2 HOURS LATER. PUEBLO. 11:30 AM MOUNTAIN TIME. MONDAY, APRIL 20, 2026.

“Hey, Leo, your prom date’s here,” MaryBeth Abrams said, sticking her head out the door of the delivery room.

“He seems unimpressed,” Heather said, looking down at her sleeping son. “Is this your unique Doctor MaryBeth way to say it’s a girl?”

“She is. Very fast delivery, one of those that would make the case for natural childbirth, back before. Beth’s fine but exhausted and sore, Jason is ecstatic and will probably come out as soon as you won’t see him crying, and Heather Ysabel Nemarec came out with a big gasp before I could even start her breathing, like she’d been holding her breath in there all that time, and is staring at the world like she’s totally mad freaked to be here. Don’t worry, that terrifying feeling that the world is way too weird usually wears off around a thousand months.”

Instinctively, Heather and Ysabel glanced sideways at Debbie Mensche. “Eighty-three years and four months,” Deb said. “And I didn’t just calculate it now, MaryBeth asked me this morning.”

MaryBeth grinned broadly. “I’m just a simple country doctor, and out here in Simple Country, we need a never-ending stock of corny jokes. Anyway, I’ll be back in a couple minutes and then you can come in; just want to make sure everything is fine before I let the civilians in.” She pulled up her mask and ducked inside.

“Guess she wants to make sure she gets all the tentacles snipped off,” Debbie said.

Ysabel said, “You are an awful person and we really need to spend more time together.”

Debbie nodded, accepting the compliment. “So I’m a little surprised you let them name the kid Ysabel instead of Isabel or Izzy. Aren’t you worried about being outed anymore?”

“Well, it’s a middle name, and the cover story is that they always liked the Spanish version more than the English.”

“I just keep thinking we’re lucky it wasn’t a boy,” Debbie said. “Poor kid would’ve been the only Larry of his generation. Dad would’ve been impossible, too, practically made the boy a grandson.”

“Too late on the only Larry of his generation,” Heather said. “Something Chris was telling me about. Baby names come in waves, like plant names for girls—I was in the same generation with a lot of Jasmines, Willows, Aspens, and Roses, and I knew a couple Daisies and an Amaryllis—or Bible names for boys which is why half the boys my age have names ending in –iah. And apparently we were due for a wave giving boys the names of famous people. Thanks to the buildup Chris gave some of my agents in the Post-Times, there’s a big crop of Freddies and Larrys this year, Chris says, like the late 1800s when there were all those Lincolns, Darwins, Lees, Grants, and Deweys.”

“All I can say,” Debbie said, “is how grateful I am that at least the Reverend Abner Peet turned out to be a traitor.”

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