“Gus?” Tobi opened the bedroom door slowly and stepped inside. His son was sitting on the edge of his bed, seemingly lost in thought. “Aren’t you coming downstairs? Everyone’s been asking for you.”
“Yeah.” He replied softly. “I’ll be down in a few minutes.”
With a heavy sigh, Tobi drew closer, taking a seat on the bed beside his son. “Come on, Gus. Talk to me.” He said seriously. “I thought… I thought things were back to normal between us now.” The man bit his lip uncertainly.
He still felt so much guilt and shame for the way he’d reacted to learning the truth about Gus… But they’d worked through it, and he’d finally earned his son’s forgiveness. Or at least, he thought he did.
Gus shook his head slowly. “They are, Papa.” He assured him. “I’m not mad anymore, you know that. But… this isn’t about that.”
Tobi nodded in understanding. He knew exactly what Gus was afraid of. “You don’t have to tell any of them, you know.” He replied softly. “There are a heck of a lot of people downstairs who love you, Gus. You’re still the same person you were the last time you saw them… Nothing’s changed. Just be yourself.”
It was a few moments before the boy finally replied. “You’re right.” He spoke at last. “I should at least give it a try.” Gus smiled softly. “Thanks, Papa.” He rose to his feet and pulled his father into a tight hug.
“Alright, let’s go.” Tobi gave his son a warm smile and led the way to the bedroom door and out to the upper landing. The sounds of music, laughter, and conversation filled the air already, carried up the stairs from below. Father and son gave each other one last smile before finally heading down to join the rest of the family.
“Auggy!” Stefan threw his arms wide at the sight of his nephew. “Jesus, did you grow another three inches since the summer?”
Gus laughed softly as his uncle gave him a quick hug. “Maybe two.” He admitted.
“Watch out, Tobi. This one’s catching up to you.” Josh laughed softly as he spoke.
The boy shook his head, smiling. “Hopefully not… Some of us prefer not having to duck to get through doorways, grandpa.” Gus said with a small smirk.
Josh chuckled heartily and opened his mouth to reply, but was interrupted by a loud cacophony of notes coming from the music room. “What the hell?” He muttered under his breath.
“Oh God, okay. Stop, honey. Stop.” Mari’s voice called out over the horrific playing. “Let’s… Let’s try again, okay?”
Stefan sighed, stepping toward the doorway to his right. “Sounds like Austin found the piano… I told Mama it wasn’t a good idea!” He shook his head. “I’ll be right back.”
“Y’know, now might not be the best time for a lesson…” Jonas said gently, smiling down at his grandson. “I bet Oma would love to try again another day… Maybe when there are less people?” He suggested.
Before the little boy could reply, Stefan had appeared at his side. “Opa’s right.” He told his son firmly. “You know what mom and I told you about touching Oma’s piano.”
“But she let me!” Austin insisted. “And I almost have it… I’m SO close!”
Mari sighed softly, but smiled. “Looks like we’re outnumbered, kiddo. We’ll try again another day before you head back home, okay?”
The boy bowed his head in resignation. “Okay.” He hopped off the piano bench. “Thanks anyway, Oma.”
“Any time.” She smiled as she watched him head for the hall.
“My ears thank you for putting an end to that.” Stefan laughed. “He definitely shares your enthusiasm for music, Mama… But he’s got a long way to go before his playing isn’t headache-inducing.” He said with a smile.
His parents exchanged a significant glance. “So… would now be a bad time to mention what we got him for Christmas…?” Jonas asked nervously.
Stefan simply laughed in reply.
A loud burst of laughter escaped Colette’s lips as her stepmother placed the plate of fresh cookies on the counter. “Ich weiß!” She said, shaking her head. “Ich kann gar nicht fassen dass sie mich jetzt so damit überrumpelt!”
Rachelle just smiled. “Deine Mutter war bestimmt nur nervös. Klingt so als wäre das seit einiger zeit mal wieder eine ernsthafte beziehung für sie.”
Colette nodded. “Stimmt! Ich freue mich so für sie. Ich würde diesen Kerl aber echt gerne mal treffen! Ich wünsch mir sie hätte ihn mitgebracht…”
Austin approached the counter curiously. “Your mom’s nervous?” He asked. “And… you said you wanna meet someone? Who?” He looked back and forth between the two women, wondering what they were saying and wishing his father had taught him more German.
Colette and Rachelle just laughed. “Oh no! The spy cracked our secret code.” Colette smiled as she addressed him in English. “Here. In exchange for your silence.” She winked, offering him a cookie.
“Danke!” A deep male voice said, reaching out and taking a cookie from the plate. Florian had snuck into the kitchen nearly undetected.
“Hey!” Austin cried indignantly.
He glanced down at Stefan’s son. “Er, I mean, Thanks!” He corrected himself quickly.
Austin rolled his eyes. “I know what danke means… The ‘hey’ was for the cookie!”
Florian smiled. “Just making sure.”
“Taking a break from all the baby talk?” Rachelle teased as she watched Austin skip out of the room, still chewing his cookie.
The young man nodded, sighing softly. “It’s all anyone wants to talk about! Ugh…” He paused for a moment. “Plus Clara wanted something to eat… Mind if I grab another one?”
“Take two.” Colette smiled. “She’s eating for three after all.”
“So remind us when you’re due again, Clara?” Gabriela asked her niece sweetly.
Clara forced a smile as she took a bite of one of the cookies Florian had brought her. This was the third time she’d been asked within the past hour and a half. “April 18th.” She repeated.
“Is it okay if I touch your tummy again, Auntie Clara?” Stefan’s daughter Cierra asked softly.
The young woman rose to her feet. “Go for it, kiddo.” Her smile came a bit easier this time.
“So Clara, have you decided what you’re going to do?” Amelie asked in her thick French accent. “Colette had her twins by c-section… So much easier, don’t you think?”
“Your Mama had Tobi and Stefan naturally, and it was fine for her.” Lina countered. “You need to do what’s best for you.”
Jesus Christ, can we please stop talking about how I’m getting these babies out of my uterus? What the hell is wrong with these people?! “Heh. Yeah, I guess we’ll see.” She muttered uncomfortably.
“Oh, Florian! There you are!” A familiar voice called from the doorway. “Luc was looking for you.” Jocelyne smiled. “And you too, Clara.” She added quickly.
Clara and Florian didn’t need telling twice. They headed toward the doorway with a bit more enthusiasm than necessary, leaving the women to chat and gossip without them.
“He didn’t really ask for us, did he?” Florian muttered as soon as they were out of earshot.
Jocelyne shook her head. “Nope, this is a rescue mission.” She laughed. “You both looked like you could use some saving.”
“Oh my God, thank you.” Clara laughed. “I was seriously gonna lose my freaking mind if I was in there another minute.”
They found Lucas chatting with Diego in the study, sharing some stories from the adventures he’d had on tour.
“That sounds amazing.” His grandfather said seriously. “Hopefully it won’t be too long before you’re able to do it all again.”
Lucas nodded eagerly in agreement. “We’ll see what happens. Maybe this time next year, once Clara’s had the babies and things are a little less crazy.”
“But until then,” Florian chimed in, “Things might be rough for a bit.” He admitted. “We’re, uh, actively looking for some replacement bandmates.”
“Yeah, good riddance.” Clara said bitterly. “I never liked those assholes anyway.”
A few minutes later, after Diego had excused himself to go find his wife, Clara and Jocelyne quickly got to grilling Lucas about his new girlfriend, who still had yet to make an appearance at the party.
“Are you sure she’s not imaginary?” Jocelyne teased her brother. “I’m starting to get a little suspicious.”
Beneath Jocelyne’s teasing, part of her couldn’t help but feel a bit jealous. No one but Clara even knew she and Mark were together, let alone had the chance to meet him. Someday. She told herself. But when?
“I can vouch for him.” Florian chuckled. “Don’t worry.”
Lucas smiled at his sister. “She doesn’t exactly live in the area.” He explained. “Until we move into our new place, she’s gotta drive a few hours to get here… But she should be here any minute.”
“I still can’t believe you convinced your parents that letting her bring her family with her was a good idea… Isn’t that moving a little fast?” Clara asked.
Her nephew just shrugged. “She’s getting to meet my entire extended family in one go… Seemed only fair for me to get to meet some of hers too, right? And it’s not like she’s bringing a small army with her or something. Just her Papa.”
Jocelyne furrowed her brow in concern. “What about her Mama?”
“She hasn’t been around since Hazel was a baby.” He explained sadly. “Probably not a good idea to mention it to her, actually… Anyway, her Papa seems pretty cool from what I’ve heard though.” Lucas perked up considerably then. “I even got to talk to him on the phone one time. He’s hysterical!”
“That sounds nice.” His sister smiled. “I can’t wait to meet him.”
“Well, actually… You might’ve already met.” Lucas laughed. “I can’t believe I forgot to tell you guys.” His eyes flicked between Jocelyne and Clara for a moment. “Her dad works at Falkenburg University. Isn’t that where you guys go?”
“It is!” Jocelyne laughed. “That’s kinda funny!
“Hopefully I never failed one of his classes, though.” Clara added with a wink.
“Nah, he’s not a professor.” Lucas’ gaze turned toward his sister excitedly. “Actually, Joce, he –”
His words were cut-off by the sound of the doorbell. “That’s them!” He practically leapt to his feet at the sound.
Jocelyne smiled in amusement as she followed her brother toward the front door, eager to meet the mysterious Hazel at last.