Geppetto might have passed on years ago, but his spirit had never died in their home. He lived on through Pinocchio and Lampwick's memories of the kindly man, not to mention the legacy at the woodshop he had left behind with him; he had made joy for so many children that had eventually grown into adults who remembered them fondly, of his gentle nature and his generosity and of his incredible ways with crafting wood. If Geppetto was mentioned by Pinocchio to someone, they would smile faintly, their eyes would glaze over in childhood memories passed, and they would say nothing but wonderful things about the man and that he was missed.
Pinocchio's father was brought up so often, in fact, that Lampwick was sure there wasn't a day that had passed when they didn't mention Geppetto in some form.
But the thing was – Lampwick's father had never been mentioned between them. Not once. Sure, his mama was brought up and they visited her every now and again, but his father. He was never brought up. Pinocchio and Lampwick had been officially going steady for a while now and yet, even with all their years of friendship, he never knew what his friend and now boyfriend's father was like.
Although, he distinctly remembered a brief conversation that he had had when Pinocchio was seven and Lampwick was nine. It had gone something like this:
"How come you don't have a father, Lampy?"
"I jus' don't."
"Did somethin' awful happen to him?"
"Nah. It's jus' a long story and I ain't feelin' up ta talking about it."
"C'mon- let's go throw some eggs at somebody."
That was how many years ago and Lampwick's father had yet to be brought up since. So, while they were sitting in bed, almost ready to go to sleep, Lampwick staring mindless out off into space with Pinocchio curled up close to his. It was then when Pinocchio dropped the question.
"What was your father like, Lampy?"
"Oh." Pinocchio had totally caught Lampwick off-guard. "Er- well. . . I dunno."
Wide-eyed, Pinocchio innocently asked, "Don'tcha remember him?"
Lampwick could. He could remember how his father looked: a tall, broad-shoulder man with dusty blonde hair that he kept under a cap it seemed that everywhere –every inch of his body-was dusted in freckles. He remembered what he looked like alright.
"I do. It's jus' real hard to remember way back like that," Lampwick told his boyfriend. "An' I really don' wanna."
"'Cause he left my ma and me flat, saying he was goin' to America and would send fer us when he got the money ta buy tickets, but he never came back. He went to America, prolly found some broad, an' had a replacement family."
Pinocchio knew Lampwick had never head the close, tight, loving family as Pinocchio had been so lucky to have. But he had never known exactly how bad it was. Finding this out only made him snuggle up closer to Lampwick, in case the older man needed comfort. Even if he didn't, Pinocchio just wanted to be close to him.
"Do ya have any good memories of him?"He near-whispered.
"Well, sure I do."
There had to been good times with his father and if he thought real hard, the man could remember them-although, with age, the memories had gotten fuzzy and blurry. It was a miracle that Lampwick could even remember the good times, as few and far between as they were.
A memory of him sitting close to his father on his chair, as he read the newspaper and smoked a cigar before the fire as his mother prepared dinner was the earliest to come to Lampwick's mind. He must've been two and a half, at the most three. It wasn't like there was significance in this event, it was just a normal evening. But all felt good back then as he sat with his father.
The livelier, more vivid memories came when he was about three or four. One time they went fishing, Lampwick much more interested with digging through mud to find bait rather than the actual act of fishing. His mother sure wasn't happy when they came home!
There was the time when his father held him on his shoulders, promised to take him somewhere. When Lampwick asked where, his father craned his head and with a wink, told his son, "You'll see." What was the final destination was the circus and they got really good seats. Together, they feasted on sugary, pink fairy floss and roasted nuts as they watched the amazing spectacles the show had to offer. Afterwards, his dad lead him through the sideshow, which had been a bit scary, but Lampwick didn't show it. In truth, his mama didn't want him even going anywhere near the sideshow, but even if both he and his father got a scolding, it was well worth it.
Once, when Lampwick entered school, some kids at school made fun of him for all sorts of things- his buckteeth, his freckles, his red-hair- nothing hadn't been under scrutiny by the boys at school. When Lampwick had confided into his father about what had happened, it was his father who had taught him to throw a punch. After that, the kids at school didn't pick on him anymore. Although, he did get in some trouble with the schoolmaster, but that wasn't a big deal.
To cause even more detruction, it had been his father who had given him the quintessential tool of boyhood: a slingshot. He had made it himself out of what spare material they had around the house and a stick from the fire-wood pile. After presenting him the gift, his father taught him how to aim by using ducks at the pond as targets. In the end, they had to run away from a whole pond-full of angry ducks, but that, too, was worth it in the end.
There were other memories, memories less clear than these that were more just a capture, a photograph of time than an actual memory.
But the last memory, the very last one, of his father Lampwick remembered perfectly.
His father was kneeling in front of a five-year-old Lampwick and they were just talking.
"You know that I'm headin' to America soon. You know where America is, don't you Romeo?"
The young boy nodded proudly. "Uh-huh! It's right across the big ocean, Pop."
"It is. It's gonna take a long time for me to get there. I gotta ride a boat to get there. But when I get there, let tell you, that's going to be a lot easier for me to find a job."
"Gee! Pop, that sounds swell! Can I join ya?" Lampwick asked. His eyes grew the size of plates with the prospect of going on cross-Atlantic journey, just he and his father. "And Mama, if she wants'ta. But she doesn't like boat rides all that much, but I'm sure if she had America-"
"Romeo, you know I can't take you. It's too dangerous for a little boy-'
Lampwick had crossed his arms indigently. "I'm not a lil' boy."
"I'm sorry. It's too dangerous for a young man like yourself to go. But I swear, as soon as I get enough money, I'll send tickets for you and Mama to join me. Besides, you got to be the man of the house. You need to look after your mama."
"Man of the house?" Lampwick echoed. "Whadaya mean?"
"It means you're in charge, you need to take care of mama while I'm in America," Lampwick's father had told him. And then he did something for Lampwick that the boy had never expected. The father reached up and took the bowler hat- a light brown one with a yellow feather that flapped as one moved- from his head and gently set it down on his son's head as if it was a crown.
Lampwick, excited that his father had put the hat on his head, grinned a buck-toothy grin as he put his hands on the hat, which was a little big for him.
"Swell!" The boy exclaimed.
The father smiled back at his son and patted his shoulder. "See? Your look like the man of the house already! Now, can you do that for me?"
Still happy, Lampwick eagerly nodded and answered "Uh-huh!" brightly.
And the next day, his father had hopped the next boat to America and he was gone. Lampwick tried to keep his promise that he would be the man of the house and look over his mama.
During that time, the biggest excitement Lampwick had ever received was every time a letter from America came from his father, describing all the wonders the new country had to offer and the amazing sites of this new placed called New York City.
But as quickly as the letter had piled in, the quicker the letter flow slowed to every month to every couple of months to once a year to never. Lampwick grew and waited and waited for his father to send money for tickets for passage to America and that great New York. But it never came, even when the letters were flowing. Back then, they had be filled with, "As soon as I get a stable job" or "Rent here is sky-high" excuses. So he just focused on hope that just a letter would come.
It never did.
And then it dawned on Lampwick that his father had abandoned them and he felt the highest betrayal imaginable. The man that he thought he loved, he had grown to hate. Although the mention of him just made his mother more sad as she struggled to managed a job to support herself and her son. Her wages were never as good as her husband's. The desertion and the poverty left both mother and son living in squalor with hope to match.
So it wasn't like Lampwick wanted to remember the man who had done that to the both of them.
As Lampwick was telling his story, Pinocchio grew more and more worried, more fretful. At first, he had been uplifted by Lampwick's happy memories of childhood. But when those melted away and turned to tales of unbearable times, the younger man looked on the verge of tears.
"What are ya cryin' fer?" Lampwick asked. "'S not like he was your father."
"I know, but I didn't know how awful it was for ya!" Pinocchio cried. "I wish-"
"No use on wishin' somethin' that's passed, Pinocchio," Lampwick advised. "What's happen has happen and I ain't gonna look back on it, okay? So I don't want'cha ta think about it either."
By this time, they were sitting up and bed and instantly, Pinocchio collapsed forward to wrap Lampwick in an embrace, burying his face into the redhead's broad, freckled shoulders.
Lampwick smiled faintly as he gently kissed the top of Pinocchio's head and told him, "It doesn' matter what happened back then; what matters is now."