“OK, have a great day at school, boys,” said Stefanie. “I’ll call you this afternoon when you get home. Please be responsible and get right to your homework after school.” She tried to sound upbeat, Timothy could tell. He rolled his eyes at his older brother David.
“OK, Mom,” the boys said in unison, answering their mother on speakerphone. “Have a good day,” said David, trying to put her at ease.
It was only the third time she’d left them while she was on a business trip. David, at 14, had convinced her they didn’t need to go to their father’s house or have him stay at their place while she was gone. Timothy was 12 and felt certain he didn’t need parental oversight for a couple of days. She disagreed and had asked her ex-husband to stay at her townhouse for three days while she was in Los Angeles. She’d stocked the refrigerator full of food which they’d completely ignore, spending the cash she’d given them on pizza or McDonald’s. She’d prayed with the boys before she left and they assured her they were fine, having become far more independent since she’d had to go back to work after the divorce.
David finished his cereal and put his dishes in the sink. He grabbed his backpack and headed for the door. “See you later, bro,” he called as he left to walk to his high school. His mother didn’t need to know that he didn’t bother brushing his teeth before leaving. It wouldn’t kill him.
Timothy grabbed a sweatshirt and finished tying his shoes. His junior high school started 15 minutes later than his brother’s and he wasn’t in a hurry to get there early. Besides, he wanted his brother far enough away not to see him riding off on David’s BMX bike. His is way cooler than mine, thought Timothy. He couldn’t understand why David never let him borrow his bike—or anything that was David’s, now that he thought about it. He considered swapping his sweatshirt for one of his brother’s but figured that might be pushing his luck. He grabbed his backpack and rode David’s prized bike to school.
The day was uneventful: the same classes, same teachers, same boring cafeteria food. But the California sunshine was inviting—the spring day couldn’t be more gorgeous. And when the final bell rang, Timothy ran to unlock the bike for the ride home.
A soft breeze blew his curly brown hair and Timothy smiled. No need to get right home, he thought. David wouldn’t be home for another hour. Too warm in his sweatshirt, it wadded it up in his backpack, wearing only his t-shirt and jeans. He took off riding, relishing the speed and maneuverability of the racing bike. The ride home was hilly, the Los Gatos neighborhoods rich with big trees and pristine gardens. Timothy decided to see just how much he could push the BMX and began racing down sidewalks, jumping the curbs. The flight off the ramps was exhilarating, and Timothy rode faster.
As he reached what he considered a good speed, Timothy yanked up on the handlebars and soared off the curb. As he landed, hard, the handlebars were wrenched nearly out of his hands. Timothy flew over the bike, landing face-first on the pavement.
Knocked unconscious, he lay crumpled on the street, David’s bicycle nearby, tires still spinning.
Stefanie checked her watch—again—wanting to give the boys enough time to get home from school, get a snack, and—she hoped—start their homework. She was trying to give them a bit of space, not hovering and calling the minute they walked in the door. An hour was enough time, she decided. She’d call to check in and then call again that evening from her hotel room. When she couldn’t stand to wait any longer, Stephanie stepped off the trade show floor and pulled out her mobile phone.
No one answered. Surely they were home by now, she thought. I’ll just give it a few more minutes.
Stefanie returned to the show floor, talking to customers and making sure all the demos were running smoothly. After 20 minutes, she tried the boys again. No answer.
After two hours and several calls, Stefanie was frantic. Where were they? Were they all right? Why had she left them home alone? She hadn’t rented a car when she arrived in Los Angeles but knew she could get one and get home to Northern California that evening. She prayed for their safety and began looking for a one-way rental.
She declined to have dinner with her colleagues and called for room service. She tried her ex-husband but got no answer.
Timothy opened his eyes, focus coming slowly. Where am I? he thought groggily. He sat slumped against a car door and he turned to look at the driver. A platinum-haired man wearing a plaid shirt drove the old pickup truck. He smiled at Timothy, radiating kindness without speaking. Timothy sat up gingerly, looking around as they drove through his neighborhood. The shiny hood belied the age of the truck; it was a classic, Timothy was certain.
And then he blacked out again.
When he awoke, he was standing inside his living room. His arms were akimbo, as if someone stood behind him, holding him up. But no one was there.
Slowly Timothy turned around, looking out the closed sliding glass door to the small patio outside their townhouse. David’s bike was parked in its spot. On wobbly legs, he unlocked the sliding glass door and walked outside the patio. No classic truck was there. Timothy took a shaky breath and walked to the end of the carport, looking up and down the street. No truck.
He returned home and tried to understand what had happened. He looked down at his hands and one arm. His palms were raw and beginning to sting and there were large tears in the flesh of his right forearm. His head hurt and he went into the bathroom to look at his face.
The entire right side of his face was road rash and his eye was already blackening and swelling. I need to call Dad, he thought. I need to call my dad.
Choking back tears, Timothy picked up the phone but suddenly couldn’t remember his father’s phone number.
Thankfully, David walked in the front door. “You home, Tim?” he called. He stopped, aghast when he saw his younger brother. “Duuuude…your face! What happened?”
Timothy whispered, “I crashed your bike. We need to call Dad.”
David grabbed the phone from his brother and called his father.
By 10:00, Stefanie was packed and ready to get a taxi to the airport to pick up a rental car. She’d already looked into a flight that evening, but nothing was available. She knew she could be home in under six hours. She tried calling one more time.
This time, David answered.
“Hi, Mom! How’s it going?” he asked cheerfully.
Stefanie shouted, “How’s it going? Are you kidding me? I’ve been calling for hours—where have you been? Are you guys OK?”
David said, “Oh, have you talked to Tim?”
What’s wrong with Timothy? she thought. “No—let me talk to him.” She heard her ex-husband’s voice in the background. What is going on?
“Hi, Mom,” said her baby boy, hesitantly. “I’m OK. I crashed David’s bike.”
“Oh, baby…what happened?” Stefanie willed herself to calm.
Timothy described the accident and how his father had to take him to the emergency room. He’d hit his cheekbone so hard he’d missed fracturing his orbital socket by less than an inch. He had a lot of scrapes on his face, shoulder, arm, and hands, but hadn’t needed any stitches. Stefanie asked to speak to her ex-husband, who confirmed Timothy’s description. “He’s pretty banged up,” he said. “I’ll keep an eye on him tonight to be sure he doesn’t have any problems from the concussion.” He put Timothy back on the phone.
“I’ll be there in the morning, Son,” said Stephanie. “I love you.”
Stephanie called her manager and explained the situation, telling him she needed to fly home first thing in the morning. She booked a quick flight from Los Angeles International to San José and tried to get some sleep.
In the morning, she was out the door and on the way to the airport early, arriving in San José and taking a cab home. She walked in the door, threw down her suitcase and turned, just in time to see her youngest walking out of his bedroom.
“Oh, honey!” Stephanie gasped. “Oh, baby….”
“It’s OK, Mom. I’m OK, really,” said Timothy.
Stefanie’s stomach lurched as she looked at her son. His right eye was swollen shut and deep purplish black. His right cheek was raw, as was his shoulder and parts of his forearm. She didn’t even know how to hold him, she was so worried to hurt him more.
Her ex-husband stepped into the living room. “The doctor said he’s lucky—he would have crushed his eye socket if he’d landed half an inch differently,” he said matter of factly. “Just keep an eye on him for vomiting or anything weird from the concussion.” He grabbed his keys. “I gotta go to work. Take care, Son,” he said. “Call if you need anything.”
“Thank you,” said Stefanie stiffly. Her ex nodded and walked out the front door.
“Where’s David?” she asked Timothy. “Oh, never mind…he’s already left for school.” She walked to the sofa and sat down, patting the cushion next to her. “Come sit with me.”
Timothy sat, looking awkward. “What is it?” asked Stefanie.
“Mom, can I tell you something?” he asked hesitantly.
“Of course, love—anything.” Stefanie steeled herself—what could he need to tell her?
Timothy began. “When I made that last jump, I went off the curb crooked and I landed weird. I just totally launched over the handlebars and I must’ve landed right on my face. You know that part of Cherrywood Drive they’ve been repaving? Well, that’s where I landed…right on all that gravel.”
He took a deep breath. “Anyway, I woke up and I was in this old guy’s truck. He never said anything, but it was like he just felt so…so kind. Like just love was coming out of him. It was this really nice old truck, not even junked up but new paint and new seats. It was vintage 1950s, but it smelled like it was new.”
He spoke more quickly, his thoughts racing. “He had white hair and he was wearing this plaid shirt—just a country guy, driving his truck.”
Timothy searched his mother’s face. “And the next thing I knew, I was inside the house. I was standing over there,” he pointed to the back door, “but my back was to the door and my arms were up, like this.” Timothy stood, holding his arms out, with elbows bent and hands facing down. “It was like someone was behind me—holding me up.”
Stefanie struggled to keep the tears from coming, nodding encouragement to her son as he sat back down.
“There’s no possible way I did that myself, Mom,” he said earnestly. “I would have had to come in through the door, turn around to lock it, then turn back around and step backward until I almost touched it, and then lift up my arms. That makes no sense.”
Tears filled his eyes as he asked me, “Mom…how did that happen?”
Stefanie couldn’t hold back the tears. She reached for Timothy’s hand and stroked it carefully. Her mind a jumble with all she’d heard, she was silent as she tried to make sense of it.
She quietly asked, “Do you think it was an angel?”
Timothy nodded, eyes on his mother. “Yes…yes, I do.”
“I do, too,” she whispered, taking her son into her arms.
Photo by Sapir Giladi goveri on Unsplash