Substitute Dad

© 2006 - 2011 By Scribe1971 (scribe1971@hotmail.com)

Chapter 61 - Going West

The next week was a whirl-wind of activity and upheaval and it was all culminating toward our moving day. Trying to keep the houses clean, neat, and tidy while the real estate agents wandered in and out with their clients was our biggest interference. All of us were lucky though, the Toronto real estate market was hot, and the houses sold within days of being listed. We'd thought of hiring professional movers, but then we realized that if we helped each other out, we could get the trucks loaded pretty much by ourselves - and it would all be a great family experience. Darren and Susan were great at organizing the rental of the moving trucks and getting all the boxes, cartons, and tape machines for everyone.

It seemed I'd spent more time on the phone than getting any packing and organizing done. One day had been particularly hectic - tidying up the house for a morning showing - to a family that actually ended up buying the house - getting more boxes to pack our things in, and getting just a few things packed after dinner, coordinating with everyone in each family on their progress, when Josh came running down the stairs with his phone in his hand.

"DAD!" he exclaimed, "Mr. Burger wants to talk with you."

I smiled as he handed me the phone. "Al, how are you and the family?"

"We're all fine Tom and we're still relieved that you survived that ordeal in New York. I've heard from the boys that you'll be moving to Calgary."

Josh pointed to the ceiling and I realized that he was going back upstairs.

"Yes we are Al.... it's a long story, but we're going to start our own programming enterprise. Bryan found us a great office building and it's just being outfitted." I lowered my voice to a bit of a whisper. "Josh doesn't know and I'm saving it as a surprise.... our whole extended family are all going to be living on a big ranch with a house for each family."

"Tom, I know you and I know that you're going to make a big success from this venture." Al said, "How are you going to get your plane out there?"

"Well I'm going to fly it out with Josh as my copilot." Then the idea struck me. "Hey Al, do you think that Sean and Jake would like to come with us? It would be great company for us and a beautiful experience for the boys."

"When will the trip be made?" Al asked.

"We're taking off November 23rd.... we should arrive in Calgary on the 28th.... at least that's what we're hoping for." I replied.

"I think that might work," Al replied. "The boys have a few days off during their exam break at the end of that week. They need to be back by December 2nd for the start of classes."

"That won't be a problem Al and they'll be there to enjoy a few days with us at the ranch. The trip will have pretty solid educational value too. They'll get to visit three other provinces, see northern Ontario and they'll visit some sites such as the Terry Fox Monument along the way. Do you think they'll like the idea?"

"Oh I know they'll love the idea," Al replied, "but I'll talk it over with Dana before we ask them. I'm sure you'll be hearing from them within the hour."

"Good Al, but remember, Josh doesn't know anything about the ranch. We're saving it as a last minute surprise. I hope Sean and Jake can keep the secret."

Within an hour, we had another session of phone calls going between Dana and Susan, Josh, me, Sean, and Jake. It was a definite go!

In the meantime, I'd been in contact with Bryan and Mark with every chance. They'd managed to sell their house as well and were going to move into the main house at the ranch at the first possible chance. Both Bryan and Mark were going through the house with a decorator to get everything set up with new furniture before we arrived. In addition to all of that, Bryan was coordinating with the other members of our extended family to make sure everything was going OK with them. Bryan assured me that the work on the runway and other construction was proceeding well and that the runway was going to be paved and maybe a bit longer than I originally anticipated.

The day before the start of our expedition west, I knew we were going to need a car temporarily, so I rented one. Josh, Darren, and I had started loading the moving truck when Al and Dana showed up with Sean and Jake. Fortunately, they'd brought their sleeping bags because we'd have all the mattresses except Susan's into the truck before the day was over. With our final farewells to Al and Dana, we started planning the load for the truck. It was a lot of slugging getting some of the larger pieces into the truck, but with the help of all the boys, the job was made easier for Darren and me. By the end of the day, we'd nestled and tucked every box and piece of furniture so there wasn't any vacant spaces. It was a solid load.

That night, the six of us had nothing to do. The phone was dead except for our cell phones and we weren't going to use them to hook up my laptop to the internet. Josh's computer had been packed and was on the truck, so there weren't any video games to play. We all opted for a movie at the mall Cineplex.

Susan and Darren opted for a type of chick-flick while I stayed with the boys and watched an action movie. Although there was a lot of action and good special effects, there was very little plot to follow. In the end, the hero survived and I guess that was the point of the movie - good guy wins over the bad guy every time.

Suddenly, the day had finally arrived. By 7:00 AM, we'd loaded the last of our things into the moving truck as a convoy of vehicles came down the street. Andy and my mother's property was loaded into one truck with Andy behind the wheel, James, Anne, and the twins had their property loaded into a second truck with James behind the wheel. Anne was driving their mini-van with the twins and Timothy. Susan and Darren, both having sold their cars with the intention of purchasing new vehicles in Calgary shared a third moving truck which Darren was driving while Susan drove my Jeep with Brutus and the Browns had a fourth moving truck which Grant was driving with Freddie while Ethel, and Kevin were in their new 3/4 ton truck. Ethel was going to get a new car when they got to Calgary too.

Each vehicle was outfitted with a GPS unit which had the route programmed in and everyone had cell phones and GMRS/FRS radio unit for communications. In the Cessna, we had our cell phones and the satellite phone.

The convoy, which would cover the ground at a slower pace left a day ahead of us and they were going to stop for the night in Sault Saint Marie on the north shore of Lake Superior. Josh, Sean, Jake, and I would depart the next morning and fly north. Especially when crossing the Great Lakes, I planned a number of extra refueling stops. Our first hop would take us from Brampton Airport to Tobermory on the Bruce Peninsula. From there we'd fly over Lake Huron to Elliot Lake, hop over to Wawa and then cross Lake Superior to Thunder Bay where we would meet the convoy and stay for the night. We'd get to Thunder Bay ahead of the convoy and I planned on using the time to take Sean and Jake to see the Terry Fox monument. The Terry Fox story is sort of what brought them into our lives and I thought it would be appropriate. The whole trip including rest time was going to take us three days and the convoy would take five. We also planned a few days rest once we arrived at the ranch in Calgary. Although all of the kids would miss several days of school, except Sean and Jake, since they were on their high school exam break, arrangements had been made with their various teachers to take advantage of the learning opportunities that a cross country adventure presented. Sean and Jake were going to use eMemories to put together a video presentation for their school for the student council assembly that they were involved with and the other kids all had similar assignments for their own classes.

"So where are we going to stay tonight Dad?" Josh asked as the four of us stood in the driveway of our now former home and watched the convoy of vehicles snake off into the distance after a long series of hugs and good-byes.

"I figured I'd check us into the Delta Hotel in Mississauga since it's only about half an hour from the Brampton airport. They have a nice pool, fitness center and sauna there too."

"Cool!" all three boys said in unison.

"Can we go to the Mandarin for dinner tonight?" Josh asked.

"I don't see why not. Do you guys like Chinese Food?" I asked Sean and Jake.

"For sure. We go to the Mandarin sometimes too," Sean replied with a smile.

"They have the all you can eat crab legs now. I heard the commercial on the radio the other day!" Jake added enthusiastically.

The four of us grabbed our bags and climbed into my rented car and drove the short distance to the hotel. I had already booked us into a double room so it took only a moment for us to check in.

"Check it out." Sean called from the bathroom, after we arrived in the room and the boys dispersed to look around. "We have a hot tub in here!"

"Way cool," Josh replied.

"I can't wait to try it out," Jake agreed.

"Yeah, but no skinny dipping this time, right?" I teased causing Jake to turn slightly red and grin sheepishly.

The room featured two king sized beds, a large television, a small table with chairs and a bar fridge. Jake and Sean would share one bed and Josh and I would share the other. Once we dropped off our minimal luggage, we browsed the hotel's selection of pay-per-view movies.

"A couple of these might be ok to watch later, but I'd rather hit the pool and health club now." I said.

The boys all agreed and in a flash the four of us changed into our athletic gear and headed down to the gym. We started by running some laps on the running track and then moved on to do some weight lifting before heading to the other exercise machines. We were all in pretty decent shape and we had a lot of fun working out together. The best part was the electronic rowing machines. The rowing machines featured computer screens that displayed a digital lake and scenery and all four machines were linked so that the rowers could race. You could even see the other rower's boats on your screen if they passed you. The four of us couldn't resist trying it out.

"Can an old guy like you survive a 3000 meter race?" Jake teased.

After grabbing him in a headlock and administering a "noogie", I took my seat in the first machine. Sean took the one to my right, Josh took the third machine and Jake took the outside lane. We all tensed up and as soon as the simulated starter's pistol went off, we were off like a shot.

For the first few hundred meters, it was pretty even. Sean had a slight lead with me in second neck and neck with Josh with Jake bringing up the rear a fraction of a boat behind. By the half way mark, the race was taking its toll on Josh who was in good physical condition, but didn't have the endurance that Jake and Sean had developed through their sports activities and that I had developed over my abbreviated military career and the almost torturous physiotherapy that followed that and the incident we'd had with Bob McNaulty.

By the 2000 meter mark, Jake was starting to wear out and fell back as well. Sean and I were running neck and neck virtually matching stroke after stroke. I could feel myself beginning to tire as we approached the 2500 meter mark, but I soon felt my second wind kick in. I managed to kick it up a notch or two at around 2800 meters and watched in amazement as Sean matched my effort. It became apparent that I was racing Bulldog! As we neared the finish line, we both kept stepping it up and the other kept matching. We were like two machines straining and striving for the finish. Other people in the gym actually stopped to watch us as we neared the end of the race.

It looked to be a photo finish when somehow, just as we were about to cross the line, Sean dug deep and found another ounce of strength and pulled ahead by the slightest fraction of a boat length. We exchanged exhausted glances and grins as we slowed our efforts down and rowed through an additional 200 yards of cool down rowing. By the time we stopped, both Jake and Josh had made it to the finish line as well.

I stood up on what felt like rubber legs and reached down to give Sean a hand to stand up.

"My legs feel like Jello," Sean said with a grin.

"Way to go Bulldog," I said and we exchanged a high five.

"You guys were amazing!" Jake said.

"Yeah that was fast!" Josh added "What should we do next?|

"HIT THE SHOWERS!" Sean and I said in unison and then laughed.

We all hit the showers and then changed into our swimming suits. The hotel had an amazing pool that included a pretty high water slide. We spent the next couple of hours horsing around in the water before heading back to our room to get ready to go for dinner. We had all had a pretty tiring day and I was certain that we'd all sleep well that night and be well rested for the start of our journey in the morning.

The four of us dressed in neat but casual clothes and then headed off to the Mandarin restaurant. It wasn't our usual location, but it was closer to where we were. It wasn't overly crowded and we were seated right away. The boys all ordered ice tea to drink while I ordered a bottle of Molson Canadian. As soon as our drink orders were delivered, we hit the buffet. As usual, Josh ate me under the table and not surprisingly Sean and Jake kept pace right with him. I don't know how many lobsters and crabs lost their lives to provide that dinner, but it was a lot! I ended up having two plates of food plus a bowl of soup. The boys each had about four plates of food along with side plates of shrimp. All three of them were lean and athletic and I had no idea where they put it all.

After dessert was served, we all had a cup of coffee and the waiter brought the bill with our fortune cookies. I opened my cookie and read my fortune. "It takes more than a good memory to have good memories," I read aloud. "That's actually pretty true."

Jake opened his cookie next and read it out loud, "If you want a rainbow, you must first put up with the rain.... I think I get that one."

"The first step to better times is to imagine them," Sean said as he read his fortune.

"What does yours say Joshy?" I asked.

Josh cracked open his cookie and extracted his fortune. "Dream lofty dreams and as you dream, so shall you become." Josh thought about it for a moment and then grinned. "That's pretty cool," he said and slipped the fortune into his pocket.

"So have you ravenous eating machines had enough?" I asked with a grin eliciting three sets of rolling eyes from my teenage dinner companions.

"Can you bring the car to the table to get us?" Jake asked with a smile. "I don't think I can stand up."

"At least with Chinese food that stuffed feeling goes away pretty quickly," Sean said.

"Yeah maybe they'll have some good room service back at the hotel," Josh added.

"How can you guys even think of food after consuming that spread?" I asked and shook my head.

Back at the hotel the boys busied themselves with the pay per view movie service while I got out my laptop and flight bag and began preparing flight plans for the next day. We were going to fly for a total of eight hours and we'd finish up, I hoped, in Thunder Bay.

"Whatcha doing dad?" Josh asked as he wandered over and looked the aviation maps that I had spread out on the table in front of me.

"We're going to be flying IFR or Instrument Flight Rules all the way west which means filing flight plans and being in contact with Air Traffic Control. We'll be flying much higher and a bit faster than you're used to, so I'm trying to get a head start on getting everything ready."

"How high will we go?" Josh asked with obvious curiosity in his voice.

"Depends on how high they tell us to go, but probably between ten and eleven thousand feet. We'll spend a lot of time tomorrow flying over water too."

"Lake Superior!" Josh exclaimed.

"That's right. I'll give all three of you guys a bit of a safety briefing tomorrow before we take off on the first leg. I'm really counting on you to help me with the flying"

"You can count on me," Josh said and then he leaned down and hugged me tightly.

"I know I can kiddo."

After I finished preparing for the coming day of flying, I went and joined the boys in front of the television. "What are we watching guys?" I asked.

"Scary Movie," Sean announced.

"It's hilarious!" Jake added.

"Yeah it's a spoof of horror movies," Josh finished.

"Rated PG I hope?" I teased and then smiled when all three of the boys turned deaf and pretended that they hadn't heard me.

It actually turned out to be a pretty funny movie and the gross-out toilet humour was a hit with the boys and, I have to admit, me as well.

Once "Scary Movie" was over, the boys ordered a platter of nachos and cheese from room service and we ordered a second pay-per-view movie. This one was a crime thriller with Robert DeNiro and Edward Norton called "The Score".

"Would that really work the way he blew the door off the safe?" Josh asked after it was over.

"Probably," I replied. "You can't compress a liquid so all that water would have to go somewhere. The door would be the weakest point in the safe so it would be the most likely part to give way."

"That's how hydraulics works," Sean added.

"Smart guy Sean," I chuckled.

"Montreal looks like a neat place," Jake said thoughtfully.

"It is," Josh replied enthusiastically. He then proceeded to tell his friends about our trip through Montreal. "It's a really historic city."

"Well guys, we have an early start in the morning so we had best get some sleep," I said at around 11 PM.

We all took our turns brushing our teeth and washing up and by11:30 we had all hit the sack. I especially had to be well rested since I was going to be spending better than eight hours of flying the next day. Thankfully I'd have Josh to help out and the flight would be broken into several legs.

Josh woke me up at around 7 AM the next morning. He, Sean, and Jake had already showered and dressed. They wanted to let me have as much sleep as possible. I quickly followed suit and by 7:45 we were climbing into the rental car and heading up to the airport.

When we arrived at the airport, the boys went out to the hangar so that Josh could pre-flight the aircraft and taxi it over to the ramp to fuel it up. I went in and filed my flight plan for the first leg of our journey. Our first hop would take us from the Brampton Airport all the way up to Gore Bay Airport on Manitoulin Island. From there we would do a fairly short hop to Sault Saint Marie airport and our final hop of the day would take us over a larger portion of Lake Superior and end at Thunder Bay.

I exited the terminal and headed to the refueling ramp and I could see the plane parked there with a ground crew member perched over the wings filling the fuel tanks. Josh was just completing our pre-flight inspection while Sean and Jake loaded our bags along with a cooler of food and drinks into the small cargo area.

"Ok guys, you've all flown with me before, but this is going to be a little different. We're going to be flying IFR which means much higher altitude and we'll be under the direction of air traffic control. We'll also be spending a fair bit of time today flying over water. I know Josh is a strong swimmer and I seem to recall that you guys are as well... right?" I asked Jake and Sean.

"Yeah we're both pretty good," Jake replied.

"Why do we need to be good swimmers?" Sean asked a bit worriedly.

"Most likely you won't need to swim, but if we get into engine trouble over Lake Superior, I might have to ditch in the water. There are inflatable life jackets under each seat and behind you guys in the cargo area we have a survival kit including an inflatable raft. There's also a device back there called an ELT or emergency location transmitter. It has a big red handle on it and if we have an emergency and we have to ditch in the water or do a forced landing somewhere, one of you guys will need to reach back and pull that handle as soon as I tell you." I pointed the ELT unit out to both Sean and Jake since they would be closest to it.

With that, we boarded the aircraft and I taxied it into position. After a smooth takeoff, Josh tuned the radio to the correct frequency for Toronto Center air traffic control.

"Toronto Centre this is Cessna Hotel Tango Foxtrot out of Charlie November Charlie zero three flying IFR to Yankee Zulu Echo."

"Hotel Tango Foxtrot this is Toronto Centre, turn left heading 315, climb and maintain flight level 10. Squawk 1243"

"Roger Toronto Center turning left heading 315 climb and maintain flight level 10. Squawk 1243."

I turned to the correct heading and pulled back on the yoke to take us up to 10,000 feet. While I did that Josh tuned our transponder to 1243, which was our assigned code and he programmed the auto pilot to hold us at our assigned heading and altitude once I got us there. I was impressed at how well this airplane climbed out with four of us onboard. The upgraded engine and avionics package were well worth the expense.

"What do we do for a bathroom up here?" Jake asked after we had been in the air for about half an hour.

"I guess that depends. If it's number two, we'll have to land if it's an emergency. If its number one, use this," I said as I reached under my seat and handed Jake a small portable urinal.

"We have to pee in that?" Sean asked. "Don't get any on me!"

"I don't have to go," Jake pleaded. "I was just asking!"

"The view up here is spectacular," Josh observed.

Below us was mostly farm land with heavily forested patches and the occasional small town. Country roads criss-crossed the land which was predominantly flat with some rolling hills. Further to the north in the Canadian Shield, the terrain would become much rougher.

For the most part, I let the autopilot do most of the flying. Josh and I watched the display screens to monitor the engine and aircraft systems and the four of us enjoyed the sight-seeing and our usual friendly banter. Occasionally we'd receive updates and instructions from ATC or we'd hear other aircraft on the same frequency. At 10,000 feet, we were close to the maximum service ceiling of our unpressurized aircraft, but far below the altitude of commercial jetliners. We could actually see their contrails overhead from time to time.

Before long we passed Tobermory and headed out over Lake Huron. From the air we could see just how big the massive lake really is and I was looking forward to having the same view of Lake Superior.

It wasn't long before we were handed off to the controllers at Gore Bay-Manitoulin Airport and were instructed to begin our descent. We landed smoothly and taxied off the runway to the ramp as directed. While ground crews refuelled the aircraft, the four of us headed into the terminal to use the bathroom and stretch our legs.

"I'm getting hungry," Josh observed.

"Me too," Sean agreed.

It was nearly lunch time so we decided to have a quick meal at the small terminal restaurant.

"How are you guys enjoying the flight so far?" I asked.

"It's amazing!" Jake replied happily.

"Yeah the time is going by so fast and we've covered such a distance," Sean agreed.

"Our next plane will have to be a jet," Josh said with a grin. "120 knots is kind of slow!"

"It's faster than driving," Sean observed. "The convoy left a day earlier and they won't be to Thunder Bay until after we are."

"We're going to put that time to good use too. There is a rental car waiting at the airport and we're going to take you guys to see the Terry Fox Monument. Josh and I have seen it before and we thought you two would like to see it as well," I said to Jake and Sean.

"Cool!" Jake replied.

"Thanks Tom," Sean said sincerely.

"Thanks to both of you for all your help on this move," I said firmly. "It's great having you on this flight with us and you've been a big help with getting all our stuff loaded."

"We're glad we could help," Jake replied.

After lunch we boarded the plane and took off for Sault Ste. Marie. It was a fairly short hop, but I wanted to make sure that the aircraft was fully fuelled and fully checked out before we ventured out over the expanse of Lake Superior. I was getting a slight bit fatigued from all the flying, but the autopilot took most of the strain and Josh was very helpful in assisting me with monitoring instruments. Behind us Jake and Sean were taking all kinds of pictures and shooting video for their eMemories presentation.

"You guys ready for the long haul over the big drink?" I asked with a chuckle as I taxied into position holding short of the active runway awaiting take-off clearance from the tower.

"Just don't put us down in it," Josh kidded.

"Yeah I don't feel like swimming right now," Sean added with a huge grin.

Our takeoff as uneventful and within minutes we went "feet wet" and crossed out over the massive lake known as Superior. "It's practically a fresh water inland sea," Josh observed.

"It's the largest freshwater lake in the world," Jake replied. "I learned that in Geography class."

"It's so different seeing it in real life than it is seeing it on a map," Sean observed thoughtfully.

Our flight over the massive lake went very smoothly and before we knew it, we were descending into Thunder Bay. After landing, I taxied the aircraft to the parking ramp and the four of us entered the terminal. After checking in and closing our flight plan, we picked up the keys to our rental car and we made our way up to the Trans-Canada Highway. I drove us a short distance east.

"Hey we just missed the cut-off to the monument," Josh said from the passenger seat.

"I know. It's ok," I explained, "we're going to the spot where he ended his run first. The monument is actually erected a few kilometers west of the actual spot where Terry Fox had ended his Marathon of Hope and asked to be taken to the hospital." It only took about five minutes for us to reach the spot. I turned the car around and pulled off to the side of the highway. We all climbed out and approached a small white marker placed at the side of the road.

"So this is where he finally had to stop," Sean said softly.

"This is amazing," Jake observed. "It says here he ran 5,373km over 143 days. He did that on one leg."

"It was basically a marathon a day," Josh added. "He ran a marathon a day on one leg while suffering from lung cancer."

"He was just an ordinary guy who said enough is enough," I said as I stood behind the three boys and gave each of their shoulders a squeeze.

We spent a few minutes in silent contemplation before we climbed back into the car and drove to the Terry Fox Monument. I parked the car and Josh led the way showing his friends around the place. Both Sean and Jake were quite taken with the beautiful granite monument and I smiled as all three boys took money from their wallets and stuffed it into nearby collection boxes.

"You know Josh, from that presentation you did, I feel like I've already been here," Sean said as he bumped knuckles with Josh.

"Yeah me too," Jake added. "It's really amazing what one motivated person can do and what he can overcome."

"You're a smart guy Jake. I feel exactly the same way," I replied and winked at him as he grinned back.

We took a moment to check out the small visitor center and we all signed the guest book. "Check this out," Josh said. "There are people here from Australia, Germany, Japan, the United States, Russia, China, Italy, Brazil and all kinds of other countries."

"I guess Terry isn't just a Canadian hero," Sean reflected. "He's a hero to everyone."

"He is indeed kiddo," I smiled and patted him on the back.

We drove back to Thunder Bay and pulled into the parking lot of our hotel just as the convoy arrived. They had barely stopped when the twins came bounding out followed closely behind by Kevin with Brutus and Freddy on their leashes.

"Uncle Tommy!" Matthew shouted happily as he jumped into my arms.

"Uncle Josh!" Richard added as he piled onto Josh.

"How was the flight?" Kevin asked as he arrived with the excited dogs.

"It was AMAZING!" Jake gushed as he proceeded to fill Kevin and everyone else in on every minute detail of the flight and seeing the Terry Fox monument.

"I'd say that about sums it up," Sean said to a chorus of laughter after Jake finished talking.

Everyone was pretty much dead tired and after the whole crew sat down for dinner together in the motel restaurant, everyone headed to their rooms and it was an early lights out for all of us.

The ground convoy departed at around 6 AM the next morning and by around 8 AM, the boys and I were at the airport once again boarding the fully fueled Cessna and heading west. Our goal for the end of that second day was Regina, Saskatchewan. Our first hop of the day was just a shade under 500 km and would take us from Thunder Bay to Kenora. The whole flight would be over rugged Northern Ontario wilderness.

The Cessna continued to perform extremely well. The flight to Kenora was smooth and uneventful and the scenery that passed far below us was breathtaking. None of us got the least bit tired of looking out the windows.

"It's a lot different than driving it eh?" I asked Josh.

"For sure! Driving it was cool, but this is really neat."

"Being in a small plane like this is really different," Sean observed thoughtfully. "Being on a big jet isn't a lot different from being on a bus. Being on a little plane you really know you're flying."

"How long does it take to learn how to fly?" Jake asked.

"Not that long. It depends on how much effort you can put into it and how much natural skill you have. It takes at least 25 hours of classroom training plus 24 hours flying with an instructor before you can solo and then you have a certain number of hours of solo flying before you can go for your check ride and get your full license. For some people it's a little costly - about $5,000."

"That's not too bad," Jake said thoughtfully.

"Are you thinking about learning?" I asked him.

"Maybe," he replied. "It is kind of cool and it would be neat to be a real pilot."

"Melissa and Rachel would be impressed," Sean said encouraging his brother. "I might learn too."

"You guys are pretty good," Josh said. "I think you'd make good pilots. See if you can get Microsoft Flight Simulator for your computers. It's really realistic and can help you to learn the basics."

"Get a force feedback joystick too," I added. "It enhances the realism."

We made our quick stop at Kenora and after refueling the plane, using the facilities and resting briefly; we climbed back on board for the next hop, which would take us to Portage La Prairie, Manitoba, just west of Winnipeg.

"Whoa! Look how flat this place is!" Sean said in a surprised voice not long after we passed Winnipeg and entered the expanse of the Canadian Prairies.

"It's like a dinner table," I replied. "It's like this most of the way to the Alberta border when we hit the Cyprus Hills and it gets a little bumpier."

We made our short stop in Portage La Prairie and then resumed our westward flight to our destination for the day - Regina, Saskatchewan. We'd meet up with the ground convoy again for the night and the push on to Calgary the next morning after a brief stop in Medicine Hat, Alberta.

We were actually really taking our time flying. Our average cruising speed as 120 Knots indicated which means that we were covering ground at a rate of approximately 200 km/h. The average hop was 2 - 3 hours in length. We were covering ground at about twice the rate of the ground convoy, which gave us plenty of time to relax between hops. It was important that I didn't get fatigued and I relied on all three boys to keep me alert. They did a great job. Just about every moment of the flight was spent on light-hearted banter as well as some more serious conversations thrown in for good mix. I truly valued the company of all the boys and my earlier feeling of being a sort of part time big brother to Sean and Jake was reinforced. The trip was a learning experience for all three of the boys and I was certain that they were all enjoying it as much as I was.

We arrived in Regina much earlier than planned and the four of us sat in the terminal building sipping cans of Coke trying to decide what to do next.

"Well guys, we have about four hours to kill. What do you guys want to do?"

"We could go see a movie or something," Jake suggested.

"I've got a better idea," Josh said with a huge grin. I knew in an instant what he had in mind.

"If you're thinking what I'm thinking, it's a great idea," I said with a sly grin.

"Ok so what are you two thinking?" Sean asked with a roll of his eyes.

"The RCMP Museum!" Josh said.

"Yep... that's what I was thinking. They have all kinds of cool stuff.... vehicles, guns, you name it!"

"Ok! Let's go," Jake said happily.

I went and rented a car as Josh filled his friends in on what they were about to experience at the RCMP museum. As I waited for the rental agent to bring the vehicle around, I glanced at the western horizon and saw some dark clouds beginning to assemble from the north. If we ended up in the middle of a December storm, our stay in Regina could be extended.

All three boys were visibly excited as we drove to the RCMP recruit depot where the museum is located. From the moment I parked the rental car, Josh took over as tour guide and led us all through the museum. It was pretty much as it had been on our last visit, but it was still an enjoyable experience. I think it was Josh's enthusiasm and Sean and Jake's excitement that actually gave me the most joy.

The three of them thought they were smart when they locked me in the stocks placed outside the front entrance. I of course got my revenge when I locked the three of them in the mock jail cell located inside. All three of them protested loudly, but their laughter betrayed the fact that they were having the time of their lives rather than being angry about it!

After our tour, we stopped in the souvenir shop so that Sean and Jake could purchase souvenirs for their parents, their girlfriends, and for Garth and Glen. They ended up picking up RCMP Jackets or Hoodies for each of them.

We headed from the museum to the hotel and I called James on my cell phone to get an update on their position. As it turned out, they were only an hour away.

"Have you guys seen the weather reports for tonight and tomorrow?" James asked.

"No but I was looking at the sky and I'm getting a bit concerned though."

"It's supposed to be a huge snow storm rolling in from the north." James said.

"Damn! We can't fly through that," I exclaimed.

"Maybe you can get ahead of it," James suggested.

"I am pretty well rested. Maybe we can take off now and get ahead of it. I'll see how the boys feel."

After I hung up from talking to James, I gathered the boys. "Well guys, we have a weather situation rolling in that might ground us for a while. From the sounds of it, we can try taking off now and try to get west of the storm track before it hits or we can stay put and possibly have to cool our heels here for a day or two."

"Are you up to flying another leg?" Josh asked with concern obvious in his voice.

"Yeah I'm well rested and with you guys to keep me going, I can make it to Medicine Hat without any trouble. Are you guys up for another three hours in the air today?"

"I'm good to go," Sean announced.

"Me too," Jake added.

"I'm game if you are Dad," Josh said.

"Ok, let's do it."

I called James back and let him know what we were doing. He would pass the news on to the others in the convoy. The four of us headed to the airport. I stopped and printed out the local weather forecast and weather radar charts after filing my flight plan and then the four of us climbed into the Cessna and took off for Medicine Hat Alberta.

"Dad, am I reading this right?" Josh asked. He had tuned the co-pilot display to a weather service and was looking at live weather radar data. "I think that storm is larger than we thought. We might not be able to get around it after all."

"You might be right kiddo. Let's just kick it up a notch and try to reach Medicine Hat before the storm does."

I throttled the engine up somewhat which increased our air speed, but it also decreased our range. The onboard flight computer indicated that we were still well within the safety margin even at the increased speed.

We began to feel the effects of the storm as we approached Moose Jaw. There was a noticeable increase in wind buffeting and turbulence. Just west of Moose Jaw, we began to encounter snow and visibility was reduced significantly.

"That's it guys," I announced, "We have to put her down. We aren't built for flying in this junk."

I radioed air traffic control and was re-directed to land at Moose Jaw. After we landed, I arranged for the plane to be put inside a heated hangar and the four of us checked into a motel. I informed James what was going on and we prepared to wait it out. The next morning it was snowing even harder. The ground convoy pushed on ahead of us while we were left to wait out the storm in Moose Jaw. That night we received word from the Convoy that they were safe and sound in Medicine Hat and would be in Calgary by around noon the next day.

The next morning the snow was still coming down and was mixed with freezing rain and sleet. We were still grounded. By then, we were all getting pretty bored and really wanted to get going. We passed the time watching movies, swimming in the hotel pool and we even engaged in an epic pillow fight back in the room! Just after 1 PM, Susan called to tell us that they had arrived safely at the ranch. After she spoke to Josh, she passed the phone to Bryan.

"Looks like we have to wait another day eh?" he chuckled.

"Look on the bright side, one more day and then we never have to wait again," I replied. "There are signs that the storm is breaking. We might get out of here tonight and get at least as far as Medicine Hat."

"You guys just be careful and don't push it," Bryan said firmly.

Our plan had always been to surprise Josh by landing at the ranch. Initially we had planned on leaving the ranch runway as a grass strip but that was unworkable in the winter months so we had it paved and fully illuminated so a night landing was not out of the question. I'd prefer a daylight landing to give the boys, Josh in particular, a good aerial view of the property.

After checking the weather reports we decided to depart for a night flight to Medicine Hat which would be followed by an early morning hop to Calgary and Serenity - our new home. Flying at night was a new experience for the boys. Once we were away from the city, the blackness of the prairie was overwhelming.

"Look at that on the horizon," Josh said as he pointed to a glowing area directly ahead of us.

"That'll be Medicine Hat," I said. "The lights from the city."

We landed at Medicine Hat and it soon sank in that we were finally in Alberta, our new home province. The next morning, we'd arrive at our new home and begin our new lives.

We checked into a hotel and while Jake took a shower and Josh called Susan to check in, Sean and I wandered down to the lobby to grab some food for all of us in the small restaurant. We placed our order and while we waited, we had a few minutes to talk.

"So how are you doing kiddo?" I asked.

"Pretty good," Sean replied with a smile. "I can't wait to see your new place tomorrow."

"I can't wait to get there. This has been a really fun trip though. Having you guys around has been great. You've really come a long ways from when I first met you. You've grown up a lot and you'd put your past behind you."

Sean smiled briefly. "My family helped. Friends like Josh did too," he replied thoughtfully.

"You're a strong kid with a good heart kiddo. Not many people could have gone through what you did and come out nearly as well. I'm going to tell you something that I've only ever told a handful of other people. This is just between you and me, ok?"

"Ok," Sean replied.

"We share a similar background," I said carefully. "I was molested as a pre-teen as well." I went on to tell Sean about what had happened to me with the Struthers family. "I'm telling you this because I want you to know that I'm always available to talk if you need to."

I could see genuine concern in Sean's eyes. "Thanks for trusting me with that Tom," he replied. "You said you feel like a big brother when Jake and I are around. I like that. You're kind of like a big brother to me, just like Rickie is. He's my dad's friend's son and coaches my hockey team. Jake and I are helping him coach Garth's team this year."

"That means a lot to me kiddo," I replied.

We exchanged a few more minutes of small talk and then our food was ready and we carried it back to our room. We just entered the room when Jake emerged from the shower.

"Oh boy, I think we got the wrong door Sean... I think we're in a nudist colony!" I exclaimed.

Jake grinned sheepishly and stuck his tongue out at both of us before running to his overnight bag to throw on something to wear for the night.

"Hey I'm not nude!" Josh protested.

"Good let's keep it that way," Sean teased.

"Wise guy eh?" Josh replied.

"Jake you probably don't want to spill hot sauce on any sensitive body parts so hurry and get something on and join us for chicken wings," I said. All three boys laughed in response.

The next morning, we all awoke bright and early and headed back to the airport filled with anticipation. Jake and Sean had been filled in on what to expect at the ranch and I needed the pair of them to play along with me and support my pretext for not landing at Calgary airport.

We took off, this time flying VFR or Visual Flight Rules meaning that we were flying through uncontrolled airspace, which also meant that I could let Josh take control of the aircraft. Josh ended up flying a good portion of the route. I had the GPS programmed as if we were heading to Calgary airport and when we were about half an hour out, I carefully reached down and briefly leaned the fuel mixture enough to cause the engine to sputter briefly.

"Whoa...what was that?" Josh exclaimed.

"What happened?" Sean asked anxiously from the back seat playing his part perfectly.

"Was that an engine sputter?" I asked Josh.

"Engine sputter?" Jake exclaimed also playing his part very well.

"Yeah, it sort of coughed for a second," Josh replied.

"Ok, I have control," I said.

"You have control," Josh replied very professionally.

"Josh scan the instruments and give me the rundown on the engine status, oil temp, pressure, rpm, fuel level, etc." I said full of concern.

I already knew that everything was fine, but I had Josh scan anyway which is what he would expect me to do in case of a real problem. He quickly pulled up the requested info and read it out to me. "It's all normal and in the green," he added.

"Well let's not take any chances. Just in case, pull up the GPS and get me the nearest alternate airfield," I instructed. I knew that the first airfield in the list would be our private airfield at the Ranch.

"Ok Dad, looks like a private strip called Serenity is only about 10 km away. No ATC, approach or landing control. It has a single paved runway 33/17. Wind is from the northwest so we should turn right heading 330 and prepare to begin our descent."

"Ok kiddo, Serenity it is. Is there any contact info there? Perhaps a radio frequency or a phone number?" I asked.

"Yeah there is a phone number," Josh replied. While he pulled out his cell phone and dialled it, I leaned the mixture one more time to produce another sputter. "Yes this is Cessna Hotel Tango Foxtrot with engine trouble... requesting permission to land at your field." There was a pause while Josh received his reply. "Wait a minute... Mark is that you?" Josh asked puzzled.

I could barely contain my grin and a glance behind me told me that Sean and Jake were both about to burst while Josh looked at his cell phone and closed it with a bewildered look.

I turned and grinned at him. "What's up son?"

"What's up? You tell me!" he replied. "I'm sure it was Mark I was talking to. All he said was 'permission granted' and when I asked him if it was him, all he said was 'Roger, wilco, over and out,' and then he hung up."

"Well Josh I guess we won't solve that problem until we land." I said as deadpan as I could. Leave it to Mark to come out with the perfect answer. Somehow, I managed to contain my giggles. "Maybe we're in for a big surprise. Look below us," I instructed as we crossed over the property line. The runway was dead ahead, but as slow and low as I could; I took some time to fly over the main house and the other buildings as well as the pond, wilderness area, and the pastures. "Let's check this place out before we land." From the air, it was more impressive than it was from the ground.

"Dad! This place is humongous! Talk about a spread! Look at the size of that big house!" Josh exclaimed. As I continued to circle, his head did a jerk. "What the.... Wha.... What are all those..... Are those our moving trucks?"

"Sorry son, I wasn't looking.... I've got to get lined up with the airstrip." I replied. I heard a muffled giggle from one of the boys behind us.

As I lined up for a long approach to the runway, I looked at a still bewildered Josh. "Josh, I'm sorry to say that I have some bad news." I kidded with a serious face. "We aren't moving into Bryan and Mark's house and the apartment deal fell through." Just as the wheels touched the runway, I said almost laughing, "But I do have some good news." I paused and quickly winked at him. "Welcome to your new home son. Every family has their own house here at the Serenity Ranch and this is the first airplane to touch down onto our new runway." Sean and Jake couldn't contain themselves anymore and just burst out laughing

"We.... We bought a ranch with our own airfield?" Josh yelled incredulously.

"Yes we did. All of us have been keeping this a secret to surprise you. We have numerous houses, a huge indoor-outdoor pool, our own indoor and outdoor shooting ranges, a barn, garages, utility buildings, a hangar, a runway, pastures and even a tract of wilderness complete with a stocked trout pond."

"Did you guys know about this?" Josh asked Sean and Jake who were still laughing.

"Of course!" Sean replied.

"Wasn't my acting convincing enough?" Jake asked still giggling.

"I'm actually amazed that we managed to keep it a secret this long," I replied. "We rent the pastures to the rancher next door for his herd of cattle."

"This is unreal! I must be dreaming," Josh said happily.

As I taxied the plane towards the hangar, I spotted Mark, Bryan and all the others including three dogs gathering just off the tarmac. "Looks like the welcoming committee is here," I said.

Josh was out of the plane as soon as I shut off the engine. I barely had my seatbelt undone when my door flew open and he was pulling me out and almost crushing me with a huge bear hug.

"I take it you like our new place, eh?" I kidded.

"LIKE IT? ARE YOU KIDDING?" he shouted excitedly. "I LOVE IT!"

By that time, Mark and the twins were on us and Bryan and the rest of the gang were not far behind. "I guess this is finally it," I said to Bryan as I hugged him.

"We never have to say goodbye at an airport again," he agreed as we watched Brutus knock Josh to the ground and smother him with sloppy doggy licks.

"Welcome home Dad," Mark said as he hugged me tightly.

"It's so nice to be here at last kiddo," I said as Daisy pawed at my leg. I knelt down and got my fair share of tongue licking too. "There's something special when a dog welcomes you home." Not to be undone, Brutus came romping over and repeated the whole ordeal.

Then Susan stepped forward with a couple I hadn't met. "Tom, boys, I'd like you to meet Hamish and Irene Dougherty. They live here on the ranch and really look after things."

I reached my hand toward Irene and she gingerly put hers in mine. "It's good to finally meet you Irene," I said.

"It's a pleasure to meet you sir," she replied, but she bowed her head slightly at the neck before making eye contact again.

"I do hope you will be staying on here at the ranch." I said as I reached for Hamish's hand. His grip was strong and firm.

"That we will sir," he replied, "if you'll have us."

"Believe me Hamish," I answered, "Your job will always be with us."

As Susan introduced them to Josh, Sean, and Jake, I wondered about their manners and the humble royal respect we were receiving. I made a mental note that this was going to stop.

The whole crowd made its way to the main house. Inside the decorators had done an excellent job in furnishing the place and helping everyone to unpack. In the dining room, a feast fit for a king was waiting for us. The Burtons had called in a catering company who had provided the mouth-watering feast of western specialties including piles of barbeque spare ribs with all the fixings. We sat down and enjoyed our first family dinner together in our new home.

"Before we eat, I'd like to thank everyone for making this dream a reality and I'd like to propose a toast to family. Family is what you make it. It's more than blood and DNA. Everyone here is family. Everyone who we welcome through our front door is part of our family. Cheers," I said as I raised my glass.

After our meal, everyone retreated to their own ranch houses. Bryan, Mark and I took the boys for a tour of the house. We started in the basement with the pool room that featured a full sized slate pool table. The whole room was fitted out with a bar and bar stools so that it resembled any bar in town. It even had built in beer taps. The basement also featured a wine cellar, a recreation room with a 52" television and complete home theatre setup, the huge guest bedroom with its complete bathroom in addition to the other two bedrooms.

"Jake and Sean, you guys can take this room or one of the bedrooms on the first floor while you're here or you can bunk with Mark and Josh on the second floor," Bryan offered.

The four boys looked at each other and laughed. "I think we'll be ok with Mark and Josh," Sean said.

"Yeah we have bunk beds in our rooms," Mark said.

"Cool, I'll bunk with you," Sean told Mark.

"I guess that means I'm with you," Jake said to Josh. "How about Michael though?"

"Hey no problem guys," Michael replied smiling. "On Sunday, I'll be moving in with Mark so we'll all go to the same school. If our house in the east end sells before Dad gets our new house built, they'll be moving in down here or into the main suite on the first floor."

"What's behind here? Josh asked as he pulled what appeared to be a solid bookcase forward and swung it out.

"I'll be damned. I didn't even know that was there. How did you spot that?" Bryan asked.

"I saw the mark on the carpet where the door brushes it when it swings open," Josh replied.

We filed into the room behind the book case and discovered that it was some sort of bomb shelter or panic room. It was stocked with all kinds of camping gear and emergency supplies that were canned and packaged to last for decades.

"This is pretty cool," Kevin observed.

"Yeah, it's like a bunker," Michael agreed.

We left the panic room and headed upstairs and explored the main floor before finishing upstairs where the boy's rooms were. When Josh saw his bedroom for the first time his eyes nearly popped out of his head.

"We'd hope you like it," I said as I put my arm around his shoulders. "You can change anything and redecorate in any way you want. We had to ask Mark for ideas to try to get it the way you might like it. We wanted it to be a surprise."

"I don't want to change anything!" Josh exclaimed. "This is perfect," he said as he wandered over to his computer desk. "This is bigger than the whole upstairs at the old house. I even have a walk-in closet."

"We share a bathroom," Mark said as he opened another door that led to the private bathroom between his room and Mark's.

The Burtons stayed behind and helped Bryan and I complete our unpacking while Michael, Kevin, Sean, and Jake went to help Mark and Josh get settled in.

As we went down the hall, Mark showed us the boxes of wall items that were taken from Susan's house, which was filled mostly with my things. Josh thought the walls of the hallway between their bedrooms and ours would be a good place to make our gallery of special pictures and paintings, awards and medals - including Brutus' medal. Bryan and I agreed. With all our clothes put away, Bryan and I looked at our computer things.

"We need an office," Bryan said. So after Howard suggested it, we went down to the basement and checked out the bedrooms. We chose the smallest one there and turned it into our office. Together with two desks, my gun safe, another worktable, bookcase, and camping gear, we still had a fair bit of room for more storage. With our computers hooked up, we returned upstairs.

We were all very pleased. The boys had done a great job on the gallery.

After we finished touring the house, we went outside and toured the various other buildings and visited the other houses on the grounds. We finished up at the massive five vehicle garage next to the main house. My Jeep was in the first slot; Bryan's Explorer was in the second. The third and fourth bays were empty.

Bryan stopped at the door to the fifth bay. "Now guys, this is a huge property and we don't want to have to walk all over it so we have purchased a number of vehicles for use on the property. When you're driving or riding on these vehicles, you must wear proper safety gear including helmets at all times and before you're able to drive them on your own, you will need a complete lesson. Mr. Dougherty agreed to teach you how to drive these vehicles safely."

I opened the door and I nearly burst out laughing as I saw the faces of the six boys. Their jaws nearly dropped open as they took in the sights. Inside the fifth and largest garage bay were parked two Argo amphibious eight-wheeled vehicles, four four-wheeler off-road vehicles, and four golf-cart like electric vehicles. At the back of the garage bay was an equipment room.

"These are all ours?" Josh asked amazed.

"They sure are. There is some pretty rough terrain on this property so we need these vehicles to get around. Check this out," I said as I led them to the equipment room.

Inside the equipment room, there were various shelves and lockers filled with sports equipment and at the back were a series of hooks. Each hook held a helmet and a protective coat for wearing while riding on the off-road vehicles. Above each hook was one of the boy's names. There were even hooks for the twins as well as Sean, Jake, Glen and Garth.

"Even we get helmets and stuff?" Jake asked surprised.

"Of course. Remember, while you're here, you're family too," I said earning a high-five from Jake.

The last stop of our tour was at a new building at the far end of the main driveway. It was a long building that was partially built underground. You had to go down five steps and then enter a pass code into an electronic door-lock to enter. I entered my code and opened the door. "Once we get settled in, each of you who has a firearms license will get your own code," I said to the boys. "For now it's just me, Josh, Grant, Bryan, and Darren who have our own codes. That's not because we don't trust you, it's because it's the law. Even if you don't have a license, you can still come in here and shoot, you just have to be with one of us."

I turned on the flood lights and the ventilation system and showed everyone around our private range. "This range was inspected by the chief firearms officer and approved for non-restricted and restricted firearms," Bryan said. There were five shooting bays that were 50 yards long, there was a room with work benches for clearing and servicing firearms and there was a vault which required a second key combination to access that housed all of my firearms along with those owned by Grant and Darren. Each of us had our own racks for our long guns as well as lockers for our pistols.

"Outside, we have a space set aside for a 200 yard rifle range," I said as we finished the tour of the range bunker.

"So what do you guys think?" Bryan asked.

"Pinch me, I think I'm dreaming!" Josh said to laughter.

"Bryan, you did a wonderful job of coordinating all this while we were back east.... even a fuel tank for the Cessna." I said squeezing his shoulder.

"Harold Stemming insisted on that. This place has been a flurry of construction and decorating activity over the last two weeks," Bryan replied, "but I enjoyed it."

Before they left, Howard and Angela explained that they'd had three offers on their house. The first two were too low and they counter-offered with no additional response from the offerers. The third one, which they accepted, was for their full asking price, but conditional on the purchaser selling their property. They were hoping to break ground on their new house early in the spring.

Before Michael got in the car, he and Mark shared a log hug and kissed each other's cheek. No one stared or commented - it was just something beautiful - that was. I thought a man who has friends must himself be friendly, but there IS a friend who sticks closer than a brother.

That night as I was tucking Josh into his bed, I sat down beside him. He immediately reached out and pulled me into a tight hug. "Dad this is amazing," he said. "I love this place and I love you even more."

"I know kiddo. It's an amazing place, but it's all the more amazing because you guys are here and we're all together as a family now. I love you too son." I kissed his forehead and rubbed noses with him before he released me and rolled onto his side.

"Goodnight Dad."

"Goodnight son."

More than an hour later, Bryan and I finally settled down together in our new bed in our familiar positions, and just before sleep overtook my weary psyche, he whispered, "Welcome home Tom."

"Home is where the heart is," I whispered in return, "I know we have a lot ahead of us Bryan, but it's our love and the love of all the people on this ranch that's going to make the whole thing a success."

"Yes, it's love that will make us successful.... not just ours, but everyone else's too." His kiss was so tender.

The next morning I awoke to a tap-tap on my shoulder. "Feel like a morning run?" Mark asked quietly.

I looked over at Bryan's sleeping form, smiled and nodded my head as I slipped gingerly out of bed, made my contribution to the throne, got dressed, coaxed Brutus out of Josh's room and joined Mark, Sean, and Jake in the kitchen for a quick glass of juice.

The boys and the dogs were in fine form as we made our way toward the group of houses at the north gate. I was busy looking around and pointing out who lived where. I knew which house Mom and Andy were in, and I knew that the vacant house was going to be occupied by the Masons, the Browns already had their wooden plaque installed on the front pillar, and of course the smallest one nearest to the gate was occupied by the Doughertys, so then I knew which house James, Anne, and my nephews were in. What a great set-up!

On our way back from the north gate, Kevin jumped off his veranda and joined us with Freddie. It was so good to see the dogs running and frolicking together off-leash in the field beside us during our run. We slowed our pace a little until Kevin could get his breathing up to ours.

Eventually, Jake broke the silence of our run. "How successful do you think this venture is going to be Tom? Is it the money that's going to make it work regardless how much effort you put into it?"

I had to think for a moment before I answered. I knew that what I said to Bryan last night was true and was still fresh in my mind, but there was more. "Jake, the challenge of successful living is not in gaining access to life's abundance, because there's always plenty of avenues to success. The challenge is in recognizing that abundance and making it into things that are meaningful and fulfilling," I began. "Just like a tiny seed has all the information necessary to grow a massive tree, so do you have within you the kernel of your own fulfillment. That fulfillment comes about when you're being you with objective honesty. You can't deny your purpose in the name of success. I think that if there's no purpose behind the result, there's no success. Feel the truth of who you are. I think you have to put that truth into action in each moment of your life. A person has to choose to make things happen that create and support what you value most. I feel I have to pay great and loving attention to who I am and always give my own unique treasure to life. If you take that outlook on life, you'll experience life at its absolute best because people will notice that you're that kind of person. Just like you were at camp this summer.... you were a great success with all the campers."

"Tom, that sounds like something Josh would say." Jake said, making all of us giggle.

I finally shrugged my shoulders. "Maybe he would."

After we calmed down, Sean asked, "You mean always stay focussed on your dreams and where you want to be? Money and wealth be damned?"

"Yes Sean, that's part of it, but I think it's also important to fall in love with your dream and if you choose a mate that shares that same love and desire, you WILL attain your objective together. I know that none of us would be here right now if it hadn't been for Bryan and I sharing the same dream."

"Roger that," Mark said with a grin. "Michael and I have our secret plans and I'm starting to realize that we're going to make them happen together with each other's support."

"I can see that," Kevin said with a giggle, "Josh and Shelly too."

We made our way to the main gate at the south of the property where the security man on duty greeted us. He wasn't uniformed, but just had an inconspicuous half-inch chrome label pinned to his jacket that said 'SECURITY'.

"Good morning gentlemen, my name is Quince Morgan." He announced.

Once we introduced ourselves to him, I asked, "Are you here by yourself?"

"Yes Mr. Davis, I am. We don't consider this to be a high risk situation until the kids start school on Monday. That's when we'll beef up the security to two men on day shift and two at night."

"Two twelve-hour shifts?" I questioned.

"Yes sir.... it keeps the information and surveillance more concise and easier to coordinate between shifts with just four of us. If we broke it up into four two-person teams with eight-hour shifts, that would be eight people we would have to keep in the loop and information may become distorted between all the communications."

"There's supposed to be a security shack here at the main gate, but I don't see it." I said.

He grinned and said, "Follow me sir."

We followed as he led the way along a winding shrub enclosed path right to the entrance of what appeared to be a small house built in the middle of a grove of very tall trees. The place was invisible from the road or anyone coming up the drive. I pointed to the sign above the door that read 'Serenity Shack'.

Smiling as he opened the door, Quince said, "We thought that was a better title than Security Shack."

I was taken back by the array of what was more than fifty monitors placed in an arc across one wall. I read some of the labels and took in how they were arranged, building-by-building. Every corner of every house had a camera on it, including one extra for each entrance. In addition, there were a number dedicated to the main gates of the property and the road along the property.

The boys had been quiet the whole time as they stared with mouths agape. Finally Mark said, "WOW! Shades of Cold Lake! Kinda puts our horseshoe to shame."

"Believe me gentlemen, you are well protected at all times you're on the property," Quince said with confidence. "It may seem like it's too much work for just two people, but if there was an incident, we could helicopter in a large team of security at a moments notice and they'd be here within fifteen minutes. I realize that may seem a bit on the heavy side, but we DO take our job seriously and as inconspicuously as possible."

"I'm impressed Quince," I said, "I don't even have to ask 'What if?' I'm sure you would have it covered."

"Just one other thing Mr. Davis.... if you ever have any problem or doubt about any security person on the grounds, report it to Mr. Higgins or Mr. Brown. They will know how to handle it. We've been working closely with both of them to get this set-up the way it should be."

I measured his statement and let it niggle in the back of my head for a moment. "Quince, considering that maybe our lives could be in your hands one day, that has to make you our best friend and best friends are always on a first name basis. Please call me Tom."

"Thank you Tom, I appreciate the confidence." He said as we headed for the door.

We trotted somewhat slowly on our way back to the main house - all of us amazed at the introduction we'd had to the security system that protected us. After we bade farewell to Kevin and Freddie, we headed into the house. Josh and Bryan were just up drinking juice and coffee.

"Good morning Bryan," I said as kissed his cheek - then repeated the process with Josh. "Good morning Josh."

"'Morning Dad. We love you, but you guys stink," he said with a laugh.

"I know son, we're heading for the showers right now," I replied.

"Good show, I should have breakfast almost ready by the time you come down," Bryan said as the three of us headed up the stairs.

As the three of us were coming downstairs after our showers, Darren opened the front door followed by Hamish, carrying a huge layer cake that said 'Welcome' on it.

Bryan was just finishing the breakfast of bacon and eggs. Josh was busy putting butter on the toast.

"Here ya go folks," Hamish said as he came through the front door, "Irene wanted me to deliver this to ya."

"Wow!" Bryan exclaimed. "That was very nice of Irene. It's really appreciated, but it wasn't necessary."

"Don't think nothin' of it Mr. Callahan," Hamish replied as we went into the kitchen. "Irene made one for each of the families. 'Sides, you're all payin' us far more than we deserve. This is just little somethin' to welcome ya to Serenity."

"Hamish, there's one thing you have to learn around here. There'll be none of that Mister stuff here. I'm Tom, and this is Bryan, and Darren." I said as I pointed to each of them.

"He's right about that Hamish. We're all on a first name basis on this property," Bryan said as I started a fresh pot of coffee. "Hamish sit down and have some breakfast with us. Just scrambled eggs, bacon, and toast for this morning. We're going to be busy breaking down the boxes today."

"Hi Mr. Dougherty," Josh said.

"Hi Mr. Dougherty," the rest chimed in.

"Hi there boys. Let's see if I can remember all your names...." He shook hands with each one of them, called them by name and then he pointed to himself. "Hamish," he said. "I've been told that there's none of that Mister stuff 'round here."

"Right on," Josh said. "Just like one of the family."

"....and these two are Daisy and Brutus.... our heroes." Mark said.

"Do they know Freddie?" Hamish asked.

"Definitely," Josh answered, "Freddie's their best doggy pal."

"Good!" Hamish said with a smile, "Maybe when you boys are at school, they can keep me company while I'm out and about doin' my chores."

"Wow!" Mark exclaimed. "That'd be great. They won't be stuck in the house by themselves all day long."

All I could do was smile to myself and wink at Darren - I thought that had been Susan's idea. I was finding out that she was making a number of changes on the sly. Together with a fresh pot of coffee, we sat at the kitchen bar and ravenously devoured our breakfast.

"Hamish.... that's an Scottish name, but Dougherty is an Irish name, yet your accent sounds just as western as any rodeo man." Darren commented.

"Well you're right on both counts, Darren," Hamish said with a smile, "My folks were born in Dublin an' although I don't know why, they moved to Glasgow where I was born. Irene an' I were sweethearts from sixteen.... that's when we had to quit our schoolin' an' get jobs.... our folks weren't that rich. Irene an' I had the feelin' that things couldn't be any worse in Canada than they were over there, so we saved every penny we could for our dream of a better future. Back in '68 there was that Hong Kong flu that hit us really bad. Irene lost her folks an' I lost my Dad. I thought I was gonna lose Irene too.... she an' my Mum both got the pneumonia after it passed.... Irene was strong enough to overcome it, but my Mum didn't. After that, well.... although I have two brothers still over there an' Irene has a sister, we took all the money we had an' came to Canada. We been here 25 years now, but there was lots a people that didn't take to us 'cause of our accent, so we worked hard to talk kinda slow an' get rid of it. We were in Toronto for a few years, but we moved out here 'cause there was better money to be made in the oil fields. That was a lot of hard dirty work. 'Bout ten years ago, Irene got the job here housekeepin' an' found out they needed someone to look after the grounds. We've loved every minute of it here. Missus Chambers.... I mean Susan.... says she wants us to stay on. I jus' hope we can fit in with you an' all these folks you have stayin' here."

"Fit in?" I questioned with a laugh. "Hamish, just look at the dogs sitting at your feet. As Josh said.... 'just like one of the family' and that certainly includes Irene. The cake looks delicious. Please thank her for us."

"I'll be sure to do that gents," Hamish said as he started for the door, "I see you 'ave a lot a man power to get organized an' I told James I'd be over to give 'im a hand settin' up things. His missus is gonna be busy with all the young 'uns. Irene, she's over there helpin' your Mum."

"That man is someone special," Darren said as the front door closed. "I have to admire folks like them two. OK fellas," Darren began, "We have to get all the trucks back to the rental company tomorrow together with all the boxes they gave us. We may need a few spare cars and drivers to get the rest of us back.... so can you keep tomorrow free for that?"

"Sure that's no problem Darren, but why not today?" I asked.

"The Masons should be arriving around 2 today and we'll all chip in and help them get unloaded and unpacked, then we can do the whole lot tomorrow." Darren explained.

"Yeeesss!" Josh exclaimed.

"Sounds like a plan to me," I said smiling at Josh's anticipation of seeing Shelly again. "I'd like to check out the office building later on this morning and see how things are progressing. Who wants to come with me?"

"Not me!" Josh exclaimed. "I want to be here when Shelly arrives."

"I want to see it," Jake said.

"Me too!" Sean added.

"I think I'd like to be here when the Masons come too." Mark said.

"Well how about Sean, Jake, Tom, and I have a quick tour," Bryan said. "I want to make sure that everything is going along OK and check out a few things with Harold Stemming about the schedule for completion."

"Hey Darren," I said, "We met Quince Morgan at the main gate this morning and he gave us a tour of the Serenity Shack."

Darren giggled. "Isn't that place a work of art?" He exclaimed. "They had to take out of few trees to get it in there and then we had to plant a few more to hide it along with the shrubbery to hide the path, but they did a great job. The only way they could do it so quick was to haul in a mobile home and remodel it into an office. They kept the kitchen, one bedroom, and the bathroom though. They even reclad the sucker with the same wood as the rest of the buildings around here.... although you can't see it until your right at it."

"Putting in all the wiring and underground conduit from the cameras to the monitors really had the fields in a mess for a while," Bryan said, "but the contractor was amazing the way he put all back together as if it had always been like it is today."

"He said that if we had any questions about the security staff, that we were to bring them to you," I said.

"True guys," Darren said. "They are under the flag of Higgins-Brown Security. I know Quince by reputation and he has an immaculate record.... He's retired military, in fact; he was a JTF2 Special Forces Commando. The other three are Arnold, Jessie, Mabel.... AND I should add they are all ex-police officers and all came well recommended. Don't count two of them out just because they're women. We met both of them yesterday and both Grant and I agreed that they really know their business. Hey, don't think there could be any hanky-panky going on either.... each of them is married, not to each other and each have families. Earlier on, it was quite a conference call when Grant and I interviewed each of them individually. I'm sure they have our best interests at heart."

I smiled. "Good to know Darren. I knew you'd straighten out any doubts I had."

After our quick breakfast and clean-up, Darren headed back to his and Susan's house next door and Bryan, Sean, Jake and I headed for the office building.

While we were driving, I asked the boys what they had planned for Christmas.

"I think Dad wants us to give out presents at the youth shelter," Jake replied, "and it's something I want to do."

"I know you will," I said, "you've been there and you know what it's like.... you boys will be able to relate to those kids."

"Do you think you'll be able to get back here for Mark's birthday on the 20th?" Bryan asked.

"I don't think so, but I want to," Sean replied, "Our last day before the holidays is the 21st."

"Yeah, then starts the scramble for Christmas." Jake added. I thought about that, thinking that the kids at the ranch may have the same schedule.

"Well then, how about after Christmas?" I asked.

"We have a big hockey tournament starting Boxing Day in Collingwood. Maybe we have some days after it finishes," Jake said. "I can't wait to check out the rest of the ranch on one of those Argos." That's something that Bryan and I wanted to do with Mark and Josh - and the other kids as well.

"I want to get Mark something for his birthday even if we can't be here," Sean said.

"I think I have just the thing he'd like," Bryan said with a grin. "It'll keep him occupied for years to come."

Our tour of the office building was great. The programming department was all but finished. The triangular work stations were all in place, the carpet and lighting installed - the only thing left to do in our programming area was the installation of computers. The other areas of the building were still in various stages of completion. Most ceilings were installed and the crew was working on the carpet. When we showed the boys the horseshoe, the boys were perplexed. It did look odd without the monitors and computers, but when Bryan and I explained the final layout, they were truly impressed. They were more impressed when we told them that would be where they would be working with all the other kids if they came here through their next summer break.

Harold Stemming assured us that everything was going on schedule and we'd be open for business by New Years Day.

From there we took the boys to the hobby shop. The four of us were overwhelmed by the selections that were available in remote control devices. Once the boys made their choices, we headed back to Serenity.

As we were about a mile from home, we had caught up to the Mason's moving truck, so we stayed behind them as they pulled into the north entrance. Good timing.

No doubt about it, Josh was ecstatic as was Shelly. Shelly looked better and better every time I saw her. She had just turned thirteen that summer and she was turning into a stunningly beautiful young teenager. The two of them were inseparable until we started to unload the moving truck.

With all of us there to help them, Debbie and Trevor didn't have to lift a thing - they sat at the side lines directing everyone of where to put things. The ladies were kept busy emptying the wardrobe boxes and the other boxes that held dishes and ornaments while the men attended to getting the furniture in place. Even the kids were busy taking the boxes back outside and flattening them for return to the truck moving centre. Everything went like clockwork. All Debbie and Trevor had to do was empty their suitcases. It wasn't hard work for anyone - it was as if there was a party atmosphere in the air. We were finished by four-thirty.

That night, the Browns took the Masons out for dinner, so the rest of us headed to our own homes.

Josh, Mark, Jake, and Sean decided they'd take the Argos for a drive around the ranch, while Bryan and I started to think about dinner. We decided to ask Susan and Darren over to enjoy it as well.

We prepared a dinner of deep fried chicken, a huge salad, biscuits, mashed potatoes, and gravy. A real southern meal. Bryan was in heaven in his new kitchen. While we were doing all the preparation, he with his chicken batter and the biscuits, me with the salad, mashed potatoes, and gravy, I giggled as he kept commenting with words like, "I love that walk-in freezer." "This stove top is just out of this world." "How did we ever get along with such small refrigerators before?" Finally, he giggled and said, "I can't wait for Christmas."

"Me too," I said laughing. "I don't know how we're going to organize it, but I know it's going to be a great family get-together."

Susan and Darren came into the kitchen, Susan's mouth agape as she looked at the huge salad I'd prepared and the first platter of chicken Bryan was putting in the lower oven to keep warm. The upper oven already had his biscuits baking in it. "Are you feeding everyone on the ranch tonight?" she asked.

"Just the eight of us, I hope," Bryan said as he started battering the second batch of chicken.

"Good," she replied, "Aside from hanging the pictures and things, I think we're done at our place. You guys did a wonderful job," she said as she hugged Darren. Bryan and I stood there for a second, looking at them smiling. Two of the greatest people we admired had finally found comfort and happiness with each other.

Once the boys arrived back, Bryan and I started serving dinner at the bar. The four boys were ravenous. Bryan's fried chicken and biscuits were better than any I'd ever tasted. My mashed potatoes and gravy went over good as well - Darren had never tasted my special recipe before. When I told him about the creamed cheese I whipped into them, he was astounded that any of us kept our weight down.

"Another reason we needed the gym at the office," Bryan said.

After a day of light munching, instead of having a regular lunch, everyone overindulged at dinner and were filled to the brim as we headed for the family room while the boys did the kitchen clean-up. The first order of business came from Susan.

Bryan and I had to start a fire. The wood pile had been well stocked with seasoned wood, no doubt by Hamish. It was such a beautiful setting - Darren and Susan on the love seat, Bryan and I on the sofa with Mark and Josh snuggled against us - Jake and Sean were happy to lay on the floor on their stomachs with Brutus and Daisy snuggled against them - everyone lazily watching the fire in silence.

"Although we've only been here for just over a day, I feel.... I know this is home." Josh said.

Mark said quietly, "Home is anywhere you hang your hat."

Sean rolled over on his side and looked up at us. "Home is where the heart is."

"I think it's where the love is," Jake added, "and it sure is here, not just for all of you that live here, but for anyone who stays here.... I.... you can feel it." Bryan and I glanced at each other, remembering our conversation from the night before.

"I think that cinched it. You two boys are too precious." Susan giggled, "I'm going to phone Dana and Al tomorrow and tell them that you two aren't going home. You're home is here."

"Whoa!" Sean exclaimed. "I'll bet Dad would be out here in a heartbeat with guns drawn for our kidnappers."

"Yup," Jake added with a giggle, "and I'll bet Mom would be here too with a load of her handbags full of cash to pay the ransom."

"I wouldn't blame them either," Bryan said.

"I'd do the same thing," I said.

Mark slapped Bryan's knee and laughed. "Golly, I didn't know you guys had a load of purses."

"Right on bro!" Josh exclaimed laughing.

Everyone else in the room was laughing with us as Bryan and I started a tickle attack on Mark and Josh for almost five minutes.

Once we settled down again, Darren exclaimed, "Jake, I hope you don't have anymore choice remarks about your folks. My sides are sore from laughing. That was a good one."

With a deep sigh, Josh looked up at me thoughtfully. "I think it's a destiny that brought us here. Kinda like we followed the right avenues to success. We met the challenges that it took to get this far. It's like if you hold a little seed in your hand.... it has a destiny..... throw it in the ground and it grows into a huge tree.... it has no choice." At that point I was smiling and as I glanced down at the floor, both Sean and Jake were smiling too. "It's like we were given a new purpose to lead us to greater successes," Josh continued. "Its like we've gone through a barrier in our lives with the same purpose, but our success will be greater because while we recognize the abundance, we'll be able to make things that are meaningful and fulfilling."

"HOW DO YOU TWO DO THAT?" Jake exclaimed. At that point, Mark burst out laughing. I was smiling with some pride, as were Susan, Darren, and Bryan.

"Do what?" Josh asked bewildered.

"Tom said almost those same words to us this morning when we were on our run." Sean said. "I'm feeling something weird here."

Josh looked at me and I stared back at him. His face had a neutral expression, but his grey eyes looked deep and absorbing in that momentary connection of numbness that I was feeling.

Josh broke our connection and looked at Sean with a big smile. "It happens sometimes."

I looked at the faces around the room smiling and just nodded my head. It seemed that sort of connection was always there with Bryan and me and there had been some coincidences between Josh and me, but never as deep as this episode had been.

Just then, my cell phone rang. I looked at my display. It was Al Burger.

"Hi Al, how are you doing?" I asked.

"I'm fine, how was your final landing?"

"It was a perfect landing and the boys were thrilled."

"Are my boys helping you unpack?" He asked.

"Yes they have.... in fact Susan wants to kidnap them and keep them here."

"Well I can see I'm going to have to have a talk with her. Just tell her no chance." Al replied laughing.

"I will Al. Today the Masons came and that was all of us here at last. Tomorrow we're going to take the moving trucks and all the boxes they gave us back to the depot. Hang on Al, Jake's standing here doing a pee dance." I handed the phone to Jake.

For the next ten minutes, Jake and Sean went on and on to Al and Dana about what a great flight they'd had coming here and what a great place the Serenity Ranch is.

When I got back on the phone, Al asked, "Have you got the boy's flight booked for tomorrow?"

"Yes I do Al," I answered. "I'll phone you back tomorrow and let you know when their plane is landing."

The next morning, Sean and Jake showed up at the front door for our morning run carrying their suitcases and backpacks.

"After our run and a shower, we'll change into our traveling clothes and stick our sweats into our backpacks," Jake said. He was smiling, but there was a somber note to his voice.

After he put his bags on the floor, I put an arm around his shoulders. "I'm glad you came and I'm going to miss you," I said. Sean looked equally sad so I repeated the same thing with him. "Cheer up guys. You'll be back here often."

That morning we ran, each of us quiet as we listened to each other's breathing. When Kevin and Freddie joined us, our mood changed slightly as Kevin marveled at the way we'd settled the Mason household so quickly.

Maybe the dogs had a sixth sense that we weren't a happy crowd. It started with Daisy running up behind Sean and jumping up to his back, knocking him to the ground. Then Brutus followed suit by jumping on Jake's back howling happily above his face. Within moments, Jake and Sean were having a fun-wrestling match with the two dogs. Not to be outdone, Freddie snuck up on me and applied the same technique. What a happy pile of fur he was as he started lapping at my face. The three dogs had all us laughing as they howled and barked at us.

Then just as quickly, they jumped off us and started running ahead, turning, barking as if they were daring us to chase them. We did, and try as we might, we couldn't catch them, probably because we were laughing so much.

By the time we got to the main gate, the three of them were sitting in a row panting. When we were close enough, they each raised their chins and let out a happy howl of victory.

We were all in a better mood by the time we'd finished our run.

An hour after we finished our breakfast, the Burtons showed up with Michael and all his belongings. For sure he received many hugs of welcome and many warning from his parents that he was to behave like a gentleman.

All four boys helped Michael get settled into Mark's bedroom - now; I guess it was going to be called Mark and Michael's bedroom.

Then Darren came in and asked us to join the quick trip to the moving truck depot to bring all five drivers back to the ranch. It only took an hour, so we left the boys and the dogs at the main house to their own devices.

Jake and Sean had been a huge help to all of us and I was sorry to see them go. However, I had two more surprises in store for them. They thought we were going to go to Calgary airport. Instead, I'd chartered a Bombardier Business Jet to fly them back to Ontario from our airstrip. The jet would take advantage of our long paved runway and land right at the ranch giving them the maximum amount of time to spend with us.

"When do we have to leave for the airport?" Sean said sounding a bit sad.

"Let's just skip the airport," I replied.

"Skip it? How are we going to get home?" he asked.

"Are you in a hurry to leave?" I kidded.

"No but I do miss mom and dad," he grinned.

"I figured we'd have the private jet land here and pick you guys up," I replied.

"COOL!" Jake exclaimed.

Josh, Mark, Michael, Kevin, Sean and Jake all spent the last few hours before the jet arrived playing a very loud and boisterous game of pool in the basement. Bryan and I just sat in the living room and shook our heads and smiled at the happy care-free play of the boys in the basement.

"That laughter and bantering is music to my ears," I said.

"You and me both," Bryan agreed.

Before long, it was indeed time to get ready to meet the jet. The boys gathered their belongings and loaded them onto two of the golf carts. Bryan and I each drove one to the hangar just as the jet began its approach.

"Boys we want to thank you for your tremendous help and your wonderful company. You guys are welcome back here anytime," I said.

"Yeah, come back soon," Josh said a little sadly.

"We will," Sean said with a slightly husky voice. "You come back to Ontario soon too."

"We will," Mark said, also sounding choked up.

"These are for you boys and your parents from all of us," I said as I handed Sean and Jake each a bag of wrapped gifts. "There's something in there for Glen and Garth too. You guys have a Merry Christmas."

"You didn't have to do that," Jake said.

"We wanted to," Bryan replied.

"There's something else. You boys know how impressed I am with Jake and Sean's place. We all want to make sure that all of the kids there have a wonderful Christmas as well. We also want to help out the board financially." I reached into my pocket and pulled out an envelope. "Give this to your Dad and he'll ensure it gets to Mark Depew and gets put to good use."

Sean accepted the envelope and peeked inside. His eyes nearly popped out of his head. "This is a cheque from your company for $100,000!" he said amazed.

Jake's mouth dropped open and he leaned over to look at the cheque. "You guys are the best," he said.

The jet had just landed and the pilot, who looked like he was about to freeze, was standing at the top of the open stairway. Bryan and I stood by while the boys said their goodbyes. As he was heading to the plane, Jake paused and hugged Bryan and I firmly. "Thanks for everything," he said.

"You're welcome kiddo. Thank you and have a Merry Christmas."

Amazingly Sean repeated exactly what his brother had done. "Merry Christmas big brother," he said with a smile.

"Merry Christmas to you to kiddo. Have a good flight back and remember what I told you, ok?"

"I will," he said as he turned and hurried up the steps to the waiting Jet. We all stepped back into the hangar as the Jet taxied back to the runway, revved up its engines, and took off into the cold prairie winter air.

"Well guys, welcome to the first day of the rest of our lives," I said with a grin. My grin turned to a warm and contented smile as the bunch of us crammed together into a huge group hug.

I pulled out my cell and phoned Al Burger and told him about their flight and what gate at the Pearson Airport they could be picked up at.

The huge family Christmas that I had hoped for was only three weeks away, but tomorrow was going to be the kids first day at their new school.


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