Substitute Dad

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

Chapter 16

Resolutions and Surprises

The final week of my nineteenth year started quietly and ended dramatically. Josh, Mark and I saw Dr Pollard and he was a big help. The boys, due to the fact that they were not directly involved in the shooting and because of their age were handling things quite well. I, on the other hand, remained an emotional basket case. Without my family to lean on, I don't know what I would have done to get through it.

Dr. Pollard agreed to see me on a regular basis to help me deal with the trauma of the shooting. After speaking to the boys, he decided that unless either of them started showing symptoms of PTSD, he wouldn't need to see them. He was pretty certain that Josh would get all the therapy he needed by trying to help me. I knew that he was right.

I felt a lot better after that first meeting. He convinced me that it wasn't wrong to feel bad about what happened even if it was justified. He helped me to understand that I wouldn't wake up one morning and once again feel like my old self and that by beating myself up over that, it was only going to make things worse. 'One day at a time' became my new motto.

In keeping with the good doctor's advice, I tried to keep up as normal a routine as possible. The boys and I continued to hit the gym for our workouts, I continued my driving lessons with Josh and I went to class each and every day. Aside from regularly being cornered and congratulated by complete strangers, things did seem normal. As the days wore on, the nightmares became less and less severe.

Josh, bless his heart, was my rock during that time. Every time I woke up in a cold sweat, there was Josh hugging me and rubbing my back or massaging my shoulders. My brothers were a big help too. One night Andy showed up and dragged me off to the driving range to smash a bucket of golf-balls. On another evening, James and Anne dropped by with the boys. Spending a couple of hours rough-housing with my soon to be six year old twin nephews was extremely therapeutic.

By strange coincidence, Matthew and Richard's birthday was the day after mine. We usually had a joint birthday celebration. Oddly enough, nobody had mentioned anything about a family get-together and I just figured it was due to the events of the past weekend. I wasn't really in a celebratory mood anyway.

That Thursday night, Josh and I went to the local mall, the same mall where the shooting had taken place, to buy birthday gifts for the twins. I had always been the 'fun' uncle and it was no secret as to the fact that I was their favorite. I always gave the best gifts. I knew that in later years when they became teenagers, I'd be the one, much to their mother's chagrin, buying them fun things like BB guns!

"Any ideas about what I should get the boys, Josh?" Watching Josh play with the boys, I could see that he loved them just about as much as I did and they certainly loved him right back.

"How about some fishing gear so we can take them fishing? I saw some really cool fishing kits for kids. They come with fishing rods, tackle boxes and all sorts of lures and things."

I smiled to myself. It was a good idea and the hint wasn't lost on me. Josh had only been fishing a couple of times, but he had loved it. I planned on taking him during the summer; in fact, we were both going to load up on new fishing gear before leaving.

I ended up taking Josh's advice and bought each of the boys a Junior Fisherman's kit. I also went a step further and bought them child-size fishing vests, small polarized sun-glasses, child-sized hip waders and camouflage fishing hats. By the time I was done, I had dropped a couple of hundred bucks on the gifts but those two little boys were worth every penny.

After returning from the Mall, Josh went over to visit with Mark and I retired to my apartment to do my homework. I really didn't like the idea of Josh being at Mark's house with Mark's drunken bastard of a father around. Before he left, I admonished him to be careful and to make sure that he had his cell phone with him.

As I worked through my homework, I kept going over Mark's situation in my mind. I had the necessary papers to put him in his brother's custody but I needed a way to get them signed. I needed the right set of circumstances to give me the leverage that I needed to get Mark's father to willingly sign the papers. As it turned out, his father gave me the circumstances that I needed and he gave them to me much quicker than I had ever expected.

I had just shut down my laptop when my cell phone started ringing. I looked at the display and it was Josh's number. I quickly punched the 'Send' button.

"Hi Josh, what's up?" I figured he was ready to come home and he simply needed a ride.

"Dad, you have to help us. Mark's Dad's drunk and he's going crazy." Josh sounded scared and I immediately jumped into action.

"What's happening, Josh?" I asked urgently. I could hear drunken shouting and what sounded like someone pounding on a door in the background.

"Mark's Dad heard about the reward money and he went nuts. He punched mark in the head and he tried to hit me. I kicked him in the balls and locked myself in the bathroom. He's trying to get in. I don't know where Mark is."

"Joshy, listen to me carefully. Stay where you are. I'm on my way right now," I said as I threw on my coat, grabbed my keys and the manila envelope that Andy had given me and ran up the stairs. "Stay in the bathroom and keep me on the line. If he breaks his way in, do whatever you need to do to protect yourself. Do you understand?"

"Yes Dad. I'm worried about Mark. I don't know what happened to him. I shouldn't have left him," Josh sobbed.

"Joshy, you did the right thing. I'm coming to get both of you guys right now. This ends tonight."

"Please hurry!"

I sprinted out to the Jeep, climbed in a pealed out of the driveway without even bothering to do up my seatbelt. It was a good thing that there weren't any radar traps out there that night otherwise I'd have been busted big-time.

"Dad, I can hear Mark and his father yelling. I think he's beating him up. I'm going to help him," Josh said.

"NO JOSH! STAY WHERE YOU ARE. I'll be there in 2 minutes. When as soon as you hear my voice, I want you to come out of the bathroom and move towards the door. No matter what happens, you are to say that you saw him take a swing at me first. Do you understand?" I asked urgently.

"Yes, but I want to help Mark. His father might kill him. We were just playing on his computer when he saw us on the news again and went nuts. He kept calling him a no good little punk and a faggot and said he was going to teach us both a lesson,"

"Joshy, I'm going to teach him a lesson in about 30 seconds," I replied as I pulled up in front of Mark's house. I slammed the Jeep into park and tumbled out the door. I ran to the front door of the house and rang the bell about 10 times. I could hear the sounds of a struggle inside. A moment later the latch turned and I stood face to face with Mark's father.

He was a large, disheveled man wearing work pants with no shirt and he reeked of booze. His hair was a greasy tangled mess which looked as if it hadn't been washed in days. His face had the reddish tinge typical of long-time drunks and he was sweating profusely. No doubt his efforts at beating up a 13 year old boy had tired him out.

"Mr. Callahan?" I asked as I hung up my cell phone.

"Yeah, whaddaya want?" he slurred.

I saw Josh enter the hallway out of the corner of my eye and I answered Arnold Callahan with a hard right hook to his cheek. The impact of the punch sounded like the crack of a whip. I followed up the right cross with a left jab to his gut and finished the initial barrage with a right uppercut to his chin. I had caught the bastard by complete surprise.

"You fucking hit me, I'm calling the cops," he wailed as he lay on the filthy floor of his front hallway.

"Not so fast, you swung at me first, didn't he Josh?" I asked.

"He sure did, I saw it," he replied bitterly.

Just then Mark stumbled into the hallway. His nose was bleeding, he had a split lip and his right eye looked as if he was going to have a hell of a shiner. That set me off again.

"Not only that, the police will be most interested to hear about the way you like to beat up little boys," I taunted as I kicked the prone man in the stomach.

I heard him wheezing and trying to catch his breath. "Why do you care," he managed to say. "He's just a little queer."

"It's time for us to play a little game, Mr. Callahan," I said ominously as I reached down and pulled one of his arms behind his back in a hammerlock. "This game is called pain and reward. The rules are easy. If you displease me, I give you pain. If you play nice, I take the pain away. Filthy words like 'queer' displease me so I owe you some pain." As I held his right arm behind his back with my left hand and I reached down to his head with my right. I turned his head sideways against the floor exposing his right ear. I took my right thumb and pressed it hard into a tiny pressure point just below and behind the ear. He began to shriek like a fireball.

"OH FUCK THAT HURTS!" He wailed.

I kept up the pressure. "I know it hurts and if you don't shut the fuck up, I'm going to make it hurt a whole lot worse. You can earn a reward right here by apologizing to me for offending me by saying that filthy word. You're a worthless sack of shit that get's his jollies from hurting little boys but I'm sure you can figure out how to apologize."

"I'M SORRY! I'M SORRY. JUST MAKE IT STOP!"

"That was good," I said as I released the pressure point. "Now, you'll apologize to your son,"

"FUCK YOU!" He roared.

"You don't learn very quickly do you? You will learn, though. I know a lot of pressure points and some of them hurt a lot worse than that last one." With that I reached down to the top of his left forearm, just below the elbow. I twisted his arm to the side and drove my thumb hard into a group of muscles and nerves.

"HOLY FUCK THAT HURTS!" He screamed as I pressed ever harder. He kept screaming and after a minute I could smell the sharp odor of urine as he pissed his pants.

"You dirty sack of shit, you pissed yourself," I said disgustedly as I released the pressure point. "You do really well against little boys but you piss your pants like a little baby when faced with someone your own size. You're a pathetic excuse for a man." Big tough Arnold Callahan was actually crying on the floor as he lay there in his soiled pants. He was bawling like a baby partially from the pain but also out of the fear. I hoped that I had given him at least a small taste of what he had put Mark through.

"Let's try this again, shall we?" I continued. "First, you are going to apologize for hurting your son and then you're going to apologize to my son for scaring him. Finally you and I are going to have a nice little chat about Mark and about his brother Bryan."

"He's another faggot," he replied.

I reached down and slid my hand under his nose and pressed it up painfully exposing and compressing yet another pressure point. I held it as he screamed and squirmed. I only released him when I felt the blood from his nose begin to run down my hand.

"Do you want me to really hurt you next time?" I asked soothingly. "You saw me on the news the other night so you know what happened to the last person who crossed me and threatened my boys."

By that time, Josh had gone to Mark and was holding a bag of ice against his friend's swelling eye. Josh winked at me. I could see from his expression that my behavior hadn't shocked or scared him this time. He knew what was behind it and he knew it needed to be done. Mark, on the other hand, looked to be in complete shock. He didn't look frightened but he looked as if he was in awe. It was the first time that he'd ever seen anyone put his father in his place.

"All right, I'm sorry. I'm sorry for beating up Mark, I'm sorry for scaring Josh and I'm sorry for offending you. Are you happy now?" Callahan whined.

"That's a start. You have one more duty to attend to before you never have to see any of us again and that includes Mark. Get on your feet and sit down at the table," I told him sternly. "Before you make a mistake and offend me again, remember that I can cause you considerable pain if I choose to. I'm younger, stronger, and smarter and I'm sober. You're a pathetic drunk who can only take on little boys."

He managed to get to his feet and stumble to the dining room table. I motioned for Josh and Mark to take seats as the opposite end of the table from Mark's father as I pulled the manila envelope out of my coat pocket and removed the papers inside.

"I'm going to give you two choices here. Your first choice is to be a man and the second is to continue to be a low-life scumbag. If you choose to be a man, you will sign these papers which give custody of Mark to his brother in Calgary. After you sign them, I will take him out of this house tonight and you will never see him again unless he chooses to see you. If you choose to be a scumbag, I will call the police and have you arrested for assaulting both of these boys and for assaulting me. You will go to jail for a very long time and I will make it my mission in life to ensure that every other prisoner in that jail knows that you like to beat up little boys. Do you know what happens in prison to men who hurt little boys?" I asked in my most menacing tone.

As Callahan considered what I had said, I looked at Mark and Josh. I could see nothing but pride in Josh's eyes and in Mark's I could see a glint of hope. Mark looked lost and in shock but it was obvious that he was allowing himself to hope that his nightmare was coming to an end.

"In order to help you make your decision, I will sweeten the pot. If you choose to be a man, the day after I put Mark on a plan to Calgary, I will deliver to you the sum of $5,000 in cash. Be warned, however, if you ever try to renege on this agreement I will see you become a prison wife to a disgusting smelly biker."

"Where do I sign?" he asked.

I pulled a pen out of my pocket and pointed to all the necessary spaces on the document. Two minutes later it was done. He had voluntarily made Bryan Mark's legal guardian.

I wanted to get out of that house as soon as I could. "Mark, everything is all set. You're going to come back to our house and stay with us for a couple of days until I can make the arrangements with Bryan and get you on a plane. You need to go and get your belongings and load them into my truck. Josh will help you and I will keep an eye on your father to make sure he stays out of the way."

Mark nodded then hugged me fiercely before leading Josh up the stairs to his soon to be former bedroom. It only took 15 minutes to get Mark's possessions loaded into the Jeep. I stood in the hallway and kept Mark's father away from the boys. In actual fact, I need not have bothered. He simply sat at the kitchen table and divided his time between sulking over his humiliation and dreaming of what he was going to do with the promised money.

"Mark, if you want to say good-bye to your father, now is the time to do it," I said after he and Josh took the last load out to the Jeep.

"I have nothing to say to that man," he mumbled as he walked out the door and climbed into the Jeep. Josh stayed with me as I said my final words to Arnold Callahan.

"Remember everything that I said and don't make the mistake of deluding yourself into thinking that I wasn't serious. If you think you had a rough night of it tonight, just wait and see what happens to you if you cross me again," I said sternly.

Callahan meekly nodded his head. Josh and I went out the door and joined Mark in the Jeep.

"Is this really happening?" Mark asked in a shaky voice.

"Yes Mark, it's really happening. Andy drew up those papers for me and as soon as your father signed them, your brother became your legal guardian." I said with a smile and ruffled his hair. "We need to get you home kiddo and then I'll take care of you. You're a little banged up but I don't think there's anything really wrong with you."

"Are you really going to give him $5,000?" Mark asked softly.

"Yeah, I am. I figured I would scare him with threats of the police and that I would also appeal to his greed. I guess it worked."

"Why would you do all this for me? Why would you care so much about someone you just met a few weeks ago?" Mark asked with a slight tremor in his voice.

"Because that's the way my dad is," Josh said confidently. "He likes to help people and you needed help."

"Mark, Josh is right. Also, I've been through the type of abuse that you suffered and I couldn't let it continue. I'm not rich but $5,000 is not a lot to spend to put an end to a wonderful boy's suffering."

"Thank-you so much for everything. I don't know how I'll ever pay you back. I will give you the reward money that I got from the bank. That'll be a start."

"Nonsense Mark. That's your money. If you want to pay me back there is another way that you can do it. You can be happy in your new life. You can grow up to be a fine man. You can help people around you when they need it. You can live a good life and be a good person."

"I'll still owe you, Tommy. I'll owe both of you."

"You don't owe either of us anything," Josh replied as he climbed into the back seat to sit with his friend.

As I started the Jeep and put it in gear, I listened as Josh told Mark all about my theory about dads and fathers. I smiled to myself as I drove.

We pulled into the driveway and a concerned looking Susan met us at the door. "Tommy, is everything all right? I heard you tear out of here like a herd of elephants," She said.

"Everything's ok now," I said as Josh and Mark piled out of the truck.

Susan took one look at Mark and nearly broke down into tears. "My God, what happened to Mark?" she asked as she pulled the boy into a hug.

We all went into the house and sat in the living room as Josh and I told Susan the story. She sat ashen faced and listened intently. "You poor boy," Susan said as she wiped a tear from her eyes.

"Not anymore mom," Josh said. He'll be with his brother in a few days. Can he stay with us until then?"

"Of course he can," Susan said. "Tommy, I don't know how or why you ended up the way you are but your parents must have done something right. I wish there were more people like you out there. If there were, the world would be a better place."

I blushed slightly and smiled. "Susan, there's one more thing. We need a witness to sign these papers. I could do it, but it might be better if someone else did it. I know you didn't actually see Mark's father sign them, but I did. Would you be willing to sign as a witness?"

"That's a pretty big request but I trust you and I trust Josh," Susan replied as she accepted the papers and the offered pen. Once Mark was safely on his way, I'd priority courier the documents to Bryan in Calgary to make everything official.

Susan went into the bathroom and fetched first aid supplies to take care of Mark while Josh and I went to the Jeep and brought in all his belongings. Much of his clothing was pretty worn out and old so I made a mental note to take the boy shopping before he left to start his new life. Also, I figured we were going to have to box up and ship many of Mark's belongings since it would be too much to simply take on the plane with him.

"Josh, when your mom is done tending to Mark, you and he go through his stuff and get rid of anything that's worn out or doesn't fit. We'll take him tomorrow to get some new clothes and things."

"Ok Dad," Josh said. "Did I do good?"

"What do you mean?" I asked with a raise eyebrow.

"I mean setting up this situation," Josh replied with a mischievous glint in his eyes.

"You set this up?" I asked as I sat down on the tailgate of my truck. I was flabbergasted.

"Yeah, I knew you needed some way to get Mark's father to agree to let him go. I figured that if I could do something to get him angry and threaten us it would be just what you needed. That's why I went over there. I was going to talk Mark into fooling around again and do something to make his father catch us. As it turned out, I didn't have to" Josh said. "I didn't mean for Mark to get hurt though," He said as he looked down at his shoes.

"Josh, you could have been hurt doing that. Why didn't you speak to me first?" I asked.

"Because I knew you wouldn't let me do it. I know that you take risks for people you care about and I know that you'd take a risk for Mark so I took one too. You aren't mad at me are you?" He asked softly.

"No Josh, I'm not mad at you. How could I be mad at you? You did what I would have done. Just please talk to me next time, ok? It worked out well even though Mark got a little roughed up, but it could have been worse." I reached out and hugged him tightly and he did the same.

"You were amazing tonight, Dad," Josh said. "You have to teach me those pressure point things," He said with a smile. He seemed lost in thought for a second and then continued. "What about Mark? He won't be able to learn any more stuff from you?"

"Mark may be moving to another province Josh, but he'll still be our friend. We will talk to him often, we'll exchange emails and we'll visit him and Bryan as often as we can."

"I guess that'll have to do," Josh said. "He and I have been friends for years. I'm really going to miss him."

"I've only known him for a few weeks and I'm going to miss him too, Joshy."

We released each other and began carrying loads of Mark's meager belongings into the house and up to Josh's room. I followed the boys upstairs and sat down on Josh's bed to call Bryan as they began sorting through Mark's things.

Bryan answered the phone on the second ring.

"Tom! How are things in the east?" he asked jovially.

"Well Bryan, they're a little better now that they were an hour ago," I replied. I proceeded to tell him what happened.

"My God, you pulled it off. You actually got the mean old bastard to let him go. My God! Effectively I'm now a dad!" He laughed. "Is my brother/son there, I want to talk to him," he said softly. The emotion in his voice was thick enough to be cut with a knife.

I handed the phone to Mark. "Hey kiddo, there's someone who'd really like to talk to you," I said with a smile.

Josh and I sat and watched Mark as he spoke to his brother. It didn't take any more than 30 seconds for the tears of relief and joy to begin falling from his eyes. It was a real heartwarming scene. The feeling that I got from making such a marvelous child that happy was almost enough to make me forget about the shooting. I felt more like my old self than I had since that day.

After a few minutes, Mark handed my phone back to me.

"Are you sure you're ready for this, Bryan?" I asked with a grin.

He laughed. "I've wanted this for a long time. My brother is the only family I really have and I love him absolutely. How soon can you get him on a plane?"

"Well, I was thinking that I'd try to get a Monday morning flight for him. I want to give him and Josh one last weekend together before the move. Also, we need to get him some new clothes and pack up his stuff. I'll have to ship some of it out there."

Bryan and I discussed the arrangements for a few more minutes before we hung up. By that time, Mark had regained his composure and was busily digging though the bags and boxes that contained his worldly possessions.

"You guys make a list of all the stuff that you need to replace and we'll go shopping tomorrow. It'll be my treat, Mark."

Mark looked at me for a moment and then enfolded me in a hug as more tears of happiness fell from his bright blue eyes. I held him tightly and rubbed his back as he let his emotions flow out unabated.

When Mark was finished, I left the room and went downstairs. Josh followed me down.

"Dad, I forgot to tell you, the dealership called today. They said you need to bring the Jeep in tomorrow. They said there's a recall that should have been fixed before they let you take it,"

"Shit on toast!" I exclaimed. "How in the heck are we supposed to take Mark shopping if my truck's in the shop?"

"They said they'd have it back on Saturday. They also said that they'd give you a loaner while they were doing the repair."

"Ok, we'll take it in first thing on the way to the mall.

I looked at my watch and it was almost 11:00 PM. Susan had agreed to keep Josh home from school that Friday and Bryan was going to call the school and arrange Mark's transfer to a school in Calgary. We didn't have to be up early, but we were all tired. "I don't know about you guys, but I'm going to hit the hay," I said to Josh.

"Me too," he said. "Goodnight, Dad. I love you so much," He said warmly as he gave me my goodnight hug.

"I love you too son. If Mark wakes up with any nightmares or anything tonight, let me know, ok?"

"Sure Dad," he said as he scrambled up the stairs.

I took a quick shower and brushed my teeth and then went to bed alone for the first time since the shooting. Of course, I didn't wake up that way.

The next morning, as I began to wake up I became aware that I was not alone. I was lying on my side and I realized that I was practically the filling in a sandwich. Mark was curled up against my chest and Josh was snuggled up tightly behind me. Both boys were still sound asleep and I was trapped. I was glad that I hadn't had much to drink the night before otherwise I would have been in trouble.

I lay there listening to the well known sound of Josh's soft snoring and feeling the rise and fall of Mark's chest against my own. I was thinking about my birthday. I thought it was strange that nobody had mentioned any plans for the following day but I wasn't all that concerned. After the events of the night before, my mental state had improved quite a bit but I still didn't feel a lot like celebrating.

Before long both boys began to wake up and stretch.

"Morning Dad," Josh said from behind me. I woke up last night and Mark was gone. I was worried so I came down to tell you. He had come down and climbed into bed with you so I climbed in too. I figured you wouldn't mind," He said with a smile.

"Nah, I didn't mind at all." I said as I rolled over and administered a significant tickle torture to his rubs and underarms. Just as I was getting the better of him, Mark launched a counter-attack and before long, I was overpowered and begging to be let up before I wet the bed.

With our morning free-for-all wrestling match taken care of, we all washed up and dressed for the day. The first order of the day was to take my Jeep into the dealership and then to take Mark shopping. He and Josh had compiled a list of items of clothing that needed to be replaced. The list was fairly lengthy so we had our work cut out for us.

We decided to grab some MacDonald's breakfast sandwiches on the way so we headed out the door before 9:00 AM. By 9:30, the boys were on their second sausage and egg McMuffins and I was just finishing my cup of coffee. McDonald's coffee was similar to motor oil, but it was hot and it contained caffeine so it did the trick. I noticed the boys, who had long ago wolfed down their hashbrowns eyeing mine so I decided to make it disappear before I lost it.

We rolled into the dealership and I pulled up to the service department. I was a little surprised when Josh jumped out of the truck and ran in ahead of me. I figured he must have been hoping to get a look at the Dodge Viper parked inside. He had fawned over that vehicle the other week as I had completed the purchase with Barry. I think he was a little disappointed that I hadn't bought it instead. Little did I know that he had other motivations for beating me into the shop that morning.

"Mr. Davis," A smiling Barry said as he and Josh met me at the door to the service department. He extended his hand. "I heard all about your excitement last weekend after you left us. I'm relieved to hear that you're ok."

"Thanks Barry," I said as I shook his hand. "Josh tells me that you've got a loaner for me while my truck's being fixed."

"Right, we do. It shouldn't take us long to complete the installation, rather the repair on your Jeep and we'll drop it off tomorrow and pickup the loaner at the same time."

I noticed Josh firing daggers at Barry over his verbal stumble but I didn't think much of it at the time. Barry led us to a similar Jeep Cherokee to the one that I had purchased and we exchanged keys. Within a couple of minutes, we were on our way.

The loaner vehicle was a year newer but it had all the same features as my truck. One thing that it had that mine didn't have was an in-dash GPS navigation system. As we drove towards the mall, Josh took great delight in playing around with the navigation system and figuring out how it worked. It didn't take long for him to get the thing talking and calling out turn by turn directions. I purposely missed a turn and took the long way around to see what it would do. Of course it picked up the missed turn right away and gave me new directions without skipping a beat. It spoke with a woman's voice and we took to calling it "bitching Betty". I thought it was a really cool device. I had considered picking one up, but I thought it was a little too extravagant after spending all that money buying the truck outright.

We spent the rest of the morning at the mall picking up essentially a whole new wardrobe for Mark. I ended up buying everything from socks and underwear all the way to pants, shorts, shirts and shoes. I ended up spending over $600 bucks on new clothes for him.

Not wanting to have Josh feeling left out, I bought a bunch of new stuff for the both of us as well. I also bought all three of us identical new "pilot style" watches and I bought both boys Nintendo Gameboys and a number of games. I figured it would keep Mark busy during the 3 hour flight to Calgary and Josh would appreciate his on the long road trip that was fast approaching. The final stop at the mall was to purchase some luggage for Mark so that he could carry as much of his belongings as possible on the plane. By the time we were done, my Visa card was smoldering and the loaner Jeep was loaded down.

When I proposed hitting the Mandarin for lunch, I was pretty certain that I would need a crow bar to separate both boys from me and to remove the grins from their faces. We pulled into the Mandarin lot and were thrilled to see that it was not very crowded. It's usually pretty busy for lunch of Fridays but we were a little late for most of the lunch crowd.

We were shown to our table, gave the waiter our drink orders and then pounced on the buffet. They didn't have lobster on the lunch menu but they did have crab legs and we all went nuts. I had visions of the restaurant manager hanging himself in his office at the site of a nearly twenty year old and two thirteen year old boys descending upon his buffet and virtually cleaning out the steam trays of crab legs. Once the crab legs were gone, we attacked the shrimp and scallops. We were in all-you-can-eat sea food heaven. Of course we ate our fill of other things too, but the three of us were sea-food fiends.

After my second plate, I hit the desert tables while the boys continued their assault on the main courses. In the end, I was left to sit and sip my glass of iced-tea and watch in awe as the boys worked their way through their fourth plates before moving onto desert.

I wanted to make Josh and Mark's final weekend together (for the time being) special. The mandarin was part of it but I wanted to come up with something else. I considered taking them flying but I wanted to see what they had in mind. I was also still in the dark regarding any potential plans to celebrate my birthday and that of the twins.

"So guys, what would you like to do this weekend? It'll be your last time together for a little while so let's do something special," I said.

"Mom says we have to go out for most of tomorrow," Josh said. I could detect something which was a little off in his voice but I couldn't quite place it. "Can we do something on Sunday?"

I thought that was a little weird since it was my birthday. I guessed that Susan might have had plans which conflicted and since I hadn't mentioned any birthday plans, Josh was going with her.

Once the boys finished their desert, I paid the cheque and we all waddled out to the loaner Jeep and drove home. After we unloaded the Jeep, I retreated downstairs to catch up on some course work while the boys went to Josh's room to put their new things away and to help Mark get his belongings packed and organized. On the way from the Mandarin, I had stopped at a self-storage depot and purchased some moving boxes for Mark to use to pack his excess belongings for shipping to his new home in Calgary.

We had a quiet evening that night. After dinner, the boys joined me in my apartment and we cuddled up together on the sofa and watched movies until about 11:00 PM when we all decided it was time to call it a night and hit the sack. I got goodnight hugs from both of the boys and then they headed off to Josh's room. I retired to my own bed and after the long day, I was out like a light.

I awoke the next morning and began my post-teenage years. The house was quiet and virtually empty. I showered and dressed for the day and headed upstairs. Susan and Josh had evidently left already and I found Mark sitting at the kitchen table eating Captain Crunch cereal and reading the comics out of the newspaper.

"Hi Tom," he said with a smile.

I walked over to him and gave him a brief but firm hug. "Just the two of us today, eh?"

"Would you mind taking me over to the mall again?"

"Sure bud, what do you need?"

"I was thinking I might buy a laptop computer with some of that reward money," Mark replied.

"That's a good idea. How about I make us some proper breakfast and then we head over. We might as well grab some lunch while we're at it."

I was rewarded with a bright smile from Mark. "Sounds great! Do you think we might have time for me to get a haircut too?"

I thought about it and I still hadn't heard anything regarding a birthday celebration so I agreed. I set about preparing some French toast and bacon for Mark and I. I was a little surprised that Josh hadn't come down to see me before he left. He never left the house without giving me a hug and since it was my birthday, it was doubly strange.

Mark and I made short work of the French toast and then worked together to clean up and wash the dishes. By 10:00 AM, we were on our way to the mall.

As usual for a Saturday morning, the mall was a zoo. Mark and I made the rounds of the various stores which sold computer hardware and accessories. My method of shopping was the 'blitz method'. I went to the store, picked out what I wanted and paid for it. Josh did pretty much the same thing. Much to my chagrin, Mark was a far more ponderous shopper. He took his time to learn about all the features and advantages of different models and he had to check out each and every store before he made up his mind. I really liked the little guy so it didn't bother me that much and I didn't have anything better to do anyway so I humored him.

By the time he had picked out and purchased a new laptop computer, carrying case and some software for it, it was lunchtime. We headed to the food court and decided to grab subs from Mr. Submarine. I had the foot long seafood and crab sub and Mark had the foot long meatball sub.

Mark seemed to be eating surprisingly slowly. "Is everything ok, buddy?" I asked as I put a hand on his shoulder.

"Yeah, I was just thinking about how much I'm going to miss you and Josh," he said with a touch of sadness in his voice.

"We're going to miss you too, Mark. Just remember that we're only a phone call or an email away. We'll also visit you as often as we can and once in a while, we'll have you come out here and visit us."

"I still can't believe how much you've done for me."

"It was my pleasure, kiddo."

We finished our sandwiches and made our final stop for the day. We headed over to the barbershop so Mark could get his haircut. While Mark was in the barber chair, I called WestJet on my cell phone and booked a flight for him at 11:40 AM on Monday morning which would put him in Calgary just before 1:00 PM Central time. I called Bryan right afterwards and left him a voicemail message with Mark's flight arrangements.

Mark's hair had been a little shaggy since I had me him and he decided it was time for a change. He ended up getting it done in a style very similar to Josh's hair. He got it cut very short around the sides and back with it a little longer and spiked it on the top. The main difference was that Mark had his hair left a little longer at the front and had it gelled so that it would stand up. He looked really good by the time he was done. I made a mental note to be sure to take lots of pictures of the three of us together before be left.

"Looking good, kiddo," I said with a smile as Mark walked out of the barbershop.

He blushed sweetly and flashed me a big grin. "Aw shucks," he said.

"I just got off the phone with WestJet; I have a flight booked for you at 11:40 on Monday morning. It's about a three hour flight so with the time difference, you'll be with Bryan by around 1:00 pm Central time."

"This really is happening, isn't it?" Mark asked.

"It sure is kiddo," I said as I put my arm around his shoulders and led him out to the Jeep.

We drove home and by the time we got there, I was feeling a little down. I hadn't received any happy birthday phone calls from anyone and I hadn't even seen Josh. Twenty is a milestone birthday and I would have expected at least a phone call from each of my loved ones. I parked the Jeep and Mark grabbed his new computer gear and we headed into the house.

I just barely got in the door when the trap was sprung.

"SURPRISE!" everyone shouted and suddenly I was surrounded. Josh bounded to the door and jumped into my arms. Close at his heels were the twins who wore matching grins. Each one wrapped himself around one of my legs. My mom, Andy, James, Anne, Susan and Darren were all there.

"Happy birthday Dad," Josh said as he kissed my cheek. "Surprised?" He asked.

"Yeah, you guys got me good," I said with a smile. "I thought something was up, I knew there was no way you'd go out without saying happy birthday."

I set Josh down and bent down and scooped up my nephews. "Happy birthday guys, you're six now!" I said as I kissed each of them on the forehead.

"Thanks Uncle Tommy," Richard said as he wrapped his small arms around my neck.

"Yeah, thanks Uncle Tommy," Matthew repeated as he kissed my cheek.

I set the twins down and made the rounds. After I had greeted everyone, I turned around and looked at Mark. "You were in on this too, weren't you?" I said with a grin.

"Yeah, it was my job to get you out of the way so they could get everything set up. You don't really think I shop like a woman do you?" He said with a devilish grin.

I picked him up and hugged him fiercely. "Thanks kiddo."

We spent the rest of the afternoon visiting, laughing and having a great time. It was the best birthday celebration that I'd ever had. Between wrestling with the twins, joking around and reminiscing with everyone and listening to Darren's old stories about my dad, it was a day to remember.

My mom, Susan and Anne prepared a real feast of hamburgers, hotdogs, sausages and all the trimmings. We all ate far more than we should have but somehow we managed to leave room for cake.

When it was time for the cake, I sat down at the table with Richard to my right and Matthew to my left. Andy carried the cake, adorned with 27 candles (20 for me, 6 for the twins and 1 for luck and sat it down before us as everyone belted out 'Happy Birthday'.

The twins and I blew out all the candles in one breath to the applause of everyone present. When it came time to cut the cake, I took note of the fact that Josh was standing directly behind me so I figured it wasn't going to blow up in our faces. Sure enough, it was a nice moist white cake with chocolate icing. I began serving up chunks of cake to everyone and I served myself and the boys last. When I saw that nobody else had eaten the cake, I figured they were just being polite and waiting for the boys and me to get our pieces. I was wrong.

At virtually the same time, Richard, Matthew and I shoveled in our first bites. Richard reacted first. His cute little face screwed up into an almost adorable 'Mister yuck' face and Matthew soon followed suite. The taste hit me last. It was like biting into a brick of salt.

"BLECH," Richard said as he spit out the cake.

Amazingly, Matthew swallowed his bite before making a similar sound. I carefully spat mine into a napkin and turned around to look at Josh. Sure enough, there he was grinning like the Cheshire cat! He got me again. He burst out laughing and so did everyone else (except for the twins and me). Evidently, the little devil had prepared a special cake in which he replaced the sugar in the recipe with salt.

"Hey guys, it was Josh who put the salt in the cake, let's gets him!" I said to the twins and the three of us set upon him and began tickling him without mercy.

"Hey!" He squawked as he tried to flee.

"I guess we're even now, eh?" I said

"For now," Josh said with a wink.

We finally let him up and we all returned to the table for the real cake. The second cake, which my mom had baked, tasted incredible. By the time we were done, there was nothing left of it.

After the table was cleared off and the dishes were loaded into the dish washer, we dug into the gifts. The first card which I opened was from my mom, Andy, James, Anne and the twins. It contained a $1,000 gift certificate for LeBaron sporting goods which I could use to pay for the rifles and accessories that I intended to buy before the summer trip.

"Wow! This is fantastic. Thanks guys," I said as I went around and hugged them all.

The twins opened my gift first and they went into seventh heaven. They thought it was the coolest thing.

"Are you going to take us fishing, Uncle Tommy?" they asked in unison.

"Of course I'm going to take my favorite nephews fishing!"

"Aren't we your only nephews?" Asked Richard, causing everyone to chuckle.

"Yeah but you're still my favorites!"

The twins opened a few more gifts which included new bikes from James and Anne, a collection of kid's movies from Josh and Susan and some baseball gear from Andy.

My next gift was from Susan. It was a new digital camera to take on the summer trip. "Thank-you Susan, this is fantastic," I said and gave her a big hug.

Mark then handed me a package which surprised me. Evidently he had managed to grab a gift for me during his morning shopping. I opened it and I just shook my head. He had bought me a Sony 8mm video camera. "Thank-you Mark, you didn't have to do this," I said.

"You did so much for me; I wanted to give you a nice gift."

I sat the camera down and reached over and hugged him very tightly. "You're an amazing boy, Mark. Don't ever forget that," I said warmly.

"You're an amazing man," he replied.

"This isn't actually a birthday gift and I have one for all three of you guys," Darren said as he handed Josh, Mark and I solid wooden plaques.

I turned mine over and read it. It was a Toronto Police Service civilian commendation signed by the chief of police and awarded for "Conspicuous acts of bravery in the face of extreme danger."

We all sat there stunned for a moment and passed the plaques around. "Thank-you Darren, this means a lot."

"All of you boys deserved it. All I did was make the recommendation and recruit the other officers on the scene to back it up. It was a shoe-in."

All three of us shook his hand and thanked him personally.

At that point, I thought the gifts were done but I was wrong. The doorbell rang and Josh took off like a shot to answer it.

"Hey Dad, it's the guy from the Chrysler dealership returning your truck," Josh called. I went to the door and exchanged keys with him and thanked him.

"Come on outside with me for a moment, Dad," Josh said as he slipped on his shoes. I did the same and followed him.

He led me to the Jeep and told be to climb in. I opened the door and climbed into the driver's seat. I just leaned over to open the passenger side door for Josh when I saw it. There in the dashboard was a brand new GPS navigation system.

"Do you like it?" Josh asked.

I was speechless for a second. "There wasn't really a recall, was there? You set the whole thing up to have this installed? I love it Josh and I love you," I stammered.

Josh threw his arms around me and kissed my temple. "I love you too dad, happy birthday."

"Josh, this must have cost you a lot of money," I said quietly.

"I doesn't matter. Money doesn't matter. It's like you once told me, money isn't all that useful if you can't use it to make people you love happy. Anyway, the dealership gave me a really good deal on it because of what we did."

Josh and I stayed there in my Jeep just holding each other for several minutes before we finally returned to the house and rejoined the party. By the time my head hit the pillow later that night, I was happier than I had been in a long time. The shooting and my residual guilt couldn't be farther from my mind.

As often happened, I woke up the next morning with Josh snuggled up beside me. He had come down in the night and climbed in with me. Mark had done the same. As happy as I was that Mark was only a day away for embarking on his new life, I was already a little sad that I wasn't going to get to see him nearly as often anymore. He was a very special kid and he had really grown on me.

The three of us spent that Sunday driving around in my Jeep playing with the GPS system. We took a lot of photos and shot a lot of video of the three of us just having fun together. We knew the memories would last a lifetime, but we wanted a photographic record anyway.

We ate all of our meals out and we spent the evening at the Mississauga Five drive-in theatre - the only drive-in theatre still operating in the province of Ontario. As much as we were all having the time of our lives, we all kept close tabs on our watches as the time of Mark's departure edged ever closer.

That night, the three of us decided to play an epic game of Monopoly down in my apartment. The game went late into the night. Finally, we packed it in when the boys started getting too sleepy to pay attention to the game. One at a time, I carried the boys into my bedroom, undressed them and tucked them in. My last act of the night was to climb in between them. Almost immediately, both snuggled into me I was asleep in minutes.

The next morning was a bit of a blur. We had to have Mark at Lester B. Pearson International Airport by around 10:40 in time to catch his 11:40 flight. We got up; showered, dressed and got Mark packed. We ate a good sized breakfast and then loaded the Jeep.

Mark's belongings which wouldn't fit into his suitcases were boxed up and loaded into the Jeep for shipment to Calgary. By 9:45 we were ready to leave. Mark climbed into the back seat and Josh joined him there. As I drove the 15 minutes to the airport, I felt a mixture of emotions. I was thrilled that Mark was going to be with someone who loved him and who would never hurt him but at the same time, I felt as if I was giving up a son. I knew that I would feel far worse if it was Josh who was leaving, but Mark had really worked his way into my heart and in my heart, I was missing the boy already.

I parked the Jeep in the short term parking lot of Terminal 3 and the three of us hefted Mark's bags and made our way into the terminal. There was no lineup at the WestJet counter so it only took a minute to get Mark checked in for his flight. We got him a window seat so that he could watch the scenery go by. With his bags checked in, we took a few moments to grab him some magazines from a gift shop and some snack foods to nibble on during the flight.

Finally, it was time for Mark to go through security and head to the gate. As an adult, I would have been allowed to go with him to the gate but because they wouldn't allow Josh to go, I made the difficult decision to stay behind. It was time to say goodbye.

Josh and Mark looked at each other. "I'm going to miss you, buddy," Josh said with a sniffle. "Have a great flight and say hi to Bryan for me."

"I will. I'm going to miss you too. We've been friends for a long time and the fact that I'm moving to Calgary won't change that."

The two boys stood facing each other for another moment and then embraced one another fiercely. When they released each other, they both had tears in their eyes. Mark then walked over to me.

"I don't know what to say, Tommy. You've done more for me in the past few weeks than anyone ever did for me before in my life. Josh told me what you said about dads and fathers. I never had a dad before but now I feel like I have two. Bryan is my brother but he's going to be my dad as well. You're my second dad, Tommy. I love you and I'll never forget you or what you did for me as long as I live," Mark managed to say before he broke down in tears.

My own tears started at the same time as I pulled the boy into a firm hug. "I know Mark, I'd be proud to call you son. Never forget that I'll always be here for you and that Josh, who is now your brother, will be too. I love you kiddo and I'll never forget you either. Remember, this isn't good-bye. This is just so-long. We will see each other again, I promise." We continued to hold each other and cry on each other's shoulder for a couple more minutes. We finally released each other and Mark turned and walked to the security gate.

"So long Dad and so long brother," Mark said.

"Take care son," I replied

"See ya bro," Josh said.

Mark disappeared into the security area as Josh and I put an arm around each other and turned to leave the airport.

When we got to the Jeep, we just sat there and held each other for several minutes. We finally started the Jeep and went to the upper level of the parking garage which offered us a good view of the active runway. We could see the gleaming WestJet 737-700 which would carry Mark to Calgary and we decided to stay and see him off.

The flight was right on time. At 11:40 it pushed back from the gate and taxied to the active runway. We watched as the Jet's engines roared to full power and the plane raced down the runway. We both felt a sense of relief as it lifted gracefully into the air taking my other son and Josh's brother west to start his new life. A life in which the fear and abuse which he had been subjected to would be replaced with the love and caring support of his brother/substitute dad.


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