"And they lived happily ever after." A mother smiled down at her little girl, curled up in her bed, clutching a stuffed bear with a green ribbon. She breathed lightly, and her mother stood, tip-toed from the room, closed the door and crept downstairs to the waiting warmth of an armchair and a fire.
"She asleep?" A gruff and tired voice barely cracked above the fire. The mother nodded and curled up in the chair, staring off into the fire.
"She’s asleep. Like a little dove." There was a blissful silence for a spell, where only the crackling embers made sounds.
"Still taking her tomorrow?"
"Of course, why wouldn’t I?" She turned her head, barely able to make out the outline of his face in the dim light.
"You don’t like it when she sees you upset." He kept his tone level, careful with his words.
"I won’t be upset. I can manage it."
He started, “I can come with you-“
"No. I need to do this on my own." She removed herself from the armchair and walked to him, taking one hand in hers and kissing the rough knuckles. "I’m a big girl now."
He smiled, though she could barely see. “Of course you are.” Taking hold of her hand then, he lead her back upstairs, and not another word was spoken.
In the morning, the mother dressed her little girl in a bright white dress with blue ribbons and yellow seams. She was so exciting, bounding around the house, wild with whimsy. Only when her mother had finally managed to get her to eat breakfast, and then secured her inside a bright yellow four-door in her booster seat did the little girl begin to settle down.
Her mother, while smiling, was in a much less elated mood. He watched her from the table, watching for signs of distress, but she showed none. She strapped herself in and pulled out of the driveway, waving goodbye briefly through the window. He waved back.
They drove for a short while, out of the suburbs and into the city. The little girl marveled at the bright cars and tall buildings, and all the people on the sidewalks. She would point and ask questions, amazed as though she had never seen any of this before. But she had, she just didn’t remember.
After a short while, the mother pulled into a small gravel parking lot at the bottom of a great hill. Unlike the rest of the city, this space was bright green, dotted with round stones in perfect rows. Somehow sensing the solemnity of the place, the little girl quieted her questions and grasped her mother’s hand once out of the car. They slowly mounted the hill.
The mother stopped about halfway, and turned off the little path into the grass in between rows of stones. The little girl followed, absorbing the sights around her. She had never been to a graveyard before.
"Yes dear?" She stopped in front of a modest stone, fresh compared to the others, the plot neater and cleaner than most others too.
"What is this place?"
The mother took a moment, knowing what she would say, but fighting to speak the words. “This is the place where guardian angels sleep.”
"Why do angels sleep underground? Don’t they live in heaven?"
"They do," the mother assured her, "but when they come to earth they need places to stay, like how people stay at hotels."
"So these stones are angel hotels?"
"Whose angel is this?" She peered at the stone, but she was too young to recognize the name.
"He was my angel once, when I was a little girl like you." She sat down on the grass and the girl followed suit, sitting in her mother’s lap.
"Was he a good guardian angel?"
Her mother laughed. “A very good angel. He made me believe that all my hopes and dreams would come true, that I could be whatever I wanted and that things would always work out for the better. He was a comfort and a friend, and like a father in many ways. But he had to leave before he could meet you.”
"How come?" The little girl sounded sad.
"It was his time to go back to heaven."
"Will he come back?"
"He will, and until he does, he wanted me to tell you a secret."
"A secret?" The little girl perked up and craned her neck. "I promise I won’t tell!"
"I know you won’t." She kissed her daughter’s forehead. "He wanted me to tell you that he’ll be watching over you, all the way from heaven."
"That’s a far way.." The little girl sounded doubtful.
"It sure is, but you’re worth it to him. He loves you as much as your mommy and daddy do."
"Will I get to meet him someday?"
"You will, but not for a very long time."
"When I go to heaven?"
The mother smiled and held her daughter close. “Yes, when you go to heaven.”
"But that’ll take forever!" The girl complained, pouting at the stone.
I hope so,the mother thought, holding her little girl close.
"Sweetheart, why don’t you pick some flowers for your angel?"
"Okay!" She rose up from her mother’s lap in a hurry, stumbling and almost sprawling into the grass. "Careful!" Don’t stain your dress!"
"I won’t!" All smiles, the little girl ran to the top of the hill where a small tuft of wildflowers waved in the wind.
Taking the moment to herself, the mother closed her eyes.”She’s growing up just like me. A wild little thing. She questions everything, always wants a story, always wants to understand… I try to be like you. I try to keep the world open for her. You made it seem so easy… you will be proud of her, I’m sure, just as you were always so proud of me. Do watch over her for me? I know you will. I know you love her, just as you loved me.” She paused, listening for the patter of her daughter’s hurried steps. “I love you, always and forever.”
"Mommy! I got the flowers!" Giggling, she handed her mother an eclectic collection of goldenrod and forget-me-nots, a few black-eyed susans and a pretty white flower she had forgotten the name for.
"Beautiful, now go lay them by your angel’s stone. Good girl." She placed them candidly by the stone and stepped back, taking her mother’s hand. Together, they walked back down the hill toward the yellow four-door. The wind had calmed and the sun was shining, and in the depths of her heart, the mother knew her message had been received.