This Part 2 of my 'Benevolent Series'. Part 1 is posted under, 'Faulty Benevolence' on my profile.
Beth picked up Judith from the wooden crate next to Lori's bed, sharing a smile with the mother of the wailing infant. She settled the baby into the crook of her arm and fixed the soft yellow blanket that she had been wrapped in. "You hush now," she said firmly, embarrassed that the baby wasn't settling down. She looked to Lori to see her reaction, in case she thought that Beth was doing something wrong to her daughter. "Sorry," she apologized, biting her lower lip.
Lori's smile didn't dim as she sat up, wincing with the movement. "Don't be," she shrugged. "Babies cry." Her matter of fact tone relaxed the teenager who added a small bounce to her rocking motion.
"Maybe she is hungry," Beth suggested, starting to hand the baby to her mother- she paused when Lori moved to settle against the wall at the back of her bunk, her pretty features scrunched with the effort. "You okay?"
"I just fed her not too long ago," Lori's chin dipped. "She probably just wants to be snuggled," the mother indicated the baby with her hand that wasn't holding onto her week old incision. "See? You're a natural."
Beth looked down to the newborn who had settled against her and turned to jelly. Her little limbs had gone slack as she allowed herself to be draped across Beth's forearm. At the older woman's praise, the corners of her mouth turned upwards. She liked looking after the baby; it made her feel like she was really contributing to the group- like she finally had a purpose. She was especially proud that Lori thought that she was doing a good job. It had been a long time since she had had that kind of assurance. At the realization she felt a small twinge in her heart at the loss of her own mother.
"Do you think you could do me a favour, sweetie?" Lori asked, pulling her from her thoughts.
Beth stepped forward, eager and willing to help. She hadn't had much success becoming strong and skilled at fighting weapons like Maggie and Carol had. She could barely aim the little revolver that she had taken to carrying around. But when she was with Lori, she felt like she wasn't totally useless.
"Would you mind getting me one of those bottles that Daryl brought back? Are they washed?"
"We used them to feed the baby before you woke up," Beth explained, already heading towards the common area. "Be right back."
Beth took the few short steps that led her towards the other room where her father and Carl were speaking with the newcomers. She met eyes with Carl to make sure that it was safe for her to go in, especially with the baby. He responded by opening the bars for her to make her way through. She crossed the open area quickly, holding Judith close to her, carefully avoiding eye-contact with the strangers who were scattered around the room.
"How old is the baby?" Someone asked from over her shoulder just as she reached the table and began looking through the supplies for the bottle that Lori had requested. She could hear the person approaching her from behind and she stiffened a little. They hadn't had much luck with others and she felt wary of them. She scolded herself for being so timid- for not being brave and fearless like Maggie.
Her father answered the question, his slow drawl helping her to relax a little. "Barely even a week."
"To be honest we never thought we'd see another baby," the young woman's voice was heavy with awe and Beth smiled at the sound. It did feel odd to her still sometimes when she looked at the tiny girl's face and felt her fresh baby-soft skin. Lori had been right, the baby was just what they all needed to feel more hopeful. "She's beautiful."
The voice was directly behind her now, forcing Beth to meet the young woman's eyes. "Thanks," she answered shyly. It felt strange to be accepting a compliment for something that she had no part in.
"How are you feeling?"
At the question Beth felt her eyes widen. She glanced at her daddy, embarrassed that someone would think that she had… "She's not mine," she shook her head, her words coming out with an air of defensiveness. She looked to Carl next for a second to catch the teasing grin that split his features and she felt her cheeks flush red.
"Where is her mother?" The African American woman asked, her voice soft as she inspected the baby. Beth, still too flustered to formulate a ready answer hesitated as did the rest of the group- she wondered if for the same reason. "Sorry," the girl took a step back, her stiff posture clearly uncomfortable with her supposed revelation.
Beth shook her head again, finally taking her tongue back from the cat. "She's isn't-," her words trailed off and her brow furrowed as Carl's expression shifted and he dropped his head, hiding his face beneath the brim of his hat. "The woman before. That fainted? That's her. I should get back to her," Beth filled them in, heading towards the bars that would take her back to their row of cells and Lori.
"Is she alright?" She prodded further as Carl stepped over to unlock the doors, juggling the large ring of keys and his gun. Beth wished he wouldn't do that- he was going to take his own eye out one day… or worse.
Carl paused, meeting Beth's eyes. "For now," he answered, his voice steady as he held her concerned gaze. After a moment he broke eye-contact with her and proceeded to open the door for her.
"Was it a difficult birth?"
Her father turned to watch her as she slipped through the bars and waited for Carl to lock them behind her. "An emergency caesarean," he answered, tidying up the medical supplies on the desk before him.
Their discussion faded away as she made her way over to Lori's cell where she found her still leaning against the wall, her head dropped back to rest against the chipped concrete . Her eyes were closed and Beth felt a chill run through her as Carl's straight-faced declaration came back to her. "Lori?" She prodded.
Lori's green eyes opened and her face lifted into a smile when she accepted the extended bottle. "Thanks," she inspected the bottle for a moment as though considering it. When she lifted her eyes again Beth recognized her expression as one that was trying to buy time until she was alone.
"Oh! Do you want me to," Beth indicated over her shoulder with her thumb, already starting to turn to leave.
"You are welcome to stay if you want," Lori spoke up. "I wasn't sure if you wanted to, that's all. I am going to try to express some milk, to make it easier for feedings when I am not up to it."
Beth considered her options briefly before taking a small breath, taking a seat on the bunk beside Lori. She reminded herself that she was an adult now, and that she shouldn't feel embarrassed about breasts. Carol had helped Lori bathe… and Maggie had birthed the baby. There was no reason to be bashful. Trying to remain casual she concentrated on Judith and lifted the baby to her shoulder. She listened to Lori's clothes rustling and then curiousity overwhelmed her and she glanced up.
Lori caught her shift in gaze and looked up to meet her eyes. She chuckled softly and looked back down at her chest. "They're huge, I know."
Beth felt her cheeks flush and she quickly averted her gaze to the floor. "Does it hurt?" She cleared her throat and lifted her eyes again to look up and see Lori shake her head.
"It's uncomfortable, when the baby doesn't have much of an appetite and I get full," she explained softly, her voice holding a maturity and confidence that Beth wished that she could have. There was something… attractive about it. "This will help," Lori continued. "If I can figure out how to do it- where is Google when you need it?"
Beth laughed at the joke and turned more, swinging her legs around to cross them in front of her so that she was facing Lori. It was difficult with the baby but she managed to get comfortable. "What's it like to have a baby? Someone that is, like, part of you?"
Lori's eyebrows raised as she considered the question, when she raised her head her eyes were warm. "It's beautiful," she answered sincerely. "But it's scary too, because you want to keep them safe and protect them, but then they grow up and want to find their own way in the world and you have to let them go." She sighed heavily. "Sometimes long before you're ready to."
Beth listened to her words and thought about Carl and how much he had grown since she first met him all those months before. She had grown too, since her mother had died, but now she felt stuck. "I was going to have sex with Jimmy," she disclosed timidly, her voice shaking as she said the words out loud. "But we didn't… because I was scared of what God would think- that I would disappoint him, and daddy too. That I would go to Hell." She laughed nervously, resting her cheek against Judith's soft downy hair. "Guess that was silly, since we're already there."
Her confession hung between them and Beth wondered for a moment that she had said too much. That Lori wouldn't understand. She relaxed when Lori pulled her shirt closed and reached over to touch Beth's cheek with the hand that she had been using to hold the bottle. She could tell the older woman wanted to say something, but she was clearly at a loss for words. Her eyes were filled with understanding, though, and Beth recognized that there was no judgment there.
"Do you think Carl thinks that way?" Lori finally asked.
Beth shifted. "About sex?" She asked.
Lori dropped her hand and picked up the quarter-filled bottle again. "That he missed out? That there is nothing better coming?"
Feeling like a fish in a fishbowl Beth opened and closed her mouth while she searched for the right answer. Her father's voice over her shoulder interrupted their conversation and she breathed a grateful sigh. "I should go," she passed Judith to her mother and made her escape.