A loud but childish voice startled the young man named Marco Bodt. He was a bachelor who lived alone in a two bedroom penthouse condominium in Trost street in a city named Rosen. Well, at least he used to be alone.
Five years ago when he had just moved in the city, he found a box near the dumpster in an alleyway with a crying baby inside it, wrapped in a flimsy blanket on his way back to his condo unit. He neither had the heart nor the mind to just leave him alone so he had picked up the poor thing and tried to hush it. He looked around hoping to see someone, anyone to whom the baby could have belonged to. Just as he had expected the alley was empty.
He looked back down at the small child and saw that he had quieted down. Sobs dying down to sniffles until the baby had finally stopped with a small whimper. The baby’s eyes opened slowly to reveal the brightest orbs of amber he has ever seen. They glistened with big fat tears threatening to fall again. The young man smiled softly as the baby tried to reach up to his face with tiny little arms. He let the baby grab hold of his index finger.
"Hey there, little guy. You all alone?" He asked softly.
As if it had understood him, the baby whimpered and tightened it’s grip on his finger.
"That’s…" He started; a frown slipped into his features. "…horrible." He couldn’t find a better word. Marco couldn’t think of any reason as to why anyone would just abandon their child when it could barely walk nor speak for itself.
The baby yawned and broke Marco’s train of thought. It let go of his finger and drifted back to sleep; eyes slowly closing.
For some reason Marco didn’t want to let him go anymore. He felt the strong urge to protect, to take care, to love. He blinked and noticed a piece of paper inside the box. He knelt down and picked it up, it was actually a photograph. It was a couple, the woman was sitting down with the baby in her arms; close to her chest, and a man standing up behind the chair, a hand placed gently on the woman’s shoulder. Marco stared at it for a moment then turned it around. There was a message, short and simple; written in script and smudged slightly.
He suspected that it was the mother who wrote it down, possibly in tears.
Marco looked back at the box and noticed a few things in it. A small bottle; half empty, a pacifier, a bib, and a small envelope. At least, he wasn’t completely abandoned. He thought briefly. The young man reached for his messenger bag and carefully placed the items in it so as to avoid waking up the sleeping baby. He tucked the photograph on his coat pocket and stood up; making his way back to his original destination.
Since then, even if it was a bumpy start, Marco’s life has gotten a whole lot more interesting. Jean Kirschtein, as what he had read from the letter that he had found in the box, wasn’t as high maintenance as he thought he would be. He was actually a relatively quiet baby, aside from the occasional cries. He was smart too. He learned his first word when he was two and a half, and started wobbling around at three. Which was impressive for someone his age.
When Jean was four he learned how to speak in slightly straight sentences. He once called Marco by his name and it almost made the man cry out of sheer happiness. It was precious. But sadly Marco couldn’t get him to say it again, almost as if Jean was messing it up on purpose.
Now, Jean is five and a half years old, slightly small for his age. His hair grew and is a sandy blonde color, messy and slightly shaggy but it looked good on his childish face. He still couldn’t get Marco’s name right but he was able to form complete sentences now. He was a smart little boy, always observing with his sharp amber eyes that Marco loved so much and always learning, whether through mistakes or little things that Marco teaches him. Not to mention he started going to kindergarten about three months ago.
Which is why he came up to Marco with a question.
"How come I dun look like you?" He asked one Saturday evening. They had just finished dinner and Marco was washing the plates. Said bachelor froze for a moment, not knowing how to react, so he gave a simple but rather vague answer.
"Of course I dont look like you, Jean. I’m not you." He chuckled, hoping that the child would accept his answer. Sadly, he didn’t and oh how Marco wished he wasn’t such a smart kid.
"Nooo!" Jean whined, huffing and puffing his cheeks. "I know you’re not me but how come I dont look like you?"
Marco dried the plates and placed them on a neat stack in the cupboards before drying his hands.
"What exactly do you mean by ‘like’, hm?" He asked and approached the table with a table cloth, he started wiping the surface. He knew where this conversation was going, and he wasn’t sure if either of them were ready for it.
"Like… how come I dun have those shpots?" He pointed to his cheeks. "And how come my hair ishn’t black?" Normally Marco would have pinched his cheeks for the lisps he was making with his ‘S’s but he was on the hot seat right now, and he had to admit he was getting nervous.
He knew kids were inquisitive but not quite like Jean, the little blonde asks things that normal five year olds dont; like ‘why couldn’t human beings have wings?’ and ‘if the sky is blue, how come the sea is green?’. Marco was amused at first, realizing that he had adopted a child prodigy, but now he kind of wish he wasn’t so smart.
"I saw other kidsh in school the other day and… and they looked like the their mommiesh and daddies." Jean continued. "How come… how come I dun look like you, Ma-co?" His voice was shaking but when Marco looked up he wasn’t crying. He looked… scared.
Marco’s eyes softened and pulled a chair so that he was sitting in front of Jean. The blonde kept his eyes on him, calculating and watchful, as if memorizing Marco’s movements. Marco let out a breath he didn’t know he was holding.
“Does it bother you?” He asked. “That we dont look anything alike?”
Jean looked down on his lap, his eyes suddenly diverting. Marco had to admit it hurt a bit but he knew this was inevitable, he just sort of hoped it was later than now.
"It’s okay to be bothered, Jean." He spoke softly.
Jean frowned. His childish features contorting into a foreign expression. He wanted to know but in his mind he was scared, he didn’t know why but it scared more than bothered him that he didn’t share the same looks as Marco.
"I… jusht want ta know…" He mumbled.
Marco was quiet for a moment. He knew he ought to tell Jean the truth, but he wasn’t sure of how he would react, or if he would understand at all. He was five for goodness’ sake. Would he throw a tantrum? Would he cry? He really didn’t know, Jean can be really unpredictable.
Gathering his thoughts he supposed, he should just be straight with the boy. He was smart, his knowledge for understanding was more than any other five year old that Marco has interacted with. He had faith in him.
"That’s because…" He started, licking his bottom lip before worrying it. "I’m not your parent, Jean. At least… not by blood." he explained.
It was his turn to study the boy. Jean didn’t look up when he spoke. He was still, almost like a photograph.
"I found you on the streets when you were still a baby. I didn’t want to leave you so I took you in with me. Fed you, raised you, like my own." He continued. The silence hurt. It hurt more than it should, he was so sure that Jean would start up a storm, or cry, or something but it was starting to look like he himself was going to.
"Jean, I—" Marco’s frantic voice was cut off by Jean’s sudden movement; Marco couldn't keep his eyes off of him. He went down his chair and walked towards the freckled man. Marco turned a bit to look at him just as Jean finally raised his head.
His amber eyes we moist with unshed tears but his face was stern, he didn’t want to cry. Marco smiled sheepishly and opened his arms, inviting; to which Jean complied in a heartbeat.
The blonde climbed up his parent’s lap and hugged him; looping his arms around Marco’s neck and laying his cheek on the man’s shoulder. Said parent felt himself start to relax a bit. He wrapped his arms around Jean and held him close, stroking his messy hair.
"Do you dislike it?" He asked gently, as if Jean was still a one month old baby.
"Nu-uh." Jean shook his head slightly. "I’m happy it was you, Ma-co."
"Dont you want to know who your parents were?" He asked, he felt like he was treading on thin ice, but relieved that Jean was taking the news rather maturely.
"No." came a sharp reply. "If they didn’t wan` me befo, they wouldn` wan` me now."
The words held a sting to it, even to Marco. Jean was starting to develop a grudge, and he didn’t want that for him. He pulled away and sat the boy comfortably on his lap.
"Dont say that, they might have not been able to take care of you but that doesnt mean they didn’t love you." He explained.
"Then why would they leave me? You said a parenth’s job is to luv their children. Ma-co’s more of a parent to me than they ever wer!" He was scowling now, and Marco finally understood why he was so quiet until now. He was angry. He was trying to keep it all to himself— not letting it out. Marco didn’t like it one bit.
"Jean, I know you’re upset. But don’t start hating your parents." He frowned. Jean crossed his arms and huffed, turning away stubbornly.
"Jean." Marco warned and the boy only hunched his shoulders into himself like a turtle trying to hide in it’s shell.
"Jean listen to me, you know I dont like it when you’re being stubborn."
Jean lowered his shoulders and pulled his arms apart, he didn’t want Marco to get mad at him. Marco sighed and placed a hand on top of Jean’s head, ruffling his hair a bit.
"I know you’re mad. You have every right to, but you shouldn’t be. Did you ever think that your parents might have not been able to support you?" Jean was quiet, but he kept listening. "Maybe, your mom knew that if she kept you, she wouldnt have been able to keep you alive."
The boy’s shoulders slouched a bit, a sad expression painted on his innocent face. Marco stopped, he didn’t want to make Jean cry. They were quiet for a minute or two until a soft voice spoke.
"Do you know what my mommy looked like…? Do you think she was pwetty?" he asked. Unbeknownst to himself, Marco’s lips curled into a small smile.
"Do you want to see?" He asked.
The boy’s head snapped up to look at him, wide amber eyes staring at him with an unspoken response that he understood right away. He stood up with Jean in his arms and made his way to his bedroom. He put Jean down and asked him to sit on the bed. Jean obeyed.
Marco sat down beside him and reached over to open the drawer on his bedside table. Inside was an envelope and the photograph he saw with it when he first picked up Jean. He thought about the letter but decided it was too early, so he picked up the photograph instead.
"Here." He handed it over to Jean, in which the boy took with both his hands. Jean’s eyes stared and studied the photo. It was slightly worn and a bit faded around the edges but it was still recognizable. In it he was a woman, a man, and a baby.
"That’s you, over there." Marco pointed. Jean was silent, and Marco waited.
"Mommy was pwetty." Were his words after quite sometime, sliding his thumb over the the woman’s face.
"Yeah… she was." Marco could only agree. Jean turned the photo around and saw the writing on it. He read it out loud "I’m sorry." He turned to Marco and the man could only smiled sheepishly. Jean looked back the words and then turned the photo around to look at the faces again.
"I’m not mad anymore." He said.
"I’m sorry I got mad, Ma-co." He brought his feet up on the bed and gave the photo back to his parent. "I understan` now and I’m not mad anymore." Marco accepted the photo and placed it on the night stand. "I jus` hope, mommy and daddy are still okay." his face was suddenly solemn and Marco felt a sudden surge of sympathy and a bit of pride for his maturity. His child was an angel, stubborn at times but still an angel.
"I’m sure they are, and maybe one day they’ll come back for you." As soon as those words left his mouth, Marco instantly regretted it. He was about to retort when—
"I dont want to go back."
"I want to stay with Ma-co!" his face was determined. "`Ven if they come bac for me, I’ll stay with you! I dun wan` to be with anyone else but you! I wan’ Ma-co to be my daddy!" Jean threw himself onto Marco’s arms and clung tightly.
"Jean." Marco felt like his heart was going to burst. He didn't like it when Jean was being selfish but just for tonight, he let him.
"I dun care if I dun have a mommy, I’m happy with jus’ you." His voice was muffled against Marco’s shirt but he didnt care and neither did Marco.
Marco embraced the boy and petted the top of his head. “I’m really glad to hear that.”
Jean smiled and held onto Marco tighter, burying his face on the man’s chest. Marco chuckled.
It wasn’t until Jean yawned did Marco realized it was way passed the boy’s bedtime. He picked him up again and went to the bathroom outside his bedroom. They changed, brushed, and washed their faces before walking down the short hall hand in hand. Jean stopped in front of Marco’s bedroom door.
"Ma-co?" He mumbled.
The man turned to him and smiled. “Yes, Jean?”
"Can… Can I sleep b.. beside you tonight?" He asked, a faint blush staining his round cheeks. Marco couldn’t help but chuckle.
"But I thought you were a big boy? You said you can sleep by yourself." He teased and Jean bristled.
“I can!” He puffed his cheek stubbornly. “I jus’ wan’ to sleep with you! Hmph! Fine! I won’!” He let go of Marco’s hand and started to stomp towards his bedroom but Marco laughed and scooped him off the floor.
“You silly little boy, I’m just kidding!” He snuggled Jean against him, rubbing his freckled cheek against Jean’s chubby one.
“Ma-coooo!” He whined and tried to wiggle away from Marco’s grasp but to his dismay he was too small and scrawny to actually fight back.
“Okay, okay. You can sleep in my bed tonight.” He chuckled and carried Jean properly. “You know I cant resist you when you’re being cute.”
“I’m not cute! Dummy!” he puffed cheeks again and Marco couldnt help but laugh.
Marco opened his bedroom door and stepped inside, then kicking it closed. They made their way to Marco’s queen-sized bed and Jean resisted the urge to bounce on it. Marco climbed on and draped the blanket over them, he leaned towards the side and flicked the lamp off before turning back to Jean. Jean cuddled close to Marco’s chest and Marco draped an arm over him; embracing him. Marco looked down just when Jean let out a small sleepy yawn. Marco smiled and pulled Jean even closer.
"I love you, Jean."
Jean was quiet and Marco was convince that he was asleep but a soft, sleepy voice proved him wrong.
"Luv you, too, Marco."
On any day, Marco would have been happy that Jean finally called him by his name correctly, but he found that it hardly matters now because what he wanted Jean to say was…
"Papa… you can call me ‘Papa’, Jean." he said softly before kissing the boy’s temple.
Jean smiled sleepily. “Good night, Papa.”
"Good night, Jean."