You’re Cordially Invited to Crossroads Station — Chapter 11

by Mary E. Lowd

An excerpt from You’re Cordially Invited to Crossroads Station. If you’d prefer, you can start with Chapter 1, return to the previous chapter, or skip ahead to the next chapter.

“…he didn’t say a word of welcome at all.”

Kya grabbed Anno’s paw and dragged her out of the entryway, past several of the bedroom doors and down the hall to the large open area that was a kitchen on one side and living room on the other.  That part of the quarters hadn’t belonged to Clori when Anno was very little, when the only other children in the family had been Iko, T’reska, and their brother Lut.

Back then, when Anno had been one of only four children, the quarters had just been two bedrooms and the hall, without a private kitchen.  Once Clori had proved her devotion to the myrmecoidal matrons’ cause by having a fifth child, the matrons had knocked out the wall between her quarters and the empty ones next door, expanding her suite to include the kitchen and living room.  A couple children later, the matrons had added on more bedrooms on the other side.  Clori was a model mother in the Xeno-Native Enclave — few others had as many children as her.

The children were all bouncing and running around the living room, occasionally stopping to grab snacks from where they were laid out on the kitchen counters.  Two more of Anno’s younger sisters — one with pangolin-like armoring; the other a batlike winged mammal — and her youngest brother were lounging and chatting on a pair of couches.  Just three teenagers in their own home, who seemed to be used to being invaded by a tornado of even younger children.

Anno’s heart skipped a beat at the sight of Jurnan, her gangly long-necked, giraffe-like brother.  He’d been her baby years before she actually had children.  He was so much bigger and older now, but still a child.  A young teen.

Yes, of course, Jurnan had actually been Clori’s baby, but Anno had been charmed by his splotchy orange fur and claimed the gangly boy for her own from the first moment she saw his funny, bumpy head poke out of her mother’s pouch.  Leaving Jurnan behind had been the hardest part of leaving Crossroads Station.  She’d figured that she’d stay in touch with the older siblings, like Lut, who were closer to her own age…  She hadn’t; they’d simply lost track of each other instead.  But Anno hadn’t known that would happen when she left.

Whereas Anno had always known she would lose touch with Jurnan as soon as she ran away from Clori and the life Clori was trying to force her into in the Xeno-Native Enclave.  He’d been barely six years old at the time.  If Anno could have stolen him away with her, she would have, but she’d wanted to leave, not become a kidnapper, get tracked down as a criminal, and dragged home right away.  So she’d steeled herself for losing her baby brother — her baby — and left anyway.

“Hi,” Anno said to the room, waving her free paw shyly.  The greeting was aimed at everyone, but she was only looking at Jurnan.

“Welcome home!” Pangaya said, her armored plating shifting as she turned in her seat to look at Anno.

“Hey!  You’re back!” added Bala, spreading her wings in welcome.  Neither of them seemed fazed by Anno’s presence; vaguely happy to see her, but not overly concerned.  You know, like teenagers can be.

Anno had neither been especially close nor antagonistic with Pangaya and Bala.  They were both so much younger than her… and she hadn’t taken the same shine to them when they’d been born that she’d taken to Jurnan.  So, they’d just been annoying little siblings, and she must have seemed aloof and distant to them.  A privileged but largely irrelevant older sister who’d sometimes bossed them around.

Jurnan, however, had been Anno’s precious little one.  And he didn’t say a word of welcome at all.  He just bobbed his bumpy head in an awkward nod and went back to talking to his slightly older teenaged sisters, ignoring Anno like she were any adult in the world, not the sister who had been a surrogate mother to him for his first six years.

Anno was hurt.  She knew she didn’t have any right to be.  She didn’t even know if Jurnan was being purposefully cold to her because he’d been hurt by her leaving… or if their bond just hadn’t meant as much to him.  He had only been six when she’d left.

Either way, Anno had abandoned him here, and she should probably feel lucky he was even at this ad hoc reunion party at all instead of hiding in a bedroom or having arranged to spend the day visiting with friends.  Lut wasn’t here, and from what Kya had said, that wasn’t just because he lived farther away.  Even living on the asteroid belt and with only eight hours notice, he could probably have been here if he’d wanted to be.  So, there were definitely grudges being held against Anno around the Xeno-Native Enclave.  But even so, even if she had no right to the feeling, Anno still felt hurt.  She wondered if she could earn her little brother’s trust back.  Or Lut’s for that matter.

She was only here for two weeks.  And she had promised to spend most of that time shepherding her children around to various fun activities, like surfing the gas clouds of New Jupiter, maybe visiting one of its lava moons, and definitely doing a spacewalk around the station.  But maybe even if she couldn’t heal the wounds she’d created, she could start the process, and after she left…  Maybe she could find a way to stay in touch this time.

Kya pulled on Anno’s paw again, leading her away from the mystifyingly nonchalant teenagers and toward the kitchen half of the room where all the snacks were laid out.  Drathur was already there, picking at various stuffed dumplings and fried balls of dough, looking vaguely uncomfortable but also distracted by trying to keep track of the chaos of Mei, Loi, and Darso running all over the room.

Anno stood entranced for a moment, watching her children — all three of whom looked so much alike — running around and playing with Iko’s daughter and T’reska’s human and Ululu children.  Sure, T’reska’s third child was Heffen and, at a glance, could’ve been part of Anno’s brood… but the others, a bird and two primates, were very different.  Watching them play together reminded Anno of her own childhood, rampaging through these rooms with her siblings.  She carried a lot of anger and frustration through her childhood, but there’d been a lot that was good about it too.  And a lot of that good had come from her siblings and the wildly different people they all were.

Mei, Loi, and Darso differed from each other too… but there was something exciting about not even agreeing at a fundamental level on what counted as food or furniture, because your bodies just weren’t built for the same kinds of things.

“Hey,” Kya said, nudging Anno toward the food again.  “You should eat something.  Then I can tell Ma that you enjoyed her cooking, and it will smooth things over a bit.”

Anno sighed.  Smoothing things over between her and Clori felt like a lost cause to her.  But she did like the idea of eating some of her mother’s Aldebaran violet stuffed dumplings again.  The way the purple flowers and their green stems sauteed down into a pleasantly squishy, sort of sweet and sort of savory, filling was definitely something she’d missed feeling against her teeth during the last eight years.  Those flowers didn’t grow on New Heffe, so even if Anno had ever been able to make the dumplings properly herself, she still wouldn’t have access to them at home.

Kya helped Anno fix herself a plate, and Drathur watched the choices they made, following along and making a copy plate for himself, since he didn’t know which things were especially good, having never tried any of them before.

Food in paw, Anno and Drathur squeezed their way onto one of the couches, beside Bala who folded her wings up to make room.  Pangaya also got up to make space for them, partly because T’reska’s kids had been begging her to roll up for them and play some sort of game where she let them shove her, all balled up, around the floor.  Loi took to the game like she’d been playing it her whole life, shoving Pangaya’s armored back with the little human and Ululu.  Mei tried to copy Pangaya by curling up into a ball herself, unbothered by her own lack of armoring that meant she kept getting bumped and jostled around.

Darso took a break from playing and crawled onto the couch between his parents where he could steal tasty morsels from their plates.

Anno had never been on this side of one of these events…  She remembered, when the family was smaller — just Ma, a few younger siblings, and her — how they’d have similar events where Clori would set out food and invite some other Xeno-Native mother over.  All the kids would play together, raising holy horror and grand ruckus, while the mothers sat around chatting and eating.

Now Anno was the one sitting on the couch with a plate, politely chatting with her siblings, instead of causing chaos with them.

It was… nice.  Weird.  Strangely sedate, but then, Anno was tired from a week of traveling and didn’t really want to crawl around on the floor with the little ones the way that Pangaya was doing.

Instead, Anno shared stories about her life on New Heffe and listened to her siblings tell stories about how their lives had continued here.  She heard about all the siblings who hadn’t made it today, like their Eechie sister — the only other bird in the family, from a species with two sets of wings — who was busy at college a few star-systems away.  Their ursine brother was busy hibernating; though the younger teen siblings all questioned whether his bear-like species really needed to sleep that long or if he was just taking advantage of stereotypes to lean even harder into being a slothful teenager.  Their goat-like sister stopped by to eat a bunch of snacks before disappearing back into her room, but didn’t have anything much to say.

The remaining two siblings who didn’t show — one mole-like, the other more like a ferret — both sent their regards via the others and were happy to meet with Anno later during her visit.

Apparently, the only real grudge being held was from Lut, which made sense.  Other than Jurnan, he was the sibling Anno had been closest to.  He was clearly the sibling she’d hurt the most.

Throughout the conversation, Anno watched for signs that her baby brother, Jurnan, felt glimmers of the connection she’d felt to him…  She almost wanted to see signs of coldness or carefully repressed anger in the giraffe-like teen, but they just didn’t seem to be there.  It hurt her heart, but she had to admit to herself, she’d simply lost the close connection they’d once had by moving away.  Sometimes that happens.  One path opens up before you, but you must leave another path behind to follow it.

Anno had followed the path she needed to follow.  It was nice, though, that for a brief moment, it had looped back past her old home.

Continue on to Chapter 12

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