Skiing after dinner, yeah! Mom’s a ski instructor, and she taught my brother, Chris, and me. Our whole family would hit the slopes right after dinner to take advantage of the discounted evening rates. I couldn’t wait. There was nothing I loved more than racing my big brother down the mountain.

Not that Chris wanted much to do with me these days. He was eleven and wanted to hang out with his friends without his eight-year-old kid sister tagging along. Like now. He was playing ball with his buddies. I sat on the porch and watched. I’ll catch up to him on the slopes tonight, I thought, looking out at the sunset.

The sky was turning all these cool colors. It reminded me of the dream I’d woken up from that morning. In my dream I floated effortlessly in an indigo sky, puffy white clouds all around me. I felt tingly, warm, and above all, protected—as safe as I felt back when Chris used to walk me to school.

“Chris, Jolene, dinner!” my mother called. Chris waved to his friends and followed me inside. Mom, Dad, and our baby sister, April, were already at the table. Dad barely finished grace before Chris and I wolfed down our food and ran to get our skis and snow gear. I threw on my favorite pink snowsuit and matching gloves. Then my brother and I loaded the car with all of our equipment.

As soon as we got on the slopes I snapped into my bindings and took off after Chris. I caught up to him at the chairlift. We stood in line together. Finally, it was our turn. At exactly the same time we hopped on the chairs coming up behind us. At the top of the mountain, Chris challenged me to a race. He counted us off. Down we went. The powdery snow felt like silk under my skis. We zipped down the mountain, shifting our bodies with every turn. At the bottom I kicked up a velvety spray of snow. “Yesss!” I’d won! I didn’t win many races, but when I did it was a huge victory. “You won’t get lucky like that again, Sis,” Chris said. We pushed off toward the chairlift again.

The sky on the mountain range deepened to cobalt blue. “Time to go home, kids,” Mom said.

“Just one more run!” Chris and I begged. It felt like we just got there.

“Okay, guys. But this is it,” she said. I nodded and turned to follow Chris. He was already at the chairlift.

“He left me!” I cried. I didn’t want to take my last run alone.

“Don’t worry, honey,” Mom said. “I’ll ski with you.”

Mom handed April to Dad. Impatiently I pulled her to the chairlift. We stood facing front, just like I’d done a hundred times before. I looked over my shoulder. The lift was coming up behind us faster than usual. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Mom hop on. Whack! The chair hit me in the back. Wait! The lift moved forward and up. I jumped for the chair. It’s too high! Mom grabbed me under the arms. My snowsuit was slippery. She couldn’t get a good grip. “Stop the lift!” the man in the chair behind us yelled. “A little girl is falling! Stop the lift!”

But it kept climbing. Mom frantically clutched me. I slid. She had me by the elbows. Then only by my gloved hands.

“Mom!” I screamed.

“Hold on, baby!” she yelled.

The chair soared above the trees. I could see snow blowing off the tops of the branches. People on the ground looked like little dots.

Inside my gloves I could feel my fingers slipping from my mother’s grasp.

“Jolene!” Mom gasped.

Then, whoosh, I was falling. I looked up at the sapphire sky. But somehow I wasn’t scared. I felt warm and protected. Just like in my dream last night. My arms and legs moved in slow motion, like I was floating, like something was holding me up in the air.

A blazing white light flashed before me. I landed, skis flat on the ground, in a patch of hard-packed snow. The cold wind whipped across my face.

Where was Mom? The next thing I knew she was standing over me, tears in her eyes. “Oh, baby,” she whispered.

The ski patrol came and put me in a brace and a basket. Then they whisked me down the mountain to the hospital.

They did all kinds of tests and X rays in the emergency room. All they could find were a few bruises.

“You are a very lucky young lady,” the doctor said. “You fell more than forty feet. If you had landed slightly forward or slightly back, you could have been killed.” Mom hugged me tight. I turned my head and noticed my whole family standing there next to the hospital bed. I’d never seen my big brother look so upset.

“Jolene, I’m sorry I left you all alone on the mountain,” Chris said. “I should have waited for you.”

“It’s okay, Chris,” I said. “I wasn’t alone. Someone was with me the whole time.”

Someone who will protect me, waking, dreaming, falling . . . always.

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