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The Gift of Angels

Sample Chapter
Copyright ©2011 Rachel Ann Nunes.
All rights reserved. No part of this text may
be reproduced, in any form or by any means,
without permission in writing from the author.

Chapter One

I sat in church near the back, feeling I might shatter into a million pieces no one would ever be able to put back together. My hands tightened on the edge of the padded bench to prevent me from standing up and screaming until everyone stared, especially the speaker. I wanted him to stop talking about miracles and angels, because they don't happen to everyone. Just to a lucky few. I'd already learn that much. For me, angels do not exist.

"So I prayed," my neighbor droned on from the pulpit. "I prayed and that was when I felt . . ."

Who cared how God miraculously healed his latest infection? I wanted my neighbor—wanted them all—to weep with me . . . for me. I wanted to know why I've never been able to find a miracle in my life. Why God didn't send me an angel when I needed one the most.

I stood, my muscles so taut they ached.

My husband, Dean, looked at me. "Are you okay?" he mouthed.

I nodded, keeping my face blank.

He blinked once, his expression all too clear. He understood and would excuse me yet again to our daughter or any curious friends.

Not that anyone would really miss me. Even Dean would be occupied in his youth Sunday School class, trying to get in a few words through the babble of self-centered teenage voices. Our fourteen-year-old daughter, Marie, was in his class.

I pushed past Marie—one of our two children left at home—glad that our son Brody was at his friend's missionary farewell today so I didn't have to endure the question in his eyes. Marie didn't meet my gaze but frowned as my shoe hit the edge of the scriptures she'd placed on the carpet in front of her chair.
Look at me! I wanted to shout. Feel for me!

I bit my lip, seeing for a brief, frozen moment in time a vision of Marie as a baby. I remembered how much she'd needed me, how much she'd loved me, and though I was happily past that stage in my life, I suddenly longed for the feel of her newborn self against my chest. I craved the touch of her once-chubby arms around my neck. The amazing, clean baby smell.
But here she was nearly grown, and I was invisible to her.

In my car, a new Mazda, I drove away. Fast. Too fast. The roar of the engine gave me the feeling of power, the manual transmission a sense of control.
A false sense of control, as it turned out. There was nothing I could control in my life now.

I wanted to turn on the music, to feel it beating over me, drowning out my grief—and yes, my anger. But I didn't listen to non-church music on Sundays and couldn't quite bring myself to do it even now. Why I still adhered to that standard was beyond me. What had being good done for me? What had obeying any of the commandments accomplished? Everything I thought I'd been given in return would soon be ripped away. Even my family.

Instead of blasting the music, I opened the window and let the cool April air beat in on me, sending my brown hair flying so erratically that it almost obscured my vision. The cold made me feel more alive.

Time passed.

After I'd been on the freeway for what seemed like hours, I turned off at an abandoned-looking exit and killed the engine, not recognizing the area where my car had come to rest. I sat, still gripping the wheel, my heart pounding and tears coursing down my cheeks.

I'm lost, I thought. I'm lost, but I know I don't want to ever go home.

I wasn't thinking about the home I shared with Dean and our children.

My scriptures were on the passenger seat where I had thrown them, closed as they had been since my diagnosis last month. I hadn't been able to open them. I felt too betrayed. Life was now divided into two parts: before and after. Before, everything had hope and promise. After meant only sadness and death. One single moment had changed my life forever. Before, I hadn't really known that such a thing was really possible. Surely there first had to be signs, warning, hints, some fault to be placed. Anything but this pointless, catastrophic instant that greedily consumed even the tiniest ray of hope.

Before that instant, I'd begun reading the Bible again, planning to go from start to finish as I hadn't done since my early wifehood. Waiting for my daughter when I picked her up from play practice provided a perfect opportunity. At first it had taken effort to make myself read, but soon I'd been swept up in the magic of the words. I'd always love Bible scriptures as a child.

After the terrible instant, I couldn't make myself open the book. I almost felt I couldn't touch it without searing my hands.

I touched it now, closing my eyes against the pain, real and imagined. The tears continued to wet my face, my hands, the scriptures—anywhere they fell. I wondered if there would always be more tears. If it was possible to drown in tears.

Where was my faith? Why did I feel so abandoned? All I wanted was a little miracle. Something that would be so utterly simple for the God I believed in. Was that too much to ask?
Apparently.

The specialist had confirmed my general practitioner's diagnosis, and I was to start chemotherapy on Tuesday, followed by radiation and hopefully surgery, which would then be followed by more treatments. It was the beginning of April, and if there was no surgery, they didn't hold much hope that I would see the leaves turn color. Even if they got me to a point where I could have the surgery, the oh-so-slim survival rate was not something to celebrate.

I held the scriptures until the furious beating of my heart slowed to a tolerable pace. With effort, I opened the Bible to where I'd been reading in Genesis. I hadn't delved far into the book, since I'd been looking up all the cross references and even taking notes. I didn't remember any of it now. I decided to scan the chapter headings to recall where the story had been leading.

The text swam before my eyes, but I focused enough to see that Abraham and his wife Sarah were being promised a child in their old age. I turned several more pages, unwilling to hear about another miracle. Finally, I started reading again, and though it was more of the same story, I couldn't look away. The words took control of my imagination.

I held in my hand not scriptures, but a pitcher of water. I wore a natural-color dress that might be made of wool, my head covered by a similar fabric that shielded me from the hot sun overhead. Before me stood black, goat-hair tent surrounded by others of the same color. A group of children squatted between two of these structures, playing in the sand. An old woman sat in the shade near them, her large, capable hands sewing a seam on a stretch of the same black tent material.

In the settlement, I could see a group of men, a few animals, women at a well. Beyond that nothing but endless dirt and sand, broken only by an occasional Acacia tree.
An old man emerged from the tent, his weathered face slick with tears. I bent my head quickly and went inside.

I found a woman there, sitting on a mound of blankets and cuddling a newborn at her breast. Like the man, her wrinkled face was wet with tears, but her countenance was illuminated, as if her joy was too great to be contained in her aged frame. Work-worn hands smoothed the baby's soft cheek.
I poured water into a bowl near the woman's bed. She reached out and touched my hand in thanks.

Then she laughed.

Startled, I began to ask a question, but she spoke first. "God hath made me to laugh, so that all that hear will laugh with me. Who would have said under Abraham that Sarah should have given children suck? For I have born him a son in his old age."

The scene before me disappeared, and I was back in my car, wondering what had happened. I'd always tried to immerse myself in the scripture, but never before had it been quite like this, as though I'd actually been there.

A child. Hope for the future. A miracle for Sarah and Abraham. My shoulders convulsed with a sob, and I slammed the scriptures shut.

At first I'd actually thought I might be pregnant again after all these years. The early symptoms of nausea, abdominal discomfort, and lack of energy had been much the same as I remembered while expecting each of my seven children. At forty-eight, the idea of another baby was shocking, but not exactly unwelcome. I was at a transition time anyway, with my oldest five, three boys and two girls, married and well on their way in life, and my younger son soon graduating from high school next month. Not even Marie really needed me—except to drive her everywhere.

I'd always kept busy and lately had begun to toy with the idea of opening my own restaurant. A baby would have sent me in another direction altogether but not necessarily a bad one. That I wasn't pregnant was my first clue something was horribly, horribly wrong. The human body suddenly seemed too fragile for words.

Dean had come with me to all the doctor appointments after that first terrifying one where an ultrasound had shown a mass on my pancreas, and his support had been the only reason I hadn't completely given up. We hadn't told any of the children yet.

I bit my lip so hard I tasted blood.

If the worst happened, the older children would be all right, but I still worried about Marie. Despite her apparent independence, surely there was still much I needed to teach her. The more she pushed me away, the more I wanted to cling to her.

Only last week I'd gone with her ninth-grade drama class on a field trip to see a play. I had been expecting a pleasant morning of conversation and joking around with her and her friends. But Marie had sat far back in the bus, crammed into a seat with two other girls, giggling and laughing. She ignored me completely.

Suddenly I'd felt as if I were back in my high school math class where I'd never excelled, though more from lack of encouragement than lack of skill. Back to the day when a boy had thrown a gooey spit wad that had slammed into the back of my neck, entwining with my long hair.

"Ha!" someone had shouted. Giggles burst through the teacher's lecture.

Humiliated, I grabbed my books and ran from the class, catching only a glimpse of the teacher's puzzled stare.

On the field trip with my daughter, there'd been nowhere to run. Not only was the door to the bus closed, but I was an adult. I wasn't supposed to care about the rude actions of others, and normally I didn't. But it hurt that my own daughter didn't want to acknowledge I was her mother.

None of my other children had been that way. I'd gone on numerous field trips and they'd each sat happily by me, chatting away, glad for the time together. Their friends had never minded my presence. I was a hip sort of parent, and they liked me.

Marie's friends never had a chance to like me. I was firmly excluded from their circle. By her design, not theirs.

"Please, Marie," I'd wanted to turn and plead with her on the bus. "Think about what you're doing. There may not be much time left. Someday when you're finally past this selfish stage of your life, you'll regret this day. Please, honey. I love you too much to want you to carry that kind of burden."

I knew regret. I remember leaving my mother sleeping that last day she was alive. I'd felt annoyed and slightly disgusted that she was in one of her many depressive moods when I had so much good going on in my life. The high school play began that day, our debut for the other students. I didn't always want her around, of course, but that day I'd wanted her to cheer for me.

"Mom, please wake up! Aren't you coming to my play?"

She mumbled something and fell back to sleep.

"You always do this!" I slammed out of the house, angry, squealing my tires a little as I left, in case she could hear, which I doubted. It would just annoy the neighbors.
When my dad finally found me after school at my friend's house, it was to tell me she was dead.

Oh, yes, I knew regrets, and I knew all about what ifs.

The adult me knew it wasn't my fault. There'd been too many times when my mother had slept away the day, dealing with her depression. I couldn't know her heart was stopping, that she was dying. If I had, I would have saved her . . . somehow. I certainly wouldn't have left her lying there all alone.

I didn't want my daughter to live with that kind of regret. I didn't want her last vivid memories to be of me looking back at her from the middle of the bus, my eyes begging for acknowledgment.
Why hadn't I stayed with my mother?

I could have used an angel that day to tell me to stay home. But there had been no angel for me then and none for me now. I alone would have to tell my daughter the secret I was holding inside—and soon.

Read the backliner and author's comments.

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