Substitute Dad

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

Chapter 18

A Weekend at the Lake

Before I knew it, I was surrounded by hungry boys. The twins, roused by the intoxicating smell of frying bacon were up and dressed in record time. The two of them sat at the picnic table licking their lips. There eyes were literally sparkling with excitement over the adventure which lay ahead that day. Josh, after lighting the fire, toasted up the English muffins and warmed up the baked beans.

Before long, we were all sitting around the table filling our bellies with a hot and tasty heart-stopper of a breakfast. The twins didn't eat like teenagers, but they managed to put a lot of food away. I couldn't figure out where they put it in their small bodies. Josh of course, was a bottomless pit.

"Are you guys ready to catch some fish?" I asked.

"Yeah, I wanna catch a big one," Richard said with an enormous grin.

"Me too," chimed in Matthew as he shoveled a final forkful of scrambled eggs into his mouth.

"How about you, kiddo?" I asked Josh. He was sitting next to me and leaning against my side.

"I can't wait," he replied with that bright smile that always warmed my heart.

As I sat there that morning, I couldn't imagine any place that I'd rather be. I might have been a computer junkie, but I was really in my element in the outdoors. The fact that I was there with my son and my twin nephews, all of whom I loved dearly, made it all that much better.

Josh and I sipped cups of coffee while the twins washed down their breakfast with glasses of orange juice. "Did you guys sleep well last night?" I asked.

"It was kinda cold," Richard replied. "I was ok when I climbed in with you. You were nice and warm."

"So was Josh," Matthew replied.

"That's ok, I didn't mind at all as long as you were comfortable. I didn't know you were there until I woke up anyway."

"You both snore," Matthew piped in.

"I do not," Josh said and looked to me for support.

"Sorry bud, but you really do snore. Not loudly, but it's a sound I'd know anywhere. I actually like the sound of your snoring." I chuckled.

Josh grinned at me, "Sometimes you sound like you're sawing logs with a chainsaw!"

The twins laughed hysterically at Josh's comment. "It wasn't THAT bad," Richard said.

"Thanks little buddy," I said and reached over to ruffle his hair.

When we were all finished eating, Josh and the twins gathered up and cleaned all the dishes while I got the fishing gear ready to go. The boat was docked just down the dirt road at the camp docks. I'd already booked the boat and motor along with lifejackets for each of us so all we had to do was show up and push off. I had also bought several Styrofoam containers of dew worms to use as bait.

After putting out the camp fire, we headed off to the docks. The twins were just about as excited as I had ever seen them, and their glee was infectious. Josh and I both wore large grins as we climbed into the boat and began stowing our gear.

"Lifejackets on everyone," I said as we all took our seats. I knew that Josh and I were strong swimmers but I wasn't going to take any chances with the twins. It might have been a little cumbersome, but I decided that it was necessary that we all kept our lifejackets on while on the lake.

Pretty soon we were all suited up and ready to go. I fired up the motor as Josh untied us from the dock and pushed off. The boat was a small aluminum boat with an outboard motor. It was a little on the small side but we had plenty of room. In addition to our fishing gear, we had a cooler filled with an assortment of cold drinks, snacks and sandwiches for lunch.

Normally, if it was just Josh and I, I would have headed out to the deeper water and done some trolling for the really big fish which lurked in the depths of the lake. Because this was the twin's first time, I decided to hit a number of the places where I knew we could drop anchor and fish for some nice pan-sized rainbow trout. I was sure that Josh and I would end up spending most of our time helping the twins but neither of us minded. This trip was really for them, since they wouldn't get to see much of us during the summer months.

"Make us go faster!" Richard shouted as I throttled up the motor and headed out onto the lake.

The lake was smooth as glass that morning so I decided to indulge my nephews and gunned the motor. The bow rose out of the water and we were literally flying over the water.

"COOL!" Matthew crowed.

Josh looked at me with a massive grin on his face and shook his head. As we got closer to the intended fishing hole, I throttled down the engine to slow us down and so as not to scare the fish.

"Why are we slowing down Uncle Tommy?" Richard asked with a disappointed look on his face.

"We don't want to scare all the fish away," I said. I cut the engine entirely and let us drift to a gentle stop about 100 feet away from a steep rock wall. We were floating just over the edge of a deep hole where I knew good sized rainbow trout lurked. "Drop the anchor, Josh."

Josh stood up and lowered the anchor over the port side of the boat until it was submerged, and then let it drop. It seemed to hit bottom in a perfect position to hold us on the edge of the drop off. There was a very light breeze on the water and it was pleasantly cool. I knew it would warm up quite a bit as the day wore on so I ensured that we had lots of sun screen and we all had shorts which we could change into.

"How do we go to the bathroom out here?" Matthew asked.

"That depends," I said with a smile. "If you have to pee, you can do it in the bucket and then dump it overboard. If you have to do number 2, we'll pull in somewhere and you can do it in the bushes. I brought toilet paper."

"Mom said to watch out for poison ivy," Richard said.

"Yeah, you don't want to sit down on poison ivy, it'll give you an itchy butt," Josh said with a grin.

The twins giggled sweetly.

I paired up with Matthew, and Josh paired up with Richard. We helped them get their lines baited and taught them how to cast. They picked it up surprisingly quick for a pair of six-year-olds. With the twins taken care of, Josh and I set up our lines and before long, all four of us were intently watching our bobbers.

I hoped the fish would be biting so the twins wouldn't get bored. I decided to make it a little more interesting for them anyway. "Ok guys, we're going to have a little fishing derby. I have prizes for whoever catches the biggest fish, whoever catches the first fish and whoever catches the most fish."

"What are the prizes?" Richard asked. He had a keen look of interest on his cute little face.

"How about $20?" I asked.

"WOW," the twins said in near perfect unison.

Much to my relief, we didn't have long before the fish started biting. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Matthew's bobber jiggle slightly. "Matthew, you have a fish nibbling at your hook. When he bites and pulls the bobber under the water, pull back hard on your rod," I said as I demonstrated how to set the hook. "After you do that, start reeling him in."

Matthew got a real serious look of concentration on his face as he stared at his bobber. Josh and Mark also turned and watched him. Sure enough, a couple of second later, the bobber was pulled violently under the water. "Tug the rod now, Matthew," I said excitedly.

Matthew jerked the rod back and the fish was hooked. He started frantically reeling in his fish. "It's pulling really hard," He chirped.

Josh stood up and grabbed the landing net as I position myself to assist Matthew should he require any help. "You're doing fine, little buddy. Reel him in and Josh will scoop him up in the net."

"There he is!" Richard shouted excitedly as we caught sight of a flash of silver just a few feet from the boat.

Matthew, who looked like he was starting to tire out, kept reeling and finally the fish was along side the boat. Josh reached down with the net and hauled it into the boat. Matthew jumped up and down excitedly as the fish flopped around like mad on the bottom of the boat. I grabbed it and removed the hook before handing Matthew his catch.

"Grab it here by the gills," I instructed as he proudly held up his first ever fish. It was a beauty too. It was about 14 inches long and must have weighed about two-and-a-half pounds. The rainbow colouring on its flanks was breathtaking. Matthew was grinning from ear-to-ear. He must have been just about the happiest little boy in the world at that moment.

"Way to go," Josh said as he patted Matthew on the back.

"That's a big one!" Richard said, obviously happy for his brother.

"Give me five, little buddy," I said with a grin. "That's the first fish of the day, which means that you win the first $20 prize!"

Matthew's grin got even bigger when he heard that. "You're the best, Uncle Tommy," he said as he set the fish down and gave me a big hug.

I picked up the fish, showed the boys how to put it on a stringer and lowered it into the water.

"He won't get away will he?" Richard asked.

"No, he can't get away; we just have to make sure that we pull him in if we decide to move to another place."

I had just barely picked up my own rod when suddenly Josh got a solid bite.

"I've got one," Josh said excitedly.

Evidently I had selected the right place. I figured that if we kept up that pace, we'd all have caught our limit by lunch time. I watched as Josh reeled in his fish and I stood by with the net. Pretty soon, Josh had the fish along side and I neatly scooped it up in the net.

It was another beautiful rainbow trout. I measured it and it was a little over 14 inches long but slightly heavier than Matthew's fish. "This guy looks a little bigger than Matthew's," I said.

"Nah, it's smaller," Josh said as he winked at me.

I knew what he meant. He didn't want to disappoint a little boy, so although he knew his fish was bigger; he wanted to make Matthew happy. It just reminded me of one of the reasons that I loved him so much. "Yeah, I think you're right. Matthew's fish is just a tad bigger."

Matthew's smile could have lit up a dark room. "Wow! That means that I'm winning the biggest fish contest too!"

I was hoping and praying that Richard would land the next fish and I wasn't disappointed. About 20 minutes after we got Josh's fish secured on a stringer, Richard's float went down for the count. "Quick Richard, set the hook and reel him in," Josh encouraged him.

"It feels like a big one," Richard enthused. The excitement in his little voice was wonderful to hear.

We watched as the little guy reeled like mad and soon had the fish at the side of the boat. "I see him, I see him," he shouted excitedly.

I loved fishing, but I was enjoying watching Josh and my nephews even more. The happiness of all three boys was energizing. Watching Josh interact with the twins was a real treat. Most boys his age wouldn't tolerate such young kids very well but Josh was enjoying being with them. I could see that one day Josh as going to be a damn good dad.

I leaned down and netted Richard's fish. It was a really good sized rainbow. Easily the biggest catch of the day so far. "Way to go Richard, this one's a monster!" I said excitedly. I unhooked it, weighed and measured it. The fish was almost 17 inches long and weighed good three-and-one-half pounds. I handed Richard his fish and enjoyed the massive smile on his face as he marveled at the first fish that he'd ever caught.

"He's huge!" he hollered. He was a very happy little boy at that moment.

I secured the fish on the stringer and got his line set back up for him. As we continued to fish, I noticed that Richard kept looking at his fish as it swam around on the stringer. He was very proud of himself.

I was the only one who hadn't caught a fish yet but I didn't really care. I was having the time of my life giving my nephews the experience of their first fishing trip and spending time with Josh.

As the morning wore on, Josh and Matthew caught another two pound rainbow each and Richard managed to land two more. We took a snack break at around 10:30 and each of us took turns peeing in the bucket.

"Why can't we just pee over the side?" Richard asked.

"Well, you could but if a gust of wind came up while you were doing it, you might end up peeing on yourself or someone else," I said with a laugh.

"Yuck!" Matthew said and screwed his sunny face into a tight grimace.

I finally caught my first fish of the day at about 11:30. I knew it was a doozy as soon as it struck. It pulled the bobber down and actually started running. The drag on my reel was screaming. "Holy cow," I said as I started to fight the fish. I was pretty certain that it was no rainbow trout on the other end of my line.

"Holy crap," Josh exclaimed.

"You said crap," Richard said.

"So did you," replied Matthew.

"Don't worry about it guys, its ok out here, just don't let your mom and dad hear you say that or they'll have my head on a platter."

It took me almost 15 minutes of fighting the fish before I finally got it close enough to the boat for Josh to net it. He scooped it up and hauled it into the boat. When I looked at the fish, I was both elated and disappointed at the same time. I had caught a very large small mouth bass. I weighed it and it came in at over 8 pounds which makes it the biggest small mouth that I'd ever heard of. The problem, however, was that bass were out of season until late June and I had to throw it back.

"Why do you have to throw it back, Uncle Tommy?" Matthew asked.

"Because it isn't in season. It's against the law to keep fish which aren't in season."

"Oh. Why isn't it in season?" Richard asked.

"Because this is the time when they lay their eggs and have baby bass," Josh answered for me. I was relieved that when the twins let it drop and I didn't have to get into a discussion of the birds and the bees with my six year old nephews!

We kept fishing for a little while longer before taking a break for lunch. We all changed into our shorts and short sleeved shirts before we devoured a large quantity of tuna sandwiches, peanut butter and jam sandwiches, fresh fruit, cookies, crackers and cans of pop. As we ate, Josh repositioned himself next to me and began massaging my shoulders.

"That must have been hard work reeling in that monster bass," he said.

"It was. If only it was in season. I would have had that bad boy stuffed and mounted."

"You did the right thing by throwing it back. It wouldn't have been a very good example for the twins if you hadn't." Josh said as he kept up his loving ministrations on my neck and shoulders.

"That feels great, kiddo."

"I'm glad. I love you Dad," he said.

"I love you too, son. I was watching you with the boys and thinking that you'll be a great dad when you grow up."

"I had the best teacher," Josh replied warmly and wrapped his arms around me in a tight hug.

That afternoon, I finally managed to land a keeper trout. It was not quite as big as the one on Richard's stringer, but it was a keeper none the less. I was happy that at least I wouldn't be going back to the campsite empty handed. We fished until about 4:00 before we decided to pack it in. Matthew announced that he had to 'do number two' so we decided to call it a day. It had been a very successful first day, and we still had all day Sunday to spend on the lake.

The final tally for the day was four good sized trout for Matthew, three for Richard, three for Josh and two for me. Richard's first 17 inch rainbow was indeed the largest fish of the day.

"Can I drive the boat?" Josh asked.

"Sure, come over here and change seats with me," I replied.

Josh and I squeezed past each other in the small boat and he sat down in the driver's seat. I gave him a brief lesson in steering with an outboard motor and taught him how to start it up. Josh fired up the motor as I hauled in the anchor along with the stringers of fish. Matthew and Richard sat and admired their catches as Josh turned the boat towards the other shore and gunned the engine. It had been an exciting day for the twins and I knew that I'd have two very tired little boys on my hands that night.

Josh did a great job of driving the boat and before too long we pulled up to the dock. I reached out and pulled us in and tied us off. Poor Matthew was just about hopping up and down so he ran off to use the bathroom in the camp office while the rest of us unloaded the gear from the boat.

A few minutes later, Matthew returned looking quite relieved and we all gathered our gear and our fish then headed off to our campsite.

"Hey Josh, how would you like to cook dinner while I clean the fish?"

Josh flashed me his famous million candle power smile. Like most red-blooded males, the prospect of cooking meat over an open fire was a very attractive proposition. "Sure, we're having hamburgers, right?"

"Yeah and we can roast hotdogs later on sticks if we're still hungry," I replied.

"Oh, I'll be hungry," Josh replied with a chuckle.

Before I began cleaning the fish, I got out my digital camera and took photos of each of the boys with their fish. The twins were virtually glowing as they held up their fish for the camera. After I had photos of each of the boys, Josh took the camera and took my picture and then we set the timer and placed the camera on the picnic table and took a group photo of all four of us with all 12 of the fish we caught that day. I made a mental note to bring the camera out in the boat with us the next day. If anyone landed another monster bass, we could at least take a picture before throwing it back.

Josh had the boys hunt around for some suitable hotdog and marshmallow roasting sticks as he got the fire going and started on dinner. I laid out some newspaper and began gutting the fish. It didn't take long to complete the job since trout are usually cooked largely intact. Usually the most difficult and time consuming part of cleaning fish is the filleting and skinning.

As I began working, it didn't take long for the twins to come over and watch. Typical boys, rather than being disgusted by the sight of fish guts, they were fascinated by it.

Once all 12 fish were cleaned, I went down to the camp office to purchase a number of bags of ice and I packed the cleaned fish in ice and loaded them into a special fish cooler. By adding fresh ice each day, the fish would remain fresh until we got them home and could freeze them. I selected two of the fish and prepared them to for cooking that very night.

As Josh grilled the hamburgers on the fire, I lit the Coleman stove and fried up the two trout that I had selected.

"Are you supposed to eat the head too?" Matthew asked.

"I wouldn't recommend it!" I replied with a smile. "When they're done cooking, the meat comes off the bones really easy."

The smell of grilling beef and frying fish had all of our stomachs rumbling in no time at all. By the time dinner was served, we were all ravenous. "Watch out for bones in the fish," I told the boys. "Take small bites, I don't want anyone choking."

The boys dug into the fish with gusto. Few things can compare to the taste of fresh trout, fried in butter and eaten in the outdoors. The fish was wonderful and I had seasoned it perfectly. The four of us made it all disappear in no time at all. Josh's burgers were grilled to perfection and they didn't last long either. Josh downed three of them while the twins and I managed to eat two each. We chased the fresh trout and burgers with a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos and cold cans of Coke. I looked at my nephews and just shook my head. They weighed about 65 pounds each and yet they ate just about as much as I had.

We cleaned up after supper and then decided to take a walk around the campground. Being cooped up in the boat all day left us all needing to stretch our legs. A few campsites down from us, an elderly couple in a motor home had two beautiful Golden Retrievers. They were very friendly dogs and they came out to greet us.

We all had a great time petting the dogs. I had always been a dog lover and as I watched Josh and the twins play with the big friendly creatures, it occurred to me that dogs and boys seemed to be made for each other. It was a natural pairing if ever there was one. I began to wonder what Susan would think about the idea of getting a dog!

The sun was setting by the time we returned to our campsite so I sent Josh to get the lantern ready and to make sure that the tent was in order for the night. I had the twins change back into long pants as I prepared a nice bonfire.

When we were finally ready for the night, the twins sat down on the picnic table and Josh and I went into the tent to change into our own long pants. When we got inside, I noticed that Josh had slightly reconfigured the sleeping bags. We had identical sleeping bags and he had managed to zip both of them together into a double sleeping bag and he placed the twin's sleeping bags side by side to the right of ours.

"We haven't slept together in a few days and I was missing it," Josh said.

"Me too kiddo," I smiled and squeezed his shoulder. "There's plenty of room if the little guys decide to join us."

"They're great kids," Josh said thoughtfully as he pulled on his pants. "They really love you."

"They love you too, Joshy. You're almost like their big brother."

"I like that," Josh replied.

Suitably clothed for the cool May evening, we rejoined the twins beside the fire. I could see them both yawning so I knew they wouldn't last long that night. I dug out the marshmallows and hot dogs and everyone dug in. Before it got too late, I decided to hand out the mini fishing derby prizes.

"Hey guys, I owe you some prize money," I said as I reached for my wallet. Suddenly the boys were wide awake again. "First of all, Matthew Davis wins $20 for catching the first fish and $20 for catching the most fish." I handed two $20 bills to Matthew so then set down his roasting stick long enough to reward me with a big hug and sloppy kiss on my cheek.

"Thanks Uncle Tommy," he said sweetly.

"Richard Davis wins $20 for catching the biggest fish of the day and $20 for making the final catch of the day," I said as I handed Richard two $20 bills. Once again, I was rewarded with a big hug and a kiss on my cheek.

"How about Josh?" Matthew asked.

"I get the best prize of all, I get Tommy as my dad," he said as he followed the twins lead and hugged me fiercely. "I love you."

"I love you too. I love all of you guys."

I told some more ghost stories as we roasted marshmallows and hot dogs but before long, the excitement of the day caught up with my nephews and they were starting to drift off. "It looks like its time for two tired little boys to go to bed."

The twins nodded and stood up and stumbled into the tent. I gave them a moment to get ready for bed before going in and kissing each of them goodnight and tucking them in. I swore that they were asleep before I even finished zipping up the tent.

"You're doing a lot better now, aren't you?" Josh asked as I sat down beside him and put an arm around his shoulders. "You're pretty much back to being your old self again."

"Yeah, I'm dealing with the shooting a lot better now. That's thanks to Doctor Pollard and it's also thanks to you and the rest of my family. Without you guys, I'd be a wreck."

"I'm glad that you're feeling better. It hurt me a lot to see you so miserable like that. I feel like we're attached and when one of us hurts, the other feels it." Josh mused.

"I know what you mean. When you love someone as much as we love each other, that often happens. I don't know if I ever told you this, but I feel like there was something missing in my life before you came back into it. I mean, I was happy and doing well, but there was a missing piece of the puzzle."

"I know I was missing something. I was missing a Dad. I love my mom but she seems to be in her own world sometimes. I know she loves me, but sometimes she doesn't pay as much attention to me as I want her to. I feel much closer to you than I am to my mom."

"Your mom does love you, but I think she just doesn't realize that you need and want her attention too."

"I know, but since you moved in, I've been happier than I've ever been before. It's like you said the night you went to the hospital, everything happens for a reason. I think we were brought together because we both needed something."

"I think so too." I pulled Josh closer to my side and he wrapped his arm around my shoulders. We sat there arm-in-arm for several moments and watched the fire.

"It isn't just the things you do for me or that we do together that make me happy. It's the feeling that I know that no matter what happens, I have someone to turn to, someone who will always love me and who will help me through anything. I feel safer than I ever have before." Josh said as he rested his head on my shoulder.

"I feel the same way, Josh. It will always be that way too. Even when we're old and gray, I know we'll still be this close."

We sat there watching the fire and looking at the stars for another hour before deciding to turn in. We doused the fire with water and made sure it was out before quietly climbing into the tent so as not to disturb the twins. We undressed and climbed into our combined sleeping bags and snuggled up together. Josh lay on his side and I lay behind him and wrapped my arms around his chest pulling him into me.

"Goodnight son," I said as I gently kissed the back of his shoulder.

"Goodnight dad," Josh replied as he took my hands in his and interlaced our fingers together. Within minutes, I could hear the familiar sound of his soft snoring.

The rest of the weekend was a just as fun as the first day had been. Our second day on the lake resulted in another 10 good sized trout packed into the cooler. That night, we ate a whole mess of fish which we had grilled on the open fire and the taste was heavenly. When Monday rolled around, we broke camp and headed for home.

The trip had been a huge success and I knew it was an experience the twins would remember fondly for the rest of their lives. When we dropped them off, the two of them were speaking a mile-a-minute as they excitedly showed James and Anne their fish and told them all about their fun-filled weekend.

Josh and I headed home and got back into our normal routine was we waited out the final month before leaving on our trip of a lifetime. For the most part, that month was uneventful.

We made the final preparations for the trip, planned out our route and programmed it into the GPS. We had everything worked out and had specific objectives and destinations for each day. It was going to be the tour of a lifetime and all that was left to do was to wait for June the 24th - our departure date.

The one little surprise during that time came, compliments of Josh, on the Sunday before we were to leave. I woke up early to the smell of cooking bacon. Josh had slept with me that night but he was nowhere to be found, so I figured that he must have been the one cooking bacon. I went into the bathroom to relieve my bladder and then intended to throw on a robe and join him for breakfast. When I came out of the bathroom, he was back in my room and he was carrying a tray of food.

"Morning Josh," I said only half awake. "What's all this?"

"It's Father's Day," Josh replied with a smile. "I think that applies to Dads as well as fathers so happy Father's Day."

I stood there for a moment not knowing what to say. I had a rather large lump in my throat. I finally stepped forward, took the tray from Josh, set it down on the dresser, and pulled him into a big bear hug. "Oh Joshy, that is so nice. This means so much to me. Thank you. I love you so damned much."

I felt him wrap his arms around me. "I love you too, Dad. I made you breakfast in bed and I have a little present for you."

I climbed back into bed as Josh sat the tray down in front of me and then climbed in beside me. He handed me a cup of coffee and then snuggled up against my side. "You know something, next Saturday, the day that we leave on the trip, that's the two year anniversary of the day we met for the very first time."

I hadn't thought of it before, but he was right. It would have been the day that camp started two years earlier. "That makes it an important date," I replied as I hugged him tightly.

"This is a special date too. It's the first Father's Day that I've ever had a Dad to celebrate it with. I got you this," Josh said as he handed me a small box.

"You didn't have to get me anything,"

"Yes I did. This is important to me," Josh replied firmly.

I studied his eyes for a moment and then opened the box. The lump returned instantly to my throat and I couldn't speak. Inside the box was a gold chain with what resembled a dog tag hanging from it. The dog tag was engraved and read 'Josh's dad, always and forever.' I took the chain out of the box with trembling hands and put it on. "Thank you Joshy. I love it and I love you."

"I love you too. Dog tags come in pairs," Josh said as he reached into his shirt and showed me the twin of the tag that I was wearing. It read 'Tommy's son, always and forever.'

I set the breakfast tray aside and pulled my son into my arms and pulled him into another massive hug. I wrapped my arms around him and rubbed his back. I was at a total loss for words but I knew Josh could tell what I was feeling. We both knew this was one of those moments when no words were necessary for us to convey our thoughts and our feelings for each other. We must have stayed in that position for a solid ten minutes before releasing one another.

Only six days separated us from the long awaited trip. A trip that would change both of our lives, would bring us even closer together and would, unbeknownst to either of us, become one of those pivotal moments in history.


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