Fall turned into winter with a lashing of rain and wind, as if the very elements of Blackstock were bitter at Janet and Thomas's upset over the forces there, drenching everything still growing. Then, with a sudden and breathless whump, the first frost came and turned everything into a terrestrial galaxy sparkling sharply in the cold sunlight. Janet's talks with her mother and father turned to talks with advisors and, alarmingly, a brief meeting with the administration. While, of course, she had to keep up with all her reading, given that finals were approaching, thwarting of faerie queens or no.
Despite her fears, Medeous seemed mostly to ignore Janet, treating her as any of the other students in the small class. Perhaps she was much better at keeping things separate, Janet pondered. It wasn't as if she could turn the tables on Janet now. What good would failing her here do, except perhaps, if everything went all wrong in just the right way, keep Janet from finishing this year? That, Robin intimated, would be the furthest thing from Medeous' motives. "I guess she wants to be rid of you," Molly shrugged.
"Probably of all of us," Janet agreed.
This did not seem to concern Molly in the least, nor Tina, who remarked, "And it's not like you can't say the same, wanting to be away from here. And Thomas too, after seven whole years; sheesh."
Janet had a brief thrill of alarm at all the ways one might be 'gotten rid of' other than graduation, but no, if Medeous had anything more sinister up her tattered sleeves, it could be no more alarming to Janet than Halloween and the events surrounding.
"So your family does exist."
Thomas pulled a face. "Yes, of course they do, you loon. I go home for the summers," he pointed out.
Janet considered things a moment. "Did they know, at all? About... all that goes on here?"
It was still rather difficult to utter words concrete and specific about that whole bright court, so they usually referred to in the same maddeningly vague terms they had all used before it was quite so clear what it all meant.
Thomas shrugged. "No, not all of it. Parts. They knew distant relatives had gone here, go here now. Whole families, you know how it is. They were just as exasperated as could be at my major-hopping." He made a face. Being settled into one, now, and finally able to finish had its benefits, to be certain. "But no, not all of it. Even when they should have suspected something, what could I tell them?"
Janet sighed understandingly, leaning her back against his. "So what on earth will they say when you bring home a pregnant girl who refuses to marry you right off?"
Thomas laughed, a comforting buzz against her back. "Probably give me merry hell."
"Hmm. I'm uncertain. Probably they'll place the onus on me and think you deluded."
Janet laughed. "Well that's fine then. They're probably right."
"Yes, probably," he said, and laughed until she flicked him in the head.
Janet wasn't sure she'd be allowed up in Thomas' old room at his folks’ house. For a few moments, while his father had alternately grumped and found new ways to point out how boneheaded Thomas (and only Thomas--Janet was beginning to think it was something fathers did) had been about everything, Janet thought she might, in fact, be exiled to the very neat, very floral guest bedroom on the first floor. Janet and his mother instead sat sipping tea awkwardly discussing Blackstock, college, books, and anything else unconnected to Janet's presence and her curious condition.
But it seemed that before dinner, sometime when Janet was helping his mother with anything she was actually allowed by her to do, Thomas and his father had come to some sort of an arrangement, if not, in fact, an agreement. Whatever it was, it was enough for his father to start treating Janet far more warmly than she might have expected, even if it did include a fair amount of subtle cajoling for Janet to marry the boy--as if the scandal rested on him alone, and only a strange sort of pity for her. While there was momentary hesitation when she asked where she might put her bag, resting in the hallway next to Thomas's, when Thomas picked hers up as well as his, nothing was said.
His childhood room was much like her own, back home. Modestly-sized, books stowed neatly anywhere that would accommodate them, prints and posters hung on his walls varying widely between those bought for him--Van Gogh and a nice woodland scene--and those he clearly acquired himself, photographs, black and white, printed and matted, mostly of architecture, and the odd miscellanea of a childhood misspent reading in the woods. There was a stick in the corner, tall enough to be used for walking but gnarled and bent, knots of wood, an acorn wreath that he described with a bit of a grimace as his mother in her crafty phase. The bed took up most of the room, being a double instead of Janet's own little twin back home. "I got too tall for my old bed, around my junior year of high school," he told her, laughing ruefully. "I spent three months with my feet hanging off the end of it before we got a new one."
Janet laughed at the image, sitting down on the bed gratefully. She'd been nervous the whole bus ride there, all full of doubts that even reading Austen on the bus (for her final quarter at Blackstock, finally getting a female author into the mix was, in an odd way Janet hadn't realized she missed, a bit of a relief) could not assuage. Of course, it might not have helped that Austen's books were all families and young lovers and their often-amusing skewered foibles.
Thomas ungracefully collapsed beside her on the wide bed, sending her bouncing a little. "We survived. I can hardly believe it."
"One afternoon," she reminded him, looking fondly down at him, his gold hair in a haphazard halo. "There's still the rest of the weekend."
He groaned melodramatically, sliding a hand over his eyes. Janet shook her head and laughed, leaning down to kiss him on the forehead. Catching a hand in her hair tie, sending copper curls spilling everywhere, he kissed her, and smiled, felt more than seen. "I'm sure I'll survive it with you by my side, sweet Janet."
"After all," she pulled away, smiling wryly, "we've survived worse."
She woke up later, how many hours she knew not, to the soft brush of snow against the windowpane. A copse of tall evergreens stood silent watch over the back of the house, limned in silver, the accumulation of flake in the pane counting the snowy hours, the orangey vapor glow from streetlights unseen easing the darkness just a little bit. It was so much easier to think, out here, even more so than at her parents' house. She had a fleeting thought about the proximity to Blackstock, her parents' connections with the place, and the Classics department. Thoughts that had been chasing themselves about in her head for the last few weeks, about the future and the past and how to navigate it all, had a chance to fall into place now in this still space with downy softness. Janet drifted back to sleep, Thomas breathing beside her.
Janet spent that Christmas break at home, in a flurry of activity. If she were to live there with a new baby, even temporarily, there were things that needed to be done. And if that stay was to be only temporary, there were personal statements to write and essays and transcripts to get together, and professors to decide upon to beg for a letter of recommendation. Lily had greeted Janet and Thomas at the door. He lingered a step behind Janet, nervous that he was about to be spitted, grilled, and served up next to the Christmas turkey by Janet's father. Her little sister's face of astonishment was less, Janet found out, because of her state (a well-known fact in the college, at least in the departments both Janet and her father associated with regularly, and besides which, the bulky sweater and comfortable green coat hid any evidence nicely), but because of the revelation of the other progenitor of this circumstance. It faded as fast as the cold swept through the open door, and as she stepped aside to let the both of them in, she went judicious and muttered wickedly that she had always liked Thomas better anyway.
As Lily had apparently just announced that she wanted to go somewhere else for college--'anywhere other than Blackstock', as she had reportedly put it--Janet's was not the biggest family to-do that afternoon while presents were opened and food prepared. And besides, Molly and Tina and Robin and two students of Janet's father's were there, and it was a happy whirl altogether. Though when Thomas was summoned by Janet's father to the basement study that was his territory, she had a moment of nervousness that she had to swallow down, lest it make her ill. That was one problem with this whole pregnancy thing, the nausea. It wasn't so bad, most of the time, but every once in a while there was some smell or another, and all of the strangest things, like the brussels sprouts this year. Janet had to leave the kitchen while they boiled, for fear she'd spoil the dinner entirely.
So instead she sat in the living room with Andrew, who, it turned out, not only had rather the aptitude for, but also a penchant for art and drawing, and was out there practicing his not-very-seasonal but nonetheless very nice lions and tigers and bears. "Oh my," Janet said, laughing.
Thomas emerged soon after and answered her raised eyebrows with something of a smile. "Admonitions to take care of you and imprecatory threats including defenestration and dismemberment should I fail to make you happy," he told her. "Pretty much what I expected."
"Ooo, defenestration," Janet grinned. "Means he likes you."
He shook his head, still somewhat dazed-seeming. "I think he was just relieved it was me and not some stranger who, I don't know, thinks books worthless or wants to be a plumber."
"Could be." Janet pondered this a moment, decided a much more likely explanation was that her father was glad it wasn't, in fact, Nick she was keeping around, and shook her head. "Come on, let's go see if the potatoes are ready to mash."
They hadn't discussed what to do with their surnames when they eventually got married, if they did. Janet rather thought she'd like to keep her last name, always having been quite fond of it. Thomas suggested they might hyphenate them together, which Janet considered with less unfavorability than taking his name. One thing they did agree on was that their son or daughter ought to have both names, since the child would belong, technically, to both of them. Janet would remind him of this fact whenever her back was bothering her overmuch or she discovered yet another piece of clothing that would no longer oblige to fit. Thomas was learning to give very good backrubs, and to quite happily take the blame on himself. It was, after all, half his fault, in all ways.
The child’s other potential names took more discussion. Thomas had expressed a wistful thought to naming him or her something literary and distinguished, like Horatio or Lysander, if a boy, or, if a girl, Dulcinea or Antigone. "We're already giving him the disadvantage of a hyphenated surname," Janet had argued. "Let's give him some nice, normal given names to balance it out." In the end they had two lists, each with about twenty names on them, one for if it turned out to be a boy, one if it turned out to be a girl, with footnotes and annotations on meanings and associations and which ones might make passable middle names but shouldn't be considered for first names and so forth. Research was a comfort, even into something as little and important as a name.
Janet was simply thankful for wrap dresses, with their flowing, draping fabric happy to let in whatever breeze might meander through the early-blooming, damp-breathing June. Not that going to one's comprehensives while far bigger than one had ever imagined getting while pregnant was comfortable at all, but at least there were some things one might do to alleviate it a little. She had thought it would be a hindrance, to be pregnant while studying for these, but in fact it had proved benefit as much as distraction. Yes, she was tired, and hungry or nauseated, hot and cold by turns; but Thomas, perhaps still feeling just as much at fault as Molly thought he ought, was a marvelously obliging creature during this time, as were more people than Janet would have thought. She was not, she reminded herself, Victoria Thompson, and her ghost was not going to someday throw The Scarlet Letter out the window in a less-than-subtle message. It was all strange and terrifying, yes, but Janet would not be alone, nor would she be barred from things like graduate school or a career. Especially since being pregnant turned out, strangely, to be good for her poetry. "Creative energies," Molly had muttered half to her textbook. "I certainly haven't got any." Janet, however, was more inclined to blame that on biology, literally, than anything else.
The decision whether to finish her senior year out while in the scandalous state of being quite visibly pregnant, or to take a year off and leave her mother with the new baby the rest of her final year, was a difficult one. Ultimately, Janet decided, each had its own difficulties to be overcome, neither of which truly outweighed the other, but the notion of sitting at home with nothing to do or, worse, going somewhere away until the baby came seemed cowardly and useless to her.
And it was true, she was a scandal and a hissing to some people, none of whom Janet thought had opinions that mattered very much at all. Anyone whose opinions did matter knew what had happened, and the rest could go to hell, Janet determined.
It didn’t, at the very least, impinge too much on her time for studying, not yet. Which she desperately needed. Still she walked out of her last comprehensive wondering vaguely if she had, in fact, learned anything at all. If, in fact, she had and simply couldn't summon it at the moment, she wondered if this had been apparent to her inquisitors.
Still. It was done, and all she could do was wait to find out whether they considered her competent or not. Janet could afford a moment to simply stand and bask in the sunlight spilling out over the lawns and buildings. Her deep inhale was somewhat knocked out of her by the kid, announcing his--or her--presence quite soundly with a foot to her diagram. "All right, kid," Janet laughed, a little breathlessly. "All right. On to the next thing, huh?"
After graduation proper (the gowns were voluminous, true, but they didn't quite hide all manner of sins, even when one had sized the gown up, so Janet was exceedingly glad she'd decided against hiding her pregnancy like she was ashamed of it) was a party. It had started out as a graduation party, which Janet’s parents had graciously offered to host, but under the combined forces of Molly and Tina’s insistence, Thomas’ cautious acquiescence, and Janet's parents leaping in with a will, it had grown to include something of a baby shower for Janet. The only 'baby shower' element Janet, in fact, agreed to herself, was allowing (begrudgingly) presents of that nature to be presented to her. A toast to all the new grads with sparkling apple cider instead of champagne was the only other change. Janet did not want to be the center of attention on a day which, she felt, belonged to them all.
Molly had gotten an acceptance to an institue specializing in marine biology out on the West Coast. Tina had pulled straight As in every class that mattered, with a smattering of high Bs in a few outside her major she had taken to round out requirements, graduating summa cum laude, with an acceptance letter to Johns Hopkins in her desk, where she could keep taking it out and looking at it. Janet had, much to her amazement, passed her comprehensives with flying colors and had done well all around, yes, but she was only one of the accomplished people of the day, including Thomas who, after a seven-year-stay in the confines of Blackstock, had finally gotten out with a degree, and, furthermore, survived the Classics department, an achievement to be celebrated for certain.
Now? Now they were all parting ways. East, West, near and far. Janet herself had been accepted to several universities for graduate school, and, had decided, after much consideration, on the University of Minnesota, due to both its closeness to home (and eager babysitting), and its old, prestigious English Department. Janet looked around the living room at one point, nestled on the couch (no one would let her get up to get anything for herself, despite her exasperated protests--she was secretly grateful, really, since after eight months of pregnancy her back was killing her and her ankles weren’t much better). It was melancholy and sweetness in one, and Janet wished she could capture it. She caught Thomas' eye; from across the room, he approached. A dozen lines from a dozen poems and plays were in her head like half-caught stones in the earth, but all she asked him for was a pen and something to write on and there, in the midst of the party, she scrawled down fourteen ("or so," she said later, upstairs) lines on the paper, crossed out a word, altered another, folded the paper, and put it away on the end table in a book to retrieve later that evening.
It had to end, of course, this moment. Tina they put into her parents' car, the Meebe finally there with the rest of Tina's things. The cat had waited patiently in his crate by the back door to protect him from both heat and Vincentio (or perhaps the dog from him) the duration of the party, distracting everyone into giving him hand-fed tidbits of party food, and was generally contented as they drove off down the road. Molly, on the other hand, lingered late, having one last night in the dorms before making her way all the way out to the coast of Oregon via bus, plane and bus again. "You'll write?" Molly asked, having already commanded Tina to do the same, no matter how difficult med school got.
"Of course," Janet assured her, hugging her fiercely and cursing her belly in the way. "Now that I'm not required to for papers, I don't know if you'll get me to stop."
Molly turned then on Thomas, glaring at him up and down. "You too."
He echoed Janet's answer, "Of course," and Molly took him half by surprise when she hugged him too, quickly but firmly, before getting on her bike and wheeling away into the deepening twilight, hair flying behind her like a banner.
The breeze, though cooling, wasn't too cool, and Janet was content to stand out there for a little while, watching the stars come out overhead. A breeze that carried with it the faintest hint of fall made her shiver, and Thomas slid his arms around her, one hand covering hers where it rested atop the swell of her belly. The heat of the day drained away with the last hints of sunlight. "Here at the quiet limit of the world," she breathed out.
Thomas huffed a breath of laughter at her choice, and even she had to admit that her Tennyson wasn't quite apt. "The summer hath far too short a lease," he amended, and it was her turn to laugh quietly.
The silence reigned a moment longer before she turned and pulled him into the house, plucking the half-finished poem from its place and letting it tell her what it wanted to be.
The baby was finally born in the tail end of that bright golden June, after a long day and evening, and named Alice Margaret Carter-Lane, after a great-aunt of Thomas's, Janet's grandmother, and, it was true, a dash of awareness of literary names for girls. "As long as she doesn't go tripping down any rabbit holes or through any mirrors."
Janet smiled wearily up at Thomas. "Perhaps she'll be a mathematician instead."
He agreed silently, transfixed by the strange little creature's scrunched up nose and shock of pale red hair the tiny child had been born with, instead of pink and bald like half the other babies in the ward. He smiled down at the sleeping child, and at his best friend, holding her close. "I can hardly believe it."
Janet snorted indelicately, making Alice stir, but not wake. "After all that labor? I can. Here."
Without much preamble, she passed him the swaddled babe, half obscured by pink cotton. The hospital had only blue and pink in infant-sized blankets, thus sticking them with it for now. But back home was the leaf-green blanket Janet's mother had knitted, and Thomas' mother had promised them a wild-looking quilt in purples and blues and greens. Janet hadn't wanted to know the baby's gender, nor to have to buy everything in one color or another for the poor kid before he or she could even decide on liking pink or blue or both or neither.
It was clear he was nervous, holding this fragile thing, this thing he did not know, could not know, as new as it was to the world. But, nervous as he was, willing all the same. "Hello there, Alice," he added the name belatedly, weighing it as a word, as a name, as a future. "Hey."
Janet smiled fondly.
"What's this? Baby's first book of poems?" Janet shook the item slightly in its wrapping, raising eyebrows at her lover turned recent fiancé. (She had done the asking, so as not to make a liar out of him; he had answered yes, of course, and now they planned for a summer wedding, last week of June).
Thomas made a face. "As if it would be her first. Just open it."
Janet carefully plucked the holly he'd tied to the bow--he must have bought it at a florist, for all the sharp points were filed off. Still, he set it on a table well above Alice's seeking hands when she crawled about, as curious as her literary namesake--and considered delicately and carefully unwrapping the paper, but gave in to her own curiosity and ripped the paper off enthusiastically instead.
It was, in fact, a book. Two, to be precise. One, a little green book which looked old enough to be a first edition but couldn't possibly, was titled The Legendary Ballads of England and Scotland, with an elegant bookmark, all scroll-work and fake gilding, peeking from where it had been placed. The second book, considerably newer, was a copy of The Lady's Not for Burning, with a piece of paper put into it just ahead of the title page. Thomas' handwriting scrawled across the paper, reading:
For another fifty days--or fifty years, perhaps.
Beneath it, on the cream linen of the title page, was a rather readable signature, a distinctive underline nearly bisecting the page on a slant under it. Janet looked up at Thomas, mouth agape. "How-"
He shrugged, an enigmatic, beatific smile on his face. "I have my ways."
Janet glared at him until he laughed and relented. "A friend of a friend who knows someone who works in an English bookstore." To Janet, it all sounded rather more complicated than just that, but she was willing to let it go, since it was snowing outside, and that always made her feel amenable.
She put the books down next to her on the tiny end table in their tiny apartment in Longfellow--the neighborhood--and picked up his still-wrapped gift, this one covered in a lovely thick paper she had felt almost guilty using as wrapping paper, all marbled green and cream. He, accordingly, pried it open carefully, not wanting to rip the paper, and slid the slim volume out into his hands.
There it was. Janet didn't get tired of seeing it herself, with real bound corners and a cover and a publisher's imprint and all. Improbable as Spring, it read on the cover, and that it was. Thomas turned it over in his hands, and looked up at her, his eyes shining with pride. "Would you look at that?"
"I should have thought to bookmark a poem or two for you, but I suppose that can't be helped now."
"I'm sure I'll figure it out."
He kissed her until Alice's fussing from the other room told them she was done with her Christmas nap, thank you, and ready to get this show on the road to see her grandparents tonight, and be fussed over by her aunt and uncle and so forth. Janet laughed, standing, and Thomas followed her, planting a kiss on the top of her head when he'd stood, collarbone-to-nose with her. "Surely."