I was up in a flash. I don’t think Josh even saw what was happening. His drunken Uncle Joe was expecting to encounter a scared boy. Instead I intercepted him. I was motivated, I was very angry and I knew how to fight. I didn’t see a weapon in his hand and I didn’t think he would have one, but I wasn’t going to take any chances. If he was armed with a knife or something similar and anyone was going to get stabbed, it was going to be me, not Josh. I seized the drunken man’s outstretched right arm in both of my hands as I pivoted around placing myself directly between him and Josh. I gripped his right wrist in my left hand while letting go with my right. I then drove my right elbow into the drunken man’s nose with as much force as I could muster. I heard the crack and felt his nose give as he began to shriek and the blood began to flow freely.
He barely had time to register the pain of his shattered nose when I once again took his right arm in both of my hands and neatly flipped him over my shoulder. He went down hard, collapsing 2 folding metal chairs in the process. I didn’t give him so much as a second to catch his breath before I rolled him onto his stomach and pounced.
I came down hard onto his back, driving my knee into his spine as I grabbed his right arm in my right hand and jerked it roughly into a tight and painful hold behind his back. I heard a woman, probably the grandmother, scream.
"Call the police NOW!" I shouted at the funeral director who instantly scurried off to her office.
"My fucking nose! You broke by fucking nose," Joe wailed in a very nasal sounding voice.
"Listen to me, and listen good, you useless drunken sack of shit," I hissed at Joe. "If you think for a second that I will EVER allow a pathetic motherfucker like you to touch so much as one hair on that boy’s head, you have another thought coming."
"Let him go!" shouted Josh’s grandmother.
"Back the fuck off lady!" I shouted sharply at her. "This pathetic drunk is going to jail for what he just did."
"You’re hurting him," she wailed.
"Good! He should count his blessings that I’m not hurting him worse. Now I suggest that you and your miserable excuse for a family back the fuck off and wait for the police to come pick up the trash. Stay away from me, stay away from this useless turd and for your own sake, stay away from Josh."
Joe kept struggling on the floor, but I kept him pinned. "Settle down asshole," I hissed at him unless you want me to make the pain worse."
"You hurt me," he shrieked
"Yeah, and you attacked a little boy at his father’s funeral. You’re a useless fucking coward, a pathetic excuse for a human being. You aren’t even a man." That quieted him down. I glanced over at Josh, he stood there gape mouthed, his eyes the size of saucers.
Just then, 2 uniformed Ontario Provincial Police offers entered the chapel.
"Here’s your man," I told them.
The first officer removed a pair of handcuffs from his belt and neatly snapped them onto Joe’s wrists as I held him down.
"Alright, I’ve got him," the burly cop said as he pulled Joe to his feet.
"He broke my nose!" Joe screamed at the cop.
"Yeah, he did a nice job of it too, Joe. Why do I get the distinct feeling that you deserved it?" The cop snickered at Joe as he walked him out to the police cruiser parked outside.
The other cop chuckled. "That guys our most regular customer. He’s always getting drunk and fighting. How about telling me what happened?"
I told the officer exactly what happened as he jotted what must have been pretty detailed notes down in his notebook. He asked me a few questions to clarify a few points before offering me his hand.
"Nice job son," He said with a smile as he shook my hand. "No telling what set him off or what he intended to do to the boy. He’s always been a trouble maker and a really mean drunk"
"Thanks, I haven’t used any of those moves in a while."
"Where did you learn to fight like that, he asked?"
Josh looked up with interest as I answered the question, "Well, I joined the army reserves when I was 17. Unfortunately, I was hurt in a training accident about a year later and I had to give it up," I said sadly.
I realized that I have never told Josh about my short time in the military. It wasn’t that I had hidden it from him; it had just never come up. I had been injured and forced to give it up the winter before I met Josh for the first time. I had pretty much put it out of my mind. The military had always been a dream career for me and it was simply easier to forget it than it was to contend with the disappointment. Josh seemed to mentally file the information away for later reference.
"Sorry to hear that, son. You handled this situation pretty well. Mr. Chambers and his late brother have caused us more problems that you could imagine. We keep locking them up and the judge keeps letting them out."
"I know what you mean. My father was a cop and I heard all about the frustrations of the job," I said shaking my head.
"This young man is lucky to have you around," the officer said as he ruffled Josh’s hair.
"We’re going to arrest Mr. Chambers and charge him with assault, causing a disturbance and being drunk in public. You might have to appear in court as a witness."
The police left to take Joe to jail and I looked down at Josh. He was pale and he was trembling slightly but he looked no worse for the wear. He looked up at me with wide eyes. I put my arm around him, hugged him tight and kissed him gently on the temple. "Its ok son," I whispered in his ear as I gently rocked him. I felt him melt into my side as he began to relax. Josh’s relatives, who had scattered, had by then returned to their seats.
Josh and I returned to the chapel. I was about to sit down when Josh wrapped his arms around me again and hugged me very tightly. He held onto me for what seemed like several minutes. I could feel him sobbing into my chest. I just stood there holding him and gently rubbing his back until he was ready to let go.
"Are you ok, kiddo?" I asked him as he finally let me go and sat down.
He nodded his head, "I’ll be ok, dad. I love you so much."
"I love you to, son."
The minister made his way to the front of the chapel and the funeral service began. The service was short, impersonal and to the point. It was over in about 30 minutes. Josh and I filed past George’s casket before leaving the chapel. He was pretty unemotional throughout the service and showed no reaction as the casket was wheeled out and into a hearse. I believe that he had wanted to attend out of a sense of duty and a need for closure rather than out of sorrow for his father. There was to be no graveside service.
Josh’s relatives continued to ignore him and I hated them for it. I could see that their snubbing was hurting him. As far as I knew, he never had much of a relationship with them, but that didn’t make their behavior acceptable. He was a hurting little boy who had just been attacked by his uncle at his father’s funeral and his grandparents and aunt didn’t care. I led Josh to the door before I did or said something that I would probably live to regret.
The drive back to the motel was unusually quite. We let ourselves into our room and changed into some casual clothes. The maid service had been in. Our beds had been made and fresh towels had been provided. It was after 12:00, but neither of us was hungry. I was glad that we had planned on staying a second night. I went out and grabbed a can of Coke for each of us from the machine outside.
Josh lay flat on his bed, staring at the ceiling when I returned. I placed his can of Coke on the bedside table and I climbed up beside him on his bed. I moved over and snuggled up next to him and wrapped him in my arms. He felt a little tense but instantly relaxed into my arms.
"Are you ok, son?" I asked with concern.
He continued to lay there in my arms for another moment before he spoke. "Why did Uncle Joe do that?" He asked softly.
I rolled onto my side and faced him. "Josh, he was drunk and I’m sure he has a lot of very strange ideas about his brother and his predicaments. I can’t explain why he did what he did. The police said that he has a reputation for being a rotten drunk who frequently gets into fights and acts violently. I wouldn’t take it personally."
"How about grandma and grandpa? They weren’t drunk." He said bitterly. "Even when Uncle Joe came after me, they didn’t care about me. The only thing that mattered to them was that you didn’t kill him!"
Josh rolled onto his side and pressed his body into mine, burying his face in my chest and wrapped his arms tightly around me. I just held him and gently rubbed his back.
After a few minutes, he began to settle down. I rolled onto my back and pulled him on top of me. He propped his chin on my chest and looked into my eyes.
"Listen son, I can’t explain why those people acted that way. I can promise you that Joe will never bother you again. He will have to get through me to get to you and I won’t ever let that happen," I said as I pulled him tightly against my chest.
"I can also promise you that you’ll never have to see or deal with those people who are supposedly your grandparents ever again either. You no longer have any connection to them and you no longer have any need to have anything to do with them."
I could see the wheels turning in Josh’s mind as he considered what I told him. I could tell that he wanted to say something, but wasn’t quite sure how to go about it.
"What is it son?" I asked him. "When you’re as close to someone as I am with you, it’s pretty easy to read them and sense their feelings. What’s on your mind?"
He smiled faintly and then closed his eyes in thought. "What happened to you today, dad?"
"What do you mean, Josh?" I asked tenderly.
"You are the nicest person that I ever met, I love you at least as much as you love me, but I was a little afraid today," Josh said softly.
"You were afraid of me?" I asked shocked.
"No, definitely not. I know that you’d never hurt me."
"Of course I wouldn’t Josh."
"You were like a different person today with Joe. You moved so fast and did some really amazing fight moves and the way you put him down before he even knew what hit him was unbelievable."
"You didn’t like that?" I asked.
"I thought that was pretty cool, actually," Josh said with a chuckle. "You were like one of those body guards that follow the Prime Minister around. I was afraid for you, not of you. I never heard you talk like that before. I’ve never really heard you swear very often. Just the odd ‘oh shit’ now and then, but that’s it. It was like a different Tommy was in control for a few minutes today."
I thought for a moment before answering. "Josh, I’m sorry you had to see that. I was running on pure instinct. I saw a threat to you and my training kicked in. I was like a mother bear protecting her cub."
"I know and I love you for that. I didn’t know that you’d been in the army."
"Well, it was only for a year and it was only the reserves. I wasn’t hiding it from you, I just never mentioned it. I’ll tell you all about it one of these days."
"There’s something else though, isn’t there?" Josh asked, "I can read you pretty well too, dad," his gray eyes were probing my soul and I could see a look of concern on his face.
I thought for a long moment as I studied Josh’s sweet earnest face before exhaling loudly. I was trying to figure out how to tell him what had made me so mad. I was certain that he was mature enough to understand but it was hard for me none the less. "Yes Josh, there was something else. What I am about to tell you, I have never told another soul. I had tried to forget about it and I had hoped it would go away. I had almost forgotten about it until I saw you in danger today. It all came flooding back."
Josh nodded his head and wrapped his arms tightly around me. He could sense that this was difficult for me. "Go on dad, you can tell me anything. No matter what it is, it will never change how much I love you."
"I know kiddo. The thing is that while it was a need to protect you that got me moving, it was pure rage which led to the way that I spoke to Joe and to you grandmother."
Josh, still sprawled on my chest, propped himself up on his elbows and continued to stare into my eyes. His face wore a look of both concern and of adoration.
"Josh, when I was a little younger than you, I spent the summer with some friends of my parents at their cottage in the Muskokas. Mr. Struthers was a police officer like my dad. My parents were on an extended trip without us kids. My brothers were at army cadet camp and I was all alone. During that time, I was molested by Mrs. Struthers. She forced me to have sex with her repeatedly."
Josh closed his eyes, buried his face in my chest and wrapped his arms around me once again.
"Mr. Struthers found out and rather than put a stop to it, he blamed me. He claimed that I had seduced his wife. I was 11 years old, Josh. He beat the hell out of me for the rest of that summer. I was so alone that summer. It was hell. It was the worst summer of my life and I never told anyone. I was ashamed and I didn’t understand a lot of what had gone on and I was frightened about what would happen if I told anyone. I didn’t think anyone would believe me if I did tell. I have kept that secret bottled up for more than 8 years and I tried to put it out of my mind."
I paused for a moment before continuing. "When I saw your uncle come after you today, all that abuse came back to me. I remembered how scared and helpless I felt. I was determined never to allow anyone to hurt you like I had been hurt. When I fought your Uncle Joe, I felt as if I was fighting old Mr. Struthers. I allowed myself to lose control slightly."
"I had no idea," Josh said softly.
"There’s more kiddo," I said softly as I looked him right in the eye.
"That whole episode changed my perspective on a lot of things. I could no longer relate to women very well. I took me a long time to be able to feel comfortable around women who were not my immediate relatives. It took me a long time to learn to trust people again."
Josh looked at me closely and I could see what I believed was a glint of understanding in his eyes.
"Josh, I hope to God that what I am about to tell you doesn’t change anything between us," I said hesitantly.
"Nothing ever could, Tommy. I love you unconditionally remember. Nothing you could ever say or do will ever change that."
"The whole thing made me very confused about my sexuality. I’ve been intimate with women, but I never really felt all that comfortable doing it. I also had occasions to fool around with other guys when I was in my early teens, but I wasn’t sure that was right for me either. I’m what you would call confused. I think I might actually be bisexual."
"Tommy, why would you think that would matter to me? You know me better than that. I love you for who you are. I love you for the person that you are. I love everything about you and I know you love me the same way. That is never, ever going to change."
"I love you too Josh," I said as I hugged him firmly.
"All that matters to me is that you are my dad and that we will always be together. Remember, Tommy, 2 steps behind. Always," Josh said with finality as he hugged me tight.
"What else is on your mind, dad?"
"I feel a little bad now for being so rough with Joe-"Josh cut me off.
"Don’t. Don’t you dare feel bad for him. He’s always been a mean old bastard like that. He deserved everything you gave him," Josh said hotly. "He wouldn’t feel bad if he had hurt me like that."
"I know, but I hate the fact that I worried you."
"I was just a little confused, that’s all. I’ve never seen you angry like that before and it worried me a little bit. Now I know why it happened and I’m not worried anymore." Josh looked at me closely before continuing. "You feel bad for what happened because you’re a good man. You’re a caring person who wants to help people, not hurt them. Uncle Joe is the exact opposite. He won’t feel bad about what he did because there isn’t any good in him at all."
Josh’s maturity often startled me. It was often easy to forget that he was only 12 going on 13. Eventually the drama of the morning took its toll and we both dropped off to sleep.
When I finally came to, I was surprised to see that it was almost 5:00. My stomach was grumbling and I imagined that Josh was probably equally hungry. He had rolled off me in his sleep and lay sprawled next to me, with one arm thrown over my chest and his head cuddled up against my shoulder. I was about to wake him up to go for supper, but I decided to let him sleep for a few minutes.
I lay there and gazed at the sleeping boy. He was so peaceful in sleep. It was about the only time he was still; when he was awake he was always such a bundle of energy. I enjoyed watching him sleep. I studied him closely in awe of the fact that such an extraordinary boy had chosen me to be his dad. I could see the beginnings of the fine man that he was going to grow up to be. He had been through a lot in his young life and he had come through with flying colours. He was the most amazing person that I had ever met. I felt that I could no more live without him in my life than I could without air or nourishment. I made a vow to myself that I would never see this boy go without anything that was within my power to give. He would never again feel lonely or unloved.
Josh slowly opened his eyes as I continued to stare lovingly down at him.
"You have that look on your face, dad," he said.
"What look, son?" I asked.
"That look that reminds me how much you love me. I like that look, it makes me feel warm inside," he said with a smile.
"Just like the one you wear when you watch me shave, eh?" I said with a grin as I reached over and hugged him.
"Yeah, just like that one," he said with a classic Josh grin.
We decided to eat out that night so we hit the local Pizza Hut. We split a large meat-lovers pizza between the two of us. We made short work of it. I think it was actually one of those rare occasions when I ate almost as much as Josh did.
I grabbed a coffee and Josh ordered a caramel sundae. I was glad to see him brightening up and becoming his old self again. As badly as things had gone at the funeral, I was glad that we had come. I was pretty certain that being there had given him the closure that he required. He was clearly bothered by the actions of his so-called family. As sensitive as he was, a snub like that had to hurt him. I made sure to go out of my way to show him lots of affection and I was sure that it helped.
We returned to the motel for our final night away and settled in to watch TV. We found a station showing the original "Terminator" movie and decided to watch it. Josh climbed up on my bed with me and snuggled up to my left side. I warped my arm around him and gently squeezed his shoulder. He leaned his head against the side of my chest and sighed contentedly. It was his favorite TV watching position. I think it gave him a sense of security and satisfied his craving for physical contact.
By the time the movie ended, we were both getting a tired. Josh stripped down and hit the shower while I watched the evening news. As usual, there was a lot more bad news than good. There were more atrocities in the Balkans. I watched those reports closely because I had friends serving in Kosovo with UNPROFOR. Each time I heard about another Canadian soldier being wounded or killed, it caused me to worry, hoping that it wasn’t someone that I knew.
As I heard Josh shut off the shower, I ditched my clothes and headed into the bathroom. Josh was still drying himself off and brushing his teeth.
"All squeaky clean, eh kiddo?" I smiled at him as I took the towel and dried his hair for him. He looked at the mirror and smiled back at me. I get the distinct feeling that there wasn’t another person on the planet who he would allow to dry his hair for him. Certainly he wouldn’t let anyone else do it while he didn’t have a stitch of clothing on.
I finished drying his hair and he leaned up and gave me a peck on the cheek before heading out of the small bathroom. It only took me a few minutes to shower and brush my teeth, but by the time I was done, Josh had thrown on some briefs and then drifted off to sleep on top of the covers of my bed.
I smiled lovingly at the sleeping boy then gently lifted him up and placed him under the covers. I kissed him softly on the forehead as I tucked him in. I made sure that the door was locked and then I carefully joined Josh in bed. I lay there thinking about the events of the day as Josh detected my presence and snuggled up warmly against my side. I wrapped my arms around his narrow shoulders, enjoying the feeling of the rise and fall of his chest as be snored softly, and I soon fell into a deep and restful sleep.
I awoke slowly the next morning. I lay on my stomach and I could feel Josh sprawled partially on my back. My shoulders felt wonderful. It took me a minute to realize that the source of the wonderful feeling in my shoulders was Josh. He was busy administering one of his famous neck and shoulder rubs.
"Mmmm, that feels wonderful Josh," I mumbled.
"Morning dad," He said cheerfully as he paused and briefly cuddled against my back before resuming the wonderful massage.
I just lay there enjoying the feeling of having all the tension flow out of me. "What did I do to deserve this?" I asked.
"You didn’t have to do anything. It’s unconditional, remember?" He asked.
"Of course I do, bud. Thanks"
He spent the next 10 minutes or so firmly and yet gently massaging my neck and shoulders. I was so relaxed that I nearly fell back to sleep.
"I’m hungry," Josh announced as he kissed me lightly on the shoulder signaling the end of his massage.
I rolled over and hugged him. "I’m hungry too; son, but I gotta take a piss!" I said with a chuckle. "Better let me up before I leave a mess for the maid."
Josh laughed his usual melodic laugh and let me up. I was glad to see that he was once again the happy go-lucky boy that I loved so much.
We both showered, dressed and then packed up our belongings. The plan was to check out of the motel and then grab a decent breakfast before hitting the road. We weren’t expected home until the dinner hour so I planned a little detour which would give me an opportunity to have a real heart-to-heart, man-to-man chat with Josh.
"All set bud?" I asked Josh as he finished packing his overnight bag.
"Yeah, but I wish we could stay longer. I like it when it’s just the two of us."
"Me too, pal. Me too. Don’t worry, though, we’ll take plenty of trips like this one and some that are even longer."
"Sounds good. I don’t care where we go, I just like being with you. You’re the only adult that I know who doesn’t treat me like a kid."
"I treat you like the incredible person you are, son." I said with a smile.
"You’re not so bad yourself, dad" Josh said with a chuckle.
"Weren’t we going to have a talk?" Josh asked hesitantly.
"You bet we are. We have 7 or 8 hours before we’re due at home so after breakfast, we’re going to head over to Wasaga beach."
"The beach in November?" Josh asked in a surprised voice.
"We’re not going in the water, turkey! It’s a nice little town just a short drive from here. I figure we’ll take a nice long stroll along the beach and have our talk. Afterwards, I know a place where we can get some really good steaks."
"I love steak!" Josh replied licking his lips.
We checked out and then made our stop at the local greasy spoon for a "lumberjack" breakfast. We each ended up with a large plate of food for a very reasonable price. I couldn’t finish the last of my sausage links. Josh didn’t require a second invitation before snapping them up and making them vanish.
"One of these days, Josh, I’m going to take you on the road-trip of a lifetime."
"Oh yeah? Where to?"
"Just about everywhere, at least everywhere in Canada."
"That’d be so cool. It would take weeks. Just the two of us together on the road for weeks, it’d be amazing." Josh said excitedly.
"One of these day’s we’ll do it. That’s a promise."
Josh smiled and reached over the table to squeeze my hand.
"This breakfast got me to thinking about a restaurant chain in western Canada called Humpties. They have the BEST breakfast menu. You can’t beat it when you’re on a long road-trip."
"Even better than this place?"
"Much better, little man, much better."
I was onto something. I was pretty sure that Josh wouldn’t want to go to camp this summer unless I was going to work there. I had enough money stashed away that I could afford to work for camp counselor pay or even take the summer off if I wanted too. I had earned pretty good money working for a computer company the summer before and I had been approved for a number of student grants on top of my student loans. I decided to start formulating a road-trip plan and then run it by Susan.
We hit the road again and covered the short distance between Bracebridge and Wasaga beach in a short time. The town was quite different in the winter. During the summer months, it was a crowded resort town. The attraction of the world’s longest fresh water beach was enough to draw in thousands of people from all over North America. Things were a lot quieter in late November.
I pulled the Jeep into the deserted parking lot and selected a spot close to the beach. Josh and I bundled up warmly before exiting the car and heading down onto the cool, windswept beach.
The water off Wasaga beach is shallow which allowed it to freeze up fairly early in the season. We walked close together along the sand and started making our way down the beach. The plan was to walk from one end to the other and then back again.
It was a beautiful clear day with a nearly cloudless blue sky. Most would have found the beach to be a stark, cold and lonely place on that winter morning, but to Josh and I, it was anything but. We walked together enjoying each other’s company. We did, as countless dads and sons had done before, and we talked about life, about growing up, about becoming a man.