"Maureen.” Her name was followed by a slight hesitation. "It’s Brian. We need to talk.”
"I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about Paul Morris,” Goodness told her fellow prayer ambassadors. They sat on the bench in front of the church organ in Paul Morris’s church. "What he really needs is one big, dynamic miracle to snap him out of this lethargy,” Goodness said. She’d thought long and hard about his problems and hadn’t come up with a single brilliant idea.
"What kind of miracle?” Shirley asked, her look skeptical. Goodness knew the third member of their team would be the one she’d need to convince the most. But before she could talk Shirley into participating, she had to come up with a plan of action.
"That’s just it. I don’t know what to do for him. Something that will elevate his faith. Something that will prove that his prayers have been heard, and that he is loved.”
"Something that will let him know that if he feels distant from God, God isn’t the one who moved.”
"Exactly.” Mercy’s insight surprised Goodness. "Paul seems to think that God closed the door in his face.”
"And bolted it shut.”
"Right again, Mercy.” Once more her peer’s assessment of the situation impressed her.
"Exactly what are you two planning?” Shirley did a good job of imitating Gabriel’s stern, distrustful look.
"We aren’t planning anything yet,” Goodness assured her. "That’s the reason I called you both here. I need ideas.”
"All I can say,” Shirley muttered in a righteous tone, "is that you better not think about talking to him through a television set. Gabriel will yank all three of us out of here so fast it’ll make our heads spin.”
"I agree.” Goodness knew without being reminded that anything to do with the electronic media would be pushing her luck. She’d asked for this assignment but was only now beginning to fully appreciate the difficulty of her task.
For several days now she’d been watching Reverend Morris. His son’s engagement had been an unexpected blow. He’d hidden his feelings from Joe and Annie well.
The poor man was torn. He remembered all too well what it was to be young and in love, yet at the same time he’d been looking forward to spending time alone with his son.
"Any ideas?” Goodness threw out the question, ready and willing to listen to suggestions.
"Sure.” Shirley’s enthusiasm for this project surprised Goodness. "We could rearrange the pews, and move the choir loft over there.” She pointed to a row of stained-glass windows against the long side wall of church.
"That’s not a miracle, that’s a mess,” Goodness objected.
"Reverend Morris will think the building was struck by vandals,” Mercy said.
"Do you have any better ideas?” Shirley asked, eyeing the two of them.
"You could also talk to Reverend Morris,” Mercy suggested. "Not through a television screen, but one on one.”
"What would I say?”
Goodness’s tender heart went out to the man of God. She sincerely did want to help Reverend Morris in a way that would prove to Gabriel and others that she had matured. With this new level of personal growth, she could then handle the more complicated assignments on a regular basis instead of these once-a-year jobs.
"A miracle,” Mercy said, running her agile fingers silently along the organ’s keyboard.
"And not the opening from Phantom of the Opera, either.”
"But I love Andrew Lloyd Webber’s music.”
"I know, but resist.”
"All right,” Mercy said, and with a sigh placed her hands in her lap. "I’m not much help, am I?”
"Don’t worry about it.”
Mercy glanced over her shoulder and then lowered her voice. "I’m keeping a low profile these days. After the trick with Joy’s car and then arranging for her to win the drawing at the radio station.”
"How’d you manage that?”
"You don’t want to know.”
"She changed the writing on the winning ticket,” Shirley said in what was apparently a guess.
"But it worked,” Mercy said defensively. "Ted and Joy are attending the game together this evening. I think we should all be there. The Lakers against the Seattle Sonics. It’s going to be a great game, and who knows, we just might be to able to lend a hand now and again.”
"Mercy, you shock me.” This came from Shirley.
"Go on ahead without me,” Goodness told her friends. "I’ll join you later.”
The two looked uncertain, as if they weren’t sure they should leave their cohort behind.
"Are you going to work your miracle?”
"Yes,” Goodness said decisively. Her eye caught the nativity scene placed to the side of the altar. The life-size figures were arranged inside the stable. Mary, Joseph, the wise men, and the shepherds gathered around the manger bed. The star atop the wooden stable was what caught Goodness’s attention.
An angel. Perhaps Goodness was overlooking the obvious. She need only be herself.
A noise at the far end of the church attracted Goodness’s attention. With no time to waste, she rushed to the manger scene and positioned herself at the appropriate spot at the peak of the stable roof.
Pastor Morris walked into the sanctuary just then. Goodness closed her eyes and glowed until the glory of God’s light shone through her. Heat radiated from her body. Her wings were spread to their full magnificent glory.
She waited and waited.
Certain now that she’d captured Reverend Morris’s attention, she opened her eyes, to discover him tucking his sermon notes into the Bible situated at the podium.
Goodness glowed brighter. The light spilled into the church, illuminating the room like a thousand gleaming candles.
Paul Morris walked down the center aisle, pausing now and again to tuck a hymn book in the proper receptacle.
When Goodness couldn’t stand it any longer, she called out to him in her most angelic voice. "Paul Morris.”
The reverend hesitated.
"God loves you,” she told him, certain hearing her say the words would revolutionize the minister’s life.
Paul scratched the side of his head and turned around. It was as if he were blind. After a moment he walked over to the side door, opened it, and stuck out his head.
"Leta,” he called, "did you want me for something?”
"No,” came the faint reply.
Paul scratched the side of his head once more. "I could have sworn I heard my name.” With that he walked out of the church.
Goodness couldn’t believe it. She’d performed perhaps her greatest miracle. She’d risked Gabriel’s wrath. And for what?
Paul Morris hadn’t even noticed.
The doorbell chimed, and Joy Palmer sucked in a deep breath and headed across her tiny apartment. She was actually going out on a date with Ted Griffin. Technically, it was a date.
He had invited her to dinner before the basketball game. She wasn’t fool enough to believe he’d been influenced by anything other than gratitude for the ticket.
So she, like any other red-blooded woman, had made a snap decision to take him up on his generous offer. She’d been admiring him for months, and she wasn’t about to let a golden opportunity like this slip through her fingers.
"Hello again,” he said when she opened the door. He wasn’t wearing a suit but had dressed casually in slacks, a sweater, and loafers. She couldn’t remember ever seeing him in anything but business attire. He looked relaxed. Different.
"Hi.” This evening wouldn’t go well if she couldn’t manage to utter words longer than one syllable.
"I hope you like Mexican food.”
"Yes.” Maybe next time she might try more than one word at a time, she mused.
"Mexican food gives Blythe heartburn, so I don’t get to indulge myself often.”
"I love it.” Better, she thought, forcing herself to relax.
"Great, then we’re off.”
Joy reached for her sweater and purse. She clung to her handbag as if it were a life preserver and prayed Ted wouldn’t notice how nervous she was. It was ridiculous, really. He was just a man. Not unlike a dozen others she’d dated over the years. It just so happened that he’d asked her out because she had two tickets to the hottest game in town.
Ted drove to a chic Mexican restaurant where there were fancy linen napkins on the tables, and minstrels strolling between the tables, serenading couples.
"This is really nice,” she commented while the hostess led them to a table.
"I figured if I was going to sit courtside, then I owed you a meal, but I got to hankering for chicken enchiladas, and hoped Mexican food agreed with your stomach.”
"Chicken enchiladas are my favorite, too,” she said, and smiled up at the hostess as she handed them huge menus. Joy read over the selections, made her choice, and set the menu aside.
Chips and salsa had already been delivered to the table, along with a container of bottled water.
Their waitress came for their orders and left soon afterward. "I want to apologize for throwing myself at your feet and begging you to take me to the game with you,” Ted said, and sipped from a glass of iced tea.
Joy smiled. Little did he know. This night was one she would long remember, she suspected. It was a first date and prom night all rolled into one fantastic evening. He’d spend this time with her, but every night from here on out he’d be with Blythe. Joy would take what she could get.
"My grandmother was absolutely delighted when I told her we were going to dinner,” Ted told her.
"So she said.” Joy suspected Catherine Goodwin would enjoy the role of matchmaker. Unfortunately it wouldn’t work with her and Ted, since Ted was already seeing someone else. From what she surmised, Catherine’s grandson and Blythe were close to becoming engaged.
Their food arrived on huge ceramic plates. Joy dipped her fork into the beans and cheese.
"I hope I haven’t caused you any problems,” Ted surprised her by saying.
"With any male friends.”
"Why would you do that?” The question made no sense.
"Think about it, Joy. Another man, especially someone you were dating on a regular basis, might be offended that you opted to take me to this game and not him.”
"Well, you needn’t worry. There’s no male friend lurking around the corner.”
Ted frowned. "You’re not dating?”
This was a subject Joy had hoped to avoid. "Not at the moment.”
Ted set his fork beside his plate and stared at her as if he found the information puzzling. "You must be joking. You’re young, attractive, and fun. Why aren’t you dating?”
"Listen,” she said, sorry now she’d even answered him, "I won’t ask you questions about your personal life and you don’t ask me, agreed?”
"Agreed,” he responded after a moment, but he seemed taken back by her outburst.