tagNovels and NovellasPathways Ch. 09-10

Pathways Ch. 09-10

bycoaster2©

Chapter 9 Returning West

I didn't see Bernie that weekend. We had been pretty much getting together on a casual basis. One of us would phone the other and we would decide to do something. Bernie didn't call on Saturday or Sunday and that was okay with me. I wasn't in a dating mood. I did go to the local wheelchair basketball tournament games, but sat up in the bleachers, well out of sight of her. The attendance was sparse and I thought I knew why.

Many of us were still reeling from the shock of the attacks on the United States on September 11th. It seemed inconceivable that someone could hijack commercial passenger aircraft and fly them into huge skyscrapers. There were so many rumours flying around about who or what was next. Dozens of aircraft had been redirected to Canadian airports to make sure they were safe. As I watched the news that night, I knew the world was never going to be the same again.

On Monday, before I had a chance to call Dave Jacobs, I received a call from Bob Maxwell. He was coming to Guelph for the project wrap-up later that week. He wanted to go over the job and make sure we were ready to turn the entire system on. I knew we were ready. Dave and I had made certain of that two weeks earlier, so I suspected that Bob really wanted to talk to me.

I met Bob at Pearson Airport late Thursday morning. It was finally getting back to something resembling normal after September 11th. He had been in Moncton for a day, making sure Elizabeth Cormier was ready to take over there. Bob looked good, fit and tanned. He'd obviously been able to get out and enjoy the summer weather. We shook hands in the baggage area and I helped him with his bag to my car.

"Well, how has your stay in Guelph been, Ian?" he asked as I headed onto the 401 westbound.

"Good, Bob. I've learned a lot, thanks to Clary and Dave. I think the new manager is going to be good. He's not pretending he knows everything and he's gone out of his way to meet and talk to the staff and customers."

"Good, I'm happy to hear that. But I was really interested in how you felt about your assignment."

"Well, I know how much I still have to learn about running a business. I got a chance to see what caused all the problems in Guelph and what might have been done to prevent them. Mostly, it was people problems," I said.

"That's almost always the reason, Ian. One of the things I noticed about you right from the beginning was how you got along with the other staff. You took their advice when it was given and you didn't hesitate to ask if you weren't sure of something. You've come a long way in the last four years."

"Thanks, Bob. I had lots of help. But I'm sure that's not why you're here today. I'm guessing you already know from Dave that we are ready to join the others with our systems. I know Liz is all set too, so it looks like the project is coming to an end, barring any unforeseen screw-ups."

"That's right. I wanted to talk to you about your next assignment. I'd like you to take over the assistant manager's job in Vancouver. I think it's the best place for you to learn what it takes to run an operation. We do more business there than either of the other two branches. We'll be adding to Guelph and Moncton, of course, but home base will continue to have the main facilities."

"I'd be happy to do that, Bob, and thank you for your trust in me. I feel like I'm getting special treatment, but I want you to know I'm prepared to earn it. I'm sure I can be happy making my career with Maxwell Marine."

"Good to hear that, Ian. It's what I was hoping for. I think your dad and mom can be very proud of you. I know I am. Now let's talk about getting you back to the west coast."

I had booked Bob into a nice room at the Delta, so I knew he would be well taken care of. It was near the university district as well as our plant. He insisted on taking me out to dinner, which didn't really require any arm-twisting.

"Dave said you found a really nice place to live while you were here," Bob said when we were waiting for our meal.

"Yeah, I was really lucky. It was supposed to be the stable manager's cottage at a horse boarding operation, but he was commuting from home, so the owners decided to rent it out. I was lucky enough to convince them that I wouldn't trash the place, so I had a great place to live. Better than any hotel room, for sure. Better still, it was only twenty minutes from the office. I won't get that lucky in Vancouver."

Bob laughed. "No, you probably won't. But with your parents still in West Van, you'll have plenty of time to find something suitable."

"Yeah, there is that. When do you want me to move? I have to give notice to the Flemings."

"End of October," Bob said with a satisfied smile. "Can you have everything wrapped up by then?"

"Yeah, sure. Looks like I won't have to face another eastern winter after all," I grinned.

~*~

My last weekend in Guelph was the Southern Ontario Tournament for Wheelchair Basketball. I had almost forgotten about it until I saw a photo and an article in the local paper about the kids from the Guelph area participating. I decided I would go, spending the weekend in Toronto before leaving for Vancouver.

The tickets were very inexpensive. In fact, the parking was more expensive than the admission. However, I really wanted to see the tournament and see how some of the kids I got to know made out. It was a good decision and I will long remember the fun I had cheering on the Guelph squad. They played really well against some stiff opposition and made the finals on Sunday morning. It was a close game, the final score being 48-45 for the team from London. The kids had won a silver medal and you could see the joy they got from that achievement.

I saw Bernie at each of her team's games and she was enthusiastically cheering her kids on. She also got a medal as one of the coaches. I felt good about that. She was really into this sport and loved what she was doing. I thought I should call her before I left, just to let her know I attended and saw how well her team had done. It turned out that wasn't necessary.

She had spotted me at some point, and was looking for me at each of the four games they played. When the medal ceremony was done, she found a way to intercept me before I left.

"Hi, Ian. I'm so glad you came to the tournament. Thank you," she beamed as she hugged me.

"I loved every minute of it. I was really proud of your kids winning the silver. They must be really happy too."

"They are," she smiled before falling silent.

We stood awkwardly, neither of us knowing just what to say until Bernie spoke.

"I'm sorry things didn't work out for us ... for you ... Ian. You are my friend and I don't want you to be unhappy. Maybe someday things will change for me."

"I'm heading back to Vancouver in a couple of days. I was going to phone you, but I guess this is better. I'm sorry if I put you on the spot with my intentions. I didn't mean to do that. But I'd rather have you as a friend than not have you at all."

She smiled, pulled me to her, and kissed me warmly. No tongue, no hidden promises, just a nice, warm kiss.

"Good luck, Ian. I'll miss you. If you're back this way again, come and see me. Promise?"

I nodded. "Promise."

I thought long and hard about leaving Bernie and Guelph. Maybe if I'd stayed, I might have changed her mind. Maybe I gave up too easily. Maybe, someday, she'll change her mind about me. That could happen ... in my dreams. No, I didn't believe in miracles. It was not meant to be, so best to put it behind me and move on. Easier said than done, of course.

Two days later I boarded an Air Canada flight to Vancouver and the next phase of my young career.

~*~

I was met at the airport by my parents. It was good to see them again. The last five months had been the first time I had been away from home and I think it was something my mother had a hard time with. Dad didn't say much, but he did let me know that Bob had been keeping him abreast of my project. I could see how proud Dad was that I had done well. I told them about my promotion and my new salary. Mom was glad I was still going to be somewhere near home.

"I hope you don't mind if I camp with you until I find a place to live?" I said.

"Of course not," Mom said immediately. Dad needn't have bothered to try and answer.

"I still have my little Dodge, so I won't be much of a bother. We can work out a rent for my stay."

"You're not paying rent, Ian, and that's final," Mom snapped.

"Mom, I'm twenty-three and I have a responsible job. I can't freeload off you now. You've supported me all the way through college. Now it's my turn to look after myself."

"We'll talk about this later, Ian," Mom said with an air of finality. I think both Dad and I knew it was useless to argue.

"How's Kenny?" I asked, desperate to change topics.

"He's working in the pro shop at the golf club," Dad said. "It doesn't pay much but he claims he's getting a lot of side benefits."

"Yeah," I chuckled, "I bet." Kenny was not shy around the ladies and I'm sure he was using his position at the club to take advantage of some of the young women available. In fact, he was a pretty good golfer. His handicap was down to eight the last I'd heard.

"Is he going to make enough money to go to college next year?" I asked, knowing that my first year was my only "free" year.

"So he says," Dad mumbled. That didn't sound like it was a sure thing.

I settled into my old room and hung up my clothes and put what little laundry I had into the machine. I'd been so used to doing it all myself that I wasn't expecting Mom to do it. I got a quick lecture about her running that department and I knew enough to let the subject drop right then.

I told them about discovering Bernie was in Guelph and what she was doing. Mom immediately thought I would be getting back together with her, but I told her of my abortive attempt. I mentioned how much I enjoyed the handicapped kids and the wheelchair basketball tournament and suggested I might want to get involved at some time in the future. Mom thought that was strange, but Dad gave me an appreciative look that confirmed he thought it was a worthwhile thing.

I called a couple of my friends from UBC to catch up on their lives. Not much had changed in the five months since our graduation. I wasn't able to contact Terry Palmer. On a hunch, I called Deb Cummings in Sechelt to see what she was up to.

"Hey, Ian, how are you? What have you been doing this summer?" Deb was always enthusiastic.

"I spent it in Guelph, Ontario, putting in some new computer programs for the company I work for," I explained.

"Is that the diesel company?"

"Yep, that's the one. I'm the new assistant manager at Vancouver now. I've enrolled in a couple of business courses at Capilano College too. I wish I had done that at UBC."

"Oh, congratulations, Ian. That's good news. You must be happy."

"I am, Deb. I'm just starting my career and I've already moved up a couple of notches. How about you? Still helping out your dad at the hardware store?"

"Yes, although I don't know what's going to happen there. Dad's been diagnosed with leukemia, Ian. He's going to be shuttling back and forth to Vancouver for treatment. They seem to think they've caught it soon enough that they can eliminate it. We're keeping our fingers crossed."

"Oh, I'm sorry to hear that, Deb. Will you be looking after the business when he's away?" I asked.

"Yes ... me and Mom. Dad's been talking about maybe selling the business. I don't know what he'd do if he didn't have to go there each day. He can't go fishing or play golf every day. That store has been his life."

"How's your mom handling his illness?"

"Pretty good, all things considered. I know she's worried about him. She's trying to take as much of the load off him as she can. I am too. I guess all we can do is wait to see how the treatment turns out."

"Sounds like some tough decisions to make. Let's keep in touch, Deb. If I thought there was some way I could help ... well ... you'd hear about it right away. If there is something I can do, don't think twice. Call me."

"Thank you, Ian. I can use a friend right now. It's really good to hear from you. Thank you for calling."

It was with mixed emotions that I hung up the phone. I was good to talk to Deb once more, but it hurt to hear of her father's illness. I couldn't think of anything I could do to help her, but if I did, I would call her right away.

I wasn't scheduled to start work until Monday, November 5, 2001. It gave me a few days to get settled and look for a place to live. As expected, my mother became quite agitated that I was already planning to move out.

"You just got home, Ian," she said, clearly quite frustrated. "You don't need to leave right away."

"Look, Mom, we've already gone over this. Sooner or later, I have my own life to live. I'm sure you wouldn't appreciate it if I brought some woman home with me one night."

This was a risky gambit, I admit, but I wasn't ready for Mom's reaction.

"That would depend on whether she was a nice girl," she said, not daring to look me in the eye.

"If she was a nice girl, she wouldn't agree to come home with me, would she?" I replied with a chuckle. Take that, Mom.

"Ian, I know you better than that. You don't consort with girls that aren't nice."

This was not the time for me to argue with her, or to bring up my brief liaison with Holly. I knew that I was just going to have to do my own thing and present it to her as a fait accompli. Not my best option, but as the saying goes, it's easier to apologize than to get permission. I noticed that at no time did my father enter into this discussion. He knew better.

So, on my own, I began a search for a place to live that wasn't a long way from the office. Brother Kenny was egging me on from the sidelines.

"Yeah, Man. Make sure you get a two bedroom unit so we can share."

"Share? You mean you'll chip in half the rent, utilities and food?" I asked, knowing the answer beforehand.

"Hey, I'm just a poor college student. I can't afford that shit. You're a big time manager now. You can help your brother out."

"Tell me, Kenny, did you have enough set aside for second year tuition and books?"

"Yeah, well, I was close," he mumbled.

"Oh? How close?" I had a suspicion he was anything but close.

"I needed a few bucks more," he said, trying to evade the question.

"I take it that came from Dad," I suggested.

He nodded.

"So, unlike me, you got some financial support from Dad for your second year, plus free room and board. Now tell me again how smart it would be for you to move out of the house."

"Yeah, well, I didn't have a cushy job like you did," he replied childishly.

"So, the pro shop was a real hard day's work, huh?" I taunted.

That ended the conversation. Kenny had a lot of growing up to do. It would be interesting to see if he finished university or dropped out to become a permanent undergraduate. Right now his main objective was to have fun with his friends and I was pretty sure that's where most of his summer job earnings went.

Chapter 9A

Debbie:

I was surprised and happy to hear from Ian today. The surprise was also just how I felt about him. That he took the trouble to make contact with me was a real lift for my spirits. Things have been difficult around here for the last three months. With Dad's diagnosis and Mom's worry about coping with him and the store, I've had to shelve my plans to strike out on my own. I'm worried about Dad too. He tires more easily these days. He's due to begin chemotherapy treatment in a couple of weeks and I don't know how I'm going to deal with getting him to Vancouver and still have time to take care of the store.

Ian offered to help, but I don't know if I can ask him. He's certainly a good friend, but I don't want to burden him with our problems. I think I'll wait and see how Dad's first visit goes before I think about alternatives. Everything I've read about chemotherapy tells me it's going to be very hard on him. If that's the case, it's going to be very hard on Mom as well.

Chapter 10 My Own Little Bandbox circa 2002

The rental market in Vancouver had always been very tight. Too few places for too many people. As a result, the prices were high because the demand was high. I had some money saved, but not enough to make a down payment on any kind of place that was within thirty miles of my job. It looked like staying at home and saving enough to get in on the bottom rung of the housing ladder was going to be my fate. Happily, I'd meet no resistance to that from my parents.

I went to work after a good ten-day rest and sat with Bob and Will O'Rourke, the current Vancouver manager. I knew Will quite well and we always got along. He was a savvy old veteran of the company and had contacts everywhere in the industry. I knew Will was nearing retirement in a few years, so I was lucky to be working with someone with his experience, one who was also willing to share it.

My first ten days would be to work with Will to learn just how this job was different from my Guelph experience. When he took his vacation or was away for any reason, I would be expected to step in and cover for him. I knew I had Bob as backup, so it wasn't a huge risk. My regular day-to-day job was to make sure the inventory was in good order (not too much, not too little, no deadwood), orders were being processed promptly, and the service department had a steady stream of work ahead of it. Our new computer programs were a big help in managing the business.

My work week was a conventional Monday thru Friday from eight to five plus every third Saturday morning. The fact that I was usually there by seven-thirty to avoid some of the morning rush hour was a given. We were open Saturday morning in the parts department and all day in the service department. I often dropped in to make sure there were no problems and I think that was appreciated by the guys who worked that day. The service department was our most profitable area and we were determined to offer the best and most complete service to our customers.

At one point, Bob considered going to a two-shift operation, but decided against it when he couldn't find enough qualified diesel mechanics to fill the shift. I knew he was once again considering it, and I would be involved with Will in determining if it was feasible. We certainly had enough opportunities to add to the business.

I spent the next six weeks learning how Will went about his job and what it would take for me to fill his shoes. It was an imposing task. Will introduced me to a number of people whom he considered friends as well as business associates, and it was there I saw just how much I had to learn. We weren't just selling parts and servicing equipment; we were finding out what our customers' needs were.

In the meantime, I struck it lucky finding a place to live. Out in Deep Cove, an old duplex was being refurbished and offered for rent. For most people, that was the back of beyond, located up Indian Arm, a genuine rain forest. For me, it was little more than twenty minutes to the shop. It wasn't cheap, but I saw it as a good solution for me for the present. It was a two bedroom, two bathroom unit with a small basement area for storage. There was a lean-to carport attached to the side.

The other side of the duplex had already been rented to two men whom I was pretty sure were gay. As long as they didn't hold noisy parties or failed to take care of the property, I was fine with that. When I told my parents about it, my mother was quite worried that the two neighbours would try and "convert me." Dad and I had a good laugh about that later, well out of Mom's hearing.

I scrounged enough furniture to have the basics, including a single bed for the second bedroom. I could see Kenny eyeballing it, thinking it would suit him, but I made sure he would be paying for the privilege. He was quite put out about that, but gave up the fight when I wouldn't bend. Mom and Dad supplied some spare furnishings, as did a couple of people at the shop, including Bob.

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