It was time to say her words.

But she didn't want to, not just yet, not initiate that frenzy.

And once she did say her words, she knew exactly what he would say in return. She couldn't predict the exact degree of tension or passion or panic, but she knew exactly what he would say.

"You're sure? Absolutely sure? I'm only asking, because, as you know, Israel has the best hospitals in the world, and if there is any - not that there will be - but if there is any complication, no matter how large or small ... "

Sigh. Not that she could be totally upset at his exhaustive preparations. There was even an extra car, all gassed up, waiting in the driveway,just in case of some technical complication. He had packed a bag of equipment which, again, she couldn't quibble with, even if some of that equipment went well beyond his own medical bag, included at least one spare cell phone, and a variety of defensive weaponry, just in case. She had overheard his phone call to an obstetrician friend, and from what she could gather, that friend was going to be sitting in his own car in the parking lot of the birthing center. Earlier this afternoon, she had also overheard a quiet call confirming just who was on ER and OB duty tonight at the nearest "best hospital in the world". He'd seemed I should give in, she thought. It would knock down his stress by at least twenty percentage points, and probably his blood pressure by that amount as well.

No. She'd had one birth so completely not on her own terms it didn' t bear thinking about, at least not now, after that three hours of concealing contractions. That too was probably unfair; he had been playing with some new stopwatch birthing app for days, ever since she'd passed the expected date with no activity. She just couldn't bear the thought of being timed to seconds.

Maybe she should just go lock herself in the bathroom and have the baby there. Couldn't be any worse than the first time, right?

Oh wrong, very wrong. Now THAT was a contraction. And maybe it was true that women completely forgot about how much pain giving birth was, because that felt ten times stronger than even the final pushes had been for Moni.

"Eyal?" She didn't see him nearby but he was in the room instantly.

"What do you need, Annie?"

"A driver," she managed.

"Where to?" he asked, attempting casualness.

"The birthing center."

"You're sure? Absolutely sure? I'm only asking, because, as you know, Israel has the best hospitals in the world, and if there is any - not that there will be - but if there is any complication, no matter how large or small ... "

"The birthing center, Eyal. I'm not in the mood right now to talk again about it!"

She saw him set his shoulders, swallow, supress repeating the five or six arguments against her decision she had already heard multiple times before, and firmly put himself in the appropriate mode.

"Very well," he managed. "I'll get the car." He was trying - he had even somehow fended off his own mother. She had grown to appreciate and even, at moments, enjoy Mrs. Lavin, but she also did not want her around for the early stages. She was already scheduled as Grandmother coming in to take Moni for a few days after the birth. But this time Annie wanted for herself and for Eyal. They had missed so much with Moni's birth. She listened as Eyal called for their boy, who was ready for the adventure and glad to burst in after hearing too often that "Mama was resting" over the past days. Annie got up and gathered the few items that weren't already in her go bag. Not much; if everything went fine, she'd be back here again within hours unless they chose to linger.

….

This was familiar, Annie thought, the sense of deja vu flowing over her, thru her, around them, and she wondered, in a gap between contractions, if he could feel that strangeness too, through her body which he was cradling so gently but firmly against his chest as Moni swam nearby. She had seen this before, she realized, and her heart trembled. Eyal sensed it, she felt his fingers caress her but it was a testing caress, he was probably feeling for her pulse with his trained fingers in full doctor mode. "I'm okay," she whispered and felt him fail to relax. "Really," she emphasized and he seemed to believe her then.

"Can't be too careful," he murmured.

"Oh I think we can." But her playfulness ended quickly. This felt more serious and she shifted in the water. Her birthing crew looked more alert. Moni splashed around nearby, happy in the water; Eyal had been teaching him to swim ever since she had announced her choice to give birth in water at this center. For an instant she could see everything that had been around her at Moni's birth - the deserted doctor's office, Auggie on the Skype screen, the feeling of dust and heat... she shook it off. The last thing she needed now was to re-experience any part of that birth which had ended in the kidnapping of her child. Suddenly Eyal's extensive overly-careful preparations seemed to be too little - the water made her feel vulnerable, she could not get out of it fast if she had to, could not run. But the running part of her life was over - even more so, now, with this baby emerging ... and she was. Another attendant slipped into the water. She felt Eyal's grip on her lighten slightly yet he was still holding her, letting her move, his hands gliding over her body, seeming to know what to do, where to give her something to push against, as if they had done this a dozen times before.

And then, floating up like a flower at the top of a curling stem, was her daughter. Their daughter. Pink and surprised-looking. "She's beautiful," she managed to gasp. "Like her mother," he added as Annie gathered the baby to her and looked into eyes so much like her own. Don't become a spy, she found herself thinking at her baby... then erasing the restriction. "Be whatever you want," she whispered. She would never go back to the life she had led before this, before Moni, before this second, sealing child. For an instant she was utterly sure, solid. "Just not a spy," Eyal broke in, softly, so the attendants would not hear, and Annie laughed at the harmony of their thoughts. May that continue, she found herself thinking as she touched the little life-changer in her arms, embraced by the larger life-changer behind her, Eyal. She surrendered to the care of the birthing attendants, to his care, while the active little baby seemed determined not to surrender to anything in this new odd eviroment. What would really happen?.What would their lives - their life - now be?

Thanks to everyone who has read this story. May it change or enhance your life in some way as it did for me in ways that are still playing out. I am marking this "complete" as I need to stop having this dangling over my head, at least for a while. If I feel compelled to continue it will probably be as a separate story such as the "prequels" of Mermaid Beach, A Long Weekend in Santa Margarita, and We'll Always Have Paperclips are, so if you are following this story but not following me as a writer, you may miss it. Along the way I did write a few other stories which for various reasons I didn't post, and I may do that as time goes by. Sorry the inspiring show itself ended. I miss these people! And I miss hearing from all of you!