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Puppy for Sale - 8. The Impossible Goodbye & New Beginnings

"Please, come in and sit down," Mr Watson said, moving aside so Max and I could enter his office. "Can I get you both a drink at all? Tea, Coffee perhaps?" Max and I shook our heads, and Mr Watson nodded, taking a seat in his chair.

"Is Cindy okay, Mr Watson? I haven't spoken to her since... well, you know."

"I will make sure you can see her Puppy, before you leave today, and yes, she is fine... a little shaken, but otherwise okay."
,
"Thank you," I said, rubbing my knees with my hands.

"Right, let's get started. I have had the relevant paperwork drawn up for your release, Puppy. First, your father needs to sign a few documents. Then there are some things I need to explain to you both. As we go through, feel free to ask any questions you have, and I will do my best to answer them. But firstly, how are you, Puppy? That was a close call."

I shrugged, not really wanting to talk about it. "Doctor's said I’d be okay.,"

I kept it brief, signalling my intention not to say too much. "Right, well…. I'm sorry you felt so_."

"Could we just move to the paperwork? I’m sure Jensen doesn't want to re-live what happened," Max cut in. Mr Watson just paused before moving his hands towards what was inside his desk.

"Of course, Mr Chase, so let's continue."

Max and I both nodded, and I watched as Mr Watson pulled a beige file from his draw with my name on it. He opened it and took out a double-ply form which I assumed was my release document as it referred to that at the top of the page.

"Okay, so this form is to confirm that Max Daniel Chase has sought and been awarded complete custody of Jensen Andrew Stibbings. Do you agree this is your wish, Mr Chase?"

Max nodded and was passed the form to look at by Mr Watson. I Could see there was a lot of strange wording on it, none of which I understood, but I knew this must be the form that makes it all legal. Max studied the wording intently before looking up at Mr Watson.

"It says here that Jensen has a trust fund set up. Can you explain this?"

"Of course. When the state handed Jensen to us, it transcribed his parents had set up an insurance bond for him when he was born. There was a credit made to that bond each month for fifty pounds. After the death of his parents, this continued to be paid from the estate of Brian Stibbings and will do so until maturity."

"Hmm, I see, and when will that be?"

"The Maturity? That will happen on his eighteenth birthday and will be paid to our central account with Puppy being the beneficiary."

"Can this be changed?"

"Yes, of course; what would you like us to do?"

"Well, I will go to my bank with Jensen and have an account opened for him. This is his money, and I would like him to have it under his control."

"Of course, Mr Chase. Once the funds are paid out, I will have a cheque drawn up and made out to puppy as per your request."

"Thank you, Mr Watson," I said.

"So if you are happy with everything else, feel free to sign, and that will conclude the transfer of custody."

Mr Watson handed Max a silver pen, and with one final skim, over the form with his eyes. He signed the document. I was suddenly aware that my whole life had just changed with one signature, and it felt profound.

"In terms of Puppy's medical regime, I have asked Doctor Listern to draft a report explain-"

"I think Doctor Listern has done enough, Mr Watson. I will not need his report and recommendations. I should stress that according to my source, Doctor Listern's approach to Jensen's treatment has been a disaster, and I think the man needs to be made aware of that."

"I'm sorry that you feel that way, Mr Chase. I would like to add that I have known Doctor Listern for many years. I talked him into joining us at Greenstone, and he is a very well educated doctor. I also feel he has always carried out his duties to Puppy's care in the most professional way.",

"I don't doubt Doctor Listern's care level,s Mr Watson. It’s his methods that concern me. Jensen's drugs are all wrong, and the dosages were being manipulated far too often. It seems Doctor Listern's answer for everything was to regulate solely with drugs rather than trying to get to the core of the problem."

"That is, of course a matter of opinion Mr Chase. What you must understand is that Puppy's condition is very complicated and requires multiple drugs to control. I will add that Doctor Listern is a trained child psychologist and has undertaken many hours of non-drug treatments with Puppy, as I'm sure he will agree. I am not sure who your source is, but I do feel he needs to have a full evaluation with Puppy before he deems our treatment at the home as ineffective."

I listened as Mr Watson, and my Father exchanged opinions. I could see both men starting to get mildly irritated with each other on their different views. I could see it from Mr Watson's side. He wanted to protect the reputation of the home and that of his colleague. For me, I always thought Doctor Listern was an excellent Doctor and a good man, so I was inclined to agree with Watson, but my dad seemed adamant that this was all being done wrong.

I chose to remain quiet.

"I will be doing that, thank you, Mr Watson," Max said, sitting back in his chair.

"Now, I have arranged all of Puppy's belongings to be boxed up and sealed. If you are able to take them away today, you can do so; otherwise, we are happy to put them in storage until it is convenient. All furniture will stay at the home as it is Greenstone Property and cannot be removed."

"I thought you had already got them, Max," I said, looking at him.

"It was on my list Jensen, but I got distracted." I remained quiet as Steven came into my mind. "I understand, and it’s fine. I have brought my company van with me and am able to remove his belongings today."

"Excellent, so the rest of the documents in Puppy's pack include his dental records and treatment history, his jabs for tetanus, measles and Polio, and also BCG are also in the file.

"Yeah, that one hurt," I said, feeling the scar on my left arm.

Mr Watson Laughed. "Yes, nobody seems to like that one. I know my children didn't. Mr Chase, You will need to register Puppy with a doctor and dentist once he leaves, and you can hand these files over to them."

"Right, well, thank you, Mr Watson. I can see Jensen has had a very good life here in some respects, and I want to thank you for taking good care of him. Obviously, my views are my views on his medical treatment, but I can see all other areas have been run to a high standard under your watch."

"We only ever do what's best for the children. Mr Chase... and Puppy, I am going to miss you, but this is your opportunity now. This is your time to start a new life and hopefully become a very successful person."

"Thank you, Mr Watson. I will miss you and the guys here as well. I have so many memories, most of them good, so it will be really strange not to wake up here anymore."

"It will, but as much as I love running this home and looking after the children here, it’s really not a place any child should end up, especially for as long a time as you have. So now I understand you wish to see Cindy?"

"If I could, Sir, yes."

"I am very happy for you to go down to her room if you wish. While you are gone, your father and I can wrap up everything here and then you can be on your way."

"Okay, thank you."

I got up from my chair, and looking for an okay from my father, which I got, I headed out of the room and down towards the stairs.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Inside Cindy's room, she was very quiet, almost to the point of not talking at all. I could see she had been crying as she lay on her bed clutching a small yellow bear she always had when she was upset. I didn't know what to say, really, or where to start. I knew that I was leaving today, and she would not be. It had all been a long time coming but seemed to be happening so quick.

"What you did... the way you made me feel seeing you do that... Puppy it was... I thought you were going to die; why, WHY!"

"I'm sorry, I was in an awful place and..."

"Then why didn't you talk to me?"

"Because talking wasn't helping Cindy, it was beyond that. It was a new level Cindy. I can’t explain it to you. When I thought about ending it all, it was the first time for ages I felt peace."

"And what about me? You wanted me to find your dead body?"

"I wasn't thinking about that at the time Cindy, Its hard to explain to you, and I know me saying I wasn't thinking about your feelings is selfish, but my mind... my mind was falling apart, and all I could think of doing was... well you know."

I came in here and saw your face... Puppy, you smiled at me! You were hanging yourself, and you fucking smiled at me."

"I was saying goodbye, Cind. II was smiling because I wanted you to know I was going to be okay."

"Well, it was fucking creepy not to mention cruel."

"I know, please forgive me, Cindy, you know how I feel sometimes. Well, take one of my low days and times it by a hundred, and that's how bad I felt, I was in total meltdown, and it felt like the only thing I could do to stop the pain, Cindy."

"I get it, okay!"

"Good, and thank you for saving my life. I now know what I did, was a stupid mistake."

"You're damn right it was, and it was Charlotte who saved your life, not me. She is the one who cut you down."

"I thought she would have tightened the belt rather than cut it," I said, trying to inject a touch of humour into what was a rather depressing atmosphere.

"They were in your room today, and I knew," Cindy remarked softly, changing the subject.

"Knew?" I asked.

"That the day had finally come... I'm not going to see you again, am I?"

"Of course you will Cindy, I can come and visit... at least I think I can."

"You'll forget about me in time. Once you leave here and start your new life, I'll be a distant memory."

"Never! Why would you think that, I love you, Cindy? I will never forget you."

Cindy gently started to weep. "Oh Puppy, what am I going to do without you? Who will I talk to every day... I don't think I can bear it."

My heart was breaking; I could see the desperation in her eyes. It had been her and I for so long, and I knew if one of us ever went, it would be massively hard on the other. Who would she talk to, how would she cope? I was lost for words, choosing instead to move towards her and take her in my arms.

"It's going to be okay, Cindy. I will talk to Max again and see if he can do anything."

"There is no point, Puppy. He already has one son, is now getting another. I'm nothing to do with him, he would never want a stranger living in his house, and I understand. It's just hard, you know, because... because it scares me when I realise, I... I have no one Puppy... absolutely no one I can call family."

I choked back tears of my own, listening to her sweet voice cry out for help. She didn't have anyone, it was true. All she wanted, like me, was for someone to love her. Someone to tell her she looked beautiful, tell her she was pretty and her hair was lovely, tell her she was protected and safe. She needed to be loved by someone, and that used to be me. It still was in my eyes, but in hers, all she saw was another person leaving her life.

It was killing me!

"Perhaps I should stay," I said, surprising myself with actually meaning it.

"NO!" Cindy almost screamed. "No, I will not have you giving up on your dream for me. You need to do what's best for you, Puppy. I am wrong to lay my sadness on you. It was cruel of me."

"Hey, we tell each other everything. It’s always been this way, right?"

"Yes, but look what it is doing... no, I will not make you feel guilty for this."

"I understand your feelings, Cindy. I have been there, remember? So don’t feel bad for telling me how you feel, even now."

Cindy nodded and wiped her wet eyes with a sleeve. "So, how do you feel?"

"About leaving?"

"Yeah," she said, looking at me as if it was an obvious question.

I puffed air through my lips. "Like it's all a dream like it’s not really happening. I'm scared, if I’m honest... shit scared. I don't have a clue how I fit into the world, Cindy. worried I'll eventually be rejected and end up back in here, or worse, homeless."

"What do you mean worried about being rejected? Max obviously loves you."

"Max doesn't know me, Cindy. He’s just excited he has found his son. He doesn't know what he is taking on. Once that excitement goes, will I just be a problem for him? Steven, his other son, is scaring the crap out of me too. From what I know, he is not going to welcome me with open arms, and I got to share a room with the guy."

"This does seem to have happened quickly. Are you ready?"

"No," I laughed. This is only happening like this because of what I did, and that scares me too. I worry that his family thinks I did it so that I could force Max's hand."

"And is that true?"

"You know it isn't Cindy. I can't believe you would ask that."

"Well, I'm asking because I never thought in a million years you would do something so stupid."

"We've been through this; you know why it happened."

"Yeah, well, it's not any easier to accept."

"So, what will you do now?" I asked, deciding to change the subject.

"Grieve, cry a little probably... I don't know. I don't think I prepared myself enough for this day. I will miss you so much, Puppy. I can't begin to get my head around the fact you will no longer be in that room next to me."

"You'll make new friends, Cindy. You are very popular."

"Don't patronise me Puppy, the only two people that are close to my age are Leah and Billy Jones. One of them hates me, and the other doesn't talk. The rest of the kids here are just starting to read. I doubt conversation is their strong point."

"I'm sorry, I just don't know what to say to make this better, Cindy."

"There is nothing you can do Puppy, it is what it is, and you now need to give yourself the best chance of happiness. That's what I want for you, and if you love me, you will make the best of your new life."

I was about to respond when there was a knock at the door. Cindy got up to see who it was, but I already knew. It was my cue to leave, and thinking about that almost caused me to burst into tears. Cindy opened the door, and true enough, Mr Watson and my father were standing in the corridor.

"Time to go, Jensen," my dad said softly, knowing that would be hard for me. I grabbed hold of Cindy and squeezed her tight. I felt her body shudder as she began to cry again. I could not contain my own tears, and we both stood there in each other's arms bawling, with Mr Watson and Max just watching.

"I love you, angel," I whispered in her ear. "I will always be with you. Please remember that."

"I love you too, Puppy, have a good life, yeah, and please don't forget me."

We broke our embrace, and I made my way out into the corridor. Looking back at Cindy, she raised her hand to gesture a goodbye and watched me walk away. I had to leave the area, fearing that if I looked back at her again, I would not be able to go.

I stood near the main entrance crying my eyes out, which seemed to be getting easier to do since Doctor Listern had cut my pill dose down. Finally, I fell to my knees in what must have looked like a dramatic response to a situation that was now finally hitting me.

I was leaving Greenstone and a virtual sister I loved so much!


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


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 around 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 okay, 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. So 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?"

"Erm..."

"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 were you going to say?"

"Wel,l Jen... Puppy, I was just going to say that I know you feel out of sorts at the moment and I 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.

"Max?"

"Yeah, Puppy?"

"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."

"Max?"

"Yeah, Puppy?"

"Thanks."

"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 going somewhere were here, there and 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."

"Do they know?" I asked. "You know, about thee um...well you know?"

Max looked at me thoughtfully. "Uh, well, Susan does."

"But, uh, erm... Steven, no?" Max nodded.

"So, does she think I'm a freak?"

Max screwed his face up and momentarily took his eyes off the road to look at me thoughtfully. "You think that?"

I shrugged, deciding to look out of my own window, turning away from Max. "I wouldn't blame her," I said, staring at the rushing cars alongside us.

Max squeezed my knee. "She feels so bad for you, but she does not think you're a freak Puppy. I promise you that, you'll see."

"So uh, anyway, 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 going to 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 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. So you both have ideas about what the other is like. I have tried to explain to you both what each of you is 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 on our way again, so I went back to looking out of the window at all the exciting things that were happening. Then I started to think about the questions I had for Max and How I would ask them in front of everyone. I wondered if there would now 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 don't have to worry what you ask; I’m not Freddy Kruger, you know."

"Freddy, who?"

"You know, the guy from those... ah, maybe not. It doesn't matter. Just ask me, what do you want 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?" Max slapped his face with his hands.

I managed a chuckle. Watching Max get all flustered was quite funny, even if this was a painful 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 van’s wheels made a screeching 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 it’s usually tranquil. Is that okay 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. Well, Susan and I 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; it’s 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 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.

After a few minutes of silence in the van, Max spoke again. "I uh... I'm sorry I didn't find you a couple of months ago, you know, for your big birthday, I feel rotten about that. But happy belated 16th. How did it go?”

"Just like all the others, crap really, just a reminder another year had gone by, and I was still at Greenstone."

Max looked at me solemnly. "Tough Huh?"

I just shrugged and looked away again. "It's okay."

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

I had completely forgotten where we had come from, and was even more baffled about where we were. Max was now driving down a minor road that had old stone walls on 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 around my shoulder and squeezed it. It felt perfect 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. As we neared the bottom, what came into view 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.

"Your..."

"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, taking two steps at a time, not worrying this time how steep 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 back, revealing the three boxes that contained my life.

I pulled back some of the brown parcel tape sealing the boxes, and hunted through. Finally, 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 in front 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 lockdown I-"

"Wait a sec... lockdown?"

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 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 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 honoured 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... okay, fire away."

"Right, 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. The paper mentioned no surname, 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. So I tried to find your address from people who went to the cafe 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 of 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 made your mother have an abortion. After all, why would he want another man's child? So, 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 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, 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."

"I'm confused."

"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 nothing came back with that name because I was putting in Jensen Charters. 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 several 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 mentioned that two children's homes 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 you would probably be taken care of by the state and 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. So 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 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 cut me up," I said through my tears.

"Sure, take as long as you need. I’m here and always will be."


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


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 that 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.

"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." Then, 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, okay, I just didn't wanna sound ungrateful... so tell me then."

"You know, when that thing happened between your mum and me, 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."

"Thing?"

"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 young, after a few days of knowing I would 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 for being 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 did make sense and feel genuine. This is because I had been searching for some new parents all my conscious life, 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 I was just working on my own out of an old Ford Transit van back then. So 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 biscuits while working 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 miserable marriage, Puppy, and her husband used to beat her."

"Hey, you don't hit girls!" I snarled.

"I'm glad you know that Puppy, but unfortunately, some men are such cowards they think it’s okay."

"Yeah!"

"So, of course, this was making Susan very upset, and I could see she wanted to leave this man who was hurting her. The trouble was, it wasn't 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. On the other hand, she 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, smirking.

Max chuckled, "Yeah, so I just carried on until we did the tree, 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. I knew she would probably have family or parents, so I didn't expect her to contact a 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 nice of you. So... so if she didn't call, how did you end up together?"

"Well, her husband Mark liked the job I did 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 terrible 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 an awful thing. 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 I would tell them how he uses his wife as a punching bag if he went to the police about me. 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 the hospital, I persuaded her to go and stay at her mum’s 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 using the van I had 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. Then, 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 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. But, 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 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 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 wasn't funding for luxuries like that. But it was okay, 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 of the taste of McDonalds. It’s like a teenager's 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."

"Haha, yeah!"

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 have a lot to choose from at the home, but I found a few songs by the Eagles that we both knew, so I selected those. Then, with Max immediately humming to Hotel California, 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 knew it would be a lot smaller than Greenstone, I wasn't that naive, but I wondered if it had a big garden so I could kick my ball about it. Then I thought about having to share with Steven, so I concluded that if it had just two bedrooms, maybe it was small.

Hmm.

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 we’ll come here if we need a couple of things. This is also where you can buy sweets."

"Wow, Okay... 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."

"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 nice area. A few people were 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 several 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 a 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 meet you finally, 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 quieter 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 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 tightly.

"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 around 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!

Copyright © 2021 James Matthews; All Rights Reserved.
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Wow!  So much ground covered here.  A lot of changes for everyone, and a lot of new things for everyone to get used to.  And throwing two sixteen year old boys together is going to be rough going. My guess is that they'll both try to kill each other and end up bonding over it.  (I have no brothers, so I'm only guessing how that dynamic works.)

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On top of Steven's baseline insecurities, a new sibling means sharing his parents and receiving that much less attention--a time-honored reason for the first sib to "hate" the new arrival, no matter the age. (When my baby sister was born, my parents gave me a punch-a-ball and a rubber duckie and cleverly told my 3-year-old self that they were gifts from my sister.  I loved her immediately! :lol:) Steven's anger at Puppy may resolve, or at least improve, when he sees that his parents don't "abandon" him, or love him less, because of his new brother. (One can hope.)

I love how background exposition is provided in a way that feels natural, with Max answering Puppy's stored-up questions in a meaningful, peaceful setting.

My sadness is reserved for Cindy, who has basically lost a brother and who has no happy ending in sight. (The juxtaposition between Cindy and Steven's responses to Puppy make the situation all the more poignant.)

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Wow, @Mawgrim, I would never have come up with all that, although I did wonder about the lack of contact with the outside world.  I wondered whether they were keeping their charges more secreted than would normally be done, as in a public facility.  They seem to be hyper vigilant about it if the kids don’t even get to go to Mac’s or the movies. (I hope this all makes sense!). I mean, if these kids are kept with private funds, where are those funds coming from and why?  They supposedly have no families available, so who is footing the bills, especially for kids like Puppy, who have special needs. 
 

It looks like Susan will be good for Puppy.  He desperately needs a Mom, and she is ready to be that person!  Too bad Steven is suffering from sibling rivalry at 16 years of age for a brother of the same age.  One would think he would be excited for the possibilities.  Puppy is. Steven is just too used to having everything for/by himself for too long.

I laughed when Puppy mentioned Time Team.  I have been watching the show on Amazon Prime!  I find it very interesting.  In the last episode I saw, they did an archeological dig in someone’s house, tearing up their living room and hallway!  I couldn’t help but wonder how much cleaning up and restoration they do, because they made a mess of that house and yard!

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Great chapter! I'm glad that Puppy was able to get some answers from Max on how long he'd searched for him. Max & Susan seem to genuinely want him in their lives. It'll be interesting to see how the dynamic between the boys changes as they get to know one another. I do feel for poor Cindy though. It's a shame Max couldn't have brought her along.

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