"Something wrong, Josh?" I asked.
"Where do we live?" he asked softly.
"Well, we live in Lansingburgh, which is the North end of Troy," I replied.
"Where is that?" he asked.
"Well, it's north of where you lived with your Gramma, about twenty minutes," I replied.
"Which way is North?" he asked.
"That way," I said, pointing to the left of the vehicle.
"Then how come we're not going that way?" he asked.
"Because we have to go east to get to the road that goes north," I said with some exasperation. I wondered if he gave everyone the third degree about directions? He rode in silence for a minute, and I have to say it wasn't a comfortable silence either.
"Um, do you have any music?" he asked.
"Well, what do you call that stuff coming out of the speakers?" I asked.
"I mean real music, like Eminem," he replied.
"Rap is not music," I responded.
"Yeah huh, it is too," he said defensively, "Old people don't like it though."
"I am not old, let's get that straight right off the bat!" I said quickly.
"Yeah you are," he muttered, "Like a hundred thousand years old."
Uh oh, this was a bad foot to start off on. How can I switch this so that we can get away from trading barbs?
"If I'm a hundred thousand, how old is your gramma?" I asked.
"She's like a million and a half," he replied before grinning, "she takes out her teeth at night." I smirked at this knowledge.
"Are you really going to let Ty sleep over? I never had a sleep over before," he asked.
"Sure, I don't see why not. Tomorrow we have to go register you for school and then go shopping to get you some things for your room," I chatted idly as I navigated on the surface streets towards the on ramp for Interstate 90.
"Why can't I go to my old school? I have friends there," he whined.
"Because for one it's too far away, and for two because we don't live in the same school district as your grandmother. So you have to go to the school closer to the house," I replied.
"I don't want to do that!" he exclaimed.
"Well, I'm sorry, but that's the was it has to be," I replied.
"That's not fair! I don't want to go to your house!" he whined loudly.
"Josh, look, there are going to be a lot of changes, I know it won't be easy, but everything will work out. You'll see," I said to him, trying to keep an edge of irritation out of my voice. "It's a big change for me too, you know."
He sulked, then changed the subject. "Do you have cable?" he asked.
"Yes, we do," I replied. That reminded me; I had to get a few channels turned off.
"You don't get The Walton's, do you?" he asked.
"I don't know, I don't watch much TV. Besides, I don't think I'd watch the Walton's anyway," I said, thinking only for Jim Bob since he was sorta cute.
"Whew, Gramma always watches the Walton's, almost like they had their own channel. I think I'd barf if I had to watch it anymore," he said while scrunching his features and sounding as if he were talking about barfing on me rather than about the Walton's. We rolled onto the highway and I headed east on 90 towards the 787N exchange.
"You don't watch any TV?" he asked, shocked at the idea.
"Well, I do watch movies sometimes," I said, maybe a bit defensively, "but most of the time, no I don't."
"Not even when the Giants play?" he asked incredulously.
"No way José, I never watch those guys," I said mischievously.
"Gramma says all decent people watch the Giants!" he exclaimed. Man, this old gal had warped his head! Between the Walton's and bad football teams ...
"Well, if you're decent and you have good taste, you like the Chargers," I said grinning. Let him repeat that to Vera!
"Will I have a room of my own?" he asked hopefully, changing the subject again.
"Yes, we have to go shopping for some furniture and stuff for it tomorrow," I said.
"That's mad cool," he replied, "Ty will be jealous, he has to share with his little brother. His sister gets her own room though."
"Well, she is a girl," I offered.
"Yeah," he agreed, "Me and Ty..."
"Ty and I," I corrected.
"We think his mom and dad are trying to keep all the cooties in one room," he finished. I had to grin at that.
"I want to go to the same school as him, he's my best friend," he said softly, but with a trace of petulance.
"I know, but you can see him on the weekend, I promise."
"You do? I didn't ask you to," he said, some shock in his voice.
"I know you didn't, but I promise, he can come as long as it's ok with his folks."
"Are there any kids in the neighborhood?" he asked hopefully.
"Yes, let's see, there's Drew next door. He'll probably baby-sit for you a few times, and I think you'll like him. And there is his little brother Ed, and an even littler brother whose name is..." I furrowed my brow in thought, what was that kids name?
"I don't need a babysitter," he said importantly, "Do they play video games?"
"Yes, well, I know Drew does. I've loaned him some computer games before."
"There's a computer? Phat! Gramma doesn't like them," he said beginning to warm to me.
The truck trundled down 787N into the City of Cohoes. I turned on Ontario Street, which turned into 112th street when crossing the Hudson River into Lansingburgh. I glanced at my watch, only a little behind schedule really, when it dawned on me that Billy didn't know about Josh yet. Not only that, he had to work late due to the truck day, maybe I should stop and tell him? I decided that would be best, at least he'd have a few minutes to think about it before coming home. The truck surged through the light at 112th Street and 2nd Avenue and I followed it up to 5th Avenue. I then headed south on 5th for a few blocks until I reached the drug store chain Billy worked for.
"How come we're stopping?" Josh asked.
"JT, can I call you JT? You worry to much," I said, "We're picking up some deodorant for me, toothbrush for you, and do I need to get you some diapers?" I asked in jest, but his face took on a hurt expression.
"It only happens if I drink too late at night. Mom said it would go away," he said softly. Damn! Open mouth and insert foot, good job Dave!
"I was only kidding. And it will go away, all kids do it for a while," I said softly.
"I don't do that much, Gramma says if I don't drink anything after eight o'clock I'm ok. I haven't done it in a long time though," he mumbled.
"Don't worry about it, Josh." I replied lightly, trying to move past it.
"What's a JT?"
"Your initials, Joshua Taylor," I said.
"Mom always called me that when I was in trouble."
"No, Joshua Taylor. But I like JT better, it's cool."
We left the truck and went into the store, Josh heading to the toys and whatnot while I scanned the aisles for Billy. I saw him stacking the end of one, snack foods and whatnot, and walked up behind him quietly, then stuck my finger in his ear. He jerked away quickly, turning to see who was messing with him, then he favored me with a smile.
"Hey, I was wondering who was that was, I was like, who the heck is this?" he grinned, "What are you doing here?"
"Well, I have some big news." I inhaled deeply, "really big news."
"Uh oh. What?" he asked.
"Remember I told you about that girl Towers, the one Rich set me up with years ago?"
"Yeah, I think so."
"Well, it turns out she just died."
"Oh, that sucks," Billy replied as he continued to stock the shelf.
"It also turns out she had a kid, his name is Joshua Taylor Collins."
"I thought her last name was Towers?"
"It was. Joshua is my son," I replied, and he froze.
"You have a son?"
I nodded. "I just found out today."
He went quiet while soaking this information in. I could see some questions running just under the surface of his face, but he kept his hands busy with the product he was arranging on the shelf.
"Where is he now?" he asked.
"Looking at the toys and comic books," I replied.
"He's here? What are we supposed to do with a kid in the house?" he asked with some worry, then turned quickly to take a deep breath."So he's living with us now?"
"Yeah," I sighed, "so what do you think?"
"You know I always wanted to be a parent, but this is really sudden. I always thought we'd have time to prepare I guess," he sighed heavily, " I suppose there's nothing you can do about it anyway." He shook his head, "I ... I ... this is big news! I mean, how'd you find out? His name's Joshua? How old is he? What's he look like? We're gonna have a kid in the house?"
I understood Billy's anxiety, but at that moment it just made him look cute. I smiled, "Hey, too many questions. I'm sorry I didn't call and tell you, but it was kind of a weird day."
"Weird is an understatement. What are you gonna do now?" he asked with a wry chuckle.
"He's already had dinner, but I'm taking tomorrow off to get him registered for school and buy some stuff for his room," I said.
Billy took a deep breath before answering. "Ok, I don't have to work 'til two tomorrow so we can get up early and get that done." He returned to stocking the shelf.
"I'm not sure yet how we should be explained to him, he's going to have questions," I said slowly.
"Well, we should probably sit down and make some ground rules about that, you know, respecting privacy in the house," Billy said.
"Yeah, something like that."
"Plus you and me should probably talk about this and the, well, changes it's going to make."
"Dad! Can I get this comic book, please?" Josh blurted when he walked up to me holding an X-Men comic.
"Sure, JT, that's fine. Why don't you pick out a toothbrush?"
"Ok, where are they?" he asked.
"Aisle 5," Billy replied.
"Hey, JT, this is Billy. He lives with me at our house."
"Hi." Josh said quickly before going in search of a toothbrush.
"You shouldn't buy him junk in the stores, it spoils him, makes him think you're an easy touch," Billy grinned tentatively. "He looks a lot like you. Is that how you looked at his age?"
"Well," I replied shrugging my shoulders, "He looks like his mother too. As for comics, it's reading so it's not junk."
"Let, me finish this stuff and I'll be out if here in about twenty minutes."
"OK, see you at home."
* * * * * * * *
As we pulled up in front of the house I decided I should ask the big "D" question.
"JT, do you like dogs?"
"I never had one. My Aunt Kelly had one, but all he did was growl and fart," Josh replied.
"Well, I have two dogs, they;re very friendly, but really noisy when they bark, so don't get scared."
"Are they big?" he asked with nervousness in his voice.
"Zach is big, but he's just a baby."
We climbed out, Josh looking a bit nervous as we grabbed his things from the truck. He walked with his child-sized suitcase clutched in front of him, as if it were a shield of some sort.
Predictably Zach let out a thunderous woof when we set foot on the wooden front porch, and rumbled like a herd of elephants coming down the stairs. The higher pitched, but just as noisy howl of the beagle could be heard mixing with the thumping of Zach as he descended the last few stairs.
"He sounds big," Josh said in a tight voice.
"He is, but he's really a big baby. Just yell at him and he'll go away," I replied as I placed the key in the door.
"Dad, I'm scared, what if he bites me."
"Zach has never bitten anyone Josh, except for the occasional bug."
"He bites bugs?"
"Sure, he'll chase flies all over the house," I replied. I turned the key in the door and JT let out a small whimper behind me, and then the door was open. Zach stood wagging his tail and jumping up on me, twisting and dancing for attention. Tristan sniffed me and then charged past to investigate the new person. Zach noticed JT, woofed loudly once then went to say hello.
JT began to whimper and backed away.
"Zach! No! Come here, you big goober," I said sharply, and Zach turned back towards me, tail tucked a bit but still obviously pleased. Tristan, on the other hand, had a mind of his own and proceeded to put his paws about mid-thigh on JT and sniffed with wild abandon, tail nothing more than a blur. JT was trying to move away, but the beagle had him in his sights, and no sooner did I reach for and successfully grab his collar than Zach was around me.
Josh's eyes widened in terror and he screamed at Zach to get away. Zach lowered his ears, tucked his tail and retreated behind me. Tears were rolling down JT's cheeks as he clutched the suitcase to his chest.
I took the small case from his hands and set it in the door and told him to wait there. I dragged the beagle by his collar and Zach came willingly to go out the back door, where I placed him on his lead and closed the door.
Josh hadn't moved and I scooped him into my arms, rocking him and murmuring to him words of comfort and safety.
"Where are they?" he asked.
"Out back. Did you see how fast you scared Zach away?" I asked him.
"Did not," he said rubbing his eyes.
"Sure you did, you yelled and he ran like his tail was on fire and his a ... um, butt was catching it," I replied, and he giggled a bit.
"Did he really run?" he asked.
"Sure did, I told you he's a big baby. Come on, lets get your stuff inside and up to your room." I took his bag and he followed with a duffel as we ascended the stairs. I opened the door to the spare room, now JT's room, and set his things down on the long, low dresser.
"Lets get your stuff put away first," I said unzipping the duffle bag while he opened his suitcase on the bed. I helped him to get his clothes put away. We could get some of his toys from Vera's when we picked Ty up, besides he could get stuff tomorrow too. We headed downstairs and the dogs were whining to be let in. Well, Zach was whining, Tristan howled like a banshee. Jeez, you would have thought someone was killing the dog! I went to JT and put him up on the counter, feet dangling and eyes as big as saucers.
"It's ok, you just yell at Zach, he'll back off, ok?" I said softly. He nodded but kept his eyes on the door.
I then let the dogs in. JT's eyes were wide, but his nerve held as Zach raced in, JT yelled at him to go away and Zach stopped short.
"See? They won't hurt you," I said softly before playing with the dogs and speaking in that silly language you only use for pets and small children. I heard him get off the counter and watched his small hand stroke Zach, who backed into him to get more attention. Not to be outdone Tristan was on him like a, well, dog to a leg. Soon he was sitting on the kitchen floor getting sniffed and licked as tails wagged uncontrollably. He smiled and I could tell for sure that he was my kid.
He was a dog person.
There were the sounds of feet on the front porch and both dogs raced for the door, barking and howling in anticipation of a visitor. I walked towards the front door and saw my next-door neighbor's kids, well two of them anyway. I opened the door and asked them in. They both said their hellos and patted the dogs, which of course were delighted to have more people at their disposal. The kids were unique and contrasting at once. Drew, the older, was shorter and more fragile in appearance, with a shock of dark hair, and was about four inches shorter than his brother. Ed, the middle brother, was tall and had blondish brown hair, by contrast, with ruddy cheeks and a generous mouth. They were both intelligent kids, Ed the sportsman of the two, while Drew was more into computers and books. That might make you think that Ed didn't read, in fact they were both excellent students, which left of course one shining flaw for each of them.
They drove one another crazy.
"Dave, I was playing the game you lent me, when this moron decided to throw the football in the house, now it doesn't work right," Drew began.
"I didn't throw it, I tripped, and if your shoes hadn't been in the way I wouldn't have done that!" Ed retorted.
"Look, Edward, I always put my stuff away, I always take care of my stuff," Drew shot back.
"Oh yeah, I forgot, it's just when you borrow someone else's stuff that you treat it like shit, right Harry Potter?" Ed shot back.
"Ok, time out, put the knives away, I say, I say down boys!" I said stepping between them and planting a hand on each chest to keep them from coming to blows in the hallway.
"Drew, is the disc damaged?" I asked.
"Well, no, it was in the computer, but he ..."
"Ok, so that's no harm no foul, he just pissed you off. Right?"
"He's always pissing me off," Drew complained.
"Like you're a prize to live with?" Ed snorted back.
"Ok, ok. You two have issues, so only one of you is allowed in the house at a time while JT is home, ok?" I told them sternly.
"My son, Joshua. Josh, this is Drew and Ed," I said, pointing back and forth at each of them.
"Hi," Josh said in a small, shy voice.
It was kind of funny, Ed and Drew left to their own devices drive each other up the wall, but if you add a third person then they click together like, what was it Forrest Gump said? Peas and Carrots, yes they were just like that. In no time they had Josh giggling and they were taking him next door to meet Rory, their younger brother. I liked those kids.
* * * * * * * *
Billy got home shortly after the kids had walked next door, and he looked tired.
"Beer?" I asked.
"That sounds good," he said with a wan smile. I popped the top and handed him one while retrieving one for myself.
"I'm kind of nervous about this," Billy stated, "A kid is a lot of work, a lot of time, and we don't have much of that as it is."
"I know that, but what do you want me to do? Take him back? I can't unmake him, it's too late for an abortion!" I snapped.
"No, I know that, but it makes me nervous, ok? Can't I have feelings too?" he demanded.
"Yeah," I sighed, "Of course you can, I'm sorry."
"Well, you act like it's all about you. This changes things for me too, you know."
"I know, but I couldn't just leave him!" I said.
"I didn't mean you should have, but I'm trying to tell you how I feel."
"Ok, ok, I'm sorry. It's been a long day, weird stuff you know?"
"Yeah," he said taking a seat in one of the two recliners, "I do."
"He's a nice kid, Billy. He's a little nervous himself, he was driving me nuts in the car, wanting to know where we were going, like I was kidnapping him." I sat in the other recliner, "I really like him though, I've thought about having a son before, you know that. And I know you did too, and even if it's sudden and takes some time to get used to, I think it'll be worth it."
"I know," he sighed, "You're probably right. At least I can be a better father to him than mine was to me."
* * * * * * * *
Rory brought Josh over later, and he was a funny kid, very serious expression. He was similar to the other two in that he was Caucasian, other than that you wouldn't guess he was related with his tangle of red hair that brightened in the summer sun. I imagine his expression was because of his brothers; they probably weren't any nicer to him than they were each other. Rory was not a big kid, and he was Josh's age, might even be in the same grade.
"Hi Rory, did Drew find out what was wrong with the game?" I asked.
"No, but I know," he said with a mischievous grin.
"Well, what was the problem?" I asked, knowing this had to be good.
"The switch on the wall is for the power plug to the computer, and that's all it's for. I switched it off," he grinned happily. They are made for each other! He said goodbye and left for home.
* * * * * * * *
"Zach, move over, you take up too much space!" Josh grumbled as Zach muttered and shifted. Tristan wedged himself in behind JT's back, which always drove me nuts.
"Dad, can I tell you something kinda stupid? I mean, it's little kid stuff, but can I?"
"Sure, you can tell me anything," I said, sitting on the edge of his bed.
"Ty's dad, he always reads him a bedtime story. Can you tell me one?" he asked.
Oh man, talk about an unprepared father! Most of the 'bedtime' stories I knew were not for a 'G' rated crowd!
"Ty's dad read Casey at bat for us. Do you know that one?" Josh asked. I knew of it, but not the darn story to repeat. A light went off in my head.
"Well, no, but I do know a good baseball story, if you want to hear it," I replied.
"Yeah!" Josh said as he settled in on his side, beagle warming his back.
"Well, you know who Mark McGwire is, right? The guy who hit all those home runs?" Josh nodded, "Well, Mark and I go way back. One year he was in San Diego on a road trip, the year after he hit all those home runs and it looked like he was going to do it again. Well, I saw him before the game and we got to talking. I told him I would have been a better power hitter if I had played ball.
"Well, Mark isn't one to let something like that go, so we went down to old Balboa stadium with a couple of guys to have a home run hitting contest," I said. Josh's eyes were wide.
"Now, that pitcher threw a fastball at Mark, and he knocked the daylights out of it, I mean he hit the leather clean off the ball. It was amazing how hard he hit it, so when I got in to take my first swing, I knew I had my work cut out for me.
"The pitcher threw me an inside slider, which believe it or not was exactly what I wanted. I swung as hard as I could, and it was line drive, a frozen rope! It went past the pitcher so fast he never had a chance at it. It flew right over second base, so the second baseman and shortstop never had a chance." I glanced at him and saw a look of utter disbelief.
"So it's going out there towards center field, about as high off the ground as you are tall, and you know what? I think the center fielder never saw anything like it, and he got himself out of the way of that ball! Boy did he move! Then, about ten feet away from the fence, the ball started to rise up and it sailed right over that fence, darndest thing they ever saw, I'll tell you. And mister Mark McGwire, the heavy hitter for the St. Louis Cardinals? He didn't hit anymore homers that year, he knew he'd been beat."
I smiled down at JT and he stared at me before saying, "Uh uh! You can't hit a ball like that!"
I stood and headed for the door, switching off the light.
"Are you really, really my Dad? Grandma said so, but she's been wrong before," he said doubtfully.
"Yes, I am," I said with a bit of emotion at the powerful thought.
"Can I have a hug then? Please?"
"You bet you can."
... to be continued
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