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What makes a father happiest

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“You… you did what?”

“I broke your car.”

Mathias simply couldn’t believe what he heard. Emil glared at him, face reddened by shame, but with, nonetheless, this impertinent air, typical of adolescence, although they often were unaware of it. He played with the bracelets around his wrist. They jingled, echo of his fear, irregularly, always varying a bit in sound. Then, he switched activity, preferring to pull on his big pullover maladroitly, unmaking the red wool stitches, something he was scolded for on a daily basis, still looking at Mathias’ dumbstruck face.

“I didn’t mean to, Mat, I swear. I wanted to get it out of the garage because Lukas needed it”, he rambled on.

“What did you break exactly?”

“The mirrors and the trunk.”

“Where is Lukas?”

“He took the bus in the end.”

“And you still tried to drive the car out of there?”

Emil acknowledged it shyly, suddenly not knowing how to stand properly.

Mathias didn’t seem to realize the seriousness of it all, keeping this stupid face plastered on his, a face he knew by heart for sure, and he even scratched his head, unaware of the embarrassment Emil was sinking into.

It was hard to recognize one’s faults, but poor Emil didn’t have any other choice. Mathias’ old car, the one he certainly broke down, was the last memory he had of his own parents. He cherished it tenderly, and each time he used it, he’d tell a random anecdote about his now gone family.

Mathias didn’t have photos, or stuffed animals, or letters from his parents. He only had the house they lived in, and his car.

A memory now gone too. It’s like having a part of oneself torn apart, taken away brutally.

He remained aloof and unmoving on the sofa, not dismissing Emil, leaving the wrongdoer to his wrong thoughts. Emil tried to speak some sense into him, but his voice became ever so tiny, fearing retaliation of any kind.

In the end, he was dismissed. Not coldly, but with bitterness which hurt his feelings, although well-deserved. It couldn’t quiet his unease, which grew up in him like an unwanted plant, untamable, which had only gotten bigger, as it had lain there way before this story took place.

“Emil, sorry but… could you leave me alone for a moment?”

He climbed up the stairs and headed for his room, his heart heavy. He knew how much Mathias loved this car, and he couldn’t even estimate the price for the reparations, nor could he know if he could actually afford those. Or even if the car was savable at all.

His eyes swept over his room, looking for his most prized possessions, randomly tossed around the room. Computer, videogame console, a screen, some books… a ventilator!

It would never reach the needed price. He was under the impression he’d require millions to repair the car, so with a single hope left, he took out his phone and dialed anxiously his brother’s number.

“Hello?” the voice answered directly.

“Lukas, I’ve got a problem.”

“What’s up?”

His brother’s voice was interrupted by deep inspirations, as if he had run a marathon already. Emil gussed he must’ve been late to work, and a lecturer’s schedule was quite strict. In any way, even in the middle of a lesson, he’d excuse himself, if Emil called. Always.

“Mat’s car. I wanted to get it out of the garage.”

“After I left?”

“Yes. I broke it. Mirrors and trunk.”

“Mathias knows? How is he holding up?”

“I don’t know.”

I think he’s crying. I think he resents me, he hates me, he wants to chew me out.

I think, I think, I think…

“Listen, I’ll be back this afternoon. Tell Mathias to call Gilbert. Love you, see you.”

And he hung up.

Emil felt worse.

He shouldn’t have called. Not right away, at least.

He had to find a way to sort things out. Alone. He was an adult in less than a year! He could manage. He knew he could.

He would go see Gilbert alone, and would pay for the reparations. Alone.

Of course…! Of course he pulled such a stupid move a week before Christmas!


 

“Mathias, are you here?”

Lukas’ question was left unanswered.

The living room was empty, even someone had turned the TV on. Pillows were organized in such a way, that one could guess that someone had been settled here. Emil wasn’t in his room, he had checked, and he checked regularly, but more incomprehensible was Mathias missing. He didn’t work on Mondays, and he always took this time off to rest and relax. By watching TV or reading a book…

The car was still in front of the garage. This old thing, menacing to break apart at each blow, stood there in a pitiful state. Lukas couldn’t help but feel bad as well, reminiscing about Mathias’ parents, whom, he couldn’t hide it, he missed a bit too.

Climbing up the stairs to the room of the victim, Lukas found it with its user, lain on the bed fully dressed, not even under the bedsheets. He was turned on his side, his eyes semi-closed, between sadness and fatigue.

Lukas neared the bed, knelt next to it, caressing Mathias’ shoulder for comfort.

“Mat, are you alright?”

His body, like a titan who awoke from its millenary slumber, moved itself to a sitting position, a transformation so long, that Lukas pressed him on the back to help him up. He had cried, his tears had formed red pathways on his skin, reaching his jawbone, then falling somewhere in the sheets. Old memories had been awakened, painful flames had lit up, and poor Mathias now hurt.

“Mathias, I know you loved this car, but you can’t possibly resent Emil for it, right?”

“No… but… but… kinda…”

That was obvious. Lukas should have guessed. He understood this bitterness, and Emil had to understand his actions always had consequences, like a friend’s disappointment, but he was in such a mental state already, how could Lukas sort all this anger? They couldn’t argue. Not there, not now.

“Did you call Gilbert?”

“Gilbert’s hurt, he can’t take care of it.”

“He’s hurt?”

“Something blew up in his face, he’s in the hospital, and…”

Mathias raised his arms vaguely, pointing at the garage through the walls. Ah. He couldn’t go to his friend’s side, he didn’t have a car anymore.

“Do you know where Emil is?”

“He’s gone?”

Cool.

Lukas held back a sigh with a surprising grace and caressed Mathias’ cheek with his thumb, brushing the tears off. Mathias held up his own hand against Lukas’ and held it against him, his lips quivering, threatening to let out the sudden flow of sadness manifest itself violently.

“I’m going to take Peter from his school, alright?”

It was better to let him paddle in his own misery for some time, so that he could get used to the idea that he’d never seen his car again. That he’d have to get rid of it. He wasn’t a kid anymore, he had to learn how to separate himself from painful stuff sometimes.

Lukas knew what he was talking about.

He kissed his cheek sweetly and left him silently, tiptoeing to the exit, a mouse in the house. He closed the door with contradictory thoughts. Good riddance for this car, it had to break someday, but he had… he had to find something to make up for it. Anything with a link to Mathias’ parents.

To compensate.

To let the memories live on.

Of course…! Of course something stupid had to happen to him one week before Christmas!


 

Let’s make this Christmas tolerable, let’s make this Christmas tolerable… in just two days.

No, really, Lukas didn’t have any clue on how he’d do it. Mathias was devastated to rid himself of the car. Gilbert, although hurt, had the amiability to send a friend to provide them an estimate of costs. Reparations were possible, but also largely expensive, and no one would win anything in this. An old model like this one would need the care of a specialized antiquary, but Mathias couldn’t afford it. No one could, in truth.

Moreover, Emil felt guilty, and soon, Lukas realized he’d need to find a way to cheer him up too, and he had to admit, this miracle solution was nowhere to be found. He was looking everywhere and anywhere, wandering through the stores, with the crazy hope to encounter the perfect item, anything remotely close to that item, something that could have pleased them.

He was with his friend Liviu, he met back during university, who, although filled with enthusiasm, was getting to get on his nerves. His harebrained ideas and conceptions of family festivities disheartened Lukas more than anything.

During the Advent, Lukas tried his best to cook the typical meals, which Mathias did better, his best to decorate the house, which Berwald did better, his best to answer to the two kids’ letters for Santa…! Although Emil did it better.

Now, everyone’s mood was down, and as Emil hadn’t found in him the motivation to make Peter and Erik dream with his marvelous letters, the children were as depressed, which, subsequently, angered Berwald.

It was a failure. Christmas was doomed.

“Who do you celebrate Christmas with?” Lukas asked his friend.

“I wish to do it… with my father.”

“Your father? Wait, you mean, actually Marco? I thought he wanted nothing to do with you.”

“That’s what I said alright. I wish I could. He doesn’t even want to tell my brother about us, nor my nephews. So we’re going back with Andrei to see our mother in Fundulea.”

“Are you leaving soon?”

“Tonight, but late. I’m taking him from school and then, we’re off. We come back… next year.”

This kind of jokes made him laugh, while Lukas only saw them as ridiculous, but he didn’t bring it up.

He inspected the section meant for toys, at least ten times, hoping to find an unexpected Lego set, which would please Mathias!

Unfortunately, the most interesting ones were already sold out, and there were normal boxes only, which, although useful for the imagination, would never satisfy Mathias. He had lots of them already.

For Emil, he was clueless. He wouldn’t like anything, Lukas guessed.

And Liviu’s rambling wasn’t helping him reflect correctly.

He swore he’ll kill him if he continued.


 

Lukas announced it innerly: he officially abhorred Christmas. Their night has been terrible, and he couldn’t even fathom Peter’s disappointment when he found out about “Christmas magic”. He promised he wouldn’t tell his brother, but the secret wouldn’t last long. That’s a child they won’t have to make dream anymore.

Emil had attempted to stay, but Mathias’ silence, or rather, his constant rambling to avoid this silence, embarrassed him to no end, so much that he preferred to hide away in his room. Berwald, keen on these festivities, fled as soon as only Mathias remained in the room. Discussion between the two was always difficult, but not often did it lead to the other’s departure.

When Lukas came back to the living room, he discovered Mathias laying on the sofa, eyes fixated on the flickering of the decorations. His eyes didn’t… light up. Only the decorations of the room did. One might have thought of a dead bewildered by a light spectacle.

“Berwald went to bed?” Lukas inquired, forcing Mathias to sit.

The latter nodded languidly, not daring to look at Lukas.

“I’m sorry”, he suddenly said. “I wanted to make something good out of this evening. It was impossible, of course.”

“You tried”, Mathias answered encouragingly, looking at him with a childish smile. “You deserve thanks just for that. Thank you.”

Lukas took his hand in his own, his thumb caressing the others’ on a regular rhythm.

“I’d have preferred to avoid all those futile disputes.”

“Stop worrying” Mathias went on, sitting on his knew, facing Lukas with a shyly smile which rarely fit on his face. “It’s a single day in an entire year. A single one. Imagine what will happen for all the days we’ll all go through next year?”

“Hey, you didn’t have to fake it earlier if you only wanted to ruin the party.”

“I wasn’t faking it. Seeing you simply… simply cheered me up. You didn’t invite me to your room once in two weeks, and now you’re in holidays!”

“You must understand I was trying to reconcile you all.”

Lukas let go of Mathias’ hand and headed to the window towering over the garden, pensive. He observed the night sky with serenity, the trees hit by the winter winds, and he began to dream, only for Mathias’ voice to hold him back down on Earth.

The bigger man attached his hands on Lukas’ stomach, lowering his head on his shoulder, almost avidly, avid for flesh and his perfume. Lukas didn’t protest, putting his own hands over the ones linked on his belly, and caressed them still, in a rhythm which soon won them over, as they began to vacillate softly in a light dance, on one foot, and then the other, a dance which rocked them, under the firmament filled with burning stars.

“I wish they had northern lights here too.”

“You would like to?”

“Don’t say it like you’ll bring them here by yourself.”

“Who knows what I’m capable of! You’ll see them again someday, I’m sure.”

Silence settled, like an unexpected wind during summer, soothing. It didn’t surprise them, they lived along these silences, they were perhaps the most important thing in a human life. The unsaid, the omissions, the absence, is always worth more than the explicit. Well, in some cases.

“One day, we’ll tell him”, Mathias began, rubbing his face against Lukas’ hair, engulfed in his smell and body heat, in that same rhythm of oscillation. “He would understand, you know.”

Lukas remained quiet. He let the possibility fly up in the air, then vanishing into nothingness. Perhaps it’d come back to them someday more adequate.

It was good to dream in the warmth of Christmas, to be distracted from their daily life. Tomorrow was work day for Mathias, and early, but he didn’t mind much.

“And for New Year’s Eve? You think you’ll be ready for then?”

“You underestimate me. Okay, Emil broke my heart, but I can’t be resentful towards anyone. It had to break down someday, right? It’s alright.”

“You know, I moved heaven and earth to try and find something that could remind you of your parents, to make up for the loss, to help you… but I got nothing. I’m sorry.”

Mathias kissed Lukas’ cheek lovingly, rubbing his back like a wave, leaving room for the suspense of the unknown. Lukas turned around then, embraced his neck and kissed his mouth. Lips against lips, he whispered: “I invite you cordially, my lord. I leave you to your reflection”, and the words were long and suave in their spirits. He kissed his cheek as well and escaped his embrace, an act Mathias reacted dramatically too. Lukas sneaked in his room and closed the door with a playful smirk.

Mathias was about to follow, but on his way to the kitchen instead – he needed a drink – he took a glimpse of Emil going down the stairs, almost hesitantly. Noticing Mathias, Emil jumped, then put his hand back on his heart, sighing deeply.

“Something’s wrong?” Mathias inquired, worry tinting his voice.

Emil shook his head, neither positively or negatively, Mathias took him for a madman, but right after, the boy jumped on him, slipping his arms under his, burying his face in his chest.

“Are you mad at me?” He asked in a whispery voice.

Mathias, who had instinctively put his hands on the boy’s head and back to comfort him like one would do a kid, was taken aback. He rubbed his hand on his back vigorously, trying to even his breathing with honeylike words, as sweet as the affection he bore in him.

“Emil, Emil, Emil… You gotta know that, at first, yeah. I was mad. But it doesn’t matter anymore, it’s nothing. I grew out of it, you apologized, and it’s not like someone died, right?”

“It was your last memory… from your parents…”

“I know. Though you have to know that my parents gave me something else, which fills me with joy. Wanna know it is?”

Emil nodded, not moving from his position, ear against Mathias’ body, his heartbeat stuck in his head, too ashamed of a boy to look at him in the eyes.

“The best gift I ever received was the permission to keep you with us. And I can’t thank them enough for it. You’re far more important than a car, or a dumb souvenir. So, when I see you, I can see them too.”

Mathias held him tightly, as tight as he could, and kissed him on the forehead for a long, long time, and then asked for him to simply go back to bed, or else, he’d be too tired to open Santa’s gifts.

Emil laughed lightly at the joke, thanked him with a last embrace, and disappeared into the corridor bathed in darkness, as if he had never come. And they’d never speak about this little encounter anyway, hidden from everyone’s eyes but theirs. Even Lukas would remain unaware of it.

You are my best memory, he thought, as his silhouette vanished into the obscurity.

Then, he recollected himself, and he perhaps swept a tear away, he neared Lukas’ bedroom, almost jumping on spot. He opened the door, penetrated the familiar unknown. Who cares if Christmas hadn’t been good? They will, at least, not be able to ruin next year’s even more. A year of surprises and joys awaited them, and Emil was fine in the end! It warmed Mathias’ heart,

Because that's what makes a father happiest.