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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The characters from the story Substitute Dad featured in this chapter appear with the permission of Scribe1971. Substitute Dad is hosted on Ted Louis' site as well as the Storylover's site at http://storylover.us/Main_Site.php.
Just when I thought my family's lives were settling down and peace and tranquility would be the norm, I was brought back to reality. I was about to experience the wisdom of the phrase that I frequently used with the boys that 'life doesn't always go in a straight line'.
"You must be psychic, dear. I just got off the phone with the secretary at Garth's school and his new teacher is the one that was transferred for disciplinary reasons."
I wasn't very happy and I filled her in on the conversation. The principal, Mr. Landen, was busy and the secretary was very accommodating and gave me the information. She had been careful to omit the part about the disciplinary nature, which precipitated the teacher's arrival, but this was the only teacher that had transferred into the school over the summer, so I knew it was the one Dana had heard about in conversation. Dana was very concerned, particularly after I gave her the rest of the news.
"It gets worse. The teacher is Serena Lang."
I filled her in on the history, as we weren't together when the incidents with Sean and Jake took place at church.
"You have to do something about this, Al. We can't have Garth put in that situation, especially given her dislike of the boys in her classes."
"The secretary has passed on my request to the principal for a meeting as soon as possible," I said, as I tried to calm her down.
We agreed we wouldn't speak of this when the boys were around, as we didn't want Garth to become concerned. Like Sean had been, he was fretting about fitting in with a new set of classmates in a new environment and this wouldn't help his anxiety. I really wasn't as worried about that as I was with Sean, because Garth was a gregarious boy and would soon make friends. However, I was worried about how he would fare with Ms. Lang.
The week before school started, the boys were making the most of their last few days of 'freedom'. We had spent a fair bit of time doing back to school shopping to get them outfitted for the new year. Sean, Jake and Glen weren't that hard to outfit, as they knew what they wanted to wear and went off by themselves without our 'help'. Our role had been reduced to paying for their purchases, however, they understood that we reserved the right to veto anything we deemed inappropriate. Even though they had different tastes in clothes, there were some inevitable similarities, which were common in boys their age. Jeans, cotton twill pants, t-shirts, polos, sweaters, hoodies and running shoes comprised much of the considerable Visa bill after we had finished. Sean was still into the preppy look, Jake loved his soccer shirts and Glen was into an artsy look. Thank goodness Glen had outgrown the black Metallica or Guns and Roses t-shirts that he wore when he first came to live with us.
Garth however, was a little more interesting. The boys had offered to take him to get him outfitted, but both Dana and I vetoed that proposition.
"I think maybe we'd like to have some input into Garth's clothing selection," I said, as I gave the boys a big smile.
"We wouldn't get him weird stuff," Sean said, as he looked at Glen and Jake with a devilish smile.
We had some tussles with Garth picking out his wardrobe, but we always managed to come to a compromise. That's how he ended up with the running shoes with the lime green laces, which he didn't tie up at the top but tucked the ends under the tongue. He wanted a much more 'vibrant' pair, but the laces were an appeasement with the pair of shoes we picked out for him.
"The teachers are going to have to wear sunglasses when they're out there on the playground with you," Dana said, as she chuckled.
I also took them to Leo to get their hair cut. Glen was still sporting longer hair and as much as Dana tried to gently persuade him to have it shorter, he still wouldn't change his mind. Once again, Leo did a great job of trimming his hair but leaving it fairly long and tidy. Garth decided he wanted to get a new faux-hawk haircut, as he liked the picture in one of the magazines that Leo had in the waiting area. I wasn't sure how Dana was going to react to the new 'do', but Garth was very pleased. It looked somewhat like the old Mohawk cut, but the topnotch was much shorter and the hair on the sides wasn't shaved. The haircuts weren't just for school, but they were also for John and Susan's wedding, which was quickly approaching.
"You're a cool dude, Garth. The girls aren't going to be able to keep their hands out of your hair," Sean said, as the three boys chuckled.
He was getting used to their teasing him and he stuck out his tongue at them.
"Oh my... that's different," Dana said, as Garth walked into the Kitchen. "Is there something in your hair making that top notch stand up?"
"It's hair cream," he said with a big smile, as he held up the jar Leo gave him.
This was the same stuff that Sean used, but Garth wanted his own jar.
"So does that mean that you're going to do something to tame that mop of hair of yours every morning?" Dana said. He just laughed and helped himself to the snack she had for the boys.
I also went shopping for the new clothing for the hockey teams with the boys and Rickie. I was sponsoring the older boys' team as well as Garth's and we needed team jackets for when they went to tournaments. What I didn't realize is that we needed team hats, as well.
"Are you serious?" I asked, as Glen, Sean and Jake decided on a charcoal plaid aviator winter hat with ear flaps.
"That's way cool. We can have the team crest on the front," Sean said.
"Hey look, Garth. They come in kid's sizes too," Jake said, as he showed him the catalogue. "Your team can have the same hat."
When we got home the boys had to show Dana a picture of the hats they had picked out, as they were very pleased at the choice.
"Well... your heads will be nice and warm," she said, as I could tell she wasn't wild about the hat.
"Dad got one for himself and the coaches, too," Sean said, with a big smile.
Dana looked at me, shook her head and rolled her eyes.
When the boys had left the Kitchen she said with a smile, "Sometimes it's hard to figure out who the kids are around here. I'm going to have to call you trapper Al."
On the Wednesday before school was to start I finally got called by the school to go in and see the Principal to resolve the Serena Lang issue. I had a feeling things weren't going to go as well as I would have liked, when the secretary gave me a concerned look when I was ushered into his office.
"I'm Mr. Landen, the Principal. Please sit down and tell me what brings you here," he said, curtly.
He was in his early fifties but looked much older from the way he dressed. I got the distinct impression from his body language that he also was a 'stuffed shirt'. I decided to be up front with him and I outlined my concerns and that I wanted to have Garth transferred into the other class that was a split grade 4/5. I told him of the history behind my request as well as the fact that I was aware of the nature of her transfer from the other school. I decided not to let him know about my connections and knowledge of the school system.
"I'm afraid I can't do that, Mr. Burger. We have strict guidelines as to staffing levels and that class is full. Besides, I don't share your concerns about Ms. Lang's competence. I've worked with her before and I found her to be very professional in her approach," he said, with an arrogance that I found very distasteful.
I was getting very angry and I thought better of arguing with him, as I was likely to say something that would aggravate the situation. I realized that I was going to have to rethink my strategy. I decided to end the meeting and let him know I didn't regard his decision as final.
"I'm sorry you and I couldn't resolve this, Mr. Landen. I didn't want to have to escalate this," I said, as I got up and didn't offer to shake his hand. Watching his smug expression change to one of concern as I made my comment was the best part of the meeting.
"Oh, oh. I see smoke coming out of your ears, Al. I take it the meeting with the Principal didn't go well," Dana said, when I got home.
"That principal is a patronizing old goat. He refused to change Garth's class assignment," I said. "He also told me he regarded Ms. Lang as a competent teacher, as he had worked with her before."
We didn't realize it but Garth overheard our conversation and came into the Kitchen. He was very concerned.
"I don't want to change classes cuz I won't know anyone. At least I have Mandy and Derek in my class," he said.
He really was upset at the prospect of changing classes and I was now in a quandary.
"Maybe we should leave things as they are and monitor the progress, Al. He's a resilient kid and he may not have the same trouble that Sean did. Maybe she'll be on her best behaviour, given the fact that this is a disciplinary transfer," Dana said, after Garth had left the room.
Against my better judgement, I agreed and we told Garth later that nothing would change.
For the two weeks before Labour Day at the beginning of September, the Canadian National Exhibition runs in Toronto. This was the 132nd year the exhibition had been in existence and it was an institution in Canada. It had its own permanent grounds where it took place, which was in the western end of the city. It had seen its glory days, but it was still very popular. We took the boys on the Thursday before the long weekend and the older boys were meeting up with their love interests and spending the day with them while we took Garth and Derek around.
Rachel had come in to stay with Melissa and they took the street car to the grounds, along with Mara. The boys had arranged to meet them by the main gate at 10 am.
"Let's meet up at the Food building at 1 pm. for lunch," Dana said to them.
The six of them were very happy as they took off for the Midway, which was where all the rides and amusements were. We headed off to the Kids' World Park with Garth and Derek.
It was an interesting morning with the two younger boys, as we spent time at the petting zoo, the birds of prey exhibit and watched as they went on numerous rides in the kids' midway. It certainly brought back some distant memories of when we had been there with our kids when they were that age.
"You should've seen this funny little horse with the big neck," Garth said with great excitement, when we hooked up with the others at the food building.
"He's talking about the Llama that they saw in the petting zoo," I said, as they didn't quite know what Garth meant.
After lunch we had to make a trip back to the LX, as the boys had 'won' some large stuffed animals for the girls.
"How long did it take to win these treasures?" Dana asked, with a big smile.
"Sean took a couple of minutes. Glen and I took lots longer because we don't throw a baseball like the pro here," Jake said, as he smiled and pointed to Sean.
"I could've bought two of these with the money it took to win it," Glen added.
We took Derek and Garth to the Superdogs show, in the afternoon, which was very entertaining. There were a number of different dogs that were trained to do fetching and jumping tricks that were amazing. The dogs were certainly better trained than the dog we had for my girls when they were younger. We then ended up at the feature stage to see Doo Doo's Dance party. Both boys liked to dance and even though it was designed for kids a little younger than Garth and Derek, they enjoyed bopping around with the clowns.
"You two are dancing machines," I said, as we left the area after the show was finished.
The two boys were still bopping around as we walked to the park area where we were meeting up with the rest of the kids. As we approached them we noticed that Sean and Melissa were sitting against a tree, snuggled together with Melissa's head on his shoulder.
"Are you two all tired out?" I asked, as they untangled themselves and gave me a big smile.
My attention was quickly diverted from the two love birds as Dana was having a fit beside me, talking to Jake and Glen.
"Please tell me those aren't real," she said, as she lifted Jake's arm.
They had tattoos on the back of their upper arms, which were either Chinese or Japanese characters. I glanced back at Sean and he had one on his upper arm, as well. By now the three boys were laughing, as were the girls.
"They're henna tattoos. They're not real," Sean said, with a big smile.
We didn't get a straight answer as to what the characters meant, as the six of them were being evasive. The girls had tinier tattoos in less conspicuous places and I was sure that the girl's parents weren't going to be thrilled about the new artwork.
"Just make sure you tell your parents we had nothing to do with this," I said to the girls.
Eventually Dana calmed down, but she still wasn't very happy at the conspicuous nature of the tattoos on the boys. She also knew that it would take quite a while for them to wear off.
We walked the girls to the street car platform later that evening with their stuffed animals, after we had something to eat. Even though it was crowded we were instructed to wait far enough away so the boys could say goodbye to the girls with some modicum of privacy.
Everyone was tired on the ride home and except for a few highlights of their day, we didn't hear much of what the older boys had been up to.
We were planning on taking off to Collingwood to our fractional ownership cottage for the long weekend before school. This was a luxury cottage that was usually sold to five different owners, which gave them the rights to certain weeks during the year. I liked the location and figured it would be easier to purchase all the weeks than build my own somewhere else. It also came with housekeeping services and they would rent it out on the weeks that we didn't use it if we chose to do that. Like the house in Naples, the extended family made good use of it. Katie and Marty had spent the week there and we were going to join them for the weekend.
The night before at dinner, Garth had a joke that turned out to be prophetic.
"Mandy told me a joke when I was talking to her on the phone today," he said, with that usual twinkle in his eye.
"I think we've already heard the joke," Glen said, with a straight face.
"How do you know? I didn't tell it yet," Garth said, with a puzzled look.
When he figured out Glen was teasing him he started to pout, which lasted about twenty seconds after we encouraged him to continue.
"How do you know when a dog has been naughty?" he said, accompanied by the usual giggling.
The older boys offered silly answers, which fuelled Garth's giggling even more.
Finally he told us the punch line, "It leaves a little poodle on the carpet!" Once again the five of us groaned.
The next morning our plans changed when we got a call on the phone.
"Your friend with the dog called when you were out. She needs to get rid of it, as he and the cat are not getting along. I told her we'd get back to her as soon as possible," I said, when Dana came in from the store.
"I'm Ok with taking him, but we should talk it over with the boys first," she said.
Before I could say anything, we were joined by four very excited boys who had overheard the conversation.
"Can we go get him now?" Sean asked.
"We can stop at the pet store to get the stuff he'll need," Jake said.
The ride back from the woman's house was an interesting one. As we drove away, Barney got up on Sean's shoulder and looked out the back window anxiously panting at his former owner. We were now the third owners in his short two years of life and the poor little guy wasn't dealing well with leaving another person he had bonded with. However, he quickly forgot Dana's friend as he got more than his share of attention from the boys.
We arrived home with a whole bunch of food, treats, two doggy beds, blankets and just about everything you could buy for a dog. He was in doggy heaven as he now had four attentive playmates. Dana and I had a tough time getting the boys to come upstairs for dinner as they were having a great time petting and playing with him.
We had a dog when the girls were growing up, so I had some sense of what we had to do to make sure we were in charge, not Barney.
"Boys, get his food and water ready in his bowls and we'll put it in the laundry room for him to eat," I said, as we opened the bag of kibble we got for him.
"Can't he eat with us?" Sean asked, as the other boys agreed with him.
I explained why that wasn't a good idea and we set up his food for him and left the laundry room. We had just sat down, when he walked into the Kitchen, licking his lips and plopped himself underneath the table.
"No feeding him from the table, guys. If you want to give him table scraps take it to his bowl in the laundry room."
I might as well have been talking to the wall as the boys suddenly became very clumsy and had trouble keeping their food on their plates.
He certainly was a smart little dog, as he was litter trained, which I knew was going to be very convenient for us. We had his litter box set up downstairs in the unfinished part of the basement for him. Apparently the breeder had trained all the dogs this way to make them more marketable to apartment dwellers. We were quickly finding out that the Maltese breed was very intelligent, which I wasn't sure was such a good thing. We also found out he was devious, as well.
"Garth, did you take the cookie off my plate?" Jake asked, as we were all watching TV in the Media room after dinner.
"Garth didn't, but I know who did," Sean said, as he pointed to Barney who was eating the last crumb off of the floor.
"Well, I guess that means you can't trust dogs to watch your food," Dana said, with a big smile.
The sleeping arrangements didn't go much better than the rest of our training attempts. We had set up his bed in the hall outside the bedrooms, but he managed to make his rounds over the course of the night. We had shut our door, as Dana was adamant that she didn't want him on our bed. He had however, jumped on Jake's bed for the first part, until Jake had rolled over on him and Barney bit him through the covers. He took off after that and ended up on Sean's bed for the rest of the night. I had a sense that he would be firmly in charge before long, in spite of our best efforts to train him.
Despite all the whining we had heard over the weekend about starting school, all the boys were in a good frame of mind as they got on the school busses the first morning. They were all looking forward to seeing their friends again. The fact that they had a send off by Barney helped. He sensed that they were not going to be around for a while so he had to jump up on each one of them in the hall before they left. They of course had to pet him and bend down to let him 'kiss' them.
That evening, we had the usual dynamic during the dinner table discussion. Glen and Sean were their usual reticent selves and Jake was as chatty as usual. However, Garth was a little subdued.
"Don't we have any new jokes from school tonight, young man?" I asked.
He hesitated and said, "I had to stay in at recess, so I didn't hear any."
He told us that Ms. Lang had kept him inside because she told him he was misbehaving. Apparently he was talking to Derek when he should've been listening to her. The more details he told us about the story the madder I got. He could see from my body language that I wasn't very happy and he was afraid that I would follow through on getting him moved out of the class.
"It was my fault. I should've been listening to Ms. Lang," he said.
"Let's give her the benefit of the doubt, Al. He really doesn't want to be separated from his friends. I'm not sure what's worse; putting up with her, or have him miserable in another class," Dana said, when we were alone after dinner.
"I'm not sure how patient I can be, but I promise I won't do anything at this point. But, if we have any more trouble.... "
It wasn't too long afterwards when my patience was exhausted.
"We'll be right over to get him," Dana said, as she got off the phone on the Friday of the first week after school.
Garth hadn't got off the school bus and Sean, Glen and Jake were very concerned when they came in the door. They were meeting him at the bus stop and walking him home after school each evening. As they were telling us of the problem, a call came in from the school secretary. Ms. Lang had kept him in after school as he hadn't finished his work, along with a couple of other boys.
"Al, I'm going with you. You need to calm down," Dana said.
When we got to the school, we were greeted at the office by the school secretary. Garth and the other boys were sitting on chairs and they didn't look very happy.
"Where is Mr. Landen?" I asked.
"He's gone," the secretary replied. I could tell from her expression she was disgusted.
"And Ms. Lang?" Dana asked.
The answer was the same. We took Garth home and we calmed him down, as he was a little upset. Barney helped, as he was very glad to see him and let Garth pick him up. Dana and I were both very angry.
"You go with Dana and get your snack, Garth. I have something I need to do in the Den," I said, when we got into the house.
Saturday was the final game of the T-ball season and our team had made the final. Garth had become a very competent player and frequently was our last batter in some of the innings. He finally understood the concept of playing hard to help the team, rather than helping the weaker players. He had also gained the respect of our superstar, Ronan, who had begrudgingly acknowledged Garth's hitting ability.
John and Susan were coming to watch and drove over separately and were meeting us at the park. He was a bundle of nerves as we were driving over for the game.
"What if I can't hit the ball when I'm last batter," he said.
"Geez, Garth. You've been smacking the ball over the fielders' heads ever since I showed you what Mark taught me at camp. Chill out," Sean said.
"You're a slugger and sluggers don't miss," Glen said, as he started to tickle his brother to loosen him up.
"Careful, we don't want to have to make any unscheduled washroom stops before we get to the park," Dana said, with a big smile as Garth was into a full scale giggle fest trying to get away from Glen.
It was a tight game and the other team had last bats. We were up by two runs when their last batter, who was one of the best players in the league, came to the plate. He hit a long fly ball and Ronan ran to catch it. He dropped it, resulting in the winning run crossing the plate before he could throw it to the catcher. He was uncharacteristically upset as he made his way to the bench as the other team was celebrating the victory.
"That was a really hard catch, Ronan. You played really good today. You shouldn't be crying," Garth said, as he tried to console him.
We left the boys alone on the bench for a couple of minutes and then we were called to the field for the closing ceremonies and presentation of the trophies. Ronan had settled down, as Garth had done a good job making him feel better.
Most of the boys were over their disappointment at losing the championship by the time we were presented the trophies by the league convenor. Ronan, however, was still somewhat distraught and was the first one to leave the park with his parents. While Garth was disappointed at the result of the game, he was happy that he got a trophy and that he played well. I felt good as well, because to me that's what sports were all about.
"You're our superstar, son," John said, as Susan and he gave Garth a squeeze as we were leaving the field.
While we were on our way to the parking lot, we came across Doreen and Carson Spencer making their way to their car as well. Carson had a game that day and was finished the same time as Garth's Game. Sean, Glen and Jake started to talk to Carson and walked ahead of the adults, while Garth was walking with John and Susan behind us.
"How are things going?" Dana asked Doreen.
She told us that the Arbitration Conference with Suzie and her husband had gone very well. He showed up without a lawyer and tried to defend himself. Suzie made short work of him and managed to get a court order which compelled him to disclose all his sources of income and assets. They would also be given access to his tax records if he didn't comply and be subject to an audit by CRA (Canada Revenue Agency), which got his attention.
"What a pompous fool. Suzie made mincemeat of him in short order. I want to thank you again for recommending her," She said.
We then asked her how Carson was doing and the news was not as good.
"I pray every day when he's left the house in the morning that he won't do anything foolish before I get home in the evening," She said with a great deal of concern in her voice.
She told us that he was getting worse now that the divorce proceedings were moving forward and that he had clear signs of depression. She also knew that he was at great risk for committing suicide.
"Suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people Carson's age. I also know, from my work in the health care system, that we stand an excellent chance of solving his problems through intervention. Our appointment with the psychiatrist is in a couple of weeks and it can't get here soon enough."
"I know the boys have been trying to help him at school, as they're concerned as well," Dana said.
"Your boys have been wonderful supports for him, even if he won't admit it. I appreciate how they've reached out to him over the summer and this week at school. They're the only friends he's got at the moment, as he pushed away all his other friends or they've dropped him."
As we were walking into the house I had a chance to speak to Sean, Jake and Glen alone.
"Mrs. Spencer wanted me to thank you for being a great support to Carson. We're very proud of how you've been good friends to Carson over the summer and this week."
They smiled and nothing else needed to be said.
As the saying goes, things happen in threes. The onslaught of the dog and Garth's problems at school were the first two and during the middle of the week I found out what the third thing was.
"Josh Chambers just told us his Dad is missing in New York," Sean said, as he, Glen and Jake were very upset as they came into the Living room.
They had been talking to Josh on Skype and he told them that Tom Davis had gone down to meet with a company that was interested in buying the rights to the software program that he had developed. Apparently the building where they were meeting collapsed and they weren't able to locate Tom. It was all over the news, but what we didn't know was that someone we knew was involved.
"Why don't I try to get in touch with his partner, Bryan, in Calgary, to see if he knows more information," I said, as we tried to calm the boys.
"Everyone is beside themselves. We haven't been able to get a hold of Tom on his cellphone or get much information other than what's been on the news. The disaster teams are working frantically to save as many people as they can... ," Bryan said, as his voice trailed off as he became very emotional.
"Bryan, our prayers are with you and Tom. If there's anything we can do, please let us know. We'll wait to hear from you," Dana said, as we had it on speakerphone.
"Boys, the best thing you can do now, is keep in touch with Josh to give him support... and pray," I said, as Dana and I gave them hugs.
Garth came bouncing into the house after he got off the school bus on the Monday of the next week. He made a beeline for the kitchen to get his after school snack and was in a much better mood than he had been during the first week. Barney jumping up on him certainly helped, as the two of them had some bonding together, as he had finished his rounds with the other boys. Dana was curious as to why the change in his disposition and she was patient as he was engrossed in filling his empty tummy and petting the dog.
"Do you have some news you want to share with us, Garth?" Dana asked.
He looked at her with a puzzled expression, but finally a light bulb went on.
"Oh yeah. We have a new teacher," he said, as he started in on another carrot stick, which Barney wanted a piece of.
"Can you stop stuffing your mouth long enough to tell us some more details?" she asked.
"Ms. Lang went to another school. We've got Mr. Mendez now," he said, as he continued on with the rest of the snack.
"Mr. Mendez? You mean Diego Mendez?" Sean asked.
"How did you know his first name?" Garth replied.
"He was the tutor dad got for me."
While Garth was telling us how much all the kids enjoyed Diego's first day as their teacher, Dana and Sean were smiling at me.
"You had something to do with this, didn't you, Al," Dana said, after the boys had left the Kitchen to go and get ready to swim in the pool.
I smiled at her and said, "It helps to know the Director of Education. Ken Bainbridge agreed with me that Serena would be more comfortable in another environment. He also realized Mr. Landen was due for a transfer, as they like to move the Principals around every three years."
"And how did you arrange for Diego to take over?"
I smiled and said, "He was on the supply list and I suggested to Ken that he would be an excellent replacement."
"Mr. Burger, you're a devious man, but I love you anyway," Dana said, as I got a big hug and kiss.
Note: the full reference to the event with the characters from Substitue Dad is documented in detail in that story's chapter 55 through 57 at www.tedlouis.com. Because of the difference in time period between the two stories, the treatment of the incident in After The Game is a reflection of that discrepancy.
Garth's running shoes
Aviator hat with ear flaps
The Canadian National Exhibition
Fractional ownership in Collingwood