Dark, full clouds blanketed the sky, giving the street a somber personality. It did not help Oscar determine if his sister was feeling okay from his position on the street. Silent phone calls and silent texts were giving him no clues and it seemed as if the only way to get an answer was stop acting like her younger brother, ignore the lack of an invite and go inside.
A couple of heavy knocks with no answer and his concern was starting to turn to fear. No more hesitation, it was time to use the spare key.
"Lexi?" his voice was timid in the doorway, "Hey sis, I'm worried about you. Give me a sign that you're still alive, please."
He surveyed the hallway and kitchen. She was definitely doing stuff but cleaning was apparently at the bottom of her list. Dirty dishes and containers were spread around the table.
"Watching t.v.." Lexi's voice came weakly from the living room.
Lexi was curled up in an array of fluffy, earth toned throws, wearing a t-shirt and yoga pants, and looked like she had been crying. She had a fire burning in the fireplace.
Confused, Oscar asked, "You're still okay with fire?"
"Sure, why wouldn't I be?"
"Lexi, I thought that's why I hadn't heard from you in a week. I thought you were suffering trauma from the fire," Oscar complained.
Lexi looked at him and reacted like it was a memory from far away, "We got out of the fire."
"I know. I'm still amazed that you managed to get all three of Tia's kids out of the building without a scratch. I don't know all of the details, but I remember the firefighters saying that they don't know how you figured out an escape route," Oscar was trying to be supportive, but he wanted answers too. Lexi's mood was dark.
"I didn't do it alone and now, I am finally understanding that I lost something so dear to me years ago," Lexi's eyes began to water again but she held back her cry.
"Lost something? I feel like you gained some incredible intuition or second sight. You found your way out," Oscar praised.
"You don't understand," Lexi closed her eyes trying to search for the explanation, "Do you remember when we were kids and I used to get in trouble for keeping Mr. Pear around for way longer than a child should have an imaginary friend?"
Oscar let out a sigh that was partly a laugh, "Oh, I remember how annoyed Mama got. She was so worried that you were going to lose friends and that people would believe you were crazy."
"Well, I never told you this, but Mr. Pear wasn't his name. I just couldn't say his name properly when I was really little. His name was actually Mr. Pierre."
"Okay? So, what does that matter?" Oscar asked.
"It matters because I didn't make up the name. I heard him say his name," Lexi explained.
Oscar looked down trying to grasp why this was important, "Hmm, you're losing me."
Lexi breathed out, frustrated, "I heard Mr. Pierre talking to me when I was little. The night I was babysitting Tia's kids, I heard voices again."
"You heard Mr. Pierre?"
"No," Lexi took a tone of reverence, "I heard a voice for each child. Alex, Camila, and baby Sofie each had a different person watching out for them. I heard three people telling me what to do as they also kept watch on their chosen child. Now, I don't think Mr. Pierre was an imaginary friend. I think he was so much more. I think he was just like those other three people. And I pushed him away," Lexi began to cry again.
Oscar's confusion and worry came back, "Nah, it must have been stress. You're a smart woman and you figured it out and the voices were just your way of coping."
"Oscar, if you were babysitting the kids and you had to leave the apartment, how would you do it?"
Oscar thought about it a moment and said, "I would keep them close, enter the hallway and go to the left, where the stairs are. I definitely would avoid the elevator during a fire too."
"Great, that makes sense," Lexi agreed, "The voices told me that the stairs were already in flames and it was not possible to get out that way. They had me go right, into an apartment they knew was unlocked and the floor was crumbling. They told me how to climb down with the kids, avoiding hot spots, and then got me to a window where the firefighters could reach us and take each child from me. They got me through a maze that I could have never just guessed my way through, even with the best intuition. It was something else."
Oscar was silent as he observed his sister. He was seeing a massive truth in front of him, his sister's ordeal, her revelation, her love for him and her family, and her feeling of loss. He finally responded, "Your imaginary friend wasn’t imaginary. He was a guardian, like a spirit that looked out for you?”
“Maybe,” Lexi speculated, “I think everyone has one but they don’t hear them. They just feel them, like urges. But I could hear mine and I sent him away.” She looked at him apologetically, “I know I should have answered your messages but it was so painful realizing what I lost.”
Oscar held his arm out to Lexi, “Come here,” he embraced her as he assured her, “You had it once, actually twice with the kids. You might get it back again. Give it time. Whatever happens, I know you are strong enough to get past this.”
Lexi leaned into his hug, “I feel stronger sharing this with you. Thank you for believing me.”
Three days later:
The sunshine and blue skies were too inviting to ignore. Lexi ate lunch at her desk and spent her lunch hour walking briskly through the neighborhood. As she navigated through pedestrians and traffic, she waited for the walk symbol to appear under the traffic lights.
It appeared signaling for her to continue her walk. As she stepped off the curb, a familiar voice rang through her head, “Step back!”
Lexi complied and was greeted by a black flatbed truck running the red light and speeding in front of her. Lexi struggled to catch her breath, realizing how close she had come to getting hit.
Without thinking about who she was talking to, she beamed, “You saved me.”
“Hello Lexi, I missed you.”