Most people Susanna knew had several uncles and aunts. But not Susanna herself. She had one uncle because Nathaniel was her mom’s only brother, and her dad was an only child.
Nathaniel had kids of his own, but he seemed to realize that with Susanna having no sisters or brothers, she felt lonely sometimes. He and Aunt Ellen brought the cousins over to play on a regular basis. He could have left it at that, but Uncle Nathaniel asked her how she was doing, how she was coping in Portuguese class with that cranky teacher, how her collection of plush unicorns was coming along. He even remembered the names of the unicorns.
One of the things Susanna loved best about Uncle Nathaniel was his way of being honest and frank about things that other adults usually glossed over or thought she was too young to understand. Like when she was five and asked at a family gathering why some newborn babies’ heads are round and others’ are more pointy. He just told her in terms that made sense and didn’t make a big deal out of it.
When he told Susanna he was going to do something, he did it. Last year for her birthday, he had told her he’d find her a unicorn that was bigger than any in her collection. He came through the door at her party with a gigantic package that must have taken two rolls of wrapping paper to cover. Inside, through all the packing peanuts, was a beautiful plush unicorn that outsized her largest one by double. He had come through.
As Susanna’s high school graduation approached, she sent invitations to extended family. She wrote a personal note in Nathaniel and Ellen’s card: “It would make my big day even more special if you can be there!”
Uncle Nathaniel sent her a message on her phone: “Wouldn’t miss your graduation. Nothing in the world can stop me.”
But the world did try to stop him.
Not his manager, but his manager’s manager sent him on a business trip that would last a week—not just out of town, but out of the country. He wouldn’t be home for two or three days after the graduation. When Susanna found out, she bit her lip to fight back tears. What was worse, Nathaniel didn’t even send her a message saying he was sorry.
As she sat in the crowd of graduation candidates, Susanna tried not to think about her uncle and tried instead to focus on the speakers. But she couldn’t help glancing at her family repeatedly. Ellen was there, but Nathaniel wasn’t. She kept imagining him there, but he wasn’t.
And then he was.
Susanna’s jaw dropped. Uncle Nathaniel grinned and waggled his fingers briefly.
When the graduation had ended and she ran to her family, she hugged her parents first and then Nathaniel. “How did you get back in time?” she blurted out.
“I have my ways,” he answered with a wink. “I can finish in a few days what takes other people a week.” He leaned close. “I told you I wouldn’t miss it and the world couldn’t stop me. Did you doubt?”
She couldn’t help but admit it.
“That’s all right,” Nathaniel answered. “I don’t blame you. But I want you to know you can always count on me.”
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