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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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All the chapters of Joel may also be found on my website at www.tedlouis.com
"Jimmy, as soon as you finish feeding your face, I'll take you home," Mike said.
"If you don't have anything to do, you're welcome to stick around," I said. "We're going to go swimming after while."
"Thanks, Mr. J," Jimmy said. "I have to go to work at five."
"Where do you work?" I asked.
"At the Sports Shop," he answered. "I usually work the day shift, but my boss let me have the day off if I would work the late shift so I could take my test. I like the day shift a whole lot better. I don't get off until the store closes at ten and then I have to tally up my sales. I usually don't get out of there until almost eleven. It kills my social life when I have to work the late shift."
"What social life?" Mike said. "All you do in the summer is work and study. I haven't known you to go out with the guys in your class all summer."
"Well, if I did want to go out, I couldn't," Jimmy said, sticking his tongue out at his brother. That elicited a laugh from the rest of us.
"Okay, you wannabe social butterfly, let's get your stuff together and head for home," Mike said.
As they were leaving, Jimmy extended his hand for me to shake. "Thanks, Mr. J. I really appreciate you taking me with you. I'm not sure my car would have made it round trip."
"You're quite welcome. If you're ever free on a weekend, feel free to come over and go riding with us. I think we have enough horses for everyone."
"That sounds good," he said. "Joel, I'll call you."
They drove off in Mike's car and we went back into the house. TJ and Peter were already in their swim attire. Joel took off for his room and I took off for mine to change. We weren't in the pool long before Manfred arrived with the two girls. We spent a couple of hours swimming and playing games in the pool until the dogs started demanding attention.
The boys played with the dogs until Hildy announced that supper would be ready in twenty minutes. Jeannie and Ginny had played with the dogs as well. That made Buddy, Buster and Rusty, the three musketeers' dogs, happy.
Later after I had tucked TJ and Peter into bed, I went to say goodnight to Joel. I wasn't surprised to see him sitting up in bed reading. At least this time it was not a text book, but a Sci-Fi book. "I see you've discovered Asimov's Foundation," I said, noting the title of the book. "The three books of the Foundation Trilogy are perhaps the three best science fiction books ever written. Where did you get the paperback?"
"Jimmy loaned it to me," Joel said. "He finished it last night before he went to bed. He was telling be about it and I asked him if I could borrow it."
"That was nice of him," I said. "He appears to be a fine young man."
"Yeah, I like him. He's easy to talk to and he's fun to be around."
"We'll have to make sure he comes back to visit even after Mike goes off to college," I said. "Did you know we have the complete set of Asimov's books in hardcover in the library?"
"No, I guess I never saw them."
"Don't read too long. That book is hard to put down."
"I only have four more pages in this chapter and then I'll put it away for the night," Joel said. "Goodnight, dad."
As I walked back to my room, I remembered my first contact with Asimov's stories. I was in boarding school while my parents were in Saudi. I read I, Robot and was hooked. After that I read everything I could by him and had all of his books. Unfortunately, they were all destroyed in the fire that consumed the house.
Right after lunch on Saturday, Mike, the three boys and I headed for the ranch to ride the horses. Donald and his two were there when we arrived. There was a thirty-something young woman there as well. Donald introduced her to me as Lucy Gardener. She was one of the temporary nurses he had hired to watch William and Lenore while he was at work. Lucy was the weekend nurse. I chatted with them while the boys went to the stable to get their rides.
It wasn't long before they exited the stable and took off at a gallop for the back of the pasture. Peter, as usual, was bringing up the rear as was William. The smaller horses' short legs just couldn't keep up with the bigger horses. I held my breath, hoping that Peter would stay in the saddle. I was glad to see Joel rein in his horse and slow so that he was riding beside the two younger ones. Lenore was sitting Beauty waiting for her father to ride with her.
"Hi, Mr. Jo..., I mean Crane," Bert said, as he came out of the stable leading the horse that I usually rode. "She's all ready to go."
"Thanks, Bert," I said, taking the reins from him. "How are things going with you?"
"Great! I'm taking two classes this summer session and will be a full time student when the fall semester begins."
"What are you taking?" I asked.
"English Lit and Economics. It's a lot of reading, but it's kinda fun getting back into the school mode," Bert said.
"He's got his nose stuck in a textbook half of the time," Rosie said, walking up behind us.
"Hi, Rosie," I said. "Where's Carrie Louise?"
"She's taking a nap. She'll be up soon. I know Lenore wants to play with her."
"Is Tracy working today?" I asked.
"Yes, Saturday has turned out to be one of his busiest days. I guess since most people are off on Saturday, they bring their pets in for their shots or whatever," Rosie answered.
"By the way, what happened to your little dachshund? I haven't seen him around for a while."
"Peanut? He was jealous of Carrie Louise when we brought her home from the hospital and even tried to bite her. Charlie and Jessica have him now."
"I think I had better go ride with my daughter," Donald said. "She's getting impatient from the looks of it."
"I'll join you. I see William is getting pretty good on his horse," I said.
"Yes," Donald frowned. "He's becoming a regular daredevil on Magic."
"As long as he stays in the saddle, it'll build his self-confidence. It's done wonders for Peter."
"I know. I'm just being the over-protective father."
"Daddy, faster!" Lenore said.
"See?" I said.
"Okay, sweetie, but only a little bit," Donald said, urging their horses into a medium trot. "I think she wants to catch up with Mike."
Lenore rode with us for about half an hour before she saw Rosie and Carrie Louise sitting in one of the lawn chairs. She immediately turned her horse toward the stables and urged it into a fast trot. She was struggling to get down from Beauty as Donald and I reached her.
"Sometimes I wish she hadn't developed so much self-confidence," Donald smiled and shook his head. "Between Mike and that horse, she's coming out of the shell she's been in since her mother died. I guess that's a good thing."
Lenore took off to where the baby was and we went back to riding. We found the boys in the back of the pasture. Joel, Mike, Bert and TJ raced against each other and then Peter and William raced. It didn't seem to matter with the two youngest who won. They were laughing so hard when they crossed the "finish line" they didn't care. The most important thing was that they were having fun. Bert asked Donald and me if we wanted to join in the fun, but we declined.
It wasn't long before I saw first one and then another look longingly toward the front of the pasture. Joel caught my eye. Knowing what was on his mind, I simply nodded. That was enough of a signal and they all took off at a fast gallop. By the time Donald and I arrived, they had the coolers out of the van and were emptying them of their contents onto a picnic table.
"Where's Charlie? He usually goes riding with us," I asked Rosie.
"They had a wedding to go to in Round Rock. I could just imagine Charlie grumbling about having to get dressed up," she laughed. "That man hates dressing up more than anyone I've known. If he could wear jeans and boots all the time, he'd be happy."
"I don't miss the coat and tie routine," I said.
"I wish I could say that," Donald added.
"Adopt six kids and maybe you too could skip the coat and tie bit," I said.
That brought a laugh from Rosie and Bert, who had just taken a seat near us.
"Bite your tongue," Donald said. "Two are plenty, thank you."
We went back to riding after the kids finished their snacks. "Can you and the kids come to the house after we're finished here?" I asked.
"I wish we could. The general manager of the auto dealerships I own in Louisiana is flying in this evening and we're meeting for dinner. On Monday I'm having a meeting with him and the auditors. I don't have a good feeling about the way he is running things. I need to wait until I get the auditors' report. Something tells me that there is some hanky-panky going on over there. Profits have plunged over the last six months."
"That's too bad. I'm sure that Peter and TJ will be disappointed that William won't be spending the weekend with them," I said.
Hildy was preparing supper when we arrived back home. Manfred and the girls were in the pool. They were quickly joined by the boys and me.
Sunday right after lunch we went to see the twins and Chris at the tennis academy. We were greeted by hugs all around. While the boys were catching up on their week, one of the tennis instructors approached me.
"Are you Mr. Johnson?" he asked.
"Yes, I'm Crane Johnson."
"I'm Brent Larson. I've been working with your sons for the past two weeks. The three of them have great potential. Larry and Lenny are uncanny in the way they play doubles. It amazes me the way they anticipate the other one's action. They seem to always be in the right position. They need work on their serves, but that should come with age and as they grow taller."
"That's good to hear," I said.
"And Chris," he said, shaking his head. "He is so quick around the court, it's almost impossible to pass him. He's made a tremendous amount of progress in these two weeks. I see great things for him if he wants to take his game to the next level and turn pro."
"He's a little young to be making that kind of decision," I said.
"A lot of young people commit to the game at this age. There are a number of tennis academies that take young men his age and groom them for a career in professional tennis. I could recommend a couple, if you're interested."
"Thanks, I'll think about it. I'm not convinced that it would be the best option for Chris. It's something I'd need to discuss with him and the rest of the family."
"Let me know if you decide," Brent said, and walked away. I think he was a little disappointed that I didn't jump at the chance for Chris to become a professional tennis player.
When there was a brief lull in the boys' conversation, I asked, "How are you guys doing here? Are you having fun?"
"Yeah," Chris answered. "There is so much to do and so many different things; we're busy all day."
"The classes are okay, but I like playing tennis the best," Lenny volunteered.
"Me, too," echoed Larry. "We get enough sitting in a class at school. There're some really neat guys here and they're really good tennis players."
"I'm glad you're making some new friends," I said.
"Yeah, everybody's real nice, except for Richard. He thinks he's the best player, and is real stuck up. He says his dad is a senator."
"What's his last name?" I asked. "Do you know?"
"Benning," Larry said.
I just nodded and smiled. I knew State Senator Benning by reputation. While I try not to judge people, I couldn't help it when it came to him. He was a first class jerk. He represented a district east of Houston in the Ship Channel area. Rumor had it that he was on the take as were a number of other corrupt politicians in that area.
"Well, try to be nice to him," I said.
"Oh, dad," the three of them groaned.
They saw the frown on my face and Larry said, "Okay, we'll try. It's not going to be easy."
"Did you ever think he might just need a friend?" I asked. I didn't get a response and they soon went back to telling their brothers about all the things they were doing.
It was late afternoon by the time we returned home. Mike was on the patio reading a book. "Joel, Jimmy called and wanted to talk to you. He asked if you would call him back. He didn't say what he wanted," Mike said.
"Thanks," Joel said, "I'll call him."
"Here's his number," Mike said, handing Joel a slip of paper.
"Your brother seems like a nice kid," I said.
"He'd probably object to you calling him a kid, but you're right. He is a great kid," Mike said. "I know you're not supposed to have a favorite brother or sister, but Jimmy pretty much fills that bill for me. He's smart, hardworking and goes out of his way to be nice to everyone he meets. I think that's why he's so successful where he works."
Peter came up to where I was sitting and climbed onto my lap. "Are you tired?" I asked, rubbing his back.
"You've had a busy weekend. Maybe you should go to bed early this evening," I said. He didn't respond and rested his head on my chest. I felt his forehead and it appeared to be a little warm. "Do you feel sick?"
He just shook his head and continued his snuggle. I decided to give him some children's Tylenol when we went back into the house. If he was still not feeling up to par in the morning, I'd call Dr. Sam.
"Dad," Joel said, coming out of the house and approaching where I was sitting, "Jimmy wants to know if I can go to a movie with him this evening. Can I?"
"Where's the movie?" I asked.
"At the Market Place in New Braunfels."
"What time does it start?"
"7:15 and is over at 9. Jimmy said he would come get me. But ..."
"Well, I thought you might let me take the car."
This was the first time that Joel had asked for the car and although I knew it was going to happen at some point, I was not quite ready for it. All the terrible things that could happen to him flashed through my mind. After a few seconds, I answered him. "Okay," I sighed.
"Thanks, dad, you're the greatest," he said, giving me a hug.
"I want you to promise me that you'll drive carefully and obey the speed limits."
"I will," he said, heading back into the house.
"Well, my brother is rejoining the social scene at last," Mike said.
I didn't respond and struggled up out of my chair with the now sleeping Peter in my arms. I headed into the house to find the Tylenol for him. By the time I had retrieved the liquid from my medicine cabinet, he had roused from his sleep. I sat him down on my bathroom counter, took the bottle and poured out the prescribed amount and handed it to him.
"Here, son, drink this. It'll make you feel better."
He took the small cup and drank it, followed by a sip of water. He grimaced as he swallowed the medicine. "My throat hurts."
"Open your mouth and let me look. Stick out your tongue," I told him. "Your throat does look a little inflamed. I'll bet some vanilla ice cream would make it feel better. Would you like some?"
That brought a more vigorous affirmative nod from him. I picked him up and carried him to the kitchen and placed him on a bar stool. I took the ice cream from the freezer and dipped up a couple of scoops. He had his spoon ready when I put the dish down in front of him.
I don't know how TJ knew that Peter was having a treat, but he had barely taken his first spoonful when TJ appeared beside him. I just shook my head and dished him up some as well. I guess we were having dessert before the main meal.
While I was in the kitchen, I took the pan of lasagna that Hildy had prepared for us out of the refrigerator, placed it in the oven and turned it on. Joel joined us at that point. "Do you want your dessert first?" I asked.
He laughed and said, "No, I'll wait. Is supper going to be long? I have to leave about 6:30 to get to the theater on time."
"Everything should be ready by six, so that should give you time if you don't dawdle."
Peter ate sparingly at supper. That was unusual. He usually had a good appetite. That didn't stop the rest of us from eating heartily, although, Joel did pass up the garlic bread.
When it came time for Joel to leave, I handed him the keys to the BMW and cautioned him again about driving safely. "Be home by eleven," I told him, as I walked with him into the garage and gave him my cell phone. "Call me if you have any problems."
"I will, dad. Thanks," he said and gave me a hug.
I watched as he backed the car out of the garage and drove down the driveway to the road. I don't know what emotions other fathers had at moments like this, but mine were decidedly divided. Fear and pride were two that were the strongest. Fear of all the things that could happen, but probably wouldn't. Pride that the scared little boy that I had brought home had now turned into a confident young man.
Going back inside, I found Peter curled up in my big chair in the living room. I picked him up and held him in my lap as I sat down. "Are you still feeling bad?"
"My throat hurts more," he said.
It hurt me also to see him not feeling well. We had been very lucky in that we had no serious illness since Joel's recovery from leukemia and Lenny's appendicitis. A few minor colds, but that is to be expected of any child attending a school.
"How about if we get you into a nice warm bath in my big tub," I said.
"Okay," he murmured.
"Can I get in the tub, too?" TJ asked from behind my chair.
"Sure, why not? Go upstairs and get both your pajamas and bring them to my bathroom. I'll start the water running." I carried Peter into the bathroom and sat him on the edge of the whirlpool tub and started to fill it. It took a while for the water to cover the jet openings in the side of the tub. I made sure that the water was warm, but not too hot. With Peter running a fever, I didn't think it would be wise for the water to be hot.
TJ arrived with the pajamas and began to undress. I removed Peter's shoes and he followed TJ's lead and began undressing. TJ eagerly climbed into the tub. I picked up the now naked Peter and placed him in the water. I touched the controls that would start the water jets and then added some bubble bath liquid to the tub. Pretty soon the bubbles nearly filled the tub. This was the first time that either of them had been in the whirlpool. For a few minutes, Peter forgot about his sore throat and just enjoyed the new experience.
They played in the tub for around fifteen minutes blowing handfuls of bubbles at each other and creating bubble beards. I decided they had enough fun and were as clean as they were going to get so I shut off the water jets. If there hadn't been a hand shower on the tub, I don't know how we would ever have gotten rid of all the bubbles. Even then it took a while for them to be all washed down the drain. I wrapped Peter in a large bath towel and got him dried thoroughly.
Now dressed in their pajamas, I picked up Peter and carried him upstairs to their bedroom and placed him in his bed and pulled the sheet up over him. I looked at my watch and saw that he could have more Tylenol. I went to get it and returned shortly. Although the medicine was cherry flavored, he wanted a sip of water to wash it down.
"Would you like for me to read you a story?" I asked.
Peter nodded his head and TJ said emphatically, "Yeah!"
I took a book from the boys' bookshelf after looking over the selection. The one I selected might have been for a younger audience than TJ, but I thought Peter would enjoy it. I opened the book and began to read about Pooh, Piglet and Eeyore from Winnie-the-Pooh. I read for about twenty minutes before I saw that Peter was asleep. I motioned for TJ not to say anything and we slipped quietly out of the room. It was a little early for TJ to go to bed.
Later, after Mike had gone to his room and TJ was in bed, I poured myself a glass of ice tea and settled down to read my own book and wait for Joel to come home. I had nearly finished the book that I had started a few days earlier when I heard the sound of the garage door opener. I drew a sigh of relief. I looked at my watch: 10:47. As much as I wanted to rush to the back door and make sure that everything was all right, I controlled the urge and remained seated.
Joel came into the living room all smiles.
"How was the movie?"
"It was okay. We saw the new Star Wars movie The Phantom Menace." Joel sat down on the couch opposite me.
"Did you go anyplace after the movie?"
"Yeah, we went to the Taco Bells down the street from the theater," he said. "Jimmy is so much fun to be with. We never run out of things to talk about. He was blown away that I got to drive the Bimmer."
"The BMW. That's what he called it. I guess it's slang."
"I'm glad you had a good time tonight. I think it's time for you to get ready and go to bed," I said. "I'm going to go there myself."
"Goodnight, dad, and thanks for letting me have the car tonight."
"You're welcome, son. I'll see you in the morning."
I was awakened by someone shaking me and saying, "Dad, wake up."
I rolled over and switched on the bedside lamp. The clock read 2:37. TJ was there looking worried. "What is it, TJ?"
"Peter's crying. I think his throat is hurting bad."
"Hand me my robe and I'll go check on him," I said, sitting on the edge of the bed. I quickly threw on the robe and hurried toward the stairs. TJ was running ahead of me and was waiting beside Peter's bed when I got there. I sat down on the side of his bed and put my hand on Peter's forehead. It was slightly warmer than normal, but he didn't appear to have too much of a fever.
"TJ, go get the thermometer from my bathroom. It's in the medicine cabinet on the left side of the sink right across from the tub where you guys had your bath."
He took off running and was back in less than a minute. I looked to see what temperature it was registering and then shook it down before placing it in Peter's mouth and telling him to keep it under his tongue. I held him in my arms until it was time to remove the thermometer. I held it under the light so that I could get a good reading. It read 100.2. It was a little high, but not something that required immediate concern. I would call Dr. Sam first thing in the morning, however.
"Dad's going to take you down to my bed for the rest of the night so I can keep an eye on you. Is that okay?"
I got a grunt and a slight nod of the head as an answer. TJ followed us back to my bedroom so that he could keep an eye on his brother, also. The rest of the night was restless for all of us. Peter dozed off for a few minutes at a time, but was awake most of the time. Around seven, he dropped off to sleep. I got up, took a quick shower and dressed.
Naturally, Hildy was in the kitchen beginning breakfast preparations. I explained what was going on with Peter and told her I was calling Dr. Sam as soon as I thought they would be up. I waited until a little after eight before I made the call.
"Greene residence," the female voice answered.
"Carol, this is Crane Johnson. Sorry to call you so early. Has Sam left for the office?"
"No," she said, "he's just finishing his breakfast. Would you like to speak with him?"
"Crane, to what do I owe the pleasure of a call from you this early in the morning?"
"Sam, I've got a sick kid and was hoping that you could stop by on your way to the office."
"Sure, what seems to be his problem?"
"He has a really sore throat. It's quite red. My non-medical opinion is tonsillitis."
"You're probably right. I'll be there in half an hour. Have you given him anything?"
"I gave him some liquid Children's Tylenol last night about 7:30."
"Good, don't give him anymore. See you in a bit."
Peter and TJ had come to the kitchen while I was speaking with Dr. Sam. Peter climbed onto my lap. "Would you like something to eat?"
"Could I have some cold water?" he asked.
TJ was already heading for the refrigerator before I could ask him to get some water for his brother. He brought the glass of ice water back and handed it to his brother. Peter took a couple of sips and then handed the glass to me.
"TJ, would you please watch the monitor and when Dr. Sam's car arrives, open the gate for him?"
"Sure, dad," he said, and went to do as I asked.
"What's going on?" Joel asked, as he entered the kitchen area.
"Peter has a sore throat and Dr. Sam is on his way here to have a look," I answered.
Sam arrived a few minutes later and did a quick examination of Peter. "You were right. It is tonsillitis and a bad case at that. I want you to take him to Christus Santa Rosa. I'll call ahead and have him admitted."
To be continued.
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