Thursday, January 2, 2014
After my conversation with the dads yesterday, I decided to mosey on over to Betra’s office to bend his usually sympathetic ear too. I know he’ll be up front and honest with me, even if it goes against what the Empire wants. I needed that, not the paternalistic advice of well-meaning but clueless Kalquorians.
When I got to his office, he was stepping out. “Hello Shalia,” Betra said. He actually seemed happy to see me. Poor fool. “What can I do for you?” he asked after a good look at my expression.
Only then did I note the time. Betra is always on call for his ten wards, but it was the end of the regular shift. I didn’t want him doing overtime because I was having a drama moment. So I said, “Ah, it’s nothing that won’t wait. Get out of here and eat your dinner.”
He cocked his head to one side. “My dinner can wait, especially since I’ve gotten to know that look you’re wearing on your face. What’s going on?”
“It’s just me being me. Honestly, Betra, it’s not a big deal. I’ll stop by first thing in the morning. I promise.”
Betra blew out a breath and rolled his eyes. “Shalia, we’re going to have whatever conversation you need to have now.” Then he gave me a smile that softened the ragged edges of my poor worn-out heart. “I can compromise, however. Why don’t you have dinner with me and we’ll talk over that?”
That intrigued me. “Somewhere besides the Matara dining room?”
He nodded. “I’ll have whatever you wish sent to my quarters. We’ll have a private meal where you can pour out whatever the burden is. Though I can guess.”
I snorted. “My baby daddy issues.”
I slipped my arm in his companionably. “Lead on, big guy. And promise you won’t throw your food at me when I go through my old song and dance again.”
Betra gave me a shocked look. “I never waste food.”
That made me laugh. We went to his quarters, which are located right in the Matara section of the ship. It makes sense with him being at our beck and call 24/7.
Over my beloved pilchok and ronka, I told Betra about my conversation with my dads. I ended my tale of woe with, “Give me your honest opinion, Betra. Forget how things are usually done on Kalquor. Am I crazy to want my child to know his or her biological fathers?”
Betra thought long and hard about it. I was glad to see he really considered my concerns and didn’t just brush them aside. We ate in silence for some time, nearly clearing our plates when he finally spoke.
“Shalia, I’ve thought about this from every possible angle I can. Disregarding the way our society operates, I’ve come to a few conclusions, some of which are in opposition to each other. Some you won’t want to hear.”
I gazed into his purple eyes, eyes so much like those of my child’s father, whoever he was. I took a breath. “I asked for your honesty. Lay it on me.”
Betra nodded. “I can see the issue from your perspective. You shared something incredible with Clan Dusa. You love them. They love you. The child may be theirs, and that means something from anyone’s viewpoint, but especially yours since this was no casual encounter you had.”
“Exactly.” I was so happy to hear someone got how it felt.
My relief must have shown, because it made Betra grin widely at me before he sobered. “Okay, now here’s the part you’ll really hate to hear.”
“I’ve put myself in the place of the men of Clan Dusa. I have imagined it is me being told I may have a child on the way, being carried by the woman I love.”
I tried to imagine that too. When I looked at it from that viewpoint, I started feeling a little ill. “A child I know I may never get to raise. That I’m not even welcome to see, given the way things work on Kalquor.”
Betra nodded. “Even if you get your way, Shalia, and you do manage to include Clan Dusa in the babe’s life, they could be forced to allow another clan to raise it. They might be able to watch it grow, but they do not get to make the decisions as to its upbringing. They have to watch you be a part of another clan as well.”
“But if I wait—”
“Then they’re stuck worrying for perhaps years that their child and you are without the care and protection of a clan. They will not see this as an opportunity to reclaim you, Shalia. They will feel guilty that you’ve taken this course. They may even attempt to clan another woman as soon as they can just to make you give up on them and find their child a parent clan.”
I scowled at Betra. “You don’t know that.”
“It’s what I would do.”
I stared at him. “You’re kidding, right?”
He shook his head. “Not at all. For the welfare of the woman I love and the child that might be mine, I would do what I thought best for them. You have to understand, this is the way we were raised. This is the belief that has been instilled in the men of Kalquor all our lives.”
“That is nuts,” I vented.
Betra smiled. “I know it is alien for you to contemplate not having Clan Dusa as a part of the baby’s future. However, it is alien to most of us that you would want such a thing. Why wait on a clan you aren’t completely sure of when there are other men who will love you, men who would accept your child to protect, guide, and cherish as they would their own?”
“This is normal for Kalquorian men?”
“It is for the few who find themselves in such a situation. We’ve been in decline for centuries, Shalia. The Empire concentrates on what it feels is best for the few Mataras and children we are blessed with. Men who have the best to offer step up and take on the roles of fathers. Men who have sired but can’t give their children the time, finances, and stability needed ... they know to get out of the way when it grants a better opportunity for mother and babe.”
I felt stunned. They really thought that way? Would Dusa and the others really go to such lengths to make me do as they felt best? Even to the point of clanning another woman when their first year was up? I didn’t want to believe that, but there was no subterfuge on Betra’s face.
Seeing that I was getting the gist of the argument, Betra added, “You’re also forgetting a major issue in all this.”
I thought he’d given me enough bad crap to think over. “Which is?” I said with more than a little force.
“The child may not be Clan Dusa’s.”
I couldn’t hide from that. I pulled a face and propped my chin in my hand. The suckfest just kept rolling on.
Betra reached across the tiny table in his quarters to stroke my hair. “I know, I’m wrecking everything in your happy scenario. But you have to understand how much you’re complicating things, especially for the child.”
I sighed. I didn’t want to hear anymore, but I’d asked for this. “I guess it would be tough for a kid to have two parent clans, huh?”
“Especially if one of them has no business in the child’s life. That’s the other angle I looked at this from: the babe’s. Think on it from the worst-case viewpoint, Shalia. Your son or daughter is raised by one set of men. There is another set he’s told are his actual blood fathers. They flit in and out of his life, confusing his loyalties. Then he discovers they may not be related to them at all! What do you think that does to his head? How would you feel in his place?”
I knew how I’d feel. The scenario Betra painted was pretty fucked up, not to mention unfair to my child. My choices were to be wrong on the baby’s behalf or wrong in that Clan Dusa would never know their maybe-child.
“Damn it,” I said.
I’d been staring at my dinner plate. It blurred. Doubled. Trebled. I blinked and tears rained down on the few scraps of food left on it.
Betra leaned over. He plucked me from my seating cushion to cuddle me on his lap. He held and rocked me, holding me tight and keeping me warm and safe while I cried out my confusion.
I’d made a mess out of everything, making my unborn child a victim of my bad decisions. The only way I could right any of it was to either give birth and find it a good set of fathers or to give up the embryo to someone else and never see it again. None of those options included Dusa, Esak, and Weln. My selfish heart cried out against it.
I’d never felt so alone. Unfortunately, when I feel this way, I look for support in the worst way imaginable. The way I had with Commander Nang back on Earth. True to form, I did it again.
I lifted my face to find Betra looking down at me, his face tender with compassion. I let my need for the shelter of someone strong overcome my good sense. I strained upward so my lips met his. I kissed him.
He stilled, his entire body going rigid with tension. It made me realize what I was doing, but it was too late to back out. Even as I started to break the kiss, Betra’s lips moved against mine and he kissed back. My lips parted instinctively, and his tongue found mine. We melted into each other, giving and taking, clutching hard and kissing even harder.
We seemed to come to our senses at the same time, tearing ourselves apart. Thank goodness we’d been sitting on cushions on the floor, because I sprang back like I’d been confronted by a bear. Had we been on chairs, I would have busted my ass.
I crab-walked backwards to put space between us. We stared at each other, scarcely believing what had just happened.
I knew what had happened. I had screwed up yet again. Or was about to.
“I’m sorry, Betra,” I finally managed to say. “That was terribly inappropriate of me.”
“My apologies as well, Matara,” he said. “I should have better control than that.”
I got awkwardly to my feet, and he jumped up to help me. “I’m going to return to my quarters,” I told him.
“I’ll walk you.”
“No. Please don’t.”
I held out a hand to stop him. “I’m okay, Betra. I am. I need to have my space right now, though.”
He swallowed. “I am so sorry, Shalia.”
“I know. Me too.” I turned away from him and headed out the door. I needed to get away from Betra. For the seconds we’d clung to each other, he’d felt too damned good. I needed space so I didn’t try to make more out of that kiss than it had been.
What is with me? Am I so weak that I can’t stand to be without a man in my life? No sooner had I acknowledged that I might really and truly have to let Dusa, Esak, and Weln go than I jumped on the first convenient man I could find. I immediately tried to fill the emptiness that threatened. That I found Betra attractive, that I consider him a friend, only made me quicker to the false shelter of his arms.
Crap. I haven’t got any sense whatsoever.