Puppy For Sale
Chapter 18 - Whatever... Gatecrasher!
I pulled out of Max's embrace and wiped my eyes. I didn't care if anyone had seen me crying, not that anyone had as I looked around to see we were in fact, still alone. Still sitting on our bench, Max pulled a packet of tissues from his jacket and removed one, passing it to me.
"You cry a lot then?" I asked, managing a snigger.
"Actually, I had a cold a few weeks ago, wise guy."
I took the tissue from his hand and blew my nose, conscious that I felt a lot better. I could see that Max's eyes were wet too, but he chose to use the sleeve of his jacket to remove any watery deposits.
"So what else is in that book, maybe something that won't be so complicated?" he teased.
"Yeah, I guessed it was better to get the big one out of the way first." Looking at my book again I picked another question. "Erm, let's see… ah yeah… why did you come looking for me?"
"Wow, I dunno whether to feel hurt or not with that one, Puppy."
"Sorry, I didn't mean it as it-"
"I'm pulling your chain, Puppy, it's a good question."
"Ah ok, I just didn't wanna sound ungrateful… so tell me then."
"You know, when that thing happened between your mum and I, we never set out for her to get pregnant, at least I didn't anyway. When you are seventeen the thought of being a Dad just doesn't register, but when I realised that I could be a father, some kind of thing kicked in."
"Yeah, I can't explain it, but I was so fascinated that I might have made another human being… hmm, maybe fascinated is the wrong word. I guess I wanted to be a part of what I had created, even if I didn't know how or where I started with that."
"I think I know what you mean."
"I know I'm not explaining it very well, but anyway, when Brian said your mum was pregnant and you were mine, I knew I had to be in your life. Even though I was really young, after a few days of knowing I was going to be a dad, I got excited about that. Of course, as I have already told you, there were many times I did have my doubts. But even with them in mind, I had to believe still, and I hoped that eventually I would find out for sure."
"It didn't quite go to plan though, did it?"
"No, it didn't, and that's why I never gave up looking for you, because I still had that passion to be your father no matter what."
Max certainly did have that passion, and when he talked about his struggles to find me and his reasons, it really did make sense and feel true. All my conscious life I had been searching for some new parents, and here was a man who was always searching for me. The very thought of how many years had been lost depressed my soul, but I hoped we still had time to make up lost ground.
Staring over the canal I knew straight away that this would be the first of many visits to this place. Like his father, I wanted to come here with Max again, for this was going to be our place now. The canal with the small boat, ducks, funny shaped trees and rotten old bridge would forever be scarred in my mind as the place where I got to know my dad.
"So how did you meet your wife?" I asked, breaking our brief silence.
"Is that in your book?" Max replied, trying to get a glimpse of the page I was on.
"No, it just came into my mind."
"Oh, well, I met Susan when I first started my business twelve years ago. She was married to a nasty guy called Mark Thorn who had called my number to remove a large tree from their back yard. The job on that tree took me three days because back then, I was just working on my own out of an old Ford Transit van. Anyway, in those three days I sort of got to know Susan. While her husband was at his job, she would bring me tea and biscuit's while I worked out in the yard. I would stop for breaks here and there, you know, and I couldn't help noticing how unhappy she seemed. Don't get me wrong, she was always smiling when I was talking to her, but I used to be able to see through the kitchen window, and sometimes she would be crying."
"Why was she so unhappy?"
"She was in a very unhappy marriage Puppy, and her husband used to beat her."
"Hey, you don't hit girls!" I said, angrily.
"I'm glad you know that Puppy, but unfortunately some men are such cowards they think its ok."
"So of course, this was making Susan very upset and I could see she really wanted to leave this man who was hurting her. Trouble was, it was not my place to say anything because I was just a guy who was being paid to cut down a tree, plus the fact I was only Twenty years old at the time. She on the other hand was twenty five, married and had a three year old child, so I was hardly the person qualified to start giving her advice. I just thought she would think I was some stupid young guy with only his dick…erm, with only himself to look after."
"You can say dick, I know what one is," I said, sniggering.
Max chucked, "Yeah, so I just carried on until the tree was done and on the third day I knocked on the door to collect my money for the work. Susan came to the door and I noticed she had a bruise on her neck that I hadn't seen before. I knew it was wrong, but I gave her my number and told her that if things ever got really bad, and she needed a place to stay for a couple of days, I would be happy to put her up."
"And did she?"
"No, and I wasn't surprised really, I knew she would probably have family so didn't expect her to contact a complete stranger. My offer was more out of sorrow and guilt for her. I felt guilty that she had to put up with that."
"That was really nice of you. So… so if she didn't call, how did you end up together?"
"Well her husband Mark liked the job I done on the tree and he called me again six weeks later to see if I could take out the root as he was having trouble getting it to come out. I agreed, and arranged a date to come back. When I got there I could see that things were really bad between them. Susan had bruises all over her now and Mark was outside watching me work knocking back cans of beer."
"Then what happened?"
"Then he started insulting his wife to me saying what a useless woman she was and how he had affairs with other women… I knew he was drunk, and I tried to ignore it as much as I could, after all, Puppy, it was still none of my business."
"But Max, you really should have said something, that man sounds like an ass."
"Oh, I did, puppy, I did."
"What did you do?"
"I did a very bad thing really. I got so angry hearing him say those things I ended up beating him quite badly. I'm not proud of that because violence does not solve violence, Puppy, but that man had it coming and I put him in hospital for five days."
"Wow, you must have really hurt him."
"I did, I broke his jaw, and told him that if he went to the police about me, I would tell them about how he uses his wife as a punch bag. We both agreed that he fell out of a tree I was cutting down."
I laughed, thinking that was such a good move. "So, Susan left him?"
"Yeah, while he was in hospital, I persuaded her to go and stay at her mums and leave him. I said that I took responsibility for causing the trouble but explained why I got involved. I helped her transport some essentials to her parents and said that I was here if she needed me. About four weeks later she called me and asked if I would like to meet her for a drink to say thank you."
"So did she leave him... or is there more to this?"
Max chuckled. "Yeah, she remained at her parents with Steven and told him she wanted a divorce. When I met her for a drink she shyly admitted she wished she had been with someone like me, and I sort of said I wished I was with someone like her… well after that drink I guess you could say the rest is history."
"Oh, gross, you guys did it?"
Max cracked into a fit of laughter. "Nooo! I mean eventually we became romantically involved, yeah, but over time, Puppy. We started meeting for dinner and stuff like that and then one night I invited her over to my place to watch a movie and asked if she wanted to move in with me."
"And Steven?" I asked, wondering how he fitted into all this.
"Well, this is where it gets a little sad, because when Steven was ten his father was found dead, and-"
"Wait, this is the Mark guy, yeah"
"The very same man, Puppy… he got so drunk one night he choked to death on his own vomit. Steven was due to see him on Sunday like he always did as that was the arrangement, but when Susan took him round she couldn't get an answer at the door. Eventually Mark's father came round and broke in, finding him dead on the couch."
"Whoa, that's horrible, poor Steven," I said, imagining the gruesome sight.
"Luckily he didn't see his father in that state, Puppy, but yeah, even though Mark was a horrible human being, he was still Steven's father and that was hard for him."
"So that's when you adopted him then, right… because he no longer had a dad?"
"Yeah, pretty much, I had married Susan a few years earlier so it seemed natural to give Steven some stability and take him on as my own. In some ways you and he share that insecurity streak, I don't blame you both for that at all, you have each had traumatic lives. But with Steven, I wanted to prove to him I wasn't going anywhere, just like I'm not when it comes to you."
"What a story, he must really love you, right?"
"Well, I hope so, Puppy… I treat him like he is my own flesh and blood."
I sat there thinking about how Steven's and my own world held similarities and wondered if he had faced the demons I had when it came to his emotions. Whatever the case, from what Max had said about him it sounded like he had dealt with it better than me, but I guess everything I thought would be based on assumption until we actually met.
"So, I wanna ask you something, Puppy?"
"Well, I think that's fair, seeing as I have been doing all the asking," I declared.
"What is the first thing you wanna do with your new life? It can be anything you want, within reason."
I clenched the bench with my hands and rocked back and forward thinking hard. A choice… I was being given a choice, and it felt so unnatural. Mr Watson was right, I could do anything I wanted to now… be anyone I wanted, but what was the first thing I wanted to do.
Grrr, so many choices.
"It sounds stupid, but I have never been to the cinema, or tasted McDonalds."
"Really?" Max exclaimed.
"Yeah I know… of all the things I could have chosen, that's just silly right? But I know things cost money so…"
"No… no Puppy, that's not stupid at all, I just thought maybe you would have had those things, even being at Greenstone."
"Nope, we never got to go out, apparently there was not the funding for luxuries like that. But it was ok, what you've never had you never miss. I heard that on TV once and it is kind of true."
"Puppy, NO child should be deprived the taste of McDonalds, it's like a teenagers rite of passage," Max said, his mouth breaking into a wide smile. "Absolutely, we can do that… and the cinema as well. Hey, you can even pick the movie!"
"Wow, Oh my God, I'm so excited now, so when can we go?"
Max laughed. "I think we ought to get things settled with you at home first but I'll make you a promise that we can go inside a week, how's that?"
"It's a deal," I said, sticking my hand out to Max, who quickly took it.
"Our third one I think."
After chatting for another hour, Max suggested we make a move home. Once we got into the van he pulled out his cell and called Susan to tell her why we were delayed. He laughed a few times on the phone and that put me at ease because I really didn't want to upset Susan by making Max late back home, even though I already had.
As we drove out of the parking lot and back down the narrow lane Max showed me how to use the MP3 player in the van and told me to put on some music that I liked. I admitted to him that we didn't really have a lot to choose from at the home, but I did find a few songs by the Eagles that we both knew, and so I selected those, with Max immediately humming to Hotel California while we cruised along.
As we left the main roads for quieter surroundings, I had a feeling we were getting close to where Max lived. My mind was going wild conjuring up images of what his house looked like. I obviously knew it was going to be a lot smaller than Greenstone, I wasn't that naïve, but I did wonder if it had a big garden so I could kick my ball about. Then I thought about having to share with Steven, so I concluded that if it had just two bedrooms, maybe it was small.
We passed a row of shops on the left and Max slowed the van down to a crawl. "These are our local shops, Puppy, so if you ever need anything you can get it here. That one there is the bakery and next door is a newsagent. The one on the corner there is like a little food shop. Susan and I do the main shopping at the supermarket, but if we need a couple of things we'll come here. This is also where you can buy sweets."
"Wow, Ok… and what's that one there with all the Models outside?"
Max giggled. "Don't ask me why that one is still in business, but it's a shop that sells wigs."
"Fake hair Puppy, for people who have no hair."
"Hmm, sounds creepy." I mused, as Max pulled away again continuing our journey.
It seemed like a really nice area. There were a few people walking their dogs and we passed an old man mowing his lawn. Most of the houses we went by had pretty flowers in the garden and I remember seeing one that had a hedge made into numbers, which Max explained was the number of the house.
We turned down a number of small roads, eventually coming into one that didn't seem to have a way out. At the bottom were three houses that looked pretty much the same and Max stopped the van outside the one to the right. There were two cars parked on the driveway and they looked pretty new.
"So, here we are, Puppy."
"Is… is that your house?" I asked, pointing to the building he had stopped in front of.
"That's it… what do you think?"
"It looks nice," I replied, taking in the features. The house was white with black strips of wood that ran vertically from the roof down to the middle. There were four windows at the front and I wondered if Steven was behind one of them watching me like a predator.
Max took off his seat belt and was just about to get out when I saw the front door open and a woman came running down the driveway smiling. She was barefoot, wearing a navy blue dress and black cardigan. As she approached the van Max ran down the window on my side giving access to the rather excitable woman.
"Welcome… welcome," she cried, putting her head through the window and kissing me on the cheek. I didn't have time to react, and in an act of what must have looked rude, I pulled away.
"Puppy, this is my wife Susan, Susan, meet Puppy."
"Puppy?" she said, looking at Max strangely.
"I'll explain later babe."
"Well, Jensen, It is sooo good to finally meet you, welcome to our home… my gosh you are a handsome boy… oh what lovely thick blond hair you have… yep, just like your father, Oh I am so excited."
All I could do was smile. I don't know why, but she almost scared me a little, she was so excited. I guess I should have been grateful, l but I didn't know what to say, or do. She seemed totally different from Max, who was more quiet and reserved.
"Nice to meet you Mrs Chase," I blurted out, feeling that was such a stupid thing to say.
"Jensen, call me Susan you silly thing… now come, you must be hungry, would you like a sandwich or something… oh, Max, why don't we get the barbecue out and have a feast?"
"Let's get Jensen's stuff in first shall we love, and then we'll look at eating."
"Of course,.. oh, I'm sorry Jensen, I am just so excited. Your father and I have been so looking forward to having you come live with us."
"I am very pleased to be here Susan," I said.
Grrr, another stupid comment!
"Sue, would you mind moving a little so Jensen can actually get out?" Max said, chuckling to his wife.
"Oh where are my manners? Stupid me, keeping you holed up in there. Here, let me get the door."
"Puppy, if you want to grab a box from the back and I'll get the other two."
"No worries," I said, finally being able to leave the van. Max opened the back and I pulled out one of my boxes, clutching it tight.
"You go through honey, just dump it in the hallway for now," Susan called to me, as I stood on the sidewalk wondering what to do. I moved off and headed towards the front door of their house. Just as I got to the step my path was blocked by a tall boy around my age. His face looked angry and hostile and all I could do was freeze. I looked back briefly to see where Max was but he was busy chatting to Susan at the back of the van. I turned back round to see the boy still staring at me.
"Erm… hi, er, you must be Steven, right? I'm Jensen," I said nervously.
Not thinking what I was doing I held out my hand to shake his and the box I was carrying fell to the floor with everything in it going everywhere."
"Idiot!" The boy grunted, looking down at me trying to collect my things up.
"Erm, yeah I guess that was a bit stupid, erm, so, anyway you are Steven right?" I asked, trying to dismiss my stupidity.
"Whatever… gatecrasher!" came the reply.
With that comment he turned on his heels and marched back upstairs. Moments later I heard a door slam indicating my welcome from him was complete.
I felt sick!
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