Chapter 6


131.

Cross stepped off the scale, waited for the numbers to fade, then stepped back on, standing as straight and tall as possible as though that would make the weight re-disperse and somehow disappear. She craned her neck, looking down past the curve of her breasts, careful not to lean and press more weight forward as she peered at the numbers lit up between pink-painted toenails.

Obstinately still 131.

Two pounds.

With more of a whine than a whimper, Cross scooted the scale away with her foot and plodded unhappily towards the mirrors. Her bare feet dragged against the cool tile floor with loud, displeased slaps. Two pounds.

She stood facing the mirror, frowning slightly, trying to pinpoint these new areas of fat. It certainly hadn’t filled in any areas she wouldn’t have minded; her pale pink and white lace push-up bra still fit perfectly, doing its best to keep things perky and full. The matching boy-short panties didn’t seem any tighter, either, although that was an area she was pleased not to see expanding. Turning around and peering over her shoulder, she could see the slight hint of her butt cheeks peeking out of the bottom of the panties, still defined enough to be a sexy curve and shadow before becoming thighs. Two pounds? Her thighs did touch but they’d been like that for years. At least they didn’t wiggle...much.

Two pounds plus the two from the last time she’d weighed: hour pounds since moving in with Caine. She looked down and poked herself in the stomach. Some women she’d seen had had several kids and got back their figures within months. Cross hadn’t been one of them. There were stretch marks and flabbiness that persistently stayed along the pooch of her belly. Control top panties helped to hide that, making her clothes fit more comfortably; they were all she’d had back in her own place. They weren’t very sexy, but there hadn’t been anyone to be sexy for back then, when the size of her underwear was no one’s concern.

Now that she had Caine back, however, there was simply no way she was going to fill her dresser drawer with panties large enough to be mistaken for a toddler’s pajamas. One look at those monstrous things would destroy any desire he had for her as surely as Sem had altered her figure.

Well, she couldn’t really blame her Sem. He hadn’t been one of the two college kids sitting in a girl’s dorm, hating to say goodbye. Caine still looked the same as he had back then, if not better: still handsome, still trim, though now it seemed more muscle hid under his loosely buttoned tops than before. He still gave sleepy smiles that made his lash-shaded eyes sparkle and his cowlick still swept his hair off the crest of his skull in the same way. Who wouldn’t have hated the idea of saying goodbye to that, especially for no better reason than a premonition?

Not until we’re married, she’d always said. It had been that way for seven years of dating--first high school and then college--only to fall away at goodbye. Maybe that had been a premonition, too--something Caine had seen but could never put the words to, would never share. Life with a man who lived in dreams and dreamt of reality was rarely straightforward.

Resigned to her reflection, Cross pulled on a pair of low cut jeans, frowning at the slight muffin top pushed up along the rim. Jeans stretched, though; it was just the drier making her clothes a little tight at first. She fed her arms through the soft sleeves of her pale blue blouse and buttoned up the front just high enough that her push-up’s fine work on her cleavage could still be seen. She posed for the mirror, hair styled and makeup already in place, and smiled a little, feeling cute if not still a little fat. Four pounds was nothing a few salads and sit-ups wouldn’t burn through. She’d start on that tomorrow.

On the middle of her bed, sandwiched between two pillows, Sem was still fast asleep with a growing puddle of drool beside him. Cross smiled and sat down, leaning over to rub his back and test his willingness to wake up. He still felt feverish, but not enough to worry her too greatly. They’d gotten through fevers, earaches and stuffy noses together in the past and the hyper-attentive, worry-wart phase had faded after the first year. He was her good little boy and he’d be fine with rest, good food, and a little medicine to make the icky feeling go away.

Sem wasn’t keen to wake. He nuzzled his pillow and blew out from his mouth, the snot on his upper lip wiggling in the breeze. Cross wiped it off with the pillowcase despite the frown on his sleeping face and gently pressed her consciousness into his to peek at the child’s dreams. They were simple, soundless things that made her love him even more. He dreamed of Surge--whose image was now often accompanied by sparks and lightning--of his mommy and of little black cats with skinny tails. More recently, he dreamed of his daddy. They were always simple dreams, and rarely made sense. As she stroked his back she saw dreams of eating popsicles, with streams for melted red syrup running down his chin and Caine waiting to share a purple one with him when the flavor of red got boring.

The front door opened and closed, and Caine’s satisfied sigh sailed cleanly to Cross’s ears in the bedroom. She slid away from Sem, careful not to jostle him, and stood in the doorway, smiling at her fiancé.

“Welcome home.”

His tired expression brightened. “More welcoming every time I see you.” He rummaged in a pocket and pulled out a bottle of pills. “This was all they had but I’ve got an idea, so leave it to me.”

Cross nodded and hugged him tightly as he came close and gave her a kiss.

“He still sleeping?”

“Yeah, he’s fine. I just checked on him. Let’s let him sleep a bit more. I don’t think he got much last night.”

“Neither did you.” Caine kissed her again and leaned on the doorframe, looking down at his pillow-fortified son, one hand on Cross’s hip. “Sorry I’m not more helpful. Waking up can be harder than staying awake sometimes.”

“I’m used to it.”

Caine kissed her again and walked to the kitchen, where he found a black pot in a cabinet and filled it with water to boil. Cross left the bedroom door open and followed, taking a seat on a bar stool and leaning on her elbows to watch him set the pot on the stove-top and begin searching through the pantry.

“I met Riyad today. And that Jin guy who works the front desk. Nice people. Hopefully Rabbit isn’t too upset with me for outting him. We have to all of us meet soon, though. It’s almost time.”

“Maybe you should give the others a warning so they can get some time off of work.”

“I can pretty much guarantee you none of them have a nine-to-five. Historically we’re all rather nomadic.” Caine rattled the macaroni package and picked apart the box top, pulling the cheese packet out of the noodles and laying the two ingredients on the counter. “They do have to know, though, of course. Which is why I need you to see if you can find the Impulse. No one’s seen him at the Protectors of Antiquity either and it’s important we’re all there.”

Cross nodded, feet tapping against the lowest rung on the bar stool. “I’m not sure what I can do. I can project thoughts over a distance, but only to physical people. I don’t think I could reach him if he’s still in the wires.”

“I’m sure you’ll find him. Even he needs to walk around the living every now and then. And we can always bribe him with Sem if he’s reluctant to come out of hiding.” Caine smirked and turned the macaroni box over above the boiling water, watching the shells cascade into the water. “Our son is irresistible.”

“And germs would agree with you. Poor thing is a snotty mess.”

“Medicine will clear him up in no time. And hopefully put him out for a few hours more, because Daddy could use a nap too. I’m sure I can do just as good a job keeping him on the bed as those two pillows.”

“So soon? You just got home.”

A tired smile rose at the corner of Caine’s lips as he walked over to Cross, raising a hand to her face and brushing a thumb against her cheek. “Well, there’s while we make lunch. And while we eat together. And while we wait for him to sleep again. I get to spend that time looking at my beautiful fiancée and listening to how her morning’s been going.” He took her ringed hand in his, holding it gently. “I’ve been talking a lot. How have things been going here since I stepped out?”

“Gained four pounds.”

“A heart full of love is a heavy thing. I don’t know how you do it and still look so fabulous.”

Cross cheeks turned red with joy. “I also wiped Sem’s nose off on the left pillow. Don’t use that one.”

Caine kissed her forehead. “What would I do without you?”