Part 31: link


    Gwen is up early, too anxious and excited to sleep in. She takes a shower, comes back to their room, and sits down on the bed in her bathrobe, staring at the wall. A minute later her head finds the pillow and she is falling back to sleep.
    Arthur wakes an hour later. He sees Gwen lying there, sleeping on top of the covers in her robe and smelling freshly-showered. He shakes his head and chuckles at her. The clock says 8:12.
    Arthur goes to the bathroom, empties his bladder, and brushes his teeth. He hears his father downstairs, no doubt drinking his coffee. He can hear him saying something to his maid, Sefa, as she makes his breakfast. Then he returns to his room, shuts his door, and pulls his wife into his arms.
    Gwen sighs and cuddles into him. Her robe slips a bit as she does so, and it opens just enough to distract Arthur. He is not tired in the slightest, and now he’s having thoughts.
    Arthur kisses her neck and she sighs again. He kisses her collarbone, softly, and she whimpers a little. Grinning now, he starts kissing her breasts.
    “Arthur…”
    “Mmm.”
    “Arthur,” she says again, a little sterner. “Your daddy might hear…”
    “Pop’s downstairs, havin’ his breakfast,” he mutters against her skin, pulling the tie to her robe.
    “It’s… disrespectful, Baby… oh, right there…”
    Arthur chuckles, knowing he’s winning her over. He lifts his head. “We’ll just have to be quiet, then, won’t we?”
    “Arthur,” she chides, looking down at him, but then she drops her head back onto the pillow and gives up. He’s just slid his hand into her opened robe, caressing her swollen belly with a feather-light hand. He returns his lips to her breast, kissing softly, gently suckling her, careful not to go overboard because he knows they’re sensitive.
    Arthur moves carefully over her, pushing impatiently at her robe, kneeling between her knees. She reaches for his briefs and pulls at them. He chuckles smugly and pulls them off while she shrugs out of her robe.
    “This way,” he says, rolling onto his back and pulling her with him, straddling his waist.
    She scowls at him, frowning down at her torso.
    “You look more beautiful every day, Guinevere,” he says, moving his hands up to caress her stomach again, ghosting up over her breasts to reach her face. He draws her down to him, kissing her softly, lingering over her lips. “I love you so much,” he murmurs, his lips on her jaw, her neck.
    “Even though I’m all swelled up like a big ol’ balloon?” she whispers, angling her head so he can have better access to her neck.
    “Especially because of that,” he says, and she is lost, overcome with emotion because of his words, her hormones, and the general anxiety over being back here. She grabs his face and brings it back to her lips, kissing him ardently, rubbing herself against him a little.
    “God…” Arthur groans once they break apart. He takes her hips and gently slides her back and over him, sheathing himself within her.
    “Mmm,” Gwen moans, dropping her head back, rocking on her knees as he lifts his hips into her, joining languidly.
    “Come back down here,” Arthur says, pulling her forward to kiss her again. Her stomach makes it difficult to keep moving, so they pause to kiss, then Gwen leans back again, taking Arthur’s hands in hers and moving them to her breasts.
    They resume moving, faster now, Arthur gently caressing her breasts, occasionally whispering words of love that Gwen can’t even really hear.
    “Oh…” she breathes, bracing her hands on his chest now, picking up speed again. Arthur’s hands drop to her hips again, helping. Gwen whimpers and bites her lip, trying to be quiet.
    “Ah,” Arthur grunts softly, digging his fingers into her hips. “Oh, Guinevere,” he says, louder.
    “Shh…” she shushes, then, “oh…” again. She’s falling fast, breathing rapidly, pressing her lips together to keep herself quiet. She gasps suddenly, tightening around Arthur as she climaxes over him, digging her nails into his chest.
    “Ahmmm…” Arthur groans, muffled when Gwen’s hand clamps over his mouth to quiet his outburst as he releases and stills within her.
    “You better hope your daddy didn’t hear you,” Gwen says, tucked against his side now, pulling the sheet back up over them.
    “He’s readin’ his paper and havin’ his breakfast. And he’s far enough away,” Arthur says dismissively. “Did you sleep well?”
    “Mmm, yes, I did,” she says, nuzzling his chest a little. “You?”
    “Like the dead,” he declares.
    “So this was your room?”
    “Yup,” he says. “Can’t you tell?”
    Gwen looks around the room. Model cars, mostly Corvettes. A miniature St. Louis Cardinals helmet. A box of record albums. A Harvard pennant. “Yes, I reckon so.” She pauses a moment. “So how many girls have you had up here?”
    “What?”
    “You heard me,” she says, smirking up at him.
    “Maybe a couple,” he admits.
    “Maybe a couple?” she laughs.
    “Okay… um, three, I think. But you’re the only one that let me go all the way,” he says, smirking back.
    “Well, that’s reassurin’. I think.”
    “Darlin’, you know nothin’ and no one before you matters, right?”
    Gwen leans up and kisses him. “Better not,” she says, grinning at him.
    “Come on, I’m hungry. Let’s get dressed and have some breakfast.”

xXx

    The wedding rehearsal goes smoothly, with just a few things that needed ironing out. Everyone was impressed with Merlin’s playing and Gwen’s singing, but Gwen couldn’t help but notice that the members of Latoya’s family were all carefully polite to her, as if they’d been warned to tread lightly.
    “I noticed that, too,” Merlin says quietly in the back of the church while they wait for the reverend to finish his last-minute instructions.
    “It’s gettin’ on my nerves. I wish they’d just relax. I feel like a marked woman,” she whispers.
    The rehearsal dinner, traditionally hosted by the groom’s family, is at Elyan’s house. He’s enlisted the help of Gwaine and some other friends and is holding a big barbecue.
    Arthur and Gwen thought it would be best if Arthur stayed home with his father, so Gwen is left to her own devices. She greets Gwaine warmly, and, true to form, he flirts shamelessly with her, despite the fact that she is married and seven months pregnant. Finally she just walks away, shaking her head. Aaron is happy to see her, too, and carefully hugs her hello, trying not to get his sauce-smeared apron on her clothing. Fred, who she doesn’t know as well, waves and gives her a friendly smile from his post roasting corn on the cob.
    Latoya’s ailing granny holds court from her wheelchair in the center of the action. She squeezes Gwen’s hand and gives her a small smile when they are introduced. Gwen’s heart goes out to their family; Granny is small and frail and seated with a cushion behind her and a shawl wrapped around her, even in the 80-plus degree heat.
    Toya’s other grandmother, on her mother’s side, is younger and healthier. Her name is Mary but insists that Gwen call her Gran, because “everyone does.” She’s gregarious and friendly, and she’s the first person to come to Gwen’s defense when someone finally makes a remark about Gwen’s marriage.
    Latoya’s cousin Celia, one of the bridesmaids, had been giving Gwen dark looks as soon as Gwen arrived at the church. Finally she decides to say something.
    “So where’s your rich white husband?” she asks.
    “Oh, um…” Gwen starts, a little surprised, “he’s at home spendin’ time with his daddy.”
    “He too good to be here with us?” she asks. “Didn’t want to dirty his hands by bein’ seen here with us colored folks?”
    “Uh, no, he… he just hasn’t seen his father in months, so…” Gwen stammers.
    “Why are you sittin’ over here by yourself like some princess? You think you’re better than all of us now ’cause you snared a white man?”
    “What? No, o’ course not. I’m sorry, have I done somethin’ to offend you?” Gwen asks.
    “I just don’t understand why you had to run off with one o’ them,” she says. “Take it from me, girl, white folks ain’t nothin’ but trouble. You mark my words, you’ll be on the street before you’re thirty, tryin’ to take care o’ that baby alone,” Celia says.
    She’s talkin’ like she has experience in this area, Gwen realizes. “I’m… I’m sorry you feel that way,” is all she says.
    “Celia,” Mary comes marching over, almost as if she knows what’s been going on. “Come help me with Granny’s plate,” she says pointedly, pulling Celia gently away from Gwen.
    As they walk away, Gwen overhears Mary say quietly, “You don’t know nothin’ ’bout her situation, so don’t go flappin’ your lips like you know this child. Just because you had a…” Her voice trails off, and Gwen can’t hear any more. She walks to the back porch, where there are some coolers set with beverages inside. She bends and takes a bottle of Coke out, wondering what it was that happened to Celia.
    First Sefa, now this, Gwen thinks sadly, remembering back to the remarkably chilly reception she received from Uther’s maid at breakfast this morning.
    “Sefa, you of course remember Arthur,” Uther says, and Sefa smiles and nods.
    “Hello, Mister Arthur, it’s good to see you again,” she says politely.
    “And this is my daughter-in-law, Gwen,” Uther introduces.
    “Hello, Sefa, nice to meet you,” Gwen says, smiling warmly at the girl.
    “Hello,” Sefa answers curtly, not looking at Gwen. “Coffee, Mister Arthur?” she asks.
    “Yes, please,” Arthur answers, sitting at the table. “Guinevere, would you like anything?”
    “Wouldn’t say no to a glass of orange juice,” Gwen says, sitting as well. It did not escape her notice that Sefa only offered coffee to Arthur.
    Sefa brings Arthur his coffee, setting it gently in front of him. Then she returns after what seems like an unnecessarily long time and plunks down a glass of orange juice in front of Gwen, setting it down so hard that some spills. Gwen reflexively wipes the spill with a napkin, idly wondering if Sefa spit in it.
    Arthur looks at Gwen, meeting her eyes as if to say
I noticed it, too. His expression darkens and he shoots a look at his father, who is regarding his maid with a raised eyebrow and a scowl.
    “Sefa, are there any scrambled eggs left?” Uther asks, his voice sounding suddenly tired. “Eggs?” he asks Arthur and Gwen.
    “Sure,” Arthur says. He knows Gwen wants toast with jam, though, so he says, “Sefa, we could do with some toast, if you don’t mind.” His jaw is clenched and he keeps shooting looks at Uther, clearly willing him to say something to the maid about how rude she’s being.
    Gwen shifts in her seat, uncomfortable both with being waited on and whatever bee that seems to be in Sefa’s bonnet. “Is she sweet on you?” she asks Arthur quietly, wondering if it’s simple jealousy.
    “I don’t think so. Last I knew she had a boyfriend,” Arthur whispers. “Pop, is Sefa still seeing that James fellow?”
    “I think so. I’m not sure what her problem is, but I will be speaking to her about it later,” Uther says, frowning.
    “You could say something now,” Arthur growls.
    “I do not berate my staff publicly. Even if it is just family. You know this, Arthur,” Uther whispers back.
    Sefa brings a pan of eggs and some toast on a plate over and sets them on the table.
    “Jam?” Arthur barks at Sefa, pointedly pushing the plate with the toast over to Gwen.
    “Yes, sir,” Sefa says shortly, and this time she returns faster than she did with Gwen’s juice, possibly having sensed Arthur’s ire. However, she still sets the jar next to Arthur, even though Gwen is closer and is clearly the one who is going to be using it.
    “Thank you, Sefa, that will be all for now,” Uther says. “Oh, and Sefa, I would like a word in an hour. My study,” he adds sharply
    “Yes, sir,” she says quietly, flushing red with sudden worry. She spins on her heel and disappears.
    Uther pinches the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger. “I’m sorry, Gwen. I’m horribly embarrassed, actually,” Uther says, looking at Gwen. “I assure you I will be speaking to her about her behavior.”
    “Don’t go to any trouble on my account, Mr. Pendragon,” Gwen says quietly, spreading jam on her toast.
    “It’s no trouble. Her behavior was completely unacceptable. If I don’t talk to her, Arthur may decide to have a few choice words with her himself, and I don’t think we want that. And for heaven’s sake, Gwen, you may call me Uther. Or even Pop, if you feel comfortable enough.”
    Gwen smiles and looks down. “All right. Thank you, Uther.” She sighs. “She probably thinks it’s wrong that Arthur married me.”
    “I don’t think she’s jealous,” Uther says. “She’s been dating the same young man for several months now.”
    “Pop, she means because I’m white and she’s colored. That’s what’s got Sefa all in a snit,” Arthur says, setting his fork down rather harder than necessary. “She obviously thinks that races shouldn’t mix, and here we sit, well, mixin’.” He waves his hand at Gwen’s stomach to illustrate his point. “Ignorant.”
    “Probably how she was raised,” Gwen points out. “We only know what we’ve been told, and sometimes we get told the wrong things.” She notices the look Arthur is giving her. “Doesn’t make it right, and it doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt, but it’s just how things are. You see it all the time, Arthur.”
    “I know,” Arthur answers, taking Gwen’s hand a moment to kiss her knuckles.
    “Whatever the reason, I will get to the bottom of it, and I promise you she will be more polite the next time you see her,” Uther promises.
    Gwen nibbles her toast, not sure how she feels about Uther disciplining his trusted maid because of her.
    By lunch, Sefa is noticeably quieter, but she is treating Gwen with the same respect that she had showed Arthur at breakfast. Gwen doesn’t know how grudgingly she’s doing this, but she feels like telling the girl that she only has to pretend through tomorrow afternoon, until they go to the wedding.

    Gwen turns around and Mary is standing right there, an apologetic smile on her face.
    “Sorry ’bout that, child, Celia’s got… history,” Mary says cryptically.
    “Thank you, Gran, I kinda had a feelin’ that she did,” Gwen says.
    “Now: You go get yourself some food; that baby growin’ in there needs some proper soul food or he ain’t gon’ turn out right,” Mary says, ushering Gwen over to the big table where Gwaine has everything laid out. About half the guests have been through the line, and Gwen had been waiting until the line got shorter before stepping over.
    “Oh, don’t you worry ’bout that. I still cook Southern, even though we’re livin’ in the north,” Gwen says, smiling.
    “That’s right, you keep on doin’ that, Sugar,” Mary says. “Gwaine, you are one handsome white boy,” she says, reaching over to pat his cheek before taking a plate. “And you can cook. Why is it you still single?”
    “Still waitin’ for the right gal to come and sweep me off my feet,” Gwaine grins at her. “And all the good ones are taken already,” he adds, winking at her.
    “Stop it, you, my husband is right over there,” Mary says, feigning indignation.
    “Like I said,” Gwaine says, grinning again. “Gwen, you gonna eat all those ribs?”
    “Baby likes ribs these days,” Gwen says, licking a finger where an errant bit of meat smeared some sauce. “Gwaine, you need to make a trip up to Mattoon, Illinois, to Althea’s Soul Food Kitchen. Miss Thea could show you a thing or two,” Gwen says, smirking at him. “About food, I mean. Mostly,” she grins, leaving Gwaine gaping and speechless as she walks away. Again.
    Gwen sits with Merlin, who is alone at a table. He doesn’t seem bothered by it. “Merlin, you need to stop sendin’ gifts for the baby,” Gwen says, but she’s smiling at him.
    “Gotta keep pace with Morgana,” Merlin says, his mouth full of cole slaw.
    “How do you know that Morgana is bein’ just as ridiculous?” Gwen asks.
    “Arthur tells me. And Morgana occasionally writes. We’re friends,” he says pointedly.
    “Speaking of which, how come you ain’t found yourself a young lady?” Gwen asks.
    “Well…” Merlin starts, his ears turning pink already.
    “Merlin!”
    “Okay, she’s Vivian’s cousin. She’s visiting from New York. She came to the office to see where Viv works, and…”
    “Wait, Viv? She’s got a nickname now? Has Percy gone and turned her human?” Gwen asks.
    “Nearly,” Merlin chuckles. “Anyway, her cousin is really nice. And pretty. And smart. And pretty.”
    “What’s her name?” Gwen asks.
    “Freya. You’ll get to meet her tomorrow; I’m bringing her to the wedding. Percy and Viv will be there, too, and Duncan and Ezra.”
    “Oh, it’ll be nice to see them all. That was good of Elyan to invite them. You know, ’cause of Daddy and all.”
    “From what Percy tells me, they’re very excited,” Merlin says.
    “I can’t wait to meet Freya,” Gwen smiles. “That’s a pretty name.”
    “I thought so,” Merlin says, turning pink again. “She likes my accent,” he admits, grinning sheepishly at her.
    They eat quietly for a bit, and Gwen looks over and sees Elyan’s neighbor Mrs. Barry come out on the back porch. She meets the older woman’s eye and waves. Mrs. Barry waves back enthusiastically, clearly happy to see Gwen.
    “Excuse me a minute, Merlin, I’ve just gotta go say hello to Mrs. Barry,” Gwen says. She wipes her face with her napkin and stands. When her swollen stomach emerges from behind the table, she chuckles at the shock on her former neighbor’s face.
    Gwen climbs the steps to Mrs. Barry’s back porch and greets her with a hug.
    “I knew you was fixin’ to run off with that pretty white boy,” Mrs. Barry says, hugging her warmly. “I seen the way he was lookin’ at you.”
    “I’m sure there was a bit of gossip after we disappeared,” Gwen says.
    “Some. Girl, I hope he married you before he got you that way,” she says, indicating Gwen’s belly.
    Gwen holds up her left hand as an answer. “Probably on same day, actually,” she admits, laughing. “We were married over Thanksgiving weekend and I found out I was expectin’ at Christmas.”
    “Nothin’ like a man who gets straight to the point,” Mrs. Barry says, laughing. “He good to you?” she asks, serious now.
    “He treats me like a queen, Mrs. Barry,” Gwen says. “We’re very happy in Milwaukee.”
    “Good. As long as he don’t beat you or make you feel like you’s less, I’m satisfied. Love ain’t got no eyes, you know. Love don’t care what color a person’s skin is or if they’s got money or even if they’s even pretty. Love just is, Baby.”
    Tears well in Gwen’s eyes; she’s grateful to hear a sympathetic voice after Sefa and Celia. “Thank you for understanding that,” she says. “It was… worrisome for me to come back down here, ’specially like this.” Gwen points to her stomach.
    “Where is that husband o’ yours, anyway?” she looks around Elyan’s back yard.
    “At home with his father. We thought it best for him to stay home tonight. He’ll be at the weddin’ tomorrow,” Gwen says.
    “You make sure you introduce me, then,” Mrs. Barry says, raising her eyebrows at Gwen.
    “Of course,” she laughs.
    “Pat!” Mary’s voice carries across the yard to them. “You get your tail over here and get you some dinner! We got plenty; you know you and Robert are dyin’ from the smell!”
    Mrs. Barry sighs, but she is smiling. “She saw right through me, she did,” she whispers to Gwen. “Knew just why I came out here.” She looks over at Mary, who is standing with her hands on her hips, giving her an expression like Well?
    “Lemme get Robert and put some proper shoes on, then,” she yells back. “Save me a seat, child, I want to meet that skinny one with the dark hair. Been hearin’ things ’bout him and his music.”
    “I will,” Gwen says, descending the stairs and heading back to her plate.

xXx

    Gwen doesn’t stay too late, using her pregnancy as an excuse to go home just as it starts to get dark.
    “Don’t stay out too late with the boys, now. Toya won’t take kindly to a hungover groom,” Gwen tells Elyan. She’s said her goodbyes to everyone else and is standing by her car (well, Arthur’s Cadillac) with her brother.
    “I won’t. She already warned me,” he chuckles. “We just gonna go to Gwaine’s later anyway, nothin’ big.”
    “Elyan Thomas, are you growin’ up on me?” Gwen asks, smiling at him.
    “Hope so,” Elyan admits, looking at his shoes.
    “Arthur says to call him if you need anything tomorrow,” Gwen says.
    “Okay. Toya’s got this thing planned to the letter, so we should be okay. You and Merlin sounded really good tonight, if I didn’t tell you already.”
    “Thanks. It’s a little harder to sing, I’m discoverin’. Baby is takin’ up space and I can’t get as much air in my lungs,” she says.
    “Really?”
    Gwen shrugs. “It’s only temporary.”
    “Well, I didn’t notice nothin’.”
    Gwen yawns. “All right, I should go. Need to put my feet up.”
    “Drive safe. Make Arthur give you a foot rub,” he says, grinning at her.
    “Not a bad idea. See you tomorrow, Little Brother. Love you,” Gwen says, hugging him one more time and kissing his cheek.
    “Love you, too.”
    Gwen arrives back at Uther’s ten minutes later, takes her shoes off and flops onto the sofa next to Arthur.
    “Tired, darlin’?” Arthur asks, pulling her into his arms.
    “Yep. Where’s Uther?”
    “Bed. He’s an early bird, usually. He stayed up last night ’cause he was waitin’ for us.”
    “Mmm,” Gwen nods. They sit quietly, staring at the television.
    “How was the rehearsal?”
    “Mostly good. Gwaine says hey.”
    “I’ll see him tomorrow, prob’ly.”
    She nods.
    A few minutes later, Arthur speaks again. “You’re quiet. Everything all right?”
    Gwen sighs. “It’s stupid.”
    “Whatever it is, it’s not,” Arthur counters. Someone must have said something that upset her.
    Gwen sits up. “I mean, I know I’m not her, and I know you’re not… whoever she went ’round with, but…”
    “Guinevere, can you back up a bit? I feel like I switched on the show halfway through, here.”
    She looks at Arthur. “Just… promise me that you’re not goin’ to leave me so I have to take care o’ this baby alone,” she says quietly.
    Arthur looks aghast. He pulls her into his arms, wrapping them protectively around her. “I promise I will never leave you Guinevere. Never. You are my wife. No, not just that. You are my life, darlin’, and I love you more than I thought it possible to love anyone,” he promises, kissing her hair, holding her comfortingly in his lap. “Who put this thought into your head?” he asks quietly.
    Gwen tells him about Celia and what she said. “I told you it was stupid; I don’t know why I let her words get to me. We’re not them.”
    “Toya’s Gran sounds like good people. I’m glad she stepped in,” Arthur says.
    “Me too, but I can’t help but feel bad for Celia. Obviously she’s been through somethin’.”
    “No one said?”
    “No, and it’s really not my business. I don’t know that girl from Adam.”
    “Well, you do know me. Better than I know myself, most of the time. And you know I ain’t goin’ to leave you.”
    “I know,” she sighs, resting her head on his shoulder. “Thank you. I love you, Baby.”
    “I love you, too,” he says, kissing her forehead now. “Let’s go up to bed.”
    “Okay,” Gwen says, climbing awkwardly out of Arthur’s lap, with his help. She looks down at her feet, which look a little swollen. “Baby?”
    “Yes?” Arthur asks, switching the television off.
    “Would you rub my feet? They’re all puffy,” she frowns down at them.
    “Of course,” Arthur says, always willing to help make her more comfortable, especially if it involves touching her. Even if it is her feet.
    They walk up the stairs, and Gwen stops. “Oh.”
    “Everything okay?”
    “Baby’s awake. Here,” she says, taking his hand and placing it on her stomach. A second later Arthur feels a wave pass under his hand, like the baby is doing barrel rolls inside Gwen.
    “He sure as hell is!” Arthur laughs. Then he gets kicked. “That never gets old,” he smiles.
    “Oh, yes, it does,” Gwen says, disagreeing mildly. She takes his hand and leads him up to their room.

xXx

    The morning of the wedding is bright and sunny, with just enough of a breeze to make things comfortable. Perfect.
    Gwen is up and showered, her hair washed and hanging in damp ringlets around her shoulders and down her back.
    “You’re not goin’ to put your hair up, are you?” Arthur asks, coming up behind her and nuzzling her curls, inhaling her honeysuckle scent.
    “I was thinkin’ ’bout it,” Gwen says to his reflection in the bathroom mirror.
    “Oh.” He sounds disappointed. His hands drop from where they were rubbing her belly.
    “You like it down,” she states.
    “Well, yeah.”
    “I’ll leave it mostly down, but I gotta keep it out of my face,” she says, and he smiles.
    “Thank you,” he says, leaning down to kiss her cheek.
    After breakfast, the doorbell rings. It’s Elyan, with a wrapped package in his hands.
    “Mr. Thompson, sir,” Sefa introduces him, carefully polite, as she shows Elyan into the dining room where they are still lingering, despite having finished eating a half an hour ago. Arthur had been telling Uther about his work in Milwaukee.
    “Elyan!” Gwen exclaims. “I didn’t expect to see you until the weddin’!”
    “Well, did you honestly think I would forget that your birthday is Monday?” Elyan says, offering her the package. It’s fairly large, about the size of a small television.
    “I wasn’t gonna say anythin’, seein’ as how it’s your weddin’ this weekend,” she grins. “I stopped remindin’ him when he turned 18. Figured he was grown enough to remember one date, ’specially because his birthday is only four days later,” she tells Arthur and Uther.
    Arthur chuckles, remembering that conversation they had so long ago. “Open it,” he urges, beyond curious.
    “All right, all right,” Gwen says, carefully removing the paper. She’s put the box on the table, having very little lap, and has to stand to dig into it.
    “Oh, it’s beautiful,” she says, drawing a lovely wooden birdhouse with six separate holes out of the box. “You made this,” she smiles. She doesn’t need to ask.
    “’O course I did,” Elyan states proudly. “It’s for that big ol’ house y’all are buildin’.”
    “Oh! Can you stay a little bit? I have pictures of the house. I was gonna show Uther. Can you stay so I can show both of you?” she asks, looking up at him with big brown eyes.
    He checks his watch. “Yeah, I got time. Havin’ my hair cut at 10:30. But I got somethin’ else for you, too.”
    “Somethin’ else? Elyan…”
    “It’s for the baby,” he says. “Come on, it’s out here.”
    Gwen follows Elyan, and Arthur and Uther trail behind. In the foyer is a beautiful wooden cradle, just the right size for a newborn. There’s a big red bow on it.
    “Oh!” Gwen gasps, “El, it’s…” She stops, her voice failing as she starts crying, touched that her brother would make something so beautiful and thoughtful for her.
    “Very nice,” Uther assesses, inspecting the construction as best he can from a small distance. Gwen is on her knees, running her hands over the smooth polished wood, tears still running down her cheeks.
    “It’s… for when he’s too little for the crib yet,” Elyan says quietly. “You know, the first month or so…”
    Gwen looks up at him, surprised.
    “Toya’s idea,” he shrugs, smiling a little, clearly embarrassed to be a man possessing this knowledge. “She made the blanket and the little mattress inside,” he adds.
    Gwen presses her hand into the cradle to feel a soft foam mat inside, and pulls out a soft knit blanket in yellow. “She knitted this herself?” Gwen asks.
    Elyan nods. “Her granny taught her when she was younger,” he says.
    “Granny or Gran?” Gwen smiles.
    “Granny, I think. I don’t think Gran goes in much for handwork,” he chuckles.
    “It’s so soft. Arthur, feel how soft,” Gwen says, holding the blanket up. Arthur rubs it between his fingers and nods appraisingly.
    Gwen gets to her feet, with Arthur’s help, and hugs her brother tightly. “Thank you. This is so wonderful.” Her breath hitches again as the tears start up again. She releases her brother and wipes her face. “Stupid hormones,” she says, an embarrassed laugh escaping from her lips.
    “None of us were thinkin’ anything of it, Guinevere,” Arthur says.
    Gwen takes a deep breath, sniffs once, then quirks her head at Elyan. “You’re gonna make one when you have a baby of your own, ain’t you?”
    “You sound like Toya,” he sighs, and she has her answer.
    “I’ll go get my pictures,” Gwen says, heading for the stairs.
    “Guinevere, stay here. I’ll get them,” Arthur says. “You don’t need to be climbin’ up and down stairs just to get some photos.”

xXx

    Uther and Elyan are both impressed by the progress of the house and Uther even commends Gwen on her excellent taste.
    Before Elyan leaves, Uther asks him if he’d be available to do some work for him. He was so impressed by the birdhouse and cradle, small though they were, that he asks him to rebuild the sagging shelving in his home office. They also briefly discuss the possibility of tearing down and rebuilding the back porch, which is starting to show its age.
    Gwen watches her brother leave, proud of him. He’s livin’ his life right, now. Mama and Daddy would be proud.

Part 33: link