She tossed the book aside and crawled up onto her knees, embracing him tightly. He winced, but squeezed her back. “I love you more than candy and ice cream and Iggy,” she said, referring to the one stuffed animal Sam let her keep. He had to slip it into the dryer regularly, because Emily carried it around with her almost everywhere, and he’d discovered when he was a kid that he couldn’t tolerate anything that could harbor mold or dust mites.
“And I love you more than sunshine and cookies and books, Em ‘n Em.”
She pulled back, yawning. “Daddy, did the Az Monster take Mommy? Is that why she’s in heaven? If the Az Monster takes you, and you go to heaven, I’ll be all alone. Maybe if that happened, I could ask him to take me, too. And then we would all be together.”
Breathing was painful, but it had nothing to do with his asthma and everything to do with the little girl in his arms, looking up at him, green eyes pleading.
“No, sweetie.” His voice broke, and he shifted the nebulizer and mask out of the way, pulling her into his lap. “A monster did take your mommy from us, but that was a bad man. Remember how I’ve told you about bad men?”
She nodded firmly. “Never talk to a stranger or go with them because they could be a bad man.”
He smiled sadly and kissed her nose, smoothing some of her soft curls. “I won’t let the Az Monster get me,” he said, looking intently at her. “And he can’t get you, no matter what, OK? So you don’t need to be scared or worried.”
She looked at him, smoothing his cheek over and over. Ever since she was a baby, she’d loved the feel of his stubble against her skin. Sometimes, when she looked at him like this, those large green eyes so serious, she seemed so much older than her six years.
When she said nothing, he licked his lips. The faint taste of medicine still hung on them, bitter. “Do you remember what you do if the Az Monster comes for Daddy and he can’t talk to you, because he’s sleeping and not breathing?”
She nodded. “I call 9-1-1. And the men with more magic medicine will come and make you better, like in my story.”
“Yes, that’s right. You’re so smart.” He smoothed her hair and tried to keep the sadness confined to his eyes. “And you remember Daddy showed you how to use the magic medicine? How you put the liquid from one of the tubes in the green box into the plastic, connect it to the machine, put the mask on my face and press the button?”
She nodded. Now that she was older, Sam had taught Emily how to add his rescue medicine to the nebulizer, so that if something did happen, maybe it would buy him some time before the ambulance arrived.
He smiled, hugged her tight, kissed the top of her head. “I’m the luckiest daddy in the whole universe,” he said.Share: