Joel Book III is available in paperback as Joel III Back to Normal. To purchase a copy, follow the link to my website below.
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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"Oh, No! Bea, I am so sorry," I said. "Is there anything we can do for you?"
"I don't know. I'm so confused at the moment," she answered, sobbing quietly.
"What about your kids? What should I tell them if they ask about their dad?'
It took a few moments before she was able to answer. "Just tell them I'll come pick them up after I pick up their grandmother at the airport. I hope you don't mind keeping them until we get there. It'll be sometime after one o'clock. Mom's plane doesn't get in until around 11:30."
"That's fine. Take all the time you need. Cary and the girls are welcome to stay as long as necessary."
"This is going to be especially hard on Cary," Bea said. "He idolized his dad. They had a very special relationship. It grew even stronger after Cary's accident. Crane, thank you for all of this. I need to go now. There are a lot of arrangements that need to be made."
"No thanks are needed. You do what you need to do and we will look after your kids. Remember, let me know if you need anything," I said, before we disconnected.
I walked to the kitchen and saw Connie and Hildy talking. As I got closer, I heard they were discussing what housekeeping work needed to be done today. When Hildy saw me, she gave me a questioning look. "Is there something wrong?" she asked.
I told them about Barth and instructed them not to say anything to any of the kids that Bea wanted to be the one to break the news to them. They agreed that it was best and they would try to deflect any question the kids might have.
I saw that breakfast was nearly ready and decided to wake the boys. Hildy said she would wake the girls. I first went to Joel's room. He was awake and nearly dressed when I arrived. TJ and Peter were still sleeping. TJ was easy to wake. Peter, on the other hand, was not. I left their room after telling TJ to make sure Peter got up and dressed.
Lastly, I went to wake up the last four boys. When I opened the door to their room, I noticed that Cary was crying. The twins and Chris were still sleeping. I sat down on the side of his bed, "What's the matter, son?" I lifted him into a sitting position before he responded.
"My dad's dead, isn't he?" he asked, sobbing into my chest.
"What do you mean?"
"I know he is."
"How do you know that?"
"I just do. I can feel it."
"Let me get you into your wheelchair and I'll take you down to my library. We can talk there," I said. I lifted him out of bed and got him settled into his chair. He flipped the switch and the chair started toward the door. "Wait for me by the elevator." I saw him nod his head and he disappeared out of the room. I walked over to the bed where the twins were sleeping and shook Lenny's shoulder. He looked at me with a sleepy expression. "Wake your brothers, Hildy has breakfast ready." I knew that would get him going.
I left the room and headed for the elevator. Tears were running down Cary's cheeks as I approached. My heart went out to him. I wondered how Bea would be able to handle him without Barth around. I pushed the button to summon the elevator. It arrived shortly and Cary maneuvered his chair into the small space. I followed him in and pushed the button to take us to the ground floor. Cary didn't speak and neither did I on the way down. Exiting the elevator, I helped him turn his chair toward the library. I indicated for him to stop near the center of the room and I turned one of the leather chairs and placed it in front of him so that I faced him when I sat down.
"You want to talk about it?" I asked.
"I guess," he said hesitantly. His voice was barely above a whisper and his slight slur made it even more difficult to understand. "I woke up early this morning. It was still dark. I felt like I couldn't breathe. Then I felt sad, like something was missing. It was like I lost something and couldn't find it, something really important. It made me really sad. When I went back to sleep, I saw my dad. He was smiling at me and then he went away. When I woke up later, I knew he was gone. Is he really gone, Mr. Johnson? Please tell me it was just a dream and my dad's still alive." At this point he broke down. His body was wracked by his sobs.
I stood up from my chair and then knelt beside his wheelchair. I wrapped my arms around his chest and cradled his head on my shoulder while rubbing his back trying to soothe him. We were that way when Hildy tapped on the door before opening it. My eyes met hers and I nodded. She understood that Cary knew his dad was dead. I watched the sadness appear on her face. Her eyes closed and she shook her head before quietly closing the door.
"Cary, please don't tell your sisters what you think. Your mother will be here with your grandmother after lunch. She will explain everything. Can you do that for me?" I asked. I felt his head nod on my shoulder. "Okay, let's go wash your face with some cold water and then have some breakfast."
His eyes were still red as we headed for the breakfast area. Kathy and Lori were all ready sitting at the table with the boys when Cary steered his wheelchair in between the twins where they had left a space. The twins stopped their eating simultaneously. Larry loaded Cary's plate with pancakes and sausage while Lenny poured him a glass of orange juice and spread butter and syrup over the pancakes. In what looked almost like a choreographed ballet, first one twin ate and the other helped Cary, then, as if on some unseen signal, they switched duties. Cary still looked sad, but he often gave the twins a brief smile.
"When's grandma coming?" Lori asked.
"Yesterday your mom said your grandmother's plane was due in some time around noon. If her plane is on time, she should be here a little after one or one-thirty," I said. "Now, what would all of you like to do today?"
"Can we go ride the horses?" Chris asked.
"How about the rest of you? Do you all want to go riding?"
"Can we go, too?" Kathy asked.
"Of course, you can go. You don't think we would leave you behind, do you?"
I thought this could get their minds off their dad. So twenty minutes later we were on our way to see the horses. It was a struggle to get eight kids, one adult and a motorized wheelchair into the van and everybody buckled in. Joel had asked to stay at home. John was coming over supposedly to study for the advance placement test they both were planning to take when school started. I suspected that there would be more than studying going on while John was here.
I had telephoned Bert to let him know that we were on our way. When we arrived, he was in the stables getting the horses ready for us to ride. It then dawned on me that I couldn't ride with both Cary and Peter at the same time. I didn't feel comfortable with Peter riding alone just yet. "Bert," I said, "would you ride with Peter?"
"Sure, Mr. Johnson, I'd love to ride with him," he responded. "I was afraid I wasn't going to get to ride when I saw all of you getting out of the van."
"Thanks, Bert, I think you met Peter the last time we were here, didn't you?"
"Yes, sir, come here Peter, let's go mount up." Peter gave a little giggle and ran after the other boys. Before Bert took off after the kids, he asked, "Did you adopt some more?"
"No, they are just staying with us while their father is in the hospital. He had a heart attack," I explained. I didn't feel it was necessary to go into further detail and besides, Cary was sitting in his wheelchair a few feet away.
Bert brought the horse up to the fence where Cary and I were. I asked him to hold onto Cary after I had lifted him into the saddle. I mounted the horse while Bert held him. I enjoyed seeing Cary's crooked little smile as he sat in the saddle. I hoped that he would forget about the thoughts of his father's death, at least for a little while. I placed the reins in his hands, but I also held on to them.
We rode for nearly an hour before I noticed that Cary was getting tired. The rest of the kids were having fun. That included Bert. Kathy and Lori were keeping up with the boys as they raced around the pasture. Peter looked as if he were having the time of his life, if the look on his face was any indication. Bert was not galloping the horse as were the other kids, but he was trotting it at a good pace.
I held onto Cary as I dismounted and then lifted him off the horse. After getting him situated in his wheelchair, I looped the horse's reins over a board on the fence. "Let's go get something to drink," I told Cary. I knew that Rosie would have something cold for us to drink.
I was right. As we approached, she came out of the back door with a pitcher of Kool-Aid and a tray of glasses full of ice. "Hi, Mr. Johnson," she said, placing the pitcher and tray on the picnic table.
"Where's that beautiful baby of yours?" I asked.
"Carrie Louise is sleeping, thank goodness," she said. "She had a restless night. A bit of colic, I think. Tracy should be back soon. He wanted to talk to you about something."
"We should be here for another half hour or so," I said, pouring Cary a glass of Kool-Aid. "Do you happen to have any straws?"
"Sure, I've got some of the kind that bend in the middle," she said, over her shoulder as she literally ran back to the house. She returned shortly with the straws and another pitcher of Kool-Aid and a heaping plate of peanut butter cookies. "I figure with all the kids, we'll need at least two pitchers."
The boys' food radar worked perfectly. I heard their horses thundering toward the house before Rosie had set the cookies on the table. She looked up and laughed.
"I don't know how they do that," I said.
"Bert probably told them I was going to bake cookies. When you called, he begged me to bake some. Peanut butter cookies are his favorite."
Soon six kids were sitting on the picnic table seats with Cary's wheelchair at the end. Bert was standing at the other end of the table. I was able to grab a cookie and a glass of the drink.
Tracy arrived just as the kids were heading back to the horses for another ride. The plate of cookies had been decimated, but Rosie assured him that she had more in the house.
"Mr. Johnson," Tracy said, "I've been talking to Hiram Katz, the owner of the place adjacent to yours. He has four beautiful quarter horses that he wants to sell. He wanted to know if you would be interested in buying them. He's trying to sell his ranch and retire to Austin to be closer to his children."
"I might be, depending on how much he wants for them. There are times when we don't have enough horses for everyone to ride. You know good horses, are they good ones? I don't want any that wouldn't be safe for the boys or our friends to ride."
"They're beautiful sorrel quarter horses. He has three mares and one stallion. I think the mares would be fine, I'm not sure about the stallion. If you like, I'll see if he'll let me ride them. I could tell more about them that way."
"The stallion might be a problem. I'm not sure I want to have our mares producing foals. But, go ahead and see if he'll let you ride them. I'll rely on your judgment as to price and temperament of the horses. By the way, how much land does he have to sell?"
"I think he said he had a section and a half. That would be 960 acres."
"What's he asking for it?"
"I don't know, I never asked him," Tracy said.
"Never mind, I'll have my agent find out for me."
While we had been talking, Rosie, Tracy and I were carrying bags of groceries into the house. Cary had moved over to the fence to watch the other kids ride their horses. I looked at my watch and decided it was time to head back to the house. Bea should be there in about an hour and a half or so. I caught Bert's attention and asked him to round up everybody.
It took nearly a half an hour to get the horses brushed down and everybody loaded into the van. I called Hildy on my cell phone and told her we were on our way home. I figured she needed a little warning so that she could have lunch prepared when we got there.
As everybody jumped out of the van, I told them to get cleaned up and try to get as much of the horsy smell washed off as possible before they sat down at the table. I ushered Cary into my bathroom and cleaned him up before we headed for the lunch table. Hildy had fixed three plates of sandwiches, one ham salad, one chicken salad and the other one was tuna salad. There were potato chips, carrot and celery sticks on plates around the table. Glasses of milk were already poured and placed in front of each plate. It didn't take long before the piles of sandwiches started to dwindle. Before the ten kids, who included John, were finished eating, there were very few sandwiches left for Hildy, Connie and me. The twins looked up at Hildy expectantly. She just smiled, turned and headed for the kitchen. When she returned she was carrying a large plate of chocolate brownies with chocolate frosting. They disappeared faster than the sandwiches. I did manage to snag one of them before they were gone.
"How did your studying go this morning?" I asked Joel and John.
They looked at each other sheepishly before Joel spoke. "It went fine, dad."
"What subject were you studying?"
"Advanced algebra," John volunteered.
"Do you have any questions? I was always good at algebra."
"No, sir," John said. "We still have a lot more to learn, but thanks for offering your help. If we get stuck we'll ask."
"Well, don't study too hard. It's a beautiful day. You should think about going for a swim later when you need a break."
"Thanks, dad," Joel said. 'Come on, John. Let's see if we can't finish one more section and then we can take a swim."
Lori and Kathy asked if they could play the piano. I told them to go ahead since they played so well. The boys were all upstairs playing video games or playing with other toys of which there was a large assortment. I went into the library, selected a book and took it into the living room to read. From there I could listen to the boys upstairs and the girls playing the piano.
I had read a couple of pages when the gate buzzer sounded. I looked at my watch and knew it had to be Bea and her mother arriving. I checked the gate security camera and then activated the gate release. I dreaded what was going to happen as I went out the front door to greet them.
"Crane, this is my mother, Greta Flynn," Bea said.
"It's nice to meet you. I just wish it were under happier circumstances. Please come in," I said. "Bea, how do you want to handle this? You can use the library if you want privacy."
"I think that would be best. As soon as the kids have greeted their grandmother, I'll take them in there and tell them about their dad."
"Bea, there is something you ought to know. Cary thinks he knows that his dad has died. He was crying when I went to wake him this morning. He told me he had the feeling that Barth had died."
"I'm not really surprised," Bea said with a sigh. "He has always been so in tune with his dad. Their connection was very strong. I hope he didn't tell his sisters."
"No, I don't think so. I asked him not to tell them of his suspicions and I don't think he did. The girls are in the conservatory playing the piano and Cary is upstairs playing with the boys," I said, showing them into the foyer. "If you want to get Kathy and Lori, I'll bring Cary down to the library. It's just there to your right."
I headed upstairs, Bea and her mother headed toward the sounds of the piano being played. As I approached Cary's wheelchair, I saw that Sam had his head in Cary's lap and it was being petted slowly. Both the dog and Cary seemed to be contented. Sam seemed to have found a friend since Joel was busy studying with John. I almost hated to breakup this tranquil scene for the gut wrenching news that was to follow.
Placing my hand on Cary's shoulder, I said, "Your mom and grandmother have arrived. Let's go down and see them."
He nodded his assent and turned his chair toward the elevator after giving Sam one last pat on the head. As I walked with him to the elevator, I could see the tears beginning to form in his eyes. By the time the elevator had reached the ground floor the tears were streaming down his cheeks. As we exited the elevator, Bea had her arms around her daughters and was heading for the library. Bea told the girls to go into the library and she met Cary who was now sobbing loudly.
"Cary, everything is going to be all right," Bea said. "Let's go join your sisters and say hello to your grandmother."
They entered the library and closed the door. I hurried back upstairs to break the news to the boys. I knocked on Joel's bedroom door and told him to come to the media room where the other boys were. When they were all assembled, I gave them the news about Cary's dad. The twins had the greatest reaction to the news. They were the closest to Cary. They hugged each other and I saw a tear silently trickle down each of their cheeks. Peter didn't appear to know what was happening. He had only known Cary for a day and had never really interacted with him.
"I'm really sorry for Cary and his sisters, dad," Joel said. "Is there anything we can do for them?" That was so typical of him, always thinking of helping others. God, I was so proud of him.
"The only thing we can do at the moment is to be supportive of them. Just let them know that we care. They need to know that we are still their friends and they can come to us for help if they need it," I said.
After a few more questions from the boys and an attempt by me to answer them, the boys went back to their previous play. John and Joel returned to his bedroom to resume studying. I went to see if Hildy would put on the coffee. I thought that Bea and her mother might need some when they were finished their sad duty.
I was right. About 20 minutes later they emerged from the library looking completely drained. Hildy, bless her heart, immediately took charge of the situation. She gently guided Bea and Greta into the breakfast room and got them seated at the table. The girls followed her seating themselves next to their mother. Cary slowly rode up to me. When I bent down to listen, he asked, "Could you help me to the bathroom, please?"
"Of course, son, let's use the one in my bedroom. There's more room to maneuver your chair."
Hildy had already set out cups and saucers as well as a sugar bowl and creamer. By the time Cary and I returned, the coffee had been poured and the women were talking in hushed voices.
"Can I go see the twins?" Cary asked.
When I nodded, he headed for the elevator. Evidently the twins had heard the elevator start up and assumed that it was Cary who was using it. Cary was surrounded with hugs from Larry and Lenny as soon as he exited the elevator. I watched as the twins shared their love with Cary. I think it made a difference to him to know that he was not alone, that the twins shared his grief.
I decided to leave Cary with the boys and went back downstairs to speak with Bea and her mother. Pouring myself a cup of coffee, I sat down at the table with the five women. "Bea, how are you holding up?" I asked.
"So far, so good," she answered. Her voice betrayed her.
"What are your plans now?"
"We haven't worked out everything as yet. The funeral home is making the arrangements to take Barth back to Dallas. We have plots in a cemetery outside the city. The funeral service is tentatively set for Saturday morning. It's going to take some time for his brothers to arrive. After that, things are still a bit fuzzy."
"Are you planning to stay here in your home?"
"I don't know, yet. We like it here, but it's a long way from our family. It's something we will need to talk about as a family."
"If you decide to move, the twins will definitely miss Cary. Just remember, you're not alone. Don't hesitate to ask us for help," I said.
"That goes for me, too," Hildy added.
"Thank you both," Bea said. "Now, I think it's time for us to get home."
Hildy helped the girls gather up their things and I did the same for Cary. A few minutes later everybody was gathered around the Meyers' van to watch it depart for their home. The twins took up places on either side of me and waved to Cary all the way until the van was out of sight.
"Is Cary gonna get to come back?" Larry asked.
"Cary is welcome to come back anytime his mom says he can," I answered. It was not a lie, but it may not have been what might happen.
Later in the afternoon, Joel and John came to me to see if I would take John home. I agreed and went to tell Hildy where we were going and asked her if she would watch the other boys.
"How did your studying go?" I asked them, as we went out through the gate.
"Good, dad," Joel answered. "I think if we do this a couple more times we should be ready to take the sample test."
"Joel's really good in algebra," John volunteered. "I wish I was as good. He thinks it's so simple and I have to really work to understand it."
"Yeah," Joel said, punching John on the arm. "But you've got me beat in history. I have to study like mad to remember all those dates and you don't. I don't know how you do it."
This back and forth banter went on all the way to John's house. They had me laughing at their antics when the subject of their banter strayed from academics. A hurried kiss between them before John climbed out of the car and ran to the house. Joel got into the front seat before we headed back to our house.
"Thanks, dad," Joel said. "I was nice to have John come over to study."
"Study? Is that all?"
"Well... Yeah... Mostly," he giggled, turning a bright shade of red.
"Tracy Smith called while you were gone," Hildy told me, as we entered through the door from the garage.
"Thanks, did he say what he wanted?"
"No, he just wanted you to call him."
I went into the library and returned Tracy's call. Rosie answered the phone.
"Rosie, this is Crane. Is Tracy there?"
"Yes, hold on, I'll get him. He's outside playing with the dog."
"Mr. Johnson, thanks for calling me back," Tracy said, a minute or two later. "I just wanted to tell you that I talked to Hiram Katz after you left earlier today."
"Did you find out what he wanted for the quarter horses?" I asked.
"Yes, I did. They are fine animals. They're registered quarter horses and he has the papers. He showed them to me. He let me ride all four of them. As you might expect, the three mares are gentle and well saddle broke. The stallion is a little skittish. It would take an experienced rider to handle him. Hiram is asking $8,000 each for the mares and $10,000 for the stallion. That seems to me to be a little high. I can check with one of my professors at A&M. I know one that raises quarter horses. He's always talking about his."
"That would be great, if you could. Did he happen to mention what he was asking for his spread?"
"I think he mentioned something about $2,000 an acre, but I was paying more attention to the horses so that may not be what he said."
"Check with that professor and if he thinks the price for the horses is in line, I'll at least buy the mares. We'll have to see about the stallion. You may be in line for another finder's fee," I said.
"Thanks, Mr. Johnson. I'll let you know as soon as I hear anything from Professor Groves."
I hung up the phone and was getting up from my desk when the phone rang. It was Eric. After we had exchanged greetings, he said, "I'd like to ask you a favor."
"Sure, what do you need?"
"Bran wants to go to California this weekend to arrange for a place to live before he starts to college this fall."
"Well, JR has a soccer match this Saturday and he doesn't want to miss it. Could he stay with your boys Friday and Saturday nights? Bran and I are planning on leaving Friday afternoon and returning late Sunday."
"Of course, JR can stay. We'll love having him here for the weekend. Do you have some places in mind for Bran to look at already?"
"Yes, Bran's been talking to an agent. He's arranged for us to inspect a number of places. You know, I can barely believe that Bran is going to be going away to school. JR is not taking it too well. I think that's the reason he doesn't want to go with us. He doesn't want to admit that Bran's going to be gone."
"That will be hard for him. Bran has been like a big brother for the past couple of years. I'm sure TJ will feel the same when Joel leaves for college in a couple of years. Me, too."
"I'm not thrilled about Bran's leaving, either. I've come to depend on him to help with JR when I had to work late. Besides being a big brother to JR, he's been like another son to me."
"What kind of place are you looking for?"
"The agent has both apartments and condos for us to look at. I'm partial to a condo, but I'm keeping an open mind. We'll just have to see what the agent shows us."
"If you find a condo, are you planning on buying it or just renting it?"
"Probably renting, I've heard that the prices are outrageous to buy in the area."
"Before you go, talk to Gerald Cousins. He manages Bran's trust. If you find a condo that you think is a good place for Bran to live, maybe the trust could purchase it. Then when Bran's graduated the university, it could be sold. It would probably be a good investment. I doubt that it would decrease in value."
"Good idea. I'm a little nervous about him being in an apartment. You never know what kind of neighbors you'll have. If he got a two bedroom place, maybe he could have a roommate. Or, there would be a place for us to come visit him, Hmm, now that's a thought. I'm sure that JR and I will be making frequent trips to see Bran. If it's all right, I'll bring JR over around one o'clock. Our flight leaves at three."
Hildy laughed when I told her JR was going to be spending the weekend with us. "This is turning out to be a hotel," she snickered, going back to her cooking.
"Yeah, but you love it," I said, giving her a one arm hug.
"I know. It was sure nice to have the girls here. Manny was just as thrilled as I was to have them here. We love the boys as if they are our own grandkids, but it was special to have the girls stay for a couple of days. The next stray you bring home should be a girl," she said, giving me an evil grin.
"Bite your tongue, woman. I think five, possibly six boys, are more that enough for us to handle."
To be continued.
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