“I’d like you to sit out the morning workouts, if that’s alright with you,” the doctor was saying. “I’ll make sure the guards know. Maybe they could let you use the library or something. We’ll figure that out.”
I looked up from the picture the doctor had printed from the ultrasound machine. Black and white and grainy—and mind boggling. “Could I sit with Cecelia?”
“Yeah. I want to sit with Cecelia in the mornings.”
She thought on that for a second, then shrugged with a nod. “Yeah, I don’t see why not. Assuming she’s up for it, of course. There might be some mornings when she can’t have visitors, but otherwise, she’d probably like that.”
I nodded and found myself staring at the picture in my hands again.
“Why don’t I go ahead and take you there now?” the doctor prompted when I didn’t say anything. “There’s still 30 minutes left in the morning workout. I’ll have a guard come get you when it’s time for class, and I’ll let him know the plan while I’m at it.”
“Okay, yeah.” I got down off the table.
“I have to cuff you again,” she said, “but I can keep your hands in front of you, if you’d like to keep the picture in sight.”
I drew a breath, about to tell her that it was fine, but at the last minute, I recognized her kindness for what it was and, grateful, I nodded. Then I clasped my hands and held them out in front of me, the picture held tight in one fist.
“You don’t have a whole lot of time to figure out what you want to do,” the doctor said as we walked down the empty corridor to Cecelia’s room. “If you want to terminate that is. We have the equipment here if you decide you’d like to do that within the next couple of weeks. Or, if you’re thinking of adoption, I’m sure there is a very nice couple out there who would be willing to adopt a shifter.”
Cecelia was sleeping when the doctor delivered me to her room, propped against pillows so she was sleeping sitting up. I told the doctor I didn’t mind—that I’d sit until she woke up, or until the guards came to get me, whichever came first. Sitting in Cecelia’s quiet room, I was sort of glad she was asleep. The almost-solitude was exactly what I needed. It was rare to be alone in this place.
I sat in silence for a time, but when my thoughts got too loud, I found that talking was better than silence.
“I went to the doctor today,” I said quietly to Cecelia, still sleeping peacefully. “She was nice, I guess.”
I hadn’t really heard the full meaning behind what the doctor had said as we’d walked down the hall until after I had nodded like I agreed with the thought.
“I’m sure there is a very nice couple out there who would be willing to adopt a shifter.”
It was all for the best because I didn’t think she’d intended it to come off that way, but her intention wasn’t the point.
“They gave me an ultrasound,” I went on. “It was weird.”
The point wasn’t even the fact that one day, when we all got out here—and I had to believe we would—there was little chance that shifter couples would be allowed to adopt a baby. Which meant this baby would live with a human family—even though there was little to no chance this baby would turn seventeen and not become one of us.
But no, while important, that wasn’t the point.
I looked down at the black and white picture in my hands. My throat ached. “They gave me a picture from the ultrasound.”
“I’m gonna be a Dad?”
I could hear Collin in my head; see the look of sheer happiness that had been on his face—pure wonder.
“Of the baby,” I said, trying the word on for size.
Part of me was in this picture—in this baby. And so was part of Collin.
And I was head-over-heels, crazy, be-with-only-him-forever in love with Collin. I had been for weeks. Maybe months.
So the point wasn’t whether the doctor was a bitch, or who would be allowed to adopt when this was over.
The point was that I didn’t want anybody else to have this baby. Human, or shifter, or otherwise.
Tears rolled down my face. But before any of them could fall onto the picture, I crossed my arms in front of me, protecting it, leaned onto the edge of Cecelia’s hospital bed, buried my face in my arms and sobbed.
“What am I gonna do?” I whispered through the sobs. But it wasn’t the same question as I’d been asking myself before. It wasn’t ‘what am I going to do about this?’ Now the question was ‘how am I going to do this?’ Because I had no idea.
Cecelia’s soft voice pulled my head up from my arms. I wiped my eyes. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to wake you up.”
“I’ve been awake,” she sighed, “just stuck. It happens sometimes lately.”
I sat back, thinking over what I had said and decided, counting the words, the weight, the meaning.
“Can I see the picture?” she asked, her voice quiet.
“Uh, yeah, sure.” I handed it to her.
She took it from me and held it close so she could see it, smiling all the while. Her eyes were so tired, red around the edges. Her hands shook though it seemed like she was trying to hide it. She studied the picture for a moment, then looked at me again, her smile spreading.
“No way to know what she’ll look like yet, but cute is safe to assume,” she said as she handed the square slip of slick paper back to me.
I tried to laugh but it came out weak and pathetic.
“I have a good feeling about it,” Cecelia said after sitting and staring at me for a second. “Just like I had about John and Teresa when they were pregnant with Collin.”
I felt my brows furrow. “You knew John and Teresa before they had Collin?”
She laughed weakly as she let her head rest back against her pillows. “I did. I’d known John for years by then.”
I just sat and stared at her for a moment. At her greyed hair, the dark hollowness beneath her eyes, her cheekbones. She tucked her hands beneath the blankets when my eyes fell to her shaking fingers.
“You can’t leave,” I found myself saying, staring into her eyes. “You’re leaving here, aren’t you?”
She smiled quietly, then lifted her head and pushed herself up further on her propped pillows. “While you’re here, would you mind helping me with something?” She turned and reached for the cart of a table that sat beside the bed. Then she took the red spiral bound notebook that had been sitting on top of it and handed it to me. “I’m writing a letter—“
A guard announced his arrival with a bang on the door before stalking through the frame and pulling the curtain in front of it aside. The guard ticked his head at me. “You—time to go.”
I looked to Cecelia with a sigh and held up my cuffed wrists. “I’m cuffed anyway—makes it hard to write. I’ll be back tomorrow though,” I said. “They won’t let me workout anymore.”
Cecelia smiled with more life this time. “I’ll see you tomorrow then.”
I nodded as the guard led me from the room.