I’m not there tonight.

Mommy, I don’t like it when you’re not here.  I get afraid.

This is what she said to me, sitting straight up in bed at 3 o’clock this morning.

I’d heard her footsteps first. Klunk. Thud, thud, thud, thud, thud.  All 38 pounds of her, driving her small feet in to the floor with the force of a baby elephant.  I sat up in bed and saw her tiny figure standing still in our bedroom doorway, framed by the light we absent-mindedly left on in living room.  By some trick of diffraction the light found its way around three corners to land at her back, to ghostly effect.   I called her name softly, but with some hesitation.  She was honestly freaking me out.  Standing there silently, still.  Her face completely obscured by darkness and too-long bangs.

She turned and ran back to her bed.  Thud, thud, thud, thud, thud.  I pushed the covers away from my legs and followed her, my heart still beating fast from the Stephen King of it all.

I found her sitting there on her bed, criss-cross-apple-sauce, seemingly staring into space.  Her big sister was sound asleep in her parallel bed.  I relaxed and my heart found its normal pace as I crossed the room toward her.  She wasn’t an apparition.  And I’m pretty sure she was still asleep.

Mommy, I don’t like it when you’re not here.  I get afraid.

I swept the hair from her face and told her not to be afraid.  I was there. She was okay.  She was just dreaming and it was time to go back to sleep.

She laid back down and I tucked the polka-dot blanket that’s been her cape, her tent and constant companion for all her 5 years around her shoulders.  She nodded, eyes closed.  Okay, mommy.  

I’m here too, her sister chimed in loud and clear, scaring the crap out of me for the second time in the span of a minute.

I whispered that I loved them over the rainforest chorus coming from their white noise machine.  They were both back asleep in seconds.  I didn’t close their door or mine when I went back to bed.  I laid down and fell asleep easily to the psuedo-sounds of the Amazon coming from their room.

I asked her at breakfast this morning what happened.  Was it a bad dream? Did she hear a noise that woke her up?  She didn’t remember a thing.

Tonight,  I’m not there.  I’m miles away from the light of the living room lamp and the steady sounds of rain and thunder and distant howler monkeys, and from her.  Will she be afraid?  Will she come looking for me in her sleep tonight?

It’s not usually this hard.  But tonight, it is.

At least her sister will be there to answer her midnight call.  Her dad will be there to kiss her goodnight, again, and wrap her back up in her blanket.  The blanket will be there too, as it always is, along with the rainforest.

And she won’t remember that she came looking.  At least I hope so.

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