Septemus 73

Saturday Night with Sis

pandavisit21

“Hi, Mr. Sevens!”

Panda arrived on a purple cloud of enthusiasm. We’d been preparing all day for her visit. Pops made a fresh batch of ice cream, I cleaned the house, and we all took naps so we could stay up all night, if we wanted to.

Pops laughed at Panda’s politeness. I don’t think he’s been called Mr. Sevens since… ever.

“‘Sebastion’ is fine,” he said. “And welcome, Pandora.”

She giggled.

I kept trying to think of jokes, but, really everything was funny without them.

“I almost got lost on my way,” she said, “but I asked a strawberry bush for directions. Plants are very helpful here, don’t you think?”

pandavisit20

“I like strawberry!” Octy said. “Berry funny!”

We stood out in the yard and talked about everything: Harmony and her bees, the trip from Forgotten Hollow, Caleb and his floppy hair.

When Panda found out we had a punching bag in the back, she got so excited. Harmony had been a boxer, and Panda couldn’t wait to give boxing a try. She ran inside, changed into her workout clothes, and dashed out.

Pops’ boxing gloves were huge on her!

“I think I’ve got smaller gloves inside,” I said, “like from when I was ten.”

She’s so fun to tease. She pretended she hadn’t heard me, but I saw her nose wrinkle.

pandavisit18

“I’ve gotta learn to defend myself. Mum said so. It’s fun, though, because I can pretend that I’m a superhero. BAM! Down goes the giant wasp!”

pandavisit19

She jokes, but when it comes down to it, she’s actually pretty serious about learning to defend herself. She doesn’t want Harmony to have to worry all the time. I won’t have to worry, either.

Gorgeous sis gets all sorts of attention, and soon, she’ll have a left hook to back up her “Move along,” when needed.

I’ve only been wanting to shop with her forever, since I first saw her in that adorable little kedi dress, so I cut short her boxing practice so we could run across the street to the clothing store before it closed. Just being around her makes me feel more trendy.

pandavisit17

The store was having a fitness special. Neither of us really needed more workout clothes, but it was fun to talk with the mannequins.

“Why, Miss Mannequin, did you forget your clothes?” Panda asked. “Don’t worry, I’m sure we can find some on the clearance rack.”

So many people hovered around us, listening in. I felt self-conscious, and the moods I picked up from them weren’t the most comfortable to be around. Is it xenophobia? Paranoia? Or is it just that they’ve never seen two good-looking teens like us in the same room before?

Salim was there, so I wasn’t really that worried. He’d have our backs, if anything ugly started up. But the others were strangers. And they didn’t seem all that friendly.

“I think they’re spying on us,” I whispered to Panda. “It’s because you’re so shiny!”

pandavisit16

Panda giggled. “What are they, magpies? If they steal me for their nests, I expect you to mount a rescue, ok?”

“Ever at your service!” I said with a bow. Then I whispered, “Let’s give them a show!”

“Freedom!” Panda shouted, and we jumped for a high five. That bought us a bit of space.

pandavisit15

Looking back on it, I guess we got a little wild. I mean, yes. We did. I felt giddy, and Panda was silly, and next thing I knew, we got out of hand.

“Where’s your nose?” she said, reaching out to grab it. “Got it!” she yelled, wiggling her thumb between two fingers. “Oh, wait. That’s not your nose. Your nose is much, much smaller!”

pandavisit14

A noogie-match ensued. Before I got thoroughly trounced, the sales clerk, who had a magnificent nose, quite grand enough to inspire nose-envy in tiny-nosed guys like me, told us to “take it elsewhere.” Something about inside voices, outside voices, and publicly sanctioned quiet areas.

“Let the paying customers shop in peace,” he muttered, as we tumbled out in a jumble of laughter.

Back home, Panda found an old rocket kit left over from grade school. She and Pops put it together. I brought out my homework, so I could be close, but still give them space, just the two of them.

pandavisit13

“I love chemistry,” I heard Panda say. “It makes sense. If you put things together in the same way, you’ll get the same thing every time! Unlike people – they get all messy at least half of the time.”

Pops was quiet. I’m sure he was agreeing inside.

pandavisit12

“I like the compounds, though,” Pops said at last. “Mix different elements and you come up with something entirely different. Surprising, even. You’re a charming surprise, you know, Pandora. A one-of-a kind, luminescent element!”

pandavisit11

As they were finishing up, Octy started fussing over at the doll house.

Panda got there before Pops or me.

“Hello, little Octypuss. What’s wrong?”

pandavisit10

“My doll wants up,” he said. “She lonely.”

Panda took the hint and hoisted Octy.

“Oof! You’re a heavy little thing, aren’t you? That’s good! It means you’re growing. Come on, sweetie, how about you give me a house tour?”

pandavisit08

He nestled his face into her hair.

I think Octy misses this, I realized, being snuggled by a woman. Pops and I give him loads of attention, but we seldom hold him like that. And we don’t smell good, like Panda does.

“Hair bubbo gum!” Octy said, happily gnawing on her locks. “Panda is berry yummy.”

pandavisit09

After the house tour, we sat on the porch and played chess. I admit, I suggested a two-player game so I could get her to myself again. I’ll share her a little bit, but I’m not ready to share her a lot.

pandavisit07

Pops put Octy to bed while we played and talked.

Four’s a good number. I decided that when Xirra stayed with us. With four, someone’s always got someone else, and nobody has to be left out.

“Can I have my knight eat your rook? You know, to gain its power?” Panda asked.

I just laughed.

“That’s how the vampires play it!” she said.

“It is?” I asked.

“… No,” she admitted. “I made it up. It’d be pretty cool, though, wouldn’t it?”

pandavisit06

It was nearly dawn, and I was starving.

When I came downstairs with my snack, Pops and Panda were sitting together, chatting.

“You want some ice cream, Pandora?” Pops asked. “It’s creamy vanilla.”

“With sprinkles and a cinnamon stick!” I added.

“I’d really love to try it, but I can’t risk it,” she said. “Stupid tummy.”

pandavisit03

“You’re skipping ice cream?” I asked. “With rainbow sprinkles? You not feeling well, mopagoto?”

“I think it’s more that my body isn’t used to its new shape yet. It’ll settle, I’m sure of it.  Until then, I’ll just have to live ice-creamily through you, bagoto. Still …”

pandavisit02

“Ah, well,” she finished, staring forlornly at my ice cream cone. “It’s fine.”

But it wasn’t. It was rude to eat in front of her, and I was too starving to quit now, so I took my ice cream cone, with all the sprinkles, back upstairs to finish.

pandavisit01

“Oh, well,” I heard Pops say before I reached the top step. “There’s more to life than ice cream!”

“That’s true.”

pandavisit04

By the time I returned, they were laughing like old pals.

“So then mum was being chased by all these bees, because they thought she was a flower! She kept yelling, ‘No! I’m not food,’ so I grabbed the smoke thing we use on their box and blasted her with it. She looked ridiculous, all foggy and annoyed, but at least the bees left her alone after that. I had to herd them out of the house and back into their little boxy home.”

“I’ve always wanted to be a beekeeper,” Pops said wistfully.

pandavisit05

When she left, shortly before sunrise, Pops made her promise to come back soon.

“Bring Harmony with you!” he said. “I’d love to meet another gotojo!”

“She’d love that! I promise, if you don’t like her, we know a thing that can reverse invitations. Caleb taught us it before she turned. She’s sweet, though, honest.”

Our home felt so quiet after she left. Pops went to the computer and started working on his novel. As the computer keys clacked, I pulled out the memories of Panda’s laughter and Xirra’s humming. Even Shésti’s sharp voice didn’t seem so bad.

It’s something to have a house full of the energy of beautiful women, old and very young. No wonder the rebels haven’t been defeated. Nobody can quell the power of the feminine.

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Author’s notes: Look! It’s Panda! We had such a great time when she visited! She really does sparkle, inside and out! All her actions in-game were autonomous, so this is her, in all her loveliness!

Many, many thanks to Thymeless for writing this with me! Panda’s portions of the dialogues were created by Thymeless, as were many of the ideas and sequences of pictures and events. We had a blast, and I hope we get to do this many more times in the upcoming sequel and over in Thymeless’s Pandora’s Box.

If you haven’t yet met Panda and Harmony, please head over to Thymeless Challenges to read Pandora’s Box! You’ll also enjoy Thymeless’s other stories there!

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Septemus 70

Missing Her

SeptLater01

Octy woke wailing.

“Mommy! I want Mommy!”

I want her, too. She left late last night.

I had hoped she’d stay. She transferred lots of money to Pops’ account so he could build that second story we’ve always been talking about. I guess the rebels have all sorts of intergalactic currency. I was secretly hoping she wanted us to build the second story so she’d have a room for herself.

She says she’ll be back, and we’ll have plenty of others who will need that room in the meantime. She’s a warrior, and she has work to do.

But right now, I hate the rebellion. It’s taken our Xirra from us.

SeptLater02

I went for a long, long run down along the river path. It’s the only thing I know that helps me settle my feelings.

My bare feet slapping the concrete become a meditation rhythm for me. Thoughts relax. Silence floats in. And out of the silence, words and songs. I hadn’t sung to my sister Panda since I got her letter.

SeptLater03

O! paPandamogoto!
Mogoto!

Little sister! You are strong!
You are brave!

When you’re scared,
And you sing,
That’s when your bravery
Casts a ring…

Little sister! Mogoto!
When I see you
You’ll be bagoto!

Come soon…
meet your new brother…

Come soon…
O! Awesome one!

On the wind
Comes my song
With the moon
Comes my song…

My sister
PaPandamogoto!

SeptLater04

Octy was in bed, sound asleep, by the time I finally got back home. I took a long shower. I put on my space suit. Sometimes, it helps my body relax and provides support, when this gravity feels too much.

I took out my math book and looked over the equations. So simple. So pure. When I think of the lists that Baxin’ivre made, I feel that he stripped life to its simplicity, not as a means of reduction, but as a means of amplification. Remove the clutter to see the essence.

Math helps my loneliness fade. My brother is sleeping. Our Xirra will return. My sister Panda will come visit. My pops is upstairs, hammering the frames that will support the walls that will form the room where guests will stay. I am someone with family to love: brothers, sisters, aunties, and more, who will come to visit, who can come to my father’s home when they want to rest and to feel loved.

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Septemus 53

7tupid No7e

Septeen1906

Lucas (aka Mr. Munch-Rasoya–ha!) “dropped by” today. Wouldn’t you know it, while I, in all my navel-less splendour, was playing on the slip-n-slide.

“Oh, yoo-hoo! Septemus!” He really did say that. Fortunately, I was checking my texts, so I could take a minute to breathe, i.e. stew.

Does he really think he can pop on over like this? Does he not know how I feel about his married self?

Septeen1601

I counted to tui.

“Oh, hey. Lucas, hi,” I poured on the charm.

Septeen1602

He looked a little off, actually. And, in spite of myself, I felt worried.

“You doing OK, buddy?” I asked. “You seem sort of drained. Coming down with something?”

Septeen1603

“I feel so weird,” he said. “I’ve been like this all day. Since last night. It’s the strangest thing, Sept.”

He told me an odd story. He and Raj took a day-trip to Forgotten Hollow.

“I’ve always wanted to go, ever since you told me about when you went there to meet your little sister, and Rajarooni likes old architecture, so we decided, why not? Fun little afternoon outing.”

They strolled the square, stopped by the library, and then–he can’t remember what happened next. Neither can Raj.

“It was like we just woke up, and we were still in the library, but somehow almost an hour had passed, and–it was one of those weird things.”

Septeen1604

He said his arm really hurt. You could barely see it now, but he said that yesterday, it had these weird scratches on it. The strangest thing was how quickly they healed.

“I still feel sort of… off. Like goofy, kind of!”

“Yeah, you look a little off,” I said. I lied. He looked adorable.

Septeen1605

“Oh, congratulations, by the way,” I said. And then, I couldn’t stand out there with him anymore. It hurt. He’s married. He’s cute and he’s married. He’s really cute. And really married.

I thought over what he said about his trip to Forgotten Hollow. Panda’s mum felt so concerned when I came to visit–vampire attacks. But that’s not real. That’s just the stuff of late-night movies.

Septeen1606

For some reason, Lucas invited himself inside. He followed me into the kitchen.

I wanted to say to him, “You don’t get to look at me with those eyes anymore. And maybe you should wear a hat when you’re around me. And what the yobasko are you doing in my kitchen, anyway, when you know how I feel about the idea of you in a kitchen alone with me!”

But I didn’t say any of that. I asked him if he wanted a glass of water.

Septeen1607

“Nah! I’m good!” he said.

Just for a moment, I let myself fall into the sound of his voice. I didn’t fall all the way, just into the vowels, and then I pulled myself out.

Septeen1608

I started dancing.

He started talking.

“Yeah, I’m sorry I didn’t have a chance to tell you about me and Raj,” he said. “We’ve been sort of seeing each other for a while. You’d like him. He’s a good cook. I like to wash dishes…”

I tuned him out. He kept talking. All I heard was the music.

Septeen1609

Pops came in and joined us. I shut my eyes and started to singing to my pagotogo. I just didn’t want to listen to him yammering away anymore. I wanted to remember who keeps me grounded: My pops. My little brothers. My sisters. Panda. Panda?

Septeen1610

I had a strange image just then, when I thought of Panda, of red, gray, black, and something very warm and very wet. Panda? Are you OK, paPandagoto?

I got an image of her cleaning the bathroom, a little sad, a little quiet, but OK.

Chin up, little sister!
Smile bright.

Panda star,
You’re all right!

“My arm kinda hurts,” Lucas said.

Septeen1611

He stepped behind me and grabbed a pile of dishes off the kitchen counter. Lucas, why do you have to look so happy, like nothing happened, like you and I can keep on going as if you weren’t married, as if my dreams weren’t shattered, as if everything were OK?

“You’re kinda cute, do you know that?” he said to me. “For a kid. You’re gonna make somebody a fine husband someday.”

Septeen1612

OH! Yobasko! Stupid nose! Just go wash your own dishes. I’m not sure I can have you in my kitchen anymore, Mr. Munch-Rasoyo.

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Author’s note: If you’re wondering about what happened at Forgotten Hollow during the interval that Lucas and Raj cannot remember, check out this chapter of Pandora’s Box!

Septemus 48

Septeen1007

Dear Panda,

I thought I’d write this letter to you in my head and see if you get it. Are you listening?

My pops writes me letters all the time. Sometimes I read them, but mostly I don’t. They’re sitting in a box in the closet, waiting for me. I have this idea that when I am very sad someday, I will pull out the box and read the letters, every single one.

Septeen1006

How do I know I will be very sad someday? That’s just the way life works, isn’t it? We’re happy. Everything is great. And then something happens. Something we’ve always tried to prevent, and we’re sad.

Septeen1005

But it doesn’t last. You know this, right? Even when you’re so sad you think that life might not even go on, or at least not the way that it did before, it changes, and then you’re smiling again.

Sometimes, I like to get mad. It’s a way to make the sadness go a little more quickly. I might yell and scream, “Yo! Yobaska!” You should try it sometime. It really helps!

Septeen912

Anyway, little sister, I wanted to write you in my head to thank you for letting me come visit. I think that might be one of the best times I’ve ever had. Seeing you was something.

Septeen1008

Thank your mum, too. She really is amazing.

I wonder sometimes what it would be like to have a mum. It must be especially nice. I bet her hands feel soft when she tucks you in at night or when she combs your hair. Of course, I don’t have any hair to comb! I do have a scalp to scratch, though!

Septeen1007

If you ever wonder what it’s like to have a pops, you could borrow mine–or you could pretend that he’s your pops. He is quite distinctly awesome. It’s hard to describe what it feels like to have him for my pops, but let me see if I can try, anyway.

Have you ever slept outside in the moonlight, and it feels like the nighttime cradles you in its starry cool fingers? And, at the very same instant, you feel like life is close and safe, while it is also vast and expanding?

That what it feels like to have Sebastion Sevens as my pops. It’s as safe as a cradle and as expansive as the universe.  My pops delivers the whole package.

Septeen1006

Come to think of it, Harmony feels like that, too.

You and I are lucky, little sis. We’ve  got the best in mums and pops.

I hope you get this letter I’m sending! I hope you’ll come see me when you’re a bit older and can travel.

Until then, you know how to find me. Just whistle.

Your brother in all things always,

Sept

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Septemus 47

Septeen906

Dear Sept,

You’re back from visiting your sister! I tried not to worry. I didn’t succeed. I worried.

But you came back safe.  You smelled like garlic, but you were safe.

Not every community is as friendly towards extra-terrestrials as ours is. I had no idea what you’d encounter out there. But you seemed thrilled with everything you found.

“Panda’s so adorable,” you said. “So smart, too!”

Septeen902

I had to ask about the garlic.

“It was Harmony’s doing,” you said. “Do you realize that she’s allergic to the stuff? She broke out in blisters. But she got it to keep me safe when I was travelling back home. And to keep us safe here, too.”

We’ve hung the wreath on the front porch and stored the garlands in the spice drawer. Our home smells like the cellar of an Italian deli now.

“She’s got that quality,” you said.

“What quality, son?”

“That same quality you have. The same as our bizaabgotojo. Where you put someone else’s needs ahead of your own. What’s that quality called, Pops?”

Septeen903

“That’s called being a parent,” I said.

“It’s the luckiest thing,” you answered. “The luckiest thing in the universe is to have a parent.”

You’re sleeping outside tonight. You said you wanted to be out there where you could feel connected to everybody. You’re such a big kid now, nearly a man, but when I checked on you , curled up on the park bench, sleeping out under the stars so you could hook into the dreams of your pagotogo, you looked like that same little kid who was entrusted to me, over a decade ago.

Septeen905

I often wonder what’s in store for you, for your future. Lucas has been coming by often, and I’ve seen the way the two of you look at each other, and the way you carefully avoid looking at each other.

I won’t ask if there’s something going on between you. It will become clear soon enough, and I’m not one who feels comfortable talking about these types of things.

Septeen901

You’re as moody as always. Sometimes, you’ll chuckle aloud while you’re writing, as if life is the greatest thing.

Septeen910

Then an hour later, I might find you looking forlorn.

Sometimes, I ask.

“There’s a lot that’s not right in the world. And a lot that’s not right in other worlds, too,” you said. “What’s the purpose of the not-rightness? Why can’t everybody just be kind?”

Septeen904

I asked if you’d read any Buddhist texts during your forays through the school and town libraries.

You hadn’t yet. I think maybe you’re ready. I know I’ve tried to protect you from suffering and from learning about hardship, sorrow, and danger while you were growing up. And I know, too, that it’s foolish to think that someone, even a parent, can protect a growing child from that.

That’s all part of life. Sure, a parent is someone who puts the child’s needs first. A parent is someone who will do anything–make any kind of sacrifice, even his own life–for the child. A parent is someone who will do everything to protect the child.

But no parent, not even Siddhartha’s parent, can protect against suffering, illness, danger, and death. Doing so would be to try to pull the child out of life–and even if we want to do so out of our misguided love, there is no way we can pull that off.

Son, you’re going out in the world now.  It won’t be long before you come back with all sorts of tales and all sorts of questions.

I think maybe I’ll get a few of my own Buddhist paperbacks from my college days out of storage and put them on the shelf. I think you might be ready for them.

Septeen907

We’re getting to the time where your questions are the sort I can’t answer anymore.

Love you, son,

Your Pops

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Septemus 34

sept2804

Dear Sept,

We’ve become good friends with our mail carrier. You call her our connector-person.

I suppose she is. Through her, I send my books off to the publisher and receive royalty checks.

We could write to anyone, drop the letter in the mailbox, and she’d help it to reach its destination.

“Have you ever thought how valuable your work is?” I asked her when she stopped by at the end of her shift.

“For real, right?” said Gunther. “You’re like a modern day hero. Better than a cop!”

sept2810

You were listening from the kitchen.

“How many people do you know?” you asked her.

She thought a moment.

sept2809

“At least two-hundred and twelve,” she replied.

“That’s a lot of people!” you said. “Pops, how many do we know?”

“Not nearly that many,” I replied, though, in actuality, when I think of all the kids I went to school with, all my classmates at college, all of Nonny and Poppy’s friends, the folks I’ve met at the forums, it might be close to that many. Maybe more.

“Think we could invite them all over?” you asked.

“Everyone we know?”

“Sure! Why not?”

“You mean like a party?”

“Exactly!” you said.

I have never been a party person. But we threw our first party. I cast the net wide and invited them all. And most of them came.

sept2849

Even our mail carrier came, dressed in a striped shirt and wide-brimmed hat.

I was not happy. Too many people in too small a space.

sept2850

But you were delighted.

“Lucas!” you yelled. “Hi, Lucas! You came! Hi!”

sept2848

Salim was angry. Some kind of romantic complication, I gathered. I was hoping the couples and triangles would save their expressions of affection for later, rather than stirring up so many feelings in such a small space.

But you seemed delighted by the emotional soup.

sept2847

You and Lucas disappeared into the bedroom for a while. When you came out, it looked like you’d planned something. He was watching you, and you were watching the crowd behind the door.

sept2845

Then you both began walking through the crowded room with your eyes closed. Was it a game you were playing? Are you teaching him talk-inside?

sept2846

I wonder if anyone else there could hear you broadcast your thoughts to them. You seem to have channels that you use. I can only pick you up when you send your words on my frequency.

We got through the party. I was so glad when everyone left. It felt better to have our house to the two of us.

While I picked up the dishes, I heard you singing.

Sometimes, I don’t know how you do it, you manage to sing in two parts. This was one of those times.

sept2844

In a room with lots of books
and lots of lists hung up on hooks

Star me, star you
Find me, find you

sept2842

I’m on a quest to look and see
Where are the heroes just like me?

Kedi, Kizuu, 
Have one, have two
I sing
with you
My friend, we two
Heroes.

sept2843

You have so many connections, my son, seen and unseen. For a solitary rook like me, it makes me happy to know that you are happiest when in touch with all your friends. Maybe if I were a master of talk-inside, I wouldn’t need so much space around me at all times. As it is, all I feel and hear is a distracting buzz.

Still got a lot to learn,

Your pops

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Author’s note:  Pandora’s song was written by Thymeless. You can learn more about Pandora and her mum, Harmony, by looking in Pandora’s Box. Also, why do I always fall in love with the beautiful mail carriers? This one is so gorgeous! Makes me long for the days of casting about for a legacy spouse!

Septemus 31

sept2840

Dear Sept,

You’ve developed a funny habit of checking the sinks. Fortunately, we’ve only got two, the kitchen and bathroom. You will stop what you’re doing–even if you’re deep in concentration. Then you head to the sink.

“OK! All good!” you say, when you see that the faucets are off.

“You don’t have to check them all the time, son,” I said.

“I know, Pops,” you said. “I’m just making sure.”

All right. It’s not a big thing. No cause for concern. And likely, you’ll grow out of it. And even if not, there are all sorts of people, all over the world, who check that the faucets are shut off. I bet half of them haven’t even been through anything close to what you’ve been through. So, one little quirk. It’s not such a big deal.

You also keep singing other people’s songs. Some of them are heartbreaking.

sept2837

Mum is hurting, don’t know why~
Come back, come back.

bizoo

“Don’t leave me.
Not alone. Not you, too.
Come back, come back.
Stay with me.”

“Whose song is that?” I asked you. While you were singing, I saw a flash of a little indigo girl.

“It’s Panda,” you answered.

“Is she? She’s not… is she imaginary?” I asked.

sept2839

“Of course not!” you answered. “She’s my sister. What makes her mom sick, Pops? Do you know? If something happens to her mom, can she come live with us?”

Oh, man. We’ve got such a little house. I’m not sure if the agency would approve of our taking in anyone else. I’m sure they’ve got their reasons for spreading out all you kids, keeping you all separate. I know they had their reasons for not giving me the contact info for the other parents.

sept2838

But what if something happened to me?

Where would you go?

I wouldn’t want you to go back to the agency. I’d want you to be with someone else who knew about you kids, who understood you, who would be patient with you and let you be yourself, without interfering.

sept2836

“Sure, son,” I said. “If something happens to Panda’s mom, or to any of your brothers’ or sisters’ parents, we can take them in.”

I could talk to Geoffrey. I’m sure he’d see my point.

“Oh, squeegee,” you said. “And anyway, she’ll be OK, right? Panda’s mom?”

You started singing softly, so I could barely hear.

“It’s safe, it’s safe now.
There’s time and wolfbane!
There’s tea and tisane…

sept2835

“For little girls
and Mamas
And sisters
and Papas.

“Don’t worry
little Pandas.
It’s safe. It’s safe.”

Oh, I will do all I can. That’s for sure.

Love you,

Your pops.

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Author’s note: Panda’s song was written by Thymeless. And what’s happening with Panda’s mum? Read Pandora’s Box to find out!