September 2nd, 2038
“Max !” Shouted Doris from the bottom of the staircase.
“What is it ?” Inquired the young man from his bedroom.
“Your father and me are going to do some shopping, can you keep an eye on your brother while we are away ? Arthur is playing in the backyard.”
Doris had come closer to the stairs to verify the teenager was complying to her request. To her surprise he did without complaining, coming down only a few seconds after answering positively to her request. It was quite surprising as these days the dark brown-haired teen had been solely focused on a computer program he had been working on for a while now. She smiled, maybe he had made some progress and allowed himself some time off. Good, she thought, it will do him some good to come out of his cave for while. Had she come upstairs, Doris would have indeed seen a small smile satisfied spreading across Maximilian’s face as he saved his progress and turned off the screen before coming down. The blonde woman was hardly ever wrong about her son, she had always been able to read through his mind with a disconcerting precision. Each time he had done something bad or he tried to hide something from Doris when he was younger she had known as soon as she put her eyes on him.
“Good. Well we’re going and we should be back by five o’clock, don’t wreck too much havoc while we’re away.” Said Doris as she was passing through the front door to join her husband outside.
“Of course !” Assured Maximilian climbing down the last steps. “Later !” He added as she was closing the door, the blonde smiled as she closed the door with a sharp closing snap.
Max was sitting in front of his desk in his bedroom. In front of him was standing a large computer flat screen. A large double bed was placed in the opposite corner to the door, on Maximilian’s right side, right next to a window with half closed shutters so as to prevent the bright light from bothering him. On the young man’s left side was a large book shelf filled with books, CDs and old toys with which he didn’t play anymore but that he couldn’t let go of. The teenager was looking very attentively at an open window on the screen on which were displayed characters appearing by groups from time to time. He responded to them by a series of characters he frantically typed in, eyebrows frowned in concentration. He had been working for a few weeks now on the artificial intelligence of the game he was developing: Age of Castles as he had named it. He was planning on presenting it for the personal project of the school. Though it wasn’t until next year that he had to prepare it, Maximilian had decided to start early, he wanted to have a stable program before submitting it to the jury.
And he had been right to start early, he wasn’t even halfway through and was already experiencing heavy problems. Indeed he had managed to go farther than he thought, he had managed to fix all the small errors that were constantly popping up but the young man didn’t feel it was enough. This past two weeks he had been faced with the toughest bug so far, he had almost given up a few days ago, thinking he would never be able to find a solution. Each time he launched the program it would only display a simple sentence: Wrong phrasing input. No more, no less. With no clue whatsoever with what was wrong and very little patience he thought he was going to go crazy trying to solve this problem. But luck was on his side this time and as he had woken up the day before he had had a flash of genius: he had searched and found a deep program analyzer which would look at his code and search for any anomaly.
If this doesn’t work, he thought, I’ll have to… Well, he didn’t even know what he would have to do. Probably take everything back from the beginning and re-build his code from scratch. He sighed at that thought, not motivated at all for such a task. But he was confident, if mistake there was the analyzer would find it and he would be able correct the problem. It was far less tiring like that, and he could spend some time enjoying some rest before getting back to his task.
He looked at the time remaining before the analyzer was done: the window was displaying a total of 68% done. A couple of hours left then he thought as he went back to coding the next part of the game on which he was working at the same time.
“Yes, I’m coming!” He answered as his mother called for him from down stairs. He turned off the screen after finishing his line of code. As he was walking down the stairs a small smile was visible on his face, he was thinking about all this and felt like he was progressing, slowly maybe but he was getting somewhere! He was drawn back to reality when Doris announced that she and Jeff would be back by five. Wishing them luck he climbed down the last step and saw his mother smiling to him as she swiftly closed the front door.
Maximilian walked through the living room to the backyard and couldn’t suppress a chuckle as he saw Arthur, his younger brother, frolicking about in the middle of his toys. The young boy’s smile widened as he spotted his elder coming his way to play with him.
“Arthur, could you release your brother? Mom and I would like to talk to him a moment.” Asked Jeff as he opened the French window. He and Doris had arrived half an hour earlier and after sorting and putting away all the groceries they had settled in the living room on the sofa. Maximilian saw them but did not go in seeing as they seemed to be having an important discussion.
“Yes daddy…” Answered Arthur with an exaggerated sigh to express his frustration to have to let his brother go.
“Don’t worry boy, he will be back soon, it won’t be long.” Said the man in his forties with a sincere smile on his face. “We’ll call you when we are finished, okay ?” The young boy only answered with a nod but his frustration seemed to have lessened a little as Maximilian apologized and promised to play with him again soon. He went back to playing as soon as the two older men walked inside the house.
Jeff and Doris Bell’s house was medium-sized and at street-level, It was located in the suburbs, almost a hundred kilometers west from the outer rim of the great Apple. It was a calm neighborhood that Jeff and Doris had chosen a few years ago for just that reason. They had bought the house, which was broken down, almost twenty years earlier and had renovated it to make it fit to live in again. They still remembered how it has seemed so large and big at the time, too big for them even. But with the arrival of Maximilian in their life and the birth of Arthur a few years later it had progressively shrunk.
The outside walls were covered in wood which was a beautiful mix of brown and orange. A large garden was delimited by a row of weeping willows in the back and Japanese spindle-trees on the sides. A wooden terrace covered in beige tiles was also extending the living room, there also were a sandbox in which Arthur loved to play and a swing where Maximilian would sit sometimes to think. The house was shaped in a rectangle, the larger side facing the street, and went up on a total of three floors. On the ground floor were the living room, the kitchen, the dining room, a bathroom and a guest room. On the first floor were the parents’ room, Maximilian’s room and the young Arthur’s room, two bathrooms and a play room. The second floor was an attic which was used as a storage room for old and unused things accumulated by the couple over the years but Jeff always said that he had in mind to turn it into a livable room.
When they moved in everything “felt authentic”, which meant the furniture was at least twenty years old by the looks of it, but still the couple had been charmed by the feeling coming from not only the house but also by the whole neighborhood. Along the years they had renovated the house to suit their more modern taste. They had sold almost all the previous furniture and replaced it with wooden furniture of all periods of history, a navy blue leather sofa in the center of the room. They had also replaced all the appliances: kitchen, bathrooms, living room, etc., which were getting quite old at that point. The kitchen, which was now comprised of a modern counter, had fused with the dining room and the living room to create a studio-like feel. It created a huge corner of open space in the house and almost made it seem like a manor.
The fireplace had stayed the same: a very old Victorian appearance and made out of red bricks, it gave a hearty and warm feeling even when it wasn’t lit with flames. Huge French windows gave a direct view on the garden from the living room and when the sun was up the room was always pleasantly warm. That was where Jeff and Doris were waiting, sitting on the sofa near the opened window when, when Maximilian came in.
The young man sat on one of the armchair opposite to the sofa when Jeff motioned for him to sit, as he did he noticed a small wooden box on the coffee table in front of him. The box had small carvings on its top, it seemed to be one of those little jewel boxes women had to store their most prized possessions but at the same time a strange feeling was coming from it. The teenager though didn’t try to find out what it was that seemed weird about this box. He simply sat and looked at his parents, they seemed tense and were looking at him with a very serious face. He had a strange presentiment that they didn’t want to talk about how their shopping had gone. All the times they had asked to talk to him with such serious expressions on their faces were to scold him after he had done something he shouldn’t have. But this time he hadn’t done anything, nothing that required such a reaction at least. What was so important they had to go through so much formality? Many possibilities popped up in the teenager’s head as he walked in the room and sat across his parents. What could they want to talk about with him that was so important? Could it have something to do with his birthday?
Jeff was the one to talk first.
“Listen Max, Doris and I are aware that today is your birthday, and we hope you will enjoy celebrating it with us after we are done, but we…” The light brown-haired man stopped in the middle of his sentence, hesitant, he seemed to be searching for the right words to say. He looked at his wife, seeming unsure of how to proceed. After a second of silent understanding they both seemed to decide that getting on with it without over-thinking was their best course of actions. “We have something very important to talk about with you.”
“Please” This time it was Doris who had spoken. “Please Maximilian, listen to us, to what we have to say until the end. It’s very important that we have your full attention as you must understand what the reasons behind this are. Okay?” She had said that without ever looking away from the teenager and with concern in her eyes. It was obvious that she was hesitant to say whatever they were going to say and this made Maximilian very uneasy but he nodded silently, not trusting his voice to stay as calm as he wanted to seem.
“I’ll confess son, I don’t know at all where to start… I’m a bit lost here.” Jeff started hesitantly. Looking at the table he suddenly asked. “I suppose you’re wondering what this small box is, don’t you?”
Indeed the box had struck Maximilian when he had come in the room, on the one hand because he had never seen it before and he was curious as to what could be inside but mostly because he didn’t understand why it required a family talk. Doris continued.
“Well, Max, you’ll be able to see by yourself what it contains because it’s for you. It’s an old gift that now belongs to you, it’s gift from your father…” She had said that with a small smile, pushing the box a little bit closer to him so he could take it.
“From your real father Max.” Added Jeff as Maximilian took the box in his hands. They both let a short silence take over, giving the teenager some time to process what they had just told him. The young man suddenly looked back up to them as a look of astonishment passed on his face. Seeing that the two adults didn’t seem to be joking Maximilian looked at the box again, his eyebrows narrowed. After a few seconds he looked at Doris and Jeff once again, a small smile spread across his face.
“Okay…” He simply replied before looking at the box again and then focusing back on his parents. Jeff and Doris seemed taken aback for a second.
“Do you- Uhm, do you understand what we are saying Max…?” Asked Doris, a confused expression on her face as she looked at her son.
“Yes, yes I do !” Replied Maximilian. “I know what you are telling me… You’re telling me you aren’t my real parents.” He paused. “I know, I understand. But it just doesn’t shock me that much. I don’t know why but I feel like I was somehow expecting this…” It was now the couple’s turn to be astonished. They both had their mouth and their eyes wide open and Jeff barely stuttered something that seemed to be a “What ?” before dropping back into the sofa.
“You- you were? But h- how? We always were very careful not to let anything slip…” Said Jeff, completely dumbfounded. “We wanted to tell you but not before we thought you were ready for it… what… what gave you this idea?”
“It wasn’t you.” Maximilian immediately replied. The teenager wanted to stop there, he didn’t really want to explain the dreams… They’re going to think I’m crazy… he thought. But seeing the two adults unable to speak and at a complete loss he decided to continue. “It’s just… It’s just that I sometimes have these dreams. Well, this dream in fact. It doesn’t come often and it’s really short but it’s always the same thing: I see a young woman, she’s smiling to me, a warm and loving smile. She’s got raven hair and strange violet eyes. She bends towards me and says something I can’t understand before kissing me on the forehead. It’s just an impression but it looks like she is crying. Then everything becomes blurry and she leaves, she disappears in a bright white light.” The teenager paused once more, taking a second to look at his parents. He noticed they were holding their breaths as they listened to him.
“At first I didn’t think much of it, it was just a dream that I had made a few times. But as time passed it came again and I started noticing it was a dream that I made quite often. The woman, she has the same smile as you Doris. But there’s something about her that bugged me: I don’t know who she is and yet she seemed so familiar. I knew she couldn’t be you, I mean you never had black hair and you don’t have purple eyes…” He paused again to think as his eyes drifted back to the wooden box. Doris and Jeff stayed silent, waiting for him to finish.
“She was really familiar but I couldn’t place my finger on what was giving me this impression. It has always bugged me, though I didn’t really take notice of it, but it also became clearer to me over the years that I didn’t look very much like you. Arthur on the other hand does, he already has your smile and your hair. I’ve got raven hair and brown eyes, you’ve both got lighter hair and blue and grey eyes. But again I didn’t really take notice of it, I never really thought seriously about it. I mean, I noticed little things about you that were different from me but I never really questioned being your son. So, I didn’t really expect something like this, but I’m also not really surprised to hear you say it today…” Finished the young man, still looking at the box on the table in front of him.
Maximilian hadn’t looked at either of them as he was talking but when he lifted his head to smile at his parents (or his adoptive parents, apparently) he saw that Doris’s shoulders were shaking. She was crying, tears were running down her face. She was trying to smile but it wasn’t very successful. Jeff on the other side looked completely taken aback by what Maximilian had to say and seemed to be in deep thoughts, his forehead was wrinkled in concentration. A long silence took over the room, sometimes interrupted by Doris’s occasional hiccups. After almost five minutes Jeff looked up at Maximilian, noticing his son did not have anything to add he broke the silence.
“A woman with purple eyes you say? Are you sure?” He asked looking over to his wife before focusing his attention back to the teenager.
“Yes, I’m sure. Beautiful eyes with violet reflections. Why, is there a problem?”
“No, not at all.” Answered Doris. She was still looking surprised but had almost stopped crying, she wiped a single tear that was rolling on her cheek. “The thing is… These eyes… This hair… It’s the spitting image of your mother. She had raven hair and purple eyes due to a genetic condition in her family.” It was Maximilian’s turn to look surprised.
“Wait,” He suddenly said. “does that means it wasn’t a dream? I really remember something?”
“That is what it seems indeed.” Agreed Jeff. “Very few people have eyes of such a special color.” Maximilian didn’t reply and the peaceful silence returned, the teenager was in deep in thoughts, so was Jeff. Doris was looking at her ‘son’, trying to understand what was going through his head at that moment. After a few seconds of thinking the young man stood up and started walking out of the room.
“I’m going out, I think I need some air…”
“Max wait!” Said Doris, getting up to follow the teenager, but her husband grabbed her arm.
“Don’t. He needs to be alone a bit. He seems to be okay with all this but I know it’s difficult for him, we need to leave him alone for now. Don’t worry love, he’ll be back soon, I know him. Give him some time.” Doris slowly nodded and didn’t try to follow the dark-haired teen, she simply sat back down on the sofa.
“If you say so Jeff…” She said with a sigh.
And Jeff wasn’t wrong. Half an hour later the front door opened and Maximilian came back to sit in the arm-chair he had occupied earlier. As he did so, no one spoke, the couple simply looked at the teenager waiting for him to speak first. After a short moment Maximilian looked at them both, one at a time and each for a few seconds before talking again.
“Who were they?” He simply asked, not needing to explain who he was talking about.
Jeff smiled and Doris sighed in relief, Maximilian realized she had been tense all this time. He knew she had thought about him running away but that idea had never even crossed his mind. She seemed relieved that he had come back and that he was still ready to talk with them. He was here and wanted to know more, this seemed to help reassuring her. Jeff inhaled before starting to talk again, this time without hesitating as much.