“I did it,” she said, staring at the book in awe. “We’re free.”
Ryan put his hand on Kim’s shoulder as she placed the book on the altar. She fel to her knees, and we fel with her. In the next moment, the ground began to shake, and smal bits of rock fel to the floor. A piercing roar echoed through the tomb, causing us all to cover our ears. It was one voice, but also many, wailing, yel ing, cursing utter foulness...and then it was over. Silence.
Kim looked back at Jared, and he offered a knowing smile. She had completed her mission, and freed her family of the duty of protecting the Naissance de Demoniac from a constant, powerful enemy.
“I guess I can go home now?” she said.
“You can,” Bex said. “But you’re on your own, and this place is crawling with shel s.”
“We could use you here,” Jared said, “to help with the birth.”
Kim smiled at him. It was a relief to final y see the two come to terms. The air was immediately lighter between them.
“I wonder if you stil have your superpower?” Ryan said.
Kim punched him in the gut, and he doubled over. “It would appear so.”
“That wasn’t what I meant,” he coughed.
It’s hard to keep one’s days and nights straight when underground. If it weren’t for the family ful of Hybrids, I would have been alone while keeping my strange hours. Whether it was the baby, or the less-than-comfortable blow up mattress we slept on, or the constant dripping in the background, it was impossible to sleep. Regardless, I took naps at one to three hours at a time, around the clock.
Ryan and Kim didn’t seem to have the same problem. Even though his mattress was noticeably close to Claire’s, she made a point of keeping her distance now that we were all safe. As the days wore on, Ryan grew less happy about her cold demeanor, and the grumbling turned into ful - blown arguments.
It was difficult—after we’d spent so much time dodging and preparing—to sit and wait. As much time that went into planning our escape into this tomb, no one, it seemed, had planned for the suffocating time spent underground.
Jared and I tried to make the best of it: talking to my bel y, spending quality time together, discussing the birth. I wasn’t sure how I felt about Jared delivering our baby, but of all the people trapped in the tomb with us, Jared was my top pick.
After thirty days of darkness, tasteless rations, and the same close company, life in the tomb began to wear on all of us. Even Bex’s bright and cheery demeanor began to show signs of waning. Poker and gin rummy only entertained for so long, and radio reception was hopeless in the deep of Israeli rock. Stories in the evenings were something I looked forward to, and it gave me a chance to get to know everyone better.
“So, that was the first time I bested Dad, although I’m pretty sure he let me win,” Bex said with a broad smile.
“I remember that,” Claire said. “He didn’t let you win. He wouldn’t stop talking about it after you went to bed.”
“Real y?” Bex said, his eyes bright.
Bex’s smile faded. “He died four days after that.”
Everyone lowered their chins, unsure how to advance the conversation.
Jared final y spoke. “That must’ve been hard on you, Bex. I don’t think I ever asked you if you were okay.”
Bex shrugged. “I was, I guess. What else could I be?”
“In pain,” Claire said. “We were all so wrapped up in our own, we didn’t even try to help you through it.”
“I missed him. And then...I missed you guys. I was glad when Jared brought Nina around. The family kind of came back together, then. Now we have Ryan.”
“We don’t have Ryan,” Claire said.
Ryan shot her a dirty look, and then softened his features for Bex. “Yes you do, man. I’m here if you need me.”
Claire rol ed her eyes. “What would he need you for? To help with a school bul y?”
“To talk to,” Ryan said. “You know, what we used to do before you became so hateful and mean.”
Claire crossed her arms over her knees. “You don’t give me a choice,” she mumbled.
Ryan’s acerbic tone lit Claire’s eyes. “You don’t give me a choice!”
“C’mon, guys,” I said. It was far too claustrophobic, even in the large cavern, for anyone to fight.
Ryan stood. “What kinda choice would you like? The one that includes you stalking me all day without us talking? Or the one where we get along?”
“We can get along without you trying to land the unattainable blonde!”
Ryan’s mouth fel open. “Is that what you think I’m trying to do?”
Claire stood, meeting his glare. “Just...back off.”
Ryan took a step forward. “I love you. I l ove you, and you act like I’m some random frat boy trying to get lucky.”
Jared sighed. “I should have packed ear plugs. I have nowhere to go.”
“You just….” Claire trailed off.
I knew she must care about him. She had bit her tongue to keep from hurting his feelings, which Claire never did.
Ryan took another step. He was only a few inches from her face. “Say it.”
“I’ve told you. A mil ion times! It’s not going to happen.”
He shook his head. “No, say you don’t love me. Say you don’t see me in that way and I’m just a helpless human to you. Say you hate me! Say something! I’m tired of your vague excuses!”
“I don’t need excuses!” she yel ed. “I don’t want that!” She pointed to us. “I don’t want a family like I had or they have! You want children! You want a normal life, Ryan. I’m not it!”
“I just want you! Whatever that is, I want it!”
Claire frowned. Her body shook with anger. She grabbed his col ar with both fists. Ryan leaned away slightly and winced, waiting for her to land a punch on his face. Claire’s lips pursed together, and then she pul ed him to her, pressing her lips against his, hard.
“Agh,” Jared said, turning.
Ryan paused in shock, and then his body melted against hers. He wrapped his arms around her, pulling her closer, and she wrapped her fingers around the back of his neck. The kiss was so intense that it looked nearly painful.
Bex giggled, but they didn’t hear him. After a minute or two, it was uncomfortable to watch, so we all meandered to the other side of the cavern.
Jared seemed to be in a foul mood, which bothered me. Why he was so against Claire and Ryan was a mystery to me. They were perfect for each other, and clearly loved each other.
“I wonder if that wil happen for me,” Bex said, glancing back.
“Don’t look. No tel ing what’s going on back there,” Jared said, picking up a rock and throwing it.
“It might,” I said, smiling. “Don’t listen to Jared. He knows I’m the best thing that ever happened to him.”
Jared grabbed my hand and squeezed. “Of course you are. Why would you believe I’ve thought otherwise?”
I shrugged. “You’re so against them.” I gestured behind us. “Like my mother was so against us. Because it makes things hard.”
Jared pul ed me closer and wrapped his arms around my knees. “I just don’t like Ryan. It has nothing to do with you, or us.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Why don’t you like him?”
Jared shifted nervously. “Ryan is the closest I’ve come to losing the love of my life. That’s not something you get over.”
I touched his face. “I love you. Ryan loves Claire. Get over it.”
Jared laughed once, and looked to Bex. “I hope it happens for you. I real y do.”
Bex rol ed his eyes and stood, walking to the back of the tomb where the altar held the book. Kim spent a lot of time in that area, even slept there.
Bex sat next to her, and their voices became a stream of quiet conversation.
I balanced on all fours trying to navigate my large body to a standing position. Just as I pushed myself from the rock floor, my stomach clenched, and I stumbled. Jared caught me, but I couldn’t stand straight up.
“Contraction?” he said, frowning.
“I don’t...I don’t know,” I said, breathing through the pain.
Bex and Claire were immediately at our side, with Kim and Ryan trailing behind.
“The baby?” Bex said. “Should I set up?”
“No,” Jared said. Let’s let her rest. See if it eases up.”
Claire nodded, and assisted Jared in helping me to our makeshift bed. My feet up and relaxed, I tried to think about something else other than whether that pain would return. Labor was going to be a nightmare if I had to look forward to hours of that. I had hoped that my new abilities would anesthetize the pain a bit, but if the previous encounter with contractions had been any indication, I was screwed.
The pain crept up again, like a wave swal owing me whole.
I sucked in through my nose and blew out from my mouth, but it didn’t help the pain. A large fist had gripped my uterus and was digging in its fingers while I suffered the worst case of food poisoning ever recorded—that was what I felt.
“Should we set up?” Bex said again.
“No,” Jared said firmly. “We’re just timing them now.”
We waited several minutes, and then I felt another contraction, but it wasn’t nearly as painful. They became less frequent painful before stopping al together. Everyone in the room breathed a col ective sigh of relief when Jared deemed the event a false alarm. He wouldn’t all ow me to sit up, though, or even leave the bed after that. He or Claire would walk me to the hole in the floor if I needed to relieve myself. It was half-humiliating, half- frightening. My body hadn’t felt like my own for quite a while, but now there was no control over the situation.
We had no idea what went on in the world aboveground. I wondered what Beth and Chad were doing, if they worried about us, and about Cynthia and Lil ian. If they leaned on each other for support, waiting to hear their grandchild had been born and that all of their children were alive. Even though I knew I needed to stay positive in those last difficult days, lying bed with nothing to do but read the same magazines, or think, my mind effortlessly traveled to less trivial things.
Checkers and chess were no longer entertaining. Even watching the others play cards irritated me. We were nearing the end of July, and I was so large I could barely maneuver. I had to let my mind wander to get away from the darkness of the tomb, from the fact that we were living in a tomb at all , and the dripping. For the love of all things holy, the dripping. That sound alone nearly pushed me out of my mind.
I would close my eyes, and pretend I was at Brown on the Main Green, lying with Jared while the summer air weaved through the trees. I blocked out the echoing and murmuring inside the tomb, and replaced it with laughing and jovial sounds of flag footbal on warm days, and the wonderful smel s coming wafting from the Gate. Even my dorm room at Andrews was an escape. Mostly, I concentrated on our oak tree, and the loft. I stil mourned our first home, but in my mind, it was untouched. Recal ing every memory of every place I’d spent with Jared was the only thing that kept me sane at that point. That, and watching Claire and Ryan fal in love. Their sweet conversations, and the way they reveled every moment with each other kept me away from the darkness.
As the first of August came and went, my memories became harder to enjoy. They just mocked me. Us. Our faces had all grew pale, begging to see the sun again. Not even the promise of safety was worth this. Quiet times with Jared were something I had always wanted, but not in this prison.
Not in this tomb, where I already felt dead.
A smal twinge in my stomach made me hold my breath. It went away, but soon another came, and then another. They were stronger, and the more I hoped they would go away, the quicker and more intense they came.
I tried to breathe, but the air was so stale. When I tried to concentrate on my breathing through the pain, all I could hear was the water dripping.
Always dripping. It was maddening. I was in labor, and going to give birth inside a drippy, cold hole in the ground.
“No,” I whispered.
Jared read a book a few feet from the mattress, noticeably waiting for me to tel him I was uncomfortable. I didn’t want to say it. Speaking the words made it real. There would be movement towards the supplies, and the unpacking of all the medical paraphernalia I didn’t want to see.
Before another contraction came, I pushed myself out of bed. “I have to get out of here.”
Jared put down his worn copy of The Catcher in the Rye, and turned to face me. When he saw I was standing, he stood, too. “Nina, you have to lay down.”
“I can’t,” I shook my head. “It’s enough, Jared. I can’t stay here, anymore. We need to find somewhere else.”
“There is nowhere else.”
I bent my knees and awkwardly bent over to pick up a few of my things lying around the bed. “Wel , we can’t stay here. I can’t...I can’t have my baby here.”
Jared sighed. “Nina, stop. You’re being irrational.”
“Okay, so I’m irrational. But I’m going to be irrational outside, where I can breathe.”
Jared tried to touch my hand, but I pul ed away. “You know you can’t,” he said. “I can, and I’m going.”
Ryan crossed his arms. “Then go.”
“What?” Jared seethed.
“She’s stronger than all of us. If she doesn’t want to stay, we can’t make her.”
“See?” I said to Jared, pointing to Ryan. “He listens to me. You’re not listening!”
“Sweetheart,” Jared said, holding his hands in front of him. “You know what’s waiting up there for us. We’ll be attacked the second we breach the stairs.”