E's fever passes sometime in the middle of the night.
Coughing and sneezing, she follows me around the apartment all morning. I peel her a mandarin. I wash dishes. I read the letter she has written to Santa and make sure he will understand everything she has described.
N sleeps under a mound of covers, not even a foot exposed.
I make pancakes, with E hovering next to the plates, draping a towel over them to keep them warm. N appears, stretching, her eyes half-open, her hair a messy question mark. I pour hot water into her tea cup.
"Been a long time." I say to her.
"Since what?" She asks.
"Since we all had pancakes together." I answer, lifting the last two from the pan.
N clicks her head back and forth, her personal way of saying something smells good.
"Can I have blueberry jam?" E asks, between coughs.
I show her that it is already on the table. She spoons into the jar and sweeps jam across her pate in one dramatic gesture.
"Looks like a shooting star." I tell her.
She nods, chin tight to her smile. This is exactly what she wanted me to see.
We spend all of Sunday together, N knitting a scarf, E tucked into bed sipping juice from long straws, me working in the same room.
E falls asleep at eight.
"I'm ok Pop." She assures me.
I put a Christmas film on for her.
"But watch with your eyes closed." I whisper.
She looks at me, eyes wide.
E's arms thrust out into the air, and she wants me to hold her.
I click off the lights with one hand and carry her around the house. Her chin digs into my shoulder, then she rests her cheek there. I think of that first time she got sick when she was almost one and how she only wanted me to hold her. I carried her for almost a day, treading the hallway in that Greenwich apartment, turning into a room, making a few circles, looking out the windows, humming a Tom Waits song, then into another room. Her mother sat in chairs by windows, jealous and angry that E refused to be held by her. Exhausted, I would place her in the crib but then she would wake up and stretch those tiny arms out to me again.
I place her in bed, pulling three blankets to her chin. Her forehead is cool. She looks at me for a little while.
I sit in the big red chair next to her and wait for her to fall asleep.
E waves a hand around for a moment.
I sit on the edge of her little bed.
"Pop - tomorrow is still Christmas, right?" She whispers.
"Yes, kiddo." I tell her, smoothing the hair on her forehead.
"Ok, but if I don't go to school will American Santa still come?"She asks.
"Of course." I say, half laughing. "Just like American tooth fairy. They know you are a good kid and they make a special detour for you."
She squeezes my hand once.
"Ok." She whispers. "I believe you."