Natalia felt him lick her shoulder. He seemed to move in slow motion.
“You bite me, and you’ll be sleeping on the sofa for life,” she said.
Her words didn’t stop his hands. He slowly unbuttoned her shirt. As he slipped it off her, she felt irritation flow through her.
“Don’t touch my breasts. Don’t touch me anywhere,” she said, almost hissing the words. “Or I’ll bite you.”
“A little uncomfortable, are we?”
“I weight five hundred pounds. My belly is so huge you can hardly reach me.”
“You’re beautiful,” he said.
“The doctor said you only gained forty pounds.”
“I wasn’t weighed until I was three months pregnant. I’ve gained a lot more than that.”
“You gained what you needed,” he said. “Do you want me to massage your feet?”
“Now you’re talking my language.”
“What’s Victoria saying?”
“She’s quiet for now, but she’s been complaining of being cramped.”
“I felt her kicking earlier,” he said as he finished undressing her.
“She’s a hard kicker, but she shifted so she’s not hitting the tender spots anymore.”
“On which side are you laying?”
“Left,” Natalia said as she sat in bed and edged over. “It’s hard to move these forty pounds that feels like five hundred.”
“Victoria is more comfortable when you’re on your left side. She’ll let you rest.”
Natalia sighed as she found the right position. Uri sat at her feet.
“It won’t be long now,” he said, putting his hands on one of her feet.
“The damn feet hurt more than anything,” she said. “Can hardly walk anywhere without them swelling.”
“I can make them better for now.”
“Tia’s been talking to me, telling me what to expect and what I’ll feel and what Victoria may say to me.”
“Not fair that Mina already had her baby and I’m still pregnant. You bred her after me.”
Natalia felt like complaining even though Uri’s warm hands on her foot felt heavenly.
“She had a boy. Boys are only carried for nine and a half months,” he said.
“Times up for this girl.”
She moaned with pleasure as Uri changed to her other foot.
“Any day now,” he said in a soft voice.
“Was that Mina downstairs earlier?”
“Yes, she just stopped by to see how things were going.”
“How’s Umi doing?”
“He’s a fat, chunky boy who likes his breast milk.”
“Just like his father.”
“I’m pleased she’s letting me be part of his life even though she has a new man,” he said as he moved a hand so he was massaging both of her feet at the same time.
“Lafton is a good one. He seems to like having a Uri son around.”
“He’s just dreaming of another dart champion and quid pro quo.”
“He’ll have a run for his money with Grazon. I hear he’s already throwing darts, and he’s what? Four?”
“No one can beat a Uri son,” Uri said.
“What about a Uri daughter?”
“Daughters don’t do dart tournaments.”
“Because it’s not fair to have women compete against men.”
“That’s not fair to the women,” she said.
“No, that’s not fair to the men,” he said. “If I ever had to compete against Mina, I’d lose. Most women are better than the men.”
“Oh. I thought darts were the man’s domain, and you guys were keeping the women out.”
“No, darts are to keep us men occupied and out of trouble.”
She smiled, but felt too comfortable to laugh.
“You going to sleep now?” he said.
“I think so.”
“Do you want a window open? It’s a nice evening.”
“Okay. You going to run amok?”
“No. Everyone is home on baby watch. Mag is sleeping on the sofa so if she hears us up, she’ll call Bonnie to get ready to go to the hospital. However, the moon’s going to be full tomorrow. That’s everyone’s bet on when Victoria will come.”
“I hope so.”
Uri pulled a light blanket over her before he opened a window and left. He didn’t shut the door all the way. A breeze blew in and billowed the curtains. The air felt fresh with hints of moist earth and mowed grass.
’Time to come out Victoria,’ she said in a murmur. ‘You totally ruined my swimsuit season.’
She felt Victoria shift, then the warm breeze lulled her to sleep.
Pain rippled up her spine, freezing her to the spot. Natalia found she couldn’t breath for a moment. As soon as she could breath, she was thinking that this wasn’t what Tia had said would happen.
’Out.’ Victoria said, kicking hard.
Natalia gasped, opening her eyes wide. Moonlight was coming through the open window. She shifted. Uri was sleeping beside her. He was still fully dressed.
A contraction left her unable to talk or move. She had to wait until the contraction passed, then she had to resort to Viperian.
Uri woke in an instant.
’Victoria?’ he said.
She nodded, then gasped for breath.
’She wants out, now.’
Uri rose. She could tell he was trying to keep a calm demeanor about him. He helped her to sit up and to slip on a loose, long dress, then he slid sandals on her feet.
“Okay,” she said, feeling she was ready to stand up.
He pulled her gently to her feet. They made it halfway down the stairs when she had another contraction. Uri paused, supporting her. Natalia panted.
Mag appeared at the bottom of the stairs wearing a robe.
“I alerted Bonnie. The limo is ready.”
“Thanks, Mag,” Uri said as he helped Natalia down the rest of the stairs and to the limo.
Natalia took a deep breath while Bonnie backed out of the garage. She felt unusually calm.
“No more contractions?” he said after a while.
“Not, yet.” She paused to take note of how her body was feeling. “So far it hasn’t been anything like what Tia said.”
“You’re not Viperian,” he said. “It will be different.”
For the entire ride to Viperian, Natalia felt fine.
“Maybe it was a false alarm,” she said, feeling bad that she’d gotten everyone up.
The limo passed through the gates of Viperia.
Natalia stiffened and gasped as pain shot up her spine.
’Out,’ Victoria said.
Just as soon as that contraction eased, another contraction ripped through her belly.
“The pain goes right up my back,” she said, breathing hard.
’Easy, Victoria. Out soon,’ Uri said.
“Ouch. She just kicked me on your side,” she said.
“Sassy girl. She doesn’t want to wait.”
“I have to go to the bathroom really bad,” she said.
The limo pulled into the parking lot of the hospital.
“Could be your water broke,” he said.
“I can’t hold it.”
She could feel a warm wet dampness to her dress.
“Your water broke,” Uri said.
His cool demeanor dropped and he now looked anxious.
The limo pulled up to the Emergency entrance.
“Dr. Esper and his nurse, Dilly, are already waiting for you,” Uri said.
Bonnie ran around and opened the door for them.
“Her water just broke,” Uri said to Dr. Esper.
They helped her out. She was dripping.
“Sorry, Bonnie,” she said.
“Don’t worry about it. You merely anointed the limo,” Bonnie said with a smile.
Natalia sat in the wheelchair and they wheeled her in.
’Hospital. Come, Victoria,’ she said.
Another contraction hit her as if on command.
They wheeled her down a hall and into a room. There was a small pool. Uri took off her sandals. Dilly helped her take off her dress and put on a short shirt. Natalia knew it was just for modesty. The rest of her was bare. Uri stripped down to shorts. Together, they stepped into the pool.
“I’m giving birth in a pool?”
“It’s warm and soothing,” Uri said. “Tia talked about it.”
He sat on a ledge with her in front.
“Relax and flow with the contractions,” he said.
He put his hands on her belly and rubbed gently. Natalia felt Victoria kicked his hand.
“She is going to be a feisty girl,” he said. “Did she get that from me or you?”
Natalia smiled, then grimaced as another contraction came.
“I thought contractions were regular.”
“They will be what they will be,” he said.
Natalia grunted as another hit her. They seemed sporadic, then they started coming more frequently.
’Breath deep,’ Uri said.
She was having a hard time catching her breath.
’Almost,’ Uri said.
Now all communication was Viperian.
Natalia could only pant and push.
Then Uri slid around to her side.
’Head coming,’ he said.
Natalia could hear Dr. Esper and Dilly talking, but couldn’t tell what they were talking about. She was totally absorbed in the contractions, Uri’s voice, and Victoria.
Then there were hard contractions and pain. There was a bar along the side of the pool that she grasped hard with every push. Uri was no longer holding her. Then there was a great release of pressure.
Uri moved up beside her. He was holding Victoria. She was wet and ruddy. As soon as Uri lifted her out of the water, she found her voice and screamed that she was cold.
Natalia stared in awe, then Uri placed Victoria in her arms. The umbilical cord was still attached. Victoria screamed and flailed her tiny arms. Natalia thought she was the most delicate and beautiful baby she’d ever seen.
’Where’s her hair?’
Natalia recognized Dr. Esper’s voice. He seemed concerned.
’It’s thin and fine,” Uri said, drawing a finger along Victoria’s head.
Natalia stared at the tiny fingers and nose.
’She looks like you,’ Uri said.
’Her coloring is wrong,’ Dr. Esper said.
’What’s wrong with her?’ Natalia said.
Uri smiled big.
’She’s not Viperian,’ Dr. Esper said.
’Of course, she is. She’s talking to me,’ Natalia said.
’I can’t hear her,’ Dr. Esper said.
’I can barely hear her,’ Uri said.
’I hear her loud and clear.’
’No, her Viperian voice.’
’I can hear that loud and clear, too. She’s cold.’
Natalia stared at her daughter as everyone worked around her. Then Uri gently took Victoria from her and handed her to Dr. Esper. The umbilical cord was cut.
’Why’s the pool all red and cloudy?’ she said, suddenly noticing now that Victoria wasn’t in her arms.
’Just all the birthing matter,’ Uri said. ‘Tia’s was the same. There’s also the afterbirth.’
Before she knew it, she was dressed in warm dry undergarments and a robe and sitting in a hospital bed.
’Eight pounds and two ounces,’ the nurse said, handing her Victoria.
Victoria was dry and bundled in a smooth blanket. Natalia could now see the true color of her hair. It was a white blonde. The hairs were fine and refused to stay in one place.
’Let her try and nurse,’ Uri said, helping her open her robe.
They were now alone in the room.
’I’m glad you went through this with Tia. I wouldn’t know what to do. I’d just sit here and stare at her.’
Victoria didn’t need much encouragement and latched on immediately.
Uri grinned wide.
’I’m glad I was there for Tia. She’ll be up later. Mirren is already here, wanting to see her,’ he said. ‘We’ll make him wait a little.’
’We were up seeing Grace almost as soon as Sherri got to her room after she gave birth. Just minutes after she’d nursed. Or at least tried to nurse.’
’Oh, yeah. I’d forgotten.’
’I’m sure everyone will come up to visit throughout the day.’
’What time is it?’
’Almost four am.’
’I’m going to be tired. Shoot, I am tired.’
She leaned her head back. Uri kissed her cheek, then rubbed his cheek gently against hers.
’You can sleep. It’s my job to present Victoria to everyone.’
’Typically the father presents his offspring. My way of showing my claim as father and my responsibility.’
There was a pitcher with water and a couple of glasses nearby. He poured some water for himself. Natalia watched Victoria yawn then resume her suckle.
’What about me?’
’Your claim is confirmed by the fact you just birthed her.’
Uri looked down at Victoria.
’I think she’s asleep, now.’
He carefully took Victoria from her.
Natalia pulled shut her robe.
’Rest,’ Uri said.
’I want some tea. The good stuff.’
’I think you’ve drank more of that than you should have,’ he said, pulling out a flash. ‘Just a sip.’
Natalia tried to chug the whole flask, but Uri took it from her.
’Hey,’ he said. ‘A sip.’
He poured her a glass of water and handed it to her.
Natalia drank the whole thing.
’I guess I was thirsty.’
’I can hear Mirren pacing in the hall,’ he said with a grin.
’Let him see her.’
Uri stepped out with Victoria. It was only a minute later he returned. Mirren followed.
’How are you doing, Nattie?’ he said.
’As good as expected,’ she said.
’She did well,’ Uri said.
’Victoria has the same coloring as my father,’ Mirren said.
’Your father?’ she said.
’He was Undent. Very blonde. Uri must carry a blonde gene that matched up with yours.’
’First blonde Viperian,’ Uri said with a smile.
’There’ll be a few doubters. Such is the case when something new happens.’
’Dr. Esper didn’t think she was Viperian,’ Natalia said.
’She has a quiet voice. Even I have a hard time hearing her,’ Uri said.
’I have no problem,’ she said.
’You have the close mother-daughter bond,’ Mirren said. ‘You’ll seem to hear her even if she’s rooms away from you.’
Uri handed Victoria over to Mirren. Victoria seemed to sniff and fuss for a moment, then fell back asleep.
’I passed the test. I smell like family.’
Natalia was awed that he knew exactly how to hold her.
Uri check his phone.
’Tia will be up in an hour to visit. She said the rest of the Grazie group would be up later.’
Natalia closed her eyes.
Mirren and Uri chatted. The flat drone of the Viperian language lulled her to sleep. The next time she opened her eyes, Mirren was gone and Tia was standing just inside the doorway with Uri.
’Nattie. You’re awake. Victoria is adorable,’ Tia said, coming in the rest of the way and standing by her bed.
’Sore and tired, I expect?’
’Yes, but I had a good nap. I do have to get up, though.’
She indicated the bathroom. Uri handed Victoria over to Tia and helped Natalia out of bed and to the bathroom. He shut the door, so she could have some privacy.
She sat on the toilet feeling sore and bloated, hoping she didn’t look like she felt. As she cleaned up, she looked in the mirror. Her hair was so much longer, lush and thick than when she’d first met Uri. The strawberry blonde color seemed more intense, with strong blonde highlights blending in with the bioluminescent colors of red, blue, yellow, and green. The blond highlights were natural. She knew women paid lots of money for highlights like these and here she had them naturally. The bioluminescent colors were from eating grubbies. Her face was fuller and her skin was clear. She had to agree it almost glowed. Her mark on her right cheek and down her right arm was a dark red brown at the moment, but she’d been told it was due to the hormones of being pregnant. She looked at the henna tattoo on her left wrist. They were now a fad and becoming acceptable.
She heard Victoria fuss.
’What ‘s my girl doing?’ she said, stepping out.
’I think another suckle,’ Uri said.
He helped her back into bed. Tia, then, handed Victoria back to him.
’I have to go. Take care. I didn’t think Uri could make such a cute kid. It all has to be you,’ she said with a mischievous smile.
’Sisters,’ Uri said with a roll of his eyes, pretending to be miffed.
’Thanks for coming,’ Natalia said.
’Bye,’ Tia said.
Dilly stepped in with some juice.
’How are you feeling?’
’Sore. Was just up to the bathroom.’
’Good. Keep drinking to stay hydrated and to flush your system.’
Victoria fussed and Uri handed her over to suckle.
Moments after she finished and covered up, Rayna, Uri’s mother arrived.
’I’ve come to see my namesake,’ she said. ‘So kind of you to give her Rayna as a middle name.’
Uri kissed his mother’s cheek.
Victoria only did one nostril flare and kept sleeping when Rayna held her.
’Mirren been up?’ she said.
’He was first one,’ Uri said.
’He was very excited to have his first grandbaby. You, my daring, are my third.’
’Tia’s already been up, too,’ Uri said.
There were footsteps outside the door, but they passed. However, a snide comment was heard.
’This is a Viperian hospital. Not for Undents.’
Natalia hadn’t seen who’d passed.
’You may get a lot of that,’ Rayna said.
’Why?’ Natalia said.
’Victoria doesn’t look like a Viperian. People are going to call her a Specter. The same thing happens with every child that doesn’t have the black hair and green eyes.’
’Victoria’s eyes are blue,’ Uri said.
’These colors are coming from both Nattie and your grandfather, Uri,’ she said.
’That’s what Mirren said.’
’Don’t fret, Nattie. Just stupid prejudices.’
’She speaks Viperian,’ Natalia said. ‘How could she not be Viperian?’
’You speak Viperian. You’ve been speaking that to her for sometime. Doubters will say the language isn’t innate for her, but that she learned it. Like you did.’
’But… does she have fangs?’
Natalia looked at Victoria.
’How do you see?’
’Yawning,’ Uri said.
’Precisely,’ Rayna said. ‘Children express their fangs when they yawn. That’s why we have Viperian hospitals and schools. It takes awhile before children learn to stop expressing their fangs. We wouldn’t want them targeted if they were in an Undent hospital or school.’
A nagging worry settled in Natalia’s stomach.
’I’ve seen her yawn. I didn’t see any fangs.’
’No?’ Uri said.
’It’s impossible for her not to be Viperian,’ Rayna said.
’People thought it was impossible for a blonde Viperian,’ Uri said.
’Has the hospital completed the paternity testing?’ Rayna said.