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The next morning I was still thinking about the boys' reaction to Dana and me moving in together. I needed to talk to Dana about it, but I had to be careful as I didn't want to tell her exactly what I had said. We had only discussed the first step which was her sleeping over with the boys' knowledge. The moving in together part was something I had alluded to a few times, but we hadn't really talked openly about it.
I ran the boys down to the golf club for their morning session with Kay, and came back up to the house in time to greet Dana. She was coming over for us to spend some time together and then staying for the rest of the day. She was becoming a regular fixture at the house as we got closer in our relationship. I decided to broach the subject with her as we were having our Cappuccinos by the pool.
"I'm a little perplexed at the reaction I got from the boys yesterday when I mentioned the possibility of us having a conjugal relationship," I said.
I gave her a shortened version of what had happened and she had a puzzled look on her face.
"What exactly did you tell them?" she asked.
"I told them we're in love," I said as I took her hand in mine.
She leaned forward and gave me a passionate kiss, which I took as confirmation of my statement.
When we came up for air she asked, "I still don't understand what their problem is?"
I cleared my throat and said, "I told them we were thinking about us becoming a couple."
"What do you mean 'a couple'?"
'Boy have I got myself into a real pickle' I thought as I tried to figure out how I could phrase this without getting myself in hot water. I hesitated then decided to spill the beans.
"I told them we were thinking of you moving in soon and us living together."
She didn't say anything for some moments and then she took my hand, smiled and said, "I guess we have some talking to do with those two then."
I was relieved and it turned out that she had been trying to think of a way to broach the subject for some time. She assumed since I hadn't brought it up that I was hesitant to escalate the relationship.
"I wish we had opened up to each other before this, Dana. I thought you didn't want to move this fast, so I didn't say anything."
We talked about how to handle the problem, and we agreed that we would sit down with them that afternoon to find out what was behind their reactions. We had some idea, but with adolescents one never knew what was really going on in their heads.
I didn't have to pick up the boys as it was Dénis' turn to drive the three of them back from the golf club, as we took turns car pooling them. Stéphane wasn't joining the boys that day and when Sean and Jake came into the house they thundered into the Kitchen, raided the fridge then joined us on the pool deck with some fruit, vegetables and dip I had cut up for them.
"How was the golf?" I asked.
Between mouthfuls of food they told us that they had played nine holes after Kay had been working with all the kids on the short game.
"Bulldog won the competition today," Jake told me as Sean had a big smile on his face.
Each day Kay would have a small competition for the kids, which could be anything from the closest to the hole on one of the par 3's to who could chip or putt the ball the closest to the hole during a teaching session. That day the competition was the closest to the hole on the par 3 third hole on the short course. Sean had put the ball within five feet of the pin.
"Did you sink the putt?" I asked.
There was a long pause as he swallowed the pieces of apple he had loaded into his mouth.
"The competition was just who was closest to the hole," he said with a pained expression on his face, as he loaded some more food into his mouth.
I ruffled his hair and smiled as I said, "Well done, Son."
The four of us had some light conversation as the boys told us how their morning went. Finally Dana decided to broach the subject of our budding romance.
"Boys, your father and I are very much in love, and we feel that the time is right to let our relationship grow. He tells me that you have some concerns with us becoming closer."
The two of them stopped filling their mouths and were paying close attention to what she was saying.
She continued and said, "The two of us want to live our lives together as a couple, and at our age there isn't the same need for us get married as there was when we were younger."
The two of them were intently listening but not saying a word. There was an awkward pause as Dana finished her sentence and we waited for them to speak.
The two of them looked at each other and finally Jake said, "Why?"
"Why what?" she asked.
"Why does it make a difference cus you're older?" Sean asked.
The two of them had obviously been talking about the issue and were really putting Dana and me through our paces. The four of us had some more discussion and it appeared that the two of them had this old fashioned romantic notion of relationships between people of our age.
"I don't understand, boys. You seem to be Ok with Katie and Carol living together with their boyfriends. Both girls are in a committed relationship, and they seem very happy as couples. Why are Dana and I different?" I asked.
In Jake's case since the girls were young and didn't have children, it was Ok, but because we were, or in Dana's case would be, parents he felt we needed to show responsibility by getting married. Both of them had different reasons for their feelings, but the bottom line was the same.
"Would Dana be our mom?" Sean asked me.
She got up and put her arms around the two of them and said, "In case you two haven't noticed, I've been your 'mom' for some weeks."
"Boys, you mean a lot to both of us, but you have to realize that even though you don't seem to approve, we're going to follow our hearts," I said.
After some moments Jake finally spoke up and said, "Like, it's not that we don't approve or anything, but we kinda thought our mom and dad should be married."
Sean shook his head in agreement but didn't say anything. Finally he got up and went over to Dana and gave her a big hug and then came over to me and did the same.
"We're not trying to mean or anything. We just want to be happy as a family," he said.
By now Jake followed Sean's lead and hugged Dana and me as well and gave us a smile. We could see that Jake was bothered more by the ethical implications of our proposed union than Sean was, but was accepting of our decision.
The boys finished their snacks, went inside, changed into their swimsuits and spent the next hour in the pool. While they were swimming, Dana and I talked and agreed that we would spend weekends together at the house as we eased into the more permanent union. This would give the boys (and us) some time to get used to things.
After dinner, we were all out by the pool finishing our tea. The boys were going to have one last swim and head to their rooms to wind down before they went to sleep. Sean was going on Skype to talk to Melissa, and Jake was going to read some more of the book that he was engrossed in. They got out of the pool and dried themselves off.
"Boys, just so there's no surprises tomorrow morning, Dana is staying the night with me," I said.
We told them of our long term plan and they nodded their heads and took off for their rooms. We went upstairs when they were ready to turn in and headed to Jake's room first.
"I have to tell you, Jake, that you've surprised both of us. I think you've been reading too many romance novels," I said as I chuckled.
"We only want to provide a loving family for you two boys and ourselves," Dana said as she ran her hand through his hair.
He opened up to us and revealed a little more about why he was reacting the way he was. Jake's mother and Pietro were very traditional in their values and had instilled a strong sense of morality in Jake. They hadn't been devout Catholics, but the notion of a traditional family was important to them even though neither of them really had one. Pietro had talked to him numerous times about the sanctity of marriage and that living together with a partner was a sinful activity. Jake had reconciled the girls' relationships in his mind but he was having a tough time with our proposal.
"The most important thing in a relationship, young man, is that both parties are committed to each other. Would it help if you had a talk with Reverend MacLaughlin?" I asked.
He shrugged his shoulders as he told me that he felt it wasn't his place to express his opinion because he wasn't my son yet and that he had said too much already.
"Jake, as far as I'm concerned you are my son and I value your opinion as much as any of my other family members. But, you have to realize we're not always going to agree. I'll call Reverend MacLaughlin tomorrow," I said.
I gave him a big smile and tousled his hair as I said goodnight.
"You're a special boy," Dana said as she kissed him on his forehead. "I hope you never lose your idealism."
He gave us a big smile as he said goodnight and rolled over to go to sleep. We left the room and went down to Sean's. He was almost asleep on his side with Teddy under his arm. We sat down on opposite sides of the bed and he woke up.
"Sean, when you found Dana's earrings in my bathroom two months ago, I thought you were happy at the possibility that Dana and I might be living together. What happened in the meantime?"
"I thought that meant that you were gonna get married," he said with a somewhat disappointed look on his face.
We talked to him for a while and he said that he was afraid that if we didn't get married then we would split up in the future just like his mother and her many boyfriends. For him it was all about living in a family that was traditional rather than the dysfunctional family situation that he came from. The thought of Dana and me living together without getting married, brought back too many bad memories for him from his days with his mother and her boyfriends. We tried to tell him that this wasn't the same situation.
"We're very different people than your mother and most of her boyfriends and you should know that by now. We both take our commitments seriously. I love your father and I want to be a real mom to both of you boys," Dana said as she rubbed his cheek with her hand.
"I'm going to book an appointment with Reverend MacLaughlin tomorrow for Jake. Why don't you join him?" I asked.
He paused for a moment and finally said, "Ok, Dad. Thanks."
We said goodnight, left his room and went downstairs to the Living Room.
"Those two young men aren't the garden variety thirteen year olds. Are you sure you're ready for another round of child rearing?" I asked Dana as I laughed.
"I'm as ready as you are," She said as she chuckled.
After about an hour of watching TV and cuddling together, Dana leaned over and gave me a kiss.
"I think it's time to go to bed, don't you?" She said as she got up and held out her hand.
We turned out the lights and headed upstairs.
The next morning Dana and I were up early and prepared a big breakfast for the boys to get them through their first morning of hockey school. We had to wake them as they hadn't set their alarm clocks. When they lumbered downstairs after their morning showers they were still sleepy. They weren't used to the early hours as they had been sleeping in most mornings during their vacation since golf school didn't start until 9 a.m. and they were running later in the day. However, when they sat down to dig into breakfast they quickly shook off their drowsiness.
"Hopefully this holds you two over until lunch time," Dana said as she gave them a big smile.
They seemed to be at ease with Dana being there but I wasn't sure if that was because they were focused on wolfing down their food, or if they had accepted the situation.
When we had finished breakfast they packed their equipment into the back of the Lexus and we took off for the rink. When we arrived, the boys went to the dressing room to get ready and I went into the stands with my Tim Horton's large coffee and waited for them to come out. I was going to stay at least for the first morning and watch them.
The boys had spent the last few days wearing their new skates with their skate guards on them in the basement to break them in. I knew it would help, but since all their equipment was new and stiff, they would be tired after the morning's session. I had just sat down and another father came in beside me.
"You must be Mr. Burger."
It was Mark Depew, Charles' dad and he was going to watch the session as well. I was quite surprised as I didn't think that hockey would be an 'approved' activity as far as his mother was concerned. We talked briefly and then the boys came onto the ice.
Sean and Jake were a little unsteady as they skated around the rink before the coaches brought them together, but after a few turns they seemed a little more comfortable. Charles was another story. The poor kid fell numerous times as he looked like he was trying to run around the rink. After a couple of turns he finally managed to stay on his feet. It didn't look like he had much in the way of athletic ability.
When the coaches got the kids together and said their opening remarks, they broke them into groups of comparable ability. Sean, Jake and Charles were in a group together. Stéphane was in the top group, as he had played for some years and was on the town's rep team. As the morning progressed, the boys were more comfortable and seemed to be picking up the skills as they went through the drills designed for their level. Charles took a while to come around but by the end of the morning was much better than when he had started.
Mark and I had a chance to have a great chat in between the many drills on the ice. He told me of the difficulty he had getting Charles' mother to agree to the hockey school, as he had given this to him as a present for his birthday. He desperately wanted to be able to get closer to his son and be more involved in his upbringing. His former brother-in-law was a high powered Family Law lawyer in town and had managed to cut Mark out of gaining joint custody of Charles. He had limited access and could only see him every other weekend, but Charles could only stay with him if the mother gave her permission. Letting him take Charles to the hockey school took a lot of persuading.
Mark seemed like a great guy and he openly talked about the problems his former wife was creating, and that he had grave concerns about her child rearing. While they were married he had given in to her most of the time. But, in the last two years he had decided to be more forceful about standing up to her, which was a major contributor to the divorce.
"I feel like a fool for giving in for so many years, and I'm afraid I've let Charles down. I desperately want to make it up to him as I feel that he's at a crucial time in his life and he needs me to be strong."
He told me that he felt helpless as he didn't have the resources to fight his former wife and her brother. He had been wrongly portrayed by them as an unfit father, which had resulted in the lopsided custody arrangement. He also told me he felt very much alone in his fight, as he didn't have much of a family to rely on to help him deal with the situation.
When the boys came out of the dressing room, they made their way over to us dragging their wheeled hockey bags behind them. Charles came over to his father and when he was sure most of the other boys couldn't see him, he gave his father a hug.
"You were great, Son. Did you have fun?" Mark said as they broke the hug.
He gave his dad a big smile and told him he was really looking forward to the rest of the week. This was the happiest I had seen Charles since the Blue Jay game and it was obvious to me that there was a lot of love between them, which was sorely lacking in his relationship with his mother.
The boys and I made our way across the parking lot as Charles and his father went to their car. When we got the Lexus packed, I had to open the windows for the drive home, as the boys hadn't taken a shower before they got dressed.
"Between your equipment and you two, it smells like a locker room in here. Why didn't you take a shower afterwards?"
They told me they wanted to shower at home as the dressing room showers weren't 'up to their standards'. I suspected it had more to do with the fact that Sean's back hadn't fully healed and he was still a little self conscious. During the ride home Jake managed to tell me in detail about the mornings happenings, even though he knew I was watching form the stands. I was so happy and just smiled at him, as it appeared the old Jake was back.
"When we get into the house hang your equipment up downstairs and then up to the shower."
Dana met us in the hall as we came in.
"Whew, this is a little different than my girls coming in from their dance lessons," she said as she fanned the air with her hand.
We had lunch and I ran them over to the church to meet with Randy. Sean had his cell phone and I told him to call me when they were finished. That reminded me that we had to get Jake a phone as well. After I dropped them off I went back to the house and joined Dana. She was staying for dinner and leaving shortly afterwards to prepare for a catering job the next day. I updated her on Charles' situation and the talk I had with his father that morning.
"It was obvious to me who should have full custody of Charles," I said.
When I got the call from Sean I went to pick them up at the church. They looked more at ease when they got into the car.
"Do you two feel better?"
They told me they had a good talk with Randy and that he had helped them clarify their feelings.
"He sorta helped us think about things a little differently," Jake said.
"We're Ok with everything now. We're sorry we gave you and Mom...ah Dana a hard time, Dad," Sean said as he blushed a little as he corrected himself.
I smiled at the miscue and was hoping that we had turned the corner with this issue.
"We need to stop at Best Buy and pick up something for Jake," I said.
The two of them looked at me but couldn't figure out what I was up to. When we got to the store the same salesperson that sold us Sean's phone helped us pick out Jake's. It was the same phone only Sean's was silver and Jake's was black.
"I'm sure you don't need a lesson on how it works," I said to Jake as I chuckled.
The next day's session at hockey school went much better for all three of the boys. Again, Mark and I sat together in the stands and watched. Mark told me that he had managed to convince his ex-wife to let him sign Charles up for house league hockey for the upcoming season.
"I'm going to be one of the head coaches of a team next year. I have an assistant coach, but I'm going to need a manager. Are you interested if I can manage to draft Charles?"
He gave me a big smile and said yes. He also told me he played hockey and that he would gladly help as another assistant coach in the practices. When we were nearing the end of the session I asked if Charles and he would like to come to the house for the afternoon. Charles could swim and play with the boys and we could get better acquainted. He thought that would be a great idea but he wasn't sure that would work with his timelines. He would have to take Charles to his home on the other side of the city and bring him back as he wasn't going to shower at the arena. This wouldn't leave him much time to swim as he had to have him back to the mother's house in the late afternoon.
"He can shower at our house, as the boys aren't using the showers here either. I'm sure we can find a swimsuit to fit him."
"Charles is pretty modest, and he doesn't like other people seeing him. He's very self-conscious about his body."
I told him he could use my ensuite and he thought that would work. Charles was Ok with the arrangement and we also asked Stéphane if he wanted to join us, which was alright with Dénis who had come to pick him up.
The boys ended up letting Charles use their shower alone, as they got dried off in their rooms. All of the boys had a great afternoon together and Mark and I got to know each other a little better. He wasn't an assertive personality, but he was a bright well educated man. He was a very caring individual, which made him well suited to the Social Work field.
The boys went into the media room after about an hour to show Stéphane and Charles their guitars. Mark and I heard them playing away and the four of them were singing along to 'Michael Row the Boat Ashore'. There was a break in the music and Sean came out and asked me if Stéphane could play the Clavinova.
"Stéphane takes piano lessons, and he knows how to play. We want him to play along with us. Can he?" he asked.
I said yes and I went in, set up the piano for him and left to go to the patio. After a few minutes the music started again with the three of them playing 'This Land Is Your Land'. About half-way through the song Mark and I noticed there was a drum beat added to the song. When we peered in the patio door we could see Charles with two rulers perfectly drumming out a beat to the song on a book he put on his lap.
"Charles has got a great sense of rhythm. Has he taken any music lessons?" I asked.
Mark told me Marjorie wouldn't let him as she told him he wasn't smart enough to learn how to play an instrument.
"Do you know if he's signed up for Music next year in high school?"
"Lord only knows what his mother let him sign up for. I had no input into that. She's probably signed him up for courses with the lowest level of difficulty," he said with a very sad expression on his face.
He told me that Charles was always a very good student in school until things got rocky at home. In the last couple of years he had underachieved and he strongly suspected it had something to do with the conflict between him and Marjorie, as well as her constant putdowns of Charles. I was very disturbed by the picture I was getting of Charles' home life.
The last day of the hockey school Mark and I once again sat together. I told him that I could get Charles into the STEP program classes that Sean and Jake were going to attend the next week. It would give Charles a boost in Math and Literacy before he started Grade 9, which according to Mark would benefit him a great deal. I told him that Stéphane was also in the program.
"I'll have to ask Marjorie if it's alright, but since Stéphane is going, that's a big plus. She has this thing about looking good for his parents. She thinks it will help her social status, but what she doesn't realize is that they don't like her. I'll phone her now on my cell and see if I can get the dragon lady to agree."
When he called her, to my amazement she said yes. That was the good part of the conversation, as his face turned more serious after that. She told him that she would be picking up Charles after the session that day and he wouldn't be able to stay the weekend with Mark. She also told him that he would have to arrange transportation for Charles for the next week to take him to and from the program.
"I'm not sure how this is going to work, as I can take him but I can't pick him up after the session as I'm not free until later in the afternoon," he said.
I told him that was no problem as I would pick Charles up and take him back to the house so he could swim and play with the boys in the afternoon. Mark could then come and get him later. He thought that would work well, and he thanked me. He went down to rinkside and called Charles over to the boards to say goodbye. Even with all his hockey stuff on I could see the disappointment in Charles at the news he wouldn't be staying the weekend with his Dad. About twenty minutes later after he had left, Charles took a slapshot off the ankle and was in a great deal of pain. The instructors took him off the ice and I went down to the dressing room to see if I could help.
When I got there Mike, the head instructor who was a friend of mine, was trying to get a hold of Mark at the number he had provided on the application form. He was sure that he would need to go to Emergency to have the ankle looked at. It turned out to be his home number and he obviously wasn't there. He tried the mother's work number and got a hold of her. She had to be called out of a meeting and told him that her meeting was important and she couldn't leave. She also told him that he would have to take Charles to the hospital and she would pick him up there.
"Ask her if she would give me permission to take him so you can stay and finish the session," I said.
She reluctantly agreed. Mike said he would run Jake and Sean over to the hospital afterwards so I could stay with Charles and take the boys home after she arrived.
"That woman's a piece of work," he said out of earshot of Charles.
I had Charles leave his equipment on as well as the skate on the injured foot. It would help keep the swelling down before the doctor could look at it. He was putting up a brave front, but I could tell that he was in a lot of pain. Mike helped me get him to the Lexus and we were on our way.
When we got to the hospital, they got him in to see the emergency doctor fairly quickly, as they weren't too busy. They took x-rays, and it appeared that the ankle was badly bruised but not broken. They gave him some pain relievers and he was feeling better by the time Mike arrived with Sean and Jake.
"Isn't the mother here yet?" he asked.
I told him I hadn't seen her yet, but if he gave me her work number I would try to get a hold of her on my cell. When I made the call it took some minutes for her to come to the phone.
"Mr. Burger, I'm tied up as the meeting has taken longer than expected. I will be there within the hour. Charles can wait," she said with that officious tone of hers.
I was a little shocked at her reaction and I told her that we would wait here with him until she arrived. I was also not very pleasant with her on the phone and she knew that I was very angry at her attitude. After a half hour she arrived in Emergency, and I could hear her at the Triage desk making a big fuss about finding out where he was. She finally stormed into the cubicle loaded for bear.
"You certainly have caused quite a mess this time, Charles. I can just imagine what stupid thing you did to get yourself hurt," she said to him ignoring the three of us standing there.
I had heard enough and laid into her. I told her that her behaviour was inexcusable and that she needed to get her priorities straightened out.
"It was an accident that couldn't have been prevented. That happens when you play sports. For your information, Charles has come a long way this week in developing his skill, and he's going to make a fine hockey player if he sticks with it," I said as I glared at her.
"That'll be the last of his playing sports," she said with a condescending tone.
I was going to rip into her again, but I just stared at her and kept silent. Finally I said to Charles, "Let's get you to your mother's car so you can get home and get some rest."
We got him and his equipment loaded into the car and they took off. I was very quiet in the Lexus going home and the boys knew I was fuming.
"Are you alright now, Dad?" Sean asked.
"I'm calm now, Son. I'm just thinking of what I need to do to help Chas," I said as I had a devilish smile on my face.
They both gave me a big smile as they knew that I had officially declared war with Charles' mother.