“Tessa?” Jeff’s voice was a ripple of sound — smooth and placid with gray ombre shadings. It was gentle and pleasant.
It was not the voice Missy was hoping to hear in her sleep.
She opened her eyes a crack, which didn’t reveal all that much. Just a fuzzy view of the ceiling tiles. Or something. It was hard to make out what exactly. So, she opened her eyes all the way.
Jeff smiled at her. “Tessie.”
He pressed the back of his hand against her forehead. “How are you feeling?”
“Okay. I feel like I should say tired, but I’ve been unconscious for so long I probably shouldn’t be tired.”
“Nothing hurts? Nothing feels…I don’t know. Weird?”
Missy thought about it. “Nope. I’m good. Dad? Do you really think I’ll be strong enough to walk again? I want to walk again. I want to run again. I want to leap into Raven’s arms and knock him off his feet again and again and again. Will I be able to?”
He cleared his throat. “The doctors are optimistic.”
She shrugged. “Isn’t that part of their job?”
He chuckled. “Some of the time. Tessa, I hate to do this. I want to stay with you and just keep an eye on you. I don’t want to leave you. I don’t want to lose you all over again, just because I wasn’t here.”
Missy scooted up into a better position.
“I promised Hildreth that I’d come to his wedding. And his wedding is today. This morning, in fact.”
“Ohh.” Her face fell. “I guess I’m going to miss his wedding too. But it’s no one’s fault except it’s my fault if I hadn’t run to The Institute if I hadn’t burned it down if I hadn’t.” She noticed her dad’s expression. “It’s okay. LM will stay with me. I mean, if you tell him to stay I’m sure he’ll stay you have a way of looking like you mean business and no one wants to cross you when that happens.”
She offered him her hand.
He took it.
“Don’t worry about me, dad. I’m not that little girl anymore. I am me. I am Missy. I am XQ. I can protect myself and my pretty shirtless Raven too. No one is going to kidnap me. Not ever again. Go to your friend’s wedding and don’t worry about me. Take 10,000 pictures and show them to me when you get back.”
He gently kissed her forehead. “I will. Be safe. Be careful.”
Jeff held her hand a moment longer before releasing it. He turned his attentions to the sleeping LM.
Missy closed her eyes and listened to the sound of her father’s voice. Its rise and fall. The coloring of his words and phrases.
A memory came to her…
Missy curled up in her bed and tried not to think about the shovels.
So many shovels.
Her dad had used one. He had cried as he dug into the dirt and dumped it into the big hole.
She was supposed to help him, but she didn’t understand what was going on. She had stayed away from the hole. Standing too close to it had made her feel weird and dizzy. It made her feel like she could fall into it…or jump into it instead.
She had clutched her Aunt Maureen’s black patchwork skirt and hid her face in its black and white folds.
And now? Now, she was lying alone in her bed, desperately trying to make sense of it all.
Her mother was gone.
Her father was sad.
And she was lying in her bed all alone.
Jeff cautiously opened her door. “Hey, Tessie.”
She sniffled and rubbed her nose into her nightgown’s sleeve.
He came over to her and sat on the bed.
She sat up.
They were silent.
Her nose kept running. She kept rubbing it into her sleeve.
He kept biting his lower lip.
“Mommy? Where’s Mommy? When’s Mommy coming back?”
He exhaled a hurting breath and hugged her.
“Daddy, where’s Mommy?” He swallowed hard. She could hear how hard it was. “Daddy?”
“Good night, my angel.” he sang in a soft, choked up voice. “Time to close your eyes and save these questions for another day.”
She hugged him and listened to him sing. The lyrics felt real and personal, like a message he was trying to tell her. Her mouth trembled as she understood what he was trying to say. “Mommy.” She cried softly. “mommy…”
He returned to her side. “I’m here.”
“Before you go, sing for me.”
He smiled. “I thought you’d never ask.”