Joel’s house appeared before Ally. She ran for the door. The angel couldn’t be far behind. She scampered up to the door, and opened it. There Joel sat at his table, sipping a cup of tea with Kaylee.
Ally put her fists on her hips and stared at Joel.
Joel winked at her. “You know, just some timey-stuff.”
Kaylee rose and asked, “Do you want some tea, Ally?”
She nodded, then sat in a chair next to Kaylee as Kaylee poured her a cup of tea.
Ally thanked Kaylee for the tea, then said, “I’ll remember that next time, fellow angel.”
Kaylee reseated herself. “Joel here has just finished filling me in on what happened, in as much as he knows. What happened at the dragon testing?”
Ally’s eyes darted between the two. “Well, here’s the short version. After talking to Doodle for a bit, I went where he showed me to go, which was a lake that the stream emptied into. I sat there waiting for what felt like an eternity, but when it happened, it didn’t seem like any time at all had past.”
Kaylee nodded. “I know the feeling very well.”
Ally smiled at Kaylee. “Then, the water started bubbling. I sort of expected a dragon to burst out of the water. Instead, the water shot up into a column and atop the column stood a lady all dressed in white, holding aloft a flaming sword. She shined as bright as any sun, so much so I could barely look at her. Then without a word, she threw the sword toward me—it plunged into the ground next to me—and then she disappeared back into the water.”
Joel’s and Kaylee’s eyes stared hard at Ally as she spoke. As much as they had both seen in their lifetimes, Ally could tell this was something both of them had never heard before.
Ally swallowed another gulp of tea. “After examining the sword stuck in the ground, I figured I was meant to pick it up. So I started to reach for the sword, when a voice rang in my head to stop. It was a dragon, and he said I had a choice. A choice between bonding with him, or picking up the sword and going with you.”
Joel huffed. “And you didn’t ask him what picking up the sword would mean?”
She shrugged. “I didn’t. Guess I just figured picking up the sword meant picking up the sword. I didn’t have any idea that I would end up with it coming out of Paradise, or that it was anything more than a way for me to make my decision concrete to either bond with a dragon or continue on with you as we have been.”
Joel rose and paced the floor. “Boy, oh boy. This could change everything if it means what I think it means.”
Both Kaylee and Ally said, “What?”
“I’ll need to verify it with the Boss, but I also need to know more. How did you decide?”
Ally, unsure what was going on in that crazy mind of his . . . oh wait! She possibly could now. She focused on him, but could hear only Kaylee’s thoughts. “What? You mean we can’t communicate mentally anymore?”
Joel shook his head. “No. The only people angles can talk to mentally is the Boss and other humans, ‘dead’ or alive. Anyway, continue, please.”
Ally took another sip of tea. It helped her to focus. “So, I was thinking about what the dragon said when I audibly heard a different voice behind me. It was Timothy.”
Kaylee held up a finger. “And who is he?”
“Oh, he’s the other candidate for Shushuma.”
“That’s unusual.” Kaylee scratched her head.
“Yes, but God had a reason, as he made sure I would go before he did.”
Joel nodded and said with some impatience, “Okay, but how did you decide?”
Ally frowned. “I’m getting there if you can have a little patience.” When the angel didn’t say another word, but simply stared at her . . . intensely, she said, “I had earlier sensed some self-doubt and lack of confidence in Timothy at the dinner the night before, and he had worked himself into needing a great power from bonding with a dragon to feel important enough to matter. So I simply related to him what I had just learned from the dragon about my purpose in life, that it isn’t so much what you do that gives you purpose, but who you are and love, to fulfill the greatest commandments in Scripture. That’s our purpose. That’s when I realized that I was already fulfilling my purpose, and that God had put me there at that time to help Timothy get his dragon. Not me. So I knew that my path lay with you.” Ally scrunched her forehead. “Why is that a bad thing? I thought that’s what you wanted? Granted, me having angelic powers changes how we might operate together, but what is so ‘this-could-change-everything’ about anyway?”
Joel paced the floor for a while before he said, “Let’s just pray I’m wrong. But I need to check with the Big Boss. Be right back.” Then a light enveloped him, and he disappeared into the light.”
Ally sunk her head. “I didn’t think he’d be like this. I thought he’d be happy for me, for us. Maybe he’s jealous of my new powers?”
Kaylee started cleaning up the cups from the table. “Normally, I would say you could be right. But for some reason, this has him stumped. Granted, nothing like this has ever happened in the angelic world before, but he fears something significant has changed. Not sure what myself.”
Ally stepped toward the couch. “Guess there’s not much to do but wait until he returns and tells us what’s up.” Ally slumped into the couch. She kept thinking about all that had happened, and the sword she now wore on her hip, and what it might all mean.
Joel paced back and forth across the floor. “You may want to sit down for this.”
Kaylee sat at the table, listening in on the discussion.
Ally frowned. “I am sitting down.”
“Oh. Maybe I had better sit down then.” He plopped onto the couch, close to Ally.
Ally examined Joel’s face closely. “So, what’s so bad about me becoming an angel?”
“Well, let’s see. How do I begin?”
“Uh, at the beginning?” Ally gave Joel a slight smile.
Joel cleared his throat. “First off, it isn’t that it necessarily is ‘bad’ as such. More like it was a big, shall we say, shock.” Joel displayed a weak smile.
Ally huffed. “Out with it angel. You’ve been beating around the bush long enough.”
Joel breathed deep. “Okay. I’ve been trying to decide the best route for this. Maybe coming right out with it is best.” Joel swallowed. “That lady on top of the column of water? She was my wife.”
“Your wife!” Ally’s jaw dropped open.
“Yep, and that sword she threw at you, that you picked up? That was to bond with me. To become my . . . uh, wife.”
Kaylee fell out of her chair, but quickly scrambled back up. “She was your wife? How come I didn’t know this?”
Joel shrugged. “Guess it never came up.”
Ally shook her head. “I’m your wife?”
“Pledged to be.”
“But . . . I thought angles couldn’t marry? That there was no marriage in the afterlife.”
Joel breathed deep again. “That is true, for humans. For angels, what we call marriage isn’t the same thing as what you would call it. In other words, there isn’t any mating or children, just very good friendships. In all other ways, it is like human marriage.”
Ally thought for a few seconds. “So, angels can divorce?”
Joel twisted his mouth. “In a manner of speaking. Not like humans do, since we don’t bond so intimately, there is no physical bond to break. More an emotional and spiritual bond. Much like a rider’s bond with his dragon.”
“So, is there a ritual that I, or rather, we would need to go through to be ‘angel-married’?”
“You can if you want to, but it isn’t required.”
“What is required, then?”
“That both parties agree.” Joel watched Ally’s reactions. “No, there’s no sticking of my ‘claws’ into your hands like during the dragon ceremony.”
“That’s good. Guess I’ve already agreed. Crazy system.”
“No, you’ve accepted the pledge to marry me. However, one of the reasons I wanted to know how you decided was to know whether you were ever aware of what picking up the sword meant. I’ve talked it over with the Big Boss, and he agreed. While you are currently pledged to marry me, you can still back out if you wish. The only thing you need to know is that if we don’t bond, that you will lose your angel powers and . . .” Joel cleared his throat. “You’ll no longer come with me to help people, nor will you even remember me or the journeys that we’ve taken together.”
“What!” Ally’s jaw dropped again. “Why?”
Joel mumbled something.
“What did you say?”
Joel blurted out, “Because we’ve been acting as if we were married.”
“We have?” Ally’s jaw dropped yet again.
“You have?” Kaylee blurted out from the kitchen area.
“Yes, and I took full responsibility for it. I know you had no idea, Ally. It’s just, one thing led to another. Next thing you know, we were a team.”
Ally held her head down, without saying a word. Then, she started with a restrained chuckle, which soon turned into laughing.
“What’s so funny about that?” Joel asked.
“Because, that’s what human’s say about love, that ‘one thing led to another.’ The thought of an angel like yourself sinning in that way just struck me funny.”
“Sinning. Me? I mean, it is possible for an angel to get things wrong on rare occasion, but sin? Never. Now, if we had physically bonded, that could get me tossed out of the ranks of angel and listed among the demons.”
“Is it possible for an angel to physically bond? I mean, if one was evil and wanted to?”
“Not since the great apostasy happened. The Big Boss changed us so we could no longer bond in that way. That’s why I said it could never happen. The only way an angel could really sin now is to intentionally go to the other side.”
Ally let our a sigh of relief. “That’s good.”
“Why?” Joel asked. “Am I really that bad looking?”
Both Kaylee and Ally laughed at him.
“No, you’re not bad looking at all. It’s just if I did decide to bond with you, and it tempted you to really sin, I’d hate to be the cause of your downfall. So I would opt to not bond with you. But, why erase all my memories of our time together and that you exist?”
Joel raised an eyebrow while staring at Ally. “You should know the answer to that. Who was the impatient one who drug me away from my poker game?”
Ally nodded. “Oh, yeah. I guess the pull to see you and return would be too great otherwise.”
Joel pulled Ally into a hug. “I’m sorry I ended up putting you through this. My main mission to you was to help you get your emotional connection under control. Beyond that, I should have left you and never told you who I was.”
After a moment, Ally extracted herself from his arms and stood up. “This has been a bit much to take in and process all at once.”
“Understandable,” Joel agreed. “Take all the time you want to decide. We are in Paradise, after all.”
“Three things, one a question, the other two are statements.”
“Go ahead. I can take it, I’m a big angel.”
“First, I need to go somewhere that I can be alone for a while, or at least with some people who could help me think this through.”
Kaylee entered the living room area. “I can come with you, if you’d think it would help.”
Ally smiled. “Sure. The second thing, Joel, is . . .” She waited until she had his full attention. “I forgive you.”
A huge smile crept across his face. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. The one question I have for you is what do you want?”
“Why, I don’t know whether anyone has asked me that before. What do I want? But, I didn’t discuss with the Big Boss whether I had an ‘out’ too.”
Ally stepped over to Kaylee. “But you didn’t have a say in the arrangement either.”
He nodded. “True, but I did treat you as if we were married, justifying it that you didn’t view it that way or know enough that I was viewing it that way, so I convinced myself it was okay. At any rate, it was my fault that you ended up in this situation, so I figured I didn’t have a choice in the matter, I had been acting married to you already. My former wife simply attempted to make it official.”
“Well, you have a choice now. If you don’t want to go through with this, then I don’t want to either.”
Joel smiled and nodded. “Thank you, Ally. I’ll give this some thought myself while you are gone.”
“Good enough.” She and Kaylee disappeared in a flash of light.
Ally and Kelly sat at a table, at a tavern in Jerole. They had appeared just outside of town, walked into town, and to the tavern. Now they sat at a big round oak table, Kaylee apparently waited for Ally to speak.
She grabbed a gulp of ale in a fancy goblet that they had been served. “Crazy, isn’t it.”
“Well, I was referring to the whole marrying Joel thing, specifically, but yeah. All of it is crazy. Ever since Joel has come into my life, it has been crazy and surreal.”
Kaylee nodded. “Tell me about it.”
Ally’s head shot up. “Oh yeah. Joel mentioned recently that he ‘helped’ you. How did you meet him and how did he help you, if you don’t mind sharing.”
“Sure.” Kaylee took a gulp from her goblet. “Joel was our family’s guardian angel, though I didn’t know that part until I arrived in Paradise. The first time I met him was on the sky island. He helped us get down by turning our horses into flying horses. I originally thought he was this ultra-annoying boy full of hormones. What he was attempting to do, I found out after I died, was to help me get over my fear of men, so that I could eventually find a real mate. The only problem was, that it worked so well, that I fell in love with him, but that’s when he began distancing himself from me, because he was an angel and couldn’t marry me in the way he knew I would expect to be married, though I had no clue at the time. All I knew was that he stopped being around me, which ultimately drove me into the arms of another man: Cole Sr. It all turned out good in the end.” Kaylee held up a hand with her thumb and index finger around a quarter-inch apart. “Though I came this close to sinning with Cole. Mentally, I did, so taken with him as I was.”
Ally’s eyes widened. “Wow!”
She nodded. “Awesome and crazy all at the same time.”
“Yeah, like my current situation.” She thought how to phrase the following, just in case he was listening in. “I’m not sure what to do. It’s just that, I have never thought of Joel in that way.”
“But you love him, don’t you? I’ve seen it in him and you both.”
“But not in that way.”
Kaylee shook her head. “You’re thinking about it as if it was an equivalence to human marriage. Angel’s cannot have passion-like love.”
“So what type of love do they have?” Ally listened carefully.
“They have the love of friends, the love of selflessness, and the love of familiarity.”
“The first two I recognize, but I’ve not heard of the last one.”
“Think of a favorite shirt or pet who you love primarily because they are familiar, comfortable, and you’ve had a good experience with them. Over time, they become so much a part of your life that you can’t imagine being away from whatever it is. Though people are more complex than a thing, the love still applies. The more time you spend with someone, the more that type of familiarity-love grows.”
Ally nodded. “I see, it makes sense now.”
“That’s the way that Joel looks at you. It is the only way he is able to love you as an angel—as a friend, as a companion.”
“That’s good, because it is the only way I love him.”
Kaylee smiled. “Us humans always think things won’t change. What if some day you do want passion-love from him?”
Ally shrugged. “I’ll cross that bridge if and when I come to it.”
Kaylee sighed. “But, will you cross the correct bridge? There are wrong bridges you could cross to ‘solve’ that problem.”
“True.” Ally focused on nothing for a moment. “Of course, I won’t know what bridges there will be until I get there.” She focused on Kaylee. “And, does the threat of temptation ever justify the deciding against a course of action?”
Kaylee shook her head. “No, not by itself.”
“So, as I see it, I have two options. Option one is to decline the offer, go back to the way of life I had before I met Joel, I would forget all about him and the adventures we’ve gone on. Which means I wouldn’t be longing for this way of life. I wouldn’t know it even existed.
“Sounds about right.”
Alley took another gulp. “Option two is to accept his offer, angel-marry him, and we would continue to go on journeys together save that now we would be on equal footing as far as ability goes, save for experience.”
“There is one more factor to add into this. If I don’t accept his offer, I will live, hopefully, happily ever after since I will be unaware of this life, however, Joel will not. He will live with the knowledge of what could have been all his ‘life,’ however long that is.”
“Definitely something to consider. Though I’m sure he would bare it well, knowing it was his own fault.”
Ally nodded. “Bare it well? I’m sure I would have him spying on me and observing me from afar for some time.”
Kaylee chuckled. “Or, you’ll regularly be supplied with his tea, which you will ‘mysteriously’ find on your windowsill whenever you’re running low.”
Ally grinned. “Really? He did that?”
Kaylee nodded with a big smile.
Ally’s somber down-turned mouth returned. “I guess God has erased all the other possible options as real potentials to choose.” Ally stood, tossed some money that she had appear within her tunic’s pockets onto the table to pay for the drinks. “Okay, I’ve made my decision. Let’s go. We’ve got work to do.”
Ally stood before Joel, a frown graced her face, along with a hung head. She stared up at Joel. “So, what is your decision before I tell you mine.”
He sat on the couch. “I feared this day might come. Ever since you agreed to come with me.” He swallowed. “If you’ll have me, I’d be graced to have you continue to travel by my side as my angel-wife.”
Ally allowed her head to sink down. “That’s all well and good, but I’m thinking a few things. One, you took advantage of me when I didn’t know any better.” Joel started to talk but Ally held her hand up. “I did forgive you for that, still, it has to be an indicator of how I could expect our future relationship to go.”
Joel nodded unenthusiastically.
“Two, you’ve kept information hidden from me, like the fact that you’ve had a wife, why you didn’t want me to go to discover whether I should be a dragon-rider or not, the information of what my consequences would be by going with you, the list could go on and on.”
Joel nodded. “Though in my defense, I do have a long history. It would be hard to reveal the last three to four thousand years of my history to you adequately.”
“Naturally. But I would expect important things to be related to me, like that you had a wife, and that I was fulfilling her role, unknown to me. I would think those are two key bits of information you would convey up front, don’t you agree?”
His head sank. “Yeah. I should have told you about those things.”
“And probably some other things that I’m still oblivious to.” Joel raised his hand and started to speak. Ally cut him off. “It’s a little bit late to enter in new evidence of your guilt, don’t you think?”
He nodded his head to the side. “Eh? Probably.”
“Third and finally,” she paused for effect. She could see that Joel was bracing himself for the coming decision. She glanced at Kaylee, who stood there stoically. “Because of those reasons, and the fact you are a pitiful example of an angel . . . “
Ally walked over to the bedroom door and flung it open. “I’ve moved it to help your sorry excuse for being an angel.”
Joel fell the floor and banged on it, crying and lamenting. “Woe is me, for I am undone!” Then he stopped, looked up at Ally, who now grinned as big of a grin as she could. “What did you just say?”
“I essentially said despite your faults, I do love you, as an angel, and my answer is yes.”
Kaylee clapped her hands gleefully. “I do love a happy ending!”
Joel rose to his feet, still not fully taking everything in. “You said ‘yes’?”
Ally pointed at Joel. “Gotcha!”
Joel examined his, that is, now their, bedroom. It was fuller than it had been, with an additional twin bed, dresser with a mirror, and a nightstand. “When did you have time to move all this?”
Joel knew the answer as he said it, because he said in unison with Ally, “Timey stuff!”
Ally giggled. “Yeah, Kaylee and I did it while we were at the dragon’s testing thing.”
“Ah, so that’s why the world was so strange back then. For a while, there were three of you in the world at the same time. One in paradise, one in the Dragon’s Hall, and one at my house.”
Kaylee pulled out a cup and a pot of tea. “I suggested, for witnesses sake, that we solidify this agreement with drinking from a common cup of tea.”
Joel smiled. “Sounds perfect. The only problem is, we would need more than one witness.”
Ally said, “Will around fifty or so do?”
A rap on the door sounded through the house. Joel opened the door to find a small crowd outside his front door.
Ally greeted them, then said to Joel, “It was hard to hide that I was moving in, so by the time we finished moving in, we had a large crew helping us from Paradise.”
Ally and Joel stood by the table as Kaylee poured tea in the cup. Joel took the cup and said, “I promise to do my best to no longer deceive you, but to treat you as the true angel you are. I pledge my life and my undying support and love to you, Ally of Reol.” He took a sip from the cup and passed it onto Ally.
Ally, having a hard time keeping from crying, said, “I promise not to pull another deceptive trick on you like I just did—though you deserved it—and I pledge my life for yours, my heart for yours, my so that we may be one soul and one team, even if there are two of us. I love you as the angel I am and you are. I pray that I can be a true help-meet in your journeys to help other people. We’ll do it together, Angel Joel of Paradise.” Ally gladly took a sip of the tea to a crowd clapping and cheering.
It was the sweetest and best tasting tea she had ever tasted.
Ally gazed around, awed by her surroundings. She and Joel walked through an about 50 yard hall, filled with pillars on the left and right. Beyond the pillars were areas where lower ceilings extended, mostly containing tables, which she figured were for big feasts and such. They made their way down the long walkway toward a dais, with seven chairs on it, apparently for a meeting of the council that governed this community. Light shown especially bright, centered on a chair in the middle carved with special designs that Ally had never seen before. She swung her head up—light poured in from outside through holes in the high ceiling. No doubt directed into the hall using polished metal. A wall rose behind the chairs, stopped halfway to the ceiling, before heading into a loft as its floor. Ally saw a couple of dragons sleeping in the loft. She smiled when one of them snored.
Joel turned his head toward her. “What’s so funny?”
“I had no idea that dragons snored like my grandmother.”
Joel chuckled. “Dragons do snore. Usually much louder than people do.”
Ally pointed at the woman who had just seated herself in the center chair. “What is her name again?”
“Kathryn, but everyone calls her Kelly.”
As they drew closer, Kelly’s features came into view. Long, black hair had been tied into a ponytail. Her high cheekbones and narrow but squared jaw gave her the air of a leader. Then Ally saw her piercing, green eyes. They seemed to see right through her.
Joel whispered to Ally, “Follow my lead.” He formed a fist with his right hand and put it to his chest, then bowed. “Greetings, President of the Dragon Council. It is good to see you again.”
Ally did what Joel did, but didn’t say anything, hoping her actions would be sufficient.
Kelly grinned. “It is good to see you again as well, Joel. So reports of a companion in your wanderings are accurate.”
Joel swung his left arm toward Ally. “This is Ally, Ally of Reol. She has a request to make of you.” Joel motioned for her to go ahead and speak.”
Ally cleared her throat. “I’m interested in finding out whether I should bond with a dragon or not. I want to go through whatever test to discover that.”
Kelly nodded. “Let’s talk about this over some coffee and tea.”
Joel winked at Ally.
Once they had received some tea or coffee, depending on the preference of each, Kelly moved from small-talk with Joel to why Ally had come.
Kelly took a sip of her coffee. “First, I should tell you that the life of a guardian or rider is a difficult one, full of danger, lots of traveling, working to find and prevent attacks not only upon us, but also our allies. It can also be a great benefit and the rewards are, as one rider of old put it, ‘out of this world.’”
Kelly smiled and Ally smiled back. Kelly took another sip of her coffee. “Going through the testing used to be much more secretive than it is today. With Cole and Grinoth’s work in opening up the outside world to our existence here—may God have mercy upon their souls—we normally have people come here to go through Shushuma all the time. As a matter of fact, we have one other candidate ready to go through it as well.
Ally asked, “What exactly is Shushuma?”
“Oh, that’s a fancy word for the testing one goes through to be bonded with their dragon.”
“Got it.” Ally smiled real big. “And I’ve recently talked to Co—“
Joel glared at her.
Ally’s mouth hung open for a second before she continued. “That is, I’ve heard a lot of stories about Cole, being that we were from the same town and all.”
“You’ll find some things you’ve been told are accurate, while most are not. Best not to rely upon them.”
Ally opened her mouth, but Joel broke in before Ally could defend herself. “Yes, Kelly is right. You really shouldn’t rely upon old wife's tales.” Joel turned to face Kelly. “Now why don’t you tell her more about Shushuma? I’m . . . I mean, we’re busy people.”
“Joel, you of all people should know how important this is. It should not be rushed.” Kelly stared Joel.
He sighed. “I know, I know. Please, go on.”
“Okay.” Kelly glanced at Ally, then to Joel, then she focused on Ally. “Anyway, the testing is more open than it used to be, so now we go straight to wearing the gloves, as that presents the real test anyway. Once you’ve gone through that, you’ll either come back with a dragon or not, as the case may be.”
Ally nodded with a curl of her lips. “Cool. When do we start?”
Tomorrow morning. Timothy will be going through this with you. Also, it is traditional to have a feast the night before Shushuma. I hope you both can make it. Alley grinned. “I would love to attend.” She turned to face Joel. “We can be there. Right?”
He smiled. “I love the feasts. Of course we’ll be there.”
The smell of a multitude of foods filled the air. The tables bulged with meats, various side dishes, and deserts.
Ally breathed in deep to take in all the flavors through her nose. “Wow! This is what I call a feast.”
Joel, who walked into the Great Hall with her nodded. “The guardians are well known for their feasting, that is true.” He pointed to a couple of empty chairs toward the front of the head table. “I believe that is where we are supposed to sit.”
As they approached, Kelly, who sat at the head of the table stood and motioned to the chairs. “Welcome, our treasured guests.”
Joel bowed to her, so Ally followed Joel’s lead. treasured Ally jerked her head toward Joel. “That wasn’t your voice in my head!”
Joel nodded toward the loft where several dragons sat, having their own feast. “That was one of them.”
“Dragons can mind speak?”
“Sure, though they often don’t intrude on other’s thoughts without permission, save for their own bondling. But I imagine they are just as interested in you as you are in them.”
Ally stole a look at the loft. She mouth dropped when a rather bulky dragon winked at her. “Joel, is that my dragon?”
He laughed. “No telling at this point. That will be decided tomorrow—if you do end up with one.”
She frowned at Joel as she seated herself. “You would have to add that thought.”
He smiled. “Are you that desperate to get away from me? How quickly you change my dear. One hour you are forcing me away from my vacation to be with you, only to seek to leave me once you’ve got me?”
Ally refused to smile back at the angel’s jab. “No, it’s not that. It’s just I need to find out if I’m supposed to be here at all.”
Ally swung around to the guy who sat next to her. A black, short-cut haired young man greeted her. A lanky, but otherwise muscular arm reached out to shake her hand. She took his hand and gave him a firm handshake. “I assume you must be Timothy?”
“Yes. I am.” He swept the room with his eyes. “This is all so exciting, isn’t it?” His eyes stopped moving when he saw the dragons in the loft.
She also gazed at the dragons. “Yes, it is. To think we could be riding one of those fine dragons tomorrow.” The thought was enough to take her heart away to thoughts of flying through the clouds. In her peripheral vision she could see Joel’s frown. He quickly cleared his throat and started chatting with Kelly about something.-
Ally wished she could console the angel, but what if she did end up staying here and he was to go his own way? She shoved such thoughts out of her mind. After all, they would know tomorrow the outcome and she would have to deal with it then. Not now.
She returned her attention to Timothy. “My name is Ally from Reol. Good to meet you.”
His eyes grew wide. “You’re from Reol? That is where Cole is from. Wow! What’s it like living there?”
“Well, there is a big forest surrounding it—very pretty in the fall—and during winter—“
“No, no. I mean what is it like living there in the shadow of such great men like Sikso and Cole?”
She shrugged. “I don’t know. What is it like not living with such a history in your town of . . . ?”
“I’m from Dragon’s Inn.”
She chuckled. “And your asking me what it is like?”
He laughed. “I see what you mean. But all my life I’ve felt the pull to be a dragon rider like Cole. I’ve studied him and tried to emulate his life.”
“That’s pretty hard to do, considering the unusual way he started out and the power he had.”
.“I know. Tell me about it. I’ve tried to at least find a wizard that I could study under, but all I’ve got for the effort are a few parlor tricks, not real magic.” Then a big smile crept across his face. “But I’m sure to get a dragon and a power with it. Then I’ll be something.”
Ally nodded, but she turned on her own power of feeling other people’s emotions. Happiness and joy filled soul from all the people in the building, save one. Timothy. From him she felt a lack of confidence. Strange since he came across as a confident man. But she had realized a long time ago the mask people attempt to put on when in public.
Before she could say anything more, Kelly rose and banged an empty cup on the table. She gave an introductory speech to the people seated in the hall. Both her and Timothy stood when requested and someone even sang a song in their honor. Then she ate and chatted some more with Timothy. It was a magical night, especially watching the dragons celebrating in their own unique manner of roaring on occasion and blasting fire into the air. The sight was so powerful that it sent chills up her spine every time they did it.
But the evening eventually wound down and Ally retired for the night, dreaming of riding in the clouds with her own dragon.
The next morning, they sat at one of the tables, eating some type of hash browns with vegetables for breakfast. Surprisingly, they tasted pretty good. Better than she expected. She ate the whole plate. Not only because they were delicious, but because she couldn’t wait to put on those gloves.
Soon, Kelly showed up with a fairly plain box made of some type of wood, Ally wasn’t sure what kind. Kelly opened the box, pulled out a pair of woven metallic gloves. She held them up and said, “Who’s first?”
Timothy’s hand shot up. “I’ll go!”
Ally’s heart bubbled with joy for Timothy, knowing how long he’d waited for this day. She prayed he would get a dragon.
Kelly pointed to a small wooden bench next to her. “Lay here and put your hands up.”
Timothy laid down, quickly but resolutely as if suddenly recognizing the importance of this moment. He stuck his hands into the air. “I’m ready.”
Kelly moved the gloves toward his hands, but stopped short of putting them on. She wrinkled her forehead. “Strange, but something isn’t right here.”
Timothy’s mouth fell open. “You mean, I don’t even get a chance to find out whether I get a dragon?”
Kelly shook her head. “No, you’ll get your chance.” She turned her gaze toward Ally. “It’s just that I’m getting the strong impression that Ally should go first.”
Ally shrugged. “I don’t mind if Timothy goes first.”
Kelly sighed. “It’s not that I think girls should go first, rather I’m getting a strong impression that the, as Joel would say, Big Boss wants you to go first.” Kelly motioned for Ally to lay on the bench.
Ally shifted her view to Joel. He nodded. “I’m getting the same info from upstairs.”
Timothy rose, then sat at the table. His mouth wore a frown while his eyes communicated confusion. “I suppose I’ve waited this long, what is another few minutes?”
Ally stood while mouthing “Sorry” to Timothy, who cracked a small smile in response. She lay on the bench and put her hands into the air. This was it. Now maybe she would discover her purpose in life. The gloves slipped onto her hands, and the room with Joel, Kelly, and Timothy faded into black.
As the world came back into view, she lay in a meadow. She rose and did a 360 to view the area. On the edge of the meadow stood a forest, and a babbling brook ran along the other side, entering the forest at a ninety-degree angle to the line of trees. The surreal glow of the area told her where she now stood: Paradise. “I’ve been here before!”
“Yes, you have,” a familiar voice said. She spun around to see Doodle’s distressed face. “And we need to get you back to Kaylee’s house before you know who realizes you’re here. Why did you wander away again? Do you want Joel to no longer be with you?”
Ally held out her palms toward Doodle. “No, no, no. You’ve got it all wrong. I did put on the gloves this time.”
His mouth formed the shape of an “O.” “So you are here to find a dragon?”
Ally smiled and nodded.
“Well, what do you know? I didn’t think you would convince Joel to let you go through with it.”
Ally shrugged. “He wasn’t too hard to convince. Why do you think that?”
“He, ah . . . he, well, he sort of talked about you a lot.”
“What do you mean that he ‘talked about me a lot’? What did he say?”
Doodle’s face flushed. “I’ve already said too much. But it was all positive. The way he went on about you at the poker game before you whisked him away, I just didn’t think he would be so keen on you getting a dragon, is all.” After a moment of silence, Doodle said, “If you’re here to get a dragon, then follow me to the stream.”
Ally went with Doodle while wondering at the words he’d spoken about what Joel had said. No wonder he acted the way he did when she mentioned coming here.
Once they reached the brook, Doodle stopped and pointed downstream. “You follow the river to a small lake. Then wait there, and eventually you’ll meet your dragon.”
“How long is ‘eventually’?”
Doodle shrugged. “How long is eventually in Paradise? Who knows, there’s no time here. Just wait there, someone will be along . . . eventually.”
Ally nodded. “See you later.”
“I certainly hope so.”
She smiled, then turned to head downstream. As she entered the forest, she marveled at how the light didn’t change. In her world, trees offered shade from the sun in a forest. Here, however, everything gave off light—plants, rocks, the ground, all animals, even herself—so that there was no need for a sun. She strolled through tall trees that reminded her of Brownwood trees back home. They towered, she figured, about 75 yards into the air. Finally, she came to a lake. A distant shore in the background indicated, at least to her, that this wasn’t a “small” lake. She sat on a log by the shore and watched the water lap onto the shoreline.
Ally waited for eventually to arrive, and it eventually did in the form of bubbling waters. The bubbles grew to a gush of bubbles, then a water column shot into the air. On the top of the column stood a lady dressed in dazzling light. She held aloft a sword, a flaming sword, much like Joel’s. Then she tossed the sword toward Ally. Ally ducked to form a ball. The sword stabbed into the ground beside her.
Then the water column started sinking. Ally stood up and said, “Wait, don’t go. Someone has to tell me what this means!” Despite her pleas, the angelic creature sank into the waters until the lake swished with the small waves of water washing over the shoreline.
Ally huffed, then stepped around the flaming sword in a circle. After a moment, she decided she was intended to pick up the sword. She reached her hand out grab the hilt.
Echoed inside her head. She jerked her hand back and scanned the area. A dragon stood before her, about twenty feet high. Fat body, small head, the classical fire-breathing dragon type. He—assuming it was a he—had folded his wings up alongside his body. He was definitely intimidating.
“Are you my dragon?” Ally sat back down on the log.
The dragon sat on his haunches. “Maybe, maybe not. That depends on what you choose.” He pointed his tale at the sword. “If you pick up the sword, you’ll stay with the angel. If you do not, you’ll stay with me.”
Ally stood and started pacing back and forth as she talked. “But I came here so I wouldn’t have to choose. I wanted to know what God wants me to do. I wanted to know my purpose in life.”
“Those are two different questions. What God wants you to do has nothing to do with it. It is what God wants you to be, and who you are to affect in your doing that gives one purpose. You could serve God and others equally either way, by staying with Joel or going with me. There is only one catch if you go with me, you will lose your ability to sense what others are feeling.”
“Because you’ll get a new ability when you join with me.”
The dragon laughed, sort of. “If I knew that, I would be God.”
Ally huffed. “So I’m supposed to make a decision here without all the facts. A decision I had hoped to avoid.”
“That is your decision as to what you should do with your life. It is God’s decision as to how you fulfill his plan by what you do.”
Ally thought for a second. “But for God to be able to do that, he would have to know what I’m going to choose? Even before I know what I will choose.”
The dragon smiled.
“So, you are saying that God knows what I am going to choose, and based on what I choose, he predestines me to a certain purpose?”
The dragon nodded. “You’ve got it. Though, in reality, we all have the same basic purpose.”
Another voice sounded behind Ally. “Hey, what are you doing here? I just left you in the Great Hall.”
She turned to spot Timothy standing by the shore. “I don’t know. We can’t be wearing the same pair of gloves at the same time, can we?” She turned back toward the dragon.
The dragon roared with laughter. “You of all people, Ally of Reol, should know that time is mutable in Paradise.”
She examined the dragon. “I suppose so. It was just so unexpected.” Her eyes grew wide. “I know what I should do!”
The dragon smiled as only a dragon can do. “I knew you’d figure it out.”
Timothy glanced between them. “What are you two talking about? I don’t even know where here is?”
She had been brought here to help Timothy, more than herself. That’s why she had to go first. Ally turned on her emotional connection and focused on Timothy. “You’re not looking at this correctly. It isn’t what great power one has or what great accomplishments you can do that gives one purpose, rather it is following the first and second greatest commandment in Scriptures: to love God and to love each other as yourself. That is what God’s purpose and plan is for each of us. We choose what we will do . . . ” She reached over and grabbed the hilt of the sword and pulled it into the air. “But God works through us and what we do to help us fulfill the greatest commandments.”
Timothy stared in awe at Ally as the flaming sword lit up the area even more, if possible, than it already was. “Wow, you’re right!”
“And now that Ally has made her choice, you also have a choice, Timothy.” The dragon shot flames into the air with a great roar. “If you choose to bond with me, you will serve in the kitchen and cleanup maintenance for the rest of your days. If you don’t, then you don’t. However, you will become an apprentice to a wizard and become a great wizard much like Josh. But, you will not have a dragon with you. What do you choose?”
Timothy’s head bowed as he mumbled, “The kitchen? Cleanup? I could have done that at home.” Then he raised his head. “But then, I would not be bound to a dragon either. And I’ve dreamed about that, have planned for it.” Timothy walked to the shore and stared out across the water for about a minute or two. Then he turned around and walked up to the dragon. “What is your name?”
“I thought you’d never ask. But before I tell you, what is your decision?”
Timothy smiled. “I choose bonding with you.”
The dragon roared. “I’m glad you have chosen me. You will not regret it.”
Timothy cocked his head to the side. “Why?”
“Because, my name is Grinoth.”
Timothy’s eyes grew wide. “Grinoth! Cole’s dragon! But I thought he had gone onto a different world?”
“He did.” The dragon smiled. “I am Grinoth, Jr.”
Timothy shook his head. “I can’t believe it!” Then Timothy dashed to the dragon and hugged his leg.
Grinoth caught Ally’s eye as she stared at them and winked at her. She winked back.
All went black, to be followed by a return of the Great Hall, and an astonished angel’s wide eyes staring at her.
She rose to a sitting position and took off the gloves, handing them to Kelly. She scanned the area, but saw no dragon. Timothy still sat where he’s sat when she went to Paradise. Apparently for him, what she’d experienced was still in his future. “Joel, why are you staring at me like that?”
Joel pointed at her. “You came back with something.”
“What?” She stood and a rattling noise came from her left. She glanced around until her eyes saw what made the noise: a sheath with a sword in it. She reached for the hilt.
Joel held out a hand. “Don’t remove it. We need to discuss this in private.”
“Okay, let’s go now.”
Timothy lay down on the bench, the gloves slid on him and he appeared to become unconscious.
Joel nodded toward Timothy. “Don’t you want to find out how Timothy fairs?”
She stepped toward the door. “I already know how he fairs.” She glanced up at Joel. “Timey-shifting stuff, you know.”
Once they were outside, and strolling among the trees Joel said, “Does that sword, perchance, burst into flames when you pull it out?”
“Why yes it does. Hey, you want to see?” She reached for the hilt.
Joel held up a hand. “No. I know what a flaming sword looks like.” He firmly grabbed Ally by her shoulders and looked deep into her eyes. “Only angels carry flaming swords.”
“Are you suggesting that I’m an angel now?”
“Either that, or some angel in inventory is out of a job today.”
“Well, I did have a watery tot throw the sword at me.”
Joel cracked a smile.
“What? What’s so funny?”
“It’s from another world. You wouldn’t understand.” Joel mouth changed from a smile to a more serious demeanor. “You are now, an angel for sure, with angel powers. Though I don’t know if you are human or not still. This is a first, an unprecedented move.”
Ally smiled. “So I can go to Paradise whenever I want?”
“You could live there.”
“And I can go anywhere and anytime like you can?”
“I would believe so.”
“Race you to your house!” Then Ally disappeared in a flash of light.
Joel shook his head as he gazed into the sky. “Are you sure this was a good move? Really?” He, likewise, disappeared as light dimmed in his wake
Ally discovered that she did indeed need the downtime. She had time to mentally process all that had happened to her, what she had experienced. Yet a week had gone by with no sign of Joel. Had he forgotten about her? Did he find some other girl to run thither and hither with? Maybe he would never take her with him, again and she would live out the rest of her life normally?
An idea popped into her mind—maybe Joel was waiting on her to call him? She cupped her hands around her mouth and yelled out, “Joel, Joel. Can you hear me? If so, please drop by.” She waited a few minutes for an answer. When none came, she repeated her request, but it achieved the same result. Ally flopped down on her couch. “He’s never coming back.” She let out a big breath of air in resignation to the idea.
Then yet another idea invaded her mind. She jumped up and ran into her room. She rummaged through her drawers and a couple of chest in which she stored various objects. Then, upon opening up a drawer, she saw what she had searched for—a little bell.
She held it in her palm and said, “God, please honor this request of mine, that Joel will return when I ring this bell. Amen.” She imagined that God laughed at the request.
Then she returned to her living room and rang the bell. A blinding flash of light enveloped the room, then died off to reveal Joel, who was positioned as if sitting on a chair. He wore a ridiculous costume: a pin-striped shirt, with a fancy lace-outlined vest, and a hat that only had a brim on the front, but no top. Initially, he stared at at his hands as if they held something, but then his eyes first squinted at his hand, then they opened up, darting around. Finally, when he realized he no longer sat on a chair, his eyes grew wide as he fell to the floor in a crash.
“Wha . . . what happened?” His head turned until his eyes landed on Ally. “Oh, it’s you.”
“Good to see you again too.”
He stood up, brushed himself off, then his clothing changed into his normal white angel “dress” or robe, she wasn’t sure what they called it. “I was playing poker with some angel friends,” he said.
Ally wrinkled her forehead. “Poker?”
“Sort of like your game of card shark, only with slightly different rules.”
“Now, what’s the deal with interrupting my week’s vacation?”
“Vacation? You mean to tell me angels get vacation time?”
“Of course we do.” He cleared his throat. “Though the rules are different. But the better question is how did you pull me here without my consent?”
Ally held up the bell and gave it a ring.
The color drained from Joel’s face. “Oh no! Micheal didn’t pay you a visit, did he?”
Ally chuckled. “No. This is my own bell. I asked God to use it to bring you here, and he did.”
Joel scowled at Ally. He reached out a hand. “Give me the bell.”
Ally started to pull it back, but then gave it to him. “Have it if you want. I don’t need a bell to call you here. I can just ask the Big Man to do it for me.”
Joel threw the bell on the ground. “Fine. Just let me know before you pull me here next time.”
Ally bent over to retrieve her bell. “I tried to contact you, but it wasn’t working. I thought you had forgotten about me.” Ally froze, then slowly turned toward Joel. “Hold on a minute. Why were you on vacation? I thought I was the one that needed the ‘downtime’ as you called it.”
“I was overdue for one and it seemed like a good time. So, I wasn’t listening for you.”
Ally stuck out her bottom lip. “Well, I guess that is okay.”
“Though I am sorry for your trouble in contacting me. So, what do you want?”
She shrugged. “I’m bored. I’m ready for our next adventure.”
Joel rubbed his chin for a moment. “Hum. First I would have to say goodbye to my guests.”
Ally jumped. “Great, then I can go with you!”
“I don’t know if that is such a good idea. Remember what happened last time you came to my house?”
“I promise not to wander off this time.”
Joel looked her up and down. “Well, if you promise not to get into any trouble.” He pointed a finger at Ally. “But don’t get me in trouble with Michael again. Otherwise . . .” Joel gulped. “It really could be the bell for me, again” He shook his head. “How do I allow myself to be talked into these things?”
They both disappeared in an angelic light-flash.
They both appeared about the same place that Ally recalled last time. There was the same quaint cottage with a garden next to it growing Joel’s tea, except this time no one was tending it.
Joel waved her to follow. “Come on inside.”
Ally did a double-take. “You mean, I get to go inside this time?”
“Like, yeah! I’m not letting you out of my site.”
She followed the angel down his short walk-way, up his porch, complete with a swing on the right end of it, and through his creaky screen door that reminded her of her grandmother’s house. Once inside, a soft couch and rocking chair set, both needed dusting, and a round dining room table gave a particular ambiance that she had never associated with Joel before. Around the table sat eight people, only one who she recognized, Kaylee.
One of the men spoke out, “Well there you are, Joel. We wondered where you had disappeared to.”
Joel held out his arms toward Ally. “Here is the reason for my sudden departure. I’m afraid I must get back to work; vacation is over.”
“You mean to tell me a little girl commands the great angel Joel around!” Guffaws followed those remarks from another guy.
“Joel,” Ally said. “Aren’t you going to introduce me?” Then Ally recognized the man who just spoke. “Doodle!”
He stood and bowed. “Hi, Ally. How are you getting along with your new dragon?”
She glanced at Joel. “Just fine. He’s a little ornery at times, but for an angel, he’s not too bad.”
Everyone laughed again. Once Doodle regained his composure, he added, “I don’t know. Joel is a little too scrawny to lift you into the sky.” Laughter erupted again.
Ally shot a glance at Joel. His face had turned red, whether from embarrassment or anger she wasn’t sure. Joel scowled at Doodle. “She never got a dragon for your information. As a matter of fact, you almost single-handedly ruined her life trying to play dragon-matchmaker!”
Everyone’s laughter died off, and their smiles disappeared. Kaylee spoke up, “Now Joel, the guys were simply having a bit of fun.”
Ally tried to divert the conversation. “Maybe it would be best for the rest of you to introduce yourselves. How about if we start with you, to the right of Doodle there, and go around the table until you come to Kaylee sitting the Doodle’s left?”
Joel grumbled something under his breath as he sat on the rocking chair.
The first man arose from his chair and bowed. “My name is Seth.” Ally nodded at each one as they spoke in turn. “Mine is Sisko.” “I’m called Jake, Sisko’s brother.” “Josh.” “I’m Cole.” “And to top it off, I’m Kaylee’s brother, Nathan.”
Ally stared at them each in turn. “Wow! This is like a list of the biggest names in Camellia’s history!”
Most of them said together, “Camellia?”
Seth asked, “Isn’t that a flower?”
Kaylee pointed out the window. “Of course it is, but it is also what Ally decided to call our world.”
Sisko nodded. “I like it.”
Cole lifted his cup of tea, made from the plants growing in Joel’s garden. “I like it too. So much so, that I propose a toast to the name Camellia for our world. It’s about time our world had a name. Let’s make it official!”
Everyone at the table raised their tea cups and clinked them together. Scattered “Hear, hears” echoed around the table. Ally beamed as they took sips of their tea.
Ally pointed at a cup. “Don’t suppose I could get a cup of tea?”
Kaylee hopped to her feet. “Of course. Have a seat.”
As Kaylee worked to make her a cup of hot tea, Ally decided to ask a question. “I’ve been curious ever since I was here last and was almost joined to a dragon. Should I think about joining with a dragon and what is it like?”
Sisko shook his head. “I only rode one very briefly. Cole and Doodle here could speak more to that.”
Cole sat back in his chair. “Well, depends on if you have anything else going on in your life, because being bonded to a dragon is as much like a marriage as anything, as well as a life-long commitment to protect and fight for your dragon.”
“Until, death do you part.” Doodle smiled.
“That’s right.” Cole took a sip of his tea. “About the only way to find out whether or not you are a ripe for such a life is to go through the testing phase yourself.”
Ally thought for a second. “I think I would like to investigate this further.”
“Now hold on one minute,” Joel spoke up. “I don’t think this is a good idea.”
Doodle laughed. “Why not, my dear angel? It is the best way to find out whether she’s fit for the task.”
“Well . . . because, because I don’t like it. We’ve been going around helping people for a time now. We’re a team. And a darn good team if I do say so myself.”
Ally smiled. “Aw, Joel. I didn’t know you cared that much.”
“I . . . don’t care ‘that much’. It’s just that, that I need your ability to help me.”
Ally placed a hand on Joel’s hand. “It will be okay. You know that ultimately it is up to the Big Man anyway, right?”
“You would have to bring him up.” Joel looked at the table of people. “Isn’t anyone going to support me?”
Seth cleared his throat. “Joel, you know we are your friends and will gladly support you in any endeavor you choose.”
Joel smiled. “Thank you, Seth.
“Hold on, I didn’t finish. In like manner this isn’t about you, it’s about Ally. I can’t speak for the others, but I have a good feeling about her. If she wants to explore this life-purpose, I don’t see any reason to deny her the request.”
Nods and murmurings of agreement rose from the rest of the table.
Joel stood up. “Alright already! Kaylee, I assume you can see to the departure of my guest?”
Kaylee nodded. “Sure.”
“Okay, Ally, let’s go.” A bright light engulfed her and Joel.
When they reappeared, she stood in the midst of a large valley surrounded by mountains. Dense but beautiful vegetation surrounded them. Ally did a one-eighty to take in the area. “Where are we?”
“Where do you think? The Dragons’ Battle Field, naturally. Follow me to the Dragon’s Hall and I’ll introduce you.”
“Really? You’re taking me to see the dragons?” She clapped her hands together.
“That’s what you wanted, wasn’t it?”
“Yes.” She stopped walking. “Joel, how did you manage that back at your house?”
Joel turned to face her. “Manage what? Coming here? I thought by—“
“No, not coming here. I want to know how you could be so grumpy while sitting in Paradise?”
“It wasn’t easy.” Joel’s eyes locked with Ally’s until they both broke up laughing. Joel resumed heading for Dragon’s Hall. “The truth of the matter is that I’ve grown used to having you with me. I wouldn’t like losing you to a dragon’s life. But I couldn’t say that in front of the others.”
Ally caught up to him to walk beside him. “Why not?”
“They wouldn’t understand. They would suspect that I was becoming romantically involved with you, something angels are prohibited from doing.”
“You mean, angels can’t have wives and babies?”
Joel laughed. “No, we cannot?”
“But the stories about Kaylee? What about those?”
“That was different.”
“In what way?”
Joel frowned. “I was tasked with helping her through her fear of men, due to issues you wouldn’t understand. Once I fixed that, I began the work of extracting myself from her desires for me.”
Ally shook her head. “No wonder.”
“No wonder, what?”
Ally sighed. “No wonder she had such a hard time trusting a man.”
Joel huffed. “Like I said, you wouldn’t understand. Now, let’s go get Susuhma over with.”
“You and your strange words.” Ally followed the angel up the steps leading to a big ledge in front of a set of giant doors embedded into the mountainside.
A clear blue sky greeted Ally as the bright-white light of angel-transportation dimmed, moving them to a new place and probably time. I wonder where we are?As if he had read her mind—and for all she knew, he did—Joel responded, “This is a place called Earth.”
“Earth?” She shook her head. “Why would somebody name a world after dirt?”
Joel shrugged. “I suppose for the same reasons one might name it after a flower.” He winked.
“Yeah, however, a flower is pretty. But dirt?”
“It is a very valuable commodity here.” Joel licked his finger and stuck it up in the air. “Appears we are in Kansas, United States of America, um, around the year 2008, give or take a couple of years.”
She ignored the strange names Joel spouted out as if she should know where Kansas was, and instead scanned the horizon along the flat plain. Wind whipped chest-high grass in the nearby fields back and forth. “Strange. Not sure why God would have sent us here. There is no one for miles it would seem. How are we going to help anyone if there is no one to help?”
Joel smiled. “You never know who might turn up in the weirdest places.”
Ally started to say something, but Joel held up his index finger. He listened with closed eyes for a moment, though Ally couldn’t hear anything.
Finally, Joel opened his eyes. “I believe at least one reason The Big Man sent us here is there are some very strange things in this world. And one of them will be along soon.”
Ally clapped her hands together. “Really? I’ve always wanted to see a strange thing.”
Joel waved a hand toward her to indicate he wanted her to come. She followed Joel through the tall grass until they arrived at a long, flat, black hard surface stretching into the distance.
She shook her head. “What is this? It looks like a road, but none I’ve ever seen.”
“Indeed. And the things that travel on it are even stranger.” Joel pointed down the road. “And here comes one of them now.”
Ally peered into the distant horizon, and could barely make out the glint of sunlight from a metal object. Though she couldn’t tell exactly how far away the object was on this flat plain, since she knew she could see a long ways, she could tell the object was moving very fast. A lot faster than someone on horseback could ride. “What is that?”
“It is known in this world as a vehicle, automobile, car, or truck. But of course such names would be meaningless to you. All you need to know is that it is a machine designed to carry people.”
Joel threw his hands up. “If you don’t know what a machine is, how can I describe it? Best you just wait until it comes and you can see for yourself.”
Ally shrugged. The “vehicle,” as Joel called it, grew bigger and closer. As it drew near, a black contraption traveled toward them, with no visible causes for its motion. “So maybe whoever is in there is who we need to help.”
Joel nodded. “Maybe. You never can tell for sure.”
As the vehicle drew near, Joel stuck out his thumb. That appeared to be an odd gesture on Joel’s part, however, it did end up having the person inside come to a stop. The man inside stuck out his head and asked, “Do you folks need a ride?”
“Sure do,” Joel responded.
“Where you going to?”
Joel put a finger to his head and scratched. “Now that is a good question. I guess until the next town, since we don’t know exactly where we are.”
“Hum, so you’re lost?”
Joel nodded, then whispered to Ally, “You sense anything bad in this guy?”
She closed her eyes and then said, “Nothing I can pick up.”
The man in the truck frowned. “Why are you both dressed strangely? You aren’t prisoners who’ve run away, are ya?”
Joel sighed. “That’s a loaded question. If we were, we wouldn’t agree with you. Since we’re not, we wouldn’t agree with you either. So you’ll get the same answer in either case.”
The man scratched his beard. “I reckon you’re right. What was I thinking? See ya later.” He waved, pulled back on the road, and left the two of them standing in the dust his truck kicked up.
After the dust settled and they both stopped coughing, Joel said, “Well. How rude!”
Ally grinned. “Maybe next time you better let me handle the talking.”
Joel shook his head. “I think the problem was with our clothes. He implied that they look like prison garb.”
Ally frowned. “Prison garb? What’s that?”
Joel stared at Ally for a moment and waved a finger at her. “Probably has something to do with my drab colors and your stripped shirt.” Joel snapped his fingers, and a dress appeared over Ally’s body. “There, that should do the trick.”
She examined her clothing. A frilly dress hung upon her along with a big hat. “I can’t wear this?”
“It’s, it’s, oh, I don’t know. It’s just not me.”
“Looks pretty on you, though.”
Ally scowled. “How about something more practical. Hum?”
Joel rolled his eyes. “Oh, okay already.” He snapped his fingers again, and a set of pants and a frilly blouse appeared upon her.
Ally crossed her arms. “Do you consider this blouse ‘practical?’”
Joel smiled. “But you still look pretty. That’s practical for what we need.”
She wrinkled her nose. “How is that being practical?”
“You’ll get more attention that way.”
Ally thought for a second. “I’m almost afraid to ask. Why do I want to get more attention?”
Joel put a hand to his chin. “Well, let’s just say, you’ll be much more attractive to the opposite sex once another one stops.”
Ally rolled her eyes. “Okay, I’ll play your silly game.”
Ally shook her head and shrugged her shoulders.
Joel listened for a bit more, then sighed. “Guess we had better head the direction of the last vehicle. I don’t hear any more coming currently.” He started walking down the road; Ally followed him.
After an hour on the road, a house grew into view. The bright blue paint contrasted with the green, well-manicured lawn surrounding it. The upper windows clued Ally in that it had at least two-stories inside. A possible attic-room could suggest a third story. Outside an L part of the house sat a couple of the strange vehicles that Joel had mentioned, along with some stranger ones sitting here and there, one with giant wheels on the back.
Ally pointed at the house. “Maybe that’s where we’ll find our person-of-interest.”
Joel spun around. “Did you just say, person-of-interest?”
“Where did you hear that from?”
She shrugged. “Don’t know. It just seemed the proper thing to say. Why? What’s the big deal?”
Joel stared into her eyes for a moment. “No big deal, really. Just took me by surprise because that is a phrase they use in this world, not in yours.”
Ally continued walking. “Interesting, indeed.”
Joel stared at her, his eyes focused deeply on her.
Ally stopped. “What now? Did I do it again?”
“Sort of. Hard to tell. It wasn’t just what you said, but the way you said it.” Joel continued toward the house. “At any rate, I was thinking the same thing as you. Our ‘person-of-interest’ may be in that house.”
Ally started walking again. “Great! Let’s do this.” Strange, I don’t ever recall saying that before.That’s because you have never said it before. Something strange is happening to you.Ally glanced at Joel. “Any idea what is happening?”
“Not for sure, but it like you are becoming more a part of this world the longer you’re here.”
Ally’s eyes widened. “Maybe due to my emotional connection?”
Joel turned onto the walkway toward the house. “As good of a reason as any other. It did start up shortly after you checked out the driver’s emotional disposition.”
Ally nodded. “Curiouser and curiouser.”
Joel grinned. “You’ve got that right.” His grin disappeared. “One other thing.”
“Yes?” Ally stopped at the front door.
Joel knocked on the door. “I can’t do any supernatural things here except to you.”
“Because many people here don’t believe.”
Ally opened her mouth, but before she could ask any further questions, or express her shock at the thought of someone not believing in God, or at least some god, the front door opened.
In the doorway stood a woman, medium build, long-blonde hair, about six inches higher than Ally. “Hello? May I help you?”
Joel let out a long breath. “Yes, ma’am. We’ve been walking on this highway for a while, and we wondered if you could spare a couple glasses of water for a couple of thirsty travelers.” Now would be a good time, Ally, to check on her sincerity.Ally winked. Right. She turned on her emotional connection, and a flood of thoughts impacted her so much that her knees gave way; Joel caught her before she hit the ground. She shook her head to clear the cobwebs to see Joel staring at her, his mouth dropped open. Joel asked, “Are you okay?”
“I . . . I’m not sure.” Ally steadied herself on the door post.
The lady who answered the door said, “Oh dear! She could use something more than water. I have some tea that is good for this type of ailment. Come on in!” She helped Ally into the dinning room.
“Ma’am, you are a woman after my own heart. I could use some of your tea as well.” Joel bowed as they followed her inside to the kitchen table.
“You’ll both get some of my tea. Oh, pardon my manners, my name is Joy. Joy Quickfeet.” Joy busied herself making tea.
“Hi Joy. My name is Joel, and this is Ally.”
Ally tried to focus on the conversation, but she still reeled from the emotions she had felt, even though she had turned it off almost immediately. It was emotions she had never felt before. The closest she could come to it was emotions of disbelief.
Finally, her head cleared after getting some of Joy’s tea down; the brew really did help.
Joy nodded her head. “You feeling better now? The color has returned to your cheeks.”
“Yes. Thank you for the tea.” Ally rubbed her head. An sense of urgency overtook her. She knew that she needed to get out of this world sooner rather than later. “May I ask you a question Joy?”
Joy gave Ally a glance before returning to her duties. “Sure. Fire away.”
Ally wondered at Joy’s words, while at the same time it made perfect sense to her, though she knew it shouldn’t. “Thank you. Do you believe in God?”
Joy froze for a moment, then slowly turned toward Ally. “I did once.”
“But not now?”
Joy focused on her cleaning. “Well, I don’t rightly know, to tell the truth. Part of me longs for the days when I did, but part of me thinks I might be stupid to continue to believe.”
Then Ally said something she never thought she would hear herself say. “I understand. I feel sort of the same way.” Ally dropped her mouth open and turned to see Joel’s reaction.
His mouth was also ajar. Joel peered into Ally’s eyes. “What did you just say?”
Ally glanced at Joy, who kept looking at Joel and Ally alternately, before she returned her attention to Joel. “I . . . can’t believe I just said that.”
“Especially after what we’ve been through together.” Joel sat back in his chair and scratched his head. “It makes no sense?”
Joy said, “Makes no sense? Made perfect sense to me.”
“Of course it would, ma’am, to you, but . . .”
Joy squinted at Joel. “But what?”
Ally nodded for Joel to go on. He shook his head. She nodded yes. He shook his head no.
Joy sighed. “If you’re not going to tell me why, the least you can do is explain.”
For a minute or more, they stared at each other. Finally, Ally broke the silence. “I think we need to go.”
Joy shook her head. “But you haven’t explained yet. Besides, it is still twenty miles to the nearest town. I can’t have you two walking all that way in your condition.”
Joel shrugged. “She’s right.”
Ally sighed, “I don’t mean just go. I mean go, go.”
Joel’e eyes widened. “Oh, you mean, go, go!”
“But we can’t do that until,” Joel glanced at Joy. “The Big Man says we can.”
Joy screamed, “Would one of you say something that makes some sense?”
Ally blurted out, “We’re both from another world.”
Joel frowned at Ally, as if to say, “Don’t you dare reveal who I am.”
Ally knew she’d already said too much. Yet, for some reason it seemed right to her.
Joy glanced at both of them. “Hum, I wasn’t expecting that answer. How can I know you’re from another world?”
Joel jumped in before Ally could say anything more. “Like any relationship, ma’am, you would have to experience it before you could believe. We’d have to take you there. But we aren’t allowed to do that.”
Joy smirked. “Of course you cann’t.”
The light of angelic transportation began to envelop them. “Bye. Thanks for the tea,” Ally yelled out before they had totally vanished from Joy’s sight.
Joy’s eyes grew wide as the light dimmed and they were no longer there. She blinked. She stood up and ran her hands over where they had sat. “Must have been a dream or hallucination.” Yet, she couldn’t deny what she’d just experienced. Gradually, it dawned on her. “They must have been angels. Yep, that’s what they were, alright. Angels.
Her eyes grew wide again. “And if they were angels, the ‘Big Man’ Joel had mentioned, must be referring to God. That can only mean that God is real. I’ve got to tell somebody.” She grabbed a hat and her purse and headed toward the door.
Before she reached it, however, she stopped. She remembered the last thing Joel had said to her—like any relationship, she had to experience it first. That had sounded like a cop out, like she knew it would to anyone she told it to. Now, however, it rang with the truth of her own experience. She knew she would probably sound like a crazy woman, just like Ally and Joel had sounded crazy to her initially. But if her testimony would help even one other person, it was worth it. She exited her house, hopped in her truck, and headed to town.
As the light dimmed, Ally could make out the familiar surrounding of her own house. “Is my time up? Am I in trouble from the Big Man for what I said and did?”
Joel closed his eyes, then opened them. “I don’t think that is the issue. You accomplished the purpose you were sent there to do.”
“But I doubted my faith in God?”
Joel nodded. “You did do that, but I imagine that was more due to your emotional connection with the world you were in than a real belief.”
“I certainly hope so.”
“What do you think about it now?”
“That as much as we’d been through together, I would be crazy to not believe.”
Joel smiled. “There. You see.”
“Hope I don’t ever have to go there again.” Ally looked around her house. What time is this?Joel responded, “This is the time when we left. You might have noticed a dimming light right over there,” Joel pointed toward the front door. “. . . as we came in.”
Ally nodded. She did recall another light in the room. “So why am I back home now?”
“Hard to say exactly. But if I were to wager a guess, I think you need the time to recuperate after that last episode.” He glanced at his wrist, as if he had a time-piece attached to it. “As a matter of fact, tomorrow is Sunday. I suggest you attend church. I suspect the Big Man has something special for you.”
Ally smiled. “Sounds cool, dude.”
Joel pulled his head back and stared at her.
“What?” Ally stared back.
“You did it again. Probably some residual from the last world.”
“Really? Again? Still?” Guess I do need the down time.“Boy, do you ever.” Joel laughed as he disappeared in a blinding flash of light.
As the white light died off, a familiar site came into view. Ally blinked a couple of times to focus. “Joel, this is your home again.”
He nodded. “I know. I had hoped we’d arrive here. I want to grab Kaylee and we’ll go somewhere on Camellia for dinner.”
“You mean, you eat food, like we do?”
“Not really. It is more of a social thing. At any rate, we can’t merely work all the time. You know what they say!”
Ally scrunched up her forehead. “No, I don’t know what they say.”
Joel facepalmed himself. “Of course! That is a saying in an alternate world. It goes, ‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.’”
She wrinkled her nose. “But I’m a girl.”
Joel sighed. “I know that! It’s the underlying point of the saying. But have it your way. All work and no play makes Jill a very dull girl. There. Satisfied?” He crossed his arms.
She gazed into his eyes for a couple of seconds. “Are all you angels this touchy?”
Joel simply stared at her, as if he were dumbfounded.
“After all, I know what you were driving at the first time you said it. I only questioned some of the wording.” She tried to read him, but for some reason she couldn’t read an angel’s mood or disposition. Though it was apparent enough without her ability. He was so transparent.
“And what, pray tell, was the point I was driving at?”
“If you don’t know, why should I tell you?”
“Humor me.” He stared at her as she stared back.
She shrugged her shoulders after a few seconds had passed. “You think we need a break.”
Joel threw his hands up. “Well, duh!”
She scrunched her nose again. “What does that mean?”
He shook his head, muttering something. Then he said, “I’m not going down that road again. Look, I’m going to get Kaylee. You stay put. I’ll only be gone for a minute or two, I hope.”
He gave her one nod back, and then marched toward his house. He let the door slam shut behind him.
Ally sat on a nearby rock. The feeling of being totally happy while in the midst of having an argument with an angel was very . . . different. Sort of like mixing oil and water and having it blend into one liquid. Just that strange.
“But it was very good of him to want to help you relax,” a voice behind her said.
She twirled around. It sounded like a man’s voice, but instead, she saw nothing. No one. She said, “Who’s there?”
“Who is ‘just me’?”
“Doodle.” He became visible.
Ally almost lost her balance when she backed up suddenly upon his appearance. “Who is Doodle?”
“What? You know who Kaylee is, but not me?”
Ally shook her head. “No idea.”
“Well, as they tell us in orientation, it’s best not to focus on who I am anyway. That’s not what you need to know. Even though it appears nearly everyone asks.” He paused as if for no apparent reason. Then he said, “You really have no clue do you?”
“Well, that’s alright. As long as you don’t know who George is as well.”
Her eyes grew wide. “You mean George of Reol?”
He stared at the ground and shook his head. “You know George, but have never heard of me?” He threw his hands into the air. “Incredible.”
“I don’t know anyone named Doodle from Reol.”
“What? You think only people from Reol are important?”
“No.” She shrugged. “Only that I know the people of Reol. Not too many outside of that area.”
For the first time, Doodle smiled. “So it’s pretty much true what they say about the people of Reol.”
“What do they say?”
“Boy, you’re full of questions. Well, that you are all a secluded bunch, rarely getting out of town save for traders and certain exceptions, like Sisko and his relatives, and Josh.”
Well, it is in a forest, and a mountain range cuts it off from the rest of Camellia.”
Now it was Doodle’s turn to wrinkle his nose. “Camellia? What’s that. Is that Joel’s garden over there?” He pointed at the tea leaves.”
She giggled. “No silly. It is the name of your and my whole world. Camellia. Got it?”
He put fingers to his beard and brushed it with them. “You know, it would be helpful to have a name, now that we have other worlds to differentiate it from.”
Ally smiled. “Exactly what I told Joel.”
Doodle started heading back toward the woods. “Follow me if you’d like to hear more. I’ve got to get back to my house.”
She started to move her feet, but then hesitated. Joel had told her to stay put. But then there was more than one way to interpret what he’d said. Because they were in Paradise, after all. What harm could happen to her in Paradise? So he couldn’t have meant to stay put, as in, not going anywhere else. Rather, he had asked her to stay the hand of anyone who wanted to put something there. That had to be it. So she nodded and followed.
They talked as they walked. Finally, Doodle asked Ally, “I sense that you have already been tested.”
“Tested. For what?”
“What you are here for.”
“Here for? To my knowledge, we came for Kaylee.”
“Kaylee?” He stared hard at Ally. “She wouldn’t qualify.”
“Qualify? I think she’d be very interesting to talk with.”
“Sure, but there’s much more she would need to do, like fly, to qualify.”
Ally thought for a second. “Qualify? Qualify for what? All we’re going to do is go out to supper with her.”
Doodle looked up into the sky. “When, O Lord, did you change the way a person gets a dragon to bond with?”
Doodle’s use of the word dragon sparked a memory the last time she was here with Joel. He appeared a little worried about her presence being here, that it could lead to a bonding to a dragon.
Ally let her jaw drop. “You think I’m here to get a dragon?”
Doodle laughed. “It is either that or you’re dead. Did you die to get here?”
She shook her head.
“Then you are here to get a dragon. I think if you go to the lake over there, you’ll find yours.”
Then he vanished, leaving Ally in the middle of the forest.
She looked around. “I don’t belong here, I’m only with Joel.” A fear grew in her, as much as it possibly could in this place, that she was lost. She couldn’t remember how they got here. She felt alone, but not alone. As if some unseen force was watching her. She shrugged and headed the direction that Doodle had pointed.
Still, she couldn’t shake the feeling that someone or something was watching her. She decided to use her emotion ability, and willed it to turn on. A sense of curiosity came to her. About her!
She spun around. “Okay, whoever is following and watching me, show yourself!”
After a moment, a rather large and tall dragon, sort of fat, appeared before her. She stepped back a few steps, then tripped over a log on the ground and fell on her back.
The dragon laughed. “Don’t worry. I’m not going to eat you. Especially here in Paradise.”
Ally just lay on the ground, staring at the beast.
“And by the way, I’m not fat. Just bulky is all.”
Ally sat up. “You read my mind?”
“Of course. Dragons are able to do that. We communicate mentally with our bondlings.”
She rose to her feet, dusting leaves and dirt from her skirt and blouse. “Sorry. I just didn’t know what to expect, having never seen a dragon before.”
The dragon frowned, as much as a dragon was able. “You’ve never seen a dragon before? That’s not quite right. You should have seen several at least before putting on the gloves.”
Ally wrinkled her nose. “Gloves? I have no idea what you are talking about.”
The dragon roared for a moment, causing Ally to hold her ears. Then he, or she, Ally wasn’t really sure—said, “I’ve checked you memories, and I see Joel’s been a bit irresponsible where it concerns you.”
“What do you mean?” Ally asked.
“He left you alone in Paradise when you aren’t supposed to be here.”
“He just went into his house to get Kaylee.”
Ally turned. Joel stood before her. “Joel!”
He pointed a finger at her. “Didn’t I tell you to stay put?”
She nodded. “The meaning was ambiguous.”
Joel pointed both of his arms toward Ally and talked to the dragon. “See what I have to deal with?”
Then, yet another angelic being popped into the conversation. “Joel.”
Joel gulped. “Yes, sir?”
“Why did you bring a living human into Paradise?”
The dragon sat on his haunches. “This should be good.”
Joel smiled his normal goofy grin. “Well, sir, Michael, sir, it’s like this.” He stared at the sky a moment before pointing his index finger on his right hand up. “The big man upstairs—”
Micheal smiled. “You mean, God.”
“Of course, who else?” When Micheal said nothing further, Joel said, “ He brought me and Ally here together, in order that I might help her deal with her problem, I felt that God wanted us to form a team. Well, a team means I need to take her to my house from time to time. This particular—”
“That’s not what I wanted to know,” Michael said.
Joel said softly, “Well, maybe you shouldn’t be so . . . “ He glanced at Ally. “So ambiguous. What do you want to know?”
Micheal murmured under his breath. “I don’t care that you were on a mission of mercy. That should be a given in our case. What I want to know, is upon whose authority did you bring a living human to Paradise. You know the rules. People only come here when they die and are made righteous by Christ’s blood. That, or they come temporarily to seek which dragon they are to bond with. Which of these is she here for?”
Joel shrugged. “Neither. That’s what I was trying to tell you, sir. I brought her here so that I could get Kaylee to go for a nice dinner in Ally’s world.” Joel turned to face Ally. “It was suppose to be an in and out thing. Instead, it turned into more. A lot more.”
Michael snapped his fingers, and a little bell appeared in them. He rang it. Joel cringed. Micheal said, “Do I need to remind you of the consequences of breaking the rules?”
Joel covered his ears. “Please, Michael. Not that!”
Michael snapped and the bell disappeared. “Just a reminder.”
“Look, Micheal. I know I’ve bent the rules a little. But we are doing some good work lately. Check in with the Big Man on that. Don’t you think you could all make an exception in this case? I mean, she knows that I am an angel.”
Ally almost giggled when Micheal said, “Well, duh!” She figured it must be an angel thing.
“And she’s been to Paradise. So, she knows all about it. The only living human to know.”
Micheal sighed. “I’ll bring it up at our next meeting. Until I contact you to tell you the results, keep her out of Paradise. Okay?”
Joel smiled. “Okay.”
Micheal and the Dragon vanished, leaving Ally and Joel alone.
Joel shook his head and started walking back toward his house.
Ally followed. “Did I goof up?”
“Sort of. I mean, I brought you into Paradise under the radar, so to speak. Now, you’re one big blip on Michael’s radar.”
“I’m sorry. Maybe you could have been clearer why you didn’t want me to wander off. I had no idea exactly what might happen.”
Joel opened his mouth to say something, but then shook his head. “What’s done is done. All I can hope is that an exception will be made. Otherwise, I won’t so easily be able to go home.”
Joel turned to face Ally. “Because, I have to keep an eye on you. You’re a slippery one, you are.”
What did he mean by that? She disappeared in a blinding flash of light along with Joel.
Ally sat at a table in an inn’s pub, chowing down on a good meal with Joel and Kaylee. Though they only picked at their meal. They appeared more interested in the social aspect. They chatted about several things, one of which was the bell that Joel feared so much. Though he had briefly discussed it before, this talk was much more detailed. Apparently, this wasn’t the first time the angel had “goofed up.” Many long years ago, he was put into the humble submission to anyone who possessed the bell. Like a genie, he was bound to grant whoever rang the bell some wishes. He described how he could be doing anything, like taking a bath, and suddenly be yanked away to appear before someone to do their bidding.
Then, in a brilliant move, he had arranged for the bell to be hidden, which gave him a long stretch of free time. That is, until Sisko found it. However, he ended up freeing the angel from his curse. And a much more humble angel resulted. At least to hear Joel tell it.
Ally swallowed the last of her meal and downed it with some water. “So, Joel. What is it with wearing gloves? Something the dragon said when he was trying to figure out why I was there.”
Joel sat back in his chair. “Ah yes. That, my dear Ally, is dragon lore. Are you aware of Cole, Kaylee’s brother?”
“I know of him, that he rode a dragon. Never heard how he came to be bound to one.”
“Well,” Joel started, “I won’t go into all the details here, but one of the steps to be bound to a dragon is to go to Paradise, go through a test of sorts. The way one goes from here to Paradise, aside from dying, is to put on those special gloves. Once they pass the test, their dragon is revealed to them. Then they return to this world and go through the bonding ceremony.”
Kaylee said, “What’s so funny?”
Ally wore a big grin. “A bonding ceremony sounds like a marriage.”
Joel nodded. “It pretty much is like marriage. Different, but bonds the two together for a lifetime.” Joel smiled. “One big difference is there is no divorce. Not from a dragon.”
Kaylee and Joel laughed.
Ally grinned. “That’s interesting. However, there is one thing I’ve always wanted to know.”
Joel said, “Shoot.” He swallowed. “Not literally, of course.”
Ally briefly wondered whether an angel could die from a bullet. “Kaylee, how did you end up being a mother to Cole, when you are his sister?”
She pointed a finger at Ally. “Now, that would take at least three books to tell the whole story.”
Joel nodded with his goofy smile, “Yeah. At least three books. Maybe more.”
Kaylee sat back in her chair. “I’ll try to cut to the chase, as unlikely as it might sound by cutting out so much of the story.”
Ally spread her arms toward Joel. “You do know who I travel with.”
Kaylee chuckled. “Of course. Well, it started out right after Sisko, our father died . . .”