Usually I had to be at school by 7:30 A.M. Northridge High School was doing some testing in the lower grades that day, so seniors like me got to go in late. Mom offered me a ride when it was time to go. I sat beside her in our van, kicked off my sandals, and daydreamed about my future. I’d be graduating from high school in a few months. This summer was going to be the best one yet. I’d leave high school behind and do whatever I wanted. What would I do? Go to college? Turn my job coaching gymnastics into a full-time gig? Or get a job in an office where I could work my way up? And what about marriage, kids? I had plenty of time to figure all that out later. There were millions of things I could do with my life, and whatever I chose I was sure would turn out fine. Maybe I just had spring fever. Or senioritis. Or a little of both.

Mom interrupted my thoughts. “Kassandra, do you see that?” she asked just as we were crossing the railroad tracks. She stopped the van on the other side and pointed out the window. “It looks like a child.” Sure enough, I saw a small boy walking by himself. A blue bicycle rested on its kickstand nearby, but there was no one else in sight.

“He looks too young to be out here alone,” I said. The road next to the train tracks was pretty busy and the boy was awfully close to it. What if he tried to cross the street and got hurt? “I’ll see if I can find his parents.” I slipped on my sandals. “He might be afraid if a stranger comes up to him.”

I got out of the van, walked to the nearest house and rang the doorbell. “Excuse me,” I asked the man who answered. “There’s a little boy over there, he looks about five or six, and he’s all alone. Do you know his parents?”

“Kassandra!” my mom called. I turned. I couldn’t see the boy from where I was standing. Mom was waving frantically at me from the van.

“What?” I yelled back, a little impatient. I went to the edge of the yard to make sure the boy wasn’t in the street.

The warning lights on the train tracks flashed red. The wooden arms descended in front of the road, blocking cars from crossing. The rhythmic chug-chug-chug of a train got louder. “Run!” Mom screamed from the van. The terror in her voice cut through the clear morning air. The train rumbled into view and let out two desperate whistles. A warning: The engineer saw the boy! But he stayed where he was—right in the middle of the tracks. The whistle sounded again. There’s no way that train can stop in time! The boy jumped up and down and waved at the engineer.

I took off running. My sandals flopped against my feet as I ran, so I kicked them off. The train sped so fast. How could I hope to beat it running barefoot across gravel? I ran faster. I tried to picture myself reaching the boy and picking him up without stopping, crossing the tracks just before the train hit us.

Stones crunched and flew under my bare feet. The ground shook. God, let me get to him! The train was almost on top of him. But so was I! I put my head down and pumped my legs hard. Keep going forward, I thought. Get the boy and keep running across the tracks. Just a few inches more...

I grabbed the boy in my arms. Keep running! But something pushed me. I fell backward, away from the train. I pulled the boy with me onto safe ground. The train barreled past. The noise was deafening. The wheels were so close I could have reached out and touched one. The train was huge. It was going even faster than I’d thought. I never would have made it if I’d kept going across the tracks, I thought. We would have been killed! I clutched the little boy tightly. Did he have any idea of the danger he’d been in?

Once the train was out of sight I stood up. My legs felt like jelly and I shook all over. I took the boy’s hand in mine. Mom ran up and hugged me. “Kassandra, I didn’t think you were going to make it!” I held on to the boy. He was much younger than I’d thought. Probably only three or four.

A woman ran toward us. Her hair was wet, like she’d just come out of the shower. I let the boy go and he ran quickly over to her. She reached down and picked him up, squeezing him close to her. “Baby!” she cried. “How did you get out of the house?”

I felt an arm around my shoulders. It was Mom. “He’ll be okay now,” she said. I nodded, still a little in shock.

Mom looked down. “Oh, honey, your feet!” she said. I lifted up one foot to look at the sole. It was embedded with bits of gravel. Mom leaned down and tried to pluck some of it out.

I brushed the gravel away, still staring at the train tracks. I could almost hear the roar of the train, almost feel it rumbling over the ground. I could have been killed, I kept thinking.

I didn’t go to school. My legs were so shaky I could barely walk. Usually I considered a day off a rare treat. But I missed going to school that day. All the things about it I’d taken for granted suddenly seemed important.

That afternoon Mom and I sat on the couch, going over what had happened. “I ran at top speed,” I said. “All I was thinking was that I had to go forward. The closer I got, the faster I ran. With that kind of momentum I shouldn’t have been able to stop at all. But not only did I stop short, I fell backward, away from the train. It was almost as if something pushed me.”

Mom was quiet for a second. She looked at me with a strange expression. “In the car I asked God to send angels to protect you,” she said. “I guess my prayer was answered.”

My own guardian angels. That was definitely something to think about. I got ready for bed that night already looking forward to school the next day.
I wanted to enjoy every moment in life. Maybe I’d even go see my school guidance counselor to talk about my future. Would I go to college? Get a job? Have a family? Maybe I’ll do all three. Whatever I do, God will be watching over me. And with him watching over me, anything is possible.

'Not a Second to Spare' by Kassandra Guymon reprinted with permission from Angels on Earth Magazine. Copyright © 2007 by Guideposts, Carmel, New York 10512. All rights reserved.

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