Cold, so cold that each time Rayne blinked because snowflakes fell into her eyes she was frightened that her eyelids would freeze shut. Each time she exhaled through her bluing lips, her breath formed a tiny white cloud in front of her. She would have preferred to breathe in and out through her nose, for then she could have saved her tongue the torture of the sharp, cold air, but her nose was blocked as she had a cold, or more likely, influenza. Every part of her felt cold to some degree. Her toes and feet were less than half covered with long worn out shoes, and the rest of her body was even worse off. All she had was a pair of tattered shorts, a shirt just as bad, and a threadbare coat that just barely provided some sort of cover for her arms and legs from the biting wind.
If it were up to Rayne, she would have stayed home, or at least, stayed in the homeless shelter that she had recently made her home, along with her mother and her little sister. After her father had died... After her father had died they had no way to keep the tiny apartment they had lived in, and it was not long before they had been kicked out into the streets. Two years had passed since his death, two years since Rayne and her mother had been working little odd jobs to maintain some sort of pride, for it never felt good to live entirely off of charity. The little money they made went to keeping Hope alive though. None of it could be spared to give Rayne or her mother new clothes, or better food.
The eleven-year-old girl had been forced out of the shelter by her mother to buy some medicine for her little sister, Hope. Both Hope and Rayne had fallen sick suddenly, and their mother feared it was the flu. They could barely afford to buy something to help little Hope pull through, let alone to even take Rayne to a doctor for a $5 check-up. Yet Rayne did not complain when her mother had physically dragged her out of bed, given her a few seconds to orient her self, then handed her the money and shoved her out into the cold night.
As she walked through the new-fallen snow, she reflected on little things that most people never really thought about. Like how she was grateful for sidewalks so she did not have to dodge the cars that sped by, trying to get to their destination before there was too much snow on the ground. Or how she was grateful that her dull blonde hair was just long enough to cover her frostbitten ears. Or for her little sister Hope. The four year old girl was a pain at times, always asking why they did not have a house, or why they could not have a dog, and things like that, but Rayne liked her sister. She liked the fact that maybe Hope would have a chance for a real life someday.
Smiling, Rayne took a moment to bring the only picture she had of her sister to mind. Two days ago, Rayne, Hope, and their mother, Kristen, had been walking by a store, when they noticed that there was a Santa Claus outside the store, and you could get free pictures with him. Rayne and her mother did not even think twice about the idea, but Hope convinced them to go in line, ignoring the odd looks they all got. When it was their turn, the Santa's eyes looked sad, but Rayne smiled, and pushed Hope toward him for her picture. Their mother had almost cried as she took the Polaroid of her youngest daughter into her hands and thanked the Santa Claus and the nice young man who had taken the picture. As soon as they had gotten back to the shelter, she had rummaged around for a pin and had managed to hang the little picture above the bed all three of them shared.
Some may have thought it was amazing that Rayne could not find it in her little heart to be jealous of her sister, and the fact that money that could be spent giving her at least a better coat, was spent buying vitamins for Hope. Rayne felt responsible for the well being of the younger girl, and would sacrifice even her life to give Hope even just one more year on earth.
In fact, that was the direction things were taking. Each time Rayne fell sick, she never got treated, and though she managed to pull through, she pulled through as a weaker child. It was unlikely that she would survive after her flu had run its course.
That was why Rayne could not bother with self-pity. She would not allow her little sister to lead the same life as her and her mother. Rayne would die soon, and though it would mean her mother had one less child to worry about, it also meant that about a third of the money they collected each year would be missing. Yet Rayne believed that her mother would find some way to at least get Hope to school, or maybe find a good orphanage to place Hope in before she died. It was no secret that their mother was not exactly a healthy human either.
Rayne passed by a tiny restaurant, and unconsciously breathed in deeper, ignoring the stinging pain in her throat and tongue, just savoring the moment, and the way it seemed as if she could almost taste the food. For a moment she paused in her journey and looked through the nearest window. A happy family sat around a table, laughing and eating and drinking. Good for them, Rayne thought. A waiter looked out the window and saw the sickly girl, and a look of pity yet hopelessness was visible in her eyes, though she smiled a little, but then turned away to continue her job. Rayne immediately hurried away from the restaurant, for it hurt when she saw people like the waitress. People who smiled, yet did nothing... They hurt; they hurt so much more than the ones who shunned her, or the ones who just completely ignored her.
Rayne painfully moved one of her hands to wipe her nose, for her mother had always told her it was not good to just let her nose run freely. After doing that, she immediately clutched her coat with both hands, attempting to pull it tighter around her slight frame.
After what seemed like forever to her, she reached the pharmacy and stepped in, immensely grateful for the warmth of the place, and before heading to the back of the store to get the medicine for her sister, she took a moment to shake the snow off of her. It was rude to track snow over someone's floor. After making sure she was snow free, she hurriedly walked in and paid for the medicine, still trying to keep her coat covering her so people would not see how miserable she looked. As soon as the pharmacist handed her the medicine, she rushed out, not even pausing for a moment to enjoy the warmth.
As she stepped out, she noticed that the snow had fallen so quickly that her previous footsteps were nearly covered. While she walked back to the shelter, she wondered if the wings of angels were as white as the snow, probably whiter. Her bright smile returned to her face as she wondered if her angel was watching over her at that very moment. Right after that thought, she remembered that your guardian angels was always watching over you, and her smile brightened. It was nice to know that someone out there cared, even if it was only that person, or rather, celestial being's, job.
Again, Rayne passed the restaurant, but she did not look inside this time, or even breathe deeper. She was too busy wondering what her angel looked like, and she spent her entire trip thinking about it. Was her angel male or female? Blonde hair maybe? A much prettier blonde than her own, and the angel's hair would be shiny, and healthy. Green eyes, she supposed, pretty green eyes instead of her own muddy brown ones. That was just about the only selfishness the girl indulged in, believing her angel was a beautiful, perfect being.
Rayne finally reached the shelter and she was just about to walk up the steps when something near the building caught her eye. Was that a human buried in the snow? She immediately rushed to the curled up figure by the wall and shook it, hoping that the person was still alive.
For a moment, she feared for the worse, but then the body moved, and she nearly jumped back, yet she stayed put instead, controlling her nerves. The person sat up, and Rayne was faced with a boy about her age, an extremely scrawny boy, even worse than she was. He had no coat, just an extremely thin layer of clothing. He must have been very lucky to have survived that night so far, lying there in his condition as the snow fell on him.
Acting on impulse, she reached out to touch his left cheek, and then nearly drew her hand back. His skin was so cold... Yet she placed her whole palm on his cheek, transferring some of her minute warmth to him. He smiled up at her, one of those beautiful smiles a few people had that involved their whole face, and could brighten up the darkest of rooms.
"Why don't you come in?" Rayne asked, a little surprised at how much it hurt to talk.
"I'll be okay. There are other people who need the space." He was still smiling as he spoke, and he sat up fully now, then took her hand off his cheek. "Save your warmth for yourself."
She frowned, but obeyed him. "Do you have a mother, or a father?"
"Not in the way you're thinking, no." He reached up with a bony hand and brushed aside a nearly matted lock of black hair that had fallen over his dark blue eyes. "I am, in an earthly sense, alone."
The girl shook her head. "Everyone has a guardian angel!"
The boy tilted his head to one side, and he seemed to be amused by something. "You believe in angels?"
"Yes." She said, clearing her throat after because she was finding it increasingly hard to talk.
"Why?" For some reason, he was still smiling, and this puzzled Rayne.
The girl paused to think. "Because I need to believe in something." She finally answered.
The boy nodded. "Belief is good to have." He said. "Do you believe there is a heaven?"
She nodded. "Of course."
Again, he seemed amused by something, maybe by the childlike way she so steadfastly believed that there was something good waiting for her, that this horrible life was not all she was going to have, but maybe a comfortable afterlife to make up for her hardships. He reached out with his toothpick arms and drew the kneeling girl into a hug. "Never lose faith Rayne." He said, his tiny arms wrapped tightly around her. After a few moments of silence, he released her. "It is starting to snow heavier, go back inside."
"What about you?" She liked the boy, and decided that if it were possible that humans could become angels when they died, that he would make a very good angel. Maybe he could help watch over her sister, because she did not think he would last the night if he stayed outside. He looked like the very image of death, except he was smiling, and had this kind of inner peace that most people would think belonged only in a coffin.
"Like I said, there are other people who need the room in the shelter more. Do not worry about me, Rayne." He brightened his smile even more, and Rayne somehow felt this wonderful feeling inside of her. For a moment, her mind wandered and she wondered if that was what love felt like.
"Adieu, Rayne." He said, closing his eyes. Rayne felt her heart quicken its pace with fear that he had died, but the laboured rise and fall of his little chest indicated that he was still alive.
"Sleep well, Angel." She whispered, reaching out to brush away some of his nearly matted hair, as he had done himself earlier. Then she stood and walked back up the stairs to the shelter, amazed at how much snow had fallen since she had first left to go get Hope's medicine. She shook the snow off herself again, and stepped into the cold, yet warmer than the outside, shelter. Rayne spotted her mother and rushed up to her, then handed the medicine to her.
As the girl sat down on her bed, she wondered why she had called the boy 'Angel', and then decided that it was because she thought that he seemed rather angel-like, despite how gaunt his face was, and how emaciated he looked in general. The black haired boy had seemed like... a young, starving angel or something, and she had this odd mental picture of the boy still sitting by the wall, but with a beautiful pair of white wings sprouting from his back, and a golden halo above his head. The really pretty thing about the mental image was the white, innocent glow that surrounded him as snow continued to fall everywhere except on him.
He was definitely going to be an angel when he died, she decided as she curled up onto her part of the tiny bed she shared with her mother and sister. She pulled her own dirty quilt over her body and closed her brown eyes, letting her mind drift into the near incoherence of sleep. Right before she fell into a complete sleep, a question popped into her mind before fading, unanswered. How had he known her name?
Rayne never saw that boy again, yet his image haunted her mind for the short period of time that she continued to live. Her flu wrecked havoc on her body, and just three short days after her strange encounter, her situation grew so bad that she could not even get out of bed without help. Her mother devoted as much attention as she could spare to her dying daughter, but there was always Hope to think about, and at times Rayne would actually shoo her mother away to go tend to the little girl.
It was a Sunday morning, and Rayne woke up, amazed to find herself alive a whole two weeks after her condition had worsened so much. She pulled herself into a sitting position, then pulled the picture of Hope sitting on Santa Claus's lap off the wall. The then four year old looked so happy with her cute, light brown hair and bright green eyes. Rayne lay back down, clutching the picture of Hope to her chest.
And she did something not many people in her situation would have done. She smiled, released her grasp on the picture, focused on that image of the boy she had met that day as an angel, and let go of her hold onto life. By staying alive, she was wasting her mother's time. Even though her mother loved her, she knew it was time to die. She had long understood that her life was not hers to be happy with, but hers to make others happy with.
And at that moment, Rayne knew. That boy was her Guardian Angel. He had watched over her for the eleven and a half years of her life. He had helped her hold on just long enough to see her sister's fifth birthday pass by, a wonderfully happy day that her family had managed to share. And he had lessened the pain in her life by sharing it, and by taking even more than half of it away from her, not minding that it reduced him to the dying boy that she had seen that night.
And that was when Rayne died. In vain, for Hope too grew sicker by the day and died just three weeks later from a combination of influenza and pneumonia. Yet at least Rayne had never lost faith, and that had made her life worth living.