Zayne smiled warmly as he watched the little girl dig her fingers into the pink frosting. “Yum!” She cried, lifting a handful of frosting to her lips.
“Isn’t that delicious?” Charlie beamed at her daughter as she spoke. “Onkel Zayne made a special cupcake just for you!”
Dahlia giggled happily. “Onke’ Zay’ yum!”
“I’ll take that as a ‘thank you’.” Zayne laughed as he took another bite of the full-sized birthday cake he’d made for the rest of the family. “You’re very welcome, peanut. Happy Birthday!”
It was hard to believe that Charlie and Ben’s daughter was already turning two years old. He could still remember their wedding like it was only yesterday. Dahlia was born only about a year later… And now she was two! Talking! Walking! It almost made him feel old… He couldn’t even imagine how Charlie and Ben must have felt. Zayne chuckled to himself at the thought.
“How come I don’t get a cupcake?” A small voice cried from the couch across from him.
“Because it’s not your birthday, Leo.” Remi replied firmly.
The six-year-old simply whined. “But it’s not fair.”
“You will eat your cake and stop complaining or we’re going straight home.” Layla did not raise her voice, but Zayne noted that she’d seemed to have perfected the terrifying “Mama-glare”.
Leo looked like he wanted to say more, but seemed to think better of it. He continued pouting in silence.
“That was delicious, Zayne.” Mari slowly rose from her seat. “But I’m stuffed… I think I’m gonna fiddle around on the piano a little while I digest.” She laughed. “Leo, would you like to come too?” She drew closer to him as she spoke.
The little boy leapt to his feet eagerly. “Yeah! I wanna play music!”
“Moozik!” Dahlia cried out, clapping her hands. “’Yano! Yano!”
“You want to help play piano too?” Mari asked her great-great granddaughter warmly. Her eyes flicked toward Leo for a moment. “Do you mind if she joins us?”
Out of the corner of his eye, Zayne caught Remi giving his son a slight nod.
“Okay. I guess so.” The little boy replied at last.
With a smile, Mari scooped up Dahlia from her high chair and brought the two children into the music room.
“Thank God for Ur-Oma.” Charlie laughed. “I love that little thing to death, but she can be such a handful.” She shook her head.
Layla joined in her laughter. “Well, you saw Leo… So trust me, we understand. Kids are always a handful.”
“So of course, like idiots we’re having another one.” Remi teased.
“How many weeks left again, Layla?” Ben asked. “No offense, but… You already look about ready to pop!”
Charlie smacked her husband’s arm. “Ben! Be nice!”
He simply laughed harder in reply.
“Oh, I hear worse from Remi all the time, don’t worry.” She smiled. “About twelve more weeks. It’s coming up quick!”
“I’m assuming your parents plan on being around for when the baby’s born?” Charlie asked Remi.
He nodded. “Are you kidding? Mama would rather die than miss the birth of a grandchild.” Remi laughed softly. “They’ve been doing some crazy hippie meditation stuff in Shang Simla for like a month now. Mama claims they’re loving it, but I think Papa’s getting bored, to be honest… I doubt they’ll be there much longer.”
“Where are they off to next?” Zayne finally chimed in on the conversation. He was extremely grateful for the shift from parenting and baby talk.
Remi just laughed. “Who knows? Probably back here for a while to see the baby, then it could be anywhere. They’re even less predictable than Riv and Coleen!”
“Kind of makes you feel boring, doesn’t it?” Charlie asked, her voice teasing. “Your parents, River, Rory, Alex, Tony… It feels like half of our family’s always off having some sort of adventure.”
“And we’re the lame ones who stayed behind.” Remi chuckled and nodded in agreement.
Ben’s eyes suddenly turned toward Zayne. “Hey, speaking of adventure, what’s Hope up to this weekend?” He asked. “We were sorry she couldn’t make it.”
“I saw her spread in Vogue magazine last week.” Charlie chimed in. “She was stunning.”
Zayne laughed a bit uncomfortably. Even after all this time, it still felt strange when people he knew mentioned seeing Hope’s work. “Off on another shoot… In Paris!” He explained, smiling proudly. Ever since her cover shoot for Elle a few months ago, things had really been taking off.
“Incredible.” Layla shook her head in amazement.
“She promised to bring back something cute for Dahlia, of course.” Zayne added. “She really wished she could be here.”
“We understand.” Charlie assured him. “Her career’s important.”
Ben smirked playfully. “Though when given the choice between a fancy photoshoot in Paris and a 2-year-old’s birthday party… Well, I say free cake should always win.”
“Especially if you made it, Zayne.” Remi added as his laughter finally began to die away. “That was seriously amazing.”
“Nah, Hope gets spoiled with my cooking enough.” Zayne replied with a smile. “But thanks! Desserts are fun… I don’t get to play around with sugary stuff enough at work.”
“Speaking of which… How are things going, Mr. Sous-Chef?” Charlie asked.
Zayne rolled his eyes, but his smile never left his face. He’d gotten his promotion more than six months ago, and his family still made such a big deal about it. And while the title may sound fancy on paper, working as Denise’s second-in-command wasn’t much better than when he’d been a lowly line cook. In fact, in some ways, it was even worse. But he’d never let on to his family how unhappy he was.
“Not bad. But actually…” He reached into his pocket, retrieving his phone to check the time. “If I don’t leave now, they won’t be going so great anymore.” Zayne laughed. “Dinner shift starts in less than an hour… Denise will have my neck if I’m late again.”
“No worries. It was great seeing you, Zayne!” His cousin smiled warmly at him.
“You too!” Zayne rose to his feet. “Hope should be back the day after tomorrow… Maybe we can grab lunch later this week?” He turned toward Layla and Remi. “All of us, I mean.” He clarified, smiling.
Remi exchanged a brief look with his wife, who nodded. “As long as we can get a sitter, sure!”
“And Dahlia’s got three sets of grandparents dying to take her off our hands, so I think we’ll be covered too.” Ben laughed.
Zayne breathed an internal sigh of relief. As much as he loved Leo and Dahlia, it was nice being able to go out with his cousins without having to worry about entertaining the kids too.
“Sounds great. See you guys later then!”