Lenona 20, 1014
Today, Mark had decided, was going to be a good day. And if the day itself didn’t want to cooperate, then it could go hang.
But why wouldn’t the day want to cooperate? True, the skies were overcast and leaden, and there might be a summer storm rolling off the sea into Avilion proper. But Mark could survive that. He wasn’t made of sugar. He wouldn’t melt.
And, he had earlier determined, the top floor — not the roof, but the top floor — of Wei Li’s flat made for an excellent place to watch a thunderstorm. They had discovered that together a couple of months ago, when they left off what they were doing in Wei Li’s bed to stare, rapt, at the full fury of nature’s wrath that was unfurling only a windowpane away.
To imagine that Wei Li had apologized not ten minutes into it for not entertaining him better! But at least Mark had taken care of that quickly enough. There would be plenty of times of calm weather, or even lousy-but-not-entertaining weather, ahead for them to put the bed through its paces. Why not enjoy a thunderstorm when it came?
Helena, he remembered, would never have left off lovemaking to watch a thunderstorm. It was a pity, too, with their bedroom with the wide windows that gave such a good view. Sometimes when it stormed, the whole family would gather inside to watch. Baby Belle wasn’t scared of thunderstorms anymore, and though little Paulie wailed when the lightning crashed and the house shook with the force of the thunder, hopefully he’d grow out of that soon enough.
But today — today, storm or shine, Mark was going to see Wei Li, and it was going to be a good day.
He was still grinning as he marched up to the door and knocked briskly. “Yoo-hoo! Wei Li!”
Mark came in — and he had to laugh. There was his Wei Li, spooning soup into a bowl like some kind of happy housewife. There was already a bowl steaming on the table. Good Lord, if all those busybodies and tongue-waggers could see Wei Li now! Some harlot she was, resting all day in her bed of luxury!
“What’s so funny?” asked Wei Li.
Mark shook his head. “Just … thinking of you, darling.” He’d confessed similar thoughts to Wei Li before, but they only seemed to confuse her. But Mark, she would ask, why should I not be cooking? Does not even a concubine have to eat? And of course I cook plenty for you as well — it would be rude otherwise!
But that was the trouble of Wei Li, she insisted on looking logically at things that were anything but logical. So Mark decided to keep the joke going, albeit only in his head, by saying something sure to please any housewife’s heart. “I see you have a new dress. It looks lovely!”
Wei Li, however, reminded him that she was no housewife, for instead of preening and being thrilled that her boring husband had even noticed, she turned red. “It … I hope you do not mind.” She crossed her free hand over chest to grip the other; the trailing silk of her sleeve draped over her stomach as if to hide it. “It–I needed a new gown. Some of my others were not … fitting as I would like.”
“Wei Li, I give you an allowance,” Mark chided gently. “It’s up to you how you spend it. I know you’re good with money — if you want a new dress, and you can afford it, why shouldn’t you buy one?”
Although, Mark thought as he watched her squirm, continuing to blush, he thought Wei Li had better taste than this dress. Now that he saw it from the front … the fabric was pretty, and the colors good, but something in the cut made it look like she was carrying a good deal of weight out in front. She almost looked pregnant!
But no woman — hell, nobody, as Mark well knew — wanted to be told that she wasn’t looking well, so Mark dropped the subject and dropped his behind into the chair. “So!” he asked, sniffing the bowl. “What’s on the menu for today?”
“Red pepper soup,” Wei Li replied.
“Peppers?” Mark repeated. “Oh boy. You’d better have lots of milk to wash this down with!”
“Oh, Mark.” Wei Li chuckled. “It is not spicy. You will be fine. Trust me.” And with that she took a spoonful. Seconds passed, and Wei Li didn’t gasp or choke or beg for water, so Mark deemed it safe to take a spoonful for himself.
It wasn’t spicy — not spicy at all. Mark almost breathed a sigh of relief. Still, he ought to know better by now. Wei Li liked to try to cook food from her homeland, and while it was all very … different from what he was used to, she had caught on very quickly to what he was and wasn’t likely to enjoy. So most of the time now, when he bit into some new food, he found himself liking what he tasted.
He still wasn’t sure how she had managed to make pepper soup not be spicy. “Wei Li?”
“How — this is pepper soup. But it’s not spicy.”
“I told you it would not be!” Wei Li laughed.
“Oh, I know — but what I don’t understand is — how?”
Wei Li turned her head a little to one side in that adorable way she had. “Mark … you really know very little about food and cooking, don’t you?”
“Not a blessed thing,” Mark answered cheerfully. “Though if you need to know how to feed a horse, I’m your man.” He patted his stomach. “Just not a man who eats like a horse.”
“You do not eat like a horse,” Wei Li chided, rolling her eyes. “But since you asked — I used bell peppers. They are a type of pepper that is not spicy, but is sweet instead.” She hesitated, then added, “Marigold grows many in her garden.”
“Oh — oh,” Mark answered. He hated how tongue-tied and awkward he got — how they both got — when Marigold’s name was brought up. Or Tambu’s, or Mirelle’s, or any of Wei Li’s old friends.
… Although, now that Mark thought about it, he wasn’t so sad about the awkwardness that came up with Mirelle’s name was mentioned. Even if Mirelle had been a housewife of no reproach, a vampire who scared the braises off Sir Mordred was bound to cause an awkward pause in any conversation.
But Marigold and Tambu, and the other woman, Erin, whom Wei Li brought up only rarely — they were Wei Li’s friends. No more, or so Mark tried to tell himself. Why shouldn’t Wei Li talk about them? Mark brought up Richard all the time with no trace of embarrassment. Why shouldn’t it be the same for Wei Li?
Mark swallowed. “So — she lets you have some from her garden, then? That’s — that’s nice of her!”
“It is very nice of her. Especially since …” Wei Li looked down at her spoon, then down at her bowl. Then she looked down at the table. If she kept looking down, soon she’d be looking at the floor.
“Wei Li?” asked Mark.
She looked up, her bottom lip caught between her teeth.
“Hey …” He asked, reaching out with one hand. Wei Li slowly edged hers out to meet his. “What’s the matter? You know you can tell me anything …”
And he meant it. He really did. Surely there was nothing she could have said, or could have done, that would upset … all right, maybe there was something that could upset him, but never too much, or not for too long. She wouldn’t be his Wei Li if she could make him fly off the handle.
… Could she?
Wei Li still stared at him, lips now pursed together, eyes darting from his face to their joined hands and back again. She squeezed his hand. Then she let go.
Mark held his breath. But whatever he was expecting, it was not what came next.
“I am with child.”
Mark blinked a couple of times, sure he had misheard. With child? But he was … but Wei Li was …
How old was Wei Li? She’d never said, and Mark hadn’t wanted to ask —
“You–did you just say you were with child?” Mark asked. “As in — going to have a baby?”
Wei Li bit her lip and nodded. Her arm fell down, lying loosely at her side. Mark got a good look at her stomach.
That–that wasn’t just the cut of the dress, he was realizing. The way this dress was constructed … he was no Bianca Ferreira, but this wasn’t a dress that would make bumps and rolls that weren’t there. It was more likely to try to compress and hide them.
“How … how far along are you?” Mark asked.
“About three months,” Wei Li answered.
Mark’s eyes bulged. “Three months? And — and you’re just telling me now?”
Wei Li flinched. “I–I wanted to be sure. The first month — the second — you cannot be sure. Not when you are my age. I am thirty-six years old, Mark. Those–that being late–that could be anything.”
Mark slowly sighed. Yes — yes, of course, that could be anything. What an idiot he was to think that it couldn’t be. He thought that the change of life usually happened to women a little older than Wei Li, but there was nothing to say it couldn’t come early. She’d had four children — her body could have very well decided that it didn’t want any more, thank you, and be on to the next thing.
But then she said something that shocked him even more than the announcement that she was expecting a baby.
“And–and even if I was with child, and something — happened — I did not want you to be disappointed.”
Mark’s eyes bulged. “Disappointed?”
“I know how much you love children,” Wei Li stammered. “And your grandchildren! If–if you thought there was to be another child — and then there was not to be …”
Mark couldn’t answer. Wei Li continued to babble, but he couldn’t listen. He was remembering.
Helena. It had been — not even a year after Joshua was born. She was pregnant again. She hadn’t said anything, but Mark was no dummy. He’d watched Helena for signs that a baby was coming along ever since they had first been married, and when he saw them — ecstasy! They were starting their family! Everything would be wonderful!
And then Helena had Joshua and Mark thought he couldn’t be happier. True, maybe caring for a newborn was more tiring and draining than he had anticipated, but still. Mark was a father now. He and Helena and Joshua — they were a real family!
Then, eight, ten months after Joshua was born — something like that — Mark saw the signs again. And again he was ecstatic. Another baby! So soon! Their little family would be bursting at the seams before long. And it would be wonderful!
And then … the signs went away.
Helena never said a word about it. But Mark knew. And he grieved.
“Wei Li –” Mark caught her hand. “Don’t — don’t worry about me being disappointed. No. How could I be? If something–heaven forbid–happened, I–I wouldn’t want you to suffer through that alone.”
Wei Li’s lips parted. She stared at his hand. Then into his eyes.
“You are too kind,” she murmured.
“I am not. I just …” He remembered what Bianca had gone through, what Richard had gone through with her when she lost that baby. He’d only been on the outside looking in, but he could still see that that loss was almost as bad as losing a living, breathing child. As for he himself … well, he could always tell himself that he had been mistaken with Helena. Maybe she just had a stomach flu. Nausea, vomiting, aches and pains, a certain irritability (in the case of a stomach flu, possibly caused by the symptoms above) — it all fit.
He couldn’t imagine losing a baby, knowing you had lost a baby, and going through it alone.
“I just don’t want you suffering,” Mark murmured. He stroked the back of her hand with his thumb. “And … even though I know I can’t help some of it,” he forced himself to chuckle, “and you’ll probably be suffering a bit more, and cursing the day you met me, before this is all over, whatever you go through — I don’t want it to be alone.”
“Not alone,” Wei Li repeated. She glanced at her soup. “It–it is a good thing, not to be alone.”
“As long as I’m around, you never will be,” Mark replied.
Wei Li looked up with a smile. And it was her turn to reach across the table and squeeze her hand.
And with that … Mark decided it was time to turn to a more cheerful topic. And why not? They were having a baby! “So! When can I expect to meet our new son or daughter?”
Wei Li blinked, but she answered readily enough. “Darid, I think. The latter half.”
The latter half of Darid! Only six months away — though, Mark realized, if he had bothered to bloody count, he could have reached that conclusion much more quickly. “Darid! It’ll be a wonderful month!” he promised. “You know, my daughter-in-law Cressida was born in Darid — and my son was smart enough to marry her on her birthday. You think you can manage to have the baby on the fourteenth?” Mark laughed.
“Smart enough?” Wei Li questioned with a bit of a laugh herself. “Why is that smart?”
“Because it’s genius!” Mark replied. “One less date for Josh to have to remember! He’s got Cressida’s birthday, St. Darren’s Day, and his anniversary all tied up in one date! Although,” Mark mused, “if he forgets, even with all those dates rolled into one … boy, is he in trouble!”
“And do you want one less date to remember, too?” Wei Li asked, a mysterious twinkle dancing in her eye. “Very well! I shall see what I can do about having this … this baby on the date you asked for. But I make no guarantees!” She pointed her spoon at him like a scolding schoolmarm and laughed.
That was what Mark wanted to hear. “Good! And I’ll be sure to come along that day, and helpfully yell, ‘Push!’ whenever you’re least expecting it!”
“Mark!” Wei Li laughed.
“Who knows? It could surprise the baby so much he slips right out!”
Mark grinned. “Feeling better, darling?”
She stopped laughing. Instead she stared at him with eyes cautious and wise in equal measure. “Mark … I should ask instead, are you all right? With this? With everything?” Wei Li rubbed her stomach. “I know it was not in our plans …”
And there was a reason for that, and the reason was that Wei Li had not wanted to plan for it. Mark wondered if he ought to bring that up.
No. He wouldn’t, not now. He simply shrugged. “Well, life has a way of coming up and biting you in the rear when you’re least expecting it — so to speak. But I think we’ll manage.” Mark took a deep breath — and then everything hit him at once.
He wasn’t worried so much about feeding and keeping the baby, not yet. Good food for Wei Li and a slight increase to the allowance ought to cover that. But everything else …
There would be toys and books, and clothing as the baby grew into a child, and food — lots of food! — and school fees! Would the nuns even let this child into the cathedral school? They would have to, sooner or later; Mark could be talked into a dame school when the child was little, but once he (or she) got older, he’d need a good education, more than the dame school could provide. The nuns allowed Sir Mordred’s bastards in, but what about Mark’s?
He’d burn that bridge when he came to it–
“Mark?” Wei Li asked, concerned. “You look worried …”
Blast! He hadn’t meant for it to show!
“Aww, don’t worry about me, honey!” Mark answered. “It’s just all sinking in, that’s all!”
And then there was the matter of what would happen when Mark passed … he was fifty-three years old. He couldn’t count on being here until this baby was all grown up.
Damn it. He’d have to bring Joshua in on this. And probably Rob too — and if he was bringing in the boys, he’d have to tell the girls–
And why shouldn’t you tell the girls? asked the treacherous voice in the back of his head. It’s their little half-brother or sister, too!
But all of that, Mark decided, he would worry about another day. That day may very well have to be tomorrow. But it would be another day.
After all, hadn’t he decided that today would be a good day? And didn’t he find out, today, that he was going to be a father once more?
So Mark grinned, extended his hand to Wei Li, and helped her up. “Come on. I want to say hello to my baby!”
Wei Li’s brows furrowed. “But Mark — the baby will not be here until Darid …”
“So?” He bent forward and waved at Wei Li’s stomach. “Hello, baby! This is your papa talking!”
“Mark!” Wei Li half-exclaimed, half-laughed. “What are you doing?”
“Saying hello to the baby, what does it look like I’m doing?” Mark asked. Then his blood chilled. Had Wei Li ever had a man do this to her? Say hello to her baby while he was still inside her?
Does it matter? Mark asked himself. He was here now. They were having their baby now. He would be here for her, no matter what, now.
“So! My young — baby, I want to lay out a few ground rules. You’re not to kick your mama too much over the next six months, do you hear me? A few little bumps to let us know you’re doing well in there is fine, but I won’t have you beating her black and blue from the inside out.”
“Mark!” Wei Li laughed.
That was when Mark knew it was going to be all right. He’d keep talking nonsense to the baby until he’d worked the last of the nerves out of his system. He’d get Wei Li laughing. Then they would finish their lunch, and they would go upstairs and talk. And if the baby meant for a curtailment of some bedroom activities over the next few months, well, it was for a good cause.
Today was a good day. Mark would be happy.
And hopefully Wei Li would be happy too.