“Nic, I think I ate too much candy.” The small voice comes from my bedroom doorway.

I pull back the covers and climb out of bed, and I’m halfway to Lilly before she vomits all over the carpet. Oh, crap.

“You poor sweetie.” I lead her to the bathroom across the hall and pull her hair back into a tie. As she loses the remaining contents of her stomach into the toilet, I wet a washcloth with cold water and wipe the back of her neck. She’s burning up.

“Clara eats Sour Patch Kids at lunch and she never pukes,” she says, still gripping the sides of the toilet bowl.

“Oh, honey, I think you caught a tummy bug. This isn’t because of the candy.” She didn’t even finish her little package, and it’s not like she’s never had candy before, but I hate that she’s blaming herself. When her stomach stops heaving, I hand her a cup of water. “Rinse your mouth out. It’ll help you feel better.”

“I am better, I think.”

I get her some Tylenol and say a prayer it’ll stay down long enough to lower her fever. When she’s tucked into bed, I put a plastic washbasin next to her in case she can’t make it to the bathroom next time. Then I get busy cleaning up the vomit on my bedroom floor and scrubbing the toilet in the bathroom.

Just when I’m done washing everything and am ready to head back to bed, I hear her retching again, and her pathetic cry for me. I help her to the bathroom, where we wipe her face and she rinses her mouth before I guide her back to bed.

“Will you stay with me?” she asks as she pulls her blankets tightly around her.

I sit in the chair by the head of her bed. “I’m not going anywhere, baby. I’ll be right here when you wake up.”

Ethan

Home.

The conference was good, but I can’t wait to get home. I’m anxious to see Lilly, as always, but more so because it felt odd to leave her with someone new. Even though I know Nic is completely capable of doing the job, when I called this morning and found out Lilly was sick with a stomach bug, I had to fight every instinct to rush home right away.

I park the car in the garage and throw my keys in the mudroom, sorting through the mail I missed while I was gone. The lights are on in the kitchen. I head that way, expecting to see Nic at the sink or over some dish she’s prepping for tomorrow.

Instead, I see my sister Shay with a big glass of wine in her hand, circles under her eyes and shoulders that sag with exhaustion. I tense immediately, memories rearing their head and dragging my thoughts down the path of worst-case scenario without my permission. “What are you doing here? Is everything okay?”

“I’ve been taking care of Lilly. The stomach bug’s been sweeping through this house.”

“Where’s Nic?” Did she leave? She wouldn’t do that, would she? I just spoke with her this morning, but I have been a bit of an asshole to her.

“Your rock-star nanny got it too. She called me this afternoon. Lilly was finally feeling better when Nic came down with it.” She shakes her head. “She didn’t want Princess Lil to have to see her nanny worshipping the porcelain god, if you know what I mean. Lilly’s all better, just a little run-down. She’s sleeping now. Has been for a few hours. Wish I could say as much for poor Nic. I swear, I love you and I love my niece, but if I get this shit . . .” She shudders. She lifts the can of Lysol and shakes it. “You’re out of Lysol. I sprayed down everything. Nic was in the middle of washing all the sheets when it hit her, so I finished that and started another load. Now I’m gonna go home, turn the shower as hot as I can stand it, and scour myself with bleach.” She drains the rest of her wine. “Do you need me to be back early to take Lilly duty so you can make your rounds?”

I shake my head. “No. I’ll get Henderson to cover for me.”

“Okay, well, if you change your mind, you know where to find me.”

“Thanks, Shay. I really appreciate it.”

“Nothing I wouldn’t do for that kid. Or for you.” She studies me for a beat. “You know that, right?”

I nod. I see her out the front then pad up the stairs to check on Lilly. Her room smells like clean sheets and linen-fresh-scented Lysol. As Shay promised, Lilly’s tucked in and sleeping deeply. I tiptoe quietly into her room, smooth her hair back, and press a kiss to her forehead. No fever. Aunt Shay’s got it under control.


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