Cinnamon brought her coffee and a dog-eared copy of Persuasion down to the basement where her grandchildren played.
Tomas had laid claim to Thalassa’s old red Ferrari.
“Drive like this,” he said, “up hills, down the ways, over the valley, round the curve. Don’t worry. You can’t crash because Master-Supremo-Driver-of-the-Year is behind the wheel! Together, we win!”
Marshmallow found Stellar’s pony, dragon, and princess doll.
“This is a friendly dragon,” she said. “You can tell because he’s got tiny wings and a little grin. You’re friendly, aren’t you, fella? He lives in the back with the swamp buckets, don’t you, Bug Puff?”
Cinnamon pretended to read while the children played.
“Do you like this house, Princess Spirulina?” Marshmallow asked the doll. “It’s huge, isn’t it? And everything is clean and it smells nice and it’s very warm, isn’t it? But don’t get too attached. You never know when there might be a new assignment and you and the pony and Dragon Bug Puff will have to move. But it will be OK. Because even if you move to some place crowded and smelly, and even if there’s no water and not much food and you have to pee in a bush, and everybody is standing around looking sad, it will be OK because you will all be together. And besides. You’re strong.”
“But I don’t want to leave,” said Princess Spirulina in a very high and sweet voice. “I want to stay here forever and always.”
Jacques stopped by to see if Cinnamon needed anything from the store on the mainland, for he was heading in to do some shopping the next day, and he ended up staying the afternoon to play with the children.
“Your house never used to be so messy,” Jacques said. “You’ve got toys laying everywhere!”
“That’s because before you were the only one playing with the action figures,” laughed Cinnamon. “Now you’ve got to share! That’s what you’re really complaining about, isn’t it?”
“We’re good at sharing, aren’t we?” said Thalassa.
“I am not so good at sharing,” said Marshmallow. “I only pretend to be when people are looking. But when I’m by myself, everything is mine, mine, mine!” She laughed and Cinnamon had to join in with her.
“Well, as long as you’re honest with yourself!” she said.
The children talked all through the evening meal. Tomas told the entire plot of a movie he watched before supper, where a mouse went to space and founded a colony until they discovered that the planet they lived on was made of cheese, and then he ate it, and they all fell into the sea. “But it was OK for there was a friendly sea monster who only pretended to eat them, for in reality, he spit them out onto the beach, and everyone was happy for ever and never went back to space.”
“But they did look up at the stars,” said Kumar.
Marshmallow was full of ideas for a puppet show that she wanted to put on the next day with her brothers, but the show was intended to be a surprise, so she spoke in riddles that nobody understood.
“It’s for the spoon!” she said, winking at Tomas. “Which rhymes with… ”
“Agh! No! The Moooo… ”
“Like a cow?” said Kumar.
Marshmallow buried her head in her hands.
After supper, the family moved into the living room. Tomas found Stellar’s modeling clay.
“What’s this for?” he asked his uncle.
“Sculptors use it,” Stellar said, “to make studies.”
Cinnamon gazed at her two children. It was quiet. Tomas worked the clay. Kumar and Marshmallow lay on their bellies on the rug, coloring in a Santa coloring book. Thalassa had put on Bob Dylan’s Christmas CD, and she sang along under her breath.
Cinnamon had so much she wanted to talk to her children about, and so much she didn’t want to talk to them about, and most of what she wanted to say and what she didn’t want to say revolved around the same subject: Steve. Or rather, the space that Steve used to occupy, which was now glaringly empty.
“I notice that Jacques’s been around a lot,” Thalassa said.
Stellar shot a quick look at his mom, then turned his attention back to the clay that Tomas was forming into what looked like the bust of an archaic military dictator.
“Who is that?” Stellar asked his nephew. “Castelo Branco?”
“Napoleon,” said Tomas.
“Mom?” asked Thalassa. “I said Jacques seems to be by a lot.”
“Oh, yes,” said Cinnamon. “He’s been a good friend. You know, he always was a good friend, even when you and Stellar were littlies. Do you remember his wife, Edie? She was lovely. Anyway, he’s been helping around, doing things that need doing, and sometimes, I return the favor and help around his place, doing what I can do, too. He seems to find comfort, knowing that Luna has a woman she can talk with, even if it’s an old woman like me.”
“You’re not old,” said Stellar. “And I’m glad you’re not alone.”
“What’s that you made?” Thalassa asked Tomas.
He handed her Napoleon.
“The ruler of the free world,” said Tomas. “Napoleon Bustanut.”
Soon it was time to tuck in the children. When Cinnamon finished brushing her teeth, she heard Kumar and Stellar on the landing.
“Where do you live?” Kumar asked his uncle.
“I used to live high in the mountains,” he said, “where the wolves sing and the pines moan.”
“That sounds interesting,” said Kumar. “And where do you live now?”
“Now I live here,” replied Stellar.
“I think you are very lucky,” said Kumar.