Chris lay blissfully in dreamland, when he was awakened by a gentle shake on his shoulder, "C'mon kiddo, time to wake up."
Chris muttered as he came around, "Huh, what?"
Chris turned around to look behind him as he blinked the sleep from his eyes, before rubbing them. Over his shoulder, his dad was sitting on the side of his bed smiling at him.
"Time to get up bud," his dad said.
Chris was still groggy, "Huh?" he asked.
His dad chuckled and repeated what he had said, "I said, it's time to get up."
Chris blinked a couple of times and his eyes came into better focus as he greeted his dad with a small smile, "Oh…what time is it?"
His dad glanced over at the clock on the bedside table, "Almost ten. You need to get up. Remember I asked you to repack all those cardboard boxes on the shelves in the garage into plastic bins today."
Chris nodded absently, "mmmhhhmm…yeah dad, I remember."
His dad patted him on the thigh, "Good, it's going to take a while to do, so I thought you might like to get some breakfast in you, before you start doing it."
Chris nodded in agreement, "mmmkay, thanks."
He ruffled Chris' hair before he got up, "I'll see you downstairs."
Chris slowly turned on his back and stretched from head to toe as he finished waking up. He rolled out of bed and got up to go into the bathroom. After he washed his face and brushed his teeth, he felt more awake and after he dressed in an old pair of jeans and t shirt, he went downstairs to grab some cereal. His brother and sister were watching cartoons in the living room. He could hear his mom in another part of the house. His dad sat down at the table with him to have a cup of coffee and read part of the paper.
"Chris, I picked up a bunch of those plastic bins for you. They're in the garage all stacked up. All you really need to do is get all the cardboard boxes off the shelves and repack their contents into the bins and then put them back in the shelves. I left a marker out there, so you can label the bins with their contents. Just write generally what is in each bin, like Christmas stuff, etc. Also, when you put things back on the shelves, try to keep similar stuff together, like all the Christmas decorations together on one section of the shelves."
"No problem," Chris said.
Michael nodded, "Good, I'll be in here, if you need me. I've got some classroom reports to grade, but if you really need my help with something, moving boxes or whatever, don't hesitate to ask," he said.
"Kay Dad. I'll get working on it as soon as I finish up," Chris said.
"Thanks son," Michael said.
Chris finished his cereal, rinsed the bowl and put it in the dishwasher. As he headed out to the garage, his mom passed him with an armload of clothes. She gave him a quick peck on the cheek as she walked by. In the garage he hit the door opener to get some extra light and air.
He saw that both of his parent's cars were parked outside so that he had plenty of room to work in. The two and one half car garage had the half car area set up for his dad's tools and workbench and eight foot tall shelves filled with all kinds of boxes; almost all of which were cardboard. He could see where several of the boxes on the shelves were in danger of falling apart or had already split. Where the cars were usually parked there were a couple of stacks of the plastic bins. He looked at the shelves and let out a sigh. He turned the radio, that was in the garage, on and tuned it to a station he liked and got to work.
He started at the top and began pulling boxes down from the upper shelves and stacking them in one part of the garage. As he pulled them off the shelves, he checked the boxes and any that had a label on them he tried to organize them so that they were all together in one area. He had been working for a couple of hours, when his mom came in with a couple of sandwiches and a coke.
"Chris. Take a break and have something to eat," she said.
"Thanks Mom," he said gratefully.
He took the sandwiches and coke from her and placed it on the workbench. He sat at the tall stool in front of the workbench. His mom surveyed the room. By this time he had the shelves cleared off. So all he had left was to repack everything in the bins and put them back on the shelves.
"Looks like you have everything well in hand, honey," she said with approval.
"Yeah, it's not too hard. There are just a lot of old boxes to go through, but I'll be done soon," he said.
"Well have fun honey," she smiled at him.
"Gee thanks Mom," he said sarcastically.
His mom left the garage and he got back to work after he ate. Within another three hours, he had everything packed up and put back on the shelves. He was putting the last bin on one of the bottom shelves, that was in the corner of the garage, but it wouldn't slide all the way back into the shelves. He pulled it back and moved the bin on the shelf next to it over a little, and then tried to get it to fit in the shelf. This time when he pushed he felt something give a little behind it. He pulled the bin back and pushed again, this time he heard something scrape behind it, toward the back of the shelf. He pulled the bin out and set it to the side. He got down on his hands and knees so he could see to the back of the shelf. At the back of the shelf he could see another cardboard box that he had missed when unloading all the shelves. He reached in and pulled the box out and set it on the floor.
The seams of the box were barely holding it together. It looked like the box had been back there for quite some time. He ripped off the tape that had been used to close the top of the box and opened it. Inside he saw a lot of different things. There were some books and folded up papers, picture frames and a couple of photo albums. He started taking things out and saw that the books were high school yearbooks.
He pulled one of the picture frames out and turned it over. The picture was of a teenage couple dressed nicely. He figured it was a prom picture. After looking at it for a few moments he realized the girl in the picture was his mom when she was in high school, but the guy in the picture was not Michael, his dad. Something occurred to him as he looked at the picture, was this his real dad? Chris put his hand on the picture of the boy standing with his mom. As he studied it, he could see some similarities between boy and him.
The boy had black hair and blue eyes, like Chris. In the picture the boy wore a dark blue tux and his mom was in a blue and white gown. They were both smiling and looked very happy. He shifted things around inside, picking some of the items up and looking at them for a few moments and then returned them to the box.
He got one of the few bins left and quickly transferred everything from the box into the bin. He picked it up and went to the door that led into the house. He opened the door and peeked inside. He didn't see anyone in sight. So carrying the bin, he walked quietly into the house and made his way upstairs to his room where he stashed the bin in his closet; until he could look through it later. He went back down to the garage to clean up and throw all the old cardboard boxes away and store the few remaining bins to the side. He took one last look around the garage and turned to push the button to close the door when he was interrupted.
"Hey," he turned around with a smile on his face as he recognized the voice. Travis stood just inside the garage door leaning on the door jamb with his arms crossed. He came forward in a slow walk and Chris smiled as he reached behind him to push the button to close the door. As the door came to a stop, Travis reached Chris and pulled him close. They pulled back and then moved forward again to meet in a gentle kiss. They held it for a few moments and leaned back.
"Where've you been all day?" Chris asked him.
"We were visiting my grandparents. We just got back," he explained.
"I could've used your help today." Chris motioned to the shelves.
Travis looked and turned back smiling, "Thank you, Grandma," Travis said.
Chris pinched him on the side.
"Ow, hey," Travis said as he rubbed his side. "You know I would've helped if I could've been here."
Chris smiled at him and nodded, "Yeah, I know Trav."
Travis looked around, "You did a good job though. I'm gonna let my dad know how good you are. Do you work cheap? Maybe we can hire you to clean our garage t…mmffhh."
Travis could no longer talk because Chris was trying to swallow his tonsils. When they came up for air Travis was smiling, "Forget the cleaning. I'll pay you myself for more of that," he said.
"I don't know if you can afford me," Chris said with a snobby tone.
"Let me give you a down payment." Travis leaned in and kissed Chris again.
"Good payment. We'll have to arrange payment terms," Chris said.
"I don't know if I can make large payments, we may have to draw this out for years and years,"
Chris kissed him again before replying, "I'm counting on it."
Just then they heard the door start to open and they jumped apart, their faces a bright red. Chris saw his Dad in the doorway. He took in the scene, their red faces and he started chuckling.
"Hey Travis," Michael greeted him.
"Chris, it's almost time for dinner, go wash up. You want to eat with us Travis?" he asked.
"No, uh, Mr. Hale," Travis stammered a little. "I gotta get home anyway, I just wanted to come by and say hi to Chris."
"Well, I'll leave you two to…'talk'. Don't talk too long Chris, dinner's almost ready," he said.
"We won't, thanks Dad," Chris assured him.
"Yeah, thanks Mr. Hale."
Michael smirked at the two of them as he shut the door. They waited a few moments before they returned to where they left off. After a short time, they stopped.
"Well, I guess I better get going. See ya later Chris," Travis said with a sigh.
"You want to do something tomorrow?" Chris asked.
"Yeah, call me."
Chris hit the door button and Travis left the garage, waving as he walked out of sight. Chris closed the door once again and went into the house to wash up for dinner.
Later that night, Chris went into this room and pulled the bin out of his closet. He put it on his bed and opened it up. He took a deep breath before reaching in and started to pull things out. The first thing he pulled out was the prom picture and looked at it once again for a few moments.
There was a stack of envelopes in the box. He laid the stack on the bed and opened the first one. Inside was a birthday card to his mom. It was signed Love, Jace. He put it back and picked up the next. For the next few minutes he went through the stack. There were a variety of different cards for different occasions; Valentine's Day, Christmas, Birthday. Some were just nice cards and covered a three year period. He put the cards to the side and pulled out a photo album. He opened it and leafed through it. The pictures showed his mom and the black haired boy doing things together. It looked like the pictures were from when they were about his age to about seventeen or eighteen. They looked to be having a great time in the pictures.
In some of the pictures, he saw a younger Michael as well, the only Dad he ever knew, having fun with them. There were pictures of Michael and this Jace guy standing together with their arms on each other's shoulders. There were a couple of pictures of them in their high school baseball uniforms. He closed the book and took out one of the yearbooks and started leafing through them. There were four of them, freshman year to senior year. He leafed through the freshman one and found his mom's picture, he also found Michael's picture. He scanned the rest of the pictures and looked at the names, trying to find someone named Jace and didn't find it.
He continued to leaf through the book. When he got to the sports section, he looked at the picture of the freshman baseball team and he saw Michael and Jace sitting next to each other with big smiles on their faces. He read the caption and saw that Jace's name was Jason Huntington. He hadn't even thought of Jace being a nickname for Jason. He should have known, since his middle name was Jason, it made sense. He turned back to the Freshman pictures and was able to easily find Jason in there. He picked up the Sophomore Yearbook and leafed through it. He was quickly able to find the three of them. There were also a few pictures of the Sophomore class officers, and he saw the three of them in there. Again there were pictures of the two boys in the baseball team pictures. He found his mom in the pictures of the cheerleaders.
He continued going through the next two books. In the Senior Yearbook, he was leafing through it and stopped in surprise. As he looked at it, his eyes teared up a little. The picture was at the front of the senior pictures and was a full page in color. At the bottom it said:
In loving memory of Jason Huntington, Captain of the Varsity Baseball Team and ASB President. Tragically lost to us this year. We will all miss his leadership, his laughter, and his friendly smile.
He blinked away the tears that threatened to fall as he continued looking through the book. There were several pictures of Jason, Heather and Michael throughout the book. In the section of the yearbook, where seniors were voted on as; Mr. and Miss Athletic, Smart, etc., Heather and Jason were pictured together as Mr. and Miss Cute. There was even one picture of the three of them, Jason, Heather and Michael, labeled 'The Three Musketeers".
He put the book away and wondered what had happened. His mom had never talked about what happened to his real father. He wasn't exactly sure, but the more he looked at the pictures, the more he was sure that Jason Huntington was his real father. He sat back and thought about what might have happened to Jason. Maybe he got sick or maybe a car accident. A lot of teenagers have died in accidents. He felt the need to find out. He wanted to know more about Jason and find out if he really was his father.
There was one more book at the bottom of the box. When he pulled it out he saw that it was a thin scrapbook that had the name "Jace" in flowing script on the front. He opened it and the first page was a funeral announcement for Jason Huntington's funeral. The announcement included where the graveside service was to be held. He turned the pages and saw some pictures that were taken at the time of the funeral. He saw a picture of Michael standing by Heather, his arm around her shoulders, trying to comfort her. Both had tears in their eyes. He saw his grandparents standing with them. He continued turning pages and came to some newspaper clippings. The first one read:
Local Team Captain Missing
High School Varsity Baseball Team Captain missing. Nothing is known at this time about what happened to Jason Huntington, age 17, reported missing as of last Saturday night. He was last seen on Hickory after walking his girlfriend home from a Senior end of the year party, at his friend, Michael Hale's, house. His girlfriend, Heather Elkins, had said that when she last saw him, he was on his way back to his friend's house. He was reported missing by his friend on early Saturday morning, because he had not returned as expected. His friend started calling other friends and Jason's house, but no one had seen him since the party the night before. The police department has given no comment on the investigation into his disappearance, other than giving out a description of the car that Jason was last seen driving.
Under the caption was Jason's senior picture. He continued reading through the subsequent news articles. The next few had nothing really to add, except one that mentioned that Michael's car had been found several miles away at the parking structure of a shopping mall. Then he came to the last article in the book.
Missing Teen Presumed Dead
New evidence has been found in the case of missing teen Jason Huntington. Yesterday, police announced that a few days ago, the blood stained, letterman jacket, that they believe belonged to Jason Huntington, was found behind some bushes at a park near the young man's home. A city groundskeeper, who was working on trimming the bushes, found the jacket behind the bushes he was working on. He noticed the extensive blood stains on the jacket and immediately called the police. Investigators combed the area where the jacket was found, but have not said whether any other clues to the teen's disappearance had been found. In the announcement made yesterday, the police confirmed that the blood found on the jacket matched Jason's blood type. The police have said that the investigation is ongoing. However, an anonymous source in the department has said that, at this time, there are no new leads and the amount of blood found on the jacket was extensive enough that they believe the missing teen is probably dead. Unofficially, the case is essentially a cold case and Jason Huntington is presumed dead at this time, unless new evidence to the contrary is found.
This article was the last one in the book. There was one last page in the book after that. It had a picture of a new born baby. Underneath the baby picture he recognized his mother's writing.
Here is a picture of your son Christopher Jason Elkins. I didn't realize I was pregnant until after you had gone missing. I wish you could be here for him. I can see you in him. He has your hair and eyes. Wherever you are, I hope it is a wonderful place. I miss you so much. Chris is my salvation. He is what helps me to bear my life without you. Until we meet again.
Love Forever, Heather
Chris closed the book and put everything back into the bin and returned it to his closet. He got undressed and got in bed. Well that confirmed it; Jason Huntington had been his real father.
He looked up to the ceiling as he thought about what might have happened to Jason. He thought about how that same someone, might still be walking around free after having gotten away with killing Jason. He didn't know why he felt sad, since he had never even known Jason, but he was. What kind of father would he have been like? It's not that Chris didn't love Michael, he was the only father that Chris knew and he had always shown how much he loved Chris, but there was just a moment of 'What if'. What if Jason had not disappeared, what would his life have been like? After a few minutes of speculation, Chris rolled onto his side and closed his eyes. He was soon asleep.
The next morning after breakfast, Chris let his parent's know he was going for a ride on his bike and that he'd be back later. Chris headed out to the bike trail that went along the San Gabriel River. He followed it until he came to the end of the trail in Seal Beach. After locking his bike up in the bike rack, he walked along the beach and down to the pier. He continued out to the end of the pier, stopping at a small stand to get a cold drink and a hamburger at Ruby's Diner and then just stood there looking out over the ocean. The air was clear and he could see out to Catalina Island. He stayed for a half an hour while he finished his lunch. He walked back to where he parked his bike and rode back home. When he came inside, his mom called to him.
"Chris, Travis came by while you were out," she told him.
"Thanks Mom, I'll call him."
Chris went up to his room and picked up his cell, that he had forgotten and left on his dresser. There were a couple of voice mails on it and a couple of text messages, from Travis. The messages were mainly the same question, "Where are you? Call me back." He called Travis back. The phone on the other end barely rang before Travis was on.
"Chris, where've you been for the last few hours?" he said.
"Hey Travis, sorry, I forgot my phone when I went riding."
"I was kinda worried; you were gone for quite a while. Where'd you go?" Travis asked.
"I took the riverbed down to the beach," Chris explained.
"Aw man, why didn't you let me know? I'da gone with you," Travis complained.
"Sorry bro, I didn't think of that. I hadn't planned on going down there; I just started to ride around, because I wanted to think about something. So, I just started riding and before I knew it, I was at the beach. I got some lunch and just sat out on the pier for a little while, before coming back home," Chris explained.
"Sounds serious. What did you need to think about?" Travis asked.
"Well, it was about something I found in the garage yesterday, when I was cleaning it up," Chris answered.
"What did you find?" Travis asked curiously.
"Just some old family things. Are you at home?" Chris asked.
"Yeah, I'm cleaning my room and doing some laundry," he said.
"When you get done, come on over and I'll show you," Chris said.
"Sounds good, see you in a little while," Travis said.
"Kay, see ya when you get here."
Chris closed the phone and put it back on the dresser. He went into his closet and hauled the bin out once again. He took the Senior Yearbook and opened it to the page with the memoriam picture of Jason Huntington. He sat at his art table and began to draw, glancing at the picture every so often. After an hour he heard someone coming up the stairs and he stopped what he was doing. He turned the picture over, shut the book, and slipped it under the drawing. He turned around just as Travis entered his room with a smile. Travis crossed the room and gave Chris a hug and kiss in greeting.
When they separated Chris motioned to the door, "Go close the door."
Travis gave him a quizzical look, but did as Chris asked, before taking a seat on the bed facing Chris, "So what's the mystery?"
Chris picked up the drawing and went to sit next to Travis. He handed him the drawing and Travis looked at it for a few moments, before looking back up at Chris.
"So who is this?" he asked.
"Dad," Chris answered.
Travis shook his head, "No it isn't. That doesn't look like your dad at all."
Chris gave him a duh look, "I know, it isn't my 'Dad'. It's my real dad."
Travis looked at the picture again and then slowly nodded as he pointed at a couple of the features of the subject.
"Okay, so I can kinda see where he looks like you. Was this what you found in the garage?" Travis asked.
"No I drew that just now."
"How'd you know what he looks like?" Travis asked in confusion.
"From this," Chris got up and grabbed the yearbook off the table and brought it over to Travis. He quickly leafed through it until he found the memorial picture.
Travis compared the drawing to the picture and nodded again. "Pretty good, nice job, but how do you know he's your dad?"
Chris took the yearbook back and started leafing through it to find all the pictures that were in it that had Jason and Heather, and sometimes Michael in them. When he finished showing Travis the pictures, he put the yearbook back in the bin that was by his bed and started to grab something else, when they were interrupted by a knock on the door. "Come in."
His brother Tyler was standing there. "Chris, Mom said to come down for dinner. Hi Travis."
"Hey Ty," Travis gave a little wave.
"Tell her I'll be right there Ty."
Tyler turned and went back downstairs.
"Can you come back over after dinner?" Chris asked Travis.
He nodded, "Sure, it's about time for me to eat too. See ya later."
They quickly said their goodbyes and went downstairs. Travis said goodbye to the others as he passed the dining room, and went back home to have dinner. An hour later after everything was cleaned up, Travis came back and followed Chris back upstairs to his room. They closed the door behind them and Chris opened the bin once more. He took out the yearbooks and they leafed through them, looking at the pictures.
"See, you always see them together, sometimes with dad, but a lot of times just the two of them," Chris said, after they had looked through the books.
"Okay, so how do you know he's your dad?"
Chris started pulling some of the other things out of the bin and showing them to Travis, the cards, and the pictures and other things like that. The more he showed him the more Travis was convinced.
"Okay, so it sounds like he probably was. So what happened? Did he leave your mom or whatever, when he found out she was pregnant?" Travis asked.
"No, wait, there's one more thing." Chris pulled the scrapbook out and handed it to Travis.
Travis opened it and started slowly looking through it. He read each of the newspaper articles and then at the final page, he looked at Chris with a sad look on his face.
"Man, that sucks," he said.
"Yeah," Chris agreed.
"Do you know if they ever found anything else?" Travis asked.
"That news article was the last thing on what happened in there, and there's nothing else in the box, so I don't know."
"It's been what…fourteen, fifteen years. You'd think that if they found out anything more, you might have heard, or maybe your parents know," Travis offered.
"I thought of that, but I think they might have forgotten about the box it was in. It was shoved to the back of a shelf in the garage. I don't know if I want to even ask them about him. My mom has never talked about him. I knew my last name was mom's maiden name and I never questioned it. I never knew about him at all. I'm afraid that if I ask about him, then it might make my mom sad and she won't want talk about it. I asked her a few years ago about why my name was different than Dad's and she said that it was because she hadn't been married to my dad when I was born. They got married later."
"But bro, you gotta ask. How else are you going to find out about this guy? You know, was he cool, a jerk, smart, you know, whatever. From the pictures and stuff, it seems that he was probably pretty cool, like you. Ya know, like father, like son."
Chris smiled and kissed Travis on the cheek.
"Yeah, that's what I thought, too. I was kinda sad when I found out what happened to him. That's why I kinda don't want to ask, cuz I think it'll make Mom sad, and maybe Dad too. From all the pictures in here, they look like they were all real good friends. I do remember, when I was little, getting some presents that Mom said were from my grandparents in, I think it was New Mexico, but I haven't gotten anything in a couple of years. I know my other grandparents, Mom and Dad's, but I think these were different ones that I don't remember ever meeting."
"Maybe they're his parents, you know Jason's." Travis said.
"Yeah, maybe so," Chris agreed.
"Dude, you so gotta ask about him. You gotta find out. Maybe you have some other grandparents out there, somewhere, that you don't even know. It might be cool to find out."
Chris nodded, "Yeah maybe it would. It would be cool to know about him. But I don't want to do it tonight. It's getting late and I still have some last minute homework to do before I go to sleep."
Travis nodded in agreement, "Yeah, me too. I guess I'll get going. See you in the morning."
Chris nodded, "Yeah, laters."
They got up and paused at the door to say goodbye, the right way, before they went back downstairs. Travis said goodbye to everyone and Chris returned to his room, to finish up the homework he had left. He put the bin back in the closet and jumped in bed to watch TV before he went to sleep. His parents came to the room to remind him of the time.
"It's late Chris," they said.
"Kay, goodnight." He turned off the TV and scooted down under the blankets.
His dad turned off the light by the door and they closed the door behind them. He looked over at the art table and saw that he had left the drawing of Jason face up on it; luckily his parents hadn't noticed it. He sighed and settled down to get some sleep.