I awoke to the sound of laughter coming through the bedroom window. When I looked out, I saw the seven boys and Mike splashing around in the pool. The bedside clock indicated that it was only a few minutes past seven. I quickly put on my swimsuit and went to join them. Donald was still sleeping peacefully as I exited the room.
I took a running start and cannonballed into the pool splashing most of the boys. "What made you guys get up so early?" I asked, as they gathered around me.
"We were too excited to stay in bed," Larry offered.
Chris added, "Mr. Baker said there was someplace we could play tennis. Maybe we could go there... after breakfast."
"First things first," I laughed." I see you have your priorities straight."
"I heard the cook come in this morning," Mike said. "That's what woke me up. My bedroom is the closest to the kitchen, besides I'm an early riser."
"Where's my daddy?" William asked, looking around.
"I think he's still in bed. Maybe you should go wake him up," I said. "Be sure to dry yourself off before you go into the house."
"Okay." A few minutes later a giggling William returned. "He said he's gonna stay in bed all day."
"I was, but some mean kid woke me," Donald said, as he jumped into the pool and grabbed William in a hug.
It wasn't long before Lenore joined us. She waited on the side of the pool until Donald swam over to her and lifted her into the water. Lettie sat in a lounger and watched the antics of the boys.
Mike swam over to where Donald and Lenore were. "Does she know how to swim?"
"No, it's only recently that she'd get into the water when William and I were swimming."
"Do you think she'd let me try to teach her to swim?"
"Lenore, honey, would you like this nice man to teach you to swim?"
Lenore nodded her head, but didn't speak. Mike got William and Peter's attention and asked them to come to the side of the pool where Lenore and he were. "Guys, I want you to help me."
"How?" Peter asked.
"We're going to show Lenore how to kick. Do you think you can do that?"
"Okay," Peter and William answered.
"Grab ahold of the edge of the pool and stretch out and start kicking your feet." Both Peter and William did as they were told. "See, Lenore, that's the first thing you need to learn. Here, let me help you." Mike put his hand under her stomach and lifted her up to keep her legs from sinking. "That's the way. Try to keep your legs straight. You've got it. It looks like you have a motor."
That brought a giggled from Lenore. After a couple of minutes she said, "My legs are tired."
"You did great," Mike said. "Maybe we'll do some more this afternoon. Okay?"
"Yeah," Lenore said, and then to everybody's surprise, she gave Mike a hug.
"Amazing," Donald said to me. "She has always been very shy around other men. Never before has she given anyone other than the immediate family a hug. I think we might have a winner in Mike."
"I'd like it very much if there were a 'we',"
"I think I would, too," I said.
Our conversation was interrupted by Mike swimming over to us. "Mr. Baker, Crane said you knew of someplace where we could play tennis. We brought our rackets and thought we might get in a couple of sets today, if there aren't any other plans."
"Other than visiting the shops in town, we don't have anything planned for today," Donald answered, looking at me for confirmation. I nodded and he continued, "There is always Caneel Bay tennis, but they are usually booked solid. However, the Waloons, who have the villa just down the road, have a court that they usually let our guests use. If you want, I'll give them a call and see if it's free."
"That'd be great. Maybe we could go after breakfast before it gets too hot," Mike answered.
Donald got out of the pool, walked over to the cordless phone on the table and dialed. A moment later he began speaking. "Hello, Phyllis, this is Donald Baker." ... "Yes, we got in yesterday afternoon." ... "Phyllis, the reason I called is to see if your tennis court was available for some of my guests to use this morning." ... "Good, I'll let them know, and thanks. You and Brad should come over for dinner some evening while we're here." ... "Just this week. My guests are here on their spring break." ... "That's too bad, maybe we can make it next time." ... "I'll bring them over around ten. See you then. Goodbye."
Before Donald could get back into the pool, the cook announced that breakfast was ready and wanted to know where we wanted it served. Donald told her to serve it on the patio. A few moments later she pushed a cart laden down with what looked like a huge amount of breakfast items. The smell of the food was enough to get the boys to scramble out of the pool and hurriedly dry off. The breakfast was served buffet style. You would have thought that they hadn't eaten in a week from the looks of the boys' plates after they had gone through the buffet line.
Just when it looked like the food was going to run out, the cook brought some more. "It's good to see you boys like my food," she said, before turning back toward the kitchen. There were no comments from the boys as they were refilling their plates.
"I hope they can still play tennis after all the food they've put away," Donald said, shaking his head.
"I don't know where they put it, but they don't seem to gain any excess weight," I responded.
It was about nine thirty by the time everybody had showered and dressed. "We forgot to bring any tennis balls," Larry lamented.
"Look in that closet in the hallway. There might be some in there. If not we can get some at the Caneel Bay pro shop before we go to the Waloons'," Donald said.
Larry hurried down the hallway and shortly returned holding two unopened cans of tennis balls. "I found some," he said triumphantly.
"That's great," Donald said. "Are you guys ready to go?" Getting an assent from each of the four, he continued, "I'll take you over in the ATV. It may be a little crowded, but I think you can all fit. After all that breakfast you all ate, I'm not sure, though."
About thirty minutes later, Donald came walking back. "I see you left the ATV for the boys."
"Yes, I thought I needed the exercise after all the breakfast I ate. Phyllis would have gabbed all morning if I hadn't told her I had to get back to my guests. A heart of gold, but she can talk a leg off of you. I sometimes wonder how Brad manages."
"Dad, are we going to go into town?" Joel asked.
"Sure. Is there anything you want to get?"
"I just wanted to look for a souvenir or something. Maybe we can get some information on the national park. They are supposed to have tours of it and maybe we could go on one while we're here."
"That's a great idea. I hear it's one of the biggest tourist attractions on the island," I said. "Go get the boys and we'll go."
"I'll find Lenore," Donald said. A couple of minutes later he returned with Lenore in his arms. "Lettie is going to stay here."
When we were all gathered, we took off at a leisurely pace down the hill toward the village. Before we left, Donald told the cook that we would be having lunch in town, but the four tennis players would probably be hungry when they finished playing and returned.
We spent a couple of hours wandering around taking in the quaint shops and all the things that go along with a tourist town. One small, out-of-the-way café caught our attention and we decided to have lunch there. We were greeted as we entered by a very large, black woman who showed us to a table that would seat the seven of us. She handed us menus and then headed back to the stool she had been sitting on when we arrived. There were only a few other customers in the place and they all appeared to be locals.
A few moments later, a young man, who appeared to be about Joel's age, approached our table to take our orders. When we had a hard time deciding, I asked him what he would recommend. He said if we wanted a sandwich, the pulled pork was what he would recommend. We all decided to take his suggestion. I was glad we did. It was excellent. Even Lenore was able to eat most of her sandwich.
"That was good," Peter said. "I never had that before."
Everybody seemed to agree with Peter's assessment. The prices were a bit high by Texas standards, but understandable.
Lenore had alternated between walking with the boys and being carried by her father during our walk around town. After lunch, she elected for the latter. It wasn't long before she was asleep in his arms.
"I guess we wore her out," Donald whispered to me.
"It looks like it. Why don't you head back to the house? I'll stay with the boys and we'll come back later. I know Joel wants to stop at the visitors' center and pick up some information on the national park."
"Can you find your way back all right?"
"Yes, I have a pretty good sense of direction. Go ahead, we'll be fine."
We headed over to the visitors' center where Joel picked up several brochures on the park and its history as wells as on the history of the island. I picked up a couple on walking and taxi tours of the park. It looked like one of the safari taxi tours would be best for us.
"Look, dad, this says that there were people living on the island way back in 840 BC. It was also a hub for the slave trade. They brought a lot of slaves here and St Thomas to work on the sugar plantations. But in 1733, the slaves revolted and killed all the white people. I think that was on St Thomas. The islands belonged to Denmark when all this happened, but for some reason it was the French who put down the revolt. It doesn't say why. The United States bought the island from Denmark in 1917. There's a lot of history of these islands. I'm going to look it up when we get back home," Joel said.
"Can we sit down someplace?" William asked. "I'm tired of walking."
"Sure, let's go over there to that stand and get something to drink and rest a while," I said, leading the way. I was ready to sit down as well.
We got our drinks and went to sit on a low rock wall that gave us a good view of Cruz Bay. We enjoyed the view, but it was starting to get rather warm. The boys didn't object when I suggested we head back to the house. It took us about fifteen minutes to get back to the house, but most of the walk was uphill. We were ready for another rest when we got there.
"How was your tennis game?" I asked Mike.
"It was great. I'm going to have to do a lot more practice if I'm going to keep up with Larry and Lenny. They beat Chris and me two sets to one in doubles. And then to add insult to injury, Chris beat me in straight sets in singles. Those guys are good. They've got the 'killer' instinct on the tennis court. We had a great time. Mrs. Waloon brought us something to drink and watched us play for a little bit. She said her husband had gone to St Thomas. She said we could come back and play anytime we wanted to. They were going to be gone for the rest of the week, so she gave me the code to the gate so we could let ourselves in."
"That was very nice of her. I hope you guys thanked her for her kindness," I said.
"Oh, yes," Mike said. "We all gave her a hug before we left. I think she was crying as we went out the gate. She was wiping her eyes when we waved goodbye to her."
Donald evidently had overheard Mike's last comment as he approached us. "Phyllis and Brad never had any children. Brad's brother and his wife had five. They used to visit a couple times a year. Phyllis loved those kids as if they were her own. She always got depressed when they would go back to the states."
"That's so sad," I said.
"Dad, can we take one of those guided tours of the national park?" Joel asked. "There's a two hour and a three hour one."
Donald said, "They also have private tours that last as long as you want."
"Could we take one of those?"
"Let Donald and I discuss it," I said. "We'll let you know later."
Before I could begin speaking to Donald, he had picked up the phone and called information and asked for the number of the private tour company. He then dialed the number that was given to him. He spoke briefly into the phone, before turning to me, "Is nine o'clock okay with you?"
"I guess," I said, shaking my head and smiling.
"There'll be twelve of us. Plan to arrive at one of the beaches around noon so we can have our lunch," ... "Yes, my cook will prepare our picnic." ... "I think we'd like to be back by around four-thirty or five." ... "Fine, we'll meet you at our gate at nine, then."
The boys were thrilled when we told them of the plans for tomorrow. Lenore didn't get her second swimming lesson that afternoon. She got a short one the next morning before we had to get out of the pool and get ready to go on the tour.
Our tour guide helped us load and strap down the three coolers on the top of the safari taxi. It was more like a small open sided bus very similar to the one we rode on in Orlando at Disney World. It seated us all comfortably. As soon as we entered the park the guide began his spiel. He was very good and would often stop the taxi and point out something of interest. Joel had brought along his 35 mm camera and took several rolls of 36 exposure film. Our tour took us along North Shore Road.
We got out of the taxi and checked out the ruins at Peace Hill before continuing our tour. We arrived at Maho Bay in time for lunch. We found a couple of picnic tables and set out our lunch. The cook had done a great job packing several different kinds of sandwiches, carrot and celery sticks, and soft drinks. For dessert she had packed an assortment of cookies and brownies. Our tour guide joined in our lunch at our invitation.
After we finished lunch and had secured the coolers on the taxi, we took off for the second half of the tour. We turned inland and took Centerline Road which headed back west. Along the way we stopped to see the ruins of the Catherineberg Sugar Mill. As we approached it, our guide began his spiel:
"Established in 1718, it served as the headquarters for slaves rebelling against plantation owners in 1733. The mill has been restored, but the rest of the plantation ruins sit decaying in the overgrown vegetation across the road. The windmill, with its lower level tunnel, makes interesting exploration. Part of the Virgin Islands National Park, it gets few visitors. It is an excellent place for a picnic lunch. Maps also call it Hammer or Herman Farm."
We climbed out of the taxi and went exploring in the windmill that also had served as a storage warehouse in its day. That was the highlight of our trip back to Cruz Bay. We did stop a few more places. The one where we broke out the snacks was greeted enthusiastically by the boys and Lenore. It was a good time to get out of the taxi and stretch our legs. The scenery was beautiful. The lush greenery was quite different from the semi-arid conditions where we lived in Texas.
Although the tour had been interesting, we were all glad when our tour guide dropped us off at the gate to Donald's villa. The first thing the boys did was to put on their swimsuits and get into the pool. I joined them shortly, as it was quite warm and the taxi had been open and therefore did not have any air conditioning. The water felt great and I was content just to sit in the shallow end while the boys frolicked in the deeper water. Donald got into the water beside me and we began to discuss what we should do for the rest of the week.
Lettie brought Lenore, dressed in her swimsuit, to the side of the pool. Donald started toward her when Lenore spoke. "Mike, I wanna swim."
Mike looked over to her and said, "Sure, sweetheart. Let me help you in the water." He picked her up and walked with her to the shallow end of the pool and began giving her some basic swimming techniques.
"He's amazing," Donald said. "I'd never believe it if I didn't see it with my own eyes. She has been so withdrawn ever since her mother died. She's made a friend, for sure."
"He comes from a large family with several sisters, so that's probably the reason he responds so naturally with her. She, no doubt, senses that in him and responds in kind," I said.
"What did you say he was studying in college?"
"He's in pre-med right now."
"He'd be a natural as a pediatrician. He certainly has a way with kids. Has he said what branch of medicine he was leaning towards?"
"No, I don't think he's gotten to that point yet."
"How is he financially?"
"He doesn't come from a wealthy family. I think they're pretty much middle class. He has to work to pay his way through college."
"What kind of student is he?"
"I'm not positive since I haven't seen his transcript. I know he's bright and suspect his grades are good. What make you so interested in him?" I asked.
"He's impressed me. I know what you did for Tracy, and if Mike checks out to be the kind of student I think he is, I might make him a similar offer."
"What are the plans for tomorrow?" I asked.
"I need to take care of some business on St Thomas in the morning. I should be back sometime after lunch. Got to have a legitimate reason to write this trip off on my income taxes as a business expense."
"The four pros will probably want to use your neighbor's tennis court again in the morning. Maybe we could explore one of the walking trails in the afternoon that I saw when we were at the visitors' center. I saw a place that rented bicycles. That's also a possibility."
At last, Donald and I got to sit on the patio with a glass of wine and watch the sun go down over Cruz Bay. It was a truly beautiful sight. Shortly after the sun went down, our long day caught up with all of us. The boys didn't put up a fuss when I told them to get ready for bed.
Donald was tiptoeing out of the bedroom when I woke. "Sorry if I woke you. I wanted to catch the first ferry to St Thomas so I could get my business taken care of early. I should be back on the noon ferry."
I got out of bed as he closed the door. Glancing out the window, I saw that the pool was devoid of kids. They must have been really tired from our long tour yesterday. After I took care of my morning ablutions, I went in search of a cup of coffee. The cook, whose name I learned was Felicia, greeted me and handed me a steaming cup. She asked me if there was anything special that I wanted for breakfast. I told her that I would wait for the rest of the family to get up and eat with them.
"It's so good to cook for your boys," Felicia said. "They like Felicia's cooking."
"Yes, we all do - too much, I think," I said, patting my stomach. She chuckled, waved her hand at me and went about fixing breakfast. I took my coffee and headed for the patio. On the way, Mike came out of his room. He was wearing his swim trunks and a T-shirt.
"Good morning, Crane. I can't believe I slept this late."
"Pour yourself a cup of coffee and join me on the patio while we wait for the rest of the crew to wake up."
It was only a few minutes after Mike had joined me when six boys came out the door and dashed to the pool. Joel followed a minute or so later. By that time, Mike's coffee was forgotten and he had jumped into the pool as well. Lenore and Lettie came out some ten minutes later. Lenore stood on the edge of the pool until Mike noticed her and swam over to her. He held out his arms and she jumped into them letting out a high-pitched giggle.
"Being around your boys and Mike has done wonders for Lenore," Lettie said. "She is a much happier little girl, and she loves Mike."
"He does seem to have an effect on her," I said.
A few minutes later, Felicia approached and said that breakfast was ready and asked if we wanted it served on the patio. I told her yes. I didn't want to see nine wet kids trooping into the house. She laughed and went back inside to load up her cart. I gave a loud whistle to get everybody's attention. When I announced breakfast, the pool was quickly evacuated.
"Where's my daddy?" William asked when we were seated.
"He had to go to St Thomas to take care of some business," I answered.
"Oh, yeah, he told me," he said and went back to eating.
"Can we go play tennis, again?" Chris asked.
"Okay, but remember, Mr. and Mrs. Waloon are not going to be there, so mind your manners. You need to take something to drink while you're there."
The tennis players took off for the Waloon's place. TJ, Peter and William found the video games. Joel took out the text book he had brought along and Lenore played with her dolls. I found a book in Donald's library and settled down in a very comfortable over-stuffed leather chair.
Donald returned right after lunch and the rain began within minutes. It rained most of the afternoon, so we all spent the rest of the day doing as little as possible. After supper, Donald announced that he had engaged a boat for us to sail around the island. We were to board the boat by eight in the morning.
"Just where did you come up with this 'boat'?" I asked, after everybody else had gone to bed.
"It belongs to one of my business associates. I met with him this morning and I was telling him about the boys and he kind of mentioned that he had this boat we could use if we wanted to. What could I say? I couldn't hurt his feelings by refusing, could I?"
"Donald, you are incorrigible. The boys and I live a very comfortable life, but I try to make it as normal as possible for them. This trip is going to blow their minds. The private jet, this villa, and now this 'boat'? How big is it, anyway?"
"Well, it's more like a yacht. It's 74 feet long and has a crew of four."
"How long are we going to be on the yacht?"
"We can make it a day trip or we could take a leisurely cruise and spend the night aboard and come back sometime Friday afternoon. It's set up to sleep fifteen guests. So, although it will be more crowded than the villa, it should be quite comfortable."
"I give up. Let's talk to the kids in the morning and see what they say. My boys have been sailing, but that was only on the lake. They might get seasick on the ocean."
The unanimous opinion from the boys in the morning was that we make it a two day cruise. By eight o'clock we were all on board the Starfish II. We were greeted by Capt. Billingsley and shown to our cabins by the steward. The accommodations were more cramped than the villa, but what they lacked in space, they made up for in luxury. After we were settled in, everybody assembled on deck to watch the yacht pull away from the dock. Donald and I insisted that everybody was to wear a life jacket when they were on deck. While the odds of anyone falling overboard were extremely remote, we were not going to take any chances.
The yacht headed out of Cruz Bay and headed north staying close enough to the shore so we could see the beauty of the island, but far enough out to avoid the coral reefs. The taxi tour showed us the beauty of the island close up. From the yacht we got a panoramic view.
The captain anchored the boat in Francis Bay where lunch was served by the steward. After lunch we started our slow journey around the island. Lenore was constantly at Mike's side. She had definitely become attached to him. She put up a fuss when Lettie told her it was time for her nap, until Mike picked her up and carried her down to the stateroom.
"I think you have stolen my daughter's heart," Donald told Mike, when he came back on deck.
"She reminds me of my youngest sister when she was that age," a blushing Mike replied.
Later in the afternoon we rounded the southeast tip of the island and sailed into a protected harbor where the captain again dropped anchor for our overnight stay.
"This trip is awesome," Joel told me, as I was checking to see if everybody was in bed that night. "I don't think I'll ever forget it."
"You and me both, son. Good night."
We got underway right after breakfast. We couldn't anchor anyplace for lunch because we were sailing through the Coral Reef National Monument. It was a no-anchor zone. We sailed into Cruz Bay and tied up to the dock around three o'clock. The boys and Lenore lined up and shook the captain's hand as did Donald and I as we left the yacht.
Although the sailing had been very smooth, it was still good to be back on dry land.
Our last evening on St John was spent very quietly. After supper, the boys found a program on the satellite TV to watch. Donald and I watched the news and then a movie. The boys were reluctant to go to bed, but I reminded them that we had to be up early to catch the ferry to St Thomas. We had a long flight back to Texas.
We boarded the plane and were airborne by eleven. The cabin staff served lunch shortly after we had reached cruising altitude.
Settling back in our seat after lunch, Donald leaned over to me and said in a quiet voice, "You said you would like there to be a 'we'. How are we going to make that happen?"