Substitute Dad

© 2006 - 2010 By Scribe1971 (scribe1971@hotmail.com)

Chapter 2

Changes

The house was quiet which was pretty unusual with an energetic boy like Josh around. After breakfast, Josh had gone with his mom to do the weekly shopping. I was left to my own devices for a couple of hours and I decided to take a stab at the school work that I had been too distracted to do the night before.

I was pleased to see that Josh was pretty much his usual self that morning. He had that familiar sparkle in his eyes and his trademark grin had returned. Seeing him the way he was the day before had pained me to no end. I was hoping that he was actually feeling better and not simply doing a bang-up job of hiding his pain. As close as Josh and I had become, we could read each other pretty well and I was certain that he wouldn’t be able to hide his feelings from me, at least not for long anyway.

I made short work of my school assignments; it was stuff that I was incredibly well versed with. I had been a computer whiz since I was 12 years old and I was way ahead in all of my classes. Things were going so well, that I was planning on challenging for at least 12 credits, the equivalent of 4 courses, next semester. I was on track to complete my 4 year bachelor of computer sciences degree in just over two and a half years. I was enjoying school, but I really wanted to get my career off the ground.

I sat down and turned on the TV. I wasn’t really expecting to find much worth watching on a Saturday morning so I didn’t get my hopes up. Much to my delight, I discovered that the Movie Channel was running an all day Peter Sellers "Pink Panther" movie marathon. Those who knew me, knew that I had the most warped and twisted sense of humour of any human being in existence. To me, Peter Sellers was a comic genius and the "Pink Panther" movies were the funniest films ever made.

I grabbed a Coke from the fridge, plopped my self down in my usual spot on the couch and let the fun begin. Before long, my sides were sore and I was roaring with laughter. I was so enthralled with the antics of Jacques Clouseau and Kato that I didn’t even hear Josh and Susan come in. Normally, I would have helped them bring in the groceries, but I was literally hypnotized by the on-screen hilarity.

I only realized that I was no longer home alone when Josh came down the stairs and poked his head into my apartment with a bemused look on his face.

"Are you feeling alright?" he asked with a smile.

I looked up startled, "Oh, I’m better than alright, they’re showing all of the Pink Panther movies on TV, one after the other all day long," I replied as I broke up into another furious burst of laughter.

Josh furrowed his brow and walked almost cautiously into the room. I could tell by the look on his face that he was thinking that it might be time to call for the men in white coats. "What’s the Pink Panther?" he asked as he sat down next to me on the sofa.

"WHAT????" I asked incredulously. "You’ve never seen any of the old Peter Sellers movies where he plays Clouseau?"

"Who are Peter Sellers and Clue-So?" He asked.

"Only the funniest man who ever lived and Clouseau was his best character ever." I said with a chuckle as I pulled him into a loose headlock and began to mercilessly tickle his sides.

He struggled half heartedly, giggling the whole time.

"Watch and learn, kiddo," I said as I released him and pointed towards the TV. "Revenge of the Pink Panther," was playing and Clouseau and Kato were in the midst of one of their epic battles.

Before long, Josh and I were both in near hysterics laughing and the lunacy of it all. It didn’t take Susan long to poke her head in to confirm that we had both lost it. She took one look at the screen, shook her head and walked out of the apartment, leaving us to our mutual insanity. Long ago, I learned that the female of the species had evolved without the same appreciation for slapstick that us guys had. As much as "The Pink Panther" was not her cup of tea, she was clearly as happy as I was to hear Josh laughing and forgetting about his father at least for a while.

As we watched the movie, Josh turned sideways, putting his legs up on the couch and leaned back against me. I wrapped my arm around him and pulled him into me. He leaned his head back and snuggled against my shoulder. We were enjoying the televised mirth, but I think we both enjoyed being close together even more. We stayed in that position for most of the morning. The only breaks were when one of us got up to take a leak or grab a drink.

At around one, there was a brief intermission between movies and Josh announced, "I’m hungry."

"You’re always hungry!" I said as I laughed and tickled his ribs.

He giggled and shouted in feigned outrage but he didn’t really make any effort to get away. Instead, he did his best to try to return the tickle torment that I was administering to him. I finally relented, gave him a brief, but firm hug and said, "Let’s go see what your mom has planned for lunch."

Josh was off like a shot. That boy never seemed to do anything slowly and going upstairs for food was certainly no exception. If anything, the promise of food only sped him up even further. I was amazed at how much chow that little guy could put away. Sometimes he reminded me of one of those garbage cans that feature a pedal, which when stepped on, raises the lid. With Josh, I was pretty sure that if I were to step on his feet, his mouth would pop open so that food could be shoveled in. He tore up the stairs like a herd of wild horses.

I followed him up, but at a considerably slower pace. We were both surprised to find Susan absent. There was a note on the kitchen table which read:

"Sorry guys, I had to run off to the office, something came up which needed my attention. I yelled down to you, but evidently you didn’t hear me. Anyway, there’s plenty of food in the fridge, you’ll have to fend for yourselves today, and I won’t be back until late."

Josh wasn’t the least bit phased, but I thought it was a little strange that she would go to the office without saying good-bye to Josh, especially in light of yesterday’s events.

"Well, kiddo, are you willing to brave my cooking or should we order something in?" I asked.

"Why don’t we go out?" Josh asked hopefully.

"If we do that, we’ll miss Clouseau," I said. "Tell you what, lets just nuke something for lunch and tonight, after the movies, I’ll take you out to the Mandarin for supper."

"The Mandarin?" Josh asked, raising an eyebrow.

"You’ve never eaten at the Mandarin?" I asked. I was amazed, there was a Mandarin restaurant just around the corner and Susan had never taken him there. The Mandarin has to be the dream restaurant of bottomless pit, teenage and pre-teen boys everywhere.

"No, mom doesn’t take me out for dinner very often," he said, looking a little downcast.

"Well son, you’re in for a treat. You like Chinese food right?"

"Yeah, I love it. I don’t get to eat it very often though."

"Then this is your lucky night. The Mandarin is an ALL YOU CAN EAT BUFFET," I said, grinning as I saw his eyes light up. "They have every kind of Chinese food you can imagine. On Saturday nights, they even have all you can eat shrimp, crab legs and even lobster!" I laughed as Josh’s eyes grew to the size of saucers as he contemplated the culinary delights which awaited him that night.

Josh sought out and nuked a couple of frozen TV dinners while I, knowing how crowded the Mandarin gets on a Saturday night, called and made a reservation for two. While I was at it, I checked the movie listings and discovered that the new "Lethal Weapon" movie was opening in the local theatre and I thought it would make a nice evening and keep Josh’s mind occupied.

"Hey bud?" I said as re-entered the kitchen.

"What Dad?" Josh replied with a smile.

I had to smile back. I loved it when he called me dad. "How about we make it an evening ‘Lethal Weapon 4’ with Mel Gibson and Joe Pesci opens tonight. Want to check it out?"

He launched himself at me and pulled me into a hug which would make a boa constrictor proud. It was all the answer that I really needed. I chuckled as I hugged him back. Josh was a very affectionate kid who loved to hug and to be hugged. He seemed to crave physical contact with those he cared about. When he got the physical contact that he desired, he thrived on it. My experiences in working with kids had taught me that while boys his age liked to put on a tough exterior in public, they often craved close physical contact with loved ones when out of the public eye. That was certainly the case with Josh, although he didn’t see himself as being above giving or receiving a quick hug in public.

It didn’t take long to devour the TV dinners and then we were back in front of the TV. Josh had resumed his former position. I put my arm around him and he melted into me. I couldn’t resist so I leaned down and kissed the top of his head, enjoying the scent of the gel that he used to keep his hair spiked.

He looked up at me, smiled and gave me a quick peck on the cheek.

As the dinner hour approached, Josh became less interested in the antics of Jacques Clouseau. He began to watch the clock, knowing that our reservation was for 6:00 PM.

"Alright kiddo, let’s get ready to go," I told him. "I’m going to jump in the shower and I suggest that you do the same. We don’t need to dress up, but we want to look presentable."

I barely had the words out of my mouth before Josh was halfway up the stairs. I chuckled to myself as I felt my heart swell with love for the boy.

I took a quick shower and then dressed in a navy blue golf shirt and a pair of tan Khaki pants. As I waited for Josh, I sat down at my computer and began a quick game of solitaire. I heard the upstairs shower stop and then I heard Josh shout.

"TOMMY!"

That kind of caught me by surprise. I was worried that he had fallen or something. I turned and started go and check on him when I heard the familiar sounds of a Josh stampede coming down the stairs. I was struck speechless as a very naked and very wet Josh came bounding into my apartment.

"Look!" he shouted excitedly as he pointed at his groin.

Josh and I had seen each other naked many times before while changing clothes and never given it a second thought. There was certainly no modesty between us, but I couldn’t figure out why he wanted me to examine his genitals. I knew for certain that there was nothing sexual in his behavior, he was acting no differently than he would have been had he been showing me a pimple on the end of his nose. For a second I thought that perhaps he had discovered masturbation and had made himself sore by overdoing it. I suppressed a chuckle, not wanting to offend him. "What’s wrong, Josh?" I asked with concern.

"Nothings wrong. Look closer," he said excitedly.

Now I was really confused. That was, until I took a closer look. Sure enough, I saw what had made him so excited. Just barely visible around the base of his penis was a little bit of faint peach fuzz with a few wispy dark hairs thrown in for good measure. He had begun to sprout pubic hair and he was just as proud as a peacock about it.

I had to bite my tongue so as not to laugh or even chuckle. It wasn’t his meager pubes that I thought was funny, rather it was his reaction to discovering them. He was thoroughly delighted with himself and he was beaming at me. I knew that he’d be upset if I laughed so I got myself under control in a big hurry.

"Well, I’ll be damned, kiddo. Your first pubes!" I smiled proudly at him as he stood there naked as a jaybird, not the least bit embarrassed. "You’re growing up son; you’re on your way to becoming a man."

"How long until I have as much as you do?" He asked hopefully. "Your stuff’s a lot bigger than mine is too."

I grinned at his typical adolescent question and answered, "It’s different for everyone, but now that you’ve started puberty, things happen pretty fast." I thought for a moment, "Has anyone ever talked to you about this stuff before?"

"Not really, the teacher talked about it a bit in health class, but that’s about it."

"That’s what I figured. It’s a dad’s job to talk to his son about this sort of thing," I said thoughtfully. "Since I’m your dad now, we had better sit down for a man-to-man talk really soon."

"About my pubes?" Josh said with a chuckle.

I laughed, "Not ONLY about that, turkey, about lots of things. About growing up and the changes that are starting to happen in your body."

"In that case, I’m glad I’ve got you to talk to. I would just about die if I had to talk to mom about that stuff," he said with a sheepish grin.

I ignored the fact that he was still soaking wet from his shower and pulled him into a warm embrace. I gently rubbed his back as he melted into me, dampening my clean clothes. I held him for a moment before sending him upstairs to get dressed. I changed out of my wet clothes.

A few minutes later, I met Josh on the main floor. We were both dressed in golf shirts and Khaki pants. It was November and we were in Toronto so we bundled up in winter coats, I wrote a quick note to Susan to let her know where we were.

"So, it’s supposed to be all you can eat, eh?" Josh chuckled, "I can eat a lot."

"Yeah, I noticed! Sometimes I think you have hollow legs," I said with a grin.

He turned around and punched me lightly on the shoulder and then fled laughing to the other side of my Jeep before I could get him back.

It was a short drive to the restaurant and we arrived within a few minutes of our reserved time. The Saturday night buffet was fairly expensive but I would have paid twice the price just to see the look on Josh’s face when we walked in. He took one look at the 6 rows of steam tables piled high with every kind of food imaginable and he just stood there gape mouthed. I had a feeling that thanks to Josh, we were going to get more than sufficient value for my money. I think he took the massive buffet on as a personal challenge.

We were shown to our table and then we set upon the buffet. The expression "kid in a candy store" really should be replaced with "adolescent boy at a buffet." Josh literally went bananas. I was proud of him, he wasn’t afraid to try new things. He even tried the Sushi, which led to an amusing incident.

I was never much of a Sushi eater, I always preferred my fish cooked but Josh was determined to sample a bit of everything. I hadn’t noticed that he had piled a pretty good lump of wasabi on his plate, not knowing what it was, but wanting to try it none the less. He was about to make a rather large mistake and shovel it all into his mouth, but I stopped him in the nick of time.

"Josh! Don’t eat so much of that green stuff," I said with a chuckle.

"Why not, it looks good?" He asked.

"Everything looks good to you," I laughed. "It’s really hot."

Just then, a gruff looking older man from the next table who resembled a trucker walked by and caught the gist of our conversation.

"He’s right kid," he said with a smirk "That stuff’ll put hair on your nether regions!" He said and laughed as he walked off.

At that very moment, I had a mouthful of Coke and despite my best efforts, I laughed out loud, propelling the cold, stinging liquid into my sinuses and out of my nose. Despite the pain, I laughed even louder as Josh’s face turned the same shade of red as the hollowed out lobster shells which littered his side of the table. As I struggled against the searing pain in my sinuses, Josh gave me a little boot in the shin under the table. He tried to look mad, but it was all he could do not to laugh out loud himself.

His reddened face cracked into the classic Josh grin. "Remember dad, paybacks a bitch," he laughed.

Knowing Josh, I was under absolutely no illusions that I would somehow escape being the "victim" of a major gotcha in the near future.

By the time we were done, I had managed to work my way through 2 piled high plates and a couple of glasses of coke, Josh must have packed away about twice that much food. I swear that he must have consumed about 3 lobsters, dozens of shrimp and about 4 pounds of crab legs alone. After all that, he still managed to inhale a plate of dessert. Josh was a lean boy and he was pretty athletic. I could see that he was going to be tall and fill out nicely. I figured that he would be taller than me in just a few years. I have absolutely no idea as to where he put all that food. I had even less of a good idea as to how he managed to eat as much as he did without ever getting the slightest bit overweight. I swear that by the time he finally surrendered, his normally perfectly flat belly was visibly bloated. I have no doubt that had he been at home, he would have undone his belt and released the button on his pants.

"How was that?" I managed to croak out.

"Oh man…….That was amazing…" he groaned.

My twisted sense of humour kicked in again and I pictured us both in that classic scene from "Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life" where the fat guy ate everything in sight and then exploded in the restaurant. I laughed out loud.

Josh looked a me quizzically, "What?"

"I’d have to show you. Remind me tomorrow," I said with a grin.

I paid the cheque and we both managed to make our way back to my Jeep. The movie theatre was about ten minutes away and we had almost an hour until show time so we took our time.

"We have to eat there again sometime," Josh said. Amazingly he sounded as though he were already recovering from his feeding frenzy. Amazingly, his belly looked a lot less distended than it had just a short while ago.

"If they let us, bud….With all you eat, they’d go broke in no time." I teased and was rewarded with another playful punch to my shoulder.

"Hmmmm wise guy, eh???" I did my best "Curly" imitation which made him laugh.

We pulled into the theatre which, as I expected was quite crowded being Saturday night. I purchased our tickets and we entered the theatre. I nearly fell over when Josh asked if he could have some popcorn and a drink. The capacity of a 12 year old boy to pack away food is truly an awesome phenomenon.

I was nearly sick at the very thought of more food, but I indulged him and got him a large popcorn and what can only be described as a vat of Coke. We sat down in the theatre and enjoyed the film.

The movie was a classic "buddy cop" film loaded with fast paced action sequences interspersed with comedic interludes. Josh enjoyed it thoroughly. I normally would have enjoyed it more than I did, but I had started to develop a serious headache. I had been a migraine sufferer since I was a child. I can remember having skull-splitting headaches since I was 5 or 6 years old. I knew this one was going to be a doozy.

I was in increasing pain, but I toughed it out for Josh. By the time the movie ended, I was in pretty bad shape. Josh took one look at me and knew that something was wrong.

"Dad, are you ok?" He asked with a real look of concern on his face.

"I’ll be fine, bud. I have a terrible headache," I replied wanly. Josh was well aware of my headaches. I had suffered through a few of them during the summer that we spent together at camp. I had also experienced a few minor ones since I moved in with him and his mother. Whenever I had one, he fussed over me and tried his best to make me feel better and I loved him for it. Unfortunately, this headache was the worst one that I had experienced in some time and I could tell that Josh was badly worried.

We stood up and started to make our way out of the theatre. Josh put his arm around my back and supported me all the way. The cold November air was actually comforting and it was a relief to be out of the bright lights of the theatre lobby. The main challenge that we still faced was the drive home. Thankfully we didn’t have far to go.

I started the Jeep and pulled out. I did my best to focus on the road and Josh helped by gently massaging my right shoulder and the base of my neck as I drove. Normally such ministrations would probably have put me to sleep, but in that case, they provided welcome pain relief.

We pulled into the driveway and Josh once again wrapped his arm around my waist and carefully walked me into the house and down to my apartment. He led me straight into my bedroom and helped me onto the bed.

"Thanks bud," I mumbled to him. He hugged me and helped me to get out of my clothes and under the covers.

Josh left the room and came back a minute later with a glass of water and a couple of extra-strength Tylenols. I swallowed both pills and then lay back down on the bed. Josh turned on the small bedside lamp and turned off the overhead light.

"Roll over on your stomach," he instructed softly.

I rolled over and lay with my face in my pillow. Josh gently climbed onto the bed and straddled by back.

"This’ll make you feel better," he said softly in a very caring and loving voice as he began to firmly massage my shoulders and the base of my neck. He used his fingers to dig into the muscles of my shoulders and used his thumbs to work either side of my neck. He was very firm and yet incredibly gentle.

I lay there silently and let him work his magic. He certainly wasn’t a professional masseuse, but I could feel the love in his touch. I think that’s what made the difference. I could feel a lot of the tension leaving my shoulders and neck.

"Thanks Josh, that’s helping a lot," I breathed.

"I know," he said. "I love you, now hush up and let me help you."

"I love you too," I replied.

After a few minutes he asked me to roll over onto my back and he moved his hands to my temples. He sat on my chest and placed his middle and index fingers on my temples and began to massage them in firm, circular motions. I focused all my attention on those points and the pain seemed to leave me in droves. Before long, I was sound asleep.

I woke up later in the night and my headache was gone. I still lay on my back and Josh was sound asleep right on top of me. He must have undressed and climbed into bed shortly after I fell asleep. His legs were tangled up with mine and we were snuggled up chest to chest. His arms were resting on either side of my head as if sleep had claimed him as he continued to massage my temples. His head was on my upper chest and his smooth cheek was cuddled against my rough one. He was snoring ever so softly.

I looked down at the sleeping boy and wrapped my arms around his warm body. I softly massaged his back and he nuzzled he face against mine. I gently kissed his temple and slowly drifted off to sleep relishing the sensation of his heart beat pounding against my own.

The next morning, I awoke and noticed that Josh was no longer in bed. I got up and padded towards the washroom and noticed wonderful cooking smells from the upstairs kitchen. I took my morning piss, ran through the shower, dressed and then went upstairs to investigate the source of the intoxicating aroma of frying bacon. To my surprise, Josh was in the midst of preparing breakfast.

"Morning son," I said, still half asleep.

"Hey dad," Josh smiled as he put down the pan and came over and gave me my morning hug. "Feeling better?"

"I’m fine now," I replied. "Thank-you for taking care of me last night."

"You don’t have to thank me, you’d have done the same for me," Josh said warmly.

"Massaging my neck and temples like that did far more for me than the Tylenol ever could," I told him as I came up behind him and pulled him into another embrace. He folded himself into me for a moment and then resumed his work on breakfast.

"Mom still isn’t home," he said sadly.

"That’s odd," I said with concern in my voice.

"Not really, she sometimes stays out with friends. She doesn’t do it often, just once in a while. She left a message on the machine - I didn’t check it when we got in last night. She says she’ll be home later today."

"I guess it’s just you and me today," I grinned and continued, "Perhaps I should educate you on what I was laughing about last night as we were leaving the Mandarin."

"Uh oh." Josh said as he flashed his mischievous grin.

"Yep, it’s time that you were introduced to the world of British humour," I told him. "I think a day of Benny Hill and Monty Python videos is in order."

"You have a very strange sense of humour, dad!" He chuckled before continuing, "I have never laughed so much as I did yesterday during those Clouseau movies. Maybe I should start attacking you like Kato to keep you on your toes."

"Are you kidding, you already attack me without warning whenever I come it. Rather than hitting me, you hug me. I don’t mind at all if you keep doing that!"

We both laughed and then sat down for breakfast.

The rest of the day was spent watching "Monty Python and the Meaning of Life" and "The Best of Benny Hill." Both videos are staples of my video collection. We sat in the same position as we had the day before with me on one end of the couch and Josh snuggled up against me with his feet up.

When the fat man scene came up in the "Meaning of Life" I told Josh that it was that scene that I was thinking of at the Mandarin. He started laughing so hard that I actually had to pause the movie to give him a minute to recover.

When we watched the Benny Hill tapes, we both literally howled with laughter. When they did the classic sped up skits where Benny Hill slaps the old bald guy’s head, Josh was laughing so hard that he was nearly in tears. All in all, it was a fun way to spend a quiet Sunday. We both loved the videos, but we liked simply being together even more.

Susan returned home at around 3:00 and Josh went upstairs to tell her all about our adventures of the past 2 days. I was, however, pretty certain that he left out the part about his new pubes! I fired up my computer and played a few games. I was right in the middle of flying a really good strike mission in Falcon 3.0 when Josh came back downstairs looking somewhat upset.

"Mom says my father’s funeral is on Tuesday but I can’t go," he said looking down at his feet.

I wasn’t all that surprised that he wanted to go but I was taken aback that Susan wouldn’t let him. "Why not, bud?"

"She says she can’t take me, she has important meetings all week and can’t get away. She also says that my father’s family doesn’t want either mom or I there."

"Look Josh, I’m not in class next week, it’s a study and reading week. I’d be willing to take you if it’s ok with your mom." I said.

"Thanks, but if they don’t want us there, what can we do?"

"Forget about them, Josh. He was your father and they can’t keep you away if you feel that you should be there. I’ll be there with you for support."

He reached out and hugged me fiercely. "Thanks, dad."

"Let me go talk to your mom about it, ok?" I said as I leaned down and gave him a soft peck on the top of his head.

He hugged me tighter for a moment and then released me.

I left Josh to complete my Falcon mission and I went upstairs to talk to Susan. I found her in the kitchen preparing dinner.

"Hi Susan, do you have a moment?" I asked.

"Sure. By the way, thanks for taking care of Josh yesterday. He had a great time," she said with a smile.

"He’s no trouble; I had as much fun as he did. Anyway, he mentioned his father’s funeral on Tuesday. He said that you won’t be able to take him. I’m on a reading week and don’t have to be in class. I’d be glad to accompany him to the funeral."

"You know it’s all the way up in Bracebridge, don’t you?"

"I know and I don’t mind. My Jeep can handle the trip easily. I was going to suggest that we leave Monday right after Josh gets home from school, stay the night in Bracebridge and then go to the funeral on Tuesday. It might be a good idea to stay over until Wednesday to give us both a rest before coming home."

"That sounds like a good plan, but it might not be a good idea for him to be there."

"Why not?" I asked with genuine concern.

"It’s George’s family," she said bitterly. "Most of them are as drunk and useless as he was and they all resent both Josh and I. They blame me for his problems and they are likely to take it out on Josh given half a chance. At very least, they wouldn’t treat him very nicely."

"That’s awful," I said. "If he does go, I’d be with him the whole time and I wouldn’t let anyone lay a hand on him or upset him in anyway. I think he needs the closure that attending the funeral will bring."

"You’re probably right," Susan sighed.

"He has only one chance to do this and if he misses it, he’ll probably regret it for the rest of his life. I know he wasn’t close to his father and he really didn’t care all that much about him, but he was his father."

"Alright, he can go if you’re sure that you want to go all that way."

"For Josh, I’d go anywhere and do anything, Susan," I stated emphatically.

"Of that, I have no doubt," Susan said with a smile.


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