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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After The Game

© 2010 Felix_P

Chapter Sixty-two

The next morning none of the boys got up early so we didn't suggest going to church. They rolled out of bed about 9:30 and Mark, Jake and Sean decided to go for a run. I thought they were crazy, as there was snow on the ground and it was -3° Celsius. Josh decided to stay and read the paper and talk with me in the living room and Dana was fussing in the kitchen making a farm breakfast for the boys. I offered to make Josh a latte or cappuccino but he chose a hot chocolate instead.

"This is great. I'm going to tell Dad we need one of those machines at home," he said with a big smile.

We talked for a while about his family as well as the trip that Tom, Bryan, Mark and he were going on in the summer. I could tell he was really excited and looking forward to it, not just because of where they would be going, but because they would be together as a family.

"We don't get to see each other as much as we like, so it'll be great to be travelling in Europe together," he said with a big smile.

We then got onto the topic of Sean's revelation the night before and he started to talk about some of the details. He was careful not to reveal everything though, but he did provide some information about Mark and his role.

"We told Sean that now that he was being honest with himself about his past, it was time to be honest with Melissa too. I told him I was sure she wouldn't think any less of him. Mark was the one that suggested he needed to tell Ronald and Charles as well and he agreed as that's what his psychologist said to do too. Jake, Mark and I just provided moral support, but the real hard part was up to him. I have to tell you, Mr. Burger, he's a brave kid. I think having a loving family and a good home had something to do with him being able to pull it off, though," he said with a big smile.

"Are you sure you're only 14 years old, Josh?" I said as I chuckled.

He laughed and said, "That's what my Dad says all the time."

"I appreciate all that you and Mark were able to do for Sean. You two are good friends to both my sons. Thank you," I said as I put my hand on his arm.

"Your sons are good friends to have. Both Mark and I are looking forward to spending some time together with them at camp next summer," he said, with a big smile.

The other boys finally came into the laundry room after their run. They took their running shoes off and walked into the living room in their sweaty, wet track clothes, huffing and puffing.

"I didn't think hockey players could move that fast," Mark said with a big smile on his face.

"We were just running at half speed," Sean fired back as they all laughed.

"Phew, you guys are ripe. How about you throw your stuff in the washing machine and get into the shower," I said as Josh and I held our noses. They just laughed and took off.

Josh had already showered and went with me to the Kitchen to help Dana get the food out and the table set. As we walked through the hallway and passed the Laundry room, I saw a dark-skinned naked butt disappearing down the hall.

"Quickly, Jake, here comes Dana," I called down the hall after him. He ran the rest of the way to the bathroom as Josh and I laughed.

"You'll have to excuse Jake. He thinks he lives in a nudist colony sometimes."

About 11 am. Mark phoned and asked if I wanted him to pick up Josh, Mark and Melissa to take them to the GO station.

"I have a limo coming at two pm. to take them back. Josh and Mark protested as they said they didn't want me to go to that much trouble, but I insisted.

"That's too bad, because Ronald and Charles wanted to see the boys before they left. I think the two of them wanted to talk to Mark," he said.

"Why don't you come over and the boys can talk while Dana, you and I have a coffee together," I said.

When they arrived, the boys greeted each other and went off to the Media room downstairs. The adults stayed up in the Living room.

"They didn't get up until 10 am. this morning. They were a couple of happy boys when they finally got showered and came downstairs for breakfast," Mark said, as he sighed. I could tell he still wasn't comfortable with the arrangement.

"I know you're not happy, Mark, but you have to trust Charles that he's taken to heart what you and Phil have talked to him about and that he's going to make responsible decisions," I said.

The limo was picking up Melissa first and then coming by and picking up Josh and Mark to take them back to Toronto. A little after 2 p.m., Melissa arrived in the limo and came inside until the boys were ready.

"You didn't have to go to all the trouble to send a limo, Mr. Burger. We could have taken the GO train back," she said.

"It'll make things a lot easier having you dropped off at your house," I said, as I smiled.

When the boys came upstairs, Sean took his place beside Melissa and they greeted each other with big smiles. There was some light conversation amongst us all while Josh and Mark got their things together and it was obvious that Sean and Melissa wanted to be alone. Sean was holding Melissa's hand as they went out with Josh and Mark to the limo. Dana and I were watching from the door and when it was time to say goodbye, Melissa gave him a kiss on the cheek once again and said something to him that caused them both to smile.

"Looks like things are still good between you two, dear," Dana said, as he came back into the hall. He gave us a big smile.

On Monday during my session with my 'class', I had a chance to talk to Charles about John Gregory. I asked him if he wanted me to help him approach John and he said he was Ok. He told me that both Ronald and he were going to see him in the guidance office after they had lunch. John had a line of guidance as well as his two classes of business subjects.

"He saw me before school today and asked me if Ronald and I were free after lunch," Charles said.

"Now don't be shy, Charles. He'll help you two with anything you want to ask him, no matter how embarrassing you think it is. Remember, he's been there," I said as I smiled at him and patted him on the back.

At the end of the period, John popped into the resource room to remind them to drop by.

"I usually eat my lunch in my office, so come in when you're finished," he said to the two of them.

After the boys left, John and I had a brief chat.

"I'm glad we've made the connection. I know I can help them avoid some pitfalls down the road that I had to learn the hard way. I'm more than happy to guide them around some of the mine fields they're going to encounter during their high school years," he said.

"I'm not sure about Ronald, but I know Charles is really shy. He probably won't tell you that the two of them had a sleepover at his house this weekend. His father is still uncomfortable with the arrangement, but he agreed after they had a talk about going slow with the sexual aspect of the relationship," I said.

He smiled and told me he'd gently broach that subject with them.

The next day the DECA chapter competition was held at the local University. There were 250 kids from the various high schools in the region, competing to go on to the regional competition in the spring in Toronto.

I was judging the retail marketing portion of the competition, which consisted of a case study that the contestants had 10 minutes to read and prepare for. It was a role playing situation where I was the owner of a business that had a problem that needed to be solved. They acted as a consultant and had to outline to me what they felt needed to be done. There were two divisions and I had the Senior kids. There were other categories, such as finance, accounting and marketing.

All of the grade 9 kids were in the junior portion of the contest. Everyone was required to wear business dress, which meant jackets and ties for the boys and dresses for the girls. They all looked very business-like as they arrived at the contest and milled about before the opening remarks by John, who was the director of our chapter, as well as the Ontario president.

Jake was in the retail category and Sean was in the Finance part of the competition. I knew the judges in both categories and I was very pleased with who they would be talking to. The Finance judge was in the loans department of the TD Canada Trust bank and was a member of the golf club. The retail category was one of the owners of the local Swiss Chalet restaurant, who attended our church.

"Now remember boys, just relax and make sure you read all of the case. If you don't understand anything, just ask one of the teachers who are helping out," I said, as I gave them a reassuring smile.

Sean was a little nervous, but Jake was his usual calm collected self. The day went well and when the results were announced, all of my 'class' as well as Jake and Sean would be competing in the regional competition in the Spring in Toronto.

"Congratulations, boys," I said, as I put my arms around them as we left for the parking lot.

"It was a lot of fun," Jake said with a big smile.

"I was nervous at first, but when I saw the case study I knew how to answer it, so I felt Ok," Sean said.

That evening at dinner, Dana and I had a conversation with the boys about plans for Christmas Eve and day. We told them that we were having a family dinner at the house and their sisters, their partners, Dana's daughters and my sister would be there. We also wanted to know what Christmas traditions they had from the past that they wanted to continue with.

Jake was the first to speak and said, "We always had a fish meal on Christmas Eve with a pasta dish and Italian Panettone."

Even though his uncle and mother weren't devout Catholics, it appeared that this tradition of eating fish was religiously inspired.

"That's no problem, Jake. I've made Panettone before," Dana said with a big smile. "Let me look up some recipes and we can sit down together and come up with something really tasty."

"I also had my own nativity scene in my room," he said.

Dana and I told him we could go and shop for one during the week. I was now looking at Sean and he had a sombre look on his face.

"What traditions would you like to continue?" I asked.

He hesitated and finally said, "We never had any traditions. We also didn't have Christmas for the last two years."

His response was another reality check and I was concerned that he might start to get emotional again. Dana and I looked at each other and I could tell she was thinking the same thing.

"Let's not dwell on the past, Sean. This is going to be a very happy time for all of us this year," I said, as I put my hand on his arm.

"Why don't you start a new tradition, dear," Dana said as she gave him a big smile. "Can you think of anything you'd really want to do or eat?"

He thought for a few moments, and then said, "Can I go to the Salvation Army Centre on Christmas day in the afternoon to help serve Christmas dinner?"

Neither Dana nor I spoke for a few moments as we were quite surprised at his request. The Salvation Army Centre served Christmas dinner to the needy and homeless every Christmas day in the afternoon. They always needed volunteers to help out and Lorraine and I had done this for a few years early on in our marriage before the girls came along.

"I think that's a great idea, Son, but how about we all go," I said as I gave him a big smile.

Jake was in agreement as he was shaking his head yes. Sean then told us that he and his mother had to go there a few times over the years and he wanted to give back his time as thanks. I was happy that Sean was opening up about some of the details from his past and that he seemed to be dealing with it much better now. I could see that the stability in his life, as well as the sessions with Phil were having a very positive effect on him.

"That's the only Christmas dinners I can remember," he said, matter-of-factly. "Major Bournes was really nice and always let me get two helpings."

That led into another topic that Dana and I wanted to broach with the boys.

"We also wanted to talk to you boys about Christmas gifts," I said.

I suggested that one of the gifts we give each other would be a donation to the person's charity of choice.

"How about our gift to you is a donation to the Salvation army to fund the entire Christmas dinner, Sean," I said.

That met with his approval, as he gave us a big smile as he shook his head yes. Jake agreed as well to our suggestion and his charity was called Innner City Kidz, which was an organization that tried to transform the lives of inner city children, break the cycle of hopelessness, and end child poverty. Jake had attended some of their Saturday sessions when he was younger and enjoyed the experience.

"They used to have a bus that picked up all the kids on Saturdays. It was a lot of fun and we learned about being good citizens and kind to other people," Jake said.

My charity was the Canadian Tire Jumpstart program that helped kids in financial need participate in organized sport and recreation. My Foundation was a financial supporter of the overall program, but this donation would be directed to the local chapter, which would help a lot of the kids from Sean and Jake's old neighbourhood.

"I remember the year that I got to play Hockey, my registration was paid by a company or something. My mom's boyfriend at the time said something about Canadian Tire," Sean said.

Dana chose the Breakfast Clubs of Canada which was an organization dedicated to providing services and funding to school breakfast programs. She asked that the donation be targeted to the inner city schools from the boys' old neighbourhood, as well. She frequently volunteered for the breakfast programs at a couple of schools there, helping out with the food preparation and serving the kids.

"It's heartbreaking seeing some of the kids wolf down the food, knowing that they probably didn't eat the night before," she said, with a sombre look on her face.

We then talked about how much they should donate and that we didn't want them to spend too much of their money. The two boys were very pleased at our suggestion and Dana and I were pleased at their reactions. Both of us were firm believers in showing children how to give their time and energy to others, because it developed in them a sense of morality and philanthropy. We both had encouraged our girls to get involved in the social welfare of the community and we wanted to do the same with the boys. It appeared from their reactions that they didn't need much encouragement, though.

"We're very proud of how you two boys are thinking about the welfare of others. Your Dad and I feel it's important to have a social conscience," Dana said.

We were having our dessert and tea and I could see that Jake had something else on his mind that he wanted to talk to us about.

"Could we visit mom and uncle's grave this week some time?" he asked.

"Of course we can, Jake. How about if we get a wreath for the gravesite as well," I said. He didn't say anything but gave us a big smile.

The next week was a busy one as we got the house ready for Christmas. The boys and Dana decided that my artificial tree that I had wasn't traditional enough for them, so we ended up going to a tree farm after school one day and cutting a spruce tree. It was freezing cold with snow flurries, but that didn't deter the three of them from picking out the 'perfect' tree. I wasn't sure who was the fussiest, as the three of them agonized over the decision. An hour later, we were tying the tree to the roof rack and I was so happy to get back into the LX and warm my frozen body. I was sure that we had looked at every tree in the farm and I was ever so glad when the three of them agreed on the choice and we cut it down.

"This'll look so cool in the Living room," Sean said.

"Are we going to decorate it tonight?" Jake asked.

"I'm not sure I have enough decorations, but we can put up what I have and go get some later if we need them," I said.

I should have been a little more careful about the route I chose to go home, because when I was coming up on Walmart, Dana suggested we pop in for a few moments just to get a few additional house and tree decorations, which the boys heartily agreed to. Another hour and $250 later, we finally made it home. Thank goodness Dana had a casserole in the oven as I was as hungry as the boys were. We were also able to get a nativity scene for Jake's room, which he was very pleased with.

"The three of us can manage to get the tree up and ready for decorating, if you'd like to get dinner out, Dana," I said as we undid the ties on the roof rack.

After dinner we got the tree decorated and some of the other decorations up. Dana did a great job picking out a cream ribbon and ornaments that made for a very tastefully decorated tree. She also had some boughs that she was putting around the house and on the mantle to the fireplace.

"I think I'm going to have to go out tomorrow to get some more things. There's just something lacking," she said, as she surveyed her handiwork. I smiled and knew enough to just agree.

Dana took the boys shopping after school the next day to get Melissa and Rachel's Christmas presents. I figured she would do a better job than I would, helping them get something appropriate. She had been looking forward to the outing for a couple of days and was delighted to be spending some time with them in a motherly capacity. It also gave me a chance to shop alone for Dana's special present.

They arrived home about 6 pm. and I had prepared a nice hearty chilli that I had put on and let simmer, before I left for my shopping trip. The boys were very excited to show me what they had picked out, as was Dana.

"We both got them necklaces," Sean said with a big smile as he opened the jewellery box. "It's Mel's birthstone."

"I'll help you two get them wrapped up tonight after dinner," Dana said, as she gave them a big smile.

I recognized the store that they got it from and I was sure that it was not an inexpensive purchase. Jake showed me his choice, which was a necklace as well in Rachel's birthstone. The two necklaces were very different but tasteful. The boys left the Kitchen to take the necklaces to their rooms and get washed up for dinner.

"You did a great job," I said to Dana as I gave her a hug.

"You don't know the half of it. Sean had picked out a very expensive ring and it took a lot of persuasion to end up with the necklace. He said he just meant it as a friendship ring, but I knew the Morgan's and you would have had a fit," she said, as she gave me a big smile when she saw the concerned look on my face.

"That boy's going to turn the rest of my grey hair white before he's grown up," I said, as she laughed.

The Thursday before the Christmas holidays, the boys had their Christmas band concert at school in the evening. The junior jazz band, which the boys were part of, did a great job. I was pleased at how well the boys and Charles had done learning their instruments over the semester and Ted Brawn had done a great job molding the students into a cohesive unit.

That wasn't the only musical performance the boys were going to give over the holidays. I decided that I'd like to put together some Christmas carols for Christmas day and have a family sing song, with the boys and I playing. I also asked my girls if they'd like to participate and they said they would, but they would practice by themselves.

The next Monday was an important day for all of us, as this was the hearing to decide whether Dana's petition to adopt the boys would be accepted. When we arrived early at the courthouse, Dana was a bundle of nerves. Like Lorraine, she liked to be early for everything and hated to be late. This was a little over-the-top, as we were 45 minutes early, but the three of us didn't protest as we knew she was nervous about how the hearing would go. Ray showed up about 20 minutes later and prepped us about the proceedings.

"I thought you'd be used to stress by now, living with Burger for so long," Ray said to Dana, as he chuckled.

Judge Steenhof once again decided to have the proceedings in his chambers and asked to have the boys come in first to talk to him. They were in there for about 20 minutes and Dana was a nervous wreck.

"There must be something wrong. I just knew this wasn't going to go well," she said with a very worried look on her face.

Finally we were called into the judge's chambers and when we came in the boys and Helmut were having a friendly conversation.

"I'm sorry we didn't call you in earlier, but we were having a great chat. I'm exhausted listening to all the activities these boys are involved in," Helmut said as he gave the boys a big smile.

He then went over some of the housekeeping items relating to the petition and then asked Dana why she wanted to adopt the boys.

"I feel the same about these boys as I do about my girls. I love them dearly and I just can't imagine my life without them. I want them to be able to call me mom," she said as she turned and gave the boys a big smile.

Judge Steenhof didn't say anything, but he grabbed his pen and wrote something on the petition.

He then looked up, smiled at the boys and said, "Your new mom's waiting for a big kiss, boys."

The three of them got up and Dana gave each one of them a kiss and smothered them with a big hug.

"I know I probably won't see you again, but I'd like to wish you good luck. You four were certainly made for each other. Merry Christmas," Helmut said as he shook hands with all of us.

The boys were delighted as they walked to the parking lot. Dana was in the middle of the two of them with her arms around their shoulders, beaming from ear-to-ear.

A few days before Christmas, we were all finishing our tea in the Living Room, listening to the local news. They had a feature where they showed a single parent father who had lost his job a month ago and didn't have enough money to get anything for Christmas for his two boys. They had also had a fire at their house a few weeks before and had lost a lot of their possessions. I could see both boys were very interested in the feature and when it was finished they gave each other a look.

"We went to school with the older son," Jake said.

"He and his brother were nice kids. That's not fair that they can't have a decent Christmas," Sean said, with a very sombre look on his face.

The boys talked to each other quietly during the next few news items and weren't paying attention to the TV. After a few more minutes there was a commercial break.

"Jake and I want to help out that man and his sons," Sean said.

"We're going to call the TV station to find out how we can help," Jake said, as they took off for the Den.

Dana and I just looked at each other as once again the two of them had surprised us. After a few minutes they returned to the Living Room.

"Can we go to Walmart after the news, Dad? We want to get some stuff for that family," Sean said.

Dana and I smiled at each other, and I said, "I think we're all going over, boys."

Over the course of two days the boys had bought an artificial tree, decorations, presents for the boys and the Dad as well as food for a Christmas dinner. They were adamant that they wanted to pay for everything, despite our offer to split the cost with them. We packed everything into the LX and drove to the family's house. They had just got back in as the insurance fixed the damage, but didn't cover their contents.

"This was down the street from where you lived, wasn't it, Jake," I said when we pulled up in front.

When we knocked on the door, the boy that Jake and Sean knew answered. He was surprised to see them and after they made their greetings the father and younger son joined us.

"We saw the news the other night and we felt really bad that you wouldn't have a good Christmas," Sean said.

"We wanted to help you out so we got you a few things," Jake said.

The boys told them about what had happened in their lives and that they were now in a very stable household and considered themselves fortunate. They told them that they wanted to share their good fortune with someone who really needed help.

"You guys c'mon with us. We're going to need some help with this stuff," Jake said to the two brothers.

While they were gone I explained to the father that this was Sean and Jake's idea and that they had paid for everything. The father's eyes just about fell out of his head when he saw the loads of gifts, food and Christmas decorations that were brought in.

"I don't know what to say. This is ..... ," he said as his voice tailed off as he became overcome with emotion.

His sons by now were also aware of the magnitude of Jake and Sean's generosity and gave the two of them big hugs. My boys were a little embarrassed by the spontaneous outpouring of emotion, but they had very satisfied smiles on their faces.

"You can't open anything until Christmas day, guys. We got something for your Dad too," Sean said, as the boys gave the father a big smile.

"All the instructions for setting up the tree are inside the box. We hope you like it and the decorations," Jake said, as the two of them were beaming from ear-to-ear.

"Boys, I know I don't need to tell you what a great thing you two just did, but I will anyway. Both your Mom and I are so proud of you," I said as I put my arms around their shoulders and gave them a hug as we walked to the LX.

On the way home they were chatting about how good it was to see the older brother again and how good they felt that they were able to help someone that was truly in need. I was very happy as the two of them were being very responsible. From experience, I knew that when kids contributed to the welfare of their communities, that they had a better sense of purpose and place.

The Sunday before Christmas, Sean was invited to Melissa's for dinner, so they could exchange presents. We all went to Toronto, as Jake, Dana and I got together with Katie, Marty, Carol and Kyle after we dropped Sean off at the Morgans. Jake had spent dinner with Rachel and my niece's family the day before and exchanged their presents then. When we picked Sean up afterwards, he had that glow about him that he always did after they had been together.

"Did she like her necklace?" Dana asked.

"Yah," he said, as he let out a sigh.

She had got him a beautiful sweater as well as a long sleeve shirt.

"I guess we don't have to ask if you had a good time," I said as we chuckled. He had a big smile on his face.

I was looking forward to Christmas Eve this year, as I hadn't bothered to do anything in the years since Lorraine had passed away. It was a time in our household that I had fond memories of, as my girls were growing up. As with everything in my life these days, I was looking forward to it with renewed interest now that I had Dana and the boys with me.

In the late afternoon, we went down to the cemetery where Jake's mother and uncle were buried and he placed a beautiful wreath on their gravesite. We left him alone for a few minutes and he looked Ok when he came back to the LX. He was quiet for most of the journey home, but was back to his old self by the time we had arrived at the house.

Dana had outdone herself for dinner, as she made Filetti di Pesce Con le Lenticchie (curried fish filets with lentils) with a simple penne pasta and tomato sauce. The boys made the salad and for dessert we had the Panettone cake. My job was to make the egg nog that we had before we ate. Dana and I had some rum in ours, but the boys of course didn't. They did have a taste of ours, but preferred their version better. I wondered how long this dislike of alcohol would last, as I'm sure they weren't going to be teetotallers when they were adults.

"Was that up to your expectations, Jake?" Dana asked with a big smile after we had finished dinner.

"That was fantastic. Thanks," he said, as he returned Dana's smile.

"I'm stuffed," Sean said after he pushed himself away from the table.

"I hope you two aren't too full to sing tonight," I said, as Dana and I chuckled.

The Christmas Eve church service was at 7 pm. and featured a skit involving some adults and kids. It was about the birth of Jesus and had shepherds, wise men and a real baby. In between the parts of the skit there was a narrative being given by Rev. McLaughlin and other readers, as well as the singing of carols by the congregation. Erin Brady had also included the Junior Choir this year and they did three numbers, which were carols as well. Sean was once again complaining about the 'lame' gown he had to wear, as he slung the garment bag over his shoulder as we went to the car.

"The real choir doesn't have to wear a gown with a stupid collar," he said, with a slight scowl on his face. The three of us just tuned him out as we took off.

After we dropped the boys off in the choir room where they changed into their choir gowns, we left to go to the sanctuary. When we got seated in the pew, we saw Mark come down the aisle to join us. We were a little surprised as he had a good looking Asian woman that was accompanying him.

"Dana and Al, I'd like you to meet Sandy Chen," he said, as they sat next to us.

Later, when they weren't looking, Dana and I glanced at each other and smiled. We were glad that Mark was moving forward with his life, like his son was.

Dana and I weren't aware of what the choir was going to perform, as we hadn't seen any of the rehearsals. The first two songs were carols, one of which featured the older girl in the choir as she took a solo part. For the last song, Erin positioned herself in front of the choir and Jake and Sean came forward. The carol was Silent Night, which was one of my favourites. Jake sang the melody and Sean took the harmony part, as the choir filled in the background. It was a very touching rendition and the boys sounded great. Once again, Dana was reaching for a Kleenex, as she was sniffling.

"I can't help it. I'm just an old softy," she said as she blew her nose.

Mark, Sandy and I just smiled, as she finally composed herself.

We met the boys in the foyer after they had changed and we were congratulating them on another great performance. Erin came back as well and was making her rounds of the parents.

"Your boys have a great deal of talent," she said to Dana and me. "They need to continue to cultivate that, so they don't waste their god-given gift."

"I think there's someone else in our household who needs to do that as well," Dana said as she took my arm and gave me a big smile.

"Shame on you. I didn't know you were musically inclined, Al," she said after Dana had filled her in on the meaning of her comment. "You need to provide a role model for your boys."

Mark and Sandy joined us after Erin had left.
"Your boys did a marvellous job tonight," Sandy said to Dana and I. She then took Mark's arm and said, "So did Charles."

She excused herself as she wanted to go tell Charles herself how much she enjoyed the performance.

"She seems like a very nice person," Dana said to Mark.

"She is. We've been out a few times over the last month. She gets along with Charles really well. She also knows about his situation and isn't the least bit phased by it," he said with a big smile.

She had now made her way back to us, after she left Charles who was milling around with Jake, Sean and St├ęphane. Ronald was also with the boys, as he and his parents had come to the service as well.

"Ronald seems like a nice boy as well," she said, as she took Mark's arm once again.

On the way home Dana said, "I'm so glad Mark's found someone. She seems very nice and they seem well suited to each other."

When we were putting the boys to bed that night I noticed that Jake had put the baby Jesus figure in the cradle in his nativity scene on his dresser. I wondered why he hadn't put it in the cradle before this, but I never got around to asking him about it.

"I notice that baby Jesus is now in the crib," I said as I sat on the bed.

"That's an Italian tradition, isn't it, Jake?" Dana said.

"I guess. That's what my mother taught me when I was a little kid. She said I should wait until Christmas Eve before I put him in the crib because that's when baby Jesus was born."

"Well he's safe and sound now," I said as I patted his shoulder. "Good night, Son."

Both boys were up early the next day as they were very excited about opening their presents as they weren't even interested in breakfast. After about a half hour and lots of torn wrapping paper and discarded gift bags, all the presents under the tree were opened. We gave the boys iPhones and clothing that they wanted as well as a special gift for each of them. We got Jake a Kindle reader, which now made sense of the gift card for downloads that Rachel gave him a few days ago and Sean got a multi-effect guitar pedal. Dana was very happy at the Prada purse, wallet and diamond earrings I got her and I was also very happy with the monogrammed shirt with diamond cufflinks that Dana gave me. Once again the boys present to me was another male bonding golf trip, this time to Myrtle Beach for the three of us in November and a Toronto Maple Leaf dressing gown. They got their new mom a very special necklace that I helped them pick out.

"This is beautiful, boys. You two and your Dad did an excellent job," she said, as she gave the two of them a kiss.

"There's one more gift that's not under the tree," I said with a big smile, as I pulled out a card. "C'mon over here boys and help Mom open this."

The three of them were speechless for a few moments after they read the card and note inside.

"I know we went to Niagara-on-the-Lake after we got married, dear, but I just felt we needed a more formal honeymoon. I hope France and Spain is Ok. You two guys can come along too," I said with a big smile.

The three of them came over and gave me a big hug. I explained that we would go the last two weeks of the summer before school started and that we were spending 3 nights in Paris and then touring a couple of other cities in France as well as the French Riviera. After that we would spend a few days in Barcelona and Madrid before we came home.

"This is a trip I've always wanted to take," Dana said as tears rolled down her cheeks as she gave me a very passionate kiss and embrace.

"Ewww," the boys said in unison.

Finally, the boys realized they were hungry and Dana brought out the special French toast she had prepared with fresh fruit cups. After we finished breakfast the boys wanted to try out their presents, before we got ready to go to the Salvation Army centre to serve dinner. We had cooked the turkey and done a lot of food preparation the day before so we wouldn't be running around after we came home from the centre before the rest of the family joined us. When we got to the Centre, the director, Major Bournes, came over and greeted us.

"It's great to see you again, Sean, especially under your new circumstances. I'm so pleased at your generosity and that you now have a loving family. You deserve it, young man," he said as he patted him on the back. Sean had a very big smile on his face.

The boys and I served, while Dana helped manage the kitchen. Sean was very happy and after about an hour and a half, everyone had been served and had left. We started to help tidy up, but Major Bournes came over and told us to go.

"You've done so much, it's time you folks did something for yourselves today. I'm sure you've got plans with other family members for the rest of the day." He then put his arm around Sean and said, "I always thought you were a special young man and you proved I was so right. Thank you and Merry Christmas." Sean smiled and had a bashful look on his face.

The rest of the day went very well. The meal was great and everyone had more than enough. One of the traditions I had was the dessert, which was a carrot pudding with caramel sauce. It was my grandmother's recipe that we had every Christmas dinner. It was definitely not low cal, as the sauce was made with brown sugar, water and butter. My sister and I always had our bowls filled to the brim with a modest amount of pudding and a whole lot of sauce. The boys were in charge of making the sauce and delighted in finishing up the extra ingredients after they were finished.

"This is really good, Dad," Sean said as he went back for a second helping.

"Congratulations, boys. This is just as good as when your great grandmother made it," Maryanne, my sister said as she spooned up the last drop of sauce in her bowl.

"Boys, that's quite a complement," I said as we all laughed.

Dana's girls and my daughters were happy to get caught up on each others' lives, throughout the afternoon. They really had drifted apart since high school, but they still got along well with each other. The boys, Marty and Kyle had a great time playing on the playstation and watching the old classic movie "Slapshot".

After we had some after dinner liqueurs, tea and coffee, we went down to the studio to have a carol sing. The boys played on their acoustics as the rest of us sang. We had some song books that the local newspaper had given out some years ago, as we couldn't all remember the words.

The last song of the night was a collaborative effort with the boys, Katie, Carol and myself. We played 'The Christmas Song', better known as 'Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire'. Katie played the Clavinova, Carol her flute, while the boys and I were on our electric guitars. The boys sang as we played our various parts and did a great job. We hadn't had a chance to rehearse together, but we all had been practicing over the last couple of weeks. It sounded pretty good and after we had finished our 'audience' showed their appreciation by clapping. I was once again very happy and satisfied at being able to perform with my kids.

"You four have just given me another very special Christmas present," I said as I gave them a big smile.

Shortly after the concert, everyone made their way home. Everyone had a great Christmas and thoroughly enjoyed themselves.

When my sister was leaving she gave me a kiss and hug and said, "I'm so glad to see my old brother back again. You haven't enjoyed Christmas this much since Lorraine died."

The boys, Dana and I were tired and decided to finish the clean-up the next day. The four of us were sitting in the Living room having one last glass of egg nog before we went to bed. I motioned for the boys to join us on the couch. They sat on either side of me with Dana on the end. Dana asked them if they had a good Christmas and whether they liked all their presents.

"Christmas was great. My best present was having a family Christmas," Jake said, as he smiled at us.

Before we could say anything Sean said, "That's my best present, too. This is something I've dreamed of for a long time."

"I think you're right boys. You two and your Dad have made this one of the best Christmas' I've ever had," Dana said with a big smile on her face. "How about you, Al? What was your favourite present?"

"My favourite presents came earlier in the year," I said as I smiled and gave the two boys a squeeze. I then gave Dana a big smile and said, "And then I got another great one in the fall."

Breakfast Clubs


The Salvation Army

White Christmas by Libera

Christmas song by Nat King Cole

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