Only when he had put on his jacket, his headphones and closed the door did Maximilian allow himself to breathe. He started to walk, his eyes filled with mist, going where his steps took him and lost in his thoughts. Even though he had tried to seem confident and okay he felt lost and unsure of what to think of all this. He had had his doubts at times, that dream seemed so real some days, but never going as far as to think he wasn’t Jeff and Doris’s son. Now, if this was all true- no, it was true, they wouldn’t joke about something like that- now, he didn’t know what to think.
He was troubled by the thought that Jeff and Doris were not his real parents. They were the ones that had raised him, that had loved him all these years, the ones that he loved too. Simply thinking of them as not his parents was impossible to him. A mixture of emotions were twirling inside him: the wild speculations were now confirmed to be true, he had been right without knowing it. This thought filled him with a strange feeling, a warm feeling, the same he always felt after waking up from dreaming about the dark-haired woman. But at the same time having to accept this reality and realizing that he was not the son of Doris and Jeff left him with a twinge of sorrow. They weren’t his parents. They had lied to him all these years. No, they didn’t lie! He immediately corrected his thoughts. They do love me as their own son! They must have had their reasons to hide this from me… The teenager knew he would have to listen to what his parents, or foster parents, had to say to him and eventually come to terms with this fact. But it was much too early, he would surely need some time. He also knew that even if he seemed okay right now maybe he wasn’t. That’s why he had preferred to go take a walk before continuing the conversation, he knew he needed to clear his thoughts a bit.
As he came near the park not far from his house Maximilian decided to stop walking and go sit by a fountain nearby. The sun was now starting to set, transforming the sky into a beautiful sea of flames of orange and yellow. He sat on the middle bench facing the fountain at the center of the park, scaring a few squirrels as he walked between the trees.
The young man changed songs for a more melancholic one which he felt more suited to his mood and stared at the already visible moon. Curious silver sphere floating in the endless azure, it was strangely bright for an afternoon end. He really had no idea what he was supposed to think of all that. Should he ask about real his parents? Or should he just listen to what Jeff and Doris had to say and drop the subject for some time? As soon as these questions popped into his head, Maximilian knew he had the answers already. He wanted to know, he needed to know. Whoever his real parents were, he wanted to know. He wanted to know where he came from, he wanted to know what had happened to them and why they had left him… In a corner of his mind he thought that maybe they had left him because they didn’t want him, but he couldn’t accept that, they surely had a reason for not being there for him! And he wanted to know that reason.
Two pairs of parents to make coexist in one life was surely going to be complicated, maybe too complicated, he already felt a slight headache only thinking about it. He wanted to know but at the same time was he sure to be ready to hear what they had to say to him? He had to listen, he couldn’t run away from his real parents nor from his adoptive parents. What to do? They had left him when he was so young. Why? What had happened? Was it on purpose? If not, what was their reason? All these questions were floating in his mind, waiting for an answer. Too much questions to not do anything about it. No, even if he was not ready he had to listen, he needed to know something if not everything. He needed these answers, he needed to know who he was.
But didn’t he already know who he was? Doubt crawled its way back inside him. What if his parents had abandoned him? What if they were criminals? Or worse… No! He couldn’t give up before even starting. No he wasn’t fully ready to know, but yes he wanted to know. He needed to know, they were his parents! Whatever they had done, whoever they were, he was linked to them. He had to accept it and deal with it. Yes. He thought once more, he wanted to know the people who had brought him to this world! Steeling his resolve he changed music again, this time for a more cheerful one, and stood up before starting to walk back towards the house. His small smile came back to his face, it wasn’t at all the birthday he had imagined but finally he had answers within his grasp and he wasn’t going to let them fly away!
“Your mother’s name was Sophia, Sophia Weiss. And your father was Alexander Desrhodes.” Started Jeff a few seconds after the teenager had come back and has sat in front of them again. He had simply sat down and nodded, indicating he wanted the couple to continue their explanation. None of them had questioned him about his feelings, knowing he simply wanted to hear them out, they had silently agreed to continue.
“I knew him since our first years in college, we became very good friends and shared a studio while we were at the university. That is where he met your mother by the way, but that is not really important now. I presume you want to know who they were, am I right?” As Jeff spoke about the dark-haired teen’s parents’ first encounter a mysterious smile had appeared on his face.
“Yes” whispered the teenager, eagerly listening.
“Well, your parents, Sophia and Alex, were very dear friends of ours. They were generous and loved by many.” Continued Jeff. “It was a real tragedy when they disappeared like that, they were so young…”
“What happened to them ?” Asked Maximilian, unable to resist the urge to ask. “Aren’t they dead?”
This time it was Doris that spoke.
“Yes Maximilian, they are…” The small spark of hope that had lit in Maximilian’s heart vanished as quickly. Doris had noticed it and couldn’t bear to hurt him by making giving him false hope. “Well, it’s more complicated than that in fact… Your- your mother simply disappeared one day. She was gone. Without a trace. When we finally were able to see your father he was a complete wreck. He kept repeating it was his fault… That he should have been more careful. But he couldn’t have done anything. One night she was there and the next morning she had simply disappeared, it was as if she had just vanished from this world. We spent a whole week to make him understand it wasn’t his fault, repeating that he couldn’t let himself drift into despair because he had you. He had to take care of you. It took me the same amount of time to finally make him go outside of his house, he had stayed cooped up inside a whole week, barely eating and doing nothing of his days.” She stopped, looking at Jeff as if telling him he should continue. Her husband took over.
“Alexander and I spent a lot of time together at that time, he needed someone by his side to take his mind off of his problems. With our help he started to pick himself up, little by little. He put some order in his stuff, quit his job to take care of you and often came to visit us. It took him some time but after a few weeks he had managed to get back up to his feet. He still was scarred by what had happened but did his best not to show it. I should have understood at the time but I saw nothing coming. Only when he also disappeared three weeks later in a car crash did I know. You must understand Max.”
Jeff took a deep breath.
“Your father, was a great man. He loved your mother and you very deeply, but he simply couldn’t live without her. All the evidence concluded to an accident but I was convinced that he had decided to put an end to his life, he had decided to join your mother. He couldn’t live without her. He had prepared his will and a life insurance for you in case something happened to him. He wanted to know that when he left this world you wouldn’t be left alone, you would be taken care of. His car fell into a ravine, it was completely destroyed, nothing was recognizable.”
The man in his forties marked a pause and looked at Maximilian to see if he should continue or stop but the young man nodded for him to go on.
“In the beginning I was so pissed at him! How could he have left you alone? How could he have stripped a young child from his only remaining parent because he simply couldn’t endure his pain? But this feeling of resentfulness soon faded away. I had to deal with it almost as soon as I learned what had happened because it was said in his will that he wanted us to take care of you if something ever happened to him. We had to adapt to life as a family, deal with all the administrative procedures, learn to take care of a baby, fit out the house for you… I was so preoccupied with these thoughts that I forgot to resent him, I forgot my anger towards him. I accepted what he had done. He never wanted to lose you, you know, but he couldn’t live without your mother, she was his life buoy, the person he was the most attached in this world. I can’t prove that what happened to him wasn’t an accident but… my conviction is that he decided to do it.
I don’t want you to resent him Max, I’m just telling you this so that you understand what kind of man he was. He loved you more than anything. And what he did, he did out of love and despair, he had just lost the woman of his life and he probably knew he couldn’t come back from that, that he would never be the same… But he loved you, so much. You should have seen how he talked about you, even when you weren’t even born yet. Your were the best thing that had happened to him with Sophia! But without her, he was lost… So please, try to understand him Max, I plead you. I won’t ask you to be okay with it, I’m not and probably never will be, but to understand why he did it… He couldn’t bear to live without your mother and he probably couldn’t stand the fact of raising you as a ghost of his former self…”
The man shot a quick look at his wife before turning his gaze, filled with love, compassion and a little apprehension, towards the teenager again. He truly seemed to hope he would understand and forgive them if necessary…
“So… my- my father killed himself to end his suffering?” Simply asked Maximilian. His face was completely neutral, at that time it was completely impossible to read any emotion.
“That is what I think.” Answered Jeff. “And maybe what I hope too.” He added. Maximilian looked at him, seeming a little confused.
“It’s what I hope because if he didn’t do it on purpose then… then it means he died before doing what he had picked himself back up to do… He disappeared even after coming back from the depth of despair and deciding to be strong for you, and I find that thought too depressing…I prefer to think that he chose to join your mother, wherever she had gone, and to leave you with us, knowing we would take good care of you.”
“So you have no idea what really happened to my mother? If she is really dead?” Asked the teenager.
“No, we don’t know anything else than what the officials told us. They stopped the search after a month and declared her officially dead after a year. A stele has been erected in her memory.” It was Doris who had answered this time. “But you know, if she had still been alive somewhere I think your father would have known, he would have done everything in his power to find her. So would she. They loved each other so much, they were perfect together. I can’t imagine them being willingly separated like that!”
As Doris said that a small melancholic smile appeared on her face. She was looking directly at Maximilian with a loving glimmer in her eyes, the teenager knew she was saying the truth, and it made him want even more to know who were this man and this woman who had given him birth.
“If you have any question Max, anything you want to ask us about them don’t hesitate. We don’t know everything about them but we will try to answer as best as we can.” She added. He nodded and thought about it. Where did he want to start? What did he want to know the most about his parents?
“Thanks.” Answered Maximilian while he was thinking. Then it came to him, the thing he was the most puzzled about, the thing that he couldn’t explain and that he really wanted to know at the moment. “Why now? I want to know… why today and not later? Or earlier? Why on the day of my sixteenth birthday?”
“Because of a promise I made.” Replied Jeff after a few seconds of silence. “As I said earlier your father made me promise to take care of you if something were to ever happen to him.” The man paused again, he seemed to be deciding whether or not to voice his thoughts but he finally decided to do the former.
“Also, after the accident and your adoption I received a letter, a letter from him. At first I couldn’t believe it, I thought it might have been a bad joke or a misdelivery from the mailman. Then a wild idea popped up in my mind. I started to think that maybe he was not dead, that he was out there somewhere and that he had faked his death to disappear for god knows why. Before opening it I decided to make sure it couldn’t have been so and I soon discovered, to my dismay I must admit for I had hoped that your father might still be alive, that it was from his notary. I had gone there to ask him if he knew about this letter and he told me that it was something Alexandre had entrusted him some time before. In his will he had asked him to deliver us that letter, which he did. I then had to admit to myself that he was gone, for good. That day was the first time I really cried for him since he had disappeared, I finally accepted what I had denied for weeks. I decided to open it and to see what he wanted to tell me.”
Jeff paused once more and closed his eyes. He looked tired and overcome by grief, he was trying to contain emotions that had been buried for so long. Doris pressed a comforting hand on his shoulder and it helped him calm down almost instantly.
“In… in this letter, your father asked me to take care of you, to love you like he could not do anymore and to consider you as our own son. That, we had no difficulty in doing, you were so young and adorable and you were the son of my best friends. But that’s not all, he also made me promise three things. The first one was to not say anything about your parents until you were ready to know, he asked us to tell you on your sixteenth birthday. At that point he thought that you would be able to understand and that by delaying it further it would only make you resent us.”
“I understand”, started Maximilian, “that he didn’t want me to learn it too soon but why now? Why not wait until my eighteenth birthday, until my majority?” He was puzzled, he understood his father’s reasoning but it made more sense to him to have waited two more years.
“That I do not know Max. But it was his dying wish and I assume he had his reasons. The second one was that we should answer any question you had about them and that we would not prevent you from learning about who he and Sophia were. He also thought that you should learn at your own pace, by asking questions or by discovering it by yourself. That I find a bit strange, but again I won’t question it if you agree with him.” Maximilian simply nodded in agreement, he indeed liked that way of thinking. That way he could have time to deal with it and it would be easier. I hope so at least…
“We will try to answer all your questions as best as we can then.” Jeff added with a smile. “Now, the third thing he wanted was for you to have this.” Jeff then pushed the wooden box and gave it to Maximilian. He took it and slowly lowered his gaze to once more examine it. But it did not seem any different from the first time he had laid his eyes on its wooden surface.
“We never opened it. I won’t say I never tried but I couldn’t.” He looked a bit ashamed of having tried to open it and the look Doris gave him did not ease that feeling. But Maximilian understood that, after all he would have done the same thing, it wasn’t easy to resist to the strange surge of curiosity the box gave away when one simply looked at it. “It is for you and you only. I truly hope what it contains will answer some of your questions and I am sure you will know what to do with it. I trust your father about that.”
The teenager examined the box some more before putting it back on the table. He stood up a walked around the living room, his parent’s gaze following him as he moved closer to them. Suddenly, without warning he embraced both of them into a hug.
“Thank you.” He simply said. “Thank you so much for all this time you took care of me. Thank you…”
After a few long seconds, and with teary eyes, he let go of both the adults who had raised him as their son and went back to sit on the armchair. Doris was crying again, tears were silently running down her cheeks, but she was smiling. A comfortable silence took over the room and none of them did anything to end it, they simply enjoyed being together and let their thoughts drift away. It was so agreeable to simply be in the same room as a family. Only the youngest of them was missing but they knew Arthur would need some more time before he was ready to know, ready to understand all this… It was at that exact time that the said youngster decided to make a noisy entrance as though he wanted to remind them all of his existence. He opened the French door and talked loudly which made Doris jump slightly.
“So Max, are you coming back to play? I’ve been waiting for ages you know!” Asked Arthur reproachfully, his hands on his hips and his eyebrows deeply furrowed. The older ones looked at each other for a moment before bursting into laughter. Maybe it was because of Arthur’s sudden entry and of his bossy tone or maybe it was because they needed to be relieved of that stress that had crept inside them since the beginning of their conversation? None of them knew but none cared either, it was so good to finally be relieved of this tension that had built up.
“Yes, of course, I’m coming right away Arthur!” Answered the young man to his younger sibling.
“Well it’s about time!” Said the boy in a seemingly sulky tone as he ran back off to his playground.
“I think I will look at it later.” Said Maximilian, indicating the wooden box lying on the table. “Right now I am direly needed.” He smiled of a genuine smile at his parents before following the footsteps of the young boy.
Only a few minutes after that did Doris and Jeff truly relax.
“He will be a good man, as was his father.” Jeff’s voice had taken his wife by surprise and she jumped lightly again. She had not expected him to say anything.
“Indeed, and that is thanks to you. You can be proud of that!” She replied smiling.
“Thanks to us you mean.” Corrected the man, his eyes gleaming.
“Yes, thanks to us…” Repeated Doris slowly.
They stayed there, in each other’s arms, Doris’s head resting on her husband’s shoulder, looking at the two boys play in the garden near the swings. After a moment they slowly stood up and went back to attending to each other’s affairs. Doris started to make dinner and Jeff went in his study near their bedroom. He took an album from his shelf and sat on a chair before opening it. He slowly went through the pictures that the book contained, looking for one in particular. Hidden in between all these moments of happiness, wonder, amazement he found the picture he was looking for.
It was an old picture of him, Doris and their friends. His wife and he were on the left side of the picture. On their right could be seen a man, tall and slender, with brown hair and pale grey eyes. He was holding a woman by the waist and seemed to have kissed her just before the picture was taken. The woman was tall too, almost as tall as the man, she had dark hair and rare and surprising eyes. They shined with a unique shade of violet. She also seemed to have been pregnant for some time already as her womb was quite big. One could also notice on the right side, beside the tall couple, another woman. She was shorter, not by much though, and had short red hair. She was holding a little girl in her arms, the girl had blond-red hair, tidied in two braids coming down on her shoulders. She couldn’t have been older than two. Those were the good old days, thought Jeff with a smile.