"Okay, Michelangelo, tell me what it is that you want from me."
Even in writing, Mikey could distinctly sense Sayuri's exasperation. Nonetheless, he was elated that she had pretty much given in.
When he went to respond to the message, it dawned on him that he was not exactly sure how to answer her question. Of course, he knew what he ultimately wanted from her – a relationship with his grandmother. What he had not thought through was how to even begin.
He started when his door swung open to reveal Leonardo standing in his doorway with his arms crossed over his chest.
Mikey greeted him with a disarming grin from behind the laptop.
"Hey bro, what's up?"
Leo entered and shut the door behind him.
"Donnie told me what you're up to, Mikey," he began.
Mikey felt his stomach jump to his throat. As much as he loved his oldest brother, Leo had to be the biggest tattle tale on the planet. No doubt he had already told Splinter about it.
"This is dangerous, Mikey. You can't just track down little old ladies on the internet and claim to be a long-lost grandson. You're either gonna freak her out, or…"
"You haven't told Sensei, have you?"
Leo was taken aback by the fact that Mikey chose to ask that rather than his usual tactics that consisted of either denial or defense. Pleading was usually his last resort.
"What? No, I haven't, but…"
"Well, you're not going to, right?"
Leo snorted. "Um, of course I'm gonna tell him! You shouldn't be talking to strangers on the internet, Mikey, let alone sending them Sensei's pictures. It's an invasion of his privacy, and it's dangerous!"
Mikey put the laptop down on the mattress beside him and leaped off the bed. He shoved Leo aside with his good arm and blocked the door with his body.
"You can't tell him, Leo! This is important to me, and to Sensei!"
Leo crossed his arms nonchalantly.
"I don't understand this, Mikey. Why do you care about Sensei's real family so much?"
"Why don't you? Don't you ever wonder what the rest of our family is like? Don't you want Sensei to be happy?"
Leo sighed. "It's not that I don't care. I just don't want him to get hurt. I mean, do you really believe that his mother is ever going to believe that her son is a mutant rat?"
Mikey looked to his feet dejectedly. He sighed.
"I'm telling you, she's gonna know it's him. She has to."
Leo turned and snatched the framed photo off of Mikey's bed.
"I'm giving this back to Sensei, and I'm telling him what's going on."
Mikey grabbed him by both of his arms and shoved him back onto the bed, the picture tumbling to the floor. He stood over him and tried to muster his best intimidating glare while ignoring the throbbing pain in his broken arm from the jarring movement.
Leo was dumbfounded. All he could do was stare up at the urgency and determination in his little brother's eyes.
Mikey sighed and knelt down to pick up the frame, relieved to find that it wasn't damaged.
"I'm gonna give the picture back, and eventually, I'm gonna tell Sensei, but right now, I just need you to keep it a secret." He flashed his best pleading, baby blue-eyed glance at Leo. "Please."
Both brothers jumped when the door creaked open suddenly and Splinter stuck his head in. Mikey quickly hid the frame behind his back.
"Is everything alright in here? I heard a shout."
The two brothers exchanged silent glances.
Leo sighed. "Yeah, everything's fine. Mikey was just trying to show me a kata and he hurt his arm."
Splinter looked at Mikey with concern.
"Are you alright, Michelangelo?"
Mikey rubbed his arm. "Y-yeah…yeah, I'm okay, Sensei."
Splinter stared at him a moment and noticed that he was harboring something behind his back.
"By the way, please return my picture to the dojo. I do not know why you have taken it."
Mikey looked stunned.
"U-uh, what picture?"
Splinter's glance hardened. "Michelangelo…"
Mikey groaned and pulled the picture out from behind his back. He handed it to Splinter, his eyes cast shamefully at the floor.
Splinter took the frame and stared at Mikey expectantly.
"Well…? Aren't you going to explain why you have taken one of my personal belongings?"
Mikey had not a clue what to say.
"He needed it for a reference to, uh...draw a portrait," Leo piped up.
Mikey looked to Leo, perplexed.
"A portrait, you say?"
Leo nudged Mikey.
"U-Uh, yeah. I wanted to draw you a portrait."
Splinter grinned, but then hesitated his reaction. As sweet as Mikey's intentions might have been, he still crossed boundaries. His expression became stern.
"Though that is very thoughtful of you, my son, I would prefer if you did not take my things without my permission, is that understood?"
Mikey dropped his head respectfully.
"Hai, Sensei. Sorry."
Splinter nodded once and left the room.
"Thanks, Leo," Mikey whispered.
"Don't expect me to cover for you again. You got lucky this time, but…" He sighed. "I'll give you a chance to tell Splinter yourself. You gotta tell him the truth, Mikey."
Mikey crossed his fingers behind his shell.
"Fine. I will."
Splinter gingerly placed the framed photo back in its shrine. He stared at it a moment before his gaze moved to another beloved photo.
His three older sons posed proudly in the background. Leonardo's arms crossed over his chest confidently; that calm, tenacious grin adorning his green features. Raphael's willful smile while he stood bearing his prized sais, as if playfully daring the camera wielder to challenge him. Donatello proudly towering over his brothers with a gleam of amusement in his dark eyes, holding his bo staff beside him like a strong, dependable old companion. And to tie the whole picture together, Michelangelo popping in from the lower left corner, waving his hand and beaming with giddiness, always reminding those watching that, though he is the most petite, he is not one to be overlooked.
It was his favorite portrait of his new family. No, not new. He often chastised himself for referring to his four sons as new. They had been in his life for fifteen years; they were not babies. At times, he would find himself instead calling them his "second family", and this sounded no better. It made it sound as though they were replacements, stand-ins, for the family that he lost. Why was he looking for a relative term to describe them anyway? They were family regardless of when or how it happened.
He adjusted the positioning of the framed photo, making sure it was squarely and evenly aligned with the adjacent frame.
He sighed deeply. Why had he not confronted Michelangelo with his suspicions? If he had just asked him outright if he was concerned about where he stood in his father's life, he had to figure one of two outcomes would result: Michelangelo would clarify that he was aware of how important he and his brothers are to their father, or he would confirm Splinter's suspicions. The latter, of course, would mean that Splinter would have a bit of work to do, but regardless, the issue would be one step closer to being put to rest.
Once he imagined the latter scenario a second longer, the feeling in the pit of his stomach gave him his answer: Fear. He feared that suspicion so greatly that he chose to avoid it entirely.
"You are a coward, Yoshi."
"I just have a lot of questions and I wanna get to know you. There's a lot of stuff I wanna know about my father's past! Plus, you could ask me some questions too! I'd love to tell you all about our family."
Sayuri knew she had many questions for her so-called "grandson" – assuming he was authentic – what kind of father was her son? How did a single man get approved to adopt not one, but four, babies? How old did the boy say he was? Were he and his brother's quadruplets?
Before she would even think of engaging him that way, first, she needed to ensure that this boy was real, and not a master catfish scammer. So maybe he did have a picture of her son with his late wife and newborn baby, a picture that should have been lost just before the days of digital images, and he knew some of the details of her daughter-in-law's untimely death, but did he know anything else?
Of course, it was possible that this person found an old newspaper article about the incident. What image was it that they used for the obituary back then? She knew that she had kept that article and the obituary after all these years, but she had packed them away years ago. They were far too painful to look at.
She sighed. Perhaps it was time to dig those painful memories back up.
She clicked "reply".
"I need you to answer some questions for me first. Has my son talked about his mother? What are some of his memories with me?"
There was no way that this person could answer that question.
Mikey read Sayuri's message tentatively. Splinter's childhood memories. He knew that he had heard countless stories over the years, but now his mind was drawing a blank. He was not sure which ones were significant enough that Splinter's mother would remember them. He knew that there must have been several that he was sure Splinter would not have even told his mother.
His door opened with a metallic creak, and his father emerged. He quickly closed the laptop and laid it beside him.
"H-hey Sensei, what's going on?"
Splinter wordlessly shut the door behind him and took a seat on the bed beside his son.
"My son," he hesitated. "Is there…is there anything on your mind? Is there something that you need to ask me? Something that is troubling you?"
Mikey wanted to immediately deny that and assure Splinter that all was well, and he certainly was not up to anything, but then he had a thought.
"Well…nothing is necessarily bothering me, but I have kind of been thinking about something."
"We were talking about your mom the other day, and it got me thinking…well, I wanna know more about her and like, your childhood. Do you have any memories of her that really stand out in your mind?"
Splinter eyed his son quizzically, and it was then that he really took notice of the laptop that Mikey seemed to close and toss aside hastily.
"My son, you are not trying to find my mother on the internet after I explicitly told you not to, are you?"
Mikey swore that he felt his heart skip a beat.
He smiled sheepishly.
"Oh, w-what…that? Nah, Sensei, I've forgotten all about that! I, uh…I just, uh…I just thought it would be some good father-son bonding. Honestly!"
Splinter stroked his beard contemplatively.
"You certainly have been spending a lot of time on Donatello's laptop lately, though. May I ask why?"
"Because, uh…well, I have been on MyFace a lot lately, but it's just to, um, follow some celebrities that I like and see what they're posting about. It just keeps me entertained…"
"Michelangelo, you know to be careful when you are on those social media sites, yes? You do not always know what kind of people you are really talking to."
Mikey scowled. "Yeah, I know, Sensei."
He placed a hand on his son's knee.
"Now, what was it that you wanted to know?"
Mikey's grin returned full force.
"Do you have any particular memories of your mom? Maybe some neat stories you never told us before?"
Splinter knew for sure that there were many stories involving his mother that he had never shared with his sons. Most of them were not for any particular reason, other than perhaps they simply never came up.
"I have many, but I have one in particular that I have thought of recently when I was forced to punish your brother the other day."
"Let's hear it!"
"When I was ten-years-old, I was in a fight in school. A bully was teasing my good friend, who you now know as the Shredder, about having lost his father. He had called him a 'bastard'."
Mikey's eyes widened.
"So, we pummeled this boy mercilessly. We put him in the hospital. My mother arrived, spoke to our principal, and they decided that I was going to be switched."
Splinter nudged him.
"It is not funny!"
"Nah, it's kinda funny. Just weird to imagine, I guess."
"Anyway, my mother whipped me silly with a bamboo branch in front of my principal." He chuckled. "I was grounded for quite some time."
"Well, it sounds to me like the kid deserved it."
"I think so too, but now that I am a parent myself, I must say that I would not want one of my children to beat someone so badly that they were hospitalized…unless, of course, you were defending yourself. I probably deserved to be punished."
"Would you switch me if I did that to some kid?"
Splinter chuckled. "No, I would not switch you, but you would probably be grounded at least."
Mikey smiled warmly. "Well, what about when you were little? Do you have any good memories from then?"
"I do not remember much from before, I would say, I was six-years-old, but do you remember when I used to tell you and your brothers the story of Bubba and Harley?"
Mikey laughed. "About the two dogs that ate those beans, then couldn't stop farting?"
"Yes, my mother is the one that made up that story. She said that she used to tell me that story because, just as you did when you were little, I would sneak food when I was not supposed to. It was intended not just to give me a good story before bedtime, but also to tell me that eating food that I was not supposed to have would surely give me a stomach ache."
Splinter smiled nostalgically.
"It worked on me, but I was not as successful using it with you. You just thought that the farting dogs were funny."
"And she even named them Bubba and Harley? Those are English names."
Splinter shook his head.
"No, I made those names up. I could not remember the names that she used. I only remembered the story."
"That makes more sense."
Splinter rose to his feet.
"I am going to bed now, my son. Do not forget what I said about those social media websites. Be careful."
Mikey put the laptop back in his lap.
"Don't worry, I know."
"Good night, Michelangelo."
After digging through at least a dozen stacks of dusty boxes, Sayuri finally came across the box that she had labeled "Yoshi: Funeral". She knew that must have been where she stored away the newspaper with the obituary along with several other artifacts from her son's home that were too painful for her to look at.
She cut through the tape, and the very first thing that she saw when she opened the cardboard flaps was that accursed newspaper presenting her son's, his wife's, and their daughter's – her precious grandbaby's – obituaries.
But just as she had feared, the picture that was used was the old black and white portrait of her son with his wife holding their newborn baby daughter – not the one that this "Michelangelo" had shown her.
She dropped the newspaper back into its boxed-up shrine.
So sorry that this took a YEAR to update again! But good news is that my inspiration to write has returned!
Note: Bubba and Harley was a story that my late mother made up when I was little. It was about two dogs that ate a bunch of baked beans that they were not supposed to have and…had stomach problems.