“Alba! How are you feeling today?”
“Well, thank you. Better than I expected.”
Gabrielle noted the washed-out look of her friend’s face, but Alba’s smile was shining with the white light of maternal satisfaction.
“You’re a mother now, Alba.”
Alba beamed. “Yes, Gabrielle, I am.”
“How does it feel?”
“Like nothing on earth. I just can’t believe it, even after these whole long nine months of waiting and expecting and knowing this was going to happen. I’m so very happy, Gabrielle.”
Gabrielle, though normally she might have been sad to see that her friend had moved on without her, or jealous that her friend had been fulfilled before her, was only too caught up in Alba’s joy.
“I’m so glad, Alba.”
“I just want to share it with you so much. I want you to feel as happy as I do, Gabrielle.”
“Someday I will do, I hope.”
“Yes, I sincerely hope you do too. You and Dominick will make wonderful parents. And I tell you what: you have a daughter, and then my boy and your girl can grow up and get married!”
Gabrielle almost snorted with laughter. “What a fantastic idea! Though I can’t guarantee our respective partners will be overly impressed. Let’s just keep the notion to ourselves for now, okay? A secret!”
“Okay,” Alba assented.
“Now, may I see him again? Or is he asleep and I am prohibited from disturbing him?”
“Not at all! He may be asleep, but I think he should wake up just for his Auntie Gabrielle. I don’t suppose you’d be godmother, Gabrielle? That was partly why I requested you today.”
“You requested me? Do the staff take requests? I had to pretend to be your cousin to get in here!” Gabrielle said. “But, oh, Alba! I’d be simply delighted to be godmum! I’ve never been a godmother before.”
“Well, we’re all quite young. It was Hermann’s suggestion, actually.”
Gabrielle nodded thoughtfully. “You shall be godmother and godfather to Dom and my daughter, I promise you. Then we shall share them both.”
Alba giggled as she leaned over to the cot beside her bed and drew aside the soft blue curtains. Her strong white hands took a careful hold of her new son, and drew him out onto her lap.
“What do you think?”
“He’s beautiful,” she said.
He looked a little odd, Gabrielle thought. The baby’s crown displayed a surprisingly think covering of the deepest black hair she had ever seen, like a waterfall on a moonless night. His eyes as he gazed up at her reminded her of the thirty-foot well at the bottom of the garden of her old house, but it was as though she were hypnotised by the sight of him, and seeing double; hence there were two thirty-foot wells set in his face. His skin also had a vaguely greyish tinge, like the volcanic sand that was found on one of the beaches in the North of Harrington City.
“He’s beautiful,” she repeated with more conviction.
“I mean what would you name him?”
Gabrielle made a face. “I’m no good at this naming game, Alba. You know that.”
Alba grinned. “Just give me a few suggestions from your latest family tree.”
“Uh, what I said yesterday. Gerald, George? Harry, Jake, Thomas? That’s what all my family trees are filled with.”
“Something original, Gabrielle.”
Gabrielle thought again.
“Bertram, or Mitchell-Reid, or Samson, maybe.”
Alba hid a chuckle in her baby’s blanket. “Anything else?”
“What about Hermann Junior?” Then she thought of Dominick Senior, and spoke hastily. “No, that wouldn’t do at all. Something else; anything else – Winston?”
“I like that,” said Alba thoughtfully, “but it doesn’t really suit him. Hold him, maybe. Then you might get a better idea.”
The transition took place with much care and caution, especially on the part of Gabrielle, whose fingers were shaking with nervousness. She had never held a baby before, excepting Dianna when she was very little.
And then she was holding him on her lap, a tiny bundle, heavier than she expected and yet much smaller and more fragile-feeling. He was warm, though, and alive, like a kitten or a chick or the baby hedgehog she and Grannie had once saved from next door’s dogs. He was a human being, and he would grow up into a man like Hermann, and marry a lady like herself.
Gabrielle was suddenly overcome by emotion she had not realised was inside her. Since she and Dominick had found one another a whole year ago, she had been wholly in love with he and he only, as she had once been, and as she was always meant to be.
She had forgotten entirely about that brief infatuation for Hermann Dennison – till now, when the image of Hermann’s son marrying her own daughter found its way into her mind. There was that vision that old misunderstandings would be righted. There was a world in the future in which Alba and Dominick’s reincarnations played no part. And that made her very sad for her thoughts, yet very happy for what she envisaged to be.
“He was born exactly at midnight,” thus Alba, and Gabrielle was grateful for the interruption from her thoughts. “With the moon right at its peak in the centre of the sky, round and full.”
“Its zenith,” murmured Gabrielle absent-mindedly. The baby looked up right into her face, and she looked down at it with something of a supernatural shiver shaking her spine. “The witching hour.”
Alba clapped her hands. “Perfect, Gabrielle! I can’t believe you found exactly the right name so quickly!”
“What?” said Gabrielle, justly confused.
Alba took him back from her. “Why, his name is Zenith, of course! When the moon reaches its peak and the faeries come out to play; then the witches come up from holes in the ground and chase them away.”
“What?” muttered Gabrielle. “What are you talking about?”
Alba smiled at her. “One day you might understand, Gabrielle. But for now, keep that as a secret. Just between you and me.”
Keep what as a secret? Gabrielle thought. “Okay,” she said aloud. “Zenith Dennison it is, then.”
“Except we’ll probably end up calling him Zen for short. Do you like that, my boy? Do you like your name, Zennie-baby?”
Gabrielle watched as her friend cooed over the baby, and felt just a little bit lonely. She felt as if somewhere in her life someone had neglected to teach her baby-talk. She changed the subject.
“Were the midwives nice?”
“One is lovely, but the other had a very sour face,” said Alba, giggling. “She just wouldn’t smile. So me, being in my lovely drugged-up state and my thoughts centred on the general theme of children, reached out with my finger – like this – and poked her nose. ‘Beep beep!’ said I. She needed cheering up, I thought!”
“Righto, mummy’s cousin, I think it’s about time to extract you,” said the kind-looking nurse who had showed Gabrielle inside. “Found a name yet, Mrs Dennison?”
“Zenith,” said Alba with a relish. “Gabrielle chose it.”
Gabrielle glared at her, but she couldn’t help but laugh. “Love you really, Alba! I’ll come and see you again soon.”