An ear-shattering shriek jerks Douglas awake and in a sleep-fogged panic his first thought is Miranda!
As soon as his feet hit the floorboards, he finally recognizes the sound trying to pierce its way through his eardrums for what it is—a smoke alarm. When he stumbles down the hall to Miranda’s room and finds it empty, the panic thuds through his veins and he’s wide awake.
He takes the stairs two at a time, following the sound of the alarm and practically skidding into the kitchen. Miranda is standing in the middle of the lino, shoulders hunched and hands clapped over her ears. The waffle iron smokes on the worktop behind her.
Douglas throws open the window over the sink, yanks the iron’s cord from the outlet, grabs a flannel from where it hangs on the stove and fans away the smoke that’s curling towards the ceiling. A moment later the alarm stops, leaving too-loud silence and echoing shrieks in his ears.
“What on earth were you thinking?” he snaps.
Even as he says it, he knows the words are sharp, his voice pitched more harshly than he’d intended, but he’s only half-awake and the adrenaline is still singing in his veins. He pries apart the iron and tosses it in the sink with more force than strictly necessary, so that the resulting clang echoes off the kitchen walls. Out of the corner of his eyes, he sees Miranda flinch. He braces his hands on the edge of the worktop, white-knuckled, and concentrates on his breathing.
When he finally turns around Miranda is staring at the floor under her toes and he can tell by the hunch of her shoulders that she’s stubbornly fighting back tears. Her hair is a sleep-tangled mess and her hands are curled into tiny fists at her sides, and despite the less than sterling wakeup call, the only thing that matters now is that he’s made her cry. He runs a hand over her hair, crouches to pull her into a hug and all at once he has an armful of sniffling seven-year-old murmuring “I’m sorry” wetly into his shoulder.
“It’s all right,” he tells her and she clings tighter. “I’m not mad, you just scared me. If you wanted waffles you should have woken me. You know you’re not supposed to cook by yourself.”
“I know,” she says against his collar. Her voice isn’t so weepy now. If anything she sounds rather disappointed. “But if I woke you up it wouldn’t have been a surprise.”
“A surprise for what, darling?”
She pulls away to scrub at her face, then pads to the kitchen table to retrieve a folded sheet of A-4 and hands it to him. Every last inch is colored in bright crayon drawings and written inside in bold letters is HAPPY FATHER’S DAY. Miranda’s name is signed at the bottom accompanied by hearts and a smiley face.
Douglas feels his heart swell.
“I thought I could do it right,” Miranda says, dejectedly. “Then when you woke up you’d have a good breakfast and it’d be a good morning, ‘cause I didn’t get you any presents and I’m sorry, Daddy.”
Douglas pulls her back into his arms and kisses her hair. She squirms against him until she can wrap her arms around his back. “Thank you,” he says. “It was very thoughtful of you and I love it. But…” He leans back and brushes her hair from her face so he can look her in the eyes. “You still should have woken me. You could have hurt yourself and then neither of us would have had a good morning.”
She nods soberly and it’s more than he can take. He crooks his fingers against her sides and when she tries to wriggle away, he stands and scoops her off her feet, throws her over his shoulder and tickles her until she’s a breathless, giggling mess, her fingers knotted into the hem of his shirt, her feet kicking against his stomach. The thought that soon she’ll be too big to do this, too old to indulge him hovers at the edge of his mind.
All the more reason to do it now, he reasons as he circles the kitchen and she shrieks with laughter as she tries to pull her feet from his grip. Soon there won’t be any more cards or surprises, his little girl won’t be anywhere to be found, and he won’t matter one whit. He’d ruin a thousand more waffle irons if it meant more of this, wake up to the sounds of a thousand smoke alarms if it meant her happiness.
His back twinges a moment later. Maybe he’ll get too old for this before she does. He swings her down from his shoulder, holding her by her ankles so she can perform a handstand without toppling sideways.
“Were you planning on making breakfast like this?” he asks.
She shakes her hair from her face so it trails along the floor. “Do you think I can crack eggs with my toes?”
“I suppose there’s only one way to find out.”
She somersaults across the floor and opens the fridge in a flash.
He spends the next ten minutes trying to convince her he was only joking and no, he won’t try instead, thank you very much. Breakfast, when they finally decide what to eat—which is just about everything—turns the kitchen into a veritable warzone.
Miranda sits at the table, humming and swaying happily in her seat, syrup smeared on the corners of her lips.
“Good breakfast, good morning?” she asks, hopefully.
He smiles at her over his coffee. “Absolutely perfect,” he tells her and he couldn’t mean it more.