In Darkly, Deeply, Beautifully, Luke and Scarlett kindly – and somewhat naively – offer to help raise Jack. I was curious to know how they coped with being plunged into surrogate parenting, and I was also curious about this little boy whose mother Became more than human while carrying him. Here’s a scene that takes place before the epilogue of Book 5.
‘Check. What about the pop-up sunshade tent thingamy? Do we need that?’
As one, Scarlett and Luke turned from the full-to-bursting car boot to Jack, who was sitting in his pushchair outside the Cavendish house, chomping chubby fistfuls of Cheerios. Frowning, Scarlett surveyed her little charge from top to toe: keppi hat, full-body swimsuit and splash shoes, all with maximum UV protection.
‘Better pack the sun tent,’ she said. ‘Just in case. Oh – and the windbreakers. Might be blustery.’
‘His weeny wetsuit too?’ said Luke. ‘In case he wants to paddle and the water’s cold.’
‘Good thinking. And towels – extra towels. Will it all fit?’
Luke eyed Scarlett’s little red Mini, then his girlfriend’s anxious expression. ‘Sure,’ he said. ‘No problem.’ He dropped a light kiss on the end of her nose. ‘Just give me a minute…’
In the end, it took many, many minutes to cram into the car everything Scarlett and Luke thought they might need for a day out with baby Jack, and by the time they were on the road, all three occupants of the car were exhausted. After four verses of ‘The Wheels on the Bus’ Jack fell asleep, clutching his stuffed elephant to his chest, and Luke focused on driving while Scarlett scrolled through numbers on her phone.
‘You know,’ said Luke, ‘you’ve checked your contact list a gazillion times. You have the number for everyone we could possibly need today: Sienna, Jude, Gabe, Elizabeth, Estelle. Even Daniel, though quite why we’d need to call a killer –’
‘You never know,’ Scarlett broke in. ‘And anyway, you’re one to talk. Look at how you’re driving.’
Scarlett looked at Luke, hunched tensely over the steering wheel, and laughed.
‘What?’ he said, eyes locked on the road. ‘I can’t look at you. I’m –’
‘– focusing really, really hard on driving safely, I know. You do realise this car has a third gear. And a fourth.’
‘Ha ha,’ he said sarcastically, but then he softened. ‘What are we like?’
‘Way out of our depth,’ said Scarlett immediately. ‘Floundering in the deep.’
‘Nah, we don’t flounder – we ride the waves, remember? It’ll be fine. Piece of cake.’
‘Cake.’ Scarlett shot upright in her seat. ‘Did you pack cake?’
That elicited a broad grin. ‘Of course, Blake. The big tin between the first-aid kit and the nappy changing bag.’
‘Phew. We may just survive this day after all.’
‘That’s the spirit,’ said Luke. ‘Just relax.’
And on he drove along the winding hedge-lined lane, ignoring the tooting of horns behind, at a careful twenty miles per hour, his hands gripping the steering wheel tightly at exactly ten and two o’clock.
Two hours later, Scarlett and Luke finally conceded they’d over-packed – and over-worried. They’d made it safely to Bigbury on Sea beach, and had set up camp: picnic blankets, windbreakers, sun tent and a small blow-up paddling pool into which Luke poured three bucketfuls of seawater. Little Jack had been most impressed with the setup… for all of five minutes. Then he’d put his newfound crawling skills to the test. After the fifth ‘recapture and position safely in the tent’ mission, Luke had given up and let the little boy explore, only interceding when he got too close to the gently breaking waves and to bring him back for his picnic lunch.
Now, Luke and Scarlett sat shoulder to shoulder on the picnic rug, watching Jack. He was sitting amid a gaggle of little kids, bashing a bucket with a spade. His sunhat was askew, his lips were the colour of Luke’s blueberry muffins and he was caked in sand, but he was blissfully content.
‘Look at him,’ said Scarlett, leaning her head on Luke’s shoulder, ‘he’s such a happy little chap.’
‘As well he may be,’ said Luke, sliding his arm around her. ‘He’s just eaten his own body weight in cake.’
‘I suppose I should worry about that. But…’
‘But he’s fine. We’re all fine.’
‘We are, aren’t we?’ She sat up and looked at Luke, who kept his eyes on Jack. ‘You know, when we offered to help with Jack, I really wanted to. Sienna and Jude: it must be so hard not being able to be around their son all the time, with him human and them… not quite. I can’t heal people anymore, but I thought: I can heal that pain, for them all. He can grow up with family all the time. It made perfect sense. But then…’
‘But then Sienna left Jack with us for the first night, and you realised you may never sleep again?’ Luke crooked an eyebrow, and Scarlett laughed.
‘How many times did we go into his room that night?’
‘I stopped counting at thirteen.’ Just the thought of it made Luke yawn.
‘Nightmare,’ said Scarlett. Then, in a softer tone, ‘I’m sorry.’
‘For… you know.’ When Luke glanced at her, she nodded her head toward Jack – who, she now realised, was a weeny speck in a big throng of children.
Luke didn’t reply: he stood up and walked across the beach, picking his way through the kids to Jack. ‘Come on, little man,’ he said, scooping him up. ‘It’s too crowded for you here.’
Back at the picnic blanket, Luke sat down and stood Jack between his legs. The little boy held on to Luke’s thumbs and wobbled about, chortling in delight.
This time it was Luke’s turn to say it: ‘Look at him.’
‘He’s pretty special,’ said Scarlett, tucking a wayward curl under his sunhat.
‘He really is. And so’s his aunt.’ Leaning over, Luke spoke quietly into her ear: ‘Don’t ever be sorry for bringing him into my life. He makes me… I mean…’
She shifted quickly and kissed his whispering lips. He didn’t need to say it: she knew. He loved Jack, they both did; it was impossible not to love this child.
‘Ga!’ said Jack, when their kiss went on. Then an oof indicated that Jack’s legs had given out, and he broke into an indignant, ‘Ar-ar-ar-ar-ar!’
Kissing became difficult with grinning lips, so they broke off.
Luke’s eyes were a misty blue. ‘Love you,’ he said. He pressed a little kiss to Scarlett’s forehead, and it stilled the very last of the fluttering inside her.
‘Love you,’ she said, smiling up at him. Then she reached for the little boy and pulled him onto her lap. ‘And I love you, little monkey,’ she told a babbling Jack. ‘Now where’s those toes-ies? Ah-ha! Here they are. This little piggy went to market. But this little piggy stayed at home.’
Beside her, Luke had gone very still. ‘Er, Scarlett,’ he murmured.
‘This little piggy had roast beef. But this little piggy had…’
The sharpness in Luke’s voice cut her off mid toe-wiggle. ‘What?’ she said quickly, head jerking up.
‘Look,’ he said, eyes fixed not on her and Jack, but the beach ahead of them.
Scarlett looked. She saw nothing remotely of interest, just a load of children playing in the sand.
‘Look all around,’ said Luke in a low voice, and she swept her gaze to the left, then the right. Then she looked over her shoulder, at the beach behind.
‘What the…?’ she said, already struggling to her feet, Jack clasped tight to her hip.
Luke helped her up, and then put his arms around them both. Wide eyed, they surveyed the scene: children of all ages clustered around them, so that their little spot of the beach was the epicentre of a big gathering.
Luke, a head taller than Scarlett, was scanning the wide, sandy expanse of the beach beyond. ‘No children. I don’t see any – only adults. Scarlett…’ His arms tightened around her and Jack. ‘All the children here have come to play right by us.’
‘Not us, I don’t think,’ said Scarlett, scanning the little faces turned to them. ‘See how many of them are looking at Jack.’
Whatever Luke said next, it was drowned out by the shriek of a seagull overhead. Jack, who loved all animals but especially birds, let out a loud laugh and clapped clumsily.
All around, children smiled. And laughed. And clapped.
‘What is this?’ said Luke.
‘I don’t know,’ said Scarlett.
‘I don’t like it. Call Gabe. Call Daniel.’
‘I’m not calling an Enforcer! Look around. They’re little kids. They’re no threat to us.’
Luke didn’t look convinced. He glared at a kid digging in the sand with a plastic sword.
‘It’s like they’re drawn to Jack for some reason,’ said Scarlett.
‘Why? He’s just a baby!’
She looked up at him and raised an eyebrow. ‘A baby born of parents who have certain… talents.’
Luke’s jaw dropped. ‘You think he’s a Cerulean?’
‘I don’t know. He doesn’t heal – you’ve never seen him heal, have you?’
‘No. Because how could a human baby –’
‘And he doesn’t get worn out around people.’
‘No more than any normal baby.’
‘And he doesn’t Travel.’
‘Travel?’ Luke was thunderstruck. ‘A baby disappearing and reappearing wherever he fancies? He’d… we’d… Oh God.’
He reached for Jack’s little hand and engulfed it in his own, as if that would keep Jack anchored to him, safe. Jack waved his free hand energetically. Several children nearby waved back.
‘Scarlett,’ Luke hissed, turning so that he and Scarlett were face to face and Jack was sandwiched between them. ‘This is not fine. We are not fine!’
‘What happened to riding the waves, not floundering?’
‘This is a Very Big Wave. Potentially a tsunami.’
The sea breeze caught the edge of Jack’s sunhat and lifted it off. Scarlett watched it dance briefly in the air until a little girl caught it and, reaching up on tiptoes, handed it to Jack. He grabbed it in a podgy fist, grinning gummily.
All around, children smiled.
‘Then it’s a good job I made that contact list,’ said Scarlett. ‘Luke, grab my phone. Call Sienna. Call them all. They have to come and see this.’
‘See what exactly though?’ said Luke, already rummaging frantically through the changing bag. ‘What do I tell them has happened?’
Scarlett turned a three-sixty, taking in all the children who had been pulled there by some force. In her arms, Jack nestled his head on her shoulder and breathed a little tired sigh. Several children at the edge of the crowd drifted dreamily away.
‘Tell them Jack’s not just special,’ she said, stroking strawberry-blond curls that shone brilliantly in the sun. ‘He’s special…’