A/N: This takes place in April of 1996, immediately following the death of Alfredo's mother, Renata. Some pieces may seem vague or confusing, but it all ties in with the backstory I came up with for both Alfredo and Renata. Unfortunately, I haven't written enough pieces to properly explain it all in full. If you have any questions, please message me, and I'll attempt to answer them!
Alfredo sat trembling in Larousse's arms, barely hearing the words being spoken by police officers gathered around him. All reality felt surreal. He barely felt the tears coming down anymore; he almost wondered if they would continue to fall the rest of his life. Once the coroner had pronounced her dead, Alfredo felt his entire world plunge into the hazy fog of desolation, despondence, and depression. There was no way to pull him out of that mire; not now, at least.
He faintly felt Larousse stroking his back and barely heard him whispering in his ear, but what was being said was uncertain. He squeezed his eyes shut and bit back more tears when he heard a police officer speaking directly to him, saying over and over again, "We're so sorry, little guy; we're so sorry..."
But no matter what anyone said to him, none of the words they spoke could rid his mind of the coroner's voice. It rang over and over again in his mind, resonating in eerie echoes, seizing him with panic, gripping him with pain, ripping his fragile heart out of his chest every time it repeated so ruthlessly... "She is, indeed, dead..."
He couldn't hold it inside any longer. The seven year-old child broke into heart-wrenching sobs and wails, burying his face into Larousse's tear-drenched shoulder. The arms that held him wrapped around him more tightly than ever, and he felt his shuddering body being rocked back and forth.
"It's not fair," he sobbed, barely aware of himself doing so. There were no other words to say; all he could do was mumble those three words. "It's not fair..."
Custody. Alfredo had no idea what the word meant, but it seemed to be a frequent and important topic of discussion for Larousse and the police officers. As he sat in an uncomfortable chair off to the side of the room, he tried to make sense of the conversation he heard, but none of it seemed remotely coherent to him. Obviously whatever they were talking about - this custody business - had to do with him somehow. He concentrated harder on what was being said, hoping to interpret any of it, if he could.
"...She left no will behind as far as I know, and I have no idea who his guardian might be," Larousse was explaining to a police officer.
"What about his father?" the same officer asked him. "Does the boy have one, or is he...?"
"Oh, he has one," Larousse quickly replied, "I'm just not so sure that he'd be able to take him in. They... they haven't really spent any time together, and that's mainly because his dad runs his own business. It eats away all his time, and by the time the day is done he hardly has time for himself. I just don't see that being a healthy environment for Alfredo."
"Is the father a nice man? Does he show affection for the boy?"
"Yes, of course; he loves that kid with everything in him. And he's the sweetest man you'll ever meet. It's just the whole time issue."
"And the father couldn't work that out? If he truly cared for his child, wouldn't he make that time?"
Larousse fell into an uneasy silence for several moments. "There's... there's things that get in the way at this point; things he can't necessarily just walk away from."
"So why are you incapable of caring for the boy? As his mother's best friend, I'm sure we could make a legal arrangement of some sort."
"I work at the same business. I struggle with the same time issues as Alfredo's father does. I would take him in in a heartbeat if it weren't for that stupid reason."
"Well, without a will, it's hard to say who can actually have legal custody over the child."
Alfredo sighed. There was that word again associated with him.
After another long pause, the police officer spoke up again. "How about this: we give you a week to find a suitable home for the boy, and if by that time you haven't found a place, we'll take the matter up with his father. We won't pressure you about it - you just focus on finding a good home for Alfredo."
Larousse seemed to think this would work out fine and agreed to it. As they continued to talk, Alfredo drowned out their voices with his own thoughts once more. Did he just say find a suitable home? Did that mean a home that wasn't Larousse's? He didn't even want to think about it. To be deprived from his own mother and then from the only other adult he trusted, Larousse, would shatter any hope he dared to muster.
All of this was way too much for a seven year-old child to even attempt at comprehending. Without any warning at all, he passed out right there in his seat.
Auguste furrowed his brow and shook his head, placing his chin into the palm of his hand. "Mabel Joliet? Who in this great world is Mabel Joliet?"
"Well, she happens to be my great aunt," Larousse replied, wringing his hands. "She's a very nice lady. She's a bit well up in age, but I'm sure she'd be more than willing to take Alfredo in until you decide what happens next." When Auguste didn't respond, Larousse shrugged and held up his palms. "I don't know what else to do, Auguste. The only other option is to put him in foster care, and honestly, that's the last thing in the world I ever want to happen to the boy. He's such a good kid - he doesn't deserve to go live with a family he's never met before."
"And it would be any different for him if you gave him over to your great aunt?" Auguste retorted.
"What else do you want me to do when you're refusing to take him in?" Larousse cried, throwing his hands in the air.
"Larousse, I just don't have the time," Auguste sighed, rubbing his temple. "You know well I'm in no position to care for him. If I'm going to care for him, I want to do it the right way. Working from the moment he comes home from school until ghastly hours of the early morning isn't a healthy environment to raise him in." He was quiet for a few moments. "And what more can I do when, you know... 'other issues' are getting in the way? I can't just tell him to cease the threats. He'll probably threaten me the rest of Alfredo's dear existence."
"I know that's been a big issue, Auguste, but you can't expect me to make all these decisions for you!" Larousse continued, growing more frustrated. "I can only do so much without any legal rights to him. You're his father. Can't you shuffle things around here at the restaurant to make the time you need? Skinner is more than capable of taking over, as is Horst... and even me if you'd need my help." Larousse paused and watched as Auguste continued to shake his head. The large man heaved another long sigh, then turned to face his troubled employee once again.
"If you believe it will be good for Alfredo, then by all means contact this great aunt of yours," he softly spoke. His voice was wrought with pain and emotion as he struggled to keep tears and sobs back. "I don't want to make things any harder for the boy. He doesn't deserve any of this."
Larousse had been able to get the entire week off from work to house Alfredo until he could bring him out to his great aunt Mabel's house, and in that time had been hours on the phone calling Renata's close relatives and friends about the news of her sudden and unexpected death, packing Alfredo's clothes and belongings for his move to Mabel's, and getting everything organized for Renata's funeral - which he wanted to be over as soon as possible. The entire week seemed breathless and rushed, and little Alfredo felt as if he were living in an enchanted daze; watching everything unfold before his blinded eyes in a blur of light and sound, completely against his will.
The morning of April 13, 1996 was a chilly and overcast one, which seemed to perfectly match Larousse and Alfredo's already bleak and somber mood. The clouds slowly gathered closer as the day passed and threatened to spit rain, and the wind grew stronger and felt like icy knives slashing against the skin. Alfredo sat on the bed he had been given for the week, staring out the window as tiny raindrops began to splatter against the glass. He could hear Larousse in the other room getting ready, and no matter how many times he glanced at the clock to see it had gotten closer to 2:00, he dreaded having to get off the bed and into the car. He refused to go. He wasn't going to watch everyone say goodbye to his mother.
Larousse poked his head into the room and found Alfredo silent on the bed, and quietly he tiptoed in and sat down next to him. He placed a hand on the boy's back and slowly rubbed it as the two listened to the falling rain a few moments.
"Alfredo, we have to get going," he finally spoke up, breaking the silence as gently as he could. Alfredo sighed and hung his head. "Look, I know this is going to be hard for you – it's hard for me too, buddy. Your mother was my best friend in the entire world, and I don't even want to imagine life from here on out without her." Alfredo squeezed his eyes shut, and tears spilled down his cheeks. Larousse had to bite his lip for a moment to keep back a sob. "Oh, Alfredo..."
He took the child into his arms again and slowly rocked him on the bed to calm him. With his fingers he gingerly touched the boy's rich, curly red locks, and memories of Renata instantly began flooding back. He would never in his life forget all the times where Renata had been going through something tough, and how he'd rock her back and forth to ease her pain as he tenderly stroked her curly tresses. He was brought back to the day she told him she was expecting little Alfredo, and how distraught she had been. She was sure she wouldn't be able to handle the pressure she'd face in keeping the baby. She was afraid she'd be an inadequate mother to her unexpected child and fail him more than she'd ever help him. She believed as a result of this happening, Auguste would never love her again; Larousse would never love her again. But Larousse had been the one encouraging her to go on, believing in her and helping her the entire way. Now here he was almost eight years later, holding that same unexpected child in his arms as he mourned and grieved for his precious mother. It shattered Larousse's heart into a million pieces every time he saw Alfredo in such a state.
With a bit of reluctance, Alfredo eventually followed Larousse out to the car, wiping his teary eyes the entire way. His shiny shoes felt way too big for him, and he constantly tripped on them with the added fact that his vision was blurred with tears. The brand new dress shirt he was made to wear got left untucked into his black slacks, which were kept from falling off his tiny waist with a belt. His neck was continually itching from the tie Larousse had carefully helped him put on. He hated it. He hated all of it. He wanted to take all of it off. How could he dress up and look so nice on the outside when he was dying and falling apart on the inside?
He stopped short in front of the large church doors and refused to move when Larousse stepped into the church and held the door open for him. With a sigh, Larousse walked back out and took Alfredo's trembling hand.
"It's all right, Alfredo," he assured him. "There's nothing scary about a church. We're just going to go in and sit down until the service starts, all right? It won't be so bad."
Alfredo wasn't so sure about that. The moment he sat down in the pew beside Larousse and glanced up at the front of the church, he spotted his mother's casket and began shaking with fear all over again. It was open, and all Alfredo could see from where he was seated was the various pictures pinned to the padded cover of Renata with her baby boy, a few of his school pictures, and various shots of her and Larousse together. Of course, there was nothing frightening about a couple of familiar pictures pinned to the casket. What frightened him the most was the fact that within the next hour, he'd be forced to approach that casket and look down at the lifeless body of the beautiful young woman he once called his mother. The last moment he had seen her was the morning she was killed, making breakfast at the stove just like normal. Then the next moment he knew, someone had burst through the door and covered his mouth, then thrown him into a closet and locked him there. And ten minutes later, the man left - and his mother was left dead.
He looked away from the casket, determined to get his mind off of the horrible event that now started to replay in his mind. He recognized a few people there, like some of the chefs Larousse worked with; none of which were his father, to his disappointment. He noticed a few of the other girls Renata used to live with at the mansion among the small crowd of people, including his "Aunt" Stephanie Pulaski, who had always been the closest to her out of all the girls. She had seen Alfredo come in with Larousse and waved the boy over to where she was seated.
"Larousse," Alfredo whispered, pointing to Stephanie across the aisle. "That's Aunt Stephanie over there. I'm gonna go say 'hi', okay?" Larousse gave a soft smile.
"You go right ahead," he replied. Alfredo stepped out of his seat and approached her, suddenly feeling extremely shy when he noticed she was sitting beside her husband and a couple children a bit younger than himself. Stephanie held her arms out for a hug and held him for a long time.
"You've gotten so big, little man," she sweetly said, pulling him back to look him over. "You look just like your mom, you know that?" Alfredo could feel himself blushing.
"Yeah, Larousse tells me all the time," he answered with a shrug. "I guess that's a good thing, so I'll never be able to forget what she looks like."
Stephanie's eyes clouded over with tears as she continued to smile at Alfredo. "No, you certainly won't forget, will you?"
For some reason, Alfredo found himself smiling at the words. "No, Aunt Stephanie. I won't." He fell into her arms for another hug and could feel her cheek brushing against his curls.
"Be a good boy, all right?" she whispered in his ear. "The service is gonna start soon - you should probably head back to your seat. Maybe we can talk for a little bit after it's done, okay?"
Alfredo nodded and backed out of the pew as quietly as he could. As he did so, he eyed a few of the people sitting with Stephanie. Some of them were the other girls from the finishing school, but at the very end sat an elderly-looking man and woman.
Alfredo happened to lock gazes with the woman for a fleeting moment, and in that one moment he saw in her eyes etched a million emotions. In that quick glance, he watched as her eyes widened, then immediately began filling with tears. Her lips were pressed tightly together, as if she struggled to maintain composure. And she slowly shook her head as Alfredo backed away from the pew, as if in shock.
The man beside her placed a hand on her shoulder and whispered something in her ear, but she couldn't seem to take her eyes off of Alfredo, even after he had turned away and walked back to his own seat. When Alfredo looked back at her, he noticed she had buried her nose into a tissue and was wiping her eyes. He furrowed his brow. Who in the world was that woman? How come she had looked so upset to see him?
Maybe I'll ask her after this thing is all over, he thought to himself.
A priest came to stand at the pulpit behind the casket, then proceeded to start the service right on time. Despite the serious mood, Alfredo couldn't seem to get his mind off of how funny he thought the man was dressed. He had never seen anyone in his life wear garb like that, except maybe on Halloween. He tapped Larousse on the shoulder and leaned over to whisper in his ear.
"Why is that man dressed funny?" he asked. Larousse did all he could to stifle a laugh.
"Well, that's just the way the priest is supposed to dress, Alfredo," he explained as best as he could. "It's tradition. They wore outfits like that way back who knows when; probably back in the Elizabethan era or so. The style was just passed down, I guess."
"It must be awful uncomfortable," he whispered back. "Why can't they just wear a regular suit and tie? Or is that just what church people normally wear?"
"Alfredo, shhhh," Larousse hissed. "Be good. Let's not worry about that right now, okay?"
Alfredo tried to pay attention to what was being said, but it seemed like every word that came from the priest's mouth was muffled and incoherent. He looked around the dizzyingly huge church and was distracted from the service by the tall, vaulted ceilings and intricate decorations, as well as the large, beautiful stained glass windows. His throat caught as he studied them, and he bit his lip.
I'm glad they brought Mommy here, he thought. If there's any way into heaven, it must be through this place.
His eyes focused back on the priest, who still droned on and on and never even seemed to mention Renata. Alfredo realized he didn't even know what the priest was talking about anymore. There was some music and odd incantations where the people were made to stand to their feet, and it felt like the service would never end. Alfredo's head throbbed with confusion and his eyes swam in tears of tiredness, and he leaned against Larousse's shoulder most of the funeral with his eyes shut, praying for it to end.
He was startled when he heard a voice other than the priest's breaking the thick air, and he lifted his head to see who it was. To his surprise, it was his aunt Stephanie.
"Renata was… she was truly a stunning person," she was beginning to say. Already, tears were slipping down her face. "She was quiet, not very outspoken, but was a pure picture of beauty. Not only was she beautiful on the outside, but she was beautiful inside, too. Her heart was full of compassion and love, and she cared very deeply about those she was close to. And those who knew her will never forget her." Alfredo watched as Stephanie's eyes moved towards him. "She was also an incredible mother, and her love for her baby boy was probably… one of the most beautiful things about her."
Stephanie paused, pressing a hand to her mouth. Alfredo felt tears spring forth, and he choked on a sob before it escaped. He grabbed Larousse's sleeve and gripped it, burying his face into the man's shoulder again while keeping his eyes on Stephanie as she struggled to continue.
"That boy was so fortunate to have a mother who loved him the way Renata did," she choked, "she really was an amazing woman. We'll all miss her terribly."
She was still looking Alfredo in the eye. The boy couldn't hold back the tears or sobs anymore, and he cried into Larousse's sleeve.
"Alfredo, your mother may be gone, but never forget that she'll always be in your heart. If there was anything I learned from my time with her while she was here, it was to never stop believing. Despite what she went through in life, she believed in you and wanted you to have a wonderful life, and she did her absolute best to provide that for you while she was alive." Stephanie smiled through her tears. "No matter what happens, little guy, don't stop believing."
Alfredo gulped hard and took in staggering breaths. Larousse hugged him all over again and gently rocked him as Stephanie finished speaking. She had so much more to say about Renata, and every word of it evoked more tears from Renata's heartbroken little boy.
He held tightly to Larousse's shirt as they all stood up once more, and the priest announced that those who wanted to were allowed to view the casket. His heart jumped into his throat at the words and began to pound. He looked up at Larousse with fear in his teary eyes.
"Larousse, I don't want to go," he gasped, his voice quivering. Larousse could feel him shaking. He knelt down to look the boy in the eye. "Please, Larousse. I wanna stay here. I don't want to see her."
Larousse shook his head. "Alfredo, you have to go up. This is your mother, and she would have wanted you to say goodbye." He gripped the child's shoulders and urged him with his eyes. "It's gonna be okay. I'm right here with you."
Alfredo was still trembling and taking in labored, shaky breaths as Larousse gently took his hand and led him down the aisle to the front of the church. There was a small line that had formed ahead of them, but when they saw Alfredo, they all stepped aside and motioned for him to go first.
Every step felt like it was lasting hours. Every beat of his heart seemed to suffocate him. His eyes never stopped clouding with tears, and he shoved them away with his arm as soon as they came. When they stopped in front of the casket, Larousse gently gave Alfredo a push forward, keeping an arm on his shoulder the entire time.
"Go on," he whispered in Alfredo's ear. Alfredo gulped once more, and trembled as he placed his hands on the casket, then stood on tiptoes to peer down inside.
There she was, still and peaceful. There was no trace of pain or suffering on her face. Tucked underneath her folded hands was a photograph of Alfredo, her baby boy, taken only months ago. Although it looked as if she were gently slumbering, not once did she move. Not once did Alfredo hear her sweet breath slowly slipping from her nose, or see her chest rising and falling. Something about that made his heart leap in some sort of half-panic.
Somehow, seeing her like this gripped Alfredo with a heavy feeling of absolute terror.
She really was gone.
He couldn't see anymore. His vision blurred together and his tears dripped down into her casket, landing upon the blankets she was covered by.
"Mommy," he whispered. His fingers trembled as they gripped the side of the casket. "Come back, please. You can't leave me. Please… please wake up, Mommy…"
Larousse took Alfredo's arm when he heard what he was saying. "C'mon, buddy. We should probably let someone else go now."
Alfredo's eyes were locked on Renata as he was dragged away.
The last thing he saw as he turned his head was her bright red hair, blurred in his peripheral, and burned in his mind when he closed his eyes.