The studio was cold and dark, and she turned on the light, then hurried into the kitchen to make a pot of tea. Taking a pristine canvas from the pile stacked against the wall, she set it on the easel and stepped back. No, bigger. The angel who’d visited her couldn’t be displayed on such a small space. Searching through her supplies, Anne looked for the largest canvas she had.
She found one in a closet, bigger than anything she’d ever used before, and began to work. Thinking she’d soon grow tired, she didn’t pause. She painted through the night and didn’t stop until daylight. To her amazement, she noticed sunshine pouring in around her. She glanced at the clock on the wall. Almost eight! For the first time in her life she’d worked straight through the night.
“I’ll just take a quick break,” she told herself as she went back to bed. Exhausted, she climbed between the sheets and closed her eyes. Seven hours later, around three, she woke feeling refreshed and revitalized.
After showering and changing clothes, Anne resumed her painting. The next time she looked up, it was dark again. Shocked, she realized she hadn’t eaten in nearly thirty hours. The refrigerator provided a chunk of cheddar and a small cluster of seedless grapes, which she munched on hungrily. She made another pot of tea. Then it was back to work.
When she’d finished the painting, she saw daylight again; for the second night in a row, she’d worked without sleep. Stepping back, Anne examined her creation with a critical eye.
“Yes,” she whispered, awed by the painting before her.
This was her best work to date. She’d call it…Visitation. Smiling, she studied the painting from several angles.
The phone rang, startling her, and she hurried to answer it.
“Anne, it’s Marta.”
“Oh, Marta, hello.” Her mind raced frantically as she tried to remember what day it was. Anne had a terrible feeling she’d missed their dinner appointment—not to mention her lunch with Roy—and sincerely hoped she hadn’t. She thought for a minute; as far as she could calculate, it was Thursday morning. Never had she worked on a project in such a frenzied fashion—to the point that she no longer knew what day of the week it was.
“I just called to ask if you’d let me see one of your paintings.”
“Oh, Marta, are you sure?” Anne would never presume to ask her friend for this kind of favor.
“I’ve been hearing good things about your landscapes. A colleague of mine was on the island last summer—Kathy Gruber—and met you. She saw your work at a local exhibit. You remember her, don’t you?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Since I’m in town this week, I’d like to take a look at some of your pieces.”
Anne glanced at her angel. “I’ll let you see one, but it isn’t a landscape. As it happens, I just finished it.” Eyeing the canvas, she frowned. The painting was too big; she couldn’t bring it into town with her. “It won’t fit in my car,” she said.
“I can make a trip out to your place tomorrow, if that’s convenient.”
“Of course it is, but we’re still meeting for dinner tonight, aren’t we?”
“I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” Marta assured her.
“Me, neither,” Anne said.
They spoke for a few minutes longer. When Anne replaced the receiver, she saw by the clock that she had just enough time for a short nap and a shower before heading into Seattle to meet her son.
“Not bad,” Goodness said as she studied the painting. She cocked her head to one side and decided that, as a portrait, it was uncannily accurate. “It certainly looks like Shirley.”
“I had no idea I was so lovely,” Shirley said, clasping her hands. “Is that truly the way Anne sees me?” She gazed expectantly at her two friends.
“So it seems,” Goodness replied.
“What I want to know,” Mercy began, making herself at home in Anne’s studio, “is why we haven’t been dragged back to Heaven in disgrace.” She glanced pointedly at Shirley. “By all rights, we should be standing guard at the Pearly Gates after what she did.”
Mercy was the one more accustomed to causing trouble on Earth. It used to be Shirley who made them tread the straight and narrow, but apparently the job had—unfairly—fallen to Goodness. For this assignment, anyway.
She couldn’t give Mercy an answer. The Archangel clearly had his own reasons for keeping them on Earth.
“We have an important task,” Shirley explained as if that should be obvious. “Anne and Roy need us.”
“Seems to me Julie could use a hand, too,” Goodness muttered. She didn’t want to be judgmental, but the woman Mercy considered the answer to Anne’s prayer was being less than cooperative.
“What do you mean?” Mercy asked. “I thought the accident was a brilliant idea! It got Roy and Julie together, didn’t it?”
“All they did was snipe at each other.” Goodness wasn’t disparaging her friend’s effort, but it simply hadn’t worked.
“I think I was more optimistic than I should’ve been,” Mercy said when Shirley came and sat next to her.
“I thought everything went very well.” Shirley seemed undeterred by Julie’s lack of cooperation—or Roy’s. She continued to stare at her portrait with an appreciative eye.
“How can you say that?” Goodness cried. In her opinion, Julie wasn’t the only one who needed instruction in romance. It was evident that Shirley had difficulty recognizing what worked and what didn’t. That staged accident certainly hadn’t.
Shirley sighed. “I had real hope when Roy took her to his own physician.”
“But then he dumped her there.”
Mercy nodded vigorously. “The least he could’ve done was wait long enough to make sure she wasn’t injured.”
“He did pay for her taxi ride home,” Shirley said. “They were getting along so well, too.”
Goodness gaped at her friend and wondered if Shirley had lost all touch with reality. “They did nothing but argue!” She’d witnessed courtroom battles with less antagonism. Roy Fletcher and Julie Wilcoff were completely unsuited as a couple, but no one wanted to listen to her. As far as she could see, the two of them didn’t even like each other.
Goodness might never have been in love—romance was for earthly beings—but she had an instinct for matchmaking, if she did say so herself. She’d successfully guided men and women toward each other a time or two, but none of that seemed to matter.
“Yes, they were arguing, but I was well aware even if you weren’t that they like each other,” Mercy insisted.
“I don’t think so.” Goodness hated to discourage her friends, but she didn’t see it. The spark just wasn’t there. She suspected Julie had become so discouraged about her prospects of finding a husband that she’d lost the ability to attract one. Goodness had wanted to shake the young woman for joking about her weight. A lady never discussed such things! Julie should know better. And Roy—he was one of the walking wounded. He didn’t seem capable of feeling anything, except bitterness and cynicism.
“What are you suggesting?” Mercy asked.
Goodness knew it was one thing to criticize and another to offer an alternative. But she figured they’d better face up to the truth sooner rather than later. “We should give it up and search elsewhere.”
Mercy folded her wings tightly, a sure sign she wasn’t pleased.
“We did our part. Now it’s up to the two of them. Agreed?” Goodness gave her friends a stern look.
“Just who do you think would interest Roy?” Shirley asked.
“Just who?” Mercy parroted.
They had Goodness there. “I don’t know—yet,” she said. “But we’ve done our part. Agreed?” she said again.
The other two nodded with unmistakable reluctance.
“Now I say we leave them alone, and if it’s meant to be, it’ll happen without any help from the three of us.”
Mercy seemed about to argue, but then she sighed loudly. “Oh, all right, but I still have a strong feeling that Julie’s the answer to Anne’s prayer.”
“Anne,” Shirley whispered. As if she’d suddenly remembered something, the former Guardian Angel announced, “I’ll be right back.”
Goodness was having none of this. “Where are you going?”
Shirley glanced over her shoulder. “I’ll only be a minute.”
Goodness exchanged a look with Mercy and both of them followed Shirley. The other Ambassador didn’t go far. She crept into Anne’s bedroom and saw that the older woman was in bed, eyes closed.
“Is she asleep?” Mercy asked, floating above the bed.
“Not quite,” Shirley answered with confidence.
Goodness peered closer, but couldn’t tell. After working two consecutive nights on the portrait of Shirley, Anne must be exhausted.
“She’s meeting her son later this morning,” Mercy said. “She won’t sleep long.”
Goodness checked the clock radio. “The alarm is set.”
“She thinks she only needs an hour or two.”
“The poor thing,” Shirley said. To Goodness’s surprise, she moved to stand over the older woman. Gently pressing her hand to Anne’s forehead, Shirley leaned forward to whisper, “You did a beautiful job.” Then she lifted her hand and eased away.
“Look,” Mercy said, pointing at Anne.
The softest of smiles touched the woman’s lips, almost as if she’d heard Shirley speak.
Roy glanced up at George Williams, his high-priced corporate attorney. “I’m sorry, did I miss something?” Judging by the pained expression on the other man’s face, apparently he had. Williams had been discussing the profit-and-loss statement for Griffin Plastics, a company Roy was interested in purchasing. He’d half heard Williams drone on about “synergies”—which, as far as he could determine, just meant that Griffin would be able to make the cases for his security software. Sighing, he directed his attention to the papers on his desk. “Let me look these over and get back to you this afternoon.”
The attorney frowned, gathered his files together and stuffed them in his briefcase.
“Before you leave I have a question,” Roy said.
“About the Griffin figures?”
“No.” Roy reached for a pen and made a few scribbles on a clean sheet of paper while he collected his thoughts. “Late last week, I had a minor…altercation with a bicycle rider.”
“Altercation?” George Williams repeated.
“She fell—” he chose the word carefully “—off her ten-speed and hit a tree.”
The attorney’s eyes widened and he pulled a blank pad of paper toward him.
“She was unhurt,” Roy rushed to add. “As an innocent bystander, I immediately phoned the paramedics and notified the police.”