A/n: I know it's been awhile but I'll try to make this chapter another long one. Hope you like the story so far and will continue to like it as it goes on.
D: I do not own any Giver copyrights.
"I'm not sure if Number 2's too happy with me today Ina," Susan confessed with a pout, rubbing her exposed stomach with an unhappy gesture. "He's been kicking all day, I'm not sure if my ribs can take it anymore. He's cracked six already!"
Sitting back in one of the Birthing Center's plush chairs, I chuckled with mild amusement as my mentor of 4 months made sure to throw up her arms in exasperation. At first Susan's strange and exaggerated actions had both confused and offended me, seeing how some of her statements were obvious lies and could be phrased in more truthful ways; though as of recently I didn't mind her comments nearly as much as I would've before, I couldn't help myself from correcting her small mistake. After all I had sworn not to lie; in my book that included keeping my friends truthful as well. Just because there was a rule didn't mean we all should break it.
"He didn't break your ribs," I corrected, trying to keep a stern face while I bit into an apple that a Volunteer had brought me earlier, "The infant merely caused soreness because of internal movement. To say he broke your ribs would be a lie."
The older woman stretched in a frustratingly slow manner before turning back to me with a sly grin on her features. "I apologize for lying." Only once I had given her the customary reply did she straighten enough to look me in the eyes and sigh. "I swear Ina; you're just like a text book. I understand the correction but you should loosen up some too. I had flashbacks to my school years." She giggled before launching to her feet gingerly, ever careful of her bouncing belly. "Now me and Number 2 are going to take a walk around the center before bed. You should return to your dwelling, the evening meal should be soon." Before I could even reply, the cheerful girl waved and then disappeared into the ever present crowd.
I sighed, shaking my head at yet another tactless comment made by my mentor. Even she had to know that the textbook comment would normally be considered rude; it did bring attention to my flaws after all. Still I couldn't fault the girl, almost all the birthmothers I had met so far acted as such in some way or another. I blamed it on the Stirrings personally, and inwardly hoped that my not taking the pill wouldn't bear the same results.
I care for the birthmothers but the thought of being as rude of them still made me uncomfortable.
As if it was her sole purpose to interrupt my thoughts, Frieda chose that moment to duck her head into the little room that, at the moment, only contained me. She took a moment to search before her eyes finally settled on me, her small frown indicating that she hadn't found who she was looking for.
"Is Susan not with you Inger? One of the other nurses said she was."
As always a slight annoyance shot through me at the mention of my full name, something I never mentioned due to the fact it was rude. If being the only polite birthmother meant that I would have to grit my teeth and bear it, then that was what I was going to do.
"You missed her," I stated truthfully, making sure to be respectful as I did so, "She said that her 'Number Two' was kicking and went to go get some exercise. Maybe she was hoping he would stop."
Almost instantly Frieda's frown deepened, leaving me with the awkward and confusing realization that she had been offended by something I had said. It was as I was shifting nervously, wondering how to phrase an apology for my unknown action that Frieda spoke again, this time with a disapproving tone lacing her seemingly pleasant voice.
"He?" Her tone was thick with implications but I, completely in the dark, could only nod at her simple statement. What was wrong with the infant being a male? There was no way it wasn't, births were usually planned to the finest detail; details that, of course, also included the gender. Susan would be privy to those details purely because of the needed medications that those lists also included; why was Frieda so surprised.
"She shouldn't be using the infant's gender Inger," The older woman stated calmly, taking a moment to think before continuing. "She shouldn't even be using the number this birth is as a name of sorts. Remember that these children are nothing to you. You will have no right to them in the future, even if you get attached."
I blinked, why was she telling me this? Had I somehow gotten Susan into trouble? "Don't be mad at her." I finally allowed, looking up at her with wide eyes. "She didn't know."
The nurse gave a sudden, surprised laugh, shaking her head slowly as she began to speak. "Oh I'm not mad. It's simply a warning for both Susan and for you, if you could relay it to her when you meet next?" I nodded so she continued. "I'm going to go find her; she needs her medications before she goes to sleep tonight." She made to go but hesitated as she looked back at me. "You really should go Inger; you'll miss the evening meal if you stay any longer."
She left and I nodded to myself, she was right in more ways than one; and as I disposed of my apple core in a waste bin, I realized I really was hungry.
It was sometime during our morning meal the next day when a female voice rang out through the intercom, officially declaring today as a holiday. Instantly the rest of my family became abuzz with a feeling of excitement, my parents because they now had the day off work and my brother because he now had a whole day to play Good Guys Bad Guys with his friends.
Swallowing my bite of egg so fast it was nearly a choke, I merely stared at the intercom with disbelief; realization dawning on me that for the first time in a long time I had nothing to do. It had been a set schedule for me ever since I had first received my assignment back at the Year 12 Ceremony. Every day I had followed school with the Birthing Center, always leaving late enough so there would be no free time before I returned to my dwelling; a practice I know I subconsciously practiced to avoid the looks being an apprentice birthmother has earned me.
I got enough of that when my parents thought I wasn't looking, or when my fellow year mates mentioned me in passing; so what was I going to do now that I had a whole day free of distractions? My first thought was to smuggle Susan out to the river or somewhere but I knew they'd never allow it, pregnant birthmothers were confined to the Birthing Center from the day they conceived; that and her swelling belly would earn us the exact looks I wanted to avoid.
Which meant I just had to deal with it.
Sighing, I rose from the table and started collecting the extra food, not noticing until I returned from placing it outside the dwelling that Jessie had risen with me and was now chattering on happily to my unhearing ears. Feeling guilty that I hadn't heard even a word of his babble, I tried tuning into at least the last few sentences, inwardly hoping that that would redeem me for ignoring the rest.
". . . Marcus and Xavier will want to join too. Maybe even some of the kids from your year will come." He looked up at me with wide eyes and I nodded with a smile, not quite sure what exactly I was agreeing too. If possible, my gesture caused my brother's already wide grin to practically split in too. "Great!" He exclaimed, still beaming. "You won't regret it Ina! Just meet us down by the river when you're ready!" He beamed again before dashing over to his bicycle and shooting down the street, I'm sure he didn't even catch my confused wave before I was out of sight.
So. . . What had I just agreed to?
"You better not leave him waiting," I jumped as my mother materialized at my elbow, smiling fondly in the direction of my brother. "You know how he gets."
Still nodding and more than a little confused, I slowly made my way over to my bicycle's port and wiggled it lose. Even though I still had next to no idea what I had agreed to, maybe it was better than sulking in a corner on a day that was supposed to be a holiday.
Riding smoothly behind where my younger brother had so recently sped, I couldn't help but wonder how fun whatever game Jessie had concocted would really be.
Once I approached the riverbank and deposited my bicycle on the grass with several others did I truly get my answer; it seemed my brother and his friends were already deeply immersed in a game of Good Guys Bad Guys, the game already progressing fairly nicely despite how early into the holiday we actually were. Well it seems my earlier theories on Jessie's plans were spot on, I just didn't think he would rope me in as well. Maybe the theory that I'd be separated because of my profession was silly, I took a hesitant step forward, maybe I could play with people that didn't shoot me those looks when I looked away, maybe I could. . .
As if my heart skidded to a sudden halt, everything around me seemed to freeze the moment that voice shot through my thoughts. Almost instantly blood flooded to my cheeks and my hands felt the sudden need to wring and twirl, both side effects that I hoped desperately that he couldn't see. He only smiled and waved cheerfully as he and a girl in my year named Fiona walked down the hill. Turning towards him slowly, all I could really do was put on my best disarming smile and hoped that it didn't look pained.
Somewhere below me came Jessie's call for me to join his team but it went ignored. Like it had been for a while, I only found myself able to think of him. I had no idea why and it left me utterly confused, but I always found it harder to breath when he was around. Any notions of running to a nurse for help were taken away however when it became clear that I was the only one who ever had these symptoms. No other person looked like they wanted to faint around him; if they found out he might be in trouble.
For that reason alone I had kept the secret to myself; for some reason placing harm to Asher as a higher offence than lying. It was bewildering but it felt so right.
He was upon me now, Fiona splitting off to great a couple other kids that I hadn't seen arrived.
"Nice!" He cheered enthusiastically, looking out onto the now larger game with respect. "Good Guys Bad Guys! Is it alright if we joined?" He indicated Fiona with a nod but it didn't matter, I was nodding from almost before he had spoken at all.
"Thank you." He replied earnestly before moving as if to continue down towards the game. Suddenly he froze, his attention all but glued onto a spot not that far from where I stood. Turning from where I stood in a near daze, the shock of what I saw effectively snapped me out of my reverie. At the same time I took a step back out of pure surprise, Asher called out to the boy who used to be his best friend.
It seemed the Receiver of Memory was also here to play.