No Sleep


She wakes to tiny fingers patting her cheek.

"Mama? Mama, you 'wake?" her daughter stage whispers, leaning so close that her curls brush the mattress.

Olivia stirs, flops an arm over her face. "Etta?" she rasps. Grimaces at the gravelly feel to her throat. "Etta, what are you doing?"

"Up. I be up."

Olivia opens her eyes, rolls onto her side. "I know that, baby girl. I meant what are you doing out of bed?" She half-smiles and runs sleepy fingers through Etta's curls.

"No sleep, Mama."

"You can't sleep?"

Etta shakes her head, blue eyes glinting in the moonlight. "Bad dream wake me. I try sleeping 'gain. But Mama, my eyes not close." Her voice pitches higher on that last sentence, and Olivia pushes onto an elbow, reaches out to pull her daughter close.

"Hey, it's okay, baby girl," she soothes. "Bad dreams happen."

Etta buries her nose in Olivia's neck, fingers tangling in her hair. Olivia tucks her chin into the hollow between Etta's cheek and shoulder, cradles her so close that she can feel the flutter of the girl's heart against the steady beat of her own. Etta curls tightly into the embrace, shoulders tense, refusing to cry. Just like her mother. Olivia gathers her closer, squeezes hard.

Oh, my brave little girl.

She draws back, tilts her fingers beneath Etta's chin, trying not to wince at the sharp tug of little fingers in her hair. "You wanna sleep with me and Daddy tonight?"

"Mama I no sleep," Etta whimpers. "Too dark. I need sunshine."

"No sunshine tonight, baby girl. It's dark. The moon is out." Olivia points to the window, and Etta turns her head.

"See the moon, Mama? Take me 'side?"

"Outside?" Olivia's brow dips. "But it's cold outside. Winter."

"Hold me close, Mama. Toast in the toaster, like Daddy." Etta wraps her arms around her ribs, hunches like she's bundled up in Peter's coat.

Olivia bites her lip, looking at the clock glowing 3:43 on the nightstand, then back at her daughter, all big eyes and limp curls.

"All right," she sighs, careful not to wake Peter as she slides out of bed. Etta steps back and waits, watching as Olivia tugs on socks and her robe, scrapes the hair back from her face. That done, they tiptoe into the living room, where Olivia grabs a blanket from the couch and shakes it out, kneeling down.

"Okay, Etta, toast in the toaster," she whispers. Olivia wraps the blanket around the girl and then bundles her in her robe, tying it tightly around them both to ward off the chill. Etta burrows into her shoulder as Olivia stands and moves to the door, fumbling with the deadbolt for a few seconds before slipping into the frigid night air.

"Brr, it's cold," she shivers, squeezing Etta close. "Let me warm you up." She darts in to blow a raspberry on the flushed cheek.

The girl squirms, gasps out a laugh. "I be toast in a toaster, Mommy. I not cold!"

Olivia smiles. "Well good." She eases the door shut behind them, pads across the cold porch and down the steps, out into the night.

"See the moon, Etta? It's full tonight."

"Ohh," her daughter breathes, lifting from Olivia's shoulder. "Pretty, Mommy."

"Mm-hm," Olivia hums. She hugs Etta close and lets her gaze sweep across the silent neighborhood. Everything is awash in silver and shadows, dripping with the argent light. The cold nips at Olivia's eyes, and they water, making the world flare bright like a house bedecked in Christmas lights, only better.

"So pretty," Etta sighs.

They stand there a moment longer, mother and daughter, limbs twined and breath puffing out in frosty clouds, words not needed in the presence of such beauty.

"Okay baby girl," Olivia says at last. "Time to go inside. Mommy's hands are cold."

Etta wriggles closer, rests her head on Olivia's shoulder as they move across the yard and back into the house. Once inside, Olivia locks the deadbolt and tugs at the knot in her robe, letting Etta slide to the floor. Turning, she glances down and laughs at the result – her daughter, head tilted back, half-buried in blanket and patiently waiting for someone to come to her rescue. Olivia crouches and tugs the blanket down. Etta grins as she emerges, pitches forward to plant a sloppy kiss on Olivia's cheek.

"Love you, Mama."

"Mm, I love you too, baby girl." She squeezes tight. "All better now? Think you can sleep?"

Etta shakes her head.

"No? Why not?"

"No sleep. Eyes not tired."

Olivia shakes her head and runs a hand down her daughter's hair. "I should have known better than to take you outside," she murmurs. "Cold chases all the sleepiness away."

" 'Way," Etta agrees. "Sleep go 'way, and my eyes not close."

Olivia sneaks a glance at the clock – past four. There's no way they're getting back to sleep soon, not with this early bird. Once she's up, she's up. Just like her mother. Oh well, Olivia thinks. Might as well make a night of it. Or morning. She claps her hands lightly on her knees, offering Etta a smile. "How about some hot cocoa?"

Etta's eyes widen. "Ohhh," she breathes. "Please Mommy?"

Olivia sighs a laugh, tucks a curl behind Etta's ear. "Okay, hot cocoa it is. Just let me get my glasses. You go on to the kitchen. But don't touch anything."

Etta smiles and runs off while Olivia slips into the bedroom, navigating the shadows to reach her nightstand. She finds her glasses easily and turns to go, but pauses as Peter groans and rolls over.

"Livia?" he croaks. "Everything okay?"

She pivots and paces back to the bed, stoops to run a hand through his hair. "Hey," she soothes. "Baby girl's up and I'm getting my glasses."

"What?" he rubs his eyes. Squints at the clock. "Is she okay?"

"Bad dream," she murmurs, palming him back down to the bed. "I've got it under control."

"You sure?"

"Mm-hm." She presses a kiss to his forehead. "I'll take care of her. You sleep."

He nods, head flopping back to his pillow, and she knows he's asleep before her knee leaves the mattress.

Back in the kitchen, Etta is perched in her chair, feet kicking and blanket dragging the floor. Olivia winces at the blazing lights.

"Oof, Etta. Let's go for ambience instead, okay?"

Etta just frowns at her.

"Light, baby girl," Olivia laughs, flipping off the overhead and using the stove light instead. "Too much light. Makes Mommy's eyes hurt."

"Mama, where your glasses? You get them?"

"Yes ma'am, I did. Wanna put them on for me?" She crouches by Etta's chair, squinches her eyes shut as the four-year-old pokes the frames into her temples, finally manages to slide them on.

"All better!" she says, opening her eyes. Etta beams.

"I like your glasses, Mommy."

"Oh, thank you, my sweet girl." Olivia kisses her cheek, then stands and moves to the stove, starts pulling ingredients down from the cabinet. Sugar, cinnamon, the spicy Mexican cocoa the entire Dunham-Bishop clan has become addicted to – Astrid included. Olivia smiles, remembering Ella and the shopping trip they'd taken to the world market when Olivia was pregnant with Etta, the frown on Peter's face when she'd brought the cocoa home and started drinking it every night.

"All that chili powder can't be good for the baby," he'd frowned, but she'd just laughed and mixed another mug, gotten him hooked, too. It's a tradition now – every other Friday, the whole clan comes over for movies and Aunt Liv's spicy cocoa.

There's a tug on her pajama pants. Olivia looks down, finds her daughter staring up at her. "I help, Mommy?"

"Sure. Can you bring me the milk from the fridge?" She remembers from dinner that the gallon is only a third full, plenty light enough for her little four-year-old to manage. She watches Etta run to the fridge and tug it open, stand on tippy toes to pull the jug off the middle shelf. She grunts a little when it comes down, muscles straining, but holds on and staggers back to the counter.

"Thank you, sweet girl," Olivia says, taking the jug. She opens the cabinet and slips two mugs off the shelf, chunks them down on the counter before bending down to pull a saucepan from the pots and pans rack.

"Wanna sit on the counter and stir for me?" she asks. Etta nods, grinning shyly. Oh, she is so much like her mother. Olivia scoops her up, settles her on the patch of counter next to the stove. Etta watches her measure out the ingredients, mostly just tossing and shaking until it looks right, whisking vigorously to fold the cocoa in with the milk.

"My turn?" Etta asks. She's getting squirmy.

"Almost… there… okay, your turn," she says, handing the whisk to her daughter. Etta wriggles closer, hand on Olivia's shoulder to steady herself as she leans over the saucepan. Her little fingers are white around the whisk handle, tongue poking out in concentration while she stirs. Olivia bites her lip, heart twisting at the sight. What did she do to deserve this perfect little soul?

She laughs at herself then, knowing she's past the point of sappy. It's four thirty in the morning – she's positively maudlin, now. But she doesn't care. She would do this every night, if it just meant she could keep her forever, this precious little girl named Henrietta Bishop.

Olivia combs the hair away from her daughter's face, holds it in place behind her back. "I love you, Henrietta," she murmurs, but the girl is lost in concentration and doesn't hear.

A few more minutes and the cocoa's done, Olivia remembering to toss in a few grains of salt to set off the chocolate – her secret touch. She lifts Etta off the counter and sends her to the table, then pours the cocoa into their mugs, Etta's only half full so it can cool faster. She slips the pan into the sink and runs water over it, leaving it to soak for later, and then carries the mugs to the table. Etta grins and hunches her shoulders as Olivia slides into her seat, sets the cocoa in front of her.

"Careful, it's hot," she warns. Etta nods sagely and clambers onto her knees so she can blow into the cup. After a few moments' puffing, she settles back and braves a tiny sip.

"Good?"

Etta smacks her lips. "So good, Mommy. The best."

"The best?" Olivia raises her eyebrows.

"In the world!"

"Even better than Daddy's?"

"Silly Mommy," her daughter giggles. "Daddy not make cocoa – only you!"

"Oh, only me. Then how do you know mine's the best?"

Etta's brow wrinkles. " 'Cause you're Mommy, course. All the things you make be best."

Oh. Her heart is definitely melting.

"Well, I think you are the best, Henrietta," she says, tapping her daughter's nose. Etta giggles and slurps up her cocoa.

They fall quiet, Olivia sipping the chocolate, savoring the spiciness as it rolls around her tongue, treasuring the shy smiles that Etta sends her way every few minutes. She loves this – how they don't need words to communicate.

Finally, the last dregs of the cocoa are gone, and Etta's eyes are drooping. Olivia rinses their cups and loads them into the dishwasher, and by the time she's finished, Etta's head is on the table. Smiling, Olivia lifts her up and carries her to the bedroom, eases her down onto the bed. Etta stirs, eyelids fluttering as the blanket comes up around her shoulders, and Olivia can see that she's fighting hard against sleep.

She trails a hand down Etta's cheek, leaning down to press a kiss to her forehead. "It's okay, Etta-bear. You can sleep."

"My eyes be sleepy," Etta mumbles, tugging an arm across her face.

"Mm-hm," Olivia hums. "Sleep, sleep, my little bear. I'll see you in the morning, okay?"

" 'Kay."

Olivia stands, kisses her daughter one more time, tiptoes to the door.

"Mommy?"

Olivia turns, sees Etta's head off the pillow. "Yes?"

"Mommy, you're my fav'rite thing."

"I'm… what?"

"My fav'rite thing," Etta sighs, head already sinking back down to her pillow. "I know 'cause Daddy. He say it to me all the times."

And then she's gone, finally surrendering to the pull of sleep.

fin