Shane is riding the Greyhound bus from Portage la Prairie to Winnipeg. He tries to get rid of his negative feelings by reading his copy of The Outsiders. He’s just had another disastrous weekend with his father, Dan.
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He doesn’t know why his father ever got visitation after the divorce finalized five months ago. After all, he was verbally abusive to both Shane and Evelyn, criticizing every small mistake they made. He especially put a lot of pressure on Shane to work hard at school. He would, but then his father would yell at him for not doing his chores. Two weekends ago was a perfect example. Shane was studying after dinner on Friday for an important Social Studies test he had to write on Monday. In that time, he had neglected to do the dishes like Dan asked.
When he demanded to know what Shane had been doing, he simply told him, “I had to get started on my studying for the test I have to write Monday.”
“Well, that’s nice,” Dan replied sarcastically. Then he barked, “You have all day Sunday to study!”
To which Shane shouted back, “Yeah right! I am not saving my studying until the last minute! You know it’s always best to start a few nights beforehand!” He grabbed his books and went to his room. On the way there, he heard him yell, “You’re so damn lazy, just like your mother!”
He had studied all weekend, and managed to get a B-plus. When he told his father, they got into another fight because it wasn’t an A. Dan may not have hit Shane – he had never been physically violent with him – but he still made him feel miserable.
After the fight, Shane screamed, “You know what, Dad, I can’t figure out what you want anymore! You tell me to do my best in school, yet you yell at me for putting off chores to do three hours worth of homework! You’re such a hypocrite, you know that? I study my ass off for decent enough grades, and this is the thanks I get? Well, I’m sorry if I’m not one hundred percent perfect! Christ, it’s no wonder Mom left you! I’m so glad that I live with her; at least she’s more understanding!”
It’s the same thing this weekend. Shane comes home with four homework assignments, and Dan yells at him for spending three hours on it Saturday afternoon, instead of vacuuming and cleaning his room. He’s so disgusted, he leaves after a silent dinner.
Shane can’t concentrate on his book anymore, so he thinks about his mother instead. For the last two years, Evelyn had been carrying on an affair with Pierre, a never-married gym owner, who’s also a personal trainer and sporting gear and goods merchant. They just got engaged this Valentine’s Day. Shane loves Pierre; they both have the same passion for all sports, and they’d play two-on-two games of basketball, hockey, even tossing a football and baseball around. Evelyn took Shane whenever she went to see Pierre, even when he worked, and the two would work out together with all the exercise equipment. In all his fourteen years, Shane had never done anything like that with Dan. He got so attached to that gym, he’s even started working there after school.
The bus pulls into the station, and Shane steps off. He receives his duffel bag full of clothes and books, and walks into the building.
In the area for arrivals and departures, he sees around thirty people. He scans and spies a tall man, six-foot-five, around mid-forties, with a dirty blond hair and moustache. This man is wearing a zipped-up leather jacket, blue jeans and men’s leather boots. Shane smiles happily and cries, “Pierre!”
He runs into Pierre’s open arms, holds him, and says, “Thank God you’re here! You won’t believe the hellish time I had.”
“Don’t worry, my boy,” Pierre replies. “Your mother told about the fight she had with that bastard over the phone.” He doesn’t speak in a French accent. He’s often told Shane that he was named Pierre for romantic purposes.
“Where is Mom, anyway?” Shane asks. “At her Saturday night book club meeting? I know it’s the third Saturday of the month, but I thought she’d be here to greet me.”
“She tried to get out of it,” Pierre says, “but the hostess said she met the best-selling author of the month’s selection at a book-signing party this afternoon, and she invited her to be the special guest. She told your mother no one should miss it.” He takes Shane’s bag. “Come on, I’ll stow this somewhere safe, and you and me can play some games of racquetball at the gym.”
Shane grins widely. “Excellent idea.”
The whole next week, Shane tries to concentrate on his schoolwork, but he has worrisome feelings. He knows spring break begins this coming weekend, and he’s supposed to spend the whole week with his father. It’s part of those stupid visitation rights, he knows. Shane feels a bit of stomach pain. To hell with all this “birth father’s rights” crap, he thinks.
He vents his frustrations and worries to his lifelong friend, Keith. “I honestly don’t know exactly what Dad wants from me,” Shane laments. “I mean, he preaches to me the importance of the best education, and me having friends, and all this stuff, then he says that I’m lazy and incompetent because I put all that before this long list of household chores.” He pauses. “Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating on the chores, but with the amount of homework we’ve been getting lately, it hasn’t been easy to do all that juggling. I mean, thank God Mom and Pierre understand if I can’t help them with the dinner dishes the night before a Science test. But who knows what we’ll be fighting about all next week.”
“Shane, you really need to stop visiting that bugger,” Keith says. “While my old man’s just as stingy with my schoolwork, at least he still loves me if I don’t get straight A’s. And you’re so lucky your Mom shares your housework load. At least my Dad does. Thank God he’s not a workaholic, and can actually do stuff with me. You’re so lucky to have Pierre, dude; he’s really cool. Listen, you’ve got to tell your Mom you want to stay with them next week. I’m sure she’ll agree and insist on it.” He rests his hand on Shane’s shoulder. “And if that bastard Dad of yours tries to take you, tell him that you want to be with Pierre and not him.”
“Then he’ll call me an ungrateful punk,” Shane replies.
“Hey, I know your parents just as well as you do, my friend,” Keith assures him. “I think I know who the ungrateful punk really is.”
Shane asks the bus driver to drop him off at Pierre’s gym. He doesn’t have to work there today, but he wants to. He even offers, “Do you mind if I help you close up tonight?”
Pierre smiles and replies, “I’d love that, Shane, thank you.”
One trainee of Pierre’s comes in that evening, so he asks Shane, “Would you mind the front desk for me while I work with this one here? If you need help with something, you know my assistant, Will; he’s in his office.” Shane nods and stays at the cash register.
Shane’s job is to help Pierre at the sporting gear and goods part of the gym, and look after it while he’s training someone. This coming summer, he’s promised to train him to be a junior trainer. Shane looks around at the merchandise, listening to the faint groans of effort from people working at the weight machines, and music blaring from the satellite. It sounds like music for his soul. Maybe he’ll run the gym for Pierre when he retires.
At fifteen minutes to closing, Shane is helping Pierre with an inventory check when a vehicle pulls into the nearly empty parking lot. It’s just another customer, they believe, so they continue with their count. They’ll just tell him they’re closing. But once they hear the door open, they hear a familiar voice bark, “Shane Daniel Watters!”
They turn slowly to see a black-haired balding man in a blue jacket, about the same age as Pierre. His arms are folded and he looks impatient, as if Shane has just forgotten an important date with him. It’s Dan.
“Dad,” Shane says, “how surprising to see you here. You must’ve missed Mom’s phone message about me not coming in to see you this week.”
“The hell you aren’t!” Dan responds. “This is my time, and I intend to have you with me for it. Now, come on, let’s go. Have you packed a bag yet?”
“Sure, and how do you plan to spend this week?” Pierre asks him. “Working your ass off fourteen hours a day while Shane is bored at home?”
“You stay out of this, pretty boy!” Dan spits. “I’ll have you know I made more than enough to provide for my family when his mother and I were married!”
“Well, I’m sorry if Pierre ruined it all for you,” Shane sasses at his father, “but at least he’s able to make time to spend with me. I’d like to see that with you. Boy, am I lucky Mom fell in love with a man with my thing for athletics!” His last sentence sounds very sarcastic.
Dan points a finger in his son’s face. “I’ll see you two back at your Mom’s home! We’ll all talk!” Then he leaves, and they watch his car drive out.”
“Uh, Shane,” Pierre says, “how about you and I stop for some frozen yogurt after we get this done? I think we should leave your parents to talk for a while.”
Shane nods and replies, “Sounds wonderful. I could go for some frozen yogurt anyway.”
At Evelyn and Pierre’s house, Dan proceeds to pack a bag for Shane as Evelyn tries to stop him.
“The judge gave me visitation for weekends and school holidays,” he tells his ex-wife flatly. “This is a school holiday, and I’m fulfilling my fatherly duties.”
“And last weekend, I came home to hear yet another horror story about you bitching about Shane’s priorities!” she snaps. “I know he’s been having a load of homework and weekend studies lately. Two hours almost every night, in fact. It may tone down in the coming weeks, but you just wait until June exams! It doesn’t give you any place to get after him on one thing when he’s busy with something else.”
He stops packing suddenly and turns to her. “And has he been helping out around here lately?”
“I told you he’s had a lot of schoolwork!” she snaps again. “You know that very well. And he hasn’t been able to do much around here because of it.”
“Then he is a lazy, undisciplined sloth!” He takes some socks and underwear from Shane’s drawer. “Look, Evelyn, he needs to learn to get his priorities straight. I know I rag on him about his schoolwork, but he has all the time in the world to do it. And it doesn’t take long if he works fast enough. I can tell I’m going to have to instill some discipline into him.”
“So what, you expect him to be Superman? Or are you going to teach him to do two things at once? Now I know why I left you and took Shane. You expect too much from him!”
“My God, Evelyn, you’re getting to be just as bad as he is.”
They go downstairs to the living room just in time for Shane and Pierre to come home. Upon seeing his son, Dan puts on a smile and says, “Shane! Son, I got you all packed. You ready to go?”
“Yeah, right,” Shane answers. “You’ll be bitching before we hit Portage. And tomorrow morning, I’ll wake up to a seven-page list of chores. And are you going to help me? What do you think we’ll be doing together this week, huh? I think I see right through that smile, Daddie Dearest.”
“C’mon, Shane.” Dan looks like he’s pleading now. “I promise it’ll be different this time.”
“And then again,” Pierre interjects, “Shane will be taking the morning bus back here on Monday, almost traumatized because he couldn’t cook dinner right, or do the dishes just the way you want, or execute a proper shopping list when you’re just as capable of doing so!”
“What are you doing in this, Pretty Pierre?” Dan sneers. “What do you know about Shane? You weren’t there the night he was conceived.”
“But he’s a lot more caring and compassionate about my wants and needs than you ever will be,” Shane tells him. “For all the time you were with us, you’ve been on me and Mom because your idea of order was everyone doing everything at once. Well, we did – or tried to – and what did we get in return? Your frozen shoulders, because it wasn’t good enough. Ever since I’ve known Pierre, I’ve been happier and more relaxed. He actually taught me that I can’t do everything to please the whole world. And I’ve pretty much given up trying to please you. I have to figure out what you really want from me first, which I’ll never know.”
“You know very well what I want, Shane!” Dan insists. “I want you to do well in school, have some responsibility in the home, and keep your friends and activities. It’s not that hard.”
Shane laughs and says, “You aren’t usually this funny, Dad. Even a master magician would have trouble juggling all three in a day. In case you’ve been too busy to notice, I’ve haven’t been able to make any friends in Portage. I haven’t been able to make time, if you know what I mean.”
Dan starts to say something, but Pierre cuts him off. “Look, it’s like this,” he says. “I think Shane would be much happier with his mother and me. Especially with me; I’ve loved them both more than you ever have. Isn’t it obvious? I’m into the same things that Shane’s into, I gave him a job that he loves, I’m more compassionate, intimate and wise when we talk. Do you know why Shane almost never comes to you with his problems?”
Dan snuffs and remarks, “This’ll be interesting.”
Shane turns to Pierre and says, “Let me tell him.” He scowls at his birth father. “I don’t know if you listen or not, but you act as if you don’t care. And most of the time, you talk and make me listen, just like you did with Mom, always using your lawyer skills on us. You’re argumentative and you know it. And if I want something, you say that I’m spoiled, and that I haven’t done anything to earn it. You may not understand this, but I’ve done a lot more than you give me credit for. And let me tell you, it’s not much credit.”
“Fathers are supposed to be better to their sons than that,” Pierre adds. “I may have known him since meeting his mother a couple of years ago, but I’ve been more of a father to him than you ever have. Face it, Dan, I am the father he’d rather have.”
Dan looks at Shane angry, poised to slap him. “You ungrateful punk!” he shouts. “Listen to me right now! I am the one who gave you your life! You wouldn’t be here if I never loved your mother like I did. So you give me the respect I deserve! And that means you don’t love your future stepfather more than me!”
“Exactly our point!” Evelyn shouts. “See, this is exactly why I chose Pierre! He doesn’t demand respect like it should be handed to you on a silver platter!” She sighs. “I’m so tired of arguing with you. Why don’t you just leave? First thing Monday morning, I’ll talk to my lawyer about having your visitation revoked.”
“You don’t have to,” Dan retorts. “I’m giving up my visitation as of now.” He glares at Shane as he tosses his bag to him. “I hope you’re happy, son! You’ll never see me again! Goodbye!” He turns and walks out, not bothering to close the door. Evelyn closes it for him.
Shane turns his back to the door, not wanting to watch his birth father drive away. He lowers his head and sighs, but doesn’t cry. He too strong to cry over something he knows isn’t his fault.
Pierre goes up and touches his shoulder. “It’s going to be all right, Shane, you know that,” he tells him. “I’ll tell you what, I’ll call Will, and ask him to look after the gym this weekend. We’ll leave here tomorrow, and go to the summer cottage that I have in the north of Ontario. It’ll be just you and me.”
Shane smiles and replies, “I’d love to. Just let me take some of this stuff out. After all, if it’s only for the weekend, I won’t be needing much, just two of everything.” With the bag over his shoulder, he runs up to his room.