It was November 3rd, and after he got out of school, Jason tried to get some more information out of Chester. "When's your birthday, kid?" he asked. Chester didn't see what the big deal was about it all.
"That's not important, Jason," Chester sighed. The redheaded boy knew from his parents that his birthday was not an important occasion.
"Mum, do you know what day it is?" Chester asked.
"Saturday," Demetria answered, not looking at her youngest son as she spoke. His heart sunk a little, but he didn't like to give up. That's what his mama and papa said his brother and sister didn't do, so he shouldn't either.
"Yes, but no," Chester replied. "It's my birthday. Could I . . . have a present?"
"Depends. Did you get higher than 80% in your last test?" Demetria asked. Chester's heart sank.
"I'm not sure."
"Well, I talked to your teachers on Parents' Evening, and they said you didn't. So . . . I can't give you anything big until you get your levels up," Demetria sighed. "Maybe it would be better if I got you . . . just a pound. It's still more than what you deserve, though, so make sure to say thank you."
"Thank you, Mama," Chester thanked, looking at the pound with glee. He rushed to his room to stash it under his bed. He was going to save it for when it was enough for a book. On his way, he saw his brother's room, filled with sports equipment and trophies. Having the pound in his hand felt good at first, but it didn't feel so good now.
"Of course it's important, kid," Jason insisted. "I'll see if I can get you a tenner and a chocolate bar."
"I get chocolate AND money?" Chester gasped. He'd never been given more than a pound in money as a present before. He saved leftover pennies his siblings dropped to be able to purchase his beloved books. Jason was shocked that it took so little to make him happy.
"Yes!" Jason insisted. Chester hugged him.
"You're the best big brother ever and I haven't even known you for long!" Chester babbled. Jason chuckled and dove wiggling fingers into his ribs, making the boy scream and laugh.
"Don't sell yourself short, kid. You make an amazing little brother!"
"I do?" Chester was touched by the compliment. He was used to being called an annoyance and a pest, but not . . . amazing. He snuggled closer to Jason and stayed with him, the boy being perfectly happy to keep him in hysterics for ages. Meanwhile, Aurelia's parents were visiting her, and they were very confused.
"Is there always so much noise coming from that bed?" her mum asked.
"Those are his friends, and he's very ticklish. Don't worry about it," Aurelia sighed. She gazed over at the bed covered up by a curtain, where the screaming and laughter was coming from.
"He has a lot of friends, then," Aurelia's mama muttered, as the giggles grew louder. Nurse Jane stormed over to find Chester begging for mercy from a particularly ruthless Harry and Frank.
"Get off him, you little hooligans! You're deafening the entire ward!" she snapped, pulling kids away from an exhausted redhead. "How are you, honey?"
"I . . ." Chester paused to take a few deep breaths, before grinning and looking at Jason, ". . . I'm sure I can take a little more." Chester was instantly bombarded by hands going for his ribs, hysterical laughter coursing through his body, as his new surrogate brother looked at Jane and grinned.
"He'll be fine. He loves this, see?" Jason pointed out. He went to little Chester's ribs, and he screamed with laughter. Jane let out a sigh.
"What will I do with you?" she asked herself.
"OK, children. Get off him," Eva ordered. Chester finally got a chance to breathe, and he curled up into a little ball, taking in deep breaths. Jason picked him up, smiling as he poked the younger boy's nose. "Jason, you know he can't play with you like that. He needs to rest a lot these days."
"What if I want to play with Jason like that?" Chester asked.
"Yeah, Eva, what if Chester wants to play with me like that?" Jason teased. "I can't play with him, huh?"
"No," Eva sighed.
"We can be quiet!" Chester promised.
"When you two start playing, you're never quiet," Eva rebuked. Giggles came from Harry and Frank, and Chester threw a pillow over his reddening face. "Oh, Chester! You don't need to cover your face up!"
"Don't be! You're adorable!"
"That makes it worse!"
"Aw! Poor baby!" Jason taunted.
"Stoooop!" Chester groaned. "I'm actually looking forward to going to chemotherapy just to get away from . . . this."
"We're not that bad, are we?" Cameron teased. "So mean."
"I'm sorry!" the boy squeaked, terrified. What if his friends hated him now and stopped visiting him and he was left all alone. Sure, he wasn't completely alone, but Aurelia wouldn't want to talk to him. She was busy with her mums and she would probably have friends come over soon to visit her and-
His thoughts were interrupted by a spoonful of cornflakes hovering in front of his mouth. What was that doing there?
"Eat your breakfast, kid," Jason told the bedbound boy. Chester made a disgusted face.
"Fine, I'll-MMMMP!" The spoon was shoved into his mouth, forcing him to chew and swallow. "What was that for? I can feed myself!"
"Then eat yourself. I can and will feed you myself if you don't." Jason looked at him sternly, and Chester knew that he had to eat. So he continued to eat, feeding himself as his surrogate brother checked him over and nodded in approval. "Good job," he congratulated, as the spoon scraped the bottom of the bowl. Chester felt proud, even though all he'd done was eat cereal. He saw Aurelia being helped into a wheelchair, and he knew it was time for him to go to another chemotherapy session. He let out a sigh and started shifting in his seat.
"Chester, you need to go," Jane sighed. "Say goodbye to your friends and get in." He gathered up his notebooks and his trusty pen and got himself ready.
"Bye," Chester sighed. Once he was away from them, he asked Jane a question. "Will I need a wheelchair forever?"
"I'm just a nurse, dear; I don't know," she admitted. Chester stayed inside, refusing to stop writing. He switched notebooks whenever he couldn't think of what to write in the other one. They had no idea what would happen next.
Beckett was trying to get inside the hospital once again, this time with his husband, Dwayne. He wanted to be there for his nephew's chemotherapy, and he wanted to do this until the very last one. He came with a peace offering of a bag of cookies and a smoothie. Dwayne was unsure whether or not he was welcome there. "Are you sure that having me there would be a good idea?" he hissed.
"He asked to meet you," Beckett insisted. "I don't want to let him down. We agreed that he would stay with us, so we will visit him." Dwayne nodded, and with a deep breath, they both went in. Chester looked up from his diary, saw his uncle and another man and let out a squeal of shock.
"Uncle Beckett . . . is this my other uncle?" Chester asked.
"Yes, kiddo. This is Dwayne, my husband," Beckett introduced. Dwayne stepped forward. Everything about it felt awkward.
"Hello, Chester. I'm your uncle, Dwayne, and I came here to meet you," Dwayne robotically introduced. Everyone in earshot could tell how monotone he was. Chester was a little scared of him. He towered over Beckett, and would tower over Chester, too, if Chester was capable of standing up. He flipped over to the points system of his book, added the name Dwayne and gave him a point, along with Beckett. "I . . . we . . . got you a smoothie and some cookies." Chester smiled and gave them both two more points. The scoreboard looked like this:
Uncle Beckett: 11
Uncle Dwayne: 3
He loved having two parental figures with him. It was more than a substitute for having his biological family there. His parents wouldn't bother being there for him, and his brother and sister would just laugh at him as he turned bald and got sick. Maybe it was a good thing they weren't there. They wouldn't be very helpful or nice to him.
"Thank you for the cookies," Chester chirped, taking one of the cookies, breaking one cookie in half and placing the other half in his mouth. "Want some?" Smiling, they took a cookie each and ate it, happily. They had a precious little boy to raise, a boy that they now knew was theirs.
And soon, he would know it, too.
"Chester, Beckett told me you were turning ten soon. Want me to get you something?" Dwayne asked.
"I already asked Uncle Beckett for some pyjamas, a muffin and a book," Chester asked. "I think I'd like a family now. You and Uncle Beckett and Lovelace."
"You remembered our cat's name!" Beckett squealed. Dwayne pinched the bridge of his nose.
"He has cancer and you're thinking about the cat," Dwayne sighed. Chester giggled, giving Dwayne another five points. This guy was going to be the responsible parent when he moved in.
"I've never had a cat before," Chester admitted. "Will Lovelace scratch me?"
"He doesn't scratch. He's a big furry baby, and very friendly. He'll like you. You might want to get used to him laying on your lap for snuggles, though," Beckett admitted. Chester liked the sound of this.
"I can go in the kitchen to get snacks if I need any, right?" Chester asked. This took them both by surprise.
"Yes, of course," Beckett affirmed. "Why would you think we wouldn't?"
"Every parent knows growing kids needs plenty of food to grow nice and big," Dwayne told him. "Why do you ask?" Chester looked down.
"I wasn't allowed in the kitchen before unless I was making people food."
"You're a little too young to make food. You're nine years old."
"I'm not too young to make pancakes and pizza and other easy food." Dwayne and Beckett were horrified.
"Chester, are you the oldest brother?"
"I'm the youngest. There's Amethyst, then Barnaby, then me. A, B, C."
"Can't your big brother and sister make their own food?"
"They're busy preparing for all their stuff, like sports and school and stuff. They need to do lots of preparing, because that's what they're good at. I'm not really good at anything, so I do the chores because that's what I'm good at." Chester recited all this like it was all well-known facts that everyone knew. He looked beaten down and heartbroken. Beckett was horrified to see how his brother had been treating his ex-son.
"Not really good at anything? I've seen your writings; anything you write could be a bestseller in moments!" Beckett encouraged. The small boy's face lit up with a smile.
"Really?" he squeaked.
"Yes! Don't you ever say that you're not good at anything, not while your uncles are around!" Beckett poked the boy's stomach, and he giggled. A smile and laughing meant Beckett got another seven points. "But in between you writing things down, we'll be there to take you back to bed and get you your things and other things like that. We'll visit whenever we can, we promise."
"You will?" Chester squeaked.
"We'll make sure to teach you how to stand on your own two feet and we'll be there for all your things," Dwayne swore.
"And also to embarrass you at every opportunity, like proper dads," Beckett pointed out.
"Dads?" Chester's head was spinning. "So you're really going to adopt me?"
"Of course," they chorused. Chester reached for them, and they collapsed into a hug. It felt . . . warm. Tight. Cosy.
When they finally let go, he wanted it to continue, but he couldn't just . . . ask. That would be rude of him to just demand affection whenever he wanted it. They were going to be very busy.
"That's it for your chemotherapy, Chester," the doctor announced. "Now just let me get you into your wheelchair and take you to your bed."
"We'll do it. Don't worry about it, doctor," Beckett promised. Dwayne, being much bigger than his husband at 6'4", picked up the cancer patient like he weighed nothing to put him in his wheelchair. That was because he barely did. All the energy was being sapped out of him, as well as muscle tone and what little fat he had. They wheeled him over to his bed, and he decided to ask about the writing he did.
"What sort of stuff do you write?" he asked. Chester dug out more stories for him to read, still terrified of humiliation. He had to keep calm so nobody noticed that he was so scared. Like before, he watched as his face grew into a large smile.
"If this was longer, I would read the hell out of this!" Dwayne replied. "And the castle parts! I love those parts! How about I draw this out for you, so you can look at this more often?"
"That would be g-oh." Chester felt his stomach turn. Dwayne barely had the time to grab a bucket before his soon-to-be son threw up into it, his frail body heaving as it rejected food that it had accepted earlier. He sobbed. Why did he have to disgrace himself like this? Why was he the embarrassing one in the family? He felt his face being wiped by a gentle, loving hand.
"It's OK. It's not your fault. It was the chemo's fault. It's OK," he soothed. "Here. Something to soothe your throat." He offered up the smoothie again, and it looked so inviting. So he drank it, and quickly. The feeling of cold smoothie hitting his burning throat was amazing.
"Thank you," he muttered. Simultaneously, Beckett was pleading with a doctor to help his nephew gain weight. He was horribly scrawny and Beckett worried about him.
"There has to be something that you can do!" he pleaded. "Look at him! He's underweight and frail and can't keep his food down! He has to get nutrients in him somehow!"
"We can feed him intravenously, but that won't do much for the vomiting," she told him. "Who are you to him, by the way?"
"I'm going to be adopting him," Beckett said, without a hint of hesitation. "This is worrying me. And how's the chemotherapy doing? Is the tumour reducing?" The doctor let out a sigh and looked down at the floor before staring the worried man in the eye.
"Not that we can see, but the chemotherapy is just starting," she told him. "The tumour is rather big. It's made his entire leg swell up."
"I saw," Beckett replied. "And what should happen if the tumour doesn't go down?"
"We may have to amputate the leg." The words hung in the air like a suffocating, toxic fog. On that note, he left and went back to his nephew. The sound of giggling leaked away from the bed.
"As you can see, Chester, pets usually look just like their owners. This is the cat . . . and this is Beckett," Dwayne replied, switching between a picture of Lovelace curled in a ball and a picture of Beckett curled up into a ball on the sofa. Chester laughed hysterically. Beckett took one look at the pictures Dwayne was showing their nephew/son, and he turned red.
"Dwayne! Why would you show him that? It's embarrassing!" he whined. Chester giggled.
"But it's so cute!" Chester told him.
"It is not!" Beckett insisted.
"Why, you-" Beckett picked up the child to start poking his stomach, making him giggle. "Do I need to teach you about why you shouldn't look at silly pictures of me?" The voice and the ticklish pokes made him go insane with giggles. He wasn't serious, of course he wasn't, but Chester looked happy like this, so he continued. "How dare you undermine my masculine image?"
"I'm sorry I undermined your masculine image, Uncle Beckett. I didn't know you had one," Chester replied. Dwayne laughed hysterically.
"That's my boy!" Dwayne laughed. "I'm so proud of you!"
"Y-you are?" Chester was shocked. He just collapsed into the bed, staring up at the ceiling. Dwayne's words swirled around in his head.
That's my boy!
I'm so proud of you!
It felt so good but sounded so strange.
"Yes, of course we are! Why wouldn't we be, Chester?" Dwayne asked, confused and heartbroken. "We have the perfect boy for us."
"Me?" Chester squeaked. He was shocked. How was he perfect? He couldn't play sports or do well in school. He could just write silly stories. And because that wasn't useful, he wasn't useful, and he wasn't perfect. And now he was even worse. He had cancer and he was in hospital for it. And while he was in that hospital, the chemotherapy was making him feel sick and lose his hair. How did these people think that he was their perfect son? "That must be wrong."
"It's not wrong, I promise," Dwayne replied. "You are the sweetest, smartest boy we've ever met, and we would love to be your adoptive dads." Chester held his breath with shock.
"So, you'll go from being my uncles to being my dads? For real?"
"Yes. And you'll be our son." Beckett looked at the redhead with pride. Against all odds and the plan he had for himself, he was going to be a dad.
"Even if I look different after all the cancer treatment?"
"And even if I'm bad or I can't be clever or good?"
"Of course. And . . . you are clever. Don't forget it."
"I am going to have so much fun drawing this! Thanks for the inspiration!" Dwayne picked him up and placed him in a more upright position before they started leaving. Chester began marking points as soon as their backs were turned. Dwayne had 13 more points, and Beckett had 15 more points. They were going to be such cool dads.
The Reynolds house was going insane. Just when Amethyst and Barnaby seemed to be their perfect children, it all began to fall apart. First to disappoint them was Barnaby. It happened when Barnaby and his friends were going home after school, and they happened to pass by a humble corner shop. A single worker, an old woman with white hair, manned the till.
"This will be too easy. Who wants a free snack, huh?" Barnaby grinned, as his friends went in.
None of them noticed how the CCTV camera seemed to wink at them, as if it knew their fate already.
Demetria, Amethyst and Edwin were startled out of their comfortable silence by a knock on the door. Demetria got up from her beloved television program to answer the door, only to find their son in between two policemen. She was shocked. "Barnaby?" she stammered, her face drained of colour.
"Are you Mrs Reynolds?" one police officer asked. She nodded, numb with shock. "I have to inform you that your son was found stealing from a shop. He has been arrested and the owner is wanting to press charges."
"Press charges? My boy is about to go to jail?" Edwin asked, angry with his son, who was shrinking under his gaze.
"He's too young for jail, but he will be given a warning, since this is his first offence and he has been of good character prior to the incident," the second police officer replied. "He gave the stolen items back and he can come home to you." They let Barnaby out of their grip, allowing him to rush into the house.
"Thank you, officer. We'll make sure this doesn't happen again," Demetria promised. The officers left, and the angry, humiliated parents began with the punishment of their unruly son. Barnaby shrank under the glare of the his mother and father.
"What were you thinking?" Edwin snapped. "The entire street saw you coming home in a police car. This house is going to be the topic of neighbourhood gossip for weeks!" Barnaby fought the urge to cry.
"Go to your room and don't come out until tomorrow!" Demetria ordered.
"But I'm hungry!" Barnaby protested.
"You should've thought about that before you decided to disgrace us all," Edwin replied. "Maybe a missed meal will remind you of how you ought to behave." Barnaby rushed over to his room to lock himself away from the family. Once in the privacy of his room, he did something he used to mock Chester for with his friends; he cried. He felt useless and pathetic.
Amethyst looked on from the relative safety of her textbooks, nodding with agreement. Since Chester had never had anything going for him and Barnaby was a thief, she would be relied upon to give their parents something to be proud of.