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"Mr. Able, what can I do for you?"
"I just returned last week from spending several weeks with my sister in New Jersey. She was dying of cancer. Mercifully it ended. " He paused briefly to regain control before he continued. "I found out that two of my employees were guilty of vandalizing your property and I wanted to apologize. You can be sure that they are no longer in my employ."
"Mr. Able, I accept your apology. And please accept my condolences on the loss of your sister. I know how hard it is to lose a loved one."
"Thank you. I think I owe you an explanation of why this all happened to you. While I was gone, my wife was running the business. I knew she held some pretty bigoted views when I married her, but I thought I loved her. She was involved in that so called church long before I married her. It didn't use to be as radical when Jim Bob Jones was the pastor. It wasn't exactly main stream in its teaching of Christianity. I even attended it a few times with her. When Fullwell took over, it really veered out of the mainstream. Once listening to him was enough for me. Anyway, to make a long story short, while I was gone, Fullwell targeted you in one of his sermons. I understand you were involved in sending him to prison a year or so ago."
"In a way, yes."
"Well, my wife took his ranting to heart and decided to be the sword of justice for Fullwell. She convinced a couple of the men to help her exact revenge. She drove the van while the two guys did the actual damage. If you'll let me know how much the damages were, I'll reimburse you for them."
"Mr. Able, that's not necessary. The damages were more cosmetic than physical, but thank you for the offer."
"Again, let me say how sorry I am that my soon to be ex-wife and my employees were involved in this incident. Goodbye, Mr. Johnson."
That's not what I expected. I hope he was sincere, but I think I'll keep the security in place for a while longer. It didn't look as though I was going to get much reading done this evening, so I decided to go check on the boys. As I headed for the stairs, a most wonderful aroma was coming from the kitchen. At first I couldn't identify it, but as I got closer to the kitchen, it came to me what it was that I smelled. Gingerbread!
Gilda was removing a large pan from the oven by the time I got to the kitchen. "That smells wonderful," I said.
"I hope the boys like it," she responded. "I've got some whipped cream in the refrigerator to top it."
"I can't remember the last time I had gingerbread. If it tastes as good as it smells, I'm sure the boys will love it. It's a wonder the aroma of it hasn't reached them yet. I'd better go get them. Gingerbread is so much better when it's warm."
I only got half way up the stairs when I was greeted by all six boys coming down. I guess the aroma finally reached them.
"What smells so good?" Lenny asked. "It doesn't smell like anything we've had before."
"It's gingerbread. Now, get your hands washed and by that time Gilda will have it ready to serve," I said. That sent all of them scrambling back upstairs to wash-up. I'm not too sure how thorough the hand washing was, because they were not gone long enough to more than pass their hands under the water. I guess it's the thought that counts. I washed my hands in the bathroom off the living area.
Gilda had cut seven large pieces of gingerbread and had placed them on plates arranged on the kitchen island. She was reaching into the refrigerator for the whipped cream when I entered the kitchen. "Do you need any help?" I asked.
"If you'll lay out the forks, I'll dish up the whipped cream," she replied.
"This is good," TJ said, with a mouthful of gingerbread. There were unanimous mumblings of agreements from the other boys. I nodded my head in agreement, also.
"Did you save some for me?" Manfred said, as he and Hildy entered the kitchen.
"Of course," Gilda said. "But it's a good thing you got here quickly or there might not be any left in a minute."
"This tastes just like mom's," Hildy said. "Her recipe always was the best."
"It's mom's recipe," Gilda said. "I copied it from her files after I got married. I made it so many times for my husband that I don't even need the recipe to make it anymore. I think that man would have had me make it every day, he liked it so much."
After every crumb was cleaned from their plates and they had arranged the dishes in the dishwasher, I told the boys to go get their showers taken and to get ready for bed. This met with the usual amount of grumbling since it wasn't yet a school night, but they trudged up the stairs.
I heard a commotion as I climbed the back stairs to say good night to the boys and tuck them in. As I got to the top of the stairs, I could tell the laughing and plopping sounds were coming from the twins and Chris' room. I stood at the open door and saw what the commotion was about. It was a three-way pillow fight. They didn't notice that I was there until I cleared my throat loudly. Three heads turned in my direction with the looks of deers caught in the headlights of a car. It was hard to force my smile into a frown as I pointed to their beds which had been messed up by their activities. Sheepishly they crawled into their own beds.
"We're sorry, dad," Larry whined. "Are you mad at us?"
"No, I'm not mad at you. I love you guys. I'm just glad you didn't break anything. But, you know, I would really prefer that you guys limited your horseplay to outside." I straightened the covers and gave each of them a kiss on the forehead. I received a hug from each in return. "Good night, guys. No more pillow fights," I said, and left the room.
There were no pillow fights going on in TJ and Peter's room. TJ was sitting on the side of Peter's bed reading a story to him. I stood at the door and watched until TJ finished. As he closed the book, he leaned over and gave Peter a kiss on the forehead. Peter giggled and grabbed TJ around the neck with both arms and reciprocated with a kiss on the cheek. TJ climbed into his own bed as I walked into the room.
"That's very thoughtful of you to read a story to Peter," I said to TJ.
"He likes that story," TJ said.
After I finished tucking my two youngest into bed, I began to realize that it had been some time since we had all sat down together while I read them a story. We used to do it quite often. I don't know why it stopped. I guess it was when the old house burned down and all my books were destroyed. I think I'll try to remedy this oversight.
Joel was the last one I visited on my nightly rounds. He was sitting up in bed reading what looked like a large text book. "What're you reading, son?"
"My history book."
"Trying to get a head start on your classes for this year?"
"I thought I'd try to test out of the class if you'll sign the slip. Mr. Pilgrim said I could try."
Looking at the book I said, "This is European History. I thought you were taking American History this year."
"Yeah, this is next year's class."
"Oh. Well, just don't let this year's classes slide."
"I won't, dad."
"I think it's time to put the book away for the night and turn out the lights."
"Can I finish this chapter? I only have two more pages to read."
"You know I'll be sixteen next summer and I was wondering..."
I thought I knew what was coming, but I didn't know if I was prepared for it. "What is it, son?"
"Do you think I could get my learners permit so I could learn to drive?"
"I guess," I sighed. "The little boy I brought home three years ago is growing up. I'm not sure I'm ready for it, but there is nothing I can do to prevent it."
"Can we go tomorrow?"
"Sure, we have to go get Peter's school uniforms tomorrow, so we can stop by the DPS office to pick up all the paperwork and driving manual. Does the school offer a Driver's Education course?"
"No, I thought you could teach me."
"I'm not sure that's a good idea. Let me look into a professional Driver's Ed school. There's plenty of time before you can get your license. Now remember, two more pages and then it's lights out," I said.
"Good night, dad."
I went back downstairs and picked up the book that I had tried to read earlier in the evening. I hadn't read but a couple of pages when Manfred came into the room and sat on the couch opposite me.
"Crane, about that vacation you suggested that I take Hildy on. I've finally convinced her to go. It wasn't an easy job, but she finally gave in. She doesn't think this household could possibly run without her for a whole week. It took both Gilda and I to convince her that you and the boys would be fine while she's gone."
"So where have you decided to take her?"
"That's a great place. I went there once on Spring Break when I was in college. When are you leaving?"
"Monday morning, if the doctor says it's okay. I talked to him on the phone earlier today and he said if everything is normal, it shouldn't be a problem. She has an appointment to see him Friday. She says she's fine, but I want the doctor to confirm that it's okay for her to go."
"How long will you be gone?"
"We'll fly back in on the following Sunday afternoon."
"Have you made all your arrangements?"
"Yes, we fly out at ten in the morning and arrive in Acapulco at three. I have reservations at The Grand Mayan Wyndham. It's a bit expensive, but since you were kind enough to pay for our first honeymoon, I thought I could pay for the second one. She said it was too early for a second honeymoon, but I told her at our age, why wait until we're too old to enjoy it. She told me I was an old fool."
"You are an old fool," Hildy said, coming in to sit beside Manfred. "But I love you just the same."
We chatted for another half hour before deciding that it was time for us to head for the bedrooms. Gilda had retired not long after the boys had gone to bed.
The next morning after breakfast, I gave the boys the option of coming with Peter to get his school uniforms or to stay at home. I could have saved my breath. They all wanted to come along. It was almost ten by the time everybody was loaded into the van and buckled in ready to go.
Peter seemed to have inherited TJ's former propensity for wandering away from the rest of the family in the shops. After hunting him down a couple of times, I had TJ hold his hand and keep him with the group. It didn't take very long to get Peter's school uniforms once he was corralled, thanks to a very efficient sales lady. We next headed to a shoe store. Peter needed shoes for school. I knew from having to buy Joel new golf shoes that he would also need new shoes for school. As it turned out, each of the boys needed a couple new pair. We left there loaded down with shoe boxes along with the bags containing Peter's new clothes.
"Dad," Lenny said, as we were dropping the purchases off in the van. "I'm hungry."
I knew what that meant, so back into the mall we trouped to the food court. When we got there, I asked them what they wanted for a snack. That started a big discussion, with the twins and Chris each wanting something different. Joel had decided on a fruit smoothie. TJ wanted chocolate chip cookies. Peter just stood there with his eyes wide open and his head swiveling back and forth in a state of total confusion at the array of choices. The twins were still debating what they wanted. Chris had decided. It looked like we would be visiting nearly every food purveyor in the food court. Since that was not practical for all of us to go from one vendor to the next until each one had what they wanted, I gave each of the four older boys $5 and told them to get what they wanted and bring it back to a table that I had staked out. I went with Peter and TJ to the cookie shop. I made the decision for Peter.
I kept an eye out for the other boys as I purchased the cookies and small cartons of milk for TJ and Peter. I noticed that Joel kept looking around for his brothers as he waited in line at the smoothie shop.
It took a while, but eventually we were all settled at the table enjoying the snacks. I had settled for a cup of not very good coffee.
"That guy where I got my brownie tried to cheat me when he gave me back my change," Larry said. "He tried to cheat me out of a dollar. I don't think he thought I knew how to count my change because I'm a kid. I wouldn't let him. I stood there holding up the line until he gave me my dollar."
"Good for you," I said. "That's a lesson for all of you. Never allow yourselves to be cheated when it comes to money."
We left the mall and headed for the nearest DPS location. It didn't look like it was too busy, so I let the other boys go in with Joel and me. It only took a few minutes to take care of all the necessary paper work and obtain the driver's training manual for Joel to study. He was beaming as we left the office. I wasn't quite as happy.
The next few days were a buzz of activities. Ty came to give the kids their swimming lessons; Hildy was cleared to go on vacation by her doctor; I took the boys horseback riding on Saturday; Eric and JR stopped by on their way home from the airport that evening. JR was particularly quiet during the first part of their visit. By the time they were ready to depart for home he had brightened up considerably. I suggested to Eric that he let JR stay at least through Monday for Ty's last lesson. I also hinted that he was welcome to stay as well. Reluctantly, he declined my offer for him to stay, but did agree to allow JR to stay.
Monday, Hildy and Manfred left on their vacation with hugs from all the boys. It was a busy day for the boys with music lessons in the morning and swimming in the afternoon. After Ty completed the swimming lessons, we had a small going away party for him with cake, ice cream and fruit punch. He was really choked up by the expressions of appreciation that he received from all the adults. I included a nice bonus in his pay as he left the house to hugs from eight boys and two girls. Alice had tears in her eyes as Ty roared off in a cloud of blue smoke.
Joel had his session with Dr. Adams Tuesday afternoon. We set up an appointment for two month from now before we headed home. That evening after their snack, I sent the boys to shower and get ready for bed. As I went to tuck them into bed, I checked to see that they had their school uniforms ready since Wednesday would be their first day of school.
Gilda was in the kitchen talking to herself as she prepared breakfast Wednesday morning when I went to get my first cup of coffee. She said that everything would be ready in about fifteen minutes, so I went to start waking up the boys. It was earlier than they were used to getting up during the summer, so I had some difficulty getting them to get out of bed. Joel was the exception. He was coming out of his room as I approached it. He went on down to breakfast and I made another round of the other rooms to make sure that everybody was up.
By the time breakfast was over the boys were fully awake. Food always had that effect on them. With their dishes stacked in the dishwasher, they headed back upstairs to brush their teeth and get ready for school. I had informed the school that until further notice I would be driving the boys to school and picking them up so the school wouldn't send the van for them.
They all looked so handsome in their school uniforms that I had them pose on the stairs while I took several pictures. I parked the van in the school parking lot and walked with Peter and TJ into the school. The other boys went off to socialize with their school mates, most of whom they hadn't seen since school let out. There were several other parents milling around inside the administration building with children who appeared to be Peter's age. It wasn't long before a pretty young lady approached and asked for our attention.
"My name is Janet Landau. I'm the kindergarten teacher. If your child is enrolled for kindergarten, please follow me and I'll show you to the classroom."
Although I told TJ he didn't need to come with us, he insisted he wanted to know where Peter was going to be. He followed us all the way to the classroom. Satisfied that he knew where Peter was going to be, he went off to find his own classroom. I was impressed with Ms. Landau. She introduced herself to each of the children, learning their names and spoke briefly to each one. After she had spoken to all thirteen children in the class, she inquired of the adults if there was anything special that she should know about any of the children. Only one mother spoke up saying that her son had asthma and would sometimes need to use an inhaler if he started having breathing problems.
"You adults are welcome to stay and observe if you like, otherwise you are free to go," Ms. Landau said.
I said goodbye to Peter and told him to wait in front of the building for TJ to come get him. He said he would and sat down in a desk. I didn't think it would happen, but I had a twinge of separation anxiety as I left the room.
Connie was driving through the front gate ahead of me as I returned to the house. She was getting her girls enrolled in school as well this morning. "Did you get your girls all settled this morning?" I asked, as she came in the back door.
"Yes, the girls were all excited about seeing all their friends again. I'm glad they're both in the same school. It makes it a lot easier for mom to pick them up when she has to," Connie said, before heading off to start her work.
I went to see if Gilda had the coffee pot on. Thankfully she did. Since she had been here, I don't think there had ever been a time when she didn't have the pot on.
I took my cup of coffee and went into the library to make some phone calls. The first one was to the foundation office. Carol answered the phone. "Have you hired your replacement yet?" I asked.
"Yes, we did," Carol responded. "He starts to work on Monday. You'll have to come to the office and meet him. We gave him the title of Office Manager. It sounds more impressive than secretary."
"Well, in reality, that's what you were no matter what your title was. The place wouldn't have run nearly as smoothly without your managing it. This guy you hired as your replacement, you think he can do the job?"
"Sure, he has a lot of experience and his references are glowing. He's cute, too."
"I see," I laughed. "So that's why he got the job."
"Well, it didn't hurt his chances."
"How do you think you're going to like your new job?"
"It's great. Helping kids in need of a good home is so rewarding. I just wish we could help them all."
"Deciding which ones we help is difficult, but there's not enough money to help every one of them. Just don't let that get you down. Somehow you have to decide who is the most worthy of the foundations support," I said. "Is either Darcie or Paul available?"
"No, they're both out of the office. Darcie is meeting with a potential contributor to the foundation and Paul is doing an inspection of one of the recipients. So I'm running the show."
"Tell them I called and let them know that I'll try to come into the office on Monday depending on what comes up."
After ending the call to Carol, I decided to call Gerald Cousins. When he answered, I said, "Gerald, I'd like to set up a meeting for sometime next week with you and Carlos and my broker, Roger Burton. I want to do a net worth analysis and see if there are any strategies we should consider to minimize my tax liabilities. If so, I'd like to have them in place by the end of September. That way we'll have the final quarter of the year to implement them."
"I think I can handle that. Do you have any preference for days?"
"If you can, make it any day except Monday. However if that's the only day that's available, I can change my plans. Ask Carlos to ask around with some of his contacts on what's the best use for that strip center I now own. Also, check with Chuck Solaris or Phillip Brown for a status on the apartment complexes. They don't need to be at the meeting, but I would like an income forecast for the rest of the year."
"I'll call you as soon as I can get everybody's schedule coordinated. It shouldn't be a problem for Carlos or me; you're a major client for both of us. I don't know about Roger."
"He makes enough money from my investments, I'm sure he can find the time. That is, if he wants to keep my account. Tell him to set aside some time after our meeting. There are some investment ideas I want to run by him."
I spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon looking over the stock portfolios for the trust accounts as well as my own. I decided to make several changes to the mix of stocks that were in each. I also looked at several possible scenarios involving the stock market as a whole. The market had been in an upward attitude for some time. I was beginning to wonder if the upward momentum could be sustained much longer. I was particularly uneasy about the run-up in the technical stocks. This and a couple of other ideas were what I wanted to discuss with Roger when we met next week.
I parked the van in the parking lot when I got to the school to pick up the boys. I walked toward the front of the administration building where I had seen TJ and Peter standing. Peter was all smiles and talking animatedly to TJ as I walked up to them. "Hi, guys, how was school?"
"It was fun," Peter said. "I like Miss Landau."
"That's great," I said. "How about you, TJ?"
"It's okay," he said.
"Just okay? I thought you were looking forward to coming back to school."
"Yeah, but Mrs. Brown is a grouch. All she does is yell at us."
I didn't make any comment about that, but filed it away to follow up on. "Let's go see if we can find your brothers." We found the twins and Chris with four other boys talking and laughing.
"Hi, dad," Larry said, when he saw us approaching.
"It looks like you guys are having fun," I said.
"Yeah," Chris volunteered. "Our teachers are great. We're gonna get to do a lot of neat science projects. Mr. Gross said so."
"Mr. Benedict said he's gonna teach us how to play tennis, but we have to have our own tennis rackets. Can we get some? Please, dad?" Lenny begged. "It looks really fun."
"I don't know why not. Tennis is a game you can play until you're an old man."
"Even as old as you?" Lenny asked, and then took off running.
Fortunately, Joel was approaching and heard what Lenny had said and grabbed him. He brought the giggling boy back to me. "I'll old you," I said, taking him from Joel's hug and began tickling him. After a few moments, I turned him loose. "Okay, guys, let's hit the road. I wonder what Gilda has fixed for your snack."
On the way home, Peter had to relate his whole school day to the rest of the boys. He told them about the white rabbit and how he got to pet it and about the snake in the glass box that he didn't like. TJ was unusually quiet all the way home. This was very unlike him. I needed to get him alone and talk about what was bothering him. I suspected that it was his new teacher.