Uri pulled back the covers and put his ear to her belly. “Does the beat go like this?”
He drummed a beat on one of her breasts.
“It’s Victoria. You’re hearing our daughter’s heartbeat,” he said.
He was grinning wide.
“I’m hearing her heart beat?”
“Wonderful, isn’t it?” he said.
“Yes. I can hardly wait to talk to her.”
“I as well,” he said, snuggling back up to her.
Natalia found herself totally absorbed in listening. The beat filled her ears. She almost couldn’t hear Uri’s even breathing that told her he had fallen back to asleep.
“I’m never going to sleep again,” she said.
Then, the beat seemed to change, and it lulled her to sleep. She had warm and sweet dreams.
She woke when Uri stirred beside her. A little sunlight was spilling around the curtains, but it was still early.
He stretched then cuddled back up to her.
“Can you still hear her?” he said.
“Yes. Can you?”
He moved so his ear was on her belly.
“Now I can.”
“Tell her it’s time that Mommy gets up. She has to go learn how to drive,” she said with a laugh.
Uri whipped the covers off her and pulled her out of bed.
“Bonnie will take you to class,” Uri said while they ate breakfast. “I have a few things I need to do today. Bank related.”
“No auditor problems, I hope.”
“No, just reports to get out. I can do it all from my office here.”
“Well, I better get ready.”
She drained her mug of tea.
“So more sanguine tea tomorrow?”
“I think so. I hope so. We’ll be out by tomorrow.”
Natalia trotted upstairs to use the bathroom and cover her mark. She looked at her arm. The lineage mark was fully expressed down her right arm now, making her glad she was able to wear long sleeves.
She trotted back down the stairs. Uri was still finishing his tea, sitting at the dining room table.
“I’m off. See you later.”
He stood to hug her and rub his cheek on hers.
Natalia headed for the garage. Bonnie was there holding the limo door open for her.
“Can I ride up front? I can see road signs better.”
“Sure,” Bonnie said.
She closed the door and opened the front passenger side.
Natalia slid in. The dash on the limo was much different from her car.
Bonnie slid in, started the limo and backed it out.
“What is all this?” Natalia said.
“Radios, tracking systems. GPS. Things I use for my job to know where to be,” she said.
Natalia could hear the limo talking in the background, informing them of where police and check points were.
“Why are there so many check points?”
“The city likes to harass certain people.”
“Rich, poor, or political?”
“All the above,” Bonnie said, executing a turn.
Natalia knew she was taking a different route to avoid a check point.
“Are we the only ones with devices that tell where check points are?”
“The police don’t know this?”
“They do. They keep changing the frequency of their radios, so we can’t find them, but when there are Viperians on the force, we change with them,” Bonnie said with a smile.
Natalia pulled her attention away from all the flashing lights on the dash to watch out the window, so she could see the signs and the way they were going. A few streets, like the main thoroughfares, were familiar. However, Bonnie turned onto an unfamiliar street. A few blocks later she pulled into the parking lot of the driving school.
“I’ll be waiting at the back of the lot,” Bonnie said.
“Isn’t that boring?”
“I have people to talk to.”
Natalia stepped out and headed to the doors. There was a group of five teenage boys hanging outside.
“Damn rich girl,” she heard someone say.
Natalia just smiled, deciding to have some fun.
“Just training for my new job,” she said in a quiet voice, passing the group.
She was glad she hadn’t been sitting in the back and that Bonnie hadn’t run out to open the door for her.
Inside, she saw the sign for the class, and she headed for the classroom.
“Name?” a man said right as she entered, causing her to start.
“Nattie Osrisca,” she said.
“Take a seat.”
She thought he was rather curt.
There were three other people in the room already seated. Two were giggly teenagers sitting together and staring at their phones. The other was a woman that Natalia thought was only a few years older than the teenagers. Or at least look much more mature.
Natalia took a seat. There were no Viperians.
A minute before the class was to start, the group of boys came in.
“I don’t have a Mano.”
“Legal name,” the man said with a roll of his eyes.
The teen pointed to a name and than sat. The others were more compliant and gave their names. Natalia now knew why the man was so curt.
“I’m Jake. We’ll have two hours of instruction, a break and then a test.”
“We’re here to drive,” the troublemaker teenager said.
There was laughter.
Natalia rolled her eyes.
“If you don’t pass the test, you don’t do the driving part,” Jake said, seeming to ignore the comment.
“I don’t need no instruction,” the teen said.
Natalia could see he intended to be disruptive the whole time. She wasn’t going to let some no-good punk ruin her attempt to get her license.
“What’s your name,” Natalia said, turning toward him.
“None of your business,” he said, looking offended.
“I’m going to make you my business,” she said.
“Ha,” he said with a laughed along with his group.
“Sir, do you mind if I put a hole in the wall?” she said to Jake.
Jake didn’t look too interested as if she wasn’t going to make any headway with the teen.
“May I put a small hole in the wall, so we can continue with class?”
The teenager was now on his phone and telling jokes to his friend.
Jake looked at her and then the teenager.
“Be my guest. His name is Brian,” Jake said, now looking slightly interested.
“Brian,” she said.
Natalia flicked her wrist. Her knife whizzed by Brian’s face and embedded itself in the wall.
“Now. You a betting man?” she said to Brian who was staring at the hilt of the knife that was so close to his face that his breath was fogging the glean of the knife. “Do you want to bet that I have another knife or not?”
Brian didn’t say a word. He was frozen as if the knife had penned him down.
She rose and pulled out the knife.
“If you say another word, unless you are responding to a question by Jake, this knife won’t miss next time. Do you understand this?”
“Sorry, Jake. Go on.”
She took her seat back. The room was now totally silent.
Jake smiled and handed out the drivers manual. He walked them through the whole manual. They watched two movies. One was on the effects of alcohol, and it showed gory crashes. The other was on bad and good driving techniques, showing people ending up in stupid situations.
“Okay. Take a ten-minute break. Read your manual, then we’ll take the test.”
Natalia rose and headed for the restrooms. She heard the other women enter the restroom a few moments after her. While she washed her hands, the other woman in the class stepped up.
“I’m Charlotte. Nice to meet you Nattie. I think that’s what you told him your name was.”
“Hi, Charlotte. Yes, I’m Nattie.”
“That was cool what you did. Damn, kids.”
“I see it a lot,” she said. “I’m in training to be a limo driver.”
She decided to keep up her charade.
“Oh, that’s a job. Good luck with that.”
Natalia returned to the classroom. No one else was there, not even the instructor. She read through the driver’s manual.
“Mostly common sense,” she muttered, so she focused more on what the laws were.
It seemed like more than ten minutes had passed and she almost felt like she had the manual memorized. She glanced at the clock. It was a few minutes passed the time, so she rose and looked out. Everyone was standing outside.
Natalia wondered if she missed something. She stepped out. Jake and Brian were holding each other with one hand and pounding each other with the fist of the other. The women stood in silence and watched. The other teen boys were routing for Brian.
Natalia waved her hand. Bonnie was already trotting over. Natalia rushed over to Jake and Brian. She pulled with all her might and was surprised that she was able to separate them. Jake fell backwards. Brian was only thrown back a few steps. He was quick to recover and looked like he was ready to take advantage of this when Bonnie took hold of his shoulder. She smacked him hard across the face.
“What the hell,” Natalia said. “You out of your mind?”
This was directed at Jake.
“Stupid punk,” he said, spitting blood.
“Well, you’re so responsible,” she said.
Two men came running out of the building.
“Jake’s beating up a student who probably deserves it,” she said. “Who else can take over giving us our test. I want my damn driver’s license.”
She shook her head and headed back into the classroom. It was twenty minutes before everyone except Jake and Brian returned. Most were looking at the driver’s manual. Finally, another man entered.
“I’m Stan. We’ll take the test now. Follow me.”
He took them to a room that had electronic testing booths. There were four of them.
“If you’re ready, go to a booth and follow the instructions. If you need a little time, let the others go ahead.”
Natalia headed for a booth. She saw that Charlotte headed for one, too.
The test seemed overly simple. She had to type in her name. There were twenty-four questions to answer. When the test ended, it showed she had answered them all correctly. She rose and left the room.
A printer outside the door printed her results.
Stan was standing there with the others who were now seriously cramming through the manual. He picked up her results, took a look, then handed it to her.
“Take a lunch break and then go down that hallway. The driving instructors are waiting.”
“Thanks,” she said.
She felt relieved to leave the group. She had an energy bar in her purse which she chased down with water from a fountain. That only took her a few minutes. That was all the time she took, deciding she wanted to get this over with. She headed down the hallway. When she entered the room, all four people turned to look at her. There were two men and two women.
“I get her,” one of the women said in a quick manner.
“You had the last good one,” the other woman said, throwing up her hands.
The men frowned.
A few moments later, Charlotte entered.
“We’ll go together,” Natalia said. “I’m not driving with the gigglers.”
“I’m Barb. Come, this way.”
They followed Barb out to the back of the building. There was a huge lot with orange cones. There were four cars, all silver four-door sedans. They looked a little beat up.
Natalia enjoyed being the first one. She followed the ritual of fastening her seatbelt, checking mirrors, and starting the car to check the warning lights and fuel. She noted the car didn’t talk to her.
“Put it in gear and do a lap around the cones.”
Natalia felt like she was driving fast, but the speedometer only showed her going five mph. Time flew while both she and Charlotte drove.
“You’re done for today. Good job,” Barb said. “On Monday, we’ll do some practice around this course, then hit the streets. Go on in. They’ll take your picture and give you a learners permit.”
Natalia noted there were no others out driving.
“We’re the only ones who passed,” she said to Charlotte.
“Well, I’ll see you on Monday.”
Natalia got her picture taken. The card printed out as fast as when she originally obtained her city ID. She headed out the front door. Bonnie was parked in the back like she said, but started coming her way the moment Natalia stepped out.
“Hey, bitch. You wanna play rough? How’s this for a knife?”
Brian jumped out from behind a car. He was carrying a large butchers knife. She found she wasn’t even scared. A knife that big wasn’t going to be used with any speed or skill. Besides, Brian seemed to think he didn’t need to do anything other than hold the knife in a threatening fashion. He wasn’t protecting any other parts of his body.
“You never learn, do you?” she said. “And you’re too close to me.”
She kicked him hard in the nuts. He doubled over, dropping the knife. She kicked the knife away.
“You’re no street fighter,” she said, staying where she was.
The limo pulled up. Bonnie was quick to exit her seat and walk around.
“Stupid kid,” Bonnie said while she watched him moan and squirm on the ground. “Good kick.”
Bonnie stepped over to pick up the knife. As if she had done this before, she positioned his arms behind him and drove the knife through the fabric of both sleeves, missing his flesh, and into a crack in the cement. She essentially pinned him to the ground.
“Nice job,” Natalia said.
“We need to get you gloves,” Bonnie said.
Natalia noted she wore gloves.
“Finger prints bad?”
“You got it.”
Bonnie opened the passenger side door for her. They left the lot with no one the wiser and Brian was still pinned to the ground.
Natalia enjoyed the ride home.
“How did your class go?” Uri said when she walked in the door.
“Great. Bonnie says I need gloves.”
“What? Driving gloves?”
“Something about fingerprints.”
Uri raised his eyebrows.
“What the hell happened?”
She told him the story including that only two of them passed the test to get to the driving part. He rolled his eyes.
“Excuse the phrase, but damn Undent teenagers.”
“Hey, I’m an Undent teenager.”
“Not in my eyes,” he said.
“Well, I used to be.”
“You were never that sassy.”
“I’m going to be sassy if I don’t get something to eat. I’m hungry. When’s dinner? Or a snack before dinner?” She headed for the kitchen. “Mag. Can I have some cookies and tea?”
“Only iced tea,” Mag said, fixing a plate of cookies.
“That will do just fine. Thanks.”
She took her snack to Uri’s office.
“So have you heard from Grazie at all? Or anyone?” she said, sitting down.
One of his nostrils flared.
“Now you’re making me hungry,” he said. “I did hear from Grazie. Sherri’s still in the hospital. They wanted her to have another day of rest before they send her home so they’re waiting until tonight to discharge her. Grace, on the other hand, is doing great. Grazie said she found her voice and is exercising her lungs, but usually only at meal times.”
“I can see him handling it,” she said.
Uri grinned and nodded.
“He so wanted to be part of his son’s life, but Tia wouldn’t let him. That might change. He said she was up visiting again.”
Natalia nodded, but her thoughts were still full of her driving class. She wasn’t thinking of the driving part, but the fight she broke up.
Natalia didn’t know how to phrase the question.
“I feel like I’m stronger. I was able to pull two full-grown men apart.”
“You probably are. Your diet has changed your muscular structure.”
“I always thought Mag was so strong when she had pull me up from the sofa one day. And you carried me to the sofa as if I hardly weighed a thing.”
“You were pretty skinny when you first came,” he said.
“I don’t work out or do anything, really.”
“You’re lifting boxes all day in the conference room,” he said. “You’re walking a lot.”
“Yeah, you’re right.”
Natalia’s phone rang. It startled her since it rarely rang.
“Hi, Nattie. It’s Lisa. Sorry I couldn’t call yesterday, but Happy Birthday. A little late.”
“Lisa. Thanks. Oh, nice to hear from you. We have to get together and do lunch, shopping or both.”
“So right. We have to find the time. I have so much to tell you.”
“I’m taking a driving class next week. How about Friday or Saturday?”
“Saturday would be best for me,” Lisa said.
“I’ll come to pick you up. Let’s do it late. Text me an address.”
“I will. I hope you had a good birthday.”
“It was awesome. I’ll show you my presents when I see you on Saturday.”
“You’re going to have time on Saturday?” Uri said.
“The class starts at nine and ends at eleven-thirty. I was thinking about driving my new car, but… parking is always an issue in town, so I’ll ask Bonnie if she’ll drive my new car.”
“Good idea. She might like driving something different.”
“So, are you getting me gloves?”
He looked at her seriously.
“That might encourage you unnecessarily.”
“Or protect me,” she said with a smile.
“Check the glove box of your car,” Uri said with a shrug.
Natalia took the hint and ran out to the garage. She slid into the passenger seat of her car and popped open the glove box. The was a wrapped gift.