The Castaway Hotel: Next Generation Book 4

Chapter 37 – Changing of the Guard

TJ’s breathing continued to improve over the following week but Dion, Dad, and I all kept a close eye on him to make sure he didn’t suffer a setback.  I’m grateful that we have a doctor in the house who can monitor these situations for us and keep me from freaking out, since I’m the protective and emotional one in our family. 

Danny also put off TJ’s next vaccinations until the following week, to make certain his breathing had improved first.  I took him to Danny’s office the following Tuesday after school so Danny could bring his vaccinations were up to date. 

“I checked him over as well, and his length and weight fall into the lower percentiles for his age,” Danny informed me when he was done.  “This may continue as he grows older.”

“Does this mean he’s going to be a dwarf?”

“That term isn’t used any longer and they’re referred to as little people now, but no, that won’t be the case for TJ.  He’ll just be shorter than his peers and will probably be in the upper end of the four-foot range (145-149 cm), possibly reaching five feet (152.5 cm) tall when he grows up.  Although he may be around the same height, or possibly slightly taller, as those suffering from dwarfism, he won’t have arms and legs that are disproportional in length.”

“So, he’ll look normal, just a smaller version?”

“Yes, which might make him appear to be younger than he actually is.”

“I guess that isn’t too bad and he’ll learn to adjust.”

Things were also fairly mellow at school as well and we continued to receive favorable comments about the Haunted house.  A few of the teachers asked Dion and me about TJ and how he was doing, while a few others congratulated us on adopting him.  For the most part, however, I think the students, faculty, and staff were looking forward to the upcoming holidays. 

During lunch on Saturday, I decided to mention something to the boys.  “I know it might be a little early to do this, but Brandon, Danny, Dion, and I would like each of you to start making out your Christmas list.  I suggest you only ask for the things you want the most, and don’t just ask for the most expensive items either.  We’ll only spend so much money on each one of you, so if you only ask for really expensive items you may wind up with only one or two gifts, while the others get more presents, but the cost of those items will be about the same.” 

“When do you want us to give you our lists?” asked Benny.  

“Give them to us before school closes for Thanksgiving.  That will give you about a week and a half to complete them.”

“What if it takes us longer than that?” wondered Xander.  “I’ve never had to do this before.”

“We’ll need them as soon as possible, because the day after Thanksgiving is the start of the Christmas shopping season.  The most popular items often sell out early, so if we don’t get your lists right away, then you may not get some of the things you want.”

“K, we’ll get our lists to you by then,” they all agreed.

When Danny and Brandon arrived home from work, I told them what I’d done and explained it was why they weren’t seeing any of the boys running in and out of the house.  They thanked me and said it was a good idea, and then they, Dion, and I started planning for when we were going to go shopping.  We also discussed where we were going to store the gifts so the boys wouldn’t see them before Christmas. 

“We could rent a storage locker for a month and keep them there,” offered Danny. 

“We could, but I’d be worried that someone would break into it and steal all the presents,” mentioned Dion. 

“They could steal them no matter where we keep them,” countered Brandon.

“That’s true, but they would be less likely to do it where people are around,” Dion pointed out. 

“What I’m worried about is that if we keep the presents here, some of the boys might try to distract us while the others go looking for their gifts,” I offered.  “They know the house and its potential hiding places as well as we do.”

“We could always ask Kevin, Cole, or Dustin if we could keep everything at their house until Christmas,” suggested Brandon. 

“Or Uncle Steve,” added Danny.  “There’s just Aunt Mary and him living at their place and they have lots of room.  And since they don’t have children, thieves wouldn’t be as likely to target them.” 

“Ok, we can ask them when they’re here for one of the birthdays or Thanksgiving,” offered Brandon, and we all agreed. 

Now that we’d solved our problem, we noticed the boys were busy deciding on what they were going to ask for.  We saw them chatting with one another about different possibilities, as well as watching TV commercials for the latest hot items.  They also looked at the flyers that came in the mail and did online searches to see if there was anything else they might want.  It kept them busy for the rest of the day, and the only time we saw them for any length of time was during dinner.

“Slow down and don’t eat so fast!” I chided them after I watched the boys wolfing down their meal. 

“We wanna get back to working on our Christmas lists,” replied Tristan with his mouth half full of food. 

“You’ve got over a week to do it, so you can take time and chew your food in the process.”

“Yes, listen to him,” urged Danny.  “I don’t want to have to perform the Heimlich maneuver on any of you because you’re choking on your dinner.”

That was enough to get the boys to slow down a bit and the rest of the meal went normally.  As soon as they finished the meal, though, the boys raced off to work on their Christmas lists again, and they did that until we told them to get ready for bed. 

When we woke up the following morning, we made sure all of the boys got ready for church, and then we grabbed a quick snack to tide us over before going out to hop in the SUVs.  It seemed like a very normal Sunday until near the end of the service when Reverend Kirk said he had an announcement to make. 

“I’ve been serving as pastor of this church for over forty years.  This was my first parish after graduating from divinity school, and I’ve chosen to remain here ever since.  I was offered a chance to move to larger parishes, but I declined.  At first it was due to my insecurity, but later there were other factors influencing my decision.  I met my wife here and we were married in this very church.  We also raised our children in this community, but now it is time for me to move on.  As of the end of the calendar year, I am retiring from the clergy.”

There were several audible gasps heard from the congregation, which caused him to pause briefly before continuing. 

“I have loved every moment I’ve spent here, and I’ve watched many of you grow up and others move on.  After discussing this with my wife, we felt it was time that I retire so we can spend some time with our grandchildren and great-grandchildren before we are called to live with our Heavenly Father.  As many of you are aware, most of our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren no longer reside in this area, so we don’t get to see them as often as we’d like.  This will give us an opportunity to spend a little more time with them before the Lord calls us home.  The Christmas and end of the year sermons will be the last I shall give.  Your new pastor will be arriving in a couple of weeks so he can become familiar with the area and meet all of you before I depart.  May God bless each of you.” 

He then stepped from behind the pulpit and made his way down the center aisle, between the pews, so he could say goodbye to everyone as they exited the church.  Dad had the family remain behind until everyone else had exited the church, because he wanted to chat with Rev. Kirk and clarify a few things with him.  While we were waiting, I changed TJ and gave him a bottle. 

About twenty minutes later, we saw there was hardly anyone else left in line, so we got up and made our way out of the church.  Dad stayed at the back of the line so he could speak with Rev. Kirk last. 

“I am definitely going to miss you because you’ve not only been our minister, but you’ve been a very dear friend as well,” said Dad.  “I won’t be greedy and ask you to stay, because you and Mary deserve to spend time with your family.”  

“Thank you.  That means a lot to us.”

“I do have a few questions for you, though.  You said the new minister will be arriving in a couple of weeks, but don’t we get a chance to interview him, as well as others, and then decide on which candidate we’d prefer?”

“No, the Council has made that decision for you.”

“In that case, will I at least have an opportunity to sit down and speak with him, so I can ask a few questions?”

“I’m sure that can be arranged.  Do you intend on doing this privately or with others?”

“I’d like a chance to do it privately because my family is heavily invested in this church.  Many of us attend services here, and not just those who currently live with me.  The others may not attend every week, but they attend fairly regularly and many of them were also married in this church, with you presiding.”

“Yes, I know, and I’ve always valued your family’s support.”

“You’ve made that very clear, and we’ve always valued you and your friendship.  I’d just like an opportunity to make certain that a similar type of relationship is possible and will continue in the future.” 

“I understand and I’ll help to arrange for the two of you to get together.” 

“Thank you.  I appreciate that very much.”

From there, we all went over to the diner for brunch, and after we’d ordered, the others asked Dad what he was so concerned about. 

“As you know, not all of the clergy hold the same views or interpret the scriptures in the same way,” responded Dad. 

“Yes, but isn’t that mostly between the different denominations?” questioned Brandon.

“No, it can also happen within a denomination as well.  That’s why you may have seen reports of some denominations splitting over various issues.  I just want to see how his views mesh with ours.” 

“Do you think there will be a problem?” asked Becky. 

“I hope not, but I believe it would be best if I found out early, just to be certain.”

Now that we all understood Dad’s position, we eagerly dug into our food once our meals were delivered.  We also chatted with Becky to make sure that she and Revin were going to join us for Thanksgiving. 

“Of course, we are.  We’re both looking forward to seeing the rest of your family again.”

“Great!  And we’ve already reserved two lanes at the bowling alley for Revin’s birthday party.  Are you going to order and pick up the cake, or do you want us to do it for you?”

“I’ll take care of that, and since Revin will most likely want to ride to your house with the other boys, I’ll pick up the cake before I come to join you.”

Once we finished up at the diner, we dropped Becky and Revin off at their place, and then we headed back to the house.  I don’t think any of us were surprised when Dad received a phone call shortly after we arrived home, and his phone rang several more times throughout the afternoon and early evening.  The calls were from other congregants that had questions about Rev. Kirk’s departure, and they knew Dad would have some insight into the matter. 

“What do all those people want?” Dion asked Dad after dinner. 

“They’re just concerned and have questions about the new minister, the same as I do.”

“What sort of questions?”

“Primarily, they want to make sure the new minister will fit in with the community and have beliefs that are in line with ours.  One of them asked Rev. Kirk if he knew anything about his replacement, and Rev. Kirk said he’d heard the new minister was in his mid-forties and had previously been the pastor of a church in Erie, Pennsylvania.”

“That’s a much larger city, so isn’t this a step down for him?” followed Danny.

“That’s what some of the others were thinking as well.”

“And Erie is quite a ways away from here,” pointed out Dion.  “It’s at the northern edge of the state, while we’re closer to the southern border, so isn’t that a little strange as well?  Don’t they generally try to move ministers to a new position that isn’t quite so far away from their previous position?”

“Yes, lateral moves or small advancements are generally made closer to one another,” agreed Dad.  “However, major advancements where a minister moves to a much larger congregation may require him or her to relocate farther away from where he or she was previously located.” 

“So, what do you think this means?” I asked.

“I’m not sure, but one of the people I spoke with suggested that the new minister may have gotten into some sort of trouble at his old parish or was involved in some sort of major disagreement.  He also concluded that the regional Council for that area may have contacted the regional Council here after they heard Rev. Kirk was leaving, and our local Council agreed to place him with us.”

“So, we’re getting someone else’s reject?” snapped Dion. 

“We don’t know that for certain, although it’s a possibility, considering the circumstances.”

“So, what are you going to do?” demanded Brandon. 

“Nothing, until I speak with him.  I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and see what he has to say for himself.  I won’t prejudge the man on gossip or speculation.” 

“So, when do you think you’ll get to speak with him?” wondered Danny. 

“Rev. Kirk said the new minister would be getting here in a couple of weeks, which means he should be arriving in early December.  In that case, I should be able to meet with him sometime between then and Christmas.”

“Isn’t that cutting it kind of close?” I asked.

“Only if there’s a problem, but otherwise it should be a smooth transition.”

Our conversation was interrupted when Dad’s phone rang again, and then he excused himself so he could speak with the caller in private.   I don’t think any of us felt better after our little chat, but like Dad said, let’s just wait and see what he finds out.  We shouldn’t judge the guy until Dad’s had a chance to speak with him and we’ve learned all of the relevant facts. 

Instead, we turned our attention to planning for Thanksgiving and the multiple birthday celebrations we were going to have.  That was more than enough to take up the rest of the night. 

The school week was busier for me than for Dion because I was going to spend the first three days trying to finish up the lessons I’d been covering with my classes.  I wanted to test them on the material before the Thanksgiving break because the students would be out of class for a week and I was afraid they’d forget everything by the time they got back.  Even though it was still early in the year for it to snow, I planned the exam for Thursday, instead of Friday, in case we had a snow day at the end of the week.  I wouldn’t be able to give the exam the following week, because the three days before Thanksgiving were set aside for parent-teacher conferences, now that the parents had seen their child’s first report card. 

Dion had it much easier than I did because he didn’t give exams, although he still had to submit report card grades for the students he worked with.  He also had to organize the vocal portion of the Winter Concert at both the middle and high schools, so maybe he didn’t have it easier after all.  He was also in charge of the spring musicals at both schools, and those weren’t easy tasks either, so I’ll stick with my English classes. 

On Saturday, the boys gave us their Christmas lists after lunch, so Dad, Pop, Brandon, Danny, Dion, and I sat down together after dinner to go over them.  We not only compared the lists, but we talked about the things the boys had written down, and then we let Dad and Pop select which items they wanted to give the boys.  Once that was taken care of, each couple looked at the other couple’s lists and decided on which gifts we wanted to give their sons from our family.  Finally, we looked at what remained on our sons’ lists and decided what we were going to give them.  It was a lengthy process and took up the rest of the night, and the only break we took was to tuck the boys into bed. 

Sunday morning when we arrived at church, Dad stopped to speak with Rev. Kirk as he greeted us before we entered. 

“I’d like to speak with you after the service, if you’re willing?”

“You know I am, and I take it this means you have additional questions about my replacement?”

“Yes.  Several other members of the congregation called to speak with me after we arrived home last Sunday, and we were left with several more questions.” 

“I’ll be happy to speak with you, but I’m not sure if I’ll be able to answer those questions for you.  I’ll tell you what I can, but you may have to wait and get some of the answers from my replacement.”

“Just give me the information that you can, and if I still have questions then I may have to get that information from elsewhere.” 

We then went inside and headed to our Sunday school classes, and then we got together with the rest of the family for the church service.  When the sermon ended, Dad asked us to wait again, the same as we’d done the week before.  When he noticed the line was dwindling down, he told us it was time for us to leave, so we all got up and moved toward the door.  Dad was the last person in line again, and when he reached Rev. Kirk, he spoke to us first. 

“Keep the boys occupied and I’ll try to make this as brief as I can,” he stated, and then he turned to Rev. Kirk.  “I think it would be best if we went back into the church.” 

Rev. Kirk agreed and they went inside and sat next to each other in one of the pews at the back of the church.  Once they were both seated, Dad spoke. 

“How much do you know about the new minister?”

“I know his name and the parish he ministered to before he was assigned here.”

“Is it true that he’s coming here from Erie, Pennsylvania?”

“Yes, that’s what I was told.”

“Isn’t this a demotion for him then?”

“I suppose it might be viewed that way by some.”

“Did he have to leave there due to misconduct or because of a scandal?”

“I’m not privy to any information of that nature.”

“What’s his name?”

“It’s Rev. Roy Belec.  Why do you ask?”

“I’ll need that information so I can investigate his background further.”

“And how are you going to do that?”

“I’ll have my sons help me to investigate him online, and as a former Superintendent of Schools, I’ve made contacts throughout the state, and I’m familiar with the Superintendent of the Erie School District.  I’ve spoken with him on several occasions and I believe I still have his contact information, so I could contact him as well.”

“Do you know something you haven’t told me?”

“No, it’s just that I, and several other parishioners, have questions about this downward transfer.  It seems strange, and we’re curious about the reason he accepted a demotion, so to speak.”

“Please don’t look at his being assigned here as a demotion.”

“It’s hard not to because we suspect he was formerly assigned to a church with a much larger congregation, so coming here to minister to our tiny flock can’t be viewed any other way.  We just want to know why it’s happening.”

“I was curious about that as well, but I couldn’t get any additional information about his transfer.  I’m not sure you’ll be any more successful than I was.”

“Maybe not, but I have to try.  Since he’s a minister, I doubt he will lie to me when I meet with him and ask questions, but he may use other tactics.  He may refuse to answer my questions, not answer them directly, or he may be very vague when responding.  If that’s the case, then we’ll have to get the answer to these questions from somewhere else.  Do you know the exact date when he’ll be arriving here or if he has a family?”

“It’s my understanding that his wife died after a lengthy battle with ovarian cancer and they didn’t have any children.” 

“That’s another thing that makes this strange,” interrupted Dad.  “If his wife is buried there, why would he want to move so far away?”

“I’m afraid I can’t answer that for you.  As far as when he’ll arrive, I was called by the manager of the local Best Western Motel to verify Rev. Belec’s long-term reservation, because Rev. Belec told him our church would be paying for it.  The reservation starts tomorrow and runs through January 5th, and the manager stated that Rev. Belec told him he hopes to have a more permanent housing solution by then.”

“Even though he might be arriving tomorrow, I’ll be way too busy to meet with him until after the Thanksgiving holiday.  However, if you should have contact with him before then, will you see if you can set up a meeting time for me on Sunday afternoon, December 1st?   Around 2:00 or 3:00 would work best.”

“Ok, I’ll relay your message if he should contact me or stop by during one of our services.  And if he can’t meet with you on the first, then I’ll try to set it up for the eighth.”

“Ok, that will be fine, and thank you very much.  You’re going to be missed very much and the new guy is going to have very big shoes to fill.” 

“I appreciate that, and you and your family will also be in my thoughts and prayers.  God Bless you, Josh.  You’re a good man and I wish you all the best, not only with this situation, but with your family and life in general.”

Now that I had concluded speaking with him, I went out to meet up with the rest of the family so we could head over to the diner for brunch.