Joel: Book Three ~ Back To Normal

Chapter Five

Horst had been quiet all evening. He responded when asked a question directly but other than that, he didn't join in the conversations. It was as if he had something that was on his mind that was occupying his thoughts.

"This calls for a celebration," I said going to the refrigerator and removing a bottle of champagne. I also removed a two liter bottle of ginger ale so that the boys would have something to drink along with the adults. After opening the champagne bottle, I poured four champagne glasses and then five glasses of ginger ale for the boys.

I took a tray with the five glasses for the boys and set it down on the coffee table and then went back to get the tray with the champagne glasses. When everyone had a glass, I proposed a toast to the happy couple. I had to tell the boys what to do since they had never been involved with a toast before.

TJ came over and climbed up on my lap then whispered in my ear, "Can I have a taste of your glass?"

"Just a sip," I told him holding the champagne glass to his lips.

"Yuck! That's icky," he said grimacing.

Hildy laughed, "That's only for grown-ups. Ginger ale is better for my little TJ."

"Okay guys, it's time for homework. That reminds me, Joel, how did you do on your computer test today?" I asked.

"I think I got a hundred. Mr. Jacobs said we would get our tests back tomorrow," he said following his brothers.

"That's great son, I'm proud of you," I said as he left the room.

"Oh, Crane, my sister Gilda is flying in from Kansas City tomorrow morning. Is it alright if she stays here?" Hildy asked.

"Of course, she may," I said. "That apartment is yours. You can have anyone you want stay there within reason."

"There's something else. Her flight back doesn't leave until Monday morning and I was wondering if you could take her to the airport?"

"Certainly, the airport's not that far from the foundation office, so it won't be that far out of my way.

"Thanks," she said. "I appreciate everything that you are doing for us. Well, I think it's time we let you check the boys' homework. We have a few last minute things to take care of."

I gave her a hug and shook Manfred and Horst's hands as they left for Hildy's apartment. I went to my office to check my email and take care of some paperwork for the consulting firm. Although I wasn't sorry that I had sold the business, I was beginning to regret that I needed to spend a week a month there. It would probably be different if I were actually doing project work. That was always the part of the job that I relished. Coaching new project managers had its rewards, but it soon lost its luster. Maybe I should talk to William Weller to see if we could change our arrangement.

The rest of the evening was our usual routine. I checked the boys' homework, they had their snack, took their showers and the part I liked best I tucked them into their beds.

 After getting the boys off to school, I left for the foundation office. I hadn't heard from Darcie whether she had been able to set up a board meeting to authorize the assistance for Roger's operation and recovery. She was there when I drove into my parking place. I don't know what time she gets to the office but I've never gotten there before her.

She was on the phone when I entered the building. "Just a minute," she said into the phone, "he just walked into the office.

"Crane, would it be alright if we had the meeting over lunch? It seems that Gerald is tied up this morning and afternoon. Everyone else is free at lunch time."

"That'll be fine. We can get some deli sandwiches from that place a couple blocks over. Oh, and some of that cheese strudel. It's even better than Hildy's, but don't tell her that," I laughed.

"Gerald, that'll be fine. We'll see you around noon, then. Goodbye," she said hanging up the phone.

"Maybe we could have a preliminary discussion of the four other cases that we are considering even though we don't have the background checks done yet. Jack may even have an update for us. It would save another meeting if the board gave a tentative okay pending the background checks coming back clear," I said.

"Good idea, I'll make up some folders for the board," she said. "And by the way, that was a great gift that you gave Hildy and Manfred."

"How did you find out about that already?" I asked.

"I'll never tell," she laughed as she headed for the copy machine.

The board approved the funding for Roger's operation and recovery cost with a tentative ceiling on it of $75,000. We also gave preliminary approval to the four cases that Darcie and I had reviewed pending Jack's final report on his investigations.

After the meeting, I had Darcie call Helen and leave a message for her that the foundation approved Roger's treatment. I called Dr. Yankowitz's office to tell him to go ahead and schedule the operation. I talked to Gracie and gave her all of the information they would need to bill the hospital and Leon's fee to the foundation. She informed me that it might be possible to schedule the operation for late next week if all the operating team were available.

I decided that I had done enough work for the day and decided to go home and swim some laps. I had been very remiss in my determination to keep up my fitness level. Although, it didn't seem that I had gained any weight. I guess keeping up with the boys had allowed me to keep my weight in check. I still felt better when I kept up with my swimming.

It would be an hour or so before the boys would come home but I let the dogs out of their dog run. They were a little confused when I didn't head down the lane to the gate but instead headed for the pool. After I had swum a few laps, I felt something nudge my shoulder as I made a turn. It startled me. When I looked, it was Bandit, TJ's dog. He loved the water and was always in the water when TJ went swimming. He liked to climb on TJ's back and ride while TJ swam. I guess he thought that I would do since TJ wasn't here. He rode on my back for three lengths of the pool before he decided to climb out of the pool and sit with the other four dogs and watch.

I finished my laps in time to rinse off, get dressed and walk down the lane with the five dogs in time to meet the boys getting off the van. Naturally, the dogs got their hugs before I did.

"How come Bandit's all wet?" TJ asked when he gave me his hug.

"He went swimming with me," I chuckled. "Didn't you, boy?"

"Oh," he responded and ran after the other boys toward the house.

After supper, I asked the boys if they wanted me to read to them since they didn't have to do their homework until Sunday evening and there was a light rain that would keep them inside. They loved to have me read to them as much as I enjoyed reading to them. I chose one of the original copies of the Hardy Boys Mysteries, The Secret Of The Old Mill. I always thought the original, which was written in 1927, was much better written than the sanitized version that was released in 1962. I knew that my voice wouldn't last to read the whole book this evening, but I should be able to get through at least half of the 174 pages.

TJ took his normal position snuggled up beside me with Bandit curled up on his lap. Although I missed him sitting on my lap, the weight that he had gained over the last year made that less comfortable for long periods of time. The other boys assumed various places on the couch and floor with their pets. About an hour and a half later, my voice did start to give out and the dogs were beginning to get quite restless. It was about time for the evening snack so I decided to put the book up for the night. If there was time tomorrow evening, I would try to finish reading it.

Before I sent the boys off to get their showers taken and get ready for bed, I reminded them that we were going to Hildy's wedding tomorrow afternoon. With the boys safely tucked in bed and the dogs settled down for the night, I decided to read a book that I had started but never finished. It was John Grisham's The Client. I was only about a quarter of the way through it. I read for a couple of hours until my eyes started to blur. I started toward my bedroom just as Hildy came in the back door with her sister.

"Crane, I'm glad that you're still up. I'd like you to meet my sister, Gilda. Gilda, this is my boss, Crane Johnson."

"Gilda, it's very nice to meet you. You can certainly tell that you two are sisters," I said. Hildy is a large woman, nearly as tall as I am. Gilda is a carbon copy of Hildy, just a little younger by the looks of her.

"Hildy has told me a lot about you and your sons," Gilda said shaking my hand.

"You'll meet the crew tomorrow. I hope that you will have breakfast with us. I know that the boys would like to meet you," I said. "How did the rehearsal go?"

"I think we have everything worked out," Hildy said. "Thank goodness there are not too many people involved. There're really only seven people in the wedding party including Pastor Rollins. The rehearsal dinner went well, also. But I'll still be glad when it's over and things can get back to normal."

"Well, by this time tomorrow, you'll be in Miami," I said giving her a hug. "Now if you will excuse me, I'm going to bed. We'll see you all in the morning."

I smelled breakfast being cooked when I woke up Saturday morning. I quickly took a shower, dressed and headed for the kitchen. Expecting that it would be Hildy, I was surprised to see that it was Gilda.

"Oh, where's Hildy?" I asked surprised.

"She's making sure that everything is ready for this afternoon. She's a nervous wreck. I told her that I would fix breakfast. I understand that the boys have quite an appetite," she laughed.

"You might say that. They sure go through the groceries," I said.

"Everything should be ready in about twenty minutes if you want to get the boys ready," she said in that tone of voice Hildy used to let me know it was not a request but nearer a command.

I headed upstairs to wake the twins and Chris. "Wake up, guys," I said as I shook them. "Breakfast will be ready shortly and you need to take your dogs outside and then get washed up."

They stumbled out of bed, stepped into their slippers and gave their dogs a hug. I started down the stairs and was passed by all three boys and the dogs. I headed for TJ's room. He was sitting on the floor playing with Bandit as I entered his room.

"Go take Bandit outside and then get ready for breakfast," I told him as he hugged me and gave me a kiss on the cheek.

"Okay, dad," he said. "Come on Bandit, let's go."

Joel was sleeping soundly when I entered his room. Samson lifted his head and looked at me to make sure that I was a friend. I shook Joel. He sat up with a start with a wild look in his eyes.

"Sorry, I didn't mean to startle you, but breakfast will be ready shortly." I told him.

"Uh... I was having a weird dream," he said sleepily.

I went back to the kitchen and poured myself a cup of coffee while we waited for the boys to get ready for breakfast. Gilda started giving me orders to get the table set and making sure that everything would be ready when the boys arrived. She was a younger version of Hildy in every respect.

Just thinking of that I started to laugh out loud.

"What's so funny?" she asked.

"Oh, it's just that you remind me so much of Hildy in the way you take charge."

"Mom always said we were the two bossiest girls on the planet," she said chuckling to herself. "My husband, William, said I should run for president, since I already bossed everybody around."

Just then, TJ came rushing into the kitchen. He stopped short when he saw Gilda. He sidled up to me and whispered, "Who's she?"

"TJ, this is Gilda. She's Hildy's sister. She'll be here until Monday," I said. "Gilda, this is my youngest, TJ."

"Hi there, TJ, Hildy has told me all about you. I hope that you like pancakes, eggs and sausage," she said ruffling his hair.

"Yes, ma'am," TJ said taking his place at the table.

This scenario was repeated a couple more times until everyone had taken their seat at the table. Hildy joined us after a little bit. She made the rounds of the table giving each of the boys a hug before she sat down to her own breakfast.

 I could tell that Hildy was nervous. "Hildy, don't worry. Everything is going to be just fine. The weather is great. You're marrying a great guy. Everyone loves you. You've done everything possible to make sure that everything will go as you planned," I said getting up to get another cup of coffee.

"We're gonna miss you, Hildy,"" Joel said. "Even if it's just a week, we'll miss you."

"I'll miss you, too. I'll miss all of you every day I'm gone," she said dabbing at her eyes.

The boys went outside to play after they had finished their breakfast. The wedding wasn't until 2:00 so they had plenty of time to play. They weren't going to have their swimming lesson today. David and his girlfriend had some business to take care of and weren't available for the lesson.

As Hildy and Gilda were getting ready to leave for the church for one last check to see that everything was ready, Gilda told me that she had fixed sandwiches for the boys' lunch and put them in the refrigerator. I thanked her and walked them to Hildy's car.

A little after noon, I called the boys in to eat and get cleaned up. I set the sandwiches out of the refrigerator, opened a couple different bags of chips and poured everyone a glass of milk. When everyone was settled down to eating, I went to lay out the clothes that I wanted them to wear to the wedding, a short sleeved white shirt, dark blue trousers and socks with their one pair of rarely worn leather shoes.

I grabbed the half of a sandwich that remained on the plate after the boys finished eating. The boys went off to take their showers as I cleaned up and put away everything from lunch. I hopped into my own shower and thanked Harold for suggesting that I install the tankless water heaters. At least this way when all the showers were going at once, everyone still had hot water.

Joel and TJ were dressed and waiting when I stepped out of my bedroom. The twins and Chris came bounding down the stairs shortly thereafter. I took one look at all of them and went to grab a comb. Joel didn't need it but the rest of them needed their parts straighten. They looked like five angels when I was finished. To me they were angels.

I had set up my camera on its tripod earlier in the day because I wanted to take a picture of them all dressed up. First, I took a picture of the five boys and then I set the time delay on the camera and I joined in for a family portrait.

We got to the church about fifteen minutes early and had time to chat with Eric, JR and Bran. The boys were glad to see them, I was glad to see Eric.

"Why don't you and the boys come over after the wedding and we can have a swim. I'll light the grill and throw on some chicken," I said hopefully to Eric.

"Sounds great, I'm sure that JR and Bran would like that," he replied.

"Well, I suppose we had better go in and take our seats. I hope the church is air conditioned. I'm not used to wearing a tie any more and this one is killing me," I said tugging at my collar. "Come on, guys, let's go in."

The organ was playing as the usher led us down the aisle to a pew on the bride's side. The small church rapidly filled to about two-thirds of its maybe hundred and fifty or so capacity. Manfred and Horst entered from the right side of the church and took their places. Reverend Rollins took his position and the organist began playing the familiar "Here Comes the Bride." Everyone stood and turned to watch Hildy preceded by her sister walk down the aisle. Hildy was dressed in a light blue tailored suit and a pillbox hat with a short veil.

The actual service only took about twenty minutes. It's a good thing, too. TJ was getting restless beside me. He couldn't see too much for the people sitting in front of us. When Hildy and Manfred walked back down the aisle after being pronounced husband and wife, TJ leaned into me and whispered, "Are we going home now?"

"Not yet, son, we have to go get some cake. Don't you want some cake?" I asked knowing the answer.

"Yeah, let's go," he said standing up.

"We have to wait for the usher to let us out. It won't be long."

The reception was being held in a building located to one side of the main church. I think they held bingo nights in it.

Hildy and Manfred entered shortly after we were all settled at one of the long tables that had been set up. Eric and his two joined us along with Darcie and Mel. The reception line formed so we all got up and waited our turn to go through it and congratulated the newly married couple. The boys remembered what I had told them at Darcie's wedding. When they got to Hildy, they gave her a kiss on the cheek and shook hands with Manfred.

Chris tugged at my sleeve. When I looked down at him he whispered, "Can we get some cake now?"

"Soon," I said as we headed back to our table.

It wasn't long before the cake cutting ceremony began. After Hildy and Manfred had cut the wedding cake, everyone formed up to be served a piece. There was also a groom's cake. Joel asked, "Can we have a piece of both cakes?"

"Yes, you may," I told him which was followed by sounds of approval from the rest of the boys. "Don't forget there are nuts and mints as well."

They didn't forget. I made sure that the boys were settled before I went back to get us some punch. Darcie helped me get a cup for each of the boys. Their pieces of cake were nearly gone before we arrive back at the table with the punch.

I noticed that Horst seemed to be a lot happier today when we went through the reception line. He came over to our table and pulled up a chair next to me. "Crane, I want to thank you for being there the other night. I needed the moral support. I'm driving dad and Hildy to the airport, but before I left, I wanted to tell you that I received some good news. Frank called last night. My doctor had called for me. He wanted to let me know that I have been accepted into a trial of an experimental medicine that has shown great promise in the earlier trials. I have to be there Monday morning to begin the procedure."

"That's great news. I certainly hope that everything works out for the best. I hope that you'll come to visit us. You're welcome in our house at any time. That goes for your partner, also," I said placing my hand on his shoulder.

"Thanks, Crane, you don't know what that means to me. So many people treat us like lepers and avoid us like being in the same room with us will infect them. Well, I'd better go. We have to take off for the airport in about twenty minutes," he said getting up to leave. He waved to the boys and left to find his dad.

After Hildy had thrown her bouquet to the anxiously waiting single women in the crowd and they had departed for the airport, we took our leave. I think the boys would have liked another piece of cake but I shook my head when Larry looked at me with that question in his eyes.

Our evening of swimming was just what we needed after a day of the boys behaving themselves like gentlemen. It gave all of them a chance to be noisy and boisterous. JR and Bran fit right in with the merriment. It also gave Eric and me a chance to talk. We both swam with the boys but spent a lot of the time sitting in chaise lounges enjoying each others company. It was approaching six o'clock when I decided to light the grill and prepare the coals to cook the chicken.

I was entering the kitchen when Gilda opened the back door and came in carrying a box containing some leftover cake. "Don't let the boys see that, at least not until after supper," I said taking the box from her. "I'm getting ready to put some chicken on the grill. Would you care to join us?"

"I'd love to. Let me fix the side dishes. I think I saw some ears of sweet corn in the refrigerator and maybe some broccoli. Hildy said the boys liked that," she said more to herself than to me.

"We have two more boys and another adult, so fix plenty," I said as I grabbed the chicken and headed back outside. I left her talking to herself.

By the time the chicken was ready the boys were starving. At least they thought they were. I shooed them off to the showers to wash away the pool water and put on some shorts and a tee shirt.

I thought that I had grilled enough chicken to feed an army but there was not a single piece left when supper was over. Gilda marveled as the boys took the plates to the kitchen sink where Joel rinsed them and stacked them neatly in the dishwasher. There weren't any leftovers to put in the refrigerator.

The boys headed upstairs to play games or watch TV. Gilda went to Hildy's apartment. That left Eric and I to have some time to ourselves. We took our coffee into the family room that allowed us to hear what was going on upstairs and still be able to carry on a conversation in relative privacy.

About an hour later, Eric decided that it was time for them to head for home. He went upstairs to get JR and Bran and I went to the kitchen to wrap up some of the wedding cake to send home with them. There was more than we needed to eat by ourselves. Although I could hear JR complaining, they soon came down the stairs.

"JR, here's some cake for you to take home for your snack," I said handing him the foil wrapped package.

"Oh, boy, thank you. Dad can we eat it when we get home?" he asked heading to the car without waiting for an answer from his dad.

"Thanks, Mr. Johnson, I really enjoy coming here. The food was great, too," he said extending his hand.

"It's a pleasure having you here," I said shaking his hand. "You know that you're welcome any time."

After all the goodbyes were said, I asked the boys to come into the family room. I needed to let them know what was going to happen tomorrow.

When everyone was settled I began, "Tomorrow, Mr. Collingsworthy and his foster son, Alan, are going to come visit us. Darcie and Mel will be here, too. Joel, I'd like you to take the lead and find out from Alan how he likes living with his foster dad. See if you can find out anything that he doesn't like about living with him. The rest of you can help Joel. Try not to upset Alan. If you feel comfortable, you can tell him about how your old dad used to hit you and see if anything like that has happened to him. Do you understand what I want you to do?"

"I think so, dad," Joel answered. "You want us to find out if Mr. Collingsworthy is hitting him."

I laughed, "You're too smart for me. But yes, that's what I want to know. Please don't be so blunt with him. Get him to talk about his life with his foster dad."

"Does this have anything to do with the foundation?" Joel asked.

"Yes, son, it does. This is how you can help. Now, how about some of that cake? I think there is some ice cream in the freezer to put on it. Go wash your hands and I'll get it ready."

After I got the boys tucked into bed, I went to the freezer to see what was available to fix tomorrow. I decided on some thick cut pork chops. I put them in the refrigerator to start thawing so that I could put them on the grill. I didn't know if Gilda was going to be around to help so I picked the easiest way out - the grill.

Gilda was again fixing breakfast when I got up Sunday morning. "You know you don't have to do this. Hildy usually leaves us to fend for ourselves on Sunday morning," I told her.

"I know, Hildy told me. I love cooking and I don't get a chance to do too much anymore. There's just me in the house since my husband went into the nursing home. This is a treat for me to do something that I love," she said.

"There may be more treats for you if you want. We are having company later this morning. Bruce Collingsworthy and his foster son Alan will be here around eleven o'clock. Darcie and Mel Glenn will be here shortly after that, probably around eleven-thirty after they get out of church. I've laid out some chops to begin thawing in the refrigerator. I was planning on having lunch about one o'clock," I said.

"Good, I'll fix some baked apples. I saw some in the refrigerator and then I think a green bean casserole would go well with that. Then I'll have to fix something for dessert. I'll have to see what's in the pantry," she again started talking or more accurately mumbling to herself than to me.

I just shook my head, poured myself a cup of coffee and then went to get the Sunday paper. When I returned, Gilda was sitting at the kitchen table with TJ sitting on her lap and Bandit was at her feet.

"Good morning, son," I said as he jumped down off Gilda's lap and gave me a hug. "Have you taken Bandit outside yet?"

"No, I had to say hi to Gilda first," he protested and then headed for the patio door with Bandit leading the way.

After breakfast, they all went outside to play with their dogs on our new leveled field. It was one of the best investments I've made. There was room for all five of them to romp and play without getting into each other's way. They could throw a Frisbee to have their dog catch it or a ball or simply wrestle with their pet.

I sat on the patio watching them play. I couldn't keep the smile off my face seeing how happy they were. After about an hour, Joel started back toward the house followed by the other four.

"Dad, we're thirsty. Can we have something to drink?" Joel asked.

"Sure, let's see if there is any juice in the refrigerator," I started to say, but they were passed me and through the patio door before I finished.

Gilda had started pouring the juice by the time I entered the kitchen. The dogs headed for their water bowls for their drinks also.

"Remember guys, we have company coming in about a half an hour. I want you to be nice to Alan and Mr. Collingsworthy," I said. "Don't forget what I asked you to do. Joel, you're in charge. Any questions?"

"Don't worry, dad," Joel said. "We talked about it. We know what to do."

It was about five minutes after eleven when the gate buzzer sounded. The security camera showed an older model Chevrolet with a man and a boy sitting in the front seats.