One More Angel

"Hey Melissa, are you having a burger?" I called across the backyard. Over the noise of the kids' game of tag, I could just hear her answer. "Yeah Mark, one more." Kissing my husband on the cheek, I wallowed through the yard of shrieking children over to the picnic table. Along with Keith and Eric, Melissa's three kids Tommy, seven, and the twins Gussie and Danny, who were five, were there, as was my friend Cindy's son Fred, a six-year old.

"This is so nice Laurel," Cindy said as she redid her auburn hair up in a ponytail. Laughing, she added, "Look's like we'll be having charbroiled burgers tonight." I looked over at the grill, where Mark and Melissa's husband Derek were rescuing the patties from tongues of flame.

"Men," I said, shaking my head. "Can't leave 'em alone for even a few minutes."

"Looks like the kids are having fun," Melissa said, watching bemusedly as Keith ran screaming through the patio in order to escape. Looking back over to the grill, she saw Mark cup his hands. "Oh no. Laurel, stop him! Oh no!"

"Dinner!" he bellowed, and all the kids stopped mid-tackle.

"Ah, stampede!" We laughed and covered our heads as our children made a beeline for the tables, rushing past us like a herd of buffalo.

"You did that on purpose!" I accused, watching Mark grin. Oh yes, I knew his evil ways.

"Mommy, I want dat one," Eric said, his blonde little head coming just over the table as he pointed to a rather large cheeseburger.

"Honey, I think that's just a little too big. How 'bout this one?" I placed a smaller cheeseburger on a fluffy white roll. "And look, I'll even write your name on it." I took the bottle of Heinz and squeezed his initials onto the patty, something that he demanded of everything that could be eaten with condiments.

"Tank-you," he said graciously before opening his mouth wide and chomping down on the deliciously juicy burger. Putting a few more hamburgers in rolls, I took them over to the kids' table, where they were met with voracious approval.

"Hungry little beasties, aren't they?" I said as I finally finished serving, sitting down between Melissa and Cindy.

"Of course. Look at who their fathers are," Melissa answered, gesturing at Mark and Derek, who were happily chowing down on two rather beefy burgers heaped with lettuce, tomato, ketchup, mustard… well, you got the general idea.

"No kidding," I answered. "Cindy, pass me the cole slaw?"

"Sure," she answered through a bite of burger, smiling sheepishly as she handed me the bowl.

For a while, all that could be heard was the peepers chirping in the woods and the chewing of food. Finishing early, I settled back in my sttriped deck chair to enjoy the evening, the sunset almost ethereal in its steady flow of hot ember into cool dusky indigo. The mosquito tiki torches burned in the dying light; fireflies were just beginning to rise from wherever they went during the day, their yellow glow flashing every so often.

Then I remembered the last treat, and excused myself from the table. Grabbing the platter off my kitchen counter, I hurried back outside to the patio.

"Who wants watermelon?" I announced.

"Me!" a unanimous reply from the children's section greeted me, along with a few more relaxed answers from the adult's table. I walked over to the kids, who were making futile attempts to get free of the wooden picnic table so that they could better fight me for the watermelon.

"Alright you little buggers," I said, handing out the huge slices of the mouthwatering ruby-red melon. "Just try not to eat too many seeds—ah! What was that?"

Keith grinned at me, showing at least two more little black seeds ready and waiting to fire.

"Ah!" I cried as another one hit me from behind. "Help! I'm being attacked!" I quickly made my getaway to the adult's table.

"Hey honey, you've got something on your arm," Mark said, grinning. I made a face at him before flicking it into his potato salad.

"Not anymore," I laughed. He attempted to look forlorn, but failed miserably as I handed him an extra-large slice. "For putting up with me," I said impishly before spitting a seed at him.

By the time we all sat down to our watermelon, the kids were done. Typical.

"That was a good idea, with the firefly jars and all," Melissa said to me, delicately spitting a seed into her plate.

"Thanks," I said, pleased. I had thought it would be a good idea; apparently, I was right. The kids were running around, chasing the glowing dots as they flashed and then winked back out. "Guys, just stay in the back yard," I called. I didn't want any of them going near the road.

"So what ever happened with Gussie and Danny?" I asked. "You know, with the whole classes thing?" A few weeks ago, the twins' schedules for first grade had come in the mail, and by some curse they had been put in the same classes.

"Well, I don't know, I called the school office, and they told me that I needed to call the guidance office, but when I called there, I got an answering machine that told me they were only open on Mondays and Wednesdays during the summer, so I left my number. And then of course, they called while we were on vacation." I winced sympathetically. I knew all too well the pains of playing telephone tag with the elementary school.

"Mommy, loot what I dot," Eric cried, running over to me.

"Look, Eric, and got," I modified gently, pronouncing the k- and g-sounds.

"Yeah, but loot," he said excitedly, ignoring my corrections. He uncapped his hands, to reveal about five fireflies crawling quickly out of his palms. "They tittle!" he shrieked, laughing and shaking his hand until they all fell off.

"That's very good Eric," I congratulated. "Why, I think that if you—"

A bloodcurdling scream split through the air, followed by madly screeching tires. My heart shot out of my chest as I bolted from my chair towards the front yard, the rest of the adults right behind me. Jolts of panic crowded into my brain, and I attempted to keep a clear head as I rounded the corner of the house. Scanning the road quickly, it didn't take me long to find the source of the problem; smoke rose from a car in the middle of the road.

Sprinting over, I suddenly caught sight of a small, limp figure in the road, and I screamed, a retching sob forcing its way up out of my throat. I threw myself down next to the figure.

"Keith! Keith! Honey, it's mommy, mommy's here!" My body heaved with dry, racking sobs; I couldn't see, couldn't think, couldn't breathe. "Keith!"

I sat on the hard plastic chair, my eyes swollen and red from crying. Glassy tears still leaked every so often from the corners of my eyes, welling up to blur my vision before falling heavily down my cheeks in salty tracks. I wondered vaguely if it was possible to die from crying.

Eric was slumped in the seat next to mine, thumb in his mouth. He had fallen asleep some time around midnight. His blonde hair was mussed from the uncomfortable position; I smoothed it, my hand trembling.

"Mrs. Wilkins?" I looked up upon hearing my name. A nurse stood there, and I looked at her, and I knew.

Taking Eric into my lap, I tried desperately to convince myself that Keith was alright, that he would be alright. Another sob tried to force its way out of my throat; a painful knot formed, choking it halfway. No. No! He wasn't… he was still here. Any moment he would come through the door…

"Mrs. Wilkins?" I could make out the form of the nurse's white uniform through the well of tears. She put her hand on my shoulder. "Mrs. Wilkins, I'm sorry." Her voice trembled a bit. "It was a direct severage of the spinal cord." She seemed to struggle over something, and then gave my shoulder a squeeze before slipping out.

My brain was fuzzy, and I had the oddest sensation of being both feather light and extremely heavy all at once. Tears coursed down my stained and blotchy cheeks and dripped onto the floor and Eric's arm, waking him.

"Mommy, where's Teith?" he asked sleepily, rubbing his eyes. "We were toing tuh let our fireflies go today." He looked up at me, large green eyes taking in everything. "Where is he?"

I tried to stop the huge racking sob that dared to spill from my lips, the knot in my throat tightening unmercifully. I opened my mouth to say something, anything, but no sound would come forth. I took a deep, shaky breath. "Eric," I said my voice cracking. "Honey, Keith is with Jesus now. He went to live with him."

"Will he have truts?" he asked. "He tan have my truts."

"Alright sweetie," I whispered. I couldn't trust my voice.

"Is Teith an angel?"

I could only nod, tears overflowing my eyes and coursing down my cheeks a steady river.

"Why does Jesus need more angels, mommy?" Eric asked, chin wobbling. "Why does he need more angels?"

awww... so, tell me how you like it! Was it good? Bad? Not emotional enough? I don't mind constructive criticism, and welcome it with open arms, but flames will be used for toasting marshmallows for my nice reveiwers!

-Stars of Sapphire