Part 30: link


    March 16, 1964. Arthur and Gwen arrived home from their honeymoon two days ago. Two blissful weeks in Hawaii, just the two of them. Gwen’s morning sickness had abated in late February, thankfully, so she was feeling healthy as can be, if a little tired, for the trip. They swam in the ocean. They saw Diamond Head, the Pearl Harbor Memorial, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and countless beaches of different colored sand. They went to a luau and had roast pork that had been cooked on hot rocks in a hole in the ground. They tried poi. Arthur decided it was called “poi” because that’s the sound you make after you try it. They tried not to giggle like a couple of 12-year-olds every time an innocent waiter or waitress asked them if they were interested in the pu-pu platter. Guinevere picked her own oyster from a bin and got the pearl inside, which they had set in a pendant. She also fell in love with hibiscus flowers and macadamia nuts.
    They didn’t want to come home. They vowed to come back one day, with whatever family they’d accumulated.
    But return home they did, only because they knew that March 16 was the day the big bulldozers were coming to break ground on their new house, even if there was still some lingering snow on the ground. Which, of course, there was.
    Gwen and Arthur are standing, their heavy coats covering their sun-kissed bodies, watching as the digger’s shovel pierces into the hard ground.
    “Exciting isn’t it?” Tristan’s voice behind them speaks.
    “Tristan, nice to see you,” Arthur says, extending his hand.
    “You look like you had a nice honeymoon,” Tristan appraises. “Caught some sun, anyway.”
    Arthur smiles. “The only reason we came home is because we didn’t want to miss this,” he admits.
    “Oh, we would have started anyway,” he says.
    “But we wanted to see it,” Gwen says, still watching the digger.
    “Mr. Wagner,” another voice interrupts them. Tristan turns.
    “Ah, Cedric,” he says. “Arthur, Gwen, this is Cedric, my building foreman. Cedric, Mr. and Mrs. Pendragon.”
    “Hello,” Cedric says. He’s a strange-looking fellow, skinny, with large eyes that give him a perpetually-surprised appearance. He shakes Arthur’s hand, then Gwen’s. “Big house you folks are building here.”
    “Yes, well, if you’re going to do something like this, do it right and do it once,” Arthur says.
    “Hey, I like that,” Tristan says, looking at Arthur again. “I’m going to have to use that one…”
    Arthur laughs. “Thanks. And thanks, too, for finding those extra people,” he says. “I can’t believe you found some men willing to work Saturdays.”
    “If people want to make money, they’ll do what’s necessary,” Tristan says.

xXx

    Gwen visits the building site nearly every day. Some days she takes photos with the camera Arthur bought her as a Valentine’s Day gift for their honeymoon. Some days she brings coffee and doughnuts or other treats, which wins her the loyalty of the workers. The days get warmer; the house takes shape.
    Cedric, the foreman, turns out to be friendly and knowledgeable, and the various work crews all seem to respect him.
    Arthur gives Gwen carte blanche with the house. She picks out colors for the exterior. She chooses what kind of stone she wants. When she can’t make up her mind, she brings samples home for Arthur to help decide. Countertops. Windows. Fireplace stone. Appliances.
    “The amount of decisions needin’ to be made for a new house is just mind-bogglin’,” Gwen declares one evening when Arthur comes home from work.
    “Is it?”
    “Lord, everything needs to be picked. Today I picked out things for the bathrooms,” she sighs, draining a pot of spaghetti noodles into a colander in the sink.
    “What things?”
    “Everything. Tile. Toilets. Faucets. Sinks. Vanities. Towel bars. Knobs, Arthur. Everything except the toilet paper.”
    Arthur chuckles. “You are doing an amazing job, darlin’.”
    “Thank you. I do want your help with the electrical nonsense, though.”
    “Electrical nonsense?”
    “You know, where you want outlets and switches and all that… stuff.” She waves her hands in the air, indicating stuff.
    “Right. I can do that. You know all you need to do is ask. I didn’t put you in charge because I wanted to get out of helpin’, you know. I put you in charge because you have better taste than me.”
    Gwen laughs. “I know you weren’t tryin’ to get out of anythin’, Baby. And you don’t have bad taste.” She pauses, sprinkling grated Parmesan cheese on her spaghetti. “Mine is better, o’ course, but…”
    Arthur’s laugh interrupts her and she smiles at him. He picks up her hand and kisses it.

xXx

    Merlin, of course, was completely over the moon when they told him about the baby. His excitement level has been rivaling Morgana’s even from over 600 miles away. Morgana brings gifts for the baby to the office for Arthur to bring home; Merlin sends his via the US Postal Service.
    Gwen brings the mail up, leafing through it in the elevator. There’s a padded envelope from Merlin with what feels like a small stuffed toy inside. She squeezes it and hears a faint squeak from within.
    Then she sees a thick envelope. A formal invitation, addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Pendragon. The elevator doors slide open and she opens the envelope, too curious to wait, tucking the rest of the mail under her arm, a puzzled expression on her face.
    She slides out the inner envelope, which says Arthur and Gwen on it.
    “Wait,” she says softly to herself, and looks at the return address on the outer envelope. Memphis.
    She opens the inner envelope, and, sure enough, it’s an invitation to Elyan and Latoya’s wedding on June 20. She sits on the couch.
    I’m gonna be seven months pregnant, Gwen thinks, her hand falling to rest on her stomach, just slightly swollen, five months along now. Can we go back to the south with interracial marriage still not legal down there? Would we be askin’ for trouble?
    She reaches for the phone and dials.
    “Pendragon Law, this is Elena, may I help you?”
    “Hello, Elena, this is Gwen. Is Arthur available?”
    “Certainly, Mrs. Pendragon, hold please.”
    A moment later Arthur picks up. “Arthur Pendragon.”
    “Hi, Baby.”
    “Guinevere, what’s wrong?” he asks. He knows immediately that she’s troubled.
    “We got an invitation to Elyan’s weddin’ today. It’s in June.”
    “Oh,” he says. Then, “Oh. Yeah, that could be tricky.”
    “I’d like to go, o’ course, but I’m nervous. Our marriage is legal here, but it ain’t there. Could we get in trouble?”
    “Hmm. Possibly. I mean, yes, we are legally married and all, and even though it ain’t legal there, it’s probably not the law we need to worry about,” he says.
    “I know. I want to be there for my brother. What’re we gonna do?”
    “We’ll go, o’ course,” he declares. “We’ll go, and we’ll just have to, you know, lay low. We’ll stay at Pop’s. People want to see us, they can come to us.”
    “We probably could go to Gwaine’s, too,” she says, feeling a little better.
    “There’s my girl. What’s the date?”
    “June 20.”
    “I’ll give Pop a call. You call Elyan and tell him we’re comin’.”
    “There’s a response card for that, Arthur.”
    “Guinevere, you were goin’ to call him anyway,” Arthur says, smirking at her over the phone.
    “Later. He’s workin’ now. I’ll call him tonight.”
    That night, after dinner, Arthur offers to clean up the dishes so Gwen can call Elyan.
    “Hello?” he answers the phone.
    “Hey, little brother,” Gwen says.
    “Gwen, how are you?”
    “Good. Gettin’ bigger. Got your invite today,” she says.
    “Oh, good! Y’all comin’? I know it’s not gon’ be easy, but…”
    “Yes, we’re comin’. Arthur talked to his daddy and we’re gonna stay with him. We won’t be goin’ out much, though. I’m gonna be seven months pregnant, you know that, don’t you? I can’t be paradin’ around Memphis pregnant with my white husband’s baby.”
    “I know that, and I’m sorry that it’s so complicated. Toya’s granny’s health has been failin’, and she really wants to see her favorite grandbaby get married, so we picked the earliest date we could. If I coulda waited till after my nephew—”
    “Or niece,” Gwen interjects, just to needle him.
    “Or niece was born, I would. But you’re comin’?”
    “Yes. I wouldn't miss it for anything.”
    “Will you sing? Toya really wants you to sing. She keeps askin’ me, ‘Do you think Gwen will be able to sing for us? When you gonna ask her to sing?’ and I keep tellin’ her that we gotta wait and see if you can even come ’fore I can ask,” he chuckles.
    “She’s excited. A girl only gets married once, you know. Well, ideally,” she allows, knowing full well how busy Morgana is with divorces.
    “So will you?”
    “Yes, I’ll sing for your weddin’, Elyan,” she answers.
    “They want you to sing?” Arthur asks, sitting next to her on the couch. She nods, and he grins proudly.
    “Don’t you worry, Gwen, anyone gives you any trouble, they gon’ have to answer to me,” Elyan says.
    “Thank you, Elyan. I think they’d have to answer to Arthur as well,” she chuckles. Arthur nods seriously, guessing at what Elyan must have just said.
    “Nothin’ bad is goin’ to happen, I promise,” Arthur says, leaning over to kiss her cheek.
    “Oh, Merlin’s agreed to play, too, so you’ll get to sing with him again,” Elyan says, remembering.
    “Oh, good. I love singin’ with him,” Gwen says.
    “Merlin?” Arthur asks, and Gwen nods.
    “I gotta go pick up Toya. We’re goin’ over to Gwaine’s,” Elyan says.
    “Tell Gwaine hello for us,” Gwen says. “Love you, Elyan.”
    “Love you, too, Gwennie.”

xXx

    Arthur and Gwen decide to drive to Memphis for the wedding, knowing that even if they flew first class or chartered a private jet, they’d still have to go through the very public airport. So they drive.
    This also gives them the opportunity to stop in at Miss Thea’s and say hello. Arthur holds the door for Gwen and she walks in. It’s 4:00, so early for dinner, and the place is empty.
    “Hello, welcome… oh, Lordy, Lord!” Thea exclaims, rushing over and pulling Gwen to her, wrapping her arms around Gwen’s small form crushing her to her soft body before holding her at arms’ length. “Look at you! Look at you, Sugar… child, you didn’t waste any time, did you?” she asks Arthur, gushing and fussing over them as if they were her own children.
    Arthur chuckles. “It’s good to see you, Miss Thea,” he says, and she grabs him next, hugging him just as tightly.
    “Arthur, baby, you got more handsome, I do think you have,” she says, hands on her hips as she assesses him. “Wouldn’t have thought it was possible. But now with this little baby, there’s even less chance o’ you runnin’ away with me, now,” she says, pouting rather theatrically. Gwen laughs and Thea leads them to a table.
    “Did you get my cornbread?” Thea asks. “The way that skinny friend o’ yours was eyein’ it up, I was afraid it wasn’t gonna make it to you.”
    “Yes, we got it, and it was a welcome addition to our Thanksgiving dinner,” Gwen says, laughing.
    “All right, sweet tea and Dr. Pepper, if I’m not mistaken?” Thea asks, and they nod. “Y’all want menus?”
    “Merlin raved about your chicken and dumplings,” Arthur says. “I think I need that.”
    “Need, you say? Very well then. Sugar?” Thea asks Gwen.
    “You got ribs? I got a hankerin’.”
    “Do I have ribs…” Thea just walks away shaking her head.
    “You may have just insulted her, darlin’.”
    “I doubt it,” Gwen chuckles.
    Thea brings their drinks and rushes back to the kitchen with the apology that her help isn’t here yet, but she’ll be back before they know it with their food.
    Gwen visits the restroom, knowing full well she’ll need to return there before they leave. Thea returns with their food shortly after she returns.
    “Chicken and dumplings for my baby Arthur,” Thea sets his plate, heaped full, in front of him and suddenly it’s Christmas again for Arthur.
    “And ribs for the little mama here,” she says, setting Gwen’s plate down. Then she sits with them. “Now. Y’all goin’ home?”
    “Well, if by ‘home’ you mean Memphis, yes,” Arthur says. “Though I am really beginning to feel like Milwaukee is my home now.”
    Gwen nods. “Winter was cold – really cold – but we are happy there. We’re buildin’ a house.”
    “Oo, child, that is exciting! Is it goin’ to be done before the baby comes? When are you due?”
    “It’s going to be tight, but I think we’ll be able to move in just before baby is born,” Arthur says. “This is mighty good, Miss Thea,” he adds.
    “Thank you,” she says.
    “Yes, this is exactly what I needed right now,” Gwen agrees. “And the baby’s due ’round about August 22.”
    “Y’all will have to give me your address ’fore you go, so I can send somethin’ for the little bundle,” Thea says.
    “Miss Thea, that’s very kind of you…”
    “Don’t be arguin’ with me, now, Guinevere,” Thea interrupts, waving a finger at her.
    Gwen closes her mouth. “Thank you. You’re too good to us,” she says.
    “Sugar, I treat people like family, no matter what they look like,” she says, winking at Arthur. “That’s why my place here does so well. Folks know that Miss Thea’s gonna treat them right.”
    “Thank you, Miss Thea. You are a rare jewel, I tell you what,” Arthur says.
    Thea beams under Arthur’s praise. “Now. Why are y’all headin’ back to Memphis? Ain’t it dangerous for you to be goin’ down there, especially now, with you showin’ so much?”
    “My brother is getting married,” Gwen says. “I can’t miss it.”
    “No, you sho’nuff can’t,” Thea agrees. “Just be careful, is all I ask. I’ll be prayin’ for you.”
    “Thank you. Guinevere’s goin’ to sing at the wedding, too,” Arthur says, smiling at her.
    “You sing? Of course you sing, why am I even askin’? What’re you goin’ to sing?”
    “Amazing Grace, with Merlin,” Gwen says.
    “Merlin sings, too?”
    “Merlin plays piano,” Gwen says. “He didn’t tell you? He’s a jazz pianist.”
    “Really? No, he didn’t say. If he ever comes back through here I’m gonna have to give him such a time,” she says, crossing her arms in front of her ample chest.
    “You most definitely should do that,” Arthur says, chuckling. “He’s really very good, though. You wouldn’t think it to look at him or hear him speak with that accent o’ his, but he knows what he’s doin’ with a piano.”
    “Anyway, we’re gonna stay at Arthur’s daddy’s house and probably not go out much ’cept to the rehearsal and the weddin’,” Gwen says. “If people want to see us, they’ll have to come to us. It’s a shame, but neither of us wants any trouble. Elyan said that they would have waited, but Latoya has a granny that’s ailin’, so they’re havin’ the weddin’ sooner.”
    “Granny gets what Granny wants, I know that,” Thea nods, understanding. “So your daddy is fine with your bein’ married to a colored girl?” she asks Arthur point-blank.
    “Yes, he is, actually. His concerns have been mainly for our safety,” Arthur says. “He, um, was raised in Boston, not Memphis. My mama was from Memphis, so…”
    “Hmm. Your mama gone, Baby?”
    Arthur nods. “She would have loved Guinevere, though,” he says, reaching across the table to take Gwen’s hand. They are both done eating.
    “You are an interesting young man, Arthur, I will say that. Now. I’m gonna take these dishes back and I’m comin’ back with a piece o’ paper and a pencil and some cornbread for y’all to take with.” Thea stands and clears their dishes.
    “I’m gonna visit the restroom one more time,” Gwen says. She’s been careful not to guzzle her sweet tea, delicious though it was.
    When she returns, Arthur is writing their address on the paper Thea has brought him.
    “This is the new house’s address,” he says, handing it over. “You got a card or a take-out menu or somethin’ with an address, so we can let you know when the baby comes?”
    Thea produces a card from some hidden pocket or her cleavage or thin air, Arthur’s not sure which. “Thanks,” he says, taking it and placing it in his wallet.
    “You best be sendin’ me a photo, too. Now come here and give me hugs. I imagine you’ll be wantin’ to get on the road ’fore it gets too late,” she says, holding her arms out.
    “Um, are you forgettin’ something?” Arthur asks.
    “No,” Thea says, somewhat emphatically.
    “The bill?” he asks, a little quieter.
    “I’m havin’ a special today. 100% off for handsome blonde men and their pregnant wives. Now come here,” she orders.
    “Thank you,” Arthur decides to accept the hospitality without arguing, not wanting to incur her wrath. He hugs her tightly and then kisses her cheek. “Miss Thea, are you blushin’?”
    “Mister Arthur, can you even tell?” she teases, but her face does feel warm.
    “Actually, I can,” he smirks.
    Gwen hugs Thea next, and Thea takes the opportunity to lay her hand on Gwen’s swollen belly. “May I?” she asks, her hand hovering.
    “Of course,” Gwen says. “Oh. Over here, though,” she says, taking Thea’s hand. The baby has just kicked, so Gwen is hoping he’ll do it again for Thea.
    A moment later, Baby kicks again, and Thea squeals delightedly. Arthur chuckles at her. “He’s gotten to feel that, right?” Thea asks.
    “Are you kidding? If he had his way, his hands would be on my stomach all the time,” Gwen says with a laugh.
    “You send my love to Merlin and Elyan, now, and give the groom a kiss for me,” Thea says, giving instructions now.
    “Of course,” Arthur says. “I’ll let Guinevere give him your kiss, though,” he adds, laughing. They start to leave, and Thea’s voice stops them another moment.
    “Children, before you go, you gotta make a promise to old Miss Thea,” she says, her voice turning serious.
    “Of course,” Arthur says, interested.
    “Don’t never let that child think he’s anything less than wonderful. Promise me that.”
    Gwen smiles warmly. “We promise,” she says, and Arthur nods beside her, wrapping his arm around his wife.

xXx

    They arrive at Uther’s house late Thursday night, which suits them just fine. Gwen is asleep, and much as it pains Arthur to wake her, he has to because he can’t get her out of the car without jostling her too much now.
    Uther greets them at the door and smiles at the sleepy Gwen. Arthur guides her up the stairs to his old room. He is pulling her shoes off for her when Uther arrives with Gwen’s suitcase.
    “Thanks, Pop,” Arthur says quietly.
    “Thought she might like her nightgown,” Uther says. He leaves to let Arthur help her to bed.
    “I can do it,” Gwen protests weakly, but she doesn’t really seem to be making an effort.
    “I know you can, I’m just helpin’,” Arthur says, sliding her nightgown over her head. “Lie down and go back to sleep, darlin’. I’m gonna get the rest of our things and visit with Pop a bit, but I’ll be up before you know it.”
    “Call Elyan,” Gwen mutters, snuggling into the covers.
    “I will,” he says, leaning over to kiss her cheek.
    Arthur heads downstairs to find that Uther has brought the rest of their things in and is holding the bag from Miss Thea’s in his hand, puzzling over it.
    “What is this?” he asks.
    “The best cornbread in the entire world, Pop,” Arthur says, taking it from him. “From a soul food place in Illinois that Guinevere and I discovered when we moved.”
    Uther follows Arthur into the kitchen, where Arthur places the bread on the counter. “We’ll cut into that tomorrow,” he says.
    “Does she always sleep that heavy?” Uther asks, smiling.
    “Just since she’s been pregnant. Doctor says it probably won’t last too much longer. She’s petite, so the baby’s going to start making her pretty uncomfortable pretty soon.”
    “Your mother didn’t sleep well at all when she was pregnant with you,” Uther says, helping Arthur carry the rest of their things up. There’s not much; a garment bag and Arthur’s suitcase.
    “Oh?” Arthur asks.
    “Yeah, you were pretty active, I guess. Makes sense, you never stopped moving when you were a child, either. That’s how we knew you were sick: you stopped moving and stopped talking.”
    “Was I that bad?”
    “Just… active. Like I said,” Uther says, chuckling.
    “I need to call Elyan and let him know we’re here,” Arthur says, reaching for the phone and dialing the number he still knows by heart. They chat for a minute, and Elyan promises to stop over in the morning. Then Arthur quickly calls Merlin and is surprised to discover that his friend is not home.
    “I bet he’s at Gwaine’s,” Arthur says. He briefly considers going out there for a minute, but decides against it. It wouldn’t be fair to Guinevere, he reasons. Plus I know I would stay longer than I intend to.
    “Merlin’s not home,” Arthur says to his father, joining him in the living room where Uther is sitting with a newspaper and smoking a pipe.
    “He’s playing tonight at Gwaine’s,” Uther says, setting his paper down.
    “How do you know? Oh, Hunith,” Arthur reasons. He yawns and stretches.
    “Go to bed, Son,” Uther says. “You were no doubt up very early. I’ll be turning in, soon, myself.”
    “Thanks, Pop, I’m beat,” Arthur says standing. “It’s good to see you.”
    “Good to see you, too. I’m happy you’re doing so well up there. You’ll have to tell me all about the house tomorrow.”
    “Guinevere brought pictures,” Arthur says, smiling. “She goes there almost every day, now that she’s done working.”
    “Is she going back to work after the baby is born?” Uther asks, curious.
    “No. She says she wants to stay home. I made it very clear that it was her choice and I would support whatever she wanted to do,” Arthur says.
    “Smart man,” Uther says. “Go to bed before you fall over.”
    “Good night, Pop.”
    “Good night, Arthur.”
    Arthur trudges up the stairs to his room, realizing how exhausted he actually is. Good thing I didn’t go to Gwaine’s. That would have been a huge mistake. He undresses down to his briefs and climbs into bed next to his Guinevere. He wraps his arms around her and she sighs in her sleep, as if she knows he’s joined her.
    Arthur kisses her head and is asleep the second his eyes close.

Part 32: link