Previously in The Absolutely Crazy Matriarchy:You’re absolutely right. The rules need to change. Fire smiled sadly. I should havefigured this out years ago, when Suze asked if your father could move in. It’s asymptom of being immortal, I guess. Time works differently, so nothing seemsurgent. It’s not an excuse, she said quickly, as Rissa opened her mouth to saysomething snarky. But it does impair my judgement at times. Well, most of thetime.Rissa scowled. “I’ll say.”
“Sure.” Rissa grinned. “You oughta stop by sometime. Y’know, for coffee and talkand stuff. Hell, the Simselves are over all the time, so we might as well make aparty out of it.”“You mean, we should be friends?” asked Robbie, mildly surprised.Rissa punched his arm. “We always were, Strawberry Shortcake. You just don’t getmy way of bein’ friendly.”
“Fine then.” Linsday took a deep breath.“The empty heartThe loaded gunOne becomes twoTwo become oneShatter the glassCold double-crossThe loser’s gainThe winner’s loss.”
“I like Lisbeth.” Theo waved at the baby. “Hello there, Lisbeth.” Lisbeth gurgled andwaved vaguely at her father’s face.“You’ve gotta see the nursery we’ve got for you, kiddo,” said Rissa. “Yourgrandmother decorated it.”Theo eyed the purple room around him. “She decorated this room, right?”“Yeah. Don’t worry, the nursery’s slightly better.”
“Do you think maybe we should have a dinner party? Friends and family. MaybeJames could bring his wife and daughter.”“SUZE.”“What is it, Parker?”“I want to marry you.”
Eleven months later“Mom, we are not having this discussion now.” Rissa glared at Suze, unconsciouslyscratching at the lace edging of her dress. The damned thing itched. “You’re about towalk down the freaking aisle. There are twenty people out there in the chairs youpicked to match your damn dress waiting for you to walk down the freaking aisle.This is not the time to talk about my relationship.”
Suze closed her eyes and thinned her lips in a look Rissa recognised. It was Suze’s mydaughter is being ungrateful, therefore I must now guilt-trip her into letting me runher life look.“Clarissa, I have been very lenient with you of late. I have even accepted the factthat you are wearing black to my wedding.”“We’ve been over this, Mom. I am not wearing black. I am wearing a totally rad dressthat happens to be black.”
“But what I refuse to accept,” Suze continued, as if Rissa had not spoken, “is the factthat you and Theodore are not even considering doing this yourselves.”“After you’ve spent the last year being the Bridezilla from hell? You shouldn’t besurprised,” snapped Rissa.“You have a child together, and you are expecting again. It would be appropriatethat you get married, now that you can.”
“Oh, for fuck’s sake. I thought we were makin’ progress with the whole you-don’t-boss-me-around-I-don’t-scream-obscenities-at-you thing.” Rissa planted her hands onher hips. “This is your wedding day. Not mine. We can have this screaming matchafter your around-the-damn-world honeymoon with Dad. Not now. I refuse to beresponsible for fucking up your wedding.”“I am not finished with this conversation!” Suze hissed.“Later, Mom! You can’t ever let things go, can you?”
Exasperated, Rissa shoved past Suze and stalked out of the door. “I’m gonna go sitdown and act like a normal person now. What fucking planet are you on, bringing thisshit up now?”“Language, Clarissa!”“Oh, screw you.”
“Everything all sorted?” Theo asked as Rissa made a beeline for her seat.“Absolutely not. You know Mom, she likes to leave arguments until it’s the worst timein the world.”“What was it this time?”“She wants us to get married.”
“That again?”“Yeah. I have never been so glad in my whole freaking life that she and Dad are goingoff on a nice, long, honeymoon once this is all over.”“Mm.” Theo shifted a squirming Lisbeth on his lap. “Marriage isn’t something eitherof us want, and Suze isn’t going to understand that.”“Damn skippy.”
Rissa regarded her daughter. Lisbeth was clearly fascinated with everything she wasseeing, but she hadn’t let out a single peep.“Tell you what, I’m glad Lissie’s decided she’s the quiet type. I ain’t gonna miss herscreaming at three in the morning. And gettin’ her through this wedding’s gonna be ahell of a lot easier without tantrums.”Theo grinned and tickled Lisbeth, who chuckled quietly. “No, but the next one justmight take up where she’s left off.”
“Sheesh, don’t remind me. Why’d I let you talk me into having another one of these?D’you know how many anti-nausea pills I’ve had to pop just to stop from ralphinghalfway through the vows?”“I seem to remember you enjoying the process of getting you pregnant,” Theopointed out.“Right.” Rissa snorted. “Yeah, that bit was okay.” She leaned across and poked hisarm. “That doesn’t mean I’m letting you talk you way into making me have anymore.”
Hey. You two lovebirds, zip it, Fire hissed. It’s starting.“Whatever,” Rissa muttered, poking her tongue out at Fire when the Simself turnedaway again.Theo snickered. “Really mature, Riss.”
“There she is,” muttered Theo. He squinted at her as she walked down the aisle,ivory and cream gown swishing against the ground. “She looks kind of pissed forsomeone who’s about to marry the love of their life.”“What?” Rissa swivelled around in her seat to stare at her mother. “She looks fine tome.”Theo smiled wryly. “Suze is very good at hiding her emotions.”“Yeah, tell me about it.”
Parker smiled at Suze as she walked towards the arch. “Hey, beautiful,” he said, sono-one else could hear.Suze smiled distractedly. “No cold feet?” she asked.
“Not on my part.” Parker frowned slightly. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing. I’ll tell you later.” Suze’s smile turned genuine. “It’s nothing to do with thehere and now.”“Thank God.” Parker took Suze’s hand. “You’re not backing out of this now. Not now,not ever.” He raised his voice, and started his vows.
“Susannah. Suze. We’ve done things a bit backwards. Most people fall in love beforethey have children together, but our daughter brought us together. And true to ourupside-down way of doing things, it’s taken us this long to get married.”
“We’ve already had our ups and our downs, our heartbreak and happiness. Somarrying you today is not a matter of tying ourselves together for the lifetime ahead– it’s an affirmation that we have gotten this far without falling apart. I love you,Susannah Chandler, and I want to stay with you and let our love stay strong.”He slid the plain gold band onto Suze’s finger. Suze sniffled slightly, but started herown vows strongly.
“When I met you, I was falling apart. You found me, you gave me comfort. When ourchild was born, you stayed with me and helped me raise her. You held us together.”
“You’re so good for me, Parker. You make me feel wonderful every time you look atme. That is why I am marrying you today – because you are wonderful, and you arethe true love of my life.” Suze slid Parker’s ring onto his finger. He smiled broadly.“’Til death do us part,” he said quietly.“No getting out of it now,” Suze teased. “You’re stuck with me, Mr. Chandler.”“Poor me,” said Parker, grinning foolishly.
The wedding and reception went off without a single hiccup. The guests (friends,family and Simselves alike) all enjoyed the food, the company and theentertainment.
Though for some, the entertainment was at the expense of others.
Once the wedding was over and all of the guests had been seen off, Rissa let out a bigsigh of relief.“Oof. And you wonder why I never want to go through this sort of shit.”
“Yes, well, about that…” Suze started, throwing Rissa a glare.Theo hurriedly stepped in. “Don’t you two have a shuttle to catch soon? We need toget you home and changed if you’re going to leave on time.”
“He’s right, Suzie,” Parker said, as keen to avoid an argument as Theo was.“Hmmm,” Suze said, but she didn’t protest.
Three months later“C’mon, kiddo, it’s easy. ‘Mommy’. See?”Lisbeth didn’t make a sound.“Seriously, give it a shot. Mooooooommmy.”
Not even Rissa’s comical exaggeration of the word made Lisbeth reply. She simplyshook her head and frowned at her mother.
“Jeez, you’re even more stubborn than I was. S’pose this way I don’t need to teachyou any of the really fun words for a while.” She picked Lisbeth up. “Enough vocabfor now. The lump wants a snack, and I’ll bet you want somethin’ to eat too.”Lisbeth clapped and nodded eagerly, which was pretty much the extent of hercommunication these days.
“There ya go. Ain’t it nice having the house to ourselves?”Home was so restful without Suze and Parker around. While she and Parker were offtouring the world and sending home the odd postcard, Theo and Rissa had managedto redecorate both the nursery and their bedroom without anyone hovering overthem. Theo was still at VIS, but Rissa was on maternity leave again, which made thejuggling act of having someone home to look after Lisbeth a whole lot easier.As Rissa stood up, the phone rang. She sighed, resigned to delaying the macadamiacookies the fetus was making her crave.
“Hector’s Mortuary. You stab ‘em, we slab ‘em.”“Oh, er, I do apologize. I appear to have dialled the wrong number.”Rissa laughed as she recognized the voice on the other end. “Robbie, you idiot, it’sme. You’re so easy to mess with, I’m not sure it’s even fun any more.”“I should have known.”
“Yeah, you shoulda. What’s up? Haven’t heard from you since the Apocawedding.”“I, uh, require your assistance. In a rather delicate matter.”“Yeah?” Rissa could practically hear Robbie squirming. “Spill, Strawberry Shortcake.”
Rissa cracked up laughing.“It is no laughing matter, Rissa!”“I beg to really freaking differ. Oh man, this is beautiful.” She snorted. “Didn’t yourmother tell you to never pick up strange telescopes in bars?”“If you knew my mother you would not ask me that. I don’t think mama ever said theword ‘telescope’ in her whole life. Spirits and gaming tables, yes, she warned me ofthose dangers, but not… but that is not the point.”
“The point is,” he continued over Rissa’s continued giggles, “I am now in this…condition, and I require a new wardrobe. My current ensemble of sweaters arecashmere, and expensive to replace if… stretched.”Rissa wiped a tear of mirth from her eye. “Are you actually asking me to go maternityshopping with you?”“Er. Yes? Why do I now get the feeling that this was a bad notion of mine?”
“Oh, I dunno. Could it be because I am an unimaginably evil woman who likes nothingbetter than to laugh at your gay ass?”“Most likely.”“Don’t think you’re gonna get out of this now, Strawberry Shortcake. You’re stucknow. Me’n Lisbeth are gonna meet you at yours, okay?” Rissa allowed herself one evilcackle.
“Ah, you are bringing Lisbeth?”“Shyeah. I’m not gonna leave her on her own.” Rissa recognized the hopeful tone inRobbie’s voice, and immediately squashed it. “Don’t think you’re gonna spend thewhole time playin’ with the kid. You’re not getting out of this that easy.”Robbie pouted. “I was thinking nothing of the sort.”“Liar. Your place. Ten minutes. And don’t try hiding, I’ll know where you are.” Rissahung up.”
“Oh dear.” Robbie replaced the handset. “What have I done?”
“A H&M? Clarissa, do they have a maternity section here, or are you just attemptingto make a public spectacle out of this?”Rissa grinned. “Six of one, half a dozen of the other. They do have maternity here,but so does every other tiny, out-of-the-damn-way clothes shop in town.”
Robbie slapped a hand to his forehead. “This was a bad idea. What did I do todeserve this?”“Aw, lighten up, Cream Puff. It’s just a little clothes shopping,” said Rissa bracingly.“Just us girls.”“Not helping.”“I even dyed my hair to match your sweater?”“With the leftover dye you used on me in college, no doubt.” Robbie sighed. “Let’sget this over with, shall we?”
Inside, Rissa promptly dumped Lisbeth in Robbie’s arms and started rifling through aclothes rack.“Am I allowed to choose anything?” asked Robbie tentatively.“Nope. You get to hold the kid and shut up, then put on what I tell you to.” Rissafrowned and replaced a hanger. “Don’t worry, I know what your favourite colour is.”
“I am not worried about that. I am more worried because you and I do not exactlysubscribe to the same ideals of style.”Rissa raised an eyebrow as she pulled something distressingly pink off a hanger.“Don’t you trust me?”“Not in the slightest.”Rissa gave him a Look, then traded the clothes for Lisbeth. “Too bad, you’re stuckwith me anyways. Change booth, now.”
“Rissa, are you sure that this is male maternity?” Robbie fussed from inside thebooth Rissa had shoved him into.“Of course I am! You need help with the zipper or something?”“No…”“Then quit stallin’ and get your ass out here. I want to see.”“Oh dear. Very well.” There was a rustle of cloth, and then Robbie stepped out ofthe booth.
“Are you quite sure this is maternity?” Robbie asked again.Rissa cackled. “Nope. That would be women’s formalwear. I cannot believe youactually fell for that.”
Robbie’s face slowly turned red. “I cannot believe you, Clarissa!” he yelled.“Aww, but look at you, Robbie! You’re so pretty.”“You… you…” Robbie fought to get the words out, but he was far too incensed toform a sentence.
“Please, Robbie, not in front of the children,” Rissa said cheerfully, pointing toLisbeth sitting blithely in the corner, happily ignoring everyone.“This is absolutely worse than anything you ever did in college!”“Oh, it is not. Besides, you kinda like it. Admit it.”
Robbie sighed, and the corners of his mouth twitched.“Yeah, there we go, finally seeing the funny side.” Rissa patted Robbie’s arm. “Wedon’t have to buy the stupid dress. I’ll find you something awesome now, promise.”“No tricks?”“No tricks. I’ve got my kicks outta you for the day.”They did end up buying Robbie some shirts and jeans, but Rissa could swear she sawthe pink corner of the dress poking out between the layers of clothes in Robbie’sshopping bag.
“Hey, you.” Rissa greeted Theo at the door with a hug when he got home. “Have agood day? Destroy any sensitive lab equipment for me?”“You’re doomed to disappointment on that front.” Theo gave Rissa a kiss on thecheek. “Aren’t we lovely and domestic?”“I know, isn’t it pathetic? I even made dinner.”
“You. Made dinner.”“Well, the butler did. I watched him make it.”Theo laughed. “Thank goodness.”“Hey.” Rissa punched his arm. “I told him to skedaddle for the night. And Lissie’s inbed, dreaming of ponies or whatever it is kids dream about. We’ve got tonight all toourselves.”
“Sounds good to me,” said Theo cheerfully, heading for the kitchen. “We can actuallyhave a conversation over dinner.”“Well, I had my heart set on sex on the kitchen floor, but I think I can eat first.”“All in good time, love.”
“…so Rosemarie finally got her doctorate, and got a job over in the botanydepartment. Probably to escape you, I’d say. Oh, and Barbara’s just gone onmaternity leave.”“Hell, is it contagious or something?”“What?” Theo gave Rissa a quizzical look.“The whole damn town’s pregnant. Me, Robbie, and now B.”Theo choked on his salmon. “Robbie?”
“Yeah, spent too long poking around with a telescope. Probably a good thing, too.He’s been a bit… lonely, ever since Will, you know. I took him maternity shoppingtoday, and I think he was glad of the company, even though it was me and I was doingmy damndest to mess with his head.”“You. Maternity shopping. Tonight seems to be the night of improbable actions.”Rissa mock-glared at Theo. “Hey, we got him some nice stuff. After I suckered himinto wearing a pretty pink dress, of course.”
Theo laughed. “I’m not surprised.”“I’ve made you kinda jaded, haven’t I?” teased Rissa.“A little,” said Theo, taking her hand. “I almost enjoy it.”“Mm.” Rissa wiggled her eyebrows. “Kitchen floor still looking good?”Theo snorted. “You’re such a romantic, Rissa.”
They eventually headed up to bed, a little quicker than Rissa had anticipated. Shewas just so tired, even more than she’d been when she was pregnant with Lisbeth.“You don’t think it might be twins?” she asked Theo offhandedly. “I swear this one’sbeen twice as bad as Lissie was. And twins run in my family, a bit. Look at the HellTwins.”Theo shrugged. “Could be. The more, the better, though.”“You got all my share of the maternal hormones,” Rissa sighed.
Rissa scooted over and cuddled up next to Theo. “If it’s twins, I’m makin’ you takeleave. No way am I handlin’ three infants on my lonesome.”Theo chuckled. “It’s probably just the strain on looking after Lisbeth as well as beingpregnant, love. Your feet are cold, by the way.”“All the better to annoy you with,” said Rissa sweetly.
Still, the thought niggled at her as she dropped off to sleep.
“I think I can guess what’s on your mind.”“Yeah.” Rissa glanced around her at the toys and nursery furniture littering hersubconscious. “Sort of a constant thing now. One after the other after the other.”“At least it’s keeping you occupied,” Lora remarked.“I can think of better ways to entertain myself.”
“Fate has other ideas for you,” Lindsay pointed out.“Psh. I don’t believe in fate. It’s too damn messy. I could sit on my ass doing nothingfor the rest of forever and say that’s my fate,” Rissa snapped.“You just don’t like it when you aren’t in control.” Lindsay shot a glare at her sister.“Why haven’t you passed on the message yet?”
“Because I don’t have a fucking clue who I’m s’posed to give it to. Give me a name,I’ll be your messenger girl.”“You know who to give it to,” said Will. “You just haven’t realized it yet.”“Oh, so I know but I don’t know? What the fuck is wrong with you-all?”
“If you’re going to be snarky, you shouldn’t call us like this,” said Rishell. “We havethings to do, too.”“Me? Call you? Bullshit. As if I’d invite this mindfuckery. I wouldn’t even know how.”“You are in control of yourself so much of the time,” Rishell said placidly.
Rissa slouched back in the chair and sighed. “This isn’t me, this is you. I have toomuch to worry about without this.”“Pressing issues?” asked Lora, gesturing at the scattered toys.“Pretty much. Comfort zone shattered to bits.”“None of us can talk to you about this,” Will pointed out.
“Well, send in someone who is. You want me to stop stressing and figure out what itis you want me to do, you help me fix my brain,” said Rissa bluntly. She shook herhead. “Awesome, I’m blackmailing my own subconscious.”
“All right, then.” Lindsay nodded at the others, and they all vanished.“Great. Because this trapped feeling never gets old,” Rissa muttered.
She closed her eyes. “Maybe I’ll wake up soon. That would be awesome. Except I stilldon’t know what I’m doing.”“Maybe I can help with that.”
An old woman was standing in front of her, swirling a glass of red wine casually.“Thank god, someone without a bullet hole.”The woman laughed, and instantly looked twenty years younger. “I always knewyou’d turn out interesting. Want a drink?”Rissa eyed the glass dubiously. “Would I get a hangover back in the real world?”“Hm. No idea. Could be fun to try, though.”
“Probably not a good idea. How are things, Gramma Rin?”“Quiet as the grave,” Rin said with a chuckle.“Now, why didn’t I get you as my spirit-guide-person-thing? You’re not half as doom-and-gloom as Lindscary and the Massacre Four.”“Lindsay can tell you things I can’t. She sees things.”“No, no she doesn’t,” Rissa argued. “She’s dead. Dead people can’t see anything.”
“Oh, being dead doesn’t stop anyone. Sure didn’t stop me.” A lascivious grin flittedacross Rin’s laugh-lined face.“Oh, jeez, did not need to know that.”“What do you need to know, then? You did call me.”“You want to be my dead shrink? Fine.”“Hey, you want a shrink, go see my sister,” said Rin, offended. “I only givegrandmotherly advice.”
“Fine. You win. I’m freaked.”“Mmhm, but what about?”“Ain’t it obvious?” Rissa jerked her head towards a pile of baby things. “Kids. I’m nota mom, Gramma. I can handle one kid, maybe, but Theo wants a damn soccer teamand sometimes I just miss it being him and me. I love Lisbeth, but the whole thing isterrifying me.”
“You and me both, kid. I never wanted children. I wanted boys, and fun. But, herewe are, three generations on. Want to know my secret?”“I’m dying to. No offense.”“None taken. You love them, the kids.”“Hell, that’s the secret? I want my money back,” Rissa grumbled.
“You don’t listen to what other people are saying very often, do you?” Rin glaredgood-naturedly at her granddaughter. “You love your kids, and that makeseverything okay. It’s like running a marathon, all the time. But in the end, you stillhave kids who you love more than anyone else in the world.”
“So it never gets easier?”“If it does, you’re doing it wrong. But it’s worth it. Everything is worth it. And youdo learn to juggle, and how to keep your sanity. Go on a vacation sometime, just youand your man, and relax. You’re always going to be a mom, but that doesn’t meanyou’re not you.”“Okay.” Rissa sighed. “I think I can live with that.”
“I know you can.” Rin glanced over at the wall where a high chair had been. “See?”“Huh. How about that.” Rissa stood up. “Thanks.”
“Any time, dear.” Rin hugged Rissa. “Don’t underestimate yourself.”“You better not spill any of that wine on me,” Rissa warned. “Paranormal stainsnever come out.”Rin laughed. “Would I ever be that clumsy?”
“Oh, one more thing,” Rin said as the edges of the room started fading from Rissa’ssight. “You might want to talk to Fire about the message. The others were being socagey about that. It’s not a crime to need things spelled out occasionally.”“I definitely want you in this job more often.”“I’m very talented,” said Rin gravely. “Off you go, dear. Love the hair, by the way.”
Rissa woke with a start. “Uh?”It was still dark, and Theo was snoring lightly. She sighed. “Stupid dreams,” shemuttered, before giving Theo a small shove to shut him up and snuggling back intohim. “At this rate, I’ll never get any sleep.”
Outside, a spectral figure gazed up into Rissa and Theo’s window.“There you are,” she said to nobody in particular. “I told you, a shove in the rightdirection’s better than a thousand riddles.”There was no reply, but the ghost apparently could hear one.“I know, it’s traditional. For all the good it’ll do them.” She sighed with a noise likethe wind through a forest, and faded away.
“All righty! Let the first ever meeting of the On Maternity Leave And Bored ShitlessWithout Any Work Club come to order!”
“Why did we let ourselves get dragged into this again?” Barbara asked Robbie.Robbie let out a long-suffering sigh. “Because Rissa is a force of nature akin to ahurricane – loud, forceful, and messy. Also terrible, persistent…”“ROBBIE, SHUT UP,” Rissa snapped automatically.“…and loud.”“Hey, I thought this would be actual fun, okay? I even let you make tea for us,despite the fact that it tastes like dead leaves stewed in hot water. Probably becauseit is dead leaves in hot water.”
Robbie sniffed. “Please do not malign tea in my presence. My poor, tea-lovingheart… it bleeds.”“Fine, I’ll stop mocking your dead leaf juice. What else do we usually talk about atthis kind of girly thing? Baby names?” A slow grin spread over her face. “Ooh, I cantotally name your kids for you.”
“Please don’t,” Barbara said immediately.“Aaw, come on. I can’t possibly do any better than the kid’s surname. Fitzhugh-Doran’s kind of a mouthful.”“I, well, technically the baby’ll be a Fitzhugh-Rosenberg-Doran. My surname’shyphenated, I just never use it.”“That was a foolish move, telling her that,” Robbie muttered.
“Well, there’s your name then!” said Rissa gleefully. “Just smack ‘em all together.Fitzberg Doran.”
“Oh, gods no. I am not calling my child Fitzberg.”“But Barbara,” said Rissa innocently. “It works for a boy or a girl!”“It does not work for anyone!” Barbara groaned. She looked helplessly at Robbie forsupport. “A little help here, please?”“Oh, goodness no. I’m enjoying the feeling of having someone else be Rissa’s targetfor once far too much.”“Hey, I haven’t even started on yours yet, Strawberry Shortcake. How about Spock?”
Thankfully, Robbie was spared having to reply as Fire walked in.
Hey, Rissa. Just letting you know the guard shift’s changed. Ooh, cake.“Same old, same old then. If you’re off shift, sit down and have some cake.”Oh, would I be intruding? I’m not exactly in the same boat as the rest of you.“Nah, it’s fine. I need to talk to you anyhow, and someone has to help us drink allthis godawful tea.” Robbie kicked her under the table.“What?”“If you don’t think I will not kick you for disparaging tea, you have another thingcoming. And it is wearing Italian leather.”
I guess I could eat cake. Fire took a seat.“Great. Now, where were we? Oh yeah, baby names. I was thinkin’ of calling Robbie’sspawn Captain Kirk.”Fire choked. Uh, that sounds interesting.“You’ll only encourage her,” Robbie sighed.
Eventually all the tea and cake vanished and Robbie and Barbara had to head home.Fire stayed behind with Rissa and waved them off, before turning to Rissa with araised eyebrow.
Now, what was it you wanted to talk to me about?“The glasses, for one thing. Hell of a fashion statement from someone who canmagically control their vision.”
Coming from someone with pink hair.“Touché. Nah, that wasn’t what I gotta tell you. We’d best go inside for that – I’mnot freezing my pregnant ass off on the front doorstep for any longer’n I have to.”Good call.
Once they were ensconced in the (far warmer) upstairs lounge, Fire gazedexpectantly at Rissa. So, what’s so important you can’t talk to me about it in frontof Robbie and Barbara?“They’d think I was nuts. Hell, I ain’t sure I’m not.” Rissa sighed. “Ever since college,I’ve been gettin’ these weird dreams.”Fire raised an eyebrow. Define weird.“Dead people, come back to talk to me. First it was just Lindsay, then Rishell, Will,Lora and Matt, and last night Gramma Rin.”
Uh huh. And why d’you think they mean anything?“Because,” said Rissa stiffly, “I know things from ‘em I can’t’ve known elsewise. Like,Lindsay was shot in the stomach. Matt was shot in the back.”Fire frowned. You could’ve just hacked into Tempe’s files and found that out.“Bullshit. Like anyone could ever hack Tempe’s files. Not even me.”True. Fire squinted up at Rissa. Dead people, huh? When was your birthday?
“March 26. Why?”Hm. I can’t remember if there were any reports of rip activity back then. I’ll haveto ask Tempe.“Oh, hell no. I ain’t a supernatural freak like Lindsay and the twins. I just get mydreams invaded by ghosts. This is not any special freaky ability of mine.”All right, said Fire doubtfully. She made a mental note to ask Tempe anyway.Obviously one of the dreams involved me in some way?
“Yeah. They were all vague about it, but then Gramma Rin straight-up told me thatthe message they gave me was meant for you.”Message?“Sort of a prophecy. I know shitty rhymes were kind of Lindsay’s mojo. Guess deathain’t changing that any time soon.”Fire sighed. More riddles. All right, shoot.
“Hey, don’t kill the messenger.” Rissa snapped. She thought for a moment. “Okay.Goes like: The empty heart, the loaded gun. One becomes two, two become one.Shatter the glass, cold double-cross. The loser’s gain, the winner’s loss.”Understandable as ever. Fire stood with a sigh. I need to tell the others about this,see if we can decipher it before something bad happens.“Because you’ve had such a winning streak with that,” muttered Rissa.
It’s so nice to know that you still have confidence in me, said Fire drily.Rissa shrugged. “I tell it how I see it. It’s one of my charms.”I know. Fire suddenly looked very, very tired. For a second, she could’ve been ahundred years old instead of the perpetual twenty-something her immortality hadmade her. I’ll do my best, I swear.“Yeah,” said Rissa, unsettled. “I know. I trust you. Hence I’m tellin’ you this ratherthan writing it off as my brain being all funky.”
Fire chuckled. I really hope that doesn’t come back to bite you in the ass someday.“Why the hell not? Every damn thing else has. Said I’d never have kids, said I’d nevercome back home again… I seem to perpetually have my freaking foot in my mouth.”Heh. Don’t we all? Fire nodded at Rissa and turned to leave. Let me know when thebabies are born, will you?“Babies? As in, plural?”
Fire merely waved merrily at Rissa and vanished in her usual shower of light.“I fucking knew it,” Rissa raged. “Fucking twins.”She felt a lurch around her midriff as one of the babies kicked her. “Don’t start,” shemuttered dangerously. “Your over-fertile father has a damn lot to answer for. Andnext time Fire does her vanishing-without-telling-me-anything bit, I am going to hunther down and punch her in the face.”
“Hey. You look… rested.” Rissa was faintly surprised when she saw her mother. Shelooked a lot younger than she had in a long time. Her hair had grown out a bit, andher skin looked clearer. The dark circles that had started to form under her eyeswhen she’d left had faded.“I feel it,” replied Suze. “I think I needed to let things go for a bit.”Rissa knew how much that was the case, but let it slide.
“Didja find that bar on Twikkii I told you about?”“I did. It was lovely, though you didn’t mention just how… overdecorated it was.”Rissa laughed. “Hell yeah. Half the charm of the place. Obviously the whole tripagreed with you.”“It was wonderful. Twikkii was like paradise, and Takemizu is beautiful. And ThreeLakes has such amazing mountain scenery.”
Suze put her bag down and stooped to pick up Lisbeth. “Hello, precious. Did you missyour grandma?”Lisbeth reached out and patted Suze’s cheek.“She ain’t speaking, not yet,” said Rissa. “Not for lack of trying on our part, trust me.The day she picks up my bad language will be a really freakin’ happy one.”
The Suze Rissa knew would have immediately freaked out and insisted on takingLisbeth to a specialist. This Suze just smiled ruefully and said, “Maybe she just knowsshe doesn’t need words to have us all wrapped around her little finger.”“Maybe.” Rissa looked sideways at Suze. “Think we can sneak off and let the menunpack your gear? Lisbeth’s due for her nap anyways.”Suze chuckled. “I like that idea.”
As she put Lisbeth into her crib, Suze remarked casually, “You redecorated.”“Yeah. Lisbeth likes purple, and I guess since we know what she is now, a gender-neutral orange nursery ain’t really necessary.”“It looks… nice. I’d expect a bit, well, more from you.”“Hah. I keep my neon for my hair. Nobody likes lime green walls,” Rissa said, matter-of-fact.
“Hm, not sure I’d call that lime green. Melon green maybe.”Rissa grinned. “Are you actually teasing me, Mom?”“I might be.” Suze smiled crookedly. “Look, what I said before I left… it was out ofline.”“Yeah, it was,” said Rissa. “But arguin’ about it ain’t gonna change a thing. Let’sleave it alone.”“I’m not the only one who’s learned to let things go, it seems.”
“Yeah, but I can blame the pregnancy hormones and lack of sleep. What’s yourexcuse?”Suze smiled. “Call it a dose of perspective. The trip was pretty enlightening.”“What, meet a foreign mystic who told you your karma was bad?”“Something like that,” said Suze. “Maybe you should give it a try.”“The day I get any perspective will be a cold day in Hell.” Rissa jerked her headtowards Lisbeth. “Come on, we’d best let her sleep.”
Life returned to normal fairly quickly after Suze and Parker got back. Rissa was stillat home, but now she had some company while Theo was off at work. They cherishedtheir weekends together, since Theo usually got home later than Rissa was able tostay up.On one cool Sunday afternoon, Rissa conked out even before sundown while she andTheo had been reading on the upstairs couch.
Theo set his book aside and stood, deciding to let her just sleep rather than wakeher. He looked down at her fondly.“I love you,” he said quietly, knowing if he said it while she was conscious she’d panicor baulk.
“Muh?” Rissa jerked awake.“Do you ever actually sleep, or just shut your eyes and wait until I say somethingstupid to you?”asked Theo casually.
“Huh? You say somethin’ stupid and I didn’t hear it? Damn.”“Don’t worry, it wasn’t important. Sorry to wake you.”“Nah, wasn’t that.” Rissa shuddered and yelped. “More the fact that it’s liftoff timethat woke me.”“Oh.” A silly grin split Theo’s face. “Baby time.”
“Ow! Yes! And if you don’t stop smiling like an idiot, I’m going to chain you to atelescope so you carry the next one!”“I’ll go get your parents,” Theo said hurriedly.“Don’t bother, they’ll hear! Agh!”
Rissa was right. Her mother was up the stairs and encouraging her (not a clever move,since Rissa was not in the mood for any sort of encouragement) before Theo could’verun down and found her. The butler made an appearance too, but mostly to panicand be generally useless.After a great deal of cursing, Rissa soon held a little girl with her own pale skin, butTheo’s fiery hair and green eyes.
“Here, hold her,” said Rissa shortly, handing the infant to Theo. “I ain’t done yet.This is all your fault, just so you know.”Theo took the baby. “I know. You can be mad with me later, okay?”“Yeah. Okay.” Rissa sighed as the labour pains began again. “Second round.”
The next child was also a girl, but with Theo’s exact colouring. Rissa held her up andscrutinized her.The baby scrutinized her right back, and hiccupped.
Once they were sure it was safe to do so, Suze and Parker immediately came over tocoo over their newest granddaughters.“Have you got names for them?” asked Suze.“Yes,” said Theo. “I guess Owen and Francis are out, though.”“Kinda,” said Rissa. “Since they’re both girls, we’ll be calling this one Delia, and theone Theo’s holding Alexia.”Delia’s name comes from J.D. Robb’s In Death series. Alexia’s name comes from GailCarriger’s Parasol Protectorate series.
Leaving the twins to Theo for a moment, Rissa slipped into Lisbeth’s nursery and sawthat the toddler was just waking from her nap, yawning prettily.“I can’t believe you slept through all that, Lissie. C’mon, you should come meet yoursisters.”Lisbeth gave Rissa a look of mild interest.“I c’n feel your enthusiasm from here, kid. Or maybe you’re just hungry.” Shereached into the crib. “Up we get.”
“Here you go,” said Rissa shifting Lisbeth on her hip. The toddler showed no interestin her new siblings. “This is Alexia and Delia.”“It might take her a little while to figure out exactly what’s what,” Theo remarked.“I dunno. Lissie’s pretty sharp for a rug-rat.”Lisbeth just yawned and gave her mother a questioning look.
“Hey, don’t worry kiddo,” said Rissa. “You’re still my Lissie. You just get more sibs toplay with now. And you can learn to kick their butts at stuff.”Lisbeth giggled.“Yeah, thought you might like that. Maybe they’ll get you to open that little trap ofyours. You can’t have a good argument with your sisters if you ain’t talking.”
Twelve months later“So, is this a thing, or what?”“Once again, we both have no idea what you are talking about, Rissa.” Robbie sippeddelicately at his tea. “Why would you think that this occasion was any different?”“Oh, don’t play stupid, Robbie,” said Rissa crossly. “This. The whole drinking tea andtalking about boring shit while we let the kids run riot on the kitchen floor.”“You’re drinking coffee,” observed Barbara.“Psh.” Rissa waved a hand. “Details.”
“You know I was kiddin’ way back when I said we were a club, but this has been goin’on for ages. Not even a freakin’ week goes by without the godawful tea and the kidsall piled together like puppies in a basket.”“For as long as you continue to mock the wonderful creation that is tea, this will notbe a club,” said Robbie primly.“Whatever, Cream Puff.” Rissa shoved Robbie playfully. “Dude, you can be so gaysometimes.”
“It is nice getting the neighborhood gossip from Robbie,” said Barbara, before pausingand voicing a particularly threatening “Linnaea Ainsley, don’t even think about it.”Linnaea, who had been taking careful aim at Delia’s head with a plastic block,emitted a small eep and dropped the block.“Lynn’s way too much like her dad for her own good,” Rissa pointed out.“Tell me about it,” Barbara sighed.“How are things going with you and Rhys? I’d’ve figured you to have a rock on yourfinger before now,” Rissa asked.
“Plow straight into sensitive topics, it’s fine,” sighed Barbara.Rissa shrugged. “It’s what I do.”“We’re… well. I knew what I was getting into when I started dating Rhys, but… I wasone of those kids who planned her wedding in fifth grade and knew what all seven ofher kids would be named. Rhys threw me for a loop and a half, but I still want thatwith him – not necessarily the seven kids, but the marriage and family. I want whatmy parents had together: a family, a solid one. But talking to Rhys about that is liketrying to get blood from a stone. He doesn’t keep his feelings on the surface. Heshuts down too easily.” She looked down.
“You know, I never did credit Rhys with an overabundance of brains,” Rissacommented.“Excuse me?”“Oh, he’s book-brainy, like me, but he sure as hell ain’t smart enough to try holdingon to what he has with you and Lynn,” Rissa continued. “He’s too scared of losing youto try committing. It’s insane troll logic, but he’s a stupid male, as all men are.Present company excepted, ‘course,” she added graciously.“Insane troll logic?” Barbara mouthed to Robbie. Robbie merely shrugged.
“Maybe,” said Robbie tactfully, “Rhys will come around, eventually. If you keep beingthere, if you show him how you feel instead of telling him, he will feel no reason tobe afraid to commit to you.”“I don’t think I know how,” said Barbara miserably. “I do my best. I can’t stop lovinghim, even though I tried. For so many reasons.”“Then he’s an idiot,” said Robbie simply. “And someone needs to tell him that.”“Dibs!” crowed Rissa. Barbara and Robbie rolled their eyes at the same time.
Robbie stared down into his tea. “I feel vaguely out of place, being the only single,er, mother at the table.”“Here we go. Must be Tuesday, if we’re going into relationship sob stories,” saidRissa lightly.“I do occasionally wonder if you have any feelings at all,” Robbie said mildly. Herubbed his temple. “I just can’t look at Clover without wondering what William wouldhave thought. How things might have been, well, different.”
“Robster, Will woulda loved Clover. Once he finished laughing his ass off at yougettin’ knocked up.”
“You think so?” asked Robbie, a small smile on his face.“I know so, Robbie. Jeez, why’d you even have to ask? I bet Will woulda loved being adad. Hello, I know he woulda. He loved you, so he’d love your kid. That’s the way thislove crap works.”
Rissa sighed. “Look, guys, I think we’re being overly freakin’ miserable here. We’vehad things happen to us in the past, and they’re still biting us on the ass. But we’reparents now. We’ve got bigger things to handle.”“Are… are you being mature, Rissa?” asked Robbie incredulously.“Hey, snark is not appreciated during heartfelt shit like this,” Rissa said, covering agrin. “Seriously, though. Look at those five over there. They’re gonna grow up likesisters. We have gorgeous kids, and no matter what happens next, we have them. Nomatter that you lost Will, or that Barbara ain’t married to Rhys.”