Substitute Dad

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

Chapter 47

A New Future

I didn't consciously open my eyes – it seemed to be a subconscious thing that happened. I looked at the clock, high on the wall across the room. It was 3:40. OH! The hospital – the operation – MY LEG! The apprehension closed in on me. I wiggled my toes and looked down – the blanket moved and I smiled, although my lips were very dry and my mouth was parched. I still had my leg!

"He's awake doctor," I heard to my left side. "Just open your mouth a wee bit laddie and I'll swab it out with some glycerin. Tastes like strong orange juice."

I focused on the voice. Elderly, overweight, but a warm, sweet, motherly smile. She was right – very strong citrus flavour, but very refreshing.

"Tom," I felt Dr. Trebber's hand on my shoulder before he spoke. "Everything went perfect. You're going to be fine. I'll tell you all about it after you've had a rest." My eyes had just focused on his face, when he turned and left my field of vision. My eyes got very heavy.

I couldn't open my eyes, but I knew I was moving. I felt arms around me; I heard the words, "Gently, gently, down easy." Then I felt the warmth of a blanket cozy around me. The pillow felt nice. The darkness of my subconscious mind was comforting. The dream was beautiful.

"I love you Tom." His hand was holding mine. It was Bryan's voice. Slowly the blackness of my subconscious turned to gray. My eyes opened into slits as I became accustomed to the brightness of the room and started to focus. I looked to the right and saw Josh's smiling face.

"Hi Dad," he said quietly.

"Hi Son," I whispered, trying to find my voice. He smiled, leaned down to kiss my forehead and then pointed to the other side of the bed.

I turned to the left to the person holding my hand. It WAS Bryan!

I smiled as I felt the comfort of his love envelop my being. "I love you too," I croaked.

"I know its Spring Break," Mark was smiling from Bryan's side of the bed, "but it doesn't mean you have to go BREAK a leg ya know."

"Oh Marky, sometimes a guy has to do...."

"Yeah I know," he interrupted, "what a guy's gotta to do. Well you don't get the medal this time. I think we'll give it to Brutus," he said laughing. I giggled at his sharp-witted quip.

"You guys didn't have to come all the way here." I said.

"If something had happened to me in Calgary, you and Josh would've been right there for us." Bryan said with a warm smile. "Right?"

"For sure!" Josh exclaimed and I nodded my head.

Then Brutus wiggled his way in front of Josh and put his front paws on the side of the bed. He let go with a low, happy howl. Although weak, I did ruffle his neck. "Yeah Brutus, you do deserve a medal."

Just then we heard a commotion outside the door. "I don't care! I'm going in to see Tom!" It was Susan's voice. I heard a bang against the door before it opened and Susan entered in a wheelchair.

"MOM!" Josh exclaimed as he went over to her and hugged her. "You're supposed to be in bed!"

"Oh poo Josh! I'm fine," she said as she wheeled over to the side of the bed. "Tom, I'm so sorry that Bob hurt you so badly. If you hadn't showed up when you did, I'm sure he would have killed me."

"Susan don't be sorry. Even Bob didn't know I had a bad leg. If he'd known he'd have kicked me deliberately. When I swung him around to slug him, he lost his balance and his foot smashed into my bad leg. Actually, I think he was a bit stunned when I fell to the floor." I explained. "How are you doing?"

"The doctors aren't sure.... they say that there's still a slight swelling around my brain, so they want to keep me here for a few more days." she said. "How about you... how are you feeling?"

"A bit groggy, but for the first time in a while, I can't feel any pain in my leg.... which is better than having no leg at all."

"All right ladies and gentlemen," the voice of Jenna sounded demanding, "Clear the room. MS. CHAMBERS! You get back to your room and get back into bed! Go on... move it. Bad enough that I have to deal with Naughty Josh!"

Susan grinned as she wheeled herself out of the door. "I'll see you later Tom."

"Now as for the rest of you.... I've got to check his blood pressure and pulse and the doctor's coming in to confer with his patient."

"Well I'm not leaving!" Josh retorted.

"I just got in from Calgary.... I'm not leaving," Bryan said firmly, still holding my hand.

"Me too!" Mark said with a smile.

"And I ain't goin' anywhere!" I added with a giggle. No doubt about it – it felt good to have the pain gone.

Just then Dr. Trebber walked in. "Whoa! I thought I met the whole family outside."

"Dr. Webber.... this is the Calgary part of my family," I began, "the man holding my hand is Bryan Callahan and the other joker is his brother, Mark."

"Hmmm," the doctor raised his chin and looked at each of us one at a time, "Medals of Bravery, right?"

We didn't say anything, we just grinned with pride.

"OK Bryan, I promise if you let go of his hand long enough for the nurse to take his blood pressure, we'll return it to you in good condition."

Bryan let go of my hand and backed away while Jenna moved over with a smile and cuffed my arm.

"OK Tom," Dr. Trebber began, "I'll start by giving you the simple bad news. You're going to be wearing a leg brace and be on crutches for the next few weeks. If you show more rapid improvement than expected, we may be able to lose the crutches and get you on a cane for a couple of weeks. The purpose is to give the incision a chance to heal." He smiled. "When we opened up your leg, we confirmed that the rod that was supporting your tibia had disconnected from the tibia at the lower end. That didn't surprise us.... we'd seen that on the x-ray. What didn't show definitively on the x-ray was the condition of the tibia over its whole length and that's what we had to confirm. We got a surprise.... it seems that the bits and pieces of the tibia have blended together over time and have healed into a full, strong tibia. It's not as smooth as an uninjured bone, but we did test its strength and found it doesn't have any weak spots. From that, we decided that the rod wasn't doing any good, so we removed it. There was a slight tear in the calf muscle from the screw that had dislodged, which was causing the pain you had, but we stitched it and expect it to heal OK. Although we removed the rod, we reinstalled the screws back into the tibia to maintain the integrity and strength of the bone. Because of the length of the incision we had to make in order to see everything inside and get the rod out, you'll have a scar to deal with, which as I said is the reason we don't want you to put any weight on that leg..... crutches only for the next few weeks. OK?"

"OK," I said humbly, as Bryan took hold of my hand again.

"After that," Dr. Trebber continued, "I want you in here to the Physio Department for a little rehab while we rebuild the muscle mass in your thigh. Understood?"

"Yes sir," I replied, "and after that?"

"After that you can go kick a football, play hockey, run a marathon if you wish.... I don't care. Your leg will be normal and strong."

"You.... you mean it?" I was flabbergasted.

"Of course I mean it Tom.... but you have to keep your weight off it for the next few weeks. Deal?"

"You bet!" I started to laugh at the thought as I extended my hand to shake his. "Thanks a million Dr. Trebber."

Josh practically jumped onto the bed with me and he hugged me very tightly. "Your leg's going to be good as new!" he said excitedly.

Bryan gave my hand a squeeze, then kissed it. "I am so happy for you.... somehow out of this bit of insanity we got a miracle. Tom, I'm going to get Andy to drive us over to the house so that we can get washed up.... I know Josh needs to have a shower," he winked at Josh as Mark put his fingers to his nose.

"Well Mark, you'd be pretty ripe too if you had to go through what he's been through during the past 24 hours." I said laughing. "I could probably enjoy a good shower myself, but you heard the doctor."

"I think I'll get Albert in here tonight and fix that problem, but right now I'm going to have to get this man some food. Supper should be around in just a few minutes." Jenna said.

"Hey we'll be back around six," Bryan said after Josh and Mark gave me a hug.

The five of them, Brutus included, were no sooner out the door when James, Anne, the twins and my Mom came through the door.

"Uncle Tommy!" The twins shouted in unison. It was their standard greeting for me. Both of them climbed up on the bed with me and immediately snuggled in.

"We just passed Josh, Mark, and Bryan on the way in. They said we should ask you about the good news," James said with a smile.

"I'm going to be on crutches for a while and I'll need some physio, but when all is said and done, my leg will be good as new," I replied.

"Good as new as in good as last week or as good as three or four years ago," my Mom asked.

"As good as it was when I was born," I replied with huge smile. "The doctor says I'll be able to play full contact football if I want to."

"That's fantastic!" Anne said enthusiastically as she leaned down to kiss my cheek.

"Does that mean that your leg won't hurt any more?" Matthew asked.

"It sure does. I'll be able to run and play with you guys just like Josh does."

"That's great!" Richard said enthusiastically.

"You must be due pretty much anytime," I said to Anne. "When will my newest nephew grace us with his presence?"

"Any day now, actually he's overdue by a few days," Anne replied. "Not soon enough either! My back is killing me."

"We've been carrying around her overnight bag everywhere we go," James said.

"We get to stay with Grandma," Richard announced.

"Yeah we're going to sleep in your old room while we wait for our new brother to get here," Matthew added.

"That's good boys. I'll bet you can't wait."

"We can't wait for you to get better too," Richard said seriously.

"Yeah, we don't like it when you get hurt," Matthew said softly.

I squeezed both of the boys gently. "I know guys. Don't you worry though; I'll be out of here very soon."

Anne couldn't stay on her feet for too long so after about half an hour she, James and the twins left for home and my mom went to visit Susan. I was glad to see that they were becoming really good friends.

Jenna returned and removed the saline drip in my arm and brought me the typical meagre hospital meal. I was hungry and it was good, but I still had images of the last hamburger I'd eaten before the operation.

While I was waiting for Bryan and the boys to return, Albert came in and helped me into the bathroom so that I could take a shower. We had to encase the lower part of my injured leg inside a plastic bag to keep the water off the stitches, but we managed. The warm water felt wonderful and aside from the dull ache from the incision, I felt like a million bucks.

When Bryan returned, they brought my laptop.

"There you go," Bryan laughed as he handed it to me, "play solitaire to your hearts content."

I laughed. He knew that would be the last thing I'd do on my computer. I'd be busy working on the some additions to my multimedia program. Then he handed me a disc.

"This is a DVD of the video I took the day that Michael soloed. Mark insisted that we had to be there. It's not too long, have a gander and then I'll tell you about what happened."

I watched the video from the time that Michael got into the plane until he landed. As with Mark and Josh it was a short perfect flight with a perfect landing. Then there was a blank spot and I thought it was the end.

Bryan said, "Watch."

I continued to watch the video as it changed to a shot of the outside of the small airport's terminal building. The door burst open and a good looking boy with short brown hair burst out. I smiled at Bryan as Mark ran into the frame and grabbed the boy pulling him into a tight congratulatory hug.

"Are Michael's parent's aware of their son's relationship with Mark?" I asked.

"The Burton's are great. They thought they were just friends, but I get the feeling that they know otherwise now and they don't seem to have any problem with it. Michael's mother commented about what a 'lovely boy' Mark is."

"That's great. How about his Dad?"

"His Dad's a great guy. He has a definite sense of humour," Bryan chuckled. "He told me that he told Michael about the birds and bees but was concentrating on the birds and forgot to tell him about those horny worker bees that had no contact with the queen."

We both had a good chuckle about that.

"What's so funny?" Josh asked as he and Mark bounded into the room.

"Something that Michael's Dad said," Bryan replied.

"Michael's a good looking boy," I said to Mark. "Good catch!"

Mark blushed slightly and pulled out his cell phone to show me a close up photo.

Michael was definitely a looker. He had very warm looking brown eyes, closely cropped light brown hair and a very slightly olive skin tone. "I'm sure that there are hearts breaking all over tonight Marky," I replied.

Mark grinned broadly. "I can't wait for you to meet him," he said. "He can't wait to meet you guys either. I told him a lot about our lives and he already thinks that you guys are the greatest."

The next day and a half went by pretty quickly. I kinda missed Josh sleeping in the room with me, but with Bryan and Mark to keep him company, he was happy to go home to his own bed. I had a constant stream of visitors, doctors and nurses, but during the few quiet moments that I had, I managed to write the final few lines of code for my multimedia program. I was looking forward to actually trying to market the program and I was already working to line up assistance in that regard.

Just after lunch on what would be my final day in the hospital, Josh, Mark, and Bryan arrived with Brutus in tow.

"Hey Dad," Josh said happily.

"Hey guys," I replied and exchanged hugs and kisses with each of them. "What are you guys up to?" I asked as I petted Brutus who was standing with his paws on my bed.

"Darren called and asked us to meet him here and to bring Brutus. He said he had a surprise for us."

Sure enough a moment later, Darren arrived pushing Susan in a wheelchair. With them was a lady that none of us knew.

"Darren! Nice to see you again," I said.

"You too kid," he replied. "This is Marjory Simms from Ralston Purina."

"Ralston Purina?" Bryan asked. "Pet food company right?"

"That's part of our business. We also sell feed for farm animals and even zoos."

"I told Ms. Simms about how Brutus had taken charge to save your lives and this morning she called the station and said that she had a special presentation to make," Darren said.

"This must be Brutus," she said and she knelt down and began to pet Brutus who was on his best behavior for her. "When we heard about Brutus' heroics the other day, I knew we had to do something. Every year we have an awards ceremony to award bravery medals to pets who have done heroic deeds and saved people's lives. When we heard that Brutus had saved three lives we knew that we had to honour him. We've already had this year's award's ceremony, so I decided to come here and see him."

"Thank you! That's so neat," Josh said.

Ms. Simms reached into her briefcase and removed a gold medal on a red lanyard. "Brutus," she said as she placed it around Brutus's neck, "You performed your duty above and beyond the call." True to form, Brutus placed a paw on her knee, reached up to her face, and gave it a little tongue lick. Smiling, she then gave him a final pat on the head and then stood up. "In addition to the medal, I have this certificate," she continued as she handed Josh a framed certificate.

"Very nice! We always knew he was an amazing dog," I said.

"There's more," Ms. Simms replied. "He also gets a year's worth of free dog food and a lifetime pet health insurance policy. The policy covers 100% of any veterinary bills throughout his life."

"You are too generous," Susan said.

"Well these amazing dogs are our bread and butter and we want to look after them," Ms. Simms replied.

Brutus looked quite proud of himself as he wandered around the room showing everyone his new medal. As he did that, Josh took a moment to tell Ms. Simms all about how we came to adopt Brutus and his sister Daisy.

"That is a truly remarkable story," she replied. "People sometimes get hung up on kennel club registrations and all that stuff, but the best dogs are the ones who are loved the most by their people. A dog takes in all the love you can give them and returns it to you a hundred fold."

We all knew that what she was saying was true. That much was obvious with Brutus. We all knew that Brutus would willingly and without hesitation give up his own life to protect any one of us.

After one more largely sleepless night in the hospital, it was finally time to go home. Dr. Trebber signed my discharge papers and Susan's doctors did the same for her. We were waiting for Bryan and the boys to arrive when James and Anne appeared in my doorway.

"Morning Bro," James said.

"We're here for one more checkup and thought we'd drop by and see how you're doing," Anne said.

"Going home at last. Both Susan and I are on our way out of here. We're just waiting for Bryan and the boys to come and get us."

"You must be happy about that!" James laughed.

"No kidding. I can't wait to sleep in my own bed and eat some home cooked food!" I said just as Bryan arrived.

"OK cowboy," Bryan smiled as he kissed my cheek, "Here's some duds for you to wear home. I picked the baggiest pair of jeans I could find in your closet. Josh and Mark are down the hall giving Susan her 'going home' clothes."

With Bryan's help getting me to the privacy of the bathroom, together we managed to get my old pair of jeans over the leg brace. When we came out of the bathroom, Susan arrived in a wheelchair with Josh and Mark.

"Well Dad," Josh said, "I think we're ready to blow this joint."

Suddenly, Anne grabbed her belly. "Oh boy. I need to sit down," she said abruptly.

"You ok dear?" James asked.

"I'm ok. My water just broke. Our third son is on his way," She said taking a few deep breaths. "Whooaa boy, I don't think he's too happy about it either."

"I'll get the nurse," I said as I hammered the call button. A moment later Jenna arrived.

"Are you ok?" She asked.

"I'm ok but it appears that my newest nephew is on his way," I said and pointed to Anne.

Jenna quickly sprang into action and they quickly got Anne onto a gurney and moved her to the maternity ward.

"Are we going to wait for the baby before we go home?" Josh asked.

"It could be a long wait," Susan replied. "He might not be born for a few hours yet."

Albert appeared with a wheelchair for me and handed Mark a pair of crutches to carry and then with Albert guiding Susan's chair, Bryan began to push me down the hallway.

Mark followed our procession holding the crutches together with Brutus on his lead, who proudly sported his bravery medal, while Josh walked between the chairs holding our hands with a big smile on his face.

Our route out of the building took us past radiology. Suddenly the door swung open and an orderly, accompanied by a police officer, pushed a gurney out. Handcuffed to the gurney was Bob.

I was stunned for a moment. "My God Bryan, it's Bob!" I knew that Bryan and Mark had never seen him before.

Susan gasped with a look of fear. "It's OK Susan, he can't hurt us anymore," I assured her.

"Well, well look who it is," Bob sneered. "Queen Shit and the crippled knight. I should've pulled the trigger before that fuckin' hairball got in the way."

Josh released my hand immediately, made a fist and lunged at Bob. "Fucking bastard!" he shouted." I thought he was about to knock Bob's block off when Albert caught him and stopped him.

"Easy Josh. Easy. That piece of trash isn't worth it." Albert said quietly.

"You look pretty crippled to me, you piece of shit!" Josh said angrily. "My Dad isn't crippled but you just might be. You're not even a real man."

By then the escorting police officer intervened. He pushed Bob back on the stretcher and said sharply, "Shut up asshole or I'll be forced to use my taser."

Bob looked as if he as about to say something else when Brutus stepped forward. The fur along his back was standing on end and he bared his teeth letting a deep snarl escape from his clenched jaws.

Bob noticeably blanched and then recoiled in fear from our very angry dog.

"Tough guy afraid of a puppy!" Mark taunted.

"Looks like he pissed his hospital gown," Bryan laughed. "Nice bracelets by the way. Better get used to them," he added.

"He'll have plenty of time to get used to them," the officer replied as they slowly pushed the gurney in the opposite direction. "He's not going to see the light of day again for a very long time," he added glancing over his shoulder at us. "He's going to have a great time in prison. A little birdie let it slip that he likes to be violent towards woman and children," the officer chuckled.

I looked up at all the faces in our group. We were all smiling.

On the way home, we stopped at the drug store and I filled my prescription for Tylenol 3s. Actually I stayed in the Jeep at Bryan's insistence and he went in and filled the prescription for me. It was sort of a preview of what the next little while would be like. I also asked Bryan to make a quick stop at a local butcher shop that I knew sold really good cuts of meat. That was one errand that I insisted on carrying out myself.

When we got home, Josh helped me down the stairs to my apartment and let me lean on him as we walked to my couch. Bryan and Mark were busy making lunch while Susan made her way to her bedroom. Oddly, although very happy to be home, Brutus stayed by Susan's side.

I lay down and flipped on the TV while Josh grabbed a couple of Cokes from the fridge. He handed me one and then stretched out on the couch with me and snuggled in.

I buried my face in the back of his head and gently rubbed his side. We lay there silently for a few minutes before Josh said. "We almost lost you. If it wasn't for Brutus, Bob would have shot you then he would have killed Mom too."

"I know bud. Thank God Brutus was there to save the day. Bob probably would have killed you too," I said and the thought made me shudder.

"It's amazing how such an evil person can sometimes hide it," Josh observed.

"Sooner or later the truth always comes out. You can't hide who you really are forever."

"What did the policeman mean about a little birdie letting it slip that Bob was in for being violent to women and children?"

"Well Josh even prisoners in jail have a code that they live by. People who rape or hurt women are near the bottom and people who do that to children are the very lowest of the low. Those people often get beaten up or worse by the other prisoners. It's known as jailhouse justice."

"I hope Bob has to live in fear for the rest of his life," Josh said flatly.

"I'll have to ask him, but I suspect Darren might have had something to do with Bob's fellow prisoners finding out about his charges!"

"How come Darren said he owes your Dad a hard debt?"

I thought for a moment. "I guess it's because he was there the night my Dad was shot. He was his partner and I think he held himself responsible for Dad dying for a very long time. I do know that he shot the man who shot my dad but the guy survived."

Josh rolled over to face me and he put his arms around me and cuddled against my chest. "I can hear your heart," he said with a smile.

After a few minutes I looked at Josh and asked him, "Can you help me with something son?"

"Of course," Josh replied.

I told him what I wanted to do and he helped me to stand up and we made our way to my small galley kitchen. He helped me to stand at the stove while I unwrapped the thick sirloin steak that I had purchased and I proceeded to fry it up nicely over low heat. When it was done, Josh cut it into small cubes and we placed it in the fridge to cool it off.

About ten minutes later, I put the cubes in a bowl and called Brutus. Brutus came bounding down the stairs and sat in front of me as if he was expecting cheese. Instead, I placed the bowl containing thirty dollars worth of prime steak in front of him and let him chow down.

"Enjoy it Brutus," I said tenderly as I rubbed his back. "You really earned it."

Josh stood with his arm around my shoulders as we watched Brutus eat his special treat. He leaned his head on my shoulder and smiled at me. "You really are a good guy," he said.

"You're a good guy too," I replied and kissed his forehead. Then we were called to supper.

"My room!" Susan exclaimed as she walked into the kitchen. "You CLEANED my whole room! I thought I'd be afraid to face the scene of the crime again, but somehow, it's just a vague memory when all evidence of it was gone. How on earth did you get all the blood stains out?"

"Oh Susan, it was no big deal once Mark and I looked up a 'how to' on the net." Bryan said smiling. "The carpet was easy, but it took a few special washes to get them out of the bed spread."

"It sure looked like a battle royal had taken place in there?" Mark laughed. "Looking at the aftermath, I was amazed that any of you survived."

I grinned. "The great part of it was that most of the blood was McNaulty's. Brutus really did a number on him."

"I had the easy part Mom," Josh said. "I just had to gather up the duct tape and put it in the garbage before we steam cleaned all the carpets. They were kinda dirty from all the foot traffic that went through here that night with the cops and medics."

"THE WHOLE HOUSE!" Susan exclaimed. Right away Bryan and Mark got a hug from Susan. More brownie points for our Calgary crew and I was equally proud of them. They had been very busy at home when they weren't visiting us in the hospital.

That evening while the four of us were watching television, my cell phone rang. It was James letting us know that our new nephew had arrived and invited us all to the hospital to meet him. Once again Josh and Mark helped me up the stairs and into the Jeep. I was sure looking forward to the time when my incision would heal completely and I'd be able to run up the stairs on my own – one day, maybe two at a time.

With Bryan at the wheel, we arrived at the hospital and made our way to the maternity ward as fast as my crutches could carry me. Although a bit tired, Susan was keeping up to me without a problem.

"Slow down Dad," Josh admonished. "I don't want you to hurt your leg."

"I'm ok bud," I replied. Actually, I was feeling a tingle at the stitches, but I knew I wasn't over doing it.

"Let's keep it that way, ok?" Mark said with a grin.

"Definitely," Bryan agreed.

We arrived at Anne's room and when we entered, Mom and James were both there. A very tired looking Anne was in bed cradling a tiny bundle of blue blankets.

"Hi guys," she said with a wan smile as we entered.

"We'd like you to meet Timothy James Davis," James said proudly.

I hobbled over to the bed and peaked inside the blankets at the tiny pink face of my new nephew. He was sleeping soundly with his eyes tightly closed. He was wearing a tiny blue cap and I could see strands of light brown hair poking out from under it.

"He's really cute," Mark observed.

"He's big too!" Josh said.

"I'll say," Anne laughed. "He weighs nine pounds, seven ounces!"

"Wow!" Bryan exclaimed. "I think I was only seven pounds or something."

"How are the twins doing?" I asked.

"They're as happy as can be," James said. "They like the idea of being big brothers. Andy took them over to McDonalds for dinner."

"Do you want to hold him?" Anne asked.

"I'd love to," I replied. I sat down in the chair in the corner and James passed the tiny bundle to me. I cradled my newest nephew against my chest and whispered softly to him. "Welcome to the family Timothy. We're going to be really good friends, you and I."

Josh reached out and gently touched Timothy's tiny hand with his finger and smiled as the little guy wrapped his little fist around it and held on tight. "He's got a good grip," Josh replied jovially.

There's something about women and the things they have to endure to have babies. Although I'd heard of postpartum depression, Mom, Anne, and Susan were having a great laugh together as they compared their experiences of giving birth while all the men in the room enjoyed the miracle and anticipation of the happiness that a happy healthy boy would add to our lives.

Our visit that evening to the hospital sure made up for the agony Susan and I endured as patients at the hospital. The blessings of happiness that comes with a newborn child changed our whole image of the hospital. Once again, we had a happy future to imagine instead of brooding about the distress of our recent encounter.

After tucking the boys into bed, Bryan helped me downstairs with Brutus following us. Once we undressed and crawled into bed, he left.

Being back in my own bed that night, I truly felt blessed. The comfort of my own bed was great, but sharing it with Bryan once again was awesome.

As he reached over to turn out the bedside lamp, he said, "The worst part of these last few days was being here, sleeping in your bed.... without you beside me. That's never happened before. For the first time, I felt lonely."

"I guess I'd feel the same way in Calgary in your bed," I said as I realized what it would be like. "You know sometimes you make me feel like a king."

"Well your not," Bryan laughed. "It's lucky for me that you're just a regular wonderful family man filled with a lot of caring."

"It must be contagious then, because you're just like that too." I answered.

That night we made sure we weren't lonely. Answering the call of our passion was beyond any expectation I'd ever had in spite of the tickle that bugged the stitches in my leg.

The next morning, we realized that Brutus had slept in Susan's bedroom. Apparently he wouldn't stop whining at her bedroom door until she let him in. We had the feeling that Brutus wanted to continue guarding her. Susan wasn't complaining – it made her feel more comfortable in her bedroom.

After a few days of rest, Susan went back to work. When she arrived home that first night, she was exhausted, and truly appreciative that Bryan had dinner ready for us. After another good night's sleep, her routine had returned to normal, but Bryan still had dinner ready every night. Susan truly felt spoiled that week.

By the end of the week, I was doing pretty well with my crutches. I managed to figure out a way to get up and down the stairs, but Josh would have none of it. He insisted on helping me up and down the stairs anytime I needed to. He, Mark, and Bryan fussed over me for the whole week and the four of us spent as much quality time together as we could. It wasn't quite the same as spending our planned March break in Calgary, but since we were all together, it didn't really matter.

That Sunday we drove Mark and Bryan to the airport and again we tearfully parted company. We knew that we'd be together again in Ottawa in about six weeks, but it was still tough.

"I don't know what I would have done if he had pulled that trigger," a tearful Mark said softly as we hugged tightly at the departure gate. "If you died it would be like a part of me died too," he said.

"I know Marky. Don't worry. McNaulty's locked up and he's not going to have a chance to hurt anyone else ever again," I said as I squeezed him tightly. "Go say hi to Michael for me kiddo. I love you."

"I will and I love you too," Mark replied as he released me and wiped at his eyes.

"It's only a month and a half this time," Bryan said as he kissed my lips and hugged me tightly. "Stay off that leg!" He admonished.

"Keep an eye on him Josh," Bryan said as he put his arm around Mark and the pair walked through the departure gate.

As always, it was tough to say goodbye.

The next ten days passed surprisingly quickly. Josh doted on me constantly. He didn't let me go up or down the stairs without helping me and he virtually moved into my apartment with me. He spent every night with me and in a touching reversal of roles, he tucked me in each night with a hug, nose rub and forehead kiss before he climbed in next to me and snuggled up. Each morning, he helped me into the bathroom and in much the same way that I helped him after his foray into the creek, he helped me into the shower and then climbed in after me to support me and make sure that I didn't fall. From the moment that I returned from class each day until the moment that I left the next morning, he was there ready with a hug or a word of encouragement.

Although I wasn't supposed to, I was putting some weight on my leg. Just driving did that. I found it was getting noticeably stronger. When I went for a follow-up appointment with Dr. Trebber, he said that he was so pleased with my progress that he didn't think I needed the crutches anymore. Instead he suggested a cane and he started me on physiotherapy right away. He also removed my staples which was a welcome relief.

When Josh got home from school that day and heard the news he was ecstatic. I knew that when he was unwell that it affected me and it was obvious that when I was hurting, it affected him too. That was the strength of the bond between us. The fact that I was feeling better made him feel a lot better too.

I knew the physio was good for me, but the therapist knew where the limitations were. As he put it: some pain, some gain – too much pain and no gain. I'd been through it before and I knew he was right.

Getting around with a cane was much easier than using crutches and I hoped to lose the cane by the time we went to Ottawa in just over two and a half weeks.

As the days ticked down, both Josh and I went through the process of applying for passports to get ready for our European trip. We also had Josh fitted for a tuxedo and when Susan and I went with him for the final fitting, he nearly took our breath away. To say that he was incredibly handsome would be the understatement of the century. Between the tux which fit him like a glove, his unblemished complexion and his striking eyes, he looked ready to take on the world.

At the next Cadet parade night, I received some really good news from the commanding officer, Major Poole.

"Tom, I received a call today from Major Richardson out at 519 Squadron in Calgary. It seems that someone important to you is being promoted," he said cheerfully.

"Mark?" I asked surprised.

"Yep. Leading Air Cadet Calahan is being promoted to Corporal. It's very rare for someone to be promoted so quickly, but evidently the young cadet along with a friend of his, a Leading Air Cadet Burton intervened when they saw some older cadets bullying a new recruit. Based on the way they handled it, Major Richardson, who witnessed the event, decided right away to promote both of them."

"That certainly sounds like Mark," I replied with a smile.

"Apparently. Both boys have also recently earned their pilot wings and because Leading Air Cadet Calahan holds you in high esteem, Major Richardson wanted to know if you'd like to present them at next week's parade night?"

"Definitely!" I replied enthusiastically. "Oh, but could you ask Major Richardson to keep it a secret? I'd like to surprise Mark."

Major Poole smiled. "Sounds good to me. I'll call Richardson right away."

Josh and I had unused airline tickets to Calgary left over from March break and after checking with WestJet, I found out we could use them to be there for Mark's big night. I made a mental note to speak to Susan as soon as we got home.

That evening I discussed the proposed excursion with Susan and she readily agreed to sign Josh out of school for two days so that we could go. Then I called WestJet and managed to get us booked onto a flight next Thursday morning, which would get us to Calgary in plenty of time to make it to Mark's parade night. When I told Josh what was happening, he was ecstatic.

"This is going to be great!" he enthused.

"I know. Mark doesn't know about the promotion and he doesn't know that we'll be there AND he doesn't know that I'll be presenting his wings."

"It'll mean a lot to him," Josh said solemnly. "He really loves you a lot."

"I know kiddo. I love him a lot too."

I sat on the edge of Josh's bed as he undressed and got ready for bed and then I tucked him in for the night. As always, we took a moment just to have some dad-son talk time before I leaned down to hug him and rub noses with him before kissing his forehead and wishing him pleasant dreams.

Back downstairs in my apartment, I called Bryan and filled him in on what was happening. He was just as thrilled as Josh was that we were heading west and he agreed to keep the secret from Mark. He also said that he planned on being at the closing parade that night to tape the events.

By the time Thursday arrived, Josh and I were both literally glowing with excitement. We carefully packed our uniforms along with some street clothes to wear while we were there. We planned on staying in Calgary until Sunday afternoon. I was much more mobile than I had been and I was getting around very well. Although I rarely used the cane recently, I brought it with me just in case my leg got a bit too tired.

We saw Susan off to work in the morning, just ahead of us leaving for the airport. We also made sure to give Brutus a whole lot of extra loving that morning and we fed him a lot more cheese than we normally did. We'd have liked to take him with us so that he could see his sister again, but it wouldn't be fair to coop him up in a travel cage on the plane and having him at home would make Susan more comfortable in light of recent events.

Just before we left, I made sure that I we had everything we needed. "You sure you remembered to pack everything?" I asked Josh. "Undies as well?" I asked kidding him by referring to the fact that Mark had forgotten to pack any underwear of his own when he visited over Christmas.

"Actually, I planned on going commando the whole time," Josh said with a snicker.

"Well that's fine, just be careful zipping up after taking a leak. You wouldn't want to give Mr. Willy a nasty bite!" I chuckled.

"Yikes! On second thought maybe I ought to wear the briefs that I packed."

"Good idea!" I replied and put my arm around him then led him out the door.

"How's the leg Dad?" Josh asked tenderly as we placed our luggage in the Jeep.

"I'm doing fine kiddo," I smiled and ruffled his hair.

"Make sure you tell me if it starts bothering you," Josh said seriously.

I reached over and gave his shoulder and gentle squeeze as we took our seats in the Jeep. I looked over at him and smiled thinking to myself about how lucky a man that I was to have the family that I did and how lucky I was to have Josh in particular. I often had the feeling that we were somehow joined together at some deep level and that was why we were so close. Four years ago neither of us knew the other existed and now we were so close that we could read each other so well that we always knew that the other was thinking or feeling.

The flight to Calgary was just over three and a half hours and it came in right on time. It was a very smooth pleasant ride and it certainly reminded me why Westjet was our favorite airline. On the European trip we were going to fly Air Canada, but that was simply because Westjet doesn't fly there.

We arrived just after 10AM local time and caught a taxi from the airport to Bryan and Mark's house. Bryan was at work and couldn't escape from a meeting to get us. He had previously given us a key so we were able to let ourselves in and stow our bags in Bryan's office where Mark wouldn't see them. We knew that Mark would be home from school at around 3PM so we had to be out of the house by that time.

When we opened the front door, Daisy came running. As soon as she saw Josh and me, she recognized us immediately and just about went nuts. Her tail was wagging very rapidly and she was running between the two of us happily barking and letting out happy yelps. Like Brutus, she had grown considerably and she was able to stand on her hind legs and give us both kisses in the face. We also noticed that she spent a lot of time sniffing our pant legs and we guessed that she must have picked up Brutus' scent. She also made a point of rubbing her head against our legs as if to "mark us" as her's.

"You're such a good girl Daisy," I said as I rubbed the incredibly happy dog's neck and head.

"You got big just like your brother Brutus," Josh said.

As soon as Josh mentioned Brutus' name her ears perked right up and she began to tilt her head from side to side as Josh spoke. She was exactly like her brother in many ways.

As soon as we got settled in, I called Bryan's office and left a message on his voicemail letting him know that we had arrived safely. We then spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon hanging around the house mostly cuddled up on the couch watching movies on television. At around 2:30 we headed out the door and caught a cab to the local shopping mall. We decided to catch a movie at the mall's cinema and then have dinner at Humpty's. That would give us enough time to get back to the house after Mark had left for Cadets, get changed into our uniforms and head down to the armoury where Mark's cadet corps paraded.

We ended up seeing "Rat Race" which was a hilarious ensemble comedy with some really good comedic actors like John Cleese, Rowan Atkinson, Seth Green, John Lovitz and Cuba Gooding Junior.

Josh was still laughing when we left the theatre. "I loved the part where they went to the 'Barbie' Museum!" he snickered.

"Yeah, that wasn't quite what they were expecting," I replied.

"That Hitler car that they stole from the Nazis looked like the one in the museum in Ottawa!"

We headed straight for Humpty's and ate a very hearty meal consisting of steak on a bun with fries and a side salad. "Oh boy, I really wish these guys would expand into Ontario," I observed.

"Me too," Josh said as he managed to snag the last couple of fries from my plate. "This is really good!"

We were about to leave the restaurant when my cell phone chirped. I opened it and read the text message from Bryan. The coast was clear. They had just left home.

Josh and I took a cab back to the house and the two of us headed straight for Bryan's office where we quickly changed into our uniforms. We both decided that since it was a special occasion, we'd wear our actual medals rather than just the ribbons.

"Mark is going to outrank me after tonight," Josh observed.

"Probably not for long," I replied with a smile. I knew that Josh was going to be promoted in about a month at the annual inspection parade. I also knew that he was simply making an observation and that there was no resentment or jealousy in his voice. Josh was the kind of boy who had virtually no concept of jealousy. The idea of resenting someone else, especially a close loved one, for their success was completely foreign to him and it was one of the reasons that I loved him so much. I knew that Josh loved Mark very much and he was happy for him.

When Josh and I arrived at the armoury, we slipped into the Cadet Squadron orderly room without being spotted by Mark. We met his commanding officer, Major Richardson as well as my counterpart Captain Steele who was the senior training officer for Mark's squadron.

I felt a bit sorry for Josh being surrounded by brass, but we let formality slip for his benefit and none of the officers insisted on full military courtesy while we were there. In truth, most of them were in awe of the shiny medals that we each had hanging from our uniforms.

A while later, from our vantage point, Josh and I watched the squadron form up for their closing parade, before Major Richardson addressed his cadets.

"This evening we have a number very special presentations to make. First, I'd like to call upon Leading Air Cadet Calahan and Leading Air Cadet Burton to step forward."

We heard the stop of two boots as both Mark and Michael snapped to attention and marched smartly to the front of the parade square and halted in front of Major Richardson. Without a doubt, Mark and Michael stood out from the rest.

They both saluted and the Major returned the salute.

"These two cadets have distinguished themselves in many ways and have recently shown leadership and good citizenship of the highest order. It is my proud duty to promote Leading Air Cadet Calahan and Leading Air Cadet Burton to the rank of Corporal."

Major Richardson handed Mark his new rank insignia and then moved onto Michael and handed him his. "Wait one more second boys," he whispered as it looked like they were about to fall out and return to their flights.

"This evening," Major Richardson continued, "it is my proud duty to present two distinguished guests from another cadet squadron. Some of you may have heard of these gentlemen and I know for a fact that one of you knows them very well. Please join me in extending a very warm Calgary welcome to Captain Davis and Leading Air Cadet Chambers from 845 Mississauga Squadron in Ontario!"

As the 200 or so assembled cadets began to applaud, Josh and I marched smartly onto the parade square and snapped to attention next to the Major. As the senior person, I saluted for both of us and Major Richardson returned the salute and then shook both of our hands. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted Mark. At first his mouth was an "o" of surprise and his eyes looked like they were about to bug out of his head. His expression very quickly turned into a thousand watt grin.

"Captain Davis who is a part of Corporal Calahan's extended family has asked for and been given the honour of making the next presentation. Captain Davis, you may proceed."

I stepped forward and announced to the assembled cadets, "Ladies and gentlemen. These two fine cadets have both recently completed their first solo powered flights and as such they are entitled to wear Air Cadet Flight Wings. It is with a great sense of pride and honour that I now present Corporal Calahan and Corporal Burton with their wings."

I stepped in front of Mark who fired off a smart salute, which I returned before reaching forward and pinning the pair of golden wings onto his uniform tunic. I then offered my hand which he shook firmly and whispered, "This means the world to me Tom. I love you."

I squeezed his hand and winked at him and replied, "Back at you son."

I then moved onto Michael and repeated the whole process over again. "Thank you. It's great to meet you at last," he whispered warmly.

"Same to you Michael," I replied softly.

Once the parade night finished up, Bryan caught up with us and together we met Mark and Michael in the parking lot. When Mark saw us, he took off at full tilt running towards us. He looked like he was about to jump into my arms when he remembered my leg and slowed down, enveloping Josh and me in a huge hug instead.

"I can't believe you guys are here!" he said enthusiastically.

"We wouldn't miss this for the world," Josh replied.

"When we found out what was going to happen, I asked if I could be the one to present your wings," I said.

"You guys came all the way out here just for me? Just to be here for this?"

"Of course we did Marky," I replied. "We are all so proud of you. We're proud of you both," I said as I nodded towards Michael.

"Michael, this is my brother Josh and this is his Dad and Bry's partner Tom," Mark said by way of introduction.

Surprisingly Michael snapped to attention and saluted me.

"That's not necessary here Michael. Out here, please call me Tom," I said warmly. "It's wonderful to meet you. I've been looking forward to meeting you since Mark told us about you. Any friend of Mark's is a friend of mine."

The boy smiled broadly and held out his hand. "It's great to meet you too. Mark goes on and on about you guys and what a crazy happy family you have."

"We're crazy all right," Josh replied as he shook hands with Michael. Just then, Michael's parents came over to us.

Mr. Burton was a stocky man with an unending smile. When he wasn't smiling, he was grinning. Mrs. Burton was a warm lady, her voice always happy. For sure they were an easy couple to chat with and were undoubtedly very proud of Michael. Once the introductions were completed by Michael and they realized that Bryan and I were partners, they became quiet, but their smiles endured.

Finally Mr. Burton said, "When I saw you present Michael with his wings, I was in awe of you and the medals that you and Josh have. I still am, maybe more so now that I know of your connection to Mark and Bryan. It's good to know that our Michael is being influenced by such upstanding citizens." Laughing, he continued, "Is it true that even your dog was given a medal too?"

Josh laughed. "Yessiree, our Brutus and his sister Daisy are remarkable dogs. Brutus saved three lives back home."

"So what are we going to do for the next three days that we have together?" Bryan asked with a grin.

Josh, Michael and Mark all started in at once throwing out idea after idea and all Mr. and Mrs. Burton, Bryan and I could do was smile at our boys and bask in the warmth and laughter that they provided us with.

Later that night, after tucking Mark in, I sat on the edge of his bed and gently caressed his forehead. "I really like Michael," I said.

"I'm glad. It's important to me," Mark replied. He reached out his arm and grasped my hand. "Thanks Tom. Thanks for being here. Having you put those wings on me made it all the more special."

"I'm glad," I replied, then I leaned down and kissed his forehead and rubbed noses with him before moving onto Josh.

"How you holding up kiddo?" I asked. It had been a very long day for Josh and me given the time changes and I could tell that he was more than ready for some sleep.

"Tired but happy," he replied.

"I'm glad son. It was quite a night. Just think, we're only a few weeks away from going to Ottawa again and you'll get to see Shelly."

"I can't wait," he said. "Love you Dad," he said sleepily and held out his arms for a hug.

I carried out our usual goodnight ritual and hugged him before rubbing noses with him and kissing his forehead. Josh was getting older and bigger, but he still craved that close physical contact and those simple displays of affection. The same went for Mark. They were both very physical touchy-feely boys when it came to the people they loved most.

With the boys safely tucked into bed, Bryan and I took some time to relax before retiring to his room for the night and despite my tired state, we tenderly expressed our love once again.

Our four days in Calgary were a bit of a blur. Bryan took Friday off and kept Mark home from school to maximize our time together and the four of us went out to see the sights and have some simple family fun. We played mini golf, we went to the batting cages and we just enjoyed each other's company. On Saturday Michael joined us for the day and two things very quickly became obvious. The first was just how much Mark and he really cared for each other and the second was that Michael fit in just perfectly with the rest of us. He was truly a delightful boy who was very polite and had an absolutely wicked sense of humour.

"Michael, you're a boy after my own heart," I said as I threw a friendly arm around his shoulders after he made a very funny off-colour crack about an ad that we saw in a store window. "I love Marky like a son and you guys are perfect for each other."

He smiled brightly and winked before taking off after Mark and Josh who had run off to gaze longingly at a selection of electronic gadgets in a Radio Shack window.

Sadly the next day Josh and I found ourselves on a plane heading east. Our brief but nonetheless wonderful trip to Calgary was over. We had once again left two of the most important people in our lives behind, but we did so knowing that we'd see them again in just over a week's time.

During that final week, Josh came down to see me in my apartment.

"Dad, do you know how to dance?"

"Me dance? Not a clue kiddo. What's on your mind?"

"Well, after the dinner in Ottawa we'll have that thing at the Laurier hotel ballroom and I won't know how to dance with Shelly."

"I wish I could help you son, but I've got two left feet and one of them is still sore at times. I do know someone who might be able to lend a hand though."

"Who?" he asked excitedly.

"Anne. She used to be really into dancing when she was still in school. Maybe she could give you a lesson or two."

"That would be great," Josh said as he pulled out his cell phone and dialed James' and Anne's number.

"Hi Anne, it's Josh."

"I'm fine. How are Timothy and the Twins?" He asked. "Great. We're all good too. I have a favor to ask," He continued. "Tom says that you're a good dancer and I was wondering if you could teach me some easy moves for the party in Ottawa?" He listened intently for a moment and then smiled broadly. "Thanks! Here's Tom," he said as he handed me the phone.

"Hi Sis," I said.

"Hi Tom. So Romeo wants to learn how to dance eh?" She chuckled.

"He sure does. You know me, I've got two left feet."

"You should stay off those feet as much as possible for a little longer anyway. Tell you what. James is out with the twins. If you don't mind looking after your newest nephew for a while, we can come over now and I can help that handsome son of yours out."

"That would be my pleasure," I replied.

It didn't take Anne long to get to the house and when she arrived, she handed me my nephew and his diaper bag. Being less than a couple of months old, Timothy spent most of his time sleeping, but when he was awake, he was very aware of his surroundings. He liked to look around and whenever he saw someone he knew, he would flash his very infectious toothless smile.

He was wide awake when she handed him to me and when I leaned him against my shoulder, he proceeded to grab my nose in a surprisingly strong grip for such a young infant.

"Looks like you two are going to get along just fine," Anne said. She dropped a CD into my stereo and helped Josh to move some furniture around to give them some room.

"So Josh, you have a hot date ahead of you eh?" she kidded.

Josh turned crimson and smiled at Anne. "I hope so," he replied slyly.

For the next hour she taught Josh some basic steps and from what I could tell, he seemed to be doing very well. Anne was a great teacher and she got me smiling as she kidded him about watching where he puts his hands and telling him about the old 12 inches of daylight rule. All in all she made it a fun and lighthearted lesson for him.

I spent most of the time getting to know my new nephew. I also introduced him to Brutus who was amazing gentle with the baby. Brutus sat and looked at him and very gently sniffed at him and gave him a tiny kiss. Timothy made some happy baby sounds and tried to grab Brutus's nose. Brutus took it all in stride and seemed to enjoy meeting this tiny new person.

I actually had to change Timothy's diaper at one point and the whole episode provided some comic relief. First after I managed to get his dirty diaper off of him, he proceeded to pee straight up in the air while I had him lying on his back! I scrambled to contain the mess while Anne and Josh laughed their heads off. Then after I washed and dried him again, put some baby powder on him, and prepared to put on a clean diaper, he farted and blew a cloud of baby powder into the air. The sight of that actually had Josh rolling on the floor laughing.

Finally at the end of the lesson, Anne asked Josh about his choice of music. "Do you have a special song picked out?"

"A special song? No, I hadn't thought about that," he replied sheepishly.

"Want me to help you choose?" Anne asked enjoying the big sister role for a while.

"Please!" Josh replied sincerely.

Anne had brought along a number of her CDs and together the pair of them listened to a number of different slow songs before they came to one that all three of us thought was absolutely perfect. It was an older song, but the imagery was perfect. Josh decided to go with it. The plan was to ask the DJ at the dance to play it and then he'd ask Shelly to dance.

By the time the day of our flight arrived, we were fully prepared and raring to go. We took Brutus to stay with Kathy, a friend of Susan's who has a couple of dogs of her own. We figured that being around other dogs would make it less traumatic for Brutus to be away from us for a couple of days.

Amazingly the entire group of us Josh, Susan, Andy, Mom, James, Anne, Matthew, Richard, Timothy and me all managed to get ourselves booked onto the same Westjet flight. The ceremony was to take place at 1 PM that afternoon and we would arrive in Ottawa at around 10:30 AM. That would give us enough time to get to the hotel, get changed and get on our way. Bryan and Mark would be arriving at about the same time as us. As it turned out, Bryan and Mark were waiting for us at the baggage carousel when we went to get our suitcases. Shelly and the Masons would arrive a bit later and would meet us at Rideau Hall.

Throughout the flight and on the way to the Chateau Laurier Hotel, I could see that Josh could barely contain his excitement. Between being about to receive the nation's highest civilian honour to spending time with his entire extended family and his girlfriend, he was on cloud nine.

Bryan, Josh, Mark and I got down to the task of getting ready as soon as we arrived in our hotel room. We took turns in the shower and we began to get dressed for the occasion. I helped Josh do up his top button and attach his clip-on bow tie, then I pinned on his bravery medal and stood back and looked at him.

"My God," I said. "You look absolutely amazing."

"Josh, Shelly is one lucky girl to have landed you," Bryan added with a smile.

"You look REALLY HOT bro," Mark said.

"You look pretty good to Marky," I said. "Let me help you with that tie." I helped Mark to tie a proper Windsor knot in his tie and then I finished getting myself ready. The four of us turned a lot of heads as we headed downstairs to meet the rest of the family.

"My God Josh, I can't believe how grown up you look," Susan said as she hugged him taking care not to mess up his tux.

"Looking good my man," Andy said with a grin.

We had two rented mini vans to take us to Rideau Hall. Bryan drove one and James drove the other. The drive from the Chateau Laurier, which is in the shadow of Parliament hill, was only about ten minutes. When we arrived, we were shown into the same room where we had previously received our bravery medals and we took our reserved seats. There were four reserved seats remaining for the Masons.

The Masons arrived about ten minutes after we did and about fifteen minutes before the ceremony was to start. Josh and I were both constantly watching the door for them to arrive and we both did a double take at first. A stunningly beautiful young girl wearing a black ankle length cocktail dress with her blonde hair done up just perfectly entered the room and looked in our direction. It took a moment for me to realize that this gorgeous young woman was Shelly. Shelly looked so different from the way she had looked when we first met her and even better than she did the last time we had seen her.

I glanced at Josh as he blinked and swallowed and then looked again. I was about to suggest that he go escort her to her seat next to him when he stood up and went to her. I watched her face light up as she saw him. They kissed briefly and then she took his arm and walked towards us together. I grabbed my camera and snapped a couple of pictures. I didn't know it then, but one of those pictures would one day become very well known.

"Hi Shelly," I said as she sat down. I noticed that she was wearing the beautiful gold broach that Josh had given her for Christmas along with the locket that he had given her for her birthday.

"Hi Tom," she replied sweetly and then kissed me on the cheek. "How are you doing?"

"Getting better every day," I replied.

"That makes two of us," she replied with a bright smile.

The bunch of us barely had time to exchange greetings with the Masons before the ceremony began. As with the medal ceremony, this presentation began with the playing of the vice regal salute and the introduction of the Governor General.

The Governor General made some remarks and then it was time to begin presenting the Order of Canada Insignias. The presentations began with people being promoted within the order and ended with new appointees. Josh's name was called fifth.

When his name was called, he walked to the front of the room and stood just about where he did when he received his medal. He was positively beaming as he stood tall and proud and listened to the reading of his citation.

"Joshua Michael Chambers is hereby appointed as a Member of the Order of Canada as a nation builder for his efforts to create a better, more united Canada by fostering friendships and better understanding between young Canadians from every part of the country. Young Mr. Chambers efforts have led to the establishment of a national student exchange program that is designed to give young Canadians the opportunity to experience life in other provinces or territories and is designed to encourage lasting friendships. His tireless efforts were the driving force behind the establishment of this valuable program. It should also be noted that Joshua is the youngest person ever to be appointed to the order."

The Governor General stepped forward and pinned the six-pointed snow flake shaped medal to Josh's chest beside his star of courage. She then shook his hand and spoke to him briefly before smiling and releasing his hand.

Josh was nearly floating on air as he returned to his seat between Shelly and me. He looked at me and winked and mouthed the words "Love you Dad," before turning to Shelly who was already admiring his medal.

Josh turned back to me and said "The Governor General said she remembered me from the medal ceremony and that I was very funny on TV. She said to wish you and Mark well," he said with a smile.

Later on at the reception, we were all milling around with the various guests and more than a few celebrities who were also inducted into the order. I wanted to speak to Josh, but it seemed that everyone there wanted to speak to him too. He was standing there with Shelly on his arm virtually holding court with some of the most well known and famous people in the country. These were famous people and each of them wanted to meet Josh and speak to him. These were his moments to shine and I couldn't have been prouder.

"They look great together," Debbie said as she and Trevor approached Bryan and me.

"They make quite the little power couple," I said.

"We got some news from the doctor just yesterday and we wanted to wait until today to share it," Trevor said.

"Shelly is now 100% cancer free," Debbie said barely containing her excitement.

"That's fantastic!" Bryan said enthusiastically. "I'm so relieved to hear that."

"You've got to share that with the whole family tonight while we're at the Laurier," I said.

The bunch of us mingled for a while before I finally managed to get Josh to myself.

"I can't tell you how proud I am of you today son," I said warmly and offered my hand.

Josh completely ignored my hand and hugged me for all he was worth instead. He didn't care who saw him hugging his dad. "Thanks Dad. This is all because of you," he rested his chin on my shoulder and continued to hold onto me.

"You did all the work Joshy," I said.

"I know," he replied, "but it was you who made it possible. It was you who helped me to become what I am now. It's all because you cared when few others did. It's because you cared enough to see who I really was and because you became my Dad and because you showed me what it means to give and to receive unconditional love."

I got more than a little misty eyed at that point and I gave Josh a quick peck on the cheek. "Joshy, everything that I've done for you, you've done for me. You've made me happier than I've ever been. You've been the driving force between putting together this family that we have. You have cared about me as much as I've cared about you. Remember bud. We're in this forever."

We looked each other in the eyes and smiled. That one brief look said a lot. Josh and I could always pass a lot of unspoken words between us with just a look. We finally released one another and Josh continued making the rounds with Shelly.

Mark and Bryan came up to me at that point. "That boy is going to leave his mark on the world," Bryan said.

"I know he is. You are too Marky," I said and hugged Mark not wanting him to feel left out. I knew that like Josh, Mark would never feel jealous of anything that anyone he loved achieved. He was happy for Josh and the fact that Josh was happy, made him happy too.

"I hope I don't let you guys down," Mark replied.

"Mark, you'll never let us down. All we ask is that you be all that you can be. No matter how it turns out, if you did your best and you gave it your all, we'll always be proud of you." Bryan said.

Mark smiled brightly. "Be all you can be," he repeated. "That's a recruiting slogan that the Forces use. I went to the recruiting office the other week and asked them for information on the Royal Military College. Getting in there is the best way for me to get to become a fighter pilot."

"You'll do it too kiddo," Bryan said. "You're smart, you're physically fit and you could charm the birds out of the trees."

"He's right Mark. All you need to do is decide to go for it and you'll make it. I know you will." I added.

"I'd hate to live so far away from you guys though. I'd have to live in Kingston at the school for four years." Mark said seriously.

"Marky, there comes a time in everyone's life when they have to leave the nest. That doesn't mean that you leave the family and it doesn't mean that we love you any less than we do now. You'll go to RMC and you'll be the best damned fighter pilot we've ever had." Bryan said. His smile was warm and understanding.

"You know," Mark said thoughtfully. "I once had a funny dream that Josh was elected Prime Minister. We were all sitting in this room watching him take the oath of office."

My jaw must have dropped open at that point. Mark was describing a dream that I had frequently experienced. I looked at Bryan and he was equally surprised.

"I told Josh and he said 'You never know'," Mark said.

A little while later, all of us left Rideau Hall except for Josh and Shelly who were staying for the formal dinner. Each member of the order was able to bring one guest and Josh brought Shelly.

Shortly after returning to the hotel, the whole group of us, even little Timothy, were seated around a huge table in the ballroom of the Chateau Laurier hotel dining on a first class meal that was quite literally fit for a king. It was the first time that our entire family, except for Josh and Shelly, had been together along with the future Mason branch of our family tree and it was heartwarming to see that the Masons were no less boisterous and outgoing as all of us were. Eddie, who was a few years older than the twins, had become fast friends with them. Debbie fit in perfectly with my Mom, Anne, and Susan. Also, Trevor seemed to hit it off with James and Andy right away.

At around 9 PM, I excused myself to drive back to Rideau Hall to pick up the love birds. The two of them emerged with Shelly still on Josh's arm as I pulled up. Josh, ever the gentlemen, opened Shelly's door for her and helped her up into her seat before scooting around to the other side to climb in himself.

"Hi Dad," he said happily.

I glanced at him in the rearview mirror and he had a look on him that made me think he'd been wacked in the head with a hammer made out of silly putty. "Hey Josh, how was your dinner?"

"It was great! The food was fantastic and we got to meet all kinds of people," Josh said enthusiastically.

"Yeah it was a lot of fun," Shelly added.

"You two kids look great together. You make a fantastic couple," I said. I glanced at both of them and saw that they were both blushing sweetly. "Ready to party the night away at the Chateau Laurier?"

When I parked the minivan, Josh once again got out and opened Shelly's door for her. Then the two of them surprised me by each kissing me on the cheek.

"Thanks Dad," Josh said warmly.

"Thanks Tom," Shelly added and smiled sweetly at me.

I led the two love birds into the ballroom and they were excitedly greeted by the rest of the family. Finally our group was complete. There was of course a new round of greetings exchanged, but finally Josh took his seat next to me with Shelly on his opposite side. Bryan was on my opposite side next to Mark. Shelly and Josh had arrived just in time for dessert and despite having just eaten dessert at Rideau Hall, they were more than happy to join us.

After we finished eating, Josh got up and whispered something to Mark who smiled and then walked over to the DJ. There were a few couples on the dance floor, but it was pretty quiet. When he returned he winked at me and I smiled knowingly.

When the latest song finished, the DJ made an announcement. "Ladies and gentlemen, the next song is by special request from Mark for his brother Josh and the beautiful Shelly."

Josh stood up and offered his hand to Shelly. "May I have this dance?" He asked as the first few bars of "Dream Come True" by Frozen Ghost began to play from the sound system.

Shelly smiled and nodded and placed her hand in Josh's.

I felt a lump in my throat as the pair of them walked hand in hand to the dance floor and turned to face each other. I glanced at Anne and gave her a thumbs up and she smiled in return as we watched Josh put his arms around Shelly in just the way Anne had shown him.

Shelly leaned her head against his chest as they began a slow dance to the beautiful strains of the classic love song. As we listened to the lyrics it began to become very apparent to everyone there just how appropriate the song choice was. In particular, the words of the first verse were filled with such meaning:

Love of my life
I don't have a lot to give you
What's in my heart
Is all that I can really give you
Love, undying love is all I have
A handful of words, that might make you laugh
And all the strength you need
To make it through
All your troubled times
I give all of myself to you
Only you
My dream come true

When the song ended, the entire room broke into applause, but neither Josh nor Shelly seemed to notice. Josh looked down at her as she remained close to his chest and after the briefest of pauses, they locked lips in a passionate kiss.

"Looks like my baby is growing up," Susan said with a laugh.

"Ours too," Debbie agreed.

Josh and Shelly, still holding hands returned to the table and both of their smiles could have lit up a dark room. Shelly sat down in her seat, but rather than sitting, Josh turned her chair around to face him. He then knelt down in front of Shelly and produced a small box. He opened the box and removed a small gold promise ring set with a single diamond.

"Shell, I guess that we're too young to actually get engaged, but would you wear this promise ring as a symbol of my promise to marry you one day?" Josh asked.

The table fell silent and all eyes were on Shelly. She smiled broadly and held out her hand for Josh to place the ring on her left ring finger. "You know I will Josh," she said. "You're the only boy for me. When we first met, I knew that if I could beat the cancer that we'd be together." She leaned forward and kissed him on the lips and hugged him tightly.

We all applauded and I reached my arm out and put it around Josh's shoulders and raised my glass. "Let me be the first to offer a toast to the happy couple. To good health, good family, good friends, and a long life."

Everyone raised their glasses and then took a drink. Josh then set his down and turned to embrace me warmly. "Thanks Dad," he said sincerely.

I glanced over Josh's shoulder and saw that both Susan and Debbie were positively glowing and after I released Josh, Bryan and then Mark took my place.

If anyone had ever had the slightest doubt that Josh and Shelly were destined to be married one day, that day erased it completely. It was clear that the Masons would join our crazy, loving and very unconventional clan one day.

A short while later we all retired to our rooms for the night. Josh escorted Shelly to the door to the room that she shared with her parents and they once again exchanged a passionate kiss. As soon as the door closed behind Shelly, he ran at full tilt to our door just as Bryan got it open and we all headed inside to settle in for the night.

The first order of business was getting out of our suits and into something more comfortable. I headed straight for the bathroom to brush my teeth when Josh came in behind me. He gave me a loving pat on the back on the way past. He had already taken off his jacket and shirt and had his pants undone. He stood in front of the toilet for a moment and then looked over at me.

"This isn't going to work," he said with a small giggle.

"What's wrong?" I asked and looked over in his direction.

"Ever try to piss with a boner?" he asked and giggled again and dropped his tuxedo pants revealing a very tented pair of briefs.

"Looks like that last kiss with Shelly had quite the effect on you," I said with a giggle of my own.

"I'll say," he laughed. "This thing is like an iron bar!" he added as he tried to adjust himself and aim for the toilet bowl.

"Why don't you hop in the shower and take care of that?" I suggested.

"Good plan," he said as he skinned out of his briefs and handed them to me along with his pants.

I looked over at him again and glanced downwards before looking him in the face. "Well Joshy, I can tell you that whenever you decide the time is right, you'll make Shelly a very happy girl," I said with a chuckle.

Josh turned crimson and then reached over to try to splash me with some water from the sink. "I owe you one for that Dad!"

"Owe me? I was giving you a compliment!" I teased.

He laughed and stuck out his tongue as he adjusted the water temperature. A moment later he stepped into the shower stall and I left the bathroom.

"Josh taking a shower?" Mark asked.

"Yeah… he had a errr… stiff muscle to work out," I replied.

Bryan burst out laughing right away and it took only a second for Mark to realize what I meant which set him off too.

"Evidently Shelly had quite the effect on him," Mark said.

"That's what I told him," I replied with a laugh.

Bryan just rolled his eyes and shook his head at us. "I will say this, if I was Josh's age and I was interested in the female of the species, Shelly would probably have that effect on me too. I can't believe how much better she looks."

"Oh yeah, all the guys at school would drool over her," Mark said. "Except for me and Michael of course!"

"I'm sure Michael drools over you," I observed. "You're a hottie too Marky," I replied.

"You're just saying that because you love me," Mark said.

"No, I'm serious kiddo. You are an amazingly good looking boy."

"He's right Mark," Bryan added.

A few minutes later a naked and very satisfied looking Josh emerged from the bathroom and began rooting through his bag for a clean pair of briefs to wear.

"Looks like you fixed your stiff muscle," Mark said which set us all off laughing again.

Josh once again blushed and replied, "Wise guy eh?" As soon as he found and slipped into a pair of clean undies and a tee shirt, he launched himself at me on the bed and pretty soon the four of us were wrestling like maniacs.

"Anyone want room service?" Mark asked after we had settled down.

"You're hungry again?" Bryan asked.

"Sure, I'm always hungry," Mark replied.

"Me too," Josh agreed. "Let's see if they have wings."

Mark placed an order for a large platter of chicken wings and we all settled in for the night. I sat down on the sofa and stretched out my sore leg and it only took a minute for Josh to join me. He sat down next to me and began to massage my sore leg. He had often done that since the latest round of surgery and it really did help. He kept at it until the wings arrived and then after kissing my temple, he joined his brother in devouring the entire platter.

Bryan took his place on the couch with me and together we sat and watched our boys and marveled at how quickly they were growing up. We felt so secure in the knowledge that no matter how old they got, they would always be "our boys".


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