We lay in the afternoon sun, at once restless and content. Time passes slowly with one of us gone, our balance thrown off and the silence unnerving. Elena refuses her nap and I stopped trying to get her to sleep.

I imagine that outside our walls, it is cold, but I wouldn’t know. I hear cars whoosh past on the highway. Down the street, a door slams, sending my dogs barking in defense of the house and my baby girl into my arms, clutching me for protection.

The dogs are enjoying the closeness; little do they know, it will be gone in two short weeks, once I’m back in the office. Shane kisses the top of Cheddar’s head, and Elena bends and does the same, checking first to see if I’m paying attention. The sun turns her gray eyes blue and shines on her straw-colored hair.

At lunch, I spilled cheese in the oven, and a faint charred odor remains in the house. My daughter has a red line running up her leg where my ring scratched her as I helped her get dressed. Her nose is raw and chapped from Kleenex.

She is hosting a tea party with star-shaped blocks as cups, filled with paper clip tea. I helped her open the packages of paper clips. Sitting on my lap, she reaches back and puts her arm around my neck. There is a trail of paper clips spread down the hall, indicating where she has gone and where she cannot go.

Shane’s white hairs are on the cushions, blankets, my sweater, Elena’s knit pants. I know that years after he’s gone, we’ll still find traces of the millions of hairs he shed in our home.

Time passes, and the sunlight patches drift and shrink. The dogs move, little by little, until they favor a spot curled next to me on the couch. She lays her head on my chest, I feel her heart beat through her shirt. Her breathing slows, and I reach carefully for a book. I read a few chapters in the dying sunlight.

Soon we will hear the grumble and feel the rumble of the garage door opening beneath us. Shane and Cheddar will fly down the hall, whining and howling, and you will be home, and she will awaken and shriek your name, “Daddy!”

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