Substitute Dad

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

Chapter 12

DoYou Guys Like Roller Coasters?

I herded the grinning boys into the training room and after leading them through some stretching, we spent the next hour getting a pretty good cardio workout. Josh and Mark were in pretty good shape and they both had a ton of energy to spare. We started with the stationary bikes and the boys whipped me soundly, covering the 5km of distance that we had set about 2 full minutes before I did. I decided that I needed to redeem myself so we hit the rowing machines next.

Rowing was my forte. The three of us took side-by-side machines. I was in the middle with Josh on my right and Mark on my left. We set the distance to 3,000 meters and made a race of it. I had a bit of an advantage because of my longer arms and legs, but it was the strength in my legs which made the real difference. I had always had powerful legs and following my accident, I worked very hard to keep my leg muscles in shape to help minimize the lasting effects of the injuries.

Josh managed to keep up with me for about the fist 1,000 meters or so. Mark fell behind much quicker than that. By the half-way point, Mark was running out of steam and Josh was fading. I didn't want to embarrass the guys so I slacked off a bit but I still easily beat both of them.

"Now we're even," I told them with a wink as we cleaned off the machines and moved on to our next conquest.

"For now, old man," Josh replied with that familiar mischievous twinkle in his eyes.

I knew he was right. He was only 13, but I could see he was going to be a big, strong guy when got a little older. At that time, he was about five-three tall to my five-ten. I figured that I had about 2 or 3 years left until he was taller than me. I figured he was going to be well over six feet tall by the time he finished growing and he was going to be broad shouldered too.

"One of these days you're going to be a lot bigger and stronger than me, kiddo. I had better enjoy being able to beat you at an athletic competition while I still can." I smiled and ruffled his sweaty hair. Josh rewarded me with a loving smile. I didn't want to leave Mark out so I grasped his bicep. "This isn't bad either, Mark. Make a muscle for me"

Mark grinned and flexed his arms while striking a body-builder pose.

"Not bad, you're going to be a strong one too," I smiled warmly and patted the boy on the back. His eyes seemed to glow. The poor kid was as starved for affection as Josh was when we first met. Any little bit of praise that I sent his way really stroked his ego and brightened him up. I had to figure out how I could help this boy.

I knew I had to be careful. I didn't want Josh to become jealous. He really didn't have anything to worry about, I liked Mark but I didn't have anywhere near the feelings for him that I had for Josh. I was sure that Josh knew that he would always be number one with me, but I made sure to lavish the same attention on him as I did on Mark. I trusted Josh's intelligence and maturity to keep him from feeling threatened.

I began to wonder about Mark's older brother and I decided to find out more about their relationship. I wondered if his brother had any idea as to how rough Mark seemed to have it at home and if he would be in any position to offer assistance. I made a mental note to recruit Josh into helping me discretely obtain some information from his friend.

We took a moment to recover from the rowing machines and then we headed into the gymnasium to hit the mats and start our self-defense training. I was planning on starting with some basic throws, holds, punches, kicks and blocks. The plan was to take my time with them and make sure that they learn each move properly before progressing to the next. Once they mastered the basics, I'd teach them what to do when faced with weapons such as guns and knives and how to counter holds that others try to use on them. I would also even teach them about pressure points which can be extremely effective in inflicting discomfort on an opponent. I figured that the best starting point was basic punching and blocking.

The large gym was divided into 3 sections with retractable dividers. The first section was being used for an aerobics class and the second was being used by a bunch of kids playing basketball. The third was mostly empty; the only occupants were an old Chinese couple doing Tai-Chi and some kids playing badminton. I led the boys to the corner where a bunch of blue mats were stacked up.

"Ok guys, lets spread out a few of those mats so we don't hurt each other," I instructed.

Josh and Mark each grabbed a mat and they used the Velcro fasteners to join them together into a large enough surface for us to work with.

"We're going to start with some ground rules. First of all, contrary to what you might hear or believe, there are no rules in fighting. There is no such thing as a dirty move or a dirty punch. When you find yourself in a situation where you need to fight, the goal is to end the fight as quickly as possible using whatever means is available and appropriate in the circumstances." I watched the boys closely as I spoke. They both seemed to comprehend what I was saying which was a good thing.

"You mean that anything goes right? You do whatever is necessary to protect yourself and end the fight." Josh said.

"That's right. You need to assess each situation and determine what is appropriate. Your use of force in response to a threat must be appropriate to the threat faced. You can legally use deadly force against someone who is threatening you with serious bodily harm or death but you have to use a lot less force in the face of a less significant threat."

"How do you know how much force to use?" Mark asked.

"Good question. What you need to do is figure out what action can you take to remove the danger while doing the least bit of harm to your opponent. For example, if someone tries to punch you, blocking the punch and hitting back or flipping them is appropriate, but using a straight-arm punch to break their nose might not be. By the same token, if someone pulls a gun or a knife on you, simply punching them is not enough force." Both boys nodded their heads and I could see the wheels turning. "For each move I teach you, I'll give you some pointers on how and when it could be employed. I'll also do some mental exercises with you guys to help you learn how to identify and size up potential threats."

"What sort of exercises?" Josh asked.

"Well, we'll take a walk through the mall and through the downtown streets to teach you how to observe people and places and identify potential sources of threats or to identify people or things which look wrong or out of place. You have to learn to fight with your mind before you fight with your fists. Part of that is spotting and avoiding trouble before it happens."

"That makes sense," Josh replied.

We started with punches. I had each of the boys demonstrate how they throw a punch with the right and left hands. As I expected, both of them pulled back their arms before letting fly and they used their arms for provide most of the strength. I taught them how to throw a punch from the shoulder without telegraphing the intent by pulling back their arms. I taught them a variety of styles of punches and I taught them how to block punches thrown by an opponent.

"Guys, one of the most important aspects of throwing a good punch is target selection. You want to aim your punches and you want to hit your opponent in a place which will maximize the effect of the punch while minimizing the damage done to your own fist. What do you think are some good punch targets?" I asked.

"The nose," Josh said.

"Right. The nose is an excellent target. A good shot to the nose will often knock all the fight out of someone. Remember what happened to your uncle when I elbowed him in the nose?"

"He went down like the sack of shit that he is," said Josh bitterly.

Mark looked aghast at Josh's use of profanity. I almost think he expected me to smack Josh for swearing. I smiled and chuckled at Josh's comment trying to reassure Mark. It seemed to work.

"How about you Mark, any ideas?"

"How about the stomach? The balls even."

"Both are excellent targets for well aimed punches. Getting hit in the stomach knocks the wind out of you and can quickly end a fight. You're both boys so I'm sure I don't have to tell you two what getting nailed in the family jewels feels like!" I said with a laugh and both boys snickered. Mark subtly crossed his legs and Josh did a rather good imitation of Benny Hill's 'grab your head and grimace' reaction to being nailed in the balls. I laughed out loud.

"I think we'll have to introduce Mark to the wonders of Benny Hill," I said as I winked at Josh.

"Who's Benny Hill?" Mark asked.

"An insane, dead British comedian," Josh replied. "He was REALLY funny. Tommy has all his tapes."

"Ok guys, back on topic," I chided gently. I then demonstrated other punch targets such as the solar plexus, the throat, kidneys, collar bones and biceps. I had them begin by "touch punching" on each other and on me. Before long they had punching down pat and I taught them how to block and how to properly position their feet to give themselves the maximum force and stability while being as mobile as possible.

"I'm going to show you a very special punch called a straight-arm punch. The straight-arm punch is extremely powerful and can do very serious damage to an opponent. You should only use it when faced with critical or even life-threatening situations," I said seriously as I surveyed both boys' faces. "When you throw this punch, you don't make a fist. You throw your hand out palm first and you want to make contact with the lower part of your palm." I demonstrated the correct hand position for the boys.

"With this really hard part of your hand, right dad?" Josh asked.

"That's right; you use the heel of your hand. Try this...bang the heels of your hands together. Feel how hard that is? That's the part of your hand which should make contact with the target. No matter where you hit the target, it won't hurt you very much but it will be devastating to the person you hit. When you throw that punch, you have to throw it with everything you've got. The object is to knock your opponent out of the fight with that one shot."

"Where should you aim it?" Mark asked.

"That depends. In most cases, the preferred target would be the nose. If you hit someone in the nose with that punch you will almost definitely break their nose. You have to be careful and make sure that you go straight in with it - you don't want to up angle the punch or you could actually kill the person."

"Kill someone with one punch?" Josh asked in amazement.

"Absolutely. If you hit someone hard enough in the right place with a punch like that, you could kill them. Other targets for this punch can include the throat which can cause very serious injuries and the chest which can break ribs." Both boys were in awe of what I was telling them.

"When should you use this?" Josh asked.

"You should use this punch when you are faced with a larger, stronger opponent who is intent on doing you harm. You could also use it when confronted with a gang. Using this punch to take out the gang leader will usually take the fight out of the rest of the gang pretty damned quick."

I spent the next few minutes demonstrating the correct technique for throwing a proper straight-arm punch and the boys picked it up pretty quickly. I also demonstrated how to use the element of surprise to throw the punch with devastating impact after feigning submission. I was really pleased with the progress that both boys were making.

"Nicely done guys, you're doing great. Within a few months you'll have this stuff mastered," I smiled at both boys and patted both of their sweaty backs. "Now let's learn something really cool. Flipping."

"That is cool. I couldn't believe what I was seeing when you flipped Uncle Joe!" Josh said. The amazement was still evident in his voice.

"It's one of the easiest moves to learn and by the time we hit the showers, both of you will have successfully flipped me"

"No way!" Mark said.

"Yes way! It's easy. Flipping, like most throws works by using your opponent's size, weight and momentum against them. You can easily flip someone far bigger than you. When you use the element of surprise, it makes it even easer. They don't see it coming and the whole experience is extremely disorienting to them."

"I was amazed at how quick you did it to Uncle Joe. You really surprised him," Josh said. I could see the admiration in his eyes.

"Who wants to volunteer to be the first victim?" I asked.

"Me!" Josh said as he moved at what seemed to be the speed of light.

"Alright kiddo. I promise I won't hurt you. We'll do this slowly and then speed it up. The easiest way to flip someone is to grab an arm. Move your arm like you're going to punch me," I instructed Josh. Josh slowly extended his right arm as if to punch me in the face. "First thing to remember is that you must use the same arm as your opponent. Josh is punching with his right, so I'm going to grab his right wrist with my right hand." I reached out and grabbed Josh's arm. "The next thing is to step towards your opponent while pulling them into you. At the same time, you want to pivot so that your back is towards them and you pull his arm over your shoulder like this," I continued as I demonstrated the moves. "Finally, the last step in the move is lower your body by slightly bending your knees and bending forward at the waist while pulling your opponent over your shoulder."

"Looks easy," Mark said.

"Ready to try it, Josh?" I asked.

"Let's do it!" He replied.

"Ok, this time, I'm actually going to flip you. I'll be gentle and try not to throw you too hard. The mat will cushion your fall. Throw your arm like you're going to do another touch-punch."

Josh threw his light punch and I moved pretty quickly. Before he knew it he was over my shoulder and lying on the mat on his back with his head at my feet. "You ok bud?" I asked as I offered him my hand and helped him up.

"That was cool!" He said with a giant shit-eating grin on his face. "Let's do it again!"

"Ok, we'll do it again, but this time I want you to throw a hard punch. I want you to try to actually hit me."

"I don't want to hit you," Josh protested.

"Don't worry, you won't!" I said with a laugh.

"Alright! You asked for it," he replied and threw a punch.

I moved like greased lightening and before he knew it, he was once again prone on the mat.

"Cool!" he exclaimed as I picked him up and hugged him briefly.

"Ready to try it, Mark?" I asked.

"As ready as I'll ever be," He said with a skeptical look on his face.

I repeated the same process that I had gone through with Josh. I did a step-by-step demonstration of the move and then actually flipped Mark. By the time he landed on the mat, he was wearing a grin that was almost identical to Josh's.

"Ok bud? I asked as I helped him up."

"That was great," he replied happily.

I had the two of them practice with each other for several minutes as I make small adjustments to their body positioning and the way they maneuvered themselves. Before long they had mastered the technique.

"Ok, now it's time for you to throw me and then we'll hit the showers," I said with a smile.

Josh went first. I threw a slow punch towards his face and he flipped me perfectly over his shoulder. I outweighed him by 60 or 70 pounds and yet he threw me easily. He was amazed and very pleased with himself. I was pretty sure that the grin on his face was permanent. Mark went next and also did a perfect throw. I was pleased with both of them.

"Well done, guys. Let's walk a couple of cool-down laps and then hit the showers." We replaced the mats in their original location and then walked around the track a couple of times before heading to the change rooms.

We decided against going swimming that day and to skip weight training because we were all looking forward to getting to the airport and going flying. We would have to take some time for Mark to get permission from his father and to pick up his overnight bag. I had to grab my flight bag from the house and Josh needed his headset.

The three of us stripped down, grabbed our towels and headed for the showers. We made a quick stop at the digital scale along the way and one-by-one we dropped our towels and weighed each other. I came in at 177 pounds, Josh was up to 126 and Mark weighed in at about 118. Josh and I were not at all modest around each other and often saw each other in various stages of undress so the nudity didn't bother us. I was surprised to see that Mark was not at all modest either. He had been coming here for a while and I recalled Josh mentioning having to shower after Gym class so he was used to it as well.

The shower room was nearly empty and the three of us grabbed side-by-side shower heads. I managed to discreetly get another look at the bruises on Mark's back. They were pretty faded, but they must have hurt like hell when he first got them. I felt myself hating his father for doing that to him. I swore that he would never lay another hand on that boy again if I had anything to say about it.

As we showered I also couldn't help but notice with some pride that even though Mark was actually a bit older than Josh, he was a bit less developed. Josh was taller, broader, had more muscle tone, more developed genitals and more pubic hair. His pubes, of which he was VERY proud, had begun to come in a little thicker over the past few months since that day he first discovered them. He also had a few fine hairs in his armpits. He was definitely growing up. I had no body image concerns with Josh. He was proud of his body and rightly so.

It only took us 10 minutes to finish our showers, dry off and get dressed. We were all excited about the afternoon's activities and were raring to go. I have Mark a quarter to call his father for permission to go flying but there was no answer.

"He's probably passed out drunk on the couch," Mark said bitterly.

"Don't worry, we'll have to drive over so you can get your stuff anyway," I said as I ruffled his hair and led both boys out to my Jeep. Josh put his hand on my shoulder as we walked across the parking lot.

"Thanks dad, that was amazing. I feel like a million bucks after that workout."

"Me too. We'll do that every other day or so. Next time, we'll do some weight-training as well. You're developing a nice muscle tone and doing some weights will help you bulk up a bit."

Josh squeezed my shoulder and gave me his famous Josh grin as we arrived at the Jeep. All three of us piled in. Josh climbed into the back and let Mark ride shotgun in order to give me directions to his house.

Mark's house was actually only about 2 minutes from where Josh and I lived. I pulled up out front of the house and noticed a beaten up Ford in the driveway. "Is that your father's car?" I asked Mark.

"Yeah, it usually doesn't run. That's probably a good thing. He'd just get drunk and drive it."

I glanced at Josh hoping the remark hadn't bothered him. All I saw on his face was a look of understanding. He'd been there before and he knew what Mark was going through. I reached back and gave his knee a gentle squeeze as Mark climbed out. While he was in the house gathering his things, Josh and I had a chance to talk.

"Hey bud, what do you know about Mark's brother?"

"Not too much. I met him once. His name's Bryan. He's a nice guy. He's a little older than you. Mark said that he was going to U of T but he transferred to the University of Calgary last year for his final year. I think Mark said something about him graduating and going to work as a computer programmer for some company in Calgary."

"How do they get along?"

"Pretty well, I think. Not quite like you and I, but they love each other. I think Mark talks to him on the phone fairly often. I think he moved out west to get away from his father. I don't know why he would leave Mark all alone like that," Josh said. He sounded a little angry when he said that.

"He might not have had a choice, Josh. He probably wanted to take Mark but he probably couldn't. If he was still a student, he wouldn't have had much money and he couldn't just take a 12 year old, even his own brother, and move him across the country without permission."

"I know, but he must have known what kind of person his father was and he shouldn't have left Mark alone with him."

"It's a hard call, Josh. Don't judge him before you know all the facts," I said gently.

"I know. You're right. I just know that I would never leave anyone that I loved in a bad situation. I know you' never leave me like that."

"Of course I wouldn't Josh. I'd never leave you for any reason. Listen son, I think Mark's father might be beating him. Those bruises don't look good. They look like belt marks. They look old, but if he's been beaten before, he will be beaten again. I need you to tell me if you see Mark with any injuries or if he says anything to you that causes you concern."

"I will, dad. I really like Mark and I want to help him," Josh said solemnly.

"I know Josh. It might mean telling me something that Mark asked you to keep secret. Can you do that?"

"I can in this case. I know that anything I tell you will be between us and it won't be like I'm betraying Mark."

"Good. I love you kiddo," I said warmly as I reached back and hugged him awkwardly between the seats.

"I love you too," Josh replied as he nuzzled his face against my cheek.

A moment later Mark emerged from his house carrying his overnight bag. Josh reclaimed is customary seat next to me and Mark climbed into the back.

"The old man was drunk, just as I thought," Mark said resignedly.

"Don't worry about it, Mark. Have you ever flown before?"

"Never," he replied.

"You're in for a treat," Josh said. "Tommy took me up for my first time too." Josh smiled broadly at me.

"Do you guys like roller coasters?" I asked mysteriously.

"Roller coasters? Sure, I loved the ones we went on at Wonderland," Josh replied.

"They're pretty cool," Mark added.

"Why do you ask?" Josh asked with a questioning look on his face.

I grinned to myself. Josh didn't know that I had also qualified to fly basic aerobatics on the Cessna 152 Aerobat. The club owned one and if it was available, I would take them up in it and give them a ride that they'd never forget. "Oh, no particular reason," I said barely suppressing a snicker. I saw Josh look at me funny out of the corner of his eye. He was reading me and knew that I as up to something. He kept studying me as we drove to the airport and I could see the wheels turning in his head.

I had barely parked the Jeep when the 2 boys bolted out the passenger side door and raced to the terminal entrance. They were both excited and truth be known, so was I. I was going to get to do 3 things that I loved, fly, fly with Josh and give someone the experience of their first ever flight. The boys were nearly floating along as we made our way to the dispatch desk. Josh took Mark over to watch the departing and arriving planes as I went and rented an aircraft. We were in luck, the Aerobat was available. I booked it and then returned to the boys, grinning like the Cheshire cat.

"We'll be flying a different type of plane today, Josh. Last time we went up in a Cessna 172. This time we're going up in a Cessna 152 Aerobat. It's a little smaller but it has reinforced wings and control surfaces."

"Reinforced?" Josh asked.

"Yeah, it just means that they can take higher loads."

We made our way to the parked aircraft and Josh and Mark piled in. Josh took great delight in giving Mark the grand tour of the cockpit as I performed a ground check of the aircraft. Luckily, the plane was fully fueled so we wouldn't have to make a stop before taking off.

I completed the ground check and then went to evict Mark from the pilot's seat so that we could get underway. "Ok guys, one of you are going to have to climb into the back seat," I said.

"You can sit up front this time," Josh said to Mark. 'That's my boy' I thought to myself - I knew Josh would have given his left nut to sit in the front seat and take control of the plane again, but he was offering the seat to his friend instead. I was proud of him and I just reminded myself that his selfless attitude was one of the reasons that I loved him so much.

"Are you sure?" Mark asked.

"Positive. I can fly with my dad anytime I want. You can sit up there this time," Josh said with a grin.

I gave his shoulder a squeeze and smiled warmly at him as he climbed into the back seat and Mark slid over to the co-pilot's seat. It only took a couple of moments to get everyone strapped in, the engine started and to get us into position on the runway. As I had done with Josh on his first flight, I let Mark do the takeoff. By the time we were airborne, he was positively glowing. The dejected looking boy that I had met earlier that morning had been replaced by a happy, confident teenager. I smiled as I felt Josh reach up and rub the back of my neck to express approval of what I had done.

We spent a little while doing some sight-seeing as I headed to the remote area northwest of the airport. In our previous flight, Josh and I had remained close to 2,500 feet up. This time, I took us to 5,000 feet to allow for a higher safety margin for the planned aerobatic display that I was going to put on. It didn't take Josh long to notice that we were a lot higher.

"How high up are we this time, dad? We weren't this high last time were we?" Josh asked over the intercom.

"I can't put much past you, can I?" I chuckled. "We're about 5,000 feet up this time. Last time we topped out at about 2,500." We were just entering the area where we could safely pull off some aerobatic tricks. "How about we go lower?" I asked with a sly grin as I pulled back on the throttle and dropped the nose into a steep dive.

"Wow!" Mark crowed from the right hand seat. "I feel weightless," he laughed.

"Is there something you're not telling us?" Josh laughed from the back seat.

Our speed was approaching the yellow line and we were down to around 3,500 feet when rammed the throttle all the way forward and pulled back hard on the stick.

"Oh man! My stomach is around my knees and my balls feel like they're trying to reach the floor," Josh crowed.

I laughed and kept pulling back on the stick, pulling us past the level and into a vertical climb completing a neat loop. At the very end, I pealed off to the left in a series of tight barrel rolls. By that time, both boys were laughing and babbling words such as "awesome" and "cool".

I performed a number of split-S and Immelman maneuvers and even performed a horizontal-eight over a road. We spent the next half hour on what was probably the most exciting ride of the boys' lives. For a grand finale, I decided to perform a hammerhead stall. I backed off on the throttle and pulled us into a steep climb. Before long, the plane began to shudder and the stall alarm went off. Just as we stalled, I kicked the tail over and neatly pivoted us into a vertical dive. All of us felt our stomachs rise into our throats as we began to pickup speed and hurtle towards the ground.

I quickly regained control of the aircraft and leveled her out for the trip home. I smiled to myself as I sat and enjoyed the excited chatter of the two boys who were now wound up like three dollar watches.

Sadly, the time in the air came to a close 30 minutes later as I gently set us down on the runway back at the airport. All three of us were coming down from a major adrenaline rush as we taxied back to the parking spot. I parked the plane and the boys helped me to chock the wheels and attach the tie-downs. Before we made our way back to the terminal, I was rewarded by a massive Josh hug.

"Freaking awesome, dad! I didn't know you could do all that. That was better than any roller coaster I've ever been on," Josh gushed. "I love you and this is the best birthday I've ever had!" Josh said as he gave me a quick peck on the cheek.

"I love you too," I replied as I returned his embrace and his kiss. "Happy birthday, son."

I barely released Josh when Mark surprised me by also giving me a big, friendly hug. "Thanks Tommy! That was amazing. I've never done anything like that before in my life. You're the best. Josh is the luckiest kid alive," he said with a wide and sunny grin.

"You're welcome, Mark. You did really well with that takeoff and I'd be happy to take you up again sometime," I replied as I gave him a warm squeeze.

As soon as we entered the terminal, the various people in the waiting area broke into applause. Evidently, several of them had binoculars and had taken advantage of the clear blue sky to watch my aerobatic performance. I smiled, shook hands with several of the 'fans' and surprisingly even signed a couple of autographs!

We made a quick stop at the restaurant for a light lunch. None of us wanted to fill up before hitting the Mandarin for Josh's birthday dinner so we ate light. At one point during the meal, I excused myself to go to the gift shop. I picked up a pilot hat and pair of aviator sun glasses for Mark just like the ones I had bought for Josh. I had just paid for the purchases when a dejected looking Mark met me at the door.

"Tommy, I don't have a present for Josh," he mumbled as he looked at his shoes. "My cheap ass father wouldn't give me any money."

I put my arm around his shoulders. "Don't worry about it," I said soothingly as I pulled $40 out of my wallet and gave it to him. "Use this to go buy something for him in the gift shop.

The boy smiled broadly at me as he accepted the money and scurried into the store. I went back to the restaurant and sat back down with Josh. "Hey bud, I decided to get Mark a pair of aviators and a hat like yours."

"He'll really like that," Josh said.

"He's a really nice kid. I like him a lot,"

"Other than you, he's my best friend," Josh said thoughtfully.

"Well I'm glad to hear it. Mark sounds like he needs some good friends."

A moment later, Mark returned to the table carrying a gift shop bag. He did his best to conceal it from Josh. I was sure that Josh noticed but to his credit, he did a great job of pretending not to.

I took a moment to give Mark the aviator glasses and pilot's hat and I smiled at his reaction. He looked as if I had just given him a million dollars. His face lit up with pride and his emotions almost overcame him. I can't recall ever having been thanked so many times or having such a small gift mean so much to someone. The more I thought about it, the angrier I got at the thought that this marvelous boy was possibly being abused or mistreated. I was beginning to feel a deep need to protect him and to try to make his life better. I began to formulate a plan. This plan would depend on a lot of things and a lot of people. Most of all, it would depend on Mark's older brother and, unfortunately, it would depend on his father. I made a mental note to give Andy a call later that evening. If anyone could or would help, it would be him.

We finished our light lunch and left the airport. As we walked out to my Jeep, I was flanked by two very happy boys and I felt energized by their happiness. We were all looking forward to Josh's birthday dinner at the Mandarin and Josh and Mark were looking forward to their sleepover afterwards. I couldn't wait to see Josh's reaction to finding out about the summer trip that he and I were going to embark on in just a few months. Josh thought he was having the best birthday of his life, but he didn't know the half of it yet!


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