“Goodness,” Shirley warned again.
“I’m just going to glance at the name,” Goodness muttered, carefully lifting the edge of the folded sheet.
“Is it anyone we know?” Mercy demanded, drawing closer.
Goodness eyed Shirley, who was trying not to reveal her own interest. “Well, is it?” Shirley finally asked.
“No,” Goodness said. “I’ve never heard of Anne Fletcher, have you?”
“Anne Fletcher?” Shirley echoed, and then as if her knees had gone out from under her, she sank into the chair reserved for Gabriel. “Anne Fletcher from California,” the former Guardian Angel repeated slowly.
Goodness looked again, lifting the edge of the sheet just a bit higher this time. “Formerly of California,” she said.
“Oh, no!” Shirley cried. “She moved. I wonder why. Tell me where she’s gone.”
“The San Juan Islands,” Mercy said, leaning over Goodness to take a look for herself.
“She’s in the Caribbean?” Shirley said, sounding distraught.
“No, in Puget Sound—Washington State,” Goodness told her.
“I remember it well,” Mercy said with a dreamy smile. “Don’t you remember the Bremerton Shipyard? We had so much fun there.”
“What I remember,” Goodness informed her fellow angel, “was all the trouble we got in when you started shifting aircraft carriers and destroyers around.”
“I don’t know how many times you want me to apologize for that,” Mercy muttered, crossing her arms defiantly. “It was a fluke. Nothing like that’s happened since, and frankly I think you’re…”
Her words faded as she saw Goodness studying Shirley. “How do you know Anne Fletcher?” Goodness asked softly.
“Poor, poor Anne,” Shirley murmured, seemingly lost in thought. “I knew her mother—I was her Guardian Angel. I was with her mother, Beth, when she gave birth to Anne.”
So Shirley had a connection to Anne Fletcher. “I didn’t read the request,” Goodness said, more eager than ever to throw caution to the winds and take a second, longer look.
“Maybe there’s something we can do,” Mercy said. It sounded as if she was encouraging Goodness to flout protocol, and Goodness was happy to go along with the implied suggestion. She quickly scooped up the prayer request, then almost dropped it when a voice boomed behind them.
“Do for whom?” it asked.
Gabriel. The Archangel Gabriel.
Goodness spun around and backed against the side of the huge desk, crushing her wings in her attempt to hide. Oh, this wasn’t good. Gabriel was their friend, but he wouldn’t tolerate their snooping around his desk.
“Nothing.” Mercy moved closer to Goodness until they stood shoulder to shoulder, wing to wing.
Shirley was lost in her own thoughts, sitting in Gabriel’s chair, apparently oblivious to their dire circumstances.
“Do?” Goodness choked out. “Are we supposed to be doing something for someone?”
“It’s Anne Fletcher,” Shirley whispered, peering up at Gabriel, apparently still in a stupor. “We’ve got to help her.”
“Anne Fletcher?” Gabriel’s brow furrowed with concern.
“She’s said a prayer for Roy,” Goodness explained, and boldly handed Gabriel the request, as much as admitting it had been read. “She wants to believe. But she’s worried about her son and has given up hope that anyone can reach him. We can’t let her lose faith—we just can’t!” She gazed up at Gabriel with large, pleading eyes. Her wings were folded back and she hung her head as though she felt the same sense of despair Anne Fletcher did.
Goodness had never seen Shirley so upset. Clearly this Anne person was someone she cared about.
Gabriel made a grumbling sound. Shirley glanced up and with a look of panic realized she was sitting in his chair. She bolted upright, then leaped to one side.
It was such a rare sight to see Shirley ruffled that, had she not felt so worried about her friend, Goodness would’ve been amused.
Once his chair was vacant, Gabriel sat down, ignoring the prayer request. Instead, he removed the massive book from the shelf behind him. With a soft grunt, he set it on his desk. He opened it to the section marked F, and ran his finger down a long list of names inscribed there.
Goodness wasn’t going to risk standing on tiptoe and taking a look. Even she understood when it was best to restrain her curiosity.
“Anne Fletcher,” Gabriel said thoughtfully. “It’s been five years since the divorce.”
“Anne’s divorced?” Shirley whispered. “Oh, my, I didn’t know. How’s she doing?”
“Actually, quite well,” Gabriel told her. “She’s adjusted far better than we’d expected.” He nodded, smiling gently. “She’s gone back to her art and that’s helped her. It says here that she’s living in Washington State, on a small island in Puget Sound.”
“Burton always discounted her talent,” Shirley said, and leaned on her palms against the desk, daring to read the huge volume that documented human lives. “She could’ve been a successful artist had she continued her studies.”
“Still might,” Goodness threw in, implying that she was in the know. She hated being left in the dark when it came to earthly matters. Humans intrigued her. They were the very pinnacle of God’s creation, fearfully and wonderfully made, yet so obtuse. It was hard to believe free will could cause such problems.
“Anne Fletcher is indeed talented,” Gabriel said, “but fame and fortune were never important to her. She’s had to deal with various losses, but as you already know, for every loss there is an equal or greater gain. Often humans have to search for it, though.”
Goodness nodded in full agreement, although she couldn’t begin to guess what God had in store for the fifty-nine-year-old divorced woman. “God has another man for her, doesn’t He?” she ventured.
Gabriel frowned as if Goodness’s comments were starting to irritate him. “No, Goodness, not another man. Frankly, Anne isn’t interested.”
“I don’t blame her for that,” Mercy added. “After what Burton did to her, she’d find it very difficult to trust again, and who could blame her?” She seemed to think that was all anyone needed to say on that subject.
“The prayer is for her son,” Gabriel pointed out as he read the request.
“Roy,” Shirley said. “You remember Roy, don’t you?” she asked mournfully. “He was such a sweet child, so willing to please, so anxious to follow in his father’s footsteps.”
“Burton never forgave him for not pursuing a law degree,” Gabriel commented absently. “Roy is gifted, but he works too hard.”
“I’m sure Anne would like grandchildren,” Shirley said, studying the prayer request.
“Of course she would,” Mercy agreed.
For the first time since they’d entered the room, Shirley smiled. “God provides,” she whispered, and then said in a louder voice, “Isn’t that what you were just saying?”
Gabriel glanced up. “Roy isn’t interested in marriage.”
“Not now he isn’t,” Goodness chimed in. The possibility of romance rose before her—it was such fun to steer humans toward one another! Creating romance was by far her favorite duty on Earth. “We want in on this,” she announced.
Gabriel leveled a fierce gaze on her, and she swallowed hard and took a step back.
“But only if you feel it’s for the best,” she mumbled.
“It’s for Anne,” Shirley pleaded. “Beth’s little Annie.”
“Are you saying the three of you want to return to Earth?”
Shirley, Goodness and Mercy all nodded simultaneously.
“I was afraid of that.” Gabriel stroked his chin. “I’m not sure Earth has recovered from your last visit yet.”
“We’ll be exceptionally good this time,” Mercy promised, folding her hands prayerfully. “I swear I won’t even think about going near an escalator.”
“It isn’t moving staircases that worry me,” Gabriel said. “It’s everything else.”
Goodness stepped forward again. She could tell by the look in his eyes that Gabriel was weakening. “We can help her, Gabe.”
“Gabe?” he bellowed.
“Gabriel,” she corrected swiftly. “I know we can. Besides, I have this romance thing down pat. Humans are eager to fall in love. All we have to do is lead them in the right dir—” She stopped when she saw Gabriel’s expression.
For a moment, no one spoke and then in a low whisper, Shirley said, “Please?”
Gabriel took his time answering while Goodness waited, holding her breath in anticipation. She wanted to visit Earth again. They’d been away far too long—several Earth years at least.
Oh, Gabriel, make up your mind, she muttered to herself. Say yes!
Roy Fletcher hated doing job interviews. He warily regarded the older man sitting on the other side of his desk. Dean Wilcoff had to be close to sixty and retirement. His thinning gray hair was brushed away from his face and his dark eyes met Roy’s squarely. He was big, an inch or two over six feet, broad-shouldered and muscular. He’d obviously maintained himself physically, which was good. As head of building security, it was unlikely he’d be chasing intruders, but he should at least be capable of it if the need arose. Roy glanced over Wilcoff’s résumé a second time. The man had an impressive work history.
“You were with Boeing’s security force for twenty-six years.”
“I was,” Dean answered without elaborating. There’d been some downsizing at the airplane manufacturer, but Roy guessed that Dean Wilcoff had left or been let go for another reason. Still, his Human Resources department had selected this candidate for him to interview.
The dates on Wilcoff’s résumé showed that he’d last worked nine months ago, yet Roy didn’t sense any desperation in the man. Wilcoff should be worried. By now, his unemployment benefits would’ve expired and at his age, obtaining another job wouldn’t be easy.
“What do you know about computers?”
For the first time Roy noticed hesitation in the other man. “Only enough to get around on the Internet. My daughter’s been after me to take one of those courses, but frankly I don’t see the need. I work security. It’s what I know and what I do best. If you hire me, Mr. Fletcher, you can rest assured that no one’s going to break into your offices, day or night.”
Roy raised a skeptical eyebrow. Life didn’t come with guarantees. Everything was suspect. Everything and everyone. This was a lesson he’d learned the hard way, but learn it he had.
“I’ll get back to you,” he said, dismissing the man. He’d finished the round of interviews and although all the candidates were qualified, there hadn’t been a single one he especially liked. The day before, he’d talked to three applicants, and three more today. No one had really impressed him. Unfortunately he needed to make his decision soon if he didn’t want hourly phone calls from his HR director. Well, fine. He’d put the names in a hat and simply draw one. At this point, that was as logical as anything else.