Alvin stormed up the stairs, shaking the house with every step. He should have been used to it by now, coming home to one mess after another nearly every day. But no matter how often it happened, no matter how predictable his son's schedule was, the ideas were always different and unexpected. David's imagination was just as bad, if not worse, than Alvin's had been at that age.
Simon called it genetics. Despite wanting to pound his brother every time he said that, Alvin had begun to wonder if it was true.
His eleven-year-old son dashed up the stairs after him, trailing dirt after him. "Pop, no! Don't take my video games!" he begged. "You just bought me that racing one two days ago for passing my math test! Please don't take it away!"
"Shoulda thought of that before you decided to bake a mudpie—literally," Alvin grumbled in return without looking back.
As he turned the corner and headed for David and AJ's bedroom, his son grabbed the stair railing and launched himself towards his father. He dashed passed him until he had reached the door to his room and blocked the way. "You can't enter!" he snapped, making his father recoil. "Says so on the door!"
Alvin placed his hands on his hips. "Last I checked with your Grandpa, Dads read between the lines," he said.
"Well, it says STAY OUT between the lines too!"
The red-clad chipmunk groaned loudly and squeezed his fists. "David S.T. Seville, get out of the way now," he growled.
"When I said you were grounded, I meant it! You're grounded! Don't talk back!"
"I'm not the only one who's guilty of doin' stuff, you know," David argued as he pulled himself away from the door.
His father tapped his foot impatiently. "No, but you're the bugger behind the plans," he replied.
"That's no fair, Pop! Why do I get grounded and Claire an' AJ don't?"
"The same reason I would get grounded and Simon and Theodore didn't; your idea, YOU'RE grounded," Alvin snapped.
"If Mom was here—!"
Alvin let out a sarcastic laugh and rolled his eyes. "There we go; knew that was coming! Mom wouldn't do this; Mom would do that!" He pointed a menacing finger at his son. "Your mom is not here, David, so you have to follow my rules; not to mention I'm pretty sure your mom wouldn't be pleased with the mess you made today, either."
"What's the difference between a mess I make in the house and a mess you make when you're fighting some Shadow thing an' protecting the city?" David asked as he crossed his arms. "You were the one who cracked that sky scraper, Pop, not me!"
"Firstly, that was not my fault," Alvin yelled. "Dictator tossed me at it. Secondly, there is a big difference in these two messes, David! My mess is done while I'm trying to protect this place! Your mess makes the house look like a pigsty!"
"Your mess is bigger and more dangerous," David yelled back, as he leaned towards his father.
"Your mess has no reason behind other than being a little stupid!"
"It does so have a reason behind it!"
"Like what; making my life miserable as your father?"
"Then enlighten me—!"
"IT BRINGS YOU HOME!"
Alvin was about to yell something else until the words his son had just spoken had soaked in. He gaped and raised his eyebrows for a moment before frowning in confusion and leaning back. "… Wh-what?" he said, his voice much calmer than before.
David now had his fists clenched just as hard as his teeth were. "It brings you home," he repeated, forcing his frown as far as it could go. "Or it makes sure you do come home!"
"David, what are you—!"
"When you make a mess tryin' to keep everyone safe, you almost get killed." The boy waved his arms about. "You broke a rib last week!" he exclaimed.
"When I make a mess, it brings you home!"
Alvin did not attempt to speak this time. He simply closed his mouth and looked on as tears filled David's eyes. The eleven-year-old breathed through his teeth, always glaring at his father, even though it hurt to force his frown down so much. "Every time I make a mess, you come running," David explained with a faltering voice. "Sure whatever, I get yelled at and then sent to my room, grounded from playin' outside or playin' video games, but it also makes sure that you're still alive to yell your head off at me!"
Alvin had no idea how to respond to this. "… I…"
"When you get mad at me because of my messes, at least I know you're still alive," his son continued. "Every time you go an' make some mess while protecting Hearttropolis with Uncle Simon and Uncle Theodore, you nearly get yourself killed. I hate sittin' around thinkin' that I might lose my dad just like I lost my mom, so I make messes. If I make a mess, I know my dad's gonna come back to give me the BIG LECTURE OF THE CENTURY and ground me from something." He paused for a moment here and took a deep, shaky breath. When he exhaled, his breath was accompanied by a soft whimper, something Alvin had not expected to hear. "No, I don't like getting grounded, and sure, I have loads of fun riding bikes in the house or making some catapult in the backyard or chasing monsters through the house at night," David added, "But when I make those messes and you yell at me, it reassures me that my father hasn't disappeared like MOM DID!"
Those words seemed to echo through the entire house. Alvin did not move a muscle, afraid the entire building would come down if he did. He simply waited to see if his son had anything else to say.
David sniffed and wiped his tears over his sleeve. "I dunno if Mom's comin' back, so if makin' big messes and getting grounded for them lets me know that I'm not an orphan yet then I'll keep DOIN' it until I DIE!" he yelled as hard as he could.
That was all Alvin could take. He took a hasty step towards his son, all the while spreading out his arms. "Okay, okay, come here," he said.
David hardly even hesitated when the invitation was given. He ran up to his father and jumped as high as he could until his arms had wrapped around Alvin's neck. Stumbling once at the weight, Alvin pulled himself back and placed one arm beneath his son to keep him aloft and the other around his back and head. David buried his face in his father's sweater and sobbed.
"Come on, Davy," Alvin whispered as he stroked the back of the boy's head. "Calm down…"
"I don't want you to disappear too, Pop, please don't leave me too," David cried, although his voice was muffled.
"I'm not going to disappear, Davy. I'm still here." Alvin fell silent for a moment, hoping his son would stop crying, and then gently pecked David's head. He then pressed his cheek against his son while closing his eyes. "Come on Buddy, chin up," he said.
"I'm sorry I made a mess, Pop, I'm sorry," David apologized through tears. "I'm really sorry, really, really sorry."
"Yeah, I know."
"I don't wanna lose my family. Please don't die, I don't wanna be an orphan."
Alvin held him tighter after hearing these words. "I promised you and your sister nearly years ago that I would never leave you," he said. "And I don't plan on doing it now." When David let out another heartbreaking sob, Alvin hummed a soft song, hoping it would push away the boy's fear. "Come on, Buddy, ssshhh," he whispered after singing a verse. "It's okay, I'm still here. I haven't disappeared yet."
He continued to sing for a minute or two longer after that, until David's sobs had slowly faded away. They boy wiped his eyes over his sleeve and sniffed before looking over Alvin's shoulder. It was not often nowadays that his father sang lullabies to him and his sister—usually, David considered it embarrassing, and he was certain his father did as well. But sometimes, even little troublemakers who say that nothing in the world frightens them need a little lullaby to remind them that things will get better.
It made things even better when your father happened to be the best singing cartoon artist on the planet.
David waited until his father had stopped singing before speaking again: "I'll go get my video games for you to hide," he whispered.
But Alvin shook his head. "Forget it," he replied, catching David's attention. "You're not grounded anymore."
"I forgot what the mess was. End of discussion."
His son did not argue the matter any longer. David let out a sigh before closing his eyes and setting his head back down against his father's shoulder. He kept it there even when Alvin spoke up again:
"… Wanna go skip stones over the water on the beach? Just you and me."