Chapter Nine

Deet woke early Monday morning, saddened in spirit when he remembered that his faithful friend of twenty years was gone. He had spent the day before trying to be attentive to the children instead of locking himself in his room as he wanted and wallowing in self misery. He could detect the siren call of the aroma of freshly brewed coffee drifting from the kitchen and knew Deidre was already up and about. He hadn’t hired her as a housekeeper or cook but she quickly let him know that she’d spent her entire adult life taking care of a man and children and wasn’t about to change her ways. If that meant coffee would be waiting for him, Deet wasn’t about to argue with her.

Coffee and the bathroom beckoned and he tried to sit up but found that he was trapped by the bodies of two children. Jane was snuggled against his right side, her head using his shoulder as a pillow. Eric was stretched out along his left, facing away from him but as close as it was possible to be. He felt something on his feet and, lifting his head enough to see the end of the bed, saw that Benji was draped across his feet and being uncharacteristically quiet.

His brain began to function and he vaguely remembered Eric and Jane creeping into his room at some ungodly hour of the night and slipping under the covers with him, whispering something about wanting to be there in case he woke up crying about Wolfgang. Their concern touched his heart and he would have been content to drift back to sleep but he had a morning erection that demanded a visit to the bathroom to relieve his bladder.

He eased Jane away from him and climbed over her as quietly as possible, thanking any good sense he ever had that he’d started wearing pajamas to bed as soon as Eric moved in with him – not that he ever anticipated waking up with either of the kids in bed with him. Content in knowing that both of the children were still asleep, he found an undamaged pair of slippers and managed to reach the bathroom before his bladder exploded.

Several moments later he sat across the kitchen table from Deidre and enjoyed the feel of his first sip of coffee as it danced across his palate and caressed the tissues of his throat before it hit his stomach and bloodstream with a welcome injection of caffeine. It was his drug of choice.

“I took the liberty of looking at the sticky-notes decorating your computer screen,” Deidre told him when Deet finally opened his eyes enough for her to sense that he was awake. “You’re scheduled to work with the Elf Louise Project from nine until one. Eric and Jane both have separate appointments with Dr. Tran this afternoon at two and three. You made a notation to call Mrs. Fuentes between four and five. I don’t understand your notation about the Ronald McDonald House.”

“I’m spending this coming Saturday there,” Deet mumbled while he waited for his third sip of coffee to take effect.

Deidre made a notation on the legal pad in front of her. “A Mr. Milhauser called half an hour ago. He said to tell you the judge wants to know about the children’s tutor by tomorrow afternoon. Your accountant called and said something about knowing where you can buy some Morgans? And if it’s alright with you I thought I’d use some of the Thanksgiving turkey to make a nice turkey-mushroom soup for lunch.”

Deet, now partially awake, wondered when the children’s governess had decided to become his personal secretary as well as chief cook and bottle washer.

“Mr. Fuentes called and said I should to tell you to call him at his office after you’ve had your third cup of coffee.”

“Manuel can kiss my ass,” Deet growled, now finished with his first cup.

“I feel that is highly unlikely,” Deidre replied and Deet glanced at her to see her smiling.

“Do you know what my schedule looks like the rest of this week?” Deet asked as he poured his second cup and added two teaspoons of sugar.

Deidre looked at the notes she’d made from Deet’s stickys. “You have meetings scheduled Wednesday with the board of directors for two museums. I think Thursday is reserved for the Conservation Society, but I’m not sure. You do tend to scribble a bit you know.”

“Do I have anything for tomorrow and Friday?”

“Nothing I’ve noticed.”

“Good,” Deet finally said, the second cup of coffee spreading through his veins. “I intend to have the tutor here tomorrow to test Eric and Jane and make sure they’re ready to start school in January. When that’s finished we’re going to put up the Christmas decorations on the outside of the house. I’ll let the Conservation Society know that this house goes back on the holiday tour this year. Call Carlos Fuentes this afternoon and him set things up with the guy who has the Morgans for Friday morning. John Montgomery’s number is on my computer. Please call him and ask if he can have three stalls available by the weekend.”

Twenty minutes later showered, shaved, and dressed in a pair of faded jeans, a t-shirt from the local hockey team the Rampage, and a pair of comfortable loafers, Deet drank his last cup of coffee and listened to Deidre as she prepared breakfast for Eric and Jane.

As she told him something of her life he wasn’t surprised at the easy way she had assumed part of his daily worries. She had been raised in the military, an Army Colonel’s daughter, and had spent most of her school years in Europe. Her mother was expected, as were all officers’ wives, to assume civic responsibilities and entertain a great part of the time. A career military man’s advancement depended on his family’s comportment almost as much as his own abilities. Her father spent the final years of his military service at the Pentagon in Washington D.C. where Deidre was introduced to families of great military and political influence.

She graduated at the top of her class from a prestigious female university in New England and married an up and coming young member of the Foreign Service. Her marriage had been spent following Bill Thompson from one consular station to another as he began to rise in position. He’d settled her in San Antonio, the closest place she had to a permanent home because of her aunt, when his last assignment was in one of the world’s many hot-spots. He was returned to her six months earlier and was now forever asleep in the Ft. Sam Houston National Cemetery.

During the course of her marriage she had been expected to entertain as many as one hundred guests with no more than an hour’s notice, be gracious at all times and uphold the official line of the U. S. government on any political or military decision. She provided a loving home for Bill, tended to his daily schedule, and raised her son to be as well adjusted and well educated as possible.

“So you see,” she finally told Deet, “helping you and the children will seem like a piece of cake. I’ve finished grieving and this position is going to fill a void in my life. I’ll still keep my hand in the issues that concern me, if you don’t mind. I have causes I wasn’t able to openly support while Bill was alive because they were often at odds with the ‘official position’.”

Deet smiled and said, “Somehow I don’t picture you as the perfect daughter and wife.”

Deidre laughed again and replied, “I never said I was a perfect daughter. I always had a circle of rebellious friends and my parents would roll over in their graves if they knew some of the escapades we had. But we were always careful to never get caught. I’ve read several different studies done by sociologists on the adult lives of military dependents.” She smiled. “I think we’re supposed to be a bit odd.”

“In what way?” Deet asked.

Deidre laughed. “One theory says we became saints.”

“And the other theory?”

“That we’re terrible sinners,” she answered with a smile.

“Which theory do you support?” Deet asked.

“The one that hasn’t been published yet,” she answered, “that should say we were normal teenagers living in a rigidly controlled society. We spent the weekends with our foreign national friends and drank too much because it was forbidden. We gazed in awe at public swimming pools where it was common practice to change from street clothes to bathing suits in the open. The first words we learned in any foreign language were the curse words. I can swear profusely in six languages. We listened to American tourists raise the volume of their voices as if everyone in the world intuitively knew English and yelling would finally seep through to that part of the brain. It was a crazy world and we thrived on it. We learned patriotism tempered with common sense. We loved everyone who wasn’t an American. We ate the finest food in the world served in small restaurants in out of the way places. We marveled at the history in European architecture and narrow cobbled streets. We listened to Wagner performed in the Grotto and Italian operas in Vienna. We were a combination of the most free and most controlled teenagers America’s ever known. We loved and hated it simultaneously. It made us different.”

“Who’s different?” Eric asked as he led Jane to the kitchen, both of them barely awake.

“Everyone is,” Deidre replied as she filled two plates with drained bacon and pancakes covered with butter and Vermont maple syrup. “That’s what makes the world a beautiful place.”

“I guess so,” Eric said as the overwhelming aroma of breakfast caught his attention.”

“I’ll be gone most of today,” Deet told the children. “I’ve got a prior commitment I have to keep. I know you guys bought Christmas presents last Friday and Deidre will help you wrap them today. I want the two of you to go through the boxes I brought down earlier and decide what you want to use to decorate the front porch and yard. Eric, you need to decide on a bedroom if you want me to set up your computer. I’d prefer you to choose one on the second floor, but the choice is yours. I’ll be moving my room from the parlor back upstairs and I’d like the two of you to pick out which room I should use. Any questions?” he asked.

“What you got that’s so important?” Jane asked.

“It appears,” Deidre provided, “that your dad is going to be a Christmas elf today.”

“No way!” Eric said.

“Way, boy,” Deet replied. “I’m a Christmas elf every year.”

“You don’t look like no elf,” Jane added.

“And just exactly how many elves do you know?” Deet asked her quite seriously.

“None, but the ones when I could see a TV didn’t wear jeans.”

“Ah, and therein lies the problem. You see, the elves union decided several years ago that it wasn’t nice to expect us to wear horrid red or green tights and those silly shoes with bells on the toes. And Santa, being the kind and considerate soul that he is, agreed that we could wear jeans and t-shirts instead.”

“I’d like to be an elf,” Eric stated.

“Me, too,” Jane added.

“I don’t know,” Deet said. “I’m going to spend most of the day wrapping presents for children whose parents can’t afford to buy them anything. Gifts from Santa are nice, but boys and girls like something from their moms and dads. And Santa expects all of his elves to spend a little time every year helping those moms and dads. And you’ve got presents of your own to wrap.”

“Jeez, Daddy,” Eric said, “we can do that anytime. If I promise to pick my room out as soon as I finish breakfast, can me and Jane be elves with you?”

“What about picking my room?” Deet asked.

Eric and Jane put their heads together for a minute and Eric announced, “We want you to have one of the rooms with a balcony. That way if you ever get a boyfriend we can sit on your balcony and watch you smooch in the back yard and decide if we like him or not.”

Deet was speechless.

Deidre laughed. “Finish your breakfast and let your dad go. I need you two to help me put all my things in place this morning. And you haven’t seen all the boxes you have to go through for Christmas decorations. I know your dad wants the house to look extra nice this year and thought we’d run to the library. Did you know there are books with pictures of this house the way it looked at Christmas a hundred years ago?”

The children silently weighed their options and finally decided to concentrate on the house.

“I’ll make arrangements for you to be elves next year,” Deet told them. “Be good for Deidre while I’m gone. We’re going to see Dr. Tran this afternoon. You’ll meet your tutor tomorrow. We’ll put up the decorations outside and then tomorrow evening I’ll take you downtown to the Riverwalk. How would you like to eat dinner tomorrow night on a boat going down the river?”

Eric and Jane both opened their eyes in wide amazement. “That sounds rad,” Eric said.

Deet held his arms open, inviting the children for a hug.

“Can I tell you a secret?” Jane whispered into Deet’s ear when she hugged him.

“Of course you can, honey,” Deet answered – not quite sure what to expect.

“I don’t want to tell Eric,” she continued whispering, “but I don’t think there’s really a Santa or elves.”

“Then don’t tell him,” Deet whispered back.

He had a sudden thought and asked them, “What do think of the idea of being whos?”

“What’s?” Jane asked.

“Not what, who,” Deet said, “from the Grinch story. Every year some friends and I go to the Ronald McDonald House and spend time with the kids there. We put on a little play from the Dr. Seuss story. I think we were short on whos last year.”

He glanced at Deidre who said, “We’ll stop at the video store and get a copy to watch tonight.”

“Be sure it’s the cartoon,” Deet replied. “Boris Karloff is my favorite Grinch.” He added to Jane, “I want you to pay special attention to Cindy Lou Who when we watch the video. The lady who usually does her is getting a little old for the part and we really need a new Cindy Lou.”

. . .

Deet relaxed with a cup of hot cocoa and listened to Boris Karloff’s unique voice caress his mind. He had stopped counting the number of presents he had wrapped during the day when it reached four hundred. The session with Dr. Tran seemed to have gone well because Eric and Jane seemed more at ease with him and each other. The chosen decorations were in four boxes in the foyer and everyone helped carry the rest of the boxes back to the attic. He’d called Manuel, expecting it to be something of earth shattering importance only to find that his friend had been thinking about a family dinner on the river to enjoy the Christmas lights and confirmed that Manuel would reserve one of the river barges for all of them.

His call to Consuela dealt with the tutor. He had been concerned about his choice because the man who most impressed him turned out to be a distant cousin named Pieter Musselman.

“I’m not sure how Judge Solari will react to my hiring a relative,” he told Consuela.

“Pete’s my first choice,” Consuela said. “I’ll give Manuel a letter of recommendation for him to give the judge. I’ve known him for years. He’s brilliant. He gave up teaching in the system because he feels he can have more influence in a one on one setting. He’s one of the more highly sought tutors in town and I’m sure Judge Solari knows his reputation.”

Things were, miraculously, falling into place.


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