Copyright 2003-2012 Ted Louis

Joel Books 1 through 5 are available in paperback. 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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All the chapters of Joel may also be found on my website at

Joel VI

Chapter 12

Most of Friday was taken up with preparations for Mike's party. With the number of people expected, I asked Manfred if he would bring their picnic table from their house to add to the seating. He agreed and the two of us hopped into the golf cart and headed for their place. The two of us were able to lift the table into the back of his pickup truck. When we got it back to the house, the twins and Chris as well as TJ and Peter wanted to help carry it around to the back of the house. They weren't all that much help, but they were pleased that they thought they were helping us get ready for the party.

After lunch, Joel came to me. He hesitated a bit before saying, "Jimmy called."

"And?" I asked.

"He wondered if he could come here after he gets off work tonight. He's working a double shift so he can be off tomorrow and he doesn't get off until eight. He wouldn't get here until about nine. Can he?"

"If you want him to, he may come," I said. Putting my arm around Joel's shoulder, I walked him to a place where we couldn't be heard by the other boys. "You boys are being careful, aren't you?"

A very red-faced Joel gulped before answering, "Yes, we are."

"Good, I don't want you to do anything you'll regret or get hurt. You know I trust you."

"I know, Dad. Jimmy and I are not into anything serious."

Joel went up to his room to contact Jimmy to let him know it was okay for him to come tonight. I went to the kitchen to see if I could help Hildy with anything. I found her mixing up what looked to be a huge amount of cake batter.

"Woman, how many cakes are you making?" I asked.

She laughed and answered, "This batter will only make two cakes. They both have three layers and all I have are six cake pans. When they are done, I'll make two more cakes. At times like this I'm glad I went for the double ovens, otherwise it would take me all day to bake all four."

"You know you're going to have to hide them when you're done or the boys will be after you for a piece of cake."

"That's why there's a lock on the pantry door," she said, and began dividing the batter into the six prepared round cake pans.

"Is there anything that you need me to do?" I asked.

"Let's see; I've got the beans soaking. They'll be ready to make the baked beans first thing in the morning. We can't make the slaw until tomorrow. I'll make the potato salad later this afternoon. It's always better if it sits overnight. I guess the only thing that you could do is to make out the hamburger patties. I bought 15 pounds of ground beef. I hope that's enough."

"If we run out of hamburger, they can always fill up on brats and hotdogs," I said. "If we make the patties a third of a pound, that'll make 45 burgers. Okay, point me at the meat. I think my culinary skills are up to the job."

I got the meat out of the refrigerator and unwrapped it. Hildy retrieved a large metal ring which looked like an oversized cookie cutter and handed it to me.

"If you pack the meat into this, I think it will make the right size patties. Arrange the finished patties in the bottom of this pan. When you have the bottom full, place a piece of parchment paper over it and start a new layer. I think you can get about eight burgers in each layer."

I had just gotten my hands into the meat when Donald and his kids arrived. "Well, Chef Crane, what epicurean delight do you have in store for us?"

"Careful what you say when I have my hands in what could be a missile," I laughed. "I didn't expect you this early."

"I decided to take off early," Donald said. "I got a call from Fenton Bigelow this morning. He said he thought we ought to fly out to Vegas and inspect the progress of the development."

"What did you tell him?"

"I said I would talk to you to see if you would be available."

"When do you plan to go?" I asked.

"I thought we could fly out Monday morning, stay a few days and fly back later in the week."

"What about my boys? With Mike being gone, I can't leave them here alone. Hildy has her own girls to look after; I can't ask her to take on the responsibility of six boys also."

"I just assumed that they would come with us. There are a lot of things for them to do and see out there. There are things to do other than visit the casinos."

"In that case, I don't see why we can't tag along. I assume we will be taking your plane?"

"Of course, it is a business trip," he said, smiling.

While we were talking, William and Lenore headed outside to find Mike and the other boys. A few minutes later, the twins came in looking sweaty.

"We're gonna go swimming. Okay?" Larry stated more than asked. "It's too hot to play tennis."

"Sure, but make sure that Mike's there to watch," I said to their backs, as they headed for the stairs.

Soon all the rest of the boys came in and rushed up the stairs to change into their swimsuits. Lenore came and pulled on her dads hand toward the spare bedroom so she could change, also.

"Does she know that Mike will be leaving us on Sunday?" I asked Donald, when he returned alone.

"She knows, but I don't think she realizes what that means, yet. I'm afraid I'm going to have a very sad little girl for a while. Maybe with her pre-school starting in a week or so will help soften the blow of his being gone."

"There," I said. "I've finished the burgers for tomorrow. I ended up with 49. Hildy, where are you going to put these?"

"Let me cover them with this plastic wrap and then you can carry them to the refrigerator in the utility room," she said. "I made room for the pan earlier."

"Donald, I'll let you do the honors. My hands are covered with ground beef," I said.

"Sure, make your guest work," Donald laughed. He picked up the pan and followed Hildy while I washed up in the kitchen sink.

I was drying my hands when the gate buzzer sounded. I went to check the video camera to see who it was. It was the UPS truck. I activated the gate opener and started for the front door. When the truck arrived, I asked him to drive around to the garage area. I wanted to have the packages placed in the guest bedroom so that Mike would not be likely to see them. He rarely had any reason to go in there. Donald had followed me out of the house and helped carry the boxes into the bedroom and placed them in the closet.

"I think we should join the kids in the pool," I said, after the boxes were stored and the UPS truck had driven away.

"Great idea," Donald responded.

When we arrived at the pool, Manfred had brought Jeanie and Ginny over to swim. They were vying with Lenore for Mike's attention. We slipped into the pool and were immediately involved in a game of water dodge-ball. The purpose of which, I soon learned, was to see who could hit either Donald or me with the ball the most times. It was seven against two and we were on the losing side. We had a great time playing with the boys, but after a while, we decided to get out of the pool and watch from the sidelines.

We had just dried off and sat down in the loungers, when Hildy arrived with a tray of empty glasses and a couple of plates of cookies. "Manny, come help me bring out the pitchers of iced tea and juice."

Before they were able to return with the drinks, there were eleven people surrounding the plates of cookies. Donald and I decided to wait out the hungry hoard. Hildy and Manfred, out of an abundance of caution, decided to put the pitchers of juice and tea on another picnic table away from the cookies. Hildy was able to wedge her way into the crowd around the cookies long enough to retrieve the glasses and put them on the table with the pitchers.

After the cookies and juice had disappeared, I caught Joel's attention and motioned for him to come over to where Donald and I were sitting drinking our iced tea.

"What's up, Dad?"

"UPS made a delivery a while ago," I said.

"Oh, it's here?"

"Yes, it's in the spare bedroom. What do you think? Should we put it together or leave it in the boxes?"

"That's a tough choice. I'd like to set it up and play with it. At the same time, I'd like to see him open the boxes," Joel said. "I guess the best choice is to leave it boxed up."

"Well, maybe you can help him transfer his stuff from his old computer," I said. "That way you might get to 'play' with it."

"I wonder what he'll do with his old computer," Joel said.

"If he doesn't have anyone to give it to, he could always donate it to the Salvation Army Store. They've started recycling old computers," Donald offered.

"That's about all it's good for," Joel said. "I think the motherboard has a crack in it. After it's been running for a while, the thing will all at once shut down. It happens when the heat builds up. The only way he keeps it running now is to aim that electric fan at the partially opened case. I guess the only good that has come from that is he's learned the wisdom of saving his work often. That's a good idea anyway, but for him, on that computer, it's imperative."

Joel went back to the pool and Donald and I discussed the status of the Las Vegas project and our upcoming trip. Although it was quite sudden, I thought the boys might enjoy the trip before school started in about ten days. I decided I would tell them at supper.

We were sitting in the lawn chairs enjoying our iced tea when Hildy came out and sat down beside us. "Well, the cakes are all baked and frosted," she said, before adding, "and hidden."

"You won't be able to hide the aroma," Donald said. "I know that William has the nose of a bloodhound when it comes to sniffing out desserts."

"Yeah," I said, "I have six of those 'bloodhounds'."

"There's something else I need to tell you," Hildy said. "Gilda called and is planning on coming to visit for a couple of weeks. She flies in on Monday afternoon. She's anxious to see the girls and she's never been here since we bought the house."

"That's wonderful," I said. "It'll work out perfectly. Donald and I have been discussing plans to take the kids and fly to Las Vegas on Monday. We'll be back on Friday. That will give you almost a week to visit with her."

"Who's Gilda?" Donald asked.

"She's my sister," Hildy replied.

"This is rather sudden, isn't it?" I said.

"I guess so," Hildy said. "I think she gets lonely in that house all by herself now that her husband died. Her kids are no longer in the area, also. I told her she ought to sell it and move down here. One of her daughters, Celia, lives in Houston."

"Do you think she'll sell her house?" I asked.

"I wish. I told her she could come to live with Manfred and me. She's headstrong and can't be told anything."

"Just like her sister," I laughed, dodging a punch to my left bicep.

"Watch it, buster," Hildy snickered, "I just might slip something into your food." That brought a laugh from the three of us.

"What's so funny?" Manfred said, getting out of the pool and drying off.

"Your wife just threatened to poison my food," I said.

"Make sure we're in his will," Manfred deadpanned.

"I think I'll quit while I'm ahead," I said.

"Good idea," Donald said.

As we were finishing supper, I got the boys' attention and made the announcement that we were flying to Las Vegas on Monday morning. Their reaction at first was shock and then the realization set in and it got noisy. All the boys were talking excitedly at the same time except for Peter.

"Where's lost biggest?" Peter asked, looking very confused.

"Las Vegas. It's a city in the desert a long way from here," I answered. "Donald and I have some business to take care of out there, but we'll have time to do a lot of interesting things."

"Are we gonna fly in that airplane again?" he asked.

"Yes, we are."

"Goody, I like flying."

That was settled. He didn't care where Las Vegas was as long as he got to go in the plane.

"How long are we going to be there?" Joel asked.

"We plan to fly back on Friday at the latest. You guys have to start school on Wednesday of the following week. Now, after you get your dishes in the dishwasher, why don't you go check the internet to see what you would like to do while we're there."

"Is it all right if we use the computer in the library? That way we can all get around it to see," Joel asked.


"Come on, William," Peter said. "Hurry."

As Donald and I were having our after dinner cup of coffee in the living room, I asked, "Are you going to bring along a nanny for Lenore?"

"Yes, I've arranged for one of the nurses that stays with her and William during the week to accompany us. It's the one that Lenore likes the best."

"What will we do for accommodations while we're there?"

"I've rented a six bedroom condo. Fenton got it for me for the week in case we stay longer. It will give us a home base to work from. He's also arranged for a private tour guide to take the kids around while we are busy with the development. Amanda, that's the nurse, will be there to supervise as well when we can't be there."

"Did Fenton say what specifically he wanted us to look over while we're there?"

There were a couple of things he mentioned. The completed plans for the golf course condos are ready for the architectural committee to review, but he wanted us to look at them first. He didn't say so in so many words, but I got the impression that he had some reservations about them. He also wanted us to talk with the golf courses developers and check on the progress. The last thing on his list was a review of the lot sales and to give us a financial report," Donald said.

"Sounds like it will take more than one day," I said.

"I think we can do the first two on the list on Monday afternoon when we get there and Fenton can come to the condo for the financial report on Tuesday morning. That will leave the rest of the time for us to play tourist."

"Here's a list of the things we might be able to do in Las Vegas," Joel said, handing me a computer printout.

"Thanks, guys," I said. "Be sure to bring the list along on Monday and we can talk about it on the plane."

We put the boys to bed around 8:30, all but Joel. He was waiting for Jimmy to arrive. Lenore, of course, was spending the night with Jeanie and Ginny. Mike was in his room getting his stuff ready to pack for the move on Sunday.

A few minutes after nine, the lights of a car coming up the driveway told us that Jimmy had arrived. Joel went out the back door to greet him. When they came back in, Jimmy was carrying several knocked-down, cardboard boxes.

"Hi, Mr. J, Mr. Baker, thanks for letting me come tonight," Jimmy said. "Mike asked me to bring a couple of boxes."

"It's good to see you again, Jimmy," I said. "Your brother is up in his rooms."

"Thanks, I'll take them up to him."

When they came back downstairs, Joel said, "Jimmy didn't have time to have any supper. Is it alright if I fix him a sandwich?"

"Sure, there are some cold cuts in the refrigerator. You know where everything is. Just don't make a mess or Hildy will be all over you two," I said.

After they had finished in the kitchen and headed upstairs to Joel's room, I went to check the kitchen. I was pleased to see that it was as if they had never been there. I should have expected nothing less.

At six Saturday morning I heard a loud noise that awakened me. It sounded like something had been dropped. I got up, put on my robe and cautiously opened the bedroom door. I saw lights on in the kitchen and realized that Hildy had come over early to start the preparations for the party.

"Sorry I woke you," she said when she saw me standing there. "I'm usually not so clumsy."

"No problem, I thought we had a noisy burglar." I went back to the bedroom and decided to shower and get ready to face the day. Coffee was ready when I returned.

"How many will there be for breakfast?" Hildy asked.

"Eleven from this house, not counting you. If Manfred and the girls come over that will add four more," I said. "Can I help you with anything?"

"Manny is going to feed the girls at home," she said. "You can set the table and then start cracking the eggs into that bowl. We're having scrambled eggs, sausage and toast. You'll need to crack a couple dozen ... make that thirty eggs to feed everybody."

I never realized how long it took to crack thirty eggs. I had made a mess by the time I finished. There was egg white dripped on the counter where I had been working. I guess I was not cut out to be a cook.

While I was making a mess with the eggs, Hildy was busy preparing the baked beans. They smelled good already and they weren't even in the oven. Anything you put maple syrup and brown sugar in is bound to smell good.

Joel and Jimmy were the first to arrive downstairs for breakfast. "We're going to go riding for a couple hours this morning," Joel said. "We'll be back before lunch."

"Fine, have you called the ranch yet?" I asked.

"Yes, Bert said he'd have my horse and a quarter horse for Jimmy saddled by the time we got there. He's going riding with us."

As they left the other six boys and Mike came down the stairs for their breakfast. By the look of the way they were putting away the scrambled eggs, I might have to crack some more. That turned out not to be the case, but the plate was scraped of the last egg morsel.

Joel and Jimmy arrived back in the nick of time to wash up and join us for lunch of tomato soup, grilled cheese sandwiches and fruit for dessert. "Okay, guys, our guests will be arriving shortly. I want you to make sure that your rooms are tidied up and ready for inspection. We don't want our guest to think we're slobs."

Our first guests to arrive were Bill and Jake with their girlfriends Jill and Becky. "Oh, my," Jill said, after she was introduced. "Bill told me you had a beautiful house and for once he didn't exaggerate. Do you mind if we have a look around?"

"Not at all. Mike can give you a tour. I think everything is in order," I said. "Well, maybe not Mike's rooms, I know he was up half the night getting his things ready to move."

"Yeah, it's clean, but pretty messy. I have boxes and suitcases all over the place," Mike said.

Mike began showing them around the ground floor when I remembered the computer in the spare bedroom. I just hoped he didn't open the closet in there.

When our guest returned after their tour of the interior of the house, I told them if they wanted to go swimming or play tennis they were welcome to do so. I looked directly at Bill when I mentioned tennis.

"No, no way am I going to play tennis," he said. "I was humiliated once and that was one time too many. I, for one, vote for the pool." That provoked a laugh from the other three and Mike.

"Mike, I see an SUV driving up the driveway. I think it must be your family," I said.

The SUV parked behind Bill's car and began disgorging passengers. Mike went up to his mother and gave her a hug. Donald and I had followed Mike out of the house and were standing on the front steps. He led her to where we were standing and began the introduction while his father helped the rest of the family out of the vehicle.

"Crane, Donald, this is my mother, Gloria Potter. Mom, this is Crane Johnson and Donald Baker."

Gloria ignored my outstretched hand and wrapped her arms around me in a hug. She then proceeded to kiss me on both cheeks. She did the same thing to Donald.

"You'll have to forgive my mom. She's Italian," Mike said.

"You two men have done wonderful things for my son. We will be forever in your debt," she said, wiping a tear from her eye.

"Mom, let me introduce the rest of the family. This is my dad, Keith Potter, my brother Hal, my sister Mary and the twins Liz and Ben. Crane Johnson and Donald Baker," Mike said, finishing the introductions. "You know Alice."

"It's very nice to meet all of you at last," I said. "Please come inside and meet the rest of the family." It took a while, but all the introductions were finally made. Most were done at poolside.

When he saw our boys in the pool, Hal asked, "Can we go swimming?"

"You brought your suit with you, didn't you?" I responded, getting a nod from him. "Alice, if Mary and Liz want to change, they can use the spare bedroom where you stayed. The boys can change in Mike's rooms." As Alice started back to the house with her sisters, I whispered to her, "Don't say anything to Mike about the boxes in the bedroom closet. They're a surprise for him."

"I think I'll go see if Hildy needs any help," Gloria said.

It wasn't long before Mike returned with his brothers dressed in their swimsuits. The pool was getting crowded by the time Mike and his siblings got into the pool. Alice did not join in. All in all there were twenty people either in the pool or sitting on the sides with their feet dangling in the water.

"Keith, could I get you something to drink? There's iced tea, coffee or I can open a bottle of wine. What's your choice?"

"Coffee will be fine." As we headed for the house, Keith said, "We really appreciate what you and Mr. Baker have done for my son. I've never seen him happier. He has had a tremendous weight lifted off his shoulders now that he has that scholarship Mr. Baker set up for him. He's told me about that condo where he's going to live. It's unbelievable."

"Donald and I both saw in Mike a young man with great potential and didn't want to see it stifled because he lacked the funds to see it realized. I don't know if Mike has told you about Lenore, Donald's daughter," I said.

"No, the only thing he's said is that she's a sweet little girl."

"To make a long story short, Donald adopted Lenore and William after their mother, his sister, died. Lenore took her mother's death very hard and withdrew into herself. She barely communicated with anyone. Donald had taken her to a number of psychiatrists and psychologists, but nothing seemed to help her. There was something about Mike when she first met him that she somehow made a connection. As Donald has said many times, Mike did more for Lenore in two meetings than all the professional help had done in a year. She is now the happy little girl that you met a few moments ago. She and the two foster girls of Hildy and Manfred simply adore him."

"I never knew," Keith said. "Mike has always been good with kids. If any of his brothers or sisters had a problem or got hurt, they would always go to him first and he would make it better."

"Donald was so grateful for what your son did for Lenore that he established that scholarship for him. I don't think there is anything that Donald wouldn't do for Mike. He's that grateful."

"It sounds like Mike'll be missed when he leaves."

"Keith, you have no idea. I'll bet that he will receive regular visits from those three girls. Of course, Mike is always welcome to come visit us anytime," I said. "Let's take our coffee and join the rest of the family by the pool."

"Jimmy seems a lot happier these days," Keith said. "I think he would move out to your ranch so he could ride a horse every day."

"We go riding at least once a week, weather permitting. The boys and I love riding. We enjoy having Jimmy come to visit. Joel and he have become good friends. Living out here with few close neighbors and even fewer with boys his age, it's nice that Joel's found a friend."

"You don't seem to have any problem with Jimmy's ... ah ..." Keith stammered.

"Being gay?"


"No, from what I've seen, Jimmy is a fine young man. He's hard working, bright and polite. What more could you ask for in a son. Who he may love does not define him as a man. He is who he is and nothing can or should try to change that."

"As a father, I would much prefer him to be normal so he wouldn't have to face the scorn of the bigots. I'm just thankful that he doesn't act like some of those prissy characters on TV," Keith said.

"I don't think you have to worry too much about Jimmy. I can see him succeeding in whatever he sets his mind to. Joel says that Jimmy will graduate from high school at the end of first semester. Has he decided where he's going to college?"

"Yes, he's been accepted at the University of Houston, provided he graduates. I don't have any doubts that he will graduate the way that boy spends all his time with his nose in a book. We've made arrangements for him to stay with my brother and his wife. They live about five miles from the main campus and there's a city bus that runs to the campus just a block from their house."

"That's convenient," I said. "It will sure save a lot of money."

"Dad," Lenny said, climbing out of the pool, "Hal wants to see our dogs."

"Okay, put on some shoes, there could be some fire ants in the grass."

Lenny and Hal, followed by Chris, Larry, TJ, Peter, William and Ben, scrambled to find the right pair of shoes among the row of them lined up on the patio. Somehow they all managed to find shoes that fit and off they went to release the dogs, much to the dogs delight.

"Hildy gave me a tour of your beautiful home," Gloria said, as she and Hildy joined us on the patio. "I've never seen a house with an elevator in it. I thought Mike was joking when he said it did."

"She didn't try to put you to work, did she?" I joked.

"I volunteered," Gloria said, "but she declined my offer. It looks like she has everything under control. I just wish I could make my cakes turn out as nice as those Hildy showed me."

"You know she had to keep them under lock and key to keep my boys from eating them," I said. "Hildy, what time to you suppose we should eat? I'm sure with all the activity that people will be getting hungry pretty soon."

"I think I'll have everything ready by six," Hildy said. "How long will it take you to get the grill ready?"

I looked at my watch and said, "I better get it started if I want the coals to be hot enough to start the burgers."

"Is there anything I can do?" Keith asked.

"I don't think so. This is pretty much a one-man job."

I had barely gotten the wood in the firebox and started the first little flame when I was surrounded by half dozen or more boys.

"I'm hungry, when are we gonna eat?" TJ said, wrapping one arm around my waist.

"It'll be about twenty or thirty minutes. There're some chips and dips on the picnic table. They will have to do until the burgers and things are ready." I could sense the disappointment, but that didn't stop any of them from heading for the chips.

"That looks like it's ready," Donald said, a little later, as he set the large pan of burgers down beside the grill.

"Hildy said she boiled the bratwursts, so all you need to do is crisp the skin," Manfred said, setting down another pan and several packages of hotdogs.

"She didn't boil them in beer did she?" I asked.

"If it had just been adults that would have eaten them, she would have," Manfred laughed. "I think she was afraid that I would drink all the beer."

I loaded as many burgers, brats and wieners as I could get on the grill. While I was doing this, Hildy had rounded up all the kids and told them to go wash their hands. With 16 kids and 12 adults the bathrooms were going to have long waiting lines.

We allowed the youngsters to get their food first, with help from the adults. By the time the last person was through the food line, some started lining up for seconds. Manfred and I were kept busy replacing the food coming off the grill with fresh. When it looked like the circle of eaters had stopped coming, I loaded up my plate and went to sit down with Mike's parents.

"This has been a lot of fun," Gloria said. "You made it look almost effortless."

"I have to thank Hildy for fixing most of it. She's a treasure. We have had a lot of practice feeding large groups of people. Sometimes, though, we have a caterer do most of the work. This time we wanted to do it ourselves to show Mike how much he has come to mean to us and how much we are going to miss him," I said. "You see those three little girls sitting with Mike? They will be heartbroken when he leaves."

"I thought when I saw the amount of baked beans that Hildy was fixing this morning that we would never eat them all," Donald said, coming back to the table. "I wanted some more, but they were all gone."

"I must admit that I had two helpings," Keith said, "and they weren't small helpings either."

As the boys finished eating, they began drifting into the house with their dirty plates. I think they wanted the dessert that Hildy had fixed, but I thought we ought to wait a bit. Mike and his friends also headed for the house. Of course, Lenore, Jeanie and Ginny followed them, as did Mary and Liz. It was beginning to get dark and a few mosquitoes were coming out, so the adults soon followed suit.

Joel and Jimmy were in the kitchen. Jimmy was rinsing the dishes as the others handed their dirty ones to him. He then handed Joel the rinsed dishes who then stacked them in the dishwasher.

"Nice production line you guys have there," I said. "Looks like you're doing a good job."

"You mean they do this without being told?" Gloria said. "And my son, too?"

"Yes, that's always been a part of the after meal routine. They have been doing it so long now, it's just natural," I said.

"Would you like me to open a bottle or two of wine?" Donald asked.

"I would like a glass of red, if you can find something that will go with chocolate when Hildy passes out the cake," I said.

Keith declined the wine since he was driving home, Gloria accepted. Mike's friends accepted. I told Bill that he was limited to one glass since he was driving. I asked everybody to gather in the family room area, that we had a few gifts to present.

"I don't intend to make a speech," I said, when everybody had settled down. "This party has been to show our appreciation for the help and friendship we have received from Mike in the months he has been with us. We couldn't let him leave without giving him a token of that appreciation. Peter has been selected to give out the first present from the boys."

I handed the box to Peter and he walked proudly to where Mike was sitting and gave it to him. "It's a stethey thing," he said.

"Thank you, Peter," Mike said, giving him a hug. He slipped the ribbon off, removed the paper wrapping and opened the box. "This is so much nicer than the second hand one I've been using in PreMed. Thank you, guys." Lifting the stethoscope, he held it up for everybody to see.

Donald stood up. "Lenore and William have a small gift for you, also." He handed the wrapped gift to Lenore and she ran to Mike and handed it to him.

"Thank you, Lenore," he said, and gave her a kiss on the cheek. He opened the present and displayed a blood pressure monitor to the assembled crowd. "This is great. I'll definitely be able to use this. Thank you."

Hildy stood up. "Our girls had to get something for their favorite boyfriend. If they were older you would definitely have to fight them off," she laughed. "Okay, girls, take the present to Mike."

It took the two of them to carry the box and set it on the floor at Mike's feet. "Thank you, girls," he said, giving each of them a kiss on the cheek as he had done Lenore. He opened the box and took out an electric slow cooker.

"We wanted to make sure that you would fix something to eat. It's so easy to put something in it in the morning before you go off to class and it will be ready when you get back in the evening," Hildy said.

"Thank you, all. This is way too much. I'm going to be really sad to leave you tomorrow. You all have been like a second family to me while I was here. I'll never forget the opportunities that you have given me. The trip to the Virgin Islands, the scholarship and everything else that I can't think of at the moment. But the most important thing to me has been the friendship you have shown to me. Thank you," he said, wiping his eyes with the sleeve of his shirt.

"We're not finished," I said. "Joel."

On cue, Joel and Jimmy came in from the spare bedroom carrying the boxes containing the computer and accessories.

"Oh! My God!" Mike said and buried his head in his hands. He was clearly overwhelmed.

To be continued.

Your comments and criticisms are welcomed and encouraged. I try to answer all emails including flames. Send them to, please put Joel in the subject.