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.
A copy of the story has been assigned to the Nifty Archives under the terms of its submission agreement. Comments on the story are appreciated and may be addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org
All the chapters of Joel may also be found on my website at www.tedlouis.com
If you have enjoyed this or other stories on Nifty, consider donating to keep the service free. http://donate.nifty.org/donate.html
Everybody, except for Donald, had been in bed for a couple of hours by the time we got home. "Off to bed, you guys. Just brush your teeth, you can shower in the morning," I said.
"Thanks for taking me," Cary said, as he headed for his own room.
"You're welcome. I'm glad you enjoyed it," I said.
"Are your ears still ringing?" Donald asked.
"A bit," I said, holding out my hand with the earplugs in the palm.
"That's cheating," he said with a chuckle. "Other than being loud, how was it?"
"It was really an entertaining show," I said. "The boys loved it, Chris especially. How was your outing?"
"Everybody had fun. It was all that the four of us adults could do to keep up with them all. Peter was a little too young to ride in the bumper cars by himself, so I had to ride with him. He giggled the whole ride through. We had to ride them three times. You had better hope he doesn't drive that way when he's old enough to get a driver's license."
"Thankfully, that is a long way off," I said. "I can see that we may need to make a few more stops at that place in the future. Did the rest of them ride the bumper cars?"
"William rode in the bumper cars once. He didn't seem to like it all that much. Jeannie and TJ, however, had a contest to see how many times they could collide. I don't know who won, but they certainly had fun bumping into each other."
"I'm sure I will hear all about it in the morning, but right now I'm ready for bed," I said.
The three musketeers slept late the next morning. I was about to go upstairs to wake them when they came straggling down the stairs in their pajamas. I placed plates of pancakes and sausages in front of them after they had settled into their chairs at the table. By the time they finished and looked up for more, they were beginning to show signs of waking up. It was a good thing I had more pancakes in the oven keeping warm.
"Are we going riding this morning?" Larry asked, around a mouthful of pancakes from his second helping.
"I guess you haven't looked outside," I said. "It's raining hard. It looks like you will need to find something inside to do today."
"Oh, okay," Larry responded.
The Xboxes, their musical instruments and the exercise equipment kept the six boys busy. Even Lenore joined the boys when they were playing their various musical instruments. TJ was showing her how to play a simple tune on his keyboard when Donald and I went to check on them. When she finished the tune, we applauded her efforts.
TJ and Peter did take time to tell me all about their day at the "fun place", as they called it. Peter, especially, had to tell me in detail his rides in the bumper cars. I figured he would enjoy watching the demolition derby that they sometimes held at the Alamo Dome. I might have to think about that a little. It might give him the wrong idea of driving.
After lunch, the boys entertained themselves on the Xboxes. Those not playing were cheering or jeering the players. Lenore was sitting on the couch beside Donald while he read her a story. I was reading my own book when the telephone rang. I got up and went to answer it.
"Mr. Johnson, this is Gary Wright," the caller said.
"Yes, Gary, what can I do for you?"
"I just wanted to call and let you know that our daughter Kari passed away early this morning."
"Oh, I am so very sorry," I said. "The boys enjoyed our visit with her when we first met in College Station and then when you were here for Peter's custody hearing. Is there anything I can do?"
"Not that I can think of," Gary said, barely holding back a sob. "I wanted to let you know that the funeral will be held on Tuesday afternoon."
"Thank you," I said. "I will plan to attend. The boys will be unable to be there. They are taking the Texas standardized tests next week."
"Perhaps you will let them know," he said.
"Of course I will."
"Kari often talked about how kind your sons were to her. Even in her last days she mentioned them."
"If you don't mind my asking," I said, "I thought that the experimental treatments were working for her. What happened?"
"They were for quite a while," he said. "Then about five or six weeks ago they seemed to stop working. The doctors were puzzled and decided to change the protocol. I think that's what they called it. Anyway, nothing that they tried worked. You know the treatments that Kari was receiving weakened her immune system. We knew that and we always made her wear a surgical mask, even around the house. We don't know how it happened, but she developed pneumonia and had to be hospitalized. As hard as the doctors tried, nothing they did ..."
"Again, I am so sorry for yours and Phyllis' loss," I said.
"If you will give me the particulars, I will make plans to be there."
Gary gave me the name and location of the funeral home and the time of the service.
"What was all that about?" Donald asked when I hung up the phone.
"That was Peter's uncle," I said. "It's a long story, but their daughter just passed away and he was informing me of the funeral plans."
"You'll have to tell me the long story sometime. I didn't know that Peter had any relatives," Donald said. "Are you planning on attending the funeral?"
"Yes, it's Tuesday at two in College Station."
"That's a long ride round trip. Can you catch a plane that will get you there and back?"
"It's about three hours both ways," I said. "I'm not looking forward to the drive. Not sure if it's possible to go by air."
"Let me make a phone call," he said and went into the library to make it.
"What were you doing? Checking on flights?"
"In a manner of speaking, yes, I was checking with my pilot to see what the schedule for the smaller corporate plane was. It's free on Tuesday, so it will fly you to College Station at whatever time you want and then fly you back when the funeral services are over."
"Wow!" I exclaimed. "That certainly can't be written off as business."
"No, but I'll take care of that with my tax attorney."
"That's very generous," I said. "I would like to be there around lunch time. Whatever time the plane would have to leave to arrive in College Station is fine with me. Just let me know what time I need to be at the airport. I would like to stop by the funeral home before the service. I want to check on something."
"I'll notify the pilot and have him coordinate with you on when you need to be at the plane."
"It just hit me," I said. "You said the smaller corporate plane. You have two planes?"
"Yeah, the smaller one only seats five and has a shorter range. It's usually only used for trips inside Texas. Most of the flights are back and forth to Houston, Dallas or El Paso."
"Well, it's nice to know that I won't be alone in that 16 passenger one," I said.
Later that evening, Donald's pilot called to discuss Tuesday's flight to College Station. He said the actual flight time was around 50 minutes, depending on the winds. He suggested that if I got to the general aviation terminal at close to 10:30, I could be there in plenty of time to have lunch and take care of the business I needed to. Return would be whenever I got back to the airport. He would be waiting. I thanked him and said that I would be there by 10:30.
After supper, I asked the boys to gather in the living room so I could tell them what was going on Tuesday.
"Do you guys remember when we drove to College Station and met with Peter's uncle?" Getting nods from most of them, I continued, "Do you also remember Kari, the young girl in the wheelchair?"
"That's where we had that cala stuff," TJ said. "She was neat."
"Calamari," I said.
"Yeah, that stuff. I kinda liked it 'till you told us what it was," TJ said.
"We're getting off the subject," I said. "Kari died this morning and I'm going to her funeral on Tuesday."
"What happened to her?" Larry asked.
"The treatments she was receiving stopped working. Because they also weakened her immune system, she came down with pneumonia and it took her life."
"What's immune system?" TJ asked.
"It's the stuff inside you that keeps you from getting sick. Remember when you got your flu shot? Well, that shot told your immune system to stop the flu bug from making you sick. Okay?"
"My uncle's not gonna make me go live with them now, is he?" Peter asked, crawling up on my lap.
"No, you're my son now and forever," I said, giving him a squeeze. "Nobody can ever take you away from me and your brothers."
"Okay," he said, climbing down off my lap.
"Are we going to the funeral?" Chris asked.
"No, you guys have state tests on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. You can't miss those," I said. "I'm planning on going, so I might not be here when you return from school on Tuesday."
I think they were relieved that they didn't have to go to the funeral. I wasn't looking forward to it as well, but it was an obligation that I couldn't ignore.
Being confined to the house all day Sunday was difficult for the boys. They were used to being outside playing with their dogs, playing tennis or swimming. The only time they went out was to don their rain gear and go out to feed their dogs. It was raining too hard to stay outside very long for anything else. However, the day did come to an end and they were all tucked into bed for the night.
Monday was the opposite of Sunday. The clouds cleared, the sun shone brightly all day long and the temperatures rose into the 80s.
"How were your tests?" I asked the three musketeers when I picked them up at five o'clock.
"Okay, I guess," Lenny said. "They were kinda boring."
"Yeah, boring," Larry agreed.
"At least we don't have any homework to do," Chris said.
The little over 5 inches of rain that we had received yesterday had left the yard wet and soggy. It made playing with the boys' dog difficult, but they still managed. They were wet and covered with grass stains and mud when it was time to come in for supper. We had been through this scenario before. I had the hose ready and Donald had the stack of towels and a large garbage bag for the dirty clothes.
"All of you, into the showers," I said to the towel wrapped boys. "Supper will be on the table in twenty minutes." They were back in fifteen.
Tuesday morning, I reminded the boys that I would not be home when they got back from school. All the kids climbed into the van and Cary took off with them for school. It wasn't long after they had left that I decided to gather my things together and take off for the airport. I arrived well before our scheduled departure and waited in the General Aviation Terminal until the pilot entered and told me the plane was ready to leave anytime I was. The plane he led me to was, indeed, smaller than the other plane that I had flown on. It was not as luxurious either.
The flight lasted just over 45 minutes from the time we were airborne until we touched down at Easterwood Airport. A car and driver met me as I exited the plane and I gave him directions to the funeral home. I thought I would take care of the business I had come for before having lunch.
My driver dropped me off at the entrance to Bronston Funeral Parlor and then went to park the car. I entered the building and was greeted by a solemn looking gentleman in a black suit.
"May I help you, sir?" he asked.
"Yes," I said. "I would like to speak with the director, please."
"And your business is?"
"Of a personal nature."
"Please follow me," he said and led me through a door to the right of the main entrance. We followed a hallway for a ways before we came to a door. He knocked on the door and then opened it. "Mr. Bronston, there is a gentleman here who wishes to speak with you."
"Send him in," Mr. Bronston said.
I entered the room and introduced myself. "Mr. Bronston, I'm here wanting information on the Wright funeral."
"Ah, yes, a lovely young lady. Such a tragedy for someone so young."
"What I'm interested in is the costs of the funeral and how it is being paid," I said.
"As I recall, the Wrights have made arrangement to pay for the expenses in installments. I can check, if you like."
"Please, and give me the total expenses for your services," I said.
"May I ask what interest you have that you require such information?" Mr. Bronston asked.
"My foundation will be paying for all the expenses. If the Wrights have paid anything toward the expenses, I shall expect that those funds be returned," I said. "I will issue a check for the entire amount, if you will give me the total."
"Certainly," he said and gave me the dollar amount.
I took out my checkbook and wrote a check.
"Just what is your foundation?"
"It's called ASEC," I said. "We provide multiple services for exceptional children. Now if I may see the arrangements."
"Of course, Eldon, my associate, will show you to the slumber room," he said and motioned for the man who had escorted me to his office to handle it.
"This way, sir."
The casket was simple, but tasteful. I was sure the Wrights spent as much as they thought they could on it - maybe more. There were several arrangements of flowers, but nothing elaborate. I looked, but did not see the flowers that I had ordered. I thanked Eldon and headed back outside. Once there, I took out my cellphone and call the florist I had ordered the flowers from and pointedly asked why they had not been delivered. I was not happy and I let them know of that fact.
As I was on the phone, my driver drove the car up to the front of the building and waited until I completed the call.
"Where would you like to go now, sir?" he asked.
"Do you know of a good place to eat?"
"It depends on what you have in mind."
"Take me somewhere the food is good, the service is quick and friendly, and it's not noisy."
"I know just the place," he said, opening the car door for me.
"Lead on," I said.
The restaurant he took me to was a small place, far enough away from the university that it was not a hangout for students. I asked my driver to join me at the table where the hostess seated me. The menu featured classic American dishes. The chicken and dumplings appealed to me. I hadn't eaten the dish in some years. It was as good as I remembered it from Hildy fixing it for me.
Over lunch, I got to know my driver, Hal Prince. He was sixty-something, widowed and retired from teaching history at the high school level. He was bored with retirement and took a part-time job driving for the limousine service. His four, grown children were scattered all over the country, as he described it. By the time we finished our lunch and lingered over a cup of coffee, it was time to return to the funeral home.
I was pleased that the flowers I ordered had been delivered. I was ushered to a chair in the front row on the right side of the central aisle. It was a bit unusual that the service was not being held in a church. The Wrights were led in and seated opposite of where I was seated. All the while, quiet, organ music had been playing in the background. I looked around the room and perhaps twenty people were in attendance.
About ten minutes later, a man in a clerical robe walked down the aisle and spoke briefly with Phyllis and Gary before taking his place at the lectern. According to the order of service I had been given as I was shone to my seat, his name was Rev. Ralph Doolittle and was pastor at the Trinity Presbyterian Church. I don't know quite how to classify what he said. It wasn't really a sermon or a eulogy, maybe something in between. It lasted only about fifteen minutes. After he finished, a young woman sang Amazing Grace, being accompanied by a piano. The minister went back to the lectern and delivered the benediction. The attendees began filing out.
I stood up and went to speak with the Wrights. The Reverend Doolittle was again speaking with them. I waited until he was finished which was only a moment. I shook Gary's hand and got a hug from Phyllis.
"Thank you for coming," Phyllis said, dabbing at the corners of her eyes with a tissue. "We're very grateful for all you and ASEC did for Kari."
"You're very welcome," I said. After a couple of minutes chatting with them, I asked where the burial was going to be. I was told it was to be at a small cemetery about four miles east of the funeral home.
I went out and found my driver and informed him to follow the procession that would lead us to the burial site. As the service at the funeral home was short, the one at the cemetery was also brief. Even so, it was getting close to four o'clock by the time we left the cemetery.
My pilot was ready when I arrived at the airport. We were in the air twenty minutes later. It was nearing six o'clock by the time we landed in San Antonio and I got into my car to start home. Most of the rush hour traffic was over, but the traffic was still heavy, just not stop and go. I was relieved when I parked the car in the garage and entered the house.
"Have you eaten?" was the first thing that Gilda asked when she saw me.
"Not since lunch," I said.
"You had better go see those three young ones," she said. "You'd swear you had been gone a week the way they have been asking when you were coming every ten minutes."
I was set upon by a six armed monster as I entered the living room.
"I didn't think you was ever coming home," TJ said, with his face pressed into my chest.
"Yeah, what took you so long?" Peter asked.
William didn't say anything, just hugged my waist. It was a few minutes before I was able to untangle myself from them and briefly answer their questions. "Let dad go change clothes and get something to eat and then I will tell you all about my trip. Okay?" I greeted Donald on my way into the bedroom, still being followed by the three of them.
Gilda had a plate of food ready for me when I reentered the kitchen. While I was eating, I told them all about the trip. I think they were more interested in hearing about the small airplane than anything to do about the funeral. I did my best to tell them all I remembered about the plane.
"How'd it go?" Donald asked later as I sat down beside him on the couch with a glass of wine in my hand.
"As funerals go, it wasn't all that bad," I said. "I was able to speak with Gary and Phyllis for a few moments and express my condolences. They were devastated by Kari's death. She had been the focus of their lives. I wonder how they will cope without that focus."
"Hi, dad," Larry said as he and the two other musketeers came down the stairs. "I didn't know you were home."
"I can imagine," I said. "You couldn't have heard I was home over the racket you guys were making on your video games."
"We didn't make that much noise," Chris said.
"No, I guess not, but I could hear you were having fun," I said.
"Yeah, that tennis game is really neat," Lenny volunteered.
"I'll bet the only reason you guys stopped playing is that it's about time for your snacks," I said. "Am I right?"
"Well, maybe," Chris said, sheepishly.
I followed the boys into the kitchen where Gilda was dishing up some apple cobbler and adding dollops of whipped cream. "I have a meeting of chaperones tomorrow after school for the Halloween dance. I could be late to pick you up after your practice. You guys are still planning on going to the dance, aren't you?"
"Of course, we are," Lenny said. It was almost as if he were insulted that I even asked.
When I arrived at the chaperone meeting Wednesday afternoon, I was greeted by three parents that I didn't know. I had seen a couple of them waiting for their children, but had never introduced myself to them. As it was a few minutes before the meeting was to begin, we began chatting. I found out the two women whom I had seen waiting were Pat Lansing and Judy Granger. The man was Garret Watson.
Headmaster Pierce arrived and we went into his office and sat down. Having been a chaperone before, the information and instructions that Pierce gave us were not new. They boiled down to common sense and checking the bathroom every so often. We were told that there would be two classes invited to the dance, the freshman and sophomore. It would be held Saturday night between eight and ten. We were expected to be there thirty minutes before to see that everything was in order and to be on hand if anyone arrived early.
Saturday was a busy day. The Kim twins had been invited over to play tennis with the three musketeers. James, their father, picked them up at four. I had learned that they were going to the dance as well. They waved goodbye to their friends and then I sent them off to shower.
After supper, I told Chris and the twins to get dressed for the dance. I did the same, although I wore a suit and tie.
"Dad," Chris said, looking down at his shoes as I came out of my bedroom, "can I have some of your stuff that smells good?"
"Of course," I said, barely suppressing a smile. "Follow me." I led him into my bathroom and removed the bottle of aftershave. "Not too much, it's sort of strong." I let him dab it on his throat with his fingertips.
"Hey, how come he smells like that?" Larry asked.
I didn't answer. I just beckoned for him and his twin to follow me. I led them into the bathroom and allowed them to do what Chris did. "Now you all smell sweet. The girls will be falling all over you to get you to dance with them."
"Yeah, I'm sure Linda Bennett will be after Chris," Lenny said and took off running with Chris right after him.
"Settle down guys," I said, choking back a giggle. "No running in the house."
I corralled the boys and we climbed into the Lincoln and took off for the school. There was one other car in the parking lot along with the van from which a man was removing what looked like sound equipment. "I could use a hand," the man said when he saw the boys.
"Sure," Chris said.
The man, as I expected, turned out to be the DJ for the evening. His name was Charlie Vinton. It took the boys and Charlie two trips to get all the equipment into the gymnasium where the dance was being held.
The three other chaperones arrive shortly. I introduced them to Chris and the twins, although it was difficult tearing them away from watching the DJ set up. I asked them where their children were and was told their spouses would be bringing them later.
It wasn't too long before people started coming in, usually in groups of two or three. At eight o'clock, the DJ began playing music. That was all it took and the three musketeers were heading where a group of three girls were standing. They were the first dancers on the floor. They were joined by another couple and soon there were a dozen or so couples dancing.
I noticed Chris looking around as he was dancing with his partner. Before the first record finishes playing, I saw a big smile on his face. When it ended, he escorted his dance partner to the sideline and made a beeline for a cute girl who had arrive. I could only guess that it was Linda Bennett. He spoke briefly with her and then he led her to the dance floor.
The twins found new partners and were back on the dance floor. This went on for every dance until the DJ took a break. Chris had remained dancing with the girl I assumed to be Linda. As the twins were headed for the refreshments table, Chris brought the girl over to meet me.
"Dad, this is Linda Bennett. Linda, this is my dad, Crane Johnson."
"It's very nice to meet you Linda," I said.
"It's nice to meet you, too, Mr. Johnson."
"Did this guy step on your toes?"
"Dad," Chris said.
"No, he's a good dancer," Linda answered.
"Why don't you two go get some refreshments? The DJ will be back soon."
"Okay," Chris said, taking Linda's hand and walking toward the refreshments.
I kept surveying the students to see if there were any wallflowers. I hadn't seen the girl who was at the last dance and stood alone until I convinced the boys to ask her to dance. I made several trips to check the restrooms. On one visit I had to suggest to a group of four boys to finish their business and return to the dance.
I had been concentrating on girls who had not been asked to dance and nearly overlooked two boys who were standing near the refreshments table. I watched for a couple of records before I sauntered over to them.
"Are you guys enjoying yourselves?" I asked.
"Yeah," one of them said, unenthusiastically.
"I noticed that you haven't been dancing. Don't you want to?"
They just shrugged and didn't answer.
"You're a couple of good looking guys. Why don't we walk over to where those two girls are standing and we'll see it they would like to dance. Remember, guys, it's just a dance. You're not asking them to marry you." That caused them to laugh.
I walked around behind them and urged them gently forward.
"Ladies, these two gentlemen would like to ask you to dance." That's all it took and they were off to the dance floor. I'd never seen it to fail.
By ten o'clock, the crowd had thinned out. The DJ had played his last record and the refreshment committee had cleared away the remnants. It only took a few minutes before the gym was cleared and the DJ was breaking down his sound equipment. Chris and the twins volunteered to help him take it to his van. When that had been taken care of, I turned the place over to the janitor and he locked up after we left, but not before the other chaperones and I checked to make sure there was no student left in the school. The same went for the area outside of the school house. Thankfully all of the students had been picked up by there parents.
"Did you guys have fun?" I asked as we were on our way home.
"I did," Chris said.
"Don't say anything, you two," I admonished the twins.
"I had fun," Lenny said, "but I'm tired. Dancing is hard work."
"Yeah," Larry agreed. "I think I got to dance with every girl there."
"Me, too," Lenny agreed.
"I suppose you'll want to go to the Valentine Day Dance in February."
That got three positive responses.
To be continued.
Your comments and criticisms are welcomed and encouraged. I try to answer all emails including flames. Send them to email@example.com, please put Joel in the subject.