Guarding Angel

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With a sharp intake of breath, Molly's eyes snapped open. Her body froze in place while cramps seized her muscles and her heart pounded in fear. Carefully, she craned her neck to peer at the swathed bundle beside her. Molly moved her free hand to lay a finger just under the tiny nose and let out a sigh of relief as the smallest puff of air brushed against her skin.

Most nights played out in similar fashion with Molly waking in terror, afraid to find her baby smothered. No matter how many days passed where her little one would be fine, Molly couldn't get over it. Not since escaping from him.

Her hand drifted to the top of the baby's head and gently stroked the soft, dark hair that lay there. A shiver crawled across Molly's skin, but she made no reach for the thin blanket that covered her feet. She would take no chances on anything could cause that beautiful child to stop breathing. It was risky enough for them both to be camped out on the small mattress provided by the shelter without adding further possibilities.

Bringing her hand to rest at the baby's feet, the young mother drifted off to sleep again. For her little Angel, Molly would do anything.

——————

Bouncy brown curls jumped as a little girl skipped from the bus stop, arm-in-arm with two other girls. Their laughter rang through the air, causing old Mrs. Cassidy to look up from her planters and wave at the trio. "Hello, girls," she called out.

"Hi!" yelled the girls, and they dissolved into giggles in the way young children do when they think exactly alike.

"Angel, your mother is running a little late." Mrs. Cassidy carefully stood and brushed the dirt from her knees. She peeled off a gardening glove and used the bare hand to sweep some silver hair away from her face.

Worry creased the middle girl's brow for a moment, and she paused in the skipping, disentangling herself from her friends. "I'll call you later," Angel told them before crossing Mrs. Cassidy's small yard. "Did she say why?"

The girl's serious expression was in sharp contrast to her earlier revelry, and Mrs. Cassidy couldn't help but smile. "Just that she was held up at work and would be home soon. Do you want to help me with the marigolds?"

Angel glanced next door to the trailer in faded shades of blue and brown where she and her mother lived. The temptation of her favorite flower was too much, and Angel dropped her backpack on Mrs. Cassidy's porch. She grabbed a small pair of gloves from the box next to the door and settled in to help.

The bus dropped Molly off at the same location where the school bus left her daughter. She held a dirty black apron in one hand and a small shoulderbag over the opposite shoulder. Moving slowly up the street, she seemed more drained and harried than usual, but she offered a tired smile to Angel and Mrs. Cassidy as she approached the older woman's home.

Angel chewed on her lip for a moment and whispered something in Mrs. Cassidy's ear. The woman nodded, and Angel carefully snipped a beautiful golden marigold from its stem. She hid it behind her back, and Molly pretended to be surprised when Angel presented it. "You've got a better green thumb than I ever had," Molly said before kissing her daughter's head.

Molly let the shoulderbag fall onto her forearm. She reached inside, pulled out two slightly smashed brown squares, and handed one each to Angel and Mrs. Cassidy. Angel's eyes lit up at the sight of the brownie.

"Could you fetch us some milk please?" Mrs. Cassidy asked the young girl, patting her shoulder gently. The child turned without a word and dashed up the steps. The sound of the screen door slamming made Molly wince apologetically. The older woman shrugged it off. She studied the young mother. "What happened?"

Molly shifted the bag back onto her shoulder and sighed. "David showed up at the diner. I had to make sure he was gone so he wouldn't follow me home." The worry that crossed her face was nearly identical to Angel's earlier expression.

"Do you want to leave her with me tonight? Just in case?"

Head hung in defeat, Molly nodded. "Please," she whispered.

Mrs. Cassidy lifted Molly's chin with her hand. "There is zero shame in protecting your daughter," the woman said firmly.

——————

The sound of sirens pulled Angel's attention away from the phone in her hand. Out of habit, she leaned over and pulled a pile of copper fur into her arms. The cat mewled in fake protest, but his vibrating purrs soon calmed Angel. Tigger had always hated kids but would tolerate Angel. It always made Mrs. Cassidy smile to see her beloved cat keep Angel feeling safe, just as it did when she looked up from her knitting.

Angel had grown into a lovely young lady in her eyes, full of laughter and kindness. Yet the woman knew Angel worried desperately about her mother on the nights Molly asked Angel to stay with their neighbor. Truth be told, Mrs. Cassidy worried about Molly too. Now that Angel was 15 and old enough to stay on her own, the girl had to know her mother's requests had nothing to do with working late, but she never questioned it.

When the flashing lights turned in at their neighborhood and the siren cut off, Angel stood and started toward the window. Tigger meowed in real protest, and Angel put the cat down to let him dash under a nearby table. "What do you think is going on?" she muttered.

"Whatever it is, you best get away from there if you don't want your mama to skin me alive," Mrs. Cassidy said good-naturedly.

The girl turned away with half of a smile. "Mom wouldn't do that. She loves you. We both do." Mrs. Cassidy's heart swelled to the point she couldn't reply. "They're stopping out front," Angel narrated. It wasn't uncommon. A couple of boys in the neighborhood often were caught breaking into abandoned construction sites and brought home by the sheriff.

Angel gasped and headed for the door.

"Wait," Mrs. Cassidy called out as she struggled to get to her feet, but it was no use.

The girl scrambled to undo the deadbolt and flung open the door as a deputy escorted Molly across the yard. A strangled yelp escaped Angel when she saw her mother under the streetlamp's light.

Molly's skin was discolored in splotches on her face, and she walked with a limp. A white bandage stood out under the sleeve of her shirt. At the sight of her daughter's horror, Molly, who had refrained from tears for so long, started crying.

While mother and daughter reunited, Mrs. Cassidy made her way to the deputy and exchanged greetings with him. "What happened?" the lady asked tersely.

The deputy had been born and raised just around the corner and knew the woman well. "She was attacked outside the diner, Mrs. C. Mark and I were inside when it happened, heard her screaming but weren't quick enough. She said it was her ex. Makes sense to me since he kept yelling, 'Where is she?'. Guess he meant Angel." He glanced over at the pair a few feet away where Angel was fussing over her mother.

Mrs. Cassidy followed his gaze. "Thank you for taking care of her, Ryan. Is Mark okay?"

Ryan shrugged. "He will be." Turning his head to peer at the woman who had watched him and his brother grow up too, he added, "He would have killed Molly given half a chance. You still have Mr. Cassidy's shotty?"

Mrs. Cassidy's jaw tightened, but she nodded. "And his pistol."

"Hope you won't need them."

Her normally soft brown eyes hardened as she murmured, "Whatever it takes to protect Angel and Molly." 

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