Cool, earthy air chills her nose and throat. Reds and yellows replace the once green leaves. A gentle breeze rustles through the brush and promises rain.
"Kate," a male voice yells.
She stops short and looks around. There is no one else on the path. A quick check of the trees that surround this part of the park only yields a rain dance between the leaves and wind. Thump, thump, thump her feet rhythmically slap the pavement. Long, black hair, pulled into a pony tail swats her shoulders. Her heart, unable to match the beat, echoes in her ears. A chill moves down her spine. Am I being followed?
"Kate. Stop. Wait for me."
The voice is closer and reminds her of someone from her past. Her stomach tightens and fear spreads through her chest. He's here for me. Despair pales her face and quickens her breath. “Stay away. You hear me?” Grim, she looks around and panics. Where is he? “I’ll scream,” she threatens and breaks into a run. Her heart knocks on her chest and throat and pounds in her head. Weak, she gasps for air. Lightheaded, she sees her dying sister. Devastation and confusion slows her progress. Why is she in her head now? She's been dead for more than 25 years.
Sudden severe pain forces her to the ground. What’s happening? Is that tormented scream from me? Who's calling me? Sounds like the angel that came for my sister? Is that why she's here now? Is this the end?
She manages to bring her husband forward in her thoughts. Dave, I love you. Hold me here. Stop this pain. Dave looks into her eyes and says 'I do' then kisses her with such passion. It's their wedding day. Then she hands him their son wrapped up tight in the blue and white hospital blanket. Oh, how much she loves David and their newborn son. Next she gives him their daughter. She can barely stay in the hospital bed. She wants to cover his body with kisses of joy. In her mind, strong and immovable are the three most important people in her life.
The stranger's voice whispers in her ear, “Kate, come with me. Let me help.”
Her body convulses with every scream and drowns out his question.
Prayer and her family foremost in her mind brings relief. The pain subsides and relaxes her muscles. Thank you Lord, she sobs.
The stranger lays his hands on her shoulder, 'Kate, you okay?'
Weak, she rises. “Don’t touch me.”
“I'm here to help you.” He grabs her arm.
Eyes, white with fear and pupils dark with pain, meet his. She shoves him, both hands on his chest. “Who are you?”
Images flash through his mind. A young Kate, shortly after her eighth birthday, with outstretched hands. Don't leave me. Take me too. A dark hallway and, to his right, a room he hasn’t seen in over 25 years. He shakes his head to refocus on the present.
Kate breaks away and stumbles toward the nearest bench. Unable to stand her full five and a half feet, she tumbles into the wooden seat.
“I have everything you need to ease the pain. My ship's not too far.”
Curled into a fetal position, eyes closed, she concentrates on her family. Pale lips smile as the pain recedes. She whispers. “Guess the Grim Reaper won't be needed here today.”
“Kate,” he says again close to her ear, “I'm here. Let me carry you.”
"No," she shakes her head, “I’m fine. The pain is almost gone. I’ll rest here then go home.”
He’s so close; she feels his breath on her lips. A faint metallic odor reminds her of electronics. Did he repair something aboard his ship? She turns away and catches the smell of fresh turned earth off the skin of his neck. Her marital resolve weakens. Urges to reach out and kiss him shock her. Her eyes open to his face just inches from hers. Their eyes meet and she stutters, “I-I’m not go-going anywhere wi-with you.”
His brown eyes, deep as the seas, are endless as space. Unable to turn away, she feels an ancient intelligence. The back of her mind tells her he is hers. They belong together. Eye contact is broken when he rises and startles her back to the present. “Okay, I’ll sit with you until you’re able to go. Are you sure the pain is gone?” he asks and sits on the edge of the park bench.
A quick glance fills her vision with his picturesque profile. Black loafers compliment his Italian wool pants. His white dress shirt, open to his chest, bring her back to his face. She remembers. He's one of her sister's angel's. Her eyes close and she fights the urge to tell him to get lost. His presence comforts her and she wants answers.
Spent, she forces herself to sit up and backs against the arm of the bench. Chilled, she shivers glad she decided to wear her pink warm-ups rather than the purple shorts. Fearful she'll fall back into his eyes, she settles on his sable hair. What is it about this man? Her fingers itch to run through his dark, brown luxurious muss. “Who are you? How do you know my name? Are you the angel that came for my sister? Is it my turn, now?” she asks between quick breaths.