Puppy For Sale
Chapter 17 - My Father
As we pulled out of Greenstone's gravel parking lot, I took one last look through the wing mirror of Max's van. The huge house that had been my life was getting smaller as we drove away from it. Down and down the small private road we went until veering round a bend taking the big old building out of my view to be replaced with tall pine trees. I leaned my head against the window glass and sighed.
"You ok champ?" Max asked, putting his hand on my leg.
"This is so unreal," I replied, huskily "I never thought in a million years I would be leaving that place, especially with you… my dad."
"Yeah, it's a lot to take in I know. But hey, as Mr Watson said, you have a chance now. You need to wipe that slate clean and think forward."
"I just don't know where my place is in the world… does that make sense?"
"I mean, I'm just this kid who is being added to the grindstone, its like I have just been born or something."
Max chuckled. "You know, for a young guy, you can be pretty heavy sometimes. Look, Jensen, I-"
"Do you think you could ever get used to calling me Puppy? Jensen does feel strange to me, and yeah, I know it's my name."
"Puppy huh, well I will try, just don't get upset if I forget a few times, deal?"
"Deal… so what was you going to say?"
"Well Jen… Puppy, I was just going to say that I know you feel out of sorts at the moment and I totally get that. You will have worries and wonders, questions and expectations, and I will do my best to be there for you to make this a smooth ride for you."
I nodded as Max pulled out onto the main road finally taking us off of Greenstone land. This was the first time I was seeing the big world since I was a little kid. It was awesome, but also scary.
"Do you mind if I call you Max, you know, just until I feel comfortable with…"
Max grinned, still concentrating on the road. "Puppy, you can call me what you like as long as it's not papa… I can't do papa. But seriously, Max is fine; I know it's going to take a while."
"Any time champ."
We came to a stop at a busy intersection and waited for a green light. I was so fascinated by all the things that were going on around me. I almost felt like just getting out of the van and sitting here all day. Big trucks zoomed past, cars turning left and right and busses full of people obviously going somewhere were here there any everywhere, it was amazing.
"So how are you feeling about meeting my wife Susan and Steven?"
"So scared I just wanna die?" I said, a hint of sarcasm in my voice.
"My wife loves you already, that's just the kind of woman she is. Steven? Meh, he'll come round."
"So you admit your little talk with him didn't go as planned?"
"I could sit here and lie to you Puppy and say hey, everything is cool, we're all gonna get on like a house on fire, but you would lose respect for me faster than a falling lead balloon. So the truth is, Steven is going to be a little shit, but trust me, after a few days you and he will be fine."
"How do you know that?" I asked, starting to really worry now.
"Because of who you are Puppy, I already see you have this amazing gift of understanding and compassion, what is there for him to dislike?"
"I don't think that will change how he feels somehow." I said, really doubting what Max was saying.
"You have to remember Jensen… er, Puppy, That Steven has built a picture up in his head of you, just like you have him. You both have ideas about what the other is like. I have tried to explain to you both what each of you are like as a person, but the truth is you won't know how to handle each other until you meet."
"Well, that part fills me with dread." I said, swallowing hard.
"It will be fine, Puppy, trust me on this."
We were now on our way again and I went back to looking out of the window at all the exciting things that were happening outside the van. Then I started to think about the questions I had for Max and How I was going to ask them in front of everyone. I wondered if there was now going to be a good moment to chat with him about my issues and stuff. Feeling bold I took a punt at postponing the arrival at our destination.
"Max? Erm, I hope you are not offended, and I really want to meet Susan and Steven… well, maybe not Steven in a hurry, but I was wondering if… erm, well-"
"Puppy, you really don't have to worry what you ask, I'm not Freddy Kruger, you know."
"You know, the guy from those… ah, maybe not, it doesn't matter. Just ask me, what are you wanting to say?"
"Well, Would you mind if, before we went to your home, we could go somewhere just the two of us, you know, for like, a chat?"
Max banged his forehead with the palm of his hand, before looking at me.
"I'm going too fast for you, aren't I? I'm sorry, I haven't even asked you if you were ready to meet them yet, it's just with me not wanting you to spend any more time at Greenstone it seemed like the only option was to take you straight home, I haven't even asked you if you were ready for that and I said you would always leave Greenstone when you chose."
"Max, calm down, it's fine. I got so much going on in my head right now I don't even know what I want, but yeah, I guess if I'm honest, I would like a little more time with you before I meet your family."
"Yeah… yeah, totally, so what did you want to do?"
"I don't know, I'm new to all this, remember?"
"Damn, yeah, I'm sorry… Jesus, I'm getting this all wrong aren't I?"
I managed a chuckle. Watching Max get all flustered was actually quite funny, even if this was a serious period in my life.
"Is there somewhere quiet, we could go?"
"Hmm, quiet… hang on, I know the perfect place. Hold on tight."
Max suddenly threw a right turn into a road I didn't think we were going to make. The wheels of the van made a strange noise as equipment in the back was thrown all over the place. I held on tight to the door handle until we were going in a straight line again.
"Man, that was cool!" I cried, causing Max to burst out laughing.
"Yeah, but not really how I should drive, especially in a van."
"So… so where are we going?" I asked, trying to get my breath back from the exhilarating rush I just experienced.
"Funny you should ask. It's a place where my dad used to take me most Sundays. It's a canal with a bank you can walk along. It has seats all along it and its usually very quiet. Is that ok for you?"
"Sounds great. We had a lake at Greenstone, it was at the back, I'm not sure you would have seen it, but that was very peaceful. Cindy and I used to go down there all the time to talk." I said, my face becoming serious.
"You really miss her don't you?" Max asked, noticing my change in mood.
"She was the world to me, Max, still is, and yes I miss her already. She was so strong, always knew what to say to me when I was feeling crap. I worry so much about what will happen to her."
"I wish I could do something Puppy, but you know that's very difficult. Susan and me, well, we are not poor, but I'm not sure we could afford to look after another teenager. Steven already eats us out of house and home, and you are both always going to need new things because you are growing fast. It's not just food, its clothes, gadgets you kids always seem to have these days, plus vacations and school trips… it's just not in our budget to take on another child, and besides that, I don't even know we could."
"I know Max, I'm not hinting, I just feel so desperate for her, that's all. We promised we would look out for each other whatever happened, and I feel like I am breaking that promise."
"It kills me to hear you say that Puppy, I wish we could help. I don't suppose visiting her often would be the same, no?"
"It would be a start, that's if you wouldn't mind taking me every now and again?"
"Sure, you just say the word. If it means I can sort of help in some small way at least, then I'm all for that. Just remember though, I do work long hours sometimes, so you will need to give me some notice."
"Well, that's another deal made then." I said, trying to brighten up the conversation. We both looked at each other and smiled.
I had completely forgotten where we had come from, and was even more baffled as to where we were. Max was now driving down a little road that had old stone walls either side. It reminded me of that program I used to watch at the home, called Time Team.
"If you're wondering… we are almost there." He said, seeing that I was in thought mode, looking out of the window. Max carried on slowly until the gravel underneath the van changed to patchy grass. Before long the little grass track opened up into a small area to park vehicles and Max pulled to a stop in front of some concrete bollards.
"You can't see the water from here, but once we get out, we need to walk down those concrete steps over there," he said pointing to a staircase also made of stone.
"Thank you for bringing me here… do you get on well with your dad?"
"Sure, when I see him. Why do you ask?"
"You just looked happy when you thought of this place. You remind me of how I feel when Cindy used to mention the lake, it was always a special place for us."
"Yeah, this old place has a lot of memories for me," Max replied, with an expression that said he was casting his mind back
As he led on towards the stone staircase Max put his arm round my shoulder and squeezed it. It felt really good to be with him and even though we had so much to discover about each other, he felt like a man I had known all my life. We both grabbed the handrail with our apposing hands as we carefully navigated down the steep stairs. What came into view as we neared the bottom was the most beautiful calm canal I had ever seen outside of TV. I could see some ducks gently paddling near the edge, and there was a small boat moored further upstream. Funny shaped trees hung their branches into the water, and there was an old wooden bridge that looked like it gave you access to the other side.
I pulled out of Max's grip and ran ahead in awe of what I was seeing. I ran to the edge, near where the ducks were and peered into the water. Every so often small black fish would come to the surface and cause ripples which distorted my reflection as I looked back at myself.
"This place is wonderful Max, I could live here." I said, turning to look at him, a beaming smile on my face.
"Glad you like it, wanna sit down?"
"Sure… oh wait, I need my book." I said, pointing back in the direction of the van.
"My book, it's got some stuff I wanted to ask you. Can I go get it?"
"Sure… here, catch!" Max threw me the keys to his van and I scuttled back off to the van, taking two steps at a time, not worrying this time how steep the they were.
Or that I could break my neck.
Hurrying over to the van I went to the back and found a keyhole. Since there was only one key, I assumed it fitted all doors, and sure enough, it slotted in nicely and I opened the door, revealing the 3 boxes that contained my life.
I pulled back some of the brown parcel tape sealing the boxes and hunted through. On the second box I felt the smooth surface of my A4 writing book and pulled it up from the bottom. "Got it," I muttered, before slamming the door shut again and locking it.
I ran back down towards Max, who was now relaxing with his hands behind his head like he had been there for hours.
"Are you warm enough Puppy, would you like my jacket?" He asked, as I went and stood infront of him.
"Nah, I'm fine. I'm used to the cold. I was always outside of the home with my football."
"Oh, you like football?"
"Sure do, but I'm not very good."
"Neither am I," Max declared. "But hey, perhaps when things have settled down, you, me and Steven could go for a kick about, what do you say?"
"Maybe… but not for a while, I think it will take time before I'm ready for that with Steven."
"You're right; I'm getting carried away again aren't I? So champ… what's in the book?"
"Oh, well, when I was in lock down I-"
"Wait a sec… lock down?"
I sighed, and took a seat back next to Max. "Yeah, I lost my temper with Mr Stillworth, do you remember him?"
"Yeah, he was the man I spoke with quite a lot when we were doing the DNA test. He was also the one who I remember asking the most questions," Max said, smiling. "So why did you lose your temper with him?"
"That phone call… the one you got from Cindy? Well, he accused me of putting her up to it."
"Ah, I see."
"Yeah, and I was like, no I didn't, and he didn't seem to believe me. I was feeling really down that day anyway and he just made things worse. I didn't do anything… in fact, I didn't even know she had called you, but he kept on at me about it."
"So what happened?"
I put my head down and took on a sheepish pose. "I sort of trashed his office."
To my utter surprise and horror Max actually fell into a fit of laughter. "Oh…oh my… oh my God, that's funny… oh damn Puppy, you really did that?"
"Wait, you think it's funny, I mean, aren't you angry at me or anything?"
"You're right, Puppy, I should ground you and make you do the dishes for a month!" He said, suddenly serious. However, before I could agree that would be an appropriate punishment, he burst into laughter again. "Oh puppy, of course I'm not angry. It sounds like there were a few people at Greenstone who really needed to be retrained. Forget it, it's in the past."
"Wow, well, that's a relief, I wasn't even going to mention it."
"It's fine, but hey, don't think I'm soft or anything. Steven has tried that one, and I know when enough is enough."
"I'll try not to make you angry." I said. Max just looked at me and ruffled my hair.
"So you were going to tell me what was in the book?"
"Yeah, so as I was saying, when I was in lockdown, which was my punishment for what I did, I wrote down some questions I wanted to ask you, you know, just in case I forgot. There was loads of stuff I wanted to ask you when we first met, but it all seemed to go out of my head, so I thought if I wrote them down I would remember to ask you next time."
"You know Puppy, you really are a sweet little guy, and I'd be honored to answer your questions… all of them, and I'll always be honest."
"Cool," I replied, smiling. I shuffled myself back into the bench and opened the book, finding the page that read, questions for Max. "Ready?" I asked.
"Wow, now I'm on the spot… ok fire away."
"Ok, so how did you find me?"
"Wow, that's a long one," Max said. Before falling silent to gather his thoughts I expected. "Hmm, well that all started when I read a small snippet in the paper. It was congratulating Brian and your mum on their new baby boy, Jensen."
"So how did you know it was me?"
"Well, I guess I didn't, at least not one hundred per cent. No surname was mentioned but I knew Brian was the name of the man who was with your mother, and also as the woman was called Sandy, which was the same as your mum's. The last thing was the date of birth. I knew when your mum and I had… well you know, so I just thought it had to be."
"Then what happened?"
"Well, for about a year I tried to track you down, but I think Brian was in all sorts of mess and I was sure they kept moving. I tried to find out your address from people who went to the café your mum worked at, but no one knew anything. The people who I spoke to said they had never heard of your mother, it was like she had never worked there… either that or they were too scared to tell me in case word got back to Brian."
"And after a year?"
"Well, I went through a stage where I thought that maybe I had got the wrong couple in the paper and that Brian had really made your mother have an abortion. After all, why would he want another man's child? So… and I know this will sound cruel, but I had to give up because I wasn't getting anywhere. I didn't know where you were, I didn't even know if you really existed."
"Don't feel bad Max, I know you really tried, I can feel it in you."
"I did Jensen… Puppy. Anyway, five years later I heard that your mother had been shot and that Brian had done it. The problem back then, and which I didn't know until very recently, was that Brian had changed his name by deed poll and so instead of thinking it would now be easy to track you down, I was no closer because of his damn name change. Also, because your mother and I only had that very brief fling, I didn't even know what her surname was either, it was a mess, and I felt awful."
"What's deed poll?"
"It's when someone changes their name legally and they are then known by that name. I guess Brian did it because he was in some hot water with his dodgy friends, but I don't have any evidence of that."
"So what was his name?"
"Well, when they reported it on the news your mother picture came up with her name, but Brian at that time was called Charters. So that's what I thought his name was all along."
"Right, so remember when you first mentioned Brian to me, when we met?"
"I think so."
"Well, you said his name was Brian Stibbings right?"
"Yeah, it was right?"
"Up to a certain point, yes, and that's what I was later told, but remember, I never knew his surname. From the time of him threatening me that day in his car, up until he shot himself I didn't know what his surname was, so that's why I couldn't track you down. Well, when it came on the news that he was dead, they said his name was Brian Charters, so I spent ages looking for a Jensen Charters, which of course is not and has never been your name."
"Right, so then what did you do?"
"So after your mother was killed I tried to find out what had happened to you. I used the internet to search for you, but because I was putting in Jensen Charters nothing was coming back with that name. I spent years puppy… a good seven years after they died trying to find you, but it was like Brian and your mother never existed. They seemed to have no family, no friends who knew anything about them, nothing. My wife by that time said I needed to move on, and please don't blame her for that she had put up with it for a number of years and It was consuming my life at certain stages. So like I said, after those Seven years I finally accepted I would never know who you were, or if you were even alive."
"That sounds really sad Max, It's like we were so close but so far apart. But… but you did find me so how did that happen?"
"Well, about six weeks ago I was driving home in my van after cutting down a massive tree in east London. I was listening to the radio and they happened to mention that two children's homes that were owned by the state were due to close. The report said that children would be transferred to private homes under separate funding."
"But surely in all those years you would have searched children's homes right? I mean, that is where children with no parents often go, Max."
"Indeed puppy, and there was the problem. You see I had searched all the children's homes. Every single one in the country, but my mistake was, I never searched ones owned privately. It was only that radio report that gave me the slap in the face I needed. All along I was leaving out private homes because I assumed because you would probably be taken care of by the state you would have ended up in one of those, if any."
"I see," I said, hanging on his every word.
"But that was half the battle Puppy, I still had the name issue. When I got home, I told my wife about what the radio report had said and asked her if she thought I should start calling every private home in the country looking for you."
"What did she say."
"Two brilliant things, Puppy. The first one, do it or it will haunt you if you don't."
"And the other?" I asked, getting excited.
"She told me, although it was a long shot, to ask for you by the name of Jensen Chase… my name. I started off in the London area as that's where I had first met your mother. I think Greenstone was about fifth on my list. I was losing hope because the other four before didn't have a child called Jensen, but when I called Greenstone they said they did have a Jensen, but not a Jensen Chase."
"So how did you know the Jensen at Greenstone was your son… was me?"
"Well to start with I asked about your background and how you ended up in the home. They seemed very reluctant to tell me anything. Then I asked them if your parents had been shot and killed ten years ago, and…"
Max stopped, much to my frustration. "And, what happened, Max, please I gotta know," I demanded excitedly.
"Well, there was a long pause on the line and then the man said, I think we need to pursue this further, which obviously told me one thing… that you were my son, and that I had found you."
I immediately burst into tears; it was the climax, I had been waiting for. Max had indeed spent years looking for me, never giving up. He had used so much of his life looking for a son that might not have even existed, and yet he never gave up. He tried everything; called everywhere, risked his own life trying to do the right thing and finally… finally, that had all paid off. It was a beautiful story and I just wept in his arms, it was all I could do.
"So now you know Puppy, I never gave up, please believe I never gave up on you," He said passionately, his voice now cracking. "Do… do you have more questions?"
"Mind if I have a moment, what you said has really cut me up," I said through my tears.
"Sure, take as long as you need, I'm here, and always will be."
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