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 . . .”