“Do I have to go to school, Dad? What if the babies are born while I’m gone?”
“I’m sure they’ll be willing to wait until after school, Ellie. Don’t you have a test today?”
“I’m pretty sure you do.”
Malik couldn’t keep a straight face any longer – he started laughing. She’d been like this all morning. They shouldn’t have written the due date on the calendar, really. “You can’t watch them being born, anyway. That’s a grown up thing.”
“Do they burst out of your tummy like ‘RAAAAAAARGH!’?”
“Where did you get that idea?”
“I head one of the big kids talking about a film called ‘UFO’, and one of the ladies had an alien in her tummy and it went-”
“That’s fiction, Ellie.”
Silence fell across the table for one sweet moment, and then…
“So, can I?”
“Ellie. School. Now.”
She giggled and stood up. “Bye dad, love you~”
“Love you, too, Ellie.”
Malik heard her say goodbye to Lor, and then the reassuring sound of the front door opening and shutting behind her. He leant back in his chair and sighed happily.Then he sat up again.
What in the world was he going to do all day?
“Come on, I know you like chess. We played it the first time you came over, remember?”
“Lor. The cute boy from school had just invited me to his house. I would have danced on the roof if you’d asked me to, of course I played chess with you.”
“You… don’t like it?”
“I do like it, I’ve just not really had a chance to learn it.”
“You were good that day, though.”
“Beginners luck, I promise you. Still, I’ll learn” he smiled.
“I think I’m stuck,” Malik said. “I can’t see any way to move without you taking a piece.”
“Music can help you think, how about you turn that radio back there on?”
Malik turned around, and Lor quickly switched some pieces on the board.
“I can see a move you can do, Mal.”
“Just here, if you move that one you can take my bishop.”
“Oh wow, you’re right!”
Lor felt the warmth of Malik’s smile envelop his heart. It had been worth the loss of a bishop, that was certain.
Lor kept his eyes closed. “Healthy mind, healthy body. Plus it’s good for the baby if you’re relaxed.”
“I think my leg’s cramping.”
Lor giggled and opened one eye, looking at him. “Try having your legs out in front of you, it might be easier to begin with.”
Malik had to admit, it was a rather pleasant way to spend an hour or so.
“Ok, that’s enough for the first time.”
He opened his eyes and smiled as Lor offered him his hand, helping him stand again.
“Maybe we can do this again sometime? The baby liked it, but so did I.”
Lor grinned at him. “I’d like that. I’m going to check on the garden before Ellie gets back, there’s time for a nap if you want one.”
Malik yawned. “You know me far too well.”
“I’ll join you when I’m done.”
Lor walked towards the garden, stopping as he heard his name.
“I love you.”
“I was thinking of names, you know, for the baby. What do you think of Altair for a boy, and Samira for a girl?”
“They’re gorgeous. Kind of makes me hope you’re having twins, just so we can use them both!”
“Don’t jinx me, Lor” Malik laughed. “I’m scared enough at the thought of having one, let alone two! Now, how about you?”
“Well, I was thinking of Lyra or Aoife for a girl, and Leo or Owain for a boy. I thought I’d better come up with two of each, with the amount of people asking me if I’m having twins. It’s better to be prepared.”
“They’re lovely. So, if you had one of each…”
“Either Lyra and Leo, or Aoife and Owain. I couldn’t decide if I wanted astronomy names or to keep the Irish names going another generation.”
“You’ll just have to decide when he or she or they arrive, then.” Malik smiled. “This is actually happening, isn’t it?”
“It really is.”
“Ellie, please tell me you didn’t. And Mal, stop laughing, you’re making it really difficult to be annoyed right now.”
“How was I meant to know that was what the button did? It just said ‘Don’t press.'”
“So, of course, you did.”
“… sorry Papa. At least it was warm today, so everyone dried out quickly enough. Oh! Are those sims trying to trick the bug-alien into coming onto their rocket?”
“It certainly looks like it.”
“What are they going to do to him?”
“You’ll have to wait and see.”
Lor rolled his eyes as her attention fixed back on to the movie. Malik bit his lip to stop himself from laughing. Sometimes the thought of having so many children in the house was scary, but at times like this he knew that he wouldn’t want it any other way.
The film wasn’t bad, actually. The costumes were ridiculous, but the plot was fun and the acting was firmly in the ‘so-bad-it’s-good’ category.
“Can I say goodnight to the babies?”
It was half past ten, and there was a light on in Ellie’s room. Malik knocked on the door.
“Ellie? Shouldn’t you be asleep?”
“I can’t sleep.”
He opened the door and walked in.
“Nothing’s wrong, I’m just really excited. I’m going to be a big sister!”
“You’ll still be a big sister if you’re asleep, you know.”
“Play with me? Just for a little bit.”
“You’ll go to sleep afterwards?”
Malik shut the door behind him and a jolt of pain lanced through his abdomen, leaving him gasping. It was time.
“Lor?” he called, as he made his way to the nursery. “It’s happening.”
Lor burst into the room, eyes wide. “Are you ok?!”
“I’ll be fine, just- ARGH… stay with me?”
“I’ll be right here. You can do this.”
“Welcome to the world, little one.”
“He’s beautiful, Mal.”
Malik looked down at the baby in his arms, and smiled. “He is.”
“Mal? The baby’s coming.”
“I’m here. It’s ok.”
Giving birth was more painful than he remembered, but at last he held a baby girl in his arms. So why was he still so big? The cramps restarted, and he put her in the cradle just in time for her brother to arrive.
“Oh my word…” Mal said, voice quiet.
“No more in there?”
Lor smiled down at them, exhausted. “I think I can safely say that they’re all out.”
“So, what names do you think you’ll pick?”
He looked down at them, with their pointed ears and eyes as dark as space itself. He knew.
“Hello Lyra. Hello Leo.”
They stood together, looking down at the cradles with matching smiles on their faces. They had three beautiful, perfect, healthy babies.
“Lor? We have four children. When are we going to sleep?”
“Sleep is overrated. I’ll buy us a coffee machine.”