At fourteen-years-old, Ally had experienced a world of hurt and joys. The emotions would intrude upon her own as if they were her own. She had learned to be something of a hermit. Rarely going outside, avoiding play with the other kids. Less emotional stress that way. But she had few friends who could put up with her sudden mood swings whenever someone who was angry, crazy, depressed, or just plain annoyed or irritated with someone, invaded her life. She had made too many enemies and lost too many friendships by spending time with them, so she learned to keep her distance.
But now, she would be forced to enter a crowded place: the local steam house. Why? She didn’t fully understand the reasoning behind it, but every kid in Reol entered adulthood by spending time there. Of course, her mother and father hoped the steam house would fix her. She hoped it might as well, but she feared that it would curse her more than bless her. After all, it wasn’t like she could control the thoughts and emotions that bombarded her, and the steam house was known for its attempts to “fix” one’s character. Could it distinguish between emotions she had no control over and her own issues? She doubted it.
But now she stood before the doorway. Above it, an old, cracked, and weathered sign said, “Steamy Realities Steam House: Sweats out both body and soul. Warning: Only the pure of soul should enter. We are not liable for negative results.” Many a person entered in their pride only to exit the steam house, in a different form as the steam house attempted to correct flaws in their character. Ally feared, however, that it might mistake another person’s emotional state as her own. That’s one reason why she chose around five in the afternoon to go into the steam house: it usually wasn’t that busy around dinner time. The fewer people in it, the less chance for catastrophe.
She glanced back at her mother who stood waiting to find out what would happen to her. Then she plunged in through the entry to the octagonal building. Inside, there was only one other person, apparently a man, sitting on a bench with a blanket over his head, which Ally thought strange, not only because of the towel over his head, but also because supposed to be only women here at this time. Had she made a mistake?
“Sorry, sir, I thought this was the woman’s time. I’ll come back later.” Ally turned to leave.
The man said, “No need to leave. It is the women’s time. Why do you think I have this towel over my head?”
As if that would explain it. Ally didn’t feel very comfortable, only wrapped in a towel, but she decided to chance it. She sat close to the door in case the man tried anything.
The man said, “Please put some more water on the rocks.”
Ally rose all the while keeping her eyes on the man, took the ladle, and dipped out some water, then poured it over the hot rocks. A sizzling noise arose with a deep cloud of steam. She breathed in; the steam cleared her mind to reveal some facts. First, despite the man sitting there alone, she no longer felt any emotions from anyone, not even him.
She liked it at first, but she had grown accustom, to some degree, of the emotions of others. It used to drive her crazy, but like anything else, one’s brain learns to ignore them, most of the time, save for the strong ones. But to have the constant bombardment of emotions to totally cease, that was different. Much too quiet. Guess I never thought I would hear myself say that! After all, when you knew for real what people dealt with, at least from their perspective, it was easier to know how to help them.
Ally gave that last thought some more thought. I wonder whether this will be my gift from the steam house? To make me normal? Could be, or maybe its just this building shields me from other’s emotions?
“I’d say the later would be true,” came the voice from underneath the towel.
And second, this man’s voice sounded familiar, almost like someone she knew a lifetime ago.
Ally cocked her head to one side. “What are you talking about, sir?”
The man peeled back the towel and allowed it to hang around his shoulders. “What you just said about the building shielding you. That is why you aren’t experiencing any emotions currently except your own.”
“But, I didn’t say that; I thought it.” Then Ally recognized him. “Joel!” She leaped from her bench, and dashed toward him until her arms held him tight. “I knew you would come to rescue me!” Then Ally released him. “But why did it take you fourteen years to rescue me?”
The angel’s jaw had dropped open and he simply stared at her.
Ally waved a hand. “I’m sure you have a good explanation. Anyway, the important thing is, you’re here now. So we can go back to your house in Paradise and this will all be over.”
Joel still stared at her with the same expression.
“Joel, aren’t you going to say anything?”
“Uh, well, for starters, you’re naked.”
Ally examined her body. She glanced back where she had sat—a towel was lying on the bench. Heat rushed to her face. “Oh! I’m so sorry!” She ran back and wrapped the towel around her body.
“And also, why do you think I’m an angel, how do you know my name, and you believe I live in Paradise?”
“Well duh! We’re married, you know.”
Joel attempted to hold back laughter, but it kept escaping from the sides of his mouth until he could no longer hold back—a full belly laugh exploded from him.
Ally paced the floor, patiently waiting for him to stop laughing. She didn’t see what was so funny.
Joel gradually regained his composure. “You had me going there for a while, but your fatal flaw is you went too far when you said you where married to me. That could never happen in a million years. So who put you up to this? Michael? He’s always playing practical jokes.”
Ally thought a few seconds. “So, you don’t have any memory of our marriage?”
Joel’s big grin faded. “No. You’re serious, aren’t you?”
He started pacing. “I don’t know how you know I’m angel and where my house is, but married? Us?”
“And Kaylee lives with you as well. I’ve been there. Her and I were chatting right before I left to go back to my house in Camellia.”
“Yeah. That’s what I call this world, or at least, the world I am from. I have no idea whether I’m re-living my life in a dream, or in another world, or something even stranger.”
“In this world we are in right now, I’ve never met you in person, until now. I just read your file from Headquarters yesterday after receiving you as my assignment.”
“What are you supposed to do to me?”
Joel scratched his head. “I’m not sure now. This isn’t how this was supposed to go. Guess I’ll need to have a talk with the powers that be, before I can proceed. I’ll return promptly. Wait here.” A bright flash of light enveloped him, and he disappeared.
Ally shook her head. “’Promptly’ for an angel could mean days.” She said louder, “I do have to eat. There’s no food service in this steam house. Just sayin’.” She poured some more water on the rocks before returning to the bench.
Bit and pieces of memories drifted into her brain as she attempted to process this Joel who hadn’t ever met her before. She did recall a guy the original time she went into this steam house in Camellia, which she was becoming more and more convinced that this was not Camellia, or that she had somehow gone back in time while still retaining knowledge of her future to watch her life unfold all over again. That last guess was more accurate based on what she had experienced to this point. However, from the vague memories she could recall, that “guy” must have been Joel. She thought he was a wise man. Now she wasn’t so sure. She laughed.
“What’s so funny?”
Ally jerked her head in the direction of the voice. It was one of the girls from school. Not a particularly pleasant girl to be around. Her name was Susan. “Oh, hi Susan. Are you doing your adult steam house visit today as well?” Normally, Ally felt jealousy from her, but being in the steam house, she was an emotionally blank slate to Ally.
“Yeah, my mother said I could go now. I was ready a few months ago, but my mother kept putting it off.”
Ally had a thought. “What are you hoping to get out of this experience?”
Susan straightened out the towel wrapped around her near perfect body. “I’m not exactly sure, but . . .” A big smile crept across her face. “A handsome and well-built husband would be wonderful.” She looked at the ceiling as if she might see one fall from heaven at any minute.
Ally laughed. “You just missed him. He vanished into thin air right before you entered.”
Susan giggled. “Oh, Ally. You’ll say anything to get to me, won’t you?”
Ally almost said something, but she held back, especially considering where she was. Instead, she said, “Sorry. It was just a joke. But, I was really hoping to get you to focus on what you wanted in hopes of getting it.”
Susan lifted her nose into the air. “Really? I seriously doubt you had such noble motives, little Ms. Angel.” Then she promptly went to the other side of the steam house and ignored Ally, as if she no longer existed.
Yes, even though it had been a few years since she tried to convince her parents that she was married to an angel, word leaked out about the subject so that everyone thought she was crazy. People like Susan would rub it in Ally’s face, like she just did then, to one-up Ally by referring to her as “Ms. Angel.” She offered a brief prayer of mercy for Susan. She feared what might happen to her.
A flash of light later, and Joel stood before her. Ally pointed at Susan on the other side of the room. Joel craned his neck around to spot her. “Who’s that?”
“A girl I go to school with named Susan. This should get her attention.”
“Nah, I can’t just flash into a room without checking who’s in it. I immobilized her.”
“Oh, rats. I wanted to show her I wasn’t joking.”
“Sorry. No can do.”
Ally sighed. “It’s not important anyway. What I want to know is what did the ‘Big Boss’ say?”
“What? You know the nickname I gave Him?” Joel pointed up. “Well, the Big Boss said go ahead as planned.”
“And that plan is . . .” Ally stared at Joel in anticipation of his answer.
“To do this!” Joel began waving his right hand over Ally’s head. “This will take away all the painful memories of childhood, or at least make them fade with time, as well as all memories of me.”
“Memories of you! Wait!” But about then, her head grew weary and she fell asleep.
Kaylee decided to check on the book that Ally came to retrieve. It was easy enough to find, as it lay beside where her bed had sat, on a nightstand, with a bookmark hanging out of it. “Joel, I found it. She apparently didn’t make it to her house.”
Joel entered the room. “How do you know that’s the book?”
Kaylee paused, but then said, “I don’t know for solid sure, but she told me she was in the middle of reading it when she met you. So I put two and two together and deduced that this was likely the book she came to retrieve.”
“A most logical conclusion.”
Kaylee smiled. “Thank you.”
“But, even then, we have no way to know if she didn’t arrive, but failed to retrieve the book before being whisked away. After all, logically speaking, the time for angel travel is near instantaneous, so the laws of probability would suggest that she arrived here, but didn’t have time to grab the book.”
Kaylee huffed. “The point is that she was angel-napped at some point before she was able to retrieve this book.”
“And that’s important to know because . . . ?”
Kaylee flung her arms into the air. “I don’t know! I thought narrowing down the time might give us a clue to what happened to her.”
Joel thought for a moment. “So, let’s say it did. Then what? You know the Big Boss said we have to wait.”
Kaylee pointed to her right. “There is passive waiting.” Then she pointed to her left. “Then there is active waiting.”
“And I assume you want the active waiting?”
Kaylee nodded. “I can’t just sit around and do nothing.”
Joel scratched his head. “You know, I didn’t think anything about it, but there was a little time warp I experienced that I wasn’t expecting on the way here the first time.”
Kaylee thought for a moment. “But don’t you experience those all the time?”
“Yes, but not often do I experience one that was not there before.”
“So what could cause them?”
“Let’s see.” Joel pointed his finger as if counting invisible realities. “It could be a simple new time warp forming, or a temporary disturbance in the force, or—”
“Disturbance in the force?”
Joel grinned. “Sorry, I couldn’t resist throwing that in. What I meant to suggest is there are formations of a temporary nature. Such time warps are caused by certain phenomena, like a comet that crosses the gravitational pull of a star at just the right time, for example.”
Kaylee blinked. “I think I like the first explanation better.”
“I thought you might. The only other possible explanation I can think of would be a wizard’s spell.”
“What kind of spell?”
Joel sighed. “I’m not up on wizard spells since I just do my ‘magic’ by willing it, but I know someone who does.”
Kaylee’s eyes widened. “Josh!”
Joel smiled. “Correct, as usual. Hum, do you think we could ‘actively wait’ at Josh’s house?”
Kaylee nodded emphatically.
Joel bowed to her and said, “My wish is your command.”
“My wish is your com—?”
The pair vanished.