LORRAINE HAD BEEN a change-of-life baby for Miriam Nussbaum, twenty-three years younger than her brother David. There was nothing really wrong with Lorraine; she had been an adorable child. But after Phyllis and David, Lorraine had been an inconvenience, and then a disappointment, and Miriam just could not hide those feelings from her youngest daughter. That is why Miriam was willing to do something as dubious as flying with Lorraine to Orlando the day before Christmas.
The trip was a disappointment. Miriam remembered when flight had had a cachet of romance: stewardesses in smart uniforms, serving champagne and the best of catered food aboard gleaming silver airliners. The aircraft which had brought them to Orlando from New York was as crowded as a city bus, and not much cleaner, at least on the outside. They had to make do with peanuts, served by increasingly irritable flight attendents as the aircraft was bumped again and again from the landing pattern. They had landed more than two hours late, and spent more than another hour getting to the terminal.
"He's here! There!" Lorraine exclaimed, pointing out the window.
Miriam had been reading; she pulled off her glasses and tried to find Martin Tiggs, hoping her daughter had actually seen him. But she couldn't make out any facial features from this distance, even white ones. Tiggs was eggplant-dark, and while there were some very dark men in the crowd, they could be anyone to Miriam. "Are you sure, honey?"
"Yes, I'm sure, Mom."
The plane was being turned to nose into its space, so the closest terminal windows wheeled out of sight. Miriam had no idea who Lorraine had had in mind. She hoped it would be Tiggs, though, because Lorraine would be shattered if her ex-husband did not bother to pick her up. "Don't get up, honey . . . let's just wait until there isn't as much of a crowd."
<If only she'd stayed in City College,> thought Miriam as they waited to exit the plane. Transferring to Yale had been the big accomplishment of Lorraine's life. But she'd met Tiggs there. A gentile, and black. Such a fine choice. Still, that had been bearable, after a time; if she had dropped out, he had graduated, and went into the FBI. He was so supportive through the miscarriages. But afterward, separation, and then divorce. He was supposed to be starting an undercover assignment, according to Lorraine; that was why she had let him go. Miriam never asked Tiggs' opinion about that.
That undercover assignment had been real enough, but it had turned out badly. Miriam Nussbaum had enough friends in high places to discover that Tiggs was suspected of actually working for the gang he was supposed to be investigating. Whatever the truth, Tiggs was finished with the FBI. He was a hotel detective now, a dubious job for a dubious man. And he wasn't even Lorraine's dubious man now. He'd married again, though Lorraine had assured Miriam, "It was all a big mistake; he's just waiting for final papers now." <How many other women? How many other secrets?>
But Tiggs had come to meet Lorraine; he actually was waiting just outside the ramp. Miriam Nussbaum was glad of that for about one second. That gladness ended when she saw Lorraine's shoulders slump, which could only be from bad news.
Miriam struggled to catch up. A girl came up, and offered her help, and Miriam took it before realizing she was a stranger. But not a stranger to Tiggs, who took Miriam's travel bag from the girl with unconscious familiarity. The girl seemed to be a very young teen, a petite Amerasian affecting strawberry blonde hair, but . . . <no, not this one!>
But it seemed to be that one. As they walked on to the central nexus of the terminal, the girl kept up with Tiggs, and he kept leaning over or bending down to listen or to say things--none of which Miriam heard. Lorraine stayed with Miriam, who fell behind Tiggs and the girl. Lorraine did not talk, but she was moist-eyed, and Miriam knew if she asked even one pertinent question, Lorraine would break down. So Miriam kept silent.
At last they reached the baggage claim area. The girl went ahead of even Tiggs, and actually gathered most of the bags. She had a cart for them, but there was already some luggage on it. When Miriam caught up at last, she said, "No, no, those aren't ours."
"They are mine," said a soft, clear voice from behind.
Miriam Nussbaum turned around, along with her daughter.
The girl pushed between them to stand beside a very exotic woman of almost unearthly beauty, putting a familiar arm around one of hers. "This is my Auntie Setsuna," said the girl. "She is Mr. Tiggs real wife now."
The exotic woman, who had very long hair, colored a dark green, spoke with the soft, clear voice Miriam had first heard. "That is something that has not been settled. You are Lorraine, and you must be Lorraine's mother?"
Miriam said, "Miriam Nussbaum."
The woman bowed as best she could, which was not very far, because she was very pregnant. That probably triggered Lorraine's breakdown at last.
And he couldn't cope with Sarah, either, but she had followed him. "Don't run away and leave Setsuna!" the girl said, and he thought he felt the tingle of compulsion--this half-grown girl had that power, if she chose to use it.
Tiggs said, "I'm not, I said I'd be back. But you know that. Don't you do your thing on me!"
"I'm not! I promised . . . " Sarah's brashness had left her, and Tiggs saw her as the undergrown, secretly unsure girl he knew her to be, despite all her powers. Sarah continued after a moment, in a small voice, devoid of brashness and bluff. "Mr. Tiggs, I am sorry I did what I did to you. I am sorry for all of us . . . If you won't forgive me, I will understand. But Auntie Setsuna loves you, Mr. Tiggs. Please, won't you forgive her?"
Tiggs wished he could smoke, but that was banned even outside at the airport. Turning around, he could see the three women together. Lorraine seemed to be at least half-controlled, but she kept rubbing tears from her face as she listened to Setsuna.
Tiggs pointed them out. "Look. Setsuna isn't the only woman who thinks she loves me, or needs me. Lorraine did nothing to me like what you all did."
Sarah said, "No . . . but you don't love her the way you do Setsuna."
Tiggs said, "Yeah, I know. You can read my heart."
Sarah said, "Anyone could read that in your heart. Lorraine does."
Tiggs said, "Lorraine is not going to give up. You must know that, too."
Sarah said, "Yes . . . But Setsuna won't give up." She got a sad look on her face. Then she looked down at her watch, which was flashing. "I'm going back. Mom must be worried. Call us when the baby starts to come." And then Sarah wasn't there. A few people did double takes, but soon moved on. Only Martin Tiggs knew his eyes weren't playing tricks.
"No. Don't just walk out," he said, closing the door. "We need to talk."
Lorraine snapped. "Why? What's to talk about? I don't need you to tell me what a big fool I've been." Lorraine sobbed for a moment, but then she regained control. "I just wanted to get back with you. I don't ecare what you did. I just want you back."
Tiggs said calmly, "Lorraine, I'll always care for you, but I don't want to be married to you."
Lorraine said,"Because I didn't have kids? It's not like I'm not too old to try again. And is she having your kid?"
"Yes, she is," Tiggs replied.
Lorraine persisted. "You're sure? Really sure?"
Martin Tiggs said, "I didn't leave Setsuna because she was cheating on me. It was about . . . something else."
Lorraine took a step back, and regarded him. "You're letting her come back, aren't you?"
"She's about to have my baby, Lorraine," Tiggs said. "Should I be sorry I'll be able to be with my child?
Lorraine was not satisfied with that answer. "No, it's more than that . . . did you really file for divorce?"
Tiggs really did not want to explain. "Yes . . . but there are . . . "
"You changed your mind, didn't you?" said Lorraine.
He started to step forward to embrace her, but thought better of it. "I decided not to decide, for now."
"But you've decided about me," said Lorraine, "Haven't you?"
"Yes. I'll always care for you, Lorraine, but it won't work between us," said Tiggs. He thought about explaining his conflicting emotions about Setsuna, but there really was no way to do that without explaining . . .
Lorraine spoke calmly, if haltingly. "Well . . . I guess that's that . . . can I go now?"
"Yes." He opened the door, and stood aside. She left without another word. She did not look back.
Lorraine looked down the stairwell for a long time, but decided against it. It would be a longer fall, because it went into the basement, but she might bounce off the stairs on the way down, ending as a twisted mess. She walked out onto the topmost walkway, and along it, until she found a place where there were four empty parking spaces right together, right below. She didn't want to land on a car. She put a foot up onto the railing . . .
"Do not jump," said a soft, clear voice from behind.
Lorraine turned around, knowing who it must be. "How did you find me? Were you following me?"
"I will not let you do it," asserted the woman softly, yet with great authority.
"Really?" How did she know? "I'll just wait until you're not around."
Marty's new woman said. "Do not do this thing. You will hurt your family as well as me and Martin. And you do not know what death is like."
"And I suppose you do?" Lorraine was feeling more than resentment. The woman was strange. Now that Lorraine was alone with her, the strangeness was unsettling. "What are you? Some kind of witch? . . . Did you put a spell on Marty?"
The strange woman said, "If I had such powers, I would not use them on Martin to get him back. What would that be worth? But if I had powers, I would use them to save you. I do not want him back, as you say in America, over your dead body."
Lorraine looked past the woman who was taking Martin away from her, spoiling any chance to make things right again. Lights had come on in the window behind her, and a face peered through the blinds.
"Come," the woman said in her soft, strange voice. "It is not your time."
Lorraine didn't know why, but she went with the strange woman, away from the stares of the couple that came out to see what was going on, down the elevator, and on to the woman's room.
Before they entered, the woman asked, "Did you leave a letter? A note? You should get it, if you did."
Lorraine said, "No. Nothing dramatic like that . . . "
The woman said, "That is good. Come inside. I want to talk."
Lorraine hesitated, but there was nowhere else to go except back to the room to rejoin her mother. She entered.
The woman excused herself. "I must use the bathroom first."
Lorraine said, "Okay . . . I remember what it was like."
"What it was like?" the woman asked.
Lorraine said, "Being pregnant . . . Have to stay close to a bathroom."
The woman said, "Yes . . . I will be a few minutes."
Looking for something to focus on besides what she had almost done, Lorraine noticed some photographs Marty's provisional wife had set out. They were all in simple, thin metal frames, with some kind of clear plastic covering the photos. Light, but strong; a good choice for a traveler. None of them was of Marty. Most were photos of several people together. Two people showed up more than any others: the girl who had been at the airport with the woman, and another girl, now a young woman, with a baby in her arms. Both also had collages which showed them progressing from infancy to their present ages.
"This is quite a collection," Lorraine said to the woman when she came back. "Is this your daughter?"
"No," said the woman. "Hotaru was my ward, after her father died."
Lorraine pointed out another face in the picture, the largest. "And this one? She was at the airport with you."
The woman said, "She is Chibi-Usa. Actually, her name is Sarah, but we all call her Chibi-Usa." She pointed out a woman in the wheelchair. "Usagi is her mother. Chibi-Usa means 'little Usagi.' Or Little Lady, or Little Rabbit. 'Usagi' means both in Japanese. After Hotaru, Chibi-Usa is my favorite child."
Lorraine pointed to others in the picture. "Who's this? And these two?"
The woman pointed herself as she answered. "She is Kimi, Usagi's other child. And this is Haruka, and Michiru. Haruka and Michiru also helped raise Hotaru. They have children of their own now. We all lived together for a time, but now they are living in France."
"Oh," responded Lorraine, sensing that there was more to that than the woman wanted to say. "Why to you have so many pictures?"
The woman answered, "My friends gave them to me before I left my old home. Most were taken by Usagi's father. He is a professional photographer."
Lorraine said, "You have a lot of friends."
The woman sat on her bed, and drew out her next words. "Yes . . . but not here. When my baby comes, I will not have my friends here to help me take care of her. I will not want to leave her with a stranger."
Lorraine took a moment to get the implication. "What do you mean? Me? You want me?"
The woman said, "Yes. You love Martin, and the baby will be Martin's child. And I will pay you. I have savings, and I will find work."
Lorraine asked, "Work? What do you do?"
The woman said, "I have some skills. I have been a professional dressmaker. And I have pilot's certificates. I fly both airplanes and helicopters."
Lorraine said, "Well . . . I didn't know about any of that. But I'm a stranger to you."
The woman Marty had abandoned said, "The baby will not come until the new moon. You will not be a stranger by then."