Chapter 22

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„Okay," Gina said. „This is it. Ready to explore a new world?"

Helen didn't answer; when Gina turned her head to ask her what was wrong, she saw that the girl had curled up on the passenger seat of Mrs. Virdon's car - technically the car of the institute she was working for - and was staring out of the side window.

„Hey," Gina said friendly, „the parking lot isn't really that interesting. Come on, I need to stretch my legs." They had driven all the way out to Jacksonville, because Helen had discovered that the zoo had a new exhibit that simulated landing on an alien planet and exploring the animals there, and had wanted to visit there at all costs.

And now that they were finally here, she had gone into strike. Although Gina had a pretty good idea about the reason.

She decided to ignore Helen's bad mood for now; once they were through the gate, there would be enough sights - and ice cream - to distract her from the fact that this was a goodbye gift from Gina, before she'd leave for California.

But Helen's mood didn't lift at the aviary, nor did she show any interest in the snakes and lizards in the reptile house, or in the leopards, or the lions, or the giraffes.

„You know," Gina said while they were resting for a moment on a platform in the huge central tree that was overlooking the trail of the Great Apes Loop, „you're spoiling this day for yourself. We've already seen a third of the zoo - well, I've seen it. All that you've looked at are your shoes."

„I'm not spoiling anything," Helen muttered, staring stubbornly at her feet. „You are."

„I drove you all the way out here," Gina protested. „I thought we'd be having a blast with the alien animals - and our own animals - and with-"

„Why do you have to go away?" Helen finally raised her head and glared up at her. „You could go to a college here, like Chris!"

„Chris doesn't go to any college," Gina said curtly. She didn't want to discuss this, least of all with a seven year old child.

„I'll come back often and visit you," she tried to console Helen. „Or you can come visit me - your mom can bring you to the airport here, and I'll be waiting for you at the airport there. How about that?"

Helen heaved a sigh, and slung herself over the railing like a wet rag. Gina resisted the urge to grab her waistband to keep her from falling down to the gorillas.

„But I'll be all alone in the meantime," Helen complained, head still upside-down. „Or I'll get a babysitter who is a jerk. Can't you stay, please, please, please, please..."

„I already registered," Gina said, unnerved, and plucked her from the railing. „Please, Lennie, can't we just enjoy this day and talk about something else? How's... how's Chris doing?"

She hadn't seen Chris since prom night. At first it had been her who had ignored his calls, until he didn't call anymore, and she had calmed down; but now it was he who ignored her calls, and Gina felt pissed off and morose in turn.

Helen shrugged. „I dunno. He's always with professor Hasslein, or in his room." Chris' room was strictly off-limits to Helen, as Gina had often enough witnessed when the girl had tried to enter despite her brother's orders.

„I went into his room last week," Helen confided in her. „When he wasn't home."

Gina raised her brows. „What did you want in there? You know you'll get in trouble if he finds out."

Helen nodded, a bit embarrassed. „I just wanted the planetarium. I wanted to look at where Dad had gone."

Gina bit back a groan. Please, God, just one day with these people when Mr. Virdon doesn't get mentioned!

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