"Daddy, make him stop!" Meg complained loudly, whipping around to glare at the little boy who kept stepping on the heel of her new yellow shoes.
"Daddy make him stop." Gage mimicked, making a face at Meg.
"Enough!" Milliardo scooped up Gage and sat him on his shoulders. "Come on Gage, leave your cousin alone. This is supposed to be a fun day."
"FUN DAY FUN DAY IT'S NOT SUNDAY!" Gage sang out. "IT'S NOT MONDAY!" He grabbed the small baseball cap off his head and threw it to the ground. "Come back hat!" He called after it. "Uncle, it ran off."
Looking both amused and strained, Milliardo retrieved the hat and put it back firmly on Gage's head. "Leave it on this time."
"Because he said so." Meg snapped, trying to keep up with her father's longer stride.
"Meg, that's enough. Because I said so, Gage."
They caught up to Amy and her mother, who were already standing in line at the entrance to the main circus tent.
"Can we get pretzels?" Amy asked hopefully.
"Pretzels, popcorn, cotton candy, all the junk food you can eat." Milliardo promised.
"And you're the one who gets to stay up with them all night when they're sick." Lucrezia quipped.
"Ahh, it's the circus. What fun is the circus if you don't gorge yourself?" Milliardo wanted to know. "This one should be high on the vomit scale."
"The vomit scale. If you throw up at least three times after leaving, it's like a five star rating."
"Gross." Meg pronounced.
"Gross." Gage agreed. "Gross, gross, Meg is gross."
"Don't tease your cousin, Gage." Lucrezia scolded as they entered the tent.
They walked past several booths, on including a lecture on clowns. "Pancake make-up is your friend. We use a lot of it." one clown was saying. Gage craned his neck, looking interested.
"I want a clown." He announced.
"Clowns are people. You can't own people!" Amy laughed, reaching up to tickle his leg, and he giggled back. "I want a pet clown!"
"After we leave, I'll buy you a toy clown. Those are better. You don't have to feed them." Milliardo promised, finally reaching their seats, and lowering Gage into one, putting Amy between the boy and Meg.
"Drown the clowns. Drown the clowns." Gage warbled happily, waving at the other people sitting down around them, ignoring his aunt's strange look. "Drown, clowns. Drown."
"Stop laughing. You'll encourage him." Lucrezia whispered to her husband.
"I'm all for drowning clowns. They're creepy." Milliardo hissed back.
"Sit still!" Amy warned Gage, trying to pull him back down into his seat as he leaned over the back to chat with the young couple behind them.
"You are so cute." The woman was cooing over him.
"I know. I'm very cute." Gage agreed.
He calmed down after Milliardo flagged down a vender and started passing out food, content to smear his face and clothes with cotton candy. A few minutes later the lights dimmed and the show started. The children watched in amazement as the clowns and lions and acrobats filled the circle.
Gage tugged on Milliardo's arm. "I gotta go."Milliardo scooped him up and made his way out of the tent to the portable toilets. "Good boy. You're almost all grown up now." He praised after Gage was finished. Although still in diapers just in case, Gage was determined to train himself out of them as quickly as possible.
"Almost. I want a balloon."
"Okay, big guy. One balloon and then back to the show." Holding the boy's hand, he made his way over to a man selling them, weeding through a good-sized crowd. "What color do you want?" He asked.
Releasing Gage's hand and reaching into his pocket, he pulled out his wallet and paid for the green helium balloon, and then turned around to hand it to the child.
"Gage?" He called, staring perplexed at the empty space. "Where did you go?"
He listened for giggling, but heard nothing.
"Gage!" He called again, scanning the crown, every small face. A few people looked concerned, but no one offered any information.
Panicking, he raced around the area, releasing the balloon without thinking, calling out for little boy, finally attracting the attention of security. "He was right there! Right next to me!"
"What does he look like?" The guard was already speaking into a walkie-talkie.
"Blue cap, red jacket, black and yellow striped shirt, jeans... white sneakers. He's just turned two last month." Don't hyperventilate. Don't hyperventilate. "Blond hair, blue eyes." He started to hyperventilate.
Lucrezia glanced at her watch and frowned, wondering what was taking Milliardo so long to get back. The girls hadn't even noticed, engrossed in watching a man swallow flaming batons, when all of a sudden the lights came on, and the action in the ring ground to a stop. Speakers crackled.
"Attention, we apologize for the interruption. We have a missing child."
Oh god. Lucrezia buried her head in her hands. Don't tell me...
"His name is Gage. He's two years old... "
The speaker went on to give a detailed description of the little boy, asking anyone who had seen him to come forward. Collecting an upset Amy and a furious Meg, Lucrezia went to track down Milliardo.
"I just looked away for a second!" He was in tears. "Just one second and he was gone!"
"It's not your fault." She tried to sooth him. "They'll find him. You know how unpredictable that little guy is. He'll show up any minute."
"What if he doesn't?" Milliardo was not about to be comforted. "Everyone knows who his mother is. What if this is political? What if someone's going to use him to sway Relena's vote in something? What if they hurt him? What if he's with some sicko who... "
She cleared her throat, nodding her head toward Meg and Amy, who both looked terrified now. "I'm sorry." He held out his arms and they rushed into them. "I'm sorry, babies. I'm just really worried about your cousin."
"Me too." Amy nodded.
"I want to watch the circus some more." Meg demanded.
"Not now, Meg. This is more important." Her mother explained gently.
A minute later the flap of the security tent opened and in walked two guards and three clowns. One of the clowns was holding a sleeping toddler.
"I think this is yours." He grinned, offering him to Milliardo.
Weeping, the man grabbed Gage and began rocking him, kissing the top of his head. "Oh thank god."
"Uncle?" Gage blinked at him. "Hi."
"Where was he?" Lucrezia asked, her panic fading.
"We found him under a bed in our trailer." A clown explained. "Dead to the world."
"Pancakes." Gage explained, not at all concerned by the chaos he had caused.
"I want pancake made-ups. They're our friends. I'm hungry."
At that moment Relena and Gerry arrived, and Gage was thrilled to be the center of attention, and the story came out.
"I saw a bear. I ran, but the bear was all gone. Then Uncle was all gone."
"How did you end up in that trailer?"
"I was hungry. Clowns wear pancakes." He'd seen several clowns leaving the trailer and decided to help himself to their stash, apparently.
"You ruin everything!" Meg yelled. "YOU ALWAYS MESS EVERYTHING UP! I HATE YOU!"
"Megan, not now." Lucrezia's head was pounding. "Let's just go home."
"I want to see the circus!" Meg demanded.
"We're going home." Her father insisted. "I've had about as much circus as I can stand today. I'm sorry Meg. We'll come back another time."
Meanwhile, Gage was sitting on Gerry's lap, gnawing on a lollipop one of the clowns had given him, looking like the king of all creation.
I wish they'd never found you. Meg thought.
To my children:
Amy. Dear sweet Amy, the first of my three greatest blessings to come along. You arrived in summer, out of the blistering heat of August, thrust red and offended into impartial gloved hands, twenty-five years ago. Bald and small and blue-eyed, you vented your spleen to the world, protesting the cruelty of birth as they handed you to me, even then seeming to understand that my greatest desire then and always would be to protect you.
Meg, you were a surprise to us, not for the fact that you were, but for what you were. The sonograms and ultrasounds and whatnot had assured us that we were having a son, not a daughter, and so we planned accordingly. But seeing you, as I saw Amy that first time, there was no room in my heart for anything but crippling love. You resembled her, your older sister, but where she had been compact, you were a tangle of arms and legs too distended for one otherwise so small. But like her, you voiced displeasure at a system that treats its newest members so callously, calming only when I stroked the short black fuzz on your head and whispered "Hush, little girl. I'm your daddy."
Gage, you were born into the capable hands of Sally Po, in the glow of an overhead hanging light, when the leaves were in full change and the stores were already stocking up on sweets. Short than Meg and longer than Amy, and louder than both put together. My touch wasn't enough to relax you; perhaps you sensed the indifference from the one already asleep on the bed behind us, perhaps you knew my plans for you. You kicked at me, your foot smaller than my thumb, twisting like a wild animal in my hands. I watched them clean you, revealing a piece of me with every bit of residue they removed, then dressed you myself in a blue outfit with a soft, white cap, and you stared at me in moral outrage. What boy wants his father picking out his clothing, I suppose?
Amy, you were a blessing to all of us. The Peacecraft line was dying out, only Relena and I remaining of a family that had been around for a long, long time. Your mother and I always joked that you'd decided to be born because you'd run out of things to read inside the womb. You were only ours part of the time; the rest of you belonged to fairies and elves and witches and gnomes. Your world was a beautiful, magical place and I'm not sure that I've ever appreciated that enough until now. There is a code of honor in such places; something that demands valor and loyalty and you reared yourself by those heavy standards. You desired peace in all things you did, but if forced to, you became a maiden warrior.
Meg, after your birth your mother developed cysts. Not life-threatening, but enough to render her unable to bear another child. So your place as the baby of the family seemed set. As dear to me as my own Nanas were, your mother and I were adamant that no one but us would be raising our children, and we spoiled you both as rotten as we knew how.
You countered Amy's natural shyness by being outgoing and outspoken wherever you went. You demanded attention and adoration, refusing to even leave the house if you didn't "look bootiful", and like Amy only a part of you was ever ours. The rest of you belonged to the world; your friends, your school, the activities you threw yourself into. You never met my mother, your grandmother Cecilia, but oh how you remind me of her.
And Gage. The little Drummond heir, or so they thought, with your one-day old face in all the papers. My favorite headline was the one that swore you'd really been fathered by a race of mutants living far beneath the Earth's crust, and that they were going to use you to eventually take over Earth. They even had you and Relena on "World Today", so that everyone could go awww at their tv sets over their morning coffee. You threw up on the host. I can't say I blame you.
You were a walking contradiction, sweet at two and bittersweet at two and a half, longing for love and trying to drive it away at the same time, but anyone who really looked couldn't miss the sweet child still alive inside, waiting for release. I think by destroying the world around you, you were perhaps trying to destroy that wonderful, innocent part of yourself, and my son, you failed miserably.
The Bookworm, the Queen, and the Rebel, growing up before my eyes, growing more beautiful, more focused, more determined to leave your mark on the worlds in your own unique ways.
You are three parts of one far greater whole, however. Amy, let Meg and Gage show you that the real world has magic as well, that while it may not be perfect, it's worth getting to know. Meg, let Gage and Amy show you that friends come and go, but your family while stand by your side forever, that knowing the price of something is meaningless unless you understand it's value as well. Gage, open your heart to your blood family as much as you've opened it to those that you've chosen as your family. Let Amy and Meg show you the wonderful exasperation only a sister can cause; let go of the hurts of the past and show them the amazing man you've become.
I believe that when the time comes, when the three of you are able to stand together side by side, friends and siblings both, then no force in this world or any other will be able to shake the foundation of your love and loyalty. I believe that the current generation of Peacecrafts will soar beyond all those who came before them.
And wherever I am, I will be watching over you, guiding you if I can, standing aside when I know that I must. I have given you life, I have started on your paths, but from here on out you must figure out the way for yourselves. I know that you'll continue to make me proud.