This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
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I slept in until 7:30 the next morning and when I came downstairs Dana was sitting in one of the chairs in the living room by the picture window. She had a cappuccino and was reading the paper.
"You had a good sleep," she said as I leaned down to give her a kiss.
"I didn't realize how exhausted I was. My worrying about those two boys finally caught up with me."
"Well you'll be glad to know that Jake is out running with Sean this morning," she said as she had a big smile on her face.
I was really happy at that news, as hopefully Jake was starting to heal. To me this was an important step on his road to recovery.
"I'll make you a cappuccino before the two runners invade us," she said as she laughed.
I was halfway finished when we heard the two of them come in the Laundry room door. When they got into the kitchen they went over to the water cooler and replenished their water bottles. They were still out of breath as we could hear the heavy breathing in the Living Room. When I entered the Kitchen I was hit with a waft of body odour.
"Whew, you two must have run a marathon. How about you hit the shower and Dana and I will make breakfast," I said as I held my nose.
They both laughed at my displeasure at their aroma. I caught Sean's attention and gave him a questioning look about how Jake was. He gave me a thumbs-up behind his back as the two of them took off upstairs. By now Dana had joined me in the Kitchen.
"Was it good news?" she asked.
"Sean gave a thumbs-up. Let's hope it continues," I said as I crossed my fingers.
They wolfed down breakfast and got ready for school. Sean gave Dana and me a hug and said goodbye as he took off for the bus. Jake's ride was on its way and he was waiting in the hallway by the door. When it arrived he picked up his backpack and put it on as he started to make his way out the door.
"I think you forgot something," I said as I motioned to him.
He came back in and gave me a hug. Dana managed to give him a kiss on the cheek after he gave her a hug.
"Does this mean the real Jake is back?" she said.
He gave both of us a big smile.
"Have a good day, young man," I said as I patted him on the back as he made his way out the door.
"Do you think he's going to want to go to his soccer game tonight?" she asked when he had left.
"Let's plan on it and hope for the best. I have to run Sean over to Phil's after school, but we should be finished dinner and ready in time for all of us to go see him play."
We went back into the Living Room and sat down in the chairs by the picture window and finished our second Cappuccinos. I decided that I would run something by Dana, and I was hoping she would think it was as good an idea as I did.
"Dana, now that the Townhouse is going to be vacant, I was thinking that maybe you might consider moving into it. You'd be just around the corner from us.... and I know you love the Kitchen," I said with the awkwardness of a teenager.
She was surprised and didn't say anything for some moments. Finally she said, "I couldn't afford to buy it, Al."
"Who said anything about buying it?"
I told her I didn't want to sell it just yet, as the market wasn't very good at the moment, and that I didn't want any rent as well.
"I also have a house that I don't want to sell now, either," she said.
I told her she could keep her house as we try the arrangement and see how things worked out, and then maybe she could sell next spring.
"Hopefully by then the market will have picked up and you'll get a good price for it. Maybe by then I'll be ready to sell the Townhouse too," I said with a sly grin on my face.
"Isn't that getting a little ahead of things?" she asked with a smile.
"I don't know what you mean?"
"Yes you do," she scolded.
We talked about how we would have her vacant house monitored since nobody would be living in it. We also talked about where this was leading and what would happen if our relationship didn't work out.
"So do I book the mover?" I asked.
"You are persistent, Mr. Burger," she said with a big smile.
She got up and came over and sat on my lap and gave me a passionate kiss.
I picked up Sean from school and took him to Phil's. On the way over I told him that I wasn't going to have a feedback session with Phil afterwards, as I had been doing in the past. Phil had suggested that we not continue with that practice and I was in total agreement.
"What you and Dr. Barnet talk about will be your private business. If you want me to come in afterwards and sit down with the two of you I will, but otherwise, whatever you want to share with me is up to you."
"Thanks, Dad," he said with a relieved look on his face.
They were in Phil's office for about an hour and they finally came out with Phil's arm around his shoulders.
"I swear this kid's grown an inch since he came into the office an hour ago. What are you feeding him?" Phil said as the three of us laughed.
He said he wanted to see Sean again next week so we booked another appointment. After some further kibitzing we said goodbye and left the office.
On the way home Sean seemed a little more relaxed than I had seen him since Pietro's death.
"How did things go?"
He told me that Phil helped him understand a few things that were bothering him, and that he was going to be doing some thinking over the week before his next appointment. He didn't share anything specific, and I didn't press him any further. It was more important that he trusted that his conversations would be confidential so he would be able to confide in Phil.
When we came into the Laundry room from the garage, Jake was just coming down the stairs dressed in his soccer uniform. I was very happy at the sight and was looking forward to seeing him play once again. I was also happy at the wonderful smells coming from the Kitchen, as Dana had made Linguine Primavera with blush sauce, a Caesar salad and Tiramisu for dessert.... all Jake's favourites. Sean and I weren't complaining as we loved them as well.
Dana and I decided that we wouldn't delay telling the boys about her moving into the Townhouse and agreed that we would let them know at dinner.
"Boys, we have something important to tell you. Dana is going to move into the Townhouse when we move out. You guys are going to get to see a lot more of her."
Both boys' eyes lit up as they smiled and we had our answer as to whether they would be Ok with it.
"Cool! Does that mean you're going to see more of Dana too?" Sean asked with a sly look on his face.
"You're a cheeky little devil," Dana said with a smile as she gave him a playful smack on his arm.
The boys had big grins on their faces, as I could see they were hoping our romance would blossom.
When we got Jake to the Soccer pitch, his teammates were very glad to see him. Some of them expressed their condolences to him before the game started, as well as his coach. Even the boys that hadn't come up to speak to him were doing things that showed their concern for him, since a lot of boys his age found that overt expression of sympathy awkward.
It was clear to see that being able to console him wasn't the only reason that they were so happy to see him back, as he was the best player on the field for both teams. He scored two of their goals and they won the game, which was the first one since the last time Jake had played.
After the game, the coach talked to the boys and then they headed off with their parents. Jake made his way over to us with a little more of the characteristic bounce in his step. Both Dana and I noticed it right away and gave him a big smile as he approached. Sean gave him a high-five and both Dana and I put our arms around him as we walked to the Lexus.
The next day I picked up Sean and Jake from school as Sean's Invisalign moulds were ready. I wanted Dr. Randa to take a look at Jake's teeth, as I had a feeling he would benefit from some straightening as well.
After Dr. Randa fitted Sean's first moulds into his mouth he examined Jake's mouth and said he should have his upper teeth straightened. I talked it over with Jake and encouraged him to go ahead with it. He was a little reluctant, but Sean was a great help in selling the idea. I suspected that it was a case of misery liked company, but I was happy at the end result nonetheless.
Dr. Randa took the impression of his teeth and I had him make Jake a sports mouth guard as well.
"So how'd you like the pink goo?" Sean asked Jake on the way out.
"That was gross! I thought I was going to barf," he said with a disgusted look on his face.
Sean and I just laughed as we made our way to the Lexus. Sean wasn't wearing the moulds yet, as we were on our way to the last session of the After School Club, and I gave him a reprieve. He needed to wear them a minimum of 12 hours a day, so he could manage that by wearing them when he came home after school and through the night.
I offered to drive Jake home, as Dana was still there, but he chose to go with us. I was dropping off Sean and then going to monitor my other sites with Jake. We arrived early as usual, and Diego was very glad to see us. I introduced Jake and he expressed how sorry he was about Pietro's death. Before we left, Pardeep and Paresh came in with their mother and Subash. I could see a gift bag in Paresh's hand and I was guessing that it was for Sean. Pardeep and Subash rushed over and took Sean's hands and were chattering away to him as they went to the table for their session.
Jake and I left for the other sites and we had a chance to spend some time together, which both of us enjoyed. He asked me all sorts of questions about the program and what I did as a consultant. He thought that he would like to do some tutoring next year if the program ran, which I thought was a great idea. He told me he was a Peer Tutor in his school and had enjoyed the experience. I could tell he would be excellent with the younger kids and I would tell Diego when we came back that he had another recruit for next year.
We arrived back in time to see Sean saying goodbye to the boys. The two younger ones gave him a big hug before they left.
"Your son helped my boys and their friend so much. I don't know how to thank you," the mother said to me.
"The boys already did," I said as I looked over at Sean as he was beaming from ear-to-ear, with his arms around the two boys as they walked towards us.
On the way home, I asked Sean what the boys got him as I couldn't see what was in the gift bag. He pulled out a very large Toblerone chocolate bar, which had already been opened.
"I had to share," he said with a big smile on his face.
"I hope you didn't spoil your dinner." I paused then said, "That was a silly question, wasn't it."
"Yeah! What are we having," he said as the three of us laughed.
Saturday morning I was sitting in my chair in front of the picture window, reading the paper. It was a little strange not having Dana in the house, but she needed the time to get her things organized for the move into the Townhouse. I was really very happy that she had agreed to my plan, and I was hoping that this would be step one of two or three parts.
Jake was up early and sat down in the chair beside me. We were going to go down to the club to play golf in the early afternoon as there was a ladies tournament there in the morning. The boys were going with me to play the short course and I was playing with Rick, Scott and Phil.
"I have a surprise for you," I said as I handed him an Italian newspaper that I was now having delivered each Saturday for him to read.
His eyes lit up with that sparkle that I hadn't seen for quite a while as he thanked me. I could tell that he really appreciated the gesture. We read silently for a while and I sensed that he was ready to talk, so I put my paper down.
"Is it my imagination, or are you feeling a little better about things?"
He hesitated and said, "I'm better. Dr. Barnet and Reverend McLaughlin helped me a lot. They've got me thinking about stuff."
He told me that Randy had helped him deal with his anger at God for taking Pietro and his Mother from his life and that Phil helped him deal with his self pity.
"I don't cry myself to sleep now."
His revelation surprised me somewhat. Even though I suspected that was happening shortly after Pietro had died, he was indicating that it continued for some time. I felt terrible that I hadn't picked up on that. I got up and motioned him to join me on the couch and I put my arm around him and drew him into a cuddle.
"It's going to take us some time to get to know and get used to each other. I want to help you with any problem you have, but you have to let me into your life for me to be able to do that. Please don't be a stranger."
"I'm trying, Pop. It took me a long time to get used to Zio and .... ," he said as he couldn't finish his sentence.
"It's Ok," I said as I squeezed him a little harder.
"Dr. Phil said I had to move forward with my life... and I'm trying really hard."
"I know you are, Jake, and I'm very proud of you for the way you're fighting through this. I can't replace your Mother or your Uncle, and I'm not going to even try. That wouldn't be fair to them. But, I will try to be the best parent I can and love you like a Son; that I can do."
He looked up at me and gave me a big smile. We sat like that for some moments and finally I said, "Why don't we finish our papers before Sean gets up and wants that bottomless pit of his filled," as we both laughed.
When we got to the golf course, the boys went off to play the short course with two other boys their age. Scott, Phil, Rick and I teed off shortly after on the long course. It was our usually spirited Saturday game, which involved much trash talking and the occasional good shot. I managed to win two skins, but Phil was the big winner of the day.
"I think we're going to have to review your handicap, Phil," Rick said as we laughed.
After we finished and dropped our clubs off at the bag storage, we made our way to the patio. The boys were playing another nine holes as we were settling into the 19th hole and some beers.
"Sean is really growing. I'd like to see him again in the next week or so," Scott said.
He told me to give his office a call on Monday to book an appointment.
"It wouldn't hurt for me to see Jake as well, especially before he goes to hockey school. I'm not sure if his medical records have been transferred yet, but I always like to do my own examination."
I thought that was a good idea, not just from a medical point of view, as I thought it was important for Jake and Scott to establish a doctor patient relationship. Just then the boys arrived. They said hello to the guys and told me that they were going to take their clubs to the bag storage and get something to eat in the snack bar. I told them I would get them in about a half hour and go home.
"How are the boys doing?" Phil asked after they left.
"They seem to be doing much better. I worry about them getting over all the trauma they've had in their lives."
"Don't. Both those boys are mentally strong, and they will get through this just like they have in the past. I'm confident I can help them with that. They're also lucky having you as their parent," he said as he smiled at me.
"No, I'm the lucky one Phil."
It was the last week of June, and things were very hectic. We weren't able to go to the June 10th Blue jay game because of all the turmoil, but Marty was able to get us another date at the beginning of July. School was wrapping up, the house renovations were nearing completion, Dana and I were busy packing and I was making summer plans for some activities for the boys. The two of them had just come back from their grade 8 end-of-year trips. Both of the boys' schools went to Québec City as it was a good way to consolidate some of the Canadian history and French they had been taught.
During their absence Dana and I had a chance to spend some quality time together. I think both of us knew that her moving into the Townhouse was a transitory step. The next big milestone would be the two of us sleeping together with the boys' knowledge of what was happening. Both of us agreed that we had to sit down and talk this out with the boys beforehand.
Both boys were successful at school and had, by and large, a nice set of marks on their report cards. Jake excelled in Social Studies and Literacy where Sean did extremely well in Math and Science. I was amazed at Sean's marks which were a direct result of the stability that was now in his life.
The boys' graduations were at different times on the same day and Dana and I were able to make both ceremonies. Sean's was early in the morning and Jake's was right before lunchtime. Jake received the award for the highest Literacy mark and Sean was surprised, as we were, that he received the award for the highest mark in Math. Both of them were presented with a plaque and $100.
On one of the last days of Middle school there traditionally was a grade 8 grad dance that usually took place in the school gymnasium. Some of the kids came with 'dates' while most of the others just came alone. At that age many of the boys without partners just lined the outside of the gym while the girls danced with each other.
The week before Graduation, Melissa asked Sean if he could come to her dance before Sean could ask her to come to his. That same night, Rachel asked Jake to her dance before Mara could ask him. I could tell Jake was relieved Rachel had asked first, but as I overheard the conversation with Mara, Jake was very diplomatic. He certainly had quite a set of verbal skills for someone his age.
After the grad ceremonies, we went back to the Townhouse so the boys could get ready for their dances. They came down the stairs and looked very handsome in their suits. That week I had to take Sean back to Lou's to get his let out, as he had grown so much since we had it made. We had them pose together with their awards as we took some pictures.
"I'm very proud of the two of you," I said as I had my arms around them while Dana snapped the picture.
When it was Dana's turn to pose with them, she gave them both a kiss on the cheek after I took the picture.
"Now you two handsome young men be gentlemen today," she said as she gave them a big smile.
I could've sworn they said 'yes mom', but I realized later it was wishful thinking.
I was sending both of them in regular Limos not the stretch variety that some kids would be showing up in. I could understand doing that for a high school prom but not for this age group. In this case the limo was somewhat out of necessity. Sean was coming home afterwards, as both of my daughters were away on business and he had nowhere to stay in Toronto. Since I had always been careful not to show favourtism to my girls when they were growing up, I continued with that practice and got a limo for Jake to take him to Rachel's school and then to my niece's afterwards for a celebration dinner. Dana and I were going to join them and bring Jake home afterwards.
Things went well at my niece's and Jake and Rachel seemed to get along very well. It was a different relationship than what existed between Sean and Melissa, as it was a more an intellectual bond than a sexual one.
When Sean arrived home he came into the Townhouse floating on cloud nine.
"So, I guess you had a good time," I said as he came into the Living room with a smile on his face.
After he sat and talked with Dana and me for a while he took off upstairs to go to bed. We said goodnight to Sean after we spent some time praising him again and then went into Jake's room. He was fairly wide awake when we entered.
"We were very proud of you today," I said as I patted his shoulder.
"Your Uncle and Mother were too. I'm sure they were watching," Dana said as she leaned down and gave him a kiss.
He smiled and didn't say anything, as he got a little choked up.
The day after, I sat down with the boys and went over what activities I had arranged for them for the summer. They would spend a week at Hockey school and another week at leadership camp. As well I had them signed up for a program run by the school Board called STEP, which was designed to give students and extra 'step' going into Grade 9. It involved 3 hours in the morning focusing on Literacy and Math, for one week in August. We talked about all of the activities except what I had planned for the last two weeks of the summer, which would be a surprise.
"I finalized the booking with Camp Northern Woods for the last week in July. You're really going to enjoy the leadership activities and the whole camp experience. By the way, it's also co-ed," I said as I smiled at them.
They seemed really happy, and were very curious as to what I had planned for the last two weeks. I told them I was finalizing some details and wasn't ready to tell them just yet.
Sean was looking forward to the summer with some trepidation, as he was booked for the laser treatment on his back for the first Monday after the long weekend at the beginning of July. He would get the long weekend at the new house with the pool and hot tub, but he would have to take it easy for 3 days after the treatment as his back healed.
They were excited at the plans and took off upstairs to tell their friends.
The next day after dinner, the boys came down the stairs and into the Kitchen with big smiles on their faces after they were talking to Melissa and Rachel on Skype. I knew there was something up but I decided to wait to see if they would say anything. They made some hot chocolate and raided the refrigerator, even though dinner had been only an hour before, and sat at the breakfast bar. Dana was over and the two of us joined them in the Kitchen and I put on the kettle to make some tea.
"You two seem particularly cheery. Have some good chats with the girls?" Dana asked.
The two of them didn't say anything and looked at each other with big grins on their faces.
"OK. What are you two up to?" I asked.
They were still silent but finally Jake spoke up.
"Rachel and Melissa are going to Camp Northern Woods the same week we are," he said as the two of them giggled.
Dana and I just looked at each other and smiled as we both remembered our days at summer camp. Back then however, camps were segregated and it was more difficult for guys to get together with the girls... which hadn't stopped either one of us. I swore the two of them had cooked this up, but there wasn't much we could do about it. I wondered if my Niece had known about this before she had signed up Rachel.
"Of course you two didn't have anything to do with that, did you?"
Next day I was a little quiet and Dana knew something was bothering me. That night the boys were upstairs and Dana and I were sitting on the couch in the Living room having our tea.
"You've been distracted all day, Al. How long do I have to wait to find out what's bothering you?"
"You're just like Sean. I can't put anything past you, can I?"
I told her I wasn't satisfied just being Jake's guardian, and that I had been thinking about adopting him.
"I know it won't make any difference in how I treat him, but I want to make the relationship official. I want to be able to call him Son."
"I wondered how long it would take you. You need to talk it over with your other son first, though," she said as she smiled and gave me a kiss.
When Dana and I went into Sean's room that night he had just gotten into bed and I could see that he had hidden Teddy under the covers. He didn't want Dana to know and had been concealing him from her when he knew she would come in and say goodnight. Dana knew what was going on but had played dumb so as not to embarrass him. She accidentally landed on Teddy when she sat down on the bed to say goodnight to him.
"Well what's this lump under the covers?" she asked.
He was embarrassed and was stumbling over his words.
She decided it was time to stop the charade. She put her hand on his forehead and brushed his hair back from his face and said, "I had a special doll I took to bed until I was 16 years old and your father had his Teddy bear until he was almost 15. Don't be embarrassed, and please don't grow up too fast."
She reached under the covers, pulled Teddy out, put him under his arm and leaned down and kissed him on the forehead.
"Goodnight, young man. Your Dad wants to talk to you so I'm going to leave and say goodnight to Jake."
When she left I told him that I was considering adopting Jake, and I asked him what he thought. He was very happy and excited. I asked him how he thought Jake would take the news and he gave me a big smile which looked funny with his Invisalign moulds in his mouth.
"He'll be cool with it. You treat him like your son anyway."
I said goodnight and as I was walking to the door to go down the hall to Jake's room he asked, "Did you really have a teddy bear until you were 15?"
I paused, gave him a big smile and turned out the light.
When I got to Jake's room, his eyes were heavy as I sat down on the side of the bed.
"You know, Jake, I'm getting a little tired of hearing you calling me Pop."
He quickly shook off his sleepiness as he looked at me with a bewildered look and asked, "What am I supposed to call you?"
I put my hand on his shoulder and said, "I'd like you to be able to call me Dad."
He didn't say anything as his face changed to a puzzled look.
"I want to adopt you. I want to be able to call you Son."
He didn't know quite how to react or what to say, but his eyes were as wide as saucers and his mouth was open.
"Does that mean you're Ok with it, or are you horrified at the prospect of having a sixty year old father?"
By now he was sitting up.
"No... or yes... or... "
He finally gave up and put his arms around me in a big hug.
"I guess this means yes?"
We talked for a while about what needed to be done to make it happen. He was concerned about how Sean would feel, but I told him that he already knew and he was excited at the prospect of having him as a brother.
"Who knows? Some day soon you may have a new mother too."