“My old maternity dress isn’t all that bad.”

“Pam!” Leah braced her hands against her hips and glared at her friend. “Now I understand why Doug insisted I go shopping with you. He knew darn good and well that you’d end up buying something for everyone else and nothing for yourself.”

“Did you see that darling pinafore,” Pam said, pointing toward the children’s section. “Diane would look like an angel dressed in that.”

Leah looped her arm through Pam’s and steered her in the opposite direction. “I’ll tell you what I’m going to do.”

“What? Hog-tie me and force me to try on several dresses?”

“Close. I’m taking you directly to the dressing room and bringing the party dresses in to you.”

Pam’s shoulders sagged with defeat as they entered the dressing room area. “All right, just try to find something reasonably priced, will you?” Leah opened the white louvered door and gently pushed her friend inside.

Pam stuck out her hand and waved her index finger. “Check on the sale rack first. I’ll feel better about spending so much money on myself if the dress is discounted.”

“Never you mind,” Leah argued. “I’m not even going to let you look at the price tag.”

“But, Leah—”

“Don’t even try to argue with me. I’d have thought you’d know better by now.” Smiling to herself, Leah left the dressing room.

“My hips aren’t nearly as slender as they used to be either,” Pam called after her. “You’d better start with a size twelve instead of a ten . . . better make that a fourteen.”

Leah stopped long enough to roll her eyes, then headed for a rack of newly arrived fashions. It took less than five minutes to find a wide selection that would suit her friend.

“Mercy, where are you?” Goodness called, frantically circling Nordstrom’s like the second hand of a clock gone berserk.

Mercy turned around to find Goodness, her wings all aflutter, breezing six feet off the ground, close to a state of panic.

“I need to talk to you right away,” Goodness said breathlessly.

“Over here,” Mercy called, wondering what could possibly have gone wrong so quickly. “I’m on the light fixture.”

Goodness soared to her side, rustling the dress display and toppling a mannequin. Apparently feeling guilty, she scooped up the lifeless form and set it back into place to the horror of a sales clerk who gasped and placed her hand over her heart to watch a lifeless form right itself.

“Goodness,” Mercy shouted. “Would you stop before you get us both into trouble?”

“I need help,” Goodness blurted out for the second time, joining Mercy who was dangling from the light fixture.

“So soon? You just received the assignment. What could have possibly gone wrong?”

Goodness, who was easily flustered, looked helpless and confused. She cast a pleading look at Mercy. “I knew I was in way over my head when Gabriel first gave me this assignment, but I wanted to help Monica Fischer. You know I’m a sucker for romance, and finding her a husband didn’t sound as if it would be the least bit difficult.” She stopped long enough to draw in another deep breath. “Now the poor girl’s more confused than ever and I’m afraid it’s all my fault.”

“What happened?”

“Nothing . . . well, obviously it’s something, but . . . oh, dear, I’m afraid I’ve made a terrible mistake.”

“I take it this has something to do with finding Monica a husband?”

Goodness nodded energetically. “I found the most suitable young man who has a wonderful heart for God. He directs the choir and he’s half in love with her already.”

“Then what’s the problem?”

“Monica isn’t the least bit excited about him. She has this dangerous attraction for that . . . that private eye. They’re completely incompatible. Why, a union between the two of them will never do, and I fear I’m the one responsible for them meeting.”

Mercy frowned. “Goodness, when will you ever learn?”

“Me!” Flustered, she wrung her hands and eyed her fellow angel. “You don’t think I know that was you riding up and down the escalator just now?”

“You couldn’t have known that was me.”

“Let’s just say I made an educated guess,” Goodness said confidently. “A woman’s being treated with smelling salts and two kids are telling everyone what they saw, and it sounds to me as if they were describing you. Who else do you know with long, blond hair, deep blue eyes, and magnificent wings? You know better than most that children’s spiritual eyes have yet to close. You were taking a terrible chance.”

“Ah . . .”

“Just as I thought. Mercy, what are you going to do if Gabriel hears about this? You know he will eventually. Why, he could pull you off of this assignment in nothing flat and with good reason.”

“But he won’t,” Mercy said with utter confidence.

“How can you be so sure?”

“Because he’d never have assigned me to this prayer request if he had anyone else to send. We both know that.”

“But he might never give you another assignment if you continue to do crazy stunts like that.”

“Sure he will. Gabriel has a soft spot in his heart for the three of us. I venture to say we’re his favorites, although he’d never let us know that.”

Goodness stared at her with round, disbelieving eyes.

“He’ll forgive me just about anything,” Mercy continued, undaunted, “because I’m going to find a way to teach Leah what she must learn and as soon as she does, she’ll become pregnant.”

“Mercy, have you been sniffing the eggnog again?”

“Don’t be ridiculous.”

“But you’ve got the most difficult assignment by far. How can you be so confident Leah’s ever going to learn what she must when so many others have failed?”

“Simple,” Mercy said with a cocky tilt to her head, “I’m going to teach her. Now stop worrying about me. Let’s concentrate on what’s happening with you and Monica Fischer.”

Goodness adjusted her wings around the troublesome light fixture. “I hate to admit it, but I’m worried. She really likes this Chet fellow.”

“Chet who?”

“Chet Costello. He’s a private investigator and from what I’ve managed to learn of him . . . let me just say this, Gabriel would need to assign a legion of angels to work with him.”

“You’re sure Monica’s infatuated with him?”

Goodness nodded. “I read her journal this morning and it was full of all the things she felt while he kissed her. She said she never knew that kissing could be this good or that a woman felt those kinds of things when a man touched her.”

“Oh, my.” Mercy waved her hand in front of her heated face.

“And that’s not the half of it.”

“You mean there’s more?”

“She wrote that she felt herself responding to him even when she promised herself she wouldn’t and how disappointed she was when he stopped.”

“Do you think Michael knows about Chet?”

“No one knows, not even her father. She raced home afterwards and went directly to her room where she wrote everything down. When her father came to ask if she wanted dinner, Monica claimed she wasn’t hungry.”

“Kissing is better than food?” This was a whole new thought to Mercy.

“Apparently so.”

Goodness wrung her hands once more, then blurted out, “Say something. Anything. I need help.”

Mercy slowly shook her head back and forth. “You’ve got trouble.”

“I know that, otherwise I wouldn’t be here. What do you suggest?”

Mercy thought long and hard. “We both need to talk to Shirley. She’s much better at deciphering these matters than we are.”

“Let’s meet at Reverend Fischer’s church at midnight in the choir loft,” Goodness suggested as she elegantly slid off the dangling fixture. “I’ll see you then.”

Mercy nodded.

Goodness fully intended to leave the shopping mall right then and return to Monica, who was sitting in the church office typing up the bulletin for the Sunday morning worship service. But when she shot past a video store, she skidded to a stop. Mercy seemed confident that Gabriel would leave them on their assignments because he was so shorthanded. Maybe she should test her friend’s theory, and have a little fun herself.

Row upon row of television screens faced her. There must have been over fifty in various sizes and shapes, all tuned to the same channel. The temptation was too much to resist.

She hesitated and laughed silently at the thought of her face showing up on all fifty screens at once. The mere suggestion was her downfall. If Mercy could ride up and down the escalator then she should be able to enjoy a few short moments of notoriety.

“This is our best model,” the salesman was saying, stepping over to the wide twenty-five-inch screen. The salesman was busily showing an older couple the capabilities of the remote control when Goodness popped onto the screen.

“What’s that?” The grandmotherly woman pointed to the television.

“It seems to be a . . . woman with wings,” the man with her added.

“Wings?” The salesman quickly adjusted the buttons. “We had it tuned to a game show earlier. It’s nothing to worry about, folks, this happens sometimes. I’ll just change the channel.”

“The same woman appears to be on that channel as well,” the woman said. “If I didn’t know better I’d say it was an . . . angel. Do you think she’s trying to tell us something, Delbert?”

“She sure is,” the man grumbled. “She’s saying we shouldn’t be buying this fancy new television when the one we’ve got is perfectly fine.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. This is the punishment you get for skipping mass last Sunday. God’s sent this angel to show you the error of your ways. Then again”—she hesitated while Goodness adjusted her wings for show—“she might be telling us we should pick up some lottery tickets on our way home.”

The salesman was becoming more and more agitated as he punched a variety of buttons on the remote control. “I’m sure there’s been some mistake.” He looked around and shouted, “Harry! I think it might be a good idea if I have the manager take a look at this.”

“I’ve seen enough,” the older man said, reaching for his wife’s arm. “Let’s get out of here.”

“It has to do with you missing church, I’m sure of it.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” her husband said with annoyance.

“We are going to stop for lottery tickets, aren’t we?”

“We don’t do this nearly enough.” Jody’s mother set the pot of tea on the oak kitchen table.


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