Angel Falling Softly

Chapter 14

Every cloud has a silver lining

The men coalesced in a phalanx around them. President Forbush asked, “Where did you last see him?”

“Maybe he wandered down to the creek bed,” the bishop suggested.

Brother Millington shook his head, but not in disagreement. “I’ll just bet that’s what he did. If I’ve told him once, I’ve told him a thousand times—”

Troy said, “He probably followed the trail the Cub Scouts use.”

Milada joined Rachel. Laura said under her breath, “The Pillsbury Dough Boy bounced away.” Her mother didn’t bother admonishing her. Laura had much experience babysitting the Millington children.

Rachel agreed with her husband about the creek bed of the arroyo. “It’s like a magnet for kids around here. A boy drowned there last summer in a flash flood.” She grimaced to herself as she spoke. Why in the world did I say that? Perhaps it was to state the worst-case scenario so anything else would be an improvement.

The men fanned out across the field and snaked down the crumbling, sandy slopes, Brent Millington’s voice blaring like a foghorn.

With a dispassionate expression on her face, Milada watched the men move off. Then she kicked off her shoes and stepped up on the picnic table bench, her gaze moving slowly like a predator scanning the Serengeti for fresh prey. She stepped down, put on her shoes, and walked to the edge of the property line.

Laura took off after her. Rachel said to Charlene, “It’ll be okay.”

Charlene sighed wearily, then snapped at her two older children, “Mary, Brent Junior, get over here and sit down. Don’t want you getting lost as well, for Pete’s sake.”

High along the ridgeline of the Wasatch Mountains, the setting sun gleamed off the granite walls of Twin and Lone Peaks. The contrast threw the shadowed valley floor below into an exaggerated darkness. Milada waded through the tall, dry grass with unhurried strides. Not toward the arroyo but toward a John Deere backhoe parked next to a gnarled apple tree at the edge of the new housing lots. Rachel jogged to catch up with her, and then fell back a step behind with Laura. The field hummed with the buzz of cicadas. Mormon crickets sprang out of their path. The grass, charred from the harsh September sun, shattered at the touch.

A nervous droning sound grew louder as they approached the backhoe. It wasn’t the droning of cicadas. It reminded Rachel of the sound the vacuum cleaner made when it grabbed a penny off the carpet and jammed it against the belt. Laura ran ahead, stopped, let out a shriek, and retreated to her mother’s side.

The evidence of the crime lay scattered on the ground. The spent can of Raid left behind by the work crew. The survey stake Andy had managed to heft and swing with unfortunate accuracy, knocking the nest from the overhanging limb. The crumpled hive buzzing with angry yellow jackets—

And Andy’s still, flaccid body a few feet off, his puffy skin dotted with red welts. “Milada—” Rachel started to say, but Milada hardly hesitated. She picked up the nest and flung it a dozen yards into an open house foundation. Not a yellow jacket lit upon her. She knelt next to Andy. Rachel said to her daughter, “Laura, go get your father.”

She didn’t move. “Laura!” her mother said again. Laura took off across the field.

Rachel kneeled next to Milada, who said in her calm voice, “The boy has stopped breathing.” She pressed on his sternum with the palm of her hand. Air rushed hollowly out of his mouth. She compressed his chest twice more.

Andy’s head lolled to the side. She picked up his right arm, the ball of her thumb pressing tightly at the bend of his elbow, lowered her mouth to his wrist—

And then—

Rachel’s mind went blank. Literally blank. Static on an empty television channel. She blinked and shook her head. Her brain fired up, jerked her back to reality. Milada looked at her, her crystal-clear eyes filled with concern. She touched Rachel’s cheek with her fingertips. “Are you all right, Rachel?”

She nodded. She hadn’t fainted, had she? She didn’t faint over something like this—after all, she’d handled bloody catastrophes at girls’ camp. She was still kneeling at Milada’s side. Only a moment had passed, but whatever had happened in that moment had evaporated into nothingness.

Milada said, “The boy is breathing.”

“He’s breathing?”

Milada scooped the boy into her arms and stood up. Rachel remained on her knees, still dazed. Milada said, “In the right pocket of my jacket—”

Rachel leapt to her feet. Andy was a big boy for his age, but Milada’s voice was not even strained. The thought struck her: Good heavens, she’s strong.

“My cell phone—”

Rachel reached into her jacket pocket and found the little Nokia. She popped it open and dialed 9-1-1. “An eight-year-old boy just got stung by yellow jackets. I think he’s in anaphylactic shock. We did CPR. He’s breathing now. We’re at 445 Willow Way in Sandy.”

People ran toward them. Laura arrived first, her eyes wide. “Andy!” Brent Millington shouted. Milada carried Andy to the lawn and set him down on the grass next to the patio. Andy stirred, twitched, and kicked like a sleeping dog. He coughed, his stomach heaved, and he threw up pink lemonade, half-digested hot dog, and melted orange Popsicle onto Milada’s jacket.

Brother Millington sat Andy up and patted him on the back, making sure he didn’t choke. “You all right, Sport?”

Andy weakly bobbed his head.

A police cruiser drove up, siren screaming in the quiet twilight, strobe lights painting the street with ribbons of red and white and blue. The ambulance arrived soon after. The paramedics hefted the boy onto the gurney and started an IV drip.

A small crowd gathered in the street in front of the house. Bill Garner—the Garners lived three houses down—approached the bishop. “It’s Andy Millington,” David explained. “He got himself tangled up in a yellow jacket nest. But it looks like he’s going to be okay. Brent’s riding with him to Alta View Hospital. I’ll take Charlene and the kids and meet them there.”

Troy Ellis asked, “You need any help giving Andy a blessing, Bishop?”

The bishop gave Troy a pat on the shoulder. “Tom’s going to follow us down. He can assist us there.” Between Troy and Bill Garner, the news would get out, a mostly correct version. “He’s going to be okay,” the bishop said again.

The ambulance roared off. The police officer waited while David loaded the Millingtons into Rachel’s Odyssey, and then he escorted them to the Alta View ER.

The small crowd dispersed.

Rachel took a breath, exhaled. “Well,” she said without any irony, “that was interesting.” Her nose caught the sour smell of bile. “Oh, Milada, your clothing—”

Milada glanced down. “Most of it’s on my jacket,” she said, as if that was a good thing. She scraped a spot of vomit from her thigh with the side of her hand and flicked it off.

“For heaven’s sakes. Come inside. Let’s get you cleaned up.”

In the kitchen they daubed off the puke with paper towels. The foul odor remained. “I’ll have to soak that,” Rachel said. “You know, we’re about the same size, Milada. Why don’t I give you an old sweat suit to change into? I’ll take care of the cleaning.”

“I think I can make it home in one piece.”

“No, no. I insist.”

She steered Milada up the stairs to the master bedroom. Milada disrobed. Rachel carefully set aside her jacket, blouse, and slacks. “The bathroom’s right through there.”

Rachel dug out her old BYU top and drawstring bottoms. The water stopped running, and Milada came out. She wore a sheer white chemise and panties cut high on the thigh. Rachel felt the bite of envy. The chemise hung short over a flat stomach that showed only the hint of a belly. She looked like she’d modeled for the sculptor of those ancient Roman statues, the women with the perfect round breasts, skin polished smooth as glass—women who, after two thousand years, still looked great.

Oh, to have the body I had at twenty. The body she married David with. She wondered if her husband missed that body too.

Rachel held out the BYU top for Milada to see, the one with the cougar crouched over the big block letters. Milada’s eyes lit up. “It’s darling!” she said. She drew it down over her breasts and pulled on the bottoms. Her figure showed well even through the loose fabric. “You’re right, it does fit.” She peered down at the blue silk-screened logo. “You graduated from BYU?”

“Yes, that’s where David and I met.”

“It’s precious,” said Milada. “Zoë will be jealous. Why don’t we call it a trade?”

“A trade?”

“I certainly couldn’t get one of these back in New York.”

“But—” Rachel meant to say that she could buy several dozen sweat suits for what an outfit like Milada’s must cost. “I’m sure you could get one at any mall or sports shop around here. And Provo’s not that far away—”

“I detest shopping for clothes.”

She was serious. Running out of reasons not to, Rachel gave in. “Okay,” she said. Now that the possibility was real, she found herself looking forward to trying on Milada’s outfit. After she got it cleaned.

Milada said, “One thing, though. The dry cleaning will likely prove dear.”

Expensive, she meant. It shouldn’t cost that much, Rachel confidently assured herself.

She walked with Milada back to her house on Larkspur Lane. “I’m sorry about tonight,” Rachel apologized again. “Our dinner parties are rarely so eventful.”

“Think nothing of it.”

“Still, it sure was a good thing you were there. I think you’re the only one who kept her head on straight.”

“You would have done fine without me.”

“I’m not so sure. You probably saved Andy’s life.”

“To be honest, Rachel, I am not the Good Samaritan type. It is the kind of thing Kammy would have done.”

“Then thank her for being such a good influence.”

Milada flashed a weary smile and wished Rachel a good night.

The bishop got home shortly before ten. Rachel heard the younger Millingtons piling out of the Odyssey, climbing into their big Chevy Suburban. She walked outside. “Oh, Rachel,” gasped Charlene, running up to her. They hugged. “The doctor said Andy’s going to be fine.”

“That’s wonderful!”

“I forgot to thank you before. It was just so—”

“That’s okay. But it’s really Milada you should thank.”

Brent Millington and David finished talking. They shook hands, and Brother Millington gave him a heartfelt whack on the shoulder. Big guy emotion. “See you Wednesday, Bishop.” Brother Millington and Charlene climbed into the Suburban, and they drove off.

Laura was waiting for them in the kitchen. “So how’s the doughboy?”

Her father gave her a scolding look. “Surprisingly well. They’re keeping him overnight at Alta View for observation. But it looks like he’ll be no worse for wear. Remarkable, considering the severity of his reaction.” He paused. “There was one odd thing, though. A pair of marks on his wrist—” David touched his right arm.

“Bee stings?”

“No, they’re pretty sure it wasn’t that. More like needle marks. Maybe one of the EMTs—” He shook his head. “Who knows in cases like this—all the excitement and everything. At least he’s all right.” David paused for a moment. “How did you know where to find him?”

“Mom didn’t find him. It was Milada. It’s like she has radar or something. Like she can see in the dark.”

Her mother agreed. “She does have very good eyesight.” Then she hesitated. “When we found Andy, I think she started doing CPR.”

“You think?”

Rachel opened her mouth to go on, but she didn’t know what to say. She tilted her head to one side, her brow furrowing. “I—I can’t remember.”

“Can’t remember?” Laura was incredulous. “How can you not remember? Mom, you were right there!”

“I know.” A gnawing frustration welled up inside her. “She started doing CPR and then—and then Andy started breathing and she picked him up and carried him back to the yard.”

End of story. Good enough for them, but not good enough for her. Something was missing. Something she couldn’t remember. Something she’d lost.

David gave her a reassuring hug. “It’s been a most interesting family home evening.”

“Yeah,” said Laura. “We should have Milada over again sometime.”

Have Milada over again. Rachel smiled. Laura was rarely enthusiastic about their adult guests. But at that same moment, something jolted inside her like an electric shock. She ran herself a glass of warm water and drank it slowly.

It was only later that night, her mind hovering at the edge of sleep, that she understood what she had felt. Not fear—not the fear of imminent harm or suffering—but surprise, astonishment, even awe.

Just then, out of the corner of her eye, she saw a shadow creeping across the room. She felt a quick stab in the gut. Her eyes opened wide. But it was only the curtains fluttering against an open window, the bright street light beyond.

It’s nothing.

So in her dreams, she went back to cranking the handle of the music box with a quiet if impatient amusement. Listening to the playful melody. Yet feeling the uneasy expectation that when the trap door flipped open, the little clown would pop out bearing tooth and claw.

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