We were cleaning up the breakfast dishes when the buzzer sounded indicating that someone was at the front gate. I looked at the monitor and saw that it was Mike and another car. I activated the gate opener and they drove up to the front of the house. The boys followed me out to greet our visitors. Mike got out of his car as did the other driver.
"Crane, this is one of my roommates, Cal Fallon. He volunteered to help me move my stuff. Cal, this is Crane Johnson, my new boss."
"Mr. Johnson, it's nice to meet you. When Mike said I volunteered to help, that might be stretching the truth a bit. Actually, he twisted my arm until I agreed."
"Don't believe him. When I told him about where I was going to be living, he said I was lying, so he had to come take a look for himself. It was good of him, though, otherwise I would have had to make a couple of trips. I didn't realize how much stuff I had accumulated."
"Welcome to our home, Cal. These are my sons," I said, introducing the six of them standing on the steps. "I'm sure they would be happy to help you guys get the things upstairs."
We all took some of the articles that were in the two cars and headed back into the house and upstairs to Mike's rooms. Even Peter carried a couple of shirts on hangers. With all the help, it only took one trip to get everything out of the cars. Cal and Mike took the heavier items such as his computer and printer.
As I was leaving Mike's room, I heard Cal say, "Man, you weren't telling half the truth. This place is a mansion. How in the world did you fall into this sweetheart deal?"
"Good clean living will do it every time."
All I could hear after that was loud laughter as I went back downstairs. It was a good hour and a half later when they came down the stairs. "Did you get everything put away?" I asked.
"Yes, at least most of it is hung up and in drawers. I was wondering about internet access..." Mike said.
"There is a hook-up in that little area off the bedroom and another one in the outer room. I'll show you when we get back. They connect to our server which is connected to the internet by a T1 line. We have six computers hooked up on the network now; I'll add you to it, also."
"You don't need someone else to help out around here, do you?" Cal laughed.
"I'm afraid not, I think Mike is all I need. You're welcome to visit, though."
"No harm in asking," and then turning to Mike, Cal said, "I'll see you on campus."
After Mike came back into the house from seeing Cal off, I asked him to sit down.
"I've been checking and found out that your spring break is the same time as the boys'. Do you have any plans?"
"No, I might drive down to South Padre one day, but nothing special planned. Why?"
"The boys and I are flying to St. John with a friend, his two children and the nanny. If you're interested, you're welcome to accompany us."
"I don't know. How much will it cost to fly?"
"Don't worry about that," I laughed. "The friend has a private jet that we're taking, so it won't cost you anything. He has a villa on the island that will easily sleep all of us. I haven't seen it, but from his description, I think we'll be very comfortable."
"How could I turn down an opportunity like that? Yes, I'd like to tag along. Thanks."
"Great! It won't be the wild time that so many college students have on their spring break, but I believe you'll enjoy it. We'll be leaving for the ranch right after lunch, so if you want to get everything set up in your rooms, now would be a good time."
"I saw your piano. Does anyone play?"
"Lenny and TJ play some. They were taking lessons until Mrs. Shultz had a stroke, now they just practice what she taught them. Follow me and I'll show you the practice room. We keep all the instruments there."
"All the instruments?"
"Yes, two keyboards, two guitars and a set of drums. We have enough for our own rock band. Schedule permitting, I try to have the boys practice around an hour every day. Do you play?"
"Yeah, mom made all us kids play the piano. We had an old upright. I was eight when mom started teaching me. Being the oldest, I had to practice every afternoon after I got my chores done. When Alicia turned eight, I only had to practice every other day. As each of my younger brothers and sisters turned eight, the lessons and practice sessions got spaced out even further. This continued until I left home for college."
"Your mother did you a favor by making you practice that many years."
"Yeah, I didn't appreciate it at the time, but now I'm glad she made us," Mike said. "Jogging, swimming, horseback riding and practicing music, how do they have time to do all that?" Mike asked, shaking his head.
"You forgot homework. When you live out here in the country with no families with kids their age nearby, they need something to keep them busy." After showing him the practice area and telling him he was free to use anything in there, I took him on a complete tour of the house. As we passed the kitchen, Hildy informed us that lunch would be ready in about twenty minutes. Mike went upstairs to his rooms and I went out back to call the boys to get washed up. They were racing around with their dogs.
As soon as the dishes were cleared from the table and placed in the dishwasher, we climbed into the van and took off for the ranch. Donald and his kids were getting out of his Mercedes as we drove in the driveway. I introduced Mike to Donald and told him Mike had agreed to go with us to St. John. When I inquired as to where Lettie was, Donald said he had given her the day off, and besides she didn't like horses. They stirred up her allergies.
Charlie arrived shortly riding on the quarter horse stallion and leading two of the mares. After greeting him and introducing Mike, I asked, "Where's Jessica?"
"She's got a project for her job she's working on and won't be riding with us today," Charlie said. "Mike, are you going to ride a quarter horse or one of the other horses?"
"If it's okay with Crane, I'd like to ride a quarter horse. I used to ride one my neighbor had, but it's been a couple of years. I'll probably be so sore tomorrow, I'll be walking bowlegged." We all got a laugh at that.
I had expected to see Tracy when I got to the stables, but found out that he was still at his clinic. Rosie said his business had really picked up this week. "He's over the moon," she said. "He thought it would take a lot more time to get established, but everybody who comes in says they are so glad to see his clinic open. And to think we owe it all to you."
As in the past, it didn't take too long before Lenore tired of riding and wanted to go back to the house where the baby was. I kept an eye on William while Donald took Lenore to see the baby and for her to stay with Rosie.
The afternoon followed the routine that had been established since we started riding the horses. We rode for a while, had a snack that Hildy sent with us, rode some more, brushed down the horses and headed for home.
"That was fun," Mike said. "You said you do this every weekend?"
"Weather permitting, yes," I answered.
"I should have asked before, but is it okay for me to go to church tomorrow morning?"
"Of course, the boys and I usually fend for ourselves on Sunday. Hildy has the day off. She and Manfred go to church and they take the girls."
"I'll ask her what time they go and maybe I'll go with them."
"I'm sure she'd like that." She did. Although she never said it in so many words, she intimated that she thought that I should take the boys to church. I know the church that Hildy attended was not the bible-thumping, hell-fire and damnation kind that were all too common here in the South. I always believed it was better to live your life as a caring and giving one. A gay man raising a group of young boys would always be a source for gossip for some church members regardless of their professed Christian beliefs.
Monday morning Hildy was in the kitchen preparing breakfast when I went to get my first cup of coffee. "Mike has a fan club," she said. "Jennie and Ginny have a crush on him. They held onto his hands at the coffee after church. He's very good with kids. I think he's going to do a good job for you."
"The boys like him, too. So far he has fit right in."
As I was walking up the stairs to begin waking the boys for breakfast, Mike was coming down. He saw the coffee cup in my hand. "Oh, good, there's coffee. I need some badly. I stayed up much too late studying. I've got a test coming up on Wednesday and didn't want to wait 'till the last minute to start preparing."
"You'll find that there is usually a pot of coffee most any time of the day. I'm a bit of a caffeine addict myself. When's your first class?"
"I have a nine o'clock and my last class gets out at four today. By the time I get home you guys will have finished your run and probably your swim. Monday, Wednesday and Fridays are my heavy days. Tuesday and Thursday I only have two classes and I'm out at two."
"You never know, we may still be in the pool when you get here." I headed on up the stairs and began waking the boys. As usual, Joel was up when I got to his room. "Good morning, son. How are you this morning?"
"Great! I was looking on the Internet last night for St. John. It's the smallest of the US Virgin Islands and most of it is a national park. The pictures of it look great and the beaches are fantastic. I hope the weather is nice enough to go swimming in the ocean. I've never swum in the ocean before."
"It's been a while since I've been in the ocean, also. I'm sure we'll both have the opportunity to get our feet wet while we're there."
"I can hardly wait," Joel said.
We walked down the stairs together. The other boys and Mike were seated at the table when we arrived. I helped Hildy carry the breakfast platters to the table which were quickly passed around. By the time they came back to me, the platters were nearly empty. I guess they were telling me I needed to go on a diet. Hildy came to the rescue.
"I knew this would happen," she said. "I held back some eggs and sausages just for this eventuality."
With breakfast over and the dishes in the dishwasher, the boys ran upstairs to get ready for school. Mike went to his rooms to get ready to head into San Antonio. When he came down, I gave him a garage door opener for the far garage bay. I had forgotten to give it to him earlier. I also gave him a code to get in the front gate. He pulled out of the drive ahead of the boys and me in the van.
Mike quickly became a part of the family. He even helped Lenny and TJ with their music lessons. Peter got into the act as well and now could pick out simple tunes on the keyboard.
As time for our trip approached, Donald and I talked more frequently on the phone and met in person as often as our schedules permitted. Our relationship improved on all fronts.
The Friday before spring break when I went to pick up the boys from school, they raced to the van as soon as they saw it. They were all excited and the trip back home was a noisy one with their chatter about our upcoming adventure. Once home, we went for our usual jog and were into our swim when Mike joined us in the pool.
After supper, I called a family meeting to go over the schedule for tomorrow. "Here's what's going to happen tomorrow. We have to leave for the airport by around eight o'clock, so everybody has to be ready. The plane is scheduled to take off at nine. We will fly from San Antonio to St. Thomas. There's no airfield on St. John. From there we will take a water taxi or ferry to St. John. It will let us off at a landing at Cruz Bay. We'll have to walk a few hundred yards to the villa. Our luggage will be handled by the villa staff. There is a two hour time difference, so we will be getting to the villa late in the afternoon or early evening. I've looked at the weather forecast for the week we'll be there and it looks great except for Thursday when they are expecting rain showers. Do you have any questions?"
"I have one," Joel said. "What kind of clothes should we pack?"
"Good question. The weather should be like early summer here, so shorts and tee shirts should be appropriate. After the meeting Hildy will be helping TJ and Peter pack their things and I'll be helping Lenny, Larry and Chris get theirs packed. Joel, I'll come by to check on your packing when I'm done with the three musketeers. Mike, pack whatever you think is appropriate."
Larry asked, "Can we take our tennis rackets?"
"Yes, Donald said that there are tennis courts nearby that you can use."
"Oh, boy!" Chris enthused.
"I'll bring mine and we can play some doubles," Mike said.
"If there are no more questions, let's go get packed," I said, getting up from my chair. Packing with the twins and Chris was interesting to say the least. I think they would have taken everything in their closets, but we finally got the amount of clothes down to where they would fit in the three small suitcases. When I got to Joel's room, he had his suitcase fully and neatly packed. I couldn't see that he had left anything out that he might need on the trip. He had even managed to pack a textbook. I couldn't imagine that he would be studying while we were there, but I didn't say anything.
I had packed almost all of my things earlier in the afternoon. All I really needed to add were my shaving kit and toiletries. I knew that Hildy would do a good job for TJ and Peter, but I went to check anyway. As opposed to the twins and Chris who wanted to pack everything, TJ and Peter were the opposite. It was only at Hildy's insistence that they packed several changes of underwear. She had also insisted that they pack at least one pair of long trousers and a button-up shirt in case we went somewhere they would be appropriate.
Saturday morning I was up and dressed by 6:30. Hildy, as usual, was in the kitchen beginning the breakfast preparations when I went to pour my first cup of coffee. I talked with her for a few moments about what she would be doing with her week off from taking care of us. I was about to go start waking the boys when Mike came down the stairs with his suitcase. He greeted us both and headed for the coffee pot.
"I see you are all ready to go," I said.
"Yeah, I hardly got any sleep last night. I couldn't wait for my alarm to go off. I've only flown once and that was to Dallas when I was in high school."
"Well, you're in for a treat. I've not seen Donald's plane, but I'm quite sure that it will be luxurious."
I went to start waking the boys and made sure that they had their luggage ready to go. I told TJ and Peter to roll their suitcases into the elevator instead of trying to come down the stairs with them. I figured the other boys could manage the stairs with theirs.
Breakfast was a noisy affair. It seemed like everybody was talking at once, although the food disappeared quickly as always. The boys rushed back upstairs after breakfast to finish dressing and to brush their teeth. I started loading our luggage. While I was able to store a good portion of the luggage in the rooftop carrier, a few pieces had to be placed in the back of the van. There was still room for the eight of us to be seated comfortably.
We arrived at the airport about a half an hour before we were scheduled to take off. Donald had given me instructions on where to enter the general aviation area where the plane was parked. When I parked the van, Donald noticed us and directed two men to put our luggage onto a dolly and load them into the plane's cargo bay.
The plane was impressive from the outside, but even more impressive on the inside. The interior was set up with 10 large leather seats and two leather couches which would accommodate a total of 6 passengers. TJ and Peter decided that they wanted to sit on one of the couches with William. The twins and Chris wanted the other one. Lettie and Lenore sat in two of the seats toward the rear which were side-by-side. Donald and I sat in seats that were facing each other as did Mike and Joel.
The pilot and first officer boarded the plane after doing their ground check and introduced themselves to us. A very attractive, young stewardess named Marilyn had greeted us as we boarded the plane and had seen that everybody was comfortable in the seats and that all passengers were securely buckled in. She went over the safety features of the aircraft. I think the twins and Chris paid more attention to her than to her safety instructions. Mike seemed to be quite taken with her as well.
While Marilyn was briefing us, the flight crew had started the engines and before long we began taxiing into position to take off. I was surprised at how quiet the plane was and how little engine noise penetrated into the cabin. When I mentioned this to Donald, he said his father had insisted that the soundproofing of the cabin had to be double that of the normal model.
"Dad was very sensitive to loud noises and since he traveled a great deal taking care of his businesses, he wanted his plane to be as quiet as possible. He also conducted a lot of business while on the plane which was another reason for him wanting it to be quiet," Donald said.
It didn't take very long before we were cleared for take-off. We climbed rapidly and before long I could tell that we were leveling off. I heard the characteristic click of the speakers and the captain began speaking.
"This is Captain Vaughn. We have reached our cruising altitude of 32,000 feet. You are free to move about the cabin. We are not anticipating any air turbulence, but I recommend that you keep your seatbelts fastened while in your seats. Our flight time to St. Thomas is approximately five hours and fifteen minutes. I expect that may be shortened due to a strong tailwind. Sit back and enjoy the flight."
Marilyn came by and took our drink orders and offered us a variety of snacks. The snacks were greeted with enthusiasm by the boys. As soon as the snacks were consumed the three musketeers were up and about checking out all the amenities that the plane offered.
"Dad," Lenny said, "there's even a place to sleep back there. That's so neat."
"And there's a little kitchen up there," Chris added, pointing toward the front of the plane.
The pilot came over the intercom to announce that we were now passing over the Johnson Space Center and it could be seen out of the right side of the cabin. Naturally, all the boys, including Mike, rushed to the right side of the plane to look out the windows. I could actually feel the plane roll to the right as the weight shifted. Captain Vaughn quickly corrected the roll. We were soon out over the Gulf of Mexico. Mike was fascinated by the sight of nothing but water as far as he could see. The boys had experienced this before when we had flown back from Orlando, so they weren't quite as impressed.
"There're a TV and a video game console at the back if you guys want to play," Donald told them.
That was all it took and they were on their way to get it set up. Lettie and Lenore vacated their seats so that at least four of them could have a place to sit. This occupied them until Marilyn announced that lunch was going to be served. Only food could get them away from the video games. They had been very good about allowing everyone to have a turn at the games. Even Peter and William had a turn. They received plenty of advice from the other boys on how to kill the space aliens.
After Marilyn served the hot fudge sundaes for dessert to the boys and coffee to Donald and me, they went back to playing the video games. Joel had retrieved the text book from his suitcase before it was loaded on the plane and he began reading it instead of taking his turn at the games. Donald and I sipped our coffee and talked.
"Have you decided what you are going to do with that Las Vegas property you own?" he asked.
"I'm seriously considering developing the remaining property myself. Why do you ask?"
"I've been poking around and with the way Vegas is growing, I thought I'd see if you needed any financial backing for that project. It's going to take a lot of resources to do it right."
"You're right. Although I'm quite liquid at the moment, I thought I'd develop it piecemeal. The infrastructure is going to cost several million dollars before any houses can be built. I've scouted out a number of high-end builders, but haven't made any decision as to the final selections."
"What do you think of us forming a joint venture to develop that parcel of land? You own the land and I'd develop the infrastructure. One of the businesses that I inherited is a construction company. Its primary base is in California, but I think it could branch out to Nevada without much of a stretch."
"Interesting. I'd need to talk to my lawyer and accountant to see what impact such a joint venture would have on me. I'm sure there are tax consequences that would have to be considered," I said. "I'll talk to them when we get back to Texas."
"I think you'll find that it will be to your advantage - our mutual advantage."
Our flight took us to Miami before taking a heading toward St. Thomas. After a while, the video games gave way to watching a Star Trek movie on videotape. The only thing that interrupted their watching it was when Marilyn brought out a snack. I watched with amusement as Mike made a play for her. She maintained a friendly, but professional attitude toward Mike. Needless to say, Mike struck out. I still didn't think he had given up.
It was just past four o'clock local time when we landed at Cyril E King Airport on St. Thomas. After our luggage was retrieved, we climbed into one of the larger taxis that was headed for the ferry landing in downtown Charlotte Amalie. There were several cruise ships docked within sight of the landing. The ferry took about 45 minutes to get us to Cruz Bay on St. John. We were met at the landing by the villa's household staff with an ATV trailing a small wagon-looking affair. Donald was greeted warmly by the staff before Lettie and I were introduced. The luggage was loaded into the wagon and the ATV preceded us up the hill toward the villa. It was a short walk to the villa which was fine with me after having sat so long on the plane, the taxi and finally the ferry.
The villa was a magnificent, sprawling building. "How big is this place?" I asked Donald.
"The house is approximately 8,000 square feet, the deck and pool area occupy another 2,000 square feet. The property sits on about eight-tenths of an acre. It has remarkable views of the sunsets over the bay. We'll have to have a glass of wine and watch it from the deck after while. First, we should sort out the sleeping arrangements for the boys. Lettie and Lenore will share a room. The rest of the bedrooms can be divided among the boys. I'll let you make the assignments."
I knew I couldn't separate the three musketeers, so I found a bedroom with two queen-size beds. They would probably all end up sleeping in one of them. Mike got a room to himself and so did Joel. I figured that William would want to sleep with his dad, but he decided he wanted to share a room with TJ and Peter. They were becoming the younger three musketeers. Thankfully there was a bedroom with a queen and a full size bed that they decided they wanted. That left the master suite and one bedroom remaining.
"I guess this is where I'll bunk," I said, indicating the last bedroom.
"Oh, I thought you might want to share the master suite," Donald said, with a dejected tone to his voice.
"I'd like that, but I didn't want to push the matter. Will Lettie have a problem with that?"
"No," he said, with some finality.
We set to sorting out the luggage and moving it into the appropriate rooms. It didn't take the boys long to go exploring the house. When they saw the outdoor pool, they immediately wanted to go swimming. I wanted to unpack my suitcase first, but Mike came to my rescue and said he would go swimming with the boys. When I was finished with my suitcase, I went to unpack for TJ and Peter. Lettie was in the room taking care of William's clothes. By the time I finished and headed back to the master suite, Donald had changed into shorts and a tee shirt. I soon followed suit and met him on the deck near the pool where the boys were swimming. The pool was smaller than the one we had at home, but the boys didn't seem to mind. I think that Mike was having as much fun as the younger boys were.
We had been sitting and watching the boys for a few minutes when Lettie appeared with Lenore. Lenore had on her swimsuit. Donald kicked off his flip-flops, sat down on the side of the pool at the shallow end and lifted Lenore into the water. She splashed happily around in the shallow end.
As the sun started going down over the hills on the other side of the bay, the cook appeared and announced that dinner would be served in twenty minutes. That was a signal for everyone to evacuate the pool. Lenore had tired earlier and was sitting on her dad's lap watching the antics of her brother and the other boys playing in the pool. Lettie took her and led her to their room to change into some dry clothes.
The meal was served outdoors under the covered portion of the deck. Donald and I didn't have our glass of wine relaxing while watching the sunset, but we did watch it from the dinner table.
"Where does your staff stay? I didn't see any quarters." I said.
"They don't live onsite. They come in time to serve breakfast and leave after we eat in the evening."
"How often do you come here? It seems a shame to let this beautiful place go unused the majority of the time."
"I try to come here once or twice a year, sometimes more. And you're right; it would be wasteful to let this place sit vacant when we are not here. It doesn't. I have a property management agent who rents it out to a select group of people on a weekly or monthly basis. It's probably occupied at least 60% of the time. As you can imagine, the people who rent this place are thoroughly checked out before they are considered for renters."
"If you don't mind my asking, how much does it rent for?"
"No, I don't mind. It rents for $20,000 a week."
"Wow!" I exclaimed. Doing some quick mental calculations, I was even more impressed. If it was actually rented 60% of the time, that meant it was rented about 31 weeks out of the year. That meant the rental income was $620,000.
"You have to realize that the house comes fully furnished and the staff provides for the guests just as if our family were here," Donald said, when he saw the astonished look on my face.
"Still, that's a little rich for my blood."
I let the boys stay up until ten. By Texas time it was only eight, but it was totally dark outside. I sent them to go take their showers without getting a lot of moaning from them. Lettie had taken Lenore to bed earlier. Donald accompanied me as I went to tuck TJ and Peter in. I saw him give William a kiss on the forehead before he straightened up and left the room. As I was coming out of Joel's room after saying good night to him, I was met in the hall by Mike.
"Crane, I can't thank you enough for allowing me to come with you guys on this trip. I'm not used to all this luxury, but I sure hope to when I get out of med school and get my practice started." He gave me a hug and headed back into his room.
I stood there for a moment looking after him before I joined Donald in the living room for that glass of wine we had missed earlier. One glass of a superior red wine and my eyelids were beginning to droop.
"I think it's time we retired as well," Donald said.
"I agree," I said, following him to the master suite.
Here's how I imagine what the villa looks like. Click on the link to see pictures and a video presentation.