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Please, Dad,” Mallory begged, grasping her hands tightly in front of her. “Just one more.”

One more,” Vanessa echoed, her eyes wide and blue as she looked up at John.

John sighed and stifled a yawn, looking at his watch. “It's past your bedtime, girls.”

Just one,” Mallory pleaded again, holding a book up. “One more.”

Please,” Vanessa added. “Please, Daddy.”

John sank onto Mallory's bed and took the book. “One more.”

Mallory threw herself back under the covers on her bed, clutching a stuffed bear, a look of unlimited glee on her face.

Vanessa stared across the room intently, her thumb in her mouth. She removed it long enough to say, “Please show the pictures,” before she rolled onto her side and blinked sleepily at him.

John stretched out across Mallory's narrow bed, one ear tuned for any sounds from downstairs.

He stifled another yawn and thumbed through the pages. He glanced at Mallory, and then at Vanessa.

Turning the book in his hands so Vanessa could see the illustrations, he started to read.

 

Wynken, Blynken, and Nod one night

sailed off in a wooden shoe...”

 

Mallory whispered the words along, and Vanessa blinked contentedly, her face half-hidden under her pink quilt.

 

Sailed on a river of a crystal of light

into a sea of dew...”

 

John followed the words along, his voice low and heavy with tiredness. The girls listened silently, Mallory's soft echo stopping so she could hear John say,
“The old moon laughed and sang a song.”

Dee poked her head around the door. John looked back at her helplessly. She grinned at him and disappeared, carrying Nicky – asleep against her shoulder – to bed.

 

The little stars were the herring fish

that lived in that beautiful sea...”

 

John read quietly, glancing to his daughters now and then. Vanessa had already drifted off, her breath heavy, her eyes closed.

Mallory was still awake, her eyes bright as she watched her father read.

John stretched out and put his head next to hers on the pillow, holding the book up above them.

 

All night long their nets they threw

to the stars in the twinkling foam...”

 

The third time John yawned, he caught sight of Mallory finally closing her eyes.

 

Wynken and Blynken are two little eyes,

and Nod is a little head.

And the wooden shoe that sailed the skies

is a wee one's trundle-bed...”

 

He slowed a little, softening his voice further, waiting anxiously to see if Mallory would open her eyes.

She turned her head and sighed, her fingers curling into the thick fur of the teddy bear beside her.

 

So shut your eyes while Daddy sings

of wonderful sights that be,

And you shall see the beautiful things

as you rock in the misty sea

Where the old shoe rocked the fisherman three -

Wynken, Blynken and Nod.”

 

The silence seemed loud when John finally finished. He held his breath for a few long moments, listening to his daughters breathing. Mallory rolled over.

John sighed quietly and closed his eyes with relief.

 

Dee nudged her husband awake half an hour later. “Hey,” she whispered.

John lifted his head, confused. “What?”

Our bed is far more comfortable.” Dee kissed him softly.

John finally made out the vague shapes of stuffed animals in Mallory and Vanessa's bedroom, and realised he'd fallen asleep beside Mallory, his head pillowed on a pink frilly cushion.

Oh,” he groaned. He sat up carefully, watching Mallory with bated breath. She didn't stir.

Dee took his hand as he closed the bedroom door quietly.

Are the boys asleep?” he asked.

Uh-huh.”

Sorry,” he apologised. “I got stuck reading.”

What a hardship,” Dee said, her eyes twinkling.

I'm really sorry,” he said again. He kissed her.

It's all right.” Dee picked up a camera on the hall table. “I got my revenge.”

He stopped. “Oh,” he groaned again.

Dee laughed and shook the camera gently. “I can't wait to get this developed.”

You're a witch.” But he put his arm around her shoulders and hugged her. “You okay?”

I'm okay.” She patted her pregnant belly. “I'm pretty sure we've escaped triplets again.”

I'll leave you if we haven't,” John joked.

I'll hunt you down,” she returned, just as quickly.

He chuckled and kissed her again. “Let's go to bed.”

Will you read to me?” Dee asked with a smile, following him to the bedroom.

John grinned and stretched out on their bed, too tired to change out of his clothes. Dee curled up beside him and yawned.

John closed his eyes and rolled over, fitting around her, his hand resting on her belly.

 

Wynken, Blynken, and Nod one night

sailed off in a wooden shoe...”