He turned to me and narrowed his eyes, uncertain what I meant. “What?”

“What do you want to be?” I asked again. “We never really talk about what we want, and I’m just curious.”

He rubbed the bridge of his nose and shrugged, unable to answer. “I don’t know. I mean, in the past I was a father. A husband. But now…I have no clue.”

My lips released a quiet sigh, and I frowned. “I wish you could see in yourself what I see when I look at you.”

“What do you see?”

“A fighter. Strength. Courage. Someone who loves deep and loves hard. Someone who doesn’t run when things get messy. When I look at you, I see endless possibilities. You’re smart, Tristan. And talented.” He cringed. I shook my head. “You are. And you can do anything. Anything you set your mind to, you can do. Your wood work is amazing; you could do something with that.”

“I was,” he said. “My dad and I were starting our business up, and the day of the accident, he and I were flying to New York to meet with a few people interested in being our business partners.”

“And nothing came of it?”

He shook his head. “We didn’t even make it to New York. We had a layover in Detroit, and when we touched down and turned on our cell phones, we had a ton of messages about Jamie and Charlie.”

“That’s so—”

“It was the worst day of my life.”

Before I could reply, I heard the sound of footsteps running down the hallway.

“Mama! Mama! Look!” Emma said, holding her camera in one hand and two white feathers in her other hand.

“You’re supposed to be sleeping, missy.”

She groaned. “I know, Mama, but look! Two white feathers!”

“Oh, it looks like Daddy is giving you a few kisses,” I said.

She shook her head. “No, Mama. These aren’t from Daddy.” Emma walked over to Tristan and handed him the feathers. “They are from Tristan’s family.”

“For me?” he asked, his voice shaky.

She nodded and whispered, “It means they love you.” Emma held her camera up. “Now, take a picture. Mama, get in the picture with him!” she ordered. We did as she said. When the Polaroid picture printed, she handed it to Tristan, and he thanked her over and over again.

“Okay, time for bed. How about I read you a story so you can sleep?” I asked.

“Can Tristan read it to me?” she asked, yawning.

I looked over at him with questioning eyes. He nodded, standing from the ground. “Of course I can. What should we read?” he asked her, lifting my tired girl into his arms.

“I like The Cat in The Hat,” Emma replied. “But you have to read it like a zombie.”

His smile stretched as the two of them walked down the hallway and he said, “That’s one of my favorite ways to read it.”

Outside of Emma’s bedroom, I sat on the floor with my back against the wall, listening to Tristan read to her, listening to her giggle at his terrible zombie voice. She sounded so happy, which in an instant made my life light up with joy. As a parent there was nothing better than knowing that your child was smiling. I couldn’t thank Tristan enough for bringing those smiles to Emma’s face.

“Tick?” Emma said with a heavy yawn.

“Yes, Tock?”

“I’m sorry about your family.”

“It’s okay. I’m sorry about your dad.”

I peeked into the room to see Tristan lying on the floor with the book against his chest beside Emma’s bed. Zeus lay against Emma’s feet. She yawned again. “I miss him.”

“I bet he misses you, too.”

She closed her eyes and curled into a ball as she began to fall asleep. “Tick?” she whispered, almost falling into her dreams.

“Yes, Tock?”

“I love you and Zeus, even though your zombie voice was really bad.”

Tristan pinched the bridge of his nose and sniffled before standing up and pulling the cover over her. He slid Bubba into her arms and tucked her in. “I love you, too, Emma.” As he turned to leave the room, he caught me staring his way and gave me a small smirk. I gave him one back. “Come on, Zeus,” he called. Zeus wagged his tail, but didn’t move. Tristan arched a brow. “Zeus, come on. Let’s go home.”

Zeus whimpered and curled in closer to Emma.

I laughed. “What a traitor you have on your hands.”

“I can’t really blame him. Is it okay if he stays the night?”

“Absolutely. I think the two of them became used to each other after you and Zeus stayed a few days at our house.”

He leaned against the door, watching as Zeus snuggled into Emma’s arms, where Bubba was. Emma hugged him tight and smiled in her dreams. Tristan crossed his arms. “I see why you didn’t fall completely apart like I did. You had Emma, and she’s…she’s wonderful. She’s everything good in this world, isn’t she?”

“Yeah.” I nodded. She is.

The second week of November, a huge rainstorm moved through Meadows Creek. I sat on the porch, staring out at the rain that was hitting the grass at crazy speeds. I was surprised we hadn’t had any snow yet, but I was sure that within a few weeks, everything would be covered in white.

The sky was darker by the minute, and the thunder rolled through followed by big flashes of light. Emma was sound asleep inside, and I was thankful that she was such a heavy sleeper because otherwise, the storms would’ve spooked her. Zeus sat beside me on the porch, staring out at the raindrops as his eyes opened and closed. He was trying his best to fight his tiredness, but he was losing the battle.