As always, I thank each one of you who has stuck with me all this time. It means the world. Also, I've deleted my author's note at the start, so the chapter numbers coincide with the labels now as someone mentioned that to be very confusing.
The soft breeze was warm and the sky a stunning turquoise blue on this day in the large expanse of what appeared to be a never-ending paradise land. The straw colored grass was long and reflected the sun in the most exquisite golden hues, and the patches of flowers that grew here and there added a touch of brilliant color to the sea of light. To the right of her, ocean waves crashed lazily in the distance, and to her left, a vast mountain range was bordered by a magnificent forest. Somewhere above her head, a choir of songbird's twittered about, their voices carrying a joyful melody through the fluffy white clouds that dotted the otherwise clear sky.
That she was Home, Monica had no doubt, though her exact location was a place that she wasn't familiar with. It wasn't the gathering place of angels, nor was it God's Country, and as far as she could see, not another soul was present. That she was no longer human was also of no doubt. She had been sure that the consequences of her last actions would have condemned her to an eternity of living among the humans who now called Heaven their home. She hadn't dared believe that she would be returned to her previous angelic status, but the undeniable warmth she felt from the presence of the Father in her heart was beyond question. As she pondered this and all it could possibly mean, she felt a stab of very real pain in her chest from the lingering memories of her most recent stay on Earth. The thoughts were anything but pleasant and there was no denying the fact that she would have to answer for not just her final moments and decision to end her human life, but the entire year and all of her actions that had lead up to that.
There were so many questions running through her mind that Monica had no idea where to begin. The passed 13 months, 56 weeks, 396 days, had been such a dark and tenebrous time for her and the memories of her duration as a human, from the moment she had defied Sam to choosing to end it all, were cloudy with a pain that resonated within her so strongly, it was hard for her to even grasp it. From the way she handled her feelings towards Sam, to simply not caring what he or anyone else thought, to the harmful things she did to her own body, to the way she spoke to Tess in those final minutes of her life … the resounding guilt she felt was positively crushing. She didn't even allow herself to think of Andrew and what he might have said or done because of all this, because of her actions, her weakness. It was all just so much to bear and she was quickly coming to the conclusion that she only had one option if she were to have answers to even a handful of her questions. Looking skyward, she began to speak to her Father, finally, for the first time in over a year.
"I don't even know where to start, but I know that's okay because You know my heart already," Monica whispered aloud, wondering how she could possibly find the right words to convey everything she felt right now. She pushed through the humiliation she felt and fought to continue,
"I suppose the best place to start would be by apologizing. Father, I'm so, so sorry for everything. I'm sorry for not trusting you, for being angry, for feeling like You didn't care. I'm sorry for not acknowledging You, for turning away when You wouldn't dream of doing such a thing to me. I'm just so sorry ..." she said, trying to keep her voice from breaking with the strained emotion she felt. She was surprised that her eyes were even capable of producing more tears when she felt them burn against the back of her eyes.
"The thing is, Father … I don't know how to be sorry for some things, and so I have to ask … why did this happen? Why, after all these years? Why did this happen to us? If angels are only supposed to feel one way for another, why were we made to experience something different if we were only to be punished for it? Father, I'm trying … I really am trying to understand, but it's so hard because I … I love him, and I just don't know how to be sorry for that ..."
Monica turned her gaze away from the Heavens and once again observed her surroundings, searching for peace and comfort in the beauty of the land. Though she longed for an immediate answer, she didn't truly expect one. The Father worked on no one's time but His own, after all. She supposed that now all she could do was wait and see, and hope that she would know something soon.
"The Father hears you, baby."
The voice, the strong, deep, motherly voice of her Supervisor behind her was like music, ringing out through the air in a melody that matched the song of the birds above. Monica couldn't remember a time when she had been happier to hear that voice, though the memories of her last words to the angel who had been like a mother were a slight tarnish to the lift in her mood. She turned slowly in the direction of the sweet sound, and met Tess's gaze hesitantly, nearly positive that she wouldn't be angry, but uncertain just the same.
"Tess, I ..."
Again, Monica was struck with a loss of words and she hung her head with shame. What could she possibly say that would even be close to enough? But Tess just shook her head and motioned for Monica to come closer, holding out her hand in invitation.
"Come on, Angel girl. Let's take a walk."
And so they walked, hand in hand, like old times, for a long while without speaking, in the direction of the ocean. Soon enough, the right words found their way out of Monica's mouth and Tess was merely a sounding board for absolutely everything that was plaguing her swirling thoughts.
"And Tess, I can't even begin to tell you how sorry I am for the way I spoke to you. Those words, I … I don't even know where they came from ..."
"I do," Tess countered softly, reaching up and smoothing back a stray lock of shining auburn hair from Monica's face, "You were hurting, more than I and probably even you could understand. Pain is a strong thing and sometimes, in the heat of the moment, it can make you say and do things that you don't mean. I felt your words deep in my heart, but I knew better than to be hurt by them. The only pain I felt was a reflection of yours and I felt helpless being there and unable to comfort you. I was hurting for you and I know you're still hurting now. Do you have any idea how much I love you, Angel girl?"
Monica wasn't even trying to hold back her tears now as she nodded. Of course she knew. How could she not? And how was it that Tess was so wise, always knew the exact right thing to say, could always comfort her when she was feeling her worst? How one angel could possess so much love and patience, Monica would never know but would be forever grateful. As she embraced her supervisor, Monica could only thank the Father for Tess's ever-faithful presence in her existence.
"Tess ..." she asked softly, a short time later, looking around again, "Where exactly are we?" Tess smiled and answered,
"We're in a special place for reflection, a place that angels sometimes come when we need breaks. I've been here a fair few times in my existence too, though it's been many years since my last visit. The Father thought you could use some time to think ..." Monica could hear it in Tess's thoughts and so mentally added 'and pray' to the end of that sentence. Her brows furrowed together troublesomely and she found herself wondering, if Tess knew all this, what else might she know?
"And Tess … do you know about other things too?" Monica asked somewhat shyly, hoping that Tess
would understand what she was asking without so many words. She couldn't bear to say his name aloud, but she was aching to know something, anything, about where he was in all of this.
"I do, baby," Tess answered with a nod, interpreting Monica's question accurately, knowing full well that she was asking about more than just 'other things.' There was still much to discuss and many things for Monica to know, and so as they continued walking towards the beach, Tess began to tell all that she had been told of the situation thus far.
"Angel girl, when you turned away from Sam that day and told him no, you were making a conscious choice to give up your existence as an angel and become fully human. Every angel, just like every human being, has the freedom to make certain choices. We fondly refer to it as free will – I have it, you have it, everyone has it and thus, have the ability to make decisions like these for ourselves. Though it pains the Father greatly when His children make choices that hurt them or lead them into trouble, He allows it because He hopes that we will learn from our experiences and grow as humans and as angels."
Monica wasn't altogether sure where Tess was going with this, as these were all concepts that she knew of already, but that didn't keep her from giving her full attention to her ever so wise and knowledgeable supervisor.
"Now, let's fast forward to the night that you decided to end your human life. You, being fully human and completely mortal, had the ability to consciously make that choice. Though it pained the Father immensely to see you, His child, in such a situation, neither He nor I could stop you from doing what you had decided to do."
At this point, Monica had to interrupt and ask another burning question,
"But … I'm confused, then. How am I standing here with you now, in a part of Heaven for angels, clearly no longer human? I thought the consequence of my choice was that it was irreversible … not something that can be taken back?" Tess considered her thoughtfully for a moment before responding, again with timeless wisdom and discernment,
"Well, I suppose it's because the Father knows your heart and He isn't quite finished with you yet, baby. He must think you deserve a second chance, and who are we to question that, hmm? Besides, you know the Father never passes up an opportunity to turn our mistakes around into something good and beautiful."
Monica took a few silent moments to contemplate all of this new information, her mind churning once again. She found it incredible that she, Monica, just one angel out of thousands, would be given the gift of a second chance. After everything that she'd done and thought over the last year, including throwing her own life away and turning back on everything she knew, this was the very last thing she had expected.
"Tess," she said, many emotions surging through her, "I don't even know what to say. I never would have thought that I … that I'd see you again, that I would …" But she trailed off, because there were still so many uncertain things, things that she didn't dare ask about. A part of her almost didn't want to know what was in store for her near future, as she thought that might be easier than knowing for sure that things wouldn't be changing. She tried to push those thoughts out of her head though, knowing that if she let them linger too long, she might lose her resolve all over again.
The ground beneath their bare feet had turned damp and sandy some time ago, and as Monica gazed out into the ocean's depths, she was once again struck by the pure artistry that was present in her surroundings. The water was so brightly blue, so clear, that she was sure that even hundreds of feet from the shore, she would have been able to see to the bottom. It was just another reminder, as if they even needed one, of how big and powerful the Father was. It was in that moment that she found the courage within herself to request just one more answer from Tess.
"So what happens now?" She asked softly, unable to meet the eyes of her supervisor, "What happens to us now?"
At this, Tess hesitated slightly with her answer. Though Monica was renewed physically, she knew that her emotions were still in the most fragile of states. Times like these were when a supervisor's job was the most difficult, when the young angels in their care were touched by a pain that couldn't be eased away with simple words and assurances – when they'd been rocked to the core and changed forever.
"Angel girl, I can tell you that this is far from over and it's not going to be a walk in the park," Tess replied gently, not missing Monica's sharp intake of breath and the look of apprehension in her already fear-filled eyes. "But," she continued, "the rest will have to wait until the pair of you are together. I don't want to have to explain this twice."
Monica found herself lost in confusion at Tess's words for only a moment, and then realization hit her like a brick and it was all she could do to keep herself together, to keep from shouting out loud in relief. These were the very words that she had been dying to hear but too afraid to hope for. Even so, she had to ask for clarification, to be sure that what she heard from Tess's mouth was not some fabrication of her own mind, that she did indeed just say what Monica had been silently praying for non-stop since arriving in this place of reflection.
"Andrew?" She managed to choke out through the large lump in her throat. And as Tess nodded, it was once again all that Monica could do to not lose what little control she had over her shattered emotions. She was, after all, so very tired of being such a hysterical train wreck. Still, it was taking everything she had to remain poker faced and on her feet. She was sure that she wouldn't be able to keep it up much longer, and so hoped that the moment when she and Andrew were finally reunited would be sooner rather than later.
"Yes baby, but I've got to go and find him first, so you just wait right here, okay?"
And just like that, as quick as she had come, Tess disappeared and Monica was suddenly and agonizingly all alone again.
Though his surroundings were meant to be tranquil, serene, calming, the angelic figure kneeling by the rolling sea felt nothing even remotely close to peace in his heart. Just the opposite, in fact. His once sparkling green eyes held no light, his face was streaked with tears, and there was an emptiness inside that was simply bigger than the strength he possessed within himself to get up off his knees. The pain, the literally physical pain that he felt was incomprehensible, so acute that he was having trouble drawing a proper breath of air, as though his entire chest cavity had been crushed in.
The blonde haired Angel of Death gazed out unseeingly into the depths of the ocean, wishing more than anything that the tide would swell around him and carry him away from the shore and far out to sea. Andrew could remember no time in the entirety of his life that he had wished for death, wished to drown, to be struck by a lightening bolt straight out of existence and into oblivion, until now. He just couldn't get the image of her out of his head, could not erase the picture of her lifeless body so broken with emotional distress and the effects of her attempts to cope with it. Not only that, but the overwhelming feelings of guilt and helplessness were like a twisting wrench in his gut. If only he had been quicker, gotten to her sooner, or better yet, never have let her out of his arms the day this had all started … if only.
And so there he remained, on his knees by the water, replaying the images over and over again in his head, always finding new reasons to blame himself and wish that time travel was possible, that he could go back in time and save her, save them both. He was so encompassed in these thoughts that he didn't notice Tess's presence or hear her words until she was nearly shouting at him to acquire his attention.
"Andrew, for goodness sake, listen to me!"
He was startled certainly, but not by the volume of her voice. He had been sure that the words that had come from his mouth the last time he'd seen her would have been enough to keep her away for good.
"I don't want to listen, I don't want to hear anything you have to say," he replied softly after several minutes of trying to ignore her, much too numb to try to sound angry. He was just too heartbroken to care that, though he had coldly told her that if he never saw her again, it would be too soon, there she stood anyway, just as he somehow knew she would. Tess wasn't good at taking orders from other angels, after all. He felt the remorse and need to apologize tugging vaguely at his heart, but the unbearable grief made it impossible to acknowledge anything else, and he could do nothing but stare off into space and continue to wish for an end.
"You're going to want to hear what I have to say this time, baby."
It wasn't so much what she said, but the tone of her voice that made him waiver in her direction. Anything that she had to say would have to be pretty profound for her to expect that he would want to hear it at a time like this, and so he turned to face her without argument and opened his ears, giving her as much of his attention as his misery would allow.
"Andrew, I know how upset you are right now," Tess began, "and I know that I'm the last person in the world you probably want to see, but you need to pull yourself together and listen to me. I'm only going to say this once, so pay attention."
Tess paused, less for dramatic effect and more to gather her own thoughts together before she launched into a speech very similar to the one she had delivered to another little angel just a short while before. Andrew's stomach lurched painfully every so often, at words and phrases like 'free will' and 'choices' but it wasn't until she started speaking of the Father and His ability to turn horrible things around for the good of His will that he truly started to wonder what on earth she could possibly be trying to tell him.
"Tess, I don't really understand where you're going with this, but please … I can't talk about this. I just can't ..."
"Well, it's not me that you need to talk to anyway, Angel boy. It's never been me," she replied pointedly, gesturing to the Heavens above, "and tell me, Andrew – what would she tell you to do?"
Andrew knew of nothing that he'd rather think about less in this moment, but again it was Tess's authoritative stance, knowing look, and tone of voice that made him consider her words.
"You've got to give this to Him, baby," Tess pleaded, a short time later, "you've just got to, because you can't go on like this. All this anger, this hurt that you feel is only going to destroy what little of your soul you have left, you know that. So don't do this for me, don't even do it for yourself … do it for her, give it up, all of it, let the Father back in, let him help you ..."
Tess moved closer to his side, and reached for his hand, surprised when he only hesitated but didn't resist her help. With his hand tightly in hers, she helped him up from his knees. He swayed slightly, as though the weight of everything he carried on his shoulders could cause him to drop again in an instant, but Tess kept a steady grasp on his arm.
Andrew looked into her dark eyes, finally seeing an angel and not an adversary, a Supervisor that always knew the right words, and the mother that had been with them through it all. He could feel his heart softening and his anger losing some of its bite as he looked at her sadly, knowing she was right and wondering at the same time how she could ever forgive him for everything that he'd said and done over the past year. But she was Tess, after all, and Andrew had never known another soul who possessed a bigger heart, who took more joy from giving than receiving, with the exception, perhaps, of Monica.
"Tess, I'm so sorry," he said gravely, stepping forward and embracing her, meaning the words down to his very bones, "I know we weren't the only ones hurting through all of this, though I had myself convinced of that many times."
Tess smiled and nodded, returning his hug gladly, forever grateful that the Father had been able to speak through her in such a way that had gotten through to him. She found herself fervently hoping that he would, in fact, take her advice and put it to use.
"It's quite alright, Andrew. I know what it's like to be sad and angry and forget where or Who to turn to … it happens to the best of us, and sometimes, we just need a little reminder is all," she replied carefully, giving his hand another tight squeeze of reassurance.
"So, what now?" He asked searchingly, still grasping her hand in his, fighting against the fear of the unknown building up all over again, "What can I do now?"
"You start praying, baby, and you pray hard. The Father will be listening when you're ready," Tess responded, and there was an ache in her own heart at the sight of him so sad and dejected still.
"And if I might make a suggestion," she added as an afterthought, "many times I've found that a nice walk feels a lot better than just staying in one place when I've got a lot on my mind, and especially when the Father and I have some chatting to do. So why don't you start walking," she said, inclining her head and gesturing east along the shore, "in that direction. You'll know when to stop."
And with that, she was gone and Andrew found himself alone again with his thoughts and his pain. It was only a moment, however, until he realized with a small stab of guilt that he wasn't alone, that of course the Father was always with him, and it was he who had failed to acknowledge that fact before now. Even in the midst of the greatest pain he had ever known, the Father was still there. Though Andrew had all but turned his back on his Father, he knew that at no point would He ever forsake him.
And so he did as Tess said and began to walk along the beach, his bare feet kicking through several inches of salt water as the tide started to slowly rise around him. As he focused on putting one foot in front of the other, he started to let go, to let everything out and pray as though his very life depended on it. There were moments where he shouted, cried, dropped to his knees only to get back up again, on and on for what could have been hours and hours of agonizing questions, begging, and heart wrenching pleas for forgiveness and deliverance, until he could say no more. He just continued to walk, staring at the ground, wondering if he would indeed know when to stop, as Tess had said that he would.
And then, out of the corner of his right eye, he spotted the answer to his question. He might have missed her had he not chosen to look up from the sand in that precise moment. She was sitting with her knees pulled up to her chest, her arms wrapped protectively around them, right in the surf, the tiny waves crashing in bubbling white water all around her. The first thing that Andrew thought was how exceedingly unlike her it was that she be anywhere near the water, let alone in it. The second was how, without a single doubt, she was the absolute most beautiful sight he'd ever seen. He longed to call out to her, to get her attention, to make his presence known, but something stopped him, and he just continued towards her at an even pace, not quite daring to believe his eyes, his heart thumping erratically in his chest.
Centuries passed, it seemed, before he made it to her side and it was only then that he realized that her eyes were closed and her lips were moving silently, as though she too were praying like she never had before. He lowered himself quietly into the water to sit beside her and for a moment, did nothing but take her in, watch her, bask in the warmth that her being there brought to his heart. Very slowly, trying not to startle her, he reached out and brushed the palm of his hand against her cheek.
Just like the first time, all those months ago, that she had felt that stirring of electricity spark between them, so now did a shock pass from his fingers to her skin and her eyes flew open in surprise, her heart gave a great lurch, and she was wrapped tightly in his arms not a microsecond later. For an immeasurable amount of time thereafter, Monica knew only one thing – she was safe, finally, protected in his embrace, where nothing could ever hurt her, and she found herself praying that he would never let her go again.
Andrew had no words as he finally, some time later, made to pull away, just enough so that he could look into her eyes, not daring to let go all the way just yet. He was sure that no words would be fitting anyway, nothing he could say would ever be enough to convey just how much he loved her, how incredibly thankful he was in this moment. He could only hold her as his heart swelled to the brim with a joy that he had thought he would never feel again. Like a sip of water in the middle of a desert, a lifeboat in the middle of the sea, she was his calm after the storm.
Monica' looked away from his face and fixed upon a spot just below his chest, slipping her hand into the right inside pocket of his jacket, where she knew the golden watch that he'd carried as long as she could remember would be, and pulled it free, studying the clock face, watching the hands tick away the seconds, each one a moment of precious time. Before returning her gaze back to his, she closed her hand over the timepiece, her maple colored eyes shining with emotion. At last, it was she who broke the silence as a lone tear slipped out and she said softly, her voice just a breath of air on the wind,