Substitute Dad

(scribe1971@hotmail.com)

Chapter 33

On the Road Again

"Crush that thing Mark," I hollered.

"Come on bro, knock it out of there," Josh added.

It was our second to last day in Calgary and we found ourselves spending the beautiful Saturday afternoon at the local sports field, watching Mark's little league baseball game. Seeing Mark out on the field with his teammates warmed my heart. The past three weeks had shown me just how far the boy had progressed from that miserable and unloved kid that I first met all those months before.

Watching Mark confidently interact with the other boys brought a smile to my face. He was incredibly handsome in his blue and white baseball uniform and all his teammates seemed to genuinely like him. He played right field and the way that he effortlessly threw out batters at home plate led me to believe his regular gym workouts with Bryan were paying off. His skill in the field was easily matched by his prowess at the plate. When Mark took to the batters box, the other team's outfielders moved back and the pitcher began to look nervous. His playing skills seemed to come naturally to him and they combined with his personality to make him the heart of the team.

"How did Mark learn to play baseball so well so quickly?" Josh asked

"He has a really good coach," Bryan answered. "Martin, one of the guys at my office, used to play AAA ball and he agreed to teach Mark. He spent hours working with him and turned him into a really good little player. His son Bill is one of Mark's closest friends. He's the pitcher."

"Mark's amazing," I said sincerely.

Just then, there was a sharp cracking sound and I looked up just in time to see the ball, now off Mark's bat sail clear over the left field home run fence. Mark grinned broadly as he rounded the bases as the crowd went wild. There were already runners on first and third and Mark exchanged high-fives with each of them as he leapt onto home plate. Mark's team was winning the game 12 to 3 and with those three runs, he had personally driven in four of the twelve runs.

Brutus and Daisy were with us and the pair of them were thoroughly enjoying the attention that they were getting. They had both been bathed since we found them the day before and they had cleaned up nicely. Daisy was decked out in her new pink collar and Brutus had a new blue one. Josh had the pair of them on leashes and he would occasionally get up and walk around with them. Pretty much everyone at the game stopped by at one point or another to pet the puppies and they loved it. Josh seemed to really enjoy it too. He especially enjoyed the way the puppies tended to attract pretty girls, some of whom appeared to be just as interested in him as they were in the puppies.
Bryan and I watched Josh with the dogs and smiled at the silly grin on his face as a trio of teenage girls stopped to fawn over the little dogs and to talk to him. Josh looked as if he'd been hit in the head with a hammer made out of silly putty!

By the time game was all over, Mark's team had shelled the other team by a score of 17 to 4. After having a word with the coach, Mark and another boy came running over to us. Daisy and Brutus immediately sprung into action and ran to greet Mark and his friend.

"Hey guys, this is my friend Bill," Mark said, introducing the other boy. "You already know Bryan, this is my bro Josh and this is his Dad Tommy. He's kinda my Dad too," Mark said and winked at me.

"Cool, you're the guy who flies the planes right?" Bill asked. "Josh, you're the guy who told off the Prime Minister on TV!"

"That's us!" Josh replied.

"Will you guys take me flying sometime too?" Bill asked.

"You bet," I replied and shook the boy's hand.

"Yeah, we're going to move here in a few years," Josh added.

"Great, Mark says you're a cool kid. You'll fit right in out here. I used to live in Toronto too. My parents moved us here a few years ago. My Dad works with Bryan and my Mom works for an oil company."

"Wow, a lot of people moved here from someplace else," Josh observed.

"No sh… kidding," Bill replied. "Almost everyone moved from other part of Canada. There are so many jobs because of the oil and everyone wants to live here. My Dad says it's the low taxes that bring people here and my Mom says it's the mountains. I think it's both!"

I knew right away that I liked Bill and so did Josh. Given that he was Mark's buddy, I wasn't surprised that he was a nice kid. Daisy and Brutus obvious liked Bill too. They were both all over him and Daisy was busy licking his face like mad as the boy giggled and tried to get away from the incredibly affectionate puppy.

"Bryan, since you guys are going out tonight and Josh and me are going to stay home and watch DVDs, can Bill stay over with us?" Mark asked.

"Sure bud, just clear it with Bill's Dad," Bryan replied.

"COOL," all three boys shouted and ran off with Daisy and Brutus in tow to find Bill's Dad.

"It's great to see Mark making friends," I observed.

"Yeah, it took him a little while to get out of his shell, but once he did, look out. He's a lot like Josh in that people can't help but like him. He's such a friendly kid that he makes friends really quickly."

"That doesn't surprise me. I look at how far he's come since I first met him and it makes me feel really good inside. I really love that little guy. I see what a neat kid he is and it makes me mad at your father all over again," I said thoughtfully.

"He loves you too. I think he idolizes you just about as much as Josh does. I think he'll be just as happy as I will when you guys get moved out here," Bryan replied and put his arm around my shoulders.

"Josh and I can't wait."

We left the ballpark and headed home at around 4:00. Mark and Josh were both positively beaming. Bill's Dad had given him permission to spend the night with the boys and arrangements had been made to have him dropped off at around 7:30 that evening.

Bryan and I were planning on stealing away for the evening to spend an evening together on the town. We hadn't had any time alone together since we were at the West Edmonton Mall and the boys were very understanding of our desire to have a night out. The plan was to load them up with DVD movies and all the pizza and junk food they could eat and then hit the town.

"That was a hell of a homer you hit Marky. I'm proud of you," I said after we all buckled ourselves into the Jeep and began the trek home.

"Way to go bud, that was amazing," Bryan added with a wide smile.

I glanced at Mark in the rear view mirror at his smiling reaction to the praise. Praise was not something that he had received much of in the past, but it was something that he had come to appreciate. He had every right to be proud.

"Thanks. That pitcher threw a beach ball at me and I got all of it," he replied. "I knew it was gone as soon as I made contact."

"You knocked the stuffing out of it," Josh enthused. "You've got a cannon of an arm too. I was amazed how you threw that guy out at home plate in the second inning," Josh said and squeezed Mark's shoulder.

"I've been lifting a lot of weights at the gym with Bryan and that helps a lot," Mark said.

"Dad and I go to the gym a lot when we're at home. He's still teaching me self-defense."

"Bryan and I are going to sign up for Judo lessons at the downtown Y. Classes start up in September."

"Wow, you're really into sports Mark. You're becoming a regular athlete," I observed.

"He wants to play hockey this winter too," Bryan said proudly.

I glanced over at Bryan and smiled. It was obvious that as much as he was Mark's brother, the pride that he had in Mark made it clear that he had taken on the role of Dad as well.

When we arrived back at the house, Mark went to change out of his baseball uniform while Bryan went to start dinner. We intended to get food for the boys when we went out, but we knew our boys well enough to know that they'd eat dinner along with a mountain of pizza later that evening. I sat down on the sofa and Josh joined me. I held out my arm and he snuggled up in his customary TV watching position.

"How are you doing bud?" I asked.

"Ok. I'm just a little sad that tomorrow is our last day with Mark and Bryan for a little while," Josh said softly.

"Me too kiddo. You guys have a great time tonight and we'll try to make the most out of our day tomorrow. We have British Columbia and the North to look forward to and then we'll be back here for a couple of days."

"I'm looking forward to seeing Shelly again too. I'm glad that she's doing better. Maybe she'll get better after all."

"You never know Josh. Not many people recover from Neuroblastoma but then again, most people don't live as long as she has. Debby said that we'll be there for her birthday. I didn't realize that she is going to be 11 years old. She looks a lot younger."

"It's probably because of the cancer or the treatment. I read about chemotherapy on the Internet. It's what makes your hair fall out and makes you feel sick. I thought it was the cancer that did that."

"It's not very pleasant but it does save lives," I replied gently.

"We'll have to get her a nice present," Josh said. "I wonder what kind of stuff she likes. I've never had to buy a present for a girl before. Except for my Mom anyway."

I smiled and hugged Josh tightly. We'd been doing so much lately that we really hadn't had much dad and son time. It was nice to get a few minutes together and talk. "We need to pickup some stuff tomorrow that we're going to need when we're in the mountains and when we're up north," I thought out loud.

"What kind of stuff?" Josh asked.

"We need to replenish some more of our supplies but we also need to get some stuff to make outdoor survival kits. When we're in the Yukon and the Northwest Territories, I want to teach you some more outdoor survival stuff. You should learn how to live off the land and how to survive with minimal supplies."

"That's going to be cool," Josh replied and leaned his head back against my shoulder. "I want you to have fun tonight with Bryan. It's nice seeing you so happy."

"Thanks son," I replied and gently kissed his temple.

I heard the back door slide open and a second later Brutus and Daisy came bounding in. We'd let them out in the back yard to do their business as soon as we got home and someone had just let them in.

Brutus immediately hopped up on the couch and began to climb all over Josh. His tail was wagging so fast that I thought he might actually take off like a helicopter. Daisy jumped up on my lap and then proceeded to stand with her front paws on my shoulders and madly lick my face.

Josh saw what she was doing and giggled. "Looks like you're getting slimed!"

I kept turning my head to get away from her, but she kept adjusting her position to keep getting me in the face. The only thing that saved me was when Mark wandered into the living room. As soon as Daisy saw him, she ran up to him and began giving him the same treatment.

After Bryan grilled up some nice pork chops on the barbeque which we ate with baked potatoes and coleslaw, we headed over to the local Blockbuster to rent some movies for the boys. They picked out a scary movie called "Event Horizon" and an action movie called "Heat".

Since it was going to be our second last night with Mark and Bryan, I wanted to make it a special evening for the boys. I gave Josh $100 and told him to order whatever he and the other boys wanted to eat. I'd actually thought about just leaving him one of my credit cards, but I figured that he'd probably run into problems when the guy delivering the food wanted a signature on the receipt, and who knows – maybe Bryan and I would need that card tonight.

Bill arrived at 7:30 sharp just as Bryan and I were getting ready to leave. He had a sleeping bag in tow as well as a number of video game disks for Mark and Bryan's Xbox system.

"You boys have fun and please don't destroy the house," I said as Bryan and I prepared to leave.

"Oh rats! We were planning on trashing the place. I guess we'll have to watch the DVDs and play video games instead," Mark said in his well known deadpan delivery.

"Maybe we can get some liquor delivered," Josh joked.

"Maybe we can feed the two of you nothing but Brussel sprouts for the next week or two," I retorted.

"YUCK!" Josh hollered and made a mister yuck face.

"GROSS!" Mark agreed wholeheartedly.

"Have a good time Dad," Josh said as he gave me a very heartfelt hug. "Be careful and DON'T DRINK AND DRIVE!"

Once again his maturity impressed me. I tousled his hair gently. "Don't worry kiddo, we won't. That's a promise."

Bryan and I left the house and boarded his Explorer. Not knowing much about the night life of Calgary, I left our destination up to Bryan. We started at a local sports bar where we had a pint of beer and downed some really good chicken wings. We met a few of Bryan's friends while we were there and after a couple of hours, our newly expanded group of six headed across town to the local Yuck Yucks comedy club.

Yuck Yucks had long been one of my favourite places and I wasn't disappointed that night. That evening they were featuring a show called the "Nasty Show – Politically Incorrect Humour Guaranteed to Offend Everyone". The show was a riot and had all of us roaring with laughter. I had always been a fan of off-colour and even rude jokes and that show offered plenty. Based on the way that Bryan was laughing, it was obvious that he shared my very warped sense of humour.

After the show at Yuck Yucks, Bryan's friends bid us a goodnight and went their own way. Bryan and I headed to a really nice martini bar closer to home. It was a very nice establishment that obviously catered to a more affluent and more mature crowd than the average watering hole did. The place was quiet and offered a good opportunity to talk over a couple of ice cold Vodka martinis.

"I guess the 30 month countdown starts the day after tomorrow, eh?" Bryan remarked.

"It'll be a long two and a half years," I replied. "At least we'll have plenty of opportunity for visits. Christmas will be a blast."

"I can imagine. The twins alone will make it a riot. Christmas was pretty somber for the past couple of years. I always sent Mark gifts and talked to him on the phone. Other than that, I just stayed home and watched movies on DVD."

"Let me tell you, you haven't experienced Christmas until you've experienced one with our family. My Mom cooks the best turkey and Susan does a pretty good job too. I can't imagine what Christmas dinner will be like with the two of them working on it and Anne as a backup."

"I can't even think about food right about now," Bryan groaned.

"I wonder how much the boys have managed to pack away." We both laughed aloud. "I swear that the pair of them have hollow legs! Bill is probably pretty much the same."

"So what's the plan after you guys head out?"

"We're going to hit the Trans-Canada Highway and head west into B.C. making several stops along the way. We'll visit Shelly and her family for a day in Burnaby and then press on to Vancouver. From there we'll be off to Victoria and Nanaimo. When we get back to the mainland, we're heading north to Whitehorse in the Yukon and then southeast back into BC and northwest Alberta before heading northeast to Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories."

"Damn, that's a lot of miles. I'm glad you guys have the sat phone. Make sure you check in often," Bryan said, grasping my hand.

"We will. Can you keep a secret? It's a surprise for Josh," I asked in a sly tone.

"Of course, what is it?" Bryan asked with a raised eyebrow.

"Originally, Yellowknife was supposed to be the farthest north that we were going to go. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that a tour of Canada wouldn't be complete without going even farther north and we couldn't say that we had done a truly national tour without visiting all ten provinces and ALL three territories. That includes Nunavut."

"How in the hell are you going to get to Nunavut? As far as I know, you can't drive there – at least not on any paved roads."

"We're not going to drive and we're not simply going to Nunavut. We're going to Canadian Forces Station Alert at the far northern tip of Ellesmere Island. It's the most northern land mass in North America."

"Ok, I'll bite… how are you going to manage that?"

"I made a few phone calls and pulled a few strings. With the help of Captain Andrews who worked on my injury case and Colonel Lynch from Air Combat Canada, we're going to be guest passengers on a Canadian Forces C-130 supply flight from Yellowknife to Alert. Once in Alert, we might even be able to swing a ride on board a search and rescue aircraft and get to fly over the North Pole."

"Damn! I wish I had a couple more weeks of vacation!" Bryan remarked.

"I really wish you guys could come along. I know you have to work, but what about Mark?"

"It would be fine with me, but he has his baseball team to think of and he has Daisy to look after. I'll tell you what. Why don't I swear him to secrecy, tell him what's happening and let him make the choice? I know he'll desperately want to go, but I think I know my brother well enough to tell you what decision he'll make."

"Yeah, he's a pretty mature kid. I'd rather let him make the choice than have him find out later that he missed out on a trip like that."

We chatted for another half and hour or so before we decided to head home and see what they boys had been up to. The drive home only took five minutes and when we pulled into the driveway, we were surprised to see all the lights out.

Bryan unlocked the door and we slowly crept into the house. As soon as we closed the door, the sound of three snoring boys became obvious. We also found ourselves set upon by an almost matching pair of excited puppies. Thankfully, they didn't bark and wake the boys.

We walked slowly down the hall and into the living room and looked around. The TV was still on and the last few minutes of "Event Horizon" were showing on the screen. Josh was fast asleep stretched out on the sofa, Mark was sprawled on the reclining easy chair, and Bill was zonked out on the floor on top of his sleeping bag. Piled on the coffee table were a couple of pizza boxes, a large collection of empty pop cans, a box full of picked clean chicken wings and a what looked like the remains of a McCain's frozen cake.

"Let's cover these guys up with some blankets or something," Bryan whispered.

"Good idea." I sat down on the edge of the sofa next to Josh while Bryan went to get some blankets. I reached out and gently caressed his forehead and softly tousled his hair.

"Here, cover him up with this," Bryan whispered and held out a soft blanket.

I stood up and gently spread the blanket over Josh and then bent down and touched my forehead to his and kissed the tip of his nose. He sighed contentedly and mumbled something in his sleep.

Bryan gently re-arranged Mark so that all his limbs were on the chair and then covered him with a blanket. We each took our turn kissing him on the forehead. Amazingly, by the time he had him covered, Mark had already rearranged himself so that one leg was hanging off the side of the chair and resting on the floor. The two of us looked at him and chuckled softly. Neither of us could figure out how he managed to sleep that way.

Finally, Bryan covered Bill with the third blanket and kissed Josh on the forehead while I let Brutus and Daisy out in the backyard to do their business. As soon as they came back in, each of them hopped up with "their" boy, curled up and went to sleep. With the house, secure, Bryan and I retired to his room for a much needed good night's sleep.

The boys awoke surprisingly early the next morning. Bryan was still sleeping soundly when I awoke. My whole being felt so full of love just watching him sleep, but nature was talking to my bladder, so I untangled myself from him, answered the call, took a shower, and dressed for the day.

I found the boys playing Xbox games in the living room while eating rock hard slices of cold pizza left over from the night before. "That isn't much of a breakfast guys," I chuckled. "How about some pancakes and sausage?"

"Sounds good," Mark replied.

"Yeah, better than cold pizza," Bill added.

"Thanks Dad," Josh said as he stood up and gave me a hug.

With some help from Mark, I managed to find everything I needed to feed three ravenous boys. I even managed to snag a few pancakes and sausage links for myself and some to hide away for Bryan when he finally woke up.

"That was good Dad. Is there any more?" Josh asked.

"You guys are still hungry after all that?" I asked incredulously.

"Sorta," Mark replied.

"I suppose I could make up another batch of pancakes. Are all of you still hungry?" I asked and saw three heads nodding rapidly in reply.

I was just dishing out the first pancakes of the second batch when Bryan wandered into the kitchen. "Morning boys. Did you have fun last night?"

"Yeah, the movies were pretty good and we had all kinds of food," Mark answered his brother.

"'Event Horizon' was pretty scary," Josh observed.

"Pretty gory too," Bill added.

"Do one of you boys have a cold or something?" Bryan asked. "The box of Kleenex on the end table is almost empty and the wastebasket is full of used tissue."

At that instant, three boys turned cherry red and despite my best efforts to avoid doing so, I sprayed a mouthful of orange juice all over my plate. While I struggled to recover, Josh gave me a light boot on the ankle under the table and flashed his fake angry face.

"Am I missing something here?" Bryan asked incredulously and looked at me.

I subtly made an up and down motion with my fist under the table so that only Bryan could see. It took him a second to realize what I meant and he too turned fire engine red. I think it was more out of feeling bad for embarrassing the boys, than out of embarrassment of his own.

"Sorry, that orange juice went down the wrong way," I said trying to recover and salvage some dignity for the boys. Josh obviously knew that I knew what they had been up to; his mom had made the same mistake when she found his wastebasket full of used tissue. Of course, he and Mark knew that Bryan and I believed that there's nothing wrong with that sort of thing.

With the pancakes disposed of, I went to make a list of the things that Josh and I needed to get. Josh and Bill cleaned up the kitchen while Bryan pulled Mark off to the side for a quick talk. He was going to ask him about the northern excursion and give him the option of going.

About ten minutes later, I was in the garage going over the supplies in the Jeep. I didn't know that Mark was there until I felt his arms fold around me in a massive bear hug.

"Hey kiddo, what's up?" I asked as I returned his hug.

"Thanks," Mark said sincerely. "Bryan told me about the next part of your trip and he told me that you said I could go if I wanted."

"Of course Marky, you're more than welcome to come along if you want to."

"I do want to, but I can't. I have to look after Daisy and I can't let my teammates down. We're in first place right now and if I left for a few weeks, it would leave them a player short. I really want to go with you guys, but it wouldn't be right to the other guys on my team."

"You know Mark, that's one of the most adult unselfish sacrifices I've ever seen anyone of your age do. I'd love to have you come along with us, but Bryan and I are so proud of you for thinking about the others on your team before yourself," I pulled Mark against my chest and held him tightly.

"Tell you what bud; we're going to have lots of time together in the near future. You'll be with the rest of the family for Christmas and we'll all get together for spring break. We'll also go on a vacation next summer. I promise you that we'll go up to the far north again or anywhere else you want to go."

"Really?" Mark asked.

"Really," I replied. "Have I ever let you down before?"

"You, Bryan and Josh are the only people who have never let me down. Thanks Tommy. You're the best!" Mark replied.

"That's because we're family kiddo. Technically your father is your family too, but family is about more than genes. Family is what you make it and we've made a very solid family for ourselves. You're one of the biggest parts of it."

"I know. I can feel it," Mark replied.

I held him against my chest for a moment and had a thought. "Hey bud, is there a small screwdriver around here?"

"A screwdriver? Sure, what for?"

"I need to adjust something. Something kinda small," I replied. I released Mark and he went to a storage cabinet near the front wall of the garage. A moment later he returned with a small set of jeweler's screwdrivers.

"Will these do?" he asked.

"Definitely," I replied and undid the clasp on the metal band of my watch.

"Watch too tight?" Mark asked as he watched me select a small screwdriver and use it to undo the size adjustment on the stainless steal band.

"Probably too loose the way it was," I replied and eyed Mark's wrist before reassembling the band. "Marky, after Josh flew a plane for the first time, I gave him something special, something that meant a lot to me. I gave him my grandfather's pilot wings. I did that because I wanted him to know that I was proud of him and I wanted to give him something tangible that represents the bond we have."

"He showed them to me. He's really proud of them," Mark replied softly.

"This watch is an aviator's watch. It isn't a real expensive one, but it is a good one. It was given to me by the flight school where I took my training. It was an award for finishing at the top of my class. You're going to be an Air Cadet and I'm sure that you'll achieve your goal of becoming a top-notch fighter pilot. I want you to have this watch. Wear it and remember that we have a bond that can never be broken and know that I'm proud of you," I said as I grasped Mark's left arm and placed the shiny watch on his wrist.

Mark was more than a little misty eyed when he looked up at me. "Thanks," he managed to croak out and then he wrapped his arms around me and buried his face in my chest.

I stood there and gently stroked his back while he held on for dear life.

"Sometimes I wish I wasn't so mature," he finally said with a grin. "I'd love to drop everything and go with you guys."

We both broke up laughing at his remark. "Being grown up is sometimes tough bud. Don't be in too much of a hurry to grow up. Enjoy being a kid while you can."

Mark helped me complete my inventory of supplies and then the two of us headed back into the house. Mark immediately went to Josh, Bill, and Bryan and showed them his new watch. When Bryan saw it, he glanced in my direction and flashed me a smile and a wink. Josh gave me a thumbs up.

At around 10:00, Bill's Dad picked him up and the four of us prepared to head out to the local Canadian Tire store to stock up on supplies and get the Jeep serviced for the next long part of our cross-country trek. I decided that we'd buy enough stuff to make up four personal survival kits and I'd show Josh, Mark, and Bryan how to use the various items that go into them. Bryan wasn't really an outdoors kind of guy but the rest of us were and we'd have plenty of time to convert him.

After Bill left, Josh and Mark went out to take the puppies for a walk. It was a beautiful bright and sunny day and the Rocky Mountains beckoned invitingly out the front window. As I stood and admired them, Bryan came up behind me and put his arm around my shoulders.

"That was really nice of you giving Mark your watch. I know it means a whole lot to him," Bryan said and planted a kiss on my cheek.

"I'm really proud of him for making the right choice about joining us for the next leg. I know he really wanted to go, but he knew he was doing the right thing by staying home."

"He and Josh are two of a kind. They're both exceptional boys."

"What are you guys going to do after we leave tomorrow?" I asked.

"Well, I'm back to work and Mark will be hanging out with his friends. I think the two of us will probably go out for dinner and maybe grab a movie when I get home."

"To cheer him up?" I asked.

"To cheer us both up," Bryan laughed.

"Just look forward to our brief return visit next month and then Christmas," I replied.

A few minutes later, the front door opened and two very happy puppies came charging into the living room to greet Bryan and me. Mark and Josh followed close behind. I bent down and scooped up Daisy and was immediately rewarded by a massive barrage of puppy kisses on my face.

After filling the pups with all the puppy treats they could handle, the four of us boarded the Jeep and we headed off on our shopping expedition. Our first stop was the local army surplus store. There we purchased a number of army ruck sacks, canteens, mess tins and webbed gear. We also picked up another case of Canadian Forces IMPs and a case of US military MREs to take along on the northern part of the trip.

After ransacking the surplus store, we headed to the local Canadian Tire and while the Jeep was being serviced, Josh, Mark, and Bryan simply followed me around as I grabbed a shopping basket and went around grabbing packages of waterproof matches, candles, rope, tarps, compasses, compact first aid kits, water purification tables, fishing gear and even chocolate bars.

"Bryan, do you have a vacuum sealer?" I asked.

"A what?" Bryan asked with a bemused look on his face.

"It's a machine about this big," I said holding my hands about a foot apart. "It seals items inside waterproof bags."

"Sorry, we don't have one of those," Mark replied.

"I think I saw some of those over in the house wares department," Josh said helpfully and trotted off to find one.

"This stuff is all useful eh?" Bryan asked.

"It sure is. If you ever find yourself lost in the woods, you'll be glad to have this stuff," I grinned.

"That's why I don't go in the woods very often," Bryan replied.

"We'll have to fix that," Mark said and elbowed his brother lightly in the side.

With the time running down on our last day in Calgary, we left Canadian Tire and headed for home. On the way, we stopped at the local Safeway store and bought some nice juicy steaks to grill up on the barbecue, a case of beer, and a nice bottle of wine. We wanted to have a special family dinner that night and we couldn't think of a better way to do it than with perfectly grilled Alberta steaks eaten on the back porch under the stars.

We spent the afternoon assembling our personal survival kits. Each of us assembled our own kit as I explained what each item was used for. "The important thing to remember is that nothing goes into this kit without a purpose and nothing that does go in it, will go unused," I said.

"What do you mean by that?" Josh asked.

"What I mean is that every single thing in these kits has a purpose. Everything from the chocolate bars and high calorie candies to the plastic bags that we package things in. Here's a phrase that you need to learn and live by in the bush: Improvise, adapt and overcome."

"Wasn't that a line from a Clint Eastwood movie?" Bryan asked with a raised eyebrow.

"Yep; he said it in 'Heartbreak Ridge' and it's true. When you find yourself in a survival situation, you do what you have to do. You improvise the things and supplies that you need to survive, you adapt to your situation and environment and you overcome whatever happens."

"Makes sense to me," Josh said.

By the time we were done, we had all assembled compact personal survival kits that would last indefinitely and contained all of the necessary supplies and equipment to help us survive in the wilderness in an emergency. I hoped that we'd never have to use the kits, but knowing that we had them was a source of comfort.

Once the kits were assembled, I taught everyone how to assemble and use their surplus ruck sacks, webbed gear and mess kits. Josh and Mark were just eating it all up and even Bryan was getting into it.

"We'll make an outdoorsman of you yet Bryan," I teased.

"I'd go just about anywhere with you lot," he replied.

We had a light lunch of cold cut sandwiches and then we loaded the Jeep. We retrieved the rifles and other gear from Bryan's office and stowed everything away. We rearranged the back seat of the Jeep slightly to make a comfortable spot for Brutus. I figured that he'd spend much of his time on Josh's lap, but he'd occasionally need his own place to stretch out.

"I wonder how Brutus and Daisy will handle being split up?" Josh asked thoughtfully when we were done loading the Jeep and relaxing in the living room.

"Yeah, I wonder if they'll be sad," Mark added.

"I don't know. They might be a little sad at first, but they'll be with you guys and I think they'll be ok in a couple of days," I replied.

"You boys be sure to give them lots of extra love and attention for the next couple of days and they'll be fine," Bryan advised.

Bryan and I had discussed our activities for that afternoon and evening at length and we decided to have as much family time as possible. We wanted to maximize the amount of time that the four of us could spend together. We decided to spend the rest of the afternoon watching a DVD. Mark went to the kitchen to pop a couple of bags of microwave popcorn while Josh perused the sizeable collection of DVDs that Mark and Bryan had amassed.

"How about 'Red Dawn'?" Josh asked.

"Red Dawn" is an early 1980s movie about a Soviet invasion of North America and the efforts of a bunch of high school kids to fight them. "Sure, that's a pretty cool movie," Bryan said.

Josh dropped the disc into the player just as Mark returned with the popcorn. The bunch of us then bunched up together on the couch. I ended up sitting in the middle with Bryan on one side and Josh on the other. Wanting to maximize his contact with all of us, Mark stretched out on the sofa, lying across all of our legs. He had his head on Josh's lap, his torso on mine and his legs on his brothers. Josh was leaning into me, Bryan had an arm over my shoulders and I draped one of my arms over Mark. Even the pups got into the act. Brutus and Daisy climbed up onto the couch and they curled up together with their heads resting on Bryan's lap and Mark's legs. It might not have looked very comfortable, but it was to us.

After the movie, we all relocated to the backyard. Bryan and I fired up the barbecue while Josh and Mark set the table and retrieved the side dishes, beer, pop and wine from the fridge. All of our mouths began to water profusely as soon as the steaks hit the grill and we caught a whiff of the sizzling meat. The boys began to circle the barbecue like vultures and Bryan had to literally swat them away with a spatula.

"These bad boys will be done in just a minute or two," Bryan announced. "Why don't you crack open that bottle of wine?"

I served all four of us a glass of wine. It was a special evening and the boys were mature enough to handle a glass of wine. By the time I was finished pouring, Bryan was doling out thick, sizzling steaks to two drooling teenagers.

Just as the sun was beginning to set over the Rocky Mountains, the four of us sat down for our last meal together as a family for the next few weeks. Although our time together was running out, there was nothing somber about the conversation. We were just as joyful and animated as we always were. There was no shortage of our usual friendly banter and good-natured ribbing. We devoured the steaks, coleslaw and baked potatoes not to mention the bottle of wine. Josh and Mark downed a couple of Cokes each while Bryan and I enjoyed cold bottles of beer.

Long after the meal was consumed, the dishes had been cleared away, and the light had disappeared from the sky, we sat outside and enjoyed the breathtakingly clear and pleasantly warm night. We spent the better part of two hours chasing the pups around the yard, wrestling in the grass, and simply lying there looking up at the night sky.

At around 10:00, we retreated into the house and commenced a marathon game of monopoly that went on until well after 1:00 in the morning. Again, we simply enjoyed each other's company with no mind to the ticking clock. We didn't care who won or lost and we simply focused on having fun together.

When the game finally wrapped up, the boys went and got ready for bed while Bryan and I cleaned up and secured the house. I took a moment to let the pups out in the backyard to do their business while Bryan set out his clothes for the morning. I felt sorry for him since he had to be up at 7:30 in order to get to work on time. Josh, Mark, and I could sleep in if we wanted to, but I knew that we'd all be up with Bryan.

Bryan and I went into Mark's room and tucked the boys and then we retired to his room for the night. As much as both of us would have enjoyed one final session of lovemaking, 7:30 was fast approaching and we both needed our rest. Instead, we satisfied ourselves with falling quickly to sleep wrapped in each other's arms.

A little over six hours later, we were jarred awake by the incessant buzzing of Bryan's alarm clock. Clearly, we both would have preferred to remain tangled up together in his bed, but we knew that we had to get up and face the day.

We let the boys sleep a little longer while the two of us showered, dressed, and prepared for the day. I headed to the kitchen and started the coffee pot, toasted up some English muffins and set out a box of Captain Crunch cereal for breakfast.

Just before 8:00, Bryan wandered into the kitchen dressed in a crisply pressed pair of Khaki pants, a neatly pressed shirt, and a maroon coloured tie. We exchanged a brief kiss before he took his seat and helped himself to an English muffin, a glass of orange juice, and a cup of coffee.

"Damn, I'm really going to miss waking up beside you," Bryan remarked after taking a sip of coffee.

"Me too. It's going to be a little rough over the next couple of years, but we're solid and we'll make the best of it. The boys will get us through it," I replied. I meant it too. Josh was a constant source of strength for me and Mark did the same for Bryan. There were many things that I'd gone through over the past year that would have been much harder without Josh at my side. The next 30 months were going to be tough, but we'd get through it. The bond that had been cemented between the four of us and between our extended family over the past few weeks were incredible strong and would easily survive the trials and tribulations of time and distance. There was no question that the coming separation would be temporary.

We were soon joined by the boys and two small dogs with rapidly wagging tails. After letting the pups out in the backyard to stretch their legs and do their business, Mark and Josh joined us at the breakfast table. Compared to the night before, breakfast was unusually quiet. We were all a little tired and we were all a little sad that our time together was at an end.

When the time came for Bryan to leave to work, we all stood up and followed him to the door. We stood and looked each other in the eye for a moment before exchanging a long and passionate kiss and a very tight hug. "I love you Bryan," I said. "Take care of yourself and take care of Mark."

"I love you too Tommy," he replied. "You guys be careful and watch out for each other. We'll see you in a couple of weeks."

When Bryan and I released each other, he turned his attention to Josh. He pulled him into a warm embrace and held him there for a moment. "I love you too Josh. Keep your dad out of trouble, ok?" He gently kissed Josh's forehead.

"I know. I love you too Bryan. Dad and I will keep each other out of trouble," Josh replied.

Finally, he turned his attention to Mark. "See you tonight bro. Have a good day and remember; decide where you want to go for dinner tonight," he said and hugged his brother.

I felt a large lump in my throat as I stood on the front porch and watched Bryan pull out of the driveway and then drive away after giving the Explorer's horn a brief toot. If not for the comforting touch of Josh's hand on my right shoulder and Mark's on my left, I'd have probably been in tears at that moment.

I followed the boys back into the living room and sat down on the couch between the two of them. Josh snuggled up against my right side and Mark did the same on my left. I wrapped an arm around each of them and we just sat there together in silence for several minutes.

Josh and I didn't have to be on the road until around noon so the three of us sat together on the couch and watched television and chatted until 11:00 when we headed out for an early lunch. The plan was to grab a bite at the local Humpty's and then drop Mark off at Bill's before we headed west.

Before leaving the house, Josh and I said our goodbyes to Daisy and Mark did the same with Brutus. Dogs are very perceptive animals and they are very much in tune with human emotions. As I picked up Daisy and held her against my chest, I swore that she could sense that I was saying so long for now. She seemed to lick my face much more intently that she usually did. She even rested her little head on my shoulder when she was done. Amazingly, Brutus was acting much the same way with Mark.

After Josh held Daisy one more time, we set the dogs down and watched as they seemed to say goodbye to each other. Brutus licked his sister's face and nuzzled his nose against hers. It almost broke my heart when we headed for the door and Daisy sat down and cocked her head from side to side while Brutus trotted out along with us.

I drove to Humpty's and the three of us mostly picked at our burgers. The food was as good as it always was at Humpty's, but none of us was really in the mood for eating. We were all mostly lost in our own thoughts. Over the past three weeks, I'd become more attached to Mark than ever, and he and Josh had not only rekindled their friendship, they had cemented their new bond as brothers. Being away from Mark was going to be just as painful as being away from Bryan.

When we'd all eaten as much as we were going to, we headed back out to the Jeep and joined an overjoyed Brutus. Being apart from Daisy didn't seem to have affected him all that much and Josh was doing his level best to shower the little dog with love and affection.

The drive to Bill's house took only five minutes. I pulled the Jeep into the driveway and put it in park. Josh was in the passenger seat and Mark was on the back seat with Brutus. I raised the armrest of my seat and released my seatbelt. I turned sideways and looked at Mark. We locked eyes for a moment and then I held out my arms. Mark wasted no time in leaning forward and accepting my embrace.

The last time we parted company, Mark was a scared kid facing the unknown; this time he was a safe and contented kid with a bright future ahead of him. As much as the sadness in the parting was mitigated by the certain knowledge that we'd be together again, the fact that we had grown so much closer made it all the more difficult. I silently held Mark in my arms and it didn't take Josh long to join in and make it a three-way hug.

After a couple of minutes, I eased my grip on Mark and gently raised his head to look me in the eye. I reached out to wipe away his tears.

"It's ok bud. Remember, you'll see us again in a few weeks and then we'll have two weeks together in December. You can call us or email us whenever you want. I love you Mark. You and Josh are both my sons and I love you both very much."

"I know. I love both of you. You really are my second Dad and Josh; you're really my brother. I'm really going to miss you guys," Mark said softly.

"Take care bro and look after Bryan," Josh said as he hugged his brother tightly.

As the three of us kept up our tight three-way hug, Brutus got into the act. He stood on his hind legs, put his paws on Mark's back and leaned his head down to lick all three of our faces. Pretty soon, he had all three of us laughing madly.

I released Mark and turned to see Bill coming out his front door. It was time for Mark to go and time for Josh and me to hit the road. Mark opened the door and stepped out onto the driveway while I restarted the engine. I carefully backed out of the driveway and Josh and I turned our heads to catch one last glimpse of Mark standing next to Bill as we waved and hit the road.

"Well here we are, just the two of us once again," Josh remarked as we pulled onto the Trans Canada Highway and headed west towards the looming Rocky Mountains.

"Except now there's three of us," Josh said with a smile and pointed to Brutus who was standing on Josh's lap with his head stuck out the window of the fast moving Jeep. It was quite a comical sight. His lips were flapping in the wind and his large floppy ears almost resembled sails. His rapidly wagging tail did much to enhance the comedic value.

A little over an hour after leaving Calgary, we passed the gates to Banff and once again we were captured by the intoxicating beauty of the Rocky Mountains. Other than a single rest stop to give Brutus a chance to empty his bladder, we pushed on and made excellent time. Less than an hour after entering Banff, we crossed the provincial boundary and entered British Columbia for the first time. Including Ontario, it was the sixth province of our cross-country tour and we began our visit in style.

Just east of the town of Golden, British Columbia, we turned a corner and came face to face with two very large wild rams crossing the highway. We pulled to the side of the road and Josh fired off a volley of digital camera shots. Brutus didn't quite know what to make of the large lumbering animals as they slowly crossed the highway and he began to bark at them. Being a young puppy, his bark, while well intentioned, wasn't very frightening to the animals and they mostly ignored him and went about their business.

After the rams passed out of sight, we pulled back onto the highway and pressed on to the quaint little town of Golden. After stopping for gas, we continued our westward journey until we reached the town of Revelstoke. Revelstoke is a picturesque small town nestled at the foot of towering Mount Revelstoke. It's not far from Mount Revelstoke National Park, which forms part of Glacier National Park.

We stopped at a local restaurant and enjoyed a large dinner before pressing on. The fact that we had only picked at our lunch earlier in the day had left us ravenous by the time the dinner hour arrived and the food at the local diner was hot, filling and good.

After dinner, we elected to press on. We drove for another three hours and arrived at the city of Kamloops just after 8:00 PM. We found a motel that allowed dogs in the rooms and checked in for the night.

Between the hectic driving schedule and the late night the evening before, both of us fell asleep as soon as our heads hit the pillows. I wasn't at all surprised when I woke up later in the night and found that both Josh and Brutus had climbed in with me. Josh was snuggled up against my side and Brutus had crawled under the covers and fallen fast asleep between Josh's and my legs.

We awoke early the next morning and after a quick breakfast in the small restaurant adjacent to the motel, we hit the road once again. So far, the second half of our trip was going extremely well. Brutus was proving to be a joy to travel with and never gave us any problems. He didn't have any accidents and he was extremely well behaved.

We arrived in the small town of Hope just before noon. As soon as we hit the main avenue, Wallace Street, Josh remarked, "Dad, this looks like an Alpine Village you'd see on a postcard."

I could appreciate Josh's comment as we got out of the Jeep to stretch our legs. This was a compact little town, no building over two storeys high, everything crisp and clean, and some of the buildings with painted murals of wildlife on their blank walls. More impressive are the many carvings. The Town has the unique title of being the Chainsaw Carving Capital. With Josh armed with the video camera and me with the digital, we set off on foot to scout the streets and avenue around the town. So many motels and so many tour buses around the main town square.

There were mostly Korean and Japanese tourists flowing from the buses, each armed with a camera with relatives standing in front of the twelve-foot high bear carving. Surprising, Josh found out when he interviewed some of the local town folk, that they didn't mind that the tourists blocked the traffic flow down the main street in order to take the pictures. Many of the locals in fact, offered to take the pictures so that all members of the party could be in the photo.

We were both feeling the pangs of a late lunchtime hunger, so we headed for the Dairy Queen that was on the Trans Canada Highway #1. Once filled with cheeseburgers, coke and fries, we fed and exercised Brutus and then we hit the road again. Just down the road, the Trans Canada became a freeway and again we headed west towards Burnaby and Vancouver.

About ten kilometers down the freeway, Josh let out a cry, "OH FUCK, DAD!"

"What Josh, what?" I cried out, worried sick when I glanced at his grimaced face as he gripped his leg.

Brutus was obviously as alarmed as I was and he was on full alert as he jumped onto Josh's lap and began to kiss his face.

"Cramp!" He whimpered, "Oh God it's killing me!" He kept grabbing his leg in what could best be described as a tourniquet grip.

I looked ahead and cut quickly to the right onto the off ramp. I could have cut someone off if they'd been there. Frantic, I saw a rest area sign on the off-ramp and headed for it, no doubt exceeding any speed limit. There was a mini van parked at the curb beside a grassy area, and I slammed on the brakes, skidding on the light gravel as I came up within a foot of the vans back bumper.

A gray haired man was bent over with his head into the red van, and as I came to my dusty stop, he stood up and looked directly at me and quickly walked towards the Jeep as I was running around the front of it to get Josh out of the Jeep so I could start massaging his leg. Brutus, who had jumped out behind me, paced frantically at my feet.

He looked at me calmly. "Hi, what's wrong?"

"My son has a bad leg cramp!" I almost yelled.

Right away, the man was in high gear. "Get him out on the grass; I've got something that may help."

The man ran back to his van while I quickly pulled Josh out of the Jeep. Now at my side, he watched me grabbing Josh's leg, preparing to massage it.

"Here," the man said as he took the top off a tube of what could have been toothpaste as far as I could tell at that point in my somewhat frantic state. "It's only Aspercreme, but it may help."

He immediately spread some of the white liniment onto Josh's leg, from the top of his knee to the ankle. Josh's pain-filled face and whimpers never subsided.

"Josh, it's going to be OK. We'll get it out." I said to reassure him.

"You work on his calf," the man said, "I'll work my way up from his ankle. Work it steady and get under his knee as well. Those tendons will be pretty darned sore too." Then he spoke loudly, "Hey Brandy, get over here and give this lad some kisses."

Needless to say, THAT sparked my attention, until I realized that Brandy was a dog; a beautiful collie cross; bounding from the bushes, quickly came over to us and started to smother Josh's face with a thorough tail-wagging tongue-wash.

Brutus; thrilled to see another canine ran around the larger dog's legs and jumped up and down excitedly. Pretty soon, he joined Brandy in trying to alleviate Josh's pain.

As the two of us worked his leg, Josh's painful whimpers started to intermingle with small giggles from the pleasure he was getting from the excited dogs.

Together with our four hands, the knot gave way and we started to lighten up the depth of the effort, until it was just a light massage; Josh now laughing as he enjoyed the dogs snuggling up to his face.

"It's a good thing you're wearing shorts today Lad, or this could have been a wee bit embarrassing," the gentleman said as he stood up.

I let out a sigh of relief, knowing that all was well with my son again.

"Brandy, go get the towel," the man commanded. As the dog took off with Brutus following closely behind, he looked down at Josh and said, "Feeling a bit bet..... ter... Lad....?" His voice trailed off as he stared at Josh. "Oh my God!" He exclaimed with a big smile, nearly laughing. "I know you! You're Josh Chambers and..." he looked at me, "My God! You... you're Tom Davis. Where's Mark?!!" He was near shouting in his exuberance.

Brandy had returned with the towel she had retrieved from the van. Brutus was clinging to the end of the towel and trying his best to keep up with Brandy. Brandy didn't seem to be the least bit perturbed by the puppy's antics and she seemed to be enjoying his company.

"Good girl!" he praised the dog as he picked up the towel and offered it to me to wipe the cream from my hands.

"Yep, that's us!" Josh grinned as he continued to lie there and I rubbed his leg with the towel. "Mark's in Calgary with his brother Bryan. They were with us when we were in the Rockies, but Dad and I are continuing our trip across Canada together. Oooh, that feels so much better Dad."

"Good son. Mister, thanks a lot for your help. We really appreciate it." I said smiling as I returned the towel.

"No problem. The name's Donald. My friends still call me Donny," he said as we shook hands. "I watched your medal presentation on the news and then switched over to the Alzheimer's News Station where they repeat and repeat the same stories twice an hour. I taped it because it was so inspiring, especially that interview with the Prime Minister. Josh those were great words and advice you gave him. I watched it again just the other night. Even my partner thought it was great and he used to think that the Prime Minister was doing a great job. Mike isn't going to believe this! Just lay there Josh, I'll be right back."

As Donny stepped back to his van, a middle-aged overweight woman approached from across the road. "Brrraaaannndeeeee!!" she shrieked. Brandy went right up to her and started with a whimpering, wagging tail. Brutus ran over to Josh and stood protectively over him as the strange woman approached. "Hey Mister," she sounded as if she was yelling; yet she was only five feet from us. "Watcha doin molestin that boy dare?"

Donny came behind her carrying an ornate walking stick, and said, "Not now Rosie. No one's molesting the boy. He had a cramp. Rosie," Donny said in a stern voice, "where's Glen?"

Immediately, Rosie started lifting her arms from her side and back down repeatedly. "Glen, Glen, who knows. Who knows where Glen is..." She repeated the statements several times at a lower tone of voice continuing to raise and lower her arms.

"OK Josh," Donny said, placing the walking stick beside his arm, "let's get you on your feet." While we held Josh under his arms and Josh grabbed the walking stick, he finally rose to his feet, still not touching the ground with his affected leg. "OK, that's good, now stretch your leg down to the ground and take a few steps. Use the stick if you have to."

I watched carefully as a smiling Josh followed Donny's instructions. He limped a little using the walking stick for the first few steps and then he held the stick off the ground as he continued to walk in a circle without any limp. He was as good a new and I was relieved.

"Josh, you're about fifteen?" Donny asked.

"No sir," Josh replied with a smile, "I'm only thirteen. Thirteen and a half anyway."

Donny tilted his head and smiled, looking at Josh. "Well you're going through quite a growth spurt then. It seems that your bones are growing a little faster than your muscles and that may be causing the cramps. I was getting cramps a little while ago, and the doctor put me on a calcium supplement." He looked over at the Jeep, then back at both of us. "You're a long way from home and I'll bet you've been on the road for quite a while, and... I'll reckon you've got a long drive ahead of you yet. Maybe you're not getting regular exercise sitting in the Jeep. Being on vacation, my guess is that maybe you're eating in a lot in restaurants and a few fast food places and... probably your diet's a little out of whack. I'll bet you're not drinking your four glasses of milk a day."

Both Josh and I had a sheepish grin on our faces, embarrassed by the truth of Donny's statement.

Donny looked at Josh seriously. "How often has this cramping been going on?"

Josh looked a little dejected. "Maybe a couple of times a week."

"JOSH!" I exclaimed. "You didn't tell me."

"Dad I didn't want to disturb your sleep when it happened, you needed your sleep 'cause you're driving all day. So, I'd just get up and I've been able to work it out by myself..."

"Guys," Donny interrupted, "it's more important now than any other time in your life. You're experiencing the effects of what could get worse if you don't pay attention now to what your body needs to grow strong and healthy. Don't be afraid of fresh fruit, vegetables, and milk. The choices are there and as with everything in life, the right choices from the menu are obvious. Now Josh, how about if you take a walk around the rest area here. It's about a mile around the perimeter. Brandy will go with you and you'll be fine. What's your little critter's name anyway? He's a cute little fellow."

"His name's Brutus. We found him abandoned by the road near Calgary. He has a sister called Daisy. She stayed with Mark and Bryan," Josh answered.

"Good job in rescuing them. It's a shame that someone abandoned such wonderful dogs. Brandy seems to have taken a liking to him. I guess it's some sort of natural mothering instinct," Donny said.

"What about Rosie?" I asked quietly with some anxiety. Somehow, her demeanor made me apprehensive.

"Not to worry." Donny said with a smile as he bent down on one knee to the dog, pointed to Josh, and said, "Brandy – guard."

"Then standing up, he said, "Off you go Josh, at your own pace." Then he looked at me. "Josh will be OK Tom, anyone gets closer than three feet, Brandy'll back them off. Brutus looks like he'd give anyone a hard time too if they wanted to harm your boy."

The first thing Josh did was go to the Jeep, retrieve the video camera, and with Brandy and Brutus at his heel, he started on his walk. It was surprising to watch Brutus lose his playful puppy shenanigans, as he mimicked Brandy's responsible attitude. Side by side they walked, ever alert, with their eyes constantly watching Josh's back. We continued to watch, me in apprehension as Rosie started following them every step of the way, but she did keep her distance.

"Does Rosie have a serious problem?" I asked with honest concern.

"Well, I can't say she's harmless." Donny began with a serious tone. "If she stays on her meds, she acts like she is now. It's a shame Tom. Back in the late eighties, when the government did all those health care cut-backs, the government reassessed a lot of the institutionalize people that were in the system and decided that those who wouldn't be a harm to themselves and to others, should be put into the general population with a 'less than great' disability pension. That way they could close up many of the health units and lay off a whole whack of health care workers. It could be it made the bean counters look good, but for some of the patients, maybe it wasn't that great. For some it was probably a good move. They're what I call the invisible ones. They ended up getting a good job and together with the pension are probably doing OK... maybe they shouldn't have been in the institution in the first place. In Rosie's case, I think they made a mistake. Maybe her pension money is gone before she buys her meds and she goes off the deep end, screaming at everyone here in the rest area. She lives over there in that trailer by the bushes with Glen, the custodian, but he has other rest areas to look after as well and can't be with her 24/7. Brandy and I come here twice a day for about an hour, but she has a lot of free unsupervised time on her hands. Rosie has four children, but she can't visit with them unless another adult is there to supervise the visit. So, sometimes the tourists have to suffer the rants and ravings of Rosie, and she gets as much verbal abuse as she puts out. After a number of complaints, they'll probably put her back under watch in some institution. It's a shame, but governments don't like to admit when they've made a mistake... as Josh so properly pointed out to the Prime Minister. You're doing a great job of teaching him. He has great insights into the problems of today."

I smiled. "Donny, believe me, it's not my teaching him that's doing it. It's a built-in innate sixth sense he seems to have, plus a personality that could melt the North Pole ice pack."

We continued to chat back and forth as we watched Josh make his way around the rest area, interviewing a few of the picnickers. I told him about Bryan and he told me about his life partner of twenty years, Mike. Our short visit left me with a warm feeling as I thought of the next twenty years of happiness I'd have with Bryan, Josh, Mark, and our extended family.

As Josh and his guards returned to where we were standing, he turned around and aimed the camera at Rosie. "Well Rosie," he said, "Did you enjoy our walk?"

"Yeeaaahh!" She smiled a toothless grin that turned into a laugh. It seemed that Josh could even melt the heart of the disheartened. "I'm gonna be famous! I'm gonna be in the movies!" Rosie carried on as she started her arm waving again and headed across the road towards her trailer.

"Josh, that was so good. You made her happy and for that, I'm grateful. She doesn't get a lot of simple things to amuse her, and for now, and probably for the rest of the day, she won't be able to quit smiling." Donny said. After listening to what Donny had told me about Rosie, I had to agree.

Josh smiled one of his widest, just shaking his head. "Isn't that why we're here? Doing our best to keep others less fortunate happier than they were before we came along."

Donny just laughed, me along with him. "Yes Lad, that's what it's all about!"

I grabbed the camera and set it up on the hood of the Jeep, set the timer and got a great photo of Josh, Donny, Brutus, Brandy, and myself. Donny asked if I could e-mail a copy to his partner, Mike. I certainly agreed. I knew it would be a surprise that Donny's partner would have to believe when he downloaded his e-mail.

As much as we wanted to listen to the wisdom this man had to share, we needed to get on the road again – our destination still Vancouver and then Burnaby to visit Shelly and her family.


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