Chapter 5

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September 7th 2038

All the students were gathered in the schoolyard near the main entrance of the school, some were standing near the lower steps but the majority of the teenagers were sitting on the higher steps of the outdoor amphitheatre. While the new students who felt a little lost in this new environment were staying on the side, often alone but sometimes joining with old friends. The old students were all chatting with enthusiasm about their holidays, laughing at each other or pushing themselves playfully without worrying the least bit about the disapproving looks the teacher were shooting at them.

Maximilian was sitting in the middle of the large stone steps on the right side. Just besides him sat Simon, his friend since his second year of high school when became really close during the heated final of the internal badminton tournament. Simon topped almost every one with his meter ninety-one, he had short red-brown hair and was dressed in a black suit jacket on top of a white shirt and a pair of worn jeans. This was his usual clothing as he liked to look both formal and casual, or both at the same time, and managed to do it with a certain style, at least to Maximilian’s eyes. This granted him a certain popularity with the girls since his early years of secondary school. As they were in their second year of high school and sixth year in the school they had sat down immediately after arriving without any hesitation, being used to the welcoming ceremony and to their whereabouts. Almost all the other second year had done the same thing as it wasn’t their first year at Hawkland Highschool.

Simon was talking about the movie he had seen the day before on TV, an old one, a classic, but that was a great movie none the less.

“…but, you know, the scene at the bank is really amazing ! It really is one of the best bank robbery I’ve ever seen in a movie! Especially the moment where he says ‘No, no, no, no. I kill the bus driver…’, that was just epic !” Said Simon with such enthusiasm he was almost shouting.

“I must concur my friend.” Answered Maximilian. “I really loved that movie.” The young man was about to add that it was his favorite scene but he stopped when he saw the headmaster walking out of the building and towards the teachers.

The headmasters eternal welcoming speech and the students’ distribution was about to begin? A tall man with impressive shoulders and a booming voice asked for silence and immediately all the students stopped talking. A few newcomers were a bit slow to understand, talking for a few more seconds before realizing everything was silent. The meaningful look the man shot them added to his impressive features sufficed to shut them up without a single protest. The man who had requested silence was Mr. Anderson, the biology teacher, and though he wasn’t violent at all his impressive muscles, his commanding attitude and his full proof calm was respected by everyone, students and teachers alike. Rare were the rebels that dared defy his authority and they usually learned it the hard way for he was an expert in the arts of intellectual punishments. The teacher, satisfied with the newly acquired calm, stepped aside leaving the spotlight to the headmaster.

“Wake me up when he’s finished…” Whispered Simon to his friend as he closed his eyes, a mocking smile spread on his lips. Maximilian smiled too and nodded. Headmaster Christopher Sullivan’s speech was apparently different each year but it always said the same things, over and over again. And its length is inhuman… Thought the young man, smiling to himself. Since the year of Maximilian’s arrival at the school the young man ha heard it so many times that he could easily take Sullivan’s place and no one would notice the difference. Simon didn’t last long without talking and started explaining the many great scenes in the Batman movie that had played on TV the previous night. The dark-haired teen took this resurrection with pleasure and they discussed the last movies they had seen and the ones they were expecting the most while the headmaster talked. He finished his speech by explaining that the number of new students had risen yet again this year and that everyone should do his best to kindly welcome them to Hawkland and he concluded by reminding them the school’s motto.

“This year we hope from all of you civility, constancy and rigor in your studies. If you apply these three simple principles we will be able to help go very far, perhaps farther than you think!” The man paused, giving time to his words to sink in and then continued. “I wish you an excellent year and now leave to my colleagues the pleasant task of dividing your year in the different classes. May success follow your steps!” He concluded with a smile letting the five teachers taking his place. The three men and two women walked towards the microphone and a little balding man with a grey tweed jacket took spoke first.

“Good, umm… First hello to all of you, welcome to the newcomers and welcome back to the others. My name is Mr. Chad for those who do not know me, I teach history, geography and economical sciences and I will be the class teacher of group A.” Announced the man whose baldness was inversely proportional to his size. Baldness that seems to visibly spread on his head because of all that grey hair, thought Maximilian with a chuckle.

“I will call by their names the students that will be part of my class this year, as I do this would ou please come down and join me. We will then go to our main classroom.” He took out a pair of old half-moon glasses from his front jacket pocket and started to read the list. “Andrews, Thomas…” A slender young man stood up from the left side of the steps and walked to the teacher placing himself behind the old man against the wall, his bag dangling from his shoulders. “Arius, Samuel…” The man continued. “Baron, Stephanie… Del Ambre, Ludovic…” As he recited their names students came to grow the A group behind the history teacher, some comfortably leaning against the wall, others stiffly standing on the sides.

Maximilian rapidly lost track when Simon started to talk to him about what he had done during the last week of holidays. The teenager preferred to give up on the list and decided to answer his friend who, he knew very well, wouldn’t stop talking if he still had air in his lungs and a tongue in his mouth. Mr. Chadon finished not long after that and passed the microphone to a young blonde woman before leaving the amphitheatre, his students right behind him, and leading the way to the second years’ building.

The young teacher that took the history professor’s place was tall and in her early twenties. Mrs. Blumme was a math teacher and was loved by all her students, her popularity was partially because of her young age and her graceful appearance but it was mostly due to her competence in mathematics and her great teacher skills. Her outer appearance, she was tall and had medium length blonde hair that she let fall free, was indeed hiding a very capable and highly intelligent woman. She had indeed obtained her diploma at the age of sixteen, she had become a fully fledged teacher a mere three years after that and had started teaching at Hawkland Highschool the following year at the age of twenty. Most of the teachers and the students had then thought that she wouldn’t be able to take the pressure and that she wouldn’t last three months. But to their complete astonishment she did pass through the first months perfectly fine and even better, she managed to “tame” the hot heads in her classes.

She was highly respected by her colleagues and all, girls as much as boys, prayed to be in her class. Those who were called out exulted and those who weren’t chosen started to sulk. Once she was finished she let the next teacher take over and call his students and she went towards her class, followed closely by her students who were chatting happily. Next came the biology teacher, followed by the smile of all those who found themselves to be in his class. James Anderson was one of the most interesting teachers Maximilian had ever had, he always knew exactly what he was talking about and how to make it interesting to his students. Under his bear-like appearance was hidden a monster of knowledge and a standup comedian due to his booming voice and his unfailing sense of humor. His explanations were always clear, easily understandable and interesting, at least as long as his audience was interested of course. As he finished calling out the students and walked away towards the second years’ building a second woman took his place.

She was smaller than her colleague , brunette with long hair falling down almost to her hips and brushed in a neat Indian braid falling on the right side of her back. She didn’t appear much older than her blonde colleague but she was already in her mid thirties. People often compared the two of them because they were equally respected by everyone but not for the same reasons. While Lois Blumme was liked for her warmth and good spirit the brown-haired English teacher was very strict. Even if she didn’t seem so she was in fact very easy to talk to and friendly but she did not tolerate any misdemeanor during her classes and she demanded regular work and involvement. Any negligence was severely punished. Despite all that the students often came to like these English lessons because of her simple yet interesting way of presenting their mother tongue to them.

“Good morning to you all !” She exclaimed. “I am Mrs. Blois, the English teacher of the second and third years and also the teacher in charge of group D. I would kindly ask you to join me down here when I call your name.” Simon and Maximilian, who hadn’t yet been chosen continued to talk, now speaking about books they had read over the years and comparing their favorites.

“Mr. Veyras, would you please be quiet while I am calling out the D group’s students ? You are starting your year wonderfully already…” She interrupted the young red-haired man, which had the effect of making all the remaining students burst to laughter. Hilarity spread even more when Simon stood up, believing he had been called out. When he had sat down again after a round of applause Jane Blois started calling out her students, a small smile barely visible on her lips. The young man whose cheeks were on fire from embarrassment turned towards his friend again.

“Well, at least we know she is as strict as ever…” He whispered which made Maximilian laugh silently.

“Yeah, like each year as you may recall. But still, you have to admit you saw that coming, you’re always so discreet when you talk to me…” The dark-haired teenager had difficulty not laughing in front of his friend’s “overly shocked face”.

“Me ? Not discreet ? No way, I am as stealthy as… a ninja ! I am stealth. !” They both tried to retain their laughter, broad smiles plastered on their faces. “Yeah I know…” Reckoned Simon. “I was up for it… But who cares ?” And with that he started talking again while Maximilian only half listened to him as he tried to see if he was called out or not.

“Yeah, so true…” He said absent mindedly as his friend paused. The brown-haired woman was at the B’s, if he was going to be called out it would be soon so he focused his attention on her. he didn’t want his name being called out while he wasn’t listening and what’s more while it was Mrs. Blois talking.

“Boltès, Pierrick… Bundale, Lily… Chatterton, Marina…” Ok, not my turn then !

“You know, I’ve been thinking about reading the novel that inspired these Saw movies I talked to you about earlier, it seems really interesting!” Added Simon as the English teacher was still calling her students and checking if they were indeed there.

“Ciennda, Maya…” She called out. A young woman with raven hair stood up from the far left corner and started coming down the steps. The red-haired followed her as he continued to talk and as she slowly descended towards the teacher and went to stand besides the other students, leaning on the wall. She was quite tall, about a meter seventy-five, with a light tan and wore a simple dark blue jacket and a black skirt. Cute, he thought, he hadn’t seen her before so she must have been newAs he turned back to his friend he noticed that Maximilian had also been following her while she was walking and that he lingered a few seconds too long. This slightly surprised Simon, it wasn’t often that Maximilian looked at a girl more than necessary. As his friend finally turned away he quickly looked at her again, she had short and very dark hair, her face was round and her nose was thin. Simon had to admit she was really pretty but what surprised him was that she had seemed to catch Maximilian’s eye. She wasn’t the only new girl nor the only pretty one in the school. The dark-haired teenager’s best friend vowed to investigate this matter in detail later, right now he had a golden occasion to tease his friend.

“And then a pink elephant comes in on a pair of roller skates, he breaks through and indestructible wall with his mighty leek and frees the red truck from the terrible Shrimp the Great!” He said casually, waiting for his friend to realize what he had been saying with a huge smug smile on his face.

“Wait- what?!” Suddenly asked his friend. “What- Where did the shrimp come from all of a sudden?” Asked Maximilian who seemed to still not catch his friend’s joke. Faced with a lack of response from his friend he looked at him.

“Where did the shrimp come from? And what-” He stopped in his tracks, seeing Simon’s large smile plastered on his face and slowly understanding what he had done. The red-haired was making fun of him. “Hahaha! Very funny…” he said sarcastically as he crossed his arms and took on a sulking face. Simon was laughing so much that it took him a full minute to calm down and talk again.

“Sorry but I couldn’t resist, you were sooo fascinated after all…”

“What? No I wasn’t! I was just looking at her and- Whatever!” The dark haired teen surrendered seeing his friend starting to crack up again as he was struggling to explain himself. “Okay, maybe I was a bit too focused… But I thought it was someone I recognized, that’s all…”

“Oh really?” Asked Simon overdoing the non-convinced. “Well, I must admit she is quite pretty…”

“Tss, what are you trying to make me say here?” Asked Maximilian as he saw his friend’s smile hinting a bit of Machiavellianism.

“Oh nothing… nothing at all…” He defended himself trying to seem as innocent, but Maximilian hit him on lightly the shoulder. “Ouch! hey that hurts!”

“Yeah and I’m the King of England!”

“Uh, no, I seriously doubt that you know…” Simon contradicted him as ironic as he could. He seemed like he was about to add something but decided against it and settled himself for a simple “Anyways…”, his way of saying the conversation was over. For the moment at least…

“Ah should be our turn now!” He exclaimed shortly after that as he saw Mrs. Blois entering the building with her students and the last teacher present taking her place behind the microphone. Johann Brevski was the physics teacher, he was in his late forties and as his named indicated he had Romanian origins. He was easily recognizable from all the other teachers by his unusual accent and his way to roll the r’s. He had grown up in Romania and has decided to move to the United States after getting his physics engineering diploma but had been forced to take a teacher’s formation to find a job. He knew extremely well what he was teaching his students, a bit too well to the taste of some as he had a bit of difficulties to share this knowledge with his students. Indeed his explanations were always very detailed but not always clear and easily understandable. And because of that he sometimes had to explain notions fin four of five different ways for his students to understand. He had a small beard and graying hair on the sides.

“Very well, hello to all of you!” He began, slightly rolling his r’s, a small happy smile spreading on his face. “As you are the last students I must suppose that all of you belong to my group, the E group, and that you are indeed here. But since I prefer to be careful I will still call you out and I ask you to come down next to me once I have. This way I will check both that you are here and who you say you are and also if anybody has forgotten to get up or been forgotten. Though I hope it is not the case it has sadly already happened in the past…” This made everyone smile. He called each one of the remaining students and soon everyone was standing beside him and no one was left on the steps of the now empty amphitheatre.

Maximilian was called fifth, having Bell as a family name, and Simon followed a few moments later as Veyras was his last name. The young red-haired man was used to be at the end of the lists but this time three people were still remaining after he had been called. When he was finished the bearded teacher put back his list in his worn leather bag and motioned to his students to follow him.

“I am happy to have everything in order this year, it’s quite problematic when someone remains behind when I’m finished.” Some of the new student looked at him, not sure how to react to this quite odd man. “So,” he continued as he walked in front of the group. “I am Mr. Brevski and this year I shall be your physics and chemistry teacher. If you would follow me, I will show you which of these will be our room until the summer holidays.”

As they walked up the stairs Simon caught up to Maximilian and tapped him on the shoulder.

“This year is okay don’t you think? We’re not too bad with the teachers.”

“Yeah, it’s better that last year at least…” Agreed the teenager, recalling the long hours of Physics and P.E. with more than tyrannical teachers. “I would have liked to be in Anderson’s class though, he’s really cool.”

“You’d trade your best friend for Schwarzy? I feel really hurt you know!” Sulked Simon. But the only answer he received from the dark haired teenager was his tongue sticking out at him.

 


 

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Chapter 3

Night had already fallen for some time when Maximilian climbed the stairs towards his bedroom. After having played with Arthur for almost an hour and a half they had stopped and gone back into the house to flee the freshness of the night. The call of a succulent meal prepared by Doris had also greatly contributed to motivate them. As a dessert she had prepared her famous American cake recipe: cereals coated with nougat, chocolate and marshmallows shaped in a rectangular mold. The American cake was as hard as sticky but it had infinite worth to Maximilian who ate each new bite with delight. As a present he received a drawing of himself from Arthur, which he decided to put on display in his room as soon as possible. It was very colorful but still very realistic, the young boy had done a good job in portraying his older brother whom accepted it with a big smile.

Even though From Jeff and Doris he received the complete set of the Mentalist, an old TV show from the early years of the century that Maximilian had discovered a few months earlier and was very much enjoying. He also got the first editions of the Blood Prince series’ first book that he had wanted for a long time. He thanked them with a warm hug, embracing all three of them. They ate the rest of the cake with delight while watching one of the episodes of the suspenseful TV show that he had received. Nothing of the talk they had had earlier in the day had been mentioned during the supper to prevent Arthur from becoming too curious. It was still too early for him to know the truth and it arranged Maximilian as it gave him time to think about it alone. He was thinking about what he had learned when he finally exited the dining room with his presents.

“I’m going to my room.” He announced. “I think I’ll go to bed soon so good night everyone.”

“Good night Max!” Exclaimed Arthur with a big smile, his mouth plastered with cake.

“Sleep well.” Added Doris while trying to clean her youngest son’s mouth.

“Good Night Maximilian.” Simply answered Jeff as he watched the young man climbing the stairs.

“‘Night.” Replied the teenager one last time as he disappeared on the upper floor, walking towards his bedroom.

It was only once he was in sitting before his desk in his room that he decided to look closer at the mysterious wooden box. It was made of oak wood and was about ten centimeters high, twice as long and fifteen in width. Set with iron, it resembled an old trunk sprung right out of the last century. What could it contain? He knew absolutely nothing about that but his curiosity had been piqued since the couple had given it to him.

He turned on the computer screen and saw that the program had sixteen more per cents to go before it ended. Turning it back off – he knew he would only be able to see the results the next morning – Maximilian decided to open that box now and see what was inside. He took it and put it down before him on his desk. It opened with a simple latch that was not even secured with a lock. His father must have really trusted his friend to not open it he thought.  Max lifted the latch and felt his blood boil with excitement; he could barely contain himself enough to open the lid of the miniature trunk. What he then saw inside took him aback a bit.

The wooden box contained another box, smaller and made out of metal as it seemed and of a dark grey color. The teenager took out this second box and put it right next to the first one. He sat there for a moment, only looking at the new object, not daring to touch it again. What could that mean? Why put another box inside the first? Maximilian couldn’t think of an explanation so he decided to find out the easier way. He took the small metallic cube in his hand and lifted it to his eye level to observe it from up close.

He noticed that what he had first thought to be scratches were in fact very small engravings, almost invisible to the naked eye when one didn’t pay attention. One could read : “For Maximilian, A.D.”. This message, though very short, echoed through the teenager’s mind for a few moments. It was a strange feeling to think that it was the first connection that he had with his parents since their death, a tiny link to his father through this small box.

For the first time he really thought about his parents. His father, Alexander, and his mother, Sophia. Who were they? What did they look like? Where had they been? Why had they left him so soon? All those questions left without an answer were circling around in his mind, so many possibilities and unknowns. When he finally came to he couldn’t tell how much time had passed but he heard laughs coming from his brother’s room across the hallway and his parents quiet chatter downstairs. He looked at his alarm clock, it surprised him when he noticed almost half an hour had passed.

He focused his attention back to the small cube, taking it in his hands, turning it around to observe it under each possible perspective, feeling it with his fingers, looking for a way to open it, in vain. There was nothing, no lock, no socket, no button nor any handle, only a smooth little metallic cube. It was the only memory and link to his parents, his closest hope to learning something about them and there it was, taunting him because he couldn’t find the way to open it.

After an unsuccessful hour of observation with a magnifying glass, of light tapping here and there and handling repeated many a time he had to resign to the fact that he wouldn’t be opening it so easily, if it could be opened. And if indeed it could, he would have to resort to the hard way with the risk of damaging whatever it contained. He sat back up on his chair and, elbows on the desk, his chin resting on his hands, simply looking at the box, letting his thoughts wander by themselves around the meanders of his mind. He let himself flow away, imagining himself in an exact replica of his room in his mind and trying to find a way to open the small object.

At first he was looking alternatively at different objects in his room, which looked almost as real as they were when he had his eyes opened, before systematically turning back his focus on the box. As he passed over each object in his mind he analyzed its shape and its working. He was able to do that easily for any object that was electronic or mechanical, imagining the little gear spinning and the whole system starting to bustle about.

He was so absorbed by it that anything else was wiped away little by little, of his room and all the object around him only remained the little metallic cube. Maximilian, who had been unconsciously focusing on the box up till now, suddenly jumped as if he had remembered something important and obvious. A smile broadened on his face as he focused his attention back to the box, this time consciously. The teenager had noticed, quite some time ago now, that when he focused his mind enough on an object, mostly metallic objects, he could somehow picture it and “understand it”.

He could create a very precise image of the said object in his mind and could “make it work” to study its working without much difficulty. It was partly because of that, that he had a great interest and facility with any mechanical or electronic object or mechanism. At that moment he was trying to recreate the feeling of contact and understanding he always had when he was doing his “thing”. After a few minutes he finally managed to discern the shape he was looking for amidst all the ones present in his room. He focused on it, his mind doing something resembling a zoom and he found himself floating before an enlarged version of the small box exactly reproduced by his mind.

*

The young man had woken up a few minutes earlier but he couldn’t muster the motivation to get up. He lay there looking at the white ceiling of his room and thinking about the previous day’s events. He had learned that Doris and Jeff Bell were not his real parents and strangely it didn’t bother him that much. But suspecting and knowing were not the same thing and Maximilian knew it. Having the certainty of it brought up many questions that hadn’t seemed so important before. Who were his parents? Where had they lived? What was in that box? And why had his father decided to give it to him on his sixteenth birthday?

The young man slowly understood that he wanted, that he needed, to know who really were his biological parents. Maximilian looked at the clock, it was already 9:27 pm. He shook his head in an effort to motivate himself to get out of bed and decided that he needed to ask these questions to Jeff and Doris as soon as he would have the opportunity. The teenager dressed up quickly, putting on a worn pair of jeans and a brown tee-shirt with a single large dark grey stripe in the center. He passed a hand in his hair, ruffling them more than combing them as walked over to his desk. He sat in front of his computer and pressed a key to turn the screen back on. It had worked all night to check his program and to find any error in his code and Maximilian wanted to see the result of the night’s work displayed on the analysis report.

Two days before the program had done its job perfectly but without finding any error or problem in the young man’s nonfunctional code. After testing his code and invariably coming across the same “Wrong phrasing input” error each time he had decided to test it a second time, just to be sure, and was finally about to see the results.

He opened the window in which the debugger would display what it had found and was bit surprised to find exactly the same one as two days before : the result was negative, no error whatsoever had been detected in the code, it was completely functional. Strange, he thought, how can a program without any error and theoretically viable bug like this? He decided to try to run his code once more to be sure that it hadn’t changed anything but he was as successful as each and every previous time. He should have known : he would have to start everything again from scratch. The last viable backup he had made was already from a few weeks ago and he had done so much in these few weeks… he cursed himself for not thinking of backing it up more frequently. Now it would take hours to rebuild the whole skeleton and to re-write the code. Great, just great! Maximilian turned the screen back off and decided to go down and eat his breakfast, it was already getting late, plus he didn’t have the courage to start again right now and he was hungry. He took the strange metal box with him downstairs, hoping he might have an idea as to how he could open it while looking at his cereals.

As he came down the stairs and came in to the kitchen he was still smiling at that ridiculous idea and almost didn’t notice Doris and Arthur, who was sitting at the table, eating his cereals by order of color, while Doris was washing the dishes. He hugged the blond woman and said hello then ruffled the young boy’s hair before sitting down next to him. Arthur looked up and a big smile spread on his face as he saw Maximilian.

“Hi Max!”He exclaimed himself.

“Hello Arthur.” Maximilian smiled in return, happy to see his brother so merry. He saw that most of the red cereals were still in the boy’s bowl. “Why don’t you eat the red ones? Don’t you like them?”

“I do, they’re my favorite! So I keep them for the end!”

“Oh I see, well then I’d keep the green ones, they seem so much tastier…” Maximilian teased the young boy.

“No they’re not! Red is the best!”

Maximilian stuck out his tongue playfully at his brother. He knew that this gesture, as childish as it could be, would make him laugh. And he was right, Arthur didn’t waste time to crack up and burst into laughter. He also started to answer, making all sorts of faces to his elder. Which, of course, Doris didn’t miss.

“Well, well! How can it be that such a refined young boy as you could make such ugly faces to his own brother?” She had said that in a disapproving tone and with a serious face, eyebrows furrowed, but Maximilian knew she was only making fun of Arthur. The young boy turned over to his mother, looking so ashamed of himself that she couldn’t help but crack a small smile.

“But mom! He’s the one who started!”

“I know darling, but you know he does it on purpose to toy with you. Now eat your cereals or you are going to be late for the cartoons!”

As his mother said that Arthur completely forgot his silly face contest with Maximilian and started eating again with renewed vigor. Not for the world would he miss an episode of Ferguson in Fergland, his favorite cartoon. He ate his remaining blue letters in a flash and started devouring his red ones before drinking the remaining milk and putting down his bowl. He then took off his napkin and fled towards the living room without wasting a single second. Doris barely had time to remind him to brush his teeth and wash his face before getting dressed and he was sitting on the couch in front of the TV, already zapping through the channels. He muttered a faint “Yes mom!” when she repeated herself, knowing he hadn’t listened at all, and he was gone to Fergland with Ferguson Reed, the kid adventurer.

Maximilian was looking at the box while he was eating his cereals, trying to understand what it was exactly. The previous day he had managed to feel its presence and to completely visualize it in his mind but he hadn’t managed to “see” past that point, it was like the box was  resisting his ability. Either that or it was truly a simple metal box with nothing inside. But the young man knew it couldn’t be, why give him an empty box ? He had found no obvious way to open it nor any hidden mechanism. Nothing. He had found nothing even though he had focused as much as he could, he had explored each square centimeter, each engraving and each detail for almost two hours but with no success. There was no lock, no button to press or turn, no hidden discernible mechanism that he could activate. Exhausted by all this effort of concentration and his long day he had decided to leave it at that for the evening and to see if sleep would enlighten him. He had put the box down on his nightstand, turned off the screen of his computer and had lain on his bed, drifting off to sleep almost immediately. Unfortunately Maximilian had not progressed much by morning. He was now aimlessly stirring his milk as he was looking at the box when Doris came and sat down next to him.

“So, have you managed to open it yet?” She asked. The young man jumped at that question, he hadn’t noticed his (now foster) mother coming next to him. His surprised reaction made Doris smile.

“Huh? What?” It took a few seconds before he realized she was talking about the box lying in front of him.

“Oh, the box! Uhm no… Not yet. I looked but I couldn’t find any way to open it, there’s no lock, button or anything that could help. I’m not even sure it can be opened.”

“Can I take a quick look?” Maximilian gave her the small metallic cube. Doris looked closely at it for a few minutes, turning it around, touching and tapping here and there. Then she noticed the engraving on the top and smiled. The blond woman put it back on the table in front of the teenager and turned herself towards him.

“Yep, that’s what I thought…” Maximilian shot her a half hopeful, half questioning look.

“You see,” She continued. “your father, Alexandre, had one just like it in his house. He told me it was a present for your mother made by him. It had a similar engraving on the top. And knowing him it isn’t easy to open.” She paused for a moment, reminiscing old memories of his parents.

“Alexandre had always been a great amateur of puzzles and riddles. When he had some free time in college he would either be trying to solve or create one. I would bet anything that this box is one, a riddle I mean, that he meant for you to solve. Only he and Sophia knew how to open her box he had said to me when I asked him about it. So it must have a secret mechanism or a unique way of being opened, you’ll have to find that yourself I think.”

Maximilian looked alternatively at the blond woman and at the small box. He hadn’t thought of it like that. Did his father want to deliver what was inside the box only to him? Or perhaps did he have to prove himself by opening that box?

“So, he liked the Rubik’s cube or the Towers of Hanoi and all these things a lot then?”

“Yes, the Rubik’s cube was one of the first puzzle that was presented to him and since then he collected any he could find, even those he couldn’t solve. Though there weren’t much…”

The young man looked at the box again. He had guessed he would have to find the keyhole but now he also had to find what the key was. He was starting to doubt his father wanted him had ever planned for him to open it. Seeing as he looked lost Doris encouraged him to continue thinking about it, if the Alexandre Desrhodes she knew had given this to him there must have been a reason and he would find out what it contained sooner or later. She pecked him on the cheek and offered her help if he ever needed it before joining her son in the living room on the couch. Maximilian smiled at her and finished his cereal bowl before they got all soft.

As he finished his breakfast and put his and Arthur’s bowls in the sink he walked to the stairs, towards his room. He was about to put his foot on the first step when Jeff called him from the office.

“Max, can you come here a second?”

“Coming dad!” He answered as he rushed upstairs silently, thanks to the thick beige carpet on the floor, and went to his room to put the box back on his desk. The whole first floor was also covered with the same carpet and Maximilian made the most of it by walking barefoot year round. He passed by the bathroom on his right and Arthur’s bedroom on his left and went in the second room on his right. The door to his bedroom was already opened and he only had to take a step in to reach his desk. On the walls could be seen many posters of old and new movies, sports trophies and a few bookshelves completely filled. The attic room was lit by a large window facing the wall on the right of the door, the bed was placed alongside the wall opposite from the door, under the sloped part. His desk was placed near the door on the left side of the window. On the other side was a large wardrobe full of clothes and a shelf full of books. As he put down the box he noticed that the screen was turned on, though  he could swear that he had turned it off before going down. Strange he thought, I must have forgotten. He put it back to sleep mode before going back down to see what Jeff wanted to tell him.

 


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Chapter 2

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.


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Chapter 1

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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.


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Prologue

. When will all of this cease ?

When one of us falls.

But why must you fight ? Can’t you make it stop ?

No, the gears are moving and they can’t be stopped. Our destiny is sealed my love.

What if we ran away ? We could escape from all this !

I can’t. I have to stay and stop him before he succeeds in his madness.

Then I’m leaving…

Why ?

I can’t… I can’t stand here doing nothing, I can’t bear to see you kill each other… I’m leaving. I cannot be a witness to that, I cannot be part of that. I refuse…

And our precious… ?

They will take care of him. I’ll explain to them, they will understand.

You are my star, my flame, my sun… I cannot live without your warmth,you are the light guiding me through darkness…

If I stay, I will be a spectator of your end, of your downfall… No, I refuse to suffer more than I already do… I love you.

I love you so much…

Goodbye…

Goodbye Sophia…


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