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We were up at 7 a.m. the next morning to get Sean to the private clinic where the laser treatment would be done on his back to remove the scars. Dr. Georges was the physician who would be doing the procedure. We picked up Dana on our way and got Sean checked in to be prepped for the treatment.
"Do you want one of us to come in with you, or are you going to be Ok?" I asked.
"You can come in as we prep him, but after that you'll have to leave and go to the waiting room as we do the procedure," the nurse said as they didn't want to compromise the sterile environment.
"We'll take excellent care of him, I can assure you," Dr. Georges said as he gave Sean a big smile.
I could tell from Sean's expression that he wanted me nearby for moral support. I went in and they got him onto the treatment table face down and cleansed his back with antiseptic solution. After that I got ready to leave.
"You'll be fine, Son. I think these folks have done this a few times before," I said as I squeezed his hand and gave him a big smile.
He gave me a weak smile in return, but it quickly turned into that determined look I was all too familiar with from him. I relaxed as I knew he would be fine. The next step was to apply the topical anaesthetic cream to his back, and after about 40 minutes it would fully take effect and they would be ready to start.
Dana, Jake and I left as he wouldn't be ready to go home for about 3 hours. We would return in 2 hours so we could talk to the Doctor to see how things went. They had my cell number, so if there was a problem we could be back in a very short time. We went to a nearby music store to pick out some guitars for the boys.
When we got there, I hardly recognized any of the makes of guitars anymore, as they had changed drastically. There were some high-end guitars such as Gibson, Martin and Fender, but other than those makes I was lost. As well there were some Yamahas, but in my playing days Yamaha only made motorcycles.
The young salesperson, who looked like he played in a rock band from his long shoulder length hair, was very good at educating us as to the best guitars for the boys. At this stage I wanted them to learn on acoustics.
"This is the best reasonably priced guitar we have at the moment. It's a jumbo acoustic with a great sound and easy action," he said as he handed it to Jake.
He played a few chords and it did have a nice sound. Jake said it was easy to play as he handed it to me. I played some chords and did some picking and I agreed with both of them that it was a very nice guitar. It was an S6 Cedar Original made by Seagull guitars in Québec.
"We'll take two of them with cases, as well as some regular and thumb picks," I said as the salesperson's eyes lit up at the commission he was going to get from the sale.
"Now there's no excuse for you not to play, Al. You're going to have some guitar buddies," Dana said as she chuckled.
Even though Dana's comment was on the lighter side, I knew she really meant what she said. I was also looking forward to playing once again.... this time with my two sons. Jake was smiling from ear-to-ear as he carried his guitar to the Lexus in its case.
"Who knows, young man, you might be the next Lightfoot," I said as I smiled at him.
When we got back to the clinic, Sean's treatment was just finishing up. After about twenty minutes, Dr. Georges came out and said everything went well and that Sean would be ready to go home in about an hour. They wanted to make sure when the anaesthetic wore off that he didn't have any complications. They gave us a sheet of information on his after care which detailed what he could and couldn't do as his back healed.
He would need to keep his back covered when he was in the sun for most of the summer, even when he was swimming. He had been wearing the special sun protection t-shirts that we got him back in March when he had been swimming to hide the scars, so this wasn't going to be a great hardship.
When they finally brought him out to go home, we could see that he was tired, more from the mental exhaustion from worrying. He seemed none-the-worse for wear and gave us a smile.
"How are you feeling?" Dana asked as we all walked to the Lexus.
"I'm Ok. It just feels like I've got a sunburn," he said.
When we got home Dana and Jake went into the Kitchen to warm up lunch. Dana had made some of Sean's favourites; Spinach quiche, salad and carrot cake with a cream cheese icing.
After we finished, he lay down on the couch, and watched a little TV in the media room. After about fifteen minutes he dropped off to sleep and snoozed for an hour.
While Jake and Dana were swimming in the pool I had a chance to call Colin Langsner, the young guitar teacher, to see when he was available. I filled him in on the boys' limited skills and that I just got them two new guitars. We also talked about what he was doing at the moment and he said that he was involved with some studio work for some bands who were recording. Colin had his own recording studio in his basement that he used to produce some of the local bands in the area. Colin was also a very talented musician who recorded his own music. I had worked with him in the little theatre group that put on musical productions every fall. I did the marketing for the organization and he had been the musical director for some of their productions.
"I have two half hour spots on Tuesday nights if that's convenient," he said.
I booked them and we talked about what music they would need, which I would go out and get before next week.
We all waited on Sean the rest of the day, including Jake, who, when he wasn't swimming, hovered around him like his private nurse. After we had another of his favourite meals for dinner, an Angus beef strip loin steak, baked potato with broccoli and Stilton cheese sauce, he went up to bed early. He was in a little discomfort, but we had some Tylenol twos in case it got worse.
The first few days after the treatment, Sean's back was still a little tender, but it was nothing major. His tolerance for pain seemed to be fairly high, and he was actually not too bad a patient. He was a little grumpy because he couldn't go golfing or in the pool, but after the third day he was back to his normal self and activities.
The next Tuesday I took the boys to their guitar lessons. They looked like two cool dudes with their guitar cases strung over their backs as they walked into Colin's place. While one of them was having their lesson, the other one was able to practice in Colin's sound studio.
"Well are we going to get a concert when we get home?" I asked as I laughed as we walked to the Lexus.
That evening after dinner the boys went downstairs to practice in the Media room. They had the same songs and scales to learn and they were able to practice together as Dana and I listened from upstairs.
"Why don't you go down and play with them. I know they'd enjoy it and so would I," she said.
I decided she was right and she joined me as I went downstairs. They showed us what they had learned and I gave them a couple of suggestions that I'm sure Colin had given them.
"Can you play with us, Dad?" Sean asked.
The two of them had big smiles on their faces when I went over and got my Gibson out of the case.
"Here's the music," Jake said as he turned the music stand towards me.
"I think I know 'This Land Is Your Land'. Just tell me what key and I'll follow," I said.
I wouldn't say it was a rousing 'jam' session, but it was very satisfying to me. We managed to play that a few times as well as 'Michael, Row the Boat Ashore', which was the other song.
"I think a good name for the group would be 'The Burger Boys'," Dana said as she laughed.
The boys were having a great beginning to the summer and were getting back to their old selves again. I was glad that I had arranged the interventions from Reverend MacLaughlin and Phil as they had really helped them heal. As well, except for the first few days after Sean's procedure, he was pretty well back to normal. It looked like the scars on his back would be much less noticeable once the treatment took full effect.
They spent their time golfing and swimming when they weren't eating me out of house and home. They were part of the junior golf program at the club which meant they were there three mornings during the week playing and getting instruction from the Assistant Pro, Kay Ozawa. The afternoons were usually taken up with swimming. Dana was a frequent visitor, and I could see that there was a strong bond developing between the three of them. I also noticed that they were quite comfortable when we got 'lovey-dovey' as Sean would say. They seemed to be quite accepting of the closeness of our relationship.
They were also making great strides at the game of Golf and on Saturday afternoons I played the long course with them after I had played eighteen holes in the morning. Needless to say Sunday mornings I was a little stiff and had some trouble getting out of bed.
The boys took turns going between Stéphane's pool and ours. There were, at any one time, about 6 boys that were part of the group. Charles Depew was usually one of them. He was starting to get used to me and Dana, and didn't seem as shy as he was when we first met him. He wasn't as mature physically as the other boys, as he was a little 'pudgy' and hadn't lost all his baby fat. He was, however, a good looking red-headed boy with a lot of freckles, and polite with a pleasant personality.
The two times his mother came to get him, neither Dana nor I were impressed with her parenting skills. Both times she showed up all decked out in very stylish and expensive business clothing and Dana recognized the make immediately as being an upscale designer brand. She was the Executive Director of the organization that ran the disabled transit system in the city and likely didn't make a six figure salary. She certainly liked her luxuries though. She was very curt with us and very aloof. When she showed up at the front door the first time to pick him up, we didn't get off on the right foot.
"I'm here to pick up Charles. Please send him out at once as I'm in a hurry. I shall wait for him in the car, thank you," she said.
She initially caught me off guard as she didn't give me any time to say anything by way of a greeting before she spoke.
"I'm sorry, I didn't catch your name," I said knowing full well who she was as she was walking away to her car.
"I'm Marjorie Evans, Charles' mother," she said with a condescending tone as she turned to look at me as she kept walking.
"I'm pleased to meet you too. You never can be too careful these days," I said loudly as she was about twenty feet away.
She stopped, turned and glared for some seconds, then continued on to her car. When I went and got Charles, he was still in the pool, and he hurried out and dried off. When he went in through the patio door to the downstairs bathroom, where the boys changed, I could see he was stressed. He went into the bathroom and came out with his bathing suit still on, his towel around his waist and his clothes in his arms.
"Take your time, young fellow. I'm sure your mother won't mind waiting an extra few minutes for you to change."
He mumbled something about he really had to go as his mother would be angry and took off up the stairs to the front door. I followed him and watched as he quickly walked to the car. When he got in he hung his head and I could see his mother was berating him as she drove out of the driveway. I wasn't too happy as I had little tolerance for people who were arrogant and less tolerance for people who abused kids. I certainly didn't like the way she treated her son.
When I went inside I got some food for the boys and took it down to poolside. They were sitting at the patio table and were finishing their drinks from earlier on. They were also engaged in an animated discussion.
"She's a real bitch," Jake said as I came closer.
"I'll bet she's going to smack him again," Stéphane said.
I decided to ignore the bad language from Jake as that was the term I was thinking was a perfect descriptor as well.
"What do you mean 'smack him again', Stéphane?" I asked as I put the food down on the table for them to devour.
All three of the boys related stories about things that they had seen and Charles had told them, about the verbal and physical abuse his mother subjected him to. According to the boys she used derogatory and demeaning language with him and regularly belittled him in their presence. She frequently slapped his arms and the back of his head as she was forever losing her patience with him.
"Why does Charles have a different last name?" I asked.
"His mom and dad are divorced, and his mother went back to her name before she got married," Stéphane said.
Needless to say I was very concerned at what I was hearing from the boys. I was going to be more observant in the future.
That night after dinner, I talked to Katie about the re-scheduled Blue Jay game in the corporate box that Sean got as his adoption present. It was the next Saturday afternoon against the Boston Red Sox. Katie told me that he could invite four other friends in addition to Jake, who was now considered one of the family.
Sean and Jake had already asked both Melissa and Rachel who had confirmed that they would love to come. Jake was let off the hook with Mara, as she was away at the family cottage.
"Who else do you want to invite?" I asked Sean.
"Jake and I talked about it and we want to invite Stéphane and Charles," he said.
I figured Stéphane was a lock for one of the invites, but I was a little surprised at Charles.
"Charles never gets to go to anything like this, cus his father isn't allowed to take him anywhere neat. His mother takes him to stupid things, like the opera and museums and stuff," Jake said.
I questioned them as to why the father wasn't able to take him 'anywhere neat' but they didn't know why. I was also proud of them for being good friends to Charles.
They had already been in contact with Stéphane, and he was available and very excited about the invitiation. I was, however, left with the unenviable task of contacting Charles' mother to see if he could go. Jake was going to make the call and ask Charles, but I felt that it was much better if I contacted the mother directly, as the poor kid would likely be too afraid to ask her if Jake phoned.
"I don't approve of sporting contests such as that. It attracts an element that I'd rather not have Charles exposed to. Besides, I know he wouldn't be interested," she said with that icy tone that was all too familiar from her.
I bit my tongue and said that we would not be in general seating and that we were going to be in one of the corporate boxes. I also told her that Stéphane was invited. Apparently I had found the hot buttons. It seemed that because Stéphane's parents were influential and that being in the corporate box was a status symbol she was impressed enough to begrudgingly agree. Her snobbish and shallow personality was something that I found repugnant and I spent as little time with her on the phone as I could. I felt I owed it to Charles to suck up my disgust and go to bat for him though.
The next day I took the boys shopping as both of them were growing out of much of their stuff and needed some more summer clothing. I had them go through their closets and drawers the night before to see what didn't fit. They filled two green garbage bags which we were going to drop off at the Youth Shelter the next day.
I knew something was bothering Jake when I had mentioned the shopping trip some days before and I went into his room while he was sorting through his clothing, to find out what was the matter.
"When am I going to get my bank account set up?"
I told him that the funds were going to be transferred in about two weeks after Jim Sampson had the will probated and everything put in his name.
"What's that got to do with the clothes shopping tomorrow?"
"I should be buying my clothes and things. You shouldn't have to spend your money on me," he said as he looked down.
I put my arm around his shoulder and said, "As far as I'm concerned you're my Son, even though it'll take a little while for that to happen. I have no intention of letting you pay for things like clothes and your guitar. Your funds are for your future."
I could feel him relax as I gave him another squeeze. Finally he looked at me and said, "Thanks, Pop."
"Didn't we agree you were going to let me know when things were bothering you? It's a good thing I can read teenage minds," I said as I tickled him.
After he stopped squirming and giggling, he gave me a big smile.
The shopping trip the next day was an interesting one. On the one hand, Sean was the preppy kid who loved the Tommy Hilfiger store and Jake on the other hand, liked sports clothing, particularly stuff with a Soccer theme. After we were finished they both had multiple bags of clothing and a few pairs of new shoes and sandals. We stopped in at the Tim Horton's outlet and they devoured some sandwiches, soup and drinks. That was the good part. For Jake the not so good part was stopping to pick up his Invisalign moulds at the Orthodontist.
"How am I going to eat with this thing in my mouth?" he asked on the way home.
"Duh! You take it out," Sean said. Jake then reached back from the front seat to punch him. Once again I was treated to the subtle difference between adolescent males and females.
The boys had settled down a great deal from the trauma of Pietro's death, and after the next session each had with Phil, he told me that unless something that needed his attention happened over the summer that we could wait until fall to have the boys come back.
"You know, it won't be long before those two are outdriving you and beating the stuffing out of all of us out on the course," he said as he laughed as he brought Sean into the waiting room from his last session.
Deep down I knew what he was talking about as they were making great strides under Kay Ozawa's guidance. I guess I was trying to deny that it was happening, as I knew it wouldn't be long until I was always 'away' after each tee shot.
"That's what handicaps are for," I said as I put my arms around their shoulders as we left his office.
I had rented a stretch limo to take all of us to Toronto to meet Katie, Carol, Kyle and Marty in the corporate box for the Blue Jay game. Rachel was already down in Toronto visiting a friend and she was being dropped off at Melissa's place and the two of them were being driven over to the ballpark by Melissa's parents. We were going to drop Melissa off afterwards and Rachel was coming home in the limo. Sean had his Blue Jay jersey on with Bulldog on the back, and Jake and Stéphane were wearing Blue Jay hats. I had an extra hat for Charles, as I was sure he didn't have any baseball souvenir clothing in his wardrobe.
When we arrived at Charles' house, we could see him in the front picture window waiting for us as we came up the driveway. It was a modest older ranch style house that was reasonably well kept and had been updated. Charles opened the door and came out as soon as the limo came to a stop. His mother wasn't far behind, and I was not looking forward to the exchange that was likely to take place. However, much to my surprise, she was quite friendly, in a very insincere way. I didn't know why, but I was relieved that I didn't have to endure her icy demeanour and patronizing attitude.
"I am so grateful that you are allowing Charles to go with you to the baseball game," she said with a smile plastered all over her face.
"We're so glad you released him for the day," I said with a tinge of sarcasm.
She didn't acknowledge Charles, nor did she say goodbye to him, as she was too busy smiling at Dana and me with that plastic smile of hers.
"You're bad, Al. You made it sound as if she was a jail warden letting him out on a day pass," Dana said with a smirk as we took off.
"I don't think she got it though," I said as I chuckled.
When we got out of the driveway I gave Charles the hat to wear. He was as proud as punch and had to look at himself in the mirror.
The ride down was an interesting one. The kids were as high as kites and were being typical thirteen year old boys. They were a little silly and drank too much water from the fridge in the limo. By the time we got to the Rogers Centre, the home of the Blue Jays, all of them had to go to the bathroom.
We got settled in to the corporate box in time for the pre-game warm-up. Sean, Jake and Charles were initially in awe at the surroundings, as they had never been in a corporate box before at a game. Stéphane had been in his father's company's box before at Leaf games, so he knew what to expect.
We had some food delivered before the game started, as well as some wine and beer for the adults. The boys made short work of the platters of veggies, nachos and chicken wings, and the adults didn't get a chance to get too much. Charles wasn't sure if he was allowed to have any at first, but when the boys and I told him to dig in he had no trouble keeping up to them.
"What's the story with the red haired boy, Dad?" Katie asked.
I told her it was a friend of the boys and that he was a little timid. I filled her in on his situation and the mother.
"She's an overbearing bitch, that has that poor kid tied up in knots," I said.
"Dad, that's not like you to use language like that!" Carol said.
"He's right, though," Dana piped in.
We told them a little more information and they just shook their heads. By now the game was starting and we all moved to the seats at the front of the box to watch the game.
Unfortunately the Blue Jays weren't too successful and they lost. The team had started off the season well, but they had come down to earth in June and July and were now out of a playoff spot once again.
The kids had a great time despite the score and were cheering loudly whenever the Jays did something good. They particularly liked the hotdogs and coke that they consumed during the seventh inning stretch and the rest of the food that was continually being brought.
I had a chance to talk to Charles briefly after the fourth inning and he told me a little bit about his father. He was a social worker with the city and he only had rights to see Charles on some weekends. It appeared that Charles wanted to see more of him than that, but he was bound by the court order and the mother's reluctance to let him establish a real relationship with his son.
"I wish my Dad could be here," he said as he looked like he was getting a little choked up. I put my arm around his shoulder and gave him a smile and a squeeze.
Sean and Melissa were making the most of being together and were holding hands and making eyes at each other in between watching the game. Stéphane was being the diplomat and made the rounds talking to everyone while Jake, Rachel and Charles stuck together. Rachel and Jake were continually analyzing the game as both of them had played baseball in their past. Charles seemed to gravitate to Jake as the two of them got along quite well. All of us enjoyed the game and the bonding experience it provided and it was great to see the interaction amongst all of us. The girls really enjoyed being with their two 'brothers', as they had already accepted Jake as one of the family members. They were also quite happy to see that Sean and Jake were back to their old selves again.
During one of the breaks between innings I had a chance to talk to Stéphane as the two of us went to the washroom. I mentioned that Charles' mother seemed to be having a much better day and he told me that his father had been talking to her and in the course of the conversation corrected some things that Charles had told her about me. Apparently Charles thought that I was renting the house and had told his mother I was still a teacher. Dénis set her straight, which was now making a bit of sense as to why her attitude had changed. I guess my status had been 'upgraded' to meet her standards.
When I got back to the seats, I told Dana what Stéphane had told me.
"That woman's unbelievable. What a snob! She's one of the shallowest people I've met," Dana said with disgust.
On the way home the boys and Rachel were a little subdued and thank goodness they didn't get into the bottled water. The traffic was heavy and having to make a pit stop would have caused great difficulty. Both Sean and Jake noticed Dana and I holding hands as we sat together and gave us big smiles.
When we were dropping Charles off at his house, his mother came out to meet him. I got out of the limo with him to tell the mother what a good kid he had been. He had really loosened up over the course of the day and was actually acting like a regular kid. His mother however took care of that.
"Honestly Charles. You are a clumsy little boy. You've ruined those shorts," she said as she looked at the mustard stain on them with a scowl.
The poor kid melted as he was really embarrassed at the dressing down he was getting in front of everyone.
"Well it goes with the ketchup stain on Stéphane's t-shirt, the relish stain on Sean's jersey and the Coke stain on Jake's running shoes," I said trying to take him off the hook.
She ignored me and started in on him about how she would have to throw away the shorts and that he would be responsible for new ones.
"Chas, go into the house, change and bring them back out to me. I'll wash them and they'll be as good as new," I said as I put my arm around his back and glared at his mother.
I decided to use his nickname that the boys called him just to get her going. I enjoyed the pained expression on her face as she digested my comment.
He started to take off but she broke in and said, "That won't be necessary. I'll take care of it."
She turned and forcefully put her hand on Charles' back and led him to the house. When she was almost at the door she turned and said with her familiar icy tone, "Thank you for taking Charles," she said as she emphasized his name.
As she was opening the front door I called to her, "Let me know if you have trouble getting the stain out. I'd be happy to take care of it if you can't."
She gave me the glare, turned and went into the house.
"Al, you should be careful with her. She's likely going to take it out on that poor boy," Dana said with concern in her voice when I got back into the limo.
"You're right. I'll have to watch what I say around her. There's not too many people that really get under my skin, but she's one of them. She really pisses me off. I'm this close to getting Katharine involved," I said with a fair bit of anger in my voice.
The next day I decided to finish making the plans for the last two weeks before school started. I called the travel agent to finalize what I had asked her to do. When I called she had done the research on prices and availability and I gave her the go ahead to proceed.
Basically I had booked a trip that started in Ireland and finished in Italy, where the boys' ancestral roots were. In Jake's case I was also going to try and arrange a meeting with his father. We were going to stay in the Westbury Hotel in the heart of Dublin which would allow us a good place to tour from. It wasn't too far from Belfast Northern Ireland, which is where I wanted to spend one day, as that was Lorraine's birthplace, and some of her relatives were still there.
In Italy, the agent booked a 2 bedroom villa in Tuscany near Florence along with a car. We would fly out on the Sunday morning of the first week and arrive in Florence in the early afternoon.
I also had asked Dana if she would go with us and she said yes. I planned on the fact that we would be 'closer' by then and we would be sleeping in the same bed. Dana and I decided that we would tell the boys about the trip after all the plans had been finalized.
We were sitting out on the patio one morning after breakfast having cappuccinos; at least Jake and I were as Sean still didn't like coffee but was having a hot chocolate. I decided to explore the idea of Dana and I having a conjugal relationship with their knowledge, to see what their reaction would be.
"Boys, you like Dana a lot, don't you?"
They both said yes, and I continued on.
"You know Dana and I like each other a lot.... no, let me rephrase that.... we're in love."
They both looked at each other and smiled.
"So, does this mean you're going to get married?" Sean asked as the two of them were now looking at me with big smiles on their faces.
I was caught off guard, as I didn't expect that question.
"Ah.... well..... not exactly."
Their faces quickly changed expression to one of disappointment.
"We've been talking about becoming closer.... about becoming more intimate...," I said as I stammered.
I didn't know why, but I was having a hard time telling them. It was like I was their age trying to tell my parents I was going to sleep with my girlfriend. It may have had something to do with the look each of them was giving me.
Finally I gathered myself together and said, "We've been talking about Dana moving in and us being a couple.... together."
The two of them were silent as they turned to each other and then stared at me.
Finally Jake said, "You mean like shacking up?"
I wasn't terribly happy at the term he used and I replied, "At our age it isn't exactly shacking up. We're both mature adults and we don't feel the need to get married to be committed to each other."
There was a long pause, and finally Sean said, "That's what my mom used to do all the time."
"You don't like Katie and Carol doing that," Jake said as he looked me in the eye.
I could see that this was not going well, and quite frankly I was surprised at their strong reaction. It was also clear that Dana and I would have to do a lot more talking with them about this. My plan with the sleeping arrangements for the last two weeks would now have to be revised.