“Max?” The teenager was still deep in thoughts when Doris called him, he looked up and noticed she was standing at the other end of the garden, near the corner of the house. “Mr. Jones is here, are you coming?” He stood up and put the key back in his pocket before nodding and walking towards her.
“Yep! Coming!” He exclaimed as he approached the spot where she was. Doris turned around with a smile and walked back to the front of the house. As he arrived Maximilian noticed Jeff talking to a tall and muscular man in a suit, he had short dark hair and wore a pair of thin glasses which almost immediately made Maximilian think of Clark Kent. He smiled at his own thought and proceeded to walk up to his parents and the lawyer who greeted him with a smile and a tight handshake.
“Ah yes, Mr. Desrhodes I presume? It’s a pleasure to meet you.” The man said as Jeff introduced him. “As Jeff just said, my name is Ichabod Jones, I am, or was, your father’s notary. We’ve had the pleasure to meet once before but I don’t think that you remember, you were so young.” Maximilian smile in return before answering.
“No, I do not remember indeed, but it is a pleasure to meet you too Mr. Jones. Again.” He added with a friendly smirk which made the tall lawyer chuckle.
“You’ve grown into a fine young man Maximilian, may I call you that?” He quickly asked and smiled again as Maximilian nodded. “You may call me Ichabod or Mr. Jones, as you prefer. I knew your parents quite well, they were great people and I’m sure they would be proud of what you have become today… Now, if all of you are ready, let’s start!” He exclaimed after a small pause as he clapped in his hands and walked towards the door, taking a key out of the attaché case he was carrying and inserted it in the front door’s lock. He turned the key and opened the door, stepping aside and motioning for the couple and the teenager to walk in first.
“We have quite a lot to discuss after all, and I presume you would like to take some time to look around.” He said as he closed the door behind them and stepped through the lobby into a large room with a sofa and two armchairs around a small table that Maximilian recognized as the living room. The hallway leading to the living room also led to three other doors, two of them were closed and Maximilian guessed one was the toilet and the other a closet, the last one on the right opened on what seemed to be a kitchen and was situated just in front of the living room. In the middle of the corridor stood a small table on which were placed a few photos of his parents and near the table was an old and wooden coat rack, finally at the end of the corridor one could see a staircase leading upstairs. Maximilian took a closer look as he walked by the pictures, there was one of his parents when they seemed to still be in college, on with a younger version of Jeff and Doris and a photo of a young child with a small dog, which he recognized as him after a moment. Then he followed the couple and the notary in the living room, Jones motioned them to sit on the couch in front of the coffee table as he himself sat on one of the armchairs, Maximilian went and sat on the other one at the opposite side of the table. The lawyer put his attaché case on the table and opened it, taking out some papers and putting them on the table, before clearing his throat and starting to explain why he had asked them to meet him here.
During that time Maximilian looked around him, taking all the details of the living room he could, the large chimney on his right side, the paintings on each wall, the strange and slightly rusty metal lamp on one corner. He also noticed the large windows offering a view on the metal gates in front of the house and the quiet street behind them and on the side of the garden. Finally he looked at the large wooden shelves disposed all around the room on which were photo albums, books, CDs and many different objects such as miniature statues, carvings, knives and musical instruments. As he was hesitating whether or not to stand up to go see them from up close he was interrupted by the tall man in the suit clearing his throat.
“Ahem, so, as I was saying earlier , I was and still am Alexander Desrhodes and Sophia Desrhodes’s notary. A few days ago I received a call from you, Jeff, and you asked me about this house. Your parent’s house.” Added Ichabod Jones turning towards Maximilian, then he focused his attention back on all of them. “Now,” He cleared his throat again. “the reason why I asked you to come and meet me here today is partly because of that call, but not only. In his will, Alexandre left a few conditions that I was to fulfill if ever he were to disappear. Unfortunately, that happened much sooner than he had expected, than we all expected. If I asked you to come here it’s because of a few of these demands he has made.” He paused a second and took a paper out of the pile he had put down on the table and gave it to Jeff and Doris.
“This is a printout of the title-deed that he made when he acquired this house, it says that you, Maximilian, are to receive full ownership once you reach your majority. There are a few conditions of course, which we will talk about in a moment, but this is the main reason of our presence here today.” As he concluded Jeff looked up from the paper he had quickly read and looked at the teenager who was himself looking at the notary with a surprised look.
“Your parents really loved this house and it doesn’t surprise me that your father would want you to have it.” Said Jeff as Maximilian was still looking as surprised. The teenager turned towards his foster-father before scoffing lightly with a small surprised smile.
“Yeah, I had thought about this but I never really believed he would bequeath it to me…” He said, his voice low.
“Well it is written here black on white.” Said the tall notary as he pointed to the paper Maximilian had been holding in his hand before taking a small stack of other papers from the pile he had put down on the table. “Now, as I said earlier, the reason I asked you to meet me here today is partly because of the bequeathing of this house, but not only. In his will your father gave me a few instructions pertaining to how and when you should be told the truth about your mother and him and about the details of your acquisition of his belongings, titles and other properties. I do not say I entirely agreed with the way he saw things, and that is why I asked Jeff and Doris for council a few years back, but it is Alexandre’s last will and it should be respected.” Maximilian simply nodded and noticed Jeff and Doris doing the same as Ichabod Jones mentioned their names, the tall man continued. “First of all, your father wanted you learn the truth on our sixteenth birthday, which I assume was the case. He also wanted you to receive a box. Has it been given to you?”
“Yes, Jeff gave it to me last weekend.” Nodded Maximilian.
“Very good.” Smiled the notary. “Whatever it may contain is entirely yours. Your father also said that you would inherit this house, as you now know, and all of its belongings. He wanted to make it your property even thought he knew you would not be the legitimate owner until your majority. This house has belonged to you since the day he has disappeared, but until your eighteenth birthday, Jeff and Doris are the owners de facto as your legal guardians. Of course, any decision that would affect it is to be made under your counsel.” The tall man the handed the teenager a paper that he had taken from the small pile laying on the table. “This paper is to officialize the transfer of the ownership from your parents to you, there are a few conditions that I would like you to look at before you sign it though, just to make sure. You can take it home and return it to me by mail or when you come by to the agency.” He added with a look at Doris and Jeff who had come closer to Maximilian to read the contract. Maximilian nodded as he started reading it. It said what the notary had already mentioned, he would inherit the property and everything linked to it on his eighteenth birthday, until then Jeff and Doris would be the ones in charge of it. The teenager put the sheet of paper back on the table but closer to him and looked back at notary. Ichabod took a few other papers that he then handed to Maximilian.
“Your mother hadn’t prepared a will of her own before she disappeared, but all of her belongings are now yours just as your father’s. They also had some savings at the bank, these, minus the notary fee, will be accessible to you as soon as these papers are signed. Now, last but not least” He added as he pointed a the last paper of the small pile. “this last document that you are now holding is the property title of a safe at a private security agency that you parents bought and were I presume they stored some of their belongings. As this is a private safe we do not have any access to its content and therefore I cannot tell you what you might find in there. Your father designated you as the next rightful owner if ever something would be to happen to them and it can only be opened on your demand.” As he explained the details of the paper signing, and that Maximilian would have time to study the terms and conditions, the teenager’s thoughts drifted to the key he had found in the box. The idea that it might be used to open the safe became clear, it explained why his father had asked that Jeff kept it all this time. That thought only piqued the dark-haired young man’s interest. What could be in that safe? Why give the key to Jeff and Doris for safe keeping instead of to the notary? He didn’t find an answer to his questions however as he noticed the three adults looking at him expectantly. Damn it! He cursed inwardly. Haven’t been paying attention!
“Were you listening?” Asked Jeff, his brows furrowed.
“No, sorry, you lost me right there…” He apologized, scratching his head a bit ashamed.
“Don’t worry about it.” Smiled the tall man. “I was just saying that I would leave you as much time as you need to decide how you want to proceed from now on, I’ve bought a copy of all the documents I thought you might have wanted to consult but if you need anything else don’t hesitate to ask. Everything is in here.” He said as he patted a portfolio he had taken out of his suitcase a moment before. “Also, if you want to take a look around the house do not hesitate, it’s not technically yours yet but no one will mind. Now, I have another appointment in an hour so I will not be able to stay but Jeff and Doris have the keys so feel free to stay as long as you want.” He then stood up, quickly followed by the couple and Maximilian, and shook his hand and Jeff’s before saluting Doris and biding them a good afternoon. The teenager watched him slowly walk to the door while talking to Jeff, who was a good fifteen centimeters smaller than the notary, as he tried to take in all that had happened.
He was in his parent’s house. Alexandre and Sophia Desrhodes’s house. And soon it would be his. He still had trouble believing it, only a week ago he was learning about their existence and now he found himself standing in the place they had lived in. He looked around the room again and slowly walked over to the book shelves, reading the titles that were exposed on them. He heard Doris’s footsteps coming near him.
“So, want to take a look around?” She smiled as he turned around to nod. They both walked out of the living room and towards the staircase.
“I never got the chance to see what they had done with this house before they disappeared you know…” Started the blonde woman. “They invited us over when they bought the house of course, and when they had already gone through half the work, but they disappeared before they could have a chance to invite us here again.” She looked at a painting of a lake surrounded by tall mountains on the wall as they arrived on the second floor. “I know it may not be easy for you Max, it sure isn’t for me, all this is happening so fast… But we understand.” She turned towards the teenager with a smile, Maximilian could see tears pearling in the woman’s eyes, he smiled too and, to her apparent surprise, hugged her.
“I know mom. It’s not that easy for me either, but It’s something I want to do, and I know you and dad are there for me.” The blonde woman hugged him back as her smile broadened, and as they both pulled back she turned towards the corridor.
“I’ll let you take a look around, I’ll be downstairs with Jeff if you need anything. We’re going to look around the papers you have to sign.”
“Okay, thanks mom.” Replied Maximilian as Doris disappeared in the staircase. He then looked around. The corridor was quite large, it gave way to five closed doors and an opened one. The teenager walked towards the opened door from where dampened light filtered. He walked in and found himself in what must have been his parent’s bedroom. There was a large king sized bed in the middle of the room, in front of a large wardrobe, it was covered in a thin layer of dust but the fact that there wasn’t more all over the place surprised him. Now that he thought about it the house was in surprisingly good shape for the time that had passed since his parents had disappeared. There were shelves filled with books and pictures all around the room and a TV was fixed on the wall directly in front of the bed. Maximilian also noticed two night stands on either sides of the bed and a desk on the opposite wall to the door, near the large window from which the few rays of light came in. Two large cardinal red curtains covered the window and gave to the room a light red color. The teenager pulled them open a little to let the light pour in and opened the window to let fresh air in, as he did he heard the notary’s car drive off. He then walked towards the shelf nearest to the desk and looked at its content, reading the book covers and looking at the pictures, as he did a specific one in a red frame caught his attention. It was a picture of his mother, when she was still pregnant, she was sitting on a large boulder facing the ocean and she was smiling sweetly at the camera. The teenager guessed his father must have been the one taking the picture.
He was about to take the picture right next to the one in his hand, on which both his parents could be seen dancing on the beach in front of the setting sun, when he noticed something else on the desk under the shelf. Several small piles of mail were lying on the old wooden surface, almost all still in their opened envelopes. He put the picture back on the shelf before slowly picking the closest stack of letters and sitting down on the chair in front of the desk. What had caught his attention was the name of his mother on the front side of the white letter. The date said it was sent in 2019. As he read it, Maximilian realized he had no idea how old his parents were when they disappeared, he had never thought about asking that to either Jeff or Doris. He flipped the envelope over to take a look at the sender and to his surprise it was the name of his father that was written in the sender area. After staring at it for a few seconds he flipped it around again and took out the letter with extreme precautions, as if it was made of glass. He had no idea why he did that but the fact that he was in his real parent’s house, holding a letter from his father to his mother, seemed so surreal to him that he had the impression that if he let it go or dropped it, it would disappear into thin air. As the teenager opened the letter his hands trembled slightly, the paper unfolded easily and neatly written words in dark blue ink appeared.
Dear Sophia, my one true love,
Oh, sun of my life, star of my heart, my head is filled with thoughts of you. You are an angel amongst humans, fallen from the skies, and I promise to love you for ever, and evermore.
The teenager chuckled as he read the first paragraph, it sounded like it was written by a love struck teenager. But if, as he thought, his parents were around the same age as Jeff and Doris, they must have been in their early twenties at the time it was written. Was his father teenage romantic at heart? He thought with a mocking smile as he continued reading.
It has been such a long time since we have seen each other, already a two weeks. I miss you, a lot. I know it won’t be long ’til I come back from this exchange trip but I just can’t wait! I know we are already regularly texting and calling but I thought that a letter, a bit of the old school ways, would please you. I know I’m having fun writing this, it’s agreeable to have something else than a screen under the fingers sometimes.
Up until now we’ve been visiting the old monuments of the city and bathing in the cultural side of Japan -which is awesome! You should really have come!- but from what Jeff heard we’re going to have a field trip to the beach tomorrow so we’re quite excited! I’ve learned that I’m not a big fan of sushi but I quite enjoy sake. (Don’t worry, I’m not drinking too much, you should see the size of their cups!) We’ve also been to a traditional play in an old temple and it was really something, I’ll show it to you when I get back, you have to see this!
It went on like this, Alexandre was describing everything he had seen and done in the land of the rising sun, all the while repeating that he missed Sophia and that he regretted that she hadn’t come with them. He also talked about how Jeff spent his time snogging his girlfriend, which to Maximilian’s surprise wasn’t Doris, but another girl named Rebecca, this made him smile again and he thought to himself that he would have to ask his foster-father about it. As he was finishing the letter the last line caught his attention.
Tell your mother I said hello and wish her a happy birthday, I’ll see you soon Mylady Weiss.
Your mother. The words echoed in the mind of the teenager before he realized what he had read. Of course! Why hadn’t he thought about that earlier! His grandparents. It had no yet occurred to him that his parents not being his parents, his grandparents were probably not his real grandparents either. Dimwit! He scolded himself with a tap on the head. That was something else he would have to ask about to Jeff and Doris. He set his eyes on the letter one last time, admiring the quality of the handwriting of his father, before slowly putting it back in its envelope and onto the pile he had chosen. He then took the second letter and, following the same process, started reading it. It was another letter from his father to his mother, written about a week after the first one, on the 18th of august 2019, while he was still in Japan, and it was accompanied by a photo of a large curved wooden arch, standing as a pathway into the city. Once he finished reading it he put it back and took the rest of the pile before moving onto the bed to be more comfortable. Maximilian sat cross-legged in the middle, putting the stack of letters in front of him. He read the next one, which was a letter from Sophia to a friend apparently, a woman named Jessie, where she told her about her life since college and offered her to meet on a Thursday evening to chat. The next one was probably the oldest in the stack, it went back to 2006, and was a letter written to Santa where his mother asked for a pony, a set of Barbie dolls and a diary to write about her life. Finally, as he started opened the seventh letter he came across the answer from his mother to the first letter.
What a gentleman you are! I am at a loss of words before your gallantry and I dare say I would swoon in your arms if ever you were to say those words in front of me. Continue like this and you might even convince my mother that you are good enough for me…
I too, the “sun of your days”, miss you. I truly believe I would have enjoyed this trip with you but as you know I have to be here to work, I promised my dear mother that I would do this for her, so I can’t come back on my word. I can’t wait for you to come back! Nothing exciting has happened here since you came back. As you know mom isn’t going to well since last week but I think that it’s because she’s overworking herself and not because she’s been around sick people in the bus. She hasn’t stopped these last weeks with the association and her job. A bit of rest should be the best for her and I have finally convinced her to do just that, hurray! Oh, and I passed your message to her, and you know what? She nodded and uttered a “well that’s nice of him”. Do you imagine that? She’s thanking you!
She also spoke about the neighbors who were as loud and obnoxious as ever, going as far as to organize a three-day rave party in their backyard, about the long days she had to spend typing reports and transcribing audio files into full articles. A few bad words about her bosses who wouldn’t even let her attend the general meetings and then she changed the subject, talking about what she thought they could do together when he came back and asking how Doris was doing. Maximilian was almost at the end of the letter when a knock on the door surprised him. He quickly turned around and saw Jeff’s smile.
“Geez dad you startled me! I didn’t even hear you coming. You wanted something?” Asked the teenager.
“Well, it’s getting quite late and Doris and I were thinking of going home for today.”
“Oh…” Replied the dark-haired teen as he looked at the window. Indeed, he hadn’t noticed since he was so enthralled in the letters, but the sun was already setting in the sky and the light had dimmed a little. ” he shot a look at the letters, thinking quickly, before looking at his foster-father.
“Okay, I hadn’t realized it was this late. I’ll be right down then!” He replied.
“Okay, take your time, we’re not in a hurry.” Added the man in his forties before turning around towards the staircase.
“Umh dad?” Interrupted the teenager before he could step away.
“Can I take these with me? I’d like to read them?” He asked, pointing at the letters in front of him. Jeff stayed silent for a second before replying with another smile.
“Well this isn’t yours yet as you haven’t signed the papers, but I don’t think it will harm anybody if you take them with you.” He answered.
“Thanks!” Replied Maximilian with a smile, to which Jeff nodded silently before walking towards the staircase. The teenager put the letter back in its envelope before getting up. He walked over to the desk and looked around. Finally he spotted a cardboard box on one of the shelves, it was full of medals and pins. He hesitated for a second but finally decided himself to empty its content on the desk, promising himself to put it back the next time he would come, before putting the stack of letters in it, arranging them neatly so as not to shuffle them. He also took the picture he had been looking at earlier, of his parents dancing on the beach, and two old and worn out books that had caught his attention earlier. A Short but Detailed History of Dragons and Riders Around the Ages, which looked like its cover was about to come off, and The Entity, which looked in a bit better shape but had notes covering most of its pages. he had no idea why he was taking them with him, but as he left the room it seemed to be the right thing to do, he wanted to know more about his parents and maybe reading what they had read would help. Plus they were the most worn out books that he had seen so it was a safe bet that they were the ones his parents had read the most, that or they had bought them in secondhand markets. He slowly exited the room, taking it in one last time before closing the door and walking down the stairs. Jeff and Doris were waiting for him in the living room, they stood up as he entered.
“Ready to go?” Asked Doris as the teenager put down the box to take his coat.
“What are you taking home?” She added as he picked it back up.
“Some letters that I found upstairs, a picture of them and a two books that seem interesting.” He replied as they walked towards the door.
“Okay.” She said with a smile as they walked outside. “Jeff and I looked at the papers that Mr. Jones left you and everything seems to be in order, we would like to have a talk with you before you sign them though. But for let’s let it go for tonight! We were thinking about going for a burger after picking Arthur up, what do you think?” She added. Maximilian pretended to think about it, putting up a reluctant face, before answering.
“Well, I don’t know… Okay, I guess, but it depends if Arthur wants to go or not…” He replied, trying to stay as serious as possible. Jeff, who was closing the front door behind them, turned around quickly and lifted his arms in an attempt to look angry.
“Young man, are you mad?! Refusing such a generous offer! It does not happen often…” he roared indignantly before bursting out in laughter, to which Doris smiled.
“I guess it’s a yes then…” She said before climbing in the car and sitting in the front passenger’s seat while Jeff sat in the driver’s. Maximilian sat in the rear seat and looked at the large house that started growing smaller behind them as they drove. He still had a hard time believing he had been in his parent’s house. It all seemed like a dream, a good one but a dream nonetheless. He looked at the box that was lying besides him and took the picture once more, admiring the dancing shadows of his parents, illuminated by the setting sun in the background. They both seemed to be laughing and to be so happy. How could such tragedy have befallen such people like that? The world is really unfair sometimes, thought Maximilian.