I love my job. Ever since I was a kid I wanted to be a private investigator. It always had a noir-esque appeal to me, and I relished the thought of bringing justice to my enemies and avoid the corruption and otherwise unsavory aspects of the police force. It gave me the opportunity to be a “good guy,” without all of those pesky “warrants” and “morals.” I didn’t read Superman Comics as a kid, I read Batman. Bruce Wayne and I even have a pretty similar origin stories, sans billion dollar estate and butler. I’m still holding out hope for the butler.
I was adopted by nice, sensible foster parents at the age of seven, after three or so years in the system. Martin and Debra. They weren’t particularly wealthy (and didn’t have a butler,) but they were about as accommodating of my quirks as I could have hoped. I can’t say their eyes lit up with pride when I confessed my ambitions to them, but to their credit they didn’t dismiss them. They allowed my then-tender ego respect, and for that I’ll always be grateful. When I turned seventeen, after I opened my presents (a canon I have to this day,) they seemed a little high strung.
“What’s wrong, you guys?” I asked. “I really love my presents, seriously.” I smiled, hoping to cheer them up.
“We just.. Have one more surprise for you, honey.” Debra said. Martin put his arm around her shoulder and gave her a reassuring smile.
“It was actually a bit of a surprise for us, too.” He said, laughing nervously.
“Really, another? You guys didn’t have to. That’s still awesome though, what is it?!” I asked. I didn’t pick up on social cues so well back then, or maybe I was just seeing what I wanted to.
“Well, Hun..” Debra began. “You’re getting a baby brother!” Their faces lit up with broad smiles, but the smiles didn’t touch their eyes, their eyes were still searching for my response. I guess I knew they had been trying, why else would they have adopted me if they could have easily had a child of their own? My stomach turned to water, and the room was swirling a bit, but I maintained a smile.
“Oh my god, that’s incredible!” I yelled. I hurried to hug them both before they could see the tears in the corners of my eyes. I had been dreading this day for years. ‘Nothing will ever be the same’ I thought, ‘Once they have their own child, they’ll never see me the same way.’ Melodramatic? Maybe, but hey, I was seventeen.
“You know this doesn’t change the way we feel about you, right hon?” Debra asked.
“You’ll always be our son, and we’ll always love you.” Martin added. I tried to believe them, but my voice would have betrayed my doubt. I hugged them harder, and tried to make tears of joy.
It wasn’t long before Debra’s belly had swelled, and they were redecorating my room. “We don’t have a guest room sweetie, and you’ll be going to college soon anyway. You understand, right?” Debra said with a hopeful smile. I could see how fragile her happiness was, who was I to ruin it? I didn’t bear any ill will to my future foster brother, but the brand new crib sitting in my now baby-blue room was a constant reminder that a turning point in my life was quickly approaching. I started forming my plan that night. A few months later, baby Charles was born, and I had made a decision. I confronted Martin first, outside of Debra’s hospital room. He was always better at listening.
“I’ve been saving all of the money I’ve earned from my job these past months, and I’ve been taking as many hours as possible.” I told him. “I have enough money together to get me started, and enough to live on while I earn my license. It won’t be easy, but I believe this is the way it has to be, Martin. I know my car is in your name, but I had hoped that with your blessing I can take it with me.”
“This is a big decision, Liam.” He told me. “Are you sure you’re ready?”
“Nope.” He laughed at that.
“That’s my boy” He said, looking down. “Always with the quick wit.”
“Take the car, Liam. Your mother and I have saved up some money for your college, but I think now it would be better used in your custody.” He looked up at me, his eyes were glistening. I had never seen him cry before. He had me wrapped in a bear hug an instant later.
“We’ll always be proud of you Liam, no matter what. You need to do this and I understand that, I won’t tether you, but it wouldn’t hurt to check in every now and again, alright? Your mother is going to have a hard enough time as it is.” I squeezed back, I knew it wasn’t just my mother he was worried about.
“Speaking of Deb, Liam. I don’t think you should tell her.” Martin said, taking a step back. “I.. I can explain things to Deb. I’m afraid if she heard your plan while you were still here, she’d never let you go. I’m not sure I should be, as it is.” He sighed. “I’m so proud of you Liam, and so scared for you.” I wiped tears from my eyes, not knowing what to say. Martin did.
“Go say goodbye to Deb and Charlie, Liam. Make sure you tell them you love them. I’ll be in the car, we can hit the ATM on the way home. Oh, by the way, where do you plan on going?” He asked, he seemed to be surprised he hadn’t asked.
“Chicago.” I croaked. Martin gave a firm nod, and I saw a tear fall to the linoleum.
“Windy up there.” He said, his voice breaking up.
“Yep.” I could barely get it out.
“You can take my windbreaker… it’s always been too long for me anyway.” He said hoarsely, with a meek smile. It was my turn to nod. The next morning I was off.