Angelica reached into her pocket and pulled out her cell phone. Flipping it open, she checked to be sure the voice mail symbol hadn’t appeared at the top of the screen.
They’d said they would call by five o’clock today. She glanced at her watch. It was only 3:40. She placed the phone on the kitchen windowsill, tilting the antenna toward the glass.
Glancing out the window, she could see her daughter, Anica, carefully cutting the zigzags of the crown she was making for her older brother, Manuel. The bright and talented eight-year-old held the yellow construction paper in one hand and cut free-form with her other. Angelica’s lip began to tremble.
The oven beeped as it hit 325 degrees, bringing her attention back to the task at hand. She grabbed a wooden spoon and stirred the chocolate chips and pecans into the cookie dough.
After sliding the cookie sheet into the oven, she walked over to the kitchen table and picked up the two pink party favor bags the children had dropped there on their way from the garage to the backyard.
When Manuel had been included in the birthday party invitation Anica received, Angelica had been thrilled for him. She hadn’t realized he’d be the only boy. When they’d arrived, all the little girls had been making crowns. This was far beyond Manuel’s ability and he soon busied himself with the chips on a nearby table. It wasn’t long before the hostess asked Angelica if she could keep Manuel from “touching everything.” And it wasn’t long after that that Angelica was asked if she could keep Manuel in the other room.
Her answer had been to excuse herself and her two children from the party.
Angelica huffed a sigh. She wished she’d asked more questions before she’d taken Manuel to the party. She picked up the two pink bags and carried them to the counter next to the oven.
Turning back to the window, her gaze rested on her son. He sat across from his sister. He stared through thick glasses, his almond-shaped eyes mesmerized by the flashing scissors. Lips parted in a half smile. Unaware of the difference between this party and the one he’d left. Angelica blinked rapidly and took a steadying breath.
The sound of her cell phone interrupted her thoughts. Grabbing it, she flipped it open. Let them say I got the job.
“Hi, Angelica. It’s Tex.”
“Oh.” Angelica tried to hide her disappointment. Tex Gaynor was Manuel’s teacher and she often called on Friday afternoons to let her know how the week had gone for him. Angelica volunteered in his fourth-grade class. Still, she and Tex always tried to connect at the end of each week. Angelica appreciated the extra effort and considered the woman her friend.
“Did I call at a bad time?”
Angelica could hear the concern in Tex’s voice. “No. No. I’m waiting for the Sierra Center on Law and Poverty to call.”
“I was going to ask if you’d heard, I’ve got that on my prayer list. Listen, I won’t keep you. Manuel had a great week.”
Angelica laughed. “Manuel always has a great week. The question is, how was it for you?”
“It’s a pleasure having that little boy in my class. And before this year is over, I’m going to find out who he’s talking to.”
Angelica rolled her eyes. Everyone who knew Manuel knew about his invisible companion. The one-sided chattering had started shortly after he was stricken with acute myeloid leukemia, AML, at the age of five. After achieving remission, it seemed to subside. Yet even now, years later, Manuel would often glance up and begin laughing or suddenly stop midstride as if someone had called his name. “Well, if you find out, let me know.”
“Blessings to you, dear.”
Angelica flipped the phone shut and put it back on the windowsill. For a moment she debated whether or not she should call the Center and ask if they’d made a selection. She hadn’t come to the decision to go back to work easily, but once she started applying for jobs that advocated for the poor, she quickly became excited at the prospects of once again making a difference in the lives of people whom society seemed to care little about.
Manuel’s birth had meant leaving her job as a public defender. At the time, she hadn’t realized it would mean giving up the law career she’d worked so hard for. But that soon became evident. It was only over the past year that her husband’s landscape business had really taken off and the loving support she found at Manuel’s school allowed her to consider returning to work.
The warm, chocolaty smell of the baking cookies told her they were ready and convinced her to wait on making the call. Right now, her son was the one who needed her.
Angelica fanned the cookies with her hand, looking over her shoulder. Out the window she could see that Manuel was wearing his crown and Anica had almost finished hers. Angelica gingerly picked up the hot cookies and dropped three into each one of the party bags.
“Mama. Mama.” Manuel barreled through the sliding glass door, one hand on his headpiece, one hand splayed in the air. “My crown.”
“Here my king . . . and queen.” Angelica handed each of the children a party bag. “Let’s go out and sit on the lawn, shall we?”
“Yes, my lady.” Anica made a sweeping bow.
Suddenly, the music from the cell phone began to play. Angelica ran to the kitchen window. “Anica, take your brother out. I’ll be there in a minute. This is that important call Mommy’s been waiting for.”
Oh, Lord, You know the plans You have for me. I pray this job is in Your will. She flipped the phone open. “This is Angelica.”
“This is the nurse at Dr. Pearson’s office. Dr. Pearson has received Manuel’s blood work back from his physical. He’d like you and your husband to come in.”
In past years the doctor’s office had never called and asked them to come in . . . unless something was wrong. The woman’s words reminded her, with sickening clarity, of a similar call she’d received five years before. “Is something wrong?” Angelica’s heart began to race.
“Dr. Pearson will discuss it with you when you come in. When can you meet with the doctor?”
“I . . . I don’t know. My husband isn’t here.” Angelica tried to quell the panic she felt rising in her chest.
“Do you think you could come in this afternoon?”
“Uh. Yes, of course. We’ll be there.” Angelica pressed the End button, then pressed 1 to autodial her husband. “Please answer.” She began pacing. The call went into voice mail. “Antonio, please call me, it’s important.”
Angelica knew Antonio always left his phone in the truck while he was working. She hesitated, then flipped the phone back open and pressed 2.
“Amante residence.” It was Martha, Angelica’s parents’ housekeeper.
“Is my mom or dad there?”
“Just a moment.”
How much should she say? She didn’t want to alarm them. They adored their grandchildren and had been as devastated as Antonio and Angelica by Manuel’s battle with leukemia.
“Mom, could you come down and watch the kids for a couple of hours? I’ve got some things I need to do.”
“Is something wrong?”
After years of discord, she and her mother had become close during Manuel’s illness. She should have known her mother would sense something was up. “No, I just need to go find Antonio. He has an appointment he doesn’t know about.”
“Your father and I will come down. Maybe we’ll bring the kids home. Dad was going to barbeque. They could swim while we get dinner ready.”
“That would be great, Mom. Thanks.” Angelica disconnected and tried to reach Antonio again. No answer. She closed her eyes a moment and took a deep breath, then walked to the slider and opened it.
“Hey, kids, Grandma and Grandpa are coming and you’re going to the ranch.” She wished she were going to the ranch for the afternoon. The magical place of her childhood. The place she had met and fallen in love with Antonio. It was as much a part of her life as the earth and sky. Instead, she would be spending the afternoon in a doctor’s office, praying that the doctor’s news about Manuel would not be life threatening.
Both children jumped up and ran to the house, cookies and party bags forgotten. They were going to Regalo Grande.