„And I couldn't put it back, because Chris came home early," Helen continued, „and I thought he'd yell at me again, but he didn't say anything! I think he didn't even notice that it was gone." She chewed on her lip for a moment. „I still have it..." she said finally. „And Chris still hasn't said anything to me. You know what I think?"

She didn't wait for Gina's answer. „I think he doesn't know because he never looks at it anymore."

„That could be," Gina agreed. „He works a lot, he probably doesn't have much time for these things anymore."

Helen scrunched up her face. „But it was Daddy's last Christmas present for him! The last Christmas they ever had!"

„Maybe it makes him sad to look at it, then," Gina suggested. She threw a glance into the jungle around them, hoping for a gorilla to show up and present her with a distraction for Helen.

„Maybe..." Helen said slowly.

Still no gorilla in sight. Gina desperately cast for something to steer this conversation away from the Virdon family drama.

„I wish Daddy would've been here to give me something for Christmas, too," Helen said quietly. „I'd never stop looking at it."

„I'm sure he would've given that planetarium to both of you, Lennie," Gina said helplessly. „So it's his Christmas present to you, too. - Oh look," she pointed at the trees behind Helen. „There they are!"

For a while, they pretended to watch the group of gorillas that had come into sight, but Helen's attention was clearly elsewhere, and Gina anxiously waited for the girl's next comment.

„Do you think he'd have liked me... at least a little?" Helen finally asked, and Gina was torn between pity for her, and relief that the thought that had tormented her was finally out in the open.

„Of course he'd have liked you," she said. „And not a little, a lot! He loved you before you were even born!"

„But he didn't know me then," Helen argued.

„And if he'd known you, he'd loved you a bit more every day," Gina assured her.

„I dunno," Helen murmured, her gaze fixed at her toes again. „Chris knows me, and he hates me a bit more every day..."

„That's nonsense," Gina said firmly. „Chris doesn't hate you."

„He said he'd exchange me for Daddy any day," Helen mumbled.

„He... when did he say that?" Gina asked, aghast.

Helen shrugged. „I dunno. But he said it."

Gina was at a loss for words for a moment. „People say stupid things sometimes," she said at last. „When they are angry, or sad. I'm sure he didn't mean it. C'mon, this is our day at the zoo! Let's see what the guide can tell us about the gorillas down there!"

She dragged Helen towards the information booth and plopped a VR set over the girl's head before Helen could protest. She watched her for a moment, until she was certain that Helen didn't rip off the helmet again, and then allowed herself to slump against a post and rub her eyes. The exhaustion was mental, not physical, but she felt as if she had run uphill for hours.

It would be good to put some distance between herself and the Virdons. Gina fervently wished she could take Helen with her.

„Aren't you going to use this?"

Gina started and turned around to face the owner of that new voice behind her. For a moment, she had the eerie impression that Chris had somehow turned up at the zoo to surprise her - but the man smiling at her had a broader face, and was stockier than Chris. Still, she smiled back automatically, and raised the VR helmet she had been holding. „Yes, in a moment... or did you want to..."

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