The travel-tine tile numbed Hallyn’s feet, sending chills up her shins as she scampered down the stairs and toward the back door. Howling wind had awakened her much too early, but surely Mommy wouldn’t mind if she checked on her sand castle. She’d made sure to make it far enough up the beach that it wouldn’t get washed away, but if any rain had accompanied the gusts of cold air, her hard work would be destroyed.
In the mudroom—Mommy called it some fancy name, but it was too hard for Hallyn’s four-year-old tongue to manage—she stuffed her bare feet into her rubber boots, then lifted onto her tippy-toes to yank her rain jacket from the hook that was too high for her to reach. After shoving one arm into a sleeve, she flung open the door and hurried down the stairs. She slipped a couple of times but managed to grab the rail bar and wobble into steadiness again before taking another quick step.
Once she reached the bottom of the nearly endless staircase, she grabbed the flapping half of her jacket and pulled the sleeve over her arm. A shiver scrambled through her body, making her teeth chatter, and little goosebumps speckled her naked legs beneath her silky-feeling nightgown. Scurrying across the sand, Hallyn sent wish-prayers up to Heaven. If her castle were gone, would her sister and daddy be gone for good too?
Thinking about her daddy and big sister made her stumble. Some ice-covered brown grass crunched beneath her palms and knees when she fell. When she got to her feet again, she rubbed the healing scratches on her face. It hadn’t been long since the accident, and mostly her cheek didn’t hurt anymore, but Mommy sure was sad still. Her eyes didn’t sparkle like they used to.
Maybe Hallyn would build another sand castle later today, once Mommy woke up and said they could come out to the beach. Was Hallyn going to be in trouble for coming out here now? She shook her head, though she wasn’t sure the answer would be no, and ran over the top of the hill. A couple of stutter-steps later, she halted, frozen in place with her mouth hanging open.
Shiny ice crystals covered every sand castle taking up space on their private beach. The sun barely peeked up over the water, but it provided enough light to make the castles shimmer in a dazzling way that made Hallyn’s eyes grow as wide as the plates she and Mommy had their dinner on last night.
Pointing with a shaking finger and mumbling the numbers, Hallyn counted each castle. She got all the way up to twenty-two before she heard her name drifting on the breeze that whipped strings of knotted dirty-blonde hair in front of her nose.
“Hallyn!” Mommy’s voice came louder.
Hallyn kept counting. “Twenty-f-free, twenty-f-four, twenty-f-five.” She grinned. Not one was lost.
Suddenly, she found herself scooped up and squeezed too tight.
“Hallyn, don’t you ever go outside without my permission again!” Mommy set Hallyn on her feet, spun her around, and squatted to look into her eyes. “You scared me, sweetie.”
“I’m s-sorry, Mommy. I had t-to s-see if m-my castles were still here.” Hallyn tugged Mommy’s hand and backed up. “Come see. Come and s-see my castles.”
Mommy jerked a little on Hallyn’s hand. “No, Hallyn. You’re shivering. We need to get you back inside and warmed up.”
“Not yet, Mommy, please. Just l-let me l-look at the ice c-castles in the s-sand one more t-time.”
“Ice castles?” Mommy finally looked beyond her little girl. Just like Hallyn’s had, Mommy’s mouth dropped open.
“Aren’t they p-pretty, Mommy?”
Tears instantly sprang from Mommy’s eyes and rolled freely down her face. Was she sad again? Her lips smiled, so maybe she was happy after all. Why were tears leaking out, then?
“What’s wrong, Mommy?”
“Oh my.” Mommy fell to her knees in the sand and gathered Hallyn in her arms, making sure they were both looking out at the ice castles. “They are beautiful, my darling.”
“Do you think Daddy and Marla will like them?”
Mommy sucked in a noisy breath that shook a little. Then, she tightened her arms around Hallyn, snuggling her closer. “Do you see how the ice crystals from the sea spray have kept the sand castles from falling apart in the wind?”
Hallyn nodded her head. “Just like w-when God wrapped His arms around me in the c-car accident, right, Mommy?”
A loud sniff came from behind her. “That’s right.”
Hallyn reached up over Mommy’s arm and rubbed her scratches again. When she lowered her hand, she twisted around to look into Mommy’s eyes. “But He didn’t do th-that for Daddy and M-Marla, did He?”
Mommy’s eyelids squeezed closed, and more teardrops poked out.
“They aren’t c-coming home, are th-they?”
A quick swipe of her fingertips streaked the moisture across Mommy’s cheek. “No, sweetie. They aren’t. God took them to their eternal home. Remember how I told you that Jesus was preparing forever homes for us to live in after we die?”
“Uh-huh.” Hallyn nodded her head hard and looked back out at the ice castles resting in the sand. She scrunched up her nose as she thought just as hard about something. “Do you th-think Daddy and M-Marla are l-living in a c-castle l-like these ones, Mommy? They sure are pretty. I think they’d like a p-pretty c-castle to l-live in.”
Mommy kissed Hallyn’s hair a couple of times and then rested her chin on that same spot. “I don’t know what their eternal house looks like, Hallyn, but one day we’ll find out.”
After the rising sun melted the ice from the sand castles—all twenty-five of them; she counted them again—Hallyn and Mommy swung their linked-up hands back and forth as they walked back toward the big house. Mommy’s smile grew bigger, and, much to Hallyn’s surprise, her eyes got really sparkly. That made Hallyn smile too, because maybe there was hope that they could be happy again, even if Daddy and Marla didn’t come home again. Maybe Hallyn wouldn’t even need to build a sand castle every day to try to make Mommy smile again. As Mommy talked about having blueberry pancakes for breakfast with a cup of hot chocolate with the colorful marshmallows Hallyn loved, Hallyn sent a thanks-prayer to God for hugging her safe in the car accident, just like the ice castles in the sand. If He hadn’t done that, Mommy might not have found her happiness again.
* Copyright 2018 by Andrea Renee Cox. All rights reserved. *
Thank You to my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, for granting me the idea for this story by first dropping the title into my head and then flooding my mind with details for a heartwarming little tale. I am also grateful to You for this beautiful ability and passion for writing. Without You, this story and so many others would not live in my computer with hopes of someday finding reader friends.
Thank you to Hannah G., for suggesting this story take place on a winter beach, and to Kellyn R., for suggesting the lead be emotionally distant. God used your suggestions to inspire me. The lead is named for the two of you.
What made this story relatable to you?
What part did you connect with the most?
What do you think will happen next?
Join the conversation!
I love hearing from you.
If this story gets twenty shares, I'll write another!
Tell me in the comment section where you shared it.
March's reading challenge is Movie Madness!