Thursday, April 6, 2017

December 9 (early)

Anrel woke ahead of the alarms Clan Seot had set, so the guys were primed for a leisurely breakfast before having to head off to their respective duties. Cifa was more than happy to take responsibility for getting the baby ready for her public, and he told me to do the same for myself. Then he started barking orders at Seot and Larten, making them practice taking care of Anrel.

Giggling to hear the sweet-voiced Imdiko giving commands to his Dramok and Nobek, I snagged a clean outfit and headed for the bathroom. On my way, I furtively grabbed my portable com as well.

I turned on the shower to mask the sound of me comming Betra and Oses. They were out of range of real-time communications, so I had to leave a message.

“Hi guys. I’m just checking in. Anrel and I got back to the complex okay, and everything is fine. We’re leaving in a few days again to take that cruise with Clan Seot. It looks like Candy and her lone Nobek are going with us.”

I thought about Betra and Oses and felt something painful in my chest tug. I don’t deny I’m having a great deal of fun with Clans Seot and Aslada. It’s wonderful to not worry about being attacked every time I turn around too. But I sure did miss my former shipmates. They were always going to have place in my heart.

There wasn’t much more to tell them, because I’d sent them a message just before I’d left Clan Aslada. They hadn’t had time to respond to that yet, but I knew they’d want to know we’d gotten ‘home’ safe and sound. I shared a few more tiny tidbits of gossip and then clicked the com off. I got into the shower and shed a couple of tears (it still happens every now and then), and hurried through making myself presentable enough to be seen in the dining room.

Breakfast lifted my spirits. Anrel was bubbly after being relentlessly adored by the guys first thing this morning. Her happy little chirps and babble kept everyone smiling. Who can be grumpy when that bright beam and those twinkling purple eyes move your way? Have I mentioned lately how lucky I am to be her mom?

Then it was time for the boys to head out to work. Suddenly, Anrel and I were on our own.

I was at a loss, especially since Candy was off at a doctor’s appointment. She’s in need of getting some uterine fibroids taken care of. She should have done that on the transport that brought us here. By the time she’d consulted Tep about the painful and heavy periods she’d endured for most of her adult life, we’d been only days away from Kalquor. Thanks to our repressive Earther society, Candy has a deep distrust of doctors, particularly male ones, taking care of her gynecological needs. Hence the delay in having anything done about the issue. Katrina finally decided enough was enough, dug into some research, and located a female Kalquorian doctor a few territories away. As the Earther Matara liaison, Katrina took it upon herself to bully Candy onto a shuttle to keep the appointment she’d made for her. It will be nice to not see Candy suffering from the awful cramps that sometimes double her over.

There were any number of things I could do to occupy myself. Shop for our cruise. Work out. Take a class. Swim in the pool. Have a massage with a funky-looking Tratsod. Eat more food.

Nothing felt particularly appealing, though. It was like being back at Clan Aslada’s home, almost. The difference was, I was in charge of Anrel again. No Manny Snoy was going to trot up and take her from me.

“What do you want to do with yourself today?” I asked my adorable armful. She blew spit bubbles at me and laughed. “Ba-ba-ba-ba.”

“The beach?” Now that had possibilities. My girl is like Cifa in that she seems to have seawater in her veins. Whether its playing with the sand (and trying to eat it by the handful) or splashing in the waves, Anrel is one certified beach baby.

The beach it was then.

I put her in the bright pink soaksuit she’d acquired during our stay with Clan Aslada. The color made her brown skin glow. “Pink is definitely your color,” I told her. “If Auntie Candy was here, I’d have her put a matching bow in your hair. You are too cute for real life.”

I donned a modest green one-piece and a lacy sarong. Anrel got a little cover-up jacket added to her outfit after I spritzed her liberally with sun protection. The spray made her laugh, but everything makes my happy girl laugh. I stuffed a carry bag with water, juice, and snacks for the two of us, a float belt for Anrel, along with some toys she could use in the sand. At last we were off to the beach.

The walk was a long one, but I enjoyed it. I found it was nice to stroll along with only Anrel, watching her react to her surroundings. We were hailed by my fellow Mataras we met along the way and I stopped often to let them briefly coo over the baby. As I got nearer to the tunnel that would take us from the underground area to the beach, I saw more and more Kalquorians. The men bowed and the half dozen women nodded to me.

Then we were in the tunnel, joining the moderate foot traffic going through. The scent of sea salt grew heavy, and Anrel crowed. I think she recognized the smell of the beach. She kicked and waved her arms in the sling I wore to carry her. I’d made a good choice for our outing, it seemed.

We got to the pink-sand beach, the color a pastel version of what Anrel wore. The moment my feet sank into the powder softness and my ears filled with the rumble of the green waves, peace settled over me. The sky was a soft watercolor blue overhead, stretching forever to the horizon. The cliffs reared up behind me, stately giants regarding the world with calm and everlasting strength.

“Wow,” I breathed, taking it in. It’s amazing to know paradise is all around you.

I headed down the beach, searching for a place for us to settle. With most Kalquorians at work, we had plenty of space to choose from. There were a few dozen Earther girls, a scattering of Kalquorian men, and the occasional Kalquorian woman. That was all.

I set Anrel down on the sand, only a few yards from where waves dashed back and forth. “What’s first?” I asked my excited child. She crawled towards the water.

We spent the next hours in play, first splashing around in the white-foam surf, then on the unbelievably soft sand. It was there that Anrel surprised me.

She reached up and grasped the shoulder strap of my bathing suit. Then she pulled, nearly exposing me to our fellow sun worshippers. I tugged the strap out of her grasp. “Hey, I have enough romantic options,” I said. “You don’t have to attract any more for me.”

She grabbed me again, this time gripping the top of my suit with both hands. I laughed as I took hold of her tiny little fists. “Hey lady, stop trying to make me flash. Your old lady isn’t the peep show type, okay?”

Anrel strained her arms, pushing down against my hands. She used the leverage to bounce her bottom on the sand. She unleashed a yell that I would have described as demanding.

“What is it, sweet baby? Do you want to try standing? Is that what you’re trying to do?”

I lifted her to her feet and held her upright. She squealed and jerked in my grip. I put her hands on my shoulder…away from the strap she’d been determined to yank down…and let her try to hold herself up. She managed it for about three seconds before plopping onto her butt in the soft cushion of sand.

“Look at you, big girl! You’re starting to stand!” I got out my handheld and set her up again. I took a picture of her balancing as she clutched my shoulder for a full five seconds, wearing a shocked and overjoyed look on her face.

She shouted, a tiny victor before plopping on her butt again. I laughed and applauded her.

“Look how Anrel’s grown,” a wondering voice said from behind me. “And in such a short time!”

I turned to see two familiar Kalquorian women standing behind me. I’d only met them once before, but they’d made an impression: Oni and Hina.

It was Hina who had spoken. She knelt down in the sand to smile at Anrel, not caring that her filmy green ankle-length dress and wavy waist-length hair were covered in pink sand. She was the prettier of the two women, with more delicate features than Oni’s. They were equally magnificent, muscled but still feminine, in the way of the mythological Amazons. If I remembered correctly, they had both lost daughters to the damaging effects of the altered DNA of the Kalquorian race.

Oni also knelt, equally as unaffected by her no-doubt expensive dress and long braid being covered in sand. “Anrel is what, six months old now? Shalia, you are to be commended on how healthy she is.”

It said something that the two remembered Anrel’s age and our names. Female babies are such a huge deal to the Kalquorians, particularly to the women who have had far too much heartbreak seeing theirs not survive. It hurt to see the brightness of unshed tears in Hina’s eyes.

“Thank you,” I said. “I’ve had a lot of help, though.” Clan Aslada’s staff had not missed a single trick when it came to proper care and nutrition during my stay with them.

We spent several minutes together, though there wasn’t much conversation between me and the two women. All their attention riveted on Anrel, and I was happy to let them enjoy her uninterrupted. It helped assuage the guilt I felt over being able to have a healthy daughter when their efforts had not been successful. I know, why should I feel guilty? It’s not my fault Mother Nature had chosen to deliver a kick to the teeth of the Kalquorian women. But I did feel bad for Hina and Oni. That they were denied the greatest joy of my life made me incredibly grateful all over again for Anrel.

They moved on, continuing their walk. Hina kept casting longing glances over her shoulder as she went. Each yearning look sent a fresh dagger to my heart.

Deciding it was high time to go back to our quarters, especially since my stomach had begun rumbling for lunch, I packed us up and started back towards the complex. As I went, my com buzzed. I answered to find my stepmother Joelle on the line.

“Hi Shalia! How are you?”

“Great,” I said, glad to hear her enthusiastic greeting. “How’s the ship? Are you almost to Kalquor yet?”

“I’m here. I walked in my clan’s home not even an hour ago.”

I nearly dropped my com. “What? You’re on Kalquor? Why didn’t you tell me you were so close?”

She made a noise of disgust. “That awful transport kept breaking down. We didn’t know from one day to the next if it would be stalled for repairs again. I was afraid if I told you we were almost here, that I’d jinx the damned thing!”

I laughed. “When are you visiting me and Anrel? Make it soon, because I’m off on a trip with Clan Seot in the next few days.”

“Goodness, woman, you are a flurry of social interaction, aren’t you? Weren’t you just with Clan Aslada?”

I talked with her all the way back to the complex, filling her in on what was happening since we last spoke. She said she didn’t know if she’d get out to see me in time, but she’d try. “I’m dying for us to meet in person, but I’m supposed to meet with my clan’s legal representative to make sure I have access to everything I need,” she said. “Hopefully, I can get that out of the way quickly.”

“I hope so too,” I told her. “Let me know if there is anything I can do to help out.”

I was excited to know my dads’ Matara had gotten to Kalquor safe and sound. It was impossible to not feel impatient for her to get her status squared away.