Upstairs, Dominic stared in surprise at Rocco’s room. It was a large room with three single beds, each one with a bedside table. There was a double wardrobe between two of the beds and a single dresser next to the bed that Rocco walked over to. The walls were white with a border halfway down, sporting music notes. It was a neutral room, suitable for boys or girls, but it was a far cry from the dingy squat-like room he’d occupied in his old orphanage.
Rocco immediately went to the bedside table and emptied the top drawer into a backpack that he dragged out from under the bed. A pair of sunglasses, a Pride bracelet and dog tags set, and a single book that looked like a diary went into the bag. Then he grabbed a pair of trainers from the side of the bedside table that he slipped onto his feet and pulled an identical pair from beneath the bed, that he stuffed into the backpack.
To Dominic’s surprise, he turned and smiled at him, slinging the backpack over his shoulder. “Nothing else?” He signed, gesturing to the dresser and the clock by the bed.
“They aren’t mine.” Rocco signed back with a shrug.
Dominic frowned to himself, not sure what he meant. He didn’t want to assume anything, but he also didn’t want to contradict him without knowing the whole story. “Why are they not yours?” He asked in sign.
“I don’t understand.” Rocco frowned at him.
“If they’re here in your room, beside your bed, who else can they belong to?” He asked.
“They were gifts. From the policeman.” He explained, signing one handed and looking vaguely ashamed of himself. He didn’t understand why, so he waited for an explanation. “I didn’t earn them or pay for them.” He claimed.
Dominic sighed and slipped the bag off his shoulders. “Rocco, that doesn’t mean they’re not yours.” He told him in sign, leaving the bag on the bed for a moment. “They are gifts; that means they are yours to keep. If it makes you feel better we can tell the policeman where you will be living with us and he can visit you any time you like, so that he can see you still have his gifts.” He offered, hoping that he would understand. “But you did earn them. Because you are important to him. Because you are kind and loving to him.” He reassured him that he hadn’t done anything wrong and he had no reason to think he was undeserving of gifts or love.
“He wanted to adopt me.” Rocco signed, chewing his lip nervously.
“Why didn’t he?” He asked, a little unsure of the way he shrugged and kept his eyes on the floor as he signed his reply.
“I said no.” Rocco admitted.
Dominic touched his chin. “Why?”
“Last year he hugged me longer than he ever has. I thought maybe he was sad.” He said, with big sad eyes. “He knew how to sign a few things and he told me he loved me. He said that if I let him adopt me he could love me body and soul. I didn’t like it.” He confessed, looking shy and sad. He could understand that; someone he trusted had suddenly treated him inappropriately and tried to bribe him into letting it happen.
“You were right. That is not the kind of love you want from your adopted father.” Dominic agreed without any hesitation. He wanted Rocco to know that he had done the right thing by refusing him.
“I think,” he started to sign and stopped.
Dominic nodded to tell him to go on.
He started signing again, slower, as if he had to think through what he was going to say first. “I think he was lonely when his wife died. That’s why he kept visiting me. Then I got older and he thought I could take her place.” He explained sadly.
Dominic kissed his forehead gently and looked him in the eye. “If you want to take anything with you, you can. But if you want to leave it behind because it reminds you of that hug, then leave it.” He told him, letting him decide for himself if he wanted any of the gifts he had been given. “Taking or leaving them will not make you a bad person. They will not be condoning or accepting what he said to you.” He promised.
Rocco looked around, clearly trusting him enough to rethink his packing choices. He reached out and lifted a green and purple painted dragon clock from the bedside table. He held it to his chest and walked to the dresser to pull out a large brimmed brown hat from the second drawer down. He placed it on his head and turned back to smile at him. It wasn’t a style of hat he’d choose, but somehow it seemed to suit the kid. His floppy fringe of blonde hair peeked out at the front.
“Everything?” He asked in sign, just to make sure.
Rocco nodded and reached out for the backpack sitting on the bed.
Dominic grabbed it first and slung it over his shoulder, before holding his hand out to Rocco. He wasn’t normally a hand holder, but he had a feeling that it helped Rocco and gave him something solid to hold onto, in a literal sense. His new brother flashed a happy smile at him and took his hand, swinging it in a playful way as he led the way out of the bedroom and back downstairs.
Dominic led Rocco downstairs by the hand, and smiled when his dad and Chandler both looked up as they appeared.
“Is that it?” Chandler asked with a frown.
“Don’t ask. We need to stop off on the way home and get him some clothes. He’s only packed trainers.” He explained quietly. He didn’t bother signing as he talked because he didn’t want Rocco to think he was in trouble.
Latimer nodded his agreement instantly, removing his car keys from his trouser pocket.
With Rocco packed, Dominic turned to make sure he was ready to leave. “Is there anyone you want to say goodbye to?” He signed, voicing his question aloud so that his father and brother were kept in the loop.
Rocco shook his head and just kept smiling that innocent smile.
Dominic turned to his dad, not sure what to say to that. But his father just opened the door and invited them to leave the house.
Since Rocco didn’t seem to have a problem with that, he led him out to the car, waited for his dad to unlock the boot and lay the backpack inside.
Rocco was still holding his clock and didn’t look like he wanted to let go, so he let him take it with him into the car.
Once they were sitting in the back seat, side by side, with Chandler and his dad in the front, he opened up his bag, that Chandler had dumped in the back. He extracted his tablet, brought up ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’ and handed it back over to Rocco. He beamed and lay his clock down carefully on his lap so that he could use both hands to hold the tablet.
“Dad, you should know that he didn’t bring anything else because the cop bought or gave him most of the stuff.” Dominic explained the situation so that they knew what was going on. “He got weird; kept giving him gifts over the years and wanting to adopt him. Rocco said no.”
“Then last year he talked about loving him ‘body and soul’ if he could just adopt him. He doesn’t want any of the gifts he gave him now. I think it hurt him. That someone he’s known and trusted his whole life suddenly changed.” He admitted. He wasn’t in the least surprised that his new adopted brother leaned into him and lay his head on his shoulder.
“I can understand why.” Latimer agreed, with a bite to his voice.
“I’ll ask Rocco again when he’s settled, but he might want Miss Phu to keep his current whereabouts a secret.” He hinted, since he didn’t want the cop showing up at the house and upsetting Rocco, or God forbid getting him alone.
“Yeah, cause if he shows up I might smash his head in.” Chandler said, nodding his agreement.
Dominic noticed that Rocco smiled as if he’d heard the words. He wondered if there was a particularly funny part of the book that appealed to him or if he had somehow read Chandlers lips.
“I think he knows what you just said.” He told them quietly, unsure if he was right or not.
Chandler looked into the rear view mirror to see Rocco engrossed in his book. “Yeah, well maybe he’ll hear me when I tell him we need to broaden his literary horizons.” He decided, with a fond chuckle. “There are a million books out there that would love to be read once. I’m sure ‘The Count’ wouldn’t mind being put aside for a day or two.” He smiled, shaking his head at the silence that ensued. No-one really expected him to get an answer.