I opened the door and walked in. Home. This is what I've missed most while I was gone. A sharp baby cry breaks the silence, and my eyes snapped back open. Since when has there been a baby in our home?
I followed the sound and walked into the kitchen, where my mom was standing, rocking a baby as she waited for the bottle of milk to warm up.
“Whose baby are you watching tonight?” I asked as I stepped closer.
“Achor?” mom asked in surprise. “You're home!”
I nodded and gave her a hug. “Whose baby is that?” I asked again.
“Oh. Achor, meet your new baby sister, Abigail-Grace,” mom said, proudly showing me the new baby.
“I was gone that long?” I asked incredulously.
She nodded. “You were gone for eleven months and three weeks. I tried to get word to you, to tell you about the baby, but every letter I sent came back home, it never went through,” she explained.
Abigail-Grace began crying again. I grabbed the bottle from the pot on the stove and tested it against my hand.
“Can I?” I asked, holding out my arms.
Mom beamed and handed her to me. “Support her head,” she reminded me.
“I know,” I said as I tilted the bottle toward Abigail-Grace's open mouth. She fastened onto the bottle like a leech and hungrily drank the warm milk.
“She's beautiful,” I observed. “Where's dad and Jacob?” I asked.
“They had to take care of some business,” she replied. “They won't be back until next week.”
“When I'm gone again,” I said sadly.
“What do you mean?” mom asked as she took the baby back.
I sighed. “I was promoted to a different unit. I have to work at the base for awhile. They should have sent a letter explaining all of this.”
“They probably did, Achor. I've just been so busy lately with the baby and everything else, I haven't had time to go through all the mail yet. Thankfully, your father took care of the bills and all of that before he left. We'll stay turned on until he comes back home, at least.”
I looked at the sleeping child in her arms. “Do you want me to put her to bed?” I asked.
She shook her head. “I'll take her. You sit down, we can talk when I come back.”
She walked out of the kitchen, leaving me alone. The lights were turned off, only the red glow from the stove illuminating the room. Talking to her had always been so easy. Mom always had a way of making me tell her everything, just because she was there to listen. Not telling her about being a Vixen was going to be the hardest thing I'd ever done.
A few minutes later, the old wood floor creaked softly and mom sat down next to me. “So how does it feel? Being a soldier, I mean,” she asked.
I shrugged. “It doesn't really feel too much different. But I'm more aware of the things around me and more aware of myself. It can be a little weird sometimes, always hyper-vigilant, but it's just something I'll have to get used to, I guess.”
“Well, stand up and let me get a good look at my daughter in her uniform,” she commanded.
I smiled and stood, my hand automatically going to the new weight of the holster on my leg. Mom smiled and looked over me, admiring the good fabric of the uniform, something that was rare to see in a common home, and also making sure I'd been taken care of during training.
“I just can't believe it,” she finally said. “My little girl's all grown up and a kit! I'm so proud of you, Achor,” she said as she gave me another hug.
I bit my tongue. I couldn't tell her about my real position. I'm not sure what the Fox's punishment would be, but I knew I sure didn't want to find out.
“Well, I know you were probably looking forward to sleeping in your own bed, but Jacob has it now. When the baby was born, we had to make his old bed into a cradle for her. Since he won't be back for awhile, you can have it again until he comes back,” she said. “Money's been so tight lately, for everyone. Even the families who get the military penchants from retired or fallen soldiers have had to make some cutbacks. Dauphine's family had to sell off many of their old family heirlooms and such. It's sad really, how tight things are for everyone.”
I swallowed another lump of guilt. I hadn't known how bad things had been in the city. At the church in the capital, we never had to worry about anything, and we never felt the strain. Families had to sell things that they'd always had, while I was running around a manicured courtyard in a golden church, and eating enough in one day to feed my whole family for a week.
“Well, my paycheck will help with that,” I said, trying to ease my guilt.
“We can all talk about money later, Achor. I know you're tired. Go on to bed,” she said with a shrug.
“Goodnight, mom. I love you,” I told her as I gave her another hug.
“Goodnight, Achor. Love you, too,” she said with a smile. “It's good to have you home,” she added after a pause.
I paused in the doorway. “It's good to be back home.”