I was going to kill whatever idiot god thought making Christi go into labor at my apartment was a good idea.
"Jubilee!" Christi screamed, gripping my arm as I attempted to drive through the rain pelting the windshield of my car. She was strapped into the passenger seat, the seatbelt tight against her protruding belly. The back was pressed all the way down so she wasn't forced to sit, but it wasn't doing much good. Her amber locks were pulled into a messy bun, sweat covering her face. She was so big I'd been amazed she could fit into my car.
"I'm going as fast as I can!" I snapped, honking viciously at a moron who tried to cut me off. "There is no way in hell I'm stopping for you, shithead!" My heart punched my chest again and again, as if it was trying to escape me the way Christi's unborn child was trying to escape her.
"Go faster!" She shrieked as another contraction hit her, clutching her belly as the shrill sound cooled into a moan.
"We're almost there, Christi." I took a sharp turn, inertia causing us to lean dangerously to the right. For a moment, the rivers of rain water streamed diagonally. We straightened, and I weaved in and out of cars in the two-lane road.
"Jubilee Winnifred Blake, if you don't go faster then this baby is coming in your car and I know you don't want that! So run the fucking red lights and get me to the motherfucking hospital!"
I refrained from mentioning that if our mother could hear her, she'd probably have a heart attack. Christi didn't need the added pressure. I performed a squealing U-turn that had both me and my pregnant sister yelling, and I finally caught sight of the hospital. I nearly cried from relief. I pulled into the closest parking spot I could grab and hastily exited the car, running around to help Christi out.
She was already unbuckled and in the process of hefting herself onto her feet. I grabbed her shoulders and yanked her upright, easily keeping her balance. She was panting, the front of her sweats sodden from the breaking of her water twenty minutes ago. She slung an arm over my shoulder and the two of us hobbled through the rain into the hospital.
"Help! My sister's going into labor!" I shouted as soon as we were out of the automatic doors.
A few nurses came over with a wheelchair and settled Christi into it. She kept a demonic death grip on my arm the entire time, dragging me with her.
"What's her name?" a nurse asked.
"Christianna Munroe," I answered.
"Where's Dr. Abernathy?" she snapped at the nurse pushing the wheelchair.
"She's waiting for you," the nurse replied, completely at ease despite the murderous and heavily pregnant woman shrieking her head off at her.
Christi glared daggers. "She better be, or I'll shove my foot up your ass!"
And our mother thought I was the cusser in the family.
We were brought into a large white room stained with bleach, and Christi was hefted onto a bed and settled comfortably on the sheets, her sweatpants, panties. and T-shirt stripped off in favor of the usual gown. Dr. Abernathy, a thirty-something with stick-straight ebony hair and pixie-like features was waiting as the nurse had promised. She smiled reassuringly at Christi.
"Okay, Christi, let's see how dilated you are." Christi's legs were pried apart as Dr. Abernathy inspected her. "Uh-huh. Yep. You're just about ready to give birth. How long ago did your contractions start?"
"Twenty minutes ago," I answered for her.
"And where's her husband?"
"He's being a total fucking dickhead, that's where he is! Now hurry up and get this brat out of me!" Christi's legs kicked out aggressively, and the nurses had to restrain them.
"He's running late," I amended. Casting a worried look at the homicidal expression on my elder sister's face, I added, "Maybe we should just continue without him. I think Christi's pretty close to strangling you with your stethoscope, Doc."
"Damn straight I am!"
"Alright, alright." She was handed a warm towel and she placed it on the bed between Christi's outstretched legs. "Christi, when the next contraction hits, I want you to push."
"You got it," she wheezed. Five seconds later, she screamed and cut off the circulation in my right arm. I screamed with her, wondering where the hell Christi got her grip from.
"We have a head! You're doing great, Christi, just keep breathing."
"Remember Lamaze classes," I hissed through gritted teeth.
"How am I supposed to remember a thing like that now?" she demanded.
"Deep breath in, quick breaths out - and then slow breath out!"
Surprisingly, she listened to me, doing the usual patterned breathing technique. Her nails still dug into my skin, but her grip had lessened enough that some blood was able to trickle through to my hand. She abandoned the breathing when she pushed again, groaning in pain.
"I see shoulders! C'mon, Christi, push!"
Her response was a shriek that bounced off the walls of the hospital and could probably be heard in China. Her hold had tightened once again and I winced at the agony in her expression.
"Where the hell is Aaron?" she moaned.
I glanced at the door. "I'm sure he'll be here soon." And if he wasn't, Christi and I would murder him. Our mother always wanted us to bond more as sisters.
"Almost there!" Dr. Abernathy yelled over Christi's groans.
I'd seen enough movies to know that "almost there" meant "not even close, we've got a long way to go" in doctor speak. I moaned with Christi and resigned myself to hours of pain and numbness.
Twenty minutes later, Dr. Abernathy could still see shoulders and Christi was ready to castrate her husband. I knew that Mom would be in the waiting room by now, probably with Dad and Elisa and possibly Nate. And Aaron had most likely decided to lay low for a week or so until Christi calmed down.
"Why did I think having a child was a good idea?" Christi sobbed.
I dabbed at her face with a rag, trying my best to rid her cherubic complexion of perspiration. "Because children are a joy."
"Children are a pain in my crotch, that's what they are!" She glowered at me with such rage that I actually flinched. "Why didn't you talk me out of this?"
"Because up until you went into labor, you were too fucking happy to be reasoned with."
She laughed, which transformed into a groan. "Oh my God, I'm gonna die."
"You're not gonna die, Christi!"
Thirty minutes passed, and I was starting to wonder if my sister was right. Dr. Abernathy was shouting the requisite encouraging doctor words but it was clear to both of us that there was some kind of holdup. I could see the worry in my sister's half-crazed eyes. I leaned as far away from Christi as I possibly could in order to talk to the doctor privately.
"What's going on?" I whispered. "Tell me the truth, please."
"The shoulders just won't come out," she whispered back. "She's not dilated enough."
Well, that would've been useful information forty minutes ago. Whoever said doctors should just be encouraging to their patients had shit for brains. Returning to my sister, I brushed some hair out of her eyes.
"Christi, you've really gotta push, 'cause this kid's shoulders are stuck in your crotch."
"I can't push anymore!" she sobbed.
"Then you're gonna be stuck in labor for hours! And the sooner we get this over with, the sooner I'll buy you a pickle smothered in peanut butter."
All the women in my family craved pickles and peanut butter when pregnant. Our mother had, our grandmother had, and our aunt Heidi had. And Christi had been obsessed with it to the point where she'd come to her various relatives' homes just to get their pickles. Which was what she'd been doing at my apartment when she went into labor.
A new determination crossed Christi's face and she readjusted her hand on my arm, a brief interlude of circulation flow. Then, gritting her teeth, she wailed like she had when we were kids and she was trying to be an opera singer as her body went rigid with her effort. I couldn't believe she still had the energy to push like that.
Apparently, neither could Dr. Abernathy, because her tone was surprised when she spoke. "You just cleared the shoulders! One last push, Christi, and you're home free!"
She nodded and yanked me down against her chest, squeezing me to her with a strength that almost broke my ribs. I couldn't breathe, though still had breath to scream along with Christi.
"And that's it!"
She released me and I stumbled back, coughing as breath flooded into my lungs. I turned to see Dr. Abernathy sever the umbilical cord, and clean and swaddle the baby. Smiling, she came over to Christi and handed her the tiny bundle.
"Congratulations, Christi, it's a girl."
For the first time in over an hour, Christi grinned, cooing softly as she stroked her infant daughter's forehead. I collapsed on my knees at the side of the bed, unable to stop matching my sister's expression. The baby was so innocent, so adorable as it blinked up at us.
"What're you gonna name her?" I asked. Christi and Aaron had wanted to be surprised, so they hadn't previously known the sex of their baby. But I knew they'd mostly thought of baby boy names.
"Hazel," she murmured. "Hazel Patricia Munroe."
"Nice name," I replied. "Hi, Hazel, I'm your aunt Jubilee."
Christi opened her mouth, about to say something, when abruptly she moaned and began to tremble. I hastily snatched baby Hazel away, handing her off to one of the nurses and calling Dr. Abernathy back over.
"Oh, looks like you've got another one," the doctor said, stunned.
"What?!" Christi and I shrieked simultaneously.
"It's tinier than the first one, and probably hid behind her during your ultrasound," she explained, reclaiming her position. "Okay, Christi, ready to pop out another one?"
"Oh shit," she moaned.
The door to the delivery room burst open, and Aaron came charging in, his shirt and slacks stained with sweat. His dark hair was windblown, eyes as crazy as Christi's. I figured he must've run from the college to make it in time. I thought he taught Romantic Literature or something.
"Christi," he gasped, coming to stand at her other side. "What's happened? Am I in time?"
She threw a fist into his arm. "What do you think, you fucking asshat?!"
"You're having twins," I added, to his utter astonishment. "You just missed the very lovely hour in which Christi managed to pop out a daughter, Hazel Patricia Munroe, and scream more than five dozen swearwords at the top of her lungs. The nurse has the baby."
"Oh." The terror in his eyes as he looked at his wife meant he knew he was going to be making it up to her for the next year at least.
I patted Christi's forehead to get her attention as she resumed her patterned breathing. "Well, now that your husband's here, I'm gonna go-"
"The hell you are!" she croaked, squeezing me forearm. "I am not trusting the birth of my second child to this douchebag over here."
Aaron winced. "Thanks so much, dear."
"I can just have Elisa or Mom take over-"
"No!" Pebbles of tears trickled from her eyes. "Please, Juju, I want you to stay. Elisa would just mutter some Gothic crap about vampire babies and Mom would be as encouraging as Dr. Abernathy."
I accredit my acquiescence to her use of superior logic in the face of my desire to run like hell. I wasn't normally present for family events - Sunday dinner at Mom and Dad's, Nate's basketball games, Elisa's interventions and art showings, birthdays, anniversaries, etc. It wasn't because I didn't want to - well, actually, it was. I wasn't even planning on being here for the birth of Christi's child - make that children - but when her water broke, it wasn't like I could just tell her to hail a cab and say good luck.
"Fine," I sighed. Aaron shot me an understanding look; we were both slaves to Christi's will.
She relaxed. "Good. Now, Aaron, while I scream out more obscenities and push like fuck, you can tell me where the hell you've been for the past hour. And then Jubilee will throttle you for me."
He gave me a puppy-dog expression of innocence. I flipped him off and nodded my head in agreement with Christi. I'd just endured a numbing pain in my arm for more than an hour, along with Christi's shrill voice; Aaron was gonna get it.
"I was giving an extended lecture on Byron, and my phone was turned off," he hastily explained. "I didn't get Jubilee's message until ten minutes ago."
She gave him that flinching glower and said, "A likely story. You are gonna owe me and Jubilee for this."
He nodded with a "yes, dear" and resigned himself as I had to the labors to come.
I have to admit, this time was much easier. Christi pushed like she was trying to eject a bomb instead of a baby, and focused all her painful actions on Aaron as punishment for missing Hazel's birth. Dr. Abernathy was as encouraging as she'd been before, to the point of extreme annoyance.
"This hurts like fuck!" Christi wailed, digging her nails into Aaron's arm. "Why did I ever have sex with you?"
He flushed, blatantly aware of me and the medical professionals in the room. "Well, dear, you seemed to like it."
She flipped her head over to me. "Jubilee, remind me to never have sex with him again."
I nodded and pressed my lips together to keep from laughing.
The doctor chose that moment to pipe up. "You're doing good, Christi-"
"Shut up!" Aaron, Christi, and I yelled together.
Dr. Abernathy took it in stride and from then on her comments were more informative than useless optimistic dribble. In the span of half an hour, Christi popped out her second child. A boy she named Caleb Arthur Munroe. This time, Aaron got to hold his child, and the look on his face was unlike any other I'd ever seen. I'd just been a kid when Nate and Elisa were born, and definitely not allowed in the delivery room with my dad. The expression of awe and - pardon the pun - jubilation was almost too much to look at. Because in that moment, I knew I'd never have what Christi had. I was too much of a freak to ever risk having a husband or kids. I supposed being an aunt would have to be enough.
"So, Dr. Abernathy, when can I get out of here?" Christi panted, having completely collapsed after pushing Caleb out.
"Soon." She flipped through some paperwork, writing where necessary. "The nurse will bring Hazel and Caleb to you once we're through with procedure." With a nod at us, she exited.
"Thank God that's over," Aaron moaned.
He immediately drew mine and Christi's ire.
"Hey, you weren't here for the whole damn thing," I hissed. "This she-devil wife of yours almost amputated my arm with her nails!"
"And I'm pretty sure my crotch will never recover from pumping out two volleyballs," Christi added.
He flushed again and slowly backed away. "I'm gonna … uh … tell everyone they can come in now." He fled as quickly as he'd arrived, and I couldn't help laughing.
"Well, now I know why you married him. He's very pliant."
"Not in the bedroom," she whispered wickedly.
I slapped her lightly on the arm. "Didn't you just say you're never recovering from giving birth?"
"Hey, I've been without sex for weeks. Don't lecture me." She sighed, and with visible effort shoved herself up into a semi-sitting position. "Jubilee, I know that you didn't want to be here. Thanks for staying."
I shrugged. "You were applying the Vulcan death grip to my arm, so it wasn't like I could escape."
"You know what I mean." She bit her lip, looking up at me with her big brown doe eyes that had ensnared many a person before. "I'd like you to be the twins' godmother."
I blinked, my ability to breathe plummeting. "Uh … huh? Are you sure that's such a good idea? I mean, I'm me."
"Exactly," she said. "You've overcome so much, with your condition and everything. Frankly, you're an inspiration."
Condition. What a lovely way to put absorbing the species of any person I touched. Werewolf, vampire, witch, it didn't matter - I gained their abilities the moment I came into contact with them. The same thing went for humans. With the way Christi had held my limb hostage the past few hours, I was going to be human for quite some time. I wasn't even sure what I was, only that I wasn't anything, least of all human.
"It's not that difficult. I just keep my hands to myself." I shot her a dirty look. "Unlike someone I know."
She rolled her eyes. "When you give birth, you'll understand. So, will you do it? Will you be the twins' godmother?"
I was saved an answer by my mother bursting into the room, slamming the door open as she rushed to Christi's side. "Oh, my baby, I'm so happy for you!" she crooned, stroking Christi's hair comfortingly. She was in a simple turtleneck and jeans, her wavy dirty blond hair left free around her shoulders.
Dad followed after, wearing a red flannel shirt open to reveal a gray T-shirt and jeans with oil and grease stains. He had probably been fixing something at the garage when Mom dragged him to the hospital. His dark hair was thinning and his eyes crinkled at the edges when he smiled, taking Christi's hand. "Congratulations, kid. Those two babies are cute as hell."
My younger siblings, Nate and Elisa, entered the room with Aaron bringing up the rear. Nate was in a T-shirt and basketball shorts, his blond hair plastered on his head from a recent shower. Elisa was wearing dark skinny jeans and a dark T-shirt, her dyed-purple hair curling at her shoulders. Dark makeup covered her eyes so much that she resembled Taylor Momsen. I wondered yet again when her Goth stage would fade.
I began to back away, allowing my spot to my siblings and Aaron. Christi noticed my retreat and snatched my arm, pulling me back into place. The look she gave me said there was no way in hell I was getting out of this one.
"Jubilee, I am so proud of you!" Mom gushed, running over to hug me. "You really came through for your sister."
I grimaced. "My arm did. She nearly tore it off." I smirked. "Although, that's nothing compared to what she's gonna do to Aaron for missing Hazel's birth."
"Damn straight," she replied, piercing her husband with a glare promising hours of pain and supplication.
"What was all that swearing we heard?" Nate asked, looking at me.
"Christi," I replied. "I'm pretty sure the twins' first words are gonna be fuck or shit."
"Language!" Mom chastised.
"Honey, you swore worse than a sailor when you were pregnant with the kids," Dad interjected, turning his kind smile on me. "But you should've heard her with Nate. I swear, even the doctor was afraid of her after a while."
We laughed, even Elisa. The nurses returned with the twins, and the family held them each in turn. When it was my turn to hold Caleb, Christi chose that time to speak up.
"I asked Jubilee to be their godmother," she announced proudly, smiling smugly up at me.
It was a testament to my skills that I didn't drop Caleb from astonishment at her blitz-attack.
Mom immediately pounced. "Oh, that's great! Jubilee, you're not only an aunt, you're a godmother!"
Now I had no choice but to accept. Mom would wring me out if I didn't. Shaking my head, I muttered, "I guess so."
Satisfied that I was complying with her wishes, Christi went on with her declarations. "Hazel's middle name is Patricia, and Caleb's is Arthur, after you guys." She smiled at our parents.
Mom teared up and kissed Christi's face a hundred times, while Dad looked away and discreetly rubbed his eyes. Handing off Caleb to Nate, I sneaked out of the family gaggle, standing off to the side like I always did when I was snagged into family events. Dad came over to stand by me, waiting a few moments before speaking.
"We missed you at dinner Sunday."
How did I know this was coming? I smothered a sigh. "I was busy."
He snorted. "Dead bodies are time-consuming?"
I shrugged. "Morgue attendants do all the grunt work."
"Well, try to come around next time, Juju," he replied. "We all really miss you."
I laughed darkly. "I doubt it."
I'd caused my parents enough trouble living under their roof for eighteen years; the moment I graduated, I'd gotten a job as a morgue attendant - I'd already been interning in one - and moved into my great-aunt Sadie's apartment when she passed away two weeks after I began my new work. My childhood, especially my teenage years, were the harshest for my family. My wacky biology led me to avoiding school nurses and people in general, and if a supernatural creature was in my school and I touched them, I often gained their traits - with none of the control that may have been required. When I was in seventh grade, I touched a vampire. I then proceeded to attack the boy I liked in the swim locker room and suck his blood. The transformation lasted only ten minutes, but the boy passed out from blood loss and I went home sick, telling my mother the whole story in between sessions of puking up the blood I'd drunk. And that wasn't even the first incident I had. That was when I was two months old and, after coming into contact with a witch, I started "magicking" everything in my room to fly around. That was how my completely normal and human family came to realize that humans weren't the dominant species on the planet.
But, as to my occupation, a person had to be animated for the absorption to work. Dead bodies held no affect on me whatsoever, and were therefore a safe zone of sorts for me. So my parents had no grounds to complain about my working with dead people.
"Jubilee," Dad said, reproach strong in his voice. "Don't pull away from us. We're your family."
"I'll think about it." I wouldn't. I just said that to get him off my back and free my answering machine from shaming and threatening messages from my mother. I muttered my goodbyes to the rest of my family before leaving the delivery room. They deserved their happiness. They were normal. And, the moment I amassed enough money to do so, I would leave Massachusetts and move somewhere far away, where they would never have to deal with my shit again. And I wouldn't have to feel guilty.