Side Story: Father

As the stars began to twinkle over the horizon Vince felt the train slow to a halt. They would be unloading various cars tonight and heading out again in the morning. He and Father jumped out from the back and made their way stealthily through the rail yard. It was customary to sweep for people like themselves during these pauses, so they’d enjoy a nice night under the stars while waiting for dawn to break. This yard was familiar to them, it was a central junction point they’d stopped at many times through the years. There was a campground only an hour’s walk away with soft leaves and lush canopy, perfect for resting in all but the most extreme weather. Not that tonight held any such concerns.

The summer was in full swing as they moved through the trees, heat from the day persisting against the night’s attempts to freeze, leading to a perfect temperature swirling about them. The sky was free of clouds, leaving their path to be perfectly lit by starlight. By the time the reached a good resting point the last slivers of daylight were gone and the moon hung just above the tall trees.

Vince and Father broke quickly into their duties. Vince gathered leaves and sticks while Father found a free fire pit and began to make use of it. Within half an hour they had a blaze going, a pile of wood for fuel, and plenty of leaves to rest on when they were ready for sleep. Father set to task of warming some jerky and a can of soup they had leftover from the last town. In two more days they’d be in a new place where they could work and get more money for food, but right now they were living on remaining supplies. It wasn’t an easy life, but Father was careful and planned ahead so that they never went to sleep in danger or hungry.

As the food cooked, Father walked over to Vince and sat down next to him.

“Do you know what today is?”

Vince shook his head. He’d never had the knack for keeping up with the days in his head.

“Today is June twenty fourth,” Father told him. “It’s your Found Day.”

“Really?”

“Really,” Father told him. “By my best guess that makes you around thirteen years old.”

“Cool,” Vince said. Living outside of society, he’d never really gotten an understanding of the importance of age to most people of youth. Things like high school and driver’s licenses didn’t exist for him to look forward to, so for him it was just a number that kept rising upward.

“Cool indeed,” Father agreed. “You know, thirteen is actually a pretty big deal. For most cultures it’s the beginning of the transition from a boy to a man.”

“What’s the end?” Vince asked.

“Depends on the culture, but I’d say somewhere between eighteen and never,” Father answered with a smile. “Anyway, because of how special today is I have a gift for you.” He reached into his tattered coat and pulled out small, rag wrapped bundle. Vince accepted it with due care and pulled away the cloth covering. What lurked beneath shined in the light from the sky, the silver of the moon reflecting off the gold of the pocket watch that now lay exposed.

“It’s so beautiful,” Vince gasped.

“It’s a very special watch,” Father explained. “It was custom made as part of a pair. My best friend and I had them built for…well lets just say they became a symbol of our friendship.”

“Are you sure its okay for me to have it then?”

“I’m positive,” Father assured him. “It’s always been my intention to pass it on to my son, and one day for him to pass it to his. I want it to stay in the family for countless generations, and hope that it will always mean as much to its carrier as it did to me.”

“I think I understand,” Vince said. “And thank you very much. I promise to take good care of it.”

“I know you will. And there’s one more thing I think a young man should have. Open up the front cover,” Father told him.

Vince complied. There, inscribed on the cover, was his first name. His only name. Except there was something after it, an unfamiliar jumble of letters that Vince could read but didn’t understand the meaning of.

“Vince Reynolds?”

Father nodded. “It’s okay for a boy to just have a first name, but not a man. I thought long and hard about it, and I think Reynolds is the perfect last name for you. It belonged to one of the kindest, bravest, most honorable men I’ve ever had the blessing to know.”

“He must have been amazing,” Vince said. He didn’t voice it out loud, but the way Father described this Reynolds man was just the same as Vince would describe Father. That alone told him how much this name must mean.

“He was,” Father told him. “As are you. In fact I can’t think of anyone else I’d trust more with the Reynolds name than you, Vince.”

Vince bowed his head, the responsibility not lost on him in the swirl of sentimentality. He was such a strange one, from the moment Father had met him scrounging for scraps he’d been amazed that one person could feel so much gravity in their actions. The boy took to a path and never wavered, not once he felt he knew what the right choice was. Father wished he’d met more people with that tenacity in the world.

“Thank you, Father,” Vince said. “For everything. I’ll do all I can to make you proud and prove myself worthy of this honor.”

“Just keep being yourself. That’s all it has ever taken to make me proud of you,” Father said, pulling the silver haired youth close and giving him a tight hug. Soon after the embrace ended and they turned their attention to the dinner at hand. Within an hour after the fire had been doused Vince was asleep on his leaves, watch clutched tightly in his still growing hands.

Father stayed up a little later though, never comfortable sleeping until he was sure they were safe. A long time ago he hadn’t bothered with such caution, but Vince had changed all that. The bright eyed boy had given him purpose and revitalized him when he’d felt totally adrift in the world. It was a sentiment that any real father would have understood perfectly.

Absently, Father touched the stump where his left arm had been. There were days he missed it, along with his old life and his old names. Still, night like this, sitting under the stars, there wasn’t anyone in the world he would rather be than just Father.