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There comes a time when reality sets in and makes one sombre. It was Friday night after dinner and Dana and I were sitting on the upper deck having tea, while the boys were swimming in the pool below. The boys were going to bed early as we were taking them to camp the next morning.
"You've been a little quiet and withdrawn today, Al. What's up?" she asked with a look of concern.
I tried to fluff things off unsuccessfully, which met with more probing from her. Dana was just like most women: perceptive, intuitive and always trying to get me to express my feelings. And, like most guys, I never wanted to talk about that sort of thing. Finally though, I decided to open up.
"I just realized yesterday that I wasn't going to enjoy the separation anxiety next week having the boys away at camp," I said as I sighed.
It had hit me the day before how much I was going to miss having the boys around the house. It didn't make sense to me what I was feeling, as Sean had only been with me for 6 months, Jake for two. I had lived for over ten years with no childrearing responsibilities as my girls had gone away to university then into the work world and were on their own. But, I remembered how tough it was for me when Carol, who was the last one to go, left for university in Guelph Ontario. I felt pangs of emptiness for about a year afterwards.
"My goodness, they're only away for a week," she said as she gave me a puzzled look.
"I guess it just wasn't the next week I was thinking about. I started to look ahead and realized that they would be leaving all too soon in the future when they go off to some post secondary institution and then make their way in the world," I said as I wistfully looked down at the boys playing in the pool.
She looked at me, smiled and leaned over and gave me a kiss. It wasn't long before the boys saw us.
"Eew, take it inside you two," Sean called from below.
The next morning we were all ready to go by 7:30 am. Both boys were excited and were real chatterboxes on the drive to the camp. It took about two and a half hours, as it was in the Muskokas near Gravenhurst, Ontario. It wasn't just a fun camp, but one where the staff was trained in developing leadership in the kids through the many activities and sports offered during the week.
We got the boys settled into their cabin that they were sharing with four other boys. There were three sets of bunk beds for the six of them. Jake took the top bunk and Sean the bottom one on the set that they were sharing.
It took us about ten minutes to get them settled, and before we were about to leave and go back to the car there was a knock on the screen door. It was Melissa and Rachel who had come to greet the boys. They had been in camp for about a half hour and were patiently waiting for Sean and Jake to arrive.
"Well it looks like you boys have a welcoming committee," I said as Dana and I laughed.
We also noticed when the girls smiled that they both had been fitted with braces.
"There seems to be a new addition, girls," Dana said as she pointed to their teeth.
They both smiled and didn't seem too embarrassed by their tin grins. Sean and Jake were now standing beside them and the four of them were having an awkward moment as Dana and I could see we were in the way.
Dana made the first move, and gave the boys a hug and kiss and said, "Now you two have fun, but behave yourselves this week."
"Ditto. And remember our little talk last night," I said as I put my arm around their shoulders and gave them a squeeze.
The four of them stood in the doorway as we walked away from the cabin on the way to the car. They didn't linger too long waving goodbye, and retreated into the cabin.
"What little talk was that?" Dana asked.
"I was just reminding them last night of my expectations about keeping their hormones in check this week. I'm not so worried about Jake, but his blond, blue-eyed, soon-to-be brother is another story," I said as I smiled at her.
When we got back to the house in the afternoon, Charles and Mark were coming to join us and stay for dinner. Charles was going to be a bit of a lost soul for the week, as Stéphane was also away at a friend's cottage. When they arrived, Mark brought a bottle of 16 year old Bushmills Irish whiskey and a bottle of Beringer 2001 Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon to thank me for all I had done for him and Charles.
"I remember seeing an almost empty bottle of Bushmills in your liquor cabinet one of the days I was here. And, I'm sure you'll like the wine. It's one of my favourites," he said as he handed me the bottles.
I told him he shouldn't have done that and then thanked him. I didn't know, but he was a wine connoisseur and I made a mental note to tell Ray that little detail, as they would have something to talk about the next time they were together. Ray was a walking encyclopedia of Vinology and loved to discuss his passion at length.
Dana, Mark, Charles and I spent about an hour in the pool having a great time. Charles was certainly much more at ease with us, and was developing more confidence in himself as the days passed without his mother's influence.
After we got out, Charles retreated into the Media room as he wanted to get out of the sun and watch the Blue Jay game on TV. He had fair skin as many red-haired people had, and he burned easily. As well, he looked a little tired and according to Mark he would likely doze a bit while he watched the game. I was sure he was starting a growth spurt which would explain his fatigue. I was hoping it wouldn't be long before he would lose his baby fat and start to really shoot up. His father was a little over 6 feet and was very athletic and I figured that he would take after him at some point. I also knew that his diet was improving as Mark was very conscious of good nutrition, something Marjorie was not.
"I want to get Charles in to see a doctor for a check-up this week. Do you think Dr. Rash is taking new patients?" he asked.
I told him he could ask Scott in about an hour as he was coming over for the BBQ. He told me that Charles had healed physically pretty well from Marjorie's abuse but he knew that he was starting a growth spurt and he wanted a thorough check-up by someone 'competent' as he put it. Apparently Marjorie had been taking him to her cousin who was a Family Doctor, but she was not very good. As well, Charles was very shy around her and didn't like having a female doctor.
Mark wanted to talk and started to tell us about some of the details about his life with Marjorie. Apparently they had been dating in University and they weren't very careful and Marjorie got pregnant. She wanted to have an abortion, but Mark insisted on marrying her and having the baby. Both sets of parents were in agreement, but Marjorie wasn't very happy. Finally she gave in and they got married before Charles came along. She always resented the fact that her life was not what she wanted it to be and took it out on Charles as he was growing up, subconsciously blaming him for cramping her lifestyle.
"I was forever intervening in the numerous tirades she unleashed on him. Some days she was so good to him and others she was the wicked witch of the north," he said as he sighed.
Then he went on to tell us he had received a nasty call from John Tusak, Marjorie's lawyer demanding the regular monthly support payment for Charles.
"What an ass! I told him hell would freeze over before she got another dime from me," he said. "I also told him that he should listen more closely when a judge is speaking to him and that he apparently missed the detail that Charles is no longer in her custody."
Dana and I were very pleased at his new found assertiveness. He then went on to say that he immediately called Ray who verified for him that Judge Steenhof had called the provincial support payment agency and cancelled the support payment order.
"I also heard via the grapevine that Marjorie's board is meeting this week and they are going to be canceling her contract immediately."
He told us that she had enrolled in a substance abuse program at the insistence of Tusak, as he said that would mitigate her sentencing when she's convicted.
"That weasel has every angle covered," he said with disgust.
Scott arrived about 4 pm. and helped himself to a Stella Artois from the fridge. He came down into the Media room, and we could see him through the patio door talking to Charles. After about 5 minutes he joined us at the patio table.
"He seems much better. The bruising is gone and his hearing doesn't seem to be any the worse for wear," he said.
"Dr. Rash, are you taking new patients?" Mark asked.
"It's Scott when we're not in the office, and yes I am. Are there a couple of people you had in mind?" he asked with a smile on his face.
Mark told him about his concern with Charles' previous medical care and that he was sure he was starting a growth spurt and he wanted to get him checked out before he started to play hockey in the fall. He told us he had taken the next two weeks off to be with Charles and get things straightened out and that an appointment anytime during the next week was fine. By now Charles had joined us and sat down at the table.
"Call on Monday and my secretary will book one." He turned to Charles and said, "We'll take a look and make sure everything's working fine," he said as he smiled.
Charles blushed and gave a weak smile as I was sure he had been talking to the boys about their check-ups. He then left and went into the pool to swim. Scott asked Mark how Charles was coping and he told him that he was coming around, but he felt it would take some time before he fully adjusted to his new life. In the course of the conversation Mark told him that Charles was going to be 14 very soon, which surprised Scott.
"I would have guessed around 12."
Scott then asked Mark if he had had 'that talk' with him and Mark said he hadn't had a chance. I could tell from his body language that was an excuse and that he was uncomfortable about broaching the subject with him. He gave Scott permission to have a preliminary discussion with him about sex, and said that would take some of the pressure off him about bringing up the subject.
"My son is shy like I am. I can take it from there if you start the ball rolling," he said with a relieved look.
We had a great BBQ and I topped it off with Irish coffees made with Bushmills. When we were saying goodbye to Mark and Charles at the front door, Dana went to pat Charles on the back as we both had been doing to him. He had always been shy around us and she didn't push being too affectionate with him. This time though, he gave her a hug, so when it was my turn I put my arm around him and gave him a squeeze. We both enjoyed seeing his big freckled face smile and his eyes sparkle at the show of affection.
I tried to keep myself busy the next week while the boys were at camp as it took my mind off their absence. Spending the entire week alone with Dana helped, as our relationship became stronger. Each day brought us closer together and I knew that there was no doubt in my mind what I wanted to happen.
The plans for Jake's family party were finalized, and even though it was the middle of the summer and people were away on holidays, I managed to get most of the family committed to attending the party. I also finalized the plans for the last two weeks in Italy and Ireland. I had a surprise planned that the boys would like and I was pondering a couple of others.
On Tuesday morning I was helping Dana load food into her car for a breakfast that she was catering. It was early and when we were pulling out of the driveway we saw Mark and Charles jogging down the street. Mark was going at half speed so Charles could keep up to him and they waved as they passed by.
"That boy's not going to have baby fat much longer if Mark has anything to say about it," I said as we watched them turn the corner out of sight.
Mark called after dinner that evening and wanted to know some real estate information. He had an agent taking him around to see some houses and he wanted to know about the area where two of them were located. He was going to sell his house in the city and move to the town as soon as he could.
"I have one of the units here in your complex to look at and two other houses as well," he said.
I was surprised when he told me he was considering a unit in the townhouse complex, as they were quite expensive. He told me that the other houses were in the same price range.
"I told you, Al, money isn't a problem. The only reason I wasn't living in the town, was the agreement between Marjorie and me. I had to live elsewhere," he said.
I told him the area that he was looking in was excellent and that was where I was considering moving to before I found the current house. I asked him if Charles was going along and he said that he was going to call Mandy Oakes to sit with him.
"Dana and I are home tomorrow afternoon. Why don't you drop him off here and stay for dinner afterwards. We'd love to have him and I'm sure he'd love to swim."
He told me he didn't want to impose, but I insisted and he agreed.
Charles had a great time in the pool after Mark dropped him off, as Dana and I played Frisbee with him. I smiled as I thought back to the first few times I saw him, and he had certainly come out of his shell with us. He wasn't the nervous and shy little boy he was before. After a while we got him out of the pool and had him put on some more sunscreen as we sat at the patio table under the big umbrella. I noticed his hair was getting a little shaggy and I asked him where he went for his haircuts.
"My mom used to take me to her hairdresser," he said as he screwed up his face.
I made a note to tell Mark about Leo when he came back. By now we were all a little thirsty and Dana asked him what he wanted to drink. He smiled and asked for Coke.
"We don't have pop, young man, but how about juice, Perrier, ice water or milk?" I said as I smiled at him.
He playfully pouted and asked for Perrier.
"You're just like Dad. I haven't had pop since I've been with him."
He then went on and told us that he was missing the McDonald's quarter pounders, fries and other high calorie fast food that Marjorie used to feed him because she was too busy to cook.
"Dad doesn't even have candy in the house," he said somewhat exasperated.
We were getting a clue as to why he hadn't lost his baby fat, and we were very pleased that Mark was feeding him lots of vegetables and fruit and restricting his sugar intake.
"If Sean and Jake can get used to a good diet, I'm sure you can too," Dana said as she smiled at him.
He was at ease talking to us, so I asked him how his doctor's appointment went with Scott and he dropped his eyes as I detected a slight blush as he was clearly embarrassed. I decided I wouldn't pursue any details and let it rest.
"Well I'm sure you're good for the next 7000 kilometres, young man," I said as Dana and I chuckled.
Then I thought I'd ask him about how he felt about his timetable next year and when I did his demeanour changed. He gave us a short answer and we both picked up on his anxiousness.
"You don't seem too happy. What's bothering you, Charles?" I asked.
He told us that he wasn't sure he should be in the Advanced level curriculum, because he wasn't a smart person like Stéphane. He also expressed his nervousness about going to the new school and how different it would be compared to grade 8. It was clear to Dana and me that it would take some time before he felt more secure.
"Charles, I told you some time ago that you were a smart boy, and I meant it. You have nothing to worry about. If you work hard you'll be just fine. Remember, I've seen many grade 9 students in my life, so I know what I'm talking about," I said as I gave him a big smile. "And don't think for a moment that most of your friends aren't just as nervous starting High School as you are. After a few weeks you'll all look back and wonder why you got so uptight."
He seemed to relax as he gave us a big smile. Just then we heard Mark's car door close in the driveway and I went up to let him in. He updated me on the house viewings as we made our way down to the pool.
"There was one that caught my eye, but the other two, including the unit in your complex, weren't something I want to put an offer in on. Your townhouse is much nicer and bigger than the one he showed me."
When we sat down at the table he told us all about the houses that he saw, and in particular the one he liked. He was going to see another one the next day and also the one he liked again. This time he was going to take Charles with him.
"I want to make a decision by the end of the week so we can move in before classes start. In the meantime, I've put my house up for sale, and I think it will go quickly. I've had three showings already, and two of the people are coming through for a second time."
We had dinner and were sitting around the pool having dessert and tea afterwards. Mark and Charles were talking about some of the activities they had done and were going to do in the future. Mark was into card collecting and had taken Charles to a couple of shows. Charles seemed very interested and Mark had started teaching him about some of the ins and outs of collecting.
"So I guess a 1962 full set of Topps hockey cards would be worth something today," I said with a big smile on my face.
Mark asked if I wanted to sell them and I told him I had thrown them out when we had moved my mother out of her house and into an apartment in the 80's.
"I don't want to tell you how much they would be worth today. It would depress you. The Bobby Hull card alone is worth over $250," he said as he winced.
Charles then told us that he and Mark were going to go in a 5 kilometre run together the next weekend, which was a fundraiser for a children's charity Mark supported. I could see the look Dana was giving me as they talked and I knew that she was as happy as I was at the bonding that was happening between the two of them.
After they left Dana and I sat by the pool having a glass of wine before we went to bed. We were talking about the impending move of Mark and Charles and she could see that something was bothering me.
"Dana, these last two weeks have been marvelous having you with me, and I don't want to have to live apart again. I want you to move in with me. Permanently."
I caught her off guard, and she was speechless for a few moments.
"Al, I want that as much as you, but the boys..."
I cut her off and leaned over and took her in my arms and gave her a passionate kiss.
"They're important to both of us, but they can't rule our lives. I need you and I'm very much in love with you," I said as we broke the embrace.
We gazed into each other's eyes and finally Dana put her arms around me and we kissed once more.
When we finally came up for air she said, "You're a very persuasive man, Al Burger. I love you too."
We finished our wine and closed up the house and went to bed.
The next morning Dana and I talked about me offering to sell the townhouse to Mark. I was glad she didn't think that was my motivation for asking her to move in, but it was a convenient solution. The situation with Mark looking for a house helped spur me on to do something I knew was inevitable. I called Mark and asked him if he would consider buying the townhouse, and he didn't hesitate and said yes.
Things moved fast. Mark and Charles came over in the late morning and we worked out a price and move-in date. Dana and I made plans to move what furniture Dana wanted from the townhouse the next week as we were leaving for Europe the week after. We also put Dana's house on the market and called a staging company as the house was bare as much of her belongings had been moved to the townhouse.
It would be a busy next week, as we had the hearing for Jake and then his family party as well, to say nothing of the packing we would have to do. I also ordered Jake's ring from the jeweler, which would be similar to Sean's. I had another diamond from Lorraine's ring that would be imbedded in his as well. His ring had the initials GPD rather than GPB since he was keeping his last name. I also picked out something else I would need in the coming weeks.
I decided to take the Beemer for the drive to the camp to pick up the boys, as it was a beautiful summer day. I put the top up as we drove on the four lane highways, but put the top down when we got closer to the camp.
When we arrived I saw the camp director Bev Decker, who I knew well from my teaching days. I went over to say hello, as we hadn't seen each other for a few years. I had hired her for my department fifteen years ago right out of teachers college. This was a summer job she had had for some years, as this was her passion, developing kids' leadership skills.
"I couldn't believe my ears when Sean told me you were his father," she said as we greeted each other and I had introduced her to Dana.
I explained the circumstances and also told her that Jake would soon be my son as well.
"I'm either very brave or very crazy... I'm not sure which," I said as the three of us laughed.
"Both boys are fine young men, and you must be very proud of them."
"We are," Dana said as she held my hand.
Bev gave me a knowing smile as she was putting two and two together. She then went on to tell me some specifics of what she had seen over the week. Sean and Jake had entertained them by the campfire as they played some guitars that two staff members had brought up with them. They also led the sing songs they had by the campfire most nights and got the other kids going.
"Different styles, but both are going to be fine leaders as they grow up. Jake's the outgoing one, but Sean is the quiet unassuming type."
She went on to tell me that Jake was the one the kids designated to give the thank you speech to the camp counselors at the closing ceremonies the night before. She then gave us some of the details about how they had both taken charge of some of the activities during the week, and how the other kids looked up to them as leaders. She also told me that Rachel and Melissa had blossomed as well.
"When we got Sean and Melissa on track they certainly were on a par with Rachel and Jake," she said with a wry smile.
Dana and I didn't quite know what she meant by the comment and she continued with a big grin on her face.
"Let's just say the counselors had to focus their attention on camp activities early on."
Dana and I both frowned but she told us things worked out fine and didn't want to disclose any details. We left and went to get the boys.
When we arrived at their cabin, Jake and Rachel were outside talking and they were facing each other holding hands. It certainly appeared that they had become closer over the week. We couldn't see where Sean and Melissa were until we looked over to the big tree to the right of the cabin. Sean was leaning with his back against the tree with his arms around Melissa and she was draped over him with her head on his shoulder. As soon as they saw us they broke the embrace and came over to greet us holding hands. I really felt subdued as I realized that the naive young boy I had found at the rink some six months ago was now gone forever.
On the ride home Jake was his usual chatty self, giving us a detailed account of the week. Sean however, was pretty quiet and occasionally offered up some details. He had the look of a love struck puppy and was in outer space most of the ride.
"I gather you and Mel got along well this week," I said as I looked at him in the rear view mirror. He just gave me a big smile.
Jake told us of some of the activities and how much fun they were. He didn't realize that most of them were designed to bring out the kids' leadership abilities while they enjoyed themselves. Both Sean and Jake had a favourite game called Pirate that they played in the late afternoon each day. They were broken up into teams of four kids and one of them was designated a team leader. Sean and Jake, as well as Rachel and Melissa had been chosen as leaders for their teams. Each member had an air mattress and foam noodle as a weapon with which to attack the other team that they were competing against. They had to get to a dock in the middle of the swimming area first to get the 'treasure chest'. If they were knocked off the air mattress they were eliminated, and the other members of the team had to pull up the slack. Each of the teams competed against another team until there was a winning team. The order of finish determined the order going to the buffet line at dinner. The team leader was responsible for setting the team strategy and getting everyone working together.
"Bulldog won the first night and my team came second a couple of times," Jake said with a big smile.
"How did the girls do?" Dana asked.
There was a pause and finally Sean said with an exasperated tone in his voice, "Rachel and Melissa's teams were either first, second or third all week."
"Sean Burger. Do I detect a note of chauvinism in your voice?" Dana said.
He wisely clammed up as Jake and I chuckled.
When we got into the house, we told the boys we wanted to talk to them when they got settled. They came into the living room about a half hour after we had arrived and we all sat down.
"We have a couple of things to tell you that have happened over the week while you've been away," I said.
I told them that I had sold the townhouse to Mark and that since Sean was on the deed as one of the owners, he would have to sign the acceptance of Mark's offer. They both looked at me with very puzzled expressions.
"You said a couple of things," Jake said.
"Boys, you know Dana and I are very much in love, as we talked about this before with you. We've decided that Dana is moving in with us for good, and we hope that you're Ok with this," I said.
The two of them looked at each other and finally Sean spoke.
"We're ok with it, because we know you really like each other and everything," he said as Jake shook his head in agreement.
It wasn't a ringing endorsement, but it seemed that having their love interests so close to them for a week had softened their outlook somewhat. They came over and gave us hugs and smiles, but no congratulations.
That night we went into Jake's room first to put him to bed. He told us he had a great time at camp and we told him we were proud of the glowing report Bev had given us about him over the week.
"She said you're going to be the Prime Minister some day," I said as I gave him a big smile and patted him on the shoulder.
"Of course we already knew that," Dana said as she ran her hand through his hair.
He gave us a big smile and rolled over to go to sleep.
When we went into Sean's room he was almost asleep, but he woke up when he heard us come in. Dana told him as well about the report Bev had given us and also about how proud we were.
"We're so glad the camp counselors were able to help you and Melissa focus on the camp activities," Dana said with a sly grin.
He gave us a sheepish smile and didn't say anything. I hadn't said a word up until this point and I was staring at him.
"What?" he asked as he looked at me.
I smiled at him and patted Teddy which he was holding in his arm and said, "Please don't grow up too fast, Son."