“Can you believe that asshole? I was about two fucking seconds from kicking him out.” Jocelyne’s irritation was apparent, even over the telephone. “Whoever said ‘The customer’s always right’ has NEVER worked with people before. Ever.”
Clara nodded sympathetically, though she knew her niece could not see her. “Oh my God that guy sounds like a total piece of shit.”
Remus and River’s eyes snapped up to look at their mother the moment the word passed her lips. “Mami!” Their voices chimed together as they leapt to their feet and raced toward her, leaving their void critter game behind.
“Fuck. Shit. Wait, no, I…” DAMN IT, not again! Now that the twins were older, she and Florian had been trying so hard to watch their language in front of their children. And unfortunately they’d been failing… miserably.
Jocelyne’s laughter was so loud that Clara could still hear it, even though she’d dropped the phone to her side.
“Mami, you said a baaaaaad word! I’m tellin’ Papi!” River said disapprovingly.
Beside her, her brother laughed. “Well Papi was sayin’ bad stuff this morning at bre’fast. ‘Member?” He turned his gaze toward his mother. “Now you BOTH gotta put money in the swear-jar!”
Clara sighed, but couldn’t suppress a small laugh of her own. “You caught me. Y’know, at this rate, you guys will be able to cash it in in no time…”
“Yay!” The twins cheered in unison.
“Sorry.” Clara turned her attention back to the phone call. “Just having a Mama-moment… I’m sure you understand.” The girl laughed.
“Definitely.” Jocelyne agreed happily. “Tell those little rascals I say hello, by the way.”
“Why don’t you tell them yourself?” Clara suggested. She turned the phone on speaker-mode and placed it gently on the coffee table.
“Hey there, munchkins!”
Remus and River’s faces lit up at the sound of Jocelyne’s cheerful greeting. “Tante Jossy! Hi! Hi!” They shouted over each other excitedly.
“What’s up? I hope you two are being really good for Mama and Papa.”
River nodded enthusiastically. “We’re bein’ sooooo good!”
“So so soooooooo good!” Remus was practically bouncing up and down. “And guess what happened! Mami and Papi bought us bran’ new bikes!”
“They did! Wow! You must have been very good.” Clara could almost hear Jocelyne’s smile.
“Yup! And we rided ‘em all over!” Remus continued. “And we even goed the way to Onkel Lucas and Tante Hazel’s house! That’s like a million-billion kilo’mers away!”
“Not alone, obviously!” Clara cut in over the twins’ cries of excitement. “Florian was with them.” She clarified hastily.
Jocelyne just laughed.
“And then we had a race!” River chimed in before her brother could speak again. “And I was the winner and Remi was a LOSER! Haha!” She stuck her tongue out at him.
“HEY!” Remus burst angrily. “Well… Well you’re just a Blöde Kuh!”
“Excuse me?!” Clara’s eyes narrowed. “That’s it… Both of you owe money now.”
“No fair! Those kinda words aren’t swears, Mami!” River insisted.
Her mother was unconvinced. “They’re close enough.”
“Don’t argue with Mama, okay?” Jocelyne’s voice was soft and gentle. “I thought you two promised you were being good…”
“We are!” They cried out in unison.
Remus seemed eager to change the subject. “Tell us about the babies, Tante Jossy!”
“They’re not babies!” River corrected her brother. “They’re talkin’ and walkin’ and stuff, right?”
Jocelyne laughed. “They’re doing great. And you’re right, River. They’re three years old now, so they do a lot of walking… and talking too!”
Poor Jocelyne… I thought I had it bad with TWO! Clara could not help the thought that crossed her mind.
“Can we talk to ‘em?” The little boy asked. “I wanna tell ‘em all ‘bout the bikes!”
“Sorry, kiddo.” Jocelyne replied sadly. “They’re with their Papa this weekend.”
River furrowed her brow in confusion. “How come their Papa doesn’t live at your house, Tante Jossy?” She asked.
“Well, our Papi doesn’t live with us all the time…” The girl’s brother reminded her. “He goes away with Onkel Lucas when they’re makin’ music. Maybe their Papa likes makin’ music too!”
“Is he a moosician like Papi?” River asked.
Jocelyne hesitated before replying. “N-no… Um, it’s… It’s kind of tricky to explain…”
“Alright, you two. I think you’ve bothered poor Tante Jossy enough for one night.” Clara interrupted, keeping her tone light and casual.
“That’s okay.” Jocelyne’s gratitude was apparent in her voice. “I’ve gotta go get ready for my shift anyway.”
“Well, good luck.” Clara said. “Hopefully you won’t have to deal with any more jackass customers…”
“Talk to you soon.” Jocelyne said with a laugh. “Say hi to Florian for me… Love you guys!”
“Love you too.” Clara replied warmly. “Bye, Jocelyne.”
Even after five years, hearing her niece hanging up the phone never seemed to get any easier.
“Mami?” River asked softly as Clara returned her cellphone to her pocket and sat back onto the couch. “Can I ask you a quesson?”
“Of course.” She smiled gently at her daughter. Clara had a feeling the kids would have more questions about Elliot. And now that Jocelyne was not listening in, she felt much more comfortable broaching the subject.
But it wasn’t Elliot she asked about.
“How come Tante Jossy lives so far away?” The little girl asked. “Why is she all the way in ‘Merica?”
Clara bit her lip nervously. These were not the types of questions she’d been anticipating. “Well… Tante Jossy has a job there, honey. And her babies. That’s where her life is. With her family.”
“But we’re her family too, right?” Remus said sadly. “So how come she only visits at Christmas? I wanna see her all the time! And Charlie and Alex and Tony too!”
“She’s… She’s just really busy.” Clara assured them. She sounded anything but confident as she spoke. “But she loves us very much. And I know she loves our phone calls.” The young woman smiled. “We’re lucky we get to talk to her so often.”
“I guess… But how come she doesn’t talk to everybody like she talks to us?” Remus asked softly.
Clara’s smile faltered. “W-what do you mean, honey?”
The two children exchanged a significant glance.
“Well… Onkel Lucas always looks so sad when we talk ‘bout Tante Jossy.” River’s voice was persistent. “He makes a funny face every time we say her name.”
Her twin nodded in agreement. “It’s really, really weird, Mami. And one time we tried askin’ him about it and he got all quiet and sad and it made me feel sad too…”
Oh God… Is this conversation seriously happening? Clara cleared her throat uncomfortably. “Okay, so… A long time ago, Tante Jossy and Onkel Lucas had a… fight. And it really hurt their feelings. So they don’t really talk as much as they used to.” She explained. “That’s all.”
River’s brow furrowed in confusion. “But… Me n’ Remi fight all the time! And we still talk to each other.”
“Those are little fights, Riv.” Remus shook his head and leapt to his feet, suddenly frantic. “What if we have a really really big fight someday and we say all kindsa mean stuff and say bad names until the swear jar’s all full and then we stop talking too?!”
Without warning, the five-year-old burst into tears. And his sister was on the verge of following suit.
Jesus. Way to go, Clara. “Hey, hey, hey!” She crouched down to address her son. “You guys don’t have anything to worry about, okay? Because no matter what, Onkel Lucas and Tante Jossy love each other a lot. That never changed.” All she could do was hope that what she’d said was true. “And it’ll never change for you either… I know it.”
“Promise, Mami?” Remus asked softly.
“Now… Why don’t you two run downstairs and tell Papa to start getting ready for dinner, okay?” Clara smiled down at her children.
The twins skipped off to the basement without another word.