Contrary to Expectation
Written for Traykor for Yuletide 2006.
The new baby didn't look anything like it was supposed to. Instead of having a pretty bunch of blond curls, it was bald. Instead of being chubby and pink, it was scrawny and a bit yellow--that was jaundice, Megan's dad explained. Most importantly, instead of being a little sister, the new baby was a boy.
Megan kissed the baby when Dad lifted her and told Mum that she was very happy to have a little brother, and after Dad took her home she went to her room and cried until she finally fell asleep.
When she woke up, the sun was setting. Megan washed her face and went downstairs for supper.
"You've been very quiet today," her father observed.
"I was tired, so I took a nap," Megan said.
"Too much excitement for you, eh?" Dad said, and Megan nodded in agreement.
The vase on Megan's chest of drawers had two daffodils in it. It looked pretty against the blue walls. It had also been broken earlier that afternoon. Howell had gone into her room--despite the fact that he was forbidden to step foot in it when she wasn't there--and been clumsy with his ball.
Megan picked the vase up to look at it more carefully. Maybe Howell had just glued it back together. There weren't any cracks in the porcelain, though; the vase was as new and beautiful as when her godmother first bought it for her in Carmarthen.
She set the vase carefully on her dresser and went down the hallway to Howell's room. "Who is it?" he asked when she knocked.
"Me," she said and opened the door without waiting for his reply. She closed and latched it behind herself. "Howell," she said, her heart thudding in her throat. "How long have you been doing magic?"
Howell looked at her warily, then shrugged. "A few weeks, I guess. Why?"
"Have you told anyone about it? Or...or shown anyone?"
"Not even your friends?"
"What friends?" Howell asked, scowling, and for the first time ever Megan blessed Howell's arrogance, since it apparently made him such a beastly rotter that not even other ten year-olds could stand him.
"You mustn't tell anyone," she said, her voice fierce. Howell nodded, but he didn't look as though he were really paying attention. Megan clutched his arm tightly enough that her fingernails dug into his skin, and Howell cried out.
"Megan," he said in protest.
"Are you listening to me?" Megan persisted. "Not a soul, Howell. Not even Mum or Dad, you hear? I read in the paper just the other day that they passed new legislation against witches. If anyone found out that you had done magic, you'd be burned."
Howell made a face at her. "I know. I'm being careful."
"Fixing a vase that was smashed into bits isn't being careful."
"You were upset," Howell said, his voice sullen.
Megan sighed. "I'd be more upset if you were dead, all right?"
"All right," Howell said. "I promise, Megan."
"What do you mean, I have to finish cooking dinner?" Howell demanded. "I don't know how to cook."
Megan rolled her eyes. "I've already done the hard part. The timer will go off in a bit over half an hour. All you have to do is take the roast and potatoes out of the oven. Mum and Dad should be home shortly afterwards."
"I have a chapter of my dissertation due tomorrow. Can't you just finish cooking dinner, if it's that easy?"
"No," Megan said. "Gareth is taking me out tonight."
Howell shook his head. "Him again? You could do better."
"No, I couldn't," Megan snapped. "In case you hadn't noticed, Howell, I'm near thirty years old and working in a shop. Gareth may not meet your exacting standards, but he's a good man and he's successful and I'm lucky to have him."
"He's barely educated--"
"And what of it? Maybe if I'd gotten a chance to go to university like you then I might care about things like that. As it is, I don't really see that I have that luxury."
"You never wanted to go to university," Howell protested.
Megan snorted. "No, of course I didn't. Why would I want to go to university when I could get a lovely job putting clothes onto hangers and ringing people up on the register?"
Howell opened his mouth, but Megan didn't bother listening. She grabbed her purse and jacket and left, slamming the door behind her.
Megan dropped into her seat, wishing that she could take off her shoes and rub her aching feet, and knowing that if she tried, half her family would snap a picture of her just at that moment. She didn't want her wedding album spoiled by her bare size sevens, so she wiggled her toes and bore it.
There was a sudden commotion from the dance floor, and Megan looked over to see that her brother and her boyfr--husband had cleared a wide swath of it. Gareth's face was red with champagne and dancing, and Howell looked almost happy. He was certainly energetic, and she wished again that she could have taught him to dance properly. Someone was liable to get hurt with the way he was flailing his limbs about, and her new husband was closest to the line of fire.
Gareth caught her eye across her room, and they shared a smile. At least until Howell's elbow caught him in the side and Gareth winced, and Megan bit her lip to keep from laughing out loud.
"Did you reach his flat yet?" Megan asked.
Gareth shook his head. "No answer," he said, and Megan blinked hard and tried her best to smile. She'd never paid any mind to women who said how weepy and hormonal pregnancy made them, but apparently she ought to have listened.
"Well, it's not like he won't have plenty of opportunities to see little Neil later," she said, and Gareth, bless him, didn't breathe a word about Howell's irresponsible behavior. It was only that Dad had died two years before that made it so hard; it wasn't right to be without family at a time like this, and Howell had promised. Not that she wasn't used to him breaking his promises.
"Sorry I'm late," Howell said breathlessly, tumbling through the door just then. "There was a real emergency, and...is that him?"
The sudden awe in his voice did much to dissolve Megan's irritation, and she smiled a little stiffly. "Who else could it be?"
"He's beautiful," Howell said, gazing at Neil's red little wrinkled face with quite as much adoration as Megan might have wished. "Can I touch him?"
"Wash your hands first."
"Of course." Howell left at a brisk pace. Megan ducked her head to hide her expression. More quickly than she'd imagined, Howell was back at her bedside. Even before he reached a hand towards Neil's little face, though, he kissed her on the top of her head. "Well done, Megan," he said. "Very well done, indeed."