Mary hates crying in the morning.
She hates it in the afternoon and night as well, but it's morning when she stands in front of Danny's door again, looking at the blurry doorbell. Joan burbles happily from her carrier, squawking as she pulls at her toes. Mary holds her pacifier tightly in a shaking pinky.
Mary inhales a deep breath, rubbing under her eyes and biting her lip. She feels the sob settle somewhere inside her and it hurts, pressing against her heart and her lungs. When she rings the bell, it comes out, like a wet cough, and Mary doesn’t think she could feel more pathetic.
That is until Grace answers the door, her smile washing away as she stares at her. “Aunt Mary? What's wrong?” she asks, like it's reasonable for an eleven year old to see a grown woman weep on a doorstep.
“Hi, Grace.” Mary tries to get a grip and looks at Joan for a second, getting her bearings. “Is your dad home?”
Grace keeps giving her a piercing look, but nods nonetheless. “Yeah, Danno and I are making levivot.”
Mary blinks at her, her knees locked against her desire to grab Joan and run away. “I'm sorry, uh, we'll leave you to it. I didn't mean to bother you two.”
Grace puts a hand on her wrist. “Danno won't mind that you and Joanie came to visit. We always make too much for just the two of us.” Grace smiles at her, a tender quirk of her lips that dimple the sides of her mouth, and Joan screeches.
“Monkey, what was that?” Danny's gruff voice calls out. He appears beside Grace, a dishtowel thrown over his shoulder. “Hey,” he says to Mary, looking at her intently and she sees him see everything on her face, comprehending in a way that Grace does not, could not.
“Hi. Grace says you're making, um, levivot,” Mary says, uncertain about the word, though and she's proud her voice sounds reasonably steady.
Danny's bright blue gaze holds hers steady. “Yeah, it's Hanukkah.”
“Thanksgivukkah, Danno,” Grace interjects.
Danny sighs the sigh of the extremely hard done by. “Which was yesterday.”
“It's Thanksgiving weekend, it still counts,” Grace says imperiously.
Danny smiles down at her, putting his hand on her head and he looks back at Mary. “Come in. You can help grate the potatoes.” He smiles at Mary, reaching for the carrier. “And Joanie can guard the apple sauce,” he says in a happy tone as he swings the carrier into the house, towards the kitchen Joan chirps enthusiastically as Danny makes her fly. He settles her on the sofa and unfastens her from the seat, bringing her close to him. Joan immediately burbles and laughs as she pulls at his mouth.
“Yay, apple sauce,” Grace cries joyfully, dragging Mary, who is thoughtfully confused, into the house by the hand still wrapped around her wrist. The questions of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving and levivot are on the tip of her tongue, pushing against her teeth.
“Gracie, don't pull on Aunt Mary.”
“Sorry!” She doesn't sound sorry at all, and Mary can't help but laugh.
Her laughing dies when her jaw drops at the sight of the kitchen. A long row of potatoes and yams line the island and there's a mixing bowl filled with white and orange slivers, the grater has a clump of potato stuck to it that Grace picks up again and starts shredding with gusto.
“Sorry about the mess,” Danny says, suddenly standing by her side, Joan's head on his shoulder.
Mary looks at him and she can't help but sniffle. “I didn't realize...” She trails off, taking Joan into her arms. She protests just a little before clutching at Mary's shirt collar.
Danny gives her a look she's not sure she can describe; tender and sweet, maybe. He wraps his free hand around her waist and pulls her into a side hug. He's just the right height for her to lean against with feeling engulfed; she's not sure she could take that right now. “Hey, hey,” he says into her ear.
“Danny?” Her voice sounds clogged to her own ears.
“Yeah?” he replies softly.
“I don't know how I ended up here.”
Danny strokes her back, his palm warm as it goes down from her shoulders to the small of her back. “Don't worry about it,” he says, like it's completely reasonable that twice in two weeks she appeared out of nowhere on his doorstep.
“No, but - “
“I said don't worry about it.” And his tone brooks no arguments, all the while his eyes twinkle.
Grace keeps staring at her from her place at the island, her long braid trailing over her shoulder. “Do you want to make levivot, Aunt Mary?”
Danny winks at her, as he walks by Grace to the stove, giving her shoulder a squeeze. He lights the stove and pours oil into the pan.
“My hands are full,” Mary says, bouncing Joan. “I'll watch you make the, uh, levivot.”
“Latkes. Potato latkes.” Danny moves the pan expertly, spreading the oil around. “Hanukkah staple. My mom calls them levivot.”
“We added yam for Thankgiving,” Grace says with a wide grin as she takes a handful of slivers from the bowl and makes a patty, putting it on a plate already covered with at least ten others prepared before Mary had crashed their breakfast party.
“I didn't know you're Jewish,” Mary says softly.
Danny glances at her and makes a so-so gesture with his hand. “Jewish enough for the seasonal food.” He grimaces. “Not that there are any seasons to be had on this rock.”
“Danno,” Grace says disapprovingly.
Danny sighs heavily over her head as he grabs the plate filled with patties. “Yeah, yeah. Gracie, how about you wash your hands and keep Joan company in the living room. I think Aunt Mary would like to make some latkes.”
Grace gives him a look that tells her she's not fooled and she glances back to her and asks, “You want to make levivot?”
Mary glances at the expanse of Danny's back, listening to the sizzle of the oil as he put the bunched up potatoes and yam onto the pan and looks back at Grace. “Yeah, I would.”
“Are you sure? 'Cause you didn't defrost the turkey,” Grace returns.
Danny snorts and she glares at the back of his neck. “Yeah, well, your dad is here to supervise,” Mary says dryly.
Grace hops off her chair and goes to the sink, quickly washing her hands before turning and opening her arms to Mary and Joan. “My brother Charlie’s way bigger now and I pick him up all the time.”
Danny looks at her and nods, assuring her in Grace's baby holding skills.
“Okay, uh, all her toys and stuff are in the bag in her carriage and - “
“I know all that, I was mommy's squire when Charlie was this little,” Grace says with easy assurance, holding Joan like the big sister she is and walking to the living room.
“Holler if you need anything,” Danny yells after her.
“Okay, Danno!” Grace calls back and Joan lets out a high pitched chirp that is entirely happy.
Mary smiles and stands next to him, watching him flip the small patties in the pan. The smell would be cloying, but it's homey and cosy, the heat of the stove and Danny's comforting presence making her stomach twist in a way that is somehow both hunger and nerves at the same time.
“You want to talk about it?” Danny asks over the sputter of oil.
Mary keeps her eyes on the pan, blinking when it turns blurry. “What is there to say?”
Danny touches her arm. “Whatever you want.”
Mary laughs abruptly, a black and bitter taste coating the back of her throat. “It fucking sucks.”
“Yeah, it does. It fucking sucks.”
Mary sniffles and rubs her nose with her hand. “I thought... I wanted... Joan... I wanted Joan to know her. I thought Aunt Deb would be there for her.”
Danny makes a sympathetic noise. “Can I ask... I saw you and Steve last night? Why...” he trails off, flipping another patty and placing it on a paper towel, a larger pile of patties fried beforehand cooling beside it.
Mary looks at his profile. “You're not my brother.”
Danny turns his head to her and she sees he hasn't shaved this morning, his hair is fluffy without anything pressing it down against his head and he blinks at her. “No, I'm not. But you'd get along great with my sisters.”
Mary smiles at him, feeling tight on her face and somewhere inside her. “I didn't know you had sisters.”
Danny's gaze changes and shifts as he clears his throat. “I, uh. I have a brother too.”
She swallows stiffly, feeling tears press her eyes, a sob building inside her. “You don't talk?”
Danny turns off the stove and grabs a towel, rubbing his hands clean. “We used to. All the time. He was Grace's favorite. Now... it's unlikely that I-she will ever see him again.”
Mary's lips quiver. “Danny...”
“But I talk to her about him. Remind her of the times they spend together, the trips we all went on as a family.” Danny's throat bobs and his own eyes look too shiny. “And all the holidays he didn't miss.”
Mary feels tears trail down her face. “I don't want her to go.”
Danny's arms wrap around her and she cries, the sobs spilling out and her body shivers against him. She clings onto his shirt as she holds him and he's warm and snug around her, crooning in her ear as he soothes her, his breath tickling her ear.
They stand in the kitchen for a long moment before Mary lets go and takes a step back.
Danny grabs a dry paper towel and gently wipes her face, the corners of her eyes and when he presses it to her nose he says, “Blow.”
Mary laughs wetly and takes the paper towel, blowing into it. “Sorry about that.”
Danny's gaze bores into her. “If there's something to cry about, it's this. This is what we lie down and weep for.”
Mary stares back at him, licking her lips and tasting her salt. “I hate crying.”
Danny sighs and takes out plates from the cupboard over the stove. “It's nobody's favorite pastime.”
He puts the ready potato and yam pancakes on the plates, adding little piles of apple sauce, strawberry jam and cranberry compote to each plate. “You make it like that every year?” Mary asks.
Danny snorts. “Usually it's a bit more Christmas-y. But Hanukkah came early this year.” He hands her a plate. “Here. Eat. You don't get more comfort food than this.”
Mary sets the plate on the island. “I don't know how to deal with this, Danny.”
Danny puts down the plates as well and holds onto her shoulders. “You deal, you do what you have to. I'm not saying be happy, because c'mon, that's ridiculous, but this... you have to stand by your Aunt Deb, and remember how she is, how she was when you were growing up.”
Mary pulls away, looking down at her clenched fists. “But that's what makes it so hard. She's going to die!”
Danny is quiet and when he touches her waist she flinches away. “Mary...”
“It's not going to be okay, it's not going to be all right, everything hurts and Steve doesn't get it. He doesn't. She... Deb...” Mary clamps her mouth shut, gnashing her teeth, grinding them hard.
She feels Danny's warmth when stands closer to her. “She's more like your mom than Doris, huh?”
Mary doesn't dare open her mouth, she knows if she does, she'll say yes and it makes her feel like scum, the lowest of the low, because mom had come back, she had, she should be happy and thankful. But mom wasn't around for that and she doesn't know where to find her, how to even begin to make heads or tails of what her non-death means.
Deb had always been there.
And soon she wouldn't be.
“You don't have to say anything, I said it for you and your secret is safe with me. I promise,” Danny says softly in her ear, his mouth close and his body solid against hers.
Mary turns her face to him, his lips brush her cheek and he takes a step back. She sees the tips of his ears are red.
“Danny?” She feels like she's been drinking sand.
He regards her, peering at her as though he's seeing her again when he's been looking at her the whole time. The look is gone when he picks up the other plates piled with patties and sauces. “We should make sure our daughters aren't destroying the house. Bring your plate.”
Mary grasps his elbow and keeps him from moving. He looks at her, waiting.
She looks back and isn't sure what she's seeing or how to articulate the coiling ball of tension that once again feels like hunger and nerves deep inside her belly, expanding as they stand in the kitchen, the smell of cooking oil, fried potato and Danny's skin permeating through everything.
“Thanks for letting me in on your daddy-daughter time,” she finally says.
Danny frowns for a second before he laughs, open and compelling, “Don't sweat it, sweetheart.”
He winks at her and moves towards the living room. “Get 'em while they're warm,” he shouts and Grace's answering squeal makes Joan shriek and Mary leans against the counter. She looks at her own plate and picks up one of the latkes, levivot, and takes a bite.
It's crunchy around the edges and soft in the middle, savory and warm on her tongue. She smiles, tasting a promise.