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Marcy wasn't crazy about my smelly hockey equipment. She made me take it down to the back of the basement after my games. She also wouldn't let me put my stuff in the washer with any other laundry.
"They say you shouldn't put sweaty stinky things in with other clothing," she said, with authority.
"Isn't that what a washing machine was for?" I asked.
I knew when I was in trouble. So did Ryan. Marcy liked Ryan. He got the same lecture about his hockey equipment, though, when he stayed over at our place after some of his hockey games. We had a townhouse now. There was a lot more room than the condo apartment we had when we were first married.
I had a man cave in the basement. It had a big screen TV and a surround sound system. Hockey and football games looked great on it. Ryan liked it. He liked the comfy theatre seating we bought to sit in. He liked playing video games on it, too.
"This looks way better on this TV," he said, as he beat me in another game of NHL.
"I bet you Nana doesn't let you turn up your TV as loud as this one, buddy," I said, as I turned down the deafening sound.
He was becoming a fixture at our house. He was over just about every weekend and we also had Nana over on Sundays for dinner. Sometimes my aunt, uncle and their kids came too. Nana was feeling much better. Her heart operation took a lot out of her. It was six months before Ryan could move back. Marcy and I didn't mind. We loved having him. He loved being with us.
"I feel like an outsider, with you guys and your man cave."
"No girls allowed on Sunday," Ryan said, as he laughed.
He had noticed girls. He was thirteen now. He was in grade 8. The girls had noticed him, too.
"I bet if one of your girlfriends wanted to come over, your tune would change," Marcy fired back, as she smiled.
He got quiet. He was embarrassed to talk about that subject. Marcy teased him with it. She thought his awkwardness was cute. It was really awkward when I had to talk to him about sex. We both thought so. Nana couldn't bring herself to do it so she asked me.
"You're the only significant male in his life, Chris. I'm sure you'd do a better job than I could," Nana said, after his birthday party when he turned eleven.
She thought maybe it was time. She found him looking at a picture of a nude woman on the Internet one day. He knew a lot of stuff already. Guys talk. After we got the mechanics out of the way we talked about making good decisions. That was the tough part. I had trouble with that one when I was growing up.
"Just make sure you listen to the brain on top of your shoulders, not the one in your pants," I said.
"Chris!" he said, as he turned a pale shade of crimson.
I guess it was good practice. Marcy thought we should think about having a baby soon. I might have to do 'the talk' again in the future. She said time was ticking on. I was twenty-seven. Marcy was twenty-six. We both wanted one, but I wasn't quite ready. I liked our lifestyle.
"I like the practicing part," I said, as I put my arms around her.
"I think we're ready for the game," she replied, as she smiled.
We talked about how Ryan would react. He was very attached to us. We were to him. We were like his second set of parents. Nana was glad. It took some of the stress off of her. Nana loved the freedom. She was getting out more with her friends. She also went out on some dates. Ryan was amused.
"It's just companionship, Ryan," she said, with a smile.
"Sure, Nana," he said, as he chuckled.
After her heart operation, she asked if we would take him if anything happened to her.
"I couldn't bear to think of him going to his mother in BC," she said, with a worried look one Sunday when she was over, shortly after she got out of the hospital.
"I couldn't either. We wouldn't let that happen," I said, as Marcy shook her head in agreement.
She went to a lawyer the next week and changed her will. I told her we would adopt him if that happened. She was relieved.
Ryan was a good looking boy. He was also charming. He got lots of texts on his cell phone when he was with us at the townhouse.
"Are your buddies making plans for next week?" I asked, as he was tapping away on his iPhone for the fifth time as we were driving to the hockey rink.
"This isn't one of my buddies."
"Is this the little blond girlfriend with the braces, or is this the brown haired one that giggles when I talk to her."
"I don't have a girlfriend," he said, as he looked down at his phone and avoided making eye contact with me.
I was still coaching his hockey team. He was a good player; not a great one. He had fun. He also liked music. He still liked singing. He sang in the school choir. He also played the piano. Nana signed him up for lessons. He had a smaller electronic keyboard at home. He brought it on the weekends sometimes. Marcy and I bought him a Yamaha Clavinova for his thirteenth birthday.
"Now you've got all 88 keys," I said, as he was still in a state of shock after we brought it into his house before his party.
"This is very generous of you two. You shouldn't have," Nana said, as she was getting emotional.
Ryan recovered and gave us big hugs. He was an appreciative kid. He was also an affectionate kid. We were used to his hugs.
Ryan was also a smart boy. He didn't always show it in school, though. Marcy and I talked to him a lot about his education. We weren't always there to get him to do his homework. It was a challenge for Nana.
"If you're going to go to University, you need to have good marks," I said, one Saturday after Nana had told us his report card was just average.
"Maybe I won't go to university," he said, annoyed that we were nagging him.
The neighbourhood he lived in was a blue collar one. Some of his friends' parents didn't value education very highly. Their kids didn't think too much of school, either. Some of them weren't a good influence on him. Nana was glad he was involved with the choir. Those kids were a good peer group for him.
"You need to be as educated as you can. You have the ability and you need to make sure you use it," Marcy said.
I took him to my work at the steel company on career day. He was impressed. He thought it was neat all the computers and my office.
"Do you make a lot of money?" he asked.
"I do. But I have a good education and you need one to be an engineer. That's why you study hard," I said.
He thought about that. I think it started to make sense. I hoped it did.
Life always got complicated. I don't know why. Everything was going great. Well, most things were. My job was a little boring. It wasn't very challenging. I had been there five years and I wanted to do more. My boss told me they wanted to send me to their Chicago office for the month of December. I didn't know why. He said they were grooming me to take over the engineering department there. They wanted me to go down and try it.
"My boss said you don't get a second chance if you turn down an opportunity," I told Marcy, when I got home and told her the news.
"What will happen to my career?" she asked.
She was on permanent staff now with the Board of Education. It took a couple of years to get there. She was very concerned. I told her we could work on those details later. She was still anxious.
"What will happen to our relationship with Ryan and Nana?" she asked.
That was a tougher one. I didn't know. I didn't have a good answer. Ryan didn't take my news very well. He was really disappointed. So was Nana. I had arranged for one of the other parents to coach his hockey team.
"He doesn't know anything. We're going to lose every game, now," he said, in anger.
"That's not fair to Chris, Ryan. I'm sure everything will work out," Nana said, trying to put on a brave face.
It was lonely being in Chicago. The Vice President tried to make me feel at home. He invited me to his place for dinner with his family a couple of times. It wasn't the same as being at home. I missed everyone. I Skyped Marcy and Ryan a couple of times each week. I could see they weren't happy.
"How did your hockey game go this week, buddy?" I asked Ryan, one evening.
"We won," he said, tersely.
"Is that all? Did you get a goal?"
"I gotta go," he said, as he disconnected.
Marcy told me that Nana said he wasn't himself. He was taking this very badly. She had a call from the school that he got in a fight on the playground that week. That wasn't like him. He was giving Nana and Marcy a hard time, too. I knew what that was all about. I gave my uncle and aunt a hard time after my parents were killed in the car crash. I don't know why. They were good to me. I guess I had to blame someone. So did Ryan.
I was offered the job of Director of Engineering at the Chicago plant. They wanted an answer before the end of the year. I told them I would likely take the job. We talked about Marcy and her teaching position. They said they could probably do something.
"I can't just leave my students like that," Marcy said, when I told her the news.
"Don't tell Nana and Ryan just yet. I want to tell them in person when I get home for Christmas," I said.
She talked to her Principal and they worked out a timeline. She could teach until the March break and then come down. That would give me time to line up a house for us to live in. She could fly down on weekends to be with me. She wanted to see the houses and choose. That was ok with me.
"This is going to be so different," she said, with a tone that wasn't very convincing.
It didn't make me feel any better. I wasn't sure if this was the right thing, either. I wasn't excited. I felt really badly the next week when I tried to Skype Ryan and he wasn't online. I knew he wasn't happy. He had always been ready to talk, even when he was not in good humour. His bad humour was more frequent as we got closer to Christmas.
"Nana let it slip about our move. Ryan was really angry," Marcy said, when I Skyped her.
"I thought we agreed not to tell them," I said, annoyed.
"She found out from one of her friends that I was leaving my school."
I called Nana's house. She answered. She said that Ryan wasn't taking the news well. She wasn't either.
I could tell she was stressed when she said, "He won't come to the phone. I just don't know what I'm going to do with him."
My mind was reeling. I couldn't think straight. My uncle and aunt were supportive, but I could tell they weren't happy about me not being close by. I needed some time to think. I took the next day off. I told them at work that I had some things to attend to.
Nana and Ryan were coming over to our house for Christmas dinner. So were my aunt, uncle and their family. School ended a couple of days before Christmas. Marcy worked hard preparing. I came home Christmas eve. I helped a bit. She wasn't very excited. She always loved Christmas time. Not this year.
Ryan and Nana arrived Christmas morning to open presents. They were putting on a brave face. Ryan was talking to me, but it wasn't the same. My aunt, uncle and their family were coming later in the afternoon.
"You three have to open these first," I said, as I handed Ryan, Nana and Marcy an envelope.
They each had the same present. It was a business card. Ryan was puzzled. Nana and Marcy figured it out.
"Does this mean what I think it means?" Marcy asked, with a big smile.
"It does," I said.
Ryan still didn't know what was going on and Nana said with a big smile, "Chris isn't going back to Chicago. He's coming home to stay."
His face lit up like a spotlight. He was smiling from ear-to-ear. He came over to hug me.
"This is the Ryan I've missed for a couple of weeks," I said, as I put my arms around him.
When we broke the hug he asked what the card meant. He still didn't quite understand.
"I'm starting my own consulting firm in Burlington with another engineer friend of mine from University."
I told them that I had arranged with my uncle to finance the start-up. I still had a sizeable chunk of cash in my trust fund. My friend and I had made lots of contacts over the last couple of years. We knew the business. We both had good reputations. We were well known.
"My family is here and so is my life. I couldn't imagine not having my buddy close by," I said, as I drew Ryan back into another hug.
Marcy and Nana joined us.