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Protecting Stephanie

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In the midst of all these perfect suburban houses, ours is the only one not decorated tonight, on Halloween. Ours is the only one not greeting little trick or treaters, not shoving candy down their throats.
I still watch though. I sit in the window and watch all the little kids, dressed up in their favorite costumes, running up and down my street. I see cowboys and Indians, Batman, Spiderman, gangsters, Jedi, princesses, fairies, multitude of animals, alongside witches, werewolves, and ghouls.
My throat tightens as I see a little boy, maybe 8 or 9, dressed as a devil, with a little sister, probably 5 or 6, to match. The only difference is her costume has a skirt, and sparkles in the street lights. The little girl tries to tug her brother up the steps to our house, but he shakes his head and points across the street. She looks across the street, then nods. Just before they cross, I close my eyes and watch what happens.
He starts to lead her across the street, proud to be old enough to take his little sister trick or treating without Mom and Dad. He waves to some of his friends across the street. He knows Mom and Dad are at home, across the street watching. He doesn’t see his sister stop in the middle of the street to retie her shoe. He doesn’t see the little blue car barreling down the street, no headlights on and driver passed out.
But he does see his father’s eyes widen in panic. And he hears. He hears Dad yell “Stephanie!” He hears the car swerve. He hears little Stephanie, his baby sister shriek. And he hears the dull crack as the car connects with her body and swerves off course into the sidewalk.
He turns, horror painting his face as he sees a great mass of red, an enlarging pool bigger than his sister, and a dark spot, her brown curls. Dad pushes past him, and gets painted red too as he picks up Stephanie. He hears the sirens, and the night is filled with Dad’s sobs, Mom’s plaintive cries, and his voice, softly saying “Not Stephanie…. Not Stephanie!”
As my head hits the cold glass pane of the window, I jerk out of the grim memory. I watch the two little devils cross the street safely, and the little girl’s dark curls bouncing against her red costume. Her big brother keeps a tight hold on her hand. He’s a smart kid…
Just before I turn away, the little girl turns, and sees me. She smiles and waves, then pulls her big brother back across the street. I grab two king size candy bars from the kitchen, and I pull open the door as they ring our doorbell.
The little girl grins at me and says “Trick or treat!” I can’t help but smile softly at her resemblance to Stephanie; she’s even missing her front two teeth. Then her brother nudges her and says “What do you say, Steph?” I gape. She looks and says “Thanks mister!” and runs down the stairs. He turns to follow her, and I grab his shoulder.
“Watch her. Especially tonight, it’s dangerous out there on Halloween.” The boy nods, the chases after his Stephanie. They cross the street safely together, and my mom walks down the stairs and sees me.
“What are you doing?!” Mom almost shrieks. I turn, and with a half grimace, half smile on my face, I say
“Protecting Stephanie.”





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