It was the last day of school and Melba Stevens was waiting with fresh-baked cookies for her seven-year-old son Mark to come home. She sat in a chair by the window and thought about the conversation she'd had with the child that morning.
"Mom, are there really guardian angels?"
Melba had smiled. Lately Mark had been almost constantly curious about spiritual matters and this was merely the next in a list of questions he'd asked lately. "Yes, son. There really are."
He had taken a bite of his cereal and thought about that for a moment. "I'll bet my angel's huge, don't you think so?"
Melba had stifled a laugh. "What makes you think that?"
"Because I'm the kind of kid who needs a really huge angel, that's why."
Melba chuckled to herself now, thinking of the way Mark's eyes grew large when he talked about his overly large guardian angel. Silly boy, she thought. Silly and sweet and tender enough to make up for the wilder side, the side that would never back down from a challenge.
Mark was their only child, a special gift considering the fertility problems Melba had experienced. Doctors thought she'd never be able to conceive and when Mark was born they'd had no choice but to perform a hysterectomy. There would be no other children, but that was okay with Melba and her husband. Mark was a very special child and more than enough to fill their home with love and joy and laughter. Melba smiled as she thought of the fun summer they had planned.
"Hurry up and get home, Mark...your mama's waiting," she whispered. Then she went to the kitchen to pour him a glass of milk.
Two blocks away, the children were walking home from school and Mark Stevens was in a particularly giddy mood.
"Summer's here!" he shouted.
"Yahoo," his friend shouted. Then the boy looked at the four lanes of traffic ahead of them. "Watch this!"
With that he ran across four lanes of busy traffic and jumped onto the opposite curb unharmed.
"Come on," the boy yelled to Mark. "Don't be a chicken."
Mark looked behind him at the sixth-grade neighbor girl who usually walked him home from school. She was distracted, talking to her friend. Mark glanced at his friend once more and hesitated. His mother had forbidden him from crossing the street by himself, but...He blinked hard. "Okay, here I come!"
Then, without checking for traffic, he darted into the street.
Suddenly Mark heard the children behind him scream and he froze in the middle of the road. A fast car was coming straight for him. He tried to outrun it but there was no time.
Back at home, Melba felt a ripple of panic course through her. Mark was never late, but now it was seven minutes past the time when he usually arrived from school. She slipped on a pair of sandals and began walking toward the school.
She heard the sirens almost immediately and picked up her pace.
Two blocks away she saw an ambulance and fire engine and a cluster of people gathered around a figure on the ground.
Her heart skidded into an irregular rhythm. Dear God, don't let it be Mark.
Melba began to run, convincing herself it couldn't possibly be her precious boy. He would never have crossed a street without looking for cars. But as she ran a memory came to mind of a bad dream Mark had suffered through more than a month ago.