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Angelic Hosts Series, Book 3, Episode 1, Part 2
Sophie sat in her seat. On her left was her friend, Amelie, and on the right, Jacob. Amelie giggled, full of excitement because they had only twenty minutes left before the official start of winter break. Her blue eyes twinkled with mischief as she swung her feet back and forth at her desk causing her blonde ponytail to bounce. Jacob sat quietly, always the more serious and studious of the trio. He pushed his dark-rimmed glasses up onto his nose. He turned large brown eyes on Amelie and placed his finger over his lips in a shushing motion. Their teacher, Miss Beauforte, stood at the head of the class holding a large tray of cookies.
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“I know everyone is very excited to begin their holiday, but I want each of you to remember to do three very important things over the next two weeks. One, read a book. Actually, read two. And two, do a kind act of charity for someone. Remember that there are many children in this world who are not as lucky as you are. Not everyone has a nice mother and father or a warm place to sleep or even food to eat. So, open your heart and help another soul. Finally,” she paused, grinning as she saw all eyes watching her in anticipation. “Finally, I want you to have fun!”
The whole class clapped, and many forgot to remain quiet while shouting, “Yay!”
Miss Beauforte continued.
“Now everyone come up here, single file, and get one of these delicious cookies. We only have a few minutes left before the bell.” She turned to Amelie. “Your row first, Amelie.”
Sophie watched as her friend got up and went to get her cookie. Her entire row went first, and then it was Sophie’s turn. She marched to the front of the class and received her sugar cookie with pink frosting. Once everyone had a cookie, and was back at their desk, Miss Beauforte came around with a box filled with paper bags decorated in bright, holiday colors. She put one on every student’s desk.
“This is just a little something from me to you. Don’t open it until you get home, okay?” She arrived back at the front, setting the now empty box on her desk. “Remember, read a book or two, do something kind for a stranger, and have lots and lots of fun! I will miss you.”
The bell rang. Sophie, Amelie, and Jacob collected their book bags and gift bags before making their way to the exit. Sophie stopped and wrapped her arms around her teacher’s waist.
“Thank you, Miss Beauforte. Merry Christmas!”
“Aw, thank you, Sophie. And to you too.” She reached out to give a playful tug to Amelie’s ponytail, and then ruffled Jacob’s short, brown mop. “You children behave, and make sure to stay out of trouble.”
Jacob sniffed. “I will, but I bet Amelie won’t.” Amelie punched him in the arm. Jacob rubbed the spot and made a pained face. “See?” He shook his head. “Girls!” he said, then walked through the door.
As the classroom emptied, Miss Beauforte went about straightening the desks and collecting the workbooks she would be grading over the holiday vacation. She loaded them in the empty box, grabbed her purse and coat, and went out into the hallway, closing and locking the door to her classroom. The sound of her heels echoed down the corridor as she walked past a tall, blond, powerfully built man who stood leaning against the wall laughing at Jacob who was now outside sandwiched between Sophie and Amelie. She didn’t seem to notice anyone was there.
“I almost feel sorry for him,” said Camael.
Gabriel arrived next to him, chuckling. “Why? He already knows more about women than you!”
Cam punched Gabe in the arm.
“Ow! What was that for?” Gabriel rubbed the spot much like Jacob had done when Amelie punched him.
“A lot of good it’s going to do him spending the rest of his life with that one. She’s going to lead him on a merry chase.”
Gabe smirked. “You’ve been peering into Michael’s basin again, haven’t you?”
Cam raised an eyebrow. “Maybe,” he said vaguely.
Gabe looked out at the trio of children now standing on the sidewalk waiting for their rides. He watched as Amelie spun around in circles with her arms out, ponytail flying in the breeze. Jacob stood gazing at the girl, almost mesmerized.
“Well, I don’t think he’s going to mind at all. The poor sot is already smitten.”
They were dressed in their usual attire of black pants, long-sleeved black shirts, and black boots as they walked out of the heavy metal doors and descended the stairs to the sidewalk. They stopped and waited as one by one, each child’s parent pulled up, picked up, and then left driving off school property. Sophie was the last to get into her mother’s car. After she buckled her seatbelt, she turned and looked back at the school. She smiled and waved. Camael and Gabriel smiled and waved back, but no one else saw the two formidable angels standing in the middle of the schoolyard grinning and waving like lunatics.
“Come, Sophie. Put Toulouse down so he can eat, and then get your coat.” Nanette poured a half a cup of kibble into the cat’s bowl. He came running and was soon happily chomping away.
“Where are we going?” Sophie struggled to get her hand through the arm of her bright pink coat.
“We’re going to the church.” Nanette reached over to help pull Sophie’s hand through.
“But it’s not Sunday, mama.”
“No, it’s not, but still I go every day to say a prayer of thanks. You’re just usually in school or still asleep with Toulouse.” The cat looked up and meowed with indignation.
“Thanks for what?” Sophie asked.
Her mother grabbed the bright, white, fuzzy beret off the hook on the wall and placed it atop her daughter’s dark curls. “I thank God for you, my darling!” She dropped a kiss on Sophie’s nose.
The little girl stood giggling as Charles Fairchild walked into the kitchen.
“And what are the two loves of my life laughing about in here?” He went straight for the pot of coffee and poured himself a cup in his World’s Best Papa mug, a Father’s Day gift from Sophie last year. The hand-painted purple and green stoneware coffee cup sported a bright pink daisy next to the words which were sort of all over the place what with Sophie only just learning her letters. It was actually quite hideous which, of course, meant he loved it. He drank his coffee every single day from that mug ever since she presented it wrapped in a white box with a plaid ribbon.
“We’re going to church so mama can thank God for me.” Sophie bounced over to wrap her arms around her father’s legs.
Charles leaned down and kissed the top of her fuzzy white hat. “And why is that funny?”
“Because it is.” The answer seemed obvious to Sophie who called upon her five-year-old logic.
“I see. Well, light a candle for your papa while you’re there.” He sipped the hot brew.
“What are you thankful for, papa?”
Charles pretended to think long and hard about it. Finally, he looked down at his daughter.
“I’m thankful for this incredibly stupendous, marvelous, amazing, and enchantingly beautiful coffee mug.” He showed it to her. “Any idea who the artist is who created it? I really must thank him or her.” He sipped again. “Marvelous, I say!” He waggled his eyebrows as Sophie began to laugh uncontrollably.
“It was me, papa!”
He looked surprised. “You?”
“Yes, me!” She squeaked, still giggling.
“No!” He looked at the mug. “But it’s a work of art, Sophie. It should be housed inside the Louvre, inside a secure glass casing, no less! Surely you jest!”
“Papa! You’re so silly!”
“Really, Charles,” Nanette buttoned up her coat and picked up her shoulder bag. “She’s right. You’re quite silly. Why ever did I marry you?” She leaned up and kissed him on his cheek.
“Must have been my charm and good looks,” he quipped, unrepentant.
Nanette and Sophie headed for the door. As they walked through, Charles called after them, “and try not to bring home any more strays today, Sophie!” He looked down at Toulouse who was washing his face with his paw, and then over at the small turtle named Henry gazing at him from behind a glass tank filled with pebbles, water, and what the pet store clerk said was a turtle “resting rock”. In the opposite corner chirping in a tall cage were two birds, one an injured sparrow on the mend, and the other, apparently its friend who refused to leave it even as Sophie picked the hurt one up and brought it into the house. Its ‘friend’ simply rode in on her shoulder. He shook his head. “My daughter is literally Doctor Doolittle.”
The church was quiet in the early morning hours. Not many came in until later in the day which was why Nanette Fairchild preferred to pray while parishioners were still waking up. It was her time to commune with the Holy Spirit, to entreat God’s good will for family and friends, and to find inner peace. She sat Sophie down on the pew, and then put the padded bench down where she kneeled, making herself as comfortable as possible. Sophie watched as her mother pulled her rosary out of her pocket, wrapped it around her hand, and bowed her head to pray. She knew not to interrupt, and in fact, felt no need to speak while she sat inside the Basilica. It was peaceful within, and she liked looking at the tall, stained-glass windows depicting angels.
They didn’t look anything like Uncle Cam and Uncle Gabe.
They didn’t wear flowing robes, and the window angels didn’t appear nearly as strong as her two guardians. She asked Uncle Cam once why he didn’t wear dresses like the angels in the church. Somehow, he found her question very funny because he laughed out loud, wiping a tear from his eye. When he finally got control of himself, he answered her question with a question. “Do you think they make dresses big enough to fit me?” He flexed both his biceps.
Sophie looked at him, trying to figure out how any dress would fit him. “You have too many muscles.” Five-year-old logic won the day.
“Exactly!” Then he leaned in close and whispered, “but I bet your Uncle Gabriel could wear one. His muscles aren’t nearly as big as mine!”
Sophie laughed. Just the idea of Uncle Gabe in a pink, frilly dress was absurd, but she was determined to ask him when next he visited. And she did. The look on Uncle Gabriel’s face promised very bad things for her Uncle Cam even as he assured her he not only did not wear dresses, thank you, but he would be having a very serious discussion with her other uncle about telling lies, a very bad thing to do, he pointed out.
Sophie’s thoughts were interrupted by a shuffling sound behind her. She twisted her body around to look for the source. Near the grotto at the foyer stood a child wearing a dark, dirty coat, dark jeans, and a pair of sneakers that had seen better days. He had a black ski cap pulled down low over his ears, but it was his eyes that Sophie focused on. They were large, blue, and fearful. The boy looked very skinny beneath the oversized coat. His white cheeks were sunken in causing the few freckles he had sprinkled across his nose to stand out in stark relief. He looked around the interior of the church at the less than a handful of congregants with heads bowed in prayer. The frightened blue eyes bounced around the nave and then landed on the collection box to the right near the exit where he stood. He began to edge closer, keeping an eye on both the people in prayer and the exit.
Once standing next to the box, he reached up with his right hand to feel the top of the lid which was just a few inches taller than he stood. The fearful eyes glanced all around searching out anyone who might see his activity. He found the opening where the faithful placed their offerings. He pushed his fingers through, wiggling until his hand was inside. A door opened, and gentle footsteps grew louder coming from the south transept near the altar. Father Rivard rounded the corner carrying his bible and heading toward the confessional. When the boy saw him, he yanked his hand from the box causing it to tumble off the stand and crash loudly on the floor. Everyone jumped and turned to look in the direction of the commotion…including Father Rivard. The boy whipped around and began running to the exit.
The old priest shouted “Stop, thief!” and ran after him.
Sophie jumped off the pew and ran to the doorway. Her mother scrambled to rise and stop her. “Sophie! Stop! Come back here!”
The small girl slipped through the door pushed open by the old priest. Her mother slowed down needing to break her speed before smashing into the heavy, carved wood as it swung closed.
Sophie pumped her legs as fast as they would take her. She could see Father Rivard ahead, his black robes billowing behind him as he ran. The boy was further ahead. He made a sharp right turn and disappeared down the alley. Father Rivard tried to follow, but stopped suddenly, bending over and breathing hard. Sophie ran past him, following the boy’s path. She could still hear her mother calling for her, but she was drawn to finding the boy. She slowed down as she walked around dumpsters and parked cars. She approached a crossway and came to a halt. She looked right, and then left. To the right was a narrower alley. It was darker, dirtier than the one in which she stood. To the left, it was brighter, and opened beyond to another main street. A voice whispered to her to not be afraid. She turned right.
With each tentative step, the light receded. The sun couldn’t penetrate the overgrown trees on her left or the building’s overhang above. The alleyway was littered with old boxes and trash cans. It smelled of decay and rotted garbage. Sound reached her ears. Panting. Someone or something was breathing hard. Instead of running away, Sophie walked toward the large box from where the noise came.
She squatted down near the opening.
“It’s okay. It’s only me.”
The breathing stopped, as if someone was holding their breath.
“Who are you?” came the tentative reply.
“Sophie Fairchild.” She waited.
A shuffling sound indicated the person was moving forward. A freckled face peeked out.
“I don’t know you.”
“I saw you in the church.”
The big, blue, frightened eyes darted around Sophie seeking out anyone else, but saw no one.
“The priest was chasing me.”
“Yes. He had to stop running way back there.” Sophie pointed behind her. “Poor Father Rivard was panting like our neighbor’s dog, Jaques.”
“Is he okay?” The blue eyes looked at Sophie with worry.
“I think so.”
Relief washed over the dirty face. “That’s good. It’s a very bad thing to hurt a priest.”
“Yes. But it’s very bad to break stuff in a church too.”
He looked down, repentant. “I know, but I’m just so hungry, and the church is where they help you. I didn’t think they would miss a few coins for bread.” Tears welled up in the big, blue eyes.
Sophie’s heart swelled. She reached out and patted the child’s shoulder softly. He was older than Sophie by at least a few years but shouldn’t have been out here all alone to her way of thinking.
“But where is your mama?”
Tears rolled down dirty cheeks leaving streaks. “She’s dead.”
Sophie gasped. She couldn’t imagine not having a mother. “What about your papa?”
The child shook his head ‘no’.
“What happened?” Sophie felt tears sting her own dark eyes.
“Sophie? Sophie!” The panicked voice of her mother cut through the conversation. Sophie stood up and looked back toward the larger alley from whence she came.
“I’m here, mama.”
The child started to climb out of the box, preparing to run again. Sophie turned and grabbed his hand. “Don’t run. My mama is really nice. She’ll know what to do. Just wait.”
Nanette ran around the corner and came to a stop. Relief eased the worry on her face as she saw her daughter standing in the middle of the dark, filthy alley holding the hand of an equally filthy child. Her heart contracted upon taking in the state that child was in. Thin, obviously cold, unclean, and worst of all, terrified.
“Sophie Magdalena Fairchild, you gave me a fright!” Nanette tried to control the tone of her voice, and she approached slowly, conscious that any sudden moves might send the frightened child running again.
She stopped in front of them and put her hands in her coat pockets. “And who is this?”
Sophie turned and looked at the boy. “What’s your name?”
The child looked down. “Cecilia.”
Sophie laughed. “That’s a funny name for a boy.”
Cecilia looked up, eyes wide, and slightly offended. “I’m not a boy.” She pulled off her ski cap and long, curly hair fell around her shoulders the color of old copper pennies.
Sophie reached up to touch a curl. “Why are you dressed like a boy then?”
“I don’t know,” Cecilia shrugged. “These are the only clothes I have.”
Nanette felt her heart break. She stepped in. “Well, we’ll just have to do something about that. Come, girls, let’s get out of here.” She pulled her hands out of her pockets, reaching for theirs.
Sophie immediately took her mother’s hand, but Cecilia hesitated.
“It’s okay. I don’t bite.” She smiled.
Cecilia tentatively placed her dirty hand into Mrs. Fairchild’s.
Nanette held her head high as she led the way. She had to clear the lump from her throat before saying, “Well, your father is in for a big surprise today.” She bravely led the way out of the dark alley heading home.
Dear Readers, welcome to Book 3 in the Angelic Hosts series, Sophie’s Wish.
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