Clara’s Christmas Wish (2015)

25. Dezember 2015 at 06:06 (Clara's Christmas Wish) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Enjoy the 24 parts of my Christmas story about Clara and Marlene without interruptions. Merry Christmas!

“I met Santa today,“ Marlene said, enthusiasm blazing in her brown eyes.
“Really?” her sister Clara asked her, only briefly looking up from her book. Although it was only the 1st of December, the houses in their street were decorated with angels and reindeer and, of course, the bearded man in red and white.
“He let me ride on his reindeer,” Marlene pouted.
“In Mr. and Mrs. Reyman’s garden?” Clara retorted, feigning interest.
“No!” Marlene shrieked. “We were riding our reindeers across the afternoon sky!”
Clara sighed. “The plural of reindeer is also reindeer, not reindeers.”
Marlene stomped on the floor with her little foot, “I’m friends with Santa now, and if you’re mean, he won’t bring you any presents!”

In any other family, seven-year-old Marlene would run to her Mummy or Daddy to rat on her annoying sixteen-year-old sister. But not in the Peterson’s family. Clara had been a happy only child, raised in a Christian home, until she was nine years old and her sister Marlene came along unexpectedly. It wasn’t exactly over with the happiness then, at least not for Clara who thrived on taking care of her baby sister, but it was over with Christianity – and Christian holidays, too. And for Marlene, despite the occasional disputes, Clara became the most important caregiver in the family.
Instead of snitching on her older sister, Marlene threw herself onto her bed and began to sing Christmas songs. “Santa Claus is coming tooo tooooown,” she warbled away. Clara threw her stuffed teddy bear at Marlene when she couldn’t stand it any longer.
“Santa Claus said he’s sorry he couldn’t make it last year. But now that I’m in school, he said, he will come every year!” Marlene mused. It nearly broke Clara’s heart. Marlene had never awakened on the morning of the 25th to find her stockings filled with little presents, the glass of milk and the chocolate chip cookie gone from under the tree. Now that Marlene was in school, it became more and more important to get presents and to pass the new toys around class after the holidays, waiting for joyful or jealous “oohs” and “aahs”, when you were the one with the nicest present of all.
“Why don’t you try to draw what present you want for Christmas? You can get something to write from my desk,” Clara coaxed. This would buy her at least ten minutes in which she could easily finish reading that currently very intriguing book chapter. Marlene started bustling about to collect paper and crayons, before finally settling down at Clara’s desk, making the squeaky armchair higher with a “ffffoooop” noise by pushing the correct lever. Clara looked up and sighed. The mirror she used for applying her make-up in the mornings reflected Marlene’s face, deep furrows of concentration across her forehead.
“Oooh, a plush elephant! That’s an excellent idea, Marlene. I’m sure Santa can manage to get you one,” Clara replied as Marlene presented her work of art. Clara was relieved – that should be doable with her limited budget.
“No, no, no! It’s not a plush elephant! I want a real elephant!” Marlene cried out in exasperation, stamping her little foot on the carpeted floor.
“You want to see a real elephant in the zoo?” Clara suggested, sitting up straighter.
“Nooo,” her sister whined, “he has to live with us. He can live in the garden and help me climb on trees and he can scare bullies away and he can help me with my homework and…” Marlene gasped for air as tears started streaming down her flushed cheeks.
“Oh Marlene, come here…” Clara, still sitting on her bed, spread her arms wide open. Marlene didn’t hesitate to climb onto her sister’s lap, snuggling her wet face up against Clara’s neck.
“Why don’t you tell me what happened at school today?” Clara whispered into Marlene’s ear, softly stroking her head and brown hair.
“I saw an elephant. He walked by the window and then he opened it with his trunk and taked Justin’s apple from his desk,” Marlene sniffled.
“An elephant took Justin’s apple away?” Clara asked.
“Yes. But I was the only one who saw it. The others weren’t watching,” Marlene fretted. “They didn’t believe me when Justin wanted to know where his apple was.”
“And what did they say to you then?” Clara asked, afraid of the answer.
“They said I’m a liar and that I’m stupid and that… and that…” Marlene sniffed back her snot. “That no one wants to be my friend because I lie all the time…” The tears Marlene had stifled the whole day long came gushing out again.
Clara shook her sister slightly. “Marlene, don’t you listen to them! They’re just jealous because they didn’t see the elephant. You know what? We’ll show them who is stupid! Who was the meanest of all the children?”
Marlene looked up at her sister, with big red eyes. “It was Justin. He said I stealed his apple.” She paused for a moment. “What will we do to him?”
“You’ll see on Christmas Eve,” Clara said conspiratorially. And made a wish.

The next day, when Clara was asked to take out the trash, the Sunday paper slid off the top of the dust bin she was carrying. Picking it up, she saw the picture of an elephant at the bottom right of the front page. He had escaped from the local zoo, but had been captured within two hours four days ago, on Saturday.
“Mum, could I please get my pocket money for January today?” Clara asked her mother who was peeling carrots when she returned the dust bin to its proper place in the kitchen.
“What do you need it for?” her mother replied, keeping her eyes on the carrot she was decapitating.
“We’re playing Secret Santa at school,” Clara lied. “We said we’d get each other good gifts, not some cheap crap.”
“Watch your tongue, young lady!” her mother scolded her. “And no, you’re going to have to work this one out by yourself. If you want to give gifts on a meaningless holiday that really isn’t about spending money, then you should start to earn your own money. You’re sixteen after all,” her mother clarified, still not bothering to look at her daughter.
“Thanks for being the worst mother on this planet!!” Clara kicked the dust bin as she left and slammed the kitchen door shut behind her.
She took her jacket and scarf off the hall stand and stormed out to get some fresh air. If she wanted to make her Christmas wish come true – and part of what Marlene wished for – she would have to manage doing it all by herself; so much was clear now. She wouldn’t stop walking until she had found a solution.
And then she saw it.

It was hanging right there, at the bus stop. A sign saying that the circus visiting the town until the end of the year needed somebody to clean the circus ring after the audience left. Not the area in which the animals were performing their tricks but the stands where the people crumbled popcorn into the cracks between the seats and stuck their chewing gums to the floor. It wasn’t a particularly compelling occupation – but it should earn Clara enough money to set her plan into action. And maybe the job would also provide her with important connections she would be able to benefit of later this month.
It was still too early to go home after her dramatic exit, so Clara figured she could as well go to the circus to proffer her services. It was a long walk; Clara didn’t dare to take the bus without having her ticket or any money on her. But it was okay – she still had some thinking to do.
When she walked into the fenced area where the circus resided, she knew exactly how to proceed. Without any further ado, she grabbed the nearest broom, strode up to the stands and started brushing the empty popcorn and peanut bags into a neat heap. Nobody seemed to notice or to care. When she was done after two hours, she walked up to the man in the red suit and bow tie and said: “My name is Clara Peterson and I just cleaned the stands. Would you be so nice as to pay me for that? I can come back tomorrow after school.”
“Sure, kid, just go to the lady who sells the tickets and tell her I said to give you twenty-five for cleaning,” the circus director announced and patted her on the shoulder, lifting his top hat with his other hand. “Good job, young lady!”

Clara was delighted that her plan had worked out so well. In fact, she was so happy she treated herself to a bus ride home. Her mother was furious when Clara returned. “I didn’t raise you to become an ungrateful brat!” she spat. “Go to your room and don’t come down again before you’re ready to apologise!”
Her father just stood there, a worried look on his face. She left before her mother could force him with a stern glance to say the usual listless “do what your mother tells you”.

The days leading up to Christmas were passing quickly. For Clara it was school, then off to the circus and back home to work on her assignments and to do her household chores. Marlene was getting whinier every evening.
“You don’t have any time to play with me anymore…” she remarked, her lower lip trembling.
“I know, I know – but don’t you worry, everything will get better after Christmas,” Clara promised.
“But whyyyy do you have to work sooo much?” Marlene threw her thin arms around her sister’s waist and pressed her face into Clara’s stomach.
“Marlene, don’t tell anyone, but I’m doing this to save Christmas. If I don’t work, there won’t be any Christmas celebration,” Clara replied, hugging her sister back.
“I hate Christmas!” Marlene bit Clara into her thigh and ran up to her room.

One week before Christmas, Clara had completed phase one of attracting the attention of the young boy who tended to the animals’ needs. That phase had been the easy part, really – it consisted of utterly ignoring his existence. She had been introduced to everyone at the circus on her second day. She had shaken his hand and as their eyes met briefly, she could tell that she stood a chance to seduce him to, well, make her Christmas wish come true. Especially if she ignored him for a while.
Phase two was much trickier; also because Clara was secretly in love with somebody else. But for the sake of Marlene’s best Christmas ever she started to throw him looks when she left the circus tent, twirling a strand of hair around her finger.

Five days before Christmas, just when Clara thought to herself that maybe Jim was too shy to talk to her, he surprised her. He walked up to her as she was stowing away the broom and dustpan and said, “Come on, I want to show you something really cute.”
He stretched out his hand and waited patiently for her to take it. Physical contact wasn’t a part of her initial plan, but well, that was the human element she hadn’t been able to account for. “Sure,” she replied. His hand was warm and covered with weals from shovelling the animals’ dirt away all day long.
He led her to one of the cages and pointed his flashlight at something. “Look, that’s who lioness Rina returns to after the show,” he whispered while a lion cub watched them out of tiny, sleepy eyes, safely snuggled into his mother’s fur.
“That’s really sweet,” Clara cooed. “Could you show me the elephants, too?”
Jim’s face lit up. “I sure can,” he replied. And before she could protest, he had taken her by the hand again. He pulled her over to another cage. The elephants, also a mother and her baby, were still wide awake. The mother elephant shifted her weight uneasily from one foot to the other while her baby was nervously groping for her trunk with its own little one. Clara didn’t have to be an expert on animals to see that they didn’t feel comfortable in their tiny cage.
“Are they very shy?” she asked Jim.
“Depends,” he chuckled. “If you give them apples, they’ll be less shy.” Out of nowhere, he produced two shiny apples with rosy cheeks and put one in each of Clara’s hands. Clara hesitated – she had never fed any animals that were that big. “Go on, they won’t bite,” Jim said, nudging her to take a step forward.
Clara giggled as the baby elephant clumsily reached for the apple, its hot breath warming her hand for a moment, before it succeeded in stuffing the apple into its mouth.

For the next few days, Clara spent some of her hard-earned money on buying apples for the two grey giants. Jim flashed his broad grin at her every time she walked by and joined her for the apple-feeding sessions in the dark December evenings. Only on the 23rd she dared to let him in on her secret plan.
„Do you think the elephants might fancy a walk on Christmas Eve? It must be horrible to be locked up all the time,“ Clara asked Jim, frowning.
„What do you mean?“ Jim stared at her. „You don’t want me to set them free, do you? Are you one of those crazy animal liberation girls?“
“Oh no, of course not,” Clara declared. “I really just meant that we could take them for a walk…” She buried her fists in her coat pockets.
“Together? Just the two of us and the elephants?”
“Well, yes… I mean, I won’t be working tomorrow, but maybe you could take them to town after the last show and then we’ll wander the streets together?” Surely it wouldn’t hurt if Marlene accompanied them. It wasn’t like a date or anything.
“You got it! It’s a date!” Jim grinned broadly again, while Clara sighed inwardly.
“Okay, so let’s say ten o’clock at the bus stop on Main Street?” Clara proposed.
“Do you live nearby?” Jim asked nervously.
“Kind of. I have to leave now, see you tomorrow!” Clara cried more cheerfully than she actually felt and waved Jim goodbye. Maybe her Christmas wish had to be repaid by getting an unwanted boyfriend…

When Clara came home, Marlene was already lying in bed, eyes wide open.
“Hi Marlene!” Clara went over and sat on Marlene’s blanket. “How was your last day of school before the Christmas break?”
Marlene sat up and scrambled onto Clara’s lap. “It was great,” she said. Clara brushed Marlene’s hair out of her eyes.
“Nobody was mean to you? Nobody teased you?” Clara prompted.
“Noooo, we played games and Justin even gived me a gingerbread man!” Marlene smiled up at her sister happily.
“The same Justin who teased you about the elephant three weeks ago gave you a gingerbread man?” Clara’s face fell.
“Yes, me and Justin are friends now,” Marlene said, beaming.
“So, you don’t want to play a trick on Justin? On Christmas Eve?” Clara probed, brow furrowed.
“Nooo,” Marlene exclaimed again, “Justin is my friend! You don’t play tricks on friends.” She shook her head vigorously.
“But you still want your Christmas wish to come true, don’t you? Having an elephant as your friend?”
Marlene giggled. “Santa can’t bring me an elephant, stupid,” she managed to splutter. “An elephant is far too big for the sleigh. The reindeers can’t carry an elephant.” She was still giggling.
“But what if the reindeer were magic?” Clara asked hopefully.
“Then Santa can’t get the elephant through the chimney,” Marlene said, yawning suddenly.
“What do you want for Christmas then?” Clara wanted to know.
“I want a doll’s house. Every girl in my class gets one this year,” Marlene answered, her eyes dreamy. “There is a pretty, pretty one on sale at the mall. I hope Santa knows.”
“He certainly does. But are you really one hundred percent sure that you don’t want an elephant to come to our house on Christmas Eve instead? You could feed him an apple, you know?”
“Nooo, I don’t want an elephant. Nobody will believe me anyway,” Marlene said, her eyelids drooping.
“And what if he went by Justin’s house, too, and woke him up?” Clara proposed.
“He will think it’s just a dream,” Marlene said. And fell asleep in Clara’s arms.

On the morning of the 24th, Clara snuck out of the house to buy the doll’s house her little sister had requested and to find a small Christmas tree she could decorate for her. She was relieved that her mum was out shopping too, when she returned home. Her father just eyed the small tree she was holding by its tip warily and said, “It has to be gone again in the morning. Your mother will be mad at you if she sees it.” But as his eyes met hers, he changed his mind. “Okay now, I’ll quickly get the baubles from the basement, but don’t you let them lie around.”
Clara decorated the tree and hid it outside where her mother surely wouldn’t stumble upon it. Then she wrapped her present for Marlene and hid it under the couch in the living room.

The day of the 24th passed like any other day, only that the girls’ mother was more stressed out than usual. She hated it when the shops closed for more than one day, especially since she had begun to dislike Christian holidays nearly eight years ago. A faint slur of curses would emanate from the kitchen for the next two days, finding fault with the quality of meat or the crispness of the vegetables. She hated the idea that people were feasting in every other house at the price of their meticulously counted money bills – because anyone knew that everything was more expensive just for the sake of the holidays.
Clara felt jubilant when she could finally put Marlene to bed, with the prospect of being able to wake her up a few hours later, to a silent house and burning candles. Clara lay down on her bed, too, just to rest her eyes for a few seconds…
Until she woke with a start.
So did Justin, a few streets away.

Clara could have sworn she had heard a soft trumpeting sound.
Justin, on the other hand, heard the trumpeting loud and clear – and saw the accompanying trunk brushing against his window. Awe-struck, he got out of his bed and peaked out of the bedroom window and onto the street. He could see a human figure huddled in a coat far too big for its size and two elephants, a bigger and a smaller one, wandering the streets beside the tiny human. By the time he had woken up his parents to show them, the street was deserted again.

Marlene was meanwhile unpacking her Christmas gift next to a tiny tree with three baubles and two burning candles on it. Clara was sitting cross-legged beside her, holding her finger up to her lips before Marlene could utter a shriek of joy. “We need to whisper,” she whispered, “or we’ll scare the elves away.” Marlene silently threw herself into her sister’s arms, planting a wet kiss on her cheek.

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Clara’s Christmas Wish: Part 15

15. Dezember 2015 at 06:09 (Clara's Christmas Wish) (, , , , , , , , , )

This story works like an Advent calendar – until the 24th of December, I will publish a part of this story each day. Please start your reading with Part 1.

Five days before Christmas, just when Clara thought to herself that maybe Jim was too shy to talk to her, he surprised her. He walked up to her as she was stowing away the broom and dustpan and said, “Come on, I want to show you something really cute.”
He stretched out his hand and waited patiently for her to take it. Physical contact wasn’t a part of her initial plan, but well, that was the human element she hadn’t been able to account for. “Sure,” she replied. His hand was warm and covered with weals from shovelling the animals’ dirt away all day long.
He led her to one of the cages and pointed his flashlight at something. “Look, that’s who lioness Rina returns to after the show,” he whispered while a lion cub watched them out of tiny, sleepy eyes, safely snuggled into his mother’s fur.
“That’s really sweet,” Clara cooed. “Could you show me the elephants, too?”

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Clara’s Christmas Wish: Part 13

13. Dezember 2015 at 06:01 (Clara's Christmas Wish) (, , , , , , )

This story works like an Advent calendar – until the 24th of December, I will publish a part of this story each day. Please start your reading with Part 1.

The days leading up to Christmas were passing quickly. For Clara it was school, then off to the circus and back home to work on her assignments and to do her household chores. Marlene was getting whinier every evening.
“You don’t have any time to play with me anymore…” she remarked, her lower lip trembling.
“I know, I know – but don’t you worry, everything will get better after Christmas,” Clara promised.
“But whyyyy do you have to work sooo much?” Marlene threw her thin arms around her sister’s waist and pressed her face into Clara’s stomach.
“Marlene, don’t tell anyone, but I’m doing this to save Christmas. If I don’t work, there won’t be any Christmas celebration,” Clara replied, hugging her sister back.
“I hate Christmas!” Marlene bit Clara into her thigh and ran up to her room.

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Clara’s Christmas Wish: Part 12

12. Dezember 2015 at 06:12 (Clara's Christmas Wish) (, , , , , , , , )

This story works like an Advent calendar – until the 24th of December, I will publish a part of this story each day. Please start your reading with Part 1.

“Sure, kid, just go to the lady who sells the tickets and tell her I said to give you twenty-five for cleaning,” the circus director announced and patted her on the shoulder, lifting his top hat with his other hand. “Good job, young lady!”
Clara was delighted that her plan had worked out so well. In fact, she was so happy she treated herself to a bus ride home. Her mother was furious when Clara returned. “I didn’t raise you to become an ungrateful brat!” she spat. “Go to your room and don’t come down again before you’re ready to apologise!”
Her father just stood there, a worried look on his face. She left before her mother could force him with a stern glance to say the usual listless “do what your mother tells you”.

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Clara’s Christmas Wish: Part 11

11. Dezember 2015 at 06:09 (Clara's Christmas Wish) (, , , , , , , )

This story works like an Advent calendar – until the 24th of December, I will publish a part of this story each day. Please start your reading with Part 1.

It was still too early to go home after her dramatic exit, so Clara figured she could as well go to the circus to proffer her services. It was a long walk; Clara didn’t dare to take the bus without having her ticket or any money on her. But it was okay – she still had some thinking to do.

When she walked into the fenced area where the circus resided, she knew exactly how to proceed. Without any further ado, she grabbed the nearest broom, strode up to the stands and started brushing the empty popcorn and peanut bags into a neat heap. Nobody seemed to notice or to care. When she was done after two hours, she walked up to the man in the red suit and bow tie and said: “My name is Clara Peterson and I’ve just cleaned the stands. Would you be so nice as to pay me for that? I can come back tomorrow after school.”

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Clara’s Christmas Wish: Part 10

10. Dezember 2015 at 06:01 (Clara's Christmas Wish) (, , , , , , )

This story works like an Advent calendar – until the 24th of December, I will publish a part of this story each day. Please start your reading with Part 1.

It was hanging right there, at the bus stop. A sign saying that the circus visiting the town until the end of the year needed somebody to clean the circus ring after the audience left. Not the area in which the animals were performing their tricks but the stands where the people crumbled popcorn into the cracks between the seats and stuck their chewing gums to the floor. It wasn’t a particularly compelling occupation – but it should earn Clara enough money to set her plan into action. And maybe the job would also provide her with important connections she would be able to benefit from later this month.

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Clara’s Christmas Wish: Part 9

9. Dezember 2015 at 06:04 (Clara's Christmas Wish) (, , , , , , , )

This story works like an Advent calendar – until the 24th of December, I will publish a part of this story each day. Please start your reading with Part 1.

“Watch your tongue, young lady!” her mother scolded her. “And no, you’re going to have to work this one out by yourself. If you want to give gifts on a meaningless holiday that really isn’t about spending money, then you should start to earn your own money. You’re sixteen after all,” her mother clarified, still not bothering to look at her daughter.
“Thanks for being the worst mother on this planet!!” Clara kicked the dust bin as she left and slammed the kitchen door shut behind her.
She took her jacket and scarf off the hall stand and stormed out to get some fresh air. If she wanted to make her Christmas wish come true – and part of what Marlene wished for – she would have to manage doing it all by herself; so much was clear now. She wouldn’t stop walking until she had found a solution.

And then she saw it.

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Flight

31. August 2015 at 10:10 (Posts in English) (, , , , , , , , , )

This is the third and final part of a story I started to write in May. Here you can find the first part (Bird of passage) and the second part (Dog days).

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She leaned against the door frame, while the dog capered happily around her, trying to get her attention. But she couldn’t avert her eyes from the scene unfolding in front of her, without the two main characters noticing the silent (and the not-so-silent) spectator.
“Well done, little lady!” he exclaimed, patting her back comfortingly.
The baby burped again and grinned proudly at the white wall behind her new daddy’s back. Lily was fascinated by the many things she could already achieve in such an expert manner despite her young age.
“Is it time to change your nappy again, madam?” he let the baby girl hang over his shoulder and sniffed her diaper in a theatrical manner. The baby chuckled with glee. “Oh yeah, it’s definitely time!” He contorted his face so she would laugh again and held her as far away from his nose as he could. “Attention, stinky baby is being transported to the bathroom!”

It was only then that he noticed Lily waiting forlornly in the hallway. “Hi Lily, we didn’t see you standing there… Want to say hi to your mummy, little ladybird?” He held Elena close for a moment before passing her on to her mother.
She took her daughter into her arms and held her gingerly, her pulse racing. Would the baby start crying again? She felt guilt welling up inside of her. She had missed out on five whole days of feeding, playing, bathing, changing diapers and reading bedtime stories. This, instead, belonged to Jonathan’s daily routine for seven months now.

Lily only got to see her at the weekends. Lo and behold, she had taken up a job. She had found out that she was capable of typing at a fairly decent speed and orthographically quite correctly while she had been pregnant and so she had found a job as the secretary of a doctor. He would always speak the diagnoses on tape and she would type them into his computer in the evenings. The only problem was that she – what with the hormonal rollercoaster and all – had fallen in love with him. And so much so that she just didn’t have the guts to tell him that she had kept the baby. She used her parents, with whom she didn’t talk anymore, as a pretext to leave his fatherly care and good will for the weekends, when she went to pay Elena a visit.

She was clumsy in handling her and every time Jonathan tried to give her advice on how to hold the baby bottle so Elena didn’t suffocate or on how to change her clothes without ripping off Elena’s pinky, she shouted at him. And then her daughter started crying and she didn’t know how to make it stop and she would have to admit to herself that she hadn’t succeeded in being a good mother.

She had thought that giving birth to a creature that had inhabited her body for eight and a half months, patting her organs from inside and hearing her heartbeat louder than anyone else, would establish a special bond between the two of them that would last forever. And now it hurt to see Jonathan as the father in sparkling armour, not only fulfilling his duties, but raising Elena with so much love and enthusiasm that she couldn’t but envy him.

Of course, she would rack her brain for excuses as to why she hadn’t been able to fix the magical bond that had been cut through the day Elena was born. She blamed her parents and the doctor, Jonathan and the dog, but in the end, she only cried herself to sleep beside the blissfully snoring doctor, without knowing what to change to make herself feel better.

She couldn’t leave the doctor, he was really the first man for whom she fostered genuine feelings and he had taken her in at a moment of need, pregnant and desperate, without asking her questions. And she couldn’t really be angry at Jonathan, because he was the best father for Elena she could wish for. But all the same, it was heart-breaking to see that her baby was turning into such an excellent little lady without her help. The only thing that could appease her feelings was the knowledge that without the money she sent Jonathan at the end of each month, they wouldn’t be able to survive.

When Elena’s wakeful eyes finally closed for the night and a happy dream left its marks across her face, Jonathan cautiously pulled the door to her room shut and sat down beside his sister. She muted the TV and looked at him. Her brain worked hard to decide if she should feel relief that Elena was sleeping soundly now or envy that the little girl – despite not being able to utter a single coherent word – had demanded Jonathan to put her to bed. But that was life. You get some, you lose some. She couldn’t even imagine how it would have felt to give her daughter away for adoption, to people she didn’t know, didn’t trust and perhaps didn’t even want to cross paths with.

The baby monitor sprang to life, the smallest cough crackled through the receiver and before she could realise what the next step Jonathan had taught her to follow in this case was, Jonathan was already up on his feet and in the adjoining room, looking after their baby.

The dog did some stretching on the carpet, laying out his front paws, head close to the ground, bottom up in the air, and made a whimpering noise. When he was done with his gymnastics, he walked over to Lily and put his muzzle on her lap. She stroked and caressed him while he was lovingly watching her out of his big, trusting eyes. At least there was one soul left in the world who would always love her just the way she was.

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