ST. PETERSBURG — "Make sure you're home before dark," Berae Savage told her daughter.
The little girl with hazelnut-colored hair streaked with wheat blonde highlights said she would.
Sonia Savage turned 11 on Thursday. On Friday her best friend, Devin, a boy who looked for any reason to be around her, was going to spend the night at her home on Lincoln Circle N. Before the sleepover, the two planned to visit another friend who lives across First Street N.
When Devin arrived, Sonia hugged and kissed her mother and the two set out — Devin on his bike, Sonia on a scooter.
Around 6 p.m., the three friends turned toward Sonia's home, hurrying to beat the sunset. As they neared First Street, Devin halted before crossing the four-lane road.
"Sonia, stop!" he shouted.
But Sonia, who has the words "Never Stop Exploring" above her bed, charged forward.
"I saw the truck," Devin said. "I guess she didn't."
• • •
"A tomboy in a skirt," is how Berae Savage, 47, described Sonia. She was on the gymnastics team at Shore Acres Elementary School. Sometimes she caught lizards. She'd let them bite down on her ear and she'd feign a sassy sway with her wriggling "earrings." She collected injured animals, nursed them to health. She so loved the outdoors that the most effective punishment was threatening to keep her inside.
Savage, her fiance, Bobby Reichold, 42, and four kids lived in the home, but it seemed like they had many more, what with the four dogs, three cats, a rabbit and a chameleon. Sonia had pleaded for two years for that chameleon. It was her birthday gift this year and she showed it off to the neighborhood.
After Sonia left with Devin on Friday, Savage napped on the couch because she'd been feeling faint. She woke to Devin's screams.
"Sonia got hit," he yelled.
Savage sprinted beside the boy on his bike, past seven houses, to where her daughter lay face down in the street.
A man was crouched beside Sonia — farther down, a pickup truck had stopped in the middle of the road. Savage's gut clenched at the sight of her girl — one arm palm up, another tucked beneath her body, her legs bent more times than she had joints. Savage said she stroked her daughter's head and could hear her struggling to breathe.
The ambulance ride seemed to last hours as paramedics slid tubes into Sonia's throat. And even though her fiance assured her everything would be okay, Savage knew it would not.
• • •
Curled up on the couch Saturday afternoon, Savage chased one cigarette with another.
Her daughter's birthday party was supposed to be today. Sonia had requested a dunking booth. When the dunking booth operators called Saturday to confirm the delivery, Savage told them to bring it anyway. Today they will celebrate her daughter's birthday. At the funeral next Saturday, they will mourn.