The chill in the air was mostly moisture on the unseasonably mild January night. The surface of the star-watching rock had traded its sun-soaked warmth for damp condensation that had seeped through the seat of Calvin's jeans, chilling him. He felt the goose-pimples prickling along his arms even under the woolen fisherman sweater that Mrs. Murry had given him for Christmas.
A twig snapped softly behind him, and Calvin understood the unspoken question in the gesture.
"It's all right. You can come and join me, Charles Wallace."
Charles moved silently and sat an arm's length away.
A sliver of waning moon was in the sky and Orion shone overhead, traversing the southern winter sky. Cassiopeia was a head-tilt back and yet farther back, some clouds obscured the handle of the Big Dipper, but the edge of its bowl pointed steadfastly to the North Star, although that star was faint this night.
For nearly a quarter of an hour they watched the heavens.
"How did you know I was here?" Calvin asked finally.
"Meg told me."
"I didn't tell Meg I was coming here."
Charles Wallace just smiled and even in the dimness of the winter night, Calvin could see the amused tolerance in the eyes that were even older than when he'd first met Charles Wallace. The distance around Charles Wallace was more palpable than usual, the sense of difference stronger.
"She's been worried about you, you know, even before last week. She's been worried since you found out about the baby."
He and Meg sat together on the star-watching rock in the warm June humidity. Meg leaned into him, arms around his waist and he rested his cheek on her hair.
"Are you all right with this?" she asked quietly, her need for his approval still carving a quaver in her voice.
"Of course I am. I'm proud and excited and I love you."
"You're just...awfully quiet. Something about you feels sad." Meg craned her neck to look up at him. "Can I help?"
"Not really. This is just new ground to me. Your family is the only one I've known that actually enjoys one another. I feel like I came home when I walked through that door the first time. But...even after years of watching you Murrys, I don't know how to make that happen for my kid." His voice trailed softer with that admission.
"Oh, Calvin," Meg said, touching his cheek with her fingertips and kissing him. "You're going to be great. You've always cared about family. When we first met, you told me that was why you called when you weren't going to be home, because you cared even if none of the rest of them did. It's who you are."
"But don't you see? I'm still a part of the rest of them. What will that influence do to our family? To your family? How will I know what to do?"
"Hey. It's my job to fall apart and fret and doubt myself in this marriage." Meg hugged him tightly then shifted to sit in front of him and took his hands and placed them on her stomach so his arms were wrapped around her. "You'll be you, Calvin. You'll be your kind, thoughtful self, and it'll be just fine."
Calvin's jaw and shoulders stiffened at the memory. She hadn't understood. She still didn't understand. He looked back at Orion, counting the stars in his sword.
"I know you're afraid." Charles Wallace's directness was as familiar as Charles or Meg, was usually as refreshing as it had been coming from a small boy on a wooded path years ago.
Tonight Calvin kept his gaze trained on the sky, remembering more vividly than he had in years how disconcerting it could be to know that, to Charles, he might as well be transparent. "Everyone's scared when they're about to become a parent."
"It's different for you, though, isn't it?"
He turned now, fighting down resentment. "How would I know? I wouldn't know normal or different if it walked up and introduced itself. I sure hope my crazy, awful family was different and I know your crazy, wonderful family is different. We both know that 'normal' is all but meaningless."
Charles Wallace said nothing, his whole being reflecting his acceptance of Calvin's frustration.
Calvin had managed to set aside his fears for the past months, leaving them for when fatherhood became real.
Then last week he'd watched his siblings, nieces, and nephews shuffle awkwardly through his mother's funeral, watched his father awkwardly pat the side of her casket before walking stone-facedly away, watched the kids turn from a few moments of tears to raucous, roughhousing in the yard and street, watched his siblings drink themselves silly (like they needed the excuse) and listened to them tell tale after dreaded tale about his mother's terrible parenting and housekeeping, had watched them yell at their own kids but do nothing further all day. He'd been relieved when Meg had indicated softly that her back was aching, her ankles were swelling, and she really wanted to get herself and thus the baby away from the haze of cigarette smoke. There was no more stalling. Fatherhood was plenty real now.
"Calvin," Charles' voice broke into his reverie, "did Meg tell you about what happened at Thanksgiving?"
Calvin blinked at the change of topic and thought for a moment. "She said strange things had happened, that she'd kythed with you and that you'd traveled with a unicorn, but she said her memories of it were fuzzy."
"I went Within on that journey, Calvin. I became one with people from strands of a history that impacted the world."
"I was Within Chuck, your mother's little brother. I saw your mother as a child, saw her with her grandmother and parents. I got to see her when she was a beautiful child, when she was Beezie, before she married your father to escape and before she shut herself off. Do you want me to tell you more?"
Calvin nodded wordlessly and felt tears he'd not shed at the funeral trace their way down his cheeks as Charles Wallace described the golden child who had smelled of buttercups and sunlight and butterfly wings, the saving of trees, the storytelling of the grandmother from Ireland, the children playing Let's Pretend, the blowing of dandelion clocks, the protectiveness and joy and love of Chuck and Beezie's playing to the Old Music before everything had gone wrong.
When Charles had stopped and Calvin could speak again, he whispered, "But...my mother...Charles, why didn't you tell me this before?"
"The time wasn't right," Charles said simply.
"And why is it right now?"
"Because your daughter is coming in a few weeks and there are things you needed to know."
"So...everything's going to be all right?" Calvin felt like he was grasping at straws.
Charles shook his head. "I don't know that. I can't know that. And you know that even if I knew, I couldn't tell you. But I know you are more like the uncle you never knew than anyone I've ever met in your family."
"How can I do this?" Calvin hated the pleading in his voice. "What if I turn into my parents?"
Charles placed a hand on Calvin's shoulder and squeezed gently. "The O'Keefes aren't your only family, Calvin, even if you carry their name. It wouldn't be such a bad thing to be like your mother or her family. I think for a long time you've been living the life she cut herself off from; you've been able to be who Beezie couldn't keep being. I don't think that's going to change now." He patted Calvin's shoulder twice then stood and walked away as silently as he had approached.
Calvin looked up at the vastness of the galaxy spread before him. The few wispy clouds had blown away leaving the entire canopy bright and clear. He wondered, not for the first time, if the light from the star that had been Mrs. Whatsit was still visible from Earth, remembered the life and joy in the dance and song of the stars, remembered seeing the stars differently arrayed. How could he have forgotten how immense and immeasurable the cosmos and its possibilities were?
He was unsurprised when Meg appeared. He'd known she'd come and anyway, he'd heard her approach; even when not eight months pregnant, she did not have Charles Wallace's cat-like stealth.
"Sit with me," he said softly, reaching out a hand.
"Calvin! I won't be able to get back up. I'm like a whale," Meg protested.
Calvin tugged on her jacket hem and, rolling her eyes, she sat awkwardly. "A beached whale now," he grinned.
She swatted his arm then looked at him closely. "Are you all right?"
"Yeah. I am. I really am." He settled an arm around her shoulders and pulled her in close. "I'm sorry I've been so broody."
"Your mother died, Calvin. Even as uncomfortable as your family is, that's huge. You have the right to brood."
"Thank you." Calvin leaned his cheek against her head. "Do you know that I feel more at home here than anywhere?"
"Yes. I often do too. I think all of us do."
Calvin set a hand on Meg's stomach and was rewarded with a light thump of greeting. "I'll bet she will too," he said, patting the spot gently.
"That's what Charles Wallace said." He leaned over and kissed her forehead then pointed straight up and a bit to their left. "It's so clear tonight you can see the Pleiades easily."
"You're right. They're lovely." Meg stared quietly with him for a moment. "You know that two of the stars in the cluster, Atlas and Pleione, are named for the parents of the Seven Sisters?"
"You've mentioned. Maybe the Pleiades are like our family guardian, a reminder for us that hope is faint when we worry or get distracted, but strong and clear when the clouds and light aren't in our eyes."
"I like that." Meg relaxed into him then suddenly stiffened. "Wait. Our family? Seven?" Meg's voice squeaked a bit.
Calvin smiled and tapped her nose with a fingertip. "Who knows? Right now, though, I'm ready for this first one. We'll see where we go from there."
"Let's go inside. Mother said she was going to get hot cocoa ready for us."
"Perfect. Is she making it over the Bunsen burner?"
Meg grinned. "Of course."
He grinned back as he stood and hauled Meg to her feet, steadying her once she was upright with a pat to the damp seat of her pants. She reached around him, returned the gesture and leaned across her tummy to kiss him.
They glanced one more time up at the gentle twinkling of the Pleiades above them then intertwined their fingers and walked back to the house.