Lesson Five: Fortune Favors the Foolish?
Two days had passed without incident and I was starting to wonder if the entire thing had been a figment of my imagination. I know I am as prone to feeling restless when cooped up too long as any of my sons are. Was this my reaction to the chilly weather? My mind running off on strange tangents?
Everything now seemed to peaceable and settled. As I stood in the kitchen intercepting breakfast dishes I could hear Raphael crunching cereal while watching Saturday morning cartoons, and Michelangelo waxing philosophic about how it 'stunk to not get any of the good cartoons' as we only got three channels.
Raphael turned to him and I could see his face scrunch up. "How do you know those cartoons are better than these cartoons if you ain't even seen 'em?"
I chuckled to myself, watching my youngest son's mouth fall open as he struggled for an answer. The grass always did seem greener on the other side of the fence. Donatello slipped out of his chair and brought me his bowl before slinking over to the couch and flopping down beside Raphael. I could hear the two of them murmuring something to one another as the commercial break started and my youngest hopped up to carry me his plate. "Father?" He asked, looking up at me. "When Leo's done can we head over to April's?"
Ah yes, I remember their punishment from the previous day. After I had spoken to Leonardo in his room I deemed that he would help Michelangelo - this also served to keep them both safe as they walked the sewer passages to April's basement. I felt my brows lift slightly. "You are not staying to finish watching your stories?"
He shook his head slightly at the cartoons on the old TV. "They're boring. I'd rather get the work done early."
From behind me I could hear Leonardo chuckle. I watched my youngest, knowing this sentiment was rather unlike him. I could only assume that there was something even more enticing at April's shop than cartoons. I gave him a small smile. "You may go, but you must work. No watching TV at April's." I could see his expression fall, and added "You will call me as soon as you get there." I flashed my gaze over to Leonardo as well.
"Yes, Father." My eldest dipped his head in agreement.
"Then you may go as soon as you have washed your dishes."
I watched as Michelangelo rushed to the sink, dipping his plate and scrubbing it furiously before lifting it up out of the water, dripping wet, to show me. I could not help but grin at him. My eldest followed, washing his own dishes with precise and even movements before pulling his brother over to the coat rack to get bundled up. I went to the phone and called April, reminding her of my 'no TV while working' rule. I could hear her promise back to me and assure me they had plenty of work to get done. I turned to watch my sons as I hung up the phone, their faces glowing with a sense of excitement despite the labors ahead of them. Sometimes all it takes is to be in a different place to make mundane jobs seem more palatable.
As they headed out, my two remaining sons turned to me. Perhaps a tinge of jealousy in their expressions, seeing their brothers head out of the lair. Despite the fact I had promised they could go over to April's and see the shop after the work was done I felt the slight air of disappointment. I think they sensed I knew this and might be willing to cut them some slack on whatever they wanted. Donatello smiled at me. "Father, can Raphael and I go back to my workshop. We're almost finished with a project."
"How has your work been going?" I asked them, settling down in a chair.
"Good, I guess." Raphael shrugged. "We ain't blown nothing up yet. That's got to be a good sign."
I could almost hear the sigh in Donatello's voice. "We're not going to blow anything up, Raph. We don't have anything that could blow up."
"Darn." Raphael snapped his fingers with a playful smirk on his face and after a second both brothers started to laugh a bit. Ever since April brought over those learning channel tapes my boys have been interested in new and creative ways to tear things apart and destroy them. However I agreed with Donatello - I always carefully controlled what they brought into the lair to make sure it was safe.
"Yes, you may go and work. Clean your dishes first, and turn off the TV."
"Thank you Father!" Donatello jumped up, with Raphael hot on his heels. I blinked, watching them dart out of the kitchen and to the back hall, wondering what had all of my sons so worked up. For the first Saturday in years I sat without the sounds of cartoons ringing through the lair, wondering if this was a symptom of my boys growing up and getting out of the age where cartoons hold entertainment value? The nagging thought that they had been acting strangely lately crept back in, but considering their upbeat mood this morning I tried to shake it off.
It was late in the afternoon when I heard the door open. Michelangelo's voice was the first I heard, then Leonardo's and then a third, light pleasant and feminine. Ahh, they must have brought April with them. I had not expected her company tonight, but her presence is always welcome. I headed towards the door to see my sons and April carrying bags of things. Michelangelo handed me one of the two he was struggling to carry, both overflowing with groceries. "Hi Father, we brought food!" He smiled brightly and started carrying the second bag to the kitchen.
April turned to Leonardo who carried one bag full of books and one carried upright as if something fragile was inside. "Can you take that to Donatello for me, please?"
"Sure, April!" my eldest grinned and loped down the hallway as April turned to me.
"Hello Splinter." She greeted me warmly, walking forward. "I visited Tony at the bakery yesterday and he gave me all of his day-old breads, and I brought you a few canned goods I cleaned out after Thanksgiving. Plus a few discards from the library."
I felt my eyes glitter a bit with moisture, knowing that the food she had brought would gladly help feed four growing boys. "Your kindness is unexpected and I am very grateful. Thank you, April." I bowed my head to her slightly, feeling my muzzle tug upwards in a matching grin.
April gave a small wave as she carried her bags over to the kitchen. "Don't mention it. I appreciated Leo and Mike's help with my shop, so I figured I'd come over and bring some supper. How does pizza casserole sound?"
"Sounds like 'yum!'" Michelangelo enthusiastically called from the kitchen where he was busy unpacking his sack of baked goods. "I didn't know you could make pizza into casserole."
April gave a small laugh, taking out some canned pizza sauce and pepperoni. "My grandmother used to make it for me when I was a kid. I loved it, and my mother let me have it more often than actual pizza."
I chuckled lightly and gave a nod. "I think in this home you will have quite the fanclub with pizza casserole."
She grinned in reply and moved to take over Michelangelo's unpacking duties in the kitchen, swapping him for a heavy sack of books. "Can you take these to the library for me, Mike?"
"Sure thing!" my youngest grinned and started to lope off down the hallway after his elder brother.
I smiled a bit at his enthusiasm as I moved into the kitchen to join her. After unpacking April started to gather her ingredients and I was drying off dishes and handing them over, waiting until I heard my sons travel out of earshot before looking to our human friend. "April, may I ask a question?"
"Of course." She replied, stirring the noodles that were simmering in the pot upon the stove.
"I wanted to know if my sons behaved themselves at your store today?" I asked in quiet tones.
She turned to me, giving a small nod. "They were extremely helpful. I wouldn't expect any less. Why?"
I waved the dishrag in the air with my paw slightly. "I noticed that they have been acting a bit strange lately, as if they are hiding something. But sometimes they tell you things they do not confide in me with. I was just wondering if you noticed anything?"
I watched her very carefully, noting that her cheeks tinged the faintest degree of pink. "Splinter, they haven't said anything, and from how enthusiastic they were today I don't think that anything is wrong." She smiled easily, but I still saw the blush upon her cheeks. I tried to echo that smile, while inwardly wondering if she knew something but would also refuse to tell me.
"I am glad to hear they were helpful." I replied, turning back to the dishes. "And I don't think you have anything to worry about."
"I always hope so." I responded, my eyes meeting her for a second. I could feel the questions sink into my expression but all she offered back was a chipper but unresponsive smile.
I sat down to relax, smelling the comforting scent of casserole waft through the lair when something tiny crunched under my seat. I frowned, my ears pricking up at the tiny noise and I rose to investigate. Fishing around in the cushion I pulled out a single crumpled bit of origami. I curled my fingers careful around it, smoothing the crushed edges and refilling out the shape. I held in my hand a tiny origami rat, sitting up on its haunches. I felt my brows furrow together. This was more intricate than the shapes Leonardo usually folded. I immediately wondered why he would leave it upon my chair. I started to walk to the kitchen to view the piece under a better light when I noticed something upon the counter.
A second origami rat, again sitting up on its haunches was posed on the counter. This time I saw what I missed in the crunched version. It has a thin arm of folded paper pointed out from its body like an arrow. I was suddenly intrigued, and picked it up to study it. Pride welled within me at my son's artistry. I had never taught him any designs this complex so Leonardo must have taught himself how to craft these tiny animals. Pride soon gave way to curiosity. "April?" I called, intending to ask her if she knew why Leonardo had left this, but I got no answer. "April?" My voice echoed through the empty kitchen. Odd, I thought. Very odd. There seemed to be only one solution left: follow where the rat pointed.
I slowly started to walk out of the kitchen and towards the back hallway. A third origami rat was posed with its tail stuck into a crack in the wall to keep it still, it's little paw directing me down the hallway. I smiled a bit and collected it, wondering where I was being led. The lair was still quiet as I made my way towards Donatello's workshop and the back room we use as a library. On the library door was taped the largest origami rat of all, it had two paws outstretched in a celebratory 'V' shape, surrounded by four turtles – one in blue, one in orange, one in red and one in violet. I chuckled lightly upon seeing them and tested the door.
From within I could hear Donatello's voice whisper "Shh, Father's coming!" I was most intrigued, curious to the point where I held my breath as I opened the door.
My eyes widened as I first caught glimpse of the library. They had taken the large table from Donatello's workshop and set it in the middle, and it was piled with a small boxes and one very large package to one side, and a large round cake with candles glowing on top of it on the other side. The whole room was decorated with pictures, drawings, garlands and a banner. Standing just behind the table all four of my sons popped up, along with April to shout in unison, "Surprise! Happy Birthday!"
I stumbled back a step or two and felt dew comes to my eyes. What was first a wash of relief to suddenly understand my son's behavior was replaced by an immense wave of joy.
I realized that this had been a massive effort on the part of my sons. As I looked around the room I can see their stamp on everything. The sign which hung above the room read 'Happy Birthday Father!' with each letter penciled in with care and then retraced in vibrant passionate colors that sprung from the page with an eye-catching brightness. Each letter written on a single page which were all taped together with long strips of packing tape. The gift box, wrapped in paper salvaged from old newspapers but colored over with exuberant, creative doodles that danced with energy. Topped off by a bow of yarn that bloomed from bright colors and dribbled over the edges in a charmingly haphazard way.
The decorations - dozens of tiny origami animals all carefully strung together with string and hung in festive garlands. And the candles that blazed upon the cake, each one formed into bright, slightly off-kilter spirals and colored with a motley of different waxes as if they were created by some brilliant scientist as an art project.
Birthdays are an unusual concept for us. I did not have any birth records for them, and when I first brought them in I was not of the mind to pay attention to calendars. As they grew and were exposed to concepts of the world above my sons desired birthdays so I chose dates for each of them - spreading them out to make each one feel special. I chose my own rather vaguely and while I kept their special days firmly in mind I usually glossed over mine. It simply never came to mind that they might be plotting something for it.
As I sat down, grinning with delight I cast my mind back to last month when my sons had all made cards for April's birthday, and under my fur my cheeks burned hot. I had forgotten April asking about their birthdays - and mine. She had been around more often than usual these past few weeks. All the pieces slowly fell into place and I admit I felt all the more foolish for missing them.
But now was not a time to feel foolish. With candles blazing in front of me and my sons all singing an upbeat - albeit off-key - version of Happy Birthday I resolved to forget all of my embarrassment and to enjoy the celebration.
As the song finished I took in a deep breath to blow out all of my candles and in a mighty whoosh they all went out. April clapped, but my eyes flickered up to my sons who were silent, waiting wide-eyed and expectant. I saw Michelangelo's eyes trace over to Donatello, and he returned the gaze with a confident smile. There was a tiny spark atop the cake, then another, then another. Poof! All of the candles re-lit in quick succession. All four of my son's broke out in whooping and cheering, and I could hear Michelangelo whisper "Alright! You did it, Donnie!"
April groaned and turned to me to see my reaction. I watched the grinning faces of my sons in the glow of the candlelight and I felt my sides begin to shake. Slowly all the tension I had built up within my bones over the past week came out as one long belly-laugh, my eyes watering by the time I was done. "My sons, you are terribly clever." I replied, watching them grin as I plucked each candle from the cake and dropped it into a cup of water.
"We made the cake ourselves! We worked really hard on it - and even finished the basement too!" Michelangelo boasted, turning the lights on to reveal a masterpiece of messy frosting and bright confetti sprinkles. And we found out Leo's a master frosterer." He paused and scrunched up his nose. "Frostinger? Frosting-spreader!" He grinned and patted his brother on the back.
"Hey, we worked hard, too!" Raphael countered, patting the large present-box. "Don worked his shell off to get everything done in time!"
Donatello stepped forward and gave me the slight smile he gives when he wants to be heard. "We worked our shells off, Raph - both of us." I noted with a hint of delight that Raphael blushed at his brother's words.
I can see how each of you came together on your own and as a team to do this, even April," I gave them all a nod. "And I could not be more pleased." I stood, gathering them all up into a group hug, feeling for a second that my heart might explode with happiness. As I released them I looked at everyone. "I think we should go eat pizza casserole and then return here and I will open my presents and eat this delicious cake." This plan was received by cheers from the gathered and I grinned lightly at April, ushering my son's to the kitchen.
It was a blissful evening. I was delighted to find that not only was the cake delicious, but Leonardo and Michelangelo had carefully crafted it form two layers with fudge in the middle, winning praise from their siblings. Donatello and Raphael had repaired, fixed and carefully repainted an antique lamp in the shape of a bonsai tree. I could see how tiny cracks had been mended and how the wires had been replaced. I marveled at the sense of peace and unity in our home that night. For all my worries, it was the best outcome possible.
Now I sit back in the early morning. The smell of cake and pizza casserole still lingers in the lair, the sound of my sons snoring peacefully fills the room. My tea tastes unusually sweet, and my mind is at rest. I am another year older and perhaps a little bit wiser from this experience. I have learned that an old rat can be fooled, especially when he thinks there is something up. I have learned that my sons are getting cleverer as they grow. I have learned that my sons have good allies and good friends. But overall I have learned that I have put all my heart and all of my soul into raising my sons and I need to trust that this love will carry them and guide them in their decisions. I trust my sons because I love them.
It is good to be a father. No, more importantly, it is good to be their father. For I have learned that no matter how foolish I feel at times, they love me just as strongly.
A/N: When I first started writing this in 2008 there was a preponderance of fanfictions where one of the turtles was hiding some awful secret from the rest of his family – usually drug addiction or a fatal illness. I have this inner delight at taking an expected concept and twisting it in unexpected ways – which is where the plotbunny for this fic first originated. What if Splinter was led to believe something terrible was afoot, but it all turned out to be a master plot for something innocent and fun?
When I published the first chapter I wanted to make the genre Family/Humor, but I figured that would spoil the surprise. Seeing the story finished I still feel it is essentially humorous, but there are very few ha-ha funny moments. The humor comes more in realizing what is going on and looking back with an empathetic chuckle for Splinter. Hopefully it reminds the reader of similar moments of confusion with children, siblings, parents or friends.
As always, thank you all for reading, your comments and criticisms are welcomed.