The damp scent of snow tingled at Amber’s nose as she waddled across the parking lot. Handbag clutched tight, she hugged it as a shield over the drafty opening of her coat. The buttons no longer met to close over her swollen belly.
The drugstore manager yelled out of the door. “Don’t bother calling. You won’t be on our schedule for at least two weeks, if not longer.”
Without glancing back at her, Amber drew out her car keys. “Okay.”
She hustled the door of her hatchback open and settled into the driver’s seat. Sighed. As she turned the ignition, she glanced in the rearview mirror. Her expression caught her by surprise, halting her shift to reverse. Instead of a scowl, she smiled. Two weeks ago, she would have responded to the loss of her only income with fury and despair.
Amber pulled out of the drugstore lot and settled against the seat back. Shoulders relaxed, she tilted her head. It made no sense, this nonchalance about the job. As she drove into her neighborhood, her heart drummed. But she wasn’t anxious about paying bills, or other logical concerns. All she could think about was finding Angela.
In the past week, she’d discovered three neatly wrapped gifts on her front stoop. A handmade angel pendant came first. Then, the crocheted booties. Each time, she hurried out to scan the sidewalk and found only the imprint of a snow angel on her lawn. Even when she lifted a still-warm box of cookies from the mailbox yesterday, the girl who left them was nowhere to be seen.
Her gloves squeaked against the steering wheel as she tightened her grip. She’d promised herself to speak with Angela this week, before Christmas. A gift she couldn’t afford to withhold, she’d declared to the mirror. She determined to transform from a troll into a decent mother to her unborn child.
She tapped the radio button to end its season of silence.
Orchestral music and the voices of an international choir flowed through the dusty speakers. “Angels bending near the earth to touch their harps of gold. Peace on the earth, good will toward men …”
Amber found herself humming along to the forgotten words. Glissando and crescendo washed over the dingy car’s interior, and made it seem a bit brighter somehow. Even under the gray cover of wintry twilight.
The announcer broke in. “It’s Christmas Eve, so we’re sharing our favorites …”
As she approached her bungalow, she drove past a series of porches with luminaries glowing along the front stoop. Brightly lit pathways spangled the neighborhood. Amber laid a hand on her chest and batted her teary eyes at the starry scene of the community. When she turned in to her driveway, she gasped at the glowing bags lining her front walk. She hustled out of the car to inspect them.
Flameless tealights glowed inside the perforated lunch sacks, set every twelve inches from the drive to the stoop. She hustled along the sidewalk, past the angelic calling card on her lawn. Gone already? With a glance at her blanket-veiled window, she shuffled away from her hermit cavern. No, she could not let Christmas go by without a word to the snow angel child.
Clutching her coat in front of her, she marched up the neighbor’s steps and rapped at the door.
A paunch-middled fellow with a salt-and-pepper beard answered. “May I help you, miss?”
“I’m sorry to bother you on Christmas Eve, but have you seen Angela? The girl who–“
“Oh, of course. We all know Angela Standover. Poor, sweet child.” He pushed his spectacles higher on his nose and leaned through the doorway. With a wide, sweeping gesture, he pointed to the expanse of luminary-lined walkways. “You can see where she left off. That last snow angel across the street. We–several of us neighbors, that is–helped pick up the rest after the ambulance took her. She made us promise.”
She echoed the word, hoping there was some mistake. “Ambulance?” As her numb lips formed the syllables, it didn’t feel real.
“Even though her family expected this, they’re still devastated, of course.” He squinted at her. “Oh, you didn’t know. Angela has struggled with cancer for several years now. Last month, Mrs. Standover told my wife that the doctors had given her only a few weeks.”
Frigid air gusted into Amber’s gaping mouth. She stammered, “But … but, why would they let her do all this out in the cold?”
“Some kids would choose to visit Disneyland for their last wish. Nobody’d blame them for it. But this is what Angela wanted. To spread kindness and joy every day, to give until she had nothing left.” He sniffed, wiping under the rim of his glasses.
“Still, wouldn’t her parents have made her stay home?” Amber shook her head. This couldn’t be true. He must’ve overestimated the seriousness of the child’s condition.
He drew back his head and raised a brow. “You have met Angela, haven’t you? She’s the most persistent child I’ve ever seen.”
Her eyes welled with tears. “Is she … I mean, please tell me she’s not …” She couldn’t speak it. Couldn’t see his expression through the blur.
“I don’t think so. Not yet. But, she probably doesn’t have long.”
“What hospital? Did they say?” Amber clasped her hands to her cheeks and staggered back, nearly stumbling off the porch. “I’ve got to find her.”
****TO BE CONTINUED****
“Show me, Lord, my life’s end
and the number of my days;
let me know how fleeting my life is” (Psalm 39:4).