Monday, July 24, 2017

December 31, part 3

The next instant I was in Seot’s arms, lifted into the air with our gleefully squealing daughter between us. Cifa and Larten crowded around, everyone laughing and kissing and celebrating our newly forged family.

I even stopped being afraid for the most part. It resolved into a kind of desperate need to do my best to never give the men a reason to walk out on me. No doubt that will have to be addressed in therapy. I’m sad to say that the desire to find fault and push away continued to make itself known several times throughout the day. But now that I know what’s happening, I can work on ignoring those urges as best as I can. It’s just fear. I’ve gotten through that emotion before.

Once we calmed down a little and were able to separate ourselves, Seot wasted no time in filing our status via his handheld. I was officially Matara Shalia of Clan Seot within minutes.

We spent a little while basking in the glow of being a unit. I could hardly believe it was happening. Cifa jabbered delightedly about a ceremony at sea or on one of the many beaches his line visits. He kept calling Anrel his daughter, nakedly relishing the sound of it. Larten made outrageous suggestions for the ceremony, like trading vows naked as some species do.

“I have a few trainees whose worthless hides would make a fine rug for us to stand upon before the priest,” he added with malicious delight. “I’ll begin making that threat right away.”

Seot simply sat holding me in his lap, his arms wrapped tight around me. He didn’t seem to feel the need to do or say anything, his lips curling into a contented smile.

After about an hour of soaking in our joy (in my case, adjusting to the fact that I had actually gone through with joining their clan), we made coms to tell our nearest and dearest. I had never spoken to my parent clans-in-law, so that was a little hair-raising. Cifa and Larten’s parents aren’t even on Kalquor – Larten’s live on a space station near the Galactic Council border, and Cifa’s reside on a colony on another planet in the system, about three days’ shuttle ride away. Seot’s parents are on the other side of the continent. It was weird to be introduced to my in-laws as already having been clanned, but they took it with grace. They all seem quite kind, and I look forward to getting to know them better in the weeks ahead. In the years ahead.

I actually got my mom on the vid too. “That’s not Al’s clan,” were her first words when she saw us.

“No, it’s the one I told you about. The better one,” I added, giving my guys a wink. They grinned. “And they are my clan. Anrel’s fathers from now on.”

“You boys have my undying sympathy. Shalia is a handful,” Mom remarked drily. She broke into laughter when I rolled my eyes. “Come on, Shalia, you knew I had to bust your chops a little bit.”

An amazingly nice conversation followed. Mom was every bit as pleasant to Seot, Cifa, and Larten as my new in-laws had been to me. She even called my clanmates by their correct names instead of her preferred trick of giving everyone Earther names. It was nice, if a tad jarring to see the changes she’d gone through.

From there, I messaged my dads, Betra and Oses, Feru, Joelle, and Elwa. Then my clan – my clan! – went to see Candy and Stidmun in person, who joined us when we trooped to the complex’s offices to tell Katrina the good news.

“How about I keep my granddaughter overnight?” Katrina offered, waggling her brows suggestively at Seot. “Just so you can enjoy yourselves as loudly as you want.”

He laughed. “After a celebratory dinner with my clan and child,” he agreed. “Thank you, Matara Katrina.”

It was a little weird to have Seot immediately make a decision on behalf of my baby…but I’d wanted Anrel to have fathers in truth. That meant they now had a say. Besides, I knew if I had any concerns or differing ideas, they would be met with respect.

It was unsettling but good. My Anrel has four parents now. Wow.

We went to lunch. Cifa wanted to arrange for the house staff to pick up my things at the Matara Complex and take them to my new home.

“Oh no. I’m not having people I barely know looking at my underwear,” I said right away. I also didn’t want people I’d be seeing every day to spy the few toys I enjoy. Yikes.

“Okay, I’ll let you pack your lace and silk away, label it in code, and then have it picked up,” Cifa agreed, snickering.

“Thank goodness I don’t have much to move,” I sighed. “Less to unpack. Again.”

As for lunch itself, I barely remember it. I was in a whirlwind of emotion, one moment elated, the next in shock that I’d gone through with everything. I lost count of the toasts. Other patrons at the cliffside restaurant bought our drinks and wished us well. There was a lot of laughter, particularly at our table. I looked from one happy face to the next, as if to memorize my Dramok, Imdiko, and Nobek in that moment. Their beaming faces are the one thing that stands out clearly from the afternoon.

We walked on the beach afterward. We let Anrel play in the sand despite her pretty dress. Like Seot said, we could always buy her more dresses. A sunny day like this one, when the world was so bright, should not be wasted over fabric and lace. When we decided to move on, the dress was easily enough brushed off, removing the worst of the sand.

We went to the underground market. We looked at furniture for the suites that would now belong to Anrel and me in Clan Seot’s home. My home. I’m not sure, but I think I picked out a few pieces. I was floating from the change in my life and from lunch’s celebration. The whole time, I chanted in my head, I’m clanned. I’m clanned. I’m Matara Shalia of Clan Seot.

It didn’t seem quite real. Not even a year and a half ago, I’d been fighting for survival on a dying planet. How had so much happened so fast?

My first hours as a clanned woman went by in a blur. Before I knew it, we were having dinner again, on the rooftop where Elwa and I had lunched only days ago. Had I suggested it? I can’t for the life of me remember. But some of the shock began to pass as we ate under brightly colored lights that sparkled and gave everything a mystical, magical feeling. The fountains and their rainbow arcs added to that sensation.

The sense of unreality was beginning to pass. The occasional throbs of panic grew less and less. My dazed inner mantra of I’m clanned, I’m clanned, I’m Matara Shalia of Clan Seot started to feel more like a cheer. Despite the growing night, I saw everything as brighter. A weight I hadn’t realized I’d been carrying lifted. Every time my gaze met that of one of my clanmates, my heart swelled with love. I had done the right thing.

We stopped by my soon-to-be-vacated quarters and packed Anrel an overnight bag. We dropped her off with Katrina, all four of us parents kissing our little girl goodnight. Then the clan took me home.

Home. My first real home since Armageddon ended my old life, sending me on a long journey to a new one. I’d made it. After everything that had happened, I was going to be okay.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

December 31, part 2

I made myself as pretty as possible, fussing over my looks and finding more flaws than I care to admit. I try not to be too vain, but I was determined to bolster my self-confidence with cosmetic purification. It took more than a couple tries because my hands were shaking. Then I chose a pretty Kalquorian-style gown. It was a special occasion, after all. Fortunately, I didn’t have to debate over that issue for long, because I had only two that hadn’t been picked out and paid for by Clan Aslada. No, I wasn’t about to wear one of the stunning pieces from the ‘other’ men. Even I’m not that emotionally crippled to pull such a stunt.

I was at a loss as usual with my hair. Will I ever figure out how to style it nicely? I was firm with myself and refused to com Candy. I knew I would lose more than that allotted hour if she came along. It would be far too good an excuse to put off greeting my destiny once again. I messed with my hair as best I could, managing to pull it back in jeweled combs that made it look like I’d expended far more effort than I actually had.

So silly. I mean, Seot, Cifa and Larten had already seen me without a drop of makeup and some of the worst cases of bedhead ever. But it all felt like I was putting on a suit of armor. It made me feel like I had some extra protection to be dressed to the nines. Sue me for needing that extra boost.

Then I put Anrel in a pretty little dress that brought out the purple in her eyes. A bow in her black curls was all she needed to pull off a finished look. She doesn’t take a fraction of the effort I do to look perfect and adorable.

I managed to get us both squared away in the hour I’d allowed. I paused for a moment to look myself over in the mirror. Yes, I looked nice, but I also looked terrified. You’d think I was marching off to my execution rather than dashing into the arms of the men I love. Sheesh.

“It’s time,” I told Anrel as she goggled at me in the cutest manner possible. “Anrel, this is your big day too. After today, you will no longer be a fatherless child.”

It was as good a speech as any to take that step I’d shrunk from for far too long. I picked up my com and hit Clan Seot’s home frequency.

Of course, one of the house staff picked up. Of course, no one from Clan Seot was home. Isn’t that just the way of things?

I declined to leave a message. Now that I was doing this, I couldn’t wait another second. I rang Seot’s portable frequency. At the same time, my door announce went off.

“No,” I muttered at my unknown visitor. “No more distractions. This is happening right the hell now.”

My heart stuttered when Seot’s voice came on the com. “Shalia, open up. It’s us at the door.”

“What? Oh. Well, hell.” I clicked off, flustered that I was about to meet my future face-to-face, with no extra time to ready myself mentally. “Door, open.”

There they were, the three men who made me happier than I had a right to be, the three men who also scared me out of my wits. Well, maybe they weren’t what scared me, but what they represented. They hurried in, eyes wide and concerned.

“Are you all right? What’s happened?” Larten said, picking up Anrel and handing her to Cifa before pulling me close.

“Uh, nothing. I was just comming you to see if we could get together.” I blinked up at him and the others, noting the confusion on their expressions. The same confusion I felt.

“Didn’t you send a message asking us to come over as fast as we could?” Seot pulled me from Larten. “We thought something must be wrong.”

“I didn’t send you a message. It didn’t come from me,” I said.

We stood there, looking at each other. Larten gestured to Cifa. “Let me see your handheld.”

Cifa paused in having a snuggle reunion with the baby long enough to comply. “The message was sent to me,” he explained. “It wasn’t from your frequency, but it was signed with your name.”

Larten tapped on the handheld. “Here it is. A quick trace on the sender – oh. Matara Elwa.” His brow creased. “Why would she send us a message to come here as fast as we could?”

I shook my head, laughing a little. “Because she’s a busybody with good intentions. And she didn’t trust me to do what I need to. For heaven’s sake, I’m going to have a word with her. Several words, in fact.”

The men relaxed. Wow, they’d raced over to make sure I was okay because a cryptic message had been sent. I got a little choked up to know they’d dropped whatever they’d been doing.

Cifa reached to stroke my cheek. “You look beautiful, Shalia. You said you were comming to see if we could meet?”

“Yes. Sit down. I have a lot to tell you.”

It had been my intention to accept them as my clan first. But I thought it might be more honest to share everything that had happened since we’d last spoken. I did so, sharing Feru’s insights about how I’d more than likely subconsciously try to sabotage any chance at clanning with any men, no matter how much I cared for them.

“So you see, it really was me and not you,” I said, wincing at the hell I’d put them through. That I could continue to put them through if I wasn’t careful.

“You have a past full of sadness and hurt,” Seot said. “Ancestors, I feel terrible. I’d begun to wonder if you weren’t toying with us. I’m ashamed I had such thoughts.”

“Me too,” Cifa confessed, his eyes overly bright as he hugged Anrel close. “When you left us on the cruise, I was sure I’d never see you again. Even though you said you loved us, I felt you wouldn’t run away if you did. It makes so much sense now.”

I could have kissed and strangled them all at once. “Please don’t blame any of this on yourselves. How could you know? Hell, I didn’t know, and I’m the one being crazy!”

“Not crazy. Incredibly normal, given your losses.” Larten’s expression was grave. “I know I took offense to you wanting to talk to Betra. Such a thing still doesn’t feel it would be right, because of the relationship you had with him. But this Dr. Feru…I’m glad you spoke to him.”

“Perhaps continuing to talk to someone about the rejections you suffered would be of benefit,” Seot suggested.

I snorted. “Elwa has already made an appointment for me in three days. Big surprise, huh?”

Cifa chuckled. “She doesn’t like to leave anything to chance, I take it.”

“She told me I should bring my whole clan for the initial interview. That everyone should be involved in getting me past this nonsense.”

My words hung in the air. I watched as realization woke in their eyes. Seot said, “Are you saying – Shalia, what are you saying?”

I swallowed hard. “I told Aslada that I couldn’t see his clan again because I’d chosen yours. If I haven’t screwed everything up…if the offer is still good…”

Seot took Anrel from Cifa. He placed her in my lap and knelt before me. In a flash, Cifa and Larten were on either side of him, kneeling as well.

Seot’s voice was strong as ever, if a little breathless. “Shalia, would you do my clan the honor of being our Matara? Of accepting our love? Of making us the fathers of this child of our hearts, Anrel?”

Terror and joy in equal measures burst in my heart. I thought my poor chest would explode. For a moment I couldn’t breathe, much less answer him.

Somehow, I pushed the fear down. They’d come speeding to me when they thought I needed them. They hadn’t hesitated to check who the message had come from or questioned why it hadn’t originated from my frequency. They’d not wasted one second to be by my side. Who in her right mind would not leap to be with such men?

I guess I’m in my right mind after all, because I said, “Yes, my Dramok. For the rest of my life…for the rest of all time, I will belong to your clan.”