary house, the dogs had not been allowed to sleep in the house because of the lack of space.

Earlier in the day, after all the moving had been completed, Hildy spent the remainder of the afternoon creating one of her fabulous meals. I could tell she was happy as she prepared it, because she was singing to herself.

The boys had to try out everything in the house. The elevator and the spiral staircase got special attention as did the upstairs balcony. The balcony gave a magnificent view of the lake. Unfortunately, the view was marred by the temporary house. It was supposed to be removed on Monday. After it was removed, Manfred said he would have one of his crews in to re-landscape the area.

When the boys finished their supper and the dishes were in the dishwasher, they went upstairs to play in the media/game room. Manfred, Hildy and I retired to the family room with our coffee.

"Hildy," I said, "Marie's wedding is in three weeks and she won't be here to help keep this place up. Do you have any ideas who we could get to help out when she's gone?"

"Sorry, I haven't been thinking about that. Marie and I have been busy planning for her big day," Hildy said. "I'll ask around at church tomorrow and see if anyone has any recommendations. I hope we can get someone as reliable as Marie. I'm sure going to miss her and Ricky."

"You know, it might be wise to get someone to come in full time. This house is a lot bigger than even the old one. I'm going to miss that little rascal, too. We all will," I said.

"Marie's wedding is turning out to be a bigger affair than she had anticipated. The number of people attending keeps growing. Besides this household and Eric's, there's Dirk's parents and his sister. Then there's Marie's family and her next door neighbor who she traded babysitting with and her little girl. The neighbor is going to be her matron of honor. Dirk has invited a couple of his buddies from his office. One is going to be his best man. I think that makes 30," Hildy said. "Oh, two more, I keep forgetting Pastor Rollins and his wife. He's going to be conducting the service."

"I'm surprised that Marie is not having a Catholic wedding, but I guess considering the experience she had with her former priest, it makes sense. Are they planning on having the ceremony outside?" I asked.

"If the weather is nice, they are. I was going to ask you if she could use the upstairs game room and that raised area if the weather turned bad."

"That would be a perfect place. We would have to move some of the furniture, but that area would easily hold all the guests. Even if the ceremony is held outside, it would be a perfect place to hold the reception. Have you arranged for the caterers?"

"I thought I would do it," Hildy said. "Marie wants to keep the costs down."

"Nonsense, hire a caterer. You have enough to do without adding that to your work. And have them put on a good spread and don't worry about the costs. Marie is very special to us."

"Okay, but I'm still going to do the wedding cake. I used to do a lot of them when I worked at the bakery as a young girl. I think I can still make a presentable one. With that fabulous new kitchen, I have better ovens than we had at the bakery."

"I'm sure it will be fresher than the ones that are usually found at weddings. Just don't let the boys get into it before the reception," I laughed.

I noticed that it was very quiet upstairs. There was no noise coming from the TV or the video games. I decided I had better investigate. As I climbed the stairs, I could still not hear any of the commotion usually coming from the boys. I looked into the game room and there was no one there. There was no one in Joel's bedroom or TJ's or the twins' and Chris' room. I looked out on the balcony and they weren't there either. I was beginning to panic when I remembered the room over the garages. Rushing over to the door and opening it, I was hit by a cacophony of music, or at least I think that was what it was supposed to be. Lenny was on the keyboard, Joel was playing his guitar and Chris was banging away on the drums. TJ was standing behind Lenny, looking over his shoulder, watching him play. Larry was intently watching Joel play the guitar.

I drew a sigh of relief when I saw them. I would have to thank Harold again for suggesting that we sound proof this area. As I stood there watching them play their instruments, I began to recognize that they were playing the same tune, at least I thought Lenny and Joel were. I wasn't sure about Chris. The only problem was they weren't in synch. It also sounded as if each was playing at a different tempo. I did recognize that they were making progress in learning their instruments. Joel was playing without looking at his fingering. Lenny was playing with both hands and the chord changes with the left hand were nearly in synch with the right hand melody. Chris seemed more confident in his drumming, but I couldn't tell how much progress he had made.

When they finished, almost at the same time, Larry noticed that I was there. "Hi, dad, isn't it great? We've got a band."

"That's very nice, son."

"Can I play the guitar, too?" he said. "Joel's taught me how."

"Oh, can you show me?"

"Sure," he said, and walked over to Joel and held out his hands. Joel slipped the shoulder strap over his head and handed the guitar to Larry. Joel whispered to him and then walked over to stand beside me.

I was a little surprised when Larry played a few chords. It took him a few moments between each to locate the right position for the fingers of his left hand.

"Very good, son," I said, when he looked up and smiled. "Joel did a good job teaching you. Are you still interested in playing the piano, also?"

"Yeah... but... I like 'em both. Maybe I could play guitar and Lenny and TJ can play the piano and they can show me how, can't you Lenny?"

"Uh-huh," Lenny agreed.

"Well, I don't see any harm in that. If you want to go with Joel and me to his lesson on Monday night, I'm sure Mrs. Shultz wouldn't mind."

"Thanks, dad," he said, running over to me and giving me a hug with the guitar between us.

Joel had wandered over to the keyboard that Lenny had left. Sitting down he started playing the same music that Lenny had been playing earlier. His playing was at least on par with Lenny's.

"How'd you learn to play that," I asked Joel.

"I don't know. I could just hear it in my mind and it tells my fingers what to do. I know what it is supposed to sound like and I can figure out which keys to strike by thinking how much higher or lower they are from that middle C note."

"That's the best explanation of playing by ear that I've ever heard. It's good that you can do that, but you really need to learn how to read music for the piano if you're going to learn to play it well."

"I guess," Joel said. "I like to play the piano, but I really like my guitar. But if you want..."

"That's fine," I told him. "I don't want to force you to do something you don't want to do. I just don't want you to regret it later that you didn't learn. It's totally up to you. I'm happy if you only want to play the guitar.

"You have about another hour and a half before you have to get ready for bed. I'll come get you when Hildy has your snack ready."

The music started up again as I left the room and closed the door. I could barely hear it once the door was closed and only if I listened very carefully.

It took longer to tuck in the boys when it was time for bed. The bedrooms were farther apart. I started in TJ's room. I spread a spare blanket on the floor for Bandit to sleep on before saying goodnight to my youngest. The twins and Chris were next. They had already fixed a place for their dogs to sleep. I wondered how long it would take them to go to sleep in their new room. I wasn't confident that it would be quick. When I got to Joel's room, he was having trouble making Sam stay on the floor on the folded up blanket that had been fixed for him. He wanted to share Joel's bed. Before the night was over, I'd bet that Sam would be on the bed with Joel.

On my way back downstairs, I checked on TJ to see if he were sleeping. Bandit looked up as I opened the door a crack. TJ appeared to be sound asleep.

Once downstairs, I went into my new library. I was anxious for the movers to bring the books that I had purchased from Nathan Woods. I had scheduled them for Tuesday. The library looked very bare with all the empty bookshelves.

After locking up the house and setting the alarm system, I headed for my bedroom. My new king-sized bed felt wonderful as I slipped into it. Around two o'clock, I woke with a start. I thought that I had heard something. I listened carefully, hardly breathing. I heard it again, a voice crying "Daddy".

I jumped out of bed and ran barefooted out my door. The small nightlights that I had plugged in before I had retired for the night led the way to the stairway. I stopped at the bottom of the stairs and listened. This time the voice was louder when it cried "Daddy". I immediately recognized the voice to be TJ's. I rushed up the stairs and nearly stumbled over him hugging Bandit at the top of the stairs.

"What's the matter, little one?" I asked, sitting down on the floor beside him and wrapping my arms around him.

"I... I was scared. I didn't know where I was and I couldn't find you."

"Dad's right here. There's nothing to be afraid of. Do you want to go back to your bed? Or do you want to go sleep in my bed?"

He didn't say anything; instead, he simply got up and started down the stairs with Bandit at his heels. I guess he wanted to sleep with me. He stopped at the bottom of the stairs and waited for me to lead the way into my bedroom. I threw a bath towel on the floor beside the bed for Bandit, then climbed into bed and pulled the sheet up over TJ and me. He scooted over closer to me and curled up in a ball, his usual sleeping position, with his back towards me.

Sunday morning the boys wanted to go ride the horses. We decided to go early to avoid the heat of the day, so shortly after breakfast we loaded up and headed for the ranch. Dirk must have had the same idea, because he and Jamie arrived as Tracy and the boys were getting the horses saddled. Marie and Ricky stayed at home. Marie was working on her wedding dress. Bert had taken Rosie to do the grocery shopping and left Tracy home to study for a class he was taking in summer school.

"I wasn't able to schedule all the classes this summer that I need to graduate, so it looks like I'll be going to school the fall semester," Tracy told me. "I'm getting two of them out of the way this first session. I decided not to go second session. I would only be taking one class and since I have to go in the fall, I'll pick it up then. That means I should be here when the baby is born. That was also a consideration."

"I'm sure that Rosie didn't have a problem with that," I said.

"No," he laughed, "she was relieved that I'd be here. I don't know if I'll be much help, but at least I can hold her hand. She's got the tough part."

Dirk decided that he would let Jamie ride with my boys and he would visit with me since I wasn't going riding either. I told the boys to look after each other and not to try anything foolish. They knew if they did, their riding privileges were hanging in the balance.

"Crane," Dirk said, "I suppose you've heard that my parents are coming to our wedding."

"Yes, Hildy told me that they were and also your sister."

"My folks are, let's say, a little stuffy. They are not thrilled that I'm marrying Marie. I love her very much and I would never let my parents affect my love for her. I want them to like her and Ricky. They've never met Marie. My folks are fairly well off financially and they think I'm marrying beneath me. I was wondering...

"You want me to talk to them, right?"

"Yes," he said. "As I said, my folks have money, but they will be blown away by your home. Maybe they'll listen to you when you tell them what a wonderful person Marie is."

"I'll be happy to talk to them about Marie. I won't have to stretch the truth, either. Marie is like family to us. She is going to be sorely missed."

"Thanks, they're coming in a couple of days before the wedding. I hope when they meet Marie, they'll change their minds."

"I'm sure they will see what a great person she is, but I'll do my part to reinforce that. By the way, have you decided where you're going on your honeymoon?"

"Yes, we're flying to San Francisco and then driving up to the Napa Valley. I've reserved a suite in a hotel for two days and then we're driving down to the Monterrey Peninsula to a bed and breakfast for the rest of the week. We'll drive back to San Francisco and fly back on Sunday. I have to go back to work on Monday."

"Have you decided where you're going to live? I understand that your condo is a little small."

"We've been looking for a bigger place, but haven't found anything that we like, yet. Our real estate agent has found a place for us to look at tomorrow evening. We want something in a good school district. Ricky will be starting to pre-school in the fall. I just hope he isn't picked on because of his leg. He doesn't know he's different because of the way your boys and Eric's treat him."

"I didn't realize he was old enough to go to pre-school. I guess I always see him as that little three year-old who came into our lives a year or so ago. I hope that you will continue to bring him here to ride the horses, and you know you are always welcome to bring him to the house."

"I think he would raise a fit if he didn't get to see the dogs once in a while. That's one of the criteria for our new home - a place where he can have a dog."

We talked and watched the boys riding the horses until Bert and Rosie came back from grocery shopping.

"I thought grocery shopping was a hassle back home," Bert said to us, as he got out of the truck. "It ain't nothing like here. This is like a combat zone."

"Oh, Bert, you men just don't have any stamina when it comes to shopping," Rosie said to her brother. "Now, quit your griping and grab some of these bags. I don't want the ice cream to melt."

Dirk and I rushed to the truck and grabbed the rest of the bags of groceries and followed Bert into the house.

"Would you all like some ice tea?" Rosie asked, as she started putting away the groceries. "I made some earlier. There should be some left if Tracy hasn't drunk it all."

"Hey, I only had one glass," Tracy said, from the other room where he was studying.

Dirk and I both refused and went back out in the yard to watch the boys. I knew they would be heading back this way soon. It was almost time for them to need a drink. It must have been telepathy, because less than five minutes later they came racing toward us. By that time Bert had joined us on the patio.

I marveled at the change in Jamie since I first met him. He had slimmed down so much from that first meeting. I mentioned it to Dirk.

"He's really working hard to improve his fitness," Dirk said. "He used to come to my club with me, but my work schedule has been so hectic recently I haven't been able to go there as often as I did. He lives about a half a mile from the YMCA, so I got a membership for him and now he goes there almost every day and works out. They have swimming and weights and a running track. He loves it. He's really turning into a good athlete. I couldn't be prouder of him."

About that time, Joel and Jamie approached lugging the cooler from the van. All of the boys crowded around to grab a cold drink. I noticed that Jamie took an apple juice. Bert looked at me as if to ask if he could have something and when I nodded my head, he grabbed a drink, also.

"Okay, guys," I said, as they finished their refreshments, "it's time to take care of your horses and then we need to get back home. It'll be time for lunch by the time we get there."

That spurred them into action and all six of them headed back to the horses. Bert followed to make sure that the saddles were properly stored in the tack room.

"Thanks, Mr. Johnson," Jamie said, as the boys returned from the stables. "I really appreciate you letting me come here and ride your horses. It's a lot of fun."

"You're very welcome, Jamie. I've told Dirk that you can come back any time. The boys enjoy riding with you."

"Dad, can John come over sometime and see the new house?" Joel asked, as we were finishing our lunch and the dishes were being loaded into the dishwasher.

"I think that would be a good idea. Why don't you call him and see if he can come over tomorrow? We can take him back home before you have your guitar lesson."

"Thanks, dad," he said, and took the mobile phone with him out onto the terrace to make his call. A few minutes later he returned with a frown on his face. "He's going to Fort Worth for the week to visit his grandma and grandpa."

"Well, you can invite him to come over after he gets back," I said, putting my arm around him.

Hildy and Manfred returned and went upstairs to change out of their church clothes. I asked them if they had eaten when they came back down. Hildy indicated that they had.

"Crane, if you attended our church, you would know that the ladies fellowship serves coffee and pastries after the service," Hildy said, giving me a slightly disapproving look. "I was talking to a group of my friends while we were enjoying a cup. I asked them if they knew of anyone who did housekeeping, but no one seemed to know of anyone. Apparently, someone nearby had overheard my question. When I finished talking to the group and was starting to walk away, this young lady, who I had seen at our church for the past several Sundays, tapped me on the arm. She introduced herself to me as Constance Givens. She said she was looking for a job and when she overheard me asking the other ladies about someone to do housekeeping; she wanted to find out more. I explained what you had told me about wanting someone fulltime. Her eyes brightened when I told her that. She said she was interested. I told her I would talk to you and give her a call if you said it was okay."

"Do you know anything about her?" I asked.

"No, not really. I did find out that she had moved back to the area after her husband had been killed in a robbery. He was working a second job as a clerk in a convenience store when it was robbed. She was left with two young children. Two little girls, three and five."

"Does she have someone to care for the girls while she works?"

"I understand that she's living with her mother and that her mother takes care of the girls while Constance is working."

"Is she working right now?"

"From what I gather, she's only working part time."

"What's your opinion?"

"I think you should talk to her. She came across as sincere and honest. If you like her, you could give her a trial period of a couple of weeks to see how she works out."

"Okay, give her a call and see if she is available sometime tomorrow. Anytime is good except when I have to take Joel for his lesson. If tomorrow is not good, find out when she's available. I'll arrange my schedule to meet with her, except when I have to take the boys for their music lessons."

Later in the afternoon, Hildy told me that Constance would like to meet at nine on Monday.

TJ slept in his own bed all night, Sunday. I was a little surprised, but pleased that he had adjusted to his new bedroom so quickly. When I went to wake him up on Monday morning, he was sitting on the floor of his room playing with Bandit. I told him to get dressed and take Bandit outside. The twins and Chris were still asleep when I knocked on their door. I suspected that they didn't go to sleep immediately after they went to bed last night. I woke the three of them and gave them the same instructions that I had given TJ concerning their dogs. Joel was coming out of his bedroom when I went to wake him. Sam was trailing close behind.

Constance Givens arrived at the gate a few minutes before nine. I activated the gate opener and she drove up to the front of the house. The Chevrolet that she drove was several years old, but appeared to be in good condition.

"Mrs. Givens, welcome to our home. I'm Crane Johnson. Please come inside," I said in greeting.

"I'm pleased to meet you, Mr. Johnson. My, you have a lovely home," she said, as we entered the front door.

"Would you like a cup of coffee?" I asked, steering her into the family room. "I believe that Hildy has made a fresh pot."

"Thank you. That would be nice."

I returned with a tray containing the coffee and fixings and set it down on the coffee table. Hildy followed behind with some pastries. Marie joined us and I introduced her to Constance. I explained that Marie currently helped with the housekeeping, but was getting married later this month and would be leaving us.

While talking to Connie, as she wanted to be called, I learned that she was an experienced housekeeper. She had worked for three years as a maid for a large hotel in Austin before moving back to Spring Branch to live with her mother after her husband was killed. The more I talked to her the more comfortable I felt about her being in the house. She came across, as Hildy had described, as honest and sincere.

After we finished our coffee, Hildy and I gave her a tour of the house. I explained to her that Hildy would be her boss as far as keeping the house clean. After the tour, I asked her if she was interested in the job. When she said she was, I took her aside and explained the salary and benefits that she would have. She smiled brightly at the salary and accepted my offer of employment.

"When will you be able to start work?" I asked.

"I'm committed to clean a house on Tuesday and one on Wednesday, but I can start work on Thursday."

"That would be fine," I said. "Before you go I'd like for you to meet my sons. I think they're out on the terrace."

They were on the terrace watching the workmen start removing our temporary home. I hadn't heard the trucks pull up. Hildy or Marie must have let them in through the gate. I introduced the boys to her and they in turn introduced their dogs. She laughed and said that her girls loved their grandmother's little brown-and-white King Charles Spaniel.

Connie left saying she would be here Thursday morning at eight. The boys went back to watching the workmen tearing our old house apart. It took the men the rest of the morning and part of the afternoon before they had all the pieces loaded onto the flatbed trucks and ready to haul away. By five that afternoon, all the pieces of the old house were gone. The yard was a mess and there were deep tire tracks all over. I just hoped that Manfred's crew could return the area to something near the condition it was in before.

As Marie and Ricky were leaving for the day, she asked, "Do you still want me to come back on Friday?"

"Of course we want you to come back. Why wouldn't we?" I asked, somewhat shocked.

"Well, I heard that lady say she would start working on Thursday and I thought..."

"Marie, we want you to work as long as you want to work. You can show Connie how we like things done and help her get familiarized with our routine. I do, however, insist that you take the week of your wedding off, with pay."

"Thank you, Mr. Johnson. I appreciate everything you've done for me and Ricky so much. I can never repay you for your kindness."

"You can repay us by loving that precious son of yours and promise to bring him back to see us from time to time."

After Marie left, it dawned on me that I needed to check the boys' dress clothes to see if they could still wear them for the wedding. They were all upstairs playing videogames. I told them to go try on their dress slacks and jackets. As I had suspected, the pants were all too short and the buttons would hardly button at the waist. The sleeves on the jackets were several inches short of their wrists. It looked like we were in for another shopping trip.

Bernice Shultz agreed to let Larry sit in on Joel's guitar lesson. All during the lesson, Larry sat, totally absorbed as Joel went through the exercises that Bernice laid out for him. Toward the end of the lesson, she asked Larry to show her how much he knew about playing the guitar. Both she and I were surprised when he was able to accomplish a few of the things that Joel had just learned tonight, although it took him longer to position his fingers.

"Well, it looks like I'll need to schedule another guitar lesson," I said, to a smiling Larry.

After supper, I got a call from Eric. It had been three or four days since I had spoken to him. "How's the leg coming along?" I asked.

"It's doing great. I have another week of physical therapy before they tell me I'll be fully recovered. My leg muscles were really weak after being in that cast so long. At least I don't have to use a cane when I walk anymore."

"Why don't you and the boys come over for dinner tomorrow night? We're all moved into the new house."

"I'm sure we can make it. Thanks, I'm anxious to see it now that the furniture is in place. Did I tell you I've settled all the claims from the accident?"

"No. How did you make out?"

"The insurance company replaced the Lexus with a new one, since the wrecked one was less than six months old. The Baughmans were very generous with their settlement. Besides the cash, which was considerable, and a new Mercury, they are also providing life-time maintenance service on the Mercury for as long as I own it."

"Sounds like you made out okay. Is your dad still there?"

"He went back to Houston yesterday. It was nice having him here to help out, but he's getting used to living alone and I think we got on his nerves at times."

"Come over early tomorrow and we can have a swim before we eat. I keep meaning to ask, has Bran selected a college yet?"

"Yes, he's chosen Stanford and has been accepted. We thought he would be able to graduate this spring, but he was lacking one credit. He's taking it in summer school now. But we're facing another problem. He's still 17 and is technically still a minor and under CPS's and my care. If he leaves the state to go to college, the situation gets a little sticky. His caseworker and I are trying to get a court date scheduled so that we can either get the judge to approve his leaving the state or to have him emancipated. The process is dragging on. We don't seem to be making any progress. It's frustrating for me and I know for Bran."

"Why don't you call Benjamin Cross and see if he can offer any suggestions on how to speed up the process. If anyone knows how to do it, he does.

"I'll do that. I should have thought of that. Well, I better go. JR is standing beside me looking like he wants something. We'll see you tomorrow as soon as I get home from work. Goodbye."

I smiled as I hung up the phone. Someday.

To be continued

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