“You?” Mercy cried, and a look of frustration and bewilderment marked her face. “How am I supposed to help Leah when she crams every spare minute of the day with mindless activity? It isn’t any wonder the woman has no peace. She doesn’t take time to listen to herself, let alone anyone else.”
“This must be a common trait with humans,” Shirley added thoughtfully. “Have you seen Jody’s yard? Why, it’s meticulous. The woman must spend every available minute maintaining those flower beds.”
“I’d hoped to make a real difference in Leah’s life,” Mercy continued, “and now I wonder if that’s possible.”
Shirley surveyed the small group of prayer ambassadors. She was new at this and uncertain herself, but then they were all relatively inexperienced and it made sense that they help each other.
“What about you, Shirley?” Mercy asked, her gaze skittering past the organ and then drifting lazily toward the huge pipes. Shirley could all but see Mercy’s mind feverishly devising ways of getting at that organ.
“As it happens, things are developing nicely with Jody and her son, Timmy,” Shirley said, walking directly in front of the organ, cutting off Mercy’s view. “Jody went out on her first date in years this evening and afterwards Glen asked her out for dinner and she agreed.”
“Glen? Who’s Glen?”
“An attorney. They work for the same law firm. Glen’s hardworking and sincere. From what I was able to learn about him, he’s interested in settling down and starting a family. I’m sure once Timmy meets him everything will fall neatly into place.”
Goodness slapped one disgruntled wing against her side. “I’m going to do my very best to remain angelic here, but it seems to me you received a cushy assignment while Mercy and I are at our wits end.”
Mercy chimed in in agreement. “In case you haven’t guessed, Goodness and I are experiencing some minor difficulties.”
“It might help,” Shirley said in gentle, forgiving tones, “if you stayed away from escalators and television screens.”
“You heard?” Goodness ventured.
Shirley nodded. “And so has Gabriel.”
Mercy closed her eyes. “Is he furious?”
“He hasn’t pulled you off the assignment, has he?” Shirley asked. “I heard what you said this afternoon, and you’re right. Gabriel doesn’t have the angel-power to replace you just now and I’m sure all will be forgiven if, and it’s a big if, Mercy is able to help Leah find her peace. Goodness, you’ve got to help Monica find a decent husband.”
“I thought it’d be easier than it is,” Goodness confessed in a small voice.
Mercy joined her friend, sagging defeatedly into a chair. “We could both do with some suggestions. This prayer business is difficult work.”
Goodness agreed with a sharp nod. “Being around humans for any length of time is enough to make any angel go stir-crazy.”
Shirley did a poor job of containing a smile. How well she understood her friends’ frustrations. Most of her career had been spent working with humans. “Just don’t ever volunteer to work as a guardian then,” she suggested. The stories she could tell!
“Can you help us, Shirley?” Mercy asked.
Her friends’ faces were both tired and gloomy, and Shirley didn’t know if she had any words of wisdom to offer them. “I can try. Tell me what’s happening.”
Mercy and Goodness exchanged glances. “You go first,” Goodness suggested.
“I’ve already told you about Leah’s day. I’ve spent most of my time observing her, and frankly, I haven’t gained a lot of insight into her personality. She holds her pain deep inside herself, unwilling to give up even the smallest portion of it, as if it were something of value.”
Shirley thoughtfully mulled over this information. “If that’s the case, it seems to me she must find joy before she finds peace.”
Stubbornly Mercy folded her arms and frowned and her chest lifted with a gigantic sigh. “Gabriel didn’t say anything about joy. All he mentioned was peace. Who exactly does he think I am, St. Peter?”
“Perhaps that was the problem with the other prayer ambassadors. They were looking for shortcuts as well.”
“Oh, all right,” Mercy said ungraciously. “But how am I supposed to teach her about joy? Joy, peace, what’s the difference?”
“What are Leah’s favorite things?”
Mercy frowned. “It’s difficult to tell. She enjoys her home, but she’d gladly relinquish it for the chance to be a mother. While she was with her friend this afternoon, they talked quite a bit about Pam’s kids. A spark shone from Leah as they discussed the children, especially her friend’s three-year-old. I think she said his name was Scotty.”
“Children,” Shirley repeated, her thoughts deep and grave.
“But that’s the crux of the problem, don’t you see,” Mercy said, and the expression in her eyes changed, becoming more intent. “She doesn’t have a child so she holds fast to her disappointment. The child will bring her the true joy, and I doubt that anything else will.”
Goodness had grown especially quiet. “What if you brought a child into her life for a short time, like a weekend or something? You could manage that, couldn’t you?”
“I suppose.” But Mercy didn’t sound overly enthusiastic.
“If she had a taste of deep inner happiness, she might be willing to release a portion of her pain,” Goodness added. “It seems to me what Shirley’s saying is that what Leah really needs isn’t an absence of sorrow, or a feeling of gladness. Earthly joy wouldn’t accomplish your purpose. Leah needs a connection with heaven.”
“Yes,” Shirley shouted with her excitement. She couldn’t have said it better herself. “That’s exactly what I mean.”
“In other words,” Mercy said slowly, thoughtfully, “if Leah would be willing to take hold of a . . . higher level of joy, then she might be willing to release her disappointments and frustrations.”
“Exactly,” Shirley said and Goodness echoed, “Exactly.”
Shirley realized they made it sound simple, but she didn’t envy Mercy her task. It was little wonder so many other prayer ambassadors had been defeated by Leah’s problem.
Mercy stood and was pacing in front of the huge church organ, sending longing looks toward the antique instrument. “Anyone have any other suggestions how I’m supposed to accomplish this?”
Shirley was silent and so was Goodness.
“Don’t worry, I’ll think of something,” she offered brightly. “I always do.”
“Let me tell you what’s going on with Monica,” Goodness said next, looping her legs over the arm of the chair and tilting her head back with a dramatic flair. She sighed and placed the back of her hand against her brow. “She’s enthralled with this . . . this private investigator. The choir director might as well not exist, and Michael’s perfect for her, just perfect.”
“What about Chet?” Mercy asked. “He might not be as bad as you think.”
“He’s not for Monica,” Goodness said firmly, brooking no argument. “I was able to check into his past and believe me, it isn’t a pretty picture. He’s lied, he’s stolen and been in trouble with the law, although he once worked for them. He’s not exactly what I’d call an upstanding prospective husband for a minister’s daughter.”
“Oh, my,” Mercy mumbled.
Shirley mulled over the situation, tapping her fingers against the top of the railing, her thoughts moving in several different directions at once.
“Furthermore,” Goodness added seriously, “he’s egotistical, chauvinistic, and he hasn’t darkened the door of a church in more than ten years. The last time he prayed he was in his early teens.”
“He doesn’t sound like the man for Monica,” Mercy agreed.
Shirley hesitated, then decided she might as well speak her mind. “I don’t think we should be so hasty here. Isn’t your mission to teach Monica to be more flexible and accepting of others? From what I understand she’s caught in a trap of following a list of rules and regulations.”
“Yes, but any lessons I have to teach her don’t include Chet.”
Shirley wasn’t convinced of that. “From what you’ve told me, she views everything as black and white, with little room for compromise.”
“True,” Goodness was willing to admit, “but don’t you see? The two are completely incompatible. Gabriel wanted me to get her feet wet, not throw her off the Freemont Bridge.”
“All I can suggest is that you be patient with Monica.”
“One thing’s in my favor,” Goodness said, sounding encouraged. “They aren’t likely to meet again.”
“Then there’s nothing to worry about,” Mercy said, slipping onto the bench in front of the massive organ.
“Mercy,” Shirley warned, knowing her friend well enough to recognize the movement was anything but casual. The organ was too big a challenge to ignore.
“Don’t worry,” Mercy reassured her, “I’m going to be good.”
Shirley wasn’t the least bit convinced, and she was right. As she winged her way out of the church and back to her charge, a blast of organ music crescendoed into the night. Groaning aloud, Shirley recognized the opening bars from Phantom of the Opera and knew exactly where they’d come from.
“Dinner was lovely,” Jody said, slipping out of the rich velvet booth in the luxurious downtown restaurant. Glen had been a wonderful dinner companion. Although Jody had been nervous when he’d come to pick her up at the house, he’d quickly put her at ease.
“It’s still early,” Glen was saying as he helped her with her full-length wool coat. “I can take you back to the house, if you want, but I was hoping you’d consider taking a ferry ride with me.”
It had been a year or more since Jody had last been on any of the Washington State ferries. After she’d received the word of Jeff’s death, she’d come down to the waterfront often. She found a peace, a solace here that escaped her otherwise. On more than one occasion she’d whiled away an hour or more riding the ferry, standing on the deck facing the wind, letting it batter her. She’d close her eyes and pretend Jeff was with her. She’d breathe in the scent of sea and salt while the birds screeched overhead. Each time she came away rejuvenated.
“Where do you want to go?” she asked, reluctant for reasons she didn’t care to explain. The ferry ride had been her own private haven, and she wasn’t entirely sure she wanted to share this.
“Anywhere you like. The Bainbridge run is a half hour each way. We could get a caffé latte and look at the city lights. The Bremerton run is an hour each way.”
“All right,” Jody surprised herself by saying. It was easy to be with Glen. He was friendly and undemanding, allowing her to set the course of their evening, deciding even if there was to be a relationship. Jody found the lack of pressure necessary and reassuring.