It was the tail end of winter, and the world outside the round-topped metallic skyscraper was dreary. Far below, miserable farmers began to churn their patches of earth in preparation for spring. No seeds would be planted yet. It was far too early.
Within the high tower’s warm walls, Norrin unlocked his son’s bedroom door. The boy had been gone for ten years now, and made no contact with his father at all. Even Norrin’s wife urged him to clean out the room so they could rent it out.
With shaking hands, Norrin slowly began to peel away the name stickers on his son’s door. ‘Christoph’, they said. He stopped himself and let his hand fall. He remembered placing them up with Chris.
Chris had been only seven, and wanted fancy labels on his door, just like a movie star, and would not let the subject drop. Those big blue eyes won out over his father’s checkbook with practiced ease, and the man gave in and took his son to a sticker store several hours away to find the perfect stickers. The boy was heartbroken when they had none with the correct spelling.
A kind salesclerk spoke up just before Chris began to cry, and offered an alternative: use peel-away puffy paint to make stickers, though they would only work on smooth surfaces. Norrin bought his son a new door just for the occasion, all shining, the dark blue steel was perfect to Chris.
Once Norrin installed the door, the two spent hours in front of it and behind it, laughing as they drew all over it in that puffy, bright-colored paint. Flowers, fish, army dudes, and more adorned the door, with Christoph’s name at the very top, for all to see, in the boy’s wobbly seven-year-old penmanship.
Norrin couldn’t just peel those off. Not yet. He wasn’t ready for that. He opened the door and looked inside. It was a disaster area. The shelves were piled high in the child’s old toys of days gone by. The desk held a large-screen computer, and beside it was a (thankfully) empty waste basket. The lotion bottle was still there, although by now, Norrin was sure that if lotion went bad, it had by now.
He was sure it could be thrown away. He picked it up, then placed it back down. He knew what it was for, and shook his head. He recalled the awkward talk when his son was thirteen, and he caught Chris looking at porn for the first time.
“You have to be careful about which websites you look for those things on, Chris.”
“Why? I’m not talking to anyone.” The boy looked away. His face was bright red.
“No, but they could give your computer a bad virus, especially the older sites that have less user protection.” He walked to the computer and went through his son’s bookmarks with him and cleared out the unsafe sites. “This site is known for allowing hackers access. That could let them steal any credit cards or passwords you’ve ever used on this computer.”
The boy frowned. “I don’t want that to happen!”
“I know. Just browse safely. Here, let’s increase the protection on your security software.” The pair huddled over the computer for a half hour together as father and son buffed up security together with several new programs.
Once they finished, Norrin stood and paused. “Son, have you…” He trailed off, uncertain. “With other people, have you tried anything yet?”
The boy shook his head. “No, Dad. I don’t have any condoms.”
A sigh of relief whooshed from Norrin’s lips. “If you anticipate needing any, I’ll buy you a pack. I take it you paid attentiuon in that class?”
“Yeah.” The boy grimaced. “I think I don’t ever want to be a dad if I have to watch a woman give birth again.”
Norrin laughed aloud as he shook his head and patted the empty screen. He remembered the talk he had with Chris’s health and physical teacher that was half thankful, half scolding.
He stepped away from the computer and looked around the rest of the room. The bed was made tidily, and each pillow arranged just so to ensure proper support. There was a thin layer of dust, which Nirrin quickly patted off before he sat down and simply looked around.
Posters lined the walls. Half-naked women, Chris’s favorite bands, and some movie and game posters each overlapped each other, as though fighting for attention on the crowded wall space.
Norrin’s attention wandered to the garbage bag he held in one hand. Slowly, he stood and began to remove posters. He did so carefully, unwilling to tear them, and rolled each tightly before he placed it into the brown bag. He stopped as he came to some photographs of himself and Chris. One displayed Chris proudly holding the sunfish he caught at a lake. Another returned Norrin to Chris’s fifth birthday. There was a picture of the hospital visit that saved his son’s life when Chris’s first girlfriend left him and the boy sliced his wrists.
Fresh tears stung Norrin’s eyes as he recalled giving his son blood. He slowly removed the photograph and blew the dust from it, then placed it back where he found it. He removed the posters from their bag and re-hung each one, just as he found them.
With a heavy heart, he sat back on the bed. What if his son tried again after he left? What if he succeeded? Norrin’s vision blurred, and he began to shake. The image of finding his son’s limp form in the bathroom shot back to the front of his mind. He barely remembered the trip to the hospital, but was later told that he crashed his car halfway there and carried his son the rest of the way on foot.
All he remembered of the trip was his son’s pulse slowly fading.
Norrin slowly wiped his eyes as he heard someone approach. He couldn’t clean out his son’s room.
Once again, his wife would yell at him.
A familiar voice called out from the entrance hall. “Mom? Dad? Anyone home?”
Norrin shot down the stairs and stared in wonder at his son. No longer was the boy really a boy, but a man, and a strong-looking one, at that. “Chris? Is that really you?” he murmured in awe.
Awkwardly, Chris nodded. “Yeah, Dad. Listen, I can’t stay-” he cut off as he noticed his father’s face fall, “I can’t stay.” He repeated it more firmly. “But Dad, I need you to take care of someone for me.” Chris looked behind himself and motioned someone forward. “I couldn’t think of anyone better to take care of him while I’m off…” He trailed off as he almost told why he left. “Anyways, Dad, can you please take care of my son for me while I’m gone?”
Norrin nodded. “Can you at least stay the night, son?” The small boy that peered out from behind Chris looked just like the little boy who once ran around the halls of the large home, screaming in joy as his parents chased him to make him put his pants back on.
Chris was about to say no, when someone behind him spoke up. “That sounds lovely.” A woman peeked out from behind the bulk of muscle that was Chris. “I’m your son’s wife, Rebecca.”
“I wasn’t invited to the wedding?” More hurt.
“Dad, it was kind of a dangerous situation, and we married in a hurry. Once things are finished, we’ll do a normal wedding, Dad. I promise.” Chris spoke quickly. “And yes, we’ll stay the night. I missed you.”
The old man smiled. “I missed you too. I just finished tidying up your room. It’s almost exactly how you left it.”