“Aw, you won again!” River smiled brightly at Zayne as she spoke. She rose to her feet, leaving the Void Critter game behind. “You’re soooo good at this!”
Her brother nodded in agreement. “Do you wanna play again?” Remi asked kindly.
The younger boy shook his head. “We already played a whole buncha’ times. I think Bruce is bored.”
Zayne used his imaginary friend as an excuse, but in all honesty, he was the one who was bored. And they’ll pro’lly just let me win again… Though he appreciated that Remi and River were tyring to be nice, winning every time was starting to get old.
“Okay.” The little girl smiled happily. “What does Bruce wanna do now?”
“I dunno.” Zayne shrugged. He fell silent for a moment, thinking. But he wasn’t thinking about what to do next. “Do you think Tante Joce’s kids like playin’ Void Critters too?” He sat down on the couch as he spoke.
Zayne had only met his cousins a small handful of times in his life – even since the Bad Thing, he’d only gotten to see them once. And the language barrier made playing together nearly impossible. Zayne wanted to know them better, especially if they would really be moving to Windenburg, like everyone kept saying. But it was so hard.
Remi nodded enthusiastically at Zayne’s question. “Yup! Me ‘n Riv traded some cards with them a couple weeks ago when they came to visit with Tante Jossy.”
“You did?!” Zayne asked, surprised. “How? They don’t know how to talk right. They talk English.”
A small laugh escaped River’s lips. “Uh-huh! But Mama taught me ‘n Remi how to say some English stuff.” She explained. “And I think Tante Jossy told them how to say some stuff in German too. They were tryin’ really hard. We could tell. It was kinda tricky to figure out what they were saying. But fun too! They’re nice!”
“Tony acted like she was a little scared of talkin’ German though.” Remi added. “And Alex was gettin’ kinda mad when she didn’t know what we were saying… But yeah. They’re still nice! Tante Jossy is too.”
“Yeah, Tante Joce was really nice t’me the las’ time she came.” Zayne replied. “An’ I’m happy her kids are nice too… An’ like Void Critters.” He only wished he knew how to talk to them. “Do y’think it’s true? Are they really gonna come live here?”
The other little boy nodded. “That’s what Mama and Papa told us. And I’ve heard Mama on the phone with Tante Jossy too. Talkin’ about movin’ and stuff.”
“And I guess she really has to come here, right?” River chimed in. “I mean… she’s kinda gonna be your new Mama now.”
Zayne’s eyes widened at the girl’s words. “New Mama?!” He shook his head. “But I don’t need a new Mama! I already have a Mama!”
“I know you have a Mama, but…” River’s voice was pained. She turned toward her twin as though searching for help.
Remus took a deep breath. “Your Mama’s gone now. She died. So you need a new one to take care of you.”
“No I don’t!”
“Yes you do.” River insisted. “Everyone needs a Mama!”
All the color drained form his face. Zayne clenched his fists at his sides, his entire body trembling. “Shut up! You’re a LIAR! I already HAVE a Mama! I don’t NEED a new one!” He shrieked. “My Mama’s comin’ HOME! She’s NOT GONE! YOU’RE LYING!”
“Hey, hey! What’s going on in here?” Florian emerged from the basement just as Clara rushed in from the kitchen.
“Everything okay?” The woman’s brow furrowed as she spoke.
River shook her head. “Zayne’s being mean!”
“Yeah! All we did was tell him Tante Jossy’s gonna be his new Mama!” Remi whined. “And he started yellin’ at us!”
Clara held her face in her hand for a moment. “Oh God…” She exchanged a glance with her husband, who quickly rushed to Zayne’s side.
The tall blonde man reached down and gently took the little boy by the shoulder, guiding him to the other side of the couch while Clara began speaking to the twins in hushed tones.
As soon as they were not in the line of sight of the others, Florian bent forward, reaching a comforting hand toward Zayne’s shoulder. “They didn’t mean it.” He said softly. “Remi and River love you. You know that. Right, buddy?”
Zayne simply shrugged. “I just don’t like everyone sayin’ Mama and Papa are gone. They’re comin’ back.” He whispered. “An’ I don’t need a new Mama. I already got one.”
Florian seemed to hesitate before replying. “You’re right.” He said at last. “You don’t need a new Mama. You already have a Mama who loves you more than anything. And a Papa who loves you just as much.” Florian’s voice cracked. He paused, clearing his throat and blinking his eyes a few times before he continued. “But they had to go away, remember? They can’t take care of you anymore, so Tante Joce is gonna help you. That’s what Mama and Papa wanted her to do. And she’s gonna do a great job taking care of you. But that doesn’t mean she’s your new Mama, okay? I promise.”
“Okay.” Zayne replied softly. He tried to smile. “Thanks Onkel Florian.”
“Zayne?” River stepped around the couch uncertainly. “Me ‘n Remi are really sorry we made you mad. We didn’t mean to.”
Her brother nodded. “Yeah, we said everything all wrong and we’re sorry. We promise we didn’t wanna make you mad.”
The redheaded boy nodded. His anger had all but faded away already. Now he just felt sad. And lonely. He wanted his Mama and Papa.
No one spoke for a few moments.
“Hey, I know what might cheer us up.” Florian finally broke the silence, smiling softly. “Who wants to hear the new song I’ve been working on?”
“Ooh! Me! Me!” The twins cried out in unison.
Zayne just shrugged. “Okay.”
Clara rolled her eyes “Okay, you were totally looking for any excuse to play it for us, weren’t you?”
Florian shrugged innocently, earning a bright burst of laughter from his wife.
“Alright, alright… Let’s go downstairs and see what Papa’s been up to.”