“Mulan is way better than Hercules!” Devan argues passionately. “Plus, Eddie Murphy plays the voice of the dragon, and Eddie Murphy is the voice of Donkey in Shrek, and you like Shrek—therefore you should like Mulan.” Michelle firmly places both hands on the knees of her crisscrossed legs and leans in toward her father. Her thin, short frame sits comfortably on one cushion. Devan attempts to mimic her. He kicks off his slippers and squeezes his legs into his belly to avoid falling off the couch. He awkwardly puts his hands on his knees and wobbles a bit before stabilizing. Michelle giggles, and then catches herself, stops, and returns to serious mode. She stares at her father with the almond shaped eyes that look like a carbon copy of his.
“The voices don’t matter, Dad,” Michelle replies. “That doesn’t influence the story.” Devan raises his eyebrows.
“Influence, good word choice. High five!” The two of them high five each other. Devan hops up onto his feet, “And you made a valid point. Hercules it is. Well argued, young lady.”
“Thank you Daddy,” she replies nodding her head. The lingering water from her shower drips from her curly hair onto her My Little Pony night tee.
Tracy walks in with a bowl of popcorn in hand. Her round hazel eyes scan the television as she enters.
“What are we watching?” She says before shoving an oversized handful of popcorn into her mouth, further inflating her already round face. She wears a gleeful smile as she chews.
“Well,” Devan replies as he and Michelle share a glance, “Michelle has made a very strong argument for Hercules over Mulan, so Hercules it is.”
“What! Hercules?” Tracy mumbles through her mouth full of popcorn. She swallows then continues, “No daughter of mine is going to get away with making such poor movies choices in this house without a fight.” She places the bowl of popcorn on the coffee table, stands up straight, then sticks her left hand out, palm up, with her right fist resting on top. “Let’s go!”
Michelle, Zen-like, uncrosses her slender legs, steps off the couch, and walks to her mom who towers over her by a couple feet. Michelle stands up straight in front of her mom, and confidently assumes the rock, paper, scissors position. Devan positions himself in between the ladies.
“Let the battle begin!” Devan proclaims in his mock announcer voice. He looks slightly up toward his wife then down to his daughter. The room is silent and the Netflix menu screen illuminates the area.
“Ready?” Michelle asks. Tracy nods.
“One, two, three, shoot!” Michelle and Tracy count off in unison. Tracy throws paper while Michelle throws rock.
“Round one goes to Mom,” Devan announces. “Round two, begin!”
“One, two, three, shoot,” the two girls bark without breaking eye contact. Michelle again throws rock and Tracy throws scissors.
“Round two goes to Michelle,” Devan says, looking at his daughter and giving her a wink. “Final round, begin!”
“One, two, three, shoot,” Michelle throws rock for the third time while Tracy again throws scissors.
“And the winner is Michelle,” Devan announces as he holds up his daughter’s arm.
“Three rocks in a row!” Tracy moans, before she bends down to kiss Michelle’s forehead. Michelle shows a giant smile before going into a sudden coughing fit. Devan lets her arm go and begins to rub her back as she coughs. Tracy drops to her knees and places her hand on her daughter’s chest.
“You okay, hun?” Tracy asks. Her eyes are locked onto Michelle’s face. As Michelle’s cough subsides she speaks up.
“My throat was dry. Can I have some water?” she says with a grin. Her dimples sink into her cheeks as she lets out a faint laugh. Devan heads toward the kitchen to get her a glass of water. Tracy guides Michelle to the couch. She looks at her daughter, and strokes her head gently. Devan walks back in. Michelle grabs the glass from him, but Tracy helps guide it to her mouth.
“Mommy, I’m a big girl. I can drink on my own,” Michelle says confidently.
“Yes, you are,” Tracy responds with a smile before letting go. While watching the exchange, Devan sees the worry on Tracy’s face. He grabs the remote and starts the movie, then grabs the popcorn from the coffee table.
“You want some popcorn?” Devan asks Michelle.
“No, thank you,” she replies, eyes glued to the television.
Devan and Tracy share a brief glance. He attempts to ease her concern with a smile, but it fails. He takes a seat on the couch, his right arm gently rubbing his wife’s back, while his little girl, who is happily sandwiched between them, rests her head on his bicep.
Twenty minutes into the movie, Michelle is fast asleep. Devan looks at the clock. It reads seven fifteen.
“This isn’t like her at all,” Tracy whispers to him. “She never falls asleep on a movie, especially this early.”
He slowly lifts his arm from behind Michelle’s head and picks up his daughter. Her arms instinctively wrap around his neck. The two of them head upstairs to her room. Tracy follows them up the stairs into Michelle’s bedroom. Devan navigates through the maze of scattered toys on the floor to her bed, then shifts her body onto his right side as he pulls back the lavender comforter and bed sheets with his left hand. He gently lays Michelle down before tucking her in.
He turns to leave, but before he can get out the door Michelle calls out, “We have to say the prayer.”
Devan smiles and returns to kneel down by her bedside. Tracy, who had been standing in the doorway, comes in and kneels next to him. Devan and Tracy hold hands and both of them place their free hands on their daughter’s head.
In unison, the three of them pray.
“Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep,
If I should die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.”
Michelle continues, “God bless Mommy, God bless Daddy, God bless my teacher and my friends and everybody.”
“Amen,” says Devan.
He kisses his daughter’s forehead before standing up and walking out of the room with Tracy. They close her door.
“Something isn’t right. She wasn’t herself tonight,” Tracy comments. “I’ve noticed she’s been eating less, and having less energy. Have you noticed it?”
Devan thinks for a moment. “Yeah, but I figured she’s just fighting a bug. You know there’s been that virus going around at school.”
“You’re probably right,” Tracy replies.