Apollo had taken a liking to building blocks as well as video games, which Leia was happy about. She loved video games as much as the next person, but she didn’t want her son to be locked up in his room all day playing them. She had wanted him to have something he could do when the controllers were charging. His uncle Cyrus had personally picked out the building table for Apollo’s birthday present. He loved it, making uncle C earn some serious brownie points.
“Watcha building?” Leia asked as she leaned against the door frame.
“A house for the aliens to live in.” Apollo’s eyes never left his creation. His tongue was hanging out of his mouth slightly as it often did when he was concentrating.
“Mhmm, I don’t have any alien toys but I’m using the soldiers that grandpa got me. The blue ones are the aliens and the red ones are the people. The people are building houses for the aliens and the aliens are promising not to attack the people.”
“Really? That’s great. I’m sure the aliens are happy that they have some new friends now.”
“Yeah, this one alien doesn’t like the humans, but all of the other aliens are telling him that the humans are cool. Hey mom, does this look like a house an alien would live in?” He held up what essentially looked like a brick.
“Definitely. They should be happy that the humans are building them any houses at all. I’m going to go make some lunch alright? Do you still want to sell lemonade later?”Leia asked.
Apollo nodded his head, “Yes please! Uncle Rock Star picked me up some fruit so that you and me can make some juice to sell.”
“Where is uncle Rock Star?” Leia snickered at the name.
“He’s probably with Ambrose,” Apollo shrugged, turning his attention back to his crafting table.
Leia walked down the stairs and was met with Caleb and Ambrose, just as Apollo had said. The two had actually become quite close. Ambrose loved being by his uncle and Caleb loved being by Ambrose. He loved Apollo as well, but it was different with Ambrose because he had shown extra interest in Caleb. Caleb had told Leia that it was important to him to be the best uncle he could be because of the huge impact his uncle Elliot had in his life. Leia was just glad that Caleb was there to help her. He was her best friend, who was helping her get through the worst time of her life.
“Thanks for picking up some fruit for Apollo,” Leia touched Caleb’s shoulder as she passed him and made her way into the kitchen.
“It’s nothing. Apollo was really excited about selling lemonade, so I thought I’d make it easy for you guys.”
“Yeah, he’s trying to raise money for something but he won’t tell me what it’s for until he has enough money.” Leia was rummaging through the fridge.
“Maybe it’s a new video game?”
“He can just ask me for it. There’s no way he’ll make enough just by selling some juice. Games are expensive.”
“Or he could ask his cool uncle.”
“Stop Caleb, you’ve contributed enough to this family. You don’t have to dish out anymore money. The boys love you already.”
“I’m always going to spoil the boys. They’re my nephews, you know I will.”
“Can’t get rid of you, can I?” Leia smirked.
“Leia!” Caleb shouted.
“What?” she asked startled. “I was just joking…”
“No, look! He’s walking! Ambrose is walking!”
“Oh my gosh!” Leia squealed coming into the room. “His first steps! Caleb, this is amazing!”
After lunch, Leia had helped Apollo make some juice that he could sell at his fruit stand. They had been sitting there for a few hours, and the hard work yielded little profit.
“Nobody wants to buy any lemonade!” Apollo cried in exasperation.
“You know, I’m kind of thirsty. Can I have some apple juice?” SHe reached into her pocket for a dollar bill.
“Sorry, we don’t have any more apple juice. Uncle Caleb bought us out.”
“He’s your best customer!” Leia tried to cheer her son up.
“He’s my only customer! This is stupid, let’s just go inside!” He began to stomp his feet.
“We can try again tomorrow, don’t worry about it.”
“I’ll never make enough money at this rate!”
“Honey, look at me.”
“What?” He mumbled.
“What do you need money for? You know you can ask me if you need something.”
“I want my dad. The kids at school all have fathers, where is mine? When is he coming home? If I get enough money he can come home right? He can stop whatever he’s doing.”
Leia could see a tear forming in his left eye and she felt one falling from hers. “Listen to me baby, money can’t buy you everything. Daddy, he’s busy right now and he can’t come back until later. But he loves you so much and I love you too, and so do your uncles, aunts, grandparents and cousins. He’ll be back soon, I promise.”
“No he won’t, that’s why you’re crying!”
“He will come back! I’m crying because I love you and I’m so proud of you for trying to do something for your father. Let’s head inside and I’ll make us some brownies, alright?”
“I love you too mom,” He wiped his eyes and followed his mother inside.
Things began to pile themselves on top of each other in the Gray household. Garbage was scattered all over the kitchen and the plumbing was starting to become faulty. On the outside, Leia put on a brave face, but on the inside she could feel the seams of her family slowly pulling apart. Cyrus and Daisy were doing great. Their daughter would be starting school soon and they couldn’t stop sending pictures. She had a draw full of them. They were all happy moments, apple picking, halloween costume shopping for the first time with Tasha, her first day of school outfit, Tasha singing to her father. Leia loathed them. Everytime she got a picture she would gush about it to Daisy’s face but behind her back, she would fume. That should have been her, Noah, Apollo, Ambrose and Caleb. Even Lorie was doing well. She had met a nice guy and they were getting pretty serious. Leia hated feeling like this. She wanted to support her family, but every blessing in their life made her feel even more insecure. Her conversation with Apollo earlier had made her feel even worse. He had the most loving family, but he felt empty, and she felt empty. Having Caleb around was great, but he wasn’t Noah, and the only person who didn’t seem to feel that void was Ambrose, who was still too little to understand.
“Mama!” Ambrose giggled happily.
“Your first word!” She held his arms affectionately. “Your uncle is going to be so proud!”
“Ma….ma….Ma…ma!” He repeated as if he was practicing.
“Good job Ambrose, you’re doing great!” Leia smiled. Every time she saw Ambrose, she was reminded of her husband. He had the same messy pink hair as Noah.
“I wish your dad could see you in person.”
“Da….dah…dah…” Ambrose began to rattle off syllables. “Dadah?”
“Mommy loves you so much, honey.” She kissed his forehead affectionately.
The next day Apollo had invited Katherine over after school at his mother’s urging. She had wanted him to keep his mind off of everything that was going on.
“So, what do you want to do?” Katherine asked.
“Want to go swimming?”
“You have a pool? No way!” Katherine gasped.
“I’ll ask my mom if we can go in, come on!” He grabbed her arm excitedly and dragged her along with him.
“Did you see Tommy’s video online?”
“The pirate one!? It was awesome!”
“Marissa and Jamie thought it was so gross. Such girls.”
“Yeah, girls are so uncool! Except for you K.”
“K?” She asked.
“Yeah, it’s better than Katy. I don’t want to hang out with a Katy.”
“What are you wearing?” Katherine giggled.
“Look at my big muscles.” He grinned.
“Yeah, because blue is my favorite color, duh!” Katherine splashed Apollo. “Hey!”
“Can’t catch me!” She swam away quickly.
“Get back here!” Apollo laughed.
“Guys, come on in and eat some spaghetti!” Leia called out to them.
“I love spaghetti!” Katherine smiled.
Leia smiled watching her little boy grow up before her eyes.
Leia had brought Noah pictures and showed him home videos of the kids on her phone. It was a completely different world for Noah. It was like he was watching a movie play that he would never be a part of. The little toddler he saw was absolutely perfect and Apollo had grown up to be such a handsome boy. They were his boys, but it didn’t feel like it. Seeing those videos made it even harder on him. They kept him up at night, made his head spin. What was Ambrose’ favorite color? What did Apollo do for fun? Did Ambrose take after his mother? Did Apollo have any friends? He would think of these questions and fire them at Leia when he saw her. He soaked in all of the answers and had compiled them in a small book. He treated the book with such reverence as if losing it would mean losing his children. If you asked him five years ago if it was possible to love something you didn’t even know, he’d shoot you down, it was crazy. But now, it was all that rang true in his life. He didn’t know his boys, but they were all that mattered to him. Holding them and feeling Leia’s lips on his was all that was helping him to wake up in the morning.