The day after Crystal had told me about Nadia, Finn and Adam showed up for dinner. Edison was excited for they usually only came to dinner on Sunday. And even then, not every Sunday.
Iana and I were in my room when we heard the front door open and the men’s deep voices speaking below us.
Sitting on my bed, Iana tilted her head and looked at me. “What do you think of Aurelius Finn?”
I brushed my hands down the front of my borrowed sky blue dress as I stood in front of the mirror.
Mrs. Silverton had pulled out dresses for both me and Iana from the attic. Iana was wearing a pink dress edged in white lace.
“What do you think of Aurelius Finn?” I replied, not able to say exactly what I thought of him.
“Now, don’t avoid the question.” Iana returned, eyebrow rising. “You’re quite good at that, you know.”
I sighed and turned to stare at myself in the mirror. Dark brown eyes surrounded by wavy dark brown hair peered back at me.
“I like him.” I said at last. “I just don’t quite know why.”
Iana giggled. “Maybe because he’s so…handsome?” She supplied. She closed her eyes and sat back. “It must be a sin to be so handsome.”
“I don’t think it’s his fault that he’s so handsome.”
Iana giggled again before she stood up and walked toward the door.
“Come on,” She said. “It’s nearly time to set the table.”
The two men along with Iana, me, Edison and Mrs. Silverton congregated on the back porch.
Edison was bouncing off the walls in excitement. His mother ordered him to go play the piano in order to calm down. “Play Bach or Mozart or something.” She said.
“Can I play—”
“Yes. Now go!”
Edson ran from the room. Promptly thirty seconds later beautiful, flowing—though excited music—filtered through the air.
Mrs. Silverton sighed. “That is not Bach.”
“Or Mozart.” Adam said. “Actually, I don’t know what that is. Maybe he heard it on the radio today or something.” He shrugged. “Where is Dad, anyway?”
“Finishing setting up the stands for the bazaar coming up, I believe. He’ll be home any time. I’m going to go finish making dinner.”
She headed back to the kitchen, the screen door slapping behind her. Iana followed her, saying something about helping.
Edison began singing, accompanying himself on the piano. “The bear went over the mountain, the bear went over the mountain, the bear went over the MOUNTAIN! Tooo….duh, duh, duh, dum, dum.” With every word, Edison’s voice had gotten louder, peaking at mountain.
Adam inched toward the door. “I think I had better go…occupy him. As good as he is on his instruments—heaven help us when he starts singing!”
I met Finn’s eyes. He didn’t smile, but studied my face. “Perhaps it wasn’t the best idea to allow Edison free reign.”
I shook my head slightly, not understanding him. “What do you mean? He’s so excited he’ll wear himself out. He’ll be so exhausted by tonight he’ll fall right asleep.”
“He…doesn’t really stop to fully enjoy any one thing, does he?”
I shrugged. “Does that matter? I mean, he’s six. He wants to do everything at once. Everything is equally exciting and wonderful. From his piano to— ”
My words came to a standstill at the sound of my name on his lips.
“Is it…better to try to get one beautiful, wonderful thing in your lifetime…or to try to get a thousand, lesser wonderful things?”
I stared at him for a long moment as my response formed in my mind.
What questions he asked! What thoughts he stirred in my mind with them! Things I had never thought of before. And I could not help but think…how deep his heart must be to ask them.
My brow furrowed as I answered his question. “How much do you want that one beautiful, wonderful thing?” I asked.
“With my entire soul.” He replied. My eyes widened at the vehemence he had said those four words. Sighing, Finn said, “But sometimes I wonder if it would just have been easier to have gone after the lesser things.”
“Of course it would have been easier.” I said. “But does not God want you to work hard? Does He not give you the pearl to work for?”
Unfathomable, unrelenting blue eyes captured my eyes. “Yes. But…I still need to sell all that I have to obtain it.”
“Is not the pearl worth more than all that you have?”
A wondering smile wandered across his lips. “I have believed so for cen—”He stopped abruptly, looked away, closed his eyes and gave a small shake of his head, as if reprimanding himself for something. “For a very, very long time.” He finished quietly.
I was silent for a time before I softly touched his hand and said, “If your desire is for the pearl…then is it really so very hard to sell all that you have in order to purchase it?”
He turned and gave me a smile so disarming that I self-consciously pulled away from him and took a step back. He laughed and looked up at the sky that spread over our heads.
I felt myself blushing so hard I was sure my toes were as red as my face. I looked down at the ground. Perhaps I had been too forward in saying that to him. After all, what did I know? I was just an orphan.
An orphan that many thought was insane and some had even suggested belonged in an asylum.
“Meredith…” I looked over his shoulder.
He shook his head. “Come now. Look me in the face.”
Reluctantly, I did. “Meredith, there is no need to blush. Though I must admit it has become one of my goals to make you blush more often. You look so very…pretty.”
I laughed a little in embarrassment and buried my face in my hands.
He reached out and pushed my hands gently away. His smile faded as he searched my eyes and said. “You…are what you appear…aren’t you?”
Wondering what he meant, I opened my mouth to question him when Edison came dashing through the screen door with a whoop. “Dad’s home, Finn! Mom’s almost done with dinner. Everyone is here! And it’s not even Sunday! And I love fried chicken!” He ran past Finn and I to the backyard, running in circles and singing The Bear Went Over the Mountain as loudly and with as much enthusiasm as he could.
Finn smiled and stared after the boy. “That’s Edison for you.” He murmured.
I didn’t get the chance to ask him anything more.
Hours later, once dinner and dessert had been eaten and Edison had been tucked in for the night, Iana and I decided to go to bed as well.
“I believe I shall join you.” Mrs. Silverton declared. She looked at her husband.
He smiled at her. “I wish to talk a while later with Finn and Adam. I’ll be in in a bit.”
She nodded and the three of us left the room.
Once I had readied myself for bed I sat down on the edge of my mattress and reached for my Bible, which I always lay on the nightstand.
It was not there.
Panic set in as I stood up and looked behind the nightstand.
Where was it? Did I put it somewhere different? I didn’t remember--
I sighed with relief as I realized I had been reading it in Pastor Silverton’s study earlier.
I had left it there, on his desk.
I put a hand to my heart to calm it and breathed in a slow, steady breath. My Bible was one of the last things my parents had given me.
I never wanted to lose it.
I slipped out of my room, down the hall, and descended the stairs on silent, bare feet. I hoped the men were still in the living room so that I wouldn’t disturb them.
However, as I neared Pastor Silverton’s study, I heard their voices emanating from behind the slightly open door.
I reached out to push it open. Surely, they wouldn’t mind if--
“…don’t think I didn’t notice.”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“Finn, don’t play dumb with me.”
“I will not, sir. But do not think I am obligated to tell you anything about what you…saw.”
I assumed Adam had left, as his voice did not enter into the conversation.
I turned around with the full intent of retrieving my Bible when the men were finished.
“Meredith Windsor is but a girl.”
My feet froze in place beneath me.
“She won’t be forever.” Was Finn’s mild—though meaningful—reply.
I swallowed and forced my right foot to take a step forward.
My left refused to follow.
“What do you know of her that I do not, Finn?”
Silence, long and pregnant, filled up the air.
“I believe, sir, that it is my business.”
“Not if it involves Meredith, it isn’t. My family and I have known you for years. I would call you one of our dearest friends, but that does not change the fact that I know virtually nothing about your past.”
“Do you need to know my past to judge my character, Smith?”
“No. But I do need to know what your intentions are toward Meredith Windsor.”
“Do you really think I would ever do anything that would bring shame upon myself or you, Smith?” Finn’s voice was quiet, low, and held a dangerous note.
Pastor Silverton sighed. “No.”
“Then…trust me. As you have in the past. How does Meredith Windsor influence your trust in me? Have I ever proved unfaithful?”
A beat of silence before the pastor spoke. The slightest of hesitations. “No. Never. It’s what she’s capable of seeing and the knowledge she gains by that sight that I am afraid of. Not anything you are doing or have done.”
“Well, I’m not afraid of it.” Finn’s voice turned harsh. An old couch squeaked as I heard Finn stand. “I’m going to tell you something, Smith. Perhaps it will help you to understand why I am so…utterly fascinated with Meredith.”
“I sensed more than that when I saw you look at her, Finn.”
“Perhaps you did.” Finn admitted. “But…know this…” Finn’s shoes thumped against the wood of the pastor’s office floor. “I can see what she can see. And I have always been able to see it.”
I gasped before clapping my hands in silence over my mouth.
I looked at Crystal, who was frowning at me.
He could see her?
He could see angels and demons as I could?
The pastor’s office door swung open abruptly and I spun around, guilt rising in my heart.
When Finn’s eyes landed on me, his face softened.
But as he stared at me, confusion clouded his eyes. “What are you—what are you doing here?”
“I—I left something in Pastor Silverton’s office. I was getting it.”
He looked back into the office, then at me, licked his lips. “Were you?” A strange, eerie smile replaced the confusion. “Have I been wrong all this time, then? What did you mean eavesdropping on us? Did you think you would learn something?”
“Finn, why are you tormenting the poor girl? She’s done nothing wrong.” Pastor Silverton appeared in the doorway.
For a moment, Finn faltered. For a second, doubt was on his face.
Then, every emotion was smoothed away only to be replaced with a placid, unbreakable mask of cool.
“Sir, I request a moment alone with Meredith in your office, if I may.”
“Please.” Finn added.
The pastor shook his head. “All right. Fine. I trust you, Finn. Just…be careful.”
Finn gave a coarse nod as the pastor left us to ourselves.
He studied me, then gestured to the office, indicating I should step inside.
“What…are you going to do to me?”
“Depends on your response to my questions.”
I gave a hesitant nod stepped across the threshold into the room.
Finn closed the door behind me. Then he shut his eyes, rubbed them, and sighed a heavy, deep breath.
He then gathered himself, straightened his shoulders, and turned to me.
“When were you able to see angels and demons?”
The question was so abrupt, so unexpected, that I floundered for the longest of moments. His piercing eyes, dark with an unnamed—or perhaps unnamable—emotion continued to peer at me. If ever there was a logic in his random questions, I had yet to find the pattern to it.
“A year after my parent’s died.” I finally answered.
“You…never were able to see anything before?”
“Did you ask for it?”
His words had gentled, though his hard expression remained unreadable.
“Yes,” I said, “I did.”
“Did you realize…the full consequences of the fulfillment of your request if God granted it to you?”
I frowned slightly. “Does anyone ever realize?”
“Answer me.” His words were even gentler than before. He gave a slight nod. “Please.”
“No,” I replied. “How could I?”
His eyes fell to my shoulder and became clouded in thought. “You’re…sixteen?”
His eyes shifted to mine, though he didn’t seem surprised. A strange softness stole across his features. “She was too.” His gaze sharpened. “Are you what you appear?”
“What—what do you—”
“Six times I’ve been deluded. Six times I thought I would break in half with the grief of it. If you are not the one I have been searching for, then you are the last I will ever look for.”
I was confused and upset by the anguish in his eyes.
What had this man been through?
Finally, I walked up to him, took his hand in both of mine, wanting to be a comfort somehow, in some way. “I am what you see.” I reassured him. “I don’t understand you completely, but I have put on no pretenses.”
“But…are you the one I’ve been looking for?” His eyes, his expression, his very soul seemed soaked in a desperate sort of hope.
I looked up into his face. “Do you believe I am?”
His eyes lit for a moment, as if somebody had kindled a flame behind them.
“What if I said I did?” He whispered.
“Do you want me to be who you’re searching for?”
He pulled away and turned his back on me. He cleared his throat slightly and said, “Do you know who I am?”
“You are…Aurelius Finn. And though I know practically nothing of you, I know some things. You are kind. Loyal to your friends. And…though this may sound strange…you are unafraid. I’ve never met anyone with as much…fearlessness as you.”
He chuckled, though the sound held no humor. “Unafraid.” He repeated.
“Obviously you don’t know who I am.” He glanced back. “Well, then, that is that. You are real. And I think I know who you are and you haven’t a clue who I am. At least we’ve established this much.”
Utterly baffled I stared at him. “Do you want to establish more?”
He turned around fully, a smile playing around his mouth. “It’s enough. For now.” He said.
He walked up to me, very close, and looked down, down deep into my eyes. He leaned forward and reached behind me.
He held a book up before me. “Was this what you were looking for?”
He nodded once. “Good. I shall leave you then. Good bye.”
He turned about and walked to the door.
The color of his eyes, as he had stared at me for that last long moment, was singed into my soul
A deep, relentless, searching shade of blue.
I would say it was the color of the sky.
But I don’t believe even the sky would be deep enough to describe the depth of Aurelius Finn’s eyes.
It was three more days till I saw him again. The period between was a strange kind of torment for me.
I could not reconcile any information I had on the man with any information I had now.
Nothing he had said had made any sense.
Nothing I thought in the hours since our conversation even made sense.
It seemed my mind was determined to make reality out of a fabric not suited for it.
And the fabric was tearing.
At times I was afraid I really was doing the thing that so many had accused me of becoming.
I ate, I slept, I spoke, and even laughed a little with Iana and Edison.
But all that time, my mind continued to whirl around in my head. Oh, how my contemplations glittered and sparkled! A nebulous reign of unfinished thoughts encircled my mind, closing me in. Fascinating me and suffocating me at the same time.
When I slept, those thoughts refused to give sense of any kind the smallest fraction of quarter.
On the third night, I rose from my bed and slipped down the stairs, wanting fresh air. The dreams I had had that night had been disturbing and plentiful. Though I did not remember much of them, I had remembered enough to leave a strange, dark, feeling hanging over me.
I was only vaguely aware of Crystal and Rade fighting demons around me.
I tried to pray, but felt too tired to even think.
Once I had set my feet upon the cool concrete of the Silverton’s back porch, I inhaled all the air my lungs could hold and whispered. “Lord, please just hear my heart’s prayer. Please.”
I sat down upon the porch and pulled my knees up to my chin. I leaned my forehead against them and breathed in and out. In and out.
Why was I so disturbed?
I had never felt like this.
Oh…yes…yes, I had.
I had felt like this several days before the maid with the demon of depression had come to work at the orphanage.
Was that it, then?
I was about to be attacked?
Then I heard it.
But it was not tuneless.
And the tune would even seem harmless to anybody who was listening.
It was Ring-Around-the-Rosie.
I raised my head.
The fear injected into my veins was icy and paralyzing. I stopped breathing.
A shadow moved toward me in the shadows of the yard.
I leaped up and ran for the door.
If I got inside then surely--
But the shadow—out of nowhere—appeared and slid in front of the door.
I gasped and took a huge step back.
The man looked up at me, revealing his face. Angular and hawkish. The whitest face I had ever seen paired with coal-black eyes.
The man that had spoken with Finn that day at the Bethesda Fountain.
The whistling came to an abrupt halt.
The air was infused with a lunatic type of silence…
I met the crazed eyes of the man Finn had called Rass.
He began to walk toward me. His steps were steady, direct, unrelenting. I took a step back, matching every step he took.
“You know you’re crazy.” He susurrated, that last word echoing off of the sky and ground.
Off the walls of my mind.
“I am not crazy.” I said. But I didn’t even convince myself.
He laughed. Then he leaned forward, so close I could feel his breath on my skin.
“Then what are you?” He whispered.
I faltered, took in a gasping breath and nearly screamed, “I am a child of the living God!”
He flinched, hissed in a breath, rolled his shoulders.
For a moment he looked away.
That was all the time I needed to compose myself, remind myself where I was and who I was and what I was.
He drifted toward me, eyes less crazed and more…I shuddered. Seductive.
“What if I offered you your heart’s desire, Meredith?”
I breathed in short, small breaths. Not enough oxygen was making it through my system, but I could not stop my erratic breathing. He began to circle me, like a vulture would its prey.
“I know what it is.” He whispered. “Love. Security. Happiness.”
I squeezed my eyes shut. Yes. Yes, I desired those things. I desperately desired them.
“I can give you all these things. And more.”
I braced myself and opened my eyes.
Face to face I stood with him.
A condemned fallen angel’s soul against a saved human girl’s soul.
“What do you want?” I whispered.
“Well, at this point many others who would be in my…position…would say your soul.”
“But…you…you don’t want my soul…?”
“There is something…else...I particularly want.”
“And what is that?”
I shook my head. “What have I to do with him?”
He smiled. But it was not a smile. He laughed. But it was not a laugh.
“You don’t have to do much, my dear.”
I eyed him warily.
“Just…continue upon the path that leads to his core. His center. You human’s call it his…heart. And…when you are inside of it completely and utterly you can do one of two things.”
He stared at me, as if cuing me to ask.
“What?” I finally said.
He smiled in apparent delight at that one word. “Betray him—”
I let out a shocked breath at the word betray.
“Or you may…” He leaned in and put his lips near my ear. “Die.”
I swallowed and dared not breathe as he pulled back slightly and brushed past me, circling me once more.
“Strange that he would choose you,” Rass mused. “Of course, he never thought that it would ever be his choice. He only ever thought that you would be chosen for him. I tried to tell him. But he would never listen tome. He would listen to no one but…HIM. Especially after the seven were divided.”
I looked down at the concrete beneath my feet, jaw tight, hands held in even tighter fists.
His feet, encased in shiny black dress shoes, came into my range of vision.
With two fingers he pressed my chin up and forced me to look at him.
I met eyes a color so dark that even black could not describe it.
“I am impressed with you, Meredith Windsor. So very…impressed.”
I jerked away from him and whirled around. “Leave me alone.” I said.
Then he began to whistle again. The same tune.
The same way.
Only the tune seemed to wrap around me and enter me against my own will.
I put my hands over my ears and sank to my knees. “Oh, God, help!” I cried.
The evil surrounding me, entering me, closing me in was almost touchable.
And it nearly overwhelmed my thoughts. The evil ate away at my ability to think rational, clear thoughts. It sought my conscience, even though I fought it with all the strength I had within my being.
Dark little demons appeared and began to circle around me, closer and closer.
“God, do not allow me to be overcome!” I cried, touching my forehead to the cold concrete porch.
Then a deep, smooth voice shouted, “Be gone! Leave her alone!”
The demons shrieked, but still they came, now even more ravenous. Then a light. A light so great that
warmth coated my crouched form like a wave from the ocean. The demons were swept away in the light, screaming out protests. Their tentative grip on my mind was released, leaving me feeling ragged and emotional.
I dared to raise my head enough to look Rass’s way.
Rass was still there. His complexion was as white as ever, yet there was a fear darkening his features.
“Rass. Did you really think you could get away with tormenting one of the King’s children in this way?”
I did not look to the owner of the voice. But as soon as I had identified him I leaned forward, wrapping my arms around my body. Tears of relief, sweet and silent, welled in my eyes and streamed down my cheeks. “Thank You, Jesus. Thank You. Thank You.” Was all I could manage to say or think.
“Oh, come now, Finn, don’t look at me like that. She’s fine. She willalways be fine as long as she has her precious Savior!” Rass spit out the last word, bitterness infusing it.
A stony silence ensued. I heard Finn’s footsteps approaching me. He crouched down beside me. I saw a flash of red from the corner of my eye. I looked at him and found him holding out a red, silk handkerchief, I gave a single, slightly hysterical, breath of laughter. He smiled back as I took the handkerchief from him and wiped away my tears.
He cupped my elbow and helped me to rise. Then he cupped my cheek, looked down into my eyes and whispered, “You all right?”
I gave a nod. “I—I’m fine now.”
Finn let go of me and stepped before me, facing Rass.
“I warned you,” Finn said. “Was it not clear? Was I not definite?”
Rass gave a sardonic smile. “Do you know how much you have ruined, Finn? Do you understand how much damage you have accomplished this night?”
“For your kingdom or for mine?” Finn retorted. “I serve the Light of the World. You serve the Prince of the Air. My kingdom will last for eternity. Yours shall last until the end of the age of this world.”
Rass gave a slight nod. “I give you that. But I tell you what I will not give you.” He lifted up a menacing finger and pointed straight at me, staring with hard black eyes. “Her.”
Finn stepped into his line of vision. I could feel the fury mounting in his body. “You shall never have her! She has been given me!”
Rass’s chuckle made an icy thrill run down my spine. “Time. Will. Tell.”
Then he began to whistle. The sound of his footsteps faded away with the tune as he left.
But still it revolved about in my mind.
I tried to force it away, sure that the innocent tune of Ring Around the Rosie would forever after hold cruel, dark meaning to me.
Finn turned halfway around and stared at me as if seeing me for the first time. His eyes were a warm, pure blue. And—oh!—how they seemed to glow!
“You are true. You are faithful.” He said in a marvelously deep, husky voice. “I’m sorry that I did not trust you before.”
I stared at him, shocked anew at his beauty. The rising sun coated his hair in a warm, red-gold light, giving him a sort of crown. But it had not been the rising sun that had carried the demons away in a wave of light.
Surely, Aurelius Finn had caused that.
I glanced away from him, finding it an altogether strange and wonderful experience to have a man as gorgeous as Finn directing his attention at me.
I threw him a shy look and said, “I’m sorry, too.
He threw back his head and laughed.