“So if you heat a liquid up, what does it turn into?”
“A safety hazard?”
Malik looked down at her with a grin. She was doing this on purpose now, he knew it.
“Also true, but what’s the proper answer?”
They both turned at the sound of someone clearing their throat. Lor was standing in the doorway with a look that was half exasperation, half fondness.
“Ellie, you told me you’d finished this last night.”
“No, papa. I finished my Simlish homework last night. This is science.”
“I can see that” he said, sitting down opposite her. “Don’t you think this is cutting it a bit late?”
“That’s why dad’s helping me!”
Lor raised an eyebrow at Malik, who shrugged helplessly. “She’s doing all the work, I’m just… pointing her in the right direction.”
Lor rolled his eyes and turned to his food. Honestly, it made him feel all warm inside seeing them like this, but he didn’t want her to make it a habit. “Well, then. I guess there’s no harm with me joining in, too?”
“Be my guest” Malik said. “Now, Ellie, what is the process in which liquid turns into gas called?”
“Don’t forget your school bag!”
Ella rushed back into the hallway, scooped it up and ran back out. “Bye papa, bye dad!”
The door clicked shut behind her and a peaceful silence fell over the house. Malik leant back in his chair with a contented sigh. “Well, at least she finished it.”
Lor walked behind him and squeezed his shoulders affectionately. “Thanks, love.”
“Oh, Lor? Lets go to the park after work today. We haven’t done that in a while.”
“That sounds nice. I haven’t checked in on those plants in a while, actually. I’m sure Tomas is looking after them, but it’ll be nice to see them again.”
“Always the plants with you, isn’t it?”
“You love it.”
Yeah, Malik thought as Lor took the empty plates into the kitchen, he did.
The lab was closed today for a safety inspection. He wasn’t sure it would pass, what with all the fires and cloning and freeze rays, but Cassandra had reassured him that they had always passed before. It meant that he had the day to himself, which was unusual. He cleaned, conducted a few experiments and tended to his garden.
When he looked at the clock, it was midday. Three hours before Ella would be home.
“Don’t tell me you’re bored?”
Lor looked around, surprised to see Cassandra watching him from the pavement.
“Look at you, all catsuit and eyeliner. What I wouldn’t have given to look like that during pregnancy.”
“Honestly, it’s the only thing I have that fits properly after a while”
“That’s what they all say. And the eyeliner?”
Lor hesitated, then grinned sheepishly. “I just like eyeliner.”
“Good man. Want to join me for lunch over there? I was walking past the picnic area and someone’s made some rather delicious smelling veggie burgers.”
“I’d love to.”
“Ooof! Welcome back. How was school?”
“It was alright, I guess.”
Lor stood up and stretched. “Would you like to go to the park when dad gets home? You’ll have to get your homework done first, but then we can go and play.”
Ellie’s eyes widened and a grin split her face. “I’ve never been to the park before! What’s it like?”
“It’s got monkey bars, and a huge play area shaped like a spaceship, and- Ellie, what are you doing?”
“You don’t need to stand out here, sweetheart. You can sit down.”
Two hours later, he heard the sound of running and braced himself. Ellie wrapped her arms around his legs and looked up, eyes shining.
“I’ve done my homework. Can we go to the park now?”
Lor looked at the clock. Mal wouldn’t be back for a while.
“We should probably wait, Ellie. Your dad-”
“He can meet us there! Please~”
Lor sighed and texted Malik.
Hey, love. Ellie’s really excited about the park and she’s doing the pleading face. I am weak. Would it be ok if we met you there?
Sound like a plan. I’ll drop in at home before coming though, I’ll need to get out of this uniform.
Ellie stood there expectantly, hopping from foot to foot. “Can we?”
The second they arrived, Ellie ran over to the spaceship. The girl wasn’t shy, he’d give her that.
“Come to check up on me, Mr Centauri?” Tomas said teasingly, before his eyes found Lor’s stomach and widened.
Lor covered the small bump with his hand protectively, slightly worried by the silence.
“Well, congratulations!” Tomas said, smiling. “Who’s is it? That boy you were always with? Name began with ‘M’… can’t remember it though.”
“Did everyone know about us before I did?” Lor said, startled.
“Pretty much. Verixe was certain you two were hiding it from everyone, but I thought you were just a bit oblivious.”
“Well, you’d have won that bet” he said, ruefully. “But no, it isn’t Malik’s. We’re together, but we got pregnant through abduction.”
“Well, congratulations anyway. Is that lovely lass over there yours, too?”
“Yep, that’s Ellie.”
Tomas’s eyes softened at the name. “After Elliott?”
“I thought it seemed right.”
“She’d have loved that.”
They stood for a while, lost in memories. Lor shook his head slightly and smiled, looking over at his daughter.
“Speaking of Ellie, I should probably go and see how she is. She’s never been here before.”
Tomas grinned. “Just you wait, by the end of the day she’ll be the best space pirate to have ever lived.”
Lor held up his hands in mock horror and walked over to the play area.
Ellie saw him approaching, and grinned before yelling ‘Oh no! It’s the dreaded space cyborg! Deflector shields up, arm photon torpedos and fire on my mark!”
Well, Lor thought. If he was a space cyborg, he might as well get into character. He crouched and put on his most menacing voice before joining in.
“Deflector shields are futile against me.”
An hour of space battles and banter later, Lor was exhausted.
“Captain Centuari, this cyborg needs to go and recharge. His limbs are running low on energy, and there are no batteries in space.”
“Yeah, you won.”
Ellie cheered, doing a little dance where she stood. There wasn’t really room for anything else.
“Are you ok on your own if I go and sit down for a bit?”
Ellie sighed. She could keep playing on her own, but it was more fun with others. Then she noticed the boy walking past.
“Hey! Do you want to play space pirates with me?”
The boy looked up, his sad eyes widening as he saw her. He’d never met an alien before.
“Yes, you. You look sad, maybe playing will help.”
The boy cautiously walked around the back of the ship to the engineering section. Ella swung down and waved at him.
“My name’s Ellie. What’s yours?”
“Otis” he said, still slightly disbelieving.
“Do you want to be the captain, or something else?”
“Can I be the chief engineer?”
“Of course! I’ll go back to the bridge, you never know when there’ll be an attack!”
Otis grinned and turned to his station. This would be fun.
Lor was dozing in a chair until a hand tapped him on the shoulder. He jumped, instantly alert, only to relax again when he saw who it was.
“Hey, Yuki. You scared me.”
“You’re too young to be sleeping at the park, that’s what old people like me are meant to do! If you’re going to sit down, come and play chess with me.”
Lor smiled and heaved himself up. He hadn’t meant to fall asleep, but the weather was perfect for a nap.
“So, do we know how many babies are on the way yet?”
“At least two,” Lor said, thinking of Malik.
“No wonder you’re showing so much already.”
Lor looked at her strangely, then realised her mistake.
“Oh! No, I mean I’m having at least one and so is my boyfriend.”
“You’re both pregnant?! Wow…”
The played for a little while, before Yuki spoke again. “Speaking of babies, how’s little Ella?”
“Take a look for yourself.”
Yuki looked over to where Lor was pointing and laughed.
“She really is. She’s got such a huge personality already, I’m half frightened for her teen years.”
Yuki looked thoughtful for a moment.
Lor looked down in surprise. He could have sworn that wasn’t where those pieces were a second ago.
“Best two out of three?” he said, setting the pieces back to their starting positions.
Mal would be here soon. The grilled fruit was almost done, and the daytime heat was fading as a soft breeze fluttered through the trees. It might not be a proper meal, but it was enough to keep them going until they returned home.
He smiled in anticipation. He’d missed him.
He was just carrying it over to the counter when Malik arrived, and he put it down before waving.
Malik turned and smiled, waving back before walking over. It had been a long day, but this made all the hard work worthwhile. He picked up a plate and they sat together, talking in the shade of the parasol.
The park was quieter now. The sun was setting and the families were heading home. Malik held Lor’s hand, kissed it and intertwined their fingers before leading him over to the corner of the park.
Malik had never been so nervous. He kissed Lor on the cheek and slipped his hand into his pocket, making sure he still had it. His hands closed around the small box, and he sighed in relief.
“Mal? Are you ok?”
“I love you.”
“I love you too, Mal. You know I do. Why do you look so scared?”
Malik drew in a deep breath. This was it.
“I had a crush on you from the moment I first saw you. You were trying so hard to stay out of sight, but I couldn’t understand it. You were smart and cute, and I didn’t know why you wanted to hide. Then when I got up the nerve to talk to you, I found out how sweet you were, and how lovely your smile was. I started to fall in love with you when we went camping together and I saw you with your family. I wanted to know what it would be like to be able to be part of that every day, not just for that weekend.”
Lor listened, transfixed.
“I wanted to kiss you that evening on the balcony. You were there in those ridiculous bunny slippers, and you were so close to me because you couldn’t see without your glasses. If your uncle and aunt hadn’t appeared, I might have done it.
There were so many times when I wanted to kiss you, but I didn’t realise how much I loved you until that day at the park. I never wanted to see you so sad again. When I moved in with you, I tried to keep my feelings hidden. I didn’t want to pressure you, and I didn’t want to lose you as a friend.
When I kissed your hands that day, I was terrified that I’d screwed it all up. But then you kissed me. I’d never been so happy in my life.
Since then, every day has felt that way. I want to be with you for the rest of my life.”
Malik got down on one knee, and Lor’s heart skipped a beat.
“Lorcán Centauri, will you marry me?”
It took a second for him to find his voice. “Yes, Mal. Of course I’ll marry you.”