Russ tried to sneak in through the laundry room when the tow truck dropped him home, but Mary Grace ambushed him at the door, Tracy half a step behind her. “Well! Look who’s here,” Mary Grace announced while Tracy said, “Hi, Dad.” Two months ago, before she read a book about St. Thérèse and entered this saintly phase, she would have raced out and wrapped herself around him like a vine.
“Hi, sweetheart. Happy birthday.”
She let Russ kiss her cheek, then walked sedately back through the kitchen while Marcy Grace was yelling to Patrick and James to come to the table; they were finally going to eat. She looked up at Russ. “Did you get the you-know-what?”
She was talking about the rosary, Tracy’s specific request for a gift. He shook his head. “Church was already closed when I got there. Ask me about the car.”
“I hope you got her something, anyway.”
“The car crapped out on the way home. It’s at Whitie’s now. They had to give me a lift.”
He saw her glance into the dining room, where Tracy was already seated with her head bowed. “The child was counting on this. You might have tried calling.”
He cleared his throat, feeling his mouth tighten. “Let me explain it to you again. The car collapsed in rush hour on the San Diego Freeway. Not a lot of phones out there, Mary Grace.”
“Sorry,” she said, and headed for the sink, picking up a head of lettuce.
“I’ll explain it to her,” he said.
“Darn right you will.”
Russ stalked out of the kitchen, so angry he could barely walk; nothing in him wanted to bend. Fishing a piece of paper from his briefcase, he sat on the arm of the sofa and drew a rough rosary that wound up looking like a caterpillar dragging a cross. “WE O U 1 ROSARY,” he wrote, and signed it “Love, Dad.” Mary Grace could do what she wanted.
He could hear her laughing from the kitchen, bringing the casserole to the table, making James pour the milk, checking Patrick’s hands. When Russ stood in the doorway to watch, Tracy’s face was serene. She was floating well above the tension, adopting her mother’s aggravating air of sanctity. Russ had devoted much of his married life to reminding Mary Grace that she was made of the same mortal flesh as the rest of them; he was damned if he was going to start the same battle with his daughter.
Meanwhile, James and Patrick were crying, “Birthday girl!” and pulling out their package, the wrapping paper wadded and bunched over one end. “How nice,” Tracy murmured after unwrapping the glossy statuette of a girl in prayer; Russ had to admit that it wore the same woozy, rapturous expression as Tracy when she talked about God. “It’s called ‘The Little Flower at Prayer,'” Patrick added, glancing at Russ defensively.
“Good choice, son.”
“It’s beautiful,” Tracy said, her voice high with emotion. She set it next to her plate before she reached for Russ’s note. She looked happy, expectant, suddenly a child again, and Russ’s stomach dropped. He couldn’t believe he’d given her an IOU. He should have brought her a puppy; she loved puppies. “Oh,” Tracy said, and he winced. “It’s a promise. Thank you.” Her face was shining, and she slipped out of her chair to kiss Russ on the cheek, and then Mary Grace. “I’ve been praying for this,” she said. “Will it come soon?”
“Depends on your father,” said Mary Grace.
“Like lightning,” said Russ, his voice weak with relief. “You won’t know what hit you.”