Substitute Dad

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

Chapter 42

Marathon of Hope

The morning of the big run, we got up bright and early. Josh did some stretching exercises that Mark had recommended to him while Susan fixed him a light, high energy breakfast. I printed out a map of the route and plotted the various points where Susan and I would meet Josh along the way.

In order to be as safe as possible, the route would stick mainly to bike paths in parks and would cross roads only at certain points. It was at those crossing points where we planned to meet him. We figured that we'd see the start of the run and then meet him ever kilometer or so and then be at the finish line when he made it to the end.

On the way to the school, we stopped and picked up a few bottles of water and Gator-Aid and placed them in a cooler with a couple of ice packs.

"You ready for this bud?" I asked.

"Oh yeah. This is going to be exhausting, but I'm going to do it. I can't let Shelly down and all those people who donated money."

"You're not going to let anyone down. You've done something amazing already, son," I said.

"I know, but I still have to finish the run though."

"I still can't believe how much money you raised," Susan said from the driver's seat.

"No kidding," I added. At last tally, Josh had single-handedly raised more than $58,000 from more than 700 donors. He had people from all over Canada and even people from other countries such the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia send money. Somehow the word got out and people responded. Donations were still trickling in. Josh's school, with over 200 kids running, raised another $20,000 bringing the total for the day to nearly $80,000.

Although this wouldn't be the largest race with the most participants in Canada, it was certainly one of the highest donations per participant for the Terry Fox Marathon of Hope.

We hadn't told Josh yet, but Susan and I had been informed that there was to be a special presentation after the run. A representative of the Terry Fox Foundation was going to be at the school to present Josh with a special commemorative medal in recognition of his fundraising efforts. There was going to be another special guest present compliment of Susan.

Susan had my video camera in her hands as the kids formed up to start the run. Josh, as always was front row center hamming it up for the camera. He looked very handsome in his running shorts and looked ready to run like the wind. I snapped some photos with my digital still camera.

The principal fired his starter's pistol and the kids took off in one large pack. It was amazing seeing so many young kids following in the footsteps of Terry Fox. As I watched those kids take off running, it gave me a profound sense of hope that maybe we could actually beat this disease one day. Susan and I headed off to the first checkpoint where we'd meet Josh.

We arrived at the first checkpoint about three minutes before Josh arrived. The first runners were arriving just as we got there and Josh was in the front third of the pack, pacing himself and not racing, just as Mark had told him to do.

He was a bit sweaty, but was still obviously quite energized. He slowed his pace as he approached.

"How are you doing honey?" Susan asked.

"I'm ok. Two down, eight to go!" he said.

"Want some water or Gator-Aid?" I asked as I trotted carefully along beside him. He had slowed his pace a bit so that I could keep up without risking hurting my leg.

"Thanks Dad," he said. He took the offered bottle of water and poured some over his head and then handed the rest back. He then took a bottle of Gator-Aid and drank some down before handing it back and picking up the pace again.

I watched him with pride as he ran on. Josh had grown several inches over the course of the year and was now only a couple of inches shorter than me. He wasn't at all out of breath and his long legs kept a strong steady pace. His strong heart no doubt keeping an equally steady metronome-like tempo.

At the next check point, which was near the half way point in the run, Susan and I switched places. I ran the video camera while Susan handed Josh the water and Gator-Aid. As with the previous time we'd seen him, he was still going very strong. His face was a bit red and he was getting sweatier, but he was still breathing steadily and still maintaining his strong regular pace. Again, my pride soared as he maintained his determined effort.

By the time we got to the third checkpoint, it was obvious that some of the kids were slowing their pace somewhat. Josh was a bit farther back, but he was still going strong as I met up and handed him a bottle of Gator-aid. I smiled as I watched his Adam's apple, which had become more prominent lately, bobbing up and down as he drank deeply from the bottle.

"Careful bud, you don't want to give yourself a cramp," I said.

"I know Dad. Thanks," he said.

I reached out and placed my hand on the side of his neck and felt his strong and steady pulse as he dumped some water over his head.

"Looks like you're still going strong," I said. "How do you feel?"

"Like a million bucks," he replied and then ran off.

"I'll bet he's really going to feel like a million bucks when he's done," Susan chuckled.

"I'll say. I felt his pulse and he's running like a fine watch. I think Mark's advice helped a lot."

From there, Susan and I made our way back to the school and the finish line. By then, most of the kids were running out of steam, but tended to get a surge of energy as the finish line came into view.

We saw Josh come into view at the far end of the school yard and Susan started filming the end of his run. He had run just under 10 kilometers with only 400 meters left. We could see that he was tiring quite a bit, but like the other kids, he got his second wind when he saw the finish line.

I could almost hear the "Chariots of Fire" theme as he stepped up his pace and ran towards us and his goal. He was doing really well until he hit the curb awkwardly and stumbled. He rolled his right ankle and tumbled to the ground with only 100 meters to go. Several of the other kids stopped to help him up and without even thinking about it, I ran to him. He was only about 25 meters from us.

"Its ok guys, I've got him," I said to the other boys who had stopped to help Josh. "Are you ok bud?" I asked tenderly as I gently brushed the grains of grit from his slightly skinned knee.

"I'm ok but I twisted my ankle," he said through gritted teeth.

"That's ok bud. You made it."

"Not until I cross the line," Josh said firmly.

I stood up and reached down to help him up. "We'll do it together then son. Lean on me."

"What about your leg?" Josh asked with a concerned tone.

"You let me worry about that. Lean on me and we'll finish this together," I said firmly.

Josh got to his feet and put his arm around my shoulders. I saw a couple of Saint John Ambulance volunteers coming our way, but I waved them off. "Ready?"

"Let's go," Josh said.

With Josh leaning hard against my shoulder, we began to run together. When we viewed the video later on, we both agreed that our gait looked very much like that of Terry Fox himself.

I could feel Josh's heart pounding against my side and I focused on that for strength. With each step we took, I felt an increasingly painful jarring sensation in my damaged leg, but I wasn't about to let my son down. He needed to finish the run and I was going to do what I needed to do in order to help him.

"Dad are you sure you're ok?" Josh asked as we neared the finish. "You're grimacing like you're in pain."

"I'm ok son," I said. "This is my job. I need to do this for you."

"I love you so much Dad," Josh said warmly as we kept heading for the finish.

It seemed to take us forever to make that last 100 meters. I knew that I'd pay for it, but that wasn't important to me. I promised Josh that I'd always be there for him. I promised him that whenever he needed me that I'd be ready to support him.

When we finally broke through the finish line, there was pandemonium. There were news cameras and reporters with cameras and a massive crowd of teachers, parents, and students. They were all cheering for Josh. We barely noticed them as we headed straight for a bench. Each one of us needing the support of the other.

Josh helped me into a sitting position and then sat down next to me.

"We did it Dad," He said and hugged me fiercely.

"You did son. You made it," I smiled through the pain and hugged him back.

"Are you boys alright?" Susan said as she caught up to us with the video camera still running.

The Saint John Ambulance volunteers arrived at about the same time. They dressed Josh's skinned knee, checked on his ankle and checked out my leg. Fortunately, neither of us was really any worse for the wear.

"I'm so proud of you honey," Susan said and hugged Josh tightly. I snapped a photo for the family album as they embraced.

Susan handed Josh the last bottle of Gator-Aid as we watched the last of the kids make their way across the finish line. While some of them walked the final few kilometers, everyone eventually finished the run.

After we relaxed for a few minutes, we both stood up and walked around a bit to keep Josh's muscles from tightening up on him and to try to stretch out his sore ankle. While it had been a painful injury, it was superficial, and by the time the last of the runners crossed the line, he was pretty much walking normally.

After a while, Josh headed into the school to shower off and to get changed into street clothes. He knew that there was going to be an outdoor assembly of sorts, but he had no idea that he was going to be the recipient of a reward. When he returned about ten minutes later, he looked very clean and refreshed. He was his usual handsome, happy, and confident self.

I was still limping a fair bit and he insisted on walking with me and offering me his shoulder for support. "Are you sure that your leg is ok Dad?" Josh asked tenderly. The concern in his voice was obvious.

"I'm ok kiddo," I replied. "I'm so proud of you right now," I said.

"I feel great. I can't wait to tell Mark how it went."

"I'm sure that he's looking forward to hearing all about it," I replied.

The local Tim Horton's restaurant had donated several large boxes of Timbits (doughnut "holes") along with a large quantity of fruit juice and milk for the kids along with tea and coffee for the adults.

We all indulged ourselves while we waited for the presentation. Once all the students had made it back and had changed into their street clothes, the principal began the presentation.

"Students and parents, it's my great pleasure to introduce Ms. Heather Aldrich from the Terry Fox Foundation. She is here to make a special presentation today."

All the assembled students and teachers clapped as a kindly looking middle-aged woman made her way to the microphone setup on the makeshift stage.

"Good afternoon everyone. It's a real joy for me to be here. I've worked with the Terry Fox Foundation for a number of years and visiting these run sites is always one of the highlights of my job. Every year, millions of people across Canada and around the world, run in Terry's name to raise money for cancer research. Terry realized his dream to raise $1 for every Canadian and in the years since, that goal has been realized over and over again. It's young people such as yourselves who will ensure the continued success of the Marathon of Hope.... also it's your generation that will ensure that the memory and the legacy of Terry Fox lives on."

Ms. Aldrich paused as everyone clapped.

"Today I have a special honour. Besides being here to support you on your run and to thank you for your efforts, I am here to honour the efforts of a very special young man. This young man has raised more than anyone else in Canada this year for the Terry Fox Foundation and I was told that he was primarily responsible for organizing this event today. On behalf of the Terry Fox Foundation, I'd like to call upon the president of your Student's Council, Josh Chambers."

Everyone broke into applause again as Josh stood red-faced. After Susan and I prodded him forward, he gingerly made his way to the stage.

Josh mounted the stage and stood beside Ms. Aldrich.

"Josh, in recognition of your extraordinary efforts on behalf of Cancer patients everywhere, it is my great pleasure to present you with the 2000 Terry Fox Foundation gold medal for fundraising." She placed a shiny gold medal around Josh's neck and then shook hands with him and smiled for the cameras. Josh smiled broadly and looked somewhat overwhelmed by it all.

"Thank you," He said almost speechless. He then composed himself and took the microphone. "Wow! This one's for Shelly," he began quietly. "Thank you for this medal, but as far as I'm concerned, everyone here deserves this just as much as I do. Every one of you who ran today is a hero to some boy or girl in a hospital room somewhere. One of us here today may have raised the very dollar that will eventually find a cure for cancer. We raised almost $80,000 together because we decided to work together and accomplish something. I hope that we've set an example for other kids in other schools to follow. Maybe next year, ten schools will hold their own Terry Fox Runs. Maybe the year after that, 100 schools will do it. Let's not stop here. Let's make it happen." Josh finished his impromptu speech to thunderous applause.

Once again Susan and I watched Josh and stood in absolute awe of the amazing young man that he was. When Josh spoke before crowds, you could clearly sense the outstanding man that he was going to become. That he was growing up was obvious. You could hear it in his subtly deepening voice and you could sense it in his ever growing vocabulary. Josh had already developed a real knack for saying exactly the right things at the right time.

"We have one more presentation to make," the principal announced after he came forward and placed a hand on Josh's shoulder. "We have another special visitor to our school today."

Only a couple of us knew what was coming next. Josh had no idea.

"Today's special visitor is a very special person. This person is one of those that Josh spoke about today. Our visitor is a cancer survivor who has made a very special trip all the way from Burnaby British Columbia to be here today."

I zoomed the video camera right in on Josh as his jaw dropped open almost comically as what his principal said sank in.

"Without further delay, I'd like to welcome Shelly and Debbie Mason."

Applause was thunderous as Debbie and a pretty little girl that I almost didn't recognize hopped out of a nearby van and ran up the stairs onto the stage. Shelly ran straight to Josh and hugged firmly while planting a kiss on his cheek.

Shelly's transformation since the last time that I'd seen her was astounding. She had regained the weight that the cancer and the chemo had caused her to lose. She had more colour in her face and her golden hair had begun to grow back in earnest. When we first met her, she had appeared to be a tiny rail-thin girl who was fading fast, but now she looked like a happy, healthy growing girl.

We watched as Josh, with his arm around Shelly grabbed the microphone again. "This is who I ran for today," he said with a 1,000 watt grin on his handsome face. Taking the medal from around his neck, he slipped it over her head. Once again, Shelly kissed his cheek. "This is the face of all the kids that all of you ran for today," Josh added to raucous cheers and applause.

A few minutes later, the assembly broke up and the teachers dismissed the students for the day. Within seconds Josh, his ankle evidently not bothering him, ran to us with Shelly in tow.

Josh launched himself at me pulled me into a bear hug. "How's the leg Dad?" he asked.

"I'll be ok. Congratulations kiddo. I'm really proud of you," I replied.

"I couldn't have done it without you," he replied. "I'm guessing it was you who arranged to have Shelly and Debbie here?"

"Not me," I replied.

"I'm guilty on that count," Susan chuckled.

Josh immediately gave her the same hug treatment that he'd given me.

"You look so wonderful Shelly," I said, looking at Josh's gold medal gleaming in the sun.

"Thanks Tom," she replied and gave me a big hug. "I feel much better than I did last time you saw me."

"You really look like a million bucks," I said as she smiled and blushed sweetly.

Josh took a moment to introduce Shelly and Debbie to Susan. They were going to be staying with us for the weekend and flying home on Sunday morning. Debbie would stay in the third bedroom that Susan had turned into an office. She has a pull out sofa in there that is only big enough for one. Shelly would take Josh's room and Josh would stay downstairs with me.

That evening we decided that we'd introduce Shelly and Debbie to the Mandarin. When we got home, Susan and Debbie sat down in the living room to get acquainted with one another while Josh and Shelly took Brutus, who was very excited to see Shelly and Debbie again, out for a walk. Where Josh got the energy from to walk after running 10km was a mystery to me, but I suspect that Shelly had a lot to do with it.

I went down to my apartment to take some of my painkillers for my leg, which was throbbing a bit more sore than I had let Josh know. I spent some time capturing the video and images from the run onto my computer and emailed some of the highlights to Bryan and Mark.

When I was done, I grabbed an ice pack from the freezer, put it on my leg and stretched out on the sofa. I must have drifted off to sleep pretty quickly because the next thing I remember was Brutus' cold moist nose poking me in the face.

"Hey Brutus," I said as I opened my eyes.

The big pup started licking me madly in the face and wagging his tail at warp speed.

"Hey Dad," Josh said. He was sitting on the sofa near my feet. "What's with the ice pack?"

"My leg was a bit sore," I said.

"You said you were ok," Josh replied. "You can't fool me Dad. Nobody can read you like I can. You hurt yourself today."

"Honestly bud, I'm fine. I can hack it."

"I feel bad that your leg hurts because you helped me." Josh said sadly.

"Don't feel bad at all bud," I replied. "Remember how I promised that I'd always be there for you. I'll always be there to pick you up when you fall. Today, I was there.... literally."

"I know that Dad. Thank you. What I said about heroes at the school the other day was right on. Above everyone else you're my hero."

"Bud, in many ways, like today, you're mine. What you did in organizing this run, in deciding to run it, in raising all that money was amazing. I can't tell you enough times how amazing you are and how proud I am of you."

"You know, I really like being president of the student's council," Josh said thoughtfully, "I thought it would be fun, but it's more than that. I like being someone that people come to with ideas and for help."

"You have a knack for it Josh. You are a rarity kiddo. You are a born leader. Some people call it gravitas some people call it magnetism. Whatever you want to call it, you have it."

"Not always. I didn't used to be like that."

"Oh but you were bud," I said and sat up. I put my arm around him. "Think about your days back at camp. Who was the one who organized the other kids into pulling pranks? Who was the ring leader for all the mischief?"

"Yeah, I guess that was me," he replied modestly.

"It was you. You've always been a leader Joshy. Whatever you do you're going to be a leader of some sort. I know that in my heart."

Josh smiled and turned his head to rub noses with me briefly. "Thanks Dad.... for everything."

A little while later, the five of us headed out to the Mandarin. Josh was the perfect gentlemen with Shelly. He opened her car door for her, pulled out her chair for her and even carried her plate to and from the buffet.

Debbie told us that Trevor and Eddie were having their own father-son weekend back in BC. They'd driven to the interior to do some camping. With Shelly being sick, they hadn't enough time together and this weekend would be great for both of them.

By the time we were eating our dessert, my leg had begun to throb again. I noticed Josh looking intently at me over the table. I winked at him and he subtly nodded back. Within a minute he was suggesting that maybe we should get going because he was pretty tired from the run. I knew that he wasn't. He could sense that I was in pain and that was all that mattered to him.

The truth was that we were all pretty worn out. The time difference was catching up to Debbie and Shelly. Josh was worn out from his run and the pain in my leg was wearing me out pretty quickly. Susan was the most alert among us.

After we arrived home, I went back downstairs to take a couple more Advil caplets for my leg and then sat down on the sofa once again while Josh went up to say goodnight to Shelly and to call Mark to fill him in on the day's events.

I gave Bryan a call on his cell phone.

"Hello?"

"Hey Bry!"

"Tom! Sounds like you guys had a heck of a day!"

"It was something. You guys watch the videos yet?"

"We did. Thanks for sending them. Mark just finished talking to Josh. You need to watch what you're doing with that leg of yours," Bryan admonished.

"Yes dearrrr," I replied sarcastically.

"I mean it Tom! You mean too much to me, Mark, and Josh for anything to happen to you."

"I know," I replied humbly, "but I had to help him though. You'd have done the same thing under the circumstances."

"I know.... I understand that." Bryan said. "I just don't like the idea of you getting hurt, but I understand it. Tom, I can't believe how good Shelly looks. It took me a minute to realize who she was."

"Same here. She's like a brand new girl." I replied. "How's my little buddy doing?"

"Mark? He's doing great. He's doing the Terry Fox run himself on Monday at his school. He's fitting right in with the cadets too. You know him."

"I do indeed know him. Give him my love will you?"

"I will. Now you get some rest. Love you."

"I love you too Bry... and I miss you. Take care," I said, ending our conversation.

I hung up the phone just about the same time Josh came down the stairs. He was dressed in a pair of shorts and a T-shirt and he had an armload of clothing and other things that he'd need the next morning.

"Shelly's gone to bed already," he said. "Want to watch some TV?"

"Sure bud," I replied.

Josh climbed up on the couch next to me. "How's the leg?"

"It's ok. I took some more Advil and it helps a lot."

"I wish I could do something for you."

"You're doing enough just being here bud," I replied.

The two of us curled up together and watched television for a couple of hours. Before long, the events of the day caught up to Josh and he was snoring softly next to me. Between resting my leg and the Advil, my leg was almost as good as ever. I carefully got up, turned off the TV and the gently carried Josh to my bed. I undressed him and tucked him in before retreating to the bathroom to brush my teeth and wash up.

While I was in the bathroom, Brutus came trotting down the stairs and stood behind me wagging his tail. Being a bit of a night owl, I was often up late at night and Brutus was a frequent nighttime visitor. I usually had dog treats or cubes of cheese from the fridge to give him. He'd grown considerably since we first adopted him and he was very much beginning to take the shape of an adult dog. While the fur on the backs of his ears remained velvety soft, he was losing his fuzzy puppy fur and growing the more coarse fur of an adult dog. Brushing him every other day had maintained his beautiful, healthy, black and tan colouring though.

You could also tell that he was maturing into an adult dog. He was friendly with everyone he met, but he continued to be quite protective of "his people". He'd taken on the habit of making the rounds several times each night. He usually slept in Josh's room or sometimes on my bed with me, but every few hours, he would get up and walk around the house seeming to check on everyone. It was as if he was keeping watch over his pack. That's what we all were to him. He'd taken to Susan right away and he seemed to have decided that his role was guard and protector.

He also made a heck of a welcoming committee each afternoon when I came home. One of the main reasons that I always considered myself to be a dog person was the way that a dog is always happy to see you. He or she will always welcome you home each day as if they hadn't seen you in years. No matter how rough a day you may have had, a happy welcoming dog could easily put a smile on your face.

With Brutus in tow, I climbed into bed after Josh and settled in for the night. Before I drifted off, I felt him snuggle up to me and I fell asleep listening to his slow and regular breathing.

The next day was a whirlwind. Josh, Susan, and I took Debbie and Shelly on a tour of southern Ontario. We started in downtown Toronto and ended up in Niagara Falls.

Before heading out of downtown, the five of us paid a visit to Toronto's most famous landmark, at the time, the tallest freestanding manmade structure on land, the CN Tower. The elevator ride to the main pod was a thrill in and of itself. The glass walled elevator feels as if it's propelled by rocket engines and hurtles upward at a rate of more than 25 feet per second. As it rises, you can feel your ears popping, just like when you're in a plane.

The lower level of main pod sits 1,135 above the ground. It contains seven stories and features an observation deck, gift shops, small movie screen and several restaurants. Other areas which are not accessible to the public include radio and television broadcast equipment.

One of the more recent additions was the glass floor. The glass floor is a large panel of high strength glass that you can walk on. If you look down while standing on it, you get the sensation of floating in the air more than 300 meters above the ground!

Josh, ever the prankster stood on the glass with the camera held over his head and took a picture than came out looking as if he was standing in mid air. I had him lay down on the glass and I took a "superman" type of photo of him flying over downtown Toronto.

It was a beautiful clear day and we were able to make maximum use of the telescopes and observation windows. We could actually see the American side of Lake Ontario from that vantage point.

After we finished with the glass floor, we rode another elevator another 100 meters further up to the Skypod observation deck. At a height of more almost half a kilometer high, the Skypod was at the time, the highest observation deck in the world. On a clear day, you can see for more than 120 miles in every direction. The Skypod even has a fully enclosed outer balcony.

"The cars on the roads look like toys from up here," Josh remarked.

"Can you imagine what they would look like from the top of the antenna spire?" I asked.

"How high is that?" Shelly asked.

"It's about 1,815 feet or 553 meters."

"I saw a show on TV about this place," Josh said. "They said that the antenna actually moves as much as six feet in any direction in the wind."

"That's so it won't snap off," Shelly said.

"That's right! Smart girl!" I commented. "The whole tower is made out of concrete and it's supposed to be able to withstand winds that are hundreds of miles per hour."

We headed back down to the main pod and stopped for lunch at the revolving 360 degree restaurant. The restaurant is a fancy dining establishment that slowly turns providing diners with an amazing view of the entire city. As with the night before, Josh proved to be the perfect gentlemen with Shelly and constantly doted on her.

Our next stop was the Brampton airport where Josh was scheduled for a flight lesson. He was ecstatic when Ken, his instructor agreed to allow Shelly to come along for the ride. She got to sit in the back seat of the Cessna 172 as Josh, with his instructor beside him, took the control and put the small aircraft through its paces. When they landed, the smile her face was priceless.

While Josh and Shelly told Debbie and Susan all about the flight, I spoke to Ken about Josh's progress.

"He's doing amazingly well. He's very instinctive.... maybe even intuitive," Ken said.

"I'm glad to hear it. I've had him up a couple of times and I was impressed."

"When does he turn 14?"

"February," I replied.

"I think he'll actually be ready to solo before then. I'll try to spend some more time on the critical points to balance everything out."

"He's had five lessons now right?" I asked.

"Yeah. He's able to fly his own approaches and he's done a couple of touch and go's now. He needs some more practice, but he's getting it."

"I'm guessing that spin training must only be a few weeks away now." I said.

"Yeah with his progress, I suspect we'll cover that in about three more weeks."

"Ok, that's going to be interesting for him. Thanks Ken," I said and we shook hands.

"So how did you like that?" I asked Shelly.

"It was great. It wasn't like being in a big plane at all. Josh is a really good pilot!"

"I'm not really a pilot yet. I still have to finish all my training. You should see Dad fly. His grandpa was a fighter pilot in World War Two."

"My Dad was a pilot too," I added.

"He was a policeman right? Josh told me a bit about him. I'm sorry that he died." Shelly said.

"Thank you Shelly. I'm sorry too. He was a good guy."

After leaving the airport, we headed to Niagara Falls arriving just before the dinner hour. I parked the Jeep and the five of us piled out and walked to the railing overlooking the Canadian side of the falls known as the Horseshoe Falls.

"I can feel the mist on my face," Shelly remarked.

"Me too," Josh replied. "That's a lot of water."

"I'll say! That's Lake Erie draining into Lake Ontario." I said.

"That's the United States over there, right?" Debbie asked.

"It is," I replied.

"Did you know that the border is the longest undefended border in the world?" Josh asked.

"I did hear that somewhere," Debbie said.

"We saw part of the border in BC," Josh continued. "It was just a curb."

"We should be thankful for living in a peaceful place," Susan said.

"I know this is a bit early, but did you guys know that Niagara Falls is known as the honeymoon capitol of the world?" I said to Josh and Shelly.

Immediately both of them turned bright red.

"You're asking for it Dad," Josh laughed.

"Look, there's the Maid of the Mist," Susan said pointing to a boat navigating the rapids at the base of the falls below. All of the passengers were clad in bright yellow raincoats.

"Imagine how wet it must be down there?" Josh said.

After we had admired the falls for a while we took a stroll to a nearby restaurant for a quick bit to eat before exploring the tourist trap area known as Lundy's Lane. It's loaded with wax museums and other bizarre attractions. We had a lot of fun in Madame Tussauds wax museum with Josh wasting no time in hamming it up with the wax statues of various celebrities.

When the tourist trap began to wear thin we headed back to the Jeep. The long and exciting day was beginning to take a toll on all of us. We hadn't been on the road home for long before Shelly fell asleep with her head on Josh's shoulder.

"I really want to thank you Josh," Debbie said softly so as not to disturb her daughter. "You've been so good for Shelly."

"I really do love her," Josh said sincerely.

Debbie smiled. "I know you do. She loves you too. She's gotten so much better since that first day in the Badlands. It's because of you."

Josh smiled; pretty much at a loss for words.

"You're special Josh. You're mature beyond your years, but there's something about you that I just can't place."

"Dad says some people call it 'gravitas'," Josh remarked.

Debbie chuckled. "It is that, but it's more than that too. You're meant for something important and I think Shelly is meant to be something important with you."

"I think we all believe that," I said.

"I agree," Susan added.

"My goal is to change the world in someway," Josh said and flashed his classic grin.

The next day we all shared a quite day at home talking and watching television before it was time to take Shelly and Debbie to the airport. Once again, we all climbed into the Jeep and again, Josh and I found ourselves at the airport saying goodbye to loved ones. It never got easier no matter how many times we did it.

Susan, Josh, and I all received heartfelt hugs from Debbie. "You guys take care of each other," she said emotionally.

Then it was Shelly's turn. She hugged Susan first and then me. "Take care of Josh for me," she said with a smile.

"I will Shelly. You take care of yourself too and keep giving those doctors something to scratch their heads about," I said with a grin.

Shelly rewarded me with a grin that almost matched Josh's in terms of wattage and intensity and hugged me fiercely again, giving me a kiss on the cheek, before going to Josh.

"I guess this is so long for now," Josh said softly.

"Not for too long though," Shelly replied.

"I love you Shelly, I'm so glad that you're getting better."

"I love you too Josh. I think I'm getting better because of how I feel about you." It was sweet – watching them kiss each other's cheek.

Josh and Shelly hugged for a solid minute before releasing each other. They were both smling, but misty-eyed as they said their goodbyes before Shelly and Debbie headed off to the departure gate.

The next few weeks seemed to fly by. We were deeply entrenched into our regular routines and we all knew that with each passing day, our planned family Christmas was a day closer to arriving. We stayed in constant contact with Mark and Bryan as well as Shelly and her parents.

Josh and Mark both continued to excel in Air Cadets and in flight school. Mark, whose birthday was in December, was hoping to solo before the year was out. Josh would have to wait until the New Year, but he wasn't complaining in the least.

Josh got started on his next pet project with the Student's Council at school. He was writing letters and making calls left right and center trying to get his idea of a "National Student Exchange" up and running.

"If we had International student exchanges to help us to learn about other countries, why don't we have National student exchanges with other provinces to help us learn about other Canadians?" Josh asked.

It was a good concept and he seemed to be making excellent headway in making it happen. He had even written the Governor General seeking support and had received a personally signed reply encouraging him to continue and offering moral support for the project.

I was making excellent progress on the multimedia program that I was working on with Bryan and I had settled back into my school routine nicely. I successfully challenged a number of my courses and received full credit. That allowed me to lighten my course load and devote more energy to the software project. It was nearing the point where it was just about time to start approaching investors.

During that time, I'd taken nicely to the role of training officer for Josh's cadet corps and was really enjoying passing on my skills and knowledge to such a great group of enthusiastic kids.

Then the day came in mid-October. In some ways, I was looking forward to it, and in others dreading it. The date of the judicial pre-trial for Josh's former relatives lawsuit arrived. That morning I woke up with a pounding headache due to the stress of it. I took my pills as I ate breakfast with Josh and Susan. Josh was coming to testify and Susan was coming along to provide moral support for both of us.

"You ok Dad?" Josh asked as he stood behind me and massaged my temples.

"I'm ok kiddo. Thanks. That really helps."

"Don't worry Tom, this is going to be over before you know it," Susan said.

Andy would be there and so would James, Anne, my mother, Darren Higgins and just about everyone else within the province of Ontario who cared about me. It turned out that we didn't need Mark to testify and it just didn't make sense for he and Bryan to fly out for a single day so they reluctantly stayed home expecting to be called and filled in on the details as soon as it was over.

The hearing was set to take place in Osgood Hall in downtown Toronto. Susan drove while I sat largely in silence. Josh, bless his heart, did everything he could to try to get me to smile or laugh throughout the entire ride downtown.

As soon as we arrived we were met by Professor Markinson and Andy who filled us in on what would happen. Josh's former grandparents and aunt were there. Josh hardly even looked at them and when he did, he glared. If looks could kill, all three of them would have been leaving in body bags that morning.

With the plaintiffs, was a rather frumpy looking man carrying a briefcase. He was obviously their lawyer and it was equally obvious that he was completely outclassed by Andy and Professor Markinson.

When we entered the court room, I sat at the defendant's table between Andy and Professor Markinson while Josh and Susan sat in the body of the courtroom with my relatives, Darren, Mom, James, and Anne. Already inside the courtroom were several of the bank tellers, the bank manager, police officers who had been involved in the investigation. I glanced around and nodded at the more than 20 supporters who were present that day.

"All rise," the court clerk said as the door to the Judge's chambers opened. "All persons having business before this court come forward and you shall be heard. Justice Howard Stanfield presiding."

We all stood up as the judge entered the room and took his seat. "Be seated please," he said.

"Your honour, this morning we have the matter of Chambers vs. Davis for judicial pre-trial."

"Thank you," the judge said. "You are council for the plaintiff's?" he asked of the frumpy looking man sitting next to Josh's former grandparents.

"I am sir. Walter Evans on behalf of the plaintiff."

"And for the defense?"

Professor Markinson rose to his feet. "David Markinson for the defense, your honour."

"Professor David Markinson? It's not often that we have someone of your standing appear before me, counselor," the judge remarked.

"Thank you your honour."

"I have read the complaint and the response and I must say that I find this whole mess disturbing," the judge said. "Mr. Evans, you may begin with your opening statement."

"Thank you your honour," Evans said as he stood up. "Your honour, this case is quite clear. Joe Chambers is dead and he is dead because he was gunned down by the defendant. He was simply minding his own business at the bank when...."

"OBJECTION your honour," Professor Markinson said rising to his feet. "It has been well established that the deceased was NOT minding his own business and conducting banking transactions on the day of this unfortunate event. He was in fact, robbing the bank."

"Your objection is sustained. Mr. Evans, the circumstances of the deceased being in the bank are not in dispute. It is an established fact and it is not open for discussion. You may continue"

"Joseph Chambers was shot dead by the defendant when he didn't have to be. His death has deprived my clients of income and of his love and companionship." Evan's continued.

Andy was about to stand and object when David put his hand on his arm, and scribbled a note on the legal pad in front of him - "We'll get them on witness examination."

"Mr. Davis should be forced to pay compensation to the defendants for their loss." Evans went on, "What they are asking for is simply justice because the police elected not to charge him with a criminal offense."

I swore that the Judge rolled his eyes before asking Professor Markinson to make his opening statement.

"Your honour, this case really is quite simple. The deceased, who had a criminal record longer than my arm robbed a bank with an accomplice with the full intention of taking a hostage, notably the accomplice's ex-wife, and killing her. He attempted to shoot the defendant and in fact wounded him in the process. Thankfully, the defendant had better aim than the deceased and as a result, Joseph Chambers paid the ultimate price for his actions."

"OBJECTION," Evans shouted. "It wasn't up to the defendant to play judge, jury, and executioner."

"Overruled. You can address that issue during witness testimony." The judge replied sounding more than a little aggravated.

"Your honour," David continued, "We ask that the plaintiff's suit be thrown out at this early stage in order to save my client the time, expense, and stress of having this meritless action hanging over his head. Further, we ask that the plaintiffs be required to pay my client suitable compensation for what he has already suffered as a result."

"The judge already dislikes their lawyer," Andy whispered to me. "That's a good start!"

After the opening statements, Evans began by calling Josh's former grandmother as a witness. After asking her about the supposedly idealic life she lived with her family and how wonderful her sons were, it was Professor Markinson's turn to cross-examine her.

"Ms. Chambers, you have testified about this wonderful life that you say you shared with your son Joe. Tell me, what did he do for a living?"

"He was a welder. A really good welder." She said emphatically.

"A welder. Great. Who did he work for as a welder?"

"He was between jobs when he died." She answered sadly, although in my mind, I questioned her sincerity.

"I see. Who did he work for six months before he died?" Professor Markinson asked.

"He was between jobs, I already told you that." 'Hmm,' I thought, 'That sounded more indignant... her true colours were starting to show.'

"Yes you did. How about one year before he died?" Markinson asked moving in for the kill.

"Nobody," Edith Chambers replied.

"Would you elaborate and tell the court what he was doing for a living, Mrs. Chambers?"

"He wasn't doing anything." She replied.

"Oh but he was Mrs. Chambers. He was doing time wasn't he? He was in prison." Professor Markinson declared.

"He was framed!" Edith shouted.

"I'm sure," Markinson smirked. "What crime was he in prison for?"

"He was framed."

"Come now Mrs. Chambers. We both know that he was in prison after being convicted of drug possession and impaired driving."

"So they say." Ms. Chambers said wryly.

"So the facts say, Mrs. Chambers. Out of the last twenty years of his life, how many of those years did Joe spend in prison?"

"I don't know." She answered quietly.

"You don't know? Shall I refresh your memory?"

Andy handed Markinson a piece of paper from the folder on the table.

"I have here defense exhibit number 1," Markinson said as he handed a copy to the judge. "This is a copy of the criminal record of Joseph Chambers."

Edith glared at him.

"According to this document, which has been certified by the RCMP, Joe spent 18 of the past 20 years in prison including no less than 8 separate sentences involving incarceration for crimes ranging from impaired driving and drug trafficking, to assault. Does that ring a bell Mrs. Chambers?"

"I didn't keep track," Edith responded.

"That's ok dear. The RCMP did keep track. Tell me, how did he have time to be a welder if he spent 90% of his time as a guest in the proverbial crow-bar hotel?"

"He was a welder," She responded defensively.

"Maybe on paper, but the truth is that he hadn't earned an honest buck in more than 20 years." Professor Markinson added.

With that brilliant cross-examination Professor Markinson had completely obliterated the claims of loss of income and loss of enjoyment that were at the heart of the plaintiff's case against me. Evans foolishly called Josh's former grandfather and aunt both of whom were demolished in exactly the same way. Actually, I was starting to feel a bit embarrassed for the remnants of Josh's family.

After a brief recess, we returned to the court room and it was my time to take the stand.

After being sworn in, Professor Markinson began.

"Tom, I'd like you to take me through the events of that day at the bank. Be as specific as you can and tell the court what you remember."

"I was at the mall with Josh and Mark. I believe that we were buying cell phones. We were actually leaving the mall by the exit that we were parked nearest to which was close to the bank. As we got near the bank, I heard some commotion followed by a gunshot and a woman screaming."

"How did you know it was a gunshot, Tom?" Markinson asked.

"I am very familiar with firearms. I spent some time in the military before I was injured and had to retire."

"Ok Tom, thank you. Continue please," Markinson said. In our earlier meeting, David had made a point to tell me to mention my military background so that we got it on the record before the plaintiff's lawyer could do so and try to make something troublesome out of it.

"A man ran out of the bank dressed in dark clothes with a mask on his head and a gun in his hand. I just reacted. With the help of Josh and Mark, I disarmed and restrained..."

"OBJECTION! He brutalized the man and broke his nose!" Evans shouted.

"Then you can deal with that on your cross-examination Mr. Evans, now sit down please!" The judge said.

"We disarmed the man thinking that he was the only robber. At that point, Josh shouted to me after seeing the second man in the bank, also masked, point his gun at us. With the first man's gun in hand, I dropped into a shooting position and fired three rounds at the armed man in the bank."

"Your honour, I'd like to have these documents marked defense exhibits two and three," Markinson said taking a number of documents from Andy. "The first is the police report including witness statements that fully corroborate my client's version of events. The second is the autopsy report on Mr. Joseph Chambers that confirm that he was struck by three fatal gunshot wounds, all fired from the pistol identified as belonging to his co-conspirator."

"Did you know who the man you shot was?" Markinson asked.

"No, I didn't. Not until several days later."

"Were you in fear for your life when this happened?"

"I was more in fear for the lives of Josh and Mark. My training allowed me to suppress my fear and deal with it. However, having said that, it wasn't long afterwards that the fear did catch up with me. After the adrenaline wore off, I was shaking like a leaf."

Markinson asked me a few more questions. The purpose was not to try the case here - just to demonstrate to the judge how absurd the plaintiff's claim really was. At the same time, the plaintiff's lawyer needed to prove that they had a valid case so that they could proceed to trial.

Then it was Mr. Evans chance to cross-examine me.

"Isn't it true that you had a history with Joseph Chambers?"

"I wouldn't call it a history. He attacked his nephew Josh at his father's funeral and I used a reasonable measured force to subdue him for the police."

"Reasonable force? You shattered his nose!"

"I did what I needed to do," I replied.

"You must have enjoyed the chance to shoot Mr. Chambers when it presented itself."

"I did not. I didn't know who it was. I just knew that he was a threat to myself and to the boys and I did what I needed to do in order to protect all of us."

"Did you enjoy it?"

"NO! I did not enjoy it. To tell you the truth, I felt awful about it. Taking a life, even one as meaningless as that of Joe Chambers took something out of me that I'll never get back. EVER!" I fumed. "Every day since that happened, I've psychologically beaten myself up over it. Every day I've had to look in the mirror and know that the face that is looking back at me is that of a killer. I know that what I did was justified. I know that I saved my life, the life of that woman and most importantly the lives of the boys. I hated doing it, but I'd do it again in a heartbeat if I had to!"

"So the army made you a real killer, eh?" Evans retorted.

"OBJECTION! The army didn't make my client a killer. The army trained my client to defend this country and he put that training to use to defend innocent lives." Professor Markinson was outraged.

"Sustained! Mr. Evans, I am losing my patience with you. You will refrain from maligning the men and women of our military and you will refrain for making ridiculous claims not supported by the evidence."

A chastened and defeated sounding Mr. Evans asked me a few more banal questions before I was excused.

"Your honour, the defense calls Mr. Joshua Chambers as our next witness," Markinson said.

"That won't be necessary counselor. I have heard enough to render my decision on this matter."

At that point my heart almost seemed to be ready to burst from my chest. I felt Josh's hand come to rest on my shoulder and I gripped Andy's left hand in my right. Professor Markinson turned to me and mouthed the words, "I think we won."

"In the matter of Chambers vs. Davis, it is the finding of this court that the action is completely and entirely without merit and should be dismissed forthwith. The action was predicated entirely upon a false and overly idealized picture of the deceased life and of his ability to earn money for the upkeep of his family. Further, the claims of wrongdoing against Mr. Davis are completely unsubstantiated and without merit and clearly fly in the face of the available evidence. In a finding of fact, I hereby rule that the actions of Mr. Davis in this case were warranted, measured, and fully justified. The fact that the government has seen fit to bestow upon Mr. Davis a medal for bravery due to these actions certainly bears that out. Now... with regards to compensation, I am awarding 100% of legal costs plus an additional $25,000 in punitive damages to the defendant, Tom Davis. Further, with regards to the actions and behavior of the plaintiff's counsel, this court finds that Mr. Evans acted in such a manner that he brings into disrepute the very legal profession. This court will be making submissions to the Law Society of Upper Canada disciplinary committee in that regard." With that, he banged his gavel and it was over.

After the judge left, we all jumped to our feet. I hugged and shook hands with Professor Markinson. "David, I can't thank you enough for everything," I said.

"It was my pleasure son. I'm thankful that I could help. You take care of yourself now."

I hugged Andy next. "You're the best bro," I said.

At that moment, Josh landed on me. He had run from the spectator seats around the gate and leapt into my arms.

"Dad! It's over!" He said happily. "We kicked their asses! I told you it would work out."

I hugged Josh as hard as I could and leaned my head on his shoulder. "Thanks bud. You made it much easier for me to get through this mess."

The whole group of us left the court room and headed to a nice restaurant for a celebratory dinner that ended up lasting well into the evening. I made the rounds and spoke to everyone who had come out to support me.

"Your performance on the stand would have done your dad proud today," Darren said and slapped me on the back. "Way to go."

With that mess over and done with, I felt as if I had a load lifted off my shoulders. When we got back to the house, Josh and I picked up the phone to call Mark and Bryan to tell them how it went.

"Hello?" Bryan answered.

"Bry! We did it. It's all over."

"Fantastic!" Bryan shouted and I heard Mark shout "Yes!" in the background.

"The judge didn't even need to hear all of our evidence, as soon as I finished on the stand, he stopped the whole thing and dismissed the action."

"I'm so relieved. Mark is too. He's been worried sick all day."

"Well I feel like I have had a load taken off my shoulders. The judge really let them have it too. He ordered them to pay $25,000 in damages plus all legal costs and he said that he was going to file a complaint with the law society over the behavior of their lawyer."

"Fantastic!"

We spoke for a few more minutes before Bryan put Mark on the phone.

"Hey kiddo, how are you doing?"

"Great Tom. That's fantastic news. I'm glad it's all over."

"So am I Mark," I replied.

"I was so worried about you."

"Yeah, I knew you would be.... it's kinda one of the things we do for one another, isn't it?" I asked.

I had no doubt that he had been worried. Mark and I had been strangers less than a year ago and now we had a connection almost as strong as that which I shared with Josh. As with Josh, if Mark was unhappy or worried, I couldn't help but feel the same thing and it was obviously the same for him.

"Yeah, Tom it is..." he answered, "maybe it's something Josh and I will always have with you and Bryan."

That night, I slept better than I had in a long time and the next day, I had more of a spring in my step than usual. Josh, who was always a happy-go-lucky boy was on cloud nine. Everything was perfect and on track. At least for the next few days.

The pre-trial happened on Monday and it was Thursday when I got the call from Susan as I was finishing my lunch in the cafeteria.

"Tom, I hate to ask, but I wonder if you could get Josh at school. He isn't feeling very well and I'm in Woodstock for a meeting."

Woodstock was a solid 90 minutes away from home. I could be at Josh's school in a matter of fifteen minutes. "No problem. I'm leaving now." No matter where I was or what I was doing, I'd have packed up and gone to Josh.

I arrived at his school just after lunch and went into the office to get him. Josh was sitting in one of the chairs looking kind of pale and his skin had a clammy feel to it.

"Hey bud, are you ok?"

"I fell sick and my stomach hurts," Josh replied.

"Don't worry; I'll take you home and get you looked after. Your mom's stuck in Woodstock, but she'll be home as soon as she can."

I signed Josh out and helped him out to the Jeep. I took it slow because he didn't look or sound well at all. When we got home, I took his temperature and gave him some water to drink. He had a bit of a fever, so I ran a relatively cool bath for him and got him into it.

I sat on the toilet seat while he soaked in the tub. "Feeling any better?" I asked.

"Kind of. My stomach still hurts though. It's mostly on the right side."

As soon as he said that, I had a flash back and alarm bells started ringing in my head. "Joshy, stand up for me for a second will you?" I asked.

Josh stood up in the tub and I reached over and gently pressed on his lower right abdomen. As soon as I did it he hissed in pain and started to bend at the waist. "That hurts," he said.

"Sorry Joshy, I had to check something. I think we need to get you dried off and dressed and take you to the hospital."

"The hospital? Why?" Josh asked with a worried tone.

I untucked my shirt and undid my belt and lowered my pants slightly to show Josh a small scar on my lower right abdomen. "That's where I had my appendix out when I was about your age. I think you might have to have yours out too."

"You mean an operation?" Josh asked somewhat alarmed.

"It's a minor operation Joshy. Don't worry, that may not be what it is, but we can't take any chances. If you have appendicitis, you need to get your appendix out right away. If you don't, it could burst and that can be fatal. Trust me bud."

"I do trust you Dad," Josh said and stepped out of the tub.

He stood still while I gently toweled him off taking great care not to push too hard on his right side. When he was dried off, I led him into his room and had him sit down while I grabbed some socks, underwear, a T-shirt, and a pair of shorts, then helped him dress.

I led Josh out to my Jeep and phoned Susan with my cell phone as we got underway.

"Susan, I think it's his appendix. I'm taking him to the Queensway hospital right now," I said.

"Oh dear. I'm leaving right now," She said worriedly. "You've got his health card and everything?"

"Yes, I have everything including the permission slip that you wrote out allowing me to authorize treatment."

After hanging up with Susan, I glanced over at Josh. "You hanging in there son?"

"Yeah, I'm ok," Josh replied weakly.

"Your mom's on the way."

We arrived at the Emergency entrance a few minutes later and after I described Josh's symptoms to the triage nurse, they took him right into an exam room, had him lie on the gurney, and a doctor was with us within a couple of minutes. He introduced himself as Doctor Wilson.

I held Josh's hand as the doctor gently pressed on his stomach as I'd done and checked Josh's vitals. He had a nurse draw some blood and then started Josh on an IV drip of antibiotics.

"Well Josh, it appears that you need to have your appendix out," doctor Wilson said.

"What's it going to be like?" Josh asked.

"Don't worry about it. You won't feel a thing. You'll go to sleep and when you wake up, it'll be all over," Doctor Wilson said.

"I'll be with you the whole way Josh," I said and squeezed his had. "I'll stay with you until they take you to the OR and when you open your eyes in the recovery room, my face and your mom's too will be the first thing you see," I said.

"Thanks Dad," Josh said.

A moment later a nurse came in with a hospital gown for Josh to change into. Sensing his discomfort and disrobing in from of a strange woman, she left the room to let me help him get undressed and into the gown."

"There's no back on this," Josh chuckled mildly.

"I know, I hate wearing those things," I said.

"Hey dad, they aren't going to…. you know…. shave my pubes or anything are they," Josh asked in a worried tone.

I smiled mildly. "No, I wouldn't worry about that," I said. I lifted the gown and very gently traced my finger along his lower right abdomen. "That's about where they'll make the incision."

Josh looked relieved.

"They used to make a much larger incision. Now they make just a small one and do most of the work with a tiny camera and surgical instrument. You'll probably only be in the hospital for a couple of days and back to school within a few more."

"Will you stay with me?" he asked.

"I will stay as long as you need me to," I replied.

"Thanks Dad," he replied.

I leaned down and rested my forehead against his and looked right into his eyes. "Remember, I'll always be here for you no matter what. You're the most important thing in my life kiddo. I love you more than you could ever imagine."

"I could imagine it because I love you just as much," He replied and kissed my cheek.

A few minutes later, the nurse returned and gave Josh a sedative to help him relax. If I wasn't so worried about him, I'd have found it pretty funny when he got a little loopy from the medication. I knew that it was a minor procedure but still, I'd have traded places with him in a second if I could have.

A pair of orderlies arrived to wheel him into the OR and I went with them holding his hand as far as they would allow me to. It was just a few minutes later that a very worried Susan arrived.

"He's in good shape. They just took him in now. It should be all over in about an hour," I said, hoping to reassure her.

"Thanks for looking after him Tom," Susan said.

The two of us sat in the waiting room and thumbed through magazines for about an hour before Doctor Wilson entered the room. He was still in his scrubs and he smiled as he shook Susan's hand.

"You must be Josh's mom. He's out of surgery and fit as a fiddle. There were no complications and he should be able to go home as early as tomorrow."

"Thank you!" Both Susan and I said in unison. We were both completely relieved to hear that.

"You did the right thing in bringing him in when you did," Doctor Wilson said. "Follow me and I'll take you to the recovery room."

When we arrived in the recovery room, Josh was still out like a light. I glanced at the heart monitor that was next to him and watched as it ticked off the strong steady beats of his heart. Susan leaned down and kissed his forehead while I placed a hand on his chest and felt the familiar rise and fall of his breathing. We each took a seat on either side of him and each grabbed a hand waiting for him to wake up. It didn't take long. He was pretty groggy, but he smiled brightly as soon as he opened his eyes and saw us.

I said a silent prayer of thanks as I felt him squeeze my hand firmly.


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