Winter break was over. Alfred hadn't been ready to go back to school routine, but Mattie's Daddy said he didn't have a choice. The classroom was hushed with only the sound of pages turning. It was quiet reading time, Alfred's least favorite time of the day. He had gotten a book about space from the library. It had lots of pictures of the stars in it. Stars that were exploding, stars that were imploding, stars that had died and stars that looked like great big eyes. He traced the outline of one of the stars with his finger tip. It'd be so cool to see those for real.
A crackle broke the stillness. Ms. Paige picked up the phone. She spoke for a moment before coming over to him and whispering quietly, "Alfred, pack your things up and grab your coat. You going down to the office for early dismissal."
Alfred tilted his head. That was strange. Some of the other kids were staring. But Alfred wasn't going to argue if it got him out of quiet reading. He quickly packed his books away.
He turned to Mattie and said, "I'll see you later, ok?"
Mattie nodded completely engrossed in the tales of Percy Jackson. Quiet reading time was Mattie's favorite time of the day.
Alfred grabbed his coat and hurried out of the class.
The office was busy with people talking on phones and rushing around. Someone was looking out the window talking on his cell phone rapidly. Alfred didn't see Arthur or Francis. The boy walked up to the desk and waited for the secretary to notice him.
"Alfred Jones?" she asked.
"Yup! I'm here for early dismissal," he exclaimed. The man with the phone hung up and turned around.
"Hey Alfred," the man said.
Alfred cocked his head, "Papa?" Alfred said, "What are you doing here?"
His father smiled and didn't reply. Alfred shivered. He didn't like his father's smile. The secretary made him sign a few papers then Alfred was being ushered out the door. His father was quiet as the got into the car.
Alfred wasn't sure if he should be excited or scared. Did his father know he'd been staying with Mattie's family? Would Alfred get in trouble if he mentioned it? His father had been gone longer than he was supposed to be. It was Thursday. He said he'd be back Sunday.
Alfred climbed into the backseat of the Mercedes and buckled the adult seat belt. He tucked the strap under his arm. He started talking about everything he'd been doing at school recently like he normally would when his father came home. Alfred didn't want his father to think something weird was going on.
Alfred had gotten picked up from school. Papa and Daddy hadn't said they were picking up Alfred early. Mattie's stomach was twisting the whole bus ride home. It could've been because he had to sit next to Natasha Braginski. He'd gotten so use to sitting with Alfred he'd forgotten she used to sit with him. He scrambled off the bus quickly.
The little boy flew up to his the room. His tummy was in knots. He smelled tea as he ran through the house. Maybe Alfred had a doctor's appointment and he was upstairs resting? Mattie ripped the door open. No Alfred. He pulled the bathroom door open. He wasn't there either. Maybe Daddy knew.
"Daddy?" Matthew yelled, "Where are you?"
"I'm down here!" Daddy called back.
Mattie ran into the kitchen. Daddy was sitting at the kitchen table with a bunch of papers and a cup of tea. Matthew dropped his backpack and reached for his Daddy. Daddy put his arm around Mattie half distracted. His daddy sipped his tea and marked papers. Mattie squeezed Kuma. He also wanted a hug.
"Just give me a second baby," Daddy said, smiling at him, "I'm almost done."
Matthew whined and made Kumabooboo sit on the table. Mattie wiggled.
"So how was your day?" Daddy asked, "Did anything fun happen in school?"
Daddy stood with his cup and dropped a kiss on Mattie's head. Matthew shook his head no and pulled Kuma into his arms. A car horn blared outside. He wanted Daddy again.
"Alfred got picked up from school today," Mattie blurted out. He couldn't wait anymore for Daddy to tell him where Alfred was. He had to know. "Where is he?" Mattie demanded.
Daddy stilled before turning over his shoulder, "What do you mean he got picked up from school?" He looked around the kitchen, searching for a little boy who wasn't there.
"During quiet reading time the office called and said he was getting early dismissal," Mattie said, "And I was reading so I wasn't payin' attention," Mattie started to cry, "And I looked upstairs and he's not here or in the living room or in the potty."
Daddy went pale. Mattie felt like he was going to throw up. The kitchen was quiet because Alfred wasn't there demanding an afterschool snack.
"Where is he?" Mattie gasped.
Daddy crouched down in front of him and pulled him up into a hug. Mattie buried his face into Daddy's neck. Daddy rocked him for a moment and it felt nice. A warm hand rubbed his back and Mattie felt himself calming down.
"I don't know where Alfred is baby. Did the school say who was picking him up?"
Mattie shook his head and rubbed his snotty nose on Daddy's shirt.
"No, but only parents or 'mergency contacts can pick kids up from school," Mattie explained.
Immediately after he said it he realized. His father! Mattie tried to pull himself away from Daddy, but his grip was too strong. Mattie looked up, his Daddy's face had lots of wrinkles on it.
"Daddy, Daddy, let me down!" Mattie said, "We have to get Alfred!"
"What?" Daddy said.
"We have to get Alfred! His Daddy's got him! We have to go save him!"
Daddy said it was ok, but he didn't do anything. Mattie let out a wail, "DADDY! We've got to get Alfred!"
Maybe Daddy didn't realize how bad Alfred's Daddy was. But Mattie wasn't going to let him forget.
"His daddy doesn't pack Alfred lunch for school and he doesn't tell Alfred stories and he doesn't make Alfred wear his Pull-Ups at bedtime and he doesn't cuddle him after a nightmare and, and, and!" Mattie trailed off into sobs.
Daddy rocked him and patted his back. Mattie hiccupped a few times, but his tears slowed down. Daddy started singing the hush-a-bye song. The one Alfred liked so much. That set Mattie off again.
"Baby it's going to be okay. Daddy is going to make sure Alfred's Daddy takes care of Alfred."
"But what if he doesn't?! What if he lies?!" Mattie wheezed, "He's a bad man Daddy! We can't trust him with responsibil'y of Alfred."
Daddy started to move. Mattie whined and clung tighter. Daddy stilled and began to sing a different song. Mattie calmed. The boy was shifted and then he felt them moving again. Daddy sat down and Mattie looked up to see them sitting on the couch. Daddy ran his fingers through Mattie's hair. The two cuddled like that for a while.
"Are you feeling calmer love?" Daddy asked.
"Okay this is what we're going to do."
"You and I are going to call Papa and ask him to go over and see if Alfred is ok. If he's not then Papa will bring back him here."
"What if he's happy with his Daddy though?" Mattie whispered.
"We'll cross that bridge when we come to it." Daddy replied and tapped his nose, "Okay love?"
Mattie nodded and listened quietly as Daddy called Papa. It was gonna be okay he, told himself. Papa was gonna get Alfred and he was gonna come home and they were gonna be a family again.
The car was packed, boxes were stacked in the trunk and Alfred's room was empty. He scuffed his shoes on the floor. He didn't want to leave Boston. He wanted to go back to Mattie's house. He wanted Mattie's Daddy and Papa to rock him when he had nightmares and make him lunch and watch Disney movies. He pouted on the bare bed.
"Alfred, let's go!"
Snowy was in his sweatshirt pocket. He gripped at it tightly. His window was smirking at him. His father's feet stamped down the hallway. Alfred wanted Francis to make him hot cocoa. Alfred drummed his feet against the side of the bed. The bedroom door was pushed open.
"We're leaving," his father said. "Get in the car."
His father's forehead was wrinkled. He was wearing jeans and a dark t-shirt. He had a cooler in one hand and his cell phone in the other. The cooler meant they'd be driving all night and probably through breakfast. Alfred went through his mental map. From Boston a drive like that would get them to Chicago if they were going west; Charleston, South Carolina if they were going south and maybe Memphis if they were going southwest.
None of those places sounded nearly as good as Boston.
The boy sniffed, but left the room. This wasn't the bedroom he was gonna miss.
The controlled panic in his husband's voice was not what Francis wanted to hear at the end of a long day. His tired mind instantly snapped into overdrive, figuring out the fastest route to the hospital. But when Arthur had tightly told him that he had to go check on Alfred Francis' brain stuttered.
"Isn't Alfred at home?" He asked as he walked out of the office ignoring his secretary's frantic hand waving.
"Yes, he is at his house." Arthur had stressed, "And Matthew and I would both really appreciate it if you would go over now."
He could hear sniffling coming through the phone.
"Is Matthew crying?"
"Yes, you bloody frog." His Arthur sounded like he was going to start crying any minute, "Now will you please get going?"
"Don't worry love, I'm already in the car." The car rumbled to life.
"Thank you," Arthur sighed. "See Papa's going right now."
"Can I talk to him?" Mattie asked. Francis ran a red light. He glanced in the rearview mirror to make sure no police appeared, then went faster.
"Papa?" his Matthew's little voice came on.
"Salut, mon petit," Francis said.
"Papa even if Alfred says he's happy you gotta bring him home. Because Alfred's father doesn't care for him like we do 'n he's my bestest friend so he can't be hurtin' anymore. Ok?" Matthew said in the fastest rush of French Francis had heard since he'd left Paris. Francis didn't know what to say to him. Francis half wondered if Matthew was speaking in French to keep Arthur from understanding. Then he realized he'd have to shelf that issue until after this one was resolved.
"I'll do my best darling. Now I've got to go. I love you."
"I love you to the moon and back," Mattie lisped, "Bye."
"Bye baby," Francis said. He wanted to sigh. They'd only recently broken Mattie of sucking his thumb. Another issue to deal with later. He focused on the road. The faster he got there, the faster he could straighten this all out.
When he pulled into Alfred's drive he was glad he had left immediately. A Mercedes Benz G-Class was in the driveway packed full with boxes. Francis had only seen the car once before. Alfred was trailing behind his father, his blue backpack hanging from one shoulder. He looked dazed.
Francis threw the car in park and leapt from the car. "Alfred!" Francis called.
The little boy looked up from his feet and grinned, "Francis!" He called. Francis swept the boy up into a hug. He didn't put the child back down.
Francis addressed him in French, "What's going on?"
"My father said we're moving." Alfred clung tightly to Francis's neck, "I don't want to move. I want to stay here with you and Mattie and Arthur."
Francis rubbed circles into the boys back, "Of course you do baby."
"Why are you here again?" Mr. Jones sneered, striding over.
Alfred looked confusedly between the two men. Francis grit his teeth. Alfred didn't know about the first time he'd met Mr. Jones. He'd rather it stay that way.
"I thought we discussed this Mr. Jones." Francis shifted the boy on his hip.
"Agreement is over." Mr. Jones smirked, "We're leaving."
Francis wished he had Arthur here and not Alfred. Alfred didn't need to be here for this.
"You want to leave, that's fine." Francis said unwilling to budge on their earlier agreement, "But then you have to sign the consent form we gave you."
"I don't have it," Mr. Jones spit.
Francis gave him a razor sharp smile, "Well I just so happen to have a copy. Would you like me to get it for you?"
The man glared. Francis stared him down. He'd like to pull this man's intestines out through his ears. His look must have conveyed his feelings because after a minute the man sneered but nodded.
Francis tossed his hair and strolled back to the car. He opened the door and dropped Alfred in the front seat.
"I want you to stay here," he whispered to the child.
"Why?" Alfred asked, reaching for him again. Francis gave the boy a short cuddle as he answered.
"Because," Francis thought for a moment, "it's cold outside and you don't have the right jacket on."
Alfred picked at his sweater. "Ok," he murmured.
Francis kissed the top of boy's head before heading back to Mr. Jones with the paper that released Mr. Jones of parental rights to one Alfred Fredrick Jones. Francis thought back to how this began.
It'd been his husband's latest in-bed project, gathering information on Alfred and his elusive father. When The Tempest had been shelved Francis knew it was serious. In the past the only thing came between his British lover and his literature was Mattie.
Arthur started looking into Alfred by doing a google search of his name. That had generated four and a half million more results than they needed. The next day Arthur weaseled Alfred's father's name out of the child.
It turned out that's all he needed to get a wealth of information on the man. Mr. Noah Easton Jones was the sole owner of J.P. Knightly and worth an estimated 4.1 million dollars. Mr. Jones had lost his wife tragically in a car accident two years ago and had since devoted himself to his company.
The man spent the majority of his time hopping from city to city every few months, apparently checking on his business and enjoying the local nightlife. A few weekends out of the year he was believed to go on 'spiritual retreats.' That was the only time the party-boy demanded privacy and the paparazzi generously gave it to him.
There was no mention of a son in any of the articles.
It didn't take Arthur and Francis long to realize these "spiritual retreats" were actually the time he spent with Alfred. Francis didn't want Arthur to do it, but his husband quickly set up a timeline for Noah Jones to see how much time Alfred actually had his father around. The results were heartbreaking. Arthur found the longest stretch "that fucking bastard" spent with his son was five days. That occurrence he'd been gone for thee weeks and was gone again for two weeks after. Needless to say, Arthur was spitting nails after that.
Neither he nor Arthur were willing to ignore the abuse anymore. Francis and Arthur had sent the boys off to the Oxenstierna household and confronted Mr. Jones the very first night he was due back. The men had threatened to go to the media with the story that the party-boy millionaire had a son he was neglecting in the suburbs while he was living an extravagant lifestyle in the big city.
They knew it would be the perfect ammunition to use against the attention whore. Francis had hoped it would be enough to get the man to stay in the area more often and if not at least provide more for Alfred when he did leave. The bastard had millions and he didn't even keep a stocked pantry for his son!
Sure enough Mr. Jones had agreed to their proposal. But Arthur wasn't satisfied with just that. Francis and his husband blackmailed Mr. Jones into agreeing to give up his parental rights to Alfred if he decided on moving out of the area. Neither man would allow this to continue if they couldn't be there for Alfred.
Francis snapped back to the present when Mr. Jones snatched the document out of his hand. The dark haired man signed the form with a platinum fountain pen and a smile. Francis sneered at him.
"I'll get his bags then," Mr. Jones said cheerfully. He threw open the car door and pulled out three boxes.
"I didn't think it'd take you so long," Mr. Jones said as he handed over the boxes, "but I'm glad I didn't have to leave the boy in front of your house on my way out of town. And faxing you the forms would have been tedious."
Francis' stomach dropped. His head swam at the suddenly the realization of what Mr. Jones was doing washed over him. That fucking bastard knew Arthur and Francis would take Alfred if he left.
"You fucking bastard," Francis swore.
Fucking hell, he was deliberately leaving. He was abandoning Alfred. Francis glanced over to his car. The blond child was sitting on his knees in the passenger seat. His face was pressed against the glass.
He could not deck Alfred's father in front of him. He couldn't.
"Well that'll be it then." Mr. Jones said, ignoring Francis' curse. "I'll be on my way."
"Don't you want to say good-bye to Alfred?" Francis demanded. He saw what was happening, but he couldn't believe it, couldn't imagine leaving behind his Matthew in the care of strangers, not even well meaning ones.
Mr. Jones shook his head no and that was the last straw. Francis swung, catching the bastard right in the jaw and dropping him like a rock. Francis stared at him on the ground. He wanted to keep beating him into the pavement, but he could hear Alfred yelling in the car.
He couldn't beat his father in front of him.
But god did he wanted to.
Jones picked himself up and brushed himself off. He ignored both Francis and the screaming child and got in his car. The bastard quickly backed out and cheerfully waved as he drove away in his Mercedes.
Francis grit his teeth and hauled the boxes into the trunk. He could hear Alfred bawling through the closed door.
"Shit, fuck, fuck!" He cursed behind the opened trunk. He rubbed at his forehead willing himself not to rage and cry at the same time. He had a scared little boy to take care of in the car.
Francis stuffed the release form in his back pocket and got in the car. Alfred turned to him, screaming and punching. Francis let him, wishing he could do the same.
AN: I'm driving to Texas from New York for the Thanksgiving Holiday so I won't be posting for the next week or so. But I made this chapter long so it can tide you over! Have a good holiday!