Needless to say, Jack's first twenty-four hours trying to concentrate with the momentous news on his mind was… troublesome, to say the least.
Even more so since the expecting pair subsequently decided to keep the mind-boggling phenomenon a secret until both of them were ready to inevitably unveil it publicly. But Jack had to admit, keeping something of this magnitude under a strictly need-to-know basis was not a hassle taken on lightly. In fact, he was constantly catching himself up before impulsively blurting it out, especially when speaking with individuals he associated with closely.
It was only the passing thought of her which kept Jack on his toes, because… if she wanted to postpone their announcement for a while longer, well, he'd be damned to not honour that wish! Besides, telling the entire town the news of their coming prince or princess probably meant it was best to wait until everything really sunk in for themselves first off.
So the lone soul Jack and Sally agreed to telling at this awfully early stage was their fellow household member, Zero. Although, the ghost pup didn't appear to grasp the meaning of their words just yet, even after multiple lectures and drawing out certain words like 'baby' with an overly pronounced 'a' in it.
Oh well, they figured the canine would figure it for himself soon enough — just hopefully sooner rather than later. All of a sudden bringing an infant into the home could be quite the shock!
But apart from his longtime companion, Doctor Finklestein and Jewel were the only others who knew the details surrounding Sally's 'condition' — sincerely promising the Skellington couple not to utter a single word of it.
Then match all the rest of those confidential torments when stifling the strong, instinctual urge to accompany your darling wife presently tending to her sewing shop on the complete opposite side of town. Surely he could pose as some sort of assistant to the local seamstress, now couldn't he? Afterall, and quite truthfully so, Jack's been taken aback by the sewing skills and tailor slang he's picked up under her influence!
When, with a groan, that aspiring man in question reached the end of a document in his grasp. Only to realise he hadn't comprehended a single sentence of the darned paper before two raps thumped from the opposing side of his Town Hall office, causing his attention to immediately snap to.
"Excuse me, sir?"
The King straightened in his seat, briefly bumping an empty cup and quickly took to readjusting his bat bow-tie. "Oh– yes! Please do come in!"
Opening the squeaky door, the visitor revealed himself to be the Melting Man. Dressed formally, as per usual, in a white suit and plain yellow undershirt. Not to mention his incomparable bodily features; bulging eyes and full melting self, constantly dripping all over before the cells replicated more of the mushy particles to protect whatever was underneath.
"Thank you again for our appointment, sir," he said through garbled speech. The monster's words blubbering and slurred, overly emphasizing his 'r's in an almost robotic way.
"Of course!" The King's voice unusually higher in an unknowing effort to mask evident forgetfulness. "Uhm, what seems to be the trouble?" Jack questioned and gestured for the resident to take the mossy green chair on the other side of his wooden desk.
"Well…" the Melting Man glanced away, wringing his hands together. The action making his three fingers queerly melt into each other. "I was up last night working on resizing the drawings you did and, well, I fell asleep…"
"…I'm sorry, I'm not sure I'm following."
The skeleton man's guest noticeably dripped all over at an accelerated rate, like he was sweating. "Well, I… accidentally melted on the paper…" Awkwardly retrieving a piece of damp, creased parchment from his coat to lay out on the table, he presented one of the sundry designs the Pumpkin King made in purpose of hanging up around town. Intended to invest some much-needed spirit back in the citizens since Halloween seemed so far gone and now a long ways away, as the Mayor put it.
Touching a finger to the indents of his mouth, Jack leaned forward for closer inspection. The sogginess made the page look as if it could tear at any second, with the pink-ish-brown goo also adding undesirable marks daubed across the sketch. Ruined so much that if Jack hadn't personally drawn the design himself, he surely wouldn't have been able to tell the picture used to resemble bats in flight.
Jack didn't want to have to admit it in front of the regretful citizen, but this design was soaked too wet to be of use anymore. Though he still desperately tried to devise a solution to this extra rare predicament, so he merely muttered, "I see…"
Before quite suddenly, he gasped and pushed his chair free to dash to a nearby filing cabinet. While his company watched eagerly, the skeleton man's boney fingers flicked fast through the numerous sections in the drawer when he pinpointed precisely what he was searching for. And it rang true through a celebratory cackle. "Aha! Now, this is the same design, only from last year. I'm sure there's not too much of a difference — none that the Mayor would notice anyway!"
The Melting Man eyed the sketched image. Jack must have enjoyed drawing bats from this angle enough to draw it almost twice as it was so much so similar in fact, the only difference was the date written at the top of the page! "Oh thank you, sir!"
Scrunching up the ruined paper back into his pocket, the Melting Man ever-so-carefully folded the older — though still practical copy — into another. Then stretched an arm out to shake the king's to which Jack happily obliged, taking the resident's slimy palm. But when they tried to let go of each other's hands, the monster's goo stubbornly stuck to Jack's hand. It taking a good few tugs on the skeleton's part to set his thin fingers free.
Soon afterwards, the next denizen with a slated appointment emerged — Wanda; more commonly recognized as the Undersea Gal.
"Hello Jack," she hummed, albeit it wasn't very pleasing through her deep and garbled vocals. Her attention already set on him, her bottom half snaked inside to shut the door behind in idle effort.
"Wanda," he greeted with a small nod. "Please, have a seat."
She proceeded to slither over, leaving a faint line of water in her wake. "Thank you for seeing me again, Jack — I know I booked rather late," she spoke with yellow eyes half-lidded.
"It's no trouble at all! I'm glad we arranged this time." Jack clasped his hands together and leaned his elbows onto the table. "So, what seems to be the matter?"
"Oh, nothing of horrible importance — not to a man of your status, I'm sure," she japed and fanned a fin once his way, wearing an impish grin. "You see, I just had my eggs and was hoping to take some sort of maternity leave. Six months should do."
Jack immediately was caught by surprise but instantly brightened at this. "Oh, well! In that case, congratulations! I can't see any reason why you couldn't take a break for, say– until August or September? Please though, do take as much time as you need."
Wanda grinned her familiar smile again before going on to thank him, overly graciously — even bowing her head lower.
"You're quite welcome, and might I say a huge congratulations to you again. I'm sure you'll make a wonderful mother," the bone-man politely commented.
She giggled. "If anything, I should be wishing you congratulations, Jack."
Jack froze where he was, face dropping. "E-Excuse me?"
"For your new record! You positively made my scales crawl with fear," she almost flirted, rubbing her arms for further emphasis.
"Oh– that!" Jack gulped, chuckling to hide it. "Erh… it was nothing, really." A new record, of course. Now, what was for again?
"Don't be silly, you've already outdone yourself and it's not even Halloween yet," the Undersea Gal continued to praise, unconsciously batting her frilly eyelashes — making the purple eyeshadow pattered across the rings circling her eyes that much more noticeable.
"You're very kind," he replied, his smile more along the lines of clenched teeth.
As time continued to sneak by, Jack met with many other citizens. Listening in to assist wherever he could, it was most certainly one of his favourite aspects of this job as holiday leader and when peering down at his watch, Jack was surprised to find the good time he was making — only one more appointment to go and it's only twelve o'clock in the afternoon! Not bad, if he did say so himself.
And the last visitor according to the list was the Gatekeeper. An anthropomorphic raven or crow of sorts, wearing a trench coat, his bowler hat and black gloves.
"Apologies for my late arrival," the bird creature apologized, taking his round hat off. "Before leaving I had trouble findin' someone else to mind the gate."
"No, no — I understand," Jack promptly reassured and gestured to the seat in front.
"Thank 'yer, sir." The raven put the cap back on top of his head, flattening his crest feathers. "I 'ave the forms from monsters hoping to move into town the next year or so."
"Ah, that's right. The same individuals will be visiting during the October season, correct?"
"Yes, sir," he confirmed and nodded down his slick black beak, "just needs your signature here." The caretaker pointed to the blank box at the bottom and passed it on to the king. "It says we'll be expecting a pumpkin spotted were-jaguar, a rougarou from Louisiana swamp grounds, a vampiress comin' in from Transylvania, common breed of were-cat and a number o' others."
Jack nodded his skull. "That's fantastic! We're well overdue for some new faces and scares in this town!"
He then got down to the business of signing in permanent ink before sending the Town's Gatekeeper on his way again.
When, with that, every appointment was done and dusted! Clapping his hands once together in delight, he gazed down towards his watch once more — it only less than half past now, which has got to be a new record. "I've got time," he murmured under his breath and flew from his office, thinking to stop off at–
"Jack?! Where are you going?"
The king froze midstep, grimacing. "…I'll be back shortly, Mayor!" Jack assured.
"Where are you going?"
"On a quick break."
"For lunch, Mayor."
"Oh, right…" the politician turned back around, wringing his stubby hands. Wait a moment, Jack never took any of these alleged 'lunch breaks' that he knew of, his higher cohort was a bleamin' skeleton-man! "Wait, Jack!" Mayor boomed, head twisting around to his paler half. "You never take lunch breaks!"
Jack opened his mouth, pointing a finger to retaliate before realising he was indeed correct in that statement. Making him gawkily stand there in strained silence for a good few seconds before ruling a credible motive for going out. "Well, I was just… feeling hungry today. Sally's cooking has given me back my appetite in these recent years, I suppose," he said honestly. "I'll be sure to be back before our schedule starts!"
Jack faked a contorted grin, quickly slipping outside as the stout politician was left to contemplate all that was said. Leaving behind nothing but floating dust and tremoring cobwebs from the door's slam.
That was certainly not his most intellectual lie. Still, he avoided the one-on-one confrontation well enough to escape for the time being, and that was considered a partial win in his books.
Leaning against the shut door, Jack filled his chest as he released a relieved sigh. It was then just after he lifted his head up to scan his open surroundings, did he notice how crowded the Town Square was. Completely overridden with the monstrous citizens going about their days… until they spotted their King, that is.
When a thrilled shriek pierced the air, that familiar alarm pointing to him caught red-handed out and about.
Almost automatically, Jack beamed a fake 'Skellington grin' as many female residents spontaneously rushed to him. Stretching arms out towards his slender figure before other denizens soon followed suit, meeting him at the bottom of the Town Hall's stone steps once he reluctantly travelled to the bottom. Exchanging polite handshakes with anybody who reached out and muttering an abundance of "how do you do"s and "terrible evening"s. His lady fans apparently forgot he was a married man, the golden wedding band wrapped around his fourth finger apparently not having made that as clear as a ghost in daylight by now.
But after much-elongated patience on Jack's part and a continuous effort to lose the large party surrounding his lean form from every which coming way, the group eventually died down. Dispersing to resume whatever business they attended previous to the Pumpkin King's exhilarating appearance.
Snatching the chance, Jack was quick to return to his set goal in mind for this apparent lunch break. Starting his way down winding streets and taking twisting alleyways cutting through sections as reliable shortcuts. Stuffing his hands into his pockets and slowing his pace when no soul was in sight anymore.
The Town Library awaiting him. Jack trailed an imaginary map and let his mind wander the almost forgotten crevices of his brain before firmly shoving those lamentations aside for another time. Because after a mere right and two left bends later did he reach his sought out destination. Making him stop to admire the structure for but a single spared moment in the King's fastly passing day.
The building was thoughtfully layered tall with slick black and grey bricks, where a wood sign reading 'library' swung lightly above and the cursive written in basil green matched elegant curtains inside, handsomely.
With the bookworm inside him tingling, Jack set in motion anew — not bothering to double-check both ways crossing the road as traffic was such a rarity — and slowed at the entryway of the glorious athenaeum. Pushing its heavy doors in and met by a hoard of countless page-turners, stacked on towering bookcases to create rows upon rows of thin aisleways with ladders required to reach most of them.
It's felt like a full century's flown by since he last dropped into this literary haven. Nowadays swept up all too often in the regal duties overloading his schedule.
"Dreadful evening–" Mr. Hyde cut himself short once he witnessed just precisely who entered, eyelids flying back and a fleeting gasp escaping his mouth. The librarian stood from behind the table posing as both a counter and desk in reverent greeting. "Why Jack! Welcome! Might I be of any assistance?" He clasped his hands and grinned wide.
"Hello there." Jack gave a hearty nod. "Seeing how much the library has grown, I just might," he chuckled.
"Oh, most certainly, your majesty! Were you in search of anything particular?"
Jack staggered. How could he possibly ask where the childcare books were located without raising any unwanted suspicions? On the one hand, there was the prospect of him finding their whereabouts alone, but sighting the never-ending rows… that may be a stretch. Who knows how long that could take him and considering this was during a short lunch break.
The skeleton's smile faltered on the one side at remembering his strict curfew.
"I was wondering if there would happen to be a section for, uh, raising and caring for offspring?" Jack attempted to query in a casual and inconspicuous manner.
Mr. Hyde rubbed his round chin, mulling over this unexpected inquiry when the first of his 'mini-me's popped up from underneath his curvy tophat. "Childcare books?!"
"Asking as a favour to a friend." Jack clasped his hands and rocked on the balls of his feet.
On cue, the third of the Hydes sprung from number two's hat. Not saying anything, just continued to eye the king — leery with the equally bulging eyes shared with the others.
"Oh! Apologies about them, sir!" The original Hyde abruptly brought himself out of contemplation, extending his arms above his head to grab the base of the highest hat and drawed the two jump-scare prone doubles down again. Scurrying around the desk and motioning his king to accompany behind, giddy all over. "Follow me!"
With Jack now in tow, they serpentined through the maze of the tremendous book menagerie. Feeling the corners were so random and aimless, he ended up feeling glad for seeking the much-needed assistance.
"Here it is!" Mr. Hyde exclaimed. "I think this shelf will have what you're looking for — have a look and please borrow as many as you like, Jack!"
Jack thanked him and once the librarian retreated back to his desk, Jack began skimming through the recommended works. The shelf was largely bare, like a monster with obvious gaps where missing teeth should be. But ardent in the search for relevant information on his current and upcoming situation he still, as a result, collected a generous enough amount — most of whatever was there, anyway. Piling a tall stack he struggled to carry upright in his arms and lug the finds to the front desk in order to officially borrow each.
And when he finally made it back to where he'd come in through the front, Jack plopped the stack on the table with an alarming thud. Startling Mr. Hyde to spin around at the noise and gape as he viewed the miniature tower inches away. "This is quite the favour you're doing!" Hyde remarked.
Jack nervously chuckled as the other behind the desk got down to work, configuring the titles and recording them in his marked book, then stamping the front page of each. This taking a lot longer than it should have obviously thanks to the number of volumes needing to be done.
So the king awkwardly stood back and waited patiently. Fidgeting with his suit jacket a little, he allowed himself to be distracted for the time being and peered out the window onto the streets.
"–And… there!" Mr. Hyde stamped the last book's front page and scooted the pile back over to Jack.
He thanked the librarian once more, smiling kindly, and slid the stack into his arms again. Readjusting as much as he could to get it comfortably situated in his arms before a thought crossed his mind. "Oh! And you wouldn't have a blanket I could borrow as well to cover all of this, would you?"
Mr. Hyde ogled his monarch for another moment before putting a finger to his mouth. The monster then turned away to a screened-off room behind the counter in search before finding some lendable material and returning. "Here we are!"
Jack thanked him one more time, sincerely and just as he was making it to the exit, the skeleton paused to spin his head back. "Also, is it alright if I hang onto these for a while? Er… I mean, my friend does…?"
"Of course!" Hyde sang out, still grinning ear-to-ear after serving him. "Anything for you, Jack! Those books haven't been borrowed before now, from my knowledge, so I'm glad somebody will be getting good use out of them!"
On his heavy trek home, Jack decided on taking the scenic 'roundabout' route. The mostly abandoned and overgrown paths conveniently circled passed his towering mansion which should help him in not being seen — along with the very telling titles underneath Hyde's tattered sheet. And all seemed to align accordingly for his plan of stealth to succeed, until he reached the homestretch.
"Mr. Pumpkin King?"
Hearing his declared title from ostensibly out of nowhere, the skeleton skidded to a halt with the stack in his arms tipping disturbingly forwards and nearly onto whoever the poor soul was in front of him. Letting out a startled, "woah!" Jack quickly and noisily regained his footing on the slippery cobblestone, all in recently shined shoes, to clumsily shift about to balance everything again. And only when the hidden tower steady its teetering did Jack heave a sigh of relief and stick his head out from behind to crudely sight the aforementioned voice.
"I didn't expect to bump into you around here and so far out of town too!" the feminine speaker spoke up. The lady Jewel Finklestein, the Doctor and Mad Scientist's proclaimed greatest creation — in his eyes, at least — and precious wife.
"Jewel," he greeted, slimly managing the pile with his weighing concentration split two separate ways. "It's a pleasure to–" Jack readjusts, "t-to see you again."
She gave a small smile followed by a cordial nod. Of course, though, it wasn't a second more before she eyed the large package he carried. Studying the hidden thing for a possible clue in what might be lurking underneath, she held her lavender purse in one hand and lightly tapped the king's blanket-covered secret. "What's under here?"
"Oh– it's just… um," he stammered but soon exhaled, not having a proper lie tucked up his sleeve. But… surely he could tell Jewel? She knew about Sally's new 'condition' anyway, so he lowered his voice in case another company should be in earshot and said, "just some, eh… parenting books." Giving a crooked smile.
"Awe!" Jewel clutched two gloved hands to her chest, tilting her beak downwards in a coo. The hybrid, duck-like woman had been absolutely bursting inside to congratulate his majesty! However, suppressed her excitement to remain tight-lipped provided Sally hadn't yet told the news to him and allow her possible time to. But catching him during a priceless moment like this was more than consequential! "You're going to make such a marvellous f—!"
"Wait, wait!" Jack peeped, making a gentle shushing sound through jagged teeth. "We haven't told anyone yet, remember? I apologize, me and Sally are just keeping it on a 'need-to-know' basis for the time being."
Jewel slapped a hand to her lipstick smothered mouth — thankfully which dried on her cracked flesh before the unforeseen reaction. "Forgive me, Mr. Pumpkin King," she begged, punishing her usually sharp memory. "I should have presumed that would still be the case." Jewel fumbled with her light purple purse.
"No!" Jack spluttered and bent down to ever-so-carefully place the stack down on the ground. "It's perfectly fine! No one would have heard this far out of town, anyway. Really, it's alright." He placed a reassuring hand on her shoulder, the area worn by her richly white faux fur.
Jewel finally relaxed and smiled again, sinking her voice down like Jack did earlier to tell him, "Your baby will be very lucky to have a father like you."
The expecting man blanched in reaction to her innocent compliment, lifting his arm to rub the back of his neck, almost shyly. "Thank you, Jewel… I appreciate that."
"You're welcome," she uttered kindly in return. Subsequently becoming distracted by the stack resting on the path and its flailing blanket flapping gently in the breeze like the ends of her pale green dress, ending with her needing to pat down her fuzzy feather boa. "Would you care for some assistance in taking these to your manor?" Jewel asked, logical as always.
He glanced the collection. "Oh, no, I wouldn't want to trouble you. I can handle them by myself," he assured. "You were just on your way into town, weren't you?"
"I really do insist! I have enough time on my hands as it is. I can take half and you can handle the other!"
Jack realised he didn't have much of a choice with her pressuring generosity, but was grateful for her help, nonetheless. Some assistance in carrying the hefty pile may be beneficial. Although, he still insisted to take more than half of the load before beginning the short journey to his mansion.
"You know, I'm almost certain my husband has some parenting books on his shelf at home… I'm not entirely sure why he has them but I think you will need them more than he does," Jewel piped up.
"That sounds perfect," he replied. "The library didn't have has much as I thought and I'm in need of any information I can find. I'll have to drop by sometime."
"Of course! I believe one is called 'Fatherhood 101' or something of the sort. It should be very informative."
The two were relatively silent afterwards, apart from the occasional comment or two, and friendly dialogue shared here or there. It had him thinking about something, actually. He and Jewel hadn't had many instances where they met up without either Sally or Dr. Finklestein accompanying them. Not that he didn't enjoy her intelligent company! He guessed that's merely how things worked out sometimes, and he hoped to ask her something before they reached his manor's gates.
Now seems a better time than any.
"Um, Jewel, if you don't mind me asking…" Jack started out, tentative. "Has Sally ever mentioned anything to you, along the lines of… uh, wanting… you know?" Jack gritted his teeth. "–A baby?"
"Children? Oh yes. Sally has spoken to me about wanting some of her own many times."
"She has…?" Jack found himself virtually speechless.
"Yes. But she had been rather afraid to ask you… Although, I told her there's nothing to worry about and it appears I was correct!" Jewel beamed. "In fact, you're already preparing!"
Jack turned his eye sockets back to the road ahead, pondering over this newfound information.
…Sally has wanted children?