Rita's baby shower was a huge success. Her village, as we now call ourselves, had really come through and Rita now had everything she could possibly need for her little peanut. The baby is due in three weeks. I stayed after everyone else left, Rita said she needed to talk.
"I cannot wait for this baby to come." Rita moaned. "I no longer have ankles, I have cankles and I have to pee every five minutes."
"It will all be worth it." I assured her.
"I know." Rita smiled and rubbed her huge belly. "I'm just ready to meet this little guy or gal."
"I can't believe you have the will power to not find out the gender in advance. I'm not sure I could stand it. Does Mark know the gender?"
Rita shrugged. Mark seemed to know a lot of things ever since he died and went to the plane of light. "If he does, he hasn't said. I told him I wanted to be surprised. He did tell me something I wanted to talk to you about though." Rita looked serious.
"That depends. How do you feel about delivering a baby?"
"Here's the thing, Mark thinks if I give birth in the visiting room, there's a chance he and the baby might be able to visit there too. He hasn't met any souls that have done it yet, there are so few that visit with the living and fewer still that have a baby. He's heard rumors though. Grace, if there's even a slight chance it could work, we have to try."
"Potential problem Rita, you said you have to be asleep to visit with Mark. How the heck are you going to sleep through childbirth? Also, how would I get there to deliver the baby even if I knew how, which I do not?"
"Mark and I have been thinking on that. We have some ideas. We're going to need Victor’s help." Rita went on to explain that in theory, if Rita could somehow get to the visiting room while still awake, she would be able to give birth there. Until now, no one knew of any way to get there awake however, if Victor could poof us there, it just might work.
“I can think of a lot of ways this could go wrong Rita. What if we do make it there but we can’t get back? What if something goes wrong with the delivery? We’ll never forgive ourselves if something were to happen to the baby.” What Rita was proposing was terrifying to me.
“I would risk anything for the chance for Mark and our child to have a relationship. There are a lot of unknowns and I understand I am asking you and Victor to take a big risk too. I won't hold it against you if you say no but, Grace, I’m begging you, please help us.”
I needed to think. I needed to consult with Victor. I told Rita we would touch base with her tomorrow.
When I arrived home, I told Victor about my conversation with Rita. He thought for a few moments before saying anything.
“I’m not sure if I can get us there or not. In theory, I can poof us to anyone’s location but, I have no idea if that will still work when we are on two completely different planes. “Victor ran a hand through his raven black hair, pushing it back out of his eyes. “I think we need to try. If we were in that situation, I would want the chance to know our child.” I nodded in agreement. I would want the same. If there was a chance that we could make this happen for Rita and Mark, we had to try. We discussed the matter a bit more and reached the conclusion that the best course of action was to do a trial run to figure out if we could even get to the visiting room between the plane of the living and the plane of light. I would call Rita in the morning and arrange to do our test tun tomorrow night.
Everything was set for our trial run. We poofed over to Rita’s house just before 10:00 pm. I don’t know how Rita drifted right off to sleep with Victor and I sitting there watching her but, she did. Victor grasped my hand in his. My stomach churned with nervousness, if this worked, we were about to poof to a different plane of existence. The fear that we might not make it back was gnawing at the back of my brain. I closed my eyes. When I opened my eyes, I thought it hadn’t worked. We were still in Rita’s bedroom, but she was awake now.
“It’s good to see you, Grace.” Mark stepped forward into the moonlight shining through the window; he looked exactly as he had in life.
“Oh my God.” Although I had completely believed everything Rita told me, seeing it for myself was still a shock. “Mark, this is incredible.” He stepped forward to hug me; he felt solid, warm and real. “Mark, I want you to meet Victor, my husband.”
“Good to meet you, Victor.” The two shook hands.
“Same to you Mark.”
The four of us talked for hours, then decided it was time to see if Victor and I could get back to the plane of the living. If we made it, the next test would be to see if we could get Rita to the visiting room while she was awake.
“Good luck you two. We can’t thank you enough for being willing to try this.” Rita smiled. She looked so happy here with Mark.
“Yes, thank you Grace and Victor.” Mark bowed humbly.
Victor grasped my hand. “Here goes.” He said nervously. I held my breath. We poofed back to Rita’s bedroom in the plane of the living. Rita was still asleep, and she was smiling. I exhaled slowly. We crept quietly down the stairs; we would wait for Rita to wake up on her own rather than interrupting any of her time with Mark. When she woke, we could try phase two of this whacky experiment.
Victor sat down on the couch; I laid down with my head in his lap and fell asleep as he played with my hair. All the nervousness and excitement had worn me out. Victor let me sleep until he heard Rita stirring upstairs. She soon joined us.
“Mark said he will wait in the visiting room to see if you can get me there awake. I can’t believe I’m going to poof!” Rita giggled.
“I’m going to take your hand and Grace’s. Do not let go until I say it’s safe, ok?” Rita nodded as Victor took our hands. “I’m going to try to focus on Mark and on the visiting room location. Now that I have been there once, I have a feel for how to get there.”
I held my breath and closed my eyes. This needed to work. We poofed; I opened my eyes to find that we were indeed in the visiting room with Mark and Rita but it ow looked like their living room instead of their bedroom.
“The room will look like wherever Rita was when she left the plane of the living.” Mark explained.
“I’m still not clear on one thing.” I was very unclear truth be told. “When Rita is in the visiting room with you, we can still see her body in the plane of the living. How does that work? Are we currently in two places at once?”
Mark chuckled and grinned. “I wish I could explain it to you Grace but it’s a magic beyond the understanding of a living mortal’s mind. I can tell you, when you poof here while awake, your full selves are here. If anyone looked in our living room on the plane of the living right now, they would see only an empty room.”
“Festinating.” Victor mused. “So, when the time comes, we need to bring Rita here awake to make sure her whole self is here when she gives birth. Wouldn’t want the baby popping out in the living plane while we are all here.”
“That’s the theory.” Mark confirmed.
It was mid-morning when Victor and I got home but we were both exhausted. We went to bed and slept a good part of the day away.
“I’m hungry but I don’t know if I am supposed to be eating breakfast or dinner.” Victor’s stomach grumbled as if on cue.
“How about breakfast for dinner?” I asked. Victor agreed with that idea, so I made pancakes.
“Good thing we got some rest.” Victor sighed. “Potential assignment. I’ll go make the offer.”
“I’ll be here.” Victor kissed me goodbye and poofed away. Twenty minutes later he returned. The offer had been accepted; it was time to get to work removing someone’s sorrow. Victor took my hand and we poofed away.
Our destination was a small and sparsely furnished apartment. Haley was on the couch curled up in the fetal position. Haley’s twin sister Bailey had died in a car accident six months ago. The sisters had been inseparable for all twenty-two years of their lives. When a drunk driver crossed the median and hit them head on, Haley had escaped with a few broken bones; Bailey had not been so lucky. Haley simply did not know how to function without her twin. She withdrew from her friends, stopped attending her college classes and barely ate enough to keep herself alive.
I thought of Rita and how despondent she had been when Mark died. I imagined her sorrow then would have looked much like Haley’s did today. The blue and black tentacles of sorrow ran all through her body and were tightly coiled around every organ. It squeezed and crushed the will to live right out of Haley.
“This is going to take a while Haley. I just want you to relax as much as you can. When I’m done, you’ll feel better, I promise.”
“Will it hurt you to do this?” Haley asked, her big tear-filled brown eyes looked up at me from the couch. I nearly cried too, none of my other assignments had ever asked me that before.
“It will make me very tired but any pain I feel will be temporary. Victor will take care of me when I am done, don’t worry.” I smiled at her reassuringly although I was quite sure her sorrow was powerful and would in fact, hurt me a great deal. Haley had enough to deal with, she didn’t need to feel guilty about me doing my job. “You ready?” She nodded and I got started.
My assumption about the power of Haley’s sorrow was spot on. It took me over three hours to get the job done. The flailing mass did not want to leave its host and it was angry. I locked eyes with Victor as I shoved the mass of sorrow into my chest, he understood me, it was going to be bad. The sorrow melted into me and began wrapping around my insides frantically squeezing and crushing, determined to destroy me. I took deep breaths, I tried to stay conscious, but I failed. Victor caught me in his arms before I hit the floor.
I opened my eyes. I was in our bed with Victor’s arms around me and one of his legs over mine. Clearly, he had been trying to transfer as much energy to me as he could as quickly as possible. After a tough assignment, I always worried Victor was giving me too much for his own good, but he would never admit it if it were true. I shifted and pushed his leg off me.
“There’s my girl.” Victor smiled.
“Fourteen hours. Not as bad as I was afraid it would be. “ He nuzzled in and kissed my temple.
“Babe, I’ve got to pee, and I need a shower.”
“No surprise there.” He laughed and tossed the covers back. “I’ll join you in the shower in a few minutes.”
Over the next two weeks we spent a lot of time with Rita watching videos and reading up on how to safely deliver a baby. After the first couple videos, I turned to Victor in horror.
“I am rethinking this whole idea of having kids.” I shook my head. “That looks just awful.”
“No, you aren’t.” Victor laughed. He knew me well. I was now more terrified than ever of the birthing process, but I wouldn’t let that stop me when the time came for Victor and me to start our family.
“How do you think I feel? It’s too late for me to change my mind.” Rita said. She was looking a bit green around the gills. I patted her hand reassuringly.
“We’ll be right there with you the whole time. Mark too.” I thought for a moment. “Wait, can’t Mark just deliver the baby? Isn’t he like, all knowing now or whatever?”
“If dead people can faint, he will probably faint. I need you there.” Rita rolled her eyes.
“You can count on us.” I promised.
“I know.” Rita smiled and hugged me as best she could with little peanut taking up so much space in front of her.
It was just after three in the morning when the phone woke me up. I groggily grabbed the phone from the night table and answered.
“Grace, my water just broke! It’s time!”
“Oh my God!” I shot out of bed and flipped on the lights. “Victor, wake up! The baby is coming! Rita, we’ll just get dressed and then we will poof over.”
“Don’t wear your good clothes Grace, this could get messy.” Victor warned.
“Right. Check.” I grabbed an old, faded pair of jeans and a comfy t-shirt with a bleach stain on it. We were ready in a matter of minutes. Victor took my hand and we poofed over to Rita’s house.
“You’re positive this is how you want to do this?” Victor asked Rita.
We quickly gathered all the things we knew we would need and made sure they were in the room with us. Victor took my hand and Rita’s and poofed us to the visiting room between the plane of the living and the plane of light. Mark was there waiting.
“Are you ready to meet our child Mark?” Rita smiled at her husband.
“I can’t wait.” He rubbed her back and stroked her hair as a contraction came and went.
Please God, let this work. I silently prayed. If things went wrong, we could lose Rita and/or little peanut and that was not acceptable. We were risking it all for just the possibility that Mark, and the baby would be able to interact in the visiting room. I couldn’t blame them; I would do the same for Victor and our child if it came down to it.
Rita groaned as another contraction came and went.