Jack - No need to critique this one. I have far more sadistic plans for you, my friend.
“Darling, come and look at your new baby brother.”
Lucia Valerius looked up from playing with her dolls. “But Mama, I was just—“
“The dolls will wait. Listen to your mother.”
Lucia scowled, but did as her father said. He was reclining on the couch where her mother sat holding the child.
“Isn’t he beautiful, Lucia?” Her mother smiled down at the baby.
Lucia wrinkled up her nose. He was ugly. His hair was too dark and his face was red in all the wrong spots.
“Lucia? Answer your mother.”
Lucia glanced at her father. His light brown beard was a bit shorter than usual; it made him more handsome. “He’s…small.”
Her mother laughed. “Oh, Septimus, she’s gotten it from you.”
“Gotten what?” her father asked, tenderly reaching up to touch his wife’s cheek.
“Your ability to say something that will please your audience but won’t betray what you actually feel.”
“Why do you say that?”
Lucia’s mother shook her head, still smiling. “Isn’t it obvious?” She looked to Lucia, shifting the babe so she could reach out and pull her daughter closer. “Look at him again, Lucia. Now tell me truthfully what you see.”
Lucia was skeptical, but her mother gave her a nod of encouragement, and she saw no reproach in her father’s eyes.
She looked back at the baby, who was still asleep at her mother’s breast. “He’s…” She cocked her head to one side, fiddling with the fabric of her tunic. “Well, he’s…” She adjusted the belt that was hooked about her small hips. “I suppose he’s all right.”
“That’s not an answer.”
“What?” Lucia looked up, frowning. She didn’t understand why her mother was asking these questions. All she wanted to do was sit on the floor and play with her dolls. They were much prettier than this baby that had everyone so excited.
Her mother sat up straighter, shifting the child and raising him. “Tell me what you think of your baby brother.”
“His hair is always mussed.”
“He can’t do anything interesting or useful.”
“Well…” She plopped her hands onto her hips and sighed. “Well, Mama, he’s rather ugly. I’m sorry.”
Her father roared with laughter, falling back onto the couch.
Lucia frowned. “What’s funny?” She waited for him to stop and answer her, but his howling woke the baby.
Lucia winced, waiting for the inevitable screams to begin, but instead of releasing a shrill, piercing wail, the baby merely stirred and opened his eyes, gurgling something incomprehensible.
“Sit, Lucia,” her mother commanded over her father’s laughter.
Lucia did as she was told, lowering herself to the marble floor below. Her mother leaned down and eased the child into her arms.
“There you are. Support his head, darling.”
Lucia, wide-eyed, cocked her elbow so the little boy had a place to rest his head. He looked up at her. She stared back. The room went still.
“Hello,” Lucia said tentatively.
He didn’t answer.
She frowned. “You ought to speak. Staring dumbly…that doesn’t make any sense.”
“He can’t speak yet, Lucia,” her mother said softly.
Lucia’s frown deepened as she studied the baby. He was soft and a little too big for her arms, but he was so warm that Lucia found herself rather liking the way his slight bulk pressed against her.
“I’ll teach you, then.”
The baby broke into a toothless smile and Lucia looked up at her mother. “When will we name him?”
Her mother glanced at her father. “Septimus?”
He straightened, leaning against his knees. “I believe we’ve waited an acceptable amount of time. He is nearly five months old.”
“Rufus then,” Lucia said.
“Oh? You’ve already chosen a name?”
“Yes,” Lucia replied. “Rufus Antonius Valerius.”
“Yes, for Mama. I’m done holding him now. I’ll begin teaching him to speak tomorrow.”
“Very well, darling,” Her mother leaned down and gathered the baby into her arms again.
“Goodbye, Rufus.” Lucia rose with great dignity and straightened her tunic. She hesitated, then kissed his head and returned to playing with her dolls, never seeing the smile that passed between her parents or the one on the mouth of her new baby brother.