“Huh?” Gus literally jumped as Noah’s voice called him back from his unpleasant daydreaming.
“Sorry.” Noah smiled gently at his boyfriend. “I was just trying to ask if your Schwester is bringing the girls with her tonight. I forgot to ask before.”
“Oh. Um… Yeah, I think so.” Gus shrugged slightly as he closed his textbook. It was no use trying to study any more – it wasn’t like he was able to focus anyway. “I hope you don’t mind… I told her it was fine since, y’know, we barely even see them once a year if we’re lucky.” He almost laughed. “May as well take advantage while we can.”
“Good.” Noah’s smile widened. “I was hoping you’d say yes. You know how much I love kids. And I guess it’ll be good to get to know them a little better before… Y’know.”
Before Jocelyne moves back home. Gus finished mentally. Under the worst fucking circumstances imaginable.
There had been a time, years ago, when Gus had felt so close to his sister. She’d been so loving. So compassionate. And when she first left Windenburg, Gus had wanted nothing more than for her to come home.
But the years had changed things so much. And though he still loved his sister, he felt so distant from her now. He could not bring himself to feel the same excitement as his parents and Clara at the prospect of Jocelyne’s return.
“Well, nothing’s decided yet.” He replied at last. “So don’t go planning some kind of homecoming celebration yet or anything.” He said sarcastically. “It sounds like she’s still gotta convince Elliot first, and I’m sure that won’t be easy.”
“Well yeah, but… I mean, she’s not gonna leave poor little Zayne hanging, is she? She wouldn’t do that.”
Gus just shrugged. “The old Jocelyne wouldn’t have… Hard to say what she’ll do or won’t do now. I wouldn’t put it past her.” Bitterness dripped from every word as he spoke.
“Babe, come on.” Noah sighed softly. “You don’t mean that.”
“I do.” Gus insisted, shaking his head. “Seven fucking years she’s spent shutting us all out of her life… And it took our own Bruder DYING for her to finally get her goddamn head out of her ass?!” He was on his feet now. “And now she just expects us all to welcome her back with open arms?! Christ, we don’t even know her anymore!”
Gus was suddenly aware of a slight wetness on his cheeks. Fuck.
“Come here.” In an instant, Noah pulled his boyfriend into his arms and held him close. It was a few minutes before Gus finally calmed down enough to speak again.
“Thanks.” He said seriously as he pulled away from Noah’s embrace at last. “I’m sorry. I just can’t deal with this all this shit right now. I mean, with Lucas gone and Jocelyne coming back and everything my family’s going through, I just… ” The young man shrugged helplessly.
“Hey, I get it.” Noah assured him. “So you don’t have to don’t apologize, okay?”
Gus simply nodded.
“But… Um… if you don’t mind me asking.” Noah continued uncertainly. “Why did you invite your Schwester for dinner, again?”
A small laugh escaped Gus’ lips in spite of himself. “Because maman guilted me into it.” He confessed. “I guess Jocelyne’s trying to get the girls used to the family while they’re visiting… I mean, we barely even know them.” The past Christmases spent with Jocelyne’s daughters had been very nice, but definitely not enough for Gus to form much of a meaningful connection with his nieces. “So she thought it might be nice for them to spend some time with us. And how could I say no?”
“To your Mama?” Noah laughed. “Oh God… You can’t!”
“Mmm…. This pizza is really yummy, Onkel Gus!” Charlie smiled from across the counter.
“It’s good, isn’t it?” Gus smiled at the little girl. “This is my favorite pizza in all of Windenburg. Probably all of Germany too.” He explained with a laugh.
“And that’s saying something.” Noah chimed in as his boyfriend began chowing down on another slice. “Because your Onkel loves pizza.”
Jocelyne nodded enthusiastically. “When we were growing up, every time we ordered pizza, we always had to order an extra.” She told her daughters with a smile. “Because Gus could finish one all by himself! Do you remember that?” She asked him.
“Of course!” Her little brother nodded, laughing heartily. “But maman always forgot Lucas and I both loved pepperoni… So she never ordered enough for the two of us.”
“Oh God, Luc used to get so mad if you didn’t leave him any… Oh! Remember the time he tricked you into eating a slice of Opa’s anchovy as revenge?”
Gus nearly doubled over in laughter. “Ha! YES! Are you kidding? My tastebuds will never be the same again.”
“God, I miss those days…” Jocelyne wiped away a few tears as she spoke, her laughter finally subsiding.
Gus couldn’t help but wonder whether all of her tears were from laughter.
“I liked that story.” Tony smiled softly at her mother. “How come you never told us about it before?”
Beside her sister, Alex nodded in agreement. “Yeah, Mommy… I wish you’d tell us more stories about you and Onkel Gus and Onkel Luc.”
“And Tante Clara too!” Charlie added. “How come you don’t talk about ‘em more, Mommy?”
Gus and his sister exchanged a significant glance. He knew exactly the reason why, of course. But what could they tell the kids without making things awkward? Or leading to even more questions? Great, how the hell are we supposed to answer that one?
“You guys want stories?” Noah grinned playfully at the children, breaking the silence. “How about one of my favorites?” He turned to face his boyfriend. “Auggy, why don’t you tell the girls about the time Emma dared you to climb into the kangaroo exhibit at the zoo?”
Gus couldn’t help but laugh. “Oh my God, I thought we agreed we weren’t talking about that anymore!”
Jocelyne appeared visibly relieved at Noah’s save. “Oh, that is a good one! He was banned from the zoo for a year after that!” She shook her head, laughing. “I’ll never forget the look on maman and Papa’s faces when they found out.”
“I know!” Noah laughed. “I was there, remember?”
“Oh, right!” Jocelyne’s smile widened. “You guys were on a class trip, weren’t you? Before you and Gus got together…”
It was clear that the girls were already captivated, and Gus could tell that their previous concerns had fled their minds. And this is why I love him. He caught Noah’s eye for a moment, and, below the counter, reached out and squeezed the other man’s hand. “Thank you.” He mouthed.
“Wait a minute…” Tony’s soft voice called Gus’ attention back to the story. “Onkel Gus, how old were you when you got in trouble at the zoo?” She asked.
“Eight?” Alex guessed. “Ten?”
Her uncle shook his head, smiling. “Fourteen.”