CAPRICE LEAPT FROM THE top of the boulder. Daria gasped and caught her daughter. “Baby, you gotta warn me before you jump.”
Caprice giggled with pure four-year-old belly laughs, her entire body quivering with each heaving breath. “I’m serious baby…”
Caprice ignored her mom, climbed back up the boulder, and jumped again. Ready this time, Daria caught her daughter and swung her through the air until they were both too dizzy to stand. They flopped onto their backs in the damp sand until they stopped laughing long enough to breath.
“Again!” Caprice leapt to her feet and monkey-crawled her way up the boulder. Daria groaned, but stood up. She swung her baby again, then distracted Caprice before she could climb up the boulder another time.
“Let’s go rock hunting!”
“Rocks, rocks, rocks!” Caprice chanted as she flung handfuls of sand into the air. She skipped away from her mother, now singing, “Need a Mamma Rock, and a Baby Rock, and a Doggy Rock, and a Birdie Rock.”
Daria stuck close to her daughter as they meandered around boulders and climbed over small hills with sharp, water carved edges. Waves pounded against the shore around them, a symphony of wind, tides, and laughter.
“Bad Guy!” Caprice yelled as she pointed at a dark pink sea shell poking out of the sand. She dug the shell out in furious swipes. Triumphant, she raised the perfect spire above her head and zoomed around her mom three times before shoving the seashell in Daria’s hands and continuing the search for the perfect family of rocks.
Before long, Daria carried Bad Guy, Baby, Doggy, and three Birdies, but they still needed Momma Rock.
“What about over here?” Daria asked before Caprice could wander off a sharp drop into wave-covered rocks.
Caprice bounced to the inland treasure trove of stones her mother had found. Daria knelt beside her and tugged a lemon-sized pink and grey stone out of the sand. “What about this one?”
“Momma Rock!” Caprice clapped her hands in glee and took all of the rocks from her mom. With careful precision, Caprice stacked each of her rocks on the flat top of a short boulder. Once they were all situated, she flew Bad Guy through the air. “Shhhhrooooom. Vroooom. Shhhhhhrooooooom. Bad Guy’s going to get Baby Rock.” She narrated as the stones and sea shell acted out her words.
Caprice clutched Baby Rock and Bad Guy in the same hand with a vicious Bad Guy roar.
“No you don’t!” Momma Rock yelled at Bad Guy. “You leave my baby alone Bad Guy!”
Momma Rock leapt through the air with an impressive eight turn flip, two zooooooooms, and a satisfied plop as she squashed Bad Guy. Pink sea shell bits shattered across the boulder and fell to the sand. Caprice cheered and giggled. Momma Rock and Baby Rock hugged while all the Birdie Rocks cawed and pooped.
Satisfied, Caprice handed her mom the rocks, though she kept Momma Rock safely clenched in her fist. Hand in hand, mother and daughter meandered toward the parking lot.
“Mamma?” Caprice asked.
“You won’t leave me, right?” Caprice squeezed Daria’s hand with a tight desperation.
Daria stopped walking and knelt beside her daughter. “No, Sweetie, I’m not going anywhere.”
“But Bad Guy said you was gonna leave me,” Caprice said with a sniffle.
“When did Bad Guy tell you that?” Daria’s heart thumped and her breath quickened. It wasn’t the first time Caprice had said such piercing words. Most chalked it up to preschool imagination, but Daria knew how real such things could be.
“Before Momma Rock squashed him.” Caprice brushed her fist across her cheeks, leaving a streak of dirt on her face, and a splotch of tears on the stone.
“Oh Baby, I’m not going to leave you.” Daria wrapped her hands around Caprice’s tense fists. Clutched in Caprice’s tight grip, Momma Rock felt hotter than it should have.
“You don’t want to leave me,” Caprice corrected before melting into her mother’s chest as if she were still an infant, soft and malleable.
“No, I don’t want to leave you. And I’m not going to,” Daria almost promised, a catch in her spirit. She shook off the fear and added, “I will always be with you.” Daria rocked her baby back and forth, breathing in the scent of childhood, salt, and sun.
Caprice pressed Momma Rock against her mom’s chest. The stone pulsed against her flesh. “Just like Momma Rock squashed Bad Guy and saved Baby rock?” Caprice asked.
“That’s right. And I’ll always protect you from the Bad Guys until you are big enough to protect yourself.” Daria brushed tangles of sand-soaked hair away from Caprice’s face. “Always.” Against Daria’s skin, the stone flashed hot, like a coal fresh from a fire, then instantly cooled back to warm. Caprice didn’t seem to notice.
Daria carried her baby to the car, buckled her into the car seat.
Caprice fell asleep almost as soon as the car started. Daria flipped on the radio, quiet music floating through the vehicle. “I’ll be theeere,” Daria sang as she drove down the twisty, empty road. “I’ll be there to protect you, yeah baby.”
Suddenly, Daria felt a familiar shiver of fear race down her spine as she sang. She stomped on the brakes. The car sped up instead of stopping. An icy voice cut through the lyrics. “Daria, Darling, what are you doing?”
How had he found them? Daria twisted at the steering wheel to no effect. The tires squealed, then everything went dark as metal crunched around her. In eerie, wavering notes, the music continued. “Just call my name, and I’ll be there.”
Daria struggled, a strained gurgle the only sound she could manage.
“Shhhhhh, she’ll be alright. She’ll be safe. I’ll take marvelous care of her. You are somewhere in Oregon, correct?”
“Momma!” Caprice’s voice cut through the nightmare. “Momma!”
Daria gasped and choked.
“It’s okay, Sweetie, I’ve got you.” A new, gentler voice broke through the nightmare.
“What’s wrong with my mommy?” Caprice asked.
“She’s hurt,” the voice sounded vaguely female.
“Momma Rock will protect her.” Small, warm hands touched Daria’s arms and chest, Momma Rock pressed between daughter and mother. Daria gasped, suddenly able to breathe.
“You won’t get her.” Daria thought as loud as she could, forcing the words at the cloying presence still wrapped around her body. It shuddered and faltered. She repeated the words out loud and in her head. “She is not yours.”
“You can’t stop me,” the icy voice whispered.
Daria didn’t bother to respond. Instead she focused on her daughter.
“Mommy?” Caprice asked in a small voice.
Daria shuddered, then spoke, “Baby, it’s okay. You are going to be okay.” Daria’s arm moved, though she couldn’t feel it. She held her daughter against her dying body and whispered several unintelligible syllables, a lullaby she had sung every day since she learned of Caprice’s existence. It was protection and life, love and peace. She poured all of her hope, all of her life into the song. Into Caprice.
“It’s okay Momma, I big enough now,” Caprice said with four-year-old jauntiness, and a couple stifled sobs. “I big enough to protect myself against the Bad Guys.” The rock seared Daria’s flesh. For a moment, all feeling returned and they were both warm, and real, and safe.
Miraculously, almost magically, the voice was gone, along with his presence and Daria only had a moment to wonder how much her daughter knew about the man that pursued them.
The rock pulsed with her daughter’s heartbeat. Daria’s breathing faltered. Her words failed her. I love you, Caprice.
“I love you too, Mommy,” Caprice curled against her mommy’s body until the police arrived.
8 WEEKS 1 DAY
I curled around the meticulously scrubbed porcelain bowl and released what little breakfast I’d managed to consume. The luxury of money meant I wasn’t the one to have to clean the toilet and it was always clean for my frequent use. Shaky from the effort, I stood, rinsed my mouth, and straightened my hair and clothes before rejoining the mess of people in the dining room. Family brunch was a monthly occurrence and not even horrid morning sickness could call me away from my duty. I pasted the smile back on my face as I took my seat and carefully maneuvered the food around my plate so that it appeared as if I was eating.
Chatter wrapped around me, flowing through the exhaustion of first trimester baby-growing to lull me nearly to sleep before my husband caught my hand in his, drawing me fully to awareness.
“Yes, Caprice is doing well. Your babe is sure to be strong and lively,” Wilson told our guests in that friendly, but formal manner of speaking indicative of his role.
I inwardly groaned at his assumptions. It was the same tale he told to each of the families we adopted. While there was truth to the words, it was too soon for any such confidence. If we lost the babe… I hated to think the words, let alone ponder the implications. Wilson placed a comforting hand on my back, almost as if he knew my thoughts. I relaxed and smiled at the couple sitting across from us.
I’d met them last year, from Wilson’s work. My husband’s associate, Richard Ingersall, was rather intimidating, but he was kind to his wife and they desperately wanted a child. I placed a hand over my belly.
“Things are progressing well,” I assured them. They believed me. After all, this was my fifth time doing this.
Molly Ingersall grasped my hand in both of hers, tears in her eyes. “Thank you.”
“You are most welcome.” I squeezed her hand in return.
“Molly, it’s time to go.” Richard rose and offered an arm to his wife.
We walked with them to the front door and said our good-byes. We’d do this again next month, if we didn’t add an additional dinner or outing later this month.
The front door shut and I retreated to the bathroom. Wilson followed me and rubbed my back until I was done puking the few remnants of breakfast I’d forced down.
“I’m getting Evan.” He paged the doctor. “This is the second time you’ve thrown up in the last hour.” Third. I didn’t say anything. If he hadn’t noticed, I wasn’t going to point it out.
Besides, Evan would only tell him the same thing as before, that there hadn’t been enough time between the last baby and this one. I needed time to recover. Five babies is hard on anyone’s body and I’d had them nearly back to back. I leaned against the cool marble wall. Wilson placed a wet cloth across the back of my neck. I took a deep breath as my stomach settled.
I must have dozed off because it seemed like only seconds had passed before Wilson was helping me into a wheelchair, Evan at the handles.
“Come on, Honey, let’s get you to bed.” Wilson said as he gently tucked a blanket around me. Evan pushed me through the double doors that opened onto the deck and down the ramp to the guest house.
It was our compromise—I participate in the family brunches in the main house and recover in the guest house where no offending aromas could send me back to the bathroom. I was asleep before I’d registered that I was in bed.
Evan clattered around my room, apologizing profusely, as if it were his fault I woke up. There was an IV in my arm, again. I hated that it was necessary to keep me functioning. Five pregnancies. Each progressively worse, but this baby took the cake, with fluids nearly every day since the test said positive.
“We need to talk medication again.” Evan said, but he wasn’t speaking to me. I had no say in whether I got medication or not.
Wilson shifted in his chair by my bed. “No, it’s not an option. Fluids only.” He tapped his fingers against the wooden side table, ice clinking in the cup of water at his elbow. My stomach curled at the thought of drinking the water, or anything else. There was a tray ready for me. Evan whisked it away with a dark look toward my husband. Evan was one of the few people to get away with such behavior. There was no other doctor as qualified to care for me and the gifts I carried.
Bile rose with my ire. Gifts indeed.
“Leave it be.” I lightly touched Evan’s arm, calming my own irritation more than his. “It will get better, it always does.”
It was a lie and we all knew it, but the lie knit us together. There was too much risk for medication. “Alternative” type treatments, such as teas and massage, were allowed, within reason. Medication was an absolute no. I’d be put on a constant fluid drip before Wilson allowed any possible harm to the child.
“I’m sorry Love, but I’ve business to attend,” Wilson said before Evan could protest any further. Dr. Wilson S. Krathur left with the formal brevity we were accustomed to—work mode, he called it.
My husband wasn’t the sort of doctor who could give medical care. He was the type of doctor that had earned six degrees by the time he was thirty, a man who meddled in the personal affairs of every official in the city and beyond. No one knew the full extent of his subtle interference. Few knew that he interfered at all. His law firm was the pinnacle of discretion and care. Before he advanced to head of the company, he was the chief in-house psychologist. His acuity at reading people and solving challenges made him an obvious choice for leadership when Louis had passed.
Louis Montgomery had been a good man. I’d come to love him in the few years I’d known him. Wilson and Louis had been inseparable from the first time they’d met, long before Wilson and I had met. He was the best man at our wedding, and often whisked us from the house for wild adventures—weekends in Vegas, camping in the mountains, and barbecues in his backyard. Wilson had been so happy back then, lighter and less troubled. That had all changed when Louis died. I rubbed my belly. Perhaps the worry would dissipate as the pregnancy progressed. I hated that Wilson worried so deeply.
“Are you alright?” Evan’s soft question drew me from my memories.
“What?” Why would he ask me that? He touched his cheek. I shadowed the motion and drew away wet fingers. Briskly wiping away the tears, I settled deeper into the pillows as Evan put the lovely vibrating cuffs on my legs to keep the blood flowing properly.
“Shall I get you anything else?” He passed me the remote.
“No thank you.”
I clicked on the TV, browsing the numerous channels for something that wouldn’t make me cry. Pregnancy hormones made TV a dangerous pastime. I flicked past a puppy commercial that got me sobbing nearly every time I saw it. Just the brief glimpse had me repeating the rapid eye rubbing.
He checked his notes. “Hormone levels are good.”
I chuckled dryly. Yup. Good enough to make me cry during puppy commercials. He glanced up from his notes, clearly wondering why I was suddenly giggling.
“Your timing.” I said. He stifled a quick bark of laughter and returned to his notes.
“Your iron is a little low, but blood counts are good.”
I tuned him out. It wasn’t that I didn’t care if the child did well or not—out of self-preservation I cared immensely—but I wasn’t emotionally attached to the baby. He, or she, was not mine. I’m an incubator, a lavishly kept piece of flesh capable of keeping the baby alive until the day he or she could meet the world.
He checked my pulse and blood pressure. “I’m worried about you. You’ve lost five pounds already. Wilson says you threw up twice during breakfast and you haven’t kept anything down for a couple weeks now.”
I shrugged. We’d been through this before. There wasn’t anything to do beyond rest and constant watch. Barfing by myself during family brunches was the only alone time I was ever allotted, a ruse to keep the parents from knowing the extent of my morning-all-day-all-night-sickness. I watched Evan write his notes on the clipboard. It was more interesting than anything the TV had to offer.
“No medication.” I repeated. “It might hurt the baby.”
“I know.” Evan drew a small vial of blood from the IV, filled out a slip of paper, and wrapped it around the blood vial before sliding it into a pre-addressed box with an ice pack. “I’ll be right back.”
Enjoying my brief moment of solitude, I stared at the spot on the ceiling that looked as if a bear were taking off a kneeling man’s head. Today, the man had Wilson’s face. It was oddly satisfying. I laughed, a deep, cleansing sort of laugh. I loved my husband, at least most days, but today it was all I could do not to blame him for the puking misery that was my life. Perhaps if another surrogate could carry children to term for our families then I would get a rest, but that was not the case, so here I puked and slept at the mercy of my team of caregivers.
13 WEEKS 4 DAYS
In the vision, the child watches me with large golden eyes.
“I won’t come,” she tells me, and I know that I carry a girl.
“What do you mean you won’t come?”
The visions had never spoken directly with me, nor had they come before the second trimester. At most, the visions contained bits of memory, almost like a broken excerpt from an audiobook. Usually, there was nothing more than a momentary impression. This vision is different, so clear, so immersive.
“I won’t come,” says the child, following me with her large golden eyes. She doesn’t appear any older than eight. “They want me to come, but they aren’t right for me.”
She hands me a wilted golden flower, the same shade as her eyes. I sniff it and she laughs. Her giggle like heaven, her joy immense and addictive. I need to make her laugh again. I tuck the flower into my hair and spin a circle. The giggles grow and grow until she can’t even stand. I catch her hands to keep her from falling. The laughter slows as we both gasp for breath.
She kisses me on the cheek.
An electric burst of pleasure zips through me, and for the first time in my five pregnancies, I wish the child were my own and not meant for another.
“I must go now,” she tells me suddenly, and her body melts into cascade of mist.
I reach into the mist to catch her, the cool moisture leaving me slightly damp.
“You can’t go!” I call after her. “You can’t leave!”
I place a hand on my belly as the skin tenses and releases.
“No, you can’t do this!”
I desperately race after her, determined to reason with an eight year old. My belly tightens with a true contraction. Right, you can’t reason with a fetus, let alone the memory of an eight year old.
“Wake up. Caprice, wake up!” Wilson’s urgency drew me out of the dream.
Please don’t do this. Tell me what it is you need. I poured all of my focus into my thoughts, hoping beyond all hope that they would reach the baby. Please, give me a little more time. I begged and pleaded as more pressure filled my body. Fire pressed against my eyes as I refused to cry. I won’t give up. I can’t give up. The contractions intensified for a breath then slowly backed off.
There was a collective sigh of relief before Evan turned to my husband and whispered, “I am putting her on bedrest.”
Wilson didn’t argue, but neither was he pleased. I cringed, thinking about how this would affect our plans. We couldn’t worry the baby’s parents.
“I’m sorry,” I whimpered.
“No, no, sweetie.” Wilson brushed my sweat-soaked bangs from my eyes. “It’s not your fault.”
I poured out my thoughts and worries, wondering if the child really heard my plea and had responded. A hint of gold caught my eye. The edge of a petal rested under the pillow. I picked up the wilted flower. The stem was bent as if it had been tucked behind my ear when Evan rolled me onto my side. I carefully wrapped my fingers around it, my mind lost in thoughts of the girl with magical laughter.
17 WEEKS 4 DAYS
“You really think they would be good parents for me?”
The eight year old appeared at the table across from me. Four weeks without any contractions or visions meant that I was able to join the family for brunch, in a wheelchair, of course.
I tried not to appear surprised. At least this vision was closer to the normal timeframe for crazy. She indicated Molly with a tilt of her head, golden eyes agleam.
“What’s her deal anyway? Is she positively nutso or is it just me?” the child asked. She turned her head the other direction and watched Richard for a moment. “He’s as stiff as a starched potato. How’d he end up with her anyhow?”
The child reached for her father’s plate and plucked a berry from the edge. A shadow of fruit rose with her hand, a little less colorful than the original. “Must have been sheer dumb luck.” She turned those brilliant golden eyes on me. “Have you had enough time yet?”
Fear struck me hard enough to send the bite I was pretending to eat flying. All eyes turned on me as the child laughed with pure magic.
“What’s wrong?” Wilson lay a hand across my back.
“Nothing.” I shook my head. “I thought I heard something, it startled me is all.”
The child’s eyes squinted in glee. “You are an excellent liar,” she assured me. “I would expect nothing else from someone capable of bearing and nurturing my human form.”
I started again, but didn’t show it this time.
“Much better,” she told me. “If we are to continue this relationship you’ll need to be better practiced at this.”
So, you’ll stay? I let the thought dangle.
“I’ll think about it.” She plucked another berry from her mother’s plate, leaving the pale version behind. “I might stick around just for these.” She waved her berry in the air. “They weren’t so easy to get the last time I was here.”
The last time you were here? But she was already gone with only a warning cramp to keep me in my wheelchair.
The rest of brunch was bland compared to the life that filled the child. I finished my pretense of eating and made it to the bathroom in time to throw up the two whole berries the child had eaten. How was that even possible?
I returned to the dining room where Molly hugged me, tears in her eyes. Richard shook everyone’s hands. I grimaced at the strength of his cologne, eager to rinse the scent of life off and crawl back into bed.
Wilson had other ideas.
“It’s such a lovely day. We should take a walk.”
He pushed my wheelchair to the back door. Warm sun soaked into my skin as he pushed me along the path that ran through the grounds. We bypassed a small pond and several cultivated garden spaces. He stopped by the little creek, the calming sound of moving water surrounding us.
“This pregnancy is harder than the last,” he said.
Yes, you obvious bull. I politely nodded.
A breeze carried childlike laughter past my ear. I tried not to grimace, but Wilson hadn’t noticed anything off.
“Do you still get the crazy pregnancy dreams that plagued you in the past?”
It was an innocent question, but my gut squirmed.
I shrugged. “Hormones tend to do that.” I didn’t speak of the visions. They seemed a dangerous thing to speak of.
He nodded. “Any fun ones to share?”
I had told him about strange pregnancy dreams in the past, but seeing as I was pregnant almost all of the last seven years, that or pumping milk for the babies, I had grown tired of sharing the weirdness of hormones. I wanted my body and imagination back as my own. Images of my mostly unused art studio filled me with longing.
“I gave birth to a bird the other day,” I lied. “A small yellow canary. It came out smooth and clean, and when it saw me, it bit me on the nose and flew away, for I was not its mamma.”
He laughed, as I knew he would. It was close enough to several of the dreams I’d had, but this pregnancy lent itself to a different type of dream that were mine alone to ponder.
The child dangled upside down from the sturdy branch of the oak tree nearest us. She asked with a quirk of her lips and mischief in her eyes, “Is he usually more pleasant or was he born without a bend to his back? How horrible for his mother to have to hold a board-stiff child all the time.”
It was all I could not to laugh as I thought back to our early days together when Wilson had been more fluid and energetic than anyone I knew. We’d play hooky to climb a mountain, stay out all night to watch the sunrise, and store snowballs in the freezer to bombard our friends in the middle of summer. I hadn’t married a board, but that had changed. Everything had changed when Louis died.
The girl twisted her body and flipped from the tree. I caught my breath. Wilson looked at me and placed a hand on my back.
I looked down, my hand splayed across my belly. The baby was wiggling furiously.
“The baby is moving,” I told him. I placed his hand where he could feel her kick. “A strong baby.”
The child laughed, placing her hand over my own.
“Strong, stubborn, willful, obstinate. You take your pick,” she said playfully, and her eyes gleamed as she caught my other hand. “The choice is yours, if I stay or if I go.” Foreboding rode her whisper. “But choose with care, for I won’t be raised by a board or a bore.”
I felt my belly tense. She disappeared.
“Time to get you back to bed.” Wilson took his hand from my belly and pushed me down the path toward the guest house.
I couldn’t agree more. A bath and bed were just what I needed to try and puzzle the meaning of the child’s words.
18 WEEKS 2 DAYS
Drip. Drip. Drip.
I stared at the IV line. Something tedious droned on the TV. Wilson graciously sat beside me, half focused on the show, half focused on me. He pretended this was interesting. So generous. I growled. I wanted to be up and moving. I wanted my body back. I wanted to paint and wade, knee deep, in clay.
“Do you need anything?” he asked.
Wilson’s voice grated on me. The deep tones that used to talk me into skinny dipping in the middle of winter now pecked at my final nerve.
“Out. I need out.” I might have snapped, but it had been long enough since the last time that I was due for a thorough snap. “I need out of the bed, and out of the house, and out of my friggin body.” I tried to push away from the bed, but the strength wasn’t there. I would need to increase my physical therapy sessions.
“You can’t do that.”
I know that. It would hurt the baby. Everything could hurt the baby. But she isn’t even my baby!
“Are you sure?” The child sat at the foot of the bed, golden eyes seeking deep into my own. The world tightened until all I could see was her.
“What do you want from me!?”
“He can hear you,” the child warned.
Why bother? You wanted to leave? You’ve threatened to more than once. You’ve bound me to this bed…
She cut off my mental rant. The small girl crawled up the coverlet and a soft hand reached out to lightly brush my cheek. A shock of energy moved between us. I felt myself gasp, but I was no longer aware of the world around me. The child held all of my focus. The hand moved away from my skin to grab the IV line. “Are you sure?” She spoke into my ear as the line crimped closed. The constant drip of fluid slowed and stopped. I shivered.
I’ve been sicker than sick with this pregnancy.
“And you place that on me?” The child sounded sad.
I am carrying you.
“Which shouldn’t be possible.” The child mumbled as if I weren’t supposed to hear, but her words were as clear in my head as my own angry thoughts. “I suppose it is my doing that you are ill, but if you released all the blocks you’ve placed, it might go easier.”
“You should paint,” she told me.
I would love to. My heart cried with the thought of color and light.
The child grabbed my chin. “Do it. No matter how you feel. Paint.” She vanished as multiple pairs of hands filled the space that used to belong to golden eyes and ebony hair. I cried. I didn’t want her to leave.
“Caprice, can you speak?” Evan sounded worried. He repeated the question four more times.
“Yes,” I sputtered. “Please stop talking.” My head pounded a sorrowful tune to the beat of my heart.
Wilson leaned in close. “What did you see?” The words were clear and dark.
I jerked back. “What did you say?” I asked.
His eyes spoke of worry though his voice was as smooth as glass. “Nothing.”
I pulled the arm he was holding away from his grasp, the feeling of slime following his touch. What on earth? I love my husband.
Evan placed his own hands on my arm. “I need you to calm down.” His tone was serious. I didn’t flinch from his touch. “Tell me what happened?”
“I don’t know.” I could feel the child’s pleasure at my lie. That’s new. “I was watching TV with Wilson and now you are all here… What are you doing?” I noticed the number of hands keeping my body still upon the bed. The blankets were a tangled mess, the IV line bearing three true knots.
“Keeping you from injury.” Wilson said.
I grit my teeth together so that I wouldn’t hit Wilson… for his perfectly reasonable response to my question.
“I’m going to be sick,” I told them.
A tray was offered and then whisked away. I groaned and rested back into the pillows.
Once we were all certain I was done with whatever fit had come over me, Evan banished everyone from the room. He sat in Wilson’s chair. I had the sudden urge to light the thing on fire.
“What happened?” he asked me again.
I squinted at him. How was I supposed to answer? There was no way to explain dreams and visions of a golden-eyed child with laughter so marvelous that I would do anything to hear its sound again.
“I don’t know,” I honestly said.
“I don’t believe you.” Evan had been my doctor for a long time. He’d been with us since midway through the first pregnancy, when my original doctor didn’t agree with Wilson’s care plan. “You’ve spoken in confidence with me before. I offer the same opportunity now.”
He was the only one I had told about the visions. His were words of caution, and they kept me from speaking the same words to others, even Wilson.
I shook my head. I didn’t dare speak of the child I carried. Not a soul could know that I had met or spoken with her. Where had that knowledge come from? I looked around for the girl, but she was nowhere in sight. The baby in my belly was still.
“I see,” Evan responded.
What do you see? What do you know?
Wait. What does he know?
I watched my belly for any affirmation or sign. The thoughts in my mind were only partially my own.
He put a new drip into my IV. It offered him the chance to lean in close and whisper in my ear. “When the time is come, I’ll be ready.”
“For what?” I whispered back.
He watched me with eagle eyes. “You’ll know.” He patted my arm. “Get some rest. I’ll have the others leave you alone for a while. Is there anything I can get for you?”
Paint! The child’s thought rang about my mind.
“Paint,” I whispered, fearful that someone might scorn me for my desire. They all knew that even the smell of paint made me ill.
He nodded, a small smile gleaming in his eyes, his mouth studiously still. “I’ll be sure to provide what you need.”
18 WEEKS 3 DAYS
The colors flowed without conscious input. True to his word, Evan had brought a selection of paint, brushes, and a lap-sized canvas. I closed my eyes. There was no need for me to see as I painted, the images in my mind were strong enough to guide my hand by feel alone. Lost in the world of texture and sound, I was startled when a hand brushed across my shoulder.
“Please, put it away quick!” The voice was frantic.
I blinked away the vision before me and looked at the colorful canvas. It was the flower that the child had given me, light sprouting behind and before it in a slew of colors I hadn’t been given to paint with. I shook my head and the colors returned to the ones I had placed on the canvas. Evan was shoving brushes and bottles into an empty pillowcase. He tried to take the painting. I clutched it to my chest.
“Caprice, please.” His eyes pleaded with deeper desperation than his words. “He must not see this.” There was fear in his words.
I released my treasure.
He quickly helped me into a clean gown and added the paint covered gown and blankets to the pillowcase. He shoved them into the closet just before Wilson knocked and peeked his head into the room with a grin that promised an afternoon of fun.
“I have a surprise for you.” His gaze sparkled as it had when we were dating and life was nothing but wonder and magic.
“Okay.” I feigned excitement. He believed me.
“Can she be in her wheelchair for a spell?” he asked Evan. The doctor nodded. “You’ll come as well,” Wilson commanded. He leaned in to whisper his plans to the doctor before leaving.
Evan relaxed when Wilson had gone. “We have a little time to get ready. Come on, let’s put you in something other than a medical gown.”
I picked a sunny red dress, one of the colors woven through the background of my painting.
Bathed and ready to go, we waited for Wilson to come to the door. He arrived in a spiffy getup that included dress pants and my favorite of his shirts. I hadn’t been aware that he had stolen it back from me. I’d taken to keeping it in my bedside table for the times when I was missing him.
A mischievous grin tugged at his lips. “Come on.” He took charge of the wheelchair.
A limo was waiting in the curved driveway. He helped me into the backseat as the driver packed up the wheelchair. Evan slid into the back next to me. He checked my pulse before trading seats with Wilson.
“I’m fine,” I insisted, though nobody cared to listen.
We took the most scenic route from our hillside home into the city. I watched the water below the cliff with bated breath. It was always a fearful thing to drive along the sharp drop to certain doom.
The child appeared in the seat next to me. Her hand clutched my own with the strength of a vice.
“He’s showing you how good you have it. He’s afraid he’s losing you.” The child filled the still air with thoughts I certainly didn’t want expressed. Once the words were spoken, I could not deny their veracity.
How do you know this?
“He’s expected this since the first pregnancy, but I didn’t come then. Neither did I come for the second. He almost had me with the third, but didn’t do it right. The fourth… pffft. This time, he caught me.” Her words were forlorn and distant.
My vision blurred with the strength of her emotions. An overlay of a foreign land filled with rainbow trees and plants I could not name replaced reality. My heart longed for that land.
“You’ve changed,” she told me. “He’s noticed.”
My breath caught in my chest. Surely I wasn’t that different?
“I can still escape, you know. I can leave and go back.”
The words dangled, tempting me that I might stay in the comfort of my life, but it would mean losing her and never hearing her laughter again.
“I thought so.” She responded to the wave of emotions I hadn’t sorted through. “Things will move fast.” She tightened her grip on my hand. “Don’t be afraid.”
I blinked and she was gone. The baby rolled and moved within my belly as a practice contraction moved between us. I placed a hand over her, loving her.
The car pulled to a stop at my favorite museum. The chauffeur pulled out the wheelchair and opened the door. Evan and Wilson aided me into my seat. My husband certainly knew how to make me happy. We chatted of innocent things, art and artists of days past. There was a new exhibit from an up-and-coming artist who lived just down the hill from us. She had an interesting view of color and lines. Wilson wasn’t too thrilled, though Evan seemed intrigued by the works.
“Meh. I’ve seen better.” The child spoke as she leapt from the arm of my wheelchair to get a closer look at the monochromatic piece, her commentary for my ears alone. For a brief moment I felt as if the blue were suddenly clearer and fuller. When I blinked again the portrait seemed rather dull. She turned to watch Wilson as he moved us deeper into the museum. She spoke over his words. “Really, what do you see in him?”
I glared at her. She brushed off my offense.
“Must have been something grande, a facade worthy of an award to get you so deeply connected to him that you would put yourself through this more than once. Was it your idea or his?”
Both… no, his. I hadn’t wanted to be pregnant again. The first was enough, but the parents had wanted a sibling for their baby. I couldn’t say no, just like I couldn’t refuse to carry babies for the next three families…
“Do you still love him?” she asked.
Yes. Very much. The last part held more hesitation than I was comfortable with, but things had drastically changed from the wild passion that had drawn us together. He was still the beautiful and generous man I had fallen for as a younger student giving her first art show. I was still… well, I was hardly an artist anymore. Seven years of all-day-sickness or pumping milk would do that to a person. We no longer had the spunk and spontaneity we had enjoyed in our younger days together. But I still loved him. Wilson took my hand as we moved on to the next exhibit. He cared for me and loved me. My thoughts trailed as we entered the hall of statues, the baby kicking away. No. It wasn’t a facade that drew us together. It was love or lust or something equally addictive. We were good together.
“Just keep telling yourself that.” The child ran off before I could respond.
19 WEEKS 4 DAYS
Evan measured my growing belly. The child wiggled as he worked. He laughed.
“A lively little being,” he commented quietly. I nodded. She was the wiggliest of all the babies I had carried. He took my pulse through my failed attempts at creating the proper shade of blue. No matter how I tried, I could not capture the hue I had seen in the museum. The paintings of the child’s land were not right without that blue. Evan moved a blue-coated canvas off the bed and set it next to three others, each wrong in a way that made my stomach curl.
“Blue period?” he teased.
I frowned. “Can you get me more paint?”
“You’ve used all the blue already?” He opened the closet and dug out two fresh tubes, one turqouise and the other Payne’s Grey. I’d already mixed those two as many ways as I could imagine. “It’s all that’s left,” he said, noticing my disappointment. Then, with an indication to the pile of mispainted forests, he asked, “May I take these?”
The question was nothing more than good manners. I couldn’t keep them here. I wasn’t sure why I believed this, but I did. I shrugged. Evan hurriedly added them to the basket of dirty laundry he was planning to take to the housekeeper. He left me alone with the blue failures.
“Evan’s waited for me longer than anyone else has.” The child picked up the nearest mistake. She squinted at it and for a breath it was the correct shade of blue.
“How’d you do that?” I reached for the painting as the doorknob turned.
“Hello, Caprice.” A nurse entered the room as the painting clattered to the ground outside of my reach. She bustled over and picked it up.
“Interesting work,” she said, arranging the paintings across the top of my desk. “I’m sure they’ll spruce up the room. Just need to get some nails and a hammer.” The walls were already covered by my failed attempts to get the correct shades of red, orange and gold.
“You are trying too hard,” the child told me, as my nurse started hanging the monochromatic canvases. “You have to relax and let it come to you.” The baby crimped the IV line and took my hands in her own. “Close your eyes and breathe with me.”
“Now open your eyes.”
Her breath floated across my face. The first thing I saw were her golden eyes, liquid-rich with shades of amber and coal in their depths. A forest filled her vision. She backed away. The forest filled my room. Animal noises and fresh air washed over me. I took a step forward, fully embracing the vision she offered. My legs had the strength to function. Tears blurred my overwhelmed vision.
“Keep practicing.” She told me as the immersive vision disappeared.
My nurses worry broke through my wonder. “Are you uncomfortable? Is something wrong?” She was next to the bed, my hand clasped in both of hers. An alert light flashed in the corner of my vision. Evan would be there shortly. No doubt Wilson wouldn’t be far behind. He kept a close eye on the emergency call line.
“Did I black out?” I asked instead. It was a good excuse that I juiced for all its worth.
She shook her head. “Not fully. You were just gone.” She brushed a hand across my forehead and checked my pulse and blood pressure. “That’s odd.” She examined the IV line. “It’s not working.” She removed the little plastic bit that kept it crimped. I grimaced as the cool liquid flowed into my body.
Evan blew into the room. For a moment it appeared as if he were wearing strange clothing reminiscent of ancient lore or even a few modern-day fairy tales. His strange clothing was gone as quickly as it had appeared, replaced once more by his usual button up shirt and black pants. His skin no longer carrying the slight green undertone it had borne a moment before. Weird. Must have been some leftover vision-voodoo.
“It’s time,” Evan whispered, just before Wilson joined us in the room, his work clothes rumpled from his quick jog over.
Time, for what?
“Your final decision,” the child explained. “Do I stay or do I go?”
I couldn’t let her go. Not now, not ever. The world needed the life and beauty that she carried. I needed her.
She laughed, and I melted. Wilson took my hand. I wrenched it from his grasp, the feeling of a thousand needles in his touch.
“Shhhh, it’s okay.” Evan pressed me back against the pillows though I couldn’t recall an attempt to get up.
Wilson watched with a mournful sigh. I relaxed my vision and my breathing evened out. For a moment, Wilson was no longer with us, rather a dark facsimile stood in his place. My mind added flames to the imagining and I hid my smile. Wilson, the one I had loved and married, took a step back.
“I just hurt,” I expressed with the deepest sorrow I could muster, offering my husband my hand. He took it with the light touch of a feather. There was no prick or burn. He looked at me with liquid love in his gaze and a soft smile on his face.
“Maybe we’ll take a break after this baby,” he suggested.
I nodded. That would be nice.
“About time,” Evan mumbled, as he readjusted my bedding.
Wilson bent to whisper to the nurse. She left and returned with a movie in her hands. It was the newest in the superhero series I had grown to love. The movie wasn’t even out of theaters yet.
“How did you get it?” I gasped in excitement.
“I pulled a few strings.” His grin grew to match my own. “I thought I’d play hooky on the rest of work today and we could watch Attack of the Mora Beast together.”
I nodded in genuine excitement.
See, he is the man I fell in love with. The child simply laughed at me. I ignored her and settled in to watch the movie that I had wanted to see since the first trailer came out.
19 WEEKS 5 DAYS
In the dream, I follow the child through the forest as she moves between the rainbow world that she knows and the dull green that is my reality.
My fingers itch to paint what I see or even attempt a sculpture of the marvelous flowers that scent the air with heady, earthy aromas that miraculously do not trigger my puking reflex.
“Not yet,” the child whispers. “We have a ways to go.”
She tugs at my arm. I follow her into a clearing. The colors of our two worlds mix until everything is muddy and swirled. I clutch my belly as I struggle not to puke. It is wrong. Everything about this place is wrong. I squeeze the child’s hand. She looks back at me as tears stream down her face.
“What’s wrong? Are you hurt?” I ask, kneeling before her and brushing the tears away.
She shakes her head. “Not hurt in the way that you know pain.”
Her explanation makes no sense, the words too grown up for the eight year old frame I’ve grown accustomed to. I hug her, offering comfort and safety. She smells of the glorious flowers and rain, not the polluted rain of my reality, the fresh rain of a place that doesn’t know environmental devastation.
“What’s wrong?” I ask.
“Why are you fighting me?”
My breath freezes in my lungs. “I’m not.” I hear the pretense of the words before they even leave my lips.
“I will miss you.”
She walks away.
“NO!” I place my hands on her shoulders, barely keeping pace with her.
“Then open your eyes!” she yells at me. “Open your eyes and quit shutting out the things that you wish were false. Or have you become so comfortable with your reality that you would know nothing else?”
The clearing transforms from the swirl of brown to the beauty of what had been there before travesty hit, deep red earth growing yellow, orange, and green trees with a sparkling purple river rippling green, gold, and turquoise as it bubbles through the fertile earth.
“I’ve shown you the truth, but you refuse to listen!”
The clearing dulls to mud and muck. The thick river struggles, gurgling against the sheen of oil that shimmers on its surface, a distorted beauty born of pollution instead of life.
“I’ve been listening,” I insist.
“You’ve made a valiant effort to listen, but you’ve been dulled for far too long.” She brushes at my tears this time.
Footsteps sound behind me. The unfamiliar image I had seen beneath Evan’s skin the day before stands behind me. He is taller than the Evan I know, younger and older, all at once. His skin ripples green, brown, gold and amber. His hair weaves about his head like the bark of a tree. However different he seems, I knew that it is Evan, the Evan I feel I should already know.
He speaks then, his voice sharp and clear. “Child, be patient with her. There are forces working on her that you have not touched in many generations. She has done better than any before her has done and lasted longer than any other.”
The child listens to his words with an intensity that sends my gut to quivering.
“She is the first to bear your form in how many years?” Evan asks the child.
I do not expect to hear an answer. My curiosity is stifled by a force beyond myself. Instead, I try to grasp the form Evan wears. It isn’t possible. It can’t be possible!
“She knows nothing of our world,” he explains to the child. “Surely you have gathered that much.”
The child shrugs. “I know much, but my interest lies in her getting away, escaping those that had trapped me within her.”
“Trapped you?” I sputter.
She nods. “How else was I to be caught if they didn’t work their vile magic and call to me? What do you think the others you bore are?” She glares at Evan, keeping him silent, though he obviously wants to speak. “There is no time to be careful or gentle. She must make her final decision instead of this waffling junk she keeps pulling. You do know how to make up your own mind, don’t you?” she asks me sharply.
I open my mouth to insist that I can, but in reality, it has been a long time since I’ve had to make any decision beyond what I might wear or watch on TV. Those are not the type of decisions she cares about.
“I thought as much,” the child groans “It would have been easier if I hadn’t been placed in someone so lulled into complacency.”
For a moment, she appears ageless and ancient, wisdom beyond human years in her eyes. Then she is eight again. It is too much. I flee the clearing. Two sets of footsteps keep pace with me. Evan catches me and waits until I’ve calmed before speaking.
“She is right.” He catches my wrist before I can hit him, my reaction startling me more than his speed.
“I am not complacent.” I force my fears into the deepest reaches of my mind, for I can not admit what they might lead to.
“I wasn’t your idea.” The child arrives at a more reasonable pace. “Neither were the other four.” She waits for me to protest, and when I say nothing, continues, “You didn’t want to have the family dinners and chat about children you would never know. As the sickness grew worse, you wished for drugs and sleep… perhaps maybe death?”
I shake my head, but her words are true, and she knows it.
“What sort of veil did he place upon you for you to love him so?” she leers, piercing straight into the heart of my fears. The image of my dear husband shatters until all I can see is the stranger of the day before, darkness clothed in flawless human flesh, searing, joyless eyes stare into my soul. My desire to light him on fire increases.
“I’m sorry,” the child whisperes softly, as Evan cradles me against his chest. The smell of freshly turned earth and sunlight suit him better than the chemical smell of soap and laundry detergent. “We’d hoped that you would come to the realization on your own and escape, but you are too close to the day where I must leave if you didn’t fully accept your role.”
“My role?” I hiccup between the words.
“As my mother.” The child beams. “Once I am viable we will no longer be able to speak as we do now. I’ve only three weeks to teach you what you need to know.”
I shake my head. “No, the visions last the entire pregnancy.”
The girl rolls her eyes in full childish obstinance. “I am not your normal pregnancy, remember?”
She pushes something hard and worn into the palm of my hand. I run my finger over the smooth surface of the stone as my heart flutters. It is the stone I’d carried with me all through my childhood, the only memory I have left of my mother. I fit my finger into the groove I’ve worn into it over the years. It had gotten lost not long after I’d met Wilson, but I hadn’t needed it so desperately with him by my side.
Memories wash over me. Colors and thoughts that had led me to pursue art at the university. My hands itch with the memory of forming clay flowers and fairy homes that come straight from the visions that the child grants me.
“What a grand facade, a wondrous tale, and a lovely life he created just for you.” The child’s words bite into me with a piercing truth.
“So, what will it be?” Evan asks.
I look between him and the child. “Who are you? Both of you.”
“I am your guardian,” Evan explains with a bow, “though there was little I could do until you discovered me for yourself.”
“No.” I clutch the stone to my chest. It can’t be real—this, them, my lost stone. The stone goes hot, then cold right as Evan speaks.
“Your abilities hide you so well that even my people had no way to find you until the first baby became viable.”
“No!” I repeat. I don’t have abilities. Just stupid, crappy, bottom of the dung barrel morning sickness…
The child catches my hands and my attention. I sink into her golden gaze. “It’s all true,” she says, and her words mesmerize and promise adventure and life unlike anything I’ve ever known. Who are you? I think the words, but cannot speak them.
The child grins. She carefully draws me back to the clearing, to the place where wrong and right are at such odds that the very earth can not determine which to obey. She releases my hand and walks away as my mind freezes in terror. I have to choose…
“Wait! Please don’t go!” I chase after her as the world tilts. She blows into my arms. Her magical laughter wraps us in a warm embrace.
“She’s your daughter,” Evan explains in her stead. The ground grows solid again, green, brown and fertile. I relax my vision, the overlay of color as glorious as before, though not nearly as overwhelming. The child, my child, does not change, her golden eyes and ebony hair blow on the same wind that carries me from my dream.
I sat up with a gasp. The smooth stone was tucked into my right hand. Fear drove me to get out and away while I could.
My night nurse was dozing in the chair near the bed. I carefully pulled back the covers and tugged at my IV. The thin tube came out with a pop of blood. Oops. I nabbed a nearby towel and held it against my arm.
My nurse grunted in her sleep. I barely breathed, waiting until she settled before I climbed out of bed. The floor was cold and my muscles watery, but I tiptoed to the front door of the guest house. The door was locked from the outside.
The child stood at my elbow, watching with interest. “You seem surprised,” she told me. She didn’t seem surprised to find the door locked from the outside.
“He’s afraid that he’s losing you.” She laughed, breaking through my fear with the joy she carried. “What do you think, can he win you back?” She tilted her head toward the main house where a shadow jogged our way.
Wilson unlocked the door and wrapped me in a hug. I didn’t push away, despite the icy chill of his touch. My mind dreamt up fire. I shoved the idea away.
“Caprice, what’s wrong?” He led me to the couch, urging me to sit while he pulled the cloth away from my arm, the laughter lines around his eyes furrowed with worry. There was only a little blood on the white fabric. It resembled a flower or a monster. I couldn’t decide.
“Why was the door locked?” I asked. I needed the truth from him, for once.
“I didn’t want anything to happen to you.” Wilson, always my protector, my knight in shining armor, only had the best in mind for me.
“No, that’s not it.” I said. As I spoke those words, not even a shadow of the image I had grown to love in the man before me remained. His dark eyes held none of the warmth and love that I knew. I relaxed my vision, perhaps it would work the other way around?
For a breath, I saw Wilson, my Wilson, with adoration in his warm brown eyes. Then it was gone and his dark eyes watched me in anger… and fear? I placed my hand on his cheek, the sensation beneath my fingers did not match the image my eyes knew. Wilson’s eyes widened briefly as the angles beneath my fingers shifted to match my sight. I pulled my hand away before I could give away my secret. Too late.
“Caprice.” I felt like a child in trouble when he spoke. There was no warmth, comfort, or familiarity in his words. “What aren’t you telling me?”
I hid my desire to flee. He softened.
“You are safe here, you know.”
I nodded. He placed his hands over the top of mine. I closed my eyes, a catch to my breathing that I was having trouble controlling.
“Where were you trying to go?”
“My studio,” I lied.
“It’s three in the morning.”
His concern was nothing but a lie. I squeezed my eyes closed as tears burned behind my eyelids. He tried to twine his fingers through mine, I ripped them away from him.
“Caprice, what is this?” He caught my wrist and forced my right hand open, the stone lying across my palm. There was no imagining the fear this time. “Where did you get that?!” He knew of the stone. My stone.
“You took it?” I accused, certain of his guilt. He didn’t respond. He didn’t need to. “It was the only thing I had from my mother!” I scrambled away from him with the stone clutched to my chest.
“Caprice.” My name stretched into two sorrowful syllables. “Please give me back the stone.”
“What does it matter to you?” I demanded.
Wilson stopped, my body already pressed against the floor length window furthest from the door. There was no emotion in the unfamiliar dark eyes.
“You weren’t trying to go to your studio.” He pulled a small silver device out of his pocket. Fear choked me. What was he doing? He stepped toward me. “I need the stone back.”
“You can’t have it.”
I tried to slide along the windows toward the door. Wilson gently grabbed my shoulders. I ducked and failed to escape his hold. Stupid constant pregnancies! My limbs were as weak as wet bath towels. I struggled uselessly as he took my hand in a tender lover’s grasp.
“Give me the rock, Caprice.” He said, a sharp edge to the words.
Why hadn’t he just taken it? He was obviously much stronger than me.
The door interrupted my refusal. Evan took in the scene without a lick of emotion on his face. I wrenched against Wilson’s grasp on my wrists. Evan shook his head with an almost imperceptible frown.
“Doctor, good timing. I could use your help. My wife is awfully distressed tonight, distraught, really. Perhaps there is something we can do to help ease her mind a touch?” I gulped.
Evan tucked his hand under my elbow. “Let me get Caprice settled and then we will discuss our options.”
I froze. I didn’t want to go back to bed. I didn’t want to be drugged into complacency. The stone grew warm against the palm of my hand. I feared that it would slip from my sweaty grip.
Wilson’s hold on me relaxed. Evan smiled encouragingly. I leaned against my doctor. Evan wouldn’t drug me into complacency.
The door clicked closed behind us, the lock catching with a thud that sank into my body and mind like ice.
I gasped as Evan shoved me behind himself and spun toward Wilson. A shield of light blocked the zip of power that roared out of Wilson’s silver device. Where had Evan gotten a shield?
“You can stop him,” Evan whispered to me as the shield wavered. Another wave of energy popped against the shield.
Wilson sank into his true form, his shadowed body hard and black eyes expressionless as he advanced with the oblong silver device held before him.
“Give me the stone!”
No matter how I screwed my eyes, there was no vestige of the man I knew left.
Evan was steady as he held the shield between us and Wilson. I sank to the floor with a shiver. This couldn’t be happening. I pinched myself and yelped, awake, alert, and wishing that it were only a nightmare.
“Caprice, stay with me!” Evan commanded, as his form shifted into the woodman from the dream, complete with a glowing sword.
Wilson laughed. “You are the guard they snuck into my presence?”
He drew his own blade, light sucked into its depths as if it were made of the same darkness that shone from the holes where eyes normally resided.
Evan bowed with an added flourish of sword and shield. “And you never suspected me.”
Wilson swung his blade, betrayal in every line of his face. Evan parried. I covered my ears as my bones rang with the attack.
“Please, stop!” I cried out.
“You can stop this.” It was the child, kneeling by my elbow.
“No, I can’t even stand,” I told her, watching as the men fought.
“Evan can’t stop him.” she told me. “He isn’t powerful enough or he might have tried something before now. You are the only one here who can stop him.”
“I don’t know how,” I mumbled as Evan’s shield shattered. I covered my face as burning shards fell over me.
Evan glanced toward me in worry.
“No, don’t!” I screamed, but my warning was too late.
Wilson’s sword slashed down across Evan’s arm. Evan winced as blood dripped onto the white carpet and switched his blade to his other hand.
“Close your eyes,” the child instructed. I obeyed. There was no other option. “Deep breaths.” She covered my eyes with her hands. “Now, open them.”
I obeyed, seeing as if there were nothing over my eyes. Everything slowed. I could see the energy that each man gathered before they struck, the energy they poured into their shields, and the energy that Evan wasted in his attempt to protect me.
“The stone?” she prompted.
I lifted my hand. The rock glowed with the magnificent red I could never replicate. I held it in front of me as if it were a shield. It pulsed in the palm of my hand.
“Now,” the child whispered.
I released the heat in my palm, the red glow flowing over the room. Wilson faltered.
“Again,” the child urged.
I poured my focus into the stone, waiting for the red to be just right. I could feel it before I could see it. I held it a beat longer and released just as Wilson came at me, his focus on the stone in my hand. He stumbled at the release of power and Evan struck him from behind. Wilson fell in a puddle of rancid blood.
Evan scooped me from the ground as his sword disappeared to whatever realm he had pulled it from.
“We have to leave, now!” Evan ran from the guesthouse faster than any person I had ever seen. A car was waiting at the edge of the long driveway, an unfamiliar figure in the driver’s seat. Evan slid into the backseat without releasing me. “Go!”
The driver obeyed.
Evan carefully placed me beside him, procuring a bag just as my stomach released its contents. Fear and exhaustion battled with the crazy that my mind had no way to process. I shivered as cold washed over me. “Is he… dead?” I asked.
“Not dead, no.” Evan pulled blankets from a bag that was on the floor of the car. He stopped me from falling over and wrapped the fabric around me. “It would take more than that to kill a hem-netjer.”
I could feel my awareness slipping. The air around me wavered between reality and the strange world that the child knew. I couldn’t make sense of either.
“A servant of the gods,” Evan said, as he mixed some sort of powder into a bottle of water. “Drink.” He held the bottle to my lips. I hesitantly sipped and found that my body could tolerate the mixture, at least for the moment. Warmth flowed through my limbs and into my mind. “Just a little more and then you can sleep.”
I didn’t want to sleep. The chill dissipated entirely. My mind broke free of the fear that had claimed it so strongly. I opened my mouth to demand answers. I could have sworn Evan just told me that my husband was a servant of the gods. My stomach heaved a warning.
“All in good time,” the child assured me, and she curled up on the seat next to me, her head in my lap. “All in good time.”
I placed a hand over my belly in sudden fear. The baby kicked and I relaxed. She was fine. I tightened my hold on the smooth old stone and held the image of a shield in my mind as the car smoothly slid through traffic.