We don’t always wear wings.

As a tiny baby when she had been put in her crib, she would watch the colored lights dancing in front of her. As she grew stronger, she reached out, giggling and trying to catch them. There was a mobile above the cot, wooden farm animals painted in primary colors, and her parents would smile and ask her if she was trying to catch the little piggy wigs?

Grace was not interested in the wooden pigs though, she was trying to bring the lights back to her heart. She remembered them, although she had no concept from where.

She was a good baby, which meant that she brought pleasure to her parents and did not fuss, or cry much. An affectionate child, she would beam big, gummy smiles at everyone. Even people who were unimpressed by babies, who usually turned down requests to hold friend’s children, they all loved Grace.

When she was put in her cot at bedtime she would invariably look to the lights and clap once she had learned how to do so, and smile. As she grew the lights started to coalesce into one beautiful rainbow colored column, and this in its turn became a small, perfectly formed figure, neither male nor female, radiating love.

Grace fancied that she knew this person. As she grew in comprehension, she was able to distinguish him? her? from her parents and wider family; meanwhile her parents kept the mobile and placed it next to her first real bed because she loved it so much.

Upon developing speech, she did not talk of this figure, assuming everyone could see it as clearly as herself, but her parents heard her chattering over the baby monitor sometimes. Occasionally it sounded as though she was being answered by somebody, but although they always checked, Grace would be lying in her bed, and of course there was nobody else there. Eventually, they decided that the baby monitor was picking up sounds wirelessly, from neighbouring houses.

Neither would admit it to the other, but both were relieved when Grace became old enough that they no longer needed to use the monitor.

During her second birthday party Grace grew unexpectedly cross when her daddy sat down next to her. She pushed him away, and said that he was squashing Coco. Who was Coco, her parents wondered? Grace told them that he was her friend.

As her vocabulary increased she talked about Coco more frequently, referring to Coco sometimes as he, sometimes as she. Her parents got used to their daughter having an imaginary friend, and assumed that she did not yet understand gender, but the truth was that sometimes Coco looked like a little girl, sometimes a beautiful man. Whichever form Coco took however, Grace always knew who it was.

As Grace grew older and started school, she realised that chatting to Coco, and about Coco, made other people uncomfortable. They would often laugh at her, so she stopped referring to her friend, but that did not mean that they stopped communication. When nobody was around, Grace and Coco talked nonstop. Grace wanted to know why other people were rude, but Coco explained that not everyone could see angels.

“Are you an angel then? ” Grace asked Coco who at that moment was showing as a small girl.

“Of course, Silly; I’m your guardian angel” laughed Coco, and the two continued coloring in complex patterns in a book.

Grace asked why, if Coco was an angel, she did not have wings and was told that angels did not always wear wings, that they did not necessarily need them in this dimension. However Coco stood up and his outline wavered and changed.

Grace watched in awe as Coco became a shimmering mass of light and beauty, vaguely human in shape, and with an enormous pair of wings beating very gently as the angel hovered a foot from the floor. Grace’s eyes filled with tears of happiness, her heart felt unable to process the enormity of love, and Coco turned back into a form she could more easily comprehend, the little girl who played with dolls.

On her seventh birthday Grace had a party. Several of her friends had been invited and her parents had hired a magician. As she and her friends sat down to watch, she clapped with the same pleasure as her friends as balloons were twisted into various animal shapes, lots of clever tricks were performed and the climax was the magician taking off his tall black hat, and asking Grace to check inside.

Putting her hand into the hat, she felt something soft and warm, and withdrew her hand uncertainly. Asking the magician to lift it out, he produced the sweetest brown and white baby rabbit and handed it to the birthday girl. Grace was overjoyed with her new pet and could barely wait for her friends to go home so that she could share her joy with Coco. This however was short lived.

Coco did not appear until Grace went to bed, and her bunny was in a new hutch with hay and chopped vegetables to eat, a bowl of water and a mound of straw in a separate bunny bedroom.

Coco explained to Grace that she would not be seeing him regularly now, not even frequently, though he would always be around to protect her. When she did see him, she might not recognise him unless she kept her heart always open. No matter what life threw at her, he told her, the answer was always love.

Of course Grace did not understand and begged her friend to stay just a little longer. Coco said there was other work for angels, but she must never be afraid, and to remember that angels did not always have wings.

They lay together on the bed, one little girl cuddling another, until Grace finally stopped sobbing and fell asleep. Coco kissed her gently and simply disappeared.

She was subdued the next morning, the apparent loss of her friend heavy on her heart, but at least she had her new friend the rabbit, who with a childs logic she called Squirrel.

She and Squirrel spent all of her free time together, the rabbit thrived and learned to come when called, to play games, to sit quietly next to Grace when she was otherwise busy. Grace did not forget about Coco; she would remember the angel throughout her long life, but Squirrel took much of the ache from her heart, and she accepted her new life without her first friend.

When Grace was eleven years old, just a few weeks after her birthday, she was stroking Squirrel who sat quietly in her lap. He was quieter than usual, seemed to be uninterested in the little treats which she offered him. Running her fingers gently over his soft fur, she realised that something was not right, and as a sudden wave of fear clutched her heart, Coco suddenly appeared in front of her.

The joy at seeing her friend did not remove the anxiety about the warm, soft body in her lap. Coco hugged her and Squirrel before explaining that he had come to take the rabbit, that it was time.

Grace cried out that Squirrel could not go, that since Coco had left her, she needed Squirrel. Coco told her gently that he had never left her, that he had explained that she would not see him but that he would always be there looking over her. She asked him to leave Squirrel anyway.

Coco told her that it was her choice, but that her rabbit was sick and in pain. Soon the pain would become intolerable for the little animal but he would linger for a couple of weeks yet, hating what his life had become until he managed to leave it behind.

“But can’t you help?” Grace begged.

“That’s why I’m here” Coco replied, and asked if she remembered the advice he had given her.

“Love is the answer to everything” Grace said.

She sat and looked at Squirrel, he nuzzled her finger and she handed him carefully to Coco, charging the angel to take him straight to Heaven. Coco gave her a brilliant smile as he lifted Squirrel from her and turned into the shimmering light filled being which he had shown her long ago.

Grace’s mother came to see why her daughter had shouted out, to find her holding the still warm body of her rabbit, tears running down her face though she was smiling at the same time.

Her parents held a funeral ceremony for Squirrel. Grace thought it unnecessary, she knew that Squirrel was gone and in Heaven but realised that her parents were trying to help her so went along with it. As her daddy filled the sad little grave with soil and Grace planted a sunflower above it, she saw a squirrel in the tree at the bottom of the garden, watching her. She remembered Coco telling her that angels don’t always wear wings, and blew a kiss to the squirrel who seemed pleased, if that was possible.

Grace was offered another baby bunny, but politely turned it down. Her parents told her that it would help her to deal with losing Squirrel, but she told them she was fine, that she would see Squirrel again eventually.

Grace grew older, went to college where she fell in love then fell out of love. She experienced heartbreak, and she broke the hearts of several others. Her life was unexceptional but she was mostly content. She married at thirty years old, and in time had two children, a son first then a daughter, and thought that life could not get any better. Good things happened and sometimes unpleasant things, but Grace was always steadfast in her belief that the good was to be enjoyed while the uncomfortable should be endured and learned from until it passed.

Her children grew and her son married, her daughter got married a year later. She welcomed their respective spouses into the family and life trundled on.

The day came when Grace went to the doctor because she was experiencing frequent dizziness and odd fainting fits. After many tests the doctor sat down with her, and with a serious face, told her that her time on earth was limited.

Grace smiled, told her not to look so gloomy, that everyone had limited time. Thinking that Grace had not understood, the oncologist said gently that she had months at best, possibly only weeks, and that although Grace could have pain relief, nothing could be done to change the final outcome.

Grace leaned over, smiling as she patted the doctor’s hand and told her not to worry, that everything was as it should be. She then thanked the doctor for her time and help and got up and went home.

It was tricky letting her family know, they were very close, but as everyone must do in such circumstances she did her best. There were tears of course, and disbelief, but ultimately people came to terms with things.

Reality started to become very thin for Grace, and three weeks later her son and his husband turned up and told Grace that the adoptive process which they had been going through was finally bearing fruit, that she was going to become a grandmother. She saw coloured lights dancing around her son in law, and hugged the couple, telling them how happy she was and that although she was leaving, that she would always, always be watching out for them.

Her family made sure that there was always somebody with her and on what would be her final day on this earth, she and her daughter were sitting together enjoying the warmth of the sun coming through the window. Her daughter tucked a blanket around her and pointed in astonishment to where a small, brown and white rabbit sat, looking in through the patio doors.

Grace smiled beatifically. Her daughter asked if she could see the rabbit, but Grace told her that it was an angel, that they did not always have wings.

Her daughter walked over to the rabbit, intending to pick it up and put it in a box until she could find its family. When she turned around at a slight noise, Grace had slipped away. Her daughter briefly saw a flash of light fill the room, felt a wave of love wash over her, then she went and sat with Grace, watching the dancing, colourful lights, until her brother came to see how she and their mother were doing.

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