It had been almost an entire week since Theon’s betrayal had left me stranded in Beggar’s Hole, and three days since I’d intruded upon the same cave creature Theon himself had visited. She’d said she’d known I would come—but she hadn’t said it aloud. Her eerie voice had a way of echoing around in your head, curling and twisting into your ears without making a single vibration. Your eggs are half-count and spoiled, would-be queen, the oracle’s voice slithered through my mind. I have told the fool prince all of this before, but if I must, I will tell you, too. One day, one night, one of you is bound to accept it.… Accept the law of the stars. The strange creature had dipped down into the puddle again. She had submerged and vanished, but her voice continued to throb in my temples like a bad hangover. Accept that the fool prince—your so-called husband, mortal lover—is destined to continue the Aena dynasty, I give you that. But his children await within the womb of the Everwinter ice queen.
Michelle Ballinger, of the Boston Ballingers.
My best friend in childhood, and worst enemy after puberty.
She wasn’t even supposed to be in Theon’s dimension.
Except that, according to the oracle, she was. She was not only supposed to be there, but destined to be there.
And my eggs… half-count? Spoiled? At nineteen?
That couldn’t be right.
So I set up a clandestine appointment with Dr. Whitney Glazier, a fertility specialist in Portland.
Her bedside manner had been friendly and approachable, but, at the same time, I couldn’t help but bristle at her every word, subconsciously blaming her.
“You’re awfully young to be visiting my office,” she commented.
“Would it be funny to you if I said that a fortune-teller told me I couldn’t have children?”
Dr. Glazier smiled at me, until she realized my eyes remained flat and my expression humorless. Her own smile fizzled away and she cleared her throat. In a detached way, I did pity her. I wouldn’t want to deal with me while I was like this either. I hadn’t been this cold in a long time.
She asked me all the standard questions about my sexual activity, my lifestyle choices, habits, pains, and then finally she said that there were some warning signs present of various disorders. It was a red flag that I had heavy menstruation. It was another that I suffered occasional twinges of back and pelvic pain, although I’d never damaged either to my knowledge. Finally, she agreed that a pelvic exam would help determine potential causes.
After the exam was complete, and biopsies were obtained, Dr. Glazier had a different countenance. A darkness in her eyes. A sadness to her mouth.
“I can’t be entirely sure until the biopsy lab reports back to us,” she said.
My brow knitted together. “How sure can you be until then?”
Dr. Glazier winced. “In the ninetieth percentile,” she confessed. “Your uterus resembles that of a sufferer of endometriosis… a particularly severe case of endometriosis.” My glare intensified. “What this means is that tissues vital to reproduction are growing outside of your womb, rather than inside. It also indicates that the fluid of your womb is more harmful to your eggs, and to sperm, than we commonly find in a healthy uterus.”
She continued to talk about my options for treatment, but none of it was curative. I stared at the wall across from us: a rack of magazines. Parents magazine. A smiling woman on the cover, leaning over a fat baby beneath a colorful mobile.
It was all a wash after that. I couldn’t remember the drive back from Portland to Beggar’s Hole. Somehow, I ended up in the living room at my dad’s beach house, staring at another wall, curled up on the couch. Dr. Glazier had told me to not give up hope yet, because that biopsy was still indefinite. But… she’d also said ninetieth percentile, just from the naked eye alone. And besides. The oracle had confirmed it before I’d even consulted the medical sciences.
Spoiled, she’d said.
“Honey?” A voice came to me, as if out of a heavy fog. “Nell?”
I blinked and Mom materialized right in front of me. Her black hair was cut into a severe, no-nonsense bob, and her ivory complexion was unusually worn.
“Hey, Mom,” I whispered.
She moved to my side. “Didn’t you notice that I was standing in front of you?” she asked.
“Well.” I blinked slowly at her. “You should say something next time.”
“I did.” She pursed her lips—one of many habits we shared—and touched my knee.
“When did you get to Beggar’s Hole?” I wondered.
Mom sighed. “I’ve been here since you went missing,” she told me. “You know that.”