Helena woke in a sweat. She threw the covers off and sat up, blinking into the darkness.
It was quiet. Not the comforting, beautiful quiet of Arthur and Donnie sleeping soundly by her side; Alison had offered to take them up to her room when Helena started coming down with something. Now it was just Helena and her thoughts.
She got up, sliding on her slippers. Her legs felt weak. She coughed, the sound of it reverberating around the room. The cold air was like needles on her skin as she stepped outside. She hurried into the main house, then up the stairs to Alison’s room.
She heard Alison’s voice as she approached, murmuring softly, but the words were indecipherable. A language Helena didn’t know? Gibberish?
Helena slowly pushed open the door. Alison was perched at the side of her bed, squinting at a sheet of paper in her hands. Arthur and Donnie babbled softly in their bassinets beside her.
“Oh!” Alison squeaked as she spotted Helena in the doorway. The paper was out of her hands in a flash. “H-Helena! How are you feeling?”
“Bad,” Helena croaked. “You are reading to them?”
“Um,” Alison stammered. After some hesitation, she reached to the bedside table and grabbed the piece of paper. “Yes. Trying to.”
Helena lurched forward and took a seat on the bed. She reached over, gently pulling at the paper Alison had tightly pressed against her chest. After a small tug-of-war, Alison relented.
“Ukrainian,” Helena realized, scanning the page.
“I found it online,” Alison muttered, staring down at her hands.
“Ah, the story of the wolves and the bear,” Helena said. She smiled fondly at the memory. “The bear saves the children from the wolves.”
“Oh,” Alison said, nodding.
“And then he eats them.”
“Oh goodness,” Alison exclaimed, throwing her hand over her mouth. “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize.”
Helena chuckled to herself. She spotted a thick Ukrainian dictionary on the dresser. It looked worn.
“We will read it together, yes?” she said.
Alison looked up into Helena’s eyes. She smiled, then scooched closer.
She looked down at the page in Helena’s hand and began to read.