The assembly meant recess was shorter.
Rafael sat cross-legged on the gym floor, his elbows propped on his knees as he considered the unfortunate nature of recess being cut short by ten minutes. All for some stupid school assembly.
His fellow fourth-graders took sporadic turns popping their heads up to look around, above the sea of other kids sitting around them. Rafe did the same thing only once, to spot his little brother Max in the gaggle of second-graders on the other side of the gym. Max was laughing along with his friends, not a care in the world. At the front of the gym was the big projector screen, familiar to Rafe from past assemblies where they watched the silly cartoons about how not to be a bully, or about how great reading was.
It was going to be just another assembly. Rafe sighed, preparing himself for boredom.
The chattering died down when the school principal stepped forward and held up her hand to get all of the students attention.”Hello everyone! Today our school is going to start a very special project for this week! As some of you may know…”
Rafe was tuned in to her speech until she got to the point. The special project for their school was putting together care packages for soldiers overseas. She went through every little detail of how soldiers needed basic things like shampoo or snacks. And getting packages from little kids was such a treat.
Rafael knew it all. He knew it all too well and he wished he didn’t know it so well. Things like this once made Rafe happy to participate. It made him feel like he was doing something for someone he loved. After a while though, it just made him sad. Because it meant his person wasn’t home with him. He was still somewhere else, across the ocean, somewhere dangerous...
He only half-listened as the time ticked by. Maybe a math worksheet wouldn’t be so bad. He stole a glance at his little brother, who was eating the assembly up with his usual positivity. Of course Max was.
Rafe was already debating whether or not he’d even want to contribute to this big school wide project, that he almost missed the principal’s change of topic. “There’s one more thing we’re here for today.”
Rafael glanced up at the principal. “As you all know,” she continued. “The soldiers who go overseas leave behind their families here. It can be a very long time before they get to come home.”
You can say that again , Rafe thought.
“But,” she said. “There is one soldier who gets to come home today.”
Someone stepped out from the door at the front of the gym, one that led from the hallway. A soldier, indeed. He was tall, with dark hair. He was still in uniform with that funny green pattern that Rafe had always been fascinated with. And he was beaming from ear-to-ear and scanning the crowd of kids.
Rafael let out a gasp, his stomach feeling like it was dropping. No way. It couldn’t be…
It was his dad.
He stared for what felt like an eternity, as the gym around him also felt like it slowed to a crawl. Before he even knew what he was doing he was up on his feet and running for the front of the gym. Tears appeared in his eyes and began to sting as he sprinted past his fellow students.
Alec got down on one knee just before Rafe crashed into him and hugged his arms around him. “Daddy!” His dad’s arm wrapped around Rafe’s shoulders and pulled him in close, practically squeezing his son. A second later another body ran into them, Max’s voice shouting “daddy” over and over again.
Rafe was barely aware of the principal behind him, announcing the homecoming of Sergeant Alexander Lightwood-Bane, home after six months, and finishing years of deployment overseas, and the gym erupting into applause and cheers for them. All Rafe cared about in that moment was hugging his dad and never letting him go. Because six months without him was too long. All that time away was too long. He never wanted his father away from him ever again.
“Hey boys,” Alec said to them, a crack in his voice. “I’m home.”
Rafe buried his face in his father’s shoulder. Soon he and Max were lifted off the ground as their dad lifted both of them up. Rafe’s eyes still trickled tears, and he could still hear Max saying “daddy” like he couldn’t believe it was really him.
Rafe saw their Papa come up from behind Daddy. Rafe pushed away the thoughts of how his Papa could have planned this, or why it was kept a secret, because it didn’t matter right now. He was just filled with happiness that his dad was home. Magnus wrapped his arms around all three of them. The family stayed like that, at the eyes of everyone in the gym, and yet in their own little world of together, just the four of them.
Rafe didn’t care about the assembly or recess or anything else anymore. He’d give up a thousand good things he had to have his father here to stay. And to have his family full like this.
“I’m back for good this time,” Alec whispered, the four of them still locked in an embrace.
“That’s the best news in the world. I’ve missed you, Alexander,” Magnus said.
“I missed you too. I missed all of you so much.”
Alec pulled away, and set the two boys down. Rafael wanted to protest, because he didn’t want to let go. But he settled with taking a hard grip on his father’s uniform and gazing up at Alec, using his other hand to wipe away the tears still on his face.
“Let’s go home,” Magnus said.