A ll night long, Aster rehearses her arguments.

Papa, having this stranger on our property trespasses the law.

Papa, if the gentiles will hear of it, if the guards will hear of it, it is not only our own lives that we place in danger.

Papa, who is he? What does he want? Has he come to steal our books? Or is he after another precious object?

Papa, with your permission, I would like to ask him to leave.

After a long night of watching the moon’s path through the open shutters, Aster succumbs to sleep near morning. When she wakes, the sun is already warm on her face. How long has she slept?

She looks over to the other side of the room. Clara’s bed is empty. She lies still and listens. The sounds of early morning — the trills and calls of the birds, the rattle of the baker’s wagon — are gone. Instead, she hears the sounds of feet — wooden soles against the cobblestones, the tap-tap of donkeys carrying wares from the marketplace.

The morning must be well underway. When is the last time she slept so long? Disoriented, she washes her hands and throws on her cloak. In the kitchen, Regina is crushing nuts for pastries. “A morning of blessings,” she greets her.

Aster just nods. “Where is Papa?”

Regina spreads out her arms in answer.

Aster strides to the front door, flings it open, and looks out, to observe the position of the sun. It is already climbing up the sky, angled not too long before midday. So long has she slept!

Papa’s cloak is on the hook. Does that mean that he did not go to the beit knesset this morning to pray and study? Or that he went but did not take his cloak? She closes the door and walks to the study. The door is ajar. She pushes it gently and slips inside.

The large desk is orderly: quills and pens and ink in their places, parchment and paper rolled neatly on the side. So Papa did not yet try to work or study this morning. She holds her hands against her forehead. She should drink, but she has not yet dressed nor prayed. Worry gnaws.

Aster hurries to his bedroom, hesitates outside the door. She knocks gently. When there’s no answer, she opens the door and slips inside. Papa is lying in bed, still asleep. He sleeps on his back, two hands folded neatly on top of the thin silk blanket, his face a picture of peace.

Something catches in her throat. She hurries to his side. She leans over, watches the gentle rise and fall of his blanket. She measures the color in his cheek — pale but tinged with pink. Nothing to fear.

Nothing to fear.

She drops to the floor and gently slips her right hand between his hands. With her other hand, she touches his forehead. He is cool.

He is not sickening. She feels her breathing return to normal.

She watches him and feels sudden tears well. Papa is not sickening. He is growing old.

But perhaps that is worse. For a man can recover from an illness. But there’s no way to wind back the endless cycle of the sun.

Papa stirs. The hand beneath hers twitches and falls slightly. Her hand is left on the blanket, without his.

“Papa?” she whispers.

She shouldn’t wake him. She should let him sleep. But she needs to see him, his eyes open and filled with knowledge and understanding and love. (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 574)