Her hands trembled violently as she smoothed the well handled paper. The results of her test screamed in a cold, formal black. Blotches marred some of the words, round patches of pain. Her eyes stung and another was added.
Her eyelids rested for a moment and she folded the paper along creases she had memorized. Steady breaths did not come for many minutes. She placed the letter in the desk drawer, and pushed it forward. It jammed at an awkward angle, and she pushed harder, drawing it out, and slamming it forward, once, twice, three times, until she was cursing loudly.
“Love…” a large hand rested her own and she stiffened as her husband removed her hands from the drawer. His eyes landed on the paper, and understanding sorrowed his eyes. “Come,” he led her away from the small study. “Let’s go for a walk. Clear your mind. It is a beautiful day. The sun is smiling down on us today.” He coaxed her into her jacket and out the door.
The air was crisp with fresh Spring air. She found herself relaxing as they walked along the forest pathways behind the house. The dirt was well worn, originally a deer trail that they had followed on a whim and had soon become a regular path.
The sun filtered through the leaves, warming their faces on every possible occasion. She squeezed her husband’s hand gently, a smile working its way upwards. His lips curved in response, and she felt the constant threat of tears begin to retreat. Still, though, something had hollowed part of her heart. A part that she feared would remain this way forever.
A flash of yellow distracted her and she glanced to the side. There, off the path, she could see peonies blooming under the sun’s loving gaze. “Oh, they’re beautiful,” she exclaimed as she tugged her husband after her. She knelt down and cupped one, entranced at the feel of such soft petals, of such a bright colour. The flowers were spread over the small clearing, all glowing a golden yellow. “How marvelous,” she breathed.
It was the gentle whining of a child that caught her attention. She glanced up, her heart thumping as a figure came into view. A lithe body, so androgynous that she was unsure as to whether they were male or female. Bare feet and a body barely covered by the sheer cloth that gleamed like a spider’s web covered in morning dew.
From within the masses of cloth held against the chest came another cry, this one needier. But strangely echoing, resonating in a way she had never heard before. The flowers rippled at the sound, colours distressing at each whimper.
She waited, motionless as the stranger approached. Beside her, her husband, too, seemed frozen. Her eyes were focused on the small hand that emerged and flailed helplessly. Tiny, chubby, there was no mistaking the baby for anything else. Her heart clenched and she felt jealousy well up, dark, black, within her mind.
The figure stopped mere feet away, and as she looked closer, she realized that it was not cloth, but hair, an ethereal silver, that was woven so finely and wrapped around the slim figure.
“You long for something with all your heart,” a voice that sounded like wind and rustling leaves emerged from lips that barely moved. Eyes, a mesmerizing swirl of green and brown, stared unblinkingly. Inhuman, the iris was expanded, leaving no white to mar the colours of the forest.
“Wh-who are you,” she whispered. Her husband beside her was gripping her hand tightly. She chanced a quick glance and saw his tense muscles and grim, suspicious face. But still she turned back, caught by the hook that had found its way into the empty cavern of her heart.
“I can give you what you want,” the being replied, its expression unchanging. It shifted its arms and the baby’s face came into view. Its face was scrunched up in discomfort, toothless mouth agape mid cry.
Her heart stuttered and for a moment she was unable to breathe, unable to form words.
“Love…” her husband’s voice was full of uncertainty and suspicion.
And it allowed clear thoughts to regain control. First caution, then anger. “You would- you would give up your child?” She croaked out, fist clenching at her side. “How could you-”
“He is too weak,” the figure replied.
She expelled a breath of disbelieving laughter. “Because he’s weak, you would abandon him?” She began to shake her head.
“He will die if I keep him. With you, he can grow strong. He will live, he will thrive. He is the runt, he will not survive the season with me.” The creature moved forward until they were face to face. “Take him, and raise him well. And when he is strong enough, I will be back.”
“You would give me a son to raise,” the words almost refused to emerge, “and then take him away again? What makes you think I would return him to you?”
“You will, because he is not yours. He does not belong with you. One day, whether you wish it or not, he will return home, on his own if he must. If you wish happiness for him, you will bring him back to his true home.” The creature’s eyes did not move from her face. They swirled slowly, emotionless.
“I-” she cut off and glanced at her husband. He stared back, then gave a helpless smile and shrug. His hand remained firmly in her grasp. “He will be my son in all but blood,” she replied softly. Then she let go of her husband’s hand and accepted the child with both, cradling it gently against her bosom.
The stranger’s arms retreated slowly. Then it bent forward, and placed a kiss on the child’s forehead. The baby’s eyes opened, revealing golden irises that shone like the sun. And then slowly, white began to crawl forward, and the colour dulled until stormy grey eyes peered back at them both. Small arms reached up for both their faces, and for a moment she swore she saw the creature’s lips turn upwards.
Then they were alone, she and her husband, and their child. She cradled him to her chest, pressing kisses to his cheeks, his nose, his forehead. Her husband wrapped his arms around them, no words needed.
Within her chest, her heart thumped fully.