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Authors: Christa J. Kinde

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BOOK: The Blue Door
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“You feeling okay, Priss?” he murmured. Tad was eighteen and heading into his senior year at high school. Her big-big brother’s serious gray eyes considered her, then turned back to his plate, but after taking a bite of mashed potatoes, he glanced her way, still waiting for an answer.

“It’s been a strange day,” she whispered back, offering a strained smile for reassurance.

He nodded once, then gave his attention to the main thread of conversation, which was happening at Dad’s end of the table, where Grandpa was seated across from Harken. “Saw the notice last week. Can’t hardly believe it’s almost time for
Messiah
rehearsals to pick back up again,” Pete Pomeroy remarked.

“They
are
starting earlier this year,” Harken replied. “The director wants to give everyone time to learn the new arrangements.”

Harken attended Holy Trinity Presbyterian, a picturesque stone church noted for its stained glass windows and pipe organ, and every December, they hosted a full-scale performance of Handel’s
Messiah.
They pulled choir members from the whole community, and the annual production was the highlight of the holidays for many locals, especially Grandpa Pete.

“Not sure I approve of them trying to snazz up the classics,” the old farmer grumbled. “Adding the symphony was classy, but electric guitars and whatnot? I just don’t know.”

“Oh, don’t be such a fuddy-duddy, Peter,” scolded Nell. “I think it sounds fun!”

Pete had been growling out the low notes with the bass section for upwards of forty years, with his wife lending her strength to the alto section. Prissie could understand his lack of enthusiasm over the plans to mix things up and modernize the score. Harken smiled and offered, “Times change, but the message remains the same.”

Grandpa harrumphed, but Milo spoke up before the old man could voice another complaint. “I’ll be taking part for the first time this year. A friend from Deo Volente roped me into it.”

“Oh, yeah?” Neil asked, perking up. “Tad, Beau and I have been going to Deo Volente at Harper’s Elementary School, though you should know kids call it DeeVee. They have an amazing band. It’d be great if you joined.”

The meal continued, and conversation rambled from one topic to the next. Eventually, plates were pushed back
and Dad made a comment about Beau’s new book. The teen grinned at Harken. “I’ll gladly work for books.”

“Oho!” cheered Neil. “Someone’s finally figured out how to get Beau’s nose out of a book!”

“Lure him with the promise of more,” Tad teased.

Beau made a face at his older siblings, but joined in on the laughter that rippled through the room. Harken’s deep chuckle lasted longest, and then he said, “I’ll send word when the next shipment comes in, and you can have your pick. If you and Prissie can make time for me with what’s left of the summer, I’d appreciate it.”

As everyone’s attention swung in her direction, Prissie hastily excused herself from the table to refill the water pitchers. Her back was very straight as she pulled ice cube trays from the freezer and busied herself in front of the sink. When she stole a peek over her shoulder, Momma was starting to stand, but Harken raised a hand, saying, “Let me. I need to settle up with your daughter for the help she offered earlier.”

Naomi smiled and nodded, and Milo dove into the fray, turning the conversation in a completely new direction. “Say, Neil, has the football team started meeting yet?”

“Next week,” the teen answered. “We had sports camp last month, so Coach gave us a couple weeks to rest up before practice starts up again. I’ve seen you at some of the games. You a football fan?”

“I go to
all
the home games,” the mailman enthusiastically replied.

“No kidding?”

Milo nodded. “I have a special place in my heart for the team. Any chance you’ll you be a starter this year?”

Neil shrugged and said, “Dunno yet. Hope so.”

Prissie tried to mentally brace herself to face Harken, but at the same time, she couldn’t help darting glances into the corners of the room, at the doorways, and even out the windows, half expecting Koji to appear. It wasn’t the same as earlier, when she felt as if she was being watched. No, this time, it was the uncanny knowledge that she probably
was
being watched, even though she couldn’t see or hear the watchers. The sudden self-consciousness was making her jittery.

Prissie was so caught up in her inner turmoil that she started violently when a dark hand reached past her to turn off the tap and rescue the overflowing pitcher. “He stayed behind,” Harken offered in a low voice.

“Wh-what?”

“Koji,” the old gentleman explained. “He stayed behind this evening because we thought you might be uncomfortable—seeing the unseen.”

“Oh,” she breathed, glancing at the table, where Milo was deeply immersed in a discussion of the West Edinton Warriors’ chances in their division this coming year. The mailman had shed his official postal service uniform in favor of a casual shirt in a shade of blue that really did wonderful things for his eyes. He gestured broadly while he talked, comfortable in their midst.

Prissie had always felt as if he belonged to them, but she was no longer sure that was true. For some reason, Milo’s smile
hurt
, so Prissie went back to not looking at the man … angel. “Why did everything have to change?” she asked in a tight voice.

“Nothing’s changed, Prissie,” Harken corrected. “You’re now seeing certain things the way they truly are.”

“Is there a difference?”

“Yes, there is,” the angel assured. Very gently, he laid a hand on her shoulder, and she tensed, but grudgingly met his eyes. “I have a message for you, child.”

“From who?”

Prissie darted a quick glance at Milo, but the old man shook his head and said, “First of all, don’t be afraid.”

She swallowed hard and gave a little half-shake of her head. “If you say so.”

He pulled his hand away with a sigh. “I told you, Prissie, I’m only the messenger.” She tentatively met his gaze, and Harken nodded approvingly. With calm solemnity, he intoned, “Priscilla Pomeroy, the time has come for you to give away some of your trust.”

4
THE STUBBORN STREAK

A
bent form scrabbled along a dank passage and slipped into a small chamber whose entrance was hidden in the cleft of a rock. “There’s a development, my lord,” he announced in a hoarse voice.

“What now, Dinge?” inquired a figure seated upon a heap of boulders in the center of the cave.

“I overheard some saying that a
message
has been delivered.”

His leader leaned forward, and a faint dissonance, like the sour note in a musical chord, echoed off of the walls. “To whom?”

“A fourteen-year-old girl.”

A misshapen shadow lurking in the pitch sneered, “Probably just a two-bit molly-coddler soothing away nightmares.”

“No,” snapped the news-bringer, drawing himself up importantly. “I would not waste our lord’s time on something so trivial.”

“What then?” prompted the leader on his tumbledown throne.

“A firsthand encounter,” Dinge revealed excitedly. “A message delivered in person.”

“Means nothing,” jeered the naysayer. “What’s a girl of that age going to do, huh?”

Dinge hissed his outrage. “Murque, you
fool
! Don’t you remember what happened the
last time
a message like this was dismissed?”

“Uhh … what?” he replied dimly.

“A virgin conceived,” smoothly replied their leader.

“What’re the chances
that’ll
happen again,” grumbled Murque, earning a scathing look from Dinge.

The central figure rubbed small circles against his temple with the tips of graceful fingers. “Which Messenger?”

“Harken.”

Their lord stilled. “Oh?”

“Yes, lord.”

“That definitely changes things,” he mused aloud.

The first Sunday of every month, First Baptist Church hosted a potluck dinner following the morning service. Prissie’s mother and grandmother were firm believers in bringing enough to feed your own family with some to spare, and since there were
ten
Pomeroys to account for, the procession from the parking lot to the church’s basement kitchen was always a long one.

Mr. Pomeroy and his three teenage boys were weighed down with piping hot pans wrapped in towels, and Zeke and Jude brought up the rear, swinging bags of Loafing Around’s famous dinner rolls. Grandma Nell took possession of the pie carrier, and Mrs. Pomeroy precariously balanced a platter of brownies on top of her Bible and notebook, though it was rescued by an usher and passed along to one of the efficient kitchen ladies as she walked through the door.

Milo was one of the greeters this Sunday, and he stepped forward with open hands and a warm smile. “Good morning, Miss Priscilla. Can I help?”

Prissie sailed right past him holding her nose and her rice pudding high. “I’ve got it, thanks,” she replied crisply.

The mailman let his hands fall to his sides as he bleakly watched her march toward the stairs leading down to the fellowship hall. Jayce, who’d been relieved of his burden by another kitchen lady, shook his head at his daughter’s stiff back, then strode over and casually addressed Milo. “Care to tell me what happened?”

“Sir?”

“I thought maybe the dinner at our place was a fluke, but my Prissie seems to have had a change of heart where you’re concerned.”

Milo winced and rubbed the back of his neck. “I suppose I’ve disappointed your daughter,” he offered.

“In what way?” her father inquired. His tone was reasonable, but he looked every inch a man prepared to defend and protect his daughter.

“I believe she’s finally seen, well, sir, the age difference alone,” Milo offered uncomfortably.

“Sure, sure … I get it.” With a heavy sigh, Jayce dropped a
hand on the young man’s shoulder. “It was kinda cute when she was little, the way she took a shine to you. Puppy love or whatever.”

The mailman shoved his hands deep into his pockets. “I’m sorry, sir.”

“Have you done anything you
should
be sorry for?” Jayce inquired, an edge back in his tone.

Milo quickly straightened and earnestly met the man’s gaze. “No, sir! Absolutely not.”

“Then stop looking so guilty,” Jayce urged. “Girls are just … girls. Naomi says it’s part of growing up.”

“I asked Harken for advice, and he believes everything will work for the good.”

“He’s a wise man,” Mr. Pomeroy mused. “The two of you kind of look out for each other, don’t you?”

“I rent a room over his shop, so we’re neighbors.”

“Love thy neighbor, and all that?” Jayce asked with a chuckle.

“And all that,” Milo agreed. “Sir, should I stay away from your family for a while?”

Prissie’s father absently tugged at his tie, his expression serious. “You’ve been a good friend ever since you moved to town, and I hate to see this kind of rift develop.”

“Yes, sir.”

“No, I don’t want you to suddenly disappear from our lives,” Jayce said decidedly. He glanced in the direction his daughter had disappeared. “Prissie’s a lot like my father; she’s not one to let go of a grudge quickly. If there’s any way to make up with her
before
her mind is set, I’d do it quickly.”

The strains of organ and piano drifted from the sanctuary,
signaling the nearing of service time, and Milo smiled as he took a step back. “I will, sir. And thank you.”

“For what?”

“Your trust,” he replied, excusing himself with a polite nod.

In the kitchen, Prissie and Beau prowled the perimeter, assessing the other offerings with a practiced eye. The countertops were crowded with an assortment of glass casserole dishes and foil-topped pans, and crock pots vied for outlets. “Two kinds of meatballs,” she whispered.

“But
three
people brought baked beans,” her brother replied in a low voice. Giving her a small smile of triumph, he added, “And I only saw two lasagnas.”

“So far.”
With a significant nod at the fridge, she reminded, “There’ve been more Jell-O salads lately, so Jude might win again.”

It was a game of sorts, with pot luck predictions made in the car on the way to church. The tally wouldn’t be official until they actually walked through the line at lunchtime, because there were always latecomers whose contributions threw everyone off.

Beau peeked under the foil covering a pan and wrinkled his nose at a broccoli casserole before casually lifting the corner on the next pan, which contained cheesy potatoes. “Say, Priss, how come you blew off Milo?”

“I didn’t blow him off; I just didn’t need his help.”

“I’ve heard about girls playing hard to get and stuff, but did you see the look on his face?”

Prissie sniffed. “I can’t say that I did.”

“Hmm,” Beau hummed distractedly, gazing critically at a pot of meatballs. “You know that look Jude gets if a hen pecks him when he’s gathering eggs?”

Immediately, Prissie’s littlest brother appeared in her mind’s eye. Jude loved the whole farm, but the hens were his special favorites. When he felt he’d offended one, he’d follow it around the yard, wide eyes brimming with unshed tears, apologizing. It was sweet and silly, because he wouldn’t hurt a fly, let alone one of their flock.

Beau watched her face, then nodded. “Whatever he did, even if it was nothing, he’s sorry, and he wants to make up.”

“Do you mean Jude or Milo?” Prissie asked suspiciously.

Her brother just shrugged and edged closer to the fridge.

Grandma Nell bustled around the church kitchen, quite at home in the midst of the potluck chaos. She gave her grandchildren a knowing look, then pointed toward the door. “Out you get,” she ordered. “Service is starting!”

Prissie had never been more grateful for an excuse to retreat. “Yes, Grandma,” the siblings chorused and took off.

Milo didn’t sit near the Pomeroys that morning, but Prissie could see him on the other side of the sanctuary, standing behind Pearl’s husband, Derrick, and making faces at their eighteen-month-old daughter, Amberly. The mailman wasn’t the kind of person to stake out a favorite spot and sit there every week; he was always there, but never in the same place twice. All throughout the first two hymns, the little girl waved shyly at Milo, and Prissie thought it was cute, but sort of unsettling. Did the toddler know that the smiling man she
was reaching for wasn’t what he seemed? More important, was it okay for him to trick her by pretending to be normal?

While she made a halfhearted stab at the second verse of a chorus, Prissie watched Milo like a hawk, unsure if her resentment was directed toward him or the child who had claimed his attention. Amberly giggled, and Pearl smiled on indulgently when the mailman held up a hand so the little girl could pat it; but then Milo seemed to sense Prissie’s gaze and turned his head. His happy smile faded, becoming something uncertain, and the expression looked so
wrong
on her usually carefree friend that Prissie had to look away.

Muffled
thumps
of closing hymnals and the shuffle of feet signaled that the congregation was taking their seats. Prissie carefully arranged her skirt and crossed her ankles before idly scanning the bulletin as one of the elders went through the announcements. It didn’t take long for her attention to drift.

First Baptist Church wasn’t as grand as the Presbyterian church on Main Street, but to Prissie’s way of thinking, it was everything a church was
supposed
to be. Traditional white clapboard, double doors, polished wood pews, and a cross on the wall behind the pulpit. They didn’t have stained glass windows, but the lady’s guild made beautiful banners that hung between the windows along each wall. They were changed out every month to fit the seasons, and for August, everything was in summery shades of green with snippets from the Psalms on them: “He shall be like a tree,” and “His leaf shall not wither.”

The soft rustle of pages alerted her that Pastor Albert Ruggles, or Pastor Bert as he liked to be called, had already taken the pulpit and given the morning’s text, so she stole a peek at Tad’s Bible to see where to turn.

In spite of the heat of the day, their pastor wore a navy blue suit and greeted them with a smile as sunny as the yellow of his tie. “If you’ll recall, we’ve spent the last few weeks in a study of the life of Abraham. This morning, we pick up his story in Genesis 18.

“Whenever people tell this story, they like to skip to the end … cut to the chase … deliver the punch line, as it were. They’ll tell you that this is the story of Sarah, the woman who laughed at God, and how the Lord got the last laugh. Sarah gives birth to a miracle baby, and they name him Isaac, which means
laughter!
” Pastor Bert chuckled, and a few titters came from the audience.

“It’s a wonderful story, and one I’m sure Isaac heard many times when he was growing up. But today, I’d like to back up and slow down, because if you look at this section of Genesis in a different way, it’s the story of two men, each visited by angels.”

Prissie’s wandering thoughts jolted to attention.

As her pastor recounted Abraham’s generosity toward the strangers who appeared on his lands, comparing it to Lot’s treatment of his angelic visitors, Prissie glanced Milo’s way, only to remember that he was downstairs, teaching Zeke’s class. She wondered if they were having the same lesson and decided to drill her younger brother about it later. Who better to teach about angels than an angel?

Prissie flipped through Genesis, skimming for more details about the angels and not having much luck. She was frustrated that the text didn’t go into more detail about the most interesting part of the account. When she finally tuned back into Pastor Bert’s sermon, he was wrapping things up. The pastor looked out over the audience and smiled. “To
close, I’d like to remind you of the admonition in Hebrews 13:2 — ‘Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels.’

“That’s exactly what happened to Abraham and Lot, and it ties in nicely for us today. I believe this is a call to God’s people to be genuine in their generosity. Reach out to those around you, be they friend or stranger, and give them a smile, a helping hand, a listening ear, a kind word, a shared meal. You never know when you might be entertaining angels unaware.”

Afterward, Prissie followed Jude through the line, carrying his plate as he pointed to the foods he wanted to sample. Once he was perched on a chair next to Grandpa, she watched carefully, waiting for Pastor Ruggles to get into line and slipping into place behind him. He chatted amiably with one of the deacons, but when he finally picked up his silverware, she saw her opportunity. As he spooned chicken and rice onto his plate, she spoke up. “Excuse me, Pastor Bert?”

He glanced up and smiled. “Hello, Prissie. What can I do for you?”

“I was hoping you could answer a few questions, since you’re an expert on God and things.”

The pastor’s brown eyes warmed, but he didn’t laugh, for which she was grateful. “Well, let’s see, I don’t know about the ‘expert’ part, but I’ll do my best, young lady. What’s on your mind?”

“Angels, mostly,” she admitted, cutting a glance in Milo’s direction. “I guess I’m a little confused. I thought they mostly lived in heaven.”

“I’m sure they call heaven home,” he agreed. “But I suspect they leave from time to time, carrying out the Lord’s work.”

“They have jobs?” Prissie asked. “Like working in a store or as a teacher or something?”

He laughed softly. “Wouldn’t that be something? No, I meant that God has given them responsibilities.
Some
may spend their lives in heaven, singing the Lord’s praises, but others serve as messengers or guardians.”

“And observers?”

“Well, let’s see,” he mused aloud. “It does say in First Peter that they’re eagerly watching God’s plans play out in our lives — ‘things which angels desire to look into.’ I wonder what they find so fascinating, don’t you?”

“So they’re really
real
?” she whispered, half to herself. It was harder than she expected to mesh the Bible stories she’d grown up hearing with real life.

“Why, yes,” Pastor Bert said as he took a scoop of spaghetti hot dish, not noticing the way Prissie paled. “As real as you and me. They’re referred to throughout the Scriptures in a very matter-of-fact way, and those who encountered angels
knew
they were dealing with supernatural beings.”

BOOK: The Blue Door
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