Chapter 5 - A new family

Over the ensuing weeks, the new couple settled very easily into married life. The changes others observed in Cyril continued to surprise and amaze, manifesting mainly in greater patience, a more easygoing manner, and overall softening of his rougher edges. Some of them remained, of course, but all would find the “new” Mr. Ages much more to their liking. But if all this was surprising to the citizens of the Thorn Valley colony, it was doubly so for Cyril, who would often pause to reflect on how married life had changed him—and for the better, he would readily admit.

They received no visits from Alma’s family during this period, and also made no attempts to visit them. For her part, Alma, by all appearances, seemed to miss her family less and less. Even when asked—by her husband and any of her new friends—she’d tell them she was happy and satisfied with their company and her new life.

Ages would go on to be not terribly demonstrative in showing affection when he and Alma were in public, though those who knew him best would recognize the more subtle signs that indicated his true feelings. Alma, likewise, respected his wishes publicly; but behind closed doors he showered as much love and affection on his mate as any of his contemporaries did on theirs.

It was about six weeks after the wedding when Alma began showing all the classic symptoms, especially increased appetite, mood swings and occasional abdominal discomfort; and shortly after came the public announcement that the new mouse couple would soon experience a blessed event. Cyril confided to the Brisbys that when his wife’s pregnancy was confirmed, he experienced a small amount of disbelief, in spite of how well aware he was that it was entirely possible. When Johnathan jokingly questioned how one in his profession could be surprised, Cyril replied—non-irritably—that yes, of course he knew; it’s just that he’d never pictured himself as being a parent. But, he was quick to add, he was greatly looking forward to it, as was Alma; and his friends were ready and eager to help both of them into their new roles.

The happy day arrived in mid-March. Alma had been advised to expect the birth to be a bit difficult, as had long been the norm for these advanced Rats and Mice, whose babies were born larger and better developed; and so she was prepared to deal with the added effort it would take—though she did admit that she hoped it would be over with fairly quickly.

After Alma was brought to the medical ward, though, Cyril was all but ready to sit out the birth and leave it to Bernadette to supervise, since he was nervous and even a bit fearful at its outcome. The Brisbys prevailed upon him, though, especially Madeline, who reminded him of two occasions in the past year when she had to call upon reserves of courage she didn’t show she possessed. And Johnathan reminded him of his own experience with childbirth, especially the fact that he’d singlehandedly guided his four oldest into the world, adding that he was willing and able to help him with Alma now.

Thus encouraged, Cyril was quickly back in “the ring,” both of the Brisbys ready to assist; and Alma gave birth to twins, a boy and a girl, which the new parents named Turlough and Regina, as planned. Lovely names, all agreed; but only a select few were aware—or would be for quite some time—of the inspiration for their new daughter’s name. They’d discussed it at length since her pregnancy was confirmed, Alma actually being the first to suggest it, believing it a most fitting tribute to Cyril’s would-be lost love.

Once it had been verified that Turlough and Regina’s vital signs were normal, the two new and proud parents were left alone with their newborns. Cyril looked upon his wife, lying in bed, propped up by fluffed pillows, tired but beaming as their offspring received their all-important first feeding; and he experienced a moment—actually the latest of a series in recent weeks—when the tableau before him seemed unreal, or as if he were viewing it through another’s eyes. Then the new mother looked up at him adoringly and the spell was broken. Without another word he sat himself in bed beside his new family, kissing Alma’s forehead and letting her lean against him as he stroked her arm and shoulder.

He had, in fact, already confessed to Alma that he’d been experiencing these “unreal” flashes; but she’d taken them rather casually, since this was, after all, an entirely new set of life experiences for both of them. Still, he felt a need to apologize for this one, since this was such a momentous occasion; it’s almost as if he were thinking that these two new little lives weren’t actual, legitimate creatures as they. But still Alma was understanding, telling him that as long as he loved and respected her and them, the rest didn’t matter. Cyril replied that he was determined to have their marriage be as rich and rewarding as their friends the Brisbys; and that whether or not she turned out to have as long a life as Madeline, he would always strive to be as good a husband to her as—allowing a little rare humor—“humanly” possible.

The two continued talking quietly after the twins finished their first meal and were placed in their specially-made cradle, where they quickly went to sleep. As Alma rested for a time, Cyril just silently looked upon his son and daughter, moved beyond words at how incredible they were and how the vagaries of fate could bring such extremes to one’s life: from moments of great joy to great sorrow. He silently prayed that any further developments would favor the former extreme.

He looked at Alma resting quietly and thought back to what Johnathan had told him on his wedding day: that she may well have already benefited from being mated to him, by virtue of the ways she had already seemed to have changed, just as Madeline had with Johnathan. Again he prayed that it would be so. But he had no doubt of one thing: that she had changed him, and for the better.

He looked back at Turlough and Regina and tried to picture them weeks, months and years from now, speculating on who their friends would be, what natural talents would emerge, what they would excel in academically. The first point was the easiest to predict: the youngest Brisby children would be most likely to be their natural playmates, at least in the beginning.

Presently Jemial quietly interrupted his reverie, announcing that their late boxed dinners had arrived. Cyril gently woke Alma, and they continued discussing their future together as they ate. Since it had been rather late in the day when she gave birth, Alma would be kept here in medical overnight, and Cyril would stay at her side the whole time; and barring further complications, she and the twins would go home the next day. They did, however, allow time for a few brief visits from well-wishers, who were dying for the chance to see the colony’s two newest citizens.

The next morning, more time was allowed for visitors, a virtual parade of them; something the infants’ father couldn’t help feeling a little chagrined about, for all he knew everyone would be eager to see them. Over the ensuing hours, Turlough and Regina were given a clean bill of health, and the proud parents brought them to their new home.

Arthur and Johnathan—with help from the Stone—had in recent weeks supervised the expansion of Cyril’s original “bachelor pad” to accommodate two, and then more after Alma’s pregnancy was confirmed. And so now the new family spent the afternoon settling into this new living situation, concentrating on mostly practical details like arranging their furnishings to better accommodate the new arrivals, though they briefly talked about the possibility of even further additions to their family later on—something which, in fact, had already been taken into account in Arthur and Johnathan’s last expansion.

That night, the two stayed up after putting the twins to bed, talking for over an hour on many subjects, but perhaps most notably on Alma’s family. Cyril had noticed that she had continued to seem to not miss them at all, even since yesterday; and he thought it a bit odd, considering that Regina and Turlough were just as much a part of that family. But still she assured him that it didn’t bother her. If they wanted to visit, once word about their new grandchildren reached them, she would welcome them; but if not, she swore it wouldn’t bother her. Maybe she would call on them in the future, if they didn’t contact her first; but for now, it was this new life of hers that made her feel complete and fulfilled.

She stated all of this with a quiet insistence that was enough to all but silence her husband, at least on this subject. It seemed to reinforce the idea that she was becoming more like him and less like a natural. But whether she was or not, he figured that, well, if she was content, so was he; and he decided that he wouldn’t broach the subject unless she did first, or if her family were to actively reach out to them.

* * *

Over the ensuing months, the two newest mouse residents of the Thorn Valley colony naturally gravitated toward the youngest Brisby children as playmates, as their father had predicted; and even before the year once again gave way to winter, both families further contributed to the colony’s growing mouse population. The Brisbys welcomed one more set of twins, Vanessa and Kirk; and the Ageses, to their astonishment, gained not two, but three new offspring, which they named Celia, Paul and Milo.

Cyril had vowed from the start that he’d do his best to strike the right balance between work and family, and though it had gotten off to a somewhat rocky start, he found it increasingly easy as he absorbed advice—which he gladly welcomed—from friends, especially the Brisbys, and his medical staff, all of whom already had families. He would tell anyone who asked that, as dedicated as he was to his work, Alma and the children were equally important to him these days.

There was much talk of a growing “mouse colony”, in spite of there being only two families of advanced mice in Thorn Valley. There would likely be intermarriage between the two in the future; but as to the matter of other such mice being brought into the fold, none could see that happening for the obvious reason: there were no other such mice left alive, and unless the formula that had made Johnathan and Cyril what they are now were to be replicated, there was categorically no chance of establishing a real colony of mice here as there was a colony of rats.

Of course, none could see the future with precision, whether it was one day or one year hence. For the time being, all in the Thorn Valley colony would continue to live, love, work and play together for the betterment of all. As for Mr. and Mrs. Ages, there were no further naysayers on the success of their marriage, as they grew to know each other more and more deeply and experienced all the joys and pains of new parenthood. For now, they were content with that.

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