16 / epilogue

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When Tala slowly woke to a ray of weak sunlight pouring across her bed and warming her cheeks, the first thing that struck her was the silence

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When Tala slowly woke to a ray of weak sunlight pouring across her bed and warming her cheeks, the first thing that struck her was the silence. She was sprawled out in the middle of her bed, hugging the pillow beneath her head, and she couldn't hear a peep except for the pleasant tweeting of the birds outside her window. She was still getting used to that sound so close to her bedroom, but she loved it.

The second realisation that hit was how quickly the year had sped by. It would be over in a week, a new date dawning on the horizon, and she would be thirty in less than three months. She didn't care about aging, but the number sounded so much bigger than twenty-nine. So much more mature: thirty sounded like a real adult. Sometimes she forgot that she was a real adult.

She rolled over, the strange silence and the soft light sinking in under her eyes flickered open again, and she realised that it must be at least nine o'clock for the sky to be that colour, for the sun to be so high, and yet she had woken alone without a sound to disturb her.

A sudden irrational panic clutched her and she sat up too fast, blood rushing to her head so fast that she had to steady herself against the headboard. She never slept in that late, ordinarily up before the sun, and she never woke up alone. When she had gone to bed last night, she had expected to be woken far too soon by March's Christmas excitement, to groan against Raphael's back before dragging herself to her feet.

It was only when she stumbled to her sleepy feet, her heart pounding, that she heard signs of life at last. Footsteps outside the bedroom, then the creak of the door and the sight of her boyfriend's woolly hair. His smile disarmed her. It always had and after a year, she knew that would never change.

"What's going on?" she asked before he could speak.

"Merry Christmas to you too," he said, kissing her with his smile. "I must say, that's a good look on you." He nodded at her chest, where her nightdress had slipped down. With a laugh and a roll of her eyes, she hitched it up and stepped back to quiz him.

"I mean it," she said. "Why's it so quiet? Why's it so late?"

"Your first Christmas present," he said. "A lie-in. Any good?"

"Very nice," she said with a yawn, "but a little disorientating. I wasn't expecting to wake up alone." She sank against him, his t-shirt bunched in her hands. "I missed my morning snuggles."

Raphael nuzzled his lips against her ear, his hands on her waist, but she put her hand on his chest to push him away. Her head was still full of sleep, but she knew something didn't feel quite right. It was the silence: she felt strangely empty, as though she was missing a part of herself, and shame washed over her when she realised what it was. She gave Raphael a funny look.

"What've you done with your child?"

He grinned and kissed her, moving slightly as though he was swaying to music only he could hear, before he asked, "Which one?"

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