The boy sat with a tremor deep inside him. There was no physical epicenter, just a shaking from within as he held the letter in his hands. Anyone could have told him the words carried too much weight for a ten year old boy, but he had already shouldered his mother’s death, and now his father’s. What is one more letter? One more will and testament?
The hairlike branches of the willow tree guarded him. They created a sanctuary within which he could read the last words he would ever read from his father. As he leaned his back against the trunk, he read them word by word for the hundredth time.
I love you. I love you more than you can imagine, but I can’t help feeling like I have failed you. I tried to be the best father I could, but even adults don’t always know the best path in life.
My time is short. Maybe it won’t be, but I don’t want to be caught unready. Knowing this, I am putting everything in order for you to be taken care of once I’m gone. You will never want for anything.
There is one thing, though, that no matter how hard I try, I cannot take care of for you. I want you to live with one of my brothers, but I feel it is not for me to decide whom. They are all good men… religious men. It’s only to a good man that I would trust the most precious treasure in my life.
To be honest, despite my upbringing, I never had a religious bone in my body. I thought this was a good thing, but I see now how unanchored I’ve been. I don’t want that for you. My brothers each have their own conflicting beliefs, but what they share in common is that they truly believe them. They can give you the solid moral compass I never could.
It does not matter who you choose. Follow your heart, but know that to become part of any one of their lives means living by their rules, taking on their customs, even if in your heart you may not believe what they do. Choose what is truest to you. That is all that matters.
I hate to leave you with even one choice to make, but I trust you, and you should trust yourself. You know things I forgot a long time ago when I became an old, stuffy businessman.
I love you. I love you more than you can imagine.Dad
He sat there meditating on every sentence, every line, even as the sun began to set. As dusk was coming on, he heard the voice of his father’s associate calling across the grounds for him.
“Henry! Henry! Where are you?”
The boy peeked his head out through the branches. “I’m here, Pit!”
Pit was a gruff man, not too much older than Henry’s father. The two had fought together in the military and worked together in the private sector. After Henry’s dad started his business, Pit became the first and most loyal employee. Even after his leg got mangled on a mission, Henry’s father found his other work to do as his right hand man. He shuffled now, limping side to side from his good leg to his bad, coming as quick as he could toward Henry.
“They’re in the house. You need to come,” he said.
Pit was a mass of hurry at first, but when he saw the boy, his hobble slowed.
“It’s time little buddy.”
“Why can’t I just stay with you?” Henry asked.
“Believe me, I wish you could. If you still want me around, I’ll come visit all the time. But we can’t go against your dad’s wishes.”
The two walked up the hill, towards the back entrance of the house.
“I barely know them,” said Henry.
“Well… you see them on the holidays.”
“Yeah, after mom died. That’s only been a couple years. And how am I supposed to decide? Do you have any advice?”
The two stopped at the back door. Pit took off his glasses and began giving them a thoughtful cleaning. When his thoughts crystallized, he resolutely put them back on.
“I don’t know how to help you in choosing a family, but I know that you come with a lot of very lucrative baggage.” Pit could see the boy didn’t get it.
“Whoever you decide to go with will not just have you but also your money. And money has a way of messing with the heads of even the best people. Make sure, as best you can, that these uncles of yours will love you for who you are and not for anything else.”
As they walked in through the back door, Henry could hear the loud talking, laughing, arguing – perhaps all three – of his father’s brothers. He took a deep breath and then pressed on into the room where they all sat waiting for him.
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