You're a Teenager Now!
It had been more than a month since my surgery and I was feeling one hundred percent better. I had been back to see Doctor Andrews and she was thrilled with my progress. My own doctor, who had been filled in on the details of my condition, prescribed Imitrex for my migraines and had me start keeping a headache log to help us pin down the causes. My stitches had been taken out, my hair was growing back and I hadn't had a migraine since that night. I was glad; I didn't want to take those Imitrex pills if I could avoid it. Life was good and it seemed to be getting better.
On New Years Day I spoke to Susan about my plans for a summer trip for Josh and I and it didn't take much convincing to get her to agree to let him go. In fact, Susan had been wondering what she was going to do with Josh over the summer. She had thought about sending him to camp but she knew she'd never be able to get him to go if I wasn't going to be there.
Josh had been attending Camp Tonawonka since he was 8 years old so she was used to not having him around during the summer months. I was actually amazed at how easily Susan agreed to let him hit the road with me for 2 months with very few conditions. In fact, the only conditions that Susan put on it was that I purchase a cell phone so that she could reach us if need be and that we check in on a regular basis. My assumption was that over the past 4 months that I had been renting her basement she had seen that I was a responsible adult and that I truly cared for her son.
Much to my surprise, Susan even offered to give me the money she would normally spend on sending him to camp to cover part of the cost of the trip. I tried hard to decline the money but she would have none of it. We finally agreed that she would give the money to Josh for use as spending money on the trip. It would also give him the ability to buy souvenirs and to treat us both to a meal or an attraction every now and then. I knew he would get a real kick out of doing that. Rather than handing Josh $1,800 in cash to carry around with him, we decided that it would be best to put it in a bank account for and get him a debit card. That way he could withdraw cash from ATMs whenever he needed it and he could also pay for purchases with the debit card itself. I was thrilled with that arrangement because I felt that it was important for Josh to have some of his own money during that trip. It would make him feel more grown up.
Susan and I also agreed that we would wait to tell Josh about the trip. I would obtain all the maps, brochures and travel info that we would need and Susan would open the bank account and get his debit card for him. We would tell him on his birthday which was coming up on February 5th. It would be part of his birthday present.
It was the Friday before Josh's birthday when I received a call which caught me off guard. I had almost forgotten about speaking to Captain Andrews of the Canadian Forces National Investigative Service.
"Tom, it's Larry Andrews from the NIS, we spoke about a month ago at the Queensway hospital." Larry said as I picked up the phone.
"Right, I had nearly forgotten about that," I said in a surprised voice.
"How are you feeling?" He asked. His concern sounded genuine.
"Much better thanks to your sister," I replied. My gratitude was obvious.
"Well, I'd like you to come down and meet with myself and a colleague from the Justice Department. We have reviewed your case and we have some matters to discuss with you."
"Sure, when and where do you want to meet?" I asked. My curiosity had been piqued.
"How about 1:00PM today down at Justice at First Canadian Place?"
"That's ok with me. I'm supposed to be in class, but I can afford to miss one day." I really could too. I was already challenging for four other courses that semester and I probably could have challenged for the one that I would miss that afternoon too. "I'll just have to see if Andrew is available."
"I understand Tom. Tell you what, I'll pencil you in for 1:00 PM and you confirm with your brother. If he can't make it, let me know and we'll reschedule. If I don't hear from you, I'll assume that you'll be there. I can't get into details over the phone, but I promise you that it will be worth your while to attend."
To say I was curious at that point was the understatement of the century. I thanked him, hung up and called Andrew right away.
"Hey bro, how do you feel about playing hooky with me today? It'll be just like old times." Andy and I had occasionally ducked out of school when we were younger and just hung out together. To this day our mom still didn't know that. We had a blast. It was just us guys doing 'brother' things. Andy and I had always been close. We were only 3 years apart and we shared a lot of common interests and a common sense of humour.
"Ok, I'll bite. What do you have in mind?" Andy asked in a bemused tone.
I told him all about the phone call from Captain Andrews and he seemed extremely interested. "What do you think bro?"
"I'll tell you what I think, I think they want to make you an offer," and replied excitedly.
"Let's do it!" I was getting quite excited. I figured I might get ten or twenty thousand bucks for my trouble. "How about you drive down here and we'll grab a bite and take my Jeep downtown?"
"Sounds like a plan, bud," he replied. Andy sounded just about as excited as I was. He was going to make a fantastic lawyer and representing me in this matter gave him one of his earliest opportunities to strut his stuff. I had heard and told my share of lawyer jokes and in many cases those jokes are based on more than just a grain of truth. Andy would be different. He was certain whether he wanted to specialize in criminal law or civil law, but whatever he did, he would be good at it. He was a very warm and caring person and there would never be lawyer jokes told about him.
I spent the next hour or catching up on homework on my laptop and fretting over what the meeting would bring. I was prepared to accept just about any offer they would make. I was glad that I was going to have Andy there to keep me sane. Andy was still a few years away from becoming a lawyer, but he was sharp as a whip and wasn't about to let anyone take his 'little brother' to the cleaners.
Andy arrived at about 11:15 and we made quick stop at the local Fish and Chip shop for lunch before heading downtown. We were both dressed in suits and Andy really looked lawyerly. We both took great care not to spill tartar sauce on our ties or jackets. After lunch we headed downtown and arrived with a good 15 minutes to spare.
We rode the elevator to the 67th floor of First Canadian Place where the Toronto offices of the federal Justice Department were located. The view from that floor was breathtaking. In fact, First Canadian Place was the second tallest building in Toronto. Only the CN tower was higher. I made a mental note to take Josh up the CN tower one of these days. The view from the observation deck would blow his mind. We presented ourselves at reception and were quickly shown into a conference room. A few moments later, we were joined by Captain Andrews and a well dressed woman who looked to be about 40.
We shook hands and introduced ourselves. Captain Andrews introduced the woman as a lawyer with the justice department named Deborah Wells. Andy introduced himself as my legal agent.
"Well Mr. Davis, we don't want to take much of your time so we will get right down to the point," Deborah said in a very official sounding voice. "Captain Andrews and I have reviewed your file, consulted with a number of experts and with our superiors in the DND and Justice. We have come to the conclusion that there was a serous breach of standard operating procedures and a clear cut case of negligence in your case. We have determined that you are entitled to redress."
I looked and Andy and I could tell that he was working just as hard as I was to keep a straight face.
Deborah continued. "The position of the federal government is that it would be best if this incident didn't end up before the courts or in the press so we are prepared to offer you a settlement which I believe will be more than acceptable to you."
"Am I correct in assuming that you will require a non-disclosure agreement and a full release in order for this deal to go through?" Andy asked.
"That's correct. Mr. Davis will be asked to sign an agreement releasing the federal government from liability in this case and agreeing not to disclose the terms of the agreement."
"Fair enough, what are you offering?"
"For starters, Mr. Davis, we have taken into account the education that you have received in the time since your discharge from the forces. Based on that and your exemplary service record, had you remained in the forces, he would have been eligible for the officer training program and would have achieved the rank of Second Lieutenant by now. We are willing to grant you the rank of Second Lieutenant - retired and grant you a full military pension based on that rank upon reaching the age of 55. That will provide you with money to help you deal with the long term effects of your injuries, in particular those to your leg."
I could hardly believe what I was hearing. A military pension was nothing to sneeze at and I always wanted to be an officer. I was just about to say something when Andy nudged me under the table.
"What about his immediate needs and compensation for the pain and suffering that he has gone through. I like what I'm hearing for the future, but you need to do something for him right now too." Andy said in his most judicious tone.
"We realize that. That's what we are prepared to offer a one-time lump sum payment of $250,000 as direct compensation. If that is agreeable to you, you will leave today with a cheque in hand."
At that moment, you could have knocked me over with a feather. I was completely and utterly thunderstruck. That was more money that I had even dared to imagine being offered. I was ready to accept.
"That sounds like a compelling offer, Ms. Wells. Could I have a few moments to speak to Tom in private?" Andy said. Because I knew and loved Andy, I could detect the excitement in his voice even though neither Deborah nor Larry could.
"Certainly," Deborah said as she rose from her seat and directed Larry to follow her.
"Jesus Christ Andy! $250 freaking grand!" I exclaimed as soon as we were alone in the room.
"It's a lot of money but you could get more if you pressed them," Andy replied. He was still in lawyer mode. I loved him, but I had to disagree with him here.
"Andy, it's a lot more than I expected and it will give me all the money that I will need for some time to come. I want to accept it. I don't want to get into a long court battle against the government."
Andy studied my face for a few seconds and he knew I wasn't going to budge. "Alright bro lets wait a few minutes and then I'll go tell them to come back in," Andy replied. We chit-chatted for a few minutes and then Andy went to retrieve the others.
It took all of 10 minutes to complete the paperwork and soon Andy and I were on our way back to my Jeep and I had a certified cheque in the amount of $250,000.00 in my hand. I was virtually floating along. I had never even dreamed of that much money before. I knew that I was going to have to manage it. If I invested it well and I continued to work part-time as I finished school, I would be in excellent financial shape when I graduated. I was still on cloud nine when I dropped Andy off at his car which was parked at my house.
"Thanks bro," I said warmly as I firmly hugged my brother. "You really looked out for me through this whole thing and I appreciate it."
Andy returned my hug, "What are big brothers for?"
"I don't say this often enough Andy, but I love you. You have always been there for me."
"I know, I love you Tom. Spend that money wisely!" Andy laughed as he released me and walked to his car.
I watched Andy drive off and then I climbed back into the Jeep to drive to the bank. I had a feeling that the teller was going to be in for a real surprise! When I walked into the bank, I decided it was best to go to the reception desk and tell them about the size of the deposit that I wanted to make. During the drive over, I had also decided what I was going to do with some of that money so I asked to speak to a financial advisor.
A moment after speaking to the receptionist, Arthur Garner, the branch manager came out and greeted me warmly before showing me into his office "Well Mr. Davis, it seems that you've had quite a windfall," Arthur said with a smile.
I took a moment to tell him as much as I was allowed to tell him while still complying with the agreement that I had signed. "Here's what I want to do with the money. I would like to put $100,000 into mutual funds. I would like a mix of high return and high security funds to give myself a good balance. I would like to put $50,000 into a series of 10 $5,000 cashable GICs with the best interest rate available and I would like to max out my allowable RRSP contributions for as far back as I can go. I would also like to open a Registered Education Savings Plan in the name of Joshua Michael Chambers in the amount of $50,000 and I would like to simply deposit the rest of the money into my chequing account."
"It sounds like you have a solid plan, Mr. Davis. I'd be happy to help you set that up. We certainly appreciate your business."
By the time I left, all those investments were setup, I had Josh's future education needs secured and I had my visa account upgraded to a 'Gold' card. I was very pleased with myself. I made a detour to the mall to get Josh a birthday card and gift. He was going to be 13 the very next day and it was going to be the best birthday he ever had. He had no idea what was in store for him. I debated waiting until the next day to tell him about the settlement and about his education fund, but I decided I'd tell him about that right away. I knew I couldn't keep a secret like that from him if I tried.
For his birthday celebration, I was planning on taking him flying in the afternoon and then Susan and I were going to take him and his friend Mark to the Mandarin for dinner. During dinner, we also planned on telling him about the summer trip. We were also going to give him some additional smaller gifts. Mark was going to stay over for the night afterwards.
I picked out the perfect card for Josh and I went out and purchased his gift. The card featured a picture of a sailing ship and the words 'Happy 13th Birthday, Son' on the cover and the inside read 'As you sail through life's oceans, may all your dreams come true' As far as his gift went, I bought him a new Canon BubbleJet printer. When I gave Josh my old computer, I had kept my printer so he needed one. When I got home, Josh was already there.
"Dad!" He shouted excitedly as he launched himself at me the second I walked in the door. He wrapped his arms around me in a massive hug and kissed me on the forehead. It was my usual Josh greeting and I loved it.
"Hey bud!" I replied as I hugged him back and lifted him into the air. He was becoming a teenager and he was growing fast. He was definitely heavier that he had been a few months ago and none of it was from fat. Josh was as lean and trim as ever. He had grown a little taller and he had started to fill out. He was already beginning to develop nice muscle tone on his arms and legs. "I love you kiddo," I said warmly as I kissed the tip of his nose.
"I love you too," Josh smiled. "You're in a good mood today," he said.
"I'm always in a good mood when I get a hug from my favorite person in the world," I replied with a grin.
"Ok, spill it, there's something else," Josh said as he virtually x-rayed my mind with those striking gray eyes of his.
"I can't keep anything from you, can I?" I asked with a smirk.
"Nope. We're too close for secrets," he said as he rested his head on my shoulder.
I carried Josh down into my apartment and sat him down on the sofa. I'm sure he would have protested loudly had anyone else tried to carry him anywhere. At the rate that he was growing, I would probably lose the ability to carry him before he lost the desire to be carried by me. I sat down next to him and he snuggled up in his usual position.
Josh was just about as dumbfounded as I had been when I told him about the money. He couldn't believe it. I finally showed him the bank-book and the investment certificates to prove to him that I wasn't pulling his leg. He also thought that my being granted the rank of 2LT was just the coolest thing. Again, I took note of his maturity. Many kids would have asked for something upon learning of such a windfall. Josh didn't ask for a single thing. He was simply happy for me.
"You really deserve this," Josh said firmly. "I'm glad that things are going well for you for a change."
"Things have been going well for me since you came back into my life, Joshy." I hugged him firmly before I continued. "There's something else,"
"What is it?" Josh asked, his eyes were wide and I could see that he had no idea as to what to expect.
"Well kiddo, I did something with a substantial chunk of that money. Do you know how expensive a university education is?"
"It costs thousands doesn't it?"
"It sure does. Until now, I've had to rely on student loans, grants, bursaries and whatever I could earn working in the summer. I was also planning on working part-time from home for some extra money. I'm still going to work part-time, and I've invested the money wisely so it will keep me out of debt and financially secure."
"That's good thinking," Josh replied.
"I'm not done yet. You're a very smart young man, Josh and I want you to be able to go to the university of your choice. I don't want you to worry about how to pay for it. Do you know what an RESP is?"
"No, is it like an RRSP?"
"It's very similar but it's for saving for an education. It's an investment fund that earns a lot of interest and the government even contributes towards it. A lot of parents start them for their kids as soon as they're born. I opened an RESP account for you today, Josh. I started it with $50,000."
Josh sat there stunned for a moment. His mouth was moving but no sound was coming out. It took him a moment to comprehend what I had just told him. "You gave me $50,000 to pay for my education?" Josh asked with awe in his voice.
"Yes I did, son. Not only that, by the time you're ready to go to university, it'll probably be worth twice that amount." I barely got that out before I suddenly found it hard to breathe. Josh had wrapped his arms around me and pulled me into an extremely tight hug.
"You didn't have to do that, dad. That money was for you," Josh said softly. His eyes were moist as he looked at me.
"I know Josh, but I wanted to do that. It's only money. It's nothing special. Money can't buy me happiness, but making you happy and knowing that your financial future is secure does make me happy. I love you Josh and nothing makes me happier than seeing you smile, being hugged by you, being with you." Josh buried his head in my chest.
"I love you too dad. You do so much for me. I can never repay you for all that you've done," Josh said softly.
I reached down and dried his eyes. "You don't have to repay me Josh. Like I said, it's only money. What you give me is worth more than all the money in the world. It's priceless and could never be replaced by anyone or anything. You give me your love. You give me your trust. What could be worth more than that? Remember when we talked about unconditional love? This is it, Josh. I don't mean the money; I mean the reason why I gave you the money. I setup that RESP for you not because I thought I would get paid back, but because I love you so damned much. I did what any dad would want to do for his son."
Josh continued his death-grip hug and he cuddled his cheek against my neck. "Dad, you're the greatest. I don't know what I would ever do without you."
"You'll never have to find that out. I promise you Josh that we're bound together forever. That will never change no matter what happens, no matter where we go or what we do."
We sat there on the sofa in each other's arms for several moments. I could feel his heart beating against my own and I just sat there and relished the sensation. I had come to believe that the world was a place of balance. Sure I had gone through a lot. I'd had some shitty luck, but the good things in my life more than balanced that out. I had a mother and 2 brothers who loved me. I had 2 nephews who adored me and who thought that I was just the greatest. Most of all, I had Josh. My son. He was the light of my life and I knew that without him, I was incomplete.
That night, over dinner, I filled Susan in on the events of the day. She sat there with her mouth hanging open in an 'O' of surprise when I told her about the settlement and she nearly fell out of her chair when I told her about the RESP that I'd started for Josh.
"Tom, you didn't have to do that," Susan said.
"I know, but I wanted to. Josh saved my life that night that I went to the hospital and you know how much I love him. I wanted to do something big for him and this was the biggest thing I could think of."
"Tom, you already do something even bigger for him. You give him a dad. You're there for him. You listen to him. You love him."
"He was there for me too when it really counted," I said firmly.
"Thank-you, Tom. That is the most generous thing I've ever heard of. You'll be happy to know that I had my lawyer go ahead and amend my will to list you as his legal guardian should anything happen to me."
"Thank-you Susan, that means a lot to me," I said. It really did. I kind of looked at Susan as being another mother. I already had a great mother whom I loved dearly, but Susan had become a substitute of sorts. She knew how much her son and I cared for each other and she was glad to see the positive impact that the relationship had on him.
The rest of that night was pretty quiet. Susan went out with Bob while Josh and I curled up together on my couch and watched TV. There was a horror movie marathon on which featured all of the "Friday the 13th" films. Josh and I decided to watch the entire series one after the other. The movies were kind of cheesy, but we had a great time watching them. I think we got about half-way through the series before I heard Josh start to snore softly. I lay there and continued to watch the movie with Josh snoozing in my arms and before too long, I was getting drowsy.
I carefully untangled myself from Josh and went into my bedroom. I turned down the sheets and got ready for bed. I took a moment to brush my teeth before heading back to the living room to retrieve Josh. I gently lifted him up and carried him into the bedroom. He never even stirred as I placed him on the bed, undressed him and tucked him in. I gently kissed his forehead and then climbed in after him and pulled him close.
It must have been about 3 hours later when I awoke. It was still the middle of the night and I couldn't feel Josh next to me. That in itself was odd. Whenever we slept together, we invariably cuddled up together all night long and formed a tangle of arms and legs. I was lying on my side and I was about to roll over and look for any sign of Josh when I noticed that the bed was moving slightly.
It only too me a second to figure out what was going on. The light slapping sound was the only clue that I needed. I grinned to myself and remained as I was facing the door. I didn't want to disturb Josh and his solitary activity. He had probably been at it for a while because it didn't take him long to finish. I heard him grunt and groan a couple of times and then the motion stopped. I had to bite my tongue so as not to chuckle. I heard him fiddling around and then I heard the snap of the waste band of his underwear as he pulled them back up.
A second later I felt him snuggle tightly up with his chest and belly against my back. He wrapped his arms around me, kissed me lightly on the shoulder and then nuzzled his face into the back of my neck. Finally, I couldn't hold it in any longer. "That sounded like a good one," I giggled.
It was dark and he was behind me so I couldn't see him blush, but I swear that I felt his face heat up against the back of my neck. A second later he giggled too. "It was a gusher. I think I shot 5 or 6 times and it landed on my stomach. I hadn't done it since yesterday," Josh replied proudly. Despite his blush, he wasn't the least be embarrassed talking to me about things like that. Had anyone else 'caught him' he would have been mortified.
"I hope you didn't make a mess on the sheets," I said with a chuckle.
"No, but there is a big wad of cummy tissue paper on the floor!" Josh said with a laugh.
"You were prepared, good thinking."
Josh laughed. "I love you, dad," Josh said sleepily.
"I love you too, kiddo," I replied as I crossed my arms over my chest and grasped his hands, intertwining our fingers. It only took a few moments for us both to drift back off to sleep.
I awoke first the next morning. Despite my overflowing bladder, I took a moment to lay there and watch Josh sleep. I never got tired of watching him sleep and I loved the sound of his soft snoring and watching his chest rise and fall was almost hypnotic. After a few moments he too began to stir.
"Morning Josh," I said warmly as he stretched his arms and rubbed the sleep from his eyes. "Happy birthday son, you're now an official teenager!"
I was rewarded by a colossal Josh grin and a very tight bear hug from Josh. "Thanks dad," he yawned and stretched his arms again.
I couldn't resist. His exposed arm pits presented tempting targets and I seized the opportunity to tickle him mercilessly. He giggled and struggled with feigned outrage and began to administer his own tickle torture to my ribs. Within seconds we were wrestling like a couple of maniacs.
As fun as the wrestling was, it didn't last long before we were both sprinting for the bathroom to relieve our aching bladders. We both retired to our separate bedrooms to hit the shower and dress for the day. I decided it would be a great time to take Josh to the Y and get us both memberships. He was finally old enough to be allowed into all of the facilities.
I went up to his room and knocked on the door. "Josh?"
"Come in," Josh called from inside.
He was just dressing after his shower as I walked in. "Hey bud, you still want to learn how to defend yourself?"
"Yeah," Josh crowed as he beamed me one of his famous grins.
"Alright then, let's go to the Y," I said with a smile. "Grab your duffle bag and get packed."
"What do I need to pack?"
"Well, you'll need gym shorts, a t-shirt, running shoes, clean underwear, clean socks and a towel. We can bring our bathing suits if we want to have a swim in the pool," I said.
"Cool," Josh gushed as he flew around his room and threw the required items into a small gym bag.
I left him and went downstairs to get myself packed and ready to go. A moment later, I met a very excited Josh in the front hallway. Susan was still asleep so Josh left her a note telling her where we were and we both headed out to my Jeep. The YMCA was only a short drive away and I could see Josh's excitement building the closer we got.
"I've been looking forward to this for a long time but I didn't want to bother you with it until your head was getting better," Josh said.
"I've been looking forward to it too Josh, it's just as well that we waited. Now that you're 13, you can use all the facilities and you don't have to use the little kid's change room."
"Cool," Josh exclaimed.
"We'll do this several times a week and develop a routine. We'll start with some warm ups like running or walking some laps around the track and stretching, then we'll do some cardio work like stationary bikes and rowing machines. After that, we'll do some self-defense training on the mats. Finally, we'll do a little weight training and then some cool down laps. We can hit the pool afterwards if you want."
"Sound great. You be careful running laps. I don't want you to hurt your leg," Josh said seriously.
"I know kiddo; I'll mostly walk the laps and leave the running to you."
"Sure, make me do all the work!" Josh laughed.
I drove into the fairly crowded YMCA parking lot and found a spot at the far end. "I guess we start our warm ups here!" I said with a chuckle.
We made our way into the modern building and I noticed that there was no line up at the membership counter. The only person was a boy who looked to be about Josh's age.
"Mark!" Josh yelled as soon as he noticed the boy.
The kid turned around with a surprised look on his face and smiled as soon as he saw Josh. "Hey Josh," he said happily. "I didn't know you worked out."
"I didn't until today. This is my dad, Tommy," Josh said proudly. "He's the guy that I told you all about."
"You're the pilot, right?" Mark asked as he offered his hand.
"I sure am! Josh is also going to be a pilot one of these days," I said as I shook his hand. He seemed like a real nice kid. He was a little shorter than Josh and he had blond hair which was a little shaggy and he had very clear blue eyes. He was very polite and very well spoken.
"Did you really let him fly the plane?" Mark asked with wonder in his voice.
"You better believe it. He did real well too!"
"See, I told you!" Josh chided his friend.
"You're lucky to have such a cool guy for a dad," Mark said with a touch of sadness. "My dad never really has much time for me. He didn't even pay up my membership here so they won't let me in." Mark looked down at his sneakers.
I only had to think about it for a second. "Tell you what Mark; any friend of Josh's is a friend of mine. I was about to buy annual memberships for Josh and I so why don't I pay for your's too?"
Josh hugged me briefly and whispered "I love you dad."
"Really?" Mark asked.
"Of course. Exercise is good for guys your age and like I said, a friend of Josh's is a friend of mine. You'll learn quickly that I look after my friends."
"Josh said you were the greatest. Thanks," he said solemnly. He then surprised me and gave me a quick hug.
I ruffled his hair and smiled at him. "No problem, Mark."
It only took a few minutes for me to slap down my Visa card and pay for all 3 memberships. Mark was a month older than Josh so he also qualified for a full membership. I paid his renewal along with the NSF cheque fee that resulted from his father's bounced cheque. Josh and I had to have our 'mug shots' taken and we received brand new cards.
With all the formalities taken care of and my Visa card smarting from the charges, we checked in and were assigned lockers right next to each other and we made out way into the change room.
"Mark, I don't know if Josh told you that I used to be in the army reserves and I learned quite a lot of self-defense moves. Josh has asked me to teach him how to defend himself. That's the main reason that we're here. We're going to develop a whole exercise routine which includes the self-defense training. Would you like to join us?"
"Josh told me what you did to his uncle. I'd love to learn how to do that too," Mark grinned.
Before I could say a word Josh chimed in. "Mark, it's only to be used to defend yourself, never to attack anyone."
I was so proud of my boy at that moment. "Josh's right, Mark. There are plenty of potential threats out there and I'm teaching you guys this stuff to keep you safe, never to start a fight."
"I understand," Mark replied seriously.
"Your parents won't mind if you learn this stuff will they?" I asked.
"Nah. My mom died last year and my father doesn't care what I do. I might end up using what you teach me against him one of these days."
Josh and I glanced at each other and I flashed him a bit of a "don't say anything" look with my eyes. I made a mental note of that quip about using self-defense skills against his father and I filed it away. I knew I would have to look into this a little more closely later. "Sorry to hear about your mom, Mark. If you ever need anyone to talk to, Josh and I are here for you."
Mark smiled wanly at me and I was rewarded with a firm squeeze on the shoulder from Josh.
We reached our lockers and we began to get changed. I was just pulling on my shorts when I noticed Josh giving me a look. He was subtly gesturing towards Mark. I glanced at the boy out of the corner of my eye.
Mark was down to his briefs and was bent over pulling up his shorts. I could clearly see faded bruises on his back. They were narrow bands that resembled belt marks. I felt my blood begin to boil. What kind of monster could beat such a sweet child as that boy? The bruises looked old and I hoped that such a beating wasn't a regular occurrence. I knew that Mark would be joining us for dinner that evening and that he would be staying over for the night with Josh. I made a mental note to speak to Josh about his situation and I resolved to talk to Mark. If he was being mistreated, I was going to do something about it.
Mark went off to use the bathroom as Josh and I finished dressing.
"Did you see those marks, dad?" Josh asked in a worried tone.
"Yeah son, I did," I replied. "We'll talk about this later and we'll talk to Mark. If someone is hurting him, we're going to put a stop to it."
"I love you dad," Josh said as he pulled me into a warm embrace. "Thanks for paying for Mark's membership."
"I love you to kiddo," I said with a warm smile. "Mark's a nice kid and he shouldn't have to go without or put up with being abused."
Mark returned to us just as Josh and I released each other.
"You guys get along so well. It's like you were made for each other. I wish I got along like that with my dad," Mark said with a touch of sadness.
"How do you get along with your dad, Mark?" I asked gently.
He looked at his sneakers and hesitated a bit before answering. "We mostly ignore each other. I don't like the things he likes and he drinks a lot. I get along great with my older brother, but he went off to school in Alberta last year and I don't see him very often."
"Sorry to hear about that," I said gently as I placed an arm on his shoulder. "Listen Mark, I mean this. If you ever need to talk, you can talk to me. Josh will tell you that I'm a good listener and I'm a good problem solver. If you have ANY problem, you can come to me ok? I know you don't know me well, but you know Josh. You can trust me," I said carefully.
Mark studied me for a moment and locked his eyes onto mine. I could see that he was studying me and that he knew that I was serious. Finally he smiled. "Thanks Tommy," he said and then he looked at Josh, "You're the luckiest guy I know, Josh."
"I know, I wouldn't trade him for anyone," he replied with a laugh.
I could tell that there was more that Mark wanted to tell me, but he was hesitant. I thought it would just take time. I hoped that he would have the courage to tell me if his dad was hurting him. If and when he came to me and told me that his father was beating him, I wasn't able or willing to guarantee the man's safety if I got to him before the police did.
With that, we all headed out of the change room and into the gym. We decided to run a few laps to get warmed up. Josh and Mark took off like a couple of rockets and did 2 laps before I even finished my first one. I decided to try a slow jog for a lap or two and then walk a couple more. I didn't want to aggravate my bad leg. As Josh and Mark flew past me for the third time, Josh slowed and began to jog with me.
"I'm proud of you," he said as he looked at me with a serious look on his face.
"You are? What for?" I asked.
"The way you handled Mark. His father doesn't treat him very well and he never has much money. You did what you did and said what you said without embarrassing him or making him feel bad. You treated him just like you treat me. You treated him like a grownup."
"Mark seems like a real nice kid and I'm happy to help him," I said.
"I know; you help people all the time. I'm proud of you for doing that. Something seems different about you since I first met you. You're still the same smart, fun-loving guy but you seem more...grown up."
"I think you're right. I think going through what I went through was part of it and I think you were part of it too."
"Me?" Josh exclaimed.
"Yeah. When you asked me to be your dad, it kind of gave me the motivation to grow up a little myself and fill that role for you." I was never an immature person, but when I became Josh's substitute dad, I had made a conscious and probably a sub-conscious effort to be a responsible adult role model for him. The real trick was striking the right balance between friend and parent. I quickly found that it was best not to worry about such things and to allow nature to take its course. I knew that I loved the boy and that would be the guiding factor in our relationship.
"Dad, since Mark is coming over tonight anyway, could he come home with us and go flying with us this afternoon?" Josh asked as he flashed me those big doe eyes that he knew I could never refuse.
"Of course, son. I'd be happy to take him with us. After we finish working out, we'll have him call his dad and get it cleared with him. We'll swing by his place and he can get whatever he needs to spend the night,"
"Thanks dad," Josh said with a smile as patted me on the shoulder and then took off running the rest of the current lap at "Josh speed."
I just smiled and watched him go. All I could think about was how much I loved him. When I finally completed my lap, I found Josh and Mark waiting for me at the entrance to the training room. Josh must have told Mark what was in store for him that afternoon because they both had mile wide grins. I was really going to enjoy that afternoon's flight.