"What's up, baby?"
"How many more days until Hanukkah?"
"And then we light the candles?"
"And then we light the candles," Noah confirms.
Rachel leans against the wall just outside of Grace's room, taking a moment to listen to her husband talking to his daughter before bed. Gracie does this at least a couple of nights a week, trying to talk her way into staying up past her bedtime. If it wasn't so cute, it probably wouldn't work as often as it does.
"Do you want to read Knuffle Bunny or the book you started with Mommy last night?" Noah is asking in the bedroom.
"Knuffle Bunny," Gracie answers, and Rachel can picture the way she's lying in her little bed, with Izzy, the patchwork doll that Abby brought her as a gift when she was two years old, tucked in beside her. "Daddy?"
"Can I help light the menorah this year?" Gracie asks. "Mommy let me help her light the candles on your birthday cake, so I can help you light the Hanukkah candles."
Rachel knows Noah well enough to know that he's hiding his smile when he says, "We'll see, baby. Now, do you want to read Knuffle Bunny, or do you want to talk and go to bed without a story?"
"Knuffle Bunny, please," she answers, apparently satisfied with Noah's we'll see.
Rachel pushes herself away from the wall and heads into the kitchen to unload the dishwasher when Noah starts reading the story; she's read the book enough times that she could recite it, so she isn't going to subject herself to it when she doesn't have to.
Putting their daughter to bed falls to Noah more often than not simply because Rachel is usually still at the theater at Gracie's bedtime. He's better at the ritual than she is because he's largely responsible for it. Rachel took three years off when she had her daughter, then she went back to work on a revival of Oklahoma that earned her a second Tony nomination (and her first win). Her run is ending in the new year, and while she's making the most of the time she has left there, she's looking forward to having more time with her family. For now though, it balances out between her and Noah, because she gets Gracie up every morning to get ready for school, and they have afternoons together when she doesn't have the ballet class that she begged Rachel to let her take.
Of course Rachel's daughter wanted to take ballet.
Noah comes up behind her in the kitchen and kisses the back of her shoulder as she stacks the plates in the cabinet. "Is she asleep?" she asks.
"No," Noah chuckles. "She's all stoked on Hanukkah."
"I heard," she says, closing the cabinet and turning to face him. "She might actually remember this year when she's older." He lets out a hum and pushes her hair back behind her shoulder. "Maybe we should try to make this year a little special."
"To make sure that she remembers?" Noah asks, lifting an eyebrow. He leans down to kiss her when she shrugs one shoulder. "Whatever you want to do," he murmurs against her lips.
Rachel knows that Grace isn't going to be like this forever, so she wants to make the most of this time. Noah is a proponent of living in the moment and letting things be what they're going to be, but Rachel likes to stack the deck, so to speak. She's a planner, and even though having her daughter has taught her to be open to letting things happen, she's always going to do whatever she can to make sure that things go the way that she'd like.
"She brought up the kitten again," Noah says, slipping his arms around her waist and pulling her closer. "Now she wants a boy kitten, and she wants to name him Bruce."
"Banner." Rachel blinks. "Sam's been doing dramatic readings of Incredible Hulk comics again."
"Our daughter, the comic book nerd," Rachel laughs. Noah likes to joke that between her and Broadway and Sam and comic books, Grace doesn't have a chance. At what, she isn't sure, but she supposes it is a bit of an odd combination. Other than knowing a lot of comic trivia and the lyrics to all the songs from Wicked and Hairspray, her favorites, Grace is a perfectly normal four-year-old. She likes Knuffle Bunny and Beauty and the Beast and the color purple, her favorite superhero is the rock creature from The Fantastic Four, and she cried the first time she saw The Wizard of Oz because she thought that the Wicked Witch of the West was Elphaba.
"You know," Rachel says, bringing her arms up to wrap around his neck, "someday, that little girl is going to make a man just like her Uncle Sam very happy."
Noah glares. "Not funny, Rach." He hates thinking about Grace growing up at all. Rachel isn't really a big fan of that herself - she wants her baby to be a baby forever - but it's fun to tease.
She presses her lips to the underside of his jaw. "Sure it is, baby."
Rachel knows what she's starting when she drops the baby. She doesn't do it often, but it makes Noah crazy when she does. He gazes down at her darkly, pressing his hips forward against hers. "Let's go to bed," he suggests lowly, his eyes on her lips.
She peeks into Grace's room on the way to theirs. Their daughter is asleep, her long lashes casting shadows on her cheeks and her fingers curled around the top of her purple blanket.
"But how did it last for eight nights if there was only enough for one?"
"That's the miracle," Rachel answers patiently. They're in the kitchen together peeling and chopping apples for applesauce. Grace has her own little cutting board and knife (a dull butter knife, though Rachel taught her how to hold and use it like a chef's knife, curling under the fingers on the hand holding the apple and everything) and is working carefully to cut her large chunks of peeled and cored apple into perfect little squares while Rachel works her way quickly through the rest. "When something happens that shouldn't and that you can't explain, that's a miracle."
Gracie's eyebrows are furrowed when she looks up from her board. "Aunt Quinn says that it's a miracle that she agreed to marry Uncle Sam, so does that mean that it wasn't supposed to happen?"
Rachel can't help the little laugh that escapes. "No, honey, Aunt Quinn is making a joke. Kind of like when Daddy calls you a monkey."
"Because I'm a little girl," Grace supplies matter-of-factly. Sometimes Rachel thinks she's just too precious.
She watches her daughter sneak a piece of apple into her mouth. "You can eat the apple if you want to, but you need to sit at the table and use your manners," Rachel tells her, widening her eyes a bit when Grace looks up sheepishly. "Do you want a snack?" Gracie nods. "All right, kitten. You sit. I'll bring you a plate." She holds her hand out when the girl steps down off of the kitchen chair she was standing on to help, just in case she slips, then grabs a piece of apple to cut into slices instead of chunks.
Gracie sits at the table where she can watch Rachel working at the counter, munching on her apple slices and chattering away about what she and Noah did Saturday afternoon while Rachel was at the theater. Noah is out doing some errands, and Rachel is making the most of a Sunday morning with her daughter before she has to go to the theater for her matinee.
"Mommy? If the oil hadn't been a miracle, would the people have had to sit in the dark?"
Rachel stops in the middle of scooping apples into the pan to look at her daughter.
Grace has this ability to hop from subject to subject, picking up right where she left off with something that she was talking about ten minutes ago. It can be confusing, especially to other kids her own age, but Rachel thinks it's the result of being an only child who spends a lot of time with adults who who don't talk down to her.
Now, she considers the question. "Something like that," she answers after a moment. It isn't exactly right, but Grace is a little girl. At this age, the idea of people being left in the dark is far more significant than the idea of a temple without lights.
She chews thoughtfully on a slice of apple. "I want to see a miracle someday."
It's terribly cheesy, but Rachel sometimes thinks of Grace as her own personal miracle.
"I'm sure you will, kitten."
Noah holds Gracie in his arms when Rachel lights the shamash candle. They've already talked about the blessings, about what they mean and why they're important, and Grace understands better than most children her age would. The menorah is in the living room, set up in front of the south-facing on the little antique table that holds a collection of framed photos that have been shuffled around a bit so the menorah can have a place of prominence.
"Okay, baby," Noah says quietly to Gracie after Rachel has finished reciting the blessings over the candles. He plucks the burning candle from its place in the center of the menorah. "Let's light it together."
Rachel can't explain why tears well up in her eyes watching Grace wrap her fingers around Noah's to "help" when he holds the flame to the single unlit candle on the right side of the menorah. Maybe it's something about the way the candlelight plays over her daughter's face, or the way that Noah looks at her just before he starts singing the hymn. Rachel joins in after a few beats, meeting Noah's eye for just a moment before reaching up to brush a stray curl behind Gracie's ear.
Grace lays her head on Noah's shoulder while he and Rachel sing, her fingers curling into the collar of his shirt. "I don't know the words to that song," she says after they finish, looking over at Rachel.
Noah chuckles and sets her on her feet. "Mommy can teach you," he says, shooting Rachel a wink. She knows that by the end of this week, Grace will have learned the words on her own, but she doesn't say anything about it.
"Go wash your hands for dinner, please," Rachel says before Grace gets a chance to ask any other questions. She slips her arm around Noah's waist after the girl scampers out of the room and leans her weight into his body for a moment just because.
"She's cute," he murmurs, leaning down to kiss the top of her head when she nods.
Rachel and Noah decided a few months ago that a cat would be an appropriate gift for Grace, but they wanted to wait for a special occasion. Her excitement over Hanukkah has given them the perfect excuse.
It feels appropriate, adopting an animal this time of year, and that's really Rachel's only requirement: that the kitten be adopted from a shelter, preferably one that is no-kill. Since they're planning on giving Gracie the kitten on the last day of Hanukkah, the time has come to go find the perfect pet for their daughter.
"Noah, I can't," Rachel insists. They're getting into bed and talking about going to a shelter. "I can't see all those animals in cages with no one to love them. I'll want to take them all, and I can't, and it'll break my heart." It sounds like she's being dramatic, but even just thinking about it puts a lump in her throat
"How am I supposed to know that I'm getting the right cat?" Noah asks. "I don't know what I'm looking for."
"Grace is going to be thrilled no matter what kind of cat you choose. As long as it's healthy and it isn't going to run and hide all the time, it'll be perfect, and the people at the shelter will be able to help you choose."
He looks at her incredulously, sliding into bed beside her. "I can't believe you're going to make me do this by myself."
She feels bad about that, she does, but this really isn't something that she can do. "Take Sam," she suggests. "I think he would be a good judge of feline character."
Noah looks at her for a moment, then shakes his head. "Only because I love both of you," he mutters, reaching over to flick off the lamp on the bedside table before leaning over to press his lips to hers in the dark. "I do love you," he says, curving his hand around the side of her neck.
"I love you, too."
"I can't tell them apart," Grace complains when they're playing the dreidel game on Wednesday in the little bit of time after Noah has gotten home from work and before Rachel has to get to the theater. Rachel treasures this time, and it's the fact that she gets so little of it that makes her look forward to the end of the show's run.
"See that little spot?" Noah asks, picking up the dreidel and pointing at part of a letter. Gracie nods. "That's how you can tell that it's Gimel."
Grace takes the toy and turns it in her little hand. "And that little thingie is on Shin, right?" she asks, pointing at part of the letter.
"Right," Noah confirms with a smile.
Gracie hands the dreidel to Rachel. "It's your turn, Mommy."
They play until Rachel has to leave to be at the theater on time. Rachel gives all of her gelt to Gracie, winking at her daughter when she stands from her spot on the floor by the coffee table. "We'll play more tomorrow," she promises when she sees Grace's little pout.
Noah walks to the door with Rachel like he always does, leaving Gracie counting all of her gelt, saying the numbers aloud as she does. "Have a good show, baby."
"Please don't let her eat more than a few pieces," she says, shrugging into her coat.
Noah doesn't say anything, nodding his head and leaning down to kiss her instead. "I love you."
"I love you, too."
Rachel can hear Gracie singing the dreidel song when she steps out into the hallway. The last thing she hears is her little girl's song dissolving into giggles and gleeful cries of Daddy! when she closes the door behind her.
She smiles the entire way to the theater.
"So, it's not really a kitten."
"What do you mean it isn't a kitten?" Rachel asks Noah over the phone. Immediately, she's thinking that he and Sam managed to get distracted by something insane at the animal shelter, a guinea pig or a chinchilla or, God help her, a ferret.
"She's like, a year old. So. Not a kitten." That isn't even close to as terrible as a ferret. "She was more playful than the couple of kittens they did have though, and she's really sweet."
"Grace won't care," Rachel assures him. "She's just going to be thrilled that we got her a cat at all."
Maybe deciding to get their daughter a cat should have been a more difficult decision than it was, but Rachel has always wanted to have a pet and couldn't because of her daddy's allergies and then because it felt selfish to leave a pet alone all the time since she spends so much time out of the house. Now that she has Noah and Grace, that isn't a problem. Cats are also pretty low-maintenance; as long as they have food and water and a clean litterbox, they mostly take care of themselves, unlike a dog who has to be walked multiple times a day. All in all, it's a lot of benefit for very little cost.
"Tell Quinn that I'll stop by after the show," she requests, glancing at the clock on the vanity table. "I have to redo my hair."
"All right. Have a good show."
Sam pulls their apartment door open for Rachel when he buzzes her up later that evening. "We're going to end up getting a cat, and it's your fault," he tells her seriously.
"Look," he cuts her off, grabbing her by the wrist and pulling her into the living room.
"The only reason I'm not keeping this one is because she's Gracie's," Quinn says, looking up from where she's sitting in an armchair with the kitten curled up in her lap. "Rachel, she's so sweet."
If she's full-grown already, this cat is quite small. She's mostly white, though her tail has the black and orange markings of a calico, with a narrow face and ears that are pointed in a way that makes Rachel think of an elf.
"Grace is going to love her," Sam offers, sitting beside where Rachel has perched on the edge of their couch to look at the kitten. "She's really into the toys we got, and she's all about curling up next to you to sleep. She's litterbox trained. She's really careful with her claws, too. It's like she knows."
"That's great," Rachel says, leaning over to stroke down the cat's side. She knows that being scratched is just part of having a cat - she would never do something so cruel as having a cat declawed - but she prefers not to think about her daughter being scratched. The cat has short hair, but it's softer than Rachel expects, almost like cotton. "Thank you for helping Noah find her. And letting her stay here."
"No problem," Sam says. "We have to get one now, but it's cool." He winks at Rachel when she glances at him.
Rachel stays at Sam and Quinn's long enough to see the cat wake up and play a little, chasing a feather toy that Sam tosses for her and bringing it back like a dog. It's a perfect cat for Grace, and Rachel can't wait to see how her daughter is going to react to her new pet.
They wait until after dinner on the eighth night to light the candles. Noah stopped at Sam and Quinn's on his way home from work to get the cat. Rachel kept Gracie in the kitchen while he snuck the cat into their bathroom. She's been locked in there since then, and frankly, the anticipation is making Rachel a little antsy. It's just that she knows how thrilled Grace is going to be, and she wants to see it for herself.
She can tell by how quickly Noah eats his dinner - quicker than usual, which is saying something with that man - that he's a little excited about their big Hanukkah gift, too.
After seven other days of lighting candles, Grace is allowed to hold the shamash herself to light the Hanukkah candles, though Noah keeps his hand atop hers, gently steadying her hand. She had most of the words to the hymns after about the fourth night, so she sings along with with her parents, trailing off at the parts that she's still not sure of before joining back in with her sweet little voice when they get the parts that she knows.
"I like it like that," Grace comments when they've finishing singing, her eyes on the menorah. "It's the prettiest with all the candles."
"I think so, too," Rachel agrees quietly, slipping her arm around her daughter and her husband together. Noah meets her eyes over the top of Grace's head for just a moment.
"Okay, baby," he says, setting Grace back on her feet. "Do you want to play the dreidel game, or do you want to open your last gift?"
Silly question to ask a four-year-old, honestly. "Present!"
She tugs impatiently at the knot in the ribbon on the shoebox-sized gift Noah hands her, then tears through the silver paper quickly before lifting the lid off the box. She pulls out the little plush mouse toy and squints at its feather tail. "What is it?"
"Oh, no! Mommy forgot the best part!" Noah exclaims dramatically. "I'll go get it!" Rachel rolls her eyes at his back when he walks out of the room. The sarcasm is lost on Grace, but he hadn't wanted to bother with wrapping anything. He didn't understand why Rachel wanted to build the suspense. This is a trick that her fathers liked to use when she was growing up, letting her unwrap a package that had batteries or headphones or some other accessories before letting her unwrap her real gift. Letting Grace unwrap a cat toy is the same idea.
"What's the best part?" Gracie asks, looking at Rachel.
The squeal that Grace lets out when Noah comes back into the room with the cat in his arms could deafen a dog it's so high-pitched, but the cat doesn't seem bothered. Grace is still sitting on the couch with the little stuffed mouse in her lap, which the cat is immediately interested in. For a second, Rachel has visions of her daughter being scratched first thing, but the cat just hooks a single claw into the mouse's plush fur and flicks it up into the air, hopping down off the couch after it when it hits the floor.
"Is he mine?" Grace asks, sliding off the sofa and onto her knees to watch as the cat grabs the mouse's feather tail and shakes her head.
"It's a girl," Noah corrects gently. "And she's yours."
Grace doesn't say anything. She's transfixed by the cat, reaching out to stroke her fur gently from the top of her head to the tip of her tail, which makes her arch her back and rise up onto her little toes.
"It's like she has eyebrows," Grace observes, and Rachel notices the little orange spots above each of the kitten's eyes for the first time.
"What's her name, baby?"
"Selena," she answers, looking up at Noah as if it should be obvious. "Catwoman, Daddy."
He waits until she's looking at the cat again to roll his eyes because she can be quite the little mimic and they're (Rachel is) hoping to prevent her from picking up this particular habit for at least a few more years. Rachel bites her lip to hold in the giggle that threatens to escape. This has Sam written all over it, and as much as Noah likes to act like he's annoyed by these sorts of things, she knows that he thinks it's just as cute as she does.
Gracie wants Selena to sleep in her bed with her, but Rachel says no. She knows that if they have any chance of controlling where the cat thinks she can go, they have to start right now, and she'd rather the cat sleep in the plush purple cat bed that she found at the pet supply that matches the comforter on Grace's bed.
She also knows when she pulls Grace's bedroom door shut that the girl is going to pull the Selena up onto the bed as soon as she thinks that Noah and Rachel are done checking on her.
"The cat's gonna sleep wherever she wants, baby," Noah points out when she mentions checking Grace's room for the third time. She knows he's exasperated with her, and he really doesn't want her to get out of bed to go reprimand their daughter. Honestly, she's doesn't really want to get out of bed either, especially not when Noah leans over and presses his lips to the sensitive spot just beneath her collarbone. "Do you think she's going to remember this Hanukkah?" he asks, tracing the pads of his fingers over the narrow strap of her nightgown the way he always does before he slips it off her shoulder.
The image that comes into Rachel's mind has nothing to do with her daughter's Hanukkah present, but rather the way that the candlelight from the menorah played across Grace's face. "I think so," she says quietly, looking through her eyelashes at Puck when he slips the strap of her nightgown down her shoulder just like she knew he would. "I know that I'll remember it."