Copyright 2005-2009 Ted Louis

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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Joel V

Chapter 7

Thursday was very quiet, although by the evening I noticed that Joel seemed anxious. "Look, son, you did your best on that test. That's all that matters. I'm sure you did well. Whatever the outcome is, I'm still proud of you."

"Thanks, dad, I know I did okay. It's just waiting to find out the score. I bet with John I'd get a better score than he did."

"What did you bet?"

"The one who gets the lowest score has to pay to take the other one to see a movie."

"Do you have a movie in mind?"

"Not really," he said with a blush. "Will you drive us there and come get us?"

"Of course I will. Now, why don't you go practice your guitar to take your mind off the test?"

"Okay, dad."

I hadn't received any more information from Jack. I guess getting the information on the last few members of the church was going more slowly. More slowly than I would have liked, but I understood.

"Mom and the girls are all excited about coming here today," Connie said to Hildy, as she came into the kitchen Friday morning.

"I'm anxious to meet your girls," Hildy said. She looked at me and I knew what she was about to say. I nodded and she continued, "Why don't you have your mother bring the girls over in time for lunch? Then by the time Ty gets here at two they'll be familiar with everything and it won't seem so strange."

"Oh, I couldn't do that."

"Of course you can," I said. "I should have thought of it."

It took a little more convincing, but Connie finally agreed and made a call to her mother.

At nine o'clock, Joel made the call to the school. "Mr. Pilgrim, I'm Joel Johnson. I wanted to find out what my score was on the test I took on Wednesday."

There was a pause for maybe 30 seconds before Joel's face broke out in a broad smile. He listened for several more seconds before hanging up.

"Well?" I asked.

"I missed two points out of 200," he said.

"That's great," I said.

"Yeah, but I wanted to get them all right. I gotta call John."

I would have liked to hear the call, but Joel went to his bedroom to make it. I was quite certain they would be discussing more than their test scores. Ten minutes later, he came back downstairs grinning from ear to ear.

"Well, from the look on your face, I'd say you won your bet."

"Yeah, John missed four points. Mr. Pilgrim told John we could look at the test to see which questions we missed. I know the ten true/false questions were each worth two points apiece, so I think I must have missed one of those. John thinks he missed two."

"So, when are you guys planning on going to the movies?"

"Maybe we could go Saturday night?"

"I'll have to check with Hildy to see if she and Manfred are available to watch your brothers while I take you guys."

"Ah... Do you think we could go to that new theater complex down on 1604? John says there's a good movie showing that he'd like to see. And since he's paying..."

"Let's go check with Hildy."

Hildy said that she and Manfred didn't have any plans for Saturday night, so I told Joel to go call John back and tell him to start making plans. I had come up with a plan of my own. Now to see if it would work.

I headed to my bedroom to make a call of my own. When the phone was answered, I said, "May I speak to Eric Levin, please?" I was put on hold for about 30 seconds.

"This is Eric Levin, how may I help you."

"Eric, it's Crane."

"Crane, it's good to hear from you. What's going on?"

"I was wondering if you would like to see a movie Saturday evening?"

"Sure, if Bran isn't doing anything and can stay with JR."

"If Bran is busy, JR could always stay the night with the boys." I went on to explain that Joel and John wanted to go to the theater off 1604 and wanted me to drive them. I didn't relish making two round trips and thought it was a good idea to take advantage of the situation. I told him I would call and let him know the details as soon as Joel and John had gotten things arranged.

At half past eleven, the gate buzzer sounded. It was Connie's mom and the two girls. I summoned the boys and along with Connie and Hildy we all met them at the front steps. Connie introduced her mother as Marjorie Gundersen. After all the introductions had been made, the twelve of us went into the house.

Connie's daughters, Alice and Joanna, clung to their mother as they entered the house. Mrs. Gundersen stood in awe as she took in the foyer and formal dining room.

"Mr. Johnson, this is the most magnificent house I've ever been in. Connie tried to describe it to me, but she didn't do it justice."

"Thank you, Connie will give you the grand tour," I said. The phone rang at that moment and I excused myself to answer it.

The call was from Darcie. She wanted to set up a board meeting for the foundation and wondered if I would be available next Wednesday afternoon. I checked my schedule, determined that I had no conflicts and said I would be there.

By the time Connie had conducted the tour of the house, it was time for lunch. Marjorie, as she insisted that we call her, pitched right in and helped Hildy get everything on the table for the eight kids. She and Hildy were very near the same age and seemed to hit it off immediately. Hildy, of course, was doting on the two girls and they responded to her as if she were their grandmother as well.

Compared to my boys, Connie's girls were dainty eaters. That is, they were until Hildy brought out the banana pudding topped with whipped cream. They matched the boys, spoonful for spoonful.

Joanna was fascinated by Peter and followed him around wherever he went. He didn't appear to mind at first, but by the time Ty arrived for the swimming lessons he was doing his best to hide from her - without much success.

Ty arrived driving his brother's old clunker. I was surprised that it was still running and commented on the fact as I led Ty into the bedroom so he could change.

"David gave it to me when he got his new car. Well, his isn't new, it's four years old, but it runs better. This one gets me where I need to go, but it sure isn't a chick magnet," he said with a frown.

I laughed and told him the kids were outside in the pool waiting for him.

Ty emerged from the bedroom onto the terrace wearing his swim team's blue Speedo. It was even more apparent that he did some serious weight training. His build was not that of a weightlifter, it looked more like the model you would see gracing the cover of some men's fitness magazine.

From behind me I heard the intake of breath and Connie saying, "Oh, my!"

Ty had all the kids line up and then had each one demonstrate how well or how poorly they swam. He pronounced that my five didn't need much instruction, just some improvement in technique. Alice, Joanna and Peter, he decided needed the most attention. He went to work with them, first showing them the proper breathing method. A half hour later he gave them a break. They climbed out of the pool for a glass of juice that Hildy had brought out when she saw them exiting the pool.

"What's with all the security?" Ty asked, as he was getting ready to leave for the day.

"We had a little vandalism a few days ago and some threats. I thought it would be prudent to have some security for a while until the situation is resolved."

"Does it have anything to do with that nasty word that was painted outside the gate? I could see it even though it was painted over."


"That's despicable. One of my best friends is gay. He's not out at school, but if anyone tried to give him any static they'd have me to deal with."

"Good for you. He'll need all the support he can get. Between the Baptists and the Catholics around here, he'll be lucky not to get harassed."

"The Presbyterians are not all that tolerant either. That's where I go to church, but it makes me mad when I hear a lot of people making bigoted remarks about gays. My friend is one of the kindest, caring and giving people I've ever known. It doesn't make any difference to me who he loves. He's never made a pass at me. He's just a good friend."

Before Ty could climb into his old car, he was surrounded by all eight of the kids. He got hugs from several of them before he was able to open the car door. With the backfiring of the car and a cloud of blue-grey smoke, the car and Ty headed down the drive.

"It sure was nice having the girls here this afternoon," Hildy said wistfully, when they had gone home.

I nodded and gave her a hug. "They'll be back next week. I think Alice is in love with Ty."

"She did seem rather taken by him, didn't she?"

"I'm sure a lot of girls feel that way about him. He's not only good looking and has a great body, but, from my talking with him, he's a really nice person inside as well." I chuckled to myself and then added, "Connie seemed to like what she saw also."

Hildy laughed and turned toward the kitchen without making any further comment. I went to check on the boys. As I was on my way upstairs to see what they were doing, the phone rang.

"Crane, I thought I'd let you know that I've completed the negotiations on the Katz property," Gerald said.

"Great, when do we close?"

"Carlos is preparing the contract. It should be ready to be signed in final form on Monday. I'd say you could close in three weeks if clear title can be established quickly. I'd suggest that you pay half of the purchase price in cash and carry a 90 day note with your main bank for the remainder. I think you can get a note for around 61/2 or 7 percent. You can pay the note off with the proceeds from the 1200 acres."

"Have you got a firm commitment from the developer on it yet?"

"I think we're almost there. They want to haggle a bit more. I know they want that piece of land. It's ideal for what they want to do. I've heard through the grapevine that they are interested in another 800 acres that adjoins this piece that you also own. I wish I had gone through with putting some of my money in with yours when you started acquiring all this land. I'd be a rich man by now."

"Gerald, you're already getting rich off the commissions you get on the sale of the land."

"I guess you're right," he laughed. "And it's totally risk free."

"Let me know when everything is ready for my signature on the Katz property. Have the bank prepare all the loan paperwork and I'll go in and sign my life away. I'd like to close as soon as possible."

After hanging up, I went to check on the boys. Joel met me at the top of the stairs. "Dad, can you take John and me to San Antonio so we can be there by six o'clock?"

"Does the movie start that early?"

"No," he said, ducking his head. "It doesn't start until 7:20, but I thought we could go to that Italian restaurant in the HEB shopping plaza. We could walk to the movie from there. It's only a couple of blocks."

"That's an excellent idea. We'll have to pick John up a little before 5:30 to get there on time. Who's going to pay for the dinner?"

"I am."

"Do you have enough money?"

"Sure, dad, I never get to spend any of my allowance, so I have lots."

I decided to make reservations at the restaurant so we wouldn't have to wait for a table. I actually made two reservations, one for Eric and I and the other for Joel and John. I didn't think they would want to sit with us on their "date". They needed some time alone and so did Eric and I. After the arrangements had been made, I called Eric to let him know the plans. He said that Bran was going out with Shane. I told him to bring JR to the house at five.

I didn't think Hildy and Manfred would mind one more boy, but I went to clear it with her just in case. She just laughed and said, "The more the merrier."

Saturday morning, I got the boys ready and we headed to the ranch to ride the horses. Before we left, I called and talked to Rosie to let her know we were on our way.

Tracy was not there when we arrived, but Bert was in the stables saddling the horses. Rosie told me that Tracy and his friend Charlie had gone over to the Katz place to check out the quarter horses.

Once again, Peter rode Lady and TJ rode one of the larger horses. I rode along beside Peter holding the lead rope as I had done the last time. Bert rode with the other boys. About fifteen minutes after we started riding, Bert rode up beside me and offered to take the rope and ride with Peter. He pointed to the fence where Tracy and another man were standing. I assumed the stranger was Charlie. I admonished Bert not to gallop the horses with Peter aboard. He smiled at me and he and Peter took off for the other boys.

I rode back to the fence and dismounted, looping the reins over the fence.  Tracy introduced me to Charlie Wood.

"Mr. Katz said you had agreed to buy his place," Tracy said.

"Yes, everything should be signed on Monday. So, Charlie, I hear you might be interested in managing the place."

"Absolutely. Mr. Katz was kind enough to let us saddle up a couple of the quarter horses and ride around the place. At least three-fourths of it is tillable. It might need to be irrigated, but he said he owned the water rights so it shouldn't be any problem."

I could tell he was excited about managing the farm and I liked him immediately. "When are you available to start?"

"I would need to give at least two weeks notice. I've got a few things that I need to wrap up. I'd really like to see them through. I estimate I could be free in about four weeks. Is that soon enough?"

"Charlie, I think that would work out fine. It's going to take at least three weeks to close on the property. Tracy, would you mind excusing us? I'd like to talk about finances with Charlie."

"No problem, Mr. Johnson. If you don't mind, I'll take your mount and go ride with the boys."

I outlined what I thought was a reasonable compensation package with Charlie. He appeared pleased with it, especially the sharing of the proceeds from the sale of any crops grown on the property. I would provide the seed and equipment to farm with and he would provide the labor and the profits would be split down the middle. We shook hands on the deal and I gave him Gerald's card and told him to let him know when he would be able to start work.

As Charlie and I wrapped up our discussion, Rosie appeared carrying two plates of oatmeal-raisin cookies. After placing them on the picnic table, she headed back to the house. I followed and between the two of us brought out pitchers of apple juice and plastic tumblers. The boys' food radar was working perfectly.

While the boys were enjoying their snack, Charlie asked me, "What do you plan on doing with the quarter horses?"

"They're included in the price of the property. What would you like to do with them? They're going to be your responsibility."

His eyes lit up when I said that. "I think they could be a source of income. Tracy told me about their blood lines. With careful breeding and occasional stud service fees, we could turn a tidy profit."

"I'd like to have the mares available for riding when we bring company. The stallion is probably a little too spirited for the boys to ride at their current level."

"You're right. I rode him this morning and it takes a pretty firm hand to keep him under control. He's one fine animal, though."

The boys went for another ride after they finished their snack, but not before thanking Rosie for it. Bert and Charlie went with them while we stayed behind and cleaned up the crumbs that were left.

"Dad," Chris said, as we were on our way home. "Can we go swimming when we get home? We're all hot and sweaty."

"I guess. I'm sure Hildy can hold lunch until you've had your swim." That gave him pause for a moment.

"Well, maybe we could eat first and then go swimming. Or, maybe we could swim a little and then eat and then swim some more."

"That would probably work," I said. "But you still have to take a shower when you get done swimming."

By the time they swam, ate and swam some more it was getting very hot out. The temperature was in the low 100's. After their shower, they decided to stay inside and play. They brought the dogs inside as well.

Joel spent about an hour in his room trying on different clothes in an attempt to decide which looked better on him. I hadn't told the five younger boys that JR was coming over to spend the night until it was almost time for Eric and him to show up. They were all excited and went to sit on the front steps to wait for him, despite the heat.

JR was literally dragged from the car as soon as it stopped and ushered into the house. I greeted Eric with a hug and we followed the boys.

"Hi, Mr. Levin," Joel said, as he came down the stairs.

"Good evening, Joel," Eric responded. "Your dad said you did really well on that test. Now you'll have one less class to take in high school. Are you going to try to test out of any more classes?"

"I'm thinking about it, but I want to relax for a while and not study all the time. School starts pretty soon, I'll see then."

"Son," I said, "Eric and I are going to a movie this evening, also."

Joel's eyes got wide as he digested what I had just said. "But..."

"Don't worry, we're not going to the same movie that you are."

"Okay," he said, with a sigh of relief.

"Let's go say goodbye to your brothers before we leave to pick up John."

Six boys and five dogs were upstairs playing with the collection of toys when we climbed the stairs. I told my five that I wouldn't be here to tuck them in bed and they were to do what Hildy said. They shook their heads. I gave them all a hug and a kiss before Joel, Eric and I headed downstairs. Peter followed us all the way to the front door.

"Are you gonna come back?" he asked.

"Of course I'm coming back," I said, squatting down to be on his level. "I'm going to a movie and it will be late when I get back. You'll be in bed asleep when I come home."

"You promise," he said, throwing his arms around my neck.

"I promise, son. And I always keep my promises." I gave him another hug and a kiss on the forehead. "Now, why don't you go play with Bandit or Sam?"

"Okay," he said and slowly released his hug on my neck.

As we walked out the front door, Eric said, "He's come a long way in trusting you. I remember you saying he acted as if he were afraid of you when he first arrived."

"He was, but there has been some improvement in that area. He regresses at times, but he's getting better."

I noticed that Joel was getting very nervous the closer we got to John's house. When I stopped the car in front of the Gordinier house, he blurted out, "Dad, can I ... ah, talk to you, alone?"

"Sure," I said, and got out of the car to walk to where he stopped.

"John's mom said he could spend the night at our house if you said it was okay. Can he?"

I hadn't been prepared for this. It took me a few seconds before I could respond. "Is this what you really want?"

"Yes, sir."

"Very well," I said. "I want the two of you to be very careful, if you know what I mean."

"Yes, sir, I do. Thanks," he said, and gave me a hug.

I got back in the car. "My boy is growing up."

"They have a habit of doing that," Eric said.

It wasn't long before Joel and John came running to the car. John was carrying an overnight bag. I thought I could detect a slight blush on his face as he and Joel climbed into the back seat.

"I've made reservations at the Italian Villa at six. You guys will have your own table and Eric and I will have ours," I informed them as we headed toward 281.

Luckily the traffic was not too bad, so we got to the restaurant with about ten minutes to spare. I announced our parties to the maitre d'. I was surprised that he seated us immediately. It was a little early for the dinner rush. The boys table was separated from ours by several empty tables.

Our dinner started with a shared antipasto plate, followed by a lentil soup. The main dish was Salmone Agli Aromi (Salmon with herbs). This went well with the Pinot Grigio wine we ordered. We passed on the dessert and the espresso.

Earlier, I had signaled the boys' waiter to have their bill added to ours. He smiled and said he would. I signed the credit card receipt and we were ready to head out for the movie. Joel and John were still sitting at their table as we got up to leave.

"Come on, guys, you'll be late for the movie," I said.

"But dad, our waiter hasn't brought us the bill," Joel answered.

"It's taken care of. Let's go, our movie starts ten minutes before yours does."

"Thanks, dad."

"Yeah, thanks Mr. Johnson," John added.

There were several couples waiting in the ticket line when we arrived at the theater complex. John ordered two tickets when he reached the head of the line. I noticed that the movie they were going to see was rated PG13. Eric and I had decided to see Saving Private Ryan. It was rated R.

Despite having just eaten, the boys headed to the refreshment counter. We decided to get diet soft drinks and forego the popcorn and other high caloric treats. Telling the boys we would meet them in the lobby after the movies, Eric and I headed for our screening room. We were a few minutes early and all that was on the screen were advertisements for some local businesses and treats that were available in the lobby. It gave us a chance to talk quietly, given that there was no one seated close to us.

For the next several minutes, we caught up on each other's lives. I finally broached the subject I had been mulling over in my mind. "Would Bran be okay if he were at home by himself tonight?"

"I don't see why not," Eric said. "In a few weeks he'll be living by himself a thousand miles away. Why?"

"I was thinking you might want to stay the night."

To be continued.

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