Middle - Part VII

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THEY ARE late for the party because Gwen has to choose a different dress, and Basil must be waked without spilling water on his expensive suit. Kalp is smiling and cannot stop. He has tried and it hurts too much to be not smiling.

They are going to have offspring. His Unit is having a child!

Gwen is driving, her party dress hiked up and puddled around her thighs to allow for the operation of the vehicle. Basil usually drives. Tonight he cannot because Basil will not release the pregnancy test. He returned to the bathroom upon waking and seized it and investigated its readout, and has not let go of it since. The skin around his eyes and mouth is very tight and white, and he has said nothing. He has allowed Gwen and Kalp to herd him into the car, but he has not said a word.

Gwen keeps shooting concerned looks at his face, and when they finally arrive at the Institute — decked festively in red and green lights — Gwen parks, shuts off the car, and, still gripping the steering wheel and staring straight ahead, asks, "Are you angry?"

Kalp blinks and his smile slides away.

How could Basil possibly be angry? This is wonderful, joyous, fantastic news! This is news worthy of the celebration of the evening.

Perhaps Gwen fears Basil will be angry because she hid her ill- ness — the first signs of pregnancy in humans, Kalp learned — from Basil; perhaps she fears that Basil will be concerned because they are not mar- ried; perhaps Basil will leave because they had not agreed to have the baby together first. Kalp loves Basil very much but if Basil leaves Gwen alone and pregnant, Kalp will be very angry at Basil. Kalp of course will stay and care for the offspring — it will be his son or daughter instead of Basil's.

But he hopes it will be "with" rather than "instead of."

Basil turns his head so slowly and stiffly that it appears as if he is some sort of child's toy, his neck a ball joint swivel. He licks his lips once, and takes a small breath.

Before he even speaks, Gwen flinches.

"I," Basil says slowly, fingers opening and closing on the pregnancy test. The cramped interior of the vehicle smells faintly of urine. "I'm gonna be a daddy."

He grins now, wide and white, and Kalp sighs and slumps back against the back seat, relieved.

Gwen yelps in joy, and Gwen and Basil lean towards each other to press their mouths together. It smears Gwen's red lip paint all over Basil, and makes Kalp's chest ache. He wants to kiss them, too.

He settles with placing one hand on the top of each fuzzy human head and smiling wide. They turn to him and he leans forward tentatively, pursing his lips and pressing one small, nervous kiss on each cheek.

"You're gonna be an uncle, Kalp!" Basil says.

Kalp would prefer to be the father, too, but uncle sounds just perfect for right now.

Gwen repairs her lip paint with the reflection in the rearview mirror, and then they go inside the building, Gwen's arms threaded through theirs, one on each side in grand presentation, to keep them all from slipping on the ice. Kalp is wearing shoes today, because he has already had his toe-pads freeze to the parking lot once and is not eager to repeat the experience.

Inside, the music is steady and calm in deference to the employees of the Institute from Kalp's world. Basil is relieved. He has never been a fan of the harsh loud music that is popular currently. They shed their thick outerwear and pass it to a woman who takes it away and leaves them with a claim ticket. Kalp sends his shoes with her, too.

The canteen is decorated to approximate a sort of classy eating establishment, with balloons and bright red starburst flowers on each cloth-draped table. Kalp, Gwen, and Basil purposefully take seats at a table on the far side of the room from Derx and his human friends, Barnowski and Edgar, all three of them loud and offensively self- congratulating. Kalp was astonished to discover that there were not one but three people in the universe like Derx. Of course, all three like nothing more than the sound of their own voices, and to be told that they are clever, and so every conversation between them sounds more like three separate monologues.

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