Connor did not think about his project again until his family was sitting down for dinner. His mother started to cut up the meatloaf. One look from her and he knew what was coming.
“How was your day honey?” she asked.
“It was okay. We started a family history project in my psychology class. I need to interview a couple of living relatives. Dad,” his father looked up from his phone. “Don’t you have an uncle from Romania? My teacher wants me to get in contact with him.”
Connor felt the mood in the dining room shift instantly. The air itself seemed to grow icy. If he had not been watching his father, he would have missed the sharp intake of breath and the furtive glance towards his mother. The tension mounted as the silence waned. Connor regretted asking the question. He felt dread settle around him as his father relaxed his clenched jaw.
“My uncle Gregor,” was all his father said before turning back to his phone.
Connor waited for more, but nothing came. He stared at his father in shock. Their family had always been open about everything. He never felt like he needed to keep secrets from his parents and they had never kept secrets from him until now. He was not sure what they were hiding from him, but he had to talk to Gregor in order to pass his class. He decided not to press the matter and do some research on his own.
The meal passed in silence and soon Connor found himself in the den. He was flipping through the old photo albums, making notes about hair color and other defining features. He knew one of the albums would have a picture of Gregor. His patience was rewarded when he found a tattered black and white photo. The photo was that of a much younger version of his great grandmother standing beside a young man. Someone with spidery handwriting had written their names and a date so faded that he could no longer read it on the back of the photo.
Connor smiled as he studied the picture. He had not known his great grandmother very long, but he only had good memories with her. The man standing next to her was wearing a soldier’s uniform and a grim face. He seemed tall with dark hair and haunted eyes. Somehow, Connor could tell that those eyes belong to someone who had already served their time in the military. Someone who had lost loved ones and returned home without them.
He quickly flipped through the remainder of the photo albums, hoping to get more information but finding nothing. He was going to have to talk to his father about reaching out to his uncle. He was not looking forward to pressing his father, but he was not willing to loose his scholarship over an awkward conversation.
Connor found his father in his study. His father’s law firm often overloaded him with cases, so most nights he worked from his study. He knocked on the open door before walking in. He felt like he was in the principal’s office at school.
“Dad, I can’t find any information on Gregor. I need to do good on this project,” Connor watched the same dark cloud cover his father’s face.
Connor found himself debating if it was worth it. The carpet mills provided a steady income and had a good benefits plan. He did not want to cause his father any strife, he just wanted to pass his class. He felt his determination grow as he waited for his father to answer. He did not want to get stuck in this town like all of the other athletes who peaked in high school.
“I do not know much about my uncle. As far as I know, he has never left Romania. Even when your great grandmother died, he refused to leave. I do not think he even has an email. You can try calling him, but you might want to consider getting creative,” his father slid a slip of paper across the desk towards him.
Connor took the slip of paper, careful to avoid his father’s eyes. His father who had just implied that he should cheat on a school project. He could remember being forced to return a stolen candy when he was younger. He could not believe this change. He could not imagine what would posses his father to encourage such dishonesty. A foreboding feeling filled his room as he looked at his phone. He was not sure he wanted to call Gregor if his father was so against it. He could easily make up dates and information and his professor would never be the wiser. Just the thought of cheating did not sit well with him. Reluctantly, he punched in the numbers.