A man appeared in the doorway. I’d never seen him before. He was tall and dressed in a crisp suit. He acknowledged my parents and me with a nod.
Then he stepped aside.
The boy standing behind him looked like a deer in the headlights. His eyes were as round as saucers, glancing wildly around the room.
He was slender and had a mop of messy hair that looked just like my dad’s hair in the old photos of him I’ve seen around the house.
This was him. This was my brother. The boy we had been trying to find for as long as I could remember. He was actually here, standing in front of me.
For a moment, no one did or said anything. It was like a standoff. When you’ve been waiting for a moment for as long as we have, you don’t know how to react when it’s actually right in front of you.
Mum was the first to break the silence.
“W…Warren?” she stuttered, standing up out of her chair.
“Oscar, actually,” he replied, his voice barely louder than a whisper.
Mum closed her eyes for a moment before speaking again. “Yes, of course.”
“We’ll leave you guys alone,” Janine said before stepping out of the room, the man following her. Then it was just the four of us.
What had I expected? Hugging and tears, maybe? That’s not what I got, not right away, at least.
“This all must be so confusing for you,” dad said, keeping his voice calm, given the situation.
The boy actually let out a small laugh. “Just a little bit.”
“So, you’ve been called Oscar since you were six?” mum asked tentatively. “You never remembered being called Warren?”
He shook his head. “I was just a kid, I was upset and I didn’t know any better. She…she was so nice, you know? I didn’t suspect a thing.” A flicker of pain flashed across his face. “I had no idea what was really going on. I guess I can see the signs now. She never had any pictures of my parents.”
I wanted to say something, but I couldn’t think straight. Instead I watched as my brother sat down on a chair, looking overwhelmed. I couldn’t wrap my brain around the fact that he was no longer Warren. He was Oscar now.
“How have you been…well, living?” dad asked.
Oscar shrugged. “Considerably normal, I guess? I was kept indoors a lot as a child, I was home-schooled. That makes sense now, but back then I just thought my aunt was protective.”
“She’s not your aunt,” mum said sharply. Her eyes widened after she spoke, looking like she hadn’t meant to speak out loud. “Sorry, I know you’ve grown up with her.”
“No, it’s fine,” Oscar quickly assured her. “I understand. You must be furious.”
“Well aren’t you?” I asked, finally finding my voice.
He turned to look at me. It was the first time he’d properly taken a moment to look at me since he’d walked into the room.
“Honestly? Right now I’m just confused, and sad,” he told me. “I’m sad that I’ve missed growing up with my family. My real family.” He looked down at his feet, shuffling them slightly. He looked embarrassed, like he didn’t want to admit how much this was upsetting him. He took a deep breath before continuing to speak. “At least I know the truth now.”
I saw the pain he was feeling in his eyes and tried to imagine myself in his position. Whether we were his biological family or not, right now, we were practically strangers to him. If this was a Disney movie, he’d run up to us with his arms wide open, sharing an embrace until the credits rolled up. But this wasn’t some movie with a happily ever after, no questions asked once the screen goes blank. Oscar was staring at unfamiliar faces, people who knew nothing of him or his life. And it must have been scary as hell.
I turned to face my parents. They both looked completely lost, like they had no idea what to do next. I’d always assumed they’d be the ones to hold everything together in serious situations, but they were just as confused and scared as I felt. It’s hard to see your parents not knowing what to do, not being able to fix it all. I had to accept that they didn’t have all the answers.
“Look,” I glanced between my parents and Oscar, “this is far from over. There are countless questions that need answering and none of it is going to be easy, but for now, at least we’re all here, together.” I turned to face Oscar, taking a step towards him. “I’m so sorry for everything you’ve had to go through.”
He shook his head. “Don’t be. None of this is your fault.”
When he said that, I felt a jolt in my stomach. I felt it because for years, I’d fully believed that it was my fault. I was to blame for my parents turning their attention to me. I was the reason they weren’t watching Warren wander off.
I felt the lump forming in my throat. I didn’t want to cry, but I knew I was dangerously close to it.
“It was,” I whispered. “It was my fault. I was crying and kicking up a fuss—”
“How many times do we have to tell you, sweetheart,” dad interrupted. He walked over to me and grabbed one of my hands. “You are not to blame for any of this.” He paused for a moment. “None of us are.” A look of realisation flickered across his face. “We were just extremely unfortunate that we ended up at the same carnival as that woman.”
He looked like he’d shocked himself by saying it, but it was the truth, and he was finally accepting it for the first time. All of these years, my parents had held themselves to blame. Now, they were accepting that we just got unlucky. Horribly, tragically unlucky, but that’s all it was.
I saw my mum start to cry, then. She finally allowed herself to. Dad went over to the chair she’d sat down on and knelt beside her. He was whispering to her but I couldn’t hear what they were saying.
Oscar watched on, not knowing what to do or say. What could he say? He looked like he wanted to just lock himself in a room all alone and let his own tears out.
Instead of going over to my mum, I turned away from her. She had my dad at that moment. She was going to get over this with his help. Right now, Oscar had no one.
I took a step towards him, feeling as confused and scared as he looked. His eyes were a complete reflection of the emotions I felt. It was like looking into a mirror.
This was my brother. The boy I’d never known growing up, but vowed to know now. This was the boy that was lost but never forgotten.
I held out my hand.