The early morning light filtered pale through the kitchen window as Eva poured steaming coffee into two mugs. Snowflakes drifted down past the glass and outside, everywhere was covered in silent, frigid white.
“She is awake and excited.” The elderly man shuffled into the kitchen, his feet clad in red and green argyle socks. “Oh, for the condition that is youth, where awakening at seven o’clock in the morning seems like a reasonable idea.”
“She’s three years old,” Eva said, smiling. “Christmas means presents.”
“Verily.” Pocky rubbed his sparse, curly hair and removed the teabag from his china cup. “Thank you for pouring.”
“For you, anything. Where is she?”
“June? Sitting beneath the tree. I think she may be trying to communicate with the gifts telepathically in the hopes they will reveal themselves.”
Eva laughed quietly, knowing her husband was asleep just up the stairs and waking him too early would spoil June’s surprise. “Tell her to get Mir’s present and then we’re ready to go up, okay?”
The professor stirred cream into his tea and placed the carton back in the refrigerator. “While I have the thought, Merry Christmas, duckie.”
“Merry Christmas yourself.” She lifted the cups of coffee and followed him into the living room. “June, honey, do you have daddy’s present?”
The small black-haired girl clambered to her feet with difficulty, her socks sliding on the wooden floor. “This one?” She held up a plain brown bag, the right size for a gift card or something of equal size. It was overflowing with red and white tissue paper.
Eva nodded. “That’s the one.”
“I don’t suppose you will renege and let me in on the big secret?” Pocky sipped his tea, watching her with wide eyes as she motioned carefully with one encumbered hand for June to get up and follow her toward the stairs.
“Not a chance. Mir gets to be the second to know.”
“After all that I have done for you.”
Eva kept a straight face in spite of the professor’s false irritation at being left out. “I got you your own present, and I can still take it back.”
“You wouldn’t!” He pretended to look affronted. June hurried past him, climbing up the stairs as quickly as she could.
Eva whispered, “Hold on to the railing, sweetie.”
June dutifully held the rail with one hand and the bag with the other. The adults followed her, willing to move slowly for the sake of letting the toddler reach the top first. “Okay,” said Eva, looking through the doorway at the sleeping body of her husband, obscured by the duvet and the extra quilt she had draped over him half an hour earlier. “Now remember, don’t jump on daddy, okay? You can jump next to him.”
“Okay.” June’s whisper was loud and earnest. “Now?”
Eva nodded. “Now!”
June squealed and, with a boost from Pocky, made her way onto the bed. Jumping up and down, she shouted, “Merry Christmas, daddy! Wake up! Wake up! It’s Christmas! Daddy!”
Mir rolled over with something between a groan and a yawn. Eva walked around to his side of the bed and, setting his cup of coffee down on the night stand, kissed his forehead. “Merry Christmas.”
His sapphire eyes blinked sleepily back at her, but he was awake enough to tease June. “It isn’t Christmas yet,” he said, with a full yawn. “Wake me up when it is.”
June stopped jumping, her mouth open. “No, it is Christmas!”
“Mm-mmh.” He shook his head.
“Daddy!” June fell to her knees. “It’s Christmas! It – the tree is downstairs and we have presents!”
He pushed the blankets down and Eva reached an arm around him to help him sit up. The last two years had seen his body fade. There were dark hollows beneath his eyes and his strength was slowly giving way to the cancer eating him from his bones, but it seemed to Eva that the weaker his body grew, the stronger his spirit shone through; light through a thinning veil.
“Are you sure it’s Christmas?” Mir eyed June doubtfully. “Really sure?”
“Yes!” She nodded so hard that her pigtails whipped across her cheek and she clapped her hand to her face. “Ouch.”
“Okay, then.” Mir’s smile became a grin. “Hugs before presents, sunshine.”
June crawled over the pillow and wrapped her arms around his neck. “One!” She squeezed again, and one more time. “Two! Three!”
Mir laughed as the girl then held out the present. “Now open it!”
“Who taught you to be so bossy? You sound like your mommy.”
“Good for her, I say.” Eva hugged herself, excitement warming between her ribs. “Not everyone can be as sweet as her father.”
“Hear, hear,” said Pocky, lifting his teacup. “Now, if it isn’t too much trouble, I’ve been kept in the dark as much as you have” – this remark was directed at Mir – “and I would very much like to know what this gift is.”
“Open it!” June encouraged.
“Who is it from?” Mir asked, taking the offered bag.
Eva smiled. “Partially, me.”
“Just open it. You’ll see what I mean.”
Mir made a show of pulling the tissue paper out sheet by sheet until June could no longer contain her mounting excitement and yanked the rest of it free. Eva took a deep breath as Mir reached into the bag and withdrew the gift inside.
He stared at the card, his lips parted, bright eyes unblinking.
“Well?” Pocky demanded, his eyebrows rising. “Are we never to know?”
Mir looked up at Eva, and she saw that the brightness in his eyes was half tear-sheen. “Is it – are you? Really?”
The grin that Eva had been suppressing for seven days broke out across her face and she covered her mouth with her hands, nodding.
“What is it? What did you get?” June asked, peering over her father’s arm at the card.
Pocky added his voice. “I second June!”
“They’re pregnancy test results.” Eva lowered her hands and turned a shining face to Pocky. “I’m pregnant. The baby is due in August.”
Pocky took a hasty sip of his tea and set the cup down. “My word. My word.”
“I’m going to have a brother?” June looked back and forth between the faces of her parents, then back at Pocky. “Why are mommy and daddy crying?”
Eva felt Mir’s hand cover hers, his thumb against the pulse on her wrist as he pulled her down to him. She pressed her face into his neck and felt her hot, happy tears from her lashes brush against his skin.
She lifted her face and kissed his jaw, his cheek, his mouth. “Merry Christmas, my love.”
He pressed his forehead to hers. His eyes were closed, but his mouth could not smile any wider, and it was still the most beautiful thing she had ever seen.
“Well,” said Pocky, removing his glasses from his nose and blinking away his own tears. “I suppose now I shall have to return the presents I got for you all. Now nothing will compare.”