2.17. Some Kind of Monster
It’s barely morning--long enough after midnight for someone to be starting their day, but too early for that someone to be a reasonable human being.
Lark is jolted awake, disturbed into consciousness after something jumped into bed next to her. Her heart races as she blinks at her surroundings, which take on nefarious qualities in the low light of dawn. It takes a moment for the panic to subside--she’s in her new room in her new house.
Next to her perches one of her three new roommates, Vinegar Tom. Vinegar Tom yawns, apathetic to Lark’s panic.
“Fucking cat,” Lark mutters, “I should skin you.”
Vinegar Tom blinks lazily. He’d like to see her try.
“You’d probably be delicious beer battered,” she adds, “fatty.”
Vinegar Tom narrows his eyes. This is obviously a case of the pot calling the kettle black, but he doesn’t have the means to explain that to her.
Despite the inauspicious start to her day, it promises to be average. She trudges upstairs to find Bjorn wide awake. He is babbling at Raven, with whom he now shares a brightly colored room. There are enough rooms in the house for the toddlers to have separate bedrooms, but Lark and Dominic decided that for now, the children should stay together.
“Good morning, buddy bear,” Lark chirps at Bjorn. He beams at his mother. “How’d you sleep? Great? The demon cat didn’t jump into your crib and try to suck out your soul, right?”
She glances over her shoulder at Dominic, who wandered into the room after her. It always seems to take him forever to wake up in the morning. That’s when she likes to pick on him the most.
But today he doesn’t take the bait. Instead, he smiles wordlessly as he lifts Raven out of the crib.
“Mornin’, dada,” she giggles at him.
“Dom,” he reminds her in a raspy voice, “just Dom.”
She giggles again.
There have been a lot of changes to the household over the past couple of months, leaving Bjorn in a near constant state of confusion. While he’s unhappy at how infrequently he sees his father, he’s overjoyed to have another child his age to play with.
He calls her “si’ter,” No one corrects him.
“You’re going to be a big brother soon,” Lark reminds him one day.
“Yes,” he puffs his chest out proudly, “big brother.”
“And you’re going to be a good big brother, right?”
“Right,” he nods.
“I’m gonna hold you to that,” she teases him. He shrieks gleefully as she scoops him up in a bear hug.
Overall, Raven needs less attention than Bjorn. She’s happy to look through picture books, which Dominic gladly provides for her. Sometimes she babbles as she reads them, showing the pictures to anyone who happens to pass by. At this particular moment, Honey is her audience.
Honey wonders who this child is and why she is living with them. She can tell she doesn’t belong. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing--all the humans in the house have strange smells. This one just smells the most out of place.
Before she can determine whether or not the toddler is a danger--a question she has been wrestling with for weeks--Dominic shoos her away. He sits across from Raven. His back is stiff and he has trouble meeting her eyes. Nearly every interaction between the two goes like this--painfully, awkwardly, every question drenched in fear.
“What did you think of the book, Raven?” He asks.
“Dom, she’s a toddler, not a member of your book club. Talk to her like a kid.”
“She’s a kid and I’m talking to her. I fail to see the problem.”
“Maker, Dom. I mean be casual. Relax,” Lark flashes an encouraging smile. It’s been painful to watch Dominic struggle with Raven. But it’s becoming more and more obvious that his oath is unbreakable: she’s his daughter now, and he needs to adapt.
“And how am I supposed to do that?”
Vinegar Tom bounds by. He knows how, but he’s not telling.
Dominic’s discomfort with Raven doesn’t extend to Bjorn. He’s much more comfortable with the boy, and Bjorn is delighted by the nursery rhymes that Dominic teaches him. He’s asked the mage to repeat one particular rhyme over and over:
The Queen of Hearts
She made some tarts,
All on a summer's day.
The Knave of Hearts,
He stole the tarts,
And took them clean away.
The King of Hearts,
Called for the tarts,
And beat the Knave full sore.
The Knave of Hearts
Brought back the tarts,
And vowed he'd steal no more.
Dom is happy to oblige.
Lark is equally enchanted by Raven. Every afternoon, she works on helping the girl learn to walk--that is, learn to walk instead of fly. Raven can fly with ease, but if they ever want to let her leave the house she needs to learn to act just a bit more human.
As if people aren’t going to notice her wings.
The days are packed with teaching, talking, walking, cleaning, gardening, joking, laughing, arguing, crying. But when the sun sets, the house grows quiet and Dom and Lark are finally able to relax.
“You know,” Dominic says as he lights the fire, “fireplaces actually make your house colder.”
“Shut up, nerd. I don’t need science right now. I need a fire.”
“Sorry for trying to teach you something.”
“If you are unaware that I’m unteachable, Dom, you truly know nothing about me.”
“Fair enough,” he laughs and sits down next to her, “so how are you feeling?”
“Like it’s almost time,” Lark rubs her stomach, “He isn’t moving as much so he’s probably getting read to jet on outta here. Plus I feel like my vagina is about to fall out. That’s what it felt like with Bjorn.”
Dominic’s face remains blank. “That’s a colorful way of describing it. Also, he?”
“Just a guess,” she shrugs, “anyway, I know you normally wanna do your own thing before bed, but do you wanna watch a movie with me tonight? I don’t think I’m going to be able to sleep tonight.”
“Sure,” Dom smiles, “what movie?”
This is not what he was expecting.
“Why did you pick this movie?” He grimaces as the heroine of the film cautiously walks down a flickering hallway. He knows what’s coming. But still, he falls for the emotional cues, the beats in music and shadows the cross the screen. At the appointed cinematic time, a monstrous beast--its full form hidden by tricks of the camera--pops out, surprising no one and everyone. Dominic jumps as Lark squeals and reaches for his hands.
He puts his arm around her, pulling her a little closer.
“Because my brother recommended it,” she winces at the monster’s screech.
“Why would he recommend this?”
“I don’t know! He just said I would like it!”
“So do you want to turn this off? We can watch something, um, nicer.”
“No,” Lark shakes her head, “this is kinda speaking to me.”
Dominic grimaces. “How?”
“Sometimes when this baby moves, like when he kicks or whatever, I feel like he’s just gonna rip out of me,” she pauses momentarily, “like he’s some kind of monster.”
“Hmm,” Dom hums but says nothing else--because really, what can be said in that moment? And so the movie progresses. With each jump scare, Lark inches closer and closer to him. He can tell the films final act is drawing to a close, but he wills it to become longer, to give them more time like this.
Within fifteen minutes of his wish, the credits roll. Lark releases her grip on him and jumps up from the couch.
“Are you going to go to bed?”
“No. I think I’m gonna make some popcorn and watch something else. If you want, you can pick the next movie.”
“I don’t think I can sleep tonight. Besides, I need something to…”
“Cleanse the palate?”
“What? Ew, no. To get me to stop thinking about that movie. Anyway, I’ll be right back. Pick something to watch!”
He’s exhausted, but he obeys Lark’s order nonetheless. He scrolls through Simflix, finally settling on a rom-com parody. It seems lighthearted enough, but like it might also have some sort of romantic potential. It doesn’t, ultimately, but it’s madcap enough to distract them from the previous horrorfest. And while he doesn’t find it particularly funny, he does find Lark’s laughter contagious. She laughs at the movie, he laughs with her.
Lark talks him into another movie, this time a rom-com proper. While not a good film, it’s a great sedative.
“I’m sorry,” Lark mutters as she leans her head against his shoulder.
“For?” He mumbles back.
“Being so awkward that night.”
“Oh,” he doesn’t need her to elaborate, “it’s fine. I hardly even think about it.”
“Good. Besides, it’s funny, right?”
“You said you wanted to be partners,” her voice gets softer, “and now we kinda are.”
Before he can respond, she falls asleep.
It’s early morning when Lark finally stirs. She’s curled up against Dominic, her head in his lap, his arm around her and his hand resting on her belly. It’s comfortable, reassuring. And for a moment, she thinks about going back to sleep so this moment can continue uninterrupted.
But she has to pee. Besides, it’s past nine. The kids are probably already awake and ready for breakfast. She rolls off herself and grumbles as she waddles to the stairs.
A sharp, sudden pain overtakes her. It starts at her lower back and crushes around her torso, squeezing her abdomen like a vice. Her pants grow wet.
The crushing pain comes again, then again, then again in quick succession. It takes her far too long to realize what’s happening.
“Dom,” she wails, “Dominic, I’m in labor.”
There’s a mumble, then a crash, then the thump, thump, thump of him running barefoot down the hallway.
“Oh no,” he holds his hand up, “Oh no, we forgot to pack your overnight bag!”
“Dominic,” she grits her teeth, “get the children.”
Her spine stiffens as another wave of pain shoots through her.
“Take them to--”
“To my parents.”
They’re coming way too fast.
“Then come get me.”
“Okay, get the kids, take them to--wait, why don’t you just come with us so I don’t have to come back here?”
“Just go, you jackass!”
Dominic doesn’t need to be told twice.
Lark slowly makes her way to her bedroom, stopping for a good scream at each contraction. Once there, she prays instinct will take over. There’s no way Dominic will make it back in time. But she knew that already, of course. She just didn’t want to give birth in a car.
And somehow, instinct does take over. She gives birth on her own, cleans up her baby on her own, dresses him on her own, then names him on her own.
“This is fine,” she whispers to her newborn son as she places him in the crib she set up in her room, “no need to be worried, right?”
Her phone rings. She frowns when she sees who’s calling.
“Hi. I had the baby. Stop calling.”
“What?” Nikolas’ voice crackles from the phone, “why didn’t you call me?”
“I just had him, Nikolas. On my own, in my bedroom, so excuse me for not calling right away.”
“What?! Hold on, I’m coming over.”
“Fine,” she rolls her eyes, “go ahead and invite yourself over.”
But he’s already hung up.
“Rude,” she says to her son, “he didn’t even ask if I had named you yet. Can you believe that, Fenrir?”
Fenrir soils himself.
***Author’s note: My favorite movies to watch when I was pregnant were Fargo, Alien, and Snowpiercer. Interpret that how you want.
PS I was going to write a chapter explaining how Lark and Dom ended up living together, but ya’ll are smart. You saw this coming, and you know how it happened. (: