“It’s hideous.” Zora scowled at her reflection and turned sideways. The view didn’t improve in the least.
“Come on, Mur. It’s a tent.”
“It’s just the empire waist, Zor. You’re not used to it.” Murray dropped into a squat and smoothed out the yardage in Zora’s skirt. The dress continued to look like a tent—a shiny, orchid-colored tent.
“God, Mur. It makes me look like a big, fat—.”
“It makes you look like a goddess.” Her sister stood and peered at her through narrowed eyes. “Granted, a fiery, pissed off goddess, but still.” She held up a hand when Zora started another round of protest. “And it hides your little secret, Zor. Doesn’t it?”
It did, and nicely too. Zora ran her hands down the front of the dress. She pulled the fabric tight and showed, just for a second, the mound of her belly. Mur had picked the dress with that in mind, no doubt. She’d chosen it out of consideration for Zora’s situation.
She sniffed and dropped her arms to her sides again. She left the mirror and crossed to the window. It opened on the first ever Space Slug preserve—even if it were a covert one.
“What?” She sniffed again and watched Neela lumber over to a cluster of newly planted trees. The mollusk duo had eaten nearly every green thing originally in the garden, but the emperor’s clones did a fantastic job of replanting and replacing the devoured foliage.
“Are you crying?”
Murray knew better than to push the issue and that fact sent a follow-up wave of sniffling through her. Stupid. Another bizarro side-effect of her pregnancy—she cried at the drop of a freaking hat. She stifled the tears with a clenched jaw and a surge of anger. She didn’t need special consideration. She needed an Earth Burger, but she’d eaten the last of her stash three days ago. She’d have to settle for getting the hell off the planet and back to the real world.
“When are we leaving again?” She wiped aside the last traces of her idiocy and turned back to Murray.
“As soon as the wedding’s over.”
“Of course, Zora. The eggs are loaded, the schedule is in place and half a dozen planets are eagerly waiting for your little embryonic slug babies. Okay?”
“Whatever. Can we stop at Jeb’s?”
“Yes.” Murray stared at her for a moment, and she didn’t like the look on her face one bit.
“How about your dress?” There was only one way to distract Mur these days, and Zora had learned it in spades. “Is it ready?”
The suspicious concern melted from Murray’s place in a sweep of bridal bliss. She glowed instantly. “Do you want to see it?” Her voice bubbled like it hadn’t since they were kids and their father brought home a book on rare xeno-parasites.
“Yeah.” Zora suppressed a shudder at the memory and pasted on a happy face. “Of course.” Murray drifted from the room is a cloud of swoony bride-to-be, and Zora almost reverted to early stage, vomiting.
She missed the vomiting. It beat her chronic weeping by a mile.
She stomped to the bed and flopped down, sitting, because she already had trouble getting comfortable lying down. Her bottom lip slid out on instinct. Pregnancy sucked. Nothing made any sense, nothing was comfortable and she’d turned into a pathetic, emotional wimp. It was like she’d been possessed by some insipid, domestic housewife.
She cringed and bit her lip. Not a chance. She’d fly the Slug One into the nearest sun first. She’d make a run for it, hit deep space and deliver her baby in the shadow of some uncharted supernova. She’d damn sure do it.
It wasn’t like anyone would notice. She bit down harder at the urge to sniffle again. She didn’t want them to notice. She wanted to be left alone. Thank god Ignatius had finally taken the hint. Thank god he’d stopped trying to corner her, dogging her steps, asking Mur about her constantly.
“Are you crying again?”
“Nope.” Zora’s head snapped up. She caught a blurry glimpse of Murray standing in the doorway and looking very white and puffy. “Wow. That’s beautiful, Mur.”
“It’s just the slip.”
Zora wiped her eyes and watched her sister drag an impossibly long garment bag through the doorway. “Oh. Right.”
“I didn’t want anyone to see the dress.”
“So you’ve been wandering the halls in your underwear?” The slip in question covered more skin than most of Zora’s clothes did. Still, it classified as an undergarment in her book, even with the huge, poufy skirt.
“Just help me.” Murray heaved the front portion of the vinyl bag onto the bed and grunted. “Pull the train inside and shut the door.”
By the time she’d managed to haul the rest of her sister’s gown inside her room, Murray had peeled back the zipper to expose the bodice and sleeves. She sidled up beside Mur and leaned over the bed.
“You think you guys are taking the silver thing a little too far?”
“It’s really pretty, Mur.”
“Thanks.” Mur’s voice caught and she stood up straight and sniffed.
“Don’t do it, Mur.” Zora stepped back fast. “Don’t start.”
“I know, but--.”
“You know I can’t handle it right now.”
“I know.” Murray sighed. She reached inside the silver neckline and something clicked softly. The edges of the dress glowed to life with a thin filament of electric blue. “Look.”
“It’s got running lights.”
“Cyber stitching.” Murray’s hand traced the line of light down the bodice to the beginning of the skirt. “Just a touch.”
“It’s gorgeous.” Zora ground her teeth against the pressure behind her eyes.
“Don’t cry, Mur.”
“I can’t help it.”
Murray snagged a tissue from the bedside shelf and handed it over. While Zora dabbed at her eyes, she produced a second one for herself. Things had gone one step too far past ridiculous.
“It’s a great dress, Mur.” She wadded the tissue back into a ball. “Now get me the hell off this planet, okay?”
“As soon as the wedding’s over.”
It couldn’t happen a second too soon in Zora’s book. Once they’d ditched the planet, the clones and Emperor Ignatius Superius I, she’d be able to think again. Once she had a little distance, she could get back to normal. She sniffed and snatched the second tissue without looking her sister in the face. Distance, that’s what she needed--the sooner the better.