Four years, four months, and twelve days … I know, but I don’t keep count. It’s just one of those motionless mornings when the sun’s not yet shining and thoughts spin like a whirlwind before they fall down, tired.

Second grade has been hard on her- making new friends, writing cursive letters, memorizing times-tables. Yet, every Friday she comes home with gold stars and smiley faces on her work. When the morning bell rang the first day she told her teacher that she wanted to be called Belle.

“Why, honey?”

“Because the morning I was born the church bells rang and Momma told everyone I was her Belle except the noise I made didn’t sound as pretty as the bells.”

Mrs. Martin, with her soft smile, told me about it that afternoon. She has called her Belle every day since then. She will be retiring soon and will keep an eye on us- more than usual, I suppose.

Last Monday night we put up the tree and the little piano-top nativity and those stockings your mother made. They’re so stretched, now, that she offered to knit new ones. I told her no. Belle was mad at me for waiting so long: “Christmas is eleven days away! Nana and Grandpa put up their decorations the day after Thanksgiving!” She loves Nana and Grandpa.

That chestnut brown hair has grown long, sweeping down past her shoulders. She likes to put it into a ponytail. I see you- even when she’s mad. Her green eyes glint and she tilts her head to the right so slightly most miss it. Sometimes that little left hand becomes a fist, but it doesn’t leave her side, and I don’t think it ever will. The same glint and tilt happens when she is thinking, too- which lately is a lot. I think, but you knew that. She’s noticed me:

“Does your head hurt, daddy?”

“No, baby.”

“So you’re just thinking real hard?”

“Yeah, just thinking.”

“About what?”

“Well, about how many cookies I am going to eat at Nana and Grandpa’s and whether or not there will be snow on Christmas day and about how much I love you.”

The candlelight service is Friday night. She says she remembers when we last went, and she begged to go this year. I think we will. I was amazed when I was her age, seeing the one flickering light become many. Somehow watching each new light makes those few moments stretch on and you begin to forget things. I know it’s about the past- the quiet carols, the ancient scripture. ]I can’t help but look forward, as far as my eyes can see.

We love you and we miss you and we can hardly wait until we see you.

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