Joel: Book Eight ~ The New Patriarch

Chapter Twenty~Two

Donald and I stood by as the boys surrounded Joel in a group hug. It seemed as if they were all talking at the same time, asking questions and telling him that they had missed him.

"It's great to see you guys," Joel said, as he walked the mass of boys to where we stood. "Let me say hi to dad."

The boys relented, but stayed close by, barely opening a path for me to hug my son.

"Welcome home, son," I said, wrapping him in my arms. "As you can see, we all missed you."

"It's good to be here, even if it's for a short time," he said.

Donald had held back for a bit until Joel reached out to him and gave him a hug.

"I missed you as well," Donald said. "It's good to see you again."

"Where's your stuff?" I asked. "Surely you brought some clothes with you."

"Yeah, it's in the car," Joel said. "I guess I'd better go get it."

"I'll get it for you," TJ said and ran toward the back door.

"It's in the back seat," Joel yelled after him. Turning back, he said, "I see there're some new faces."

"Yes, come on in and let me introduce them to you," I said.

"I remember Kelly, now that I've had a chance to look closer," Joel said. "Although, you weren't in a wheelchair that last time you were here. What happened?"

"Got mugged and carjacked," Kelly said. "Had to drop out of college for the semester until I can regain my ability to walk confidently. It's good to see you. I just wish it were under better circumstances."

"You've never met Cary," I said, steering Joel to where Cary was holding back. "This is Cary Granville. He takes the kids to school and picks them up when the school day is over. He also watches the kids until Donald and I get home from work. Cary, in case you haven't already guessed, this is my oldest son, Joel."

"It's nice to meet you, Joel," Cary said, shaking Joel's offered hand. "I've heard a lot about you in the past few days."

"Nice to meet you, too," Joel said. "I know it's not easy to keep these yahoos in line."

"Were not yahoos," William said, indignantly. "What's a yahoo, anyway?"

"Here's your stuff," TJ said. "What've you got in here? Rocks? It weighs a ton."

"I brought a couple of books," Joel said, taking the bag from TJ. "I thought I might have some free time to do a little studying while I'm here. You haven't moved me out of my old room, have you?"

"No way," I said. "Why don't you take your stuff to your room and get reacquainted with your brothers. I know they have a million questions for you. We'll have time to talk later."

"I see we're a little late," Gilda said, coming in the back door with Lenore.

"Yes, he just went up to his room with the rest of the boys," I said. "I wondered where Lenore was. I hadn't seen her since we got home."

"You know her," Donald said. "Anytime she can spend some time with Penny, she will. She still doesn't understand why we can't have a baby."

"Well, I had better get busy and put the finishing touches to supper," Gilda said. "It'll be good to have all the boys home for a change."

"Kelly," I said, as we headed back to the living room. "How did your physical therapy go today? I nearly forgot to ask with Joel coming home for the weekend."

Donald and I sat down on the couch and Lenore crawled up on his lap.

"Ryan London is going to be a real task master," Kelly said. "He had me doing all kinds of things I didn't know I could do at this point. I know I'm going to be sore from the workout he had me doing today, but I'm sure it will speed my recovery. I may have to get in that hydrotherapy contraption to soothe my sore muscles."

"Not a bad idea. Let us know if there is anything that you need that Ryan thinks is necessary for your recovery. We will see that you get it," Donald said. "We want to see you recover as quickly as possible."

"Ryan said he thinks we have everything necessary for what the doctors have recommended. I really like that workout area over the garages," Kelly said. "I may have to use it to work on my upper body. Ryan will make sure my lower body gets a workout."

"You're welcome to use it anytime," I said. "Just don't overdo it. Did Ryan tell you what his schedule was for your therapy?"

"Yes, he said he would be here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at nine," Kelly said. "The sessions will last around 90 minutes to a couple of hours, depending on what the concentration is for that day."

"Maybe we could work out together in the afternoon," Cary said. "I need to exercise or Gilda will have me fattened up like the Christmas goose."

"That sounds great. I like having someone to workout with," Kelly said. "It's less boring that way."

"Supper is going to be ready in about ten minutes," Gilda announced from the doorway.

"I'll go get the boys," I said. "They're all in Joel's room." I walked up the stairs and entered Joel's bedroom. Six boys were lined up on his bed and Joel was sitting in his desk chair. I gathered from the snatches of conversation that I heard before entering the room that Joel was telling them all about his experiences at college. "Supper is in ten minutes, so you all had better get washed up."

The mention of supper was all it took to send the boys scurrying to their rooms to wash their hands.

"It never changes," Joel chuckled. "The mention of food and it becomes their top priority. Well, I guess it's mine as well."

I went back downstairs and did my own wash up.

Gilda had outdone herself with the meal. Everything she had prepared was Joel's favorites. Of course, the other kids didn't have any complaints about what was served.

After the dishes were cleared from the table, Joel went up to Gilda and gave her a big hug. "Thank you, Gilda. I've missed your good meals. If you ever get tired of feeding this mob, you can always come to Houston and cook for Jeremy and me."

"That's the best offer I've had all day," she chuckled. "But, I think I'll have to decline the offer. I wouldn't know what to do without the "mob", as you called them. Now, go have some fun with the others. I have work to do."

"Yes, ma'am."

"Come on into the other room and tell us all about college life," I said.

"What's to tell," Joel said. "It's a lot like high school, except a lot harder. My classes are mostly in separate buildings and I have to hustle to get to them if I have two classes back-to-back. The worst is when it's raining. I've learned to listen to the weather report before I take off for classes and take my umbrella if they say there's even a slight chance of rain. It rains a lot in Houston."

"How are your classes and the professors?" Donald asked.

"I love all my classes," Joel said. "There's a faster pace to the classes than in high school. We're really getting into the harder material now. I have great professors, well, all but one."

"Why's that?" I asked.
"She's from India, I think. I find it difficult to understand her at times, especially when she speaks rapidly. Her lectures are important because the accompanying textbook is just a reference. Her exams are mostly based on her lectures."

"Have you spoken to your advisor about it?" I asked.

"No, one of my classmates is from India and we're in the same study group. He translates for me and the others in the group if we have a problem," Joel said. "He also takes great notes so we can compare our notes with his to see if we've missed anything."

"I don't want your grades to suffer because of this," I said. "Let me know if it becomes a problem. Are you having any problems adjusting to college life?"

"Not since I've learned where everything is on campus," he said. "I was kinda lost for the first week or two. Jeremy helped a lot since he had been there for a summer session and had learned where everything was."

"How are the living arrangements working out?" I asked.

"Jeremy is a great guy. We've never had any problems," Joel said. "We have different schedules and don't see much of each other except in the evenings and on weekends. I have early morning classes and he doesn't, so I rarely see him in the mornings unless he is up studying for a test. Two or three evenings a week he and I will jog around campus, but it's hard to talk and jog at the same time. I feel safer jogging with him than if I were by myself."

"The campus area is usually pretty safe," I said. "There's quite a large contingent of campus security according to the literature the college puts out."

"We usually see a couple of them while we're jogging. The route we take is about three and a half miles. Sometimes we go a little farther, but not that often."

"Is your housekeeper working out?" I asked.

"Yes. Marta comes in twice a week and cleans up. She also fixes things like casseroles that we can stick in the oven for a quick meal. Sometime she will leave us instructions on how to fix a simple meal and tell us where all the ingredients are to make it. On weekends, Jeremy's girlfriend will sometimes come over and cook for us. If not, and we don't feel like cooking ourselves, we'll go out to eat. There are a lot of good places to eat in the area. Sometimes I'll call Jimmy and drive over to pick him up. That is if he's not working. He wants to pay off his car loan as soon as possible."

"I remember all the good places to eat," I said. "There was a deli a couple miles west of Rice that we used to go to at least once a week. I can't remember the name of it, but I know it was on Stella Link just north of the South Loop. They made their own pastrami and their sandwich was to die for. And their strudel was the best I've ever eaten before or since. I wonder if that place is still there. I'll have to check the next time we come to Houston."

"Someone else was telling me about that place, but I've never gone," Joel said.

"Have you been to any more concerts or plays?" I asked.

"A couple," Joel said. "I think I told you I was going to a concert at U of H with Jimmy last week. It was good, but nothing like the ones at Jones Hall. We went to an opera put on by the Houston Grand Opera. I'd never been to an opera before and didn't really know what to expect. I liked it. I just wish I understood Italian so I would have known what they were singing about."

"What did you see?" Donald asked.

"Don Giovanni," he answered. "They projected the English translation, but it was hard to watch the opera and read the lyrics at the same time. It's like watching a TV program with the closed captioning turned on. You miss a lot of what's going on. Beth Ann, that's Jeremy's girlfriend, really enjoyed the opera and wants to go to the next one they put on. I don't think Jeremy was that enthusiastic about it, but he did say he liked it."

"We're going to see the Blue Man Group next weekend," Chris said. "It's gonna be neat, I can hardly wait."

"I've never seen them. You'll have to tell me all about it next time we Skype after you see them," Joel said.

"Dad said we were going to go to the new place where there are lots of things we can do," William said. "They even have bumper cars that you can crash into other ones. It's gonna be fun."

"Cary and I are going to take the three musketeers to Blue Man Group and Donald and Manfred get to try and corral the rest of the kids while they're having fun," I said. "I don't know who got the short end of the stick."

"What's that mean?" TJ asked with a frown.

"It means who got the best deal and who got the worst deal," Donald volunteered.

"Oh," TJ said, the frown deepening.

"Have you made a lot of friends since you've been there?" I asked.

"I've made a few friends. I mentioned the Indian guy in my study group. His name is Sanjay Balakrishnan. He's really funny. Loves to tell jokes. He's also very smart. Then there is Hank, Lidia, and Jill. It's just the five of us in the group. We have almost the same class schedules, so it's a natural study group. They are the ones that I know best. There are others in my classes that I know, but they are more of acquaintances than friends. I've met some of Jimmy's friends also, but don't know them too well. The same goes with Jeremy's friends.

"It's important that you make friends. That being said, the most important thing is your education. Sometimes that's a hard balancing act," I said.

We spent another hour or so learning all about Joel's experiences in Houston. His least favorite thing about Houston was the traffic. It always seemed to be rush hour, no matter what time of day it was. I chuckled when I heard that. I thought it was terrible when I worked on that project not long after I went to work after getting my PhD. I'm sure it's worse now than it was back then.

"Anybody ready for a snack? I guess that was a dumb question," Gilda said, stepping out of the way of the wave of boys heading for the kitchen. The adults and Lenore followed at a more leisurely pace, but with the same anticipation as the boys'. After the snack had been thoroughly enjoyed, I suggested to the boys that it was time to get their showers taken and their teeth brushed. It had been a long day. There were only a few grumbles, but they all went willingly up the stairs. Gilda took Lenore to get her ready for bed.

After we had said good night and tucked the younger ones in bed, Joel joined the adults in the living room.

"Kelly, you haven't said much," Joel said. "How's your college experience in California?"

"My classes were great," he said. "Getting bashed over the head with an iron pipe was not a lot of fun. I wish I didn't have to have dropped out of school for the semester, but there was no way I could keep up, having missed so much. I hope to be able to reenroll for the spring semester. In the meantime, Uncle Donald has hired a tutor to come in twice a week to help me with some of the classes I was taking before I dropped out."

"Have you met your tutor?" Joel asked.

"No, he's coming on Tuesday for the first time," Kelly said. "I don't know what to expect until we meet. All my course textbooks were sent here, thanks to Uncle Donald."

"Well, I didn't want you goofing off all the time," Donald laughed. "Dr. Gordon Allen, that's the tutor, was the head of the Civil Engineering department at University of Texas until he retired four or five years ago. Sharp man, I met him when he was doing some consulting work for my California construction company. The one you interned with, Kelly. His consulting was over with by the time you worked there."

"Well, I think I'll go to bed," Joel said. "I was up early this morning. I had an eight o'clock. Plus the long drive home has tired me out. I will see you all in the morning." He gave Donald and me hugs and shook hands with Kelly and Cary before going over to Gilda and giving her a hug.

It wasn't long before the rest of us started to yawn and a short time later we also retired for the night.

Gilda was up when I entered the kitchen for my cup of coffee. She was making a mountain of pancakes. The griddle had room for six to be made at the same time. As soon as six were finished, she stacked them on a sheet pan and put them in the oven to stay warm and six more dollops of pancake batter were poured on the griddle.

"How many are you making?" I asked, taking a sip of my coffee.

"There are thirteen of us and I figure two or three pancakes per person, except for Lenore, so I thought I would make three dozen. With the scrambled eggs and sausages, I hope that's enough," she said.

"I don't think anyone will go hungry," I said. "Can I help?"

"You could start browning the sausages," she said. "The eggs can wait until the last minute."

"I haven't paid any attention to the household budget recently. What's it cost for food for this "mob", as Joel called it?"

"That depends," Gilda said. "Now that they are all back in school, it runs between three and four thousand dollars a month. During the summer when they're all home for every meal, it probably runs closer to forty-five hundred a month. Your accountant could give you the monthly amounts, since all the credit card bills go directly to him."

"I was just wondering, just information," I said. "It might increase a little now that Kelly is here for a while."

"I've got one more batch of pancakes to fix and it looks as if you have the sausages about done," she said. "It's time to get everybody up. By the time they get washed up and down here, everything, including the eggs, should be ready."

"I'll get Lenore," Donald said. I hadn't heard him come into the kitchen, but he had been here long enough to pour a cup of coffee.

The last room I visited on my wakeup round was Joel's. I knocked on the door and heard him say to come in. I was not surprised to find that he was up and dressed.

"Good morning, son," I said. "Did you sleep well?"

"Good morning, dad," he responded. "I slept great. It was good to sleep in my old bed. I don't think it's any different than my bed in Houston. I guess it's just that it's home. Does that make any sense?"

"It makes perfect sense," I said. "We had better get down to breakfast or your brothers will have eaten it all."

"I'm sure they would, but I'm also sure that Gilda would save some for us."

"You're right, but let's not tempt them," I said.

Because Lenore only had one pancake and some of the rest of us only had two meant that the number of pancakes that Gilda had made were sufficient for everybody to have their fill. It didn't hurt that there were mounds of scrambled eggs and sausages to round out the breakfast meal.

"What's on the agenda for today?" Joel asked, after all the breakfast dishes were rinsed and stacked in the dishwasher.

"Whatever you would like to do," I said. "You might want to go see your dog, Sam. William has been playing with him, but I'm sure he would like to see you."

"Yeah, I'd better," Joel said. "I wish I could take him to Houston, but it wouldn't be fair to him. He'd have to be cooped up in the townhouse all day while we were in classes. He wouldn't like that, he's an outdoors dog."

"Your neighbors wouldn't like it if he started barking while you were gone," I said.

"Okay, guys, let's go check on the dogs. Come on, William, you can tell me how you've been taking care of Sam. I'm sure he appreciates it," Joel said, leading the six boys out through the patio door.

"I think I'm going to work on my tan for a while and then take a swim after all this breakfast settles down," Cary said.

"Good idea," Kelly said. "I'll go get my swimsuit."

"Need any help?" Donald asked.

"Don't think so," Kelly responded. "I'll give a holler if I do."

Donald and I followed the boys outdoors. Lenore was holding onto her dad's hand. I had to laugh when I saw what was going on. Joel was on his back on the ground with Sam on his chest, licking his face. Joel was laughing so hard that he wasn't able to restrain Sam. I guess Sam hadn't forgotten his master. It took a while, but eventually Joel was able to calm Sam down, but he stayed at Joel's side all the while the other boys were playing with their pets.

I was glad to see that when Kelly and Cary had come out and started working on their tans how well they were getting along. It appeared that they were getting to be good friends. Their banter back and forth was punctuated with hearty laughter.

"Dad," TJ said, running up to where Donald and I were sitting. "Joel says he has to leave right after lunch tomorrow so he can get back to Houston and study. He won't get to go riding with us. Can we go today so he can get to ride?"

"I don't know why not," I said. "I'll go call Rosie and let her know we'll be coming. And I had better let Gilda know as well."

Rosie said it was not a problem that Bert and Jason were both getting ready to go riding and they could saddle up the horses for everybody. She did ask how many they needed to saddle. I did a quick calculation and gave her a number. Gilda said it was not an inconvenience and she would fix sandwiches and pack the coolers for our lunch.

"Cary, Kelly, we're planning on going to the ranch to ride the horses. You're welcome to join us or stay here and work on your tans," I said.

"I'm comfortable here," Kelly said. "I don't know if I'm ready for horseback riding. I'd better check with my therapist before I try."

"Thanks for asking," Cary said. "I kinda had my heart set on a swim. It's a tough decision, but I think I'll stay here."

"I called Manfred," Donald said. "They can't go, even though he knew Luke would really like to go. They were having some friends from church over for the afternoon."

"I may have given Rosie an inflated number of horses to be saddled," I said. "I don't think it will be a problem."

I gave a holler to the boys and told them to go put on their jeans if they wanted to go riding. The shorts they were wearing would have resulted in some chafed legs. Within ten minutes all of them were assembled in the kitchen ready to go. Gilda had the two coolers packed and ready to go. Joel and Chris each grabbed a handle on one of the coolers and headed for the van. Larry and Lenny did the same with the second cooler. The rest of us followed behind.

The moment we got to the ranch, Charlie and Ian cornered me wanting to know if I had made a decision on purchasing the adjoining property.

"Sorry, guys," I said. "My accountant and lawyer have not come back to me with their evaluation and estimated ROI. The last I heard from them was they would get with me the first of the week. Everything would be based on an assumption of an estimated purchase price. I don't have any idea what the people will be willing to sell the land for. A lot will depend on that fact."

I looked at where the boys were gathered at the fence with the horses tethered to it. Joel and the rest of the boys were laughing and talking with Bert and Jason.

Donald had taken Lenore to the Smith's house. He knew that Lenore was more interested in their young daughter than she was in riding her miniature horse.

Nine riders soon took off for the back of the pasture at a gallop. At least seven of them were at a gallop. Peter's and William's horses were smaller and couldn't keep up with the larger steeds. That didn't diminish their enjoyment of their ride. There were still two horses tethered to the fence. One was mine and the other was Donald's.

I waited until he came out of the house and then we both mounted up and followed the pack to the back pasture. When we got there, the races had already begun. Donald and I watched, but declined to take our turn at racing. After a while the racing stopped and the riders rode around the pasture in groups of two or three or more that kept changing. Joel was the center of attention as the number of riders in his group always seemed to be the largest.

Donald and I rode back to the stables and tied our horses to the fence and then went to talk to Rosie. Lenore was playing with Carrie on a blanket that Rosie had spread on the ground under the live oak tree.

"Tracy must be working today," I said.

"Yes, he tries to only work half days on Saturdays, but that doesn't always work out," Rosie said. "It's better now that he has more help, but he still works a lot of hours. I can't complain. He loves what he does and I love being here and doing what I do. I'm a country girl. I couldn't stand to be cooped up in some apartment in the city."

"That's good to hear," I said. "I would hate to have you guys up and move someplace."

"Not a chance," Rosie said. "How's Joel doing at college?"

"All indications are that he is doing great," I said. "I worried, at first, with him being as young as he is. I think it's been good for him to be out on his own. Well, maybe not on his own entirely. He still has Jeremy to big-brother him."

"Dad, we're hungry," Peter said. "Can we eat?"

"You mean after all those pancakes and sausages and eggs you ate this morning that you're hungry already?"

"Yeah. Can we eat?"

"Sure, get your brothers to get the coolers out of the van and take them to the picnic tables," I said. "Then go wash your hands with the hose over there before you eat."

It didn't take long before the lunch that Gilda had packed for us to be spread out on the picnic tables. I think even less time was required for it to be consumed.

"I really missed this," Joel said, after all what was left of the lunch was packed away and the coolers returned to the van.

"Getting to ride the horses?" I asked.

"Yes, but more than that, it's you and Donald and my brothers," he said. "Maybe being back here has made me realize that I was a little bit homesick. It's going to be hard to get into my car and leave tomorrow."

"It's only natural," I said, wrapping my arms around him. "The feeling never goes away completely because this is your home. It does get easier."

"I hope so," he replied, returning my hug.

"Come on, Joel," TJ yelled from the back of his horse. "You're wasting riding time."