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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"Off to bed you three," I said when we got home. "You won't be up in time to go riding in the morning if you don't get to sleep soon."
"Good night, dad," Chris said. "Thanks for taking us."
"Yeah," the other two agreed.
"How was the dance?" Donald asked, as I sat down beside him on the couch.
"The guys had fun," I said. "That the important thing. I may have to have another 'birds and bees' talk with Chris. He seems to be quite smitten with a young lady. He danced every dance with her after she arrived."
"Ah, young love," Donald said. "At least I don't have to worry about that for a few years with William and Lenore."
"It'll get here sooner than you'll want it to," I said. "I need to get out of this suit and have a quick shower. It was hot in that gym."
The next morning I knew I would be inundated with questions the minute we arrived at the ranch to go riding. I wasn't wrong. We had just gotten out of the van when I saw Charlie approaching.
"Are you gonna buy the Schlather farm?" he asked.
"They haven't agreed to sell it yet," I said. "If the price is right, I intend to purchase it."
"What's holding it up?" Lionel asked, joining us.
"I think they are still undecided if they really want to sell. They have farmed that land since they were first married over 35 years ago. It will be an abrupt change of life if they up and sell the place," I said. "It's my opinion that they will sell, I just can't say when it will be."
"I doubt there is anything we can do to speed up their decision," Charlie said.
"Probably not," I said. "On another matter, I'm a little concerned that if I do acquire the property, will you have enough machinery and manpower to do all the work without working yourselves to death. Bert can only work part-time and take classes at the same time. The same might apply to Jason if he decides to follow suit. Even with their hired hand, Collin, that only makes four of you being able to work at full-time farming. Any thoughts?"
"We've given it some thought as well," Lionel said. "When we first considered the possibility of adding that acreage, we never took into consideration, at least Bert, not being able to work full-time. You're right. We do need to re-think the workload and the equipment."
"Let me know if you come up with a solution," I said. "You know a lot more about farming than I'll ever know. By the way, where are Rosie and Jessica?"
"They went into San Antonio to do some shopping for the girls," Charlie said.
"I'll bet Lenore is not happy about that. She loves those two little girls. Now, I had best go check up on my riders."
I did just that.
After we all had our lunch, everybody went for a last ride, even Lenore. By the time the horses were groomed and put in their stalls, it was the middle of the afternoon. Rosie and Jessica were just arriving back from their shopping trip as we were loading the van in preparation for leaving. Lenore had to go see the little girls and was not happy when Donald told her it was time to leave several minutes later.
"You can go see Penny when we get home," he said, picking his daughter up and getting her buckled up in her seat in the van.
When we got home and everyone had taken their shower, I went into the kitchen to see what I could fix for supper that was fast and not a lot of work. I opened the refrigerator and saw that Gilda had fixed two pans of lasagna and left a note giving direction on how to get them ready for supper. I followed the directions and placed the pans into the oven to bake.
"Is there anything I can help with?" Donald asked.
"Sure, you can make the salad while I fix some garlic bread. Everything is in the refrigerator."
"I think I can handle that," he said.
"Daddy, you said I could go see Penny," Lenore said, tugging on her dad's pant leg.
"Oh, I forgot," he said, looking at me for help.
"Go ahead. I can fix the salad and the garlic bread. Supper won't be ready for about an hour."
"I can help," Cary said, coming into the kitchen.
"I never turn down a volunteer," I said. "The salad is all yours."
It was just over an hour before the lasagna was hot and bubbling. Donald and Lenore had returned a few minutes earlier. I went to get the six boys. They had been practicing on their instruments in the music/exercise room. Kelly was also there with them, he was playing a guitar.
"That was fun," Kelly said. "I really need to practice more." He took the elevator and the rest of us took the back stairs.
After dinner, Donald and I were finishing a glass of wine that we started with supper when I noticed that Cary had something on his mind.
"Is something bothering you?" I asked him.
"No, not really," he answered. "It's just that now that you aren't working every day, I was wondering if you were going to need me anymore."
"Of course we are still going to need you," I said. "Things are going to get even more hectic around here. TJ has said he wants to sign up for Spring Soccer. Peter is undecided whether he wants to play baseball in the peewee league or in youth-league soccer. William hasn't said anything to me about what sport he's interested in. We will probably need you and me and Manfred to keep up with their schedules. Luke will, no doubt, be involved in some activity or other. I don't know about their girls. We might even have to draft Gilda and Hildy. The three musketeers will be playing tennis for the school and that's another thing to work into the mix."
"Wow, when you put it that way, I guess I'll be around for a while longer," Cary said. "I was afraid I was going to have to go back to living in that place with Christian."
"Someday, maybe," Donald said, "but by that time your brother will have his degree and will be making the big bucks."
"Now that's settled, Kelly, how is your therapy going?" I asked.
"This week I'll be starting on stairs," Kelly responded. "That's the last big hurdle. After that, it's just doing the exercises, the hydro-therapy and his manipulations. I'll probably give up the wheelchair by the end of the week. I hope."
"Well, don't rush it," Donald said. "It's important that you be fully recovered before you return to UCB. That's a big campus and I know you will be doing a lot of walking from building to building."
"Yeah," Kelly said. "It seems as if every one of my classes is in a different building. I know it's important to get as close as possible to normal physically, but I want to finish up my degree and get a job."
"There's a job waiting for you with my construction company when you finish with your schooling. If you want to continue toward a Master's Degree or PhD, that's available to you. You're family and families take care of each other," Donald said.
"Thanks," Kelly choked out.
The phone rang at that point and I went to answer it. Looking at the clock as I lifted the receiver, I suspected that it was Joel. It was.
"Hi, dad," Joel said. "I hope I didn't catch you eating supper."
"No, we finished up a while ago. How's school going?"
"Great," he said. "I had two more tests this week. Did great on both of them."
"I'm glad to hear that. How's everything in the townhouse? No problems?" Over the phone, I heard the doorbell chime.
"Everything's fine. We had a bad thunderstorm on Wednesday and the electricity was off for about an hour. Lightning struck a transformer. But other than that, everything has been working smoothly. Beth Ann just arrived. Jimmy and I are going with her and Jeremy out to eat and then to a movie. I think she will probably spend the night. I like her. Jimmy should be here soon, so I can't talk too long. I just wanted to call and say I loved you all and missed you."
"We love you too and really miss you. Have fun tonight and don't stay out too late, you have early classes tomorrow."
"You still worry about me, don't you?"
"Of course I do. You're my son. I'll always worry about you when you're not here."
"There's Jimmy," Joel said. "I'd better go. Can't wait to see you at Thanksgiving. Goodbye, dad."
"Goodbye, son, I love you."
Monday, we got back into the routine that governed our lives. The only change was I went to the ASEC office to check on how the new charity was shaping up. It looked as though that it should be ready for business by the end of the week. I spent a couple of hours with Darcie and Paul having them bring me up to speed on how things were going. I got away from there in time to pick up the three musketeers from their practice.
Tuesday, I decided to ride with Cary to the school to pick up all the kids. We had gotten there early, so I went to talk to a couple of parents who I knew. One of them was Marie Soznowski.
"I had almost forgotten that Rickie started to school here this year," I said.
"Yes, the little terror loves to come. Every morning he's ready to come before he's even finished his breakfast," Marie said. "I'm afraid to let him ride the school van. It makes a couple stops in the neighborhood. He is so active, I'm not sure the van driver would be able to handle him and drive the bus at the same time."
"He has always been an active kid. Where's the baby?" I asked.
"She stays with our neighbor next door while I come get Rickie," she said. "It looks like his grade has been let out. Here he comes."
I had just turned around when I was attacked by a five-year-old leaping into my arms.
"Where's Joel? Is he here? I haven't seen him in a million years."
"Joel is still at college," I said, kissing the top of his head and setting him down on the ground.
"Come on, son," Marie said. "Let's get you home and get Rosemarie. I'll bet she's anxious to see you. Say goodbye to Mr. Johnson."
"Goodbye," he said.
"Goodbye, munchkin," I said.
"I'm not a munchee, I'm a boy."
"Bye, Marie, it was good to see you again."
I went back to where Cary was standing. He was talking with Peter and William. Lenore was standing nearby talking to another little girl.
"Hi, dad," Peter said, as he and William rushed to give me a hug.
"Did you behave yourself today in school?"
"I'm always good," Peter replied.
"Me, too," William piped up.
It wasn't long before TJ, Luke and the three musketeers arrived. Cary gave a loud whistle and Jeannie and Ginny came running. They had been talking with a couple of their girlfriends. We climbed into the van and got buckled up. TJ helped Lenore with her seatbelt. I learned from Cary later that TJ considered it was his job to see that she was secured in her seat.
Thursday, I again rode with Cary to pick up the kids from school. When TJ arrived at the spot where we were standing, there was another young boy with him.
"Dad, can Bob come to our house on Saturday?"
"If his parents say it's okay, then sure, he's welcome to come," I said. "Is your mom or dad here to pick you up?"
"Yes, sir, my mom is right over there," Bob said, pointing toward a silver Lexus parked a couple cars away from us.
"Let's go ask your mother if it's okay with her," I said, walking toward the woman standing beside the Lexus.
Before I could introduce myself to her, Bob said, "May I go to TJ's house on Saturday?"
"Is this TJ with you?"
"Excuse me," I said. "I'm TJ's father, Crane Johnson. I don't believe we've met."
"I'm Alice Branstad," she said, offering her hand.
"If your son has your permission, he is more than welcome to come and visit us."
"I need to discuss this with my husband, but offhand, I don't know that it will be a problem. Are you sure he won't be a problem?"
"There are six boys and one girl in our household, one more will hardly be noticed. Once you've spoken with your husband, call me and let me know if he'll be able to visit. I'll send the directions to the house with TJ tomorrow. I won't be here until later to pick up my three other sons from their cross country practice," I said and handed her one of my business cards.
"Oh, you're on the school board," she said. "I thought I recognized your name. I'm sure it will be fine for my son to come."
"In that case, feel free to bring him to the house any time after nine or so," I said. "If you don't have any plans for Saturday evening, please accept our invitation to eat with us. I should have asked before, do you have any other children?"
"We have a four-year-old daughter."
"Lenore will love having another girl come to the house. I will send the directions with TJ in the morning. If the weather is nice, have Bob bring his swim suit. The whole family usually climbs into the pool when it's warm. Our neighbors will probably join us. Now, I must go. I see all the kids are assembled. Goodbye, Mrs. Branstad. Come on TJ, let's go home."
When I got home from picking up the twins and Chris on Friday, TJ came to me and was all excited. "Bob is gonna come tomorrow. His mom said he could."
"That's great, son. Did he say what time he would be here?"
"I think he said nine-thirty."
"That's fine. Now, go take care of Bandit."
"Okay," and off he ran.
Saturday morning, TJ was anxiously watching the gate camera as the time approached for Bob to arrive. "There's their car," TJ said and ran for the front door.
"Did you press the button to open the gate?"
"Oh, I forgot," he said and ran and pressed the button.
The Lexus drove up the drive to the front of the house. I could see Bob waving as they came nearer to where TJ and I were standing. As soon as the car stopped he had his door open and was out of the car. Mr. Branstad exited the driver's side of the car. He was tall, at least a couple of inches taller than my six feet. He, also, appeared to be older than I judged his wife to be. As he got their daughter free of her car seat, Mrs. Branstad came up the steps and shook my hand.
"This is our daughter, Felicia," she said, "and my husband, Arthur."
"It's very nice to meet you," I said, shaking Arthur's hand. "Please come in the house and meet the rest of the family."
As we entered the house, we were met by Lenore. I had told her there might be a little girl come with Bob. "This is Lenore," I said. "Lenore, this is Felicia."
"Come, let me show you my dolls," Lenore said, taking Felicia by the hand and leading her up the stairs to her room.
"That may be the last you see of your daughter for a while," I said. "Could I offer you some coffee?"
"You have a beautiful home," Mrs. Branstad said. "Yes, coffee would be nice."
I introduced Donald as Lenore's father. I detected a slight frown on Arthur's face as I did. At that point, Peter and William came into the room and I introduced them. When I asked them where their brothers were, they said they were playing tennis. As I was going to the kitchen to get the coffee, I was met by Gilda carrying a tray with cups, saucers and a pot of coffee.
"You can bring the coffee cake," she said, as she passed me.
I retrieved the tray that Gilda had prepared and followed her into the living room. "Mr. and Mrs. Branstad, may I introduce Gilda Berger. Gilda, these are Bob's parents. Gilda is our household manager and grandmother to all of our kids. She keeps us on the straight and narrow. She's totally indispensable."
"Enough of that," Gilda said. "You'll make an old woman blush. Branstad, I knew a Kevin Branstad when I was growing up. Are you related?"
"That was my father's name," Arthur said.
"He was a couple years older than me," Gilda said. "Very good looking, all the girls swooned over him. How is he?"
"He passed away three years ago. Lung cancer, wouldn't give up cigarettes, even after he was diagnosed," Arthur said.
"I'm sorry," she said.
Peter and William had been hanging around looking longingly at the coffee cake. When Peter looked at me, I nodded and that was all it took. He and Peter each grabbed a piece and ran out the patio door.
We sat, chatting with the Branstads when Cary came out of his bedroom. "Sorry, I didn't' know you had company," he said. "I was going to get something to drink."
"Cary, these are Bob's parents, Mr. and Mrs. Branstad," I said. "This is Cary Granville. He is the kids' companion, van driver and caregiver when Donald and I are unavailable. In his spare time he takes college courses online."
"Yeah," he laughed. "That's why I needed a drink. European History can be a little dry. It was nice to meet you."
"There's some lemonade in the refrigerator, if you want," Gilda said.
"Thanks, that'll hit the spot."
"I wonder what Bob is up to," Arthur said.
"I think he and TJ went out to play with the dogs. Would you like to see?" I asked.
"Yes, please," he answered.
I led them out the patio door and we were greeted by the sight of six dogs wrestling with TJ and Bob.
"Oh, my," Alice Branstad said. "I'll never be able to get the grass stains out of his clothes."
"Bring a change of clothes with you when you come this evening. I'm sure there are some clothes around here that will fit him while I put them in the wash," Gilda said.
"Believe her," I said. "She's a miracle worker at getting stains of all kinds out of the boys' clothes."
"He's having fun from the looks of it and it's too late now to tell him not to get dirty, not that it would have made any difference," Arthur said. "A pool and a tennis court?"
"Yes, when you live out here with few close neighbors, especially ones with young children for ours to play with, we need somethings to keep them occupied. Chris and the twins have become quite good at tennis. The running track is well used. The tennis players are also involved in cross country."
Manfred and Luke came around the corner of the house. "Gilda said you were back here," Manfred said.
Luke took off running to where TJ and Bob were wrestling the dogs and joined right in.
"Manfred, may I introduce Arthur and Alice Branstad. They're the parents of Bob. He's one of the ones playing with the dogs. This is Manfred Strasser."
"It's nice to meet you," Manfred said, shaking their hands. "Hildy and the girls are in the house, I think the girls were headed for Lenore's room, but I suspect they will soon drift downstairs to play with Penny."
"Why don't you and your family join us for supper? I've invited the Branstads to dine with us as well," I said.
"You're too late. Gilda already did," Manfred said.
"Isn't that going to be a lot of work for your cook?" Arthur asked. "There must be at least 20 people to feed."
"Actually, I think the count is 22, not counting Penny," I said. "She doesn't eat much."
"Luke makes up for it," Manfred said. "I may have to go back to work to pay for our grocery bills."
"Between Gilda and Hildy, they can fix enough food for an army quicker than you would believe."
"We really should be going," Alice said. "What time should we arrive?"
"If you arrive around six, we can have a glass of wine before dinner," I said. "Donald and I usually do."
"Sounds good," Arthur said, and went to say goodbye to his son.
Felicia was not happy to have to leave with her parents, but was somewhat mollified when she was told she would be coming back this evening. All of the girls followed her to the car and waved to her as the car drove down the driveway.
"Are we going to get to go swimming?" TJ asked, when they came in to get something to drink.
"I think it will be warm enough an hour or two after lunch," I said. "In the meantime, I'm sure you three can find something to keep you busy." The last was said to their backs as they headed for the kitchen for something to drink and a snack. They were soon followed by Peter and William. I don't know how they knew there were snacks, but the three musketeers were right on their heels. The girls were not far behind.
"There must be some sort of mental telepathy with those boys," Donald said, shaking his head. "I know they couldn't smell the snacks from the tennis court."
"I don't even want to ask," I said.
The swim party was a success. Even Penny was allowed in the pool. Hildy had gotten her some "swim diapers" just in case Penny had an accident in the pool. Although she was never allowed out of Manfred's arm, there was every indication that she loved the water. She loved splashing water on anyone who came near her.
Bob turned out to be a good swimmer. He said he had been taking swimming lessons since he was five-years-old. It showed.
Hildy and Gilda had gone to the grocery store to pick up the needed items to feed all of us this evening.
It was nearing five o'clock when I suggested that we get out of the pool and get showers taken before Bob's parents returned. Manfred rounded up his family and got them situated in the golf cart. He said there weren't enough showers here for all of his gang and us, so he took them to their house to clean up.
The Branstads arrived right at six. Bob met his parents at the front door. "My goodness, how did your clothes get so clean? I thought I was going to have to burn them. It looks like I didn't need to bring a change of clothes for you."
"Miss Gilda washed them," Bob said.
"I told you she works miracles when it comes to getting clothes clean," I said. "Please have a seat and we'll have some wine. What would you prefer? Red or white?"
"What is the meat dish?" Arthur asked.
"Roast beef," I answered.
"We've never had a hang-up on what should be paired with the meat being served," Donald said, from the wet bar. "We like reds, mostly, but we also enjoy a white wine."
"I'm not a wine snob, either," Alice said. "I'd like a glass of white."
"We have a nice Sémillon or if you would prefer something dryer, we have an Italian Pinot Grigio that's quite dry," Donald said.
"I've never had Sémillon," Alice said. "I'll have that."
"I'll have a Shiraz or a Cabernet Sauvignon, if you have any," Arthur said.
"We have a really good Australian Shiraz, I think you'll like," Donald said and poured the wine.
"I'll have that," Arthur said.
I took two glasses of the Shiraz to the kitchen for the cooks.
The evening went great. The Branstads were entertaining people and the evening was enjoyed by all. Bob and Felicia were not ready to leave when it came time.
"We're going to early service," Arthur reminded his two. "You need to get to bed or you'll fall asleep in church."
"Thank you all for such a delightful evening and the wonderful supper. I must get Hildy's recipe for that dessert," Alice said.
To be continued.
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