by Grace Bridges -
“Sing us a song, Ave!” The clutch of four-year-olds stared at her with demanding eyes, clustering around their ringleader, a tiny girl with blue eyes and golden hair wrapped in a ragged, patched spider-wool blanket.
Ave adjusted her position sitting against the wall, and forced a grin. “What song do you want to hear?”
Felicia frowned, considering. “The one about Avenir, please.” The other little ones nodded.
Ave smiled, for real this time. They always picked that one. She began to hum, and the children hunkered down in their bedrolls. Finally she sang it out, her voice breaking at “Be strong, Avenir Eclectia.”
The words of the song echoed oddly from the conduits of the service corridor. Eyes drooped closed, faces grew slack, breathing grew calm. Ave sang the song through twice more, letting it comfort the inner ache that threatened to burst forth and overcome her just as ruthlessly as a sudden vacuum leak. She must be parent to these children and the rest, even though she had no family herself, knew nothing of parenting. Be strong…it was her only answer, even when she had no more strength.
What must it be like to have a father? A mother? Longing rushed up from a secret place within her, and her face crumpled suddenly. After a lengthy moment, she sighed and flicked a tear from her eye. It was no use wishing for what could not be.
“Don’t cry, Ave.” Felicia’s small hand found its way into hers, and she snuggled against Ave’s shoulder.
Ave kissed the top of the golden head and closed her eyes in thankfulness.