Chapter 6 - O Come All Ye Faithful
Harke had returned home after his last mission of the day (from comforting a distraught mother whose young son almost drowned in the backyard pool) to quickly shower, throw on some clean clothes, and then race to Lily’s house.
Flagging an auto-shuttle and then jumping right in, Harke blurted Lily’s address while shutting the door. It was not until the car had reached its top speed Harke realized he forgot to grab the bracelet she had recently given him, the one with the word ‘LILY’ written in beautiful, script lettering along its wide, silver plate. Harke unconsciously checked the pockets of his cream-colored, buttoned-up shirt and dug in the pockets of his light-blue jeans knowing full well he left the bracelet on the counter of his dresser. He rapidly tapped his foot and looked down at his sneakers as he considered turning the car around, but decided against it – Harke really wanted to see Lily and he knew anyway she would understand.
Impatiently checking his watch, the car methodically turned from one street to the next as Harke grumbled under his breath why he couldn’t just appeared at her house. But he did know why: The social norm in Par Amor was not to abuse the Almighty’s gift of teleportation.
Although any angel, even the youngest, were capable of teleporting anywhere they wished, it was deemed long, long ago as a power only to use when performing His work. Thus came into being the auto-shuttles or automated cars which drove around Par Amor non-stop. These vehicles provided the means, albeit a slow one compared to teleporting, allowing angels to get to work, play, and visit each other within the holy foyer’s walls. The cars were perfectly timed to take you to your destination without a single stop – although to Harke it seemed like an eternity to reach his beloved fiancée.
His mind’s eye began to wander, happily looking forward to the evening’s festivities – dinner at Mary and Okam’s house – when Harke almost didn’t notice the car had stopped at Lily’s. In a rush he jumped out and literally skipped to her front door, excitement and anticipation filling him to see his beautiful angel. After ringing the doorbell, Lily answered, and it was then he noticed something strange: Lily had answered still dressed in her work robes. Harke quickly dismissed the observation and looked at her lovingly.
“Darling, how I’ve missed you—” He was reaching for her when he noticed her head. “What happened to your hair?”
Lily abruptly turned, walked away, and then began to sob.
“Whoa, whoa,” said Harke, closing the front door and reaching for her. “What’s wrong? Talk to me Lil.”
“I—I can’t tell you,” replied Lily; she turned back into Harke’s arms, placing her head right underneath his chin. “I think all I can say is that it’s about a mission.” She looked at him with tears streaking down both cheeks and added, “Please don’t ask me, please.”
“A mission? This is about a mission? You gotta tell me something, I’ve never seen you this upset.”
“It’s a mission assigned by the Almighty. But that’s all I can say.”
“That’s great news,” said Harke, pulling Lily softly from his chest, “you’ve truly been blessed. Heck, I’ve never been sent on a mission by Him. Look at you, you’re in good with the Big Guy.” He smiled and the dimple in his chin became obvious. “I like the new look, is it for this mission?”
Lily pulled away from Harke and sounded agitated, “You don’t understand. I’ve really been blessed and that’s why my hair’s white. But this task, it’s something very important to Him and He picked me to do it.”
“Okay, I get it, I understand,” said Harke, still smiling.
Lily looked at him and realized he truly did not get it, she continued, “You don’t know what this means, the mission is going to take a while.”
“Maybe I can go with you?” Harke joked.
Her voice cracked as she said, “The wedding will have to wait. We can’t get married now, not until I’m done.”
Harke’s face dropped, “What? Why? Now you have to tell me what this is about.”
“But that’s the problem. He told me I can’t, and I won’t.”
“So the wedding’s off.”
“No Harke, it’s just delayed.”
“Does He know how much I love you? Does He?” Harke sounded resentful.
Lily reached for Harke and kissed him slowly and deeply, she then said, “He loves us both. He wants us to marry, but the mission must come first. It’s His will.”
The words struck a chord in Harke’s mind, and heart. He felt his cheeks flush realizing what he had implied by his words. The Almighty did love Lily, but He loved him just as equally, and Harke knew He approved of their marriage and truly wanted nothing else. Embarrassed by his misplaced jealousy, Harke chuckled weakly and replied, “Of course, you’re right. He only has the best for us in mind.” Not wanting to press her about the mission, right now, he returned Lily’s kiss then sighed, “What do you want to do about dinner? Still wanna go to Mary’s?”
Holding Harke tightly, not really wanting to let go, Lily thought for a moment and said, “I think we should be with friends tonight.” The pain of heartbreak grew in her chest, yet somehow Lily found the strength to step away, she added, “But let me get comfortable first, I’ll go change.”
“Wow Mary, you shouldn’t have gone through all this trouble, just for us. What a beautiful spread.”
“Oh, Lily,” replied Mary sheepishly, “it was nothing. Anyway you know how much I love to cook.”
And it was a beautiful spread indeed.
Each dinner guest was greeted with a spinach and mushroom salad, lightly splashed with what looked like a balsamic vinaigrette dressing. The main course of Cornish hens sat at the center of a beige-colored table cloth on a lavish, silver-plated serving dish with crisp, green garnish bordering the plate. Sides consisted of simple-looking buttered corn-on-the-cob matched with steamed asparagus elegantly drizzled with olive oil. For drinks, everyone was allotted a half-flute of dark-red wine at their right-hand and a wide-glass of ice cold water for the left, meanwhile the just opened bottle of wine was not far from reach. What waited for dessert sat atop a crystal cake plate at the far end – it was darkly iced, smelled like chocolate, and no one could keep their eyes off of it.
“You know,” said Okam, smirking, “I helped with this quite a bit.”
“Who? You?” said Harke, patting the back Okam’s bald head, “Mister ‘The Faithful’ or should I say ‘Shingle Loaf?’” Harke took the chair next to Lily, directly across from Okam.
Mary palmed her pale-blue skirt, sat down last, and said, “Oh Harke dear, Okam did help. Who do you think set the table?” Her bright, white smile matched perfectly with the linen blouse she wore.
“Well you’ve done a heck of a job here, Mar,” said Harke, nodding his head. He looked at Okam and added, “And you did a nice job with the table, sir.”
“Thank you,” replied Mary and Okam.
They dug into dinner ravenously as some of them talked about their respective days. Harke mentioned his trips down to Earth helping humans, while Mary and Okam mentioned the progress of their training regiment for new recruits. Silent during all this was Lily, fidgeting restlessly as she ate.
“Is there something wrong sweetie?” Mary asked, the visible wrinkles around her eyes tightened. “You’re squirming as though you’re nervous or something.”
“Oh, nothing Mary,” said Lily, pulling on the collar of her dark-blue polo. “It was just a…weird day.”
Mary was about to ask when Okam interjected, “Hey, talking about weird, did you two hear about the demon caught today?”
“Really?” Harke asked, reaching for his glass of wine.
“The story is just awful,” Mary continued for Okam, “they caught this poor creature skulking around the outside of Par Amor” – she looked at Okam, whose chiseled jaw clenched as he nodded – “I guess trying to find a way in.”
“Why was it trying to do that?” Harke asked.
“We’ll never know,” said Okam, looking at Mary, “the accursed thing got away. But not before he sent a new recruit to the true-death, poor kid. I feel real bad for the parents.” Okam realized his gaffe as soon as he said it; he pulled on his tan trousers nervously, then reached across the table and said, “Sorry there, Lil.”
“It’s alright Okam,” said Lily plainly. She took a deep breath and added, “The true-death, huh? How’d the demon do it?”
Harke, Mary, and Okam fell silent. The topic of the true-death was always touchy around Lily and more so when a demon inflicted it on an angel. Any angel who knew the story of how Lily’s mother died never spoke about the true-death around her, and most certainly not how Rose faced her final moments.
“Big-O, it’s okay,” said Lily, “I want to know. What happened?”
Mary answered, “The demon simply plunged his claws into the recruit’s chest and sapped him of his life force. And as you know, whether that happens here or on Earth, if you’re life force is taken from you…” She trailed off.
“I know,” said Lily very calmly, “as angels we can live forever with our Lord, but we are not born with the same kind of souls as our human cousins. If we die, it is an everlasting death, the true-death. I guess he didn’t suffer too long, not like—ah, never mind.” She turned and faced a solemn Harke and asked, “Hon, please pass more of that asparagus, it’s delicious.”
“Listen sweetie,” said Mary, “we’re sorry we brought this up. If you and Harke want to call it a night, it wouldn’t be a problem with us.” Mary looked at Okam expectantly, who agreed with a single nod.
“Yeah babe,” said Harke, putting his arm on the back of Lily’s chair, “if you’re ready to go—”
“Guy’s, I’m fine,” chuckled Lily. “Sorry for the dark moment. That stuff just never leaves you. You know?”
“Oh, alright,” said Mary, her dark hair seemed to bounce as she cheered up, “if you say so.” She settled back into her chair she continued, “I remember what I wanted to ask. What did the Almighty want with you this morning?”
Harke choked on a mouthful of food and almost spit it out.
“Whoa, there,” blurted Okam, looking at his long sleeves for any food, “you okay Harke? You need to chew before you swallow.” Okam shook his head and smiled while handing Harke his glass of water.
“Sorry ‘bout that,” said Harke, grimacing. He looked at Lily, who didn’t look at his eyes, and continued, “I guess it went down the wrong pipe.”
Mary waited for Harke to take another drink, then said, “Well sweetie, what happened? Or can’t you say?”
“Um, well, Mary,” stammered Lily, she nervously tousled her long, white hair, “I just can’t—”
“Lily, your hair,” said Mary as though suddenly surprised, “I just noticed you did something to it. Sweetie, you bleached your beautiful, blonde-hair white. Why?” With mock anger she turned to Harke and said, “Why didn’t you stop her?”
My Lord, please forgive me for what I’m about to do, thought Harke. With his next breath he said, “Actually, it’s a new style she wanted to try out” – Harke turned and looked at Lily – “surprised me when I first saw it, but, but I think I like it.”
“No Harke,” said Lily, shaking her head, “I can’t let you lie for me. Sorry guys, but he’s just trying to protect me. It’s not a new hairstyle, it’s…permanent. I really can’t say more.”
“Your hair,” said Mary, sounding thoughtful, “it’s not some new style or that you bleached it?”
Okam’s sharp, blue eyes stared at Lily’s…the moment of realization struck him. He rapped the table causing the plates to lightly clink, “Oh, Mary, can’t you see? She’s been in His presence!”
“Lily, is that true?” Mary asked, wide-eyed.
“Your hair is completely white,” said Okam, turning in his chair to get a better look. “You were in His presence greater than any other, ever.”
“Not even the Deceiver…” said Mary.
Okam became very serious when he said, “Before I finished work today, there was a rumor running around the halls of guardian headquarters. Something about an angel and a special mission, and something about artifacts. Lily, are you that angel?”
“I guess those home guardian’s can’t keep a secret,” said Lily, rolling her eyes, “boy, wait ‘til dad finds out.”
“You’re going on a mission to retrieve an artifact?” Harke asked, becoming miffed.
“Arti-facts”, corrected Okam. “I heard there was more than one. So how many, Lil?”
“Yeah,” griped Harke, “and what are they?”
“Honey, you know I can’t say anything,” returned Lily.
“Oh, come on messenger,” pressed Okam, “what harm would it do?”
“He told me specifically not to say anything,” said Lily defensively. “I ‘m following His orders.”
“But—” started Harke.
“Boys!” Mary interrupted sternly. “She just told you, the Almighty ordered her to say nothing. This is terrible, badgering her like that, and you know better dear.” She looked at Okam angry and disappointed.
Okam’s face reddened, he looked at Mary and said, “You’re right, sorry dear.”
“Don’t apologize to me, apologize to her!”
“Lil, sorry, it’s just—” Okam straightened himself and continued, “You should feel honored. If there’s anything Mary and I can do, please, just tell us.” There was a distant tone of envy in his voice.
“Babe, will you forgive me?” Harke asked. “This mission, you’re-going-off-having-to-get-artifacts-and-who-knows-how-long-that’ll-take-and-you-know-I-love-you-and-when-will-we-be-able—”
“Okam, I accept your apology,” said Lily, a smile curved on her lips, “even though you called me messenger. Do you always do that when you’re mad?”
“Always,” interjected Mary.
“And you,” said Lily, turning to Harke. “How can I not forgive you? I love you.”
They leaned into each other and kissed passionately.
“Do you really forgive me?” Okam asked Mary pointedly. “I don’t see you forgiving me like that.”
Mary laughed and rolled her eyes, then plopped one, long kiss on Okam’s surprised lips.
When they were done, the two couples looked at each other and laughed. They continued to eat and spoke about everything except Lily’s mission. As Okam stood to retrieve the huge, chocolate cake for dessert, all at once Mary eyes came to tears.
“Mar,” said Okam, sitting back down and reaching for his wife, “what’s wrong?”
“Harke, I know why you’re so upset, dear,” said Mary, wiping her eyes, “the wedding, it’s delayed. Right?”
Lily and Harke passed knowing glances as Lily said, “Yes, the wedding’s on hold. But don’t worry, the Almighty has promised we will wed. Oh, and He said He would do it.”
Mary’s face lightened up as she stood to go hug Lily, when suddenly, a call appeared in the dining room.
It started as white, wispy, streaks of smoke, dancing around each other while growing in size. Eventually the streaks of smoke became a roiling cloud, white and puffy, changing shape but remaining stationary where it appeared. An image formed on the side facing them, translucent, but with color, it was the head of a blonde-haired and incredibly handsome angel.
“Mary the Rejoicer, Okam the Faithful,” said the unsmiling image, “you are needed at guardian headquarters, now. Report straight to the control room.”
The cloud disappeared in a blink.
“What’s that all about?” Harke asked.
“I don’t know,” answered Mary. Her surprised face turned to Okam, “Any ideas, dear?”
“None,” said Okam, standing from the table and replacing the chair, “but you heard him, we need to leave. Harke, Lily, if you want some dessert go ahead. But please lock up when you—”
Another call appeared, same as before, but this time the face addressed the messengers. Lily recognized the angel as her father’s assistant.
“Both of you are needed at messenger headquarters. Please be careful and come straight here.” This image then disappeared like the other.
“What could be going on?” said Harke, as the four of them turned their backs on the still set dinner table and rushed out the door.