Scott returned with John to find their father’s car sitting in the driveway.
“Hey, Dad’s home!” John exclaimed as he hurried into the house. Scott grinned and followed at a more sedate pace. When he entered the house, he found his father and his mother with their lips locked on each other’s mouths, their arms around each other. Jeff hadn’t even taken off his overcoat, though he did take the time to drop his briefcase and travel bag by the door. One hand still held a bouquet of red roses, Lucille’s favorites. John stood just watching, rolling his eyes and folding his arms as he waited with exaggerated patience for his parents to finish greeting each other and acknowledge his presence.
At last the couple came up for air, and Lucille whispered, “Welcome home, love.” To which Jeff replied, “It’s good to be home.”
He pulled the bouquet out from behind her back, where it had ended up during their clinch and presented it to her with a flourish. She coquettishly at him, and said, “Thank you, Jeff. They’re lovely!”
“Not as lovely as you are, Lucy,” he responded. They shared one more short kiss, then Lucille made motions that she was heading to the kitchen to put the flowers in a vase. Jeff nodded, and took the time to remove his overcoat, watching her swinging hips as she disappeared from sight. He draped the garment over his arm, turned, and was confronted by the sight of two sons, the younger shaking his head in disbelief, the elder grinning from ear to ear.
“Hello, boys!” Jeff exclaimed happily. He reached out to pull John to him in a sideways hug, then offered a hand to Scott. John colored pink with the attention, but Scott, still grinning, shook his father’s hand and clapped him on the shoulder.
“Good to have you home, Dad!” Scott said.
Jeff let go of John, and moved to the coat closet. He pulled out a hanger, and draped his overcoat on it, then hung it up. “It’s good to be home. These business trips are beginning to wear on me.”
“How was Australia?” John asked, putting his hands in his pockets.
“It was profitable. Got to see a lot of Sydney and Melbourne, but didn’t have time for much else,” Jeff admitted. He took in a deep, appreciative breath and let it out with an audible, “Ahhh! Nothing like the smell of home cooking.” He glanced from son to son. “Do you know what we’re having for dinner?”
“Meatloaf and baked potatoes,” Scott answered.
“Sounds great! How’s the homework coming?”
John sighed and picked up his backpack. “I just got home from track practice so I’ve got lots of homework to do. I’d better get some done before supper. See you later.”
“See you at the table, John. We can talk more then.” Jeff waved as John headed upstairs. He turned to Scott. “How about you?”
“One more subject, but it’s essay questions. I’d better get back to it.”
“Right. And I’d better walk my dirty clothes back to the laundry room,” Jeff said as he picked up his travel bag.
“See you at dinner, Dad.”
John entered his room and threw his book bag down on the bed. He had a corner bedroom, right next to Scott’s, and in the corner where it could easily see out of either window, was his beloved telescope. He often spent hours looking out at the stars or the moon if she was full. He wasn’t sure if he’d have time tonight. but he hoped to. Pulling out his science book, he got down to work.
A half hour later, Lucille stood at the bottom of the stairs and called, “Dinner’s ready!” She was answered by a loud thumping of boys’ feet as they raced down to the first floor and into the dining room. Jeff was already there, dressed in jeans and a polo shirt, bringing in a bowl piled high with baked potatoes.
“Dad!” Alan cried. “You’re home!” He grabbed Jeff around the waist and squeezed.
“Wait a minute, Alan. Let me put this bowl down.” Alan backed off and Jeff set the bowl on the table, then opened his arms to his youngest son. After a strong, brief hug, Jeff’s arms opened again to Gordon, who responded with a grin. When they parted, Jeff ruffled his hair, and Alan’s, and clapped Virgil on the shoulder. “Good to see you, boys. You’ll have to tell me what you’ve been up to over dinner.”
“Come on now, boys. Time to set the table,” Lucy reminded them.
The younger boys scurried around to accomplish their task. Alan brought in utensils, Gordon set up the glasses, and John put plates at each place. Scott went out to bring in juice and milk to drink, while Virgil grabbed the butter, sour cream, and other items that they would add to their baked potatoes. Lucille brought in the meatloaf, and set it down on a trivet near her place. Then she went back out and fetched a bowl of cooked green beans to add to the menu. The bustle settled down after a few moments as the boys took their places. Jeff pulled Lucy’s chair out for her, and then sat down at the head of the table. He picked up the bowl of beans, and spooned some out on Alan’s plate, and began to pass the less dangerous items around. The boys passed their plates to Lucy so she could dish out the piping hot meatloaf.
The conversation at the table was lively and though it mostly concerned Jeff’s trip to Australia, the other family members each had something to discuss. John chipped in about his practice after school. Alan piped up about his upcoming field trip. Virgil discussed the pieces he had planned for his recital. Scott got teased about Phyllis Childers, a girl at school who was pursuing him, even though he’d made it clear that he wasn’t interested. Lucy gave Jeff the latest news from their extended family, including his mother, who had called the day before. “Make sure you call her back after dinner, Jeff,” she warned him. “She thinks you’ve fallen into the Pacific again.”
Jeff shook his head. “She’ll never get over that training exercise, will she?”
“No, dear, she probably won’t. She always felt that she should have been notified along with me while you were stranded on that island. But the policy was, in the case of married couples, the spouse is the only one given any information.” Lucy forked up a bite of green bean, chewed and swallowed. “I’ll never forget that time. Those were the longest eleven weeks of my life!”
“I think I might have been out there longer if Virgil hadn’t been in such a hurry to be born,” Jeff said, taking Lucy’s hand and kissing it (to the accompanying groans and fake retching noises of their offspring).
“How much longer will you have to travel, Dad?” Virgil asked. “I mean, the company’s doing well now, isn’t it?”
“Yes, son, it is. But I’m not quite ready to hand the face-to-face contacts off to anyone else just yet. Another year or so and I think that Tracy Aerospace will have made a name for itself, and I can take over a desk at headquarters instead of traveling the world like a salesman.” He turned to Scott. “Any more news on your college search, Scott?”
“Uh, yeah, Dad,” Scott said, looking embarrassed. He rubbed the back of his neck with his hand as he continued. “I, uh, heard from Yale the other day. They, uh, accepted me.”
There was a pleased outcry from the parents, and a surprised one from Virgil and John. “That’s terrific, son!” Jeff said, beaming at his eldest. “Congratulations!”
“Uh, yeah. Thanks, Dad.” Scott stammered. “I’m still kinda in shock about it.”
Lucille was smiling a proud smile at her firstborn. “Well, then, Scott. Looks like we’ll have to go to that steak place you like so much. It will be a big celebration! Your eighteenth birthday and your acceptance at Yale!”
“Mmm, yeah, I guess so. Thanks, Mom,” Scott replied, still looking rather abashed at the attention.
Lucille turned to Virgil. “Thank you, Virgil, for helping the younger boys out with their blown light bulb today. It was generous of you.”
Virgil shrugged. “It was no big deal, Mom. Gordon had everything ready for me, and he took care of everything afterwards.
This statement caused Lucille to frown and glance over at Gordon, but the redhead was busy eating and sharing a joke with Alan.
Dinner was soon over, and the boys cleared the table, scraping the plates and loading the dishwasher. Virgil and Scott offered to wash the few pots and pans, giving their mother a break. Delighted with their offer, Lucy went to the living room to put her feet up, while Jeff took the time to call his mother.
Once his kitchen chores were through, John went back upstairs to resume work on his assignments. He was a good all-around student, and was taking honors courses, which both challenged him and piled on the homework. As a result, he could hear the tub running for the younger boys’ baths before he hit his third subject, and he was finishing up his fourth when Jeff knocked on his door.
Jeff opened the door and stuck his head in. “Almost time for bed, son.”
John turned to him with pleading eyes. “I’ve only got one more subject, Dad. Can I please stay up a bit later to finish it? You know I would have been done hours ago if not for track practice.”
Jeff pushed the door open a bit further, and stepped into the room, leaning on the door frame and folding his arms. “Is track getting in the way of your studies, John? You know that I don’t like sports putting any of my boys behind in their academics.”
“No, Dad. It isn’t. Really. It’s just that the teachers piled on the homework today, that’s all.” He gave his father another pleading look. “I’ve been keeping my grades up. Don’t make me drop track. Please?”
Jeff sighed, then nodded. “As long as you’re keeping up with your grades, and getting enough sleep. That’s important, too, you know.”
“I know, Dad.”
“How much longer do you think it will take?”
“Another half hour?”
“Okay. Half an hour. Then I expect you to be in bed. And I will check up on you. No spending all night stargazing. Wait until Friday when you don’t have to get up for school.”
Jeff smiled. “Good. Get to it, John.”
“Thanks, Dad,” John said, returning the smile.
The assignment took only 20 minutes, and John spent a couple of minutes getting ready for bed. He took a moment or two to look out of his telescope, hoping to see Venus or even Jupiter. He didn’t see them, but he did find Mars in the sky, and it made him smile. Then, exhausted from his long day, he flung himself onto his bed and was asleep in moments. Jeff, opening the door before he himself retired, saw the blond head and the pajama-clad body and whispered, “Goodnight, John.”
Jeff padded down the hall to his room, to find the bed already turned down, and Lucille waiting for him, dressed in a silken lavender chemise. He cupped her face in his hand and kissed her once, twice, then again, each kiss deeper and more passionate than the first. He pulled his shirt over his head, took off his jeans, and crawled into bed with her. She traced the line of his jaw with a finger.
“Do you know what day it is?” she asked, her voice sultry and husky at the same time.
Jeff blinked. “Uh, actually no. The International Date line always messes me up. Is it April second?”
Lucy shook her head. “No, April first. And do you know what?”
“I think that we went the whole day without Gordon playing any pranks at all.”
Jeff’s eyes grew wide with surprise. “Really? That’s unusual.”
“Yes, it is. I think I could learn to like having a quiet April Fool’s Day.”
He ran his finger down her shoulder, pushing aside the thin strap of the chemise. “So could I, as long as I spent it with you.”
John tossed and turned on his bed, and woke up, shivering. Groggily, he got up and pulled back his covers, nestling beneath them. He sleepily looked up at his ceiling looking for the familiar constellations that resided there. When he became deeply interested in astronomy but before he was deemed old enough to have a telescope, he begged his father to paint the ceiling of his room black, then purchase some stick on stars that glowed in the dark so he could have the night sky in his room. He and Jeff had carefully arranged the stars into the constellations of the northern hemisphere, using different sizes to indicate brighter or lesser stars. It was sight that John rarely tired of, though with the gift of his telescope it had faded into lesser importance than seeing the real thing.
He gazed upward once, his eyes half closed, then he rolled over onto his side, snuggling into his blankets. Suddenly, what he had actually seen registered on his sleepy brain, and he rubbed his eyes, trying to make sense of what his mind was telling him. He turned over, looked up at the ceiling, and shouted hoarsely, “Aaaaaugggghhh!”
Jeff and Lucille, lying in each other’s arms and talking softly after their pleasure, were startled to hear the cry. They looked at each other.
“Which one was that?” Jeff asked.
Lucy listened for a repeat, but none was forthcoming. Instead there was the sound of a slamming door, and feet pounding down the hallway of the floor above. She listened again, and said, “I think it was John. The footsteps were coming from either his or Scott’s room but are too light to be Scott’s.”
There was another cry, from a different throat, and Jeff rolled out of bed, grabbing his briefs and sliding into them. He then found his bathrobe, and put it on as he headed up the stairs. Lucille slid her chemise over her head, grabbed her most modest robe, and followed.
The light was on in Gordon and Alan’s room, and there were raised voices. “Hey, John! Stop it!” Gordon cried. Scott ran down the hall and into his little brothers’ room, passing by the top of the stairs as his parents made their way up. Virgil fell in behind Jeff and Lucille as they entered the boys’ room, now crowded with most of the family standing within.
“Scott, let John go.” Jeff took charge of the situation. Scott, who had been holding onto the arms of a seething John, let go, then folded his arms across his chest. Jeff looked from son to son. Gordon was sitting on the edge of the bed, rubbing the back of his neck. Alan was sitting bolt upright in bed, his face showing his shock. John’s face was red, and both hands were clenched fists.
“What’s going on here?” Lucy demanded to know.
Three voices, Scott’s, John’s, and Gordon’s, blended with explanations and accusations, hands waving for emphasis until Jeff bellowed, “Enough!” He turned to his oldest son first. “Scott?”
“I heard John yelling, almost screaming, in his room. Then his door slammed and he went running down the hall. Took me a minute to find my bathrobe, but by the time I did, he was in here. He’d dragged Gordon out of bed and was yelling and shaking him.”
The redhead looked at his parent, then at his still angry older brother. “He just came in here and pulled me out of bed by the shirt. He was yelling something and he started shaking me.” He rubbed his neck again. “That hurt!”
“Alan? You saw what happened?”
Alan looked down at his two next-oldest brothers, then over at his father. “Well, it’s pretty much as Gordon says it was. I was sleeping and then John turned on the light and started yelling. He pulled Gordon out of bed and grabbed his shirt and shook him.”
Jeff looked behind him. “Virgil, do you have anything to add?”
The second oldest Tracy son gave his father a sheepish look and ran a hand through his chestnut hair. “Uh, no, Dad. I didn’t hear a thing. I just got up to use the bathroom and I saw the commotion.”
Jeff and Lucy exchanged exasperated glances. Virgil was well known as the son who could sleep through anything.
At last, Jeff turned his attention to John, who had managed to calm down somewhat knowing that his turn to explain things was coming. “What happened, John? We heard you yell. What made you come in here and shake your brother?”
John turned to them, and Lucy stepped over to him, frowning. “What’s that on your right eye, John? Is it a bruise?” She took his chin and turned his face up to the light. “No, it’s not a bruise. It looks like…” her gaze flicked over to Gordon, “…shoe polish.”
Jeff covered his eyes with one hand and muttered, “So much for a quiet April Fool’s day.” He passed his hand over the rest of his face and asked, “Is this why you were shaking Gordon?”
John, who had now looked at himself in the mirror, glared at his next youngest brother. “No, Dad. I didn’t see it at the time.” Then he took a deep breath, and pushed his way through the knot of people and saying, “Let me show you.”
They all followed the blond boy down the hall and into his room, Scott having a firm grip on Gordon. It was still dark in the room, which made the glow of the ceiling’s stars very plain and evident. But instead of being spread in their constellations all over the room, they were clustered right over John’s bed in a shape that wasn’t immediately evident. John pointed to them, and triumphantly said, “That! That’s what made me so mad!”
Jeff approached the bed, turning his head to one side and looking up, trying to make sense out of the pattern that had been created over John’s bed. Finally, he had to lie down on the bed itself to see it. And when he did, he tried hard to stifle his laugh. He was partially successful; what would have been a loud and genuine laugh, came out as a strangled chuckle. But that one chuckle begat another, until Jeff was laughing at his red-haired son’s audaciousness.
“It’s not funny, Dad!” John insisted.
“I’m sorry, son, but I think it is rather amusing. Come here, Lucy, and see.”
Lucille approached the bed, and Jeff moved over to make room for her. She lay down and looked, and a musical laugh rose up. “That is funny!” She glanced over at a crestfallen John. “Oh, don’t worry, honey. We’ll make sure that Gordon gets his comeuppance. But you have to admit, it’s pretty clever.”
“What is it, Mom?” Alan asked impatiently.
“Come and see.”
Jeff got off the bed, and Alan laid down by his mother, gazing up at the ceiling. “Ooh, cool!”
“Let me see!” Virgil said. He joined Alan on the bed as Lucy got up to join Jeff. “Hey! Pretty artistic, squirt.”
“Thanks!” Gordon said happily.
“Don’t be so happy about it, Gordon. You’ll be dismantling it and restoring the ceiling tomorrow after school,” said Jeff, giving the boy a stern and withering look.
“So, what is this masterpiece of Gordon’s?” Scott asked.
“Come look,” Virgil said, nudging Alan off and getting up.
Scott handed Gordon off to his father, then plopped down on the bed. He began to chuckle. “I like the tongue sticking out the best. Great smiley face, Gordon. Too bad you’ll have to take it apart. Can we get a picture of it?”
“I think that’s going a little too far, Scott,” Lucy said. “After all, we don’t want to encourage this kind of behavior…”
“You’re right,” Scott said in agreement. He got off the bed. “So, what do we do with the little miscreants?”
“Hey! Don’t include me in this!” Alan protested. “I didn’t do anything wrong!”
“Dad, he didn’t do anything and he didn’t know what I was doing,” Gordon added. “This was totally my idea and I did it all.”
“Well, that explains why Virgil said that you had everything ready for him when your light bulb blew… or did it?” Lucille said, folding her arms. “You needed the stepladder, didn’t you? The light bulb replacement was an excuse to get it without suspicion, wasn’t it, Gordon?”
Gordon hung his head. “Yeah, it was.” He looked up. “But Virgil really did replace our light bulb.”
“That doesn’t make the lie into truth, son,” his mother explained. “I think we’ll be dealing with the lying as much as with the prank you pulled.”
“So, what are we going to do?” John asked. “I just can’t sleep here with that… thing sticking its tongue out at me all night!”
“Oh, Gordon can sleep in here and you can have his bed,” Jeff said. “Tomorrow, Gordon will rearrange the stars back into their constellations under your guidance, John. My only question is, how did you get shoe polish around your eye?”
“That’s easy, Dad, and one of the oldest tricks in the book,” Virgil piped up. He swiped his finger around the edge of the telescope’s eye piece then showed his blackened digit to everyone.
“Ah, I see. Gordon can clean that off, too. Then we’ll have a little talk about lying, won’t we, son?” Jeff said, turning to the prankster.
“Yes, sir,” the rogue replied, hanging his head.
“All right. We’ve seen enough. John, I’ll help you wash that shoe polish off your face. Alan, Virgil, Scott, back to bed. Gordon, you’re sleeping here,” Lucille said. “Goodnight, everyone.”
Everybody filed out, except for Gordon, who sat on the edge of John’s bed. It was a good prank, he thought. I didn’t hurt anybody, and most everyone laughed at it, except John. Maybe if I hadn’t lied about the stepladder… He winced. John is going to get even tomorrow, that’s for sure!
He climbed into John’s bed and looked up at his handiwork. The giant glowing smiley with the big stars for eyes looked back down on him, impudently sticking out its tongue at him. He stuck his own tongue out at it and said softly, “April Fools!” Then he snuggled into the blankets and went back to sleep.