I will never comprehend how warm my freezing little cellar has become since Christine moved into it, I mused as I climbed into bed and reached for her. She grunted irritably at being disturbed but sighed again when she rolled into my embrace. I smirked a little; she was always like this when I came to bed late. I couldn't fault her for it, of course, not when it made me feel so delightfully normal to have a wife who was grumpy at me for waking her up, a warm bed that always smelled of perfume and clean sheets, not to mention a--
Christine shot up in bed, completely awake upon hearing the sound of her child in distress. I patted her head and pulled back the covers on my side.
"Go back to sleep, my dear. Erik will handle it," I said quietly, as I climbed out of the soft bed I had only just been welcomed into.
But, duty calls.
I padded down the hall and opened the door to see my little girl, huddled on her bed under a blanket that covered all but a few tufts of tangled, blond hair. I gently pulled the covers off her head and asked her what was wrong. I needn't have bothered, though. I already knew.
There are many times when a girl just wants her mother--but when the nightmares come, it's always me she calls for.
I used to wonder why that was. Children have a funny intuition about these things… I believe that somewhere, deep down, she knows that Papa has had enough nightmares of his own to know how to chase away the scariest of monsters. She'd be right.
Upon recognizing my face, she all but threw herself into me. I scooped her up and carried her over to the rocking chair. I always liked this chair--I remember the hours I spent carving it while Christine was pregnant, just as I remember the sleepless nights she and I spent rocking the fussy infant to sleep. I think it shall always have a place in this room, if for no other reason than to remind myself that, come what may, she'll always be my baby.
"Do you want to tell me about it?" I asked, as soothingly as possible. She shook her head violently and continued to sob into the crook of my shoulder.
I wouldn't say she has a particular tendency towards nightmares, but she is six years old. Scary dreams are just as much a part of growing up as scraped knees and earaches.
But that doesn't make me feel any better about it. Whenever I see tears in my wife or daughter's eyes, I want to seek out and destroy whatever vile thing had the gall to make them cry. My instincts tell me to protect them. They are mine.
But, beyond that, I love them both dearly and I want none of the evil things in this world close enough to upset them.
It was Christine who kept me grounded the first time she found me weeping over the wailing baby in my arms. She explained that babies cry… that they cry often and that it doesn't mean they have been wronged in some way. She explained that sometimes things happen that are nobody's fault.
I didn't like hearing it at the time--I felt like I was being denied vengeance in some way--but Christine's assurances were the only reason I survived those first couple of years. My experience with toddlers was… limited… at best.
It is just so frustrating that I cannot protect you from nightmares, I thought as I brushed her hair out of her eyes. She looks just like Christine--thank Heaven for that--but she has my eyes. They are gold, like mine, with a slightly iridescent sheen in the dark.
And yet… they are not my eyes. Hers are gold while mine are gold mingled with misfortune.
Don't get me wrong! Christine has brought light to my world and made it worth living. But, no matter how much joy I have known in the past years, my heart and my eyes will always have a… history… that, Lord willing, they shall never experience.
I made a vow then, looking down on her. Her eyes will be like this forever. And I will fight with ever fiber of my being to make it so.
I do not mean to make myself out to be some enchanted knight in shining armor. I will forever be ashamed to admit it, but there was a time when I was the source of her tears.
Yes, the one and only time she experienced my temper in her direction.
I remember it vividly--as, for a while, it was the source of my own nightmares. She had been sitting beside me with a book (she has always read uncommonly well for her age) when all of a sudden she looked up with a smile.
"My Papa is so handsome," she said. "When I grow up, I will find a husband that is just like you."
I don't know what to say. What was I to think? Only two people in the world have the power to hurt me. Only two people have ever seen my heart as it is, laid bare and tattered. And the only person I had dared to love, besides Christine, was throwing it in my face. I thought that my treasured daughter was mocking me in the one way I was most vulnerable.
I threw her to the floor and raged at her. I lashed out like the injured beast I was and shouted and screamed until she cowered in the corner, a little ball of tears. I am eternally grateful that I did not raise a hand to her in my anger. I would kill anyone who touched her that way, myself included.
It wasn't until much later, as I stood listening by her bedroom door as she sobbed to Christine, that I realized that it she'd meant every word.
She thinks I am handsome.
I slid down the wall until I was seated at the floor. My daughter thinks I am handsome.
How can I explain the sudden onslaught of emotions that washed over me? No one had ever thought that of me before.
Christine loves me. She loves me despite all things. In her love for me, she does not see my face.
But this is different. Children are made of simpler stuff. I am her father, her Papa. She does see me… and she finds me beautiful.
I wouldn't believe it, if it were not the absolute truth. Even then, I don't understand it.
"Can I sleep with you and Mama tonight?" she asked, keeping her death-grip on me as her tearful hiccups disappeared.
"Of course, princess." How could I refuse such a pitiful plea from such a lovely little girl?
I cradled her against me and carried her to our room where Christine was anxiously sitting up for us. She worries so. We both do.
I tucked her in front of Christine and moved back around to my side. As much as I love her, I won't give up my place by my wife for anyone. Christine scooted over so her back pressed against my chest so I could wrap my arms around them both. Satisfied that both my girls were safe and comfortable, I finally allowed myself to close my eyes.
For a man of nightmares, this all seems too good to be true. But it is, nonetheless.
Who would have thought the only good dream I'd ever had… turned out to be real?