Cecilia Simon walked into the study. Jack was seated at his desk, reading papers he had brought home from the office. Cecilia slipped up behind him and wrapped her arms around his neck.
"It's getting late. Are you about ready to call it a night?"
Jack Simon tilted his head and kissed his wife. "In about fifteen minutes. I need to go through these last few pages before tomorrow morning's meeting."
"You shouldn't have helped Rick put that model car together tonight," Cecilia scolded as she sat in her husband's lap. “That could have waited for another night.”
"It could have, but I don't get to spend enough time with either of the boys, and it was important to Rick. It didn't take long."
"No, I guess it didn't, but then you read three stories to A.J. One would have been enough, sweetheart. "
Jack rubbed his hand over his tired eyes as he chuckled. "Andy never tires of being read to, that's for sure. You should have heard the questions he was asking tonight about the stories. He sure is smart for a four-and-a-half year old."
Cecilia playfully poked her proud husband in the chest. "Don't bust any buttons there, John Simon." As Jack chuckled again, Cecilia kissed his forehead. "You're a good father. "
"I don't know if I'm a good father, but I try to be. It's not always easy, that's for sure." Jack changed the subject. "Did Rick get his homework done?"
"Finally. Once he got started on it, he had it done in ten minutes. I can't believe how we have to fight with that boy to do one third-grade math paper. I don’t understand it. Rick is so bright. His teachers have always told us how intelligent he is. Why does he give us such a hard time when it comes to his schoolwork? He doesn't care if it gets done or not. When he finally quit grumbling and got that paper finished, it was perfect."
"I know, Cece, I know. Rick's lazy attitude toward his schoolwork drives me crazy, too. Did you hear what he said to me tonight when we finished the model and I told him to work on his math paper?"
"He said, ‘Dad, you should go to the school and have a talk with my teacher. Tell her I've got too many responsibilities here at home, and that I don't have time to do homework.’”
Cecilia laughed. "I didn't even know Rick knew a word
as big as responsibilities. See, Jack, he is smart."
"Of that I have no doubt. I knew it when Rick told his second grade teacher that he didn't do his homework because he and his little brother were orphans, and that he had to sell newspapers on street corners when he wasn’t in school just to put food in their mouths and a roof over their heads."
Cecilia laughed again as she recalled that incident. "Yes, among other things our Rick is an accomplished con-artist. I'm still amazed that for three days his teacher believed that outlandish story. She was excusing him from homework, and bringing him a sack lunch besides. Who knows how long it would have gone on if I hadn't noticed that Rick was bringing the lunch I had sent with him each morning, back home in the afternoon."
"Well, at least tonight we had a threat we could hold over Rick’s head if he didn't get that homework done. I told him Carlos wouldn't be allowed to come over after school tomorrow if the math paper wasn't completed."
"That was a good idea. Rick sure has been excited about Carlos's visit. He's told me four times in the past two days that Carlos likes peanut butter sandwiches and chocolate chip cookies for an after school snack. I guess that means A. J. and I will be baking chocolate chip cookies tomorrow in preparation for the big event."
Jack leaned back in his chair as he wrapped his arms more snugly around his wife's waist. “Finally, we get to meet the infamous Carlos. He sounds like he's even more trouble than our Rick. I bet between the two of them Mrs. Dexter has her hands full in that classroom every day."
“Yes, I’m sure she does. She told me at the PTA meeting last week that Carlos and Rick keep her on her toes. She had to separate their desks because of their constant shenanigans."
"I have a feeling you'll be kept on your toes tomorrow afternoon, too, hon. Think you can handle another boy as active as Rick?"
"Oh, I think so. I'm a pretty tough mom. Or so Rick tells me anyway."
Jack patted his wife's leg. “So you are, dear. So you are." Jack helped his wife stand so they both wouldn’t be dumped backwards in the chair. "Don’t drive Carlos home before I get here. I'd like to meet him, too."
"Okay," Cecilia agreed, as she kissed her husband. "I'm going to bed. Don’t work too late.”
Jack returned his attention to his papers while promising, “I won’t.”
Cecilia watched him work for a moment, then left the room and headed for the stairway.
At three-twenty the following afternoon, the front door to the Simon house slammed shut. Nine-year-old Rick and Carlos entered while chattering about their day at school.
Upon hearing the door, A.J. ran through the kitchen and into the living room as he did every day when his brother returned from school.
The excited boy skidded to stop when he caught sight of the strange boy with Rick. For several days Rick had talked of nothing else but Carlos and his upcoming visit. And today, A.J.'s mother had mentioned several times that Rick would be bringing Carlos home with him after school, but still, the four-year-old wasn't quite prepared to meet this new friend of Rick's.
As A.J. slowly walked to Rick's side, his older brother greeted him. "Hi, kid. Did ya’ have a fun day while I was at school?"
With his eyes on Carlos, A.J. nodded his head in answer to Rick's question.
"Ya’ didn't get into any of my stuff, did you? You didn't mess with my new model, did you?"
Still watching Carlos, A.J. shook his head no in answer to Rick's inquiries. Rick had threatened A.J. with life and limb that morning before he left for school, telling the boy that he'd better stay away from the model car Rick and their dad had built the previous evening.
Cecilia entered the room. "Hello, boys," she greeted, as she moved to give Rick a kiss.
"Mom, not in front of Carlos," Rick stage whispered before his mother's lips could make contact with his cheek.
Cecilia smiled and whispered back, "Sorry, honey." She raised her voice to normal pitch. "Rick, would you please introduce A.J. and me to Carlos."
"Carlos, this is my mom and this is--"
"Rick, that's not how you introduce someone,” Cecilia admonished. “Now, do it like Daddy and I have taught you."
Rick sighed. His parents were too hung up on manners in his opinion, but he started over. "Carlos, this is my mom, Mrs. Simon. Mom, this is my friend, Carlos."
Cecilia was pleased, and amused, as the Hispanic boy held his hand out to her. As she shook the offered hand, he said, "I'm very pleased to meet you, Senora Simon. "
"I'm very pleased to meet you, too, Carlos. Rick talks about you all the time."
While this exchange was transpiring, A.J. slid behind his brother. Upon Rick's encouragement, A.J. poked his head out from Rick's legs. "And this is my little brother, A.J. A.J., this is Carlos."
Carlos could see that the chances of getting A.J. to shake his hand, as his mother had always taught him was proper upon being formally introduced to someone, were slim to none. Therefore, he settled on giving the little boy a friendly wave. "Hola, A. J."
When A.J. didn't reply, but continued instead to at his brother's friend, Cecilia asked, "A.J., don't you want to say hello to Carlos?"
A.J. shook his head no and hid behind Rick again.
Rick looked at Carlos and shrugged. "Sometimes he's kinda shy. Believe me, he won't be this quiet once he gets to know ya’."
Not wanting Rick's friend to be hurt over A.J.'s refusal to say hello, Cecilia added as she ushered the boys into the kitchen, "Yes, Carlos, A.J.'s a little shy. Once he gets to know you better he'll say hello, I'm sure. He was excited today about helping me make chocolate chip cookies for you, so I know he was looking forward to your visit.”
Carlos took a seat at the kitchen table, Rick following suit and sitting across from his friend. A.J. studied the table for a moment, and then climbed up into Rick's lap.
"My little sister Carlotta is three and she's real shy, too, Senora Simon."
Cecilia placed plates of peanut butter sandwiches in front of each of the boys. "Oh, you have a little sister, Carlos. How nice."
"Well, really I have three little sisters. Three little sisters, and three big brothers. "
"Three sisters and three brothers!" Cecilia exclaimed. "My goodness, Carlos, your mother must keep very busy."
“Yeah, I guess so,” Carlos acknowledged while taking a bit of his sandwich. “We all help her though. We're going to have another baby at our house soon, too."
"Another baby! And I think I have all I can handle with Rick and A.J. Your mother must be a saint, Carlos."
"My papa says so," came the reply that caused Cecilia to chuckle.
Cecilia took a seat at the table with the boys. "So, Carlos, are you hoping for a baby brother, or a baby sister?"
"A sister, Senora. Very much a sister. If it's a brother, I'll have to share my room with it, and I already share a room with Julio and Juan, so me and my brothers are hoping for a sister."
Cecilia smiled. "That's a good reason to wish for a sister, I suppose. Do you like your new house?"
"Yeah. It's got a lot more room than our old one. We've got a basement, too. My papa's going to make bedrooms down there soon, so then I'll only have to share a room with Juan."
"Do you like your new school?"
"Uh huh. It's a good school. I don't miss my old one too much any more. Ricky was my first friend at my new school, Senora. He showed me where everything was on my first day."
Cecilia smiled with pride at Rick. She imagined that the first few days of school had not been easy for Carlos. It was hard enough for any child to transfer to a new school in the middle of the year, let alone for Carlos to transfer to a school that had only a handful of other Mexican-American children. She knew he must have felt out of place in the beginning. She was glad to hear that Rick had extended his hand in friendship, looking beyond color as she and Jack had taught the boys was the right thing to do.
"Mom, that's enough questions,” Rick complained, as he took a cookie. “Carlos is gonna feel like he's in jail."
"All right,” Cecilia agreed, “no more questions."
The two boys chattered away, telling Cecilia about their day at school. Through it all, A.J. sat on Rick's lap, eating a sandwich and munching on a cookie while staring at Carlos the entire time. The four-year-old appeared fascinated by Carlos's deep brown eyes, and coal colored hair.
When the boys were finished eating Rick lifted A.J. out of his lap and set him on the floor. "Come on, Carlos. I'll show you my room. Well, A.J.'s and my room, I mean. The model that my dad helped me make last night is up there, too."
The two boys ran from the kitchen, A.J. trailing along behind. As Cecilia cleared the table she heard three sets of footsteps on the stairs. As she prepared supper, the sound of the older boys' voices would drift down from the bedroom. The three children played together in harmony for the rest of the afternoon.
When Jack arrived a few minutes after five he met Rick’s new friend, and like Cecilia, was impressed with Carlos’s manners. A.J. remained at the house with his mother, while Jack and Rick drove Carlos home. By the time they returned, supper was on the table, and all Jack and Cecilia heard from their oldest son throughout the meal was, “When can Carlos come over again?”
For reasons he couldn’t explain, Jack suspected this young friendship between Rick and Carlos, was one that would last a lifetime.
Cecilia was just taking supper from the oven on Saturday evening when Jack and the boys entered from outside. As the screen door slammed Cecilia looked up and instructed, "Rick, A. J., get washed for supper and then come back down and set the table, please."
“Aw, Mom,” Rick moaned, as though this wasn’t his job every night.
In imitation of his big brother, A.J. threw his head back and groaned, "Aw, Mom.”
“No, ‘Aw, Mom,’ boys,” Jack said. “Now do as your mother asked.”
Rick and A.J. knew better than to sass their father. They ran up the stairs to the bathroom to wash their hands.
Jack crossed to the kitchen sink to wash his own hands while Cecilia pulled the plates and glasses from the cabinets for the boys.
"Did you get Carlos home all right?"
"Yeah, no problems, hon. It's too bad Carlos doesn't live close enough so that he can ride his bike over. Rick would be thrilled to be able to play with him every day."
"Yes, he sure would be," Cecilia agreed. Carlos’s family lived five miles from the Simons, so until the boys were a few years older, that distance was too far for them to ride their bikes unsupervised. "For as much trouble as the two of them manage to get into when they're together, Carlos is a nice little boy, and so polite."
Jack dried his hands on a dishtowel. "That's for sure. He makes me ashamed of Rick's manners sometimes. He seems like a good kid, although a little on the wild side."
"Oh, you're just still angry because Rick and Carlos hid all your shoes last week," Cecilia teased.
"I was late for work because of that little stunt, if you remember right."
Cecilia chuckled, then said, "Well, for all the trouble they get into, I do like Carlos. He's always so nice to A.J., too. I overheard Rick telling A.J. to get lost the other day when Carlos was over, and Carlos piped right up and said, ‘Leave him alone, Ricky. He can play with us. He's not bothering anything.’"
“I've noticed that, too. I suppose with three little sisters he's had to learn how to deal with younger children. I get the impression all the Escobar kids have a lot of responsibilities at home."
"Yes, I think they do. I suppose if I had seven children and one on the way, I'd need all the help I could get, too."
Jack came up behind his wife and began nuzzling her neck. "I think I could arrange for us to increase the size of our family."
Cecilia was just about turn around and kiss her husband on the mouth, when Rick and A.J. came back into the room. She smiled and pulled away from him. "Timing is everything, Jack."
"I guess that means no, huh?" Jack teased.
“Yes, it does,” Cecilia said while handing the boys the plates and glasses.
The boys bickered over who could set the table faster, as Cecilia put the finishing touches on supper. Cecilia's attention was shifted to refereeing the battle that was going on at her dinner table.
“Rick, don't push your brother.
“A. J., put that tongue back in your mouth. I’ve told you before we don't stick our tongues out at people in this house.
“Boys, don't run with those dishes in your hands. Now quit your arguing and get the table set."
Cecilia turned to look at her husband. "As you can see, Jack, I've got all I can handle with two boys. I certainly don't need any more children. May God give Mrs. Escobar a special blessing. I don't know how she does it and stays sane."
And with that last comment of admiration for Carlos’s mother, the family sat down to dinner.
Later that evening, harmony once again reigned within Cecilia's home. The boys sat at the kitchen table playing a game, while their parents worked together rewiring a faulty lamp at the other end of the table. Cecilia looked up at the clock to see that time had gotten away from her, and that it was eight-thirty.
"Boys, it's time to put the games away."
After several, "Oh, Mom's", and "Aw, Mommy's", that did them no good, the boys put the games back in their boxes and returned them to their shelf in the pantry.
“Rick, would you please get A.J. ready for bed while Daddy and I finish this? Help him get his pajamas on and see that he brushes his teeth. We'll be up in a little while."
"Okay, Mom," Rick agreed amiably, as he usually did when this request was made of him.
The boys disappeared around the corner with Rick ushering A.J. up the stairs. Rick did his best at helping his little brother wash his face and hands, then supervised while the blond brushed his teeth. The boys now stood by A.J.'s bed. Rick assisted the youngster with the buttons on his pajama top.
Rick secured the last button. "There, all done. What story do ya’ want me to read ya’?"
"I don't care,” A.J. replied, as he sat cross-legged on his bed. “You pick."
Rick picked a Golden Book from the shelf. He sat down next to A.J., copying his posture.
As he opened the storybook to the first page, Rick paused. "A.J., why don't you ever talk to Carlos?"
"I can't, Rick."
"Whatta ya’ mean, you can't? Course you can. You're hurtin’ Carlos's feelings 'cause you never talk to him. He keeps askin’ me when you're gonna get over being shy."
"I can't talk to Carlos, Rick, ‘cause he won't understand me. He's Spanish."
"A.J., Carlos can understand you!"
"No, he can't," A. J. insisted. "He speaks Spanish."
"Yeah, but he speaks English, too. You know that, you've heard him talk. Me, and Mom, and Dad talk to Carlos, and he understands us, so he can understand you, too."
A.J.’s eyes widened. "He can?"
"Of course he can, goofy. Where'd you get the idea that he couldn't?"
"Well...the first day you brought him home from school he said, "Holo, A. J.,” and that's when I knew he couldn't understand me, 'cause I don't know what ‘holo’ means, but I think it's Spanish."
Rick laughed. "It's not holo, it's hola, and it means hello. Carlos was telling you hi."
"Oh...well if I’d have known that I would have said hi back, but I didn't think he could understand me. "
"Well, he can. He can understand you perfectly, and he wants you to like him, so talk to him from now on, okay? You do like Carlos, don't ya’?
A.J. nodded. "Yeah, I like him. He's nice to me all the time. Except sometimes you and Carlos get in too much trouble, Rick."
Rick shrugged. "Aw, we're just havin' fun. It's no big deal."
"Yeah, but Daddy was sure mad when he couldn't find his shoes that day. I told you guys not to do that. I told you you'd get in big trouble, but you didn't listen."
"A. J., sometimes you sound just like an old woman. Me and Carlos like to have fun, and sometimes in order to have fun you gotta be willing to get in a little trouble."
A.J.'s brows knit together in puzzlement at this explanation. Sometimes Rick confused him. He couldn't understand how you could have fun, when you knew the fun you were having would eventually get you in trouble.
Rick decided to put an end to the subject before A.J. could question him any further. He wasn't about to waste his time explaining to his little brother how fun and trouble go together. Rick had a feeling A.J. would never fully understand that concept.
"Look, from now on, just talk to Carlos when he comes over, okay? Don't give him the silent treatment and hide behind me anymore. You don’t have nothin’ to be afraid of."
"All right, I'll talk to him,"A.J. agreed. After a thoughtful pause, the boy asked, "What do you want me to talk about?"
Oh brother, Rick thought with exasperation.
"I don't care. Talk about whatever you want to. Say hi. Ask him how he is. I don't know! Just quit bein’ shy."
Upon hearing A.J.'s agreement, Rick let the subject drop. He looked down at the open book and started reading aloud. He had gotten as far as the third page when he was interrupted.
Rick looked up from the book. "What?"
“Teach me to say something to Carlos in Spanish."
“A. J., he can understand English perfectly good. I just got through tellin' you that."
"I know. But I want to say something to him in Spanish. "
Rick sighed. "Okay, okay." The nine-year-old thought a minute, and then offered, "How about this? Hola, Amigo."
"What's that mean?"
"It means, ‘Hi, friend.’”
A.J. smiled. "I like that. Holo, Ameeco."
Rick laughed. "No, not like that. The first word is hola. O-la. O-la. Hola. Now you say it."
After three false starts, A.J. finally got it. "Hola."
"That's right!" Rick praised. "Now the other word is amigo. A-me- go. A-me-go Amigo. Say it, A.J."
“No,” Rick shook his head. "Amigo. Like the word ‘go.’ A-me-go. Go. Amigo."
AJ’s face scrunched in concentration as he tried again. “A...me...go. Amigo.”
"Yeah, that's it! Now put it all together. Hola, amigo."
"That's right. You got it now."
A. J. grinned from ear to ear. "Yeah, I got it!" A.J. cocked his head. “What did I just say again?”
Rick shook his head fondly. "You said, ‘Hi, friend.’"
"Yeah, that's right. Hi, friend. Hola, Amigo! Hola, Amigo! Rick will you remind me how to say it the next time Carlos comes over?"
Rick smiled. "Sure."
"But don't tell Carlos I can say it. I wanna surprise him."
"Whatever you say, kid," Rick agreed. "Now come on. Let's finish this story before Mom comes up and yells at me 'cause you're not ready to go to sleep.
A.J. snuggled into the crook of Rick's arm, and soon lost himself within the tale being read by his big brother.
Carlos arrived home with Rick after school the next Thursday. He was surprised to find A.J. waiting for him at the front door.
Hola, amigo!" A.J. greeted while sticking his chest out with pride. He had been practicing the phrase with Rick all week, and then again today with his mother while Rick was at school.
Carlos was shocked. This was the first time in the month that he had been coming to the Simon house that A.J. had spoken to him. Once he got past the initial surprise, Carlos grinned. "Hola, amigo!"
“That means, hi, friend,” A.J. explained.
Rick rolled his eyes. "He knows that, A.J."
A.J. ignored his brother as he took Carlos by the hand.
"Come on, Carlos. Come up to my room. I’ve got a new model to show you. It's not Rick's. It's just mine. But you can play with it. And we've got cookies for you, too. Not chocolate chip, peanut butter. Mommy was out of chocolate chips. And I've got another turtle, too. I got him yesterday. He doesn't have a name yet. You can name him if you want to. Hey, you know what else I've got? I got a new football. Well, really it's an old football. My cousin gave it to me. He doesn't want it anymore. He's grown up now. And I wanna show you--"
Carlos was in a daze as A.J. led him from the room. The blond barely paused for a breath as he continued to babble a steady stream of chatter.
Cecilia had appeared from the kitchen to greet the boys. She chuckled as she observed A.J. and Carlos, and as she caught the look on Rick's face.
Rick turned to his mother. "He's stealin’ my friend."
Cecilia ruffled Rick's hair. "Oh, honey, no he's not. I think A.J. has just gotten over being shy around Carlos, and now he wants to make up for a month of silence. He'll run out of things to say pretty soon."
"I don't know about that, Mom," Rick grinned, as he and his mother listened to A.J.'s voice as it drifted down the stairs. “So far Carlos hasn't gotten a single word in.”
Cecilia patted Rick on the back as she urged him toward the kitchen. "You help me get the cookies and milk ready for you boys, then you can go rescue Carlos."
"Okay. But, Mom, please don't let A.J. bug us all afternoon."
"I won't," Cecilia promised. "He can go outside and play with some of his own friends."
"Good. I don't think Carlos wants to hear A.J. say, ‘hola, amigo,’ a hundred times before he goes home."
Cecilia laughed. "No, Rick, I don't imagine he does. I heard it about two hundred times today myself, and I can tell you that after about fifty it gets rather old. "
The last plate was put on the table, and the last glass of milk was poured, when Cecilia instructed, "Go rescue Carlos, honey. Tell him and your brother to come down for their snack. "
"And then we can ditch A.J.?" Rick asked with undisguised glee.
"I wouldn't put it quite that way, but yes, after your snack I'll send A.J. out to play.” Cecilia glanced out the patio doors. “I see that Tommy and Mike are in their sandbox. He can go next door and play with them for a while."
"Good, " Rick replied, as he raced up the stairs calling for his brother and his friend.
The following Saturday afternoon, Rick, Carlos, and A. J. were playing in the Simons’ backyard. The boys grew bored with the swing set, and at Rick's suggestion headed to the garage to find something else to do.
As the boys rounded the corner of the house, Carlos’s eyes widened. "Wow! What a neat car. Whose is it?"
Rick glanced at the new black Cadillac parked in the Simon's driveway. "It's Mr. Haskell's. He's my dad's boss."
The three boys walked up to the car so Carlos could study it closer. "This musta cost a buncha money. "
"Yep,” A.J. agreed. “A million dollars, I think."
“It didn’t cost a million dollars, A. J.,” Rick corrected.
“You're exaggeratin’. No car costs a million dollars."
Turning to Carlos, Rick said, "I don't know how much it
cost, but I heard my dad tell my mom that it cost a bundle."
Carlos gave a whistle of admiration. "I can believe it.
This car is beautiful. "
The boys spent a few minutes circling the car. They admired the shiny black Cadillac Eldorado with its gleaming chrome and expensive white wall tires.
"Carlos, you know what?"
"No, A.J. What?"
"I got to drive Mr. Haskell's car." At Carlos's skeptical look, A. J. insisted, "Really, I did."
Carlos looked to Rick for confirmation on this revelation.
"He didn't get to drive it by himself or anything like that, but he did get to sit on Mr. Haskell's lap and steer. Mr. Haskell took me and A.J. for a ride in it when he first got it last month. He let me steer, too. And shift gears."
“Cool! I wish I could drive a car like this sometime."
The three boys admired the car a few more minutes, then lost interest in it as they ran to the garage. A few minutes later, they emerged from the structure carrying buckets. Rick popped in the house long enough to tell his mother they were going to a local pond to catch frogs.
“Keep a close eye on A.J. around the water,” Cecilia cautioned. The pond wasn’t more than eighteen inches deep, but nonetheless, Cecilia had only recently begun allowing A.J. to accompany Rick there, and always reminded him that A.J. needed supervision at the pond.
An hour later the boys returned with their buckets full. They played in the driveway, letting the frogs out and watching them jump.
Rick glanced at Matthew Haskell’s car, and his eyes gleamed with trouble. "Hey, I've got an idea of something else we could do. "
"What?" Carlos questioned.
"We could put these frogs in Mr. Haskell's car. When he gets in it, they'll be hoppin’ all over, and croaking and everything. Some of my cousins, Billy and Sam and some others, did that at a family picnic one time to my dad's Aunt Bertha. She's this really old lady, and when she went to leave her car was full of frogs. The big guys had hid the frogs under the seats, and they jumped out at her. Man, did she scream. It was neat!"
"It sounds neat. Come on, let's do it!"
A.J. studied the bigger boys for a moment. "Uh...Rick...I don't think we'd better do that. We'll get in trouble."
“Look, A.J., you wanted to play with us today and I let you, so you now gotta do what I say."
A.J. looked down at his black Keds and scuffed a toe into the gravel. "I don't know, Rick. I just...I don't think it's such a good idea."
"Okay, fine. If you're gonna be a baby, then you better go in by your mommy. Me and Carlos don't wanna play with no baby. Go in the house."
A.J.’s head came up as he protested, "Rick! I'm not a baby!"
"Then are you gonna help us put frogs in Mr. Haskell's car or not?"
A.J. saw the scowl on Rick's face. Knowing his brother was serious about not playing with him for the rest of the day, A.J. reluctantly gave in.
"All right. All right. I'll help."
Soon the Simon brothers and Carlos were filling the car with frogs, the angry words and A.J.'s fears forgotten as they laughed and went about their mischief making. They finished up just as Rick heard the front door open and his father's voice coming from the steps.
"Come on! Let's get rid of these buckets and hide!"
Rick raced for the garage, Carlos and A.J. at his heels.
Matt and Jack strolled to the Cadillac.
"I think you’re on the right track with that idea of yours, Jack. Now we just have to put it in motion."
"I'll get things rolling first thing Monday morning," Jack assured the man as Matt Haskell opened the car door.
Matt had just put one foot inside the car when he heard what sounded like a chorus of frogs croaking. "What's this?"
Jack looked over Matt's shoulder. He peered into the car, and saw at least twenty frogs of various sizes in the expensive automobile.
Matt scratched his head. "I wonder how these got in here? I didn’t leave a door open."
Jack didn't have to wonder as he looked around the yard. He spotted a bucket lying in front of the garage, and heard laughter coming from behind the structure. His eyes finally caught a flash of blond hair as his youngest son peered around the corner. At just that moment a larger hand appeared and grabbed onto A.J.’s shirt. The boy was pulled back into hiding.
"Andrew! Richard! Get over here right now!"
Matt grinned as he put two and two together and came up with four. "Now, Jack, don't be too hard on the boys. They were just having fun."
"Matt, they both know better than to do something like this. They know a car is not a toy. They had no business being any where near this automobile," an embarrassed Jack said. "I ought to tan their behinds for this little stunt."
"No, Jack, don't. Please. This is my car, and I'm not upset. Now I don't want you to spank the boys over this."
“Matt, they deserve a spanking. I should put them over my knee and--”
"Jack, come on. I know you pulled your share of stunts like this when you were kid, and so did I. This was just a harmless prank, so come on now and remember what it's like to be a boy."
Jack smiled as he recalled what it was like to be a boy.
"All right, Matt, you've made your point. But they will apologize to you for this, and they'll clean out this car." Jack cupped his hands to his mouth. "Richard Lawrence! Andrew Jackson! Right now! I mean it!"
Upon hearing their father use their middle names, the boys knew better than to hide any longer. All three mischief makers scampered to Jack's side.
Jack glared at the boys. "All three of you will apologize to Mr. Haskell, and then you’ll clean his car out.”
Rick's eyes were downcast as he moved to stand in front of his father's boss.
"I'm sorry about the frogs, Mr. Haskell."
The nine-year-old looked up long enough to catch Matt's grin and wink of conspiracy. Rick dropped his eyes again and hid the smile that threatened to answer Matt back.
Carlos followed Rick's lead. "I'm sorry we put these frogs in your car, Mr. Haskell."
With that, Rick and Carlos ran to the garage to retrieve their buckets.
A.J. was now left standing there by himself. He clung to his father's hand as he looked up at the imposing figure of Matthew Haskell.
"Andrew, I think you have something to say to Mr. Haskell as well."
Matt felt sorry for the little boy who looked scared out of his wits. "Jack, it's okay. I know A.J.'s sorry. He doesn't have to say it."
"Yes, he does, Matt." Squeezing his son's hand lightly, Jack urged, "Come on, Andy. What do you say to Mr. Haskell?"
A.J. looked up at his father, then at Matt. His voice came out in barely more than a whisper. "I...I'm sorry, Mr. Haskell."
Jack and Matt shared grins as Jack laid a hand on top of A.J.'s head. "Okay, son, now you go get a bucket and help your brother and Carlos clean out this car."
A.J. ran to get a bucket, glad to be out from underneath the men’s scrutiny. He helped Carlos and Rick clean out the car, then followed the older boys to the pond, where they released the frogs into a habitat more to their liking than a 1954 Cadillac.
Nothing more was said of the incident with Mr. Haskell’s car until later that evening. Carlos had been taken home and supper was long over as Jack sat on A.J.'s bed. The boy leaned against his father’s chest and listened to the story Jack was reading.
"The sun was setting as Mr. Rooster and Mrs. Hen tucked all their little chicks into bed. Another day on the farm was coming to an end. Tomorrow would be another busy day for the farmer and his wife, and for all the farm animals. The only sound that could be heard was that of the crickets chirping as the little farm on the hill was blanketed in darkness. The end."
Jack shut the book and set it aside, lightly running his hand through his son's hair as he did so. "Did you like that story?"
"Yep. I liked the part about the cow best. I wish we had a cow, Daddy."
Jack chuckled. "I don't think we'll be getting a cow, Andy. We don't have room for a pet that big."
"She could sleep in my bed."
"In your bed? If a cow sleeps in your bed, we'll start finding you on the floor every morning. There's not enough room here for you and a cow."
A.J. giggled at that thought, as Rick appeared from the bathroom. The older boy had just gotten out of the tub, and like his little brother, was dressed in pajamas.
Rick stood by his father as Jack did a quick inspection of face, hands, and feet to make sure Rick had washed as he should have. When that was completed, Jack instructed his eldest, "Rick, sit down here by your brother and me for a minute, please. "
Rick made himself comfortable on the end of A.J.'s bed, as Jack looked from one boy to the other.
"Putting those frogs in Mr. Haskell's car this afternoon was wrong, boys. You know better than to play in or around a car. I've told you that before. You had no business being in that car for any reason. It's Mr. Haskell's property, not yours. Do you understand?"
"I'm sorry to say that some privileges are going to be lost over all of this. Whose idea was this, Rick? Yours, or Carlos's?"
Before Rick has a chance to answer his father, A.J. declared, "It was mine, Daddy."
Jack arched an eyebrow with disbelief. "Yours, Andy?"
Playing along with the game, Jack questioned, "How did you ever come up with an idea like that?"
"Well...I remembered the time Billy, and Sam, and the other guys put frogs in Aunt Bertha's car. And then I just told Rick and Carlos that we should do that. I said it would be fun. "
Jack's eyes twinkled. "You remembered the time the boys did that to Aunt Bertha, huh?"
“My goodness, Andy, I'm amazed. You were only a year old at that family picnic. I didn't realize you had such a good memory. "
A.J.'s little chest stuck out as he boasted, "Yep, I do. I have a real good memory, Daddy."
"You certainly do," Jack agreed. “Well, Andrew, I guess this means that for the next two days you'll have to stay in the yard. No friends are allowed to come over, and you're not allowed to ride your bike. Do you understand?"
A.J. was so shocked that he couldn't answer his father. It was all Jack could do to keep from laughing at the expression on his youngest son’s face. Jack knew what was running through the boy’s mind, and what had prompted this confession. Cecilia had often told the boys the fable of George Washington and the cherry tree, while assuring them that if they told the truth, as young George had, there would be no punishment, or at least one of a lesser degree than if they lied to her. Jack imagined A.J. thought this confession would spare him and Rick punishment.
Jack asked his son again, "Andy, do you understand?"
A.J. looked down at his bed. "Yes, Daddy."
Rick had sat quietly through this exchange. Upon hearing Jack's decree of punishment to A. J., Rick broke down and confessed, "Dad,
A. J. didn't come up with the idea to put the frogs in Mr. Haskell's car, I did. He didn't even wanna do it. I kinda made him. He shouldn't be punished. "
Jack's eyes twinkled again. "Boy, this story is getting confusing. Two entirely different confessions within two minutes." After a moment, he asked, "Is that the truth now, Rick?"
"Okay, then. You just heard what I told your brother. That's your punishment now, Rick. No friends are to come over, you can't leave the yard, and no bike riding. You come straight home from school on Monday. All of this is in effect until Tuesday morning. Oh, and by no friends, I mean Carlos as well. "
"Yes, sir," Rick agreed with a sigh. "I don't think Carlos is plannin' on comin' around for a while anyway. "
Jack had to hide his smile as he said simply, "That's very wise of Carlos."
A.J. observed the goings-on, and then tugged at his father's shirtsleeve. "Daddy."
"I helped put frogs in Mr. Haskell's car. I put three of them in there. Rick didn't make me, I just did it all by myself. I really did. Three frogs."
"You did? Three of them, you say?”
"Yes, I did. Really. That's the truth."
The corners of Jack's mouth twitched as he winked at Rick.
"Well, Andrew, I guess this means you need to be punished, too, don't you?"
"I guess so."
All right then. Your punishment is the same as Rick's. Understood?"
"Yes, I understand."
Jack looked at both boys. "The next time Mr. Haskell is here, or anybody else for that matter, what will you boys do?"
"Stay away from their car," Rick answered.
"Very good. Now remember that, please."
The boys nodded as Jack kissed A.J. 's forehead and then tucked the blond under the bed covers. Rick scrambled to his own bed. Jack gave him a good night kiss, as well, as he tucked his eldest in.
As his father straightened up, Rick asked, "Dad, will you tell us a story?"
"Yeah, Daddy, a story."
"Guys, it's getting late. Your mother's going to skin me alive. I was supposed to have Andy asleep a half hour ago. How about tomorrow night instead?"
"No, now. Please, Dad."
Jack gave in as he sat on Rick's bed. "All right, but a short one. What do you want to hear?"
With a sly grin, Rick suggested, "A story about when you were a little boy. About the time when Grandpa and Grandma took your whole family to the beach, and you and Uncle George snuck in the ladies' bathhouse and stole all their clothes."
Jack looked at his oldest. How in the world did Rick know about that? Suddenly, he recalled that he had told Matt Haskell that story at one time, and that he had seen Matt talking to Rick this afternoon right before he pulled out of the driveway in his frog-free Cadillac.
Jack shook his head and grinned. "You boys don't want to hear that story."
"Oh, yes, we do!"
"Yes, we do," A.J. said, though he didn't know what he was agreeing to.
After some additional pleading, Jack gave in. "Okay, I'll tell that story. But by the time it’s over, you're both going to find out that your old dad is a lot more lenient than your grandpa was."
At the boys' twin looks of confusion, Jack grinned and explained, "Grandpa spanked Uncle your George and me on that beach right in front of everyone."
"Really?" Rick questioned.
"Really, sport. Believe me, I remember."
"Tell us, Dad."
"Yeah, tell us, Daddy."
With that final bit of prompting, Jack began his story - the one the boys would refer to from then on as, “the time when Dad was a boy and he took the ladies' clothes, saw one of them naked, and got spanked by Grandpa on the beach."
At the end of the story, Jack kissed his sons again, then stood and shut out the light.
“Good night, guys.”
Jack shut the bedroom door as he exited the room, tactfully ignoring the giggles his story prompted as soon as he was no longer present.
Cecilia was curled up on the couch, reading a book. She laid the novel aside as her husband sat down next to her. "How'd it go?"
"Fine. They understand why what they did was wrong, and have assured me that it won't happen again."
"Good, I'm glad to hear that. Of all the cars they could have chosen to put frogs in, it would have to be Matt Haskell's brand new Cadillac, wouldn't it?"
"I know, Cece, I know. That's our boys."
"Yes. Troublemakers just like their father."
Jack grinned. “There’s no doubt about that.”
“No, there sure isn’t,” Cecilia teased.
“Oh, by the way, for the next two days the boys aren't to leave the yard, have any friends over, or ride their bikes. Rick is to come straight home from school on Monday."
Cecilia nodded her agreement of the punishment she and Jack had discussed earlier in the evening. "You know, Jack, the more I think about it, I'm not sure how much of a punishment this is. Especially for A.J."
"What do you mean? Andy loves to ride his bike, and to go next door and play with Tommy and Mike."
"Yes, but I don't think that he'll mind not being able to do those things. Do you realize that we've just sentenced the boys to two days of no one else's company but each other’s? A.J. will be in Heaven. He'll have his big brother all to himself."
Jack chuckled. "I never thought about it that way. You're right. Carlos has been taking up a lot of Rick's attention lately. I suppose Andy's feeling pushed aside. "
"A little, I believe."
"So, do you think I've just started our youngest son on a life of crime? "
"Maybe. If his punishment is having Rick all to himself for two days every time he does something wrong, I'm afraid we're in for big trouble. "
Jack laughed again. "I don't think we have to worry about that too much, Cece. You should have seen the look on Andy's face when I told him and Rick about the time Dad spanked George and me on the beach. Rick thought the whole thing was funny, but A.J. was shocked. He kept asking me, ‘Grandpa really did that to you, Daddy? He really did?’"
"I imagine you're right. We don't have to worry about our A.J. He hates being punished. I'm surprised he went along with Rick and Carlos today and put those frogs in Matt's car."
"From what little Rick said about the whole thing, I don't think Andy exactly went along with it. I have a feeling there was some arm- twisting going on. And you're right about Andy hating to be punished. It was all the little guy could do to apologize to Matt this afternoon. You know Rick and his bravado, he just went right up to Matt and said he was sorry, but I practically had to pull the words out of Andy's mouth, he was so scared. Yet, oddly enough, he didn't have a problem giving me a false confession tonight and taking all the punishment himself. Andy told me he was the one who came up with the idea to put the frogs in Matt's car."
"I see," Cecilia nodded, not surprised at this turn
"I don't understand it sometimes, Cece. Our boys sure are loyal to one another. Here Andy was willing to take a punishment for something he had little to do with, then Rick pipes up with the truth and doesn't want me to punish his brother at all. Then Andy insists he has to be punished, too, because Rick didn't make him do anything. I sure don't understand it. It's rather atypical for kids their age, I think."
“Yes, it is,” Cecilia agreed.
"I just don't understand it,” Jack said again as he stood to head for the shower in the master bathroom. “I'm proud of it, but I don't understand it."
Cecilia smiled. “Maybe it’s not meant to be understood. Maybe being proud of it is enough.”
“I won’t argue with that, Mrs. Simon.” Jack smiled in return as he bent to kiss his wife. “I won’t argue with that.”
Up in the boys’ room, Rick was just drifting off to sleep when he heard A.J. 's voice.
"Rick? Rick, are you awake?"
Rick rolled onto his back. "Yeah, A.J., I'm awake. What's wrong?"
"Nothing. Rick, I feel sorry for Daddy. "
"Well, Grandpa spanked him in front of everybody on that beach. That's mean. That's not like Grandpa. He's nice. He likes little kids."
“A. J., before Grandpa was a grandpa, he was a dad. They're two different kinda people, believe me, I know."
"Yeah, but he did that to Daddy and Uncle George in front of everybody."
"Just forget it, will ya’? It happened a long time ago. Dad lived through it. If you feel that bad, you can tell him so in the morning. I don't wanna have to hear about it all night."
A.J. let the subject drop there, knowing Rick was not going to allow further discussion on the matter.
Rick sighed. "What is it now?"
"I'm sorry you got punished today. Now Carlos can't come over."
"A. J., you got punished, too, ya’ know. You can't have any friends over either. If you woulda’ kept your mouth shut you wouldn't have lost any privileges. Don't I always tell ya’ to let me do all the talking?"
"Yeah, put I didn't think Daddy would punish anybody."
Rick propped himself up on his elbow as he looked at his brother in the darkness. "Take my advice, kid, and quit fallin’ for that George Washington story. They'll get ya’ with that one every time. "
"Yeah, I know that now," came the emphatic reply. "Still, I'm sorry Carlos can't come over. None of your friends can come over."
Rick shrugged. "Hey, it's no big deal. I'll still have a friend to play with. My best friend."
"Who?" A. J. questioned, as he, too, propped himself up on his elbow and looked at his brother.
"You, silly. Who'd you think?"
"Oh, yeah. I forgot."
Rick laughed as he laid back down.
"I'll think of lots of things for us to do, Rick. Really, I will. Fun stuff like you and Carlos do."
"Okay," Rick agreed. "Just nothin’ that'll get us in trouble. I think we better give Mom and Dad a break for a few days. "
"Yeah, we better."
"Go to sleep now, A. J.,” Rick yawned. “It's late."
The blond boy laid back down. Soon the room was quiet again, and Rick drifted toward sleep once more.
Good grief, what now?
"What, A. J.?"
Rick smiled. "Hola, amigo, kid. Hola, amigo.”
And with that, the two young brothers, who were also best amigos, put another adventure-filled day to sleep.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~