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Strangers in a Strange Land -- Gen. 3.2
Published Apr 18, 2013


Written By

spladoum

Storyteller
16604Views4.1Rating

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Generation 3.2 ... Niya and Holly.

Generation 3.2 ... Niya and Holly. Étienne stepped inside and nervously shrugged out of his wet jacket, drenched sweater and sopping tie. Coretta peeked out of the dining room at him. “Oh, there you are! I’d been wondering why you were just standing in the rain getting wet like that!”

She bustled away and returned with hot tea. “Here, drink something before you catch a cold. I can’t have two babies to take care of at once!” and she giggled.

Étienne tried to laugh with her, but found it a bit difficult.
He listened while she happily prattled on about nursery colors, toys, clothes, and strollers. At least, he thought he was listening. Quite suddenly, he realized that she wasn’t speaking anymore. He took a quick sip of his tea, hoping to cover his inattention. The tea had gone cold.

… uh-oh.

“… have you heard anything I’ve said in the past five minutes?”

“No.”
“Well, you’re honest, I’ll give you that.” She slid the cup away from his hand. “Today was the day you found out, wasn’t it.”

“Yes.”

“Well?”

“It’s not mine.”

“Why aren’t you jumping for joy, then?”

When he finished presenting the situation to her much as Chairman Cosgrove had presented it to him, Coretta sat speechless. For nearly a minute.
Finally, she found her voice. “He’s willing to auction off an innocent baby? Just so that horrible girl can get married without any inconvenience?”

“I suppose it’s better than leaving the baby with her to constantly remind her of how much she screwed up. But what I can’t figure out is why he asked me, of all people.”

“Well, isn’t it obvious? He obviously thinks that you’re a greedy scumball who’d jump at an easy promotion and that your wife is a big enough pushover to go along with whatever you want, right?” She laughed.
“Or maybe he really did do some homework on you, just like he said, and he thinks you’re a good man who would be willing to give a baby the love it won’t get from its mother."

She shrugged. "You know business executives … they’re constantly in your head, trying to sell you something. Even if that something is a baby.”
“What are you saying?”

“I’m saying, let’s sleep on it.”

***
When they rose the next morning, Étienne told his parents. They were shocked by the news, let alone the nature of the request. But in the end, Xiu said gently, “It’s your choice, dear. Do what you think is best. We will support you.”

Still, he hesitated to call the Chairman. He took his wife downtown and waited patiently as she window-shopped for furniture and mulled baby names.
“How do you know what it’s going to be? What if you pick a girl’s name and it’s a boy? I don’t want my son named Daisy.”

“Well, I don’t want my daughter named Harry.”

"Quit lying, as much as you liked Harry Potter, you would love to name your daughter that."
She punched him lightly on the arm. “Look, maybe I like thinking out loud! I don’t have to know right now, do I? I can make a real decision later.”

“You don’t have 'later!' You’re gonna pop any day now.” He stared through a store's window at a gaudy yellow crib. “Ugh, I wouldn’t give this to my worst enemy. Why do they want so much money for something that looks that silly?”

“Spoken like a true man. I’ll make sure to ask you the same thing next time you start drooling over those gaz-guzzling sports cars you seem to like so much."
"Now, be serious for a minute. I need to know—what are you going to tell that man? Are you going to take the baby?”

“It's not just me, Coretta. If I do, you know that you’re going to be the one who has to raise it, right?”

“Of course, you silly man. But I’m asking you if you’re willing to do it. All of our good intentions won’t mean a thing if you can’t stand to look at the baby—and I’m sure it’s going to look like its mother. This is too hard of a decision to really think through in 24 hours. You just have to go with your gut. Do you want to, or not?”

“I ...”
“Étienne,” Coretta said, and reached for his arm. “Just ask yourself the most important question. Can you forgive that woman enough to raise her baby for her? If you can, then you have your answer.”

***
“Mr. Cosgrove.”

“Shin Yi.”

Étienne tried hard to keep the tremor out of his voice. “I’ve spoken to my wife, sir. And … I’ve decided to accept your offer.”

“I thought you might.”

“Only the baby, sir. Not the promotion.”
The phone went silent. Étienne had to force himself not to speak, to just wait it out. But despite his strong self-will, a sliver of self-doubt began to creep in. Should he have kept his mouth shut?

Eventually Mr. Cosgrove replied, “I thought you might say that as well. That was why I approached you to begin with. Not because I was necessarily looking for a sucker, mind you. Because I got the distinct impression from everyone you work with that you’re a good man. And whatever you might think of me for doing this in the first place, let me be the first to assure you I wouldn’t give away my grand-niece or nephew to anyone who was anything less than a damn good person."
“So you won’t let me help you climb the ladder. That’s alright. I intend for you to tell me about that wine-making operation you got going on, though. How about Tuesday? You got anything pressing coming up then?”

From babies to business deals. It was all so surreal.

Étienne checked his phone’s calendar, still in a bit of a daze. His voice came out sounding remarkably steady. “It’s nothing that couldn’t be rescheduled, sir.”

“Alright. I want you in the boardroom on floor 12, Tuesday morning at 9:30. You’re going to tell me all about it then.”
They talked for a while longer. A few more pleasantries, another hint that the promotion was coming whether it was openly accepted or not, a blunt admission that Dorene’s baby would be due in the next six-and-a-half months, and a final farewell.

“I hear your wife’s expecting as well, Mr. Shin Yi. Congratulations and best of luck.”

***
Two days before Coretta was admitted to the hospital, Mei showed up at the house. She was visibly pregnant.

“Three months along,” she stated proudly. Luther couldn’t be happier—he was looking forward to becoming a father. She hadn’t come over to show off her baby bump, though she was more than willing to accept compliments. The reason she had come over was sitting in her squad car.

Coretta watched as her mother-in-law and aunt went outside and returned, wheeling a thoroughly grumpy old woman up the walk towards the house.
“Why does this house not have a ramp? Dangerous for you to carry me up the stairs. I am old. If you break my hip, who will care for me?”

“Oh, Mom, just stop.”

“Be quiet, you disrespectful brat! And why are you pregnant? You are not even married—“

“Wrong, wrong, wrong. I’ve been married for nearly three years. I got married while you were in France.”

“She’s telling the truth,” Xiu chimed in. “She’s married. Legitimately.”

“To whom? If he is anything like the last one you had, he is worthless.”
The trio of women came aside, arguing loudly. The two men laughed and shook their heads as if this entire scene was little more than an old joke. Rémy sighed. “Like mother, like daughter.”

"Who was that?" Coretta whispered. She wasn't completely sure she wanted to know.
“Sorry about not introducing you properly, Coretta. That was my grandma Layla. She’s been living in a motel for a while now, ever since I graduated high school. She didn’t want to live here with us once the house was built. Long story, remind me to tell you about it one day. But anyway, the motel was just recently condemned and my aunt Mei had to remove her for squatting. She didn’t want to arrest her own mom, so she brought grandma back here.”

“W … wow. Are they always so … so excitable?”
Étienne looked towards the kitchen, where his mother, grandmother, and aunt had all engaged in an animated argument. He chuckled.

“Yeah, that’s gotta be weird to see for the first time. Mom never yells unless Grandma is around. Believe it or not, that’s their way of getting along. Don’t worry, Grandma’s a nice lady. She just has a mind of her own.”

***
Coretta had a little girl. Despite her foresight and planning, she and Étienne couldn’t agree on a name. After the third day of arguing, Grandma Layla rolled into the kitchen to tell them firmly that the baby’s name was Niya, and could they both shut the hell up, she was trying to sleep.

Étienne seemed more amused than offended. Coretta wasn’t sure how she felt besides particularly annoyed.
She was even less certain what she thought of the "request" that the baby’s crib be placed in the downstairs master bedroom so that Layla could help take care of her. Grandma Layla had a way of phrasing her requests that made it almost impossible to refuse them. And everyone in the house seemed to be on Layla’s side. What kind of heartless person turned down a request from a great-grandmother, anyway? Coretta could be naïve, but she was at least far-sighted enough to see how the land lay. Reluctantly, she gave in and let Layla become Niya’s primary caregiver. At first the arrangement seemed logical enough. Layla couldn’t go upstairs, of course, and two infants at once would be more of a challenge than Coretta would be prepared to meet as a new mother. The new baby would be arriving in the next four months and would need bonding and care just as much as Niya.

Besides, Étienne took care to emphasize, everyone else in the house could go downstairs to see Niya whenever they pleased.
Again, Coretta felt an annoying prickle at the base of her neck that the entire household was being disaccommodated for the sake of one person who wasn’t even pleasant to be around. Layla’s arrival had put Mr. and Mrs. Dutiel out of their own bedroom.

Still, Étienne had bought them a brand-new suite of furniture out of guilt, so they weren’t complaining. And if they hadn’t seen fit to fight back, then Coretta knew she wouldn’t have a leg to stand on.
Three months into a marriage was too soon to create an irreparable family rift. She kept her mouth shut and let the matter drop.

It didn't mean she had to like the way things were, though.
For the most part, though, everyone seemed to be getting along just fine.

Xiu still spent her days painting landscapes. Her reputation had grown and spread, and instead of begging the consignment store to sell her pieces, she now received private commissions from art collectors. Her paintings were highly sought after in the art world, even though her subjects were rather mundane—wheat fields, hay bales.
Rémy had long along contented himself with the role of head nurse at the hospital and felt no further need to advance in his career. It wasn’t exactly what he’d planned to do with his life, but, as he philosophized, life happened despite any plans. Étienne had gone forth with his proposal to Chairman Cosgrove and the rest of the board of Murchison & Yost, and the members promptly purchased a 51% stake in his grandfather’s winery, making them majority shareholders.

Mr. Cosgrove also went forth with his proposal, and promoted Étienne to vice-president of Murchison & Yost.
The substantial raise that he received was immediately earmarked for a wine cellar, and Étienne's new job became to focus solely on developing and promoting Gastion Dutiel’s liqueurs.

This would prove to be both a blessing and a curse. Although Étienne was now the winery’s founder and financial head, the actual winemaking part of the process was out of his hands now. He was obliged to give up his grandfather's wine recipes to a commercial distillery per contract. As an executive, he was expected to run the business, not get his feet dirty by stomping grapes.
He didn’t like it, and he was positive that his grandfather wouldn’t have liked it either. But, as he ruefully told his wife, he didn’t own the business anymore. It was no longer his to control.

“I know the feeling,” Coretta sighed.

Even though they were on the other side of the house, they could still hear the baby’s sharp cry and a soothing song, sung in Arabic.

“Coretta … oh, come on. Don’t cry, honey."

"Don't you call me that … you can't tell me not to cry …!"
"Sweetie, please sit down. It’s just … she’s so old. She’s been so isolated. She’s missed out on so much because of her stubbornness. Just let her take care of the baby.”

“The baby? … Étienne, for god’s sake, it’s our baby! We don’t even get to hold her half the time!”

“I know, honey. I know it's not fair, and I’m sorry. But please … just try to bear with it.”

“I don’t … I don’t want to.”

“Coretta, please. Don’t make this harder than it’s going to be. Please.”

He was gentle with her for the rest of the day, and she tried to stop crying and look cheerful. But he couldn't shake the feeling that she was only doing it to please him. The smile never reached her bloodshot eyes.
Coretta didn't have to lick her wounded pride for long, though.

One evening later that week, she heard Niya crying. When the wails continued on for far too long, she knew why.

She didn't go downstairs, knowing full well what she would see if she did. Instead, she called for an ambulance, and the next morning, the family finally laid Layla Shin Yi to rest beside her long-deceased husband.

***
Autumn came.

One cold, windy morning, Étienne received a call.
He and his wife bundled themselves up and left the house by 8 a.m., on their way to the hospital’s baby ward. A social worker waited by the main doors, holding up a placard labeled “Shin Yi.”

She greeted them kindly and handed them a folder of paperwork to begin signing. Dorene had also had a little girl, and she had pre-emptively named the baby Gladys.

"Ugh, no way,” Étienne snapped as soon as he saw the birth certificate. “We’ll be getting that changed today.”
As they drove to City Hall, Coretta pointed at a bright wreath on a shop's door.

“What about Holly?” she suggested.
So Holly Shin Yi joined the family just before the holiday season got underway, and Coretta was finally able to move her daughter’s crib upstairs again. But to her surprise, Étienne insisted on buying a new crib and separate toys for Holly, which meant that there wouldn't be enough room to house both girls in their bedroom. So the room across the hall became a nursery, and that was where Coretta began to spend the bulk of her days, watching the babies coo at each other, supervising their play, reading books when they slept.

It could have been imagination, but Holly didn’t seem to be growing at quite the same rate as Niya was.
It soon became obvious that the two girls were fundamentally different. While Niya developed into perfectly normal toddlerhood (and her bright hazel eyes gave no doubt that Étienne was indeed her father), Holly stayed wan and small. The years passed, and Niya grew, but Holly stayed small and underdeveloped. Even though the girls were only 5 months apart in age, Holly was still as small as the average toddler.

She was intelligent enough and had learned to speak with no problem, but she struggled to walk and often fell.
Extensive testing at the hospital eventually resulted in a diagnosis.

The doctor took them into his office and sat them down. “Is Holly genetically related to either of you?”

Both Étienne and Coretta flushed, but they both shook their heads no.

The doctor nodded. “So the two of you are her adoptive parents. Do you know her parents?”
“Only one,” Étienne said, “and the terms of the adoption were that the mother can not have any contact with either my wife or myself.”

“I see … that makes it a little more difficult to be certain, but based on the results of the testing, I’d say your daughter is a textbook case of muscular dystrophy.”

He looked at their stunned faces and quickly continued, “Of course, with technology being what it is these days, we can make sure that her time with you is the best that it can be.”

“Her time …?” Étienne repeatedly slowly.
“Yes, unfortunately, the life expectancy is poor for children with this disease. Of course there are always exceptions to the rule, but for the most part, affected children die in their 20s—”

Coretta stood abruptly and left the room. She couldn’t bear to hear another word of this.
She ran back to the examination room, where the nurse was holding Holly. Upon seeing her stricken face, the nurse handed Holly to her.

Coretta wandered outside, holding the baby close. Try as she might, she couldn’t stop crying. It felt as though if she let go, Holly might slip away like fog. How could she have ever thought that she wouldn’t be able to love this baby?

***
"Grandma, how come your sandwiches always taste better than the ones at school?"

"Because I put secrets in my sandwiches," Xiu said, winking.

"What kinda secrets!?"

"Well, if I told, it wouldn't be much of a secret!"

Niya was still pondering the logic in that sentence when she heard the car pull in.
She immediately dropped the half-eaten peanut-and-apple-butter sandwich and began to scoot off her chair. Her grandmother quickly caught her by the arm and told her to sit down again.

“But why, grandma?”

Xiu sighed. “Sweetie … your little sister is sick. Your mom and dad need some time to take her upstairs and change the room around a little. You have to stay down here with me.”

“But can’t I even see them?”

“Of course, when they come back down again.”
But her mom and dad didn’t come down. They stayed upstairs for so long that even her grandmother commented on it, finally murmuring, “I’ll go get one of them.”

When Niya saw her father’s face she knew immediately that he had been crying, and it frightened her. She hugged his legs anyway and they tried to joke with each other, but it was half-hearted and sad and didn’t make her feel any better.
She wished that he would tell her why everyone was so upset. But he didn’t say, and neither did Mom, or Grandma. All that anyone would tell her was that Holly was very sick and couldn’t be hugged, and that Niya must keep very quiet for a few days.

So Niya kept as quiet as she could. She heard the grownups say a long word that she couldn’t repeat, and the more her mom and dad talked about the long word with Grandpa Rémy, the more convinced Niya became that it was a bad word. But no one ever really explained it to her.
More and more frequently, Niya’s great-aunt Mei would come over and pick her up so that she could spend time with her uncle Theron. Niya thought it was silly that Theron got to be the uncle even though he was younger than she was!

But Theron was still a little kid and didn’t act much like an uncle. He was never bossy, he could throw a baseball really well, and his mom and dad didn’t care how much noise he or his friends made.
It took a few minutes for Niya to adjust to playing with uncle Theron. At home she had to be very quiet, so hearing Theron yell as he jumped into the pool startled her.

Then she got into the act herself. It was such a relief to be able to shout and dance around without being scolded, and the children happily played all afternoon long.
When the children sat at the picnic table to be served a late lunch, Theron asked Niya when she was gonna bring her little sister over to play too. It was only then that Niya remembered that she wanted to ask Theron's mom about the long, bad word that no one would explain to her.

“All it means is that your sister is not developing quite right, and she could get hurt if she tried to play with you and Theron,” Mei said.

“Like a scrape?”

“No, like broken bones.”
“Holly would break?”

Niya’s eyes widened. She didn’t want Holly to break, and said so.

“Of course you don’t. So you have to be careful around her. You can’t play with her the way you play with Theron.” Mei ruffled her son’s curly hair fondly. “See, when you and Theron see each other, you want to run and jump. But you can’t do that around Holly. You have to treat her like she might break. Because she really might.”

***
When Niya went home that night, she asked her grandfather why he wasn’t fixing Holly so she wouldn’t break. And Rémy replied with great gentleness that he had not learned enough medicine to be able to help Holly. He was just a nurse. It would take a very, very smart doctor to fix Holly and make her well again.

Niya heard this answer with sorrow. Was there no hope for her sister, then? Was Holly destined to shatter like glass?
She went upstairs and peeked into the crib where Holly lay still and quiet, as she so often did. She didn’t move or kick like other babies. Niya wondered if Holly was afraid to grow. Because she might break.

“I’ll fix you,” she whispered to the sleeping girl. “I promise.”



~ to be continued

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#1HumorMehApr 20, 2013

Aw, spladoum! Why must you make me care so doggone much?! It's like a constant emotional rola'-coaster: one minute I'm ecstatic they agreed to take in Holly, then I'm like wha--Mei pregnant? Then I was all "What? What!" Layla DEAD! Next: "Aww! Niya looks just like her dad!" Lastly, a heartbroken: "Muscular dystrophy? Muscular dystrophy." A verifiable roller-coaster, I tell yah. --Thanks for the ride.

#2martoeleApr 21, 2013

Niya is a cute little girl to promise herself to fix Holly. Poor Holly... See? You never know what you get when adopting a baby without knowing what it might have inherited from some unknown parents. Now the suffering is theirs' as well because it's impossible to raise a child, any child.. without loving it... \:\( Layla isn't anymore! I hope she will have souls around her with as much patience as the ones she had in the physical world. \:cool\: It's good to see Mei, first pregnant and afterwards as a mom... Mei is one of my favorites. Coretta... well she is just lucky to be mothering her own child although she cries for Holly. A very good update, April. \:rah\:

#3jadababy2003VIPApr 21, 2013

Very touching! I've worked with kids with Muscular Dystrophy...way to pull at the heart strings. As usual, another brilliant installment!!! I've been waiting for the next one and I've even gone back to reread the others. Your writing is moving and memorable. You are very talented. Word choices, story line, the whole bit is truly amazing. Thanks for another brilliant read!!!

#4fredbrennyApr 21, 2013

Great update! I know Layla had to die at some point. I kind of feel sorry for her. Nyla is cute. I wonder what we will see of Holly, and if she will miraculously be fixed \:\) ... maybe some extra TLC from her big sis \:\) Love this story! \:rah\:

#5belaraApr 21, 2013

Great to see a new chapter, I love your story!I feel so bad for Holly, I bet you're gonna make Nyla either a doctor or a scientist. Anyways, awesome plot twist \:\)

#6fruitopiaVIPApr 24, 2013

The heart and wisdom of a child. Niya is so precious.

#7staceface2009pMay 15, 2013

Amazing chapter! I will be anticipating the rest of this series!

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