Before long, she heard footsteps from the children's room in the back of the bar, and Marlene's face came poking out.
"Shh!" Marlene's forefinger was at her lips, her young shoulders slumped in accusation. Relieved, Tifa quickly apologized.
"Denzel finally went to sleep," reported Marlene.
"Was he in pain?"
"You should have called me."
"Denzel said no."
"He did?" The thought of kids trying not to burden her brought back the self-burden in spades.
"So what is it?"
"Oh, um... I just... " Tifa hid her feelings as best she could, grasping for a noncommital answer. Marlene's eyes shifted to the empty bar, and then back to Tifa.
"You were lonely." This little girl sees it all. "Don't worry, I'm not going anywhere."
"I know. Thanks. You go to bed too, Marlene."
"That's what I was trying to do!"
My daughter. That's how Tifa would introduce Marlene. Her parents had passed away, and her father's best friend Barret raised her. Tifa had known her as long as she'd known Barret---almost half of Marlene's life. So when Barret decided to head off and "settle his sins," it was only natural that Tifa be the one to look after her.