Authors: Christa J. Kinde
Tags: #Retail, #Ages 11 & Up
Milo found an open row, and Prissie waved Koji in first so she wouldn’t have to sit right next to the mailman. She might have forgiven him for being an angel, but that didn’t mean she was ready for that much closeness.
“He excels at song,” Koji continued.
“And Kester doesn’t?” asked Prissie.
The boy solemnly answered, “Kester is
very good at what he does.”
“But they’re partners? Doesn’t that mean they do the same thing?”
two people exactly the same?” Milo challenged.
“I think it sounds crazy — putting together two people who don’t match.”
Koji shook his head. “It is a
match; they will learn from each other.”
“Sharp eyes, Observer,” Milo agreed with a wink.
Prissie straightened. “That’s right! If you’re a Messenger, and Koji is an Observer, what are they?”
“Worshipers,” Milo answered, gesturing to the two angels on the stage. “That’s about as close to harps and halos as you’re going to get.”
Prissie couldn’t help feeling disappointed that heaven was so lax where dress code was concerned. “All that’s missing is the wings,” she replied with a touch of sarcasm.
Milo simply smiled and shrugged.
Tad and Neil turned up moments before the singing began and slid into the seats next to their sister. One of Momma’s cardinal rules was that the family sit together, but Prissie had assumed her older brothers would wriggle out of the obligation since their parents weren’t there.
“Okay there, Priss?” Tad inquired.
Before she could answer, Baird stepped up to the microphone and invited everyone to stand as he struck the first chords of a chorus she’d never heard before. Not wanting to stand out, she mouthed the words, but was quickly distracted by Koji and Milo, who were harmonizing.
Her older brother nudged her with an elbow, and she glanced up into Tad’s expectant face and realized he was still waiting for her answer. Brows lifted over serious gray eyes, and Prissie responded with a small but honest smile. Even in the midst of unfamiliar territory, her family gave her a sense of belonging. “I’m fine.”
Afterward, Tad and Neil pitched in stacking chairs, so Prissie lingered near the stage. Koji wanted to spend some time with his new roommate, so he was looking on as Beau finished up
his responsibilities at the sound booth. However, both Milo and Baird were surrounded by enthusiastic people, and she didn’t want to meet anyone new. Hanging back and trying not to make eye contact, she nearly bumped into Kester, who stood just behind her with hands in his pockets. “They are always very busy,” he commented.
“No one realizes they’re angels,” Prissie pointed out.
Kester considered that for a moment, then inclined his head. “True.”
Perhaps because he was mostly a stranger, she found it easier to ask, “Why are you pretending to be people?”
Again, Kester took his time, dark eyes searching her upturned face. “Deception is not our goal,” he replied. “In the end, we are servants, here because this is where we have been told to be.”
“That’s the only reason?”
“No one can fathom God’s purposes, but like you, we can trust and obey.”
“I guess,” Prissie mumbled uncomfortably, then changed the subject. “You played a violin; it was really nice.”
Kester glanced at the stand where the instrument still rested, then beckoned for her to follow as he strolled up the steps onto the stage. She followed, sneaking a peek at the people still milling in the gymnasium to see if anyone was watching. “Sit here, Prissie,” urged the angel, courteously pulling a chair around.
With the rest of the room at her back, she was able to give Kester her full attention. “Are all of these yours?” she asked, staring at the neat row of black cases.
“They are,” he replied as he took up his violin. “Baird
frequently ‘mixes things up’ at the last minute. It is difficult to anticipate his requirements, so I bring a selection.”
Prissie could only guess the contents of three of the cases by their shapes. “How many instruments do you play?” she inquired curiously.
“Most of them,” he replied as he slipped the violin into its case.
She frowned in confusion. “You brought instruments you can’t play?”
Kester shook his head. “My apologies. I was unclear. It is characteristic for Worshipers to rely on their voices; we are creatures of song. However, instruments fascinate me, so I have learned how to play each one.”
“Most,” he corrected. Choosing a small recorder, he sat across from her; deft fingers caressed the polished wood of the pipe before taking position over the holes. He raised it to his lips and a mellow tune, sweet in its simplicity, brought a smile to Prissie’s face, and when he finished, she commented, “It’s like a lullaby.” Kester dipped his head and folded his hands around the instrument, waiting. His relaxed posture and calm gaze set her at ease, and Prissie gave in to an impulse to trust. “May I ask questions?”
“You may. I will answer if I can.”
Little things had been bothering her, and she blurted out the first that came to mind. “How come you’re different ages?”
“Because we are,” he replied simply. “Some members of our group recall time’s beginnings, but most of us were brought into existence since then. Those of us who spend time here are subject to its passage.”
“You and Baird look about the same age,” she observed. “Shouldn’t mentors be older than their apprentices?”
“They should, and he is,” Kester replied. “In truth, Baird is older than Harken.”
Prissie’s eyes widened. “But Mr. Mercer is old!”
“To fit in, Harken ages at the same rate as those around him. It is the same for Milo, Koji, Baird, and myself.”
“But he’s not really old?”
“Not in the sense you mean.”
“Don’t angels get old?”
“We grow and mature, but differently than you. Koji has not progressed far beyond newly formed, so he is a fair representative of where we begin.”
“Does that mean Harken looks different when he’s not pretending to be human?”
“Not so much; you would know him immediately,” Kester assured.
“Then you look different, too?” she badgered.
“Somewhat,” he patiently answered. “Do not rely too heavily on appearances. They are not the most important consideration.”
Prissie wasn’t sure how to respond, but Kester smoothly filled the awkward silence with activity. Holding up a finger to request patience, he laid aside the recorder and chose one of his other cases. As he flipped open the latches, he met her gaze and announced, “You will probably like this, Prissie.” A new instrument was brought to light, and the angel returned to his seat, settling it across his lap.
“Is that a
harp?” she gasped.
“A small one, but yes,” he replied, amusement lurking in his dark eyes.
“Can you play?”
“I can,” Kester assured as his fingers wandered aimlessly across the strings, plucking out a soft cascade.
you play something?” she rephrased. “Please?” With enviable ease, he returned to the tune he’d played earlier, weaving the gentle melody through an accompaniment of open chords. Awed, Prissie whispered, “It’s like you’re a
“Just like,” calmly agreed Kester.
houldn’t we be
for some quiet?”
“The sudden change is suspicious. Why would the enemy retreat?”
“Could they have found it?”
“Ephron knew, didn’t he?”
More questions than answers were brought before the group gathered in the sanctuary behind the blue door. Finally, a voice filled with gentle authority cut across the rest. “What do you think, Myron?”
As every eye swung in his direction, the red haired Worshiper sighed. “How many times do I have to tell you that you can call me
“At least once more,” his captain replied, as his fingers slid over each facet of the stone set into the pommel of his sword.
“Let me ask you this, then,” Baird inquired. “Why would you want
thoughts? I’m no tactician.”
“You do not fight, but your eyes have seen many battles. I would like your perspective.”
“Are you calling me
?” the redhead asked with a mischievous smile.
“Are you avoiding my question, Myron?”
The Worshiper’s hazel eyes grew unusually solemn, and he turned his gaze toward the shifting lights that formed their sky. “In my humble opinion, this is the lull before the storm. All of hell is about to break loose.”
The following afternoon, Prissie begged a ride into town with Grandma Nell, who had errands to run. “Do you have your purse?” her grandmother quizzed.
“Yes,” Prissie sighed.
“Make sure to show Koji the landmarks around town,” Grandma continued.
“Thank you for the ride, ma’am,” Koji offered once he’d exited the mini-van.
“So polite,” Grandma beamed. “Stay together, and when you’re done, wait for me over at the bakery.”
“Yes, Grandma,” Prissie dutifully answered. “We’ll be fine.”
With a wave, Nell pulled away from the curb, and Koji turned expectantly to her. “Where are we going?”
“Here and there,” she replied vaguely, striking off along the sidewalk.
He hurried to catch up. “What do you intend to do?”
“My best friend’s birthday party is this Saturday, and I need a gift to take.”
“You have not mentioned a best friend before.”
“I’ve known Margery since preschool,” Prissie explained. “She and I have always been friends.”
“Then the search for her gift must be a matter of great importance. May I help?”
big a deal,” she protested. “And I don’t need any help, but I’ll show you around West Edinton when I’m done.”
“I know all about your town,” Koji declared matter-of-factly. “However, you could show me the parts you like best.”
She looked at him blankly. “What for?”
“I know many things about you from observing,” the young angel remarked. “I would like to hear firsthand what matters to you.”
Prissie looked around uncertainly, then pointed at the town hall. “Other than Dad’s bakery, my favorite place in town is the gazebo outside the library.”
Koji’s eyes sparkled with interest. “Why?” he inquired.
,” she replied with a huff. “Come on, we’ll start over here.”
She led the way to a card store that doubled as a gift shop. The place smelled like soap and candles, and there were decorative flags and windsocks hanging in the front windows. Prissie breezed past the spinners of stationary and racks of cards without a second glance, preferring to wander up and down the aisles of knickknacks. After a few minutes, she arrived in front of a glass case filled with figurines and pursed her lips in concentration. “One of these would probably be good.”
“What are those?”
“Angels, obviously,” she replied. “Margery has collected them since she was a baby because her middle name is Angel.”
“How strange,” Koji murmured, gazing intently into the case.
“I like these,” Prissie remarked, pointing to a set of four small statues depicting the seasons. Winter’s angel wore fur-trimmed robes and a crown of snowflakes; summer’s was dressed in a sleeveless dress and garlanded in daisies. “It’s too bad Margery wasn’t born in spring because I like that one best. Pink is the prettiest by far! Don’t you think so?” She turned to Koji, patiently waiting for his agreement.
“I have noticed your preference for the color,” he replied carefully.
“What?” she demanded. “Do you have a problem with these?”
“There are several …
“Really?” Prissie eyed the figurines critically. “I think they’re very flattering.”
Koji studied the lineup of slender, serene-faced angels. “These are all
no female angels,” he stated emphatically.
“None?” she asked, stunned.
“And feathers,” he noted, sounding mystified.
“Obviously,” she retorted. “They’re
He gazed at her, dark eyes solemn. “Angels are not birds.”
“Are you saying angels don’t have wings?”
“No,” he replied patiently. “Many angels
, but they are not like these.”
Prissie stooped to peer at the next shelf down in the case,
which held a large selection of fairies. “What about these?” she asked. The brightly colored figurines had butterfly wings, dragonfly wings, and a few in the back had bat-like dragon wings. “At least they have pointed ears, right?”
Koji shook his head in consternation. “I will have to ask Shimron about this. It makes sense since no one ever remembers clearly … except in dreams.”
“Do you have a halo?”
He tilted his head to one side, considering one statue’s tiny angelic accessory. “I do not wear a ring of light over my head, but I can become too bright for you to bear. Perhaps that is what the sculptor wished to signify?”
“I can bear you just fine,” Prissie countered, upset that her traditional gift for Margery was being criticized.
“Also, they are unarmed.”
“Why would they need weapons?” she scoffed. “
He glanced over his shoulder and scanned the store, pausing at various points as if he was seeing something she couldn’t. “Observers are not, but any angel is in danger when they are in this world.”
“Danger? Why?” Prissie exclaimed, looking around the quaint little shop nervously.
“Do you not know?” Koji inquired softly. “We are at war.”
A creeping sense of dread latched onto her heart. “With whom?”
“Fallen angels, as in
?” she asked, her blue eyes widening.
“Protectors and Guardians do most of the fighting,” he replied matter-of-factly. “Messengers are at the greatest
risk, for the Fallen often target them. Observers must take great care, for the enemy is merciless to any who are caught unawares. That is part of the reason we are in teams. Those who fight protect those who do not.”
“Just as a precaution, though, right?” Prissie asserted. “There can’t be many bad angels in West Edinton.”
Koji’s brows knit. “Why would you believe such a thing?”
“This is just a quiet little town. I’ll bet your ‘Fallen’ are much more interested in big cities.”
“Prissie,” he said in a low voice. “The Observer who was assigned to this team before me, Shimron’s previous apprentice—the Fallen
Prissie’s mouth felt suddenly dry and she swallowed hard. “What happens to angels when they’re captured?” she whispered.
“I do not know; I have never been taken before,” Koji replied. “But those who have been returned bear terrible scars.”
She glanced uncomfortably at the case filled with lovely winged women and backed away. “I guess I’ll look for something else.”
Koji carelessly swung his feet as he gazed up and down Main Street, but Prissie crossed her ankles. “When I was really little, Momma told me that if we ever got separated while we were in town, I should run to this gazebo and wait for her. She would come and find me.” Prissie peered up at the neat octagonal pattern of the rafters overhead. “Good things have always happened to me here.”
“Like what?” prompted Koji.
“One day when Momma was standing in line for a prescription at the pharmacy, she let me come here to wait for her. I hadn’t been here very long when Milo showed up. He was new in town, and since he was a stranger, I wasn’t sure if I should talk to him. But he was wearing his postman’s uniform, so I guessed he was safe.”
“He asked if I was lost, and I told him that was impossible since this is my town.” She shrugged a little, then continued, “Momma found us talking and invited him over for dinner. That night, Daddy invited him to our church, and he’s been there ever since.”
A pleased smile brightened Koji’s face. “This is where you first met Milo!”
She nodded and focused on a squirrel dashing across the lawn, wishing she could stop the color rising in her cheeks. Already, she regretted sharing such a precious memory. Preferring to let Koji do the talking, she asked, “Are angels attracted to this spot?”
Pulling up his legs so he could rest his chin on his knees, Koji said, “It
very pleasant, but unless an angel is a Caretaker, places do not matter so much. We are drawn to lasting things rather than passing things.”
She looked at the town hall. Its gray stone came from a nearby quarry, and its bell tower was a local landmark. Up until the Presbyterian church was built on the opposite end of Main Street, it had been the tallest structure in the area. “This is the oldest building in town; it’s lasted more than a hundred and fifty years.”
“No,” he replied dismissively. “The things of this world
will not last. We are more interested in that which endures — promises, relationships, but mostly souls. If an angel met you in this place, it was because they wanted to talk to
That was a very nice thought, and Prissie was pleased. Wanting to extend a favor, she offered, “Is there anything you want to look at in town.”
“I would like to taste things,” Koji replied, sounding embarrassed about the admission. “I have seen many kinds of food, but until now, I was unable to eat them.”
Prissie thought back over the last few evenings. She’d noticed the would-be exchange student eating with careful concentration, but at the time, she thought he’d been worried about his table manners. It had never occurred to her that Koji was tasting foods for the first time. Then an idea struck her. “Does that mean that the first food you ever ate …?”
“Your pie,” he proudly filled in. “I shall never forget how it tasted.”
She gave him a hard look, but Koji wasn’t teasing. For better or for worse, her clumsy pie had been immortalized because it held a place in the memory of a boy who would live forever. Prissie wasn’t sure if she should feel humbled or humiliated. “Come on, let’s go,” she sighed. “The corner store has groceries.”
Prissie knew their market forward and backward because it wasn’t very big, and she’d been shopping there since she was small enough to ride on the bottom rack of their tiny carts. However, shopping there with Koji proved to be a fascinating experience. Seeing things through his eyes made her look at them a little differently.
Koji might have known all about the history of her hometown, but apparently, grocery stores had never been a priority in the lessons he received from his mentor. Once inside, the young angel craned his neck like a tourist, trying to take in everything at once.
With a glance around to make sure no one was staring at his odd behavior, Prissie herded Koji toward the produce section. “What looks good?”
“I am not sure.”
Together, they walked up and down the aisles, and to Prissie’s amazement, he was familiar with all the fruits and vegetables — at least by name. He could also name all the fish laid out on ice in the meat department’s glass-fronted case. “Have you seen these before?” she asked, pointing to a row of speckled trout.
“No,” he admitted.
“Then, how do you
this stuff?” she demanded.
“I am not sure; I just know,” he replied with a shrug.
Prissie turned down one of the central aisles, and Koji slowed to a stop in front of neat rows of soup cans. Dark eyes flickered from label to label, engrossed in the different varieties. “Oh, those,” she remarked scornfully. “Grandma would probably make any kind you want if we ask her, and it’ll taste
“You do not approve of … chicken and stars?” he asked wistfully.
With a long-suffering sigh, Prissie took on the role of resident expert and tour guide. “We live on a farm, and Momma and Grandma put stuff up, so we hardly
buy canned food.”
“Harken keeps canned food in his kitchen, though it
is mostly for show,” Koji mused aloud. “What would you suggest?”
Prissie wandered up and down, dismissing nearly everything she saw. It didn’t seem right to feed an angel stuff like canned ravioli or cellophane-wrapped sponge cakes. She’d been raised on
food, and prepackaged foodstuffs made her cringe. Finally, she grumbled, “I
we wait until we get to Dad’s bakery. But until then, let’s grab something to drink and one snack each — my treat.”
“Thank you!” he murmured appreciatively.
They circled the store again while Koji carefully considered all of his options, even the ones she had advised against. Finally, they ended up back in the produce department, where he waffled between a starfruit and a kiwi. “Which do you like better?” he asked.
“I’m not sure,” she confessed. “I’ve never tasted starfruit.”
That sealed the deal for him. “We can share!” he declared, looking very pleased.
Next, Prissie led him to the back corner of the store, a landmark of sorts for every kid in West Edinton. Small baskets were arranged along a series of narrow shelves under an old-fashioned looking sign that declared, Penny Candy. There were jawbreakers, taffy, bubble gum, caramels, and a vast assortment of hard candies. “Dad says that when he was a little boy, all the candy really was a penny. It’s a nickel now, but we still call it ‘penny candy.’ “ Wondering if angels were allowed to eat junk food, she ventured, “Do you like sweets?”