Categories > Original > Historical > Stone

Chapter 5

by BrieBlakmyre 0 reviews

After finding Caelius abandoned on a wintry night with no memory of his past, Father Marques realizes that this young orphan boy is a much grander mystery than he could have imagined. (This story h...

Category: Historical - Rating: PG - Genres: Drama,Fantasy - Published: 2015-02-25 - 2148 words

Sister Martin had no better news to tell me days, or even weeks, later. They'd contacted social workers and local policeman, alike, but each investigation was an inevitable dead end. It was as if he'd fallen right from the sky. This weighed heavily on my mind, but not as much as the fast-approaching date of Caelius' departure. Without any birth records, they could not begin to search for families, and they would instead have to bring him to a government facility.
“It's a scary thing, bringing a young child to a government-run home, so we've found a comfortable middle. There's a small boarding school of sorts that homes orphans in Tavistock. We can send him there until they determine his legal circumstances, then, hopefully, they can suit him to the proper family... but it will be out of our hands, at that point.”
“Right, of course... Do you-”
Suddenly, Caelius ran up to me from behind and hugged the backs of my knees.
“Father!” he chimed with his usual levity, and I turned around to carry him in my arms.
“There you are! Looks like you found me first today, eh?”
He giggled, but his smile quickly fell. “They said I won't be able to see you anymore soon. Is that true?”
My smile dimmed as well. “I'm afraid it is. I'll come visit you once or twice in your new home, but I think that will be it.”
He bit his lip and pushed his forehead into my shoulder, suppressing a hiccup. “B-but I don't want to g-go! I want to st-stay with you...”
It hurt me to hear his muffled plea, but I could not waver now. I had to deny, at least for the moment, that I wouldn't feel terribly bereaved when he was gone.
“Shh, hush now...” I whispered softly into his ear as globs of tears dripped onto my robe.“I-I'm going to miss you, too...”
These past few weeks I'd spent with him had awakened an unknown side of me – The side of me that could be a father, and not just in the monastic sense. This would be our last day together, and I wanted it to count. Our usual routine was to read in the Book Nook, but today, he seemed insistent on going elsewhere.
“What's the matter, Caelius? Tired of books?”
“Could we go out today? Just the two of us?” He asked, tugging on my sleeve with wide, expectant eyes.
“I suppose we could, but where would you want to go?”
He pouted and put a hand to his cheek as if he hadn't thought this far.
“I don't know where anything is...”
The sister and I laughed.
“I guess we'll just figure it out as we go, then... If that is alright with the good Sister...?” I said looking over my shoulder to her.
“Normally, we don't allow it... but as you are the presiding priest and the one who brought him here in the first place, how could I refuse? Come, Caelius, let's get you properly dressed, then.”
The two returned a short while later, and Caelius shuffled towards me in his snow boots, new winter coat, and my over-sized scarf which puffed around his neck like a lion's mane.
“Just be back by 7. Have fun, dearie,” she smiled sweetly and gave Caelius a playful pinch on the cheek.
I took his mitten-covered hand as we braved the chill weather and gave a brief wave goodbye. Christmas was just a few short weeks away, so there was bound to be all sorts of festivities and celebrations in town, especially for the kiddies. If Caelius wasn't familiar with the spirit of Christmas, I would have to acquaint him. I wanted him to be able to cherish these last memories together.
'Oohs' and 'Aahs' filled the space between us as he turned from left to right, admiring the decorated streets. Garlands of tinsel and lights wrapped around trees and buildings, and there was a wreath of holly on every street lamp. Excitement was visible in Caelius' eyes as we strolled down the cobblestone alley, passing the townsfolk whose arms overflowed with boxes and bags. Caelius held my hand tighter with a smile on his face while observing the families, in particular, as if comparing himself and me to them. And for a moment, I did the same. I studied them as they laughed together, swinging their children over their shoulders and gathering by the illuminated storefronts in awe of the Christmas displays.
It would be nice, wouldn't it?
While pondering this, he suddenly stopped behind me. I looked down to him, then over to the display that had so effectively caught his attention. The spicy aroma of gingerbread wafted through the open door of the sweet shop across the street as strings of people traveled to and fro. He closed his eyes and inhaled, deeply, with a pleased sigh.
“Well, what are we waiting for? We better get a closer look,” I smiled.
A cluster of children had congregated around one of the wide windows where a confectioner, dressed in a traditional French uniform, stretched a glossy wad of toffee around a large, metal contraption. Caelius pressed his red nose close to the glass, mesmerized by the thick band of sugar as it twisted around and around the machine. I loved to watch his animated expressions in these moments. With such joy in his eyes, it was hard to picture him as the same traumatized boy I'd found in the gutter. I never wanted to see such a worn look on his young face again.
Caelius turned to me, practically begging for a bite with his open mouth and up-drawn brows. I obliged and lead him inside to the rows of glass jars and dispensers that held dozens of assortments of chocolates, jellies, and hard candies. He had a look of utter desperation as he glanced from the piles of Christmas fudge behind the counter to the center display of freshly dusted Turkish Delight.
“Have you ever had any of these before, Caelius?” I asked, kneeling down beside him on the checkered tile.
He shook his head. “Never, but they all smell so wonderful! I don't know which one looks best.”
“They are indeed quite scrumptious. I remember when I had my first rose jelly as a boy... Oh, it was heavenly. I guess I better just get us a little of everything, eh?”
I pulled a parchment bag from the metallic slot and took my time sorting through each shelf and display for the most delectable sweets. Caelius took me this way and that as he spotted new treats, asking for my approval before dumping a scoop into the bag. Our package rang up to a few pounds more than I had pocket money to spend on, but Caelius was enjoying himself so much that I thought it a good time to splurge.
After departing from the toasty shop, Caelius and I found a wooden bench to test out our variety of treats. From the rhubarb rocks, to the chocolate-covered honeycomb, and to the blackjacks, we had our fill of sugar in just a few pieces. We hadn't even made it halfway through the bag with our combined efforts.
“I think that last bit of biscuit was against my better judgment, dear boy. How about you?”
“Oh, I can't touch a drop more. If I had known that they'd make me feel this poor, I mightn't have wanted them in the first place!”
I laughed heartily and took his hand to continue on our way. He grabbed onto me, almost reflexively now – there was no hesitancy in his touch. Like real family.
As night fell and the street lamps were lit aglow, we wandered up and down narrow alleyways and around corners, poking our heads into any little shop that peaked his interest. As we came to the last of the shops, I noticed a sign pointing to a gathering on the town green just a few meters ahead. “Meet St. Nick!”, it read, and I looked ahead to a plump man with a thick curly beard, dressed in a long red coat. The queue of families winded down the street, but I thought that Caelius wouldn't mind waiting for such an unusual occasion.
“Why are there so many people gathered, Father?”
“They're bringing their children to meet Santa.”
As I took my place in line, I gave him a brief explanation of the St. Nicholas story and Santa's role on this special December the 25th. He was delighted to learn of such a man who would bring gifts to all of the good boys and girls. It was already his favorite time of year, he proclaimed.
Caelius grew more timid as we drew closer to the front of the line, but he did not shy away from Santa as he ushered him to sit on his right knee.
“And what's your name?”
“I-I'm Caelius...”
Santa laughed, patting him on the back.
“No need to be shy with a name like that! Now, tell me what it is that you'd like for Christmas.” – Caelius fidgeted with his hands and glanced nervously at me - “How about a model car, a teddy bear?”
“I want a family... but not just any family, one of my choosing. I'm sorry if that's too much to ask, Santa.”
The man's brow furrowed and he turned to me in concern, paying special attention to my robe. Unlike him, I felt much greater guilt than sympathy. Caelius already had an image of the family he wanted and it was with me. What was I to do?
“What better gift than the love of a family? That is quite a tall order, but I wish you the best, little one.”
Caelius nodded and gave Santa a hug before hurrying off his lap and into my arms. As we returned to the home, the resonance of his timid plea and the sincerity in his eyes stuck with me. I felt the need to hold him tightly in these last moments. After his confession, I dreaded the thought of him being in a new home, hours away. I wanted to provide him with the family of his choosing, but I worried even Santa couldn't manage such a Christmas gift.
When we arrived at St. Mary's just fifteen minutes later, Caelius was fast asleep. Slung over my shoulder, I tiptoed up the steps and knocked quietly on the thick door. Sister Martin cupped her hands together with a sound of adoration as she welcomed us in.
“You two had a lot of fun, I imagine.”
“Oh, indeed, we enjoyed ourselves. I think I spoiled this one with a bit too much chocolate.”
The sister laughed and ran a hand through his curly tufts of hair.
“What a little angel... He has certainly taken quite a liking to you, Father. It will be hard to convince him to stay with anyone else.”
“I worry about that most...” I breathed heavily.
She tapped her nails against each other, contemplatively, as she lead me to his room. “Now, I don't want to seem too forward, Father... but we try our best to fit our children with the right families, and you do know that Bishops will often allow an exception for priests to adopt orphan children?”
My eyes widened at the thought, and I looked to her with troubled eyes. Did she really think me capable of such a task with my 55th birthday just a few years away?
“But I know nothing of how to care for a child. I never even grew up with younger siblings... I-”
“Don't worry yourself too much, Father. We understand how difficult this lifestyle can be when you have little ones to look after... But something to think about, perhaps?”
I nodded and glanced at Caelius once more as she gingerly opened the door for me.
“Since it's your last visit, I'll let you tuck him in. Just be careful not to disturb the others.”
“Thank you, Sister,” I replied, graciously.
His breath was warm against my neck as he clung to me, and I reluctantly released him onto the freshly made sheets. He stirred slightly as I tugged off his winter coat and shoes, and I smiled to myself as I looked over him. Caelius was dear to me now. In some ways, I could imagine him as my own child, but I would have to put away such thoughts if he were to be gone soon.
“Ah, Caelius... I can only pray that you will be with the family of your choosing one day...” I whispered before softly kissing his forehead and pulling the covers up to his chin.
Just before closing the door behind me, I took one last longing look at him and ruminated on Sister Martin's words.
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