The time spent at the lab was probably the worst ever. Because Henri wasn’t there and I missed my baby. My pregnancy was drainin’ me and Doctor Redding seemed to be overworking me. Maybe it was my imagination but it seemed like this time around she really had me stretching my abilities. I called Henri as often as I could, also joyfully listenin’ to Miracle gurgle and babble, and then I would curl up in bed and sleep more soundly than I ever had before. That I remembered, at least.
When I told Doctor Redding the day before I was leavin’, she just stared blankly at me as if she didn’t comprehend what I was saying. “So I guess I won’t be back until this little one is a bit older, probably eight to ten months. So…. sixteenish months…”
She removed her glasses and rubbed one of the lenses. “Very well.” Her voice was very low and it filled me with dread. “Sixteen months. Is that an exact schedule or is the ‘ish’ going to make it longer than sixteen months?”
“I don’t know,” I said honestly. I reeeallly hoped the honesty would calm her down but it didn’t look like that was gonna happen. “As long as everything goes well, I will say–say sixteen months…”
When her glasses were put back on, she glanced momentarily at my stomach before lookin’ into my eyes. Hers were like emeralds, and I felt like they would just slice into me and turn me into bloody strips. It wouldn’t surprise me if she actually was able to do it, if she had modified her own body to have weapons built in. Forget that, she was a weapon all by herself. “And after that, another pregnancy? And then another one? No. I believe our contract should be terminated.”
I balled my hands into fists and shook my head. “No. I don’t plan on having children one after another! If and when we have a third, it won’t be for a few years. Doctor Redding, please don’t end our contract. I need answers. I’m willingly allowing myself to be experimented on. I know I’m not being the most constant but I didn’t schedule in either of these pregnancies. If I had known at the start which months I’d be pregnant in, I would have said so, but—”
“Enough!” She held up one hand and kept her glittering eyes on me. “We will continue. But if you become pregnant within a year of this… baby’s birth—” her lips curled up in a sneer as she said the word ‘baby’. “—then consider our contract finished.”
I agreed to it, as I planned on going on birth control again once this one was born. I hadn’t after Miracle’s since, well I didn’t think of it at the time. I almost asked her about Professor Redding givin’ me an ultrasound but figured it best not to mention it to her. He did it that night, carefully going over my belly. And going over, and going over. Finally he had me sit up and I could see he was real worried about something. I wanted to throw up seein’ that look on his face and my hand instinctively started grasping for Henri’s hand which wasn’t there.
“Are you s-sure you’re pregnant?” he asked after a moment.
“Yes,” I said. “I have all the same symptoms I had when I was pregnant with Miracle.” Was he telling me I wasn’t pregnant? I never took the test since I THOUGHT I could tell by the way my body felt. Had I been wrong? I thought of Henri’s excited, hopeful face. Oh Watcher, if I’m not… please let me be…
Professor Redding rubbed his nose and looked at the monitor of the ultrasound machine. “I d-didn’t see any—any b-baby. It l-looked like…” He hesitated and then flushed red.
“A ghost?” I whispered, touching my belly.
“No. N-nothing, Serenity. I’m s-sorry. I… c-couldn’t get a good view but… well, I s-saw a lot of blurriness and I’m n-not sure but maybe… you sh-should see a doctor.”
My hands pressed harder against my belly. “No! There’s a baby in me, Professor! I know there is!”
“Th-there’s a mass in there!” he wailed, coverin’ his face with both hands. “I did w-wonder if it was a gh-ghost baby but it’s not, it’s a… a large m-mass. I’m sorry. I’m s-so sorry.”
He was wrong. I trusted Professor Redding but he was wrong. There was no blurry mass in my womb, there was a baby. I knew there was. It had to be a ghost if it didn’t look right—Then why is it so big?—but it’s a baby. A baby. Not a mass. Not… not something dangerous. I had to pull over on my way home several times to cry. I hadn’t told Henri on the phone because I didn’t want him worrying. I didn’t even want to tell him but I knew I had to.
When I got home Henri and I kissed many times and then I spent ages snugglin’ with Miracle. She cooed and grabbed my hair, staring up at me with big brown eyes. I kissed the top of her head and held her close. She was gonna be a big sis. I knew she was. She’d be a great big sis, like Duncan was a great big brother to me. But finally it was time for her nap and there were no excuses for me to keep quiet.
“I had Professor Redding do an ultrasound,” I said as Henri and I snuggled up on the couch. He ran his fingers up the inside of my arm, causing me to shiver.
“Yeah?” he asked. I nodded and then closed my eyes, not wanting to tell him. “And?”
“He doesn’t think I’m pregnant.” The words were so heavy and so hard to get out, I had to force them out slowly. Henri straightened up and stared at me. I didn’t meet his gaze. “He says he thinks it’s something else—he didn’t say what. But he says there is a…” I swallowed and held Henri’s hand tightly. “He says there’s a large mass inside.”
He gave a thin wail and held me even tighter. “He’s wrong, it’s impossible. You can’t have a…” He stopped and then hugged me tightly. “You’re not sick. It’s not a tumor.”
“I’m pregnant, Hen! I know I am!” I clung to him tightly and clung to my belief. “Maybe if it was just one symptom or two, like nausea or lack of a period, but swollen feet? And this exhaustion—it’s how it was with Miracle, okay so it’s a bit more. But it’s the same. I’m pregnant. I know I’m pregnant.”
He was kissing my hand, each fingertip one by one. “We’ll go to another doctor—won’t we?” he added when he saw me shaking my head.
“I think it might be a ghost. That’s why it wasn’t working properly.” I moved my hands down to my belly, moving his hands there as well. “Or maybe the machine wasn’t working right. I don’t know, but it doesn’t matter. I’m pregnant. I’ve been through this before and I’ll have Mal help me and help me with the home birth. I am a hundred percent sure I’m pregnant and—and fairly sure it’s a ghost.” I didn’t want to put a percentage on it since it terrified me the thought that inside me was a ghost baby. If it was, would it be like my first pregnancy? What if it was different? What if something happened?
“You’re shaking…” Henri ran his thumb over my knuckles, holdin’ my hands which I realized were trembling.
“I’m scared,” I admitted. His brow lowered and I shook my head, figurin’ out what he was thinking. “It is a baby but if it’s a ghost then…”
“Then we’ll deal with it when he or she is born.” He kissed me then held me tight in his arms. I tried not to cry as I buried my face against him. I missed his old scent, the aftershave he always used as a teenager even before he needed to shave he would splash some on to make himself feel more adult, the rich food his father would cook for him with sauces with names I could never pronounce or spell, and even that slightly sad smell of hospitals. Now he smelled of something I could never put my finger on. Death, perhaps.
What if our baby…? I began crying and he rubbed my back, promising me everything would be okay.
“Hey Grandma!” I walked into her room at my dad’s house, carrying the vase of flowers I had picked for her. I set it down then kissed her cheek. It had been about a month since Professor Redding had told me he didn’t think I was pregnant. I knew I had to be. My pregnancy tests sometimes said yes, sometimes said no. Mal had agreed to help me but he still didn’t know much. A little was better than nothing.
“Hey sweetie.” Grandma looked at the flowers with a smile on her face. She had been getting weaker and weaker, and finally agreed to move in with one of her kids. Since Uncle Zari had about fifty kids and fifty million grandkids coming and goin’, and Aunt Vi and her hubby were over in Africa doing a movie shoot… Mom and Dad had taken her in.
I planted another kiss on her cheek then sat down. “How’re you feeling?” I asked.
“Better,” she said, slowly sitting up. “Angry at this body of mine, but I guess that’s one of the downfalls of getting old.” She paused and shrugged. “Not many pros, though. Except grandkids and great-grandkids. Bring that belly over here.”
I scooted the chair closer so she could rub the small bump. “Mom said you haven’t been eating much,” I said as her fingers moved in small circles.
“I’m not hungry,” Grandma said, feelin’ a flash of annoyance. “And Sebastian is getting to be a fussy old hen.” She pulled her hands back and sighed, not a happy sigh but not a sad sigh. More of a… resolved sigh. “Serenity… Seb told me a few years back that—that he gave you something when you were a teenager. A plaque. A school one.”
“No, I never got any since I didn’t go to public or private school,” I reminded her and as she frowned, I remembered guiltily the one she was referring to. “Oh, you mean the, um, Jacob Danevbie one?”
“Yes,” she said with a smile. “That one. My dad gave it to me. It was my grandfather. It must be so old now… I’m hoping you give it to one of yours one day. Continue the tradition.”
I couldn’t tell her the complete truth. “G-Grandma, I have to tell you something. It… the plaque… it broke. A while ago. It fell and… broke in half…” I deserved to be slapped for this lie but how could I tell my grandmother that I had purposely snapped it in half and thrown it in a fire? As it was, she was upset. She didn’t show it in her face but she couldn’t hide her feelings. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s all right, dear,” she lied. “It was old. Bound to happen eventually. Age happens. Things break down and eventually fall apart.”
I didn’t like the way she said that, or the way she felt about it. She was referring to herself and not the plaque. “Why did you want to know about it?” I asked.
“No reason…” She closed her eyes, lookin’ weary and feeling even more so. “Sometimes I wonder why people hold on so tightly to the past. Plaques and lockets and physical representation of memories.” She lifted both hands now, spreading her fingers wide. “I look at this ring and remember that night when Kellen got down on one knee and popped the question. I remember the smell of the books–he did it in a library, you know–and the feeling going through my body. I remember how this ring felt being put on my finger for the first time.” She took the ring off and tightened her hand around it. “The memory is still there, though the ring is not in sight. But if I lost this ring I think I’d cry.”
I watched as she opened her finger and smiled at the sight of the ring sittin’ in her palm. I could practically see that moment too, going through everything she felt. There was even a bit of red in her cheeks as she put the ring back on. “Don’t give me that look, Serenity. I have no intention of giving some big speech the night before I die. I’ll see Kellen again soon, but not yet. I wanted to say all this for another reason. Because you need it.”
She reached over and wrapped her thin hands around mine. “I used to feel so connected to that plaque. I ignored it for a long time then after I went through some crap I held onto that plaque like it meant something big, and I gave it to Sebastian like it was–oh, I don’t know. A holy relic. A scrap of the Reaper’s cloak. But it’s just a plaque. This… this is just a ring. We put so much emphasis on things.”
“I’m sorry, Grandma, I don’t understand what this has to do with me,” I said, lookin’ into her eyes. They were faded and distant now, but I could still see the spark in her.
“You’re a mother now, and have a second one on the way. I spent more time than I’d like to admit away from my own children for the first seven years of their lives. I sought answers, buried myself in metal and it took a lot to see what was around me and that there were more important things than money–“
“Grandma–” I tried again and she got real annoyed so I shut my mouth.
“I’m talking about the Reddings!” she snapped. My eyes went wide and I shrank back in my seat. “Yes. I know. I’ve suspected for a while but I realized it last time you ran off. I don’t know what she has said to you, but you cannot trust her, Serenity. You can’t. She’ll lie through her teeth to get what she wants, never mind what you want.”
“What does this have to do with things and money?” I asked, trying to switch the subject but Grandma just glared at me.
“Everything. That’s all she can give you. Things that don’t matter. A plaque, a ring. Money. She can tie it up in a nice little package and label it something else but it’s the same thing.”
I slowly shook my head. “Grandma, I’m after her for answers.”
“Answers?” Suddenly she stopped and stared at me, very confused. “Answers to what?”
“My powers. I want to know if there’s a cure. What did you think I was after?”
Her fingers stroked the back of my hand and she once again felt unsettled. “Things. Something physical. A machine to change Henri, perhaps. Or a baby you might have like him…. oh…” She stopped when she saw the look on my face. “Hal’s been worried since you won’t go to the hospital. Is this baby like its father?”
“I think so. I’m not going to Doctor Redding for any machine. Just answers about what’s going through my blood…”
Grandma moved on the bed a bit. “She’s nothing but trouble. Don’t go anymore, Serenity. She’ll lie, she’ll pretend, she’ll trick you. Do you know what she did to me?” Grandma opened one eye but didn’t let me say anything. “Locked me and a little girl up in a room to die in an explosion. Left dozens of people in a place to die, little children included. She never looked back, never thought twice about the fact she’d be murdering so many people. She did what she thought best.”
“How did you find out about the Reddings? Really? How did you know I was going to them?” I was tryin’ not to sound as angry as I felt but it was hard.
“That’s not important–“
“How did you find out?”
Grandma gave me a steady glare then pulled an envelope out from under her pillow. I took it, quickly readin’ it. It was unsigned but I knew it was Professor Redding. Telling my grandmother that I was seeing the Doctor and to stop me. I crumpled the letter in one hand and then threw it across the room. How dare he? HOW DARE HE? My body quivered with rage and I wanted to go to him and shake him and yell at him for sticking his nose where it didn’t belong. I trusted him! And he went behind my back and snitched on me, to my grandmother!
“What did you really think I was going for? Not a machine, you wouldn’t be going on about memories and stuff if you thought I was trying to help my husband.” It was real hard now to keep my voice steady and not let the anger creep in.
“I don’t know why you were going,” she answered, lifting her chin and lookin’, and feelin’, stubborn. “It could have been any one of things. Doctor Redding has her thumbs in a lot of different pies. It could have been anything. I was worried about you. I am worried about you. So is Kay—Professor Redding. You should stop going to her. It can only end badly. I once thought what you’re probably thinking, that she can’t be all that bad, that she has to be just a little bit trustworthy. Well, she’s not. Not at all. She is manipulating you to get what she wants and will never give you everything you want.”
“This isn’t any of your business,” I said without really thinkin’ it through. Grandma closed her eyes and felt miserable, and I felt guilty. “I’m sorry. I love you, Grandma, but… this isn’t your life. It’s mine. It’s my decision. I… even if Redding isn’t trustworthy, I have something she wants—and she has something I want. We’ve made an agreement.” I leaned in to kiss her forehead again and she just glowered at me as I did. “I’ll see you later, Grandma.”
I started to leave but then stopped, rememberin’ what all she said before the subject went to the Reddings. “Why were you going on about the plaque and memories and everything?” I turned back around to look at her. “That had nothing to do with the Reddings.”
“Everyone who has had that plaque has had their brush with the Reddings,” Grandma said. “Sometimes I wonder if that… if the plaque… if there’s a bigger picture to all of this. That plaque, I don’t know. Maybe it’s just the ramblings of an old lady. Something fuzzy in this fuzzy mind. But there’s something else. Something big. Something… that I thought had to do with that thing.” Her eyes rolled up to the ceiling and she slowly exhaled. “Maybe it was cursed. Maybe it is best that it’s gone and you can’t give it to one of your kids.”
“It was just a plaque.” Everyone who had had it. Grandma, my maternal dad—the two people I could never stop feeling. There was a connection between us. But what? And did it have somethin’ to do with the Reddings…? How could that be possible? Just a plaque, the Reddings, my abilities, that weird connection that didn’t stop… what the heck did it all mean?
The plaque couldn’t have had anything to do with it, I realized as I left the house. I had destroyed it and I still felt the connection with my maternal dad and my grandma. The connection probably had to do with the fact my maternal dad carried me in his womb for nine months, and he was carried in his mom’s womb for nine months. If my great-grandma Penny had been alive, I was sure it would be with her I felt this connection, not my great-granddad who had had the plaque.
So why didn’t I feel this connection with Miracle?