I Will Always Be With You
By Lucky_Ladybug

I open my eyes slowly. What had happened? Where am I? And why the heck am I dripping wet??

As my vision clears, I take a look around. Suddenly coughing up water, it all comes back to me.

I had been chasing some escaped fugitive through the woods. Then he had disappeared, and as I'd looked around for him, he had suddenly sprang out of nowhere, tackling me and throwing me into the water. I'm not that great of a swimmer as it is, but going over a waterfall and then hitting my head on a rock didn't help any.

How is it that I'm still alive? I should be dead, I realize, pouring water out of my hat.

A soft breeze comes up, gently blowing through the trees and grass. It almost sounds as if the wind is saying something. I don't think anything of it, though . . . until suddenly I can distinctly make out words.

"I will always be with you, my precious one. I will always be with you."

I freeze, remembering back to the last time I've ever heard those words.
It wasn't easy for me when I was growing up. We lived in kind of a ramshackle place in a bad neighborhood in a small Texas town. But being kinda poor wasn't the hard thing; far from it!

I was always the odd one out—the one always picked last for a team (or, usually, not picked at all), shunned at lunchtime in the school cafeteria (or about anywhere else). No one ever wanted to associate with me. I was the geek, the weirdo. Because of my long fang, some of the kids even called me the Vampyre. I never have liked that fang, and now you know why.

You know, my sister Nicolette has that same fang, but she never has been tormented about it, like I always was. In school, Nicolette was a real tomboy. She was also funny, out-going, and smart, and all the boys were crazy about her.
But as out-going and funny as Nicolette was, she always became more quiet and tense whenever we reached home after a long school day. We never knew what kind of mood Dad would be in.

Mama worked hard to support the family; she would get up early to go to her secretary job, then go around as a free-lance cleaning lady in the afternoon before wearily coming home to fix dinner and take a short nap, after which she would go on to her late-night job as a waitress in an all-night diner.

Dad, on the other hand, would pretty much just lay around the house all day and then go out gambling. He'd usually return in a real sour mood, and half the time he was drunk to boot.

Nicolette and I knew to stay away from him when he was in one of those moods, for if he saw us, we knew he might get even more churned up and decide to use one of use for a punching bag.

One time he came home in a worse mood than ever before, and when Mama questioned him about what went wrong this time, he hit her. Said he was tired of her always nagging and asking questions, and then he hit her again.

It was a terrible thing for two eight-year-olds to witness. And Nicolette, strong, brave Nicolette, started to cry.

I've only seen Nicolette cry twice—on that disastrous night, and on another such night only a few weeks later. Only this time, the outcome would be much more severe.
It had started out like any other Tuesday—we got up early, had a quick breakfast, and then Nicolette and I sprinted out the door for school.

"I love you two," Mama called to us, as she started out to clean a few early houses.

"Love you back," we called, boarding the bus.

Dad had gotten mad at Mama again and had stormed out late the past night, but I didn't think much of it. He'd be back that night. He always was.
I knew something was wrong at the end of the school day when I discovered Nicolette standing beside our rich Aunt Velma's Ferrari. Aunt Velma was never around . . . unless . . .

I rushed over. Nicolette looked up, her eyes red from crying. "Oh Nack . . . it's Mama. She's in the hospital, and the doctors say it doesn't look good."

I couldn't hide my shock. "What happened?" I demanded.

"She was in a car crash," Nicolette replied, turning away so I couldn't see her crying. "Aunt Velma's gonna drive us to the hospital in Houston."
As we drove over the busy, crowded highways, my thoughts tumbled over each other, each one wanting to be foremost in my mind.

Even though Mama held down three steady jobs, she always managed to find time to spend with Nicolette and me. On Saturdays we'd go to the park, or maybe the occasional movie.

Mama also made sure to spend time with each of us individually. She would take Nicolette window-shopping, and sometimes to the shooting gallery. Nicolette is a pretty good sharpshooter, by the way. I don't think I ever told her that, though . . .

When it was my turn, we'd take long walks around the town. Usually we'd stop for a soda somewhere and just talk. Mama was always understanding. I also felt like she was the only one in the family who really cared about me. Dad sure didn't seem to like kids very much, and Nicolette and I had never gotten on all that well. We still don't.

I thought back to when we'd last seen Mama, early that morning. Would that really be the last time we'd ever see her, talk to her?
When we got to the hospital two and a half hours later, Aunt Velma left us in the waiting room and disappeared, presumably to find Mama's room.

It seemed like an eternity before she came back, saying, "Your mother wants to see you children now." As we both jumped up, she added, "One at a time, children. That's the rule in this hospital—no more than one child at a time."

Nicolette went first, and as she went out the door, I could hear her ask the question that I was afraid to know the answer to: "Is Mama gonna die?"

There was a long pause, then Aunt Velma replied, "It won't be long now, child."

When Nicolette returned, she looked at me but didn't say a word, just took the farthest chair from the door and buried her face in a magazine. I could hear her softly crying behind it.

Slowly I got up and walked out the door and down the hall to Room 304. When I pushed the door open, I stopped, unable to believe my eight-year-old eyes. Mama was laying in the only bed in the room. She looked so pale and weak, with all the bandages and the machines plugged around the bed.

"Mama?" I asked.

Mama tried to smile and weakly gestured for me to come over. As I did, she reached out and clasped my hand tightly. "Nack . . . my precious Nack," she said softly.

"Mama, I don't want you to go," I wailed. "Please don't go!"

Mama's eyes glistened. "Shh . . . it will be alright, my precious child. You will be alright.." She stroked my cheek. "And someday, we will see each other again."

"But Mama, that might not be forever and ever! And . . . and . . you're the only friend I have in the world! You're the only one who really cares about me!"

"Oh my darling . . . Nicolette loves and cares for you, too. She may not always say it or show it, but she loves you," Mama assured me. She took a slow, painful breath. I could tell she was going.

"I'm gonna miss you, Mama," I sobbed. I knew boys weren't supposed to cry, but right now, I didn't care about that silly rule.

"And I will miss you, my precious. But try not to be sad," Mama said softly, "I will always be with you. I promise. I love you, my precious Nack."

"I love you, Mama," I choked out, blinking back another flood of tears.

She smiled one last time. Then she was gone.
After Mama's death, Aunt Velma took Nicolette and me in. Dad never did come back, by the way. Aunt Velma was nice enough, but she didn't really understand how to raise kids. What's more, she was usually away on long business trips and we were left with her servants. Still, I know she did the best she knew how to.

We stayed with Aunt Velma till we were both eighteen, and then we went our separate ways. It was about four or five years till I saw Nicolette again.

I'm thinking maybe one of these days I need to call Nicolette up and try to get better acquainted with her. One of these days. . . .
My thoughts finally return to the present, and suddenly I know why I'm still alive. I know what—or rather, who—had saved me from drowning tonight.

I look up at the star-studded sky. "Thank you, Mama. I love you."