A school bell rang and swarms of preteens flooded out of the large brick building. Yellow school buses were lined up in the parking lot. In a crowded hallway, a blond boy with glasses slung his backpack over his shoulder and pushed his way out to the back athletic fields. Two floors down, a second blond boy slipped into the art room.
Matthew plopped his backpack down on the desk. The studio was hushed. The noises from the other kids barely touched the calm inside the room. Mattie wasn't the only one in art club usually, but this week the flu had been going around so a lot of the members were out.
"Just you today Matthew?" Mr. Germania asked.
Matthew nodded, "Finn, Tyler and Mei have the flu. And Jack has rugby practice. Liam might come in though."
Mr. Germania smiled, "a quiet day then."
Mattie nodded and pulled out his biology book. Jack and his brother, Liam, were both in his troop. Liam had aged out of cub scouts last year and had joined their troop. Both boys were really cool.
For as long as Mattie had known Jack he was a total adrenaline junkie and even though their was a rugby team at the school, Jack decided he needed another extracurricular ("to make him well rounded") so the first day of sixth grade, he'd join art club. Three years later when Liam started sixth grade, he'd joined also.
He wanted sometime to work on a project for boy scouts without everyone around asking him about it. It was cool to be in scouts in elementary school and even the first year of middle school, but now as an eight grader... not so much. He pulled a book of paper from a wooden cubby in the corner of the room. Matthew had been working towards both his plant science and forestry badges for a while now. The blond boy had seen all the overlap between the two and figured he'd kill two birds with one stone.
Last fall, Matthew had finished the field work so now he only had the drawings and labeling left. To save himself from constantly looking for two books he'd put all his work in one big book. The first half was for forestry and the second was for plant science.
He shook his biology book upside down and, from between the pages, out fell several bags of dried leaves and flowers. At the top of each bag was a piece of masking tape which labeled each one. The boy set out the bags on top of the other desks.
The first pages were filled of detailed drawings of different trees. Each page had the tree drawn in the middle of the page and his descriptions and explanations curling around it. It was coming out really cool.
"Hi Matt!" chirped Liam as he stumbled into the room. He had a frisbee tucked under one arm.
Matthew looked up from organizing his plants and smiled, "Hey!"
The boy set down his stuff with a clatter and trotted over to the corner to grab his clay. He'd been working on some strange sculpture thing for a while now. Matthew had no idea what it was suppose to be but the smaller boy was very excited with it.
The pages of his notebook were scraggly from constantly being flipped through. A quarter of the way through he found a clean piece of paper. He pulled out his little black field book and in clean lines labeled at the top, Beach-Pea, Lathyrus maritimus.
"What are you doing?" Liam asked. Matthew looked over, his hands were already covered in a layer of brown clay.
"I'm doing the forestry and plant science badges for Scouts."
"Oh," the younger boy said as he looked closer, "Jack did the forestry one. It's really hard!"
Mattie nodded, "Yeah, I remember when he got it. He helped me find a good sight to look up different plants."
The two chatted as they worked about the next badge ceremony and Liam's dog care badge. Mattie pulled the pencil across the page and the image of the beach-pea was pulled out of the white paper. Dark, thick lines of the stem spanned the page diagonally. He drew a small line and labeled the different properties in his looping hand writing. If he ever wanted to some day he could live off the land.
The day was glowing with afternoon sunshine. The stainless steel appliances bounced the light around the kitchen making everything shine. A pan was sitting on the stove. There were bits of burnt cheese still stuck on the sides. Francis and Arthur had eaten grilled cheese for lunch. It was the one day of the week Francis came home for lunch. The two cherished the alone time.
However, today a third man was at their kitchen table. They sat across from the well dressed man at their wooden kitchen table. The man had dark, slicked hair and a purple tie.
"He's dead?" Francis questioned.
"Yes," the lawyer replied seriously, "a heart attack."
The two blond men looked at each other. Neither wanted to grin at the news, but both were glad that bastard wouldn't be able to stick his nose into their family anymore. The occasional birthday card and phone calls were enough to put Alfred in a bad mood for weeks.
"Well we appreciate you coming all the way out here to inform us of that Mr. Phillips," Arthur said, standing.
The lawyer didn't rise from his seat though. Instead Mr. Phillips opened his leather briefcase.
"Unfortunately that is not the only reason for my presence here today gentlemen," he said.
The fathers shared another look and Arthur felt Francis' hand slip into his. Questions started flashing through Arthur's head. The most frequent was if this somehow effect the legality of Alfred's adoption?
"Oui," Francis murmured, "We are listening."
"When Mr. Jones died he did not have a will," Mr. Phillips began, "In such instances, inheritance is passed to the next of kin."
Arthur's eyes widened and Francis's grip around his hand tightened. Vaguely Arthur noticed the clock chiming for one o'clock. Francis had to get back to work soon.
Mr. Phillips took a breath and began to explain, "Even though Alfred was adopted, he is still by blood Mr. Jones's next of kin. Therefore, Mr. Jones's life insurance benefits and worldly possessions are to be given solely to one Mr. Alfred F. Jones."
Arthur's palm started to sweat. He was oddly concerned that, almost more so than what Mr. Phillips had just told them. He knew the negative repercussion this would have on Alfred, but his emotions seemed to be elsewhere.
A strong wind blew outside. Mr. Phillips pulled several sheets of paper from his briefcase. Arthur stared down at them. The first was a death certificate, the second was filled with numbers and the third was a bunch of legal mumbo-jumbo. The swaying trees threw shadows across the papers.
Arthur wanted to blame the dancing shadows for the reason he was seeing so many zeros.
Mr. Phillips cleared his throat, "Since Alfred is not an adult, you will be responsible for managing his inheritance and insurance benefits until he comes of age."
Mr. Phillips held a golden pen to them. It glinted in the sun.
"Will their be any ramifications on Alfred or our family for accepting this?" Arthur asked skeptical and slightly dazed by the sheer amount of money expressed on the page.
"Not at all," the lawyer smiled, "The younger Mr. Jones is entitled to all of this due to his father's unfortunate passing."
Arthur looked to Francis for his thoughts. Alfred disliked the thought of his father so to be given millions of dollars as a pay out for his death could be disastrous. Should they accept it? Should they tell him about it now or when he was older? Did lawyers usually seek out beneficiaries? Wasn't it better for the if no one came foreword to claim the money?
"If you could give us a moment," Francis said as he stood.
"Of course," Mr. Phillips waved at them. The lawyer pulled a small iphone from his pocket and began punching buttons. The fathers moved into the living room.
"I don't know," Arthur whispered, "this all seems a little too good to be true. Doesn't it?"
Francis shrugged, "We did know that bastard was rich. It is," Francis smirked, "unfortunate that he has passed away so early in life, but that is neither here nor there since it has already happened."
Arthur punched Francis in the shoulder. The Frenchmen just chuckled and continued on, "Besides who are we to turn away Mr. Jones's generosity... Even if it only came in death?"
Arthur sighed and rubbed a hand across his face, "I guess. It just seems a little far fetched to me... what will we tell Alfred?"
Francis pursed his lips, but almost instantly smoothed them out. Probably worried about wrinkles.
"We will tell him the truth." Francis said, rubbing his forehead, "That his father passed away and he was left the inheritance."
"So we're going to accept it?" Arthur muttered. All he could think of was Alfred's ninth birthday. When Alfred received at a birthday card with no return address. It's edges had been smudged with grease, "probably bought at a gas station," Alfred had muttered. Alfred was sad for days afterwards.
"I do see why not..." Francis replied.
Arthur bit his lip, but nodded. Together the men made their way back into the kitchen. They shouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth... right? Mr. Phillips was looking intently at his phone when they walked in.
Before they reached the table Arthur stopped Francis, "What if Alfred hates it?" Arthur asked quickly before they had gotten back to the table. "He didn't like getting birthday cards from that bastard let alone millions of dollars."
Francis smiled, "Then he could give it away to a charity. Maybe one for neglected children."
Arthur smirked and slapped him lightly. Yes, that'd be quite fitting if Alfred didn't want the money.
The thick smell of chocolate chip cookies wafted through the house. The sound of his father's voices going back and forth drifted through the house. Alfred through his bags next to the door and moaned. Mattie pushed around him rolling his eyes.
"I hurt!" Alfred exclaimed to the air, "Everywhere hurts. My legs hurt, my arms hurt, even my teeth hurt!"
"Don't be such a baby," Matthew smirked as he headed towards the kitchen.
"Baby?! I'm not a baby!" Alfred exclaimed. The boy pulled off his shoes and ran after his brother. "C'mere and I'll show you baby!"
Mattie laughed and dodged him. Alfred chased him into the kitchen. The shouted, "no running in the house!" was ignored.
They went around and around the island. Alfred almost wiped out on the corner and Matthew slowed down to look. Alfred had rushed foreword and he'd nearly caught the devil but Mattie slid between their fathers at the last minute.
Mattie threw his arms around their Papa, "Salut!" Mattie exclaimed. Papa laughed and hugged Mattie back, "Salut cher."
"No fair!" Alfred said, trying to reach around his tall father to get his brother. Dad snorted and Alfred looked over to glare at him when two arms clamped around him.
"What? No hug for me petit?" Papa said. Chuckling, he rocked Alfred in his arms with Mattie giggling behind him.
Alfred moaned again, "You're all crazy."
The football player finally pulled himself from his father's arms and tilted his head, "Papa, why're ya home so early anyway?"
"I was thinking we could have tea and biscuits and talk," Dad interjected, "Your father made chocolate-chocolate chip."
Dad waved to the plate of cookies on the table. There were glasses for milk and saucers for tea sitting next to the plate. Alfred and Matthew looked at each other. That was their favorite cookie and usually was reserved for special occasions.
"Sure," Matthew smiled, "that's cool."
"Yeah, as long as I don't have to drink tea."
Dad rolled his eyes, "No, you don't have to have tea."
"Great! Then let's get to the cookies!" Alfred cheered dashing towards the table. Dad took a deep breath and Alfred smiled. It was good to be home.
The dark seemed to swallow up all the light. The glow-in-the-dark star stickers that had once given Alfred such comfort had long been pulled down from the ceiling. His brother's breathing was soft and even. He probably was asleep.
But Alfred wanted to talk.
"Mattie!" He whispered louder.
Their was no response from the other side of the room. Alfred looked at all the empty space between their beds. It was plenty of space for a monster to be hiding. He shook his head. No, monsters weren't real. Even though Kiku told him a really scary ghost story last weekend... Alfred shook his head, but that was just a story.
Alfred took a deep breath. He pulled one foot out from the covers then in three great leaps he bounded into Matthew's bed. A soft oof came from the other boy.
"Mattie, let me in, let me in!" Alfred scrambled to get his feet under the covers so the monsters couldn't get him.
"Alfred! Your feet are cold!" Matthew exclaimed. He pushed at his brother trying to make more room in the bed.
"Lemme in," Alfred whined smushing his body between his brother's and the wall.
Alfred wiggled his body under the covers and smiled. He laid his head down on his brother's pillow. Mattie stared down at him. His face kind of looked like Papa's when Dad cooked.
"Why are you in my bed?" Mattie demanded.
"I wanna talk to you," Alfred mumbled, cuddling the pillow.
Matthew ripped his pillow out from Alfred's head, "In the middle of the night?!"
Alfred shrugged and tugged on Mattie so he'd lay back down. If the monsters came Mattie was going to be seen sitting up like that.
Mattie finally did and Alfred wrapped his arms around him. The two were quiet for a moment then Matthew nudged Alfred with his elbow. The adopted boy couldn't choke out the words right away though. He took a deep breath. He needed to know.
"I'm not sad that my father died," Alfred whispered into the darkness.
"Oh," Matthew sighed.
Alfred was glad it was dark, "Does that make me a bad person?" His voice cracked.
"I don't think so..." Matthew whispered, "It definitely doesn't make you a bad person to me. I'm not sure I'm sad either."
A late night car rumbled past the house. The light lit up the bedroom for a moment. A basket of folded laundry sat by the closet reminding Alfred that he had to put it away in the morning or face Dad's wrath.
Alfred sighed, "I get sad when puppies die though."
"Duh," Matthew snorted, "that's because puppies are cute! You've got to be a psycho not to get sad when puppies die."
Alfred couldn't see it but he could feel Matthew rolling his eyes. He hummed and the two fell quiet again. After a minute went by Mattie pinched his brother's side.
"Don't feel bad that you don't feel sad," Matthew said. "He was bad to you for a long time and he never tried to apologize or make it better."
Alfred nodded, "Papa took me painting."
Matthew made a confused sound and Alfred realized he'd lost his brother.
The blue eyed boy explained, "Before my father left Papa hit him. Then he left and never came back. But after that Papa took me to a painting class."
Mattie hummed in agreement and Alfred continued, "I think it was him trying to apologize for hitting my father or him leaving... I'm not sure. But back then I was positive that Papa hitting my father was the reason he'd left. So I think he took me painting to try and apologize."
Matthew's eyes went wide, "I've always wondered why you guys took that painting class! You didn't even like painting!"
Alfred laughed, "I know! But I did get to meet Kiku and that was awesome."
Matthew face looked like the morning, "it all makes sense now."
"Yeah so Papa apologized even though he really didn't have to..." Alfred sighed. The words 'but my real father never did' hung in the air like fog.
The conversation fizzled out like flat soda. Alfred wanted to say more, but wasn't sure what to. Really he just wanted to feel better, not so sad-about-not-being-sad and angry-because-he-wasn't-sad, and he'd hoped Matthew could make him feel better. But he didn't seem to know what to say either.
Alfred lay still in the bed, trying not to wiggle around to much. He liked to sleep on his belly, but was on his back. His leg twitched and he winced hoping it didn't wake Mattie. Even his breathing felt too loud in the stillness.
"Al, just get comfortable so we can sleep," Mattie whispered. Alfred grinned at his brother and rolled on to his stomach. The wooden bed creaked loudly. Alfred threw an arm over Mattie's stomach and tucked his head under Mattie's chin. The two fell asleep wrapped around each other.