Authors: Christa J. Kinde
Tags: #Retail, #Ages 11 & Up
done it,” Milo sighed. Propping his chin on his fist he chided, “My, what big ears you have.”
Koji started and guiltily pulled the hair back forward. “Sorry,” he mumbled before peeking at Prissie out of the corner of his eye. “Do not be afraid?” he asked, sounding more than a little uncertain.
“Are you supposed to be some kind of elf or something?” she demanded.
He quickly shook his head, then looked helplessly at Milo. “What should I do?” he asked in a small voice.
“That’s a very good question.” The mailman ran a hand over close-cropped blond curls. “Well, these things don’t happen without a reason,” he said with determined cheerfulness.
“That is so,” Koji agreed.
Prissie looked between them. “Do you
“We do,” Milo said with a small smile.
“This doesn’t make any sense,” she muttered, hopping down from the fence and approaching the mailman. “What’s
going on?” she demanded, a spark of temper hiding her underlying nervousness.
Milo turned off the engine and unfolded his lean frame from the parked car. Gesturing reassuringly, he said, “I can explain, but I think it’s best if we have a little chat with Harken. He’ll know what to say.”
“The gentleman who owns the used bookstore on Main Street,” Milo calmly replied.
“I know Mr. Mercer,” she acknowledged hesitantly. “He’s nice.”
For several moments, lines of concentration creased Milo’s forehead, and then he asked, “Miss Priscilla, is your mother home?”
“She’s in the garden,” Prissie said, nodding in the direction of the house.
“If I can arrange things, will you come with us into town?” Milo asked.
Prissie’s heart did a little flip. Yes, it would be nice to find out why Koji looked like he’d wandered away from a film crew, but what
mattered was the chance to go somewhere with Milo. “Sure!” she replied, smiling brightly.
Milo looked somewhat taken aback, but he nodded and said, “As it happens, I have a package to deliver. If you’ll lead the way, I’ll do so personally!”
“Perfect!” Prissie exclaimed.
“Providential,” the mailman corrected, leaning over to collect his final delivery of the day from inside the car. Pocketing his keys, he gestured for her to precede him, and once they were on their way up the long drive, he asked, “Will you do me a favor, Miss Priscilla?”
“Stay with Koji, and let me do all the talking.”
“That’s fine,” she agreed, fairly bursting with excitement. Momma just
to say yes!
Naomi Pomeroy was on her knees in the vegetable garden that she and Grandma Nell fussed over every summer. At Milo’s friendly hail, she stood and dusted off her pants, but before she could return the greeting, two boys exploded from around the side of the house.
” hollered the eight-year-old, who veered in order to barrel into the mailman.
Milo taught the third and fourth grade boys at the same church the Pomeroys attended, and Prissie’s younger brother was one of the mischief-makers who kept him on his toes come Sundays. “Hey there, Zeke!” laughed Milo, roughing up the boy’s unruly blond mop. In a twinkling, Zeke clambered up onto the mailman’s back, while the youngest member of the Pomeroy family wrapped himself around his leg. “And it’s young master Jude!” A third boy ambled over much more slowly, but no less eagerly. A few years had passed since Beau had been in Milo’s class, but the brown-haired teen grinned self-consciously when the mailman mussed up his hair as well. “How’ve you been?”
“Good,” Beau replied with a shrug. “You?”
“Never a dull moment!”
Naomi chided. “Give Mr. Leggett some room to breathe.”
“It’s no problem, ma’am,” the mailman assured. “Though you may want to rescue this package.” He extended the day’s batch of mail, which he’d cradled protectively against his chest. “It’d be a shame for it to travel all the way from Portugal only to be thwarted on your very doorstep.”
Prissie’s mother accepted the small box and its accompanying stack of envelopes and flyers. “Oh! It’s from Ida!” she exclaimed, smiling with pleasure.
“Is it for all of us or just Prissie again?” asked six-year-old Jude.
“This one is for your grandpa and grandma,” Naomi announced. Her energetic young son was still draped over Milo’s shoulders, and she waved the box temptingly in front of Zeke’s nose. “Would you like to take it to Grandma Nell?”
“I dunno,” he replied reluctantly, tightening his grip on his teacher, half-throttling the man.
“I’ll do it!” volunteered Jude eagerly.
“No! Me!” Zeke exclaimed.
Prissie looked on with a mixture of envy and embarrassment as her brothers vied for Milo’s attention. She was a little surprised that no one had commented on Koji’s presence yet. Normally, Zeke would have asked a dozen barely polite questions by now, and Jude wasn’t shy when it came to strangers. Glancing down at their ignored guest, she smiled apologetically.
“Your family sure is noisy,” Koji quietly remarked.
“Yeah, they are,” she murmured back.
“It gives your home a pleasant atmosphere.”
Prissie sniffed. “You don’t have to live here.”
After a short dispute, the two youngsters were off like a shot toward the smaller of the two houses that shared Pomeroy Orchard’s front lawn, Zeke with package in hand, and Jude carrying the rest of Pete and Nell’s mail.
Once they disappeared inside with the sharp slap of a screen door, Milo spoke up. “Mrs. Pomeroy, I was wondering if I could borrow some able assistants for the rest of the afternoon?”
“What did you have in mind?”
dangerous,” the mailman replied lightly. “I’m going into town to help Harken Mercer for a couple hours. He received a shipment of used books from upstate, and he has a lot of boxes to unpack.”
“Many hands make light the work,” Naomi quipped. Glancing between her remaining children, she asked, “Any volunteers?”
Prissie glanced at Milo, who nodded. “I’m going,” she declared.
“Yeah, I’ll go,” Beau agreed.
Again, Koji was overlooked, and Prissie cringed over her mother’s baffling rudeness. Meanwhile, Naomi instructed, “Have them back by six and then stay for supper. Grandma Nell always makes enough for an army.”
“It would be a pleasure! Thank you, ma’am.”
“You can stay for dinner, too,” Prissie whispered to Koji.
His black eyes sparkled, but he hesitated before answering, “I do not think it will be permitted, but thank you.”
“What was that, Prissie?” her mother asked, giving her daughter a strange look.
“I was asking if you wanted to change. It sounds like dusty work.”
“No, I’m fine,” she insisted with a toss of braids. There was no way she was going into town with Milo wearing grungy work clothes.
They trooped back down to the car parked in front of the mailboxes, and Beau offered to take the backseat. While he and Milo stacked plastic mail bins to make room, Koji scooted into the front seat, taking the spot in the middle.
Prissie slid in next to him, puzzling over her family’s behavior. It didn’t make any sense …
Slouching a little so that the seat provided cover, she whispered, “Can I see them again?” Koji nodded and pushed back his hair, revealing the pointed tip of one ear. “If you aren’t an elf … are you some kind of a fairy?”
He blinked and said, “No.”
Koji looked vaguely insulted. “No.”
“Well, you’re not a normal boy,” she accused in a hushed voice. “My family acted as if you weren’t even there, and I think it’s because they couldn’t
“People should not be able to see me,” Koji replied with a small frown.
“Milo can see you,” Prissie countered as the mailman slid into the driver’s seat and started the engine.
“Yes, I can,” the mailman amiably confirmed, keeping his voice low.
“Because we’re the same … well, mostly,” Milo smiled, then spoke louder for the benefit of her younger brother in the back. “Everyone buckled?”
“Yeah,” Beau replied.
Prissie was losing patience with answers that weren’t answers. Milo was a fixture in their town and in her life. He was a normal guy who liked to joke and tease. He’d never been mysterious, and she didn’t like the sudden change one bit. As they took off toward the highway, engine noise and the clatter of gravel helped cover Prissie’s question. “The same …
?” she demanded in a hoarse whisper.
“I am not sure if I should say,” Koji answered, his shoulders hunching miserably.
Milo gave the boy’s knee a reassuring pat, then checked on Beau in the rear-view mirror. “The truth is best,” he said, offering Prissie a lopsided smile before turning his attention back on the road. “Go ahead, Koji.”
The boy straightened and bravely met Prissie’s gaze. “The
is … we are angels.”
id you hear, sir?”
“You don’t have to call me
We’re off duty.”
“Yes, sir,” his young partner replied, hurrying on. “Did you receive Harken’s message?”
“Message?” the balding man answered distractedly. “Was there one?”
“A moment ago, sir.”
“Then, no. I’m afraid it escaped my notice.” A throat cleared, and the older man finally straightened from his task. Icy gray eyes peered over wire-rimmed glasses, and he quietly asked, “Has something happened?”
, sir. Apparently, there’s this girl …”
Milo ushered Prissie and Beau through the front door of The Curiosity Shop, setting off a cheerful twinkle of notes from the tiny wind chime suspended just inside the door. He walked briskly down the center aisle, poking his head around the corners into the alcoves along one side of the shop, making sure there were no other customers. “Harken!” he sang out. “I’ve brought guests!”
The Curiosity Shop was mainly a secondhand bookstore, though Harken Mercer had accumulated an odd assortment of paraphernalia over the years — outdated maps, sea shells, star charts, historical time lines, geographical samples, and sheet music cluttered flat surfaces or were tacked up wherever the walls weren’t lined with bookshelves.
Naomi had brought the Pomeroy children to this shop almost as often as the local library, and all of Prissie’s memories of it were good ones. Whenever she poked around through the shelves, she always discovered something she hadn’t known she was looking for. That’s probably why Momma liked to call Harken’s store “The Miracle Shop.”
“Prissie Pomeroy,” greeted the proprietor, his deep voice rolling from the direction of the back room. He strolled through the door, a stack of books in his arms. Harken was a tall man with skin as black as his smile was white. “And Beau as well? Excellent!”
“Good afternoon, Mr. Mercer,” the siblings chorused. Momma insisted on manners, and all her children could use them in a pinch — even the boys.
Once again, Koji was ignored, but Prissie doubted it was because Harken couldn’t see him. The old man’s kind brown eyes briefly strayed to their invisible companion, and they held a smile of welcome.
Prissie didn’t really know much about the shop owner other than that her father looked up to him a great deal. According to Dad, The Curiosity Shop had been on Main Street ever since
was a kid, and Harken was well-known and well-liked by the other West Edinton business owners.
“Has Milo told you why you’ve been recruited?” Harken inquired.
“Work,” Beau promptly answered, though his attention was wandering. He’d inherited Momma’s nose-in-a-book tendencies and was scanning the nearest shelves.
“Right you are, my boy,” the shop owner chuckled. “I’ve already divided the shipment in half. These boxes will need to go into the storage shed behind the building,” he explained, pointing to a good-sized stack in front of the register. Choosing a set of keys from a hook, he tossed them to Milo. “If you would be so good as to unlock the shed.”
“Happy to,” the mailman replied with a wink, and he ducked through the door into the back room.
“The rest of these,” Harken continued, gesturing to a smaller pile, “will need to be unpacked and shelved.”
“What kinds of books are in here?” Beau asked as he tilted his head to read the box’s label. “Any stories? You don’t have many.”
It was true. Probably the strangest thing about The Curiosity Shop was that Harken didn’t stock much fiction. Prissie had noticed it as well, but she’d never asked because it seemed a little rude. Though she narrowed her eyes accusingly at her brother, she was just as eager to hear the old man’s answer.
“This shop’s contents reveal the avenues taken by my own curiosity. These books are a reflection of my personal
interests.” Harken gazed around the store, then spread his arms wide. “You can learn a lot about a person from what they choose to read.”
Prissie’s eyes darted to the nearest shelf, which held an entire row of books on the Middle East — archaeological histories, travel guides, volumes of photography, and even a few cookbooks. Since Harken seemed to be inviting it, she joined Beau in wandering around, taking note of the different kinds of books in his collection: old sets of encyclopedias, stacks of travel magazines, academic journals, nature photography, space exploration, and oddly enough, books of crossword puzzles.
“So you’re mostly into information?” Beau asked. “Do you have a computer? Because you can find even more on the Internet.”
The old man nodded. “I use the computers at the library when the need arises, but I’ve found that I prefer books. It may take me longer to find what I need, but I learn unexpected things along the way. Many times, the journey is just as important as reaching the goal.”
are stories,” Beau called from one of the alcoves. “Well, sorta.”
Harken joined him and pulled one of the books from the shelf. “Yes, these are stories — life stories.” One entire bookcase was dedicated to biographies and autobiographies, and from what Prissie could see, most of them were of noted Christian thinkers, missionaries, evangelists, and pastors. “I’m also fond of parables,” the old man admitted.
Milo reappeared and placed Harken’s keys onto the counter beside the register, then grabbed a couple of boxes. “Is anywhere in the shed fine?” he asked as Beau hauled a box
into his arms as well. The shopkeeper agreed, and Milo and Beau carried them out.
“Now that we have a moment …” Harken gave Prissie a considering look, but he turned to the boy standing just inside the door. “Hello, Koji. You’ve had an eventful day.”
“Yes,” he agreed, glancing shyly at Prissie.
see him, Mr. Mercer?”
“Because I’m an angel as well,” he gently revealed.
Prissie shook her head. “But you’ve always been here, and everyone knows you! My dad’s bakery is half a block away, and I remember coming here when I was little!”
“You were fond of books with castles in them,” he said with a smile. “Your father always called you his princess, and I think you believed him.”
“That’s right! You remembered,” she replied, somewhat awed.
“It’s part of my job to pay attention, although Jayce and I have been good friends since he was your age,” Harken said. “It’s been a pleasure to watch his hopes for the future flourish.”
Prissie tried to fathom this new information, but angels simply didn’t fit into her notion of normal. “But this is impossible! How can
be an … an …?”
“An angel,” he finished for her, nodding seriously. “It’s true, Prissie.”
“Why would an angel live in a little place like West Edinton?” she asked skeptically.
“A small town isn’t of greater or lesser importance,” Harken explained. “Milo, Koji, and I all have a part to play in a grander scheme — one that is beyond our ability to understand. In this way, we’re not much different from you.”
“Are you saying that there are lots of people around here who are actually angels?” she demanded nervously.
Harken made a soothing motion with his hand. “No, child. We’re few and far between, and it’s very rare for anyone to see us for what we truly are.”
“Did I do something wrong?” Koji inquired, shifting from foot to foot.
“No, young one,” Harken assured. “This wasn’t your doing.”
Prissie’s discomfort grew, and she searched her mind for what little she knew of angels. “Does that mean that one of you is supposed to be my guardian angel?” she demanded.
“No, neither of us is a Guardian,” the old man answered patiently.
“But … I
a guardian angel?” she persisted.
“Of course you do.”
Glancing around the otherwise empty shop, Prissie asked, “Where?”
Harken smiled softly. “Close.”
“Don’t I get to meet my angel?”
The old man’s smile widened, and he said, “One day, I’m sure you will, but today is not that day.”
“Oh,” she mumbled in disappointment.
Harken placed his hand on his chest and said, “Milo and I are Messengers. We’re go-betweens, directed by God. Koji here is an Observer; he watches, listens, and learns, tracing the hand of God in the lives of mankind.”
She looked between the two of them, wanting to tell them they were crazy, then desperately said, “You don’t
“And what is an angel
to look like?”
The sound of footsteps came from the back room, and Prissie’s mouth snapped shut as her brother and the mailman returned. “Sorry it took us so long; I managed to drop a box, and it took a while to pick up everything,” Milo said sheepishly. “Did we take too long?”
He and Harken exchanged a long look, and Prissie saw her chance to escape. She needed a little room to think. “I’ll take one,” she offered.
“Me and Milo can handle these, Priss,” Beau said.
,” she corrected. “I’m here to help, so I’ll help, too.”
Prissie lifted the box, which was really quite heavy for its size, and headed into the back room, which was another warren of shelves. Cartons and stacks of boxes were everywhere, and against the far wall were two doors, one green and one blue. As she stood contemplating her options, Beau nearly bumped into her, his arms manfully weighed down by two boxes. “Which door do we use?” she asked.
Her brother gave her a strange look. “Is that supposed to be some kind of trick question?”
Prissie huffed. “There’s no reason to be rude. I was only asking!”
door, Priss,” he said sarcastically. “Use it.” She gawked after him as he trudged across the room and turned to push open the green door with his hip. Cocking a brow at her, he disappeared into the late summer sunlight.
For a long moment, she stood still, but then she set her box on the corner of a desk and tiptoed to the blue door. It looked old — partly because the color had faded to a milkier hue in spots, and partly because people just didn’t make doors like this one anymore. The entire surface had been
intricately carved. Leaves, fruit, and flowers nestled among crisscrossing vines in an ornate border. Two trees stood in the center, their uppermost branches twined together.
The doorknob shone like a luminous crystal; flashes of different colors lurked beneath its smooth surface. When she took hold it hummed beneath her palm, sending an almost musical note through her body, right down to the soles of her feet. “First an invisible boy, now an invisible door?” she murmured.
“So you can see this as well,” Harken remarked. Milo strode past with another couple of boxes in his arms, but not without giving her an encouraging grin. Koji padded into the room on bare feet and brightened.
“Where does it lead?” Prissie asked.
“That’s an interesting question,” the shopkeeper replied. “In one sense, it leads nowhere; in another sense, it leads us toward heaven. Since you’re capable of
the door, let’s see if you can step through it.”
Koji’s dark eyes sparkled. “I hope so!”
His excitement lessened Prissie’s nervousness enough for her to try. The knob turned easily, its latch clicked softly, and a warm glow seeped through the narrow opening she’d created. She hesitated on the threshold, looking back at Harken for permission to proceed. “By all means,” he urged. “There’s nothing to fear beyond this door.”
Taking a deep breath, Prissie gave the door a push; it swung outward, and she stepped through … and into a garden. There were trees all around, so it felt as if they were within a forest glade, but that was impossible. “This isn’t what’s behind the shop,” she said, turning around to take in the scenery. There was supposed to be a parking lot, a storage
shed, her brother, and a bright, sunny summer afternoon. “What’s wrong with the sky?”
“That is how
sky appears,” Harken answered. “Tell me what you see.”
“Grass, trees, and the sky looks like water,” she replied.
“It does, doesn’t it,” the old man calmly agreed.
“Is it water?”
“No. That’s merely a trick of the light.”
“Nothing else?” asked Koji, his gaze directed at a spot just past her shoulder.
She slowly turned once more, but finally answered, “That’s all. Where are we?”
“We’ve stepped outside of time. Some would call this
beyond the veil
,” Harken supplied. “For us, it is a home away from home, a gathering place that offers privacy, fellowship, refreshment.”
“Umm … right. This is your break room,” Prissie said in a tight voice.
Hearing something in her tone, Harken frowned. “In its fashion, yes.”
Prissie turned on her heel, rushing toward a much more familiar world of cardboard cartons and overstuffed bookshelves. The two angels followed more slowly, and when they caught up to her, she faced them. “I don’t believe you.”
Koji’s head tipped to one side, confusion plain on his face. “Which part?”
“This is crazy … completely ridiculous,” she muttered. Fixing Harken with a stern look, she repeated, “I
Just then, Milo strolled through the door, laughing as he talked with Beau. He trailed off the moment he caught the
mood in the room and looked uncertainly between Harken and Prissie.
His sparkling blue eyes grew sadder … and older … and Prissie’s lip trembled. “No,” she whispered stubbornly. “No, there must be some mistake.”
Milo raised a hand, but she turned her back on him and addressed Harken with extreme politeness. “My dad’s bakery is right over there, and I think I’ll go see him. Like Beau said, he and Milo can handle the rest.”
“What’s going on, Sis?” asked her brother, perplexed by her sudden change in attitude.
“It’s nothing,” she lied. “I’ll be with Dad and catch a ride home with him.”
“You better call Mom and let her know,” he cautioned.
“I’ll call from the bakery.”
“Miss Priscilla?” Milo tried again, but she darted from the room, through the shop, and out the front door without a backward glance.