Alina dragged herself into the bathroom, deeply thankful for a double-wide shower stall, big enough to accommodate her burgeoning belly. She heard Joran return to the bedroom walking softly and felt him enter the shower behind her. He supported her carefully while she soaped and rinsed.
“Won’t be long now…”
She turned and kissed his cheek.
Joran helped her out of the shower and dried her tenderly on a big fluffy towel.
When she was dressed in a loose flowing gown with her hair properly imprisoned in a silken net, she took both his hands in hers.
“Has your father returned?”
“Aye. But he had no luck.”
With her last hope gone, Alina heard her own cry of agony as if from afar. She held her husband’s eyes with her own, aware that the misery in his expression was mirrored in her face.
She dropped his hands and placed her own palms on her stomach.
“There are two lives in here Joran. We only have a licence for one.”
She thought his face was the bleakest thing she had ever seen.
“I know. And how do you think I feel?”
“I don’t think I can begin to understand. Will you have to kill one of us?”
“Yes love. I can only leave the delivery room with one extra life. The Numbers prohibit any more. My family has only lost one member since the last child was born a decade ago.”
“Then you must kill me.”
He fell to his knees and buried his face in her white gown.
“That has already been suggested to me. I will not rip out my heart.”
“Then will you rip out mine? I have grown two lives here inside me. I cannot allow one to die.”
Joran stood up and they clung together like children. Caught in the toils of intractable law and unable to see a way out, all they could do was hold on and perhaps pray.
By the time of the family meal they had collected themselves enough to behave with propriety, and they even managed to ignore the spuriously sympathetic looks cast their way by those family members who had lost out to them in the childbirth lottery.
It was a long day, and the heat and humidity of the air in the place of the women all but brought Alina to her knees. But she had sufficient pride not to give in, and she was sitting tall and straight when Joran and his Grandfather entered the room.
They came straight to her side. Joran’s eyes were bright with unshed tears, but he smiled at her through them. Grandfather spoke directly to her.
“The Numbers have changed. Both your children may now be welcomed. Old Grace went to the God today. By her own hand. This was her gift to you.”
Alina thought she might faint, but managed to hold firm.
Joran took her hand.
“We will call our daughter Grace…”