A/N: Here it is, folks. The final chapter. A warning: No matter what you may read, here, please avoid the urge to throw your computer out the window and/or send me a letter bomb. I promise it will all be worth it in the end. Enjoy!
Jack entered his house and walked into the kitchen. There was no one there. He searched the bathroom, kitchen, living room, and master bedroom, but found no one. Frowning, he went upstairs to search the other bedrooms. He had asked Elpitha repeatedly to stop climbing the steps without his help. They were steep and much more dangerous now that her center of gravity had shifted so much. As a matter of fact, Jack was beside himself making sure that Elpitha followed doctor's orders. In all fairness to Elpitha, Jack had become so ridiculously overprotective, that even Elli would have told him to lay off. One day, he scolded her for everything from bending down to pet the dogs to taking too long a walk (from the kitchen to the bedroom), and wouldn't be satisfied until she was sitting in the softest, most comfortable chair they owned and not moving. Privately, Elpitha told Elli that she was ready to get out of that chair and give him a good swift kick in the rear end… but she got stuck.
It turned out that Elpitha wasn't upstairs, however. Jack came down, bewildered and stepped over to peer out a window. He sighed and smiled. Elpitha sat on the bottom log of the wooden fence that separated the farm from the river that surrounded it. She rested her chin on the top log and wrapped her arms around it. Jack had seen her there often since she found out that she was pregnant. She would sit there for hours and just stare at the water and the mill. Jack stepped outside and snuck up behind Elpitha. He put his hands on her shoulders and bent down to kiss her cheek.
"Here again?" He asked, stroking her hair. "You seem very thoughtful these days, babe." Elpitha looked up at him and smiled, but didn't answer. "I really wish you wouldn't sit here… You could fall, and it's right in the sun! I could get you a nice reclining chair and put it right there under the tree. You'd still have a very nice view of the mill and the water. Wouldn't that be better, baby?"
"I like it here." Elpitha replied. "I can hear the water rushing, and it's more comfortable than it looks."
"That's fine, but it'll be much better and safer over here under the tree. I don't like you sitting so close to the water. If you slipped… Plus, it wouldn't be any better if you fell backwards. Can you even get up from there? No. I don't want you to hurt yourself. Come on now, why don't you come with me. I don't want to find you sitting over here anymore. There are much better places to sit if you want to watch the water. How about…" Jack stopped at the glare that he was getting from his wife. "Baby?" He asked. "What is it?"
"I've had enough of your scolding!" Elpitha shouted.
"But honey! The baby!" Jack stammered. He took a breath and continued. "I'm not scolding you, babe. I just want you and the baby to be safe…"
"The baby will be fine! Even Elli and the doctor told you to lay off last time we were there, didn't they?" Elpitha demanded.
"Yes, they did say I was a tad over zealous, but I just want to make sure that you and the baby are…" Jack began.
"Fine!" Elpitha finished. "We're both fine! There's nothing wrong with me sitting here! It's perfectly comfortable!"
"Sweetie, you're getting upset. Please don't… I'm sorry, alright? You can sit there if you like. Just… just be careful." Jack replied soothingly. Elpitha snorted and faced the water again. After a few moments of silence, Jack attempted to speak to her again. "Baby? I could use some company. Want to sit on the porch with me for a while?"
"Alright, Jack." Elpitha sighed. She was getting stiff from sitting in the same spot for so long, anyway.
"Up you go." Jack said cheerfully. He helped Elpitha up, half lifting her. When they got to the porch, he helped her into a rocking chair and then sat down opposite her in a regular chair.
Elpitha was very quiet as they sat there. Her gaze kept roaming back to the mill. Jack noticed and placed his hand on hers.
"So, are you going to tell me what's so fascinating about that mill? I seem to find you over there more and more these days." He said.
Elpitha smiled faintly. Her free hand rested on her belly, and she rubbed it thoughtfully. "It's not just the mill." She replied. "It's everything. I watch the mill pick up the water and drop it. I hear the water rushing and splashing against it. It's very relaxing."
"It must be." Jack said in a tone of mock sadness. "You never hang around me anymore!"
"Oh, shutup. It' just that… the closer it gets to when the baby is going to come, the more I've been thinking about my family. I wonder if they're looking down right now. I wonder if my parents know they're going to have a grandchild and if my sister knows she's going to be an aunt… I wish they were here… I think they would have been really happy. Do you… do you think they're happy, Jack?"
Jack's first reaction was to take Elpitha into his arms and squeeze her tight. Afraid of crushing the baby, however, he contented himself with squeezing her hand. "I know they are, babe. They know you're not alone anymore."
Soon, Jack had to get back to work, and after Elpitha told him that she didn't want any milk, water, tea, cookies, sandwiches, lemonade, iced tea, leftovers, or crackers, he got her all of the above, and headed off into the fields. Elpitha wanted to throw her shoe at him, but she couldn't bend down to reach it. It was lucky for her, however, that Jack had left her with so many refreshments. It wasn't long before she had a visitor.
"Hey, Elpitha! It looks like you're ready to pop." Cliff laughed as he took Jack's chair. "I came by to see how everything's going."
"Oh, everything's fine, if you don't count the fact that my husband thinks I'm a bottomless pit. Do me a favor and eat and drink some of this, will you?" Elpitha replied.
Cliff laughed. "I think I can handle that." He helped himself to some of the food and took the glass of iced tea.
"So how are things with you going?" Elpitha asked.
"Great! Me and Ann have really hit it off. She's lets me do all of her house work for her, and even said she'll let me propose to her soon!" Cliff replied with a big smile.
Elpitha smirked. "Well it's nice to see that you're in control of things. So do you wear the salad bowls for her when you're alone?"
The smile vanished from Cliff's face. "Who told you that!" He demanded.
Elpitha filed that one under "too much information" and changed the subject. "So was there a reason why you dropped by, or did you just want to say hello?" She asked.
"There is a reason why I'm here as a matter of fact." Cliff laughed. "I heard that Mikri is going to have puppies soon."
Elpitha glanced over at Mikri who lay panting in the shade of a tree. Mikri looked up at her to give her a look which said quite distinctly: "You think you have it rough? Try carrying around ten!"
"Can I have one of the pups? I want to give it to Ann as a birthday present." Cliff continued.
"Sure, Cliff. I just hope that she gives birth in time. Plus, you can't really separate the pups from their mother for at least a couple of weeks." Elpitha replied.
"Well, I was hoping on bringing her over and letting her choose one, if that's OK with you. That way, when the puppy is ready, it can come over to the inn."
"That sounds fine."
Cliff thanked Elpitha and left, waving goodbye to Jack as he did so. Elpitha watched him go and smiled. It was nice to have her friend back. He seemed happy with Ann, even though she was one step above leading him around on a leash. For a moment, Elpitha entertained the idea of teasing him about it later on, but afraid of discovering another file in the "too much information" folder, decided to forget about it. She wouldn't be surprised at anything with those too. They way things were going, if those two got married and had kids, it wouldn't be that much of a shock to find that Ann had made Cliff carry the babies.
With Cliff gone, Elpitha became restless. After all, she had been sitting for quite a while on the wooden fence, and the transition from log to chair, wasn't very comforting. She decided to stretch her legs and go see Elli. Jack had put extra padding on the rocking chair just for her, so of course, Elpitha had sunk into it and found herself unable to get out. After struggling for a few minutes, she devised a plan. She began to rock back and forth in the chair, using the momentum to propel herself forward until, finally, she managed to struggle to her feet. Of course, Jack had placed a small folding table nearby so that Elpitha could reach any of the refreshments without having to get up. Elpitha tripped on one of the legs and fell backwards. She grabbed onto the table for support, but only succeeded in tipping it over so that when she fell on her back, all of the refreshments that Jack had brought showered her. Elpitha tried to sit up, but failed.
"Jack?" She called, calmly. "Jack, I need your help. Could you please come out here for a moment?" There was no reply. "Jack, get your ass out here and help me up or you're gonna be the first man impregnated by a broken table leg!"
Elpitha struggled to see who it was. "Yes? Yes, I'm over here! Please help!"
Elli scrambled onto the porch and rushed over to Elpitha. "Elpitha! I was just on my way back from the chicken ranch and decided to stop by to see if you need anything. It's a good thing I did! What happened?"
At that moment, Jack's voice floated towards them. "Hooonnnneeeeyyyy…" He sang. "Who wants some nice fresh milk? Moo-Stafa gave me two bucket loads today! Does my baby want some… what happened!" Jack ran onto the porch.
"I was just asking the same thing." Elli replied. She turned towards Elpitha who was sniffling. "Oh, no… Don't cry, baby. Look, you're OK! Here, let me help you up. Are you alright? How did this happen?"
Elpitha, now on her feet rubbed her eyes with one hand and pointed at Jack with the other. "Him!" She cried.
Elli turned towards Jack in shock. "Jack!" She cried savagely. "How could you let this happen to her? I don't believe you!"
Jack nearly dropped his buckets. "What? I… she… you… I… what!"
"Oh, never you mind! Come with me, honey. I'll take care of you. How would you like some nice warm milk and cookies?" Elli asked kindly. Elpitha nodded and allowed herself to be led off of the porch.
Jack turned as they passed. "But… hey! Look! I have milk!" He waved the buckets at their backs. "I'm…sorry."
Elli glanced sideways at Elpitha, who was rubbing her eyes and sniffling as they walked, and smirked. Elpitha caught Elli's smirk and stopped mid-sniffle to scowl at her.
"What are you looking at?" Elpitha asked sulkily.
"You." Elli replied with a chuckle. "You and those hormones. Crying over spilled milk." She smoothed some of said milk out of Elpitha's hair.
Elpitha's scowl deepened. "I do NOT have hormones!" She huffed and then turned back towards her and Jack's farm.
Elli laughed and caught her by the wrist, pulling her back. "Alright, missy. We'll see if those mood swings of yours subside after you've gotten cleaned up."
An hour later, Elpitha sat on one of the couches in Doc's den watching as little Mike "played" with his baby brother.
"You're due in a week, aren't you?" Elli was saying. "Really, it's any time now. After all, little Timmy here came two weeks premature. Are you nervous? There's no reason to be. Once you're a mother, you'll see what a joy it is to… MIKEY! TIMMY'S HEAD IS NOT A KICKBALL!"
"Ball! Ball!" Mikey cried enthusiastically as Elli snatched him away from Little Timmy, who was lying on his stomach on the floor.
"So how many of those little joys are you planning on having?" Elpitha asked.
Elli set little Mike down and sat down next to her. "Oh, I don't know. Doc and I both want at least three or four. I want to get a little girl if I can. Actually, between you and me, I think I may be pregnant again."
"You people need to get a television set." Elpitha replied.
"Very funny. Doc's going to examine me later on today."
"I bet he is."
Elli chose to ignore the comment. "He doesn't know anything, yet. I just told him I wasn't feeling well. So what do you think? You want a boy or a girl?" She asked instead.
Elpitha rubbed her belly thoughtfully. "I'm happy with her."
Elli laughed. "You seem sure of yourself."
Elpitha smiled faintly in reply. It was a few moments before she spoke. "Actually, I'm not sure. I guess it's sort of funny. I had a dream last night. I saw my parents and little sister. They were the same as I remember them… but somehow different. They were… I guess the term is otherworldly. They were happy for me. And my mother… she said she would always look after me… and her granddaughter… I'm probably just being silly about it… but it was so real."
Elli gasped, her eyes wide and a hand covering her mouth. She reached out and placed a hand on Elpitha's shoulder. "You don't think it was… was it real?" She asked quietly.
Elpitha stood up suddenly. She walked over to where baby Timmy was wriggling on the floor. She squatted down and caressed the back of his head gently.
Elli was on her feet. "Oh, honey, you shouldn't…" But Elpitha was already standing once more.
"I wondered myself at first. But then…" Elpitha reached into her pocket and removed a piece of paper. It was nothing more than a scrap, faded and worn. She handed it to Elli who read it aloud:
"It shatted like a mirror, falling pieces from the sky,
raining stinging autumn showers on a soul that wonders why.
All the walls began to crumble, though it did not last for long.
Now the remnants join the fragments of a story gone so wrong."
"What is this?" Elli asked after a few moments of silence.
"I wrote that on the bus ride that took me away from my home town. I've always had it ever since. I keep it hidden with all of the things I have from… back then. Well, anyway, that night, I woke up, shaking, wondering the same things you are… and I just got up and went to my little hiding spot in the house… and I found it…"
Elpitha handed Elli a small, black, leather-bound book. There was no writing on the front cover, and the edges were ragged. Elli opened it and flipped through it.
"It's poetry." She said.
"It's my mother's poetry book. I told you she was a writer."
"Yes… wow. You must have been really happy to have been able to recover it. It must have helped you all these years." Elli replied softly, flipping to a random page and reading it silently.
"I didn't recover it." Elpitha whispered.
Elli stopped reading and stared. "What?"
"I didn't recover it. It was… it should have been burned in the wreckage… but when I took the lid off of the little box that I keep those memories in that night, it was lying open at the very top of the pile. It was open to this page." Elpitha said. She took the book from Elli and flipped it open. "My mom used to sing that to me to help me sleep." She chuckled softly. "I was so jealous when she started singing it to my baby sister… I've been debating over whether or not to tell Jack. I think I will… Maybe tonight…"
Elli's eyes were glassy. She hiccupped. "Oh, sweetie, I…"
Elpitha laughed nervously. "Please don't…"
At that moment, Doc came upstairs from the clinic and entered the den. "Ah, Elpitha!" He said, cheerfully. "I was just going to ask Elli to get you in for a last minute checkup. Actually I wanted to speak to you about your options after birth. I have some pamphlets here for you about circumcision and the pros and cons. I figure there's a fifty/fifty chance that you'll have a boy and we need to know these things for after the delivery. If you'll just look these over…"
At that moment, Elli turned on her husband savagely. She knocked the pamphlets out of his hands. "What are you talking about! Of course she's not having a boy! It's gonna be a girl! Anyone can see that!"
Doc stared in shock. "I… but we don't know… huh?" He stammered.
"Oh, be quiet and get out of here! Of all the absurd things… circumcision!" Elli cried, shoving her husband out the door.
Doc was half way out the door, when he turned and stepped back into the room. "Wait a minute." He said sternly. "Elpitha, could you excuse us?"
"With pleasure." Elpitha replied. She took a step towards the door, happy to escape another doctor's exam, but Elli stopped her with a hand.
"I don't think so. We're still talking." Elli huffed.
"Fine. She can see this if you prefer." The Doctor replied coolly. He advanced on Elli and she stepped back. Doc took another step towards her, and she took another one back. They continued in this manner until, finally, Elli found herself in a corner with a wall of husband blocking her escape route.
Elpitha shuffled her feet nervously. She had never seen Doc actually angry before, and there were definitely sparks in his eyes. He was advancing on Elli as though he was going to put her over his knee, (Elpitha, who had already had an unwanted sneak peek into Cliff and Ann's sordid affairs, had planned an escape route through the ventilation vent should such a catastrophe occur) and Elli, despite her defiance, actually looked frightened.
"Now, dearest, would you be so kind as to tell me why, for the past week now, you've been biting my head off one minute and acting as though nothing happened the next?" Doc asked, his voice a few octaves lower than usual. Elpitha felt this was much more effective in terms of showing anger than the other alternative. If he turned into a soprano every time his temper got the better of him, it would probably have been much harder to take him seriously.
"Never you mind! You just go on and get out of here so I can finish my chat!" Elli replied. There was a definite quake in her voice. Elpitha had never seen Elli lose control before. It was a shame. If she had a comfortable chair and some popcorn, it would have been a great show. Where was Jack now when she needed him?
"Ellen Roberta Shotinaz."
"I've been very patient with you so far."
"If you say so."
"But if you don't tell me what crawled up your behind and died…"
"That's very charming. They teach you that in medical school?"
"Elli, so help me, I won't be held responsible…" Doc's eyes were flashing, and his face was steadily reddening.
"Oh, I'm trembling. Someone save me." She really was trembling, but Elpitha had no intention of saving her.
"Alright! That's it!" Doc growled. He reached out suddenly, grabbed Elli, and hoisted her over his shoulder.
"What are you doing! Put me down!" Elli cried in alarm.
"Maybe a nice cold shower will cool you off, Mrs. Shotinaz." The doctor replied.
Elpitha, who had been merely a spectator thus far, chimed in suddenly. "Shotinaz? I never really considered your new name, Elli. It suits you. Shot-in-az. Was your maiden name Pain-in-az?"
Elli struggled to get down from Doc's shoulder, but he held her firmly with his one arm. "Who asked you, you little… Sure! Hide behind your pregnant belly now, but the first thing I'm gonna do when that kid pops out is beat you over the head with a feather duster!" She cried.
Jack appeared in the doorway. He edged curiously around Elli and Doc and went to stand next to his wife. "What's going on here?" He asked.
"I was just figuring the best way to fly across the room and strangle your wife." Elli replied.
"Wouldn't that be bad for your new baby?" Elpitha asked calmly.
Doc's eyes widened. "New baby…" His eyes ceased to flash and began to sparkle. A smile replaced the scowl on his face. "Dearest, a new baby? Are you pregnant again?"
Elli sighed and shot a glare at Elpitha. "Well, it was SUPPOSED to be a surprise, but I think I might be."
"That's wonderful! I mean… well we better be sure then, eh?" Doc cried. He hoisted her higher onto his shoulder. "Let's get you examined, then, you little brat." He gave Elli's bottom a playful smack and turned to leave the room so that Elli now faced Elpitha and Jack.
"Don't you go anywhere, missy. You're next." Elli called.
Elpitha grimaced. "Yuck! No thank you!"
Jack turned to her. "What's going on?"
"Oh shut up and hoist me up to that ventilation shaft, will you?" She replied irritably.
It turned out that Elli was indeed pregnant again. Another three weeks had passed, and though Jack had vowed to stop being so fussy over Elpitha, he was failing miserably at keeping his word. Elpitha had too many worries of her own to care, however. As the time of delivery approached, she was getting more and more frightened. Aside from the usual fear of doctors, hospitals, and medical treatment in general, she worried that something would go wrong and harm the baby. Jack was more than happy to comfort her, particularly due to the fact that whenever Elpitha had a panic attack, she was a lot more likely to let him pamper and baby her.
Jack now knew of Elpitha's dream and had already begun tailoring the nursery to suit his new baby girl. Mikri had given birth and Anne had chosen the puppy she wanted – a little male pup that she named "Zeus." Stu had taken another of the males and named him "Killer." Jack and Elpitha decided to keep a female for their new daughter, and Zack found homes for the rest of the litter. It seemed as though everything that had to be done before Elpitha gave birth had been done and now only the act itself remained. However, Elpitha, who was normally always prepared ahead of time, refused to help Jack prepare for the big event. For days beforehand, the matter of the overnight bag plagued poor Jack. The doctor had told them to prepare an overnight bag for Elpitha's stay in the hospital. Elpitha, on the other hand, maintained that she would not be staying overnight at the hospital, and therefore would not need a bag. As a result, every time that Jack would pack a bag, she would find it and unpack it. It was becoming a game of hide and seek. To make matters worse, more time had passed, Elpitha had gone past her delivery date, and the doctor said that he would have to induce if she didn't give birth soon, something that Elpitha was firmly against. She wanted the process to be as natural as possible. This particular morning was very similar to the ones leading up to it in that it began with an explosion.
"Baby! Sweetie! Honey!" Jack cried in a tone that would have been better suited to a string of curses than to those terms of endearment.
Elpitha, who had sunk completely into a cushioned armchair began desperately trying to extract herself. She had barely made any progress at all when a series of stomping noises announced Jack's descent from the upstairs bedrooms. She would never have time to get herself out of the chair and escape before Jack got downstairs, and so she quickly settled herself back in the chair and greeted Jack innocently when he arrived.
"Yes, dear? I'm right here."
Jack shook an empty bag at her. "Again, baby. You emptied it out again, didn't you, sweetie? You went upstairs without my help and probably nearly killed yourself, didn't you, honey?" He fumed.
"Yes. Would you like some coffee? I made some this morning. It's fresh. I'll get you some." Elpitha replied sweetly. She tried to extract herself from the chair once more.
Jack walked around her and helped her up. Then he sat down in the chair and pulled her down onto his lap. "We're going to settle this right here and now, once and for all. Now, Doc, Elli, and I have all explained to you in great detail why it is necessary for you to stay in the hospital for a few days after you give birth, haven't we?" Elpitha huffed and looked away from him. Jack turned her face back towards him. "Haven't we?" He asked again, more kindly. Elpitha nodded. Jack gave her a soft kiss on the lips and began stroking her hair with one hand. "Now, I know you don't like the clinic, and I understand that you think that you can get along fine without the doctor. You're willing to put yourself at risk, but are you willing to put her at risk?" Jack had his other arm around her. He put his hand on her belly and rubbed it gently. Elpitha shook her head. Jack smiled and gave her another kiss. "Will you help me pack a bag for you, then?" He asked.
"Oh, fine." Elpitha replied irritably. "Let me get up, then."
Jack laughed. "Oh, no, no, no. I'll get up. You tell me what you want in the bag."
"Whatever. I still have to get up if you want to get up. Just get the same stuff I unpacked. It was all fine. It's upstairs somewhere." Elpitha replied.
Jack became stern once more. "That's another thing, babe. Those stairs are really dangerous for you in your condition. Am I going to have to use the baby fence to keep you away from them?"
Elpitha's mood swung faster than a feather duster in Elli's hand. Her face began to glow pink, and Jack knew he was in trouble. "I'm not in any condition!" She cried.
"Of course not, baby."
"And I'm not a dog to be fenced in!"
"Dog? I never said anything about a dog, sweetie…"
"And there's no need to be so mean to me!"
"I'm not being mean at all, baby! I know how difficult it is for you to get up those stairs these days, and I don't want you to hurt yourself. Couldn't you just avoid those stairs for a bit longer? For me? The baby will be here soon, it won't be very long…"
"Oh, fine fine. No stupid stairs. Whatever. Now, go on. Get out of here!"
Jack stood up with Elpitha in his arms.
"And put me down, I'm too heavy for you now." She said.
"That's news to me."
"Just do it."
Jack cuddled her in his arms and smirked. "I know what's wrong."
"What?" Elpitha asked with a sigh.
"You're just cranky because you're still freaking out about the doctor."
"I am not!"
Jack laughed and cuddled Elpitha even more. "Yes you are! You practically wet your pants at the mention of it!"
Jack gasped. "You… really did wet your pants… and me!"
"My water broke, you idiot!" Elpitha yelled. "You got me so flustered that I… I…" She began breathing heavily and clutched at Jack's arm with surprising strength.
"Sweetie… my arm… you're hurting me! What is it? What's wrong?"
"It's time… the baby is coming!" Elpitha gasped, clutching at her tummy.
"Oh, the baby… THE BABY!" Jack cried. He nearly dropped Elpitha, but caught himself just in time. "We need the bag… wait! You unpacked the bag!"
"NEVER MIND THAT NOW! GRAB A PLUNGER! THIS KID WANTS OUT!"
"Right! The clinic!" Jack cried, and burst through the door. Doc had advised him to be as helpful and gentle with Elpitha possible on their "walk" to the clinic. To his credit, Jack made sure to keep Elpitha's belly clear of any seagull droppings by covering it with an arm as he jostled the life out of her on his mad dash to the clinic.
"J-Jack! I c-can walk!" Elpitha cried as he ran with her in his arms.
"No time to lose! Almost there! Hold on honey! Don't give birth yet!"
"Give birth! The way you're shaking me, you'll probably knock her out of me!" Elpitha cried. She became silent however, as a contraction hit her full force. She began breathing heavily and holding on to her stomach.
"Baby? Honey, are you alright?"
"This is all your fault! Run faster damn it! Get me to that clinic and you tell that rent-a-nurse to load up the drugs! Drink it, snort it, stick it up my rear end! I don't care what I gotta do with it!"
Jack was too shocked to answer. He doubled his speed and found himself pounding on the clinic door soon after. Elli and Doc sped Elpitha into the delivery room while Jack changed into scrubs so that he could be present for the birth. He was so nervous that he put on the bottom half of the scrubs backwards twice before he got them on the right way. The second they were on, he rushed towards the delivery room, and straight into the pole holding up a set of curtains. He woke up groggy and disoriented. Jack panicked. How long had he been out? He stood up, shook himself off, and took a step towards the delivery room.
At that moment, Elli emerged from the room. Her eyes were teary and she was smiling. "You missed the delivery. Elpitha was right. It's a girl. She looks just like her." She said as a few more tears rolled down her cheeks.
It was then that Jack noticed a squirming bundle in her arms. He took a hesitant step forward, reached out with shaking hands, and picked it up. Elli was right. It was a miniature Elpitha right down to the childish scowl she wore that clearly stated that she didn't like what was going on. Jack was flying. Elli reached out and took the baby back into her arms.
"Jack, maybe you should sit down." She said gently.
Jack laughed. "Sit down? What a beauty my daughter is! I want to shout it from the roof tops!"
The doctor entered the lobby, wiping his hands off on a towel. The smile vanished from Jack's face when he saw his expression.
"What is the matter with you two? Did you ever think you'd see the day? Now look! Look at that precious bundle in your arms. Where is my darling wife, anyway? Has she tried to escape out a window yet, or do you have her in restraints?" The smile was back on Jack's face. He was looking, starry-eyed, at his daughter.
Elli sobbed once, but caught herself before it could turn to more. Doc stepped forward and placed a comforting hand on his wife's shoulder. "Jack, why don't you have a seat? We have some… matters to discuss." He said.
The smile was gone once more. "Look, you two can discuss things all you want. I'm going to see my wife."
"Jack… There were complications with the birth."
"It doesn't matter. Alls well that ends well. Let me through. Elpitha hates this place, she'll need some comfort."
"Jack, you need to listen to me. Your daughter made it through fine. She's perfectly healthy."
"I can see that, now let me see my wife."
"I'm sorry, Jack. You don't know how sorry I am that I couldn't do more… but… but…"
"All you have to do is take me to my wife."
"Jack, your wife… Elpitha… She didn't make it… I'm so sorry… You don't know how sorry I am…"
Jack laughed nervously. "You people don't know when to quit. Enough with jokes and stalling and just plain irritating me. I'm going to see my wife, now will you please let me through?"
Tears were pouring down Elli's face. She opened her mouth to speak, but choked. After a few breaths, she was able to keep her voice steady, though her eyes still leaked. "She kept asking for you, but you were out here… I couldn't leave her to get you. The doctor needed my assistance. In the end… she made me promise to watch over her baby… and to watch over you too."
Jack was shaking. "Look, I'm begging you. No more jokes. Just please take me to my wife. That's all I want. I need to see her. I need to hear her voice."
"Jack, Elpitha's dead." Elli replied meekly.
Jack slammed his fist on the counter, knocking everything on it to the floor. "STOP SAYING THAT!" He roared. The baby began to cry.
Doc stepped forward. "It's true, Jack. You have to face it. You have to be strong for your daughter now. That's what Elpitha wanted."
Jack pointed a threatening finger at the doctor. "Don't you DARE tell me what she would have wanted! Do you think she wanted to be… do you think she wanted her daughter alone? Do you think she wanted me to be alone? I knew… know! I know her better than anyone!"
Elli was shaking violently. "Jack, we're here for you. Whatever you need, we'll help you through this."
Jack shook his head violently. He was breathing erratically through his nose and his eyes were glistening. "No." He said, nearly choking on the word. "No, you're wrong. There's still hope. There must be something that can be done. Let me through." He stepped towards the delivery room, but doc and Elli pushed him back.
"Not like this." Doc said. "Nothing in that room will help you in your current state."
There was a table nearby containing brochures and magazines. Jack reached out suddenly. "I said LET ME THROUGH!" He cried, flinging the table across the room. Magazines flew everywhere, and Elli shielded the baby as they fell.
Jack charged Elli and the doctor, and Elli got out of the way in a hurry. Doc stepped forward and struggled to keep Jack back. Jack fought with all of his might.
"Get ahold of yourself, man!" Doc cried, and without further warning, punched Jack in the face. Jack fell, unconscious.
Jack woke up on the lobby floor. His head was sore, and he held it with one hand as he sat up. He felt numb with despair. For a moment, Jack felt as though he would never feel anything again. A few seconds later, however, tears were welling up inside of him, and he wanted to scream. He put his head down in his knees and sobbed. Elli emerged from the delivery room and ran to him.
"Jack!" She cried, frantically. "Jack, what is it? It's OK, settle down. I'll help you, whatever it is."
"How can you help me?" Jack sobbed. "I can't live without her. I don't want to live without her!"
Elli stared at him. "What are you blabbering about? Now isn't the time to have jitters! Elpitha needs you! The baby is coming!"
Jack sniffled. "It doesn't matter. Nothing matters now. I… what? The baby! Elpitha!"
"Yes, you nincompoop! Get off your ass and move it! Elpitha will kill you if you miss this!" Elli cried.
"You mean… Oh my God… It was a dream! It was only a dream! The baby hasn't come yet! Elpitha is fine!"
Elpitha's voice suddenly attacked them from the delivery room. "JACK GET YOUR ASS IN HERE NOW!"
Jack and Elli ran into the delivery room. Elpitha was beet red, and huffing and puffing so loud, she sounded like the big bad wolf. Jack would have thrown his arms around her had she not looked like she didn't want him anywhere near her. He risked taking her hand, and found that she had suddenly gotten a vice grip. He was so happy to see her, however, that she could have kicked him in the groin, used his favorite blue cap to clean up after the puppies, and then put the same hat on his head, and he would have grinned and thanked her for it. Elli went to Elpitha's other side and took her other hand.
"Are you alright, baby?" Jack asked hesitantly.
"No I'm not alright, you beast! You're all alike! Do your little horizontal polka and then leave the woman to suffer, well I won't stand for it! Next time around, YOU'RE going to have the baby and I'll stand around like a buffoon and ask if you're alright when a ten pound watermelon is squeezing through your pee hole! I shouldn't even have to look at your kind! You're all scum! You and that psychopath down there!"
Doc poked his head up from the other side of the bed. "Hey, you leave me out of this. I didn't have anything to do with this kid. I'm just here to play catch!"
Elli squeezed Elpitha's hand. "Alright honey. You're almost done. Come on, now. Push! Push!" She cried encouragingly.
"Don't you speak to me! I know you're really one of them! That's not a feather duster in your pocket!"
"Honey, you're starting to sound like the exorcist!" Jack cried. Seconds after that, he sank to one knee as Elpitha's grip increased tenfold.
"Push!" The doctor cried.
"Push!" Elli chorused.
"Push!" Jack cried in a soprano voice.
Outside of the clinic, Jeff was on his way back to the general store. He was smiling serenely, looking at flower he had picked from the path leading up to Mother's Hill. It was a new plan to soothe his nerves that the doctor had told him to try in order to relieve some of the stomach ulcers that plagued him because of his constant worrying. He was very pleased with his flower. He planned to plant it in a pot and water it every day. He had even named it "Ted." He was just passing the clinic entrance when a scream pierced the air and made him jump.
"Push! Push! You can do it, honey! Push!"
"Shut up! Don't speak to me you Benedict Arnold! You're a man, Elli! A MAN!"
"Baby, just breathe and do it! You're almost done!"
"Shut up you bastard and give me drugs! Drugs, I say! Don't you stand there and look like a fool! I'll fix you when this is over! And you too, Doc! I'll take it to the Supreme Court! Vasectomies all around!"
"Elpitha, you'll feel much better once this is over, but you have to listen to me."
"Yes, honey. Do as the doctor says. It's for the best, you'll see."
"For the best! Are you going to stand there and tell me it's for the best when another man has his arm halfway up your wife! I don't care what you have to do! Just get this thing out of me! Stick a vacuum hose up there!"
"Let's get out of here, Ted!" Jeff cried, and ran for it. Meanwhile, back in the clinic…
"It's a girl!" Doc cried.
Her cries rang out, and Jack laughed aloud. Elli smiled and placed a hand on Elpitha's shoulder, who was lying, exhausted, against her pillows with a tired, but happy smile on her face.
"I told you it would all be worth it in the end." Elli whispered to Elpitha. She leaned down and kissed her cheek. "Congratulations, honey."
Doc was cleaning off the baby, washing out her mouth, and following the basic protocol for newborns when they enter the world. Elli took her from him, wrapped her in a blanket, and handed her to Elpitha. Jack put one arm around his wife and the other around his daughter.
"Have you thought of a name for her, Elpitha?" Elli asked.
"Zoe." Elpitha replied.
Jack smiled. "After your sister."
Elpitha smiled and looked down at her brand new daughter. "How do you like it, little one?"
Zoe reached up and grabbed hold of Elpitha's thumb.
Three days later, Elpitha was finally home with Zoe and Jack in tow. Elli had fussed so much over Elpitha and the baby that it was past eight in the evening when they finally got back from the clinic. Elpitha placed Zoe in the crib that Jack and Gotz had made for her. On the table next to the crib was the poetry book. It was flipped open to the lullaby Elpitha had shown Elli. Elpitha wasn't looking at it, though. She knew the words by heart. She was staring down at her daughter with a soft smile. She began singing softly.
"In a dreamland, by the waters
born of nature, sons and daughters
on a bed of sand all resting
blanketing waves o'er them cresting.
Falling raindrops never tire
singing lullabies in choir
In a dreamland, by the waters
to the resting sons and daughters.
In the darkness, stars are shining
tiny rays of light combining
forming night-lights by the waters
for the sleeping sons and daughters.
When the sun rises fresh and new
I will come and I will find you
in a dreamland, by the waters
with the other sons and daughters."
Zoe had fallen asleep. Elpitha fidgeted with her covers before stepping back into Jack's waiting arms.
"You know, Jack. I really wish she could have known them. She would have loved playing with Mikri. That's one of the things I regret most of all. Do you think I'll ever hear from them again?" Elpitha asked softly.
Jack gave a soft laugh. "I wouldn't be surprised. Anything's possible, babe." He hugged her tight.
Outside, the wind was scattering leaves in a playful manner. It swept up, over the house, and through the second floor window where Jack and Elpitha watched their baby daughter sleep. It flew to the table where the poetry book still rested, open to the lullaby. The pages began flipping backwards until the back cover closed over them. Two words were inscribed on it in gold lettering.
A/N: Zoe (pronounced "Zo – ee") is another Greek name that means "Life."
Thanks to everyone who has taken the time to read this story. It's been a long ride, but hopefully an enjoyable one! I'll be working mainly on my book now that this is finally complete. I'm not sure if I'll revisit this series. I may do a short follow up one at some point, but as of right now have no plans for anything of that nature. Plus, I'm not sure there would be any demand for it. My next major fan fiction project will be a Zelda one, but I'm not sure when I'll get around to it. Thanks again, everyone!