I could not get Verna out of my head. Her plea, her fear, her words. They haunted me for days. I could barely concentrate on work and felt so bad when I snapped rather harshly at Cesario for trying to climb into the fridge. He slid out, his lower lip trembling at me.
“Mama?” he asked, raising his arms and I shook my head.
“Cesario, you cannot get into the fridge!” I said, picking him up and carrying him to his room.
“Mama!” he cried out. “No like, want food. Hungry.”
“You are not hungry,” I said, putting him down in his crib. “You just had lunch.”
“Zari in twouble!” Viola giggled, from where she was playing with the dollhouse Kellen had made for her.
“Ola MEAN!” Cesario screamed back. He picked up his stuffed teddy and tried throwing it at her. I slumped against the wall, rubbing my eyes. This was turning into all-out war! Plus I had yelled a little worse than I should have.
“Okay, kids, no fighting,” I said, picking up the teddy bear and putting it back in the crib. “Cesario, will you be good?”
“No,” he said, giving me a defiant look.
“Okay, fine!” I said, raising my hands and stepping back.
He stood up and began throwing a temper tantrum. “NO! MAMA! ZARI GOOD! ZARI GOOD!”
“Zari bad,” Viola said but I just plucked Cesario up and set him on the floor.
“Okay, sweetie. Be a good boy.” I kissed the top of his head and trudged out into the other room, trying to keep my temper down. I flopped down onto the couch, wishing Kellen was there but he had been called into work that morning for an emergency. What did Verna mean? I wondered, rubbing my temples.
“Mommy…” I looked down and saw Sebastian at my knees, smiling sweetly at me. “Mommy, headape?” he asked.
I set him on the couch next to me, trying not to laugh. “Yes, Mommy has a headache. Work’s been kinda strange for Mommy.”
He pursed his lips out and scrunched up his face in thought. “Seb help,” he said and then climbed to his feet so he could kiss my cheek. “Dat help?”
“That helped wonderfully, sweetie. Thank you.” I pulled him into my arms, nuzzling and playing with him for a bit, wondering why Verna had been so scared to have her baby taken away. And who was Bianca? I decided to talk to Kellen that night about it.
He didn’t get home until very late. All three kids were in bed. I had had an adventure giving them all baths, making sure their teeth were all brushed, getting them into pajamas. Cesario obviously felt bad for earlier because he acted like a perfect angel. I read them each their own story then spent quite a few hours pacing around the house, tidying up, hoping Kellen would get back.
The clock had struck, indicating it was half an hour after one, when I heard his car pull up. I waited by the door and when he came in, he looked miserable. I put my hands against his chest, smelling the unmistakable odor of the shampoo that Acinert held in supply. He had taken a shower there. That always meant something bad.
“Lune!” he whispered, wrapping his arms around me. “Is there anything to eat? I’m starving…”
He curled up on the couch while I fixed up a plate for him. I kept very quiet as he ate and then took the plate back to the kitchen, trying to figure out how to ask him what happened. I didn’t need to worry since he came up behind me and buried his face against my neck.
“I want to quit,” he mumbled. “I don’t think I can work at Acinert anymore. I can’t deal with this… it’s… uugh…”
I helped him over to the couch and sat him down, rubbing his back gently. “No matter what you want, I’ll support you a hundred percent,” I promised him. He gave me a faint smile and then I went ahead and asked. “Hun, what happened?”
He ran his fingers through his hair and shook his head. “Death, again. It was miserable. Neither of them made it.”
I froze as my heart first leaped into my throat then plummeted into my stomach. “Neither…?” I echoed. “What do you mean?”
“A young woman was brought in, she was going to have a baby,” he said slowly and my heart began pounding heavily. “She went into labor today and we spent hours trying to save her and, or, the baby but… they both died. It was a mess. It was horrible.”
“Verna?” I croaked out.
Kellen blinked at me. “Verna Hart, how did you know?”
“I brought her there the other day,” I muttered. “She was really scared. I promised her everything would be okay. I promised… I promised her! She can’t be–it couldn’t have–no! Kellen, NO!”
He quickly put his arms around me, holding me tight and I cried. Verna! How could this have happened? She seemed healthy and the medical staff at Acinert consisted of some of the best. I didn’t understand, I couldn’t understand.
“I’m s-sorry,” I sniffled, realizing that Kellen had seen it all happen. “It must have been hard for you…”
Kellen nodded, still holding me. “I have been around something like that before, but it’s just so unbearable seeing it happen. And I cannot even do anything properly, since I’m not a doctor, I’m just there to assist.” He rubbed his forehead and groaned. “But there wasn’t anything I could do anyway. It was hopeless. I’m going to try to get some sleep…”
I gave him a goodnight kiss but stayed out on the couch for a while, thinking and trying not to feel too miserably guilty about the promise I had made or the decision I had made. But it wouldn’t work. The guilt got worse, wishing I had whisked Verna off when she begged me.
It wasn’t for a few weeks before I felt the courage to ask about Bianca. Kellen didn’t quit and I knew he didn’t have any intention of doing so. He was depressed for a while but slowly got better, with the help of our kids. I, however, didn’t feel better for a bit longer than that. All I could hear was her pleas, all I could feel was her hands gripping me. But finally I felt decent (okay, not decent; but the curiosity was overwhelming me) enough to talk to him, and his reaction surprised me.
We were in bed and before he could start reading the book he had been working on, I cleared my throat. “I need to ask you something. Was there a villager in Ancora recently named Bianca?”
He jerked a bit and dropped the book. “Bianca? Recently? Why do you ask?”
I gave him a look. “There is, or was, someone named Bianca. Wasn’t there? She had a baby. Who was she? What happened?”
“Why did you bring Bianca up?” he asked, furrowing his brow. “Where did you hear about Bianca? That was before you worked there. Just… just barely before… in fact, she’s sort of the reason you’re there…”
“What do you mean?”
Kellen shifted a bit, obviously trying to figure out how to tell me. “Bianca… was a young woman who experienced something almost identical to what happened with Verna. She was pregnant, went into labor a bit early and both her and the baby died. Well, the baby died sooner. Bianca held on a bit longer but…” He trailed off. “Remember you finding me in town, all bloody?”
I nodded. “That’s why I followed you to Acinert.”
“I was there because of Bianca. She was in labor for a very long time, and we used up a lot of supplies so they sent me on an emergency run to town to grab some stuff.”
I settled back, the words sinking in. Bianca went through what Verna went through. They’ll take my baby, like Bianca. But they didn’t ‘take’ Bianca’s baby, the baby died and then Bianca died. Maybe if the baby was never brought back to Ancora for burial that Verna and others assumed they ‘took’ the baby.
“Lune, you have that look on your face,” he said, tweaking my chin. “What are you thinking?”
“Kellen, when I brought Verna back from Ancora–she mentioned Bianca,” I told him quickly. “She said ‘don’t let them take my baby like they did with Bianca’ or something like that. She insisted they had taken Bianca’s baby, and was worried they’d do the same to her. She wanted to run away.”
“That’s odd…” Kellen frowned. “Why would she say that? I assume they know both mother and child died… But if they didn’t, then I can see rumors would run wild.”
I tilted my head. “Isn’t Bianca buried in Ancora?”
He shook his head. “I’m not a hundred percent sure where the graveyard is, actually, but it’s not in Ancora.”
“Kell–are the villagers even told if someone dies outside the village, at the main building?” I asked, sitting up more.
He laughed. “Of course they are! Why wouldn’t they be told?”
I looked down and then pulled up the blanket, sliding my legs under. “Who was Bianca related to?”
“Hmmm?” He was leaning over the bed, searching for the book. “Oh. The Wings. She was their oldest daughter.”