Substitute Dad

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

Chapter 26

Having a Blast at WEM

The West Edmonton Mall is so big that it is organized like a small city. It is first divided into phases one through five based on when each section was constructed. Phase 1 is the original mall and phase 5 is the most recent addition. Each of its corridors is given a street name and each store is given a number. Despite the gargantuan size of the place, it is surprisingly easy to navigate.

Our dinner destination that night was s small steak house called "Valentino's Steakhouse and Pizzeria". Valentino's is located on the lower level on Bourbon Street. Bourbon Street is a New Orleans themed section of the mall that houses some very nice restaurants. Bourbon Street is located in Phase 3 of the mall, which is about a 10 minute stroll from the Fantasyland Hotel which is located in Phase 4.

"Just wait 'til you try the steaks at this place," Mark said as we made our way to the restaurant.

"If they're anything like the ones we grilled out on our first night at Dinosaur, they'll be amazing," Josh replied.

"The difference in the beef was one of the first things that I noticed when I moved here," Bryan added.

"There's a place near the house that I used to think served the best steaks," I said regretfully. "Needless to say I've bumped them down the list quite a ways!"

As we walked through the main corridor, Josh and I were literally in sensory overload. That mall was like nothing we had ever imagined. To Mark and Bryan, it was routine - they'd both been there many times before.

Along the way, we stopped to admire some of the sites, that included the lagoon which contains a fleet of working submarines, a collection of marine life that includes sharks and dolphins, and a full scale replica of the Santa Maria, one of Christopher Columbus's ships.

When Josh spotted the floor to ceiling windows overlooking the massive indoor "World Water Park", it drew him like iron filings to a magnet.

"We've GOT to go there tomorrow," he said with a grin as he looked down at the massive wave pool, towering waterslides, and the other watery delights that the place offered.

"I can't believe they have something like this inside a shopping mall," I said.

"Look what else they have," Bryan said as he pointed to what appeared to be a high diving tower standing tall over the deep end of the massive wave pool. "I've never had the guts to try it, but it looks like it could be fun."

It took me a minute before I realized that it wasn't high diving tower, it was a bungee jumping tower. "Good lord, bungee jumping?"

"Yep, you go down head first into the water," Mark said.

"Cool, I wanna try it," Josh chirped.

"You can, but only if Tom will go with you," Bryan said. "They only let people under 16 go if they're tethered to an adult."

"Will you go with me?" Josh asked. He face wore a puppy dog expression that I knew I could never refuse.

As much as I wasn't as enthusiastic about the idea as he was, I didn't want to disappoint him. "I guess so, as long as I do it on an empty stomach," I replied.

"Will you take me too?" Mark asked excitedly. "Bryan doesn't like heights."

"Oh boy, what have I got myself into?"

"Sounds like you're on the hook," Bryan laughed.

"Alright, I'll take you both bungee jumping," I chuckled. I was immediately rewarded by dual hugs from Mark and Josh.

"COOL!" they both shouted in unison.

We finally drew ourselves away from the wonders of the water park and walked the rest of the way to Valentino's. The smell of searing steaks caught our attention just as we entered the Bourbon Street section of the mall. Mark and Josh, who had been flitting like humming birds from one attraction to another, were suddenly single-mindedly focused on the restaurant.

We were seated right away when we arrived and we placed our drink orders. Bryan and I both ordered double rum and Cokes while the boys opted for just plain Coke. I chuckled when I noticed both Josh and Mark eyeballing the array of cutlery arrayed around each of our place settings. They wore almost identical looks of confusion.

"Are all these for me?" Josh asked.

"It's easier than it looks, bud. Just start from the outside and work your way in," I replied.

"How do we know when to switch?" Mark asked.

"They'll bring the food in several courses, switch for each new course," Bryan answered.

"How much food are they going to bring?" Josh asked.

"Don't worry, you'll be able to eat it all," I snickered.

Josh gave me his pretend angry look and punched me lightly on the shoulder just as the waiter arrived with our drinks. He passed Bryan and I each a glass with a slice of Lime in it and passed the boys each a glass with a slice of lemon. We all ordered salads and shrimp cocktail to start off the meal.

"So you're not big on heights, eh?" I asked Bryan.

"Not really. I wouldn't say that I'm afraid of heights, I just don't enjoy them," Bryan said mildly.

I noticed Josh and Mark snickering about something between them and I wondered that they were up to. "How about flying? Would you be ok up in a light plane?"

"Sure. As long as I have something around me, I'm fine. Mark says you're quite the pilot."

"I can hold my own. I find it quite relaxing. I'd love to find a small airport that would rent us a plane and take us all up for a spin."

"I think I know just the place. Cheers," Bryan said and we clinked glasses before taking a sip of our drinks. It was at that moment that I knew what they boys were giggling about. Bryan and I looked at each other and then we both turned to look at two very sheepish looking boys with empty glasses in front of them. Josh had a very guilty grin on his face.

"Josh was there something strange about your drink?" I asked.

"No, I thought it was fine," He replied with a smirk.

"How about you Mark?" Bryan asked.

Mark simply blushed and looked down at his plate.

"Did you guys find your drinks a little, shall we say, strong?" I asked, just barely containing my laughter. The looks on their faces, knowing that they had been busted, were priceless. Evidently, the waiter had mixed up the drinks and given the boys the glasses of Coke laced with rum.
Both boys looked as if they wanted to crawl under the table and hide. Bryan and I tried our best to look stern but within a couple of seconds we were both laughing our heads off. Once they realized they weren't in for it, Josh and Mark were laughing just as hard as we were. Half the diners in the restaurant were looking at us but we didn't care.

"You two little monkeys might start feeling a little tipsy after that. You drank those awfully quick," As much as I wanted to be mad at Josh, I couldn't manage it. I had done pretty much the same thing once when I was his age. James had taken me to Red Lobster for bottomless buckets of crab legs and I had ended up with his glass of rum and Coke. He didn't get mad but he was paranoid that my mom would find out that I had been drinking and give him hell. He made me eat a whole package of strong mints before we got home!

"How long does it take to kick in?" Josh asked.

"Normally one drink wouldn't do that much, but those were doubles and you guys pretty much inhaled them. You'll probably start to feel a little light headed in a few minutes."

"Did you guys enjoy that?" Bryan managed to ask between snickers.

"It was pretty good. Can we have more?" Mark asked.

"Sure, in about five and a half years when you're old enough," Bryan retorted.

"You guys are no fun," Josh pouted.

The rest of the meal was largely uneventful. We all ordered large, juicy t-bone steaks with potatoes, saut‚ed onions and green beans. The steaks were mouthwatering and cooked to utter perfection. I was amazed when Mark and Josh, both of whom were looking a little droopy-eyed, refused dessert.

"I think we had better get the two of you off to bed," Bryan said to the boys.

"Yeah, I feel a little funny," Josh said distantly.

"Me too," Mark replied.

"You're not going to fall down are you?" I asked Josh.

"I don't think so," he replied unconvincingly.

"This one's on me," Bryan said as he flagged down the waiter and asked for the cheque. "Let's get these guys to bed and then hit the casino."

"Good plan." I had only been to a casino once before and I had enjoyed it. I was also looking forward to spending some adult time with Bryan.
After Bryan paid the bill, I helped Josh to his feet. He was really unsteady. He was tired and he wasn't used to alcohol so he was just barely awake. "You ok bud?" I asked lovingly.

"Yeah, I don't feel so good," he replied.

"Tell me if you think you're going to be sick," I said. "Lean on me, kiddo and I'll help you get back to the hotel."

I put my arm around Josh's shoulders and steadied him as we made our way back through the mall. Mark, who was a bit smaller than Josh seemed to be a bit more affected by the rum. Before long, Bryan ended up carrying him.

"Damn he's getting big," Bryan observed.

"He sure is. He's grown a few inches since I first met him. Josh too."

"They grow like weeds at this age," Bryan replied.

"I'm not a weed," Josh protested.

"No, but you're growing like one," I laughed. "Want me to carry you too?"

"Yes please," he said sleepily.

I scooped him up in my arms and he leaned his head against my shoulder. He seemed to fall asleep instantly. I was glad that Josh and I had been regularly hitting the gym; I needed all my strength to carry him.

We rode the elevator to our floor and walked down the hall to our room. Both boys were still sleeping soundly, so Bryan and I went to work and go them ready for bed.

I gently sat Josh on our bed and removed his suit jacket, tie and shirt. I then laid him down and removed his shoes, socks, and trousers. He opened his eyes briefly as I tucked him under the covers.

"Thanks Dad," he whispered and wrapped his arms around me.

"No problem kiddo."

"Have a good time at the casino with Bryan. I love you." He sat up slightly and kissed me on the cheek.

"Thanks son. I love you too. Goodnight." I kissed his forehead and ruffled his hair.

Bryan and Mark were going through pretty much the same routine in the next bed. "Ready to go?" I asked him as he stood up.

"Almost," he said. He sat down next to Josh and gently ruffled his hair. "Goodnight Josh," he said softly. I smiled when Josh hugged him.

"You ok kiddo?" I asked Mark as I sat down next to him.

"Yeah, I'm just tired," he replied and reached up to hug me. "Goodnight."

"Goodnight kiddo. Sweet dreams," I replied and lightly kissed his brow.

Mark smiled at me and then rolled onto his side and closed his eyes. Both boys were snoring softly by the time Bryan and I left the room and headed down to the casino.

"I think maybe we should have a little talk with the boys about alcohol," Bryan observed.

"Not a bad idea. I'm not concerned about either of them abusing alcohol. They've both had some bad experiences with drunks."

"That's for sure. Still I don't think a little talk will hurt."

The Palace Casino is located on the second floor of the mall in Phase 2 next to the Galaxyland Amusement Park so we exited the hotel into the upper floor of the mall and strolled through the mall. Along the way, we stopped to admire a few of the sights including the Ice Palace skating/hockey rink.

"Can you skate?" Bryan asked.

"Not really. I played hockey when I was a kid but I haven't skated since I injured my leg. It puts too much of a strain on my ankle. How about you?"

"I love it. I play hockey with a men's recreational league in Calgary. Mark wants to play little league hockey this fall. He's a pretty good skater."

"I think he'd be a pretty good player. He isn't huge but he's strong and has a good head on his shoulders. Josh is pretty athletic but he doesn't really play many organized sports. I told him that I'd sign him up for flying lessons when we get home. He loves flying."

"Isn't he a little young for that?" Bryan asked in an incredulous tone.

"Not at all. Believe it or not, Transport Canada allows people as young as 14 to solo!"

"Good God! You can't drive a car until you're 16 but they'll let you fly a plane when you're 14! Amazing."

"I'll tell you. He's a natural up there. I've flown with him a couple of times and taught him some stuff. I've never seen anyone pick it up that fast before. He's far better than I was when I started. My dad got me started flying just before he died. I guess I was about 12 when I first flew a plane. He died that same year. I didn't get formal lessons or earn my license until I was 17. I guess in some ways, I did it for him."

"It's an amazing accomplishment," Bryan said as he put a hand on my shoulder. "You're lucky to have had a Dad who loved you. Mark and I missed out on that and I try to spend every day making that up to him."

"Bryan, you don't need to worry. I can see the changes in him. When I first met him, he was a scared, sad, and lonely little boy. Now he's a confident, happy, and secure young man. You should be proud of him and of yourself for helping him to be himself."

"We have an unusual relationship. We're brothers. We're also best friends and sometimes we're like Dad and son."

"Josh and I are like that too."

We arrived at the Palace Casino and were greeted by the bleeps-bloops and happy music of hundreds of slot machines and video poker games. It was 10:00 at night but the place was packed.

"What do you want to try first?" Bryan asked.

"Let's try our hands at Blackjack and then hit the dollar slots."

"Alrighty then!" Bryan replied in a passable Jim Carrey impression.

Given that neither of us was a millionaire, we headed to the five dollar tables and spent the next hour betting the minimum. We both had a few solid runs and a few losing streaks and we pretty much broke even. Between the two of us, we probably left the table with about $30 more than we arrived with.

"Well, that was fun but not very productive," I remarked.

"As far as I'm concerned, if I leave with my wallet intact, I've won!"

We hit the dollar slot machines next. For the first little while, it seemed like we were simply feeding the machines. I was getting a little discouraged when I noticed that I was down by around $100.

"This isn't going so well," I said flatly.

"Tell me about it! These machines are awfully tight tonight. One more spin and I'm done," Bryan replied as he fed three loonies into the machine (the maximum bet) and pulled the lever.

I was so busy getting myself ready to go that it took me a minute to realize that the flashing lights and wailing siren were coming from Bryan's machine. "Holy shit! You hit the jackpot!"

"I don't know how much I won, but it must be a lot - there isn't any money coming out," Bryan replied in a clearly excited voice.

It felt like the whole crowd in the casino was watching us and pointing at us at that moment. Through the crowd, we could see a smiling, well dressed woman making her way towards us.

"Congratulations," She said to Bryan when she arrived. "You've hit the jackpot."

"How much did we win?" Bryan asked in a shaky voice.

"How does $15,000 sound?"

I almost heard Bryan's jaw hit the floor. "You're kidding right?"

"Not at all sir. You bet the max and hit the triple 7 jackpot. If you gentlemen would like to follow me, we'll get you a cheque."

For a moment, Bryan just stood there gape mouthed and stared at the woman. I had to poke him in the ribs to get him moving. "Earth to Bryan. Come on; let's go collect your loot!"

That snapped him out of it and we followed the woman through the crowd to the casino office. Before long we were on our way back to the hotel and Bryan had a $15,000.00 cheque in his hands.

"Half of this is yours," he said.

"Nonsense. You won it, you keep it."

"No, we're splitting this. We were both there."

"Tell you what; let's use some of it to show the boys a really good time. Maybe put the rest of it into Mark's college fund."

"You know, you're right - that's where it belongs." Bryan replied, and with a small grin rested his hand on my shoulder. "I do have a little set aside into an RESP out of my paycheck every month, but this will go a long way towards topping it up." That bit of news brought a renewed smile to my face.

"Have you ever heard of Air Combat Canada?" I asked, still smiling.

By the time we arrived back at the hotel room, we had planned an excursion that was going to absolutely blow the boy's minds.

We quietly let ourselves into the room and did our best to move around without turning on any lights. Both Josh and Mark were dead to the world. Josh was sprawled on his back while Mark as rolled over on his side.

"That was a great evening Bryan. Thanks," I said and hugged him firmly then planted a kiss on his lips.

"Anytime," he replied and returned my kiss.

After a moment, we broke up our embrace and then took turns in the bathroom before slipping into our beds. I climbed in beside Josh and, as usual, within a few minutes he had rolled over and snuggled up to me. I lay there and gently rubbed his back as I thought about the events of the evening and the exciting days that lay ahead.

I also thought about Bryan and the relationship that we were developing. We seemed to be a natural fit for one another.

The next morning, I was awakened by a flash from a camera. I opened my eyes and squinted to see a smiling Mark standing beside the bed with my digital camera. Josh was still snoring away cuddled up against my side with his head on my shoulder.

"You guys looked so cute like that; I couldn't resist taking a picture!" Mark said with a grin.

"Morning bud. What time is it?" I asked, still half awake.

"It's about 7:30. Bryan's still sleeping." I noticed that Mark was already dressed for the day. He was wearing a Hawaiian type shirt with cargo shorts, sport socks, and running shoes. His hair was slightly damp indicating that he has just stepped out of the shower.

"You look like you're raring to go bud," I whispered not wanting to disturb Josh or Bryan.

"Yeah, I've been looking forward to showing you guys around the mall and going to the water park. Are you really going to go bungee jumping with us?"

"You betcha!" I carefully began extricating myself from Josh so that I could take a very necessary pit stop in the bathroom. Josh gave out a soft groan of protest as I gently lifted his arm off me and placed his head on the pillow.

I stopped and hugged Mark briefly on my way to the can and ruffled his hair. "How about putting on a pot of coffee while I take a shower?"

"Sure. How do you like it?" He asked happily.

"Double-double; thanks bud."

It must have been the smell of the brewing coffee, for when I climbed out of the shower, Josh was right there waiting to climb right in.

"Morning Josh," I said and hugged him firmly.

"Hey Dad. How was the casino?" He asked.

"It was really good. In fact, it was great. Bryan won a slot machine Jackpot."

"No way!" Josh exclaimed. "How much?"

"$15,000.00," I replied.

"You're shitting me!" Josh replied with an amazed look on his face.

"I'm dead serious. Get him to show you the cheque when you get out of the shower."

Josh hopped into the shower while I dried myself off then brushed and flossed my teeth. I took my time doing it so that we could shave together as we usually did. I could hear stirring in the main part of the room, which seemed to indicate that the brewing coffee had also roused Bryan to consciousness.

Josh stepped out of the shower and began to dry himself in front of the mirror. I watched him and smiled. He really was developing nicely and turning into a fine young man. I grabbed a spare towel and began to dry his hair for him.

We were both lathering up our faces when Bryan, still half asleep stumbled into the bathroom for his turn at the john and the shower. "Morning guys," he mumbled as he fiddled with the taps and climbed into the tub.

"Morning Bryan," I said.

"Did you really win 15 grand last night?" Josh asked.

Bryan poked his head out from behind the shower curtain. "I must have. When I first woke up, I thought it might have been a very vivid dream but now that I think about it, it must have happened."

"We'd better have Mark make your coffee extra-strong," Josh remarked and flashed his mischievous grin.

Bryan laughed and then went back to his shower. A moment later he poked his head out and looked Josh up and down. "Damn Josh you're growing up to be a hottie. Too bad we lost you to the other side," he said with a chuckle.

Josh blushed and hurled a handful of shaving cream at Bryan. "You guys are already on my revenge list and you're just making it worse."

Bryan stuck out his tongue and blew a raspberry at Josh and then retreated into the shower.

We all broke up laughing.

Once we were all dressed for the day and had enough coffee in our systems to wake us up, we ventured downstairs to the Fantasy Lounge restaurant for breakfast before starting the day. The Fantasy Lounge is located right in the hotel and features a truly awesome breakfast buffet. We had a full day ahead of us so we all loaded up on hot and tasty food. During breakfast, Bryan showed his cheque to both of the boys and they were both astounded. Neither Bryan nor I let on what we had planned for a small chunk of that money.

Our main stop was to be the World Waterpark, but we still had almost 90 minutes to kill before it opened for the day. We decided to pay a visit to the Wild West shooting Centre. The Wild West Shooting Centre is located on the upper floor, close to the hotel. They're a licensed gun shop but they also have an indoor pistol range. Members of the public are welcome to pay an admission fee to access the range and then try out any of their large collection of handguns. All you have to do is buy the ammo.

Of the four of us, I was the only one who had fired a handgun. Josh had fired my rifles before but neither Mark nor Bryan had fired a gun of any kind. All of us were really looking forward to it.

"Good morning gentlemen, how can I help you?" The man behind the counter asked as we entered the store.

"The four of us would like to try out your range," I replied.

"Have any of you ever handled a firearm before?"

"I've fired my Dad's rifles before," Josh replied.

"I've got plenty of handgun and rifle experience from the militia and I own a couple of rifles," I added.

"Neither of us has ever fired a gun before at all," Bryan said.

"That's ok. You're going to love it," the man said. "Access to the range is $10 per visit or $15 for a day pass. The cost of your ammo is added on top of that,"

I fished out my Visa card and handed it to him. "Put us all down for day passes," I said.

"Great. Now what type of pistols did you have in mind?"

"I'm in the mood for some power. What do you have in a .357 Magnum?" I asked.

"We have a 6" barrel Colt Python revolver and we have an IMI Desert Eagle semi-automatic."

"I've got a thing for the classics, let's go with the Python."

"Do you want .357s or .38 specials?"

"Let's go with the Magnums," I replied.

"Good choice. For the young fellows, I'd suggest starting with a 9mm. We have a Beretta 9mm, a Glock Model 19 and a Walther P99. We even have a Walther PPK that fires the 9mm Luger rounds"

"Let's start them on the Beretta and the Glock."

"How about you, sir?" He asked Bryan.

"I'm not sure. I don't know much about guns," Bryan replied.

"How about a Canadian made Para Ordinance .45 automatic? It looks and feels just like the old Colt 1911."

"Sounds good to me," he replied.

I purchased two boxes of ammo for each of the pistols figuring that we could all take turns with the different guns and have a real good time. Eight boxes of ammo would give us 400 rounds to share between the four of us.

With our ammo purchased, the man, whose name was Dave, fitted us all out with Ear defenders and safety glasses before leading us onto the range and introducing us to the range safety officers (RSOs) who would supervise us on the range. The RSOs went over the rules of the range and the basic safety guidelines. To Josh and I, it was all second nature.

We decided that we'd take turns shooting one at a time. I loaded up the big Magnum pistol and went first. The .357 is a very powerful round and it has quite a bit of kick to it. The Colt Python is a large and heavy pistol that helps to reduce the recoil, but it still has a very satisfying kick to it when you fire it.

I cocked the hammer and took aim at the target and let loose with my first round. Even with the ear defenders on, the discharge of a Magnum round produces a satisfying thud. The muzzle flash caught the others by surprise. All six shots were bulls-eyes.

Josh went next. The RSO helped him load the 10 round magazine and then helped him to load and cock the pistol.

"Remember Josh - HABIT - it applies to pistols as well," I told him and gave his shoulder a gentle squeeze.

Josh fired his first shot and while it was a little wild, the grin on his face was like magic. He was in heaven. He settled down and fired the remaining nine rounds in the magazine and actually did very well for a beginner.

Mark was next up with the Beretta. He liked the fact that it was the same pistol that Mel Gibson's character had used in the Lethal Weapon movies. The recoil caught him by surprise when he fired his first shot, but the smile on his face told us all that he was thoroughly enjoying himself. He actually fired off the remaining nine rounds in rapid succession. His shots were pretty wild, but he was having fun doing it.

Finally, it was Bryan's turn. He hefted the large nickel plated automatic and began plunking away at the target. He actually did quite well for a beginner. I'm pretty certain that at first, he was a little skeptical about the whole idea of shooting, but by the time he finished burning through his first 10 round magazine, he was having a ball.

Once we had all burned through a couple of magazines of ammo, the RSO, Josh, and I proceeded to coach Mark and Bryan on proper shooting technique and before long they were doing quite well.

After a while, we swapped pistols. Josh was determined that he wanted to try the .357. At first the RSO was reluctant to let him try it, but we managed to convince him that Josh was a pretty strong kid and could handle weight of the gun, not to mention the heavy recoil. I stood behind him and watched as he raised the big revolver and aimed it at the target. He cocked back the hammer and gave the trigger a gentle squeeze. The big gun jumped in his hands and I felt a blast of heat from the muzzle flash. Josh turned his head and looked at me; he was grinning so widely that I was worried the top of his head was going to fall off! He turned back to the target and fired the remaining 5 rounds in the cylinder and scored 4 bulls-eyes out of six rounds.

I had a bit of a flashback moment when I took the Glock from Josh. The pistol that I had used to kill Joe Chambers was a 9 mm automatic, which was very similar to the Glock. In fact, it was basically a cheap copy. When I first raised the pistol, I swore that I saw a masked man staring back at me, rather than a target. I must have tensed up because Josh sensed it immediately. I felt his hand come to rest gently on my shoulder and I relaxed immediately. I closed my eyes briefly and when I opened them, all that stood before me was the paper target. I amazed the others by opening fire and discharging all ten rounds in rapid succession into a nice tight, 6" grouping in the centre of the target.

I smiled as the others, including the RSO and Dave clapped. I ejected the empty magazine, placed the pistol on the table and then turned around to face them.

"Nice shooting," Dave said. "Hell, I'd hire you in a second as an RSO. Any interest in the job?"

"I'd love it but I currently reside in Ontario."

"You'd be surprised at how many people visit Alberta and decide to stay," he replied slyly.

"It wouldn't surprise me in the least. I'm hooked, but it will be a couple of years before I get reeled in!"

"Well, keep us in mind when you do move here. If you're looking for some extra income with the added benefit of employee discounts and free access to the range, give us a call," Dave said and offered me his hand.

As Mark reloaded the Glock magazine and prepared to shoot, I patted Josh on the back. "Thanks son," I said.

He looked at me and gave me a wink and a brief smile. "Anytime Dad," he replied. We didn't need to verbalize what we meant - we both just knew.

We all took turns with the various pistols and before long, we'd fired all 400 rounds and the four of us were pumped up and ready for fire 400 more. However, the promise of waterborne fun at the World Waterpark dragged us away.

"That was so cool, can we come back later?" Josh asked.

"Yeah, I wanna try that again," Mark chimed in.

With a big smile, Bryan said, "I didn't think I would, but I really enjoyed that too."

"We can go back whenever we want - our passes are good for the whole day."

"Would they let us fire the rifles in there?" Josh asked.

"No, the range is too small and the Benelli would be too powerful for the backstop." I explained.

"Too bad," Josh exclaimed. "Firing that .357 was pretty cool, though."

"Let's come back later; right now you three have a date with a bungee tower," Bryan said with a laugh.

"You had to open your big mouth, didn't you?" I chided lightly.

"Don't worry, we wouldn't let you forget," Josh replied.

We left the Wild West Shooting Centre with a promise to return that evening and went to retrieve our bathing suits and towels from the hotel room.

We arrived at the entrance to the waterpark just as they opened the doors. Being a Wednesday morning, the crowds were fairly light. We brought along the video camera and my digital camera so that Bryan could get some photos and footage of us playing in the water. Bryan was also going to video tape our bungee adventure from the safety of the pool deck below.

Josh managed to get to the ticket wicket first and insisted on paying for all of us. He bought an all day family pass that gave us unlimited access to the facility and the right to come and go as we please.

Passes for the Blue Thunder Bungee tower were extra and I bought three of them that would allow three tethered jumps. I was hoping to convince Bryan to take the plunge and if not, I was pretty certain that Josh would be more than happy to take a second plunge off the tower.

We planned on spending the rest of the day at the water park and have lunch at the Coconut Grove restaurant right in the park. As we headed to the change rooms, I could feel the anticipation of the coming bungee jumps building in the pit of my stomach.

We changed quickly and locked our valuables in the provided lockers before heading out to the pool deck. I couldn't help but notice just how good Bryan looked in his swimming trunks. We were all wearing board-short style suits and they suited us quite nicely.

Josh and Mark grabbed me by the arms and dragged me towards the bungee tower. Bryan took the video camera and started filming as we approached the elevator that would whisk us to the top of the tower.

"Ok guys, whose going first? Any volunteers?" I asked.

"You can go first Josh," Mark said.

"Thanks!" He replied and pressed the button to summon the elevator. As Josh and I ascended the tower, Bryan and Mark took up strategic positions below which would give them a clear view of the proceedings.

When we arrived at the top of the tower, we found that aside from the attendants who would strap us to the bungee line, we were the only ones there. I handed the first ticket to the attendant who then led us onto the platform. I felt like a man being led to the gallows. Josh was all smiles but I could sense a bit of apprehension in him.

"Ok, you guys stand face to face for me and we'll get you strapped in," the attendant said. "Now, the water is quite deep down there so there is no danger that you'll hit the bottom even in the unlikely event that the bungee cord breaks. When we tell you that you're ready, shuffle to the edge and then hold your breath and simply lean over and fall off - don't jump up. You'll hit the water head first and you'll get a dunking before you spring back up, in fact, you'll probably get a few dunkings before we manage to reel you in and unhook you."

The attendant fastened the bungee cord around both of our ankles and then stood up. "Ok guys, you're all set."

"Ready for this son?" I asked Josh.

"Oh yeah. Let's do it!"

We shuffled to the edge than then looked down. We could see Mark and Bryan a couple of hundred feet below us on the pool deck. Bryan was holding the video camera and obviously filming us. Josh and I wrapped our arms around each other and prepared to take the plunge.

"Let's do it on three," I said.

We counted down together. "ONE, TWO, THREE!" as soon as we got to three we leaned sideways of the platform and gravity took over and did the rest. I felt as if my testicles were trying to climb into my stomach as we began the long plunge to the water below. Everything seemed to be happening in slow motion. I felt Josh squeeze me even tighter as we rushed towards the water below. Just as we achieved a full heads down position, we hit the water and plunged several feet below the surface before springing back high into the air to repeat the same feat two or three more times before we ended up suspended from our ankles just a couple of feel above the wave pool.

We were both clinging to each other very tightly when we opened our eyes and grinned broadly at one another. "WOW!" Was all I could say.

"AWESOME!" Was Josh's excited reply. "Let's go again," he said.

"I think that can be arranged, bud." I smiled warmly at him. Within a minute we were hauled in and found ourselves standing on the pool deck with Mark and Bryan, both of whom were grinning as broadly as Josh and I.

"That looked so cool," Mark enthused. "How was it?"

"It was scary as hell at first but once you do it, it's a MAJOR rush," I replied.

"I got some really good footage!" Bryan said as Mark grabbed me by the hand and dragged me to the elevator to take his turn.

When we reached the top of the tower, the attendant was surprised to see me again. "Back for more, eh?"

"Yeah, at least once more. I have two adventuresome boys to keep happy and I hope to convince that guy down there to try it out too," I said pointing to Bryan. Josh waved happily at us.

"Ok, you know the drill, but I'll go over it again for the young fellow," he said.

As Josh and I had done before, Mark and I stood face to face as we were strapped to the bungee cord and listened to the safety lecture. When we were ready, we shuffled to the edge of the tower and prepared to take the plunge.

I wrapped my arms around Mark's shoulders and prepared to take the plunge. "Ready bud?"

"As ready as I'll ever be. Let's do it before I chicken out," he said in a slightly wavering voice. "This is a lot higher than it looks."

"Just hold on tight and we'll go on three," I said. "Trust me, you'll love it."

After a quick count to three, I was once again plunging 200 feet to the shimmering wave pool below. Mark held me in a death grip as we splashed into the water and then flung back into the air. The sound of his laughter was unmistakable and heartwarming as we briefly hung in the air before once again plunging below the surface.

"LETS GO AGAIN," he crowed as the attendants pulled us to the pool deck and unhooked us from the bungee cord. "That was totally awesome!"

We met Bryan and Josh on the pool deck. Josh was still grinning from ear to ear. "We got some really cool video of that jump. We've got to do that again," Josh said.

"Well, I have one more dual ticket. How about it Bryan, want to give it a shot?" I asked.

Bryan hesitated for a second before answering, "Ok, what the hell, let's do it."

"COOL!" Mark and Josh shouted in unison.

Bryan and I made the trek to the top of the tower and I had to admire Bryan as he demonstrated his bravery to overcome his discomfort of heights. Before long, we were positioned at the edge of the platform. Josh and Mark looked tiny far below. Josh was filming our every move with the video camera.

We grasped each other firmly and prepared to take the plunge. "Ready?" I asked.

"Let's do it before I change my mind," Bryan said.

I laughed, "That's pretty much what your brother said."

"Smart kid," Bryan replied in a shaky voice.

By my third jump, it was old hat to me. The fear was gone and was replaced by the anticipation of the feeling of weightlessness which resulted when the bungee cord snapped back. If not for the expense, I could have spent the entire day doing jump after jump.

Bryan shut his eyes tightly as we leaned to the side and dropped from the platform. As Josh and Mark had done before, I felt his arms tighten noticeably around my torso as we plunged to the water below. By the time we were safely on the pool deck, Bryan too was ready to go back up the tower and repeat the experience.

Not wanting to disappoint the boys, Bryan went and bought three more tickets. Bryan and I made a second jump together, he did one more jump with Mark and I went again with Josh. By the time we were done, the adrenalin in our system made us hungry so we had an early lunch at the Coconut Grove before hitting the water slides.

We spent the afternoon riding the various waterslides with names like Howler, Thunderbolt, Twister, Tropical Typhoon and Sky Screamer. By mid afternoon, Bryan and I were getting a little worn out so we left the boys to the slides and the wave pool while we hit one of the hot tubs placed around the pool deck. We sat in the water and sipped tropical cocktails in the very warm air amid stands of faux palm trees.

We enjoyed each others company and passed the time simply chatting and getting to know one another better. I soon realized that we shared the same values where Mark and Josh were concerned; our career ambitions were very similar, our thoughts on God and religious values were at the same level of understanding, but most important, we both cherished the love of family and friends. By the time the day ended and the four of us headed to the change rooms to get dressed, I knew I was falling in love with Bryan.

After leaving the waterpark, we dropped off our wet towels and bathing suits and headed to the food court for dinner. We all chowed down on some decent Chinese food before heading to our evening destination, Ed's Rec Room where we planned to spend the evening shooting pool, bowling and playing arcade games.

Our plan for the next day would see us begin the day at the Galaxyland amusement park. Unbeknownst to the boys, Bryan had made a phone call earlier in the day and booked all four of us for an afternoon of mock aerial dog fights at Air Combat Canada. We'd be issued authentic flight suits, go through a pre-mission briefing and then we'd all take to the air in dual seat German made Extra 300L high performance aerobatic aircraft which handle just like jets. With former fighter pilot instructors, we'd then engage one another in twisting and turning dogfights. It was going to be the adventure of a lifetime for all of us.


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