“Hello, Aurelius. Nice to see you.”
Finn stood. “What are you doing in my domain, Rass?”
“I was in the neighborhood and thought I’d stop by. And besides…the elite of this domain made that promise. Not I.” The man named Rass began walking in a slow semi-circle around Finn. Finn followed him, never allowing the man to get behind his back.
“But as we both know the elite holds his underlings to the promises he makes.” Finn said.
“Oh, now who said I was an underling? Surely, you think me more ambitious, Aurelius. I haven’t been an underling in…well ever since the Black Death, actually.”
“Nor have you been an elite.” Finn replied mildly, though his eyes flashed warning
“Yes, well, not everyone can be. But who said I wanted that much responsibility?” Rass’s eyes flipped to me. His smile grew.
Though the man’s stance was focused toward me, Finn stood directly in front of me. Rass suddenly lunged forward. Then his chest was but six inches from Finn’s. My gaze darted between the two men.
“Who is your pretty little…friend?” As soon as I met his eyes, I tried to look away but found I could not. Something in the darkness of his eyes was strangely…hypnotic.
“You are in great danger of being reported, Rass.” Finn said, his voice deceptively smooth, deceptively soft. I continued to stare into Rass’s eyes, feeling as though I were being sucked in.
Carefully, Rass broke the connection—or so it seemed—and turned to look at Finn.
“What if I have license to be here?” Rass said. “What if I’m here because I was given approval?”
He stepped slightly sideways and walked past Finn, brushing shoulders with him as he did.
Finn whirled around just as Rass looked down at me, back into my eyes. His pant legs brushed my knees he was so close.
“Then I would question the validity of your station. This is not your work. And neither is it your job to ask for license.” Finn said, shoving the man away from me.
Rass barely stumbled back, as if he had been expecting the shove. “Oh, but it is.” Rass said, taking great pleasure in his words. “You see, I have an assignment, Aurelius. Involving you.”
“And why would you tell me this?”
Rass shrugged. “Wanted to get your guard up. I know how you build walls, Aurelius. You build them high and strong. And I want you to build them. We were…after all…friends. Once upon a time.”
“We can never be that again. You know that.”
“Ah….well.” Rass’s face tightened, his smile disappeared. He came up so close to Finn, the men were nose to nose. “Build your walls, Finn. Build them higher and stronger than you have ever built them. That way the elite will remember me when I knock. Them. Down.”
Rass stepped back, smiled darkly, looked at me, and took in a breath. “Enjoy Central Park, Meredith. Finn, here, he’ll protect you. In ways even you with all your gifts don’t even realize. But enjoy it while it lasts. It won’t last forever.”
He walked away, whistling.
As he walked away, I felt something in my spirit pull away from me. Something in my head exploded.
I cried out and lifted my hands to my head.
I sensed Finn falling to his knees beside me. His hands covered mine, strong and warm against my cold and trembling fingers.
The pain receded at his touch. I took his hands in mine and squeezed tight, waiting for it to go away completely. I blinked rapidly as the pain faded into nothingness.
“What happened?” I whispered, searching Finn’s face for answers.
“I’m so sorry.” He said. “I didn’t mean to drag you into this. But it seems it’s too late. I—I didn’t know if you were—” He stopped abruptly, swallowed. “I still don’t know.” He said.
I pursed my lips. “Whatever you think I am, Aurelius Finn, I’m not associated with that horrible man who just spoke with you.”
“Well…I know that.” Finn said, releasing my hands and sitting beside me. “But sometimes the elite have power plays amongst themselves.”
I nodded as if that made perfect sense.
Whoever these “elite” were, I didn’t want to know right then.
However, it was becoming more and more clear to me that Aurelius Finn was somebody of great importance.
I just wasn’t sure why.
“Finn…” I said, tilting my head. “Was he whistling Ring Around the Rosie when he left?”
Finn’s countenance, hard as a diamond just a moment before, softened beneath my words. He nodded slightly, his brows drawing together, something like pain flooding his handsome features.
“It was.” Was all he said. But it seemed he had to choke the words out.
I wanted to comfort him, to alleviate the infinite sadness that was arising from him. It was leaking from his soul, that sadness. For I felt it—inevitably—touch mine.
Wanting to say something to help, I began to speak. “I’m sorry that that man—”
“Rass.” He supplied.
I nodded. “That Rass is so evil.”
A small, rather humored smile started at the corner of his mouth in the form of a deepening dimple before spreading across his face. His chuckle came unexpectantly. It was a warm and pleasant sound. Though it seemed to be at my expense, I did not mind right then.
He looked at me the, the blue of his eyes spilling into my soul.
“I am too, Meredith. Do you not know the story of the Seven?”
I titled my head. “No. But then I’m discovering I don’t know a lot of things.”
He stood, brushed his hands together and looked in the direction Rass had disappeared. “Ah, well. You’re young yet. Plenty of time to learn. Perhaps I can even teach you some things.”
I stood as well, looked up at the angel watching over the Fountain of Bethesda. “Perhaps you can.” I told him.
I looked back at him, smiled a little.
He swallowed and stared at me, seeming to be struggling with words. Then finally, he said. “I have been—”
“Well, hello, ugly!” I recognized Adam’s voice before I saw the man himself.
Finn sighed, raised his head toward the sky and said, “Why me, Lord? Why me?”
Adam walked from behind Finn, grinning. Edison sat on his shoulders, holding on to his brother’s hair.
“Because we love you, Finn!” Edison said, bouncing on Adam’s shoulders.
Adam nodded. “And because your filthy rich.”
Finn glared at Adam. “You're more filthy than I am, Adam.”
Adam shrugged, which was a bit of a feat with Edison where he was. “Well, if I ever come clean and want some dirt I'll know who I'll go to.” Adam swung Edison back to the ground.
Edison looked at me. “Hi, Meredith!”
“Hi. Nice swim lesson?”
“Mm hm.” The boy rocked back and forth on his toes. “I like my swim teacher. She’s pretty.” He scrunched his nose up. “But she’s kind of old.”
Adam shook his head. “You think anybody over fifteen is old, Edison.”
“No I don’t. And besides she looks like Meredith.”
“Ah. Well, if she looks like Meredith she must be pretty.”
“What? ‘Cause Meredith’s pretty?” Edison seemed to consider this as he looked at me. “Yeah. Your right. She’s pretty. Don’t you think so, Finn?”
“Well, Edison,” Finn said. “I could tell our Meredith that she was pretty. But I don’t think she’s pretty.”
My heart sank a little and my face began to burn. What--
“You don’t?” Edison whispered
“Not at all. I think…” He looked up at me and must have caught my expression as I turned away.
“She’s beautiful.” He finished.
Adam whistled. “What a lofty compliment. You should be honored, Meredith. Finn never said that about his last girlfriend.”
I froze, turned around. “Last…girlfriend?”
Adam chuckled. “Yeah. I thought she was pretty but—”
Finn hit him in the back of the head.
“Hush up, Adam.”
Adam held his hands up in surrender. “Fine. Fine. You and your secrets. Don’t worry, Meredith. He only had one girlfriend. Ever.”
“I want to go to the park!” Edison cried, his hand waving in the air like he was wanting to be called on.
“Come on, then.” Finn said. “Adam—”
“Don’t worry. Won’t tell your girl anything that will drive her away. Only the good stuff. Promise.”
“I—she’s not—” Finn sighed, nodded once. “Fine.”
Edison dragged Finn ahead of us, leaving me with Adam. Adam smiled, looked at the sculpture of the angel and said out of the blue. “I’ve never been able to explain Finn to people.”
After processing that out-of-the-blue comment, I replied. “Why is that…do you think?”
Adam shrugged. “Don’t know. I mean…I’ve tried. It’s like he’s the culmination of every person I’ve ever met and yet like nobody I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing. Though I’ve known him since college and probably know things about him that nobody else does I don’t really know him at all. He’s doesn’t talk to me about his past. And if he does it doesn’t reveal anything.” Adam stared at the angel, frowned slightly. “I’ve caught him at strange times just standing here staring at this statue. I’ve always wondering why it holds such a fascination for him.”
“What does he look like when he’s staring at it?”
“He looks…sad. Really sad.”
I turned to the statue, wondering as I had from the first, who Aurelius Finn could possibly be.
“I wonder why.” I murmured.
** ** **
That night right before I went to bed there was a knock on my bed.
“Come in.” I called out.
Mrs. Silverton and her husband entered.
I looked at them curiously. “Is Iana all right now? She seemed fine earlier? But I know that—“
“She is fine, my dear.” The pastor assured me.
I nodded hesitantly and sat down on the edge of my bed, brow slightly furrowed. “I truly appreciate all that you both have done for me. I would not have made it without you. I’m not quite certain where I’m to go next but—”
“Meredith,” The pastor said. “I am as certain as you are that we were meant to help you. And we will help you as much as we can for as long as we can. However, there are still several…issues that need to be addressed.”
“You mean where I came from and if I’m crazy or not? You still don’t believe me do you, Pastor Silverton?”
“No. I believe you whole-heartedly, Meredith. You have a rare gift. The which of like I have never heard of. But what we would like to know is do you have any parents or the like? And, if so, why did you run away?”
I looked away from them, clenched my jaw, swallowed, and finally said. “I have no parents. They died. I was sent to an orphanage. But I could not stay. I would have been committed to an insane asylum. People would have tried to make me what they deemed ‘normal’. And God was calling me here, besides.”
“So…you have no relatives?” Mrs. Silverton asked.
“None that I know of.” I replied.
“I’m not sure if that makes things more or less complex.” Pastor Silverton said.
“Thank you for telling us, though.”
When they had left I laid down on the bed and curled into a ball.
“Crystal,” I said. “Tell me about Nadia. I want to know everything. Please.”
Crystal sat down on the floor near my bed. “Why now, little one?”
I smiled sadly. “My father used to call me that.”
Her eyes were pieces of a noonday sky in the dark of my room. “I know.” She said.
I turned my face away from hers and buried it in the thick comforter that covered my bed. “Please.” I pleaded.
“All right, then. I shall begin again. I will tell you the story. But I must tell you that I cannot reveal the ending for I do not know it.”
I turned my face to her once more. “Why?”
She sighed. “Perhaps to spare my heart from breaking entirely. But this I do know: Nadia has not died yet. She still walks this earth. Somewhere. I do not know where. But…her story is a sad one, Meredith.”
“Crystal, I need—I need something to tell me that I am not the only one to ever be who I am. Please.”
Crystal studied me, gave her consent with a single nod, and began.
“It was hard for her to have this gift. Even harder for her than for you. As I told you, she had your gift from the womb. And…it was her soul’s gift. She was meant to have it until her last breath for it was given to her with her first. You see, some gifts can be taught. Some even inherited. But this one was bestowed upon her.” Crystal stopped, thought of something for a moment. Bittersweet emotions played across her features. “At first, as she grew, she used her gift well. She learned how to use it. When to use it and where. But then she met…him. She was fifteen. He was eighteen. And I do admit I haven’t seen many men as handsome as he was. Oh, and he was a charmer. I thought she wouldn’t be taken in by his trap. She’s too smart. She’s too…good. She’s too close to God. She knows too much to be taken in by someone like him. Someone who knows nothing of God. Who doesn’t want to know anything of God.”
Crystal stopped, seemed to search for words that did not exist to describe her feelings that went deeper than words. Finally, she said, almost as if it were a confession. “I was wrong. I underestimated him. Overestimated her. He had one thing that most men like him don’t have. He had patience.”
I sat up on my forearms. “What happened?”
Crystal swallowed. “She…fell in love.”
My eyes widened. “Did she…”
Crystal gave the slightest nod, looking more grieved than I had ever seen her. The light of her countenance had steadily grown darker shades of light with each word she spoke. “She…fell for his lies. That he would marry her. That they would live happily ever after. And the sweet, pure soul that I had guarded since before her birth became…tainted by association. Bad company corrupts good character.”
“She never…considered what she was doing?” I whispered.
“I believe that she ignored the future consequences for the temporal headiness of the affections that this young boy showed her. Every single day she spent in his company I felt her soul slipping farther and farther away from any influence I had over her. I grieved for our lost connection. But even more so I grieved for…for the way she began to cut God out of her life. Bit by bit. Piece by piece. It happened so slowly. And yet so very, very quickly.” Crystal drifted away from me for a moment, her presence lessening. Then she seemed to realize where she was for she blinked and continued. “She left her God for a man who had no god but himself. And she paid the consequences. The devastating consequences. She…became pregnant. She told him that she was going to have a baby and he fled. She never heard from him again. She cried for days.”
“What…what did her parents do?”
“She never told them. She ran away and met up with a circus. They agreed to feed her and pay her a little if she did odd jobs.”
I sat all the way up on my bed and looked inquiringly at Crystal. “What…whatever happened to the baby?”
Crystal met my eyes and seemed to say something without words. Something my finite mind could not comprehend no matter how I struggled to do so.
“She—” Crystal stopped, gave a deep, deep groan in her spirit. One that was not so much audible as it was tangible. “She gave the baby up for adoption.”
“Did Nadia ever turn back to God?”
“Not while I guarded her. You see, when Nadia began to use her gift in order to influence the demons not to torment…him…she began to abuse it. They were not her demons to fight. Slowly, she began to lose her gift. She began to stop talking to me. And then she couldn’t see me. Couldn’t hear me. The day she chose to turn her back on God—I mean utterly turn her back—I was forced to leave her. I was forced to cut the final bond between us. I even now feel the pain of losing her…” Crystal held a hand to her heart and closed her eyes for a moment. “You see, I pledged to protect her for as long as she lived…unless she turned away from the very foundations of her faith. It was supposed to have been permanent.” She was silent for a moment, seeming to be choosing what to say next. “Meredith, what happened to me was…rare. I thought I could never guard another soul as long as the pain of losing Nadia resided in my heart. Then…one day…King Jesus came to me.”
“Jesus came to you?” I whispered in wonder.
Crystal smiled and studied my face. “He did. He said, “I have an important mission for you, Crystal. If you are willing to accept it, this mission will help to heal your heart.”
“What did you say?”
Crystal’s smile was beatific. “I said yes, of course.”
“And what was the mission?”
Crystal met my eyes. Her eyes began to glow a gold-blue color. The color of glory. God’s glory.
“You were my mission, Meredith. And you still are. And…you have helped to heal my heart.”
I stared at her for the longest moment. Then I did something I had never tried before. I touched her. I reached out, took her hand, and whispered, “I am so very…glad.”
Her smile was slow. And her joy was a glorious thing to behold.