Our coming home party/reception turned out pretty much as I expected. I told my mom not to make it fancy, and if she could limit the guests to relatives only, Star and I would both appreciate it. I thought we'd have a little time for ourselves once we arrived home, but that's not the way my mom operates. The whole family was waiting as we pulled up into the drive. We were immediately ushered out to the back patio to cheers and applause where the party was already in full swing.
I could hardly believe my baby sister had grown up so much in my absence. Bluebell was bubbling over with excitement about her new school, which she had started only a short while ago. I could stand there and listen to her all day, but soon I felt a tap on my shoulder.
"Hey Bro! Did mom tell you? I'm out on my own - Uncle Song got me a job at the newspaper, and I have my own place now. You gotta stop by and visit sometime!"
I listened for a while as Juniper enthused about his new place, and marveled at how much things had changed while I was away. I glanced around, feeling even more out of place than usual.
There was Peony, who was really my aunt but felt more like my sister, and her husband Khalid. Their daughter Chelsey was around somewhere, I guess - most likely off playing with Bluebell.
Star seemed more at ease than I did, chatting it up with my mom...
....and my Aunt Lotus. My cousin Winter was all grown up too - the last time I saw her she was just a little kid.
I wandered over to where my Uncle Song was standing off by himself. He, at least, had not changed at all. I wanted to thank him for his timely advice, which at lead me to Hidden Springs, and to Star, but to my surprise, he spoke first.
"I want you to be the first to know," he said with a grin that practically split his face in two. "I'm getting married, and it's all because of you. You inspired me, you know - defying all logic and going off on your wild goose chase - and coming home with not only a wonderful wife, but with another key to our family's past."
We chatted for a while longer, me about my travels, and he about the new love of his life, as the party wound down around us. Eventually he said goodbye, and Star slipped up behind me and whispered in my ear.
"I'm getting sleepy, where's our bedroom?"
I led her down the steps to my basement hideaway, and we were immediately greeted with the raucous sounds of an intense pillow battle. So that's where Bluebell and Chelsey had disappeared to.
"Okay you two!" I laughed. "This is my room again. Scoot!"
After the girls cleared out, I turned to Star.
"So, what do you think?"
She was silent for a moment.
One look at her face, and I could see that something was wrong.
"You don't like it, do you? We can redecorate, anyway you like."
She perked up a little at that, but doubt still filled her eyes.
"But Cy, there's no windows..."
I mentally slapped my forehead. She was right, as usual. It was just a tad gloomy down here.
I didn't much care where I slept. So, after a short conversation with mom, I had a new plan.
"What do you think of this bedroom, love? It used to belong to my grandparents. My grandmother's plants are still here, even. It's ours if you like it."
I waited expectantly for her reaction. I was not disappointed. She loved it!
A short while later, we were settled in. I pulled my Star close.
"Are you still sleepy?" I whispered with a slight grin.
She grinned back.
"Not that sleepy. Shall we start working on that big family we talked about?"
After our initial adjustment, the days passed quickly by. Magic turned out to be a champion snake hunter. I never knew we had so many snakes in our yard!
Pixie surprised Star one day by dropping a poor little bird at her feet. Fortunately it appeared to be fine, except for a few broken feathers.
We bought a cage for the tiny thing, until its feathers could regrow and he could safely be returned to the wild.
A few of Magic's snakes ended up in terrariums as well. In fact, the whole art room soon was filled with a variety of little animals.
Bluebell quickly became Star's best buddy, and I always knew where to find the two of them - cuddling, or cleaning, or feeding one of a myriad of tiny creatures.
There was one promise I had made to my Star, that I hadn't kept - not yet anyway. But this morning, I was ready. I'd done my research, and finally found what I was looking for.
"I have something to show you," I smiled as I took her soft hands in mine. "It's only a short drive, come on!"
I could hardly contain my excitement.
"What do you think? Do you like her? Her name's Azalea."
I held my breath as she gently extended a hand for Azalea to sniff. Azalea nickered softly, and Star's face broke out in a huge smile.
"I think she likes me!"
"Of course she likes you. How could she possibly not? You're irresistible."
As Star maneuvered Azalea around the scattered hay bales in the field, I noticed a golden brown pup. He'd been at the stables, too. He must have followed us here.
"Hey buddy, are you lost?"
I reached down to pet him, and he seemed to bask in the attention. He was a little on the thin side, and his coat was matted and dirty.
"You are lost, aren't you. You wanna come home with me?"
And that is how Azalea and Lucky came to join our little family.
We bought Lucky a big fancy dog house.
But he much preferred sleepy on the living room sofa, and I didn't have the heart to kick him off.
The fancy dog house didn't go to waste, though. Magic and Pixie found it fascinating.
They spent endless hours in there, doing who knows what.
Until one day, I heard Star shriek with excitement. I came running as fast as I could.
There, in our bathroom, Pixie had just given birth to four tiny kittens! Star was thrilled, and papa Magic looked on with quite pride.
But later, after the excitement wore off,and the new kitties were bedded down for the night, I found Star sobbing softly to herself on the bed.
"Star, love. What's wrong, sweetheart?"
Sniffle. "I'm sorry, Cy."
"There's nothing to be sorry about, love. Tell my what's wrong?"
"It..it's just.. seeing Pixie's babies.. it reminded me...we've been trying for a long time now, and I'm still not pregnant... what if... what if .. ."
Tears started dripping out of her eyes once more, and I pulled her close in comfort.
"Aww, sweetheart. Sometimes it just takes longer than others, I think. I don't think we need to start worrying just yet. We just need to relax and keep trying."
She smiled a little then.
"You're probably right. We could try right now, how about that?"
I smiled in return.
"Your wish is my command, my love."