Seth Grimm had faced a number of arduous challenges in his time on the planet, from false accusation to imprisonment, but he’d take another three decades in solitary confinement if, for once, he could just get his bloody fledgling out of the door on time.
It had taken almost an hour to get to this point, but Faith had finally whittled her outfit choices down to two. It wouldn’t have been this difficult if she hadn’t learned, during her snooping as she recovered in the small apartment, that the former occupant had a number of designer dresses in her closet that were, coincidentally, in Faith’s size.
She was swanning about like a supermodel, trying on each and every gown and ruling them out one by one, while Seth waited in various places in the apartment, growing steadily more bored and frustrated.
“Which of these would work best for wherever we’re going?” she asked, gesturing to the two shortlisted dresses.
Seth sighed. He’d answered this question, albeit worded a few different ways, a half dozen times in the last thirty minutes as Faith had attempted to wheedle out his plans without directly asking. It was even more tiring than a direct hit. He could have simply told her his plan, but he did enjoy watching her dance around him on hot coals. And dance indeed she did, especially after the show she’d made of herself the previous night.
“Either. It doesn’t matter.”
“Of course it matters.” Faith pouted. She pinched at the fabric on the blue dress. “I like this one, but it’s so classy – does it need to be classy?”
“Oh.” She plucked at the black one. “But the fabric on the black one is softer, stretchier. Does that matter?”
Seth rolled his eyes. “No.”
She tapped her chin. “The black one has a massive cut-out, though, so my huge fucking gut will be on display.”
“What gut?” Seth snorted.
“This!” Faith puffed her abdomen out and gave it a slap. “I’ve never ‘eaten’ so well in my life. I look like a blimp.”
Seth only laughed.
“Seriously,” Faith said, suddenly concerned. “Am I getting fat?”
“I’ve seen more meat on a butcher’s pencil,” he murmured, without looking at her.
“What the fuck does that mean?”
Seth had been trying to resist ogling her as she stretched and bent before the dresser in only her underwear, but there was something about her being on the fringe of losing her temper that revved his engine past the point he could ignore. He finally turned to face her, taking in the svelte shape of her for a moment before replying, “You are not fat, Faith.”
She drummed her fingers on her skin. “Caleb called me fat once. Sort of.”
“Caleb is an idiot.”
Faith nodded, looking back towards the rail. “So, I won’t look like a taped-up sausage in the black one?”
“I might still wear the blue one,” Faith said softly. “It’s Joy’s birthday today and blue is her favourite colour. It’ll be like an homage.” She ran her fingernail down the dress, contemplating. “Did you take her present around today?”
Faith rounded on him, tipped instantly to rage at his words. “You said you would go today!”
“I did,” he agreed. “And I will, if you ever pick a bloody dress.”
It took Faith a moment, but she eventually realised that he had, inadvertently, given her the answer she’d been trying reach.
“You’re going tonight?” she asked, her eyes going wide as he nodded. “So, what are you dumping me round the corner first? Great. I may as well wear a fucking bin bag.”
“We’re going tonight,” he corrected. “You can give Joy her gift.”
Faith’s face split into a huge grin, that slowly warped and twisted itself into a grimace and look a look of abject horror.
“What the fuck. I can’t go and see her. Can I? No, I can’t!” she squealed answering her own question so he didn’t have to, torn between her rapture and her panic. “She might see me!”
“Isn’t that the point of visiting someone, to see them?”
“But I’m… I might… wait, we don’t need to go in, right? I can leave her present on the doorstep, right?”
“You could,” he agreed tentatively.
“I could…” she mused, chewing her lip. “But I can’t go all the way there, leave her a present and not see her.”
He cleared his throat and offered her his plan, finely presented, naturally. “Perhaps,” he mused as if he hadn’t already given this copious thought. “With my supervision, I suppose we could go in, briefly.”
She wasn’t listening. “I bet she already thinks I hate her for abandoning her in the first shitting place.” She thumped the dresser and let out an anguished roar. “I’m just like my dad, floating in and out at his whim, always leaving her wondering when she’ll next see him! Ugh!”
Seth remained silent, allowing her tantrum. Eventually she whispered. “Maybe it would be better to let her forget me. Forget her.”
“If only that worked,” Seth murmured, but Faith didn’t hear. “You don’t want to see her?” he asked.
“I do!” she whined. “But how can I? She’d definitely want to hug me and you saw what Mel did to her dad—”
“I did,” he agreed. “And you saw what I did to Melinda.”
“Yeah… but you can’t control me properly, I’ve got, you know,” she waved around her head. “The weird brain thing.”
You have indeed, he thought to himself, trying very hard not to lick his lips. Instead, he smiled. “If subversion should fail, Faith, remember; I am stronger than you, faster…”
She snorted. “Yeah, sure you ar— oof!”
The wind was knocked out of her as Seth moved, part man, part mist, pinning her to the wall in an instant. He waited until her senses caught up with her and her unimpressed neutral expression returned before relenting.
“That was just lucky,” she said. “I was distracted by dresses.”
“As will I be if you wear the black one.”
Faith let out a little gasp as he stepped back, still smarting. “Then maybe I should wear the blue one.”
“Maybe you should go naked,” he jested. “Let her play the bongos on that belly blimp of yours.”
“You’re such a fucking tool,” she tutted, but her smile was bright, her eyes alight. “OK! OK, oh my fucking god!” she gasped. “I can’t believe I’m gonna see her little face. Even if it is through a window, even if only for a minute. I’m so excited! Thank you.”
“I can’t wait to see her expression when she sees those pictures. It’s going to be fucking epic.”
“It is,” he agreed. Seth fought to restrain his smirk, watching Faith as she deliberated on the dresses with renewed vigour.
“You’re so good to me.” Faith grinned. “All the stuff you do for me. One day I will do something for you, I promise. Something huge.”
I don’t doubt it.
“This looks amazing, Jess. Great job!”
Jessica looked around at the ‘nursery’ that she and Beth had spent the day creating. It looked better, for certain, but it couldn’t have looked much worse than the dank, brown space it had started as. The dinosaur border certainly added some playfulness to the clinical white walls, but one feature was still off-putting for Jessica.
“Are we doing anything with the cell doors?” she asked.
Beth glanced towards them and shrugged. “Shall we paint them?”
“Um,” Jessica bit her lip. “I thought more along the lines of removing them.”
“No way, they’re a safety feature,” Beth insisted, dragging her nail across the iron bars. The tinny reverberations echoed around the police station basement, emphasising the closed-in feeling that made Jessica shake. “What we have made here, Jess, is essentially a giant playpen. We can leave the little ones here to play or nap, with no worries that they’ll escape, or try to climb those stairs, or worse.” She reached down and scooped up her son, who beamed back up at her. “Even you can’t get through those bars, can you, you little rascal?”
“He escapes?” Jessica repeated, more to distract herself from the noise in her head, rather than out of genuine interest.
“He tries to,” Beth confirmed. “He’s as slippery as his dad; always looking for a way out.” Her face flickered with a flash of sadness that was gone as soon as it appeared. “Paired with that, he’s as charmed, um, as charming as me. Dangerous combination.”
Jessica nodded emptily. Her thoughts that day had been originally been dominated by the knowledge that she’d be dressed like clown vomit and breaking into her former boss’s house in a few hours’ time to try and talk to his ghost. But as the day had worn on and, as usual, barely a call came through to the sleepy Woodland Borough Police Station to break up the hours of decorating, Jessica had been forced to think about her other big issue. Perhaps, arguably, the bigger of the two.
She wondered how her brewing baby would blend. Would they be hot-headed and non-committal like their dad? Would they be quirky and creative like their mum?
Would Jessica be a good mum or would she be like her own mum; trying but never quite succeeding?
Who would she turn to when she needed support? Who would help?
Could she do all this on her own?
The tinny ringing seemed to be getting louder in Jessica’s ears, drowning out her spiralling thoughts. It was only when a soft, damp weight was thrust into her arms that she realised the sound wasn’t coming from the barred door, but from Beth’s pocket.
“Take him for a sec, Jess so I can see who this is,” Beth said. She paused for a moment, admiring the scene she’d created. “Aw, it really suits you, you know?”
Jessica wasn’t so sure. She juggled the squirming child, trying to find a position that felt natural as Beth looked at her phone.
“Crap,” she muttered under her breath. “It’s Saggy Balls. I’d better go take this in the office. You’re OK alone with Willy for five minutes, right? Honestly, he’s an absolute angel.”
“That is what ‘alone’ means.”
“You’ll be fine.”
Jessica tried to protest, but Beth had already abandoned her in the half-painted cell.
She might have been expecting and flooded with hormones, but that didn’t mean that Jessica knew what to do with the tiny person in her arms. She’d had no younger siblings, no younger relatives at all, no experience of caring for anything other than feral cats. Between trying to join the GliTS, being locked in the Tower, covering her tracks at work and desperately trying to keep food down, she hadn’t had much time to read parenting books, either.
She looked at Willy and he looked back with those dark, shark eyes synonymous with the Wangshafts. He certainly didn’t look like an angel, but perhaps looks were deceiving.
“Hello,” she said, clumsily. “I’m Jessica.”
“Blurbla!” he gargled. He reached out a chubby little hand, grasping Jessica’s glasses and attempting to remove them.
“Oh, no, don’t do that!” Jessica gasped. She managed to free her glasses, only for him to grab at her hair, or her earrings instead. “Ow! Oh! OW!”
Willy giggled at this game and began patting Jessica’s face thwarting her every attempt to stop him. Jessica had no idea what to do to make him stop. Trying to grab his flailing arm was like trying to get a hold on a lubricated squid. She eventually caught his wrist, by some miracle, and told him a firm ‘no’.
He stopped, what a relief! But then, oh no! His eyes overflowed. His lower lip trembled.
“Oh, no. No, no, no!” Jessica panicked, imagining Beth’s face if she returned to find her precious child crying and miserable after only two minutes in her care. “Shh!” She danced on the spot, frantically looking around for a distraction. This was a nightmare! What was she thinking?! She couldn’t be a mother! She was a disaster!
Just as she thought she’d have to either give up her spectacles or admit defeat and allow him to pummel her face for his own amusement, he reached up towards her again, but this time he only sniffled, wrapped his small arm around her neck and held on tight.
Oh no, now he was terrified! She had barely registered that she was bouncing and swaying. He probably thought she was going to drop him, and—
“Oh,” Jessica sighed, feeling his gentle breath on her neck, his powder-soft cheek, plump and warm against her own. He settled into the curves of her, naturally finding the space he fit best and stayed there, gently grabbing and releasing the collar of her blouse as he gargled happily.
“Oh.” Jessica smiled, holding him a little closer. The instincts she’d doubted she had finally kicked in as she held tight to the sleepy little one. Her body found a rhythm to rock, in time with his slowing breathing and her own. She cooed softly at his sweet face, enjoying every second of him falling asleep in her arms.
Maybe Beth was right, she thought into the silence as she stilled. Maybe I really can do this.