Part One Edited
“How am I supposed to get my wings?” Brianna whined.
“Spread love. Let your love flow.” St. Peter wasn’t pleased with the spoiled brat who ended up at his gates. In fact, if she learned her lesson, she’d go back through a miracle of medicine. At the moment, she was in between. She wasn’t in purgatory; she wasn’t dead, only almost.
“Everyone loves me, I’m the one and only, the most popular girl in school!” Brianna protested. “I don’t love anybody. I don’t have to!”
St. Peter shook his head.
This one might end up in hell. So young too, it would be a pity if she couldn’t mend her ways.
“Do you want to go to hell, never to be freed from the torment and torture?”
The saint flicked his wrist and the snobby blonde found herself sitting in a pool of lava.
Brianna screamed. The searing heat should have consumed her, but the pain continued; there was no escape. She tried holding her breath to pass out like she’d done when she was small. No help. She heard the old man angel snickering at her terror.
Then it got hotter.
She looked down at her chest, and her shirt curled as the polyester melted, blisters forming under it. The acrid scent of poisonous fumes had her slapping her hands over her nose.
He means it. What in hell did I do to deserve this?
“Okay, just get me out of here.”
Great smudges of mascara ran from her exaggerated eyelashes.
St. Peter said, “You have a chance. Do something purely as a kindness. If I sense any thought of self-gain from you, it doesn’t count.”
“I can’t go looking like this!”
“Yes, you can.” St. Peter snapped his fingers.
“You’re a bully! A buggering horrid bully!”
He grimaced when he heard Brianna’s parting words. There were times when he wished he wasn’t the gatekeeper. She has a fortnight, St. Peter thought. Will she be able to change?
Brianna woke in an alley, her torn clothing let the cold dawn air seep in, and she shivered violently. Her head ached, throbbing to the beat of a bongo drum in her temples. She had scrapes on both knees and when she scrambled to her feet, the scabs cracked and started to bleed once more.
She stumbled. Her balance wasn’t there, and things were spinning. She felt like she was on the Tilt-a-Whirl ride at the fair.
What was I doing last night? Oh yeah, party, drinking, I was driving — no wait Kyla was driving. Were we in an accident? I can’t remember. I think Kyla is my friend. No, she’s the fat bitch I use because she’s so desperate to be accepted I can get her to do anything I need. She’ll even beat other girls up for me.
“That must have been one hell of a party, girl. I’ll give you a quid if you’ll give me some head.” The derogatory voice came from a black clad man. His eyes glittered and his hand reached into the gap in her shirt. The buttons had popped off and his big hand squeezed her breast.
Brianna kicked hard, connecting with his crotch. She barely heard his pained grunt as he fell. Her feet were bare, but it didn’t matter. She had to get away from the stinking alley. How the hell had she ended up in the slums of London? Spotting a bench, she stopped. The hard metal mesh of the seat imprinted itself on her bottom as she caught her breath.
St Peter. The old bastard. At least I know what Father Stephen says is true. There is a hell. I was there. Asshole put me back where?
Brianna looked up for a street sign and spotting the name of the street she was on, she gasped. Her social studies class took a bus tour last spring when they were studying the social injustice of poverty. She was in East Ham. Dear God, how was she going to get out of there?
She patted her back pocket, looking for her cell phone.
I’m going to kill him when I see him again. Leaving me here, and no way to call for help? Angels are supposed to be kind and loving.
She stood up and went through the rest of her pockets. Nothing. She knew she kept some Euro’s and a few pound notes in her bra but slipping her fingers inside her shirt confirmed what she’d already figured out. Her bra was gone. No wonder the ninja impostor groped her; she must look like a down and out on her luck hooker.
She dropped back to the bench and checked her right knee. Pulling the torn denim aside, she found black and purple bruises, and a scrape right across her knee cap. The scabs oozed where they’d broken open. Looking at her other knee, she winced, and her stomach heaved. Tiny splinters stuck out of the massive hematoma spreading down onto her shin. What happened to her?
She pushed up from the bench. She had to get some help for her injuries. She didn’t dare try pulling the tangles out of her hair. Her hair was matted and stuck. She began to limp toward the streetlight on the next corner. At least it was still daylight. Or was it dawn? She didn’t even have her Fitbit. She heard footsteps behind her. Her skin crawled, goosebumps forming everywhere.
Tears dripped from the corners of her eyes. How was she supposed to find help before some bum or gangster beat her into a pulp?
“Well you’re a sorry mess, girl.” The woman who spoke wore jeans and a tee shirt. Her sneakers were gray, the neon stripes dull with a layer of grime.
“So, what’s it to you?” Brianna’s sass came out before she could control her response.
The woman sighed. “Nothing at all. But I know where there’s a clinic open and we can get you cleaned up.”
“I haven’t got anything to pay with.” Brianna’s brave façade crumbled.
“I know, child. I work there. We don’t turn anyone away.”
The warmth of the clinic hit her chilled face as Brianna slumped into one of the big easy chairs in the waiting room. Comfortable at last, she leaned back almost falling asleep before the lady who guided her in came back with a clipboard. She handed her a pen and told her to fill out the form.
Automatically Brianna filled in the blanks.
I can’t prove even one bit of this. I could become someone else in a flash here. No, I want my life back. I can start here.
“I’m done with the form,” she called out, hoping the lady behind the desk could hear her. Her throat felt a bit raw. She didn’t sound like herself at all.
“I’m Jill. I’m a doctor here. I was going to do a few charts and catch up on my paperwork before the clinic opens this morning, but we’ll clean you up instead. Frankly, you’re a mess,” she said as she jerked her head toward the minor emergency treatment room.
“I’m Brie.” She went with the nickname her nanny had given her. The first name she remembered as being her own.
“Sweetie, do you remember what happened to you?” Jill had already noted the dried blood and matted hair at the back of her head. She suspected a concussion along with the contusions and lacerations.
“I’ve been trying to remember, but my head aches worse whenever I try,” Brianna answered truthfully. No need to be invincible here. The doctor wouldn’t know her from the Queen.
“Where’s the headache?”
“Feels like someone is beating bongo drums in my temples.”
“You’ve likely got a mild concussion. How’s your stomach? Any nausea?” Jill asked.
“A little, especially when I got a look at my knees.”
“Well let’s get those jeans off and take a look at the knees. How’s your wrist, it looks like you’ve got a pretty good cut across the back of your hand.”
Brianna pulled her shirt sleeve up. “I guess so. I haven’t even figured out where I’m hurt. I just know I don’t have any ID, my cell phone and money are gone, and I can’t prove a word of anything that’s on that form I filled out.”
She sat on the plastic covered exam table in her thong. Her mother would be furious if she knew she bought them on her last trip to the mall.
“This is going to sting, honey,” Jill said. She patted the exam table before she continued,“Swing your legs up there. I’m going to put a catch pan under your knees while I rinse them.”
As Jill worked, she contemplated what she’d seen on the form. Brie couldn’t be who she said she was. Brianna Elaine Heatherford was listed as critical in Victoria Hospital. Who was this waif? Never mind. First things first. Clean up the minor injuries and get a better read on the concussion. She didn’t think it was severe at all.
“Okay, that’s the last splinter. What were you doing? Fighting with a tree?” Jill asked with a chuckle in her voice.
“Like I said, I don’t remember. But I had the strangest dream. About meeting St. Peter, and hell and letting my love flow,” Brie answered, puzzlement shone in her blue eyes.
“That sounds more like a nightmare, darling. I’ll just pop a couple of stitches in that cut before I get you a couple of tablets for that headache.” Jill said.
“What am I going to do? I mean I’ve got nothing.”
Jill filled a needle with a numbing agent. “I’ll take you to the shelter around the corner. They’ll help you out, Brie. This is going to hurt, but it’s worse if I don’t freeze it.”
“I know sweetie, but it’s in. I’ll go look for those painkillers while you numb up.” Jill disappeared around the corner into the hall.
A shelter? I suppose I don’t have a choice. I can’t call Mom and Dad. What happened? Brie touched her temple with her free hand. I give up. I can’t remember, and the pain just stabs every time I try to figure it out.
“Here we are, it’s nice and early. It’s before breakfast and Elsie will take care of you from here. I called here while you were cleaning up in the loo.” Jill said.
“Hi, Doc. Who do we have here?” Elsie said brightly.
“She says she’s Brie,” the doctor said. “I’m not sure she really does know who she is.”
“I am Brie!” Brianna scowled at Jill.
“Well then that’s who you are.” Elsie shook her head at Jill. Her friend could grow a little sensitivity at times.
“I’ll leave her with you then.” Jill waved as she went back out the door.
“Let’s fill out your paperwork. You are who you are here. It doesn’t matter what the Doctor Jill thinks,” Elsie said as she handed her another clipboard and pen.
Brie tugged a brush through her hair, wincing and then yelping as she worked the tangles free. Elsie was so kind. She took her into a storage room for clothes and found her a bra, panties, a t-shirt, and sweatpants. She’d even found socks and some sneakers. Once she got her wet hair knot free, she slipped into the clean clothes and put all the little bottles of hygiene products into the backpack Elsie had found for her.
Feeling the bump on the back of her head, she found the scrape and a huge bump. No wonder it took her forever to comb out her shoulder length hair. The natural waves made it that much harder to do. She couldn’t remember a shower that felt as good as this one. The paracetamol Jill had given her worked wonders on the headache and now her stomach growled.
Wandering back down the stairs, she found Elsie at the front desk.
Elsie looked up, “Do you know how to file?”
“Uh, yes. Why?” Brie ignored her stomach, but it growled again.
“If you can help me put these files away, I’ll take you to the dining hall. Breakfast is in less than an hour.”
The stack was tall enough it threatened to fall over. She grabbed a dozen and turned to the big filing unit behind the desk.
“Are all of these for people who use the shelter?”
“Do you know how to work those?” Elsie asked.
“My father has some at his office. I file for him all the time. He insisted I learn the business.”
Now she wondered if she’d ever see it again, but she couldn’t keep the disdain out of her voice. How dare Dad treat her like a common office grunt. She spun the wheel on the shelving, and it scooted across the floor, showing the others hiding behind it. Walking between the stacks, she scanned them to see how they were organized.
“Thanks for putting these in alphabetical order.”
The words felt so strange on her tongue. She never thanked anyone for anything. She blinked, the light pounding remaining from her headache disappeared. It was the third time she’d thanked someone since she woke up.