Luna stood at the stove mixing the oatmeal, watching so it wouldn’t burn.
She’d offered Kion a steak to celebrate. She’d even planned ahead, spending time at the market to pick the finest cuts of meat and scrutinizing the potatoes and beans.
Berries, she thought as she moved to the fresh fruit. Kion loves berry pie. We can have that for dessert tonight.
The berries had looked so ripe she feared they would burst between her fingers. Finally she braved it, using a feather touch to sift through the red jewels. Master Dona grinned as he watched. He knew why Luna lingered over the produce. Everyone knew. As Luna paid for her items, anxiety found its way into her shopping bags and came home with her.
Does Zoe like berries? Maybe I should have bought more. But what if she doesn’t like them? We should have asked for her to include it in the report.
She and Kion had spent hours poring over the report that came two weeks earlier. Everyone with a child scheduled to come home received one. It contained all the essentials, of course: height, weight, the child’s general health, warfare and combat tactics learned. Allergies and general medical history. Basic likes and dislikes. All of this came with the Exit Essay the child wrote in preparation to leave the other dimension.
Nothing about berries came to mind, however. Luna had read the essay so many times she could almost recite it word for word. A few times she’d awoken in the night for a glass of water and caught Kion reading it. She’d found him with it that afternoon when she came home with her foodstuffs.
He left the report on his desk to help her with her bags. “I’m not sure I could eat an elaborate meal. My stomach doesn’t have room for anything but nerves.”
She stopped sorting all the food and stared at a jar of marmalade. “I feel exactly the same way.”
Her hands began trembling, and she remembered the day she gave birth to Zoe. That day her whole body had shook. The intense adrenaline from the delivery and saying goodbye to her only child after a council member came for the baby left her shivering for hours.
Kion stepped around the table. He put his arms around her, and she leaned into him. Through all 18 years of wondering about Zoe, Kion had supported her. Physically. Mentally. Emotionally. Even in those early days when she would stand for hours outside their home, hand tented above her eyes, looking up at the sky, wondering what she was doing at that exact moment. Luna’s insides had ached, yearning for the cord that had tied her child to her. At least Zoe would still be with her then.
But it didn’t matter now. In less than 24 hours, Zoe would be home. If all went well, that is.
After a few moments, Luna pulled away from Kion. She put the meat in the freezer box and all the other foodstuffs in their place.
“How about oatmeal with berries and nuts?” she suggested.
Kion considered it, then nodded and kissed her hard.
“Our daughter is coming home,” he whispered, breathing reassurance against her lips.
Luna’s eyes filled with tears, and Kion used his thumbs to push the tears away from her face.
“No, my love,” he said and kissed her again. “This is a day for happiness.”
She nodded and fought back the emotion choking her throat.
“A day to be happy and have oatmeal,” he said.
A laugh escaped her lips and she nodded again, grateful for a task to complete.
Now she stood at the stove and stirred the thick porridge. She dropped nuts into the pot and kept stirring, then took the berries she’d washed and watched them punctuate the smooth beige surface. With a fork, she pricked the berries and watched the colors swirl with a kaleidoscope of flavor through the oatmeal.
For so many years she and Kion had lived their lives with sameness, like the color of the oatmeal. Zoe would change all of that. She would be the color zipping through their lives in long, bright lines in a way only one’s child could.
Her girl. Zoe. The council had forwarded Zoe’s letters, and her missives indicated she received theirs in a timely fashion too. Luna and Kion had watched their child grow up through the pictures the council sent to their devices four times a year, and they got to know Zoe through her letters and drawings. They didn’t know what her voice sounded like; Luna didn’t know what Zoe’s clothes smelled like after she wore them two or three times. But they knew her as well as anyone could in this situation.
The council had done all this to save their children; Luna and Kion knew that. The two of them had actually met during their own training in the other dimension. They thought, with naivete Luna knew now, that the world would become safer before they grew up. Before they had children of their own. The council all but promised as much.
The world hadn’t changed. In fact, news reports provided by the council reassured everyone the world had become more dangerous. So, the need for the other dimension and its preparations persisted.
Despite the apprehension that lurked, the council’s safety measures succeeded. Almost every child came back. Those who did returned happy, grateful for their time in the dimension. The ones who returned had rosy cheeks and bright eyes, and so would Zoe. She would pursue her higher studies in the city and get to know her parents and live the rest of her life in close proximity so they could make up for lost time.
A large bubble in the oatmeal plopped open, bringing Luna back to the present. Zoe would come home to them. She wouldn’t be an “almost.”
Luna dished the oatmeal into two bowls and called Kion to the table. He beamed at her as he sat. She away blew the steam, hoping her anxiety floated away with it and dissipated into nothing.