Sunday, 25 September 2011
Hidden Sights - Chapter 14 - The Turning Tide
A cool wind drifted through the open doors bringing with it the smell of a wood fire. I looked at the blaze crackling in front of me and was glad for the warmth even if it still caused me to shudder with a memory of fear. Autumn was here in truth and I knew it wouldn't be too long before I would be grateful for the dresser full of sweaters Ice had bought me. He said that Hidden Springs got much colder than Sunset Valley and I would need more than I thought to keep warm. I snorted at the thought, Ice giving advice on being warmed seemed a bit ironic.
It was his idea to come here, to his real home, away from the prying eyes of the world. I was beyond caring. The world, my world, had ended that night of heat and pain. What did it matter where I was and who saw me? Moon was the one that pushed me to go. She said I would never heal in Sunset Valley. I doubted I would ever heal no matter where I was but let her push me anyway.
Ice was everywhere in the house even when he wasn't physically there. The colourless rooms screamed his name and the small traces of his past stood out all the more sharply in contrast. Oddly I didn't mind. I thought I would, thought I would rebel against him and this place. Instead I found that the lifelessness of the house reflected my soul.
The couch became my home and I hardly moved from it often drifting off to sleep where I sat. I was only aware of the passage of time by the changes in my body. My bump was clearly visible now and I could almost feel him, for I was sure it was a boy, moving around restless in contrast to my stillness.
One morning as the sun was just peaking over the mountin and the chill was still on the house Ice came to me. He sat on the edge of the couch close to me but not close enough to touch.
"Mint," he started hesitantly. "I know you are still hurting and will be for a long time to come. I have been trying so hard, all my life it seems, to divine what you need and it seems once again I have fallen short. I'm not sure this is right either but I don't know what I can do for you, or what I can offer you but this." Slowly he slid off the couch and on to his knee. "I know you may not feel the same way as I do about you but I love you Mint. I want to be here with you and protect you, you and our baby."
I flinched at the words my hands curling around my stomach and my face pinching in concern.
"I know you aren't as sure as I am but that is our baby," he continued. "But I don't care who created that baby. I am his father and I will do everything in my power to give him the life he deserves and keep him from harm."
I could not stop the tears from falling. After the first few weeks I thought that I had cried all I could ever cry but it seemed I was wrong. Closing my eyes I drew in a deep and shuddering breath. "I...," the words caught in my throat and with a start I realised I had no idea when I had last spoke. Coughing I shook my head and tried to clear away the cobwebs. With more certainty but no more confidence I tried again. "I think you would." Holding up a hand I stopped him from speaking knowing that gleam in his eye was about to die with my next words. "I think you would protect my baby, perhaps with your own life, but marrying me is not the answer."
He raised from his knee and propped himself on the table. Slowly he nodded to himself as if he had finally found the last piece to a puzzle. "I understand, or at least I think I do. Would you stay here for a while more? I would like, I mean if you can stand it, it would mean a lot to be if you would stay until the baby is born."
His eyes held such hope that I could not say no. "I will stay, for now." I couldn't face going home yet and this was as good a place for me to wait out my confinement as anywhere.
I felt a feather light touch on my neck as he moved to leave. It was the first time he had touched me since I came here and it was gone before I could even make sense of the sensation.
Since the day of my failed proposal I began to spend more and more of my time in the living room. I had taken up painting in an attempt to find an outlet for the emotions that threatened to consume me. I gave the excuse of needing the light provided by the wall of windows for my presence. I suspected she saw through me but she didn't object. The glow that surrounded her now was too much to ignore and my heart lifted every time our eyes would meet. I was still doing my best to see she was taken care of and it almost seemed to me that she noticed now when I would leave her something to eat or drink. On rare occasions she would find her voice again and when she spoke to me my heart soared for weeks after.
The house had the promised cold now and she spent her time huddled as close to the fire as she dared reading anything she could get her hands on. I could hear her making her way back to the pocket of warmth she had carved out and resisted the urge to glance back at her. Even without looking I was aware of her every move. The walk, not so quick as it had once been, the slight twist of her body to ease the tension in her lower back, it all came to me through this bond I had to her. Unexpectedly she stopped and let out a gasp. All pretence of ignoring her pushed aside I turned. She rushed past me and fumbled at the door.
"Mint? Is everything ok?"
Ignoring me she flung open the door and stepped cautiously out the door as if into unfamiliar territory.
As slowly as if I was approaching a baby deer I followed her taking care on the now slick deck. It was warmer than it had been in days but the cold still hung over the town like a blanket. An expectant silence hung over everything and as I looked at her, beautiful as always, I saw a joy in her face that filled my heart with light. Liquid slid down my face and I raised my hand to my cheeks surprised by the tears. My fingers glistened with wetness but I started at the coldness of it.
Laughter pealed like a sliver bell and I looked over to see Mint's face turned to the heavens. "Snow!" she exclaimed. Her eyes were bright as she turned to me and her excitement was contagious.
"What, you've never seen snow before?" I teased giving her a nudge as I walked by. I stared out over the valley with exaggerated coolness turning my back to her. "Not much to it really. I mean it's white, it's fluffy, it's cold..." I was cut short by the thud of a weight on the nape of my neck
"And it's wet!" Mint shouted at my dripping form.
I stood in shock for a moment. Shock from the cold and more from seeing the first bit of life out of her in months. Without thinking too hard about it I scooped up a handful of snow myself and hurdled it at her. She shrieked threw up her arms as if to ward off the flying gloop.
It was more slush that a proper snowball and melted the second it touched the skin but that didn't stop a full scale war from breaking out between the two of us. We chased each other over the decking, through the house and down into the yard. Finally soaked, breathless and hardly able to stop giggling we retired to the house.
The sun set behind the mountain early and it was dark before long. The evening was calm and comfortable in a way I had never known. She curled up back on the sofa and in a change from my normal pattern I grabbed a newspaper and settled next to her. Every once and a while I would catch her eye and she would smile before ducking her head back to her own reading. My heart fluttered wildly at every glance.
I couldn't concentrate. I was too aware of her and her nearness. Restlessly I jumped up and paced into the kitchen looking for something but not knowing what.
I could feel her eyes on me as I rummaged through the cupboards.
"Hungry?" she asked causing me to nearly drop the can of soup I had clutched in my hand.
"Restless." she finished for me. I nodded unable to help the smile that tugged at the corners of my mouth. "What is there to do in this back woods town anyway?" She slammed her book closed and followed me into the kitchen fingers trailing along the counter.
"This close to Christmas? Not much really. Most people just try to stay out of the cold. Only thing that really happens is," my eyes lit up with realization. "Come on," I grabbed her hand and started pulling. "We're going out!"
We made well before closing and the market was still held a few shoppers. I always loved the Christmas Market. It was filled with smells of freshly baked treats and no matter how stressed the outside world got around this time of year it was like a haven of happiness. The mood we had at home came with us and we wandered amongst the stalls picking up little decorations here and there when they caught our eye.
"Well there you are Toffee my boy." Mrs. Pavlova's scratchy voice tugged at my ear just as her hand did on my sleeve. "I see you're not alone this year. About time you brought a girl home." She looked appraisingly at Mint lingering on the bump before saying a bit too loudly. "Yes you two will make beautiful babies."
My face instantly flushed and I noticed out of the corner of my eye that Mint was studiously avoiding glancing our way. Schooling my expression to a mask of calm I bent a little bit closer to the overly coiffed do. "She's just a friend Mrs. Pavlova." Having practiced the line a hundred times or more in my head, sometimes trying to convince myself, I was pleased that I could get it out with out stuttering or stammering.
I had hoped that would be enough to disaude her from further prying but the mischievous glint in her eye told me I was wrong. Seeing she was building up to something I cut in quickly to head her off, "Looks like you've got quite a bit of Christmas shopping there. Do you need some help to your car?"
Grinning slyly she said, "Why aren't you a darling. Always such a good boy aren't you Toffee." She reached up to pat my on my face before turning to shuffle towards the exit. "Well come on now don't leave an old lady waiting," she called back to me.
I had grabbed her bags and already taken two steps before I remembered Mint. "Mint do you mind?"
She waved her hand lazily over her shoulder at me. "Go on. I'm not going anywhere very fast." Still I rushed to try and get Mrs. Pavlova's shopping out to her car as fast as possible.
True to her word she had not even made it to the next stall when I sprinted back to her. Smiling in greeting she tucked her arm through mine and we continued through the market. Floating on a cloud of happiness I don't remember a single thing we saw after that.
I could never seem to get enough sleep these days and found myself dozing any time I stayed in one place to long. I could hear Ice moving around the kitchen humming the some nameless tune. The smell of fresh baked cookies grew stronger as he worked and I smiled. Who would have thought Ice would ever be so domestic. As I heard him approach I closed my eyes not wanting to leave my comfortable bubble of peace. The plate clinked as he set it down on the table and the smell that wafted from it caused my stomach to rumble traitorously. I strained my ears trying to figure out where Ice had gone. The house was silent save for the crackle of the logs in the fire. Concluding I was alone I was just about to open my eyes when a touch traced my jaw.
I could feel the warmth of his breath on my cheek and with feather light pressure his lips brushed my temple. So softly I could hardly hear him he whispered, "I love you."
My stomach lurched again as he pulled away. I knew his feelings for me hadn't changed but I had hoped that somehow they would become less intense. I knew the fact that I could notice his emotions, that I had some of mine own even, was all down to him and his careful care of me but that I could not return his most tender of sentiments tore at my heart. I cared for him, of that I no doubt, but I did not love him. I had planned to wait until the baby was born before going home but maybe that would just make it harder on him. I realised that no matter when it was I would break his heart. Steeling myself for what was to come I slowly rose from the couch.
The moment I stood pain ripped though my body. It was as if part of me had torn and I clutched my abdomen in some vain attempt to hold myself together. "Ice!" I called through gritted teeth.
"Hmmmm?" His head popped through the doorway to his bedroom completely serene. I could not focus on finding the words to tell him what was wrong but the change that came over his expression was enough to tell me he had got the message.
I could hear his voice speaking rapidly but could not hear him beyond my own grunts of agony. The room span in front of me fading in and out from black. I was distantly aware of warm arms wrapping around me and a coolness on my face. Almost I could make out what was being said but it seemed to lay just outside of reach. I struggled to remain concious but the darkness pulled at me as inexorably as a tide. Finally I succumbed to and let it drag me deeper down.
"She lost a lot of blood but she's fine." The words swam around me as fuzzy as the room.
"Thank Berry! And the babies?"
"Perfectly fine if a bit small. Have you thought of names yet?"
"No it's Mint's choice and she never told me what she was thinking."
Their voices faded away as the conversation continued. I blinked several times trying to bring my surroundings into focus. There was something about what was being said that I should pay attention to but I couldn't quite figure it out. I went through what I had heard and my mind latched on to one word. Babies? Plural? I shouldn't have been surprised with the amount of twins in my family but somehow I was.
Groggily I sat up and took stock of myself. I was sore beyond belief, a bit light headed but could move and that was all I needed. Tentatively I placed foot on the floor jerking it back at the coldness.
Ice's eyes shone with tears as he knelt at my feet. For an instant I feared he would propose again but he pulled not a ring from behind his back but a pair of slippers. Ducking his head he slid them on my feet. "I thought I lost you there for a moment," he said not looking up.
I laughed weakly. "Guess I'm stronger than I look." I ignored the implication in his statement pushing that off to yet another time. "Help me up Ice."
"Up? Where do you think you're going?"
I scowled at him trying to make it clear I did not appreciated being questioned right now. "I'm going to see my babies."
He must have understood my look and dutifully helped me to my feet. The trip down the hall to the nursery was short but it still left me breathless and I clung to Ice for support as I looked through the window. They lay there, so precious and small, and my heart constricted at the sight. They came in to this world completely unaware of the torment of their mother's soul. A torment that was so absorbing I had not even spared a thought for what to call these sweet innocents.
"Mint what's wrong?"
My body racked with sobs that I could not hold back. "They are so perfect. So perfect and I don't even know their names. I'm a horrible mother," I wailed.
Ice started to chuckle but cut it off abruptly with a clearing of his throat. "Well they were a little early."
I nodded still crying trying to stem the tide. Even through the tears I could not take my eyes off them, my tiny little babies. Ice carefully wrapped his arm around me and we stood for a moment drinking them in.
"You have plenty of time to think up names for them. For now they can just be the babies Parfait."
I sniffed and glanced towards him. His face was full of love and wonder but there was a sadness behind his eyes. My heart went out to him and I knew that I could never take those babies from him now. Without knowing when I had even had the thought the decision was made. "No, they are the babies Crisp."
He sucked in a shuddering breath and turned to me his eye once more on the verge of tears. "You mean it?" I nodded unable to trust my voice and he swept me into a tight embrace. "Thank you Mint." I could feel warm wetness on my neck as he held me.