The bed lay half filled. Evie cocooned herself in blankets and skirted the edge, allowing room for another; her ex-husband, a new lover, who knows? Yet her dream wrapped smile betrayed no sense of absence.
It was a fact she might not have been aware of until the mattress depressed and gravity tugged her to the centre. She opened her eyes, shaped the numbers 2:53 out of the fog, and rolled toward the mass laying against her back.
She croaked through the film that dried in the back of her throat. “Madelyne?”
The body stirred but said nothing. Instead she reached for a fistful of blanket, pulled until covered, and clutched as she would a life preserver miles from land.
Evie propped herself on an elbow, but didn’t reach for the light. She reached for her daughter, with fingertips guiding the stray hairs around her ear.
“Are you alright, sweetheart?” The question did not require an answer.
“M’ fine,” the girl said. “Can I sleep in your bed tonight?”
“Of course. Always.”
Madelyne turned away, nestling the comforter under her side. Like her mother she pressed the boundary of the bed. She curled in place, her shoulders contorted as though to swallow her head, and pulled her knees over her abdomen.
Silence lay between them until interrupted by gasps. At any other hour they might not have been heard.
Evie pulled her daughter back, guiding her into her arms and nestling the girl’s head against her breast. Fingers raked through the strands of her daughter’s hair. Tears fell, either to burn on the parent’s skin or to be drunk by thirsty sheets.
She hushed and rocked the girl back and forth, same as she had done whenever called upon for the last fourteen years. Without even knowing the reason she told her child it was alright, that everything would be better soon, that she was there to look out for her.
“What’s the matter?” she asked; that it was the tenth time had not worn down the song in her tone.
Madelyne stopped and drew breath. Her lungs jolted as they filled and coughed as she released. She propped her forehead in the dip above mother’s collarbone, closed her eyes, and sighed.
“Can I ask you something really dumb?”
Evie smiled, “you can ask me anything you want.”
Fingers balled, this time claiming the arms of Evie’s nightshirt. Another lump in the girl’s chest rolled and she fought for words.
“Do you ever get sad,” she started, “that… I’m not a boy?”
Evie pulled her daughter close, enveloping her in her grasp, clasping her shoulders, and squeezed her so she might bleed all doubt.
“Never,” Evie whispered. “Never ever ever ever!”
Madelyne flashed a half-hearted smile. “I just... I know this has been really hard for you, and it’s been a huge adjustment, and you’ve given me so much, and... I’m scared that one day it’s all going to be too much, and-”
Evie hushed and cradled the girl, running her fingers up and down the base of her neck and rubbed her back. The ball that was Madelyne fit so easily into her; it was easy to imagine the two still being one body.
“You don’t owe me anything,” she said. “I thought I had a son, but I had a daughter, and more important than that, I had you.”
Madelyne choked as a fresh wave erupted. “Mom…”
“I am so proud of you,” she sang, “my darling girl.”
Her eyes didn’t pass back to the clock, but by the time Madelyne was dozing the sun crept over the horizon. Her maternal duty done she, placed her head down and closed her eyes.
“Sweet dreams,” she said.
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