The light filtered softly through the conference room. The room itself was clean and serviceable with wooden panels walls, a short-pile deep blue carpet that hid coffee stains, and maple plywood office chairs arranged neatly around a circular table. It was an unremarkable room, the sort found in any office building, except the ceiling was open to the infinite heavens. The sun never shined in with harsh rays nor did clouds make the room dreary The room was always bathed in a indirect, perfect light.
A young man dressed in all white sat alone at one end of the table, looking around nervously. He had dark curly hair with piercing dark eyes to match, and if he wasn't so nervous one might also notice his kind manner and charming smile. Right now he was waiting in the diffuse, perfect light, looking nervous.
The sound of a door banging open sent the man scrambling to attention. A large man in a tweed suit with a thick white beard bustled into the room, clutching an armload of files.
"Freddy! Hope I haven't kept you waiting," his voiced boomed.
"It's Neddy sir. Er, Ned. Ned Simmons."
The man consulted his file.
"Well, so it is! Junior Angel in Training Ned Simmons. According to this you haven't earned your wings yet."
Ned self-consciously tried to look at his own shoulder blades. The man waved him off.
"No matter. You're new yet. These thing take time. I have a case for you. This one is a good deal more challenging than your previous ones. But first..."
The man waved his hand and two small coffees appeared in paper cups. Ned accepted one with thanks. The man set the files down on the table and handed the one on top to Ned. He read the name on top.
"Lucien Blake. From Ball-rat, Australia? What's his problem?"
"Generally on a case like this, before we get to why he needs our help it's best to ask who he was."
"Yes, and who he might be again with our help."
"I don't understand."
"Don't worry about that Fred, you will."
"My name is Ned."
The man let out a huff.
"Never mind, just look over here."
He waved his hand over the conference table. A sight breeze blew across the table until the middle looked similar to the view above them, an endless expanse of light and swirling clouds.
"Behold, Fred. Lucien Radcliffe Blake."
"I don't see anything, sir."
"What? Oh, wait. Let me adjust the picture."
The man gestured over the void in the table until a tiny speck appeared. He beckoned the spot to come closer until it resolved into a squalling baby boy. Ned's eyes grew wide.
"But he's just a baby!"
The man rolled his eyes.
"Well he was, once. They all were, you know. Like I said, we need to start from the beginning. Just try and pay attention, alright?"
Ned nodded and looked on.
"Lucien Radcliffe Blake was born in Ballarat in 1909. Based on the circumstances alone he should have lived a charmed life. Hs mother was a radiant beauty. Everybody loved her. Her father was wealthy and a pillar of the community. His life should have been wonderful and rather dull. But as you know, things don't always work out that way. His father was a cold man but Lucien always looked up to him. He studied his father at work, he followed him everywhere. Unfortunately his father had little time for him and made his feeling plainly known. That never stopped Lucien from being kind. No matter what cruelty he suffered, he was always looking after the underdog. See here."
The image in the cloud revealed a stately brick building with a sign that said "Ballarat Primary." A little boy was hunched over behind young Lucien, who was shouting. His blond curly locks were covered with sweat.
"Who's that. And who is he shouting at?"
"He's yelling at the boys who should be his friends. The pharmacists son, the mayor's nephew. All the right and proper sort, as his father would say. The boy he is defending is no one of consequence. The son of a local mill worker who just moved into town. His family is no one. He is no one."
"He must have a name."
"Matthew. But that's not the point. Lucien gained nothing from looking out for him and in fact it cost him many black eyes over the years. But Lucien, even as a boy, was always looking out for the underdog. He was a champion for those who could not help themselves. Even after his mother died, he was still protecting people."
Ned thumbed through the pages of the file, his brow creased in concentration as he found the right page in Lucien's history.
"Oh gosh that's horrible!"
The man sighed.
"Yes. A terrible injustice if you ask me, but we can't control the actions of man. Free will and all that. So his mother died. Mind you Lucien didn't know why, just that she was gone. He was only ten years old, but it still didn't stop him from looking after people."
"Well, you see, after his mother died, old Doctor Blake insisted on continuing his duties. Even on the day of his wife's funeral he still saw patients. But he was distraught. He wasn't paying attention as he would have otherwise."
The man bent back down over the conference table and pointed as a room came in to view. It was a cozy doctor's office. A middle aged man, Dr. Thomas Blake, wore wire rimmed glasses and a thick mustache. He sat behind a battered wooden desk. A young boy with blonde curly hair and blue eyes like his father's was peering with interest over the older man's shoulder. Across the desk sat a woman with raven hair, a pinched note, and a shrewd look in her eyes. The doctor spoke without looking up.
"If he's bothering you Agnes I'll make him leave. The foolish boy never leaves me alone these days."
"Nonsense. I came to see both of you. But really Thomas, this could have waited."
"It's fine, really."
The man wrote out a prescription on a little square of paper.
"Not now, son."
"I said enough!"
The doctor stood up and grabbed the boy by the collar. Despite Agnes' protests, he threw young Lucien out of the room. Agnes left a few minutes later, only to find Lucien blocking the door. He whispered as loudly as he could.
"Please Miss Clasby, don't fill that prescription! It's wrong, I just know it is!"
"Don't be silly. Your father knows what he is doing."
Lucien started to tear up. Dr. Blake came out of his office and demanded and explanation.
Lucien blurted out, "The numbers are wrong! I saw him write it last time. It's too much!"
Dr. Blake started to turn red but Agnes silenced him with a threatening look.
"Now Master Lucien, you've both had a trying few days. Your imagination is running wild. Here, look at it yourself."
Agnes glanced down at the prescription and paused.
"This isn't my usual prescription. Its usually 10 milligrams. This says 100. Thomas?"
Thomas looked at his own handwriting and stammered.
"I am so sorry. I don't know what I was thinking. Come back inside and I'll write you a new one."
Lucien breathed a sigh of relief. Agnes tried to make light of the error with a joke about sending her to an early grave, but Thomas was silent. Back in the conference room, Ned grinned.
"He's a right little hero!"
"Yes, but he paid a terrible price. His father could not admit he was wrong, and blamed it on Lucien's insolence. He sent Lucien to boarding school only a week later. He was only ten years old."
"Yes. But it never stopped him from being kind to other people. Once, he arranged for a young war widow to get a job with his father, even though they were no longer speaking at the time. He had heard through a friend that she was in need and arranged for a third party to introduce the woman to her father. I don't think he ever thought he would meet the woman, but then I don't think he planned to return to Ballarat. He never did tell the woman what he had done. But anyway, you can see the type of man he was to become. He moved to Scotland and went to medical school, and became a doctor like his father. He travelled through Europe, having all manner of youthful misadventures I'd rather not comment on. Eventually he joined the army and was posted to Singapore where he met a fine young lady. They had a beautiful little girl."
"So where did it all go wrong?"
"The same way it did with so many of our lost souls. There was a war."
The man sighed and ran his hand through his white beard.
"Take your pick."
The man waved his hand over the table and the clouds resolved to a dim image. A skeleton of a man was curled up in the fetal position in a dark room. Ned could swear he could smell the filth.
"His wife was killed by the enemy, and his child was lost. He was imprisoned and tortured. Even then he continued to protect his fellow soldiers, and was severely punished for it. He was a prisoner for three years. When he finally was free, he searched for his family in vein. He took to drink to dull the constant nightmares and the fear of just trying to live. A few years later, when he heard his father was dying, he returned to Ballarat for a fresh start. So far it has not gone very well."
Ned could see now in the image before him that Lucien was healthy again, clean and immaculately dressed. He staggered around a room before a woman about his age entered. Her brow creased in worry, she said a few sharp words that Ned could not make out before putting her hand around his waist and helping him out of the room, presumably to bed.
"Ah," the man smiled fondly, "That's Jean, his housekeeper. She is the war widow who Lucien helped all those years ago, though she doesn't know it."
"She's still there?" Ned asked in amazement.
"Oh yes. She was devoted to Thomas Blake, and now she is devoted to the son as well, though frankly Lucien doesn't seem to appreciate it. In some ways, Lucien has done very well in Ballarat. His practice is thriving, he has made friends, and he is working for the police like his father before him. The stability has been good for him. But it hasn't been enough. He was always impulsive, and too smart for his own good. When you add in the scars of war, the nightmares, the dark moods, and the drinking, it's all proven a rather combustible mix. He's made a fool of himself on more than one occasion. The quality of his work suffers. He goes on drunken tirades and he's made enemies. Poor Jean is constantly worrying after him."
A fist swung out and made contact with a man's face. Ned instinctively leaped back to get out of the way. The man sighed.
"Freddy boy you know that's just a celestial vision. It can't hurt you."
Ned puffed his chest out and stepped back to the table.
"Yeah, of course I did."
The man eyed Ned dubiously.
"That fist you so deftly avoided made contact with his best friend, the Chief Superintendent of Police."
"Blimey! Why'd he do that?"
"He was aiming for the British Consul."
"That's even worse! I think?"
"I suppose if we're judging one sin over another, which we don't generally do. But you're right in that it was a bad idea. Lucien was so furious over the events on the war he took it out on any target he could, in this case a government official who was only an enlisted man himself when Lucien was captured. And it didn't end here. Just days later, with his reputation in tatters and his job on the line, he publicly accused the head of the hospital board of murder. Most people have been very patient with him, but the events of the last few days were the last straw.
There's an arrest warrant out for him as we speak. Matthew tried to protect him, but punching a police officer in front of an international official was something that local influence can't make go away. Melbourne demanded his head, and they are probably going to get it. The hospital is petitioning the state to have his medical license revoked as well. Professionally, Lucien Blake is through."
"Honestly sir, he sounds like he deserves it. Why not leave him to his fate?"
The man gasped in shock.
"Young man, what did they teach you in school? We are ANGELS! We do not leave men to their fate, we ARE fate. Have you not been paying attention? Look at all the good Lucien has done. He has so much compassion for other people and so much more love to give, if we can just set him on the right path. He needs to remember the man he was."
"What can I do to fix it? These are all matters for men."
The man waved his hand again and the clouds darkened and parted to a rainy road at night. A metal suspension bridge ran across a gorge, high above a river that was swelling quickly with rain. A tiny figure was leaning over the bridge. He took a drink from a nearly empty whisky bottle and leaned over the edge.
"Lucien knows about the warrant. He knows he's let everyone down and he has failed himself. He thinks he is getting everything he deserves as a failed father, a failed soldier, and a failed man. He is utterly lost. I need you to show him the way. That is your task."
Lucien swung one leg over the railing and then another. Between long drinks he peered into the swirling depths below. Suddenly he straightened up and leaned out over the railing. Ned lets out a shout.
"Oh no, he's about to jump! He'll never survive!"
The man's voice was calm, "Not if you get to him first."
The man snapped his fingers and Ned disappeared, his files scattering in a flurry on the conference room floor. The man mumbled to himself angrily as he cleaned up the mess. After a half-hearted attempt to reorganize things the man shuffled out of the room. Between balancing coffee cups, files, and thinking about the case, the man was so distracted he nearly got one of his large white wings caught in the door.
Far down below, Lucien Blake was holding on to a bridge cable with one hand. It was raining, and the cold metal was slippery. The swelling river raged far below in the darkness but Lucien's mind was so addled by drink that he did not care. He knew he wouldn't feel a thing in this state, and then the pain would be gone forever. After he was gone, an arrest wouldn't matter. The town's disapproval wouldn't matter. Jean wouldn't matter. When he didn't matter anymore, he hoped everyone else could get on with their lives.
Lucien let go, but to his confusion he didn't fall.
"Easy there mate! Looks like you almost slipped!"
Somehow he was standing back on the railing of the bridge. A young man with dark curly hair was staring at him, seemingly unconcerned about the hour or the weather. In fact, he didn't seem to be getting wet. Lucien peered at the man's face and searched his foggy mind.
"Do I know you?"
The young man smiled ruefully.
"Not yet, but you will, though only for a short while. I mostly take temp jobs right now. I'm working my way up to bigger assignments. The name's Ned. Ned Simmons. Angel in training."
Lucien stared at Ned blankly before looking down at his bottle of whisky.
"Right. Well Ned, if you'll excuse me I have appointment to keep."
Ned beamed proudly.
"Right! That's all sorted. Glad I could help...hey wait!"
Ned grabbed at Lucien's arm as he was climbing back over the railing.
"Mate! What are you doing?"
"I'm trying to kill myself and you seem to be getting in the way. If you don't mind moving aside?"
"You can't! I mean, technically you can. If you really want to go over that bridge then I'm not allowed to stop you. But I really need this job. Can we just talk for a minute?"
"I'd rather not."
"Please, what's so bad that you need to take your own life?"
"Well, my wife is dead, my daughter is probably dead too, my career is ruined thanks to my own bloody pride, my friends hate me, and I'm likely going to jail in the morning."
Ned ran his hand through his hair and began to pace.
"All right. Granted, that's a lot. But if you just consider that...hey!"
Ned grabbed Lucien's ankle as he swung it over the bridge railing.
"Will you stop doing that?"
"No!" Lucien shouted, "leave me alone! I don't want your help, I want to die!"
"Didn't I just explain that? I ruin everything! I hurt those I love, I can't think straight without half a bottle of whisky in me, and now my career is over. The world would be better off without me."
"But what about everything else? You've helped so many people."
"I'm sure they would have done fine without me. If I tried to help them they probably came to regret it."
Lucien took a swig of the bottle he was holding. Finding it empty, he hurled the bottle angrily over the bridge. It disappeared into the darkness. Lucien sobbed.
"I with I had never been born!"
Ned was suddenly still. There was a gleam is his eyes as he squared his shoulders towards Lucien.
"Your wish is my command."
Ned snapped his fingers, and everything went silent.
Lucien felt like he was floating. He could not see or hear anything and the world felt cool and calm. All the pain and anger, the fear and self-loathing were still present but they felt distant somehow. He sensed that Ned was there but he couldn't see him. Lucien took a few long breaths before he found the courage to try and speak.
"Where are we?" He asked in no more than a whisper.
"Nowhere at present. It will take me a few moments to arrange things. I'm still new at this."
"Right of course, you're an angel trainee."
Lucien sounded dubious.
"We must be somewhere."
"Just one more minute. Here we go."
Suddenly the two men were standing on the sidewalk at Lucien's childhood home on Mycroft Avenue. The building looked like it had not been occupied for some time. The windows were boarded up and there was evidence of recent vandalism. The garage had collapsed entirely. Weeds had overtaken the lot and were starting to grow over the house itself. A vine climbed through a hole in the roof. All around there was silence. Even the birds seemed to be avoiding the place.
"What year is it, Ned?"
"The same as now. 1958."
"I don't understand. This is my house."
"Not anymore. I made your wish come true. Lucien Blake was never born."
"Does it matter? This is the world as if you never were."
Lucien wandered slowly around the yard, taking in the dilapidated structure from several angles.
"I don't understand. My father lived here until just last year."
"No, he didn't. Remember that time when you were a boy, and your father wrote the wrong medicine for Agnes Clasby?"
Lucien stiffened. His voice was terse.
"Yes, it was just after my mother died. He beat me within an inch of my life for that, and he kicked me out of the house soon after. I was sure I was doing the right thing. But as usual I made things worse for everybody."
"You saved Agnes Clasby's life. But since you were never born, there was no one there to catch your father's mistake. She died, Lucien. Your father accidentally killed her. It was the beginning of the end for Thomas Blake. He was able to keep his medical license but no one would see him after that. He lost the business, and then the house. The surgery was his life, and without it he sunk into despair. Eventually, your mother couldn't take it any more and went back to France. The house changed hands a few times but somehow the pallor of tragedy hung over it and no one stayed long. Eventually the last owner just abandoned it to the bank. The bank knew it was a lost cause to try and sell it, so it just sits here, abandoned and forgotten."
"That's a shame. Even in the hard times it was so bustling with life. Mattie and Danny were always about. Jean did such wonderful things with the garden. Tell me, angel."
"My name is Ned. And technically I am not an angel, but I'm working on it."
"Um, Ned, what became of my mother? Did she still die so young?"
"No, she lived in France until the 1940's."
"Well that's a relief."
"Yes, well until the Nazis invaded her town."
"What happened then?"
Ned hung his head.
"The same thing that happened to a lot of women who stood up to those tyrants. She could never survive that."
Lucien stared at Ned in horror, trying to process everything he'd seen.
"I think I need a drink."
"That's a good idea. I know just the place."
The Pig & Whistle was completely unchanged despite celestial events. The bartender nodded in their direction. They sat down at a rickety wooden table and contemplated their drinks in silence. It was early yet, and there were only a few patrons scattered around the room. A bell welcomed a new customer. A gaunt man covered nearly head to toe in dirt shuffled in and slumped down at a table in the corner. The bartender came over and they debated something in whispered tones. Eventually he brought the man an ale. Lucien stared at the man with growing interest.
"Do I know that man?"
Ned looked over he shoulder.
"What old Matthew Lawson? I doubt it. He works in the mines. He's way too old for it by any measure. This isn't a miner's bar, he works way outside of town, but he always drinks here for some reason."
"No! How can that be? He was chief of Police! Even if he left he'd get a pension."
"If he'd left now, yes. But he was forced out years ago. The brass in Melbourne had been trying to shut down the smaller stations for years and consolidate leadership in one office. But in order to make that work they had to eliminate a lot of senior officers. In Ballarat the murder rate was the worst in the state, with few of the cases ever solved. Plus the station had a history of brutal "accidents" happening in the cells. It wasn't hard to make a scandal of it. You see Lucien, you were the secret to Lawson's success, even thought he'd never admit it. Your case clearance rate made Lawson untouchable. That's why he kept protecting you, because it saved his skin. He knew your worth, to him and to the community. Without you on the police force, well..."
Ned gestured back in Lawson's direction. As he did the bartender went over to him and demanded payment. Lawson fidgeted, looking for change in his pockets while the bartender began to shout. A hand on his shoulder silenced him.
"I got it mate."
A man dressed as a high ranking policeman tossed the barkeep a shilling.
"Thank you, Superintendent Hobart."
The officer walked back to his place at the bar without giving Lawson a single glance. Lawson left the pub, his head hung between his shoulders.
Lucien shouted, "Bill Hobart! They can't be serious! And they were worried about beatings in the cells before? This can't be allowed to stand. They can't just push Lawson out like that! Ned, I want to have a word with them right now."
"Good idea, Lucien. Let's head over to the station. I'm not sure what we'll do there, but you can think of something."
The sun was setting as they walked down the street, Lucien fuming over Lawson's unkind fate. Ned interjected now and then with some angelic philosophy, but it fell on deaf ears. Several minutes later, they turned the corner to the Ballarat Police station. Their path was blocked by a women crying on the sidewalk. She kept glancing down at a tiny window in a corner of the building Lucien knew held the prison cells.
The woman ignored him. She tried to reach through the bars to knock on the thick frosted glass, but when she could not reach she broke down crying again.
"Ned what the bloody hell is going on?"
"It's Jean's son. He's being executed in the morning. Double murder. The police think it was a robbery gone wrong, but with a woman and her child dead the jury was not interested in hearing sad stories about a fatherless child."
"Jack. Jean said he was always troubled."
"Not Jack. The other one. What's his name? I should have wrote it down. Christopher! That's it. Christopher Jr."
"That's not possible. Chris is a fine young man, a lieutenant in the army."
"Not here he isn't. Do you remember when you helped get Jean that housekeeper job with your father?"
"Barely. I just sent a telegram to a friend. Hardly an act of heroism."
"Perhaps, except now you never sent it. Without that job and a place to live Jean was destitute. Good jobs were not easy to come by after the war, especially for women. She had to take work wherever she could find it. They moved frequently, her sons kept changing schools, and the boys were rarely supervised. Christopher was rootless and he fell in with a bad crowd."
"I'm sure as you can guess Jack won't fare much better. Some people can't be saved no matter what happens."
"I need to talk to Jean. I can still help her. After all she's done for me I can't just leave things like this."
Ned tried to warn him not to get involved but Lucien was off running down the sidewalk, calling her name. Jean looked up in shock as Lucien came to a halt in front of her.
"Jean! I'm so sorry, I'm..."
"Do I know you?"
"Yes, I'm Lucien Blake. You must recognize me. Please let me help."
"Whoever you are please leave me alone. I want to speak to my son!"
Jean turned away towards the cell window. Lucien grabbed her arm.
"Let go of me!"
"Not until you talk to me, Jean!"
Jean shrieked and swung her purse at him. Lucien let go with a yell. Seizing the moment, Jean turned and ran across the street. In her fright she did not see the car or hear its horn as the car skidded to a halt. Lucien looked at Jean's crumpled body in horror as a crowd of people gathered around her.
"Please, Ned, not Jean. Anybody but Jean."
Ned replied sadly, "I told you she wouldn't recognize you. You don't exist. Your parents, Agnes, Lawson, Jean, so many others were poorer for never having met you. You changed so many lives. Who knows how many more would have changed for the better if you had carried on living? Oh well, I guess we'll never know."
Lucien was in tears, overcome with grief. He fell to his knees in front of Ned.
"Please Ned, please. Take me back to the way it was before. Whatever I've done wrong, it can't be as bad as all this. Even if I can't be a doctor, or work with the police, I'll find some way to take care of them."
Ned placed a hand on Lucien's head and looked down at him gravely.
"If you are absolutely sure."
"I am, I swear it Ned. Please make things like they were before. I wish I was alive again."
Ned closed his eyes in concentration. Suddenly it was dark, and Lucien could feel the cold rain on his face.
The Blake house was bright and bustling with activity. Warm light was pouring through the windows, illuminating the flowering plants outside. Inside a Christmas tree stood merrily in the parlor and the house was hung with tinsel and garlands. It was Christmas eve. It always had been, Lucien simply hadn't noticed. The mood inside the house did not math its festive appearance. Mattie was pacing in the kitchen. Danny was having an urgent conversation on the phone. Jean sat silently in front of the Christmas tree with her eyes closed, praying. They were startled out of their collective vigil by someone banging furiously at the door. Danny was there first.
Lucien stumbled into the hallway. His jacket and hat were missing. Rainwater was dripping off his clothing onto the floor. Mattie came running over.
"Lucien! We were so worried about you!"
Lucien grabbed Mattie and spun her around, laughing.
"I was worried about me too. But I am back now and I promise you I'm not going anywhere."
From the end of the hallway Jean was watching Lucien with concern. Lucien hardly seemed to notice her mood and greeted her cheerfully, guiding Danny and Mattie into the parlor and bidding Jean to follow.
"I am so sorry, to all of you, for worrying you like that. I know I am facing some problems but I am going to make it right. For all of us."
"Not running away for days on end might be a good start," Jean quipped.
"Oh Jean," Lucien reached for her face but thought better of it, "Why would I run away when everything I want in life is right here? Tomorrow I will call a solicitor and hand myself in, and whatever happens from there will happen. I am going to to whatever I can to keep all of us here, together."
Jean walked away from him, contemplating the Christmas tree. Lucien's eyes followed.
"My god is it Christmas? Tonight? I'd forgotten!"
A gruff voice in the hallway answered.
"As a matter of fact it is. I hope you don't mind, the door was open."
The Chief Superintendent of Police stood there still in uniform, looking tired.
Lucien slapped him on the shoulder.
"Better than a fist to the jaw I suppose."
Lawson cut Lucien off before he could respond.
"I know, you're sorry. I could forgive you that, but not what you put me through tonight."
"What did he do now?" Jean demanded.
"I just put down a near riot at the police station. Members of the community demanding your reinstatement. I have been told there were several calls to Melbourne as well. Every friendless mother, every elderly woman, every child who ever had a sniffle, and many of the families of the deceased you helped over the years are demanding your return to service. Before the meeting was over most of the town was there shouting at me. After I appeased them they were off to the hospital to intervene on your behalf with the hospital board. Those poor blokes won't get a moment's peace tonight."
"But I am still under arrest, I assume?"
"For now. I convinced Melbourne that it could wait until after the holidays. But facing such vocal opposition, I imagine they will be less keen to make an example. Anyway, I just stopped by to wish you all a happy Christmas, and to tell you that you can have your job back if you promise to stay out of trouble."
Lucien clasped both of Lawson's shoulders.
"My dear old friend, you won't regret it."
Lawson laughed, "Somehow I doubt that."
"Matthew, at least stay for a drink," Jean offered.
Matthew looked around the room with satisfaction.
"Why not? I have a feeling I will be spending a lot more time here in the future."
Mattie went to the drinks cart while Danny and Lawson chatted. While they were distracted, Lucien asked to speak to Jean alone and led her into the sun room. A Christmas carol was playing over the wireless, and they could here Mattie and Danny singing along.
"Jean, I just want you to know how truly sorry I am. You don't realize it, but you have been a light in the darkness for me these last few months. You've done everything you could to look after me and I almost threw it away. I know I have been difficult."
"Ok, more than difficult. But I see now what I fool I have been. You have been everything to me. I am going to fix all this, and things will be better for now on."
Jean raised a skeptical eyebrow.
"So you are saying you are going to be an easier boss to work for?"
"Work with you? Jean, I plan to marry you!"
"Lucien, have you lost your mind? For starters, I barely know you, and your behavior of late has been..."
Lucien cut her off with a kiss. Jean snaked a hand around his neck and held on for dear life as Lucien pulled her close. When they finally broke away, Jean was breathless.
"I'll think about it," she promised.
In the parlor, Come All Ye Faithful was playing and Lawson started to hum along. Mattie wondered aloud where Lucien and Jean were. After checking the kitchen she peaked briefly into the sunroom. When she returned to her seat, she was grinning.
"We'd best leave them alone for now."
A tinkling noise got everyone's attention. Lawson, Mattie, and Danny turned to see a little bell, one of the ornaments on the Christmas tree, ringing furiously.
"That's odd," Danny said, "there isn't a draught over there."
"You know my grandfather used to say, 'Every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings.'"
"You never know," Lawson mused, "stranger things have happened."
Somewhere in the distance, barely audible yet somehow heard all over Ballarat, senior angel Ned Simmons laughed softly.