Chapter 1: Second-Hand Baby Clothes
She stumbles as we separate. I’m holding Zara, but I reach out one arm to steady her. She clings to me, and I can feel tremors running through her body. She’s exhausted. Stupid pillock! Why didn’t I see that earlier? She’s just had a baby, she should be tucked up somewhere with her feet up. Instead, she’s been on the run since minutes after Zara was born.
There were two women waiting for us when we arrived. Jenna spoke to them quietly for a few seconds, and now one of them is helping us out of the room. She’s talking, her voice gentle and comforting.
“Let’s get you off to bed, my dears. Poor thing, you must be exhausted. We’ve got a room organised for you upstairs for a day or two. When the cottage is ready you can move in there, but you’ll be comfortable enough here for now. We’ve got some baby things ready, just hope it’s enough. It’s mainly second hand, I’m afraid, there’s just not the shops around here to get things locally, but everything’s clean. Most of it belonged to my grandchildren, but they grow out of things so fast. Once you’re feeling up to it, I dare say you’ll enjoy a day in Plymouth or Exeter to buy what you want.”
Her words seem to be what Buffy needs to hear, easing her fear, and I’m grateful. We climb a huge, ornate staircase, taking it slowly. Zara sleeps contentedly in my arms. I smile as I look at her little face. My daughter. I’ve got to say the words every so often or it’s as though it won’t be true any more.
We reach the top of the staircase and walk past doors until we come to one which looks identical to the others. Our guide opens it, and shows us into a large bedroom. It’s comfortably furnished, with a large bed, a couple of chests of drawers and a wardrobe. There’re also a couple of large chairs, and on the other side of the bed, there’s a small cot. As I think the word, I realise that Buffy’ll call it a crib, or some such thing. To me, it’s a cot – a baby’s bed with bars around it.
“There’s a bathroom through that door,” she explains, pointing. “And we’ve left nappies and so on. The top drawer there has some clothes, enough to keep you going for a while.”
Buffy is looking around the room. She looks totally bewildered. I place Zara in the cot, covering her in the duvet which is covered in what look like pink ponies. She doesn’t stir. Our guide turns her attention to me.
“Get her to bed. She’ll be better after some sleep.”
She turns away from me to close the curtains. It’s daylight outside, and I’m guessing it’s more like getting-up time than anything else, but she’s right. I need sleep, so Buffy must be ready to fall over.
With one last concerned look at us, our guide leaves, closing the door after her. I take a look in one of the drawers and find they’ve left clothes for us as well as Zara. I find a night-gown – not exactly Buffy’s usual style, but that’s not important. I bring it to her and suggest she gets ready for bed. She nods, and goes into the bathroom.
While she’s gone, I change too, pulling on a pair of sweats that’re a couple of sizes too big, but I don’t care. When Buffy emerges, she looks as though she doesn’t know what to do, totally confused by her whereabouts, so I just take over, pulling her over towards the bed, and then pushing her gently into it. I pull the duvet over her, then go round to the other side and climb in beside her.
I pull her into my arms, and kiss her hair. She hasn’t said a word since we arrived, and she’s already asleep. I allow myself to drift off too, holding her in my arms.
Crying. There’s a baby crying somewhere, and I wish someone’d stop it. I know Buffy needs to sleep, hasn’t been asleep for nearly long enough. And she’s not the only one. I try to filter it out, but it doesn’t work, and against my will, I’m pulled to total consciousness.
Wait a minute. Baby. That should mean something. I’m out of bed before I can even form the words in my mind. It’s Zara, and she’s crying. Why didn’t I realise before? Poor mite’s breaking her heart, and I just wanted to sleep.
I glance at Buffy, but she’s still out of it. I pick Zara up, but it’s pretty obvious why she’s so miserable. I carry her into the bathroom, hoping that I can find what I need.
I’m relieved to find a pack of disposable nappies, and some wipes. I’m less happy to note that the sleep suit will also need changing. I peel off the soiled clothing, and open the nappy with distinct feelings of trepidation. I try to persuade myself that it’s not as bad as it looks. It’s mainly red blood cells anyway, and as an ex-vampire, that’s not something that should squick me out, but it’s not working.
I clean her up, wondering if there’re enough wipes in the pack to do it properly. Obviously whoever decided how big to make the pack knows more than I do, because I do it with plenty to spare. When she’s clean, I put on a fresh nappy. I know Buffy’d call it a diaper, but we’re in England now. I wonder if she even knows that the word’s different here.
She stopped crying as soon as I started cleaning her up, and now she’s lying quite happily on the changing mat on the floor. I leave her there while I wash my hands, then I pick her up, holding her close to me as I go in search of clean clothes for her. I find them, then spend an inordinate amount of time getting four wriggling limbs into the correct openings. The amount of strength I need to use seems inappropriate for such a small child, but it’s the only way. I work on the assumption that I’ve never heard of a baby being injured by a babygro before.
By the time I’ve finished, she’s getting grizzly again, and I assume she’s hungry. Well, that’s something I personally can’t do anything about right now, so I take her over to the bed. I place her in the middle, close to her mother, and she turns her head immediately towards Buffy. I place a hand on Buffy’s shoulder and shake her gently.
“Bit’s hungry, love,” I whisper, kissing her cheek softly. Her eyes flutter open, and she glances down to where Zara is desperately rooting for something to put in her mouth. Buffy rouses enough to unbutton her night-dress and get Zara started, then seems to drift off while the feast continues. I prop myself on one elbow beside them and just watch. I’ve never seen such a beautiful sight. I can’t tear my eyes off them, one sleeping, the other feeding greedily, then slowing, becoming sleepy too. I’m waiting for Zara to finish so I can put her back into her own bed, but my eyes are closing too.
I never thought the Big Bad would run away. But that was when I only had to worry about myself. Now, I’ll do anything I have to to keep my girls safe. We’ve no home, no friends around, and everything is liable to fall around our ears, but the contentment I feel right now is like nothing I’ve ever experienced. They’re mine. Both of them, both of my girls. I’ve loved them for so long, never believing they would ever care for me, and to watch them like this is just the most amazing thing I’ve ever experienced. As Big Bads go, I’m pathetic, I know it. But if I ever get my hands on whoever’s done this to us, they’ll find out just how bad I can be.