Owen opened his eyes and Jane felt relief wash over her. Until he spoke.
"Where am I?" he asked. Then his eyes fell on Jane, and where before they had shone with warmth and love, now there was only coldness and hate. "You! You body-snatcher! Give me back my body!"
"What?" said Grayson, startled. "Owen, what are you talking about?"
"You keep out of this," Owen snarled. "I'm talking to that blonde bimbo who's in my body! You stole my life and I want it back!"
For a moment, Jane was totally nonplussed. Realization dawned swiftly, however, and she realized two things simultaneously: Owen French was gone, truly gone; and Jane Bingham….the Jane Bingham….had somehow come back to life in the body of her fiancé.
"What does he mean, Jane?" Grayson appealed to her. "I don't understand any of this. Is it the heart attack affecting his brain?"
"I'M JANE, you loser!" Owen bellowed. "THAT-" he pointed to the woman who had drawn back from him in horror, "-is the ditzy blonde you used to date! She stole my body, my life, EVERYTHING! I want it all back, you hussy!" He struggled to get up, but another pair of hands appeared suddenly and Luke was there, pinning him down.
"Take it easy, big guy," Luke smiled, complacently. "Just a little heart attack, but you'll be alright soon…"
"I'm not a man, I'm a woman!" Owen shouted. "I'm Jane Bingham. The REAL Jane Bingham. SHE'S an imposter!"
"Must have affected his brain, poor guy," Luke said, trying to shrug it off, but Deb-as-Jane noticed a worried look in his eyes and in his voice.
"I think this has gone far enough, Luke," came a resounding voice from out of thin air. "Please let go of Jane and remain silent. I will address your part in this shortly."
Luke paled visibly and gulped. "Yes, Boss," he replied, and stepped back, hands behind his back.
While Grayson, Deb-as-Jane and Jane-as-Owen watched, a bright light filled the small room and coalesced into a woman who appeared at once to be young and old; both, yet neither.
"What a mess!" she murmured, shaking her head. "This is going to take some time to get sorted out, so we'll just stop time for the moment." A weird, twisting feeling reeled in their stomachs for a heartbeat, then it passed. "Well, let's get started then, shall we?"
"Wh-who are you?" Grayson stammered.
"Oh let's not stand on ceremony," the woman smiled, and immediately those in the room felt an overwhelming sense of peace. "I have so many names I really can't keep track of them all."
"A-are you…." Deb-as-Jane swallowed, her throat gone suddenly dry, "are you….God?"
"Well….that depends which faith you follow," said the woman, her eyes crinkling at the corners. "There are some who would deny it vehemently. But if it puts you at ease, just call me Diana."
"Well…um…Diana…" began Grayson, with deference, "could you please explain just what happened here?"
"Before or after the heart-attack, Grayson Kent?" Diana asked, eyeing him carefully.
Grayson looked suddenly abashed. He didn't answer.
"Diana, please…." Jane-as-Owen began, but the older woman cut her off.
"You would do well to say nothing at the moment, Jane Bingham," she warned. "I know full well how and why you came here, and I am not pleased with you. I will deal with you shortly."
She turned to face the other two people in the room.
"Now, there are some choices to be made," said Diana, "but not without a few other people present. Owen French, Stacy Barrett, and Fred, would you please come in?"
Stacy entered the room like a woman sleepwalking. Fred and Owen simply appeared; Fred as solid and substantial as he had been before, Owen was less so. Stacy's eyes lit up when she saw Fred, who was making a valiant effort not to stare longingly at her.
"Well, then," Diana began cheerfully, "Let's begin, shall we? First of all, Deb Dobson and Jane Bingham died on the same day. Both were processed and evaluated to determine where they would spend their afterlife. Jane, you appeared to accept the judgment at the time of your processing, until Deb tricked Fred into sending her back. At that time you were given an opportunity to observe how Deb went through life in your body.
"Grayson Kent," Diana turned to him. "It has taken you four years to come to terms with the loss of Deb Dobson. Only recently have you begun to feel emotions other than friendship for your co-worker, Jane Bingham. And only in the last few months have you suspected something which you would have thought completely impossible: that the soul of your lost love had found her way into another body and come back to you."
Diana turned her eye on each person in the room, and each one of them felt their measure being taken.
"Jane Bingham," Diana said severely, "You also tricked Fred into sending you back here, into Owen French's body when he died of a sudden heart attack. I know your motives, and they are not favorable. Revenge is not something we encourage in Heaven."
"She was ruining my life!" Jane-as-Owen protested. "She was turning me into a parody of myself. She disrespected my mother and hurt her feelings!"
"I am aware of all that, Jane," Diana said kindly, "but the fact remains that up until now you had a clean track record. You were slated to die that day, four years ago, when you attempted to stop a jealous husband from shooting your boss. Your lifespan had run its course. Had Deb Dobson not done what she did, Jane Bingham would have died that day, permanently."
"But I'm Jane…" Jane-as-Owen insisted.
"Yes, and no," Diana said patiently. "You were Jane, and now Deb is. And in the past four years she has made remarkable progress in the area of self-improvement, despite the lack of a competent guardian angel. Fred, you've let me down twice now, first with Deb, and now with Jane. I'm beginning to question whether you are able to handle this kind of responsibility."
"No, ma'am…." Fred stammered. "I—I mean yes, ma'am, I can handle it! Please, give me another chance. I know I can guide Jane properly. I mean Deb. I mean-"
"That will do, Fred," said Diana in a neutral tone. "I know what you mean. As for you, Luke…."
Deb's current guardian angel stood a bit straighter, his jaw clenched.
"It seems to me, Luke, that as much as Fred is to blame for allowing two people to return here, YOU seemed more interested in entertaining yourself than guiding and advising your charge. Had you done a better job, this current debacle might not have happened."
"I did the best with what I had to work with, Diana," Luke declared firmly. There was no humility in his voice as there had been in Fred's. "Deb refuses to move on and become Jane. She's still clinging to the past. If she hadn't been kissing Grayson in front of Owen, he wouldn't have had a heart attack, and Jane wouldn't have had an opportunity to slip in here."
"May I say something, please?" the spectre of Owen echoed hollowly. Diana acknowledged him with a nod. "I see several things more clearly now than I did a few moments ago." He turned to Deb-as-Jane. "For example, I can see now that you are still in love with Grayson Kent, and have been since the accident that took your life. It was that love that made you come back to him. Jumping back into the first available body probably hasn't been an easy adjustment for you, especially since Kent never recognized you in your new form." He appeared to take a deep breath. "I don't want to be second choice, Deb. I fell in love with you as Jane Bingham, but if you still loved Kent so much, why did you agree and insist that we get married?"
Deb-as-Jane swallowed hard. "Owen, I'm so sorry. I never meant to hurt you. I wanted so much for Grayson to love me for myself, but he never even looked at me until recently, and by then, I'd found so much about you to love, I thought that this was what I needed to do to move on. Luke kept telling me not to cling to the past…"
"Luke's an ass, Deb," Owen disparaged. "He's an angel, but he's still an ass. And because he's an angel, he never had a clue about the bond between soul-mates. If he'd just let you alone, and let you continue as you'd been doing, who knows? Maybe you and Grayson would have eventually gotten back together the way you were meant to be. All I know is, I'm glad I had the chance to love you, and I can go on to the afterlife a happy man."
At this point he turned to Diana. "Do you need me for anything else, ma'am?"
"No, Owen," she smiled. "You may go."
"You won't let her have my body, will you?" he asked, gesturing at Jane-as-Owen.
"It will be resolved," Diana assured him.
"Thanks. Take care, you two love-birds," Owen quirked a smile at Deb-as-Jane and gave a brusque nod to Grayson. He turned and walked through the door, but was gone before he passed through it.
"Jane Bingham," Diana said, turning now to the form of Owen French. "You deliberately tricked Fred into revealing how Deb managed to return, and used the same method yourself. But while Deb's motive was love, yours was hate. This has unfortunately put a black spot on your record for which you must atone."
"And what about her?" Jane-as-Owen demanded. "Aren't you going to punish her? She was the first one to break the rules.
"Deb Dobson has already been and is continuing to be punished," Diana told her severely. "She has spent the last four years watching the man she loved mourn her, unable to tell him she was still alive in another body. She has been spending that time learning to think outside of herself and to be more compassionate toward others."
"Like my mother?" Jane-as-Owen demanded, sourly.
"Hey, I made amends there," Deb-as-Jane countered. "I knew I was wrong, and I apologized to her. She was supposed to walk me down the aisle today!"
"Well that's not going to happen now, is it?" Jane-as-Owen sneered.
"ENOUGH!" Diana thundered. And indeed, the skies seemed to darken a bit. "I have decided. Jane, you will return with me. I have tasks for you which may help to ameliorate the harm you've done today. Luke, you will return to my office and wait for me there."
Luke said nothing, merely nodded. But it was clear from the look on his face he was not happy, and seemed to exude an air of indignance.
"Um….ma'am?" Fred began hesitantly. "Should I return to the office, too?"
"No, Fred," Diana countered. "You will remain here as Deb's guardian angel. For all your mistakes, you did a better job than Luke."
"How will I…I mean…what will people…."
Diana smiled again, kinder than before. "No one will ever realize that you've been gone. Luke's existence will be wiped from their memories. Stacy will know who you are," she said, giving Fred a knowing look. "Do not abuse the situation."
"Ma'am?" Grayson interjected. "What about Deb and me?"
Diana shook her head. "Deb still has a long way to go before she expunges the harm she has caused. As Fred pointed out to her four years ago, she wasn't a bad person, but she wasn't a good one, either. She was simply shallow. That has changed, somewhat, for the better. But lying to Owen and inadvertently causing his fatal heart attack is something you both will have to work at to remove from your karmic blotter. For that reason, you will remember none of this. When time resumes, you will be at the same point in time you were at when I came in. Owen will have just died, and you will both know you are the cause." Diana looked at both of them sternly. "It was a terrible thing you did to a good man who didn't deserve it. Go now and try to be a better person, both of you!"
Bright light filled the room again. When it subsided, Jane was sobbing over Owen's lifeless body. Stacy and Fred stood by, arms around each other. Grayson knelt nearby, helpless. He reached out once, but let his hand drop before touching her. "Jane," he said softly, "Jane, I'm so sorry. This is all my fault. I should never have told you how I felt."
"No, Grayson," Jane wept, her voice barely above a whisper. "The fault is mine. I killed the man I loved."
The words cut through Grayson like a cold arctic wind. Jane would never return his love, he knew that now. Even if she wanted to, the shadow of Owen would always come between them, consuming one or the other of them with guilt. Silently he stood and murmured to Stacy and Fred, "I'd better let everyone know there won't be a wedding today."
Fred spoke up, "I'll come with you. I need to find Elaine. Jane should have her mother here."
Stacy sank down next to Jane. "You won't tell them what really happened, will you?" she pleaded with Fred.
He shook his head. "No," he said. "God forgive me, but no, I won't."