Thursday, March 23, 2017

December 7, part 2

With attendants in tow who carried all Clan Aslada’s gifts and my luggage as I lugged Anrel, we made our way to the Matara Complex. I was ‘home’ again.

Sweet prophets, my quarters felt like a featureless shoebox after the opulence of Clan Aslada’s home. It was so tiny in comparison! Utilitarian too. All the presents sent with me took up a ton of my cramped space. Where was I supposed to put all that stuff?

I sighed and thanked the attendants as they bowed and left me. I made Anrel my first priority, changing her diaper and putting her in her crib. I spent a few moments watching her sleep, relishing having her all to myself.

Where had the time gone? Anrel was six months old now, growing before my very eyes. She was no longer the tiny baby who’d been born weeks too early. She was still an infant, but a big one, a heavy armful of cuddly sweetness. I’d noted all the clothes Snoy had insisted be made for her, tossing out what I’d brought for her to wear. I thought he’d been spending all of Clan Aslada’s money on dresses and tops and skirts for appearance’s sake. Now I thought perhaps she’d been outgrowing everything she’d had.

To test my theory, I went to some of the shelves in the closet-sized room. I’d left behind some of Anrel’s clothes there, folded neatly. I shook out a shirt and compared it to my sleeping baby.

Holy cats. Anrel had gotten huge in the weeks we’d stayed with Clan Aslada. She was at least two, probably three sizes bigger than when we’d left. At this rate, she’d be as big as any Kalquorian woman.

I studied her, marveling at my beautiful, healthy girl. Her glossy black hair was a cap on her round head and had a tendency to curl. Her cheeks were round, the kind that tempted even the coldest-hearted to pinch. Big eyes, that when opened, resembled sideways teardrops. A nose that reminded me of my own, inherited from my mother. Sweet little rosebud lips that would stretch into the happiest of smiles.

The surge of adoration that hit me was enough to rock me on my feet. Sweet prophets, I love my perfect little Anrel. Love? Oh, what a weak, pathetic word. It doesn’t do justice to the profound feelings I have for my baby. How did I get so lucky? How is it she came to me? I have no answers for those questions. Just profound gratitude.

I feared that if I looked at her for any longer, I’d either wake her by bawling with emotion or picking her up and hugging her breathless. I had to leave her room or be overwhelmed by her.

I went to the kitchen, fixed some coffee, and collected myself. I had to laugh at how hard I’d been walloped by my feelings over Anrel. It’s astounding how love can knock you for a loop sometimes.

With coffee in hand, I commed Candy. “You’re back!” she squealed. “Katrina, Shalia’s home! Katrina’s with me.”

“So I guessed,” I laughed.

“Can we come over?”

“Of course, but Anrel’s asleep. She’s still on Esofu time.”

“We’ll be right there.”

It was so good to see the women I considered to be sisters. Katrina looked good, better than how she’d been when I’d left. I guess the grief at being separated from her clan was easing. Always athletic, she beamed radiant health even as she brandished a bottle of shel.

“You’re letting your hair grow out,” I said, noting her gray, well-styled locks were waving over her ears and down her neck.

She shrugged. “Yeah, well, I need the change. My clanmates keep asking me about trying it out longer. Siko says it’s not fair that I get to do all the hair pulling.”

“He has a point. You might like that kind of action,” I advised our senior gal pal.

“I’m sure I will, but I’m not too crazy about this in-between stage it’s at.”

“Don’t listen to her. She looks good and she knows it,” Candy said. Our resident cheerleader lookalike was her typical blonde and bouncy self. I don’t know of anyone bubblier than Candy. That quality often leads even those who know her to forget the formidable brain she possesses. She’s so girlish and enthusiastic that it’s sometimes easy to discount her.

They had to peek in at Anrel, of course. I let them go in alone, worried I’d get weird and emotional again. I used the excuse that I needed to get glasses for the shel. I bolted down my coffee and returned to the greeting room and poured the bottle Katrina had left behind.

My friends wore identical expressions of shock when they returned to my greeting room. “What the hell did you feed her while you were away?” Katrina said, sitting down. “I almost didn’t recognize my grandbaby.”

“She’s grown so much!” Candy said, flopping onto the lounger next to her. “I can’t believe how much she’s changed since we last saw her.”

“It’s not just me then,” I said. “It kind of knocked the wind out of me earlier.”

“A toast to our healthy girl,” Katrina said, raising her glass.

“You’ll toast anything,” I laughed, but I lifted my glass as well.

Candy took a happy swallow. “Anything new on your mom?” she asked.

I sank down on one of my floor seating cushions. “Not since our last conversation.” I’d kept them up to date on everything as far as Eve was considered.

“I’m sorry her staying here didn’t work out,” Katrina said. “Are you doing all right with it?”

“I think so, though I can’t deny it still hurts. It was for the best, though.” I was coming to terms with my mom’s recovery needing to be away from me. As she had pointed out, we couldn’t work out our tumultuous relationship until she got herself sorted out. Just because surgery had corrected the chemical imbalance that caused her bipolar disorder, it hadn’t fixed decades of poor coping skills…or our admittedly rocky past.

“What’s up for you next?” Candy asked.

“A sea cruise. Want to come?”

“Oh, Clan Seot, right? Don’t I wish I could go on a cruise.”

“You can. Katrina too. You’re both invited on Cifa’s newest floating paradise for its shakedown.” I was almost as effervescent as Candy as I shared the happy news.

Katrina’s brows rose, and Candy gasped. Blond ringlets sprang up and down as she bounced on the lounger. “Really? When? Can I bring Stidmun? He’s got time saved up!”

I laughed. “I figured you wanted the big stud man along for the ride. He can come along if he can get here by the end of next week.”

“Oh, I’ll have to com him right away then. A high-speed shuttle would make it, but he’ll have to book passage now.” Candy dashed out into the corridor to make her call, tossing a “Thanks, Shalia!” over her shoulder as she went.

I turned to our older friend. “And you, lovely lady? Are you ready to bask under the sun, explore new vistas, and sail the high seas?”

She chuckled. “I think I’ll sit this one out, sweetie. But thanks for thinking of me.”

“Oh, Katrina! Why won’t you come?” I gave her my saddest expression.

“For one thing, I have a job. Remember?”

“You don’t think they’ll give you time off? What if I threaten to break their legs?”

“I’ve only been the liaison here for a few weeks. It’s too early to be galivanting off.”

“I thought galivanting was what you did best,” I teased.

She winked. “I am good when it comes to that. But there’s more to it. I think I’d find it difficult to enjoy myself watching you and Candy being romantic with your paramours. It would remind me of how much I miss my men.”

I deflated. “I’m sorry. I didn’t think that the offer might bum you out.”

She waved me off. “No, no! I appreciate it. It means a lot that you’d invite me along. But I’d feel like a fifth wheel. You know I insist on being the belle of the ball.”

I grinned. “I’ll tell you what. If things work out between me and Clan Seot, I’ll insist Cifa give you and your clan a free jaunt to celebrate when Wotref, Ret, and Sika return.”

Katrina raised her glass to me again. “I’m not going to pretend I’m above taking advantage of my friends in high places. I accept your offer.”

My door opened and Candy came back in. “We’ve got shopping to do, Shalia. Find out how many ports we’re visiting, so I can buy a different soaksuit for each one.”

“Yay!” I cheered. “Stidmun’s on his way?”

“He’s still got to put in for the time, but that shouldn’t be a problem. It’s getting here that will cut it close. But he can always join us at one of the stops, right?”

“I don’t see why not.”

Ahoy, mateys. We’re going to sea.

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