“Angels don’t exist.”
Nora Kendall chanted the phrase, just under her
breath, as she wove around the linen-draped tables that stood
between her and the ladies’ room. Angels don’t exist.
Another table skirted. Angels don’t exist. Another step
closer. Angels don’t exist.
She thrust open the door with a jab of her hand that
sent it rocking against its hinges. Only when she’d scurried
inside the plush sanctuary and the door slapped shut in her
wake did she give thought to the possibility of another
person on the other side of it. She glanced around with a
guilty start before collapsing against the burnished wood in
relief at the realization that she was quite alone in the room.
Good. No one to witness her breakdown.
For what else could it be? What other explanation
was there for her sudden sighting of the—no! It didn’t
happen. She didn’t see anything out of the ordinary. Just a
little flight of fancy caused by heightened excitement over
the prospect of receiving a proposal tonight. Yes. That was
it. A flight of fancy.
She inhaled a breath that sliced against the back of
her throat like a razorblade. Swallowed hard. Inhaled
another. Yes, she silently coached herself, that’s it. You are
calm, you are serene, and nothing can upset you now.
Nothing. Breathe in. Breathe out. Good.
Her serenity restored, Nora pushed herself away
from the door and stood before the mirrored wall over the
bank of black marble sinks. Her reflection in the mirror
stared back, unblinking. Controlled. Good, she thought.
Wonderful. As it should be. All trace of her ridiculous notion
was firmly out of her head. No more silly thoughts regarding
messengers of God and acts of mercy and—
“Stop it, Nora!” she hissed under her breath,
squeezing the edge of the black marble counter until her
fingers bled white from the pressure placed upon them.
“Stop it.” She reeled in a cleansing breath, once again met
the impassive gaze of the woman in the mirror. Elongating
the syllable of each word, she reiterated, for her own benefit,
"Angels do not exist.”
She withdrew a tube of lipstick from the microclutch
purse that dangled from her left wrist. “They are just
figments of some very active imaginations,” she said,
pausing to trace her full lips with the pale pink tip. Her
reflection followed suit. “But they have no basis in fact.
They don‘t exist.” She pursed her lips to test the cosmetic
coverage; nodded once, satisfied. “Not for me. Not
Her voice faltered. She dropped her gaze from the
all-knowing woman in the mirror. No fooling her. She knew
the truth. She was there through it all, the bad and the worse.
Nora’s constant companion in life and delusion. No, there
was no fooling the woman in the mirror. Only she knew the
truth about the angels—the real truth. The full truth. She was
there through it all. She knew. Peter…
Memories of her brother rolled through her mind
like the reels of an old movie. Cracked, withered around the
edges; the images in the center still vivid. Still powerful
enough to steal the breath from her lips, the beats from her
The beautiful soul who gave of himself even when it
hurt to breathe—no, especially then. So self-sacrificing…he
was the sun rising in the east, hope stretching across the sky
in a streak of electric colors, painting the world bright even
when it was its darkest. Not just the world. Her world. And
that was the way she saw him whenever she conjured his
image in her mind—as she often did. Standing in the sun at
the beach in Ogunquit, his body outlined in gold, pink and
purple, arms lifted high in joy…A part of the sunrise he
relished. Laughing. Exuberant. Alive.
He was everything to a young girl just learning
about life. Death. And the futility of fighting against
mortality, whether it was one’s own—or that of a beloved
brother. Everything she needed to know she learned the day
she fought a losing battle against death. Her brother’s death.
But how could she truly have expected to win when her only
weapon was prayer?
Yet she fought like a warrior, girded in faith, using
her weapon of choice to its full advantage on the
battleground of the hospital chapel. She prayed. Lord, how
she prayed. For a miracle. A gift from God. Anything to save
She prayed until the color bled out of her knuckles
from the strength of her clasped hands. Until her legs were
attacked by pins and needles before they went numb
altogether from the hours of kneeling on an unforgiving pew.
Until she was delirious with fatigue. Hunger. Thirst. Then
she’d prayed some more. Always the same prayer. Over and
“Please, God, don’t take my brother.”
A simple phrase, really. “Please, God, don’t take my
brother.” But over time, diluted, the words running together
in a stream of incoherence. In the eleventh hour, she
expanded upon the prayer.
“You can’t take my brother. He’s a good person,
he’s never done anything wrong. Take me. I should be the
one to go. Everyone knows I’m not always good. But not
Peter—he’s always good. He always does the right thing.
The world is better with him in it, so please don’t take him
away from me. I promise I’ll do better, I’ll be nicer—
whatever You want. Just…please let him stay alive for me.
But it was all for naught, she discovered when she
was summoned back to his room for the final “blessing.” In
the end, the will of God proved stronger than that of a
frightened twelve-year-old girl. Peter died despite all of her
prayers. He left her with a final request:
“Don’t give up your faith in miracles, in angels,” he
said, even as the breath left is body in a wheeze. “They’re
real. They’re here…now. They’ve come for me…they’re
He used his last breath to make Nora believe.
The day they put the small box containing his
emaciated body in the ground, she went home and removed
all things angelic from her room. Ripped pictures from the
walls, tore up postcards in her drawers, cut up a comforter
bearing their likeness. Dropped all of the remnants of angels
into a metal trashcan outside and lit a match. She stood close
to the fire—sometimes too close—peering into the flames
until all things angelic were reduced to ash before her eyes.
She spent better part of her teen years continuing to
purge herself of these images despite their annoying
tendency to materialize in her room. In her locker at school.
In her first car. She tore them, shredded them, burned them.
Still, they showed up. The same images. Again and again.
Tacked to her walls, stuffed in her locker, dangling from the
rearview mirror in her car. She dealt with them in silence
until the day her hard-won control finally snapped and she
confronted the presumed source of the images.
“Mother!” She shouted the word repeatedly until it
finally drew the object of her anger up to the second floor
hallway where she waited. “I thought I told you I don’t want
these things around anymore!” she said, and she tossed a
handful of angel pictures at her startled mother. Then she
took a defensive stance, fists planted on hips, chin thrust out
as far as it could go, and waited for her response. “Well?”
But her mother just stood there as the angels
fluttered around her in a mockery of true flight, wearing her
serenity as a shield against Nora’s anger. In fact, Nora could
almost feel her rage glancing off her mother‘s body and
turning back on her, two times stronger. How could she do
that? How could she remain so calm, keep such a steady
gaze as she watched Nora through the cloud of paper
cutouts? Dammit, why did she have to be so Donna Reed
when Nora wanted her to be more Joan Crawford? At least
then, she would feel justified in lashing out at her.
But this—this was just not right. How could she
fight with someone who wouldn’t fight back? No, she just
stood there, watching Nora with a hint of question in her
pale blue eyes. She didn’t even flinch when the wing of one
creature glanced off her left cheekbone, just below the eye.
She just stood there and waited until the last cherub found a
resting place at her feet and then, ever calm, Jane Kendall
said, “Honestly, dear, I don’t know where these came from.”
“Oh, so I suppose they just materialized—” Nora
wiggled her fingers in a magician-like manner “—on their
“Maybe Joelle put them there,” Jane suggested.
“You know how she is. Did you ask her?”
“She denied it, too.” Nora shook her head in
condemnation of her mother and her best friend. “You two
are unbelievable. You’re probably in on it together.”
She closed her bedroom door with a soft click,
separating herself from the compassion she saw etched in her
mother’s face. She didn’t need it, after all; she was doing just
fine on her own. She just didn’t want reminders of Peter’s
blind faith and God’s failing her to hang around, mocking
her. Symbolizing her own failure.
Her trip down Memory Lane was abbreviated by the
sudden opening of the restroom door. She jumped nearly out
of her skin before she could check herself.
“Oh, sorry,” said the intruder in a wispy voice, “I
didn’t mean to startle you.”
“It’s all right,” Nora assured her, even though she
felt the exact opposite. She forced a smile for the other
woman, who was dressed in the black and white ensemble of
the restaurant’s wait staff, complete with pristine apron tied
about her nonexistent hips. “I was just…lost in my
“Are you okay?” the waitress asked, solicitously.
“Your date was kind of worried when you jumped up and
took off like that. He asked me to check on you.”
Her date. Carl Beckett.
“So,” the waitress asked, “are you? Okay, that is?”
No, I’m totally losing my mind, Nora thought. But
she said, “Yes. I’m fine. Just felt a little queasy for a moment
there. Nerves—not the food. I haven’t even eaten yet. We
haven’t ordered. I’m expecting some good news tonight and
I just got totally overwhelmed. But you really don’t need to
know that, do you?”
The waitress simply smiled at her and said, “Well,
all right, then. As long as you’re okay…?”
Closing her eyes on her humiliation, Nora faced
forward, toward the mirror, once again. “Yes,” she said
through tight lips, “just fine. Could you tell him I’ll be out in
a few minutes?”
But everything wasn’t fine, Nora acknowledged to
herself when the waitress promptly withdrew from the
damask-walled bathroom. Far from it, in fact, not that she’d
admit that to the woman who’d served their drinks. All was
not well. She just couldn’t determine the why of it yet.
The date was proceeding well. Carl had picked her
up on time—a first in their nine months of dating—and he
didn’t grumble about the traffic or the poor parking in her
neighborhood as he usually did. In fact, he’d appeared
almost cheerful. Cheerful and—expectant.
Was that why he brought her a box of chocolates
and a bouquet of red roses? Was he expecting something
from her tonight? After all, he didn’t want to “make a habit”
of spoiling her, as he’d told her in the early days of their
acquaintance; he didn’t want to build their relationship on a
foundation of materialism.
So it was either one or the other if he brought her
anything at all. The longer they were together, the more
often he arrived empty-handed. Not that she minded. She
shared his belief that their relationship should be based on
something more solid than insignificant gifts, especially if
they were committed to it for the long run. And she was. So
it was a nice surprise when he presented her with the two
But the capper was their ultimate destination:
Zuzu’s, the trendiest new restaurant in the city. Unless
someone had a name with clout, they could expect at least a
three-month wait on the reservation list before their name
moved to the top. But Carl had gotten them in and
immediately ordered a plate of oysters and a bottle of their
All in all, the perfect date. Until she’d found herself
racing toward the relative safety of the ladies’ room, where
she lectured herself on the existence of angels.
They’d been at their table, she nervously anticipating
his broaching of the “important subject” he’d alluded to in
the car, he squirming upon the dollhouse-like chair in sudden
discomfort. Which heightened her own anxiety. She could
only think of one reason, after all, that a man would become
so flustered with a woman: He was going to make a
statement that would have a profound effect on both of their
lives. But as he opened his mouth to do so, her attention was
distracted by the presence of a golden-haired figure clad all
He just moved behind Carl, like an apparition, and
suddenly, her whole world kicked into reverse. The actions
of the surrounding patrons and wait staff ground to an
impossibly slow pace where sound couldn’t even intrude.
They were just a blur, a smear of color against the backdrop
of a glittering canvas.
She’d glanced from the white shadow to Carl, whose
mouth yawned wide on a word she couldn’t hear. Her gaze
flicked back to the white shadow. She couldn’t see his face
for the glare of his stark white suit. That struck a chord of
fear in her. Why was he the only one she could halfway
make out? Why wasn’t his figure as distorted as the others?
Why was he crossing her path today?
The last question had jolted her out of the stillness
that encased her and sent her scurrying off to the bathroom
like a child just awakened from a nightmare, even as the
activity around her resumed its normal pace and sound level.
“No,” she told her reflection now, “no, Nora. It
wasn’t an angel. They don’t exist. Get a grip and go back out
there. You’re about to hear something that’ll change your
Giving herself a reassuring smile, Nora squared her
shoulders and left the ladies’ room, unaware of the silent
figure, dressed all in white, standing against the far wall,
watching her go.
“…So,” Carl concluded, his gaze falling just south
of hers, “there’s really nothing keeping us together.”
Nora stared at Carl for a moment as if she were in a
trance. What was that? She saw his lips move, but—what did
he say? Another moment passed before she somehow
managed to say, “I’m sorry. I don’t think I heard you right.”
She gave her head a little shake to clear it of its lethargy.
“Did you just say—nothing keeping us together?”
Carl cleared his throat, shifted his stocky frame on
the chair that squeaked in protest. He was hiding something
from her. Usually, he was rather straightforward. So—what
“I think,” he began, faltering over the words, “we’d
be fooling ourselves if we try to pretend there’s something
here when there isn’t. We want different things, Nora. You
want a lifetime commitment done up with all the trimmings.
And I want…freedom. I’m just not ready to settle down right
now, Nora,” he said, meeting her gaze for the first time since
he began his obviously-rehearsed speech. “I thought I might
be—I mean, you’re a great girl and all and if I was going to
settle down with anyone, it’d be you, but—”
“Who is she, Carl?” Nora asked, her voice little
more than a whisper. “This isn’t about me. I know it. You
know it. So do me a favor and just be honest. Who is she?”
Dropping his gaze once more, Carl admitted, “A
friend of my mother’s. I know there’s that whole age
difference thing, but I’ve got to admit I’ve always been kind
of attracted to her and, well, she’s just gotten a divorce so
she doesn’t want anything more than sex, either…”
He was leaving her for an older woman? How could
this be happening? Rubbing a finger along the furrows of
tension between her brows, Nora asked, “Then what’s with
this, Carl? Why bother with the candy and the flowers and
the fancy restaurant? And the oysters! Why would you order
oysters if you were planning to dump me?”
“I like oysters.”
“You like oysters,” she repeated as if she were
learning a foreign language. Why did that one phrase sound
so incongruous when added to the rest of the conversation?
Oh, Lord, she was losing her mind. First angels, now this.
Carl shifted on his chair again, rested an arm on the
postage stamp of a table as he leaned toward her. His voice
lowered, he said, “Look, I know what this time of year
means to you—your mother told me all about it before she
set us up, she told me holidays were hard because of your
brother dying near Thanksgiving—and I feel like a total ass,
I mean the timing sucks, but…Doreen wants to go away for
Thanksgiving and I really can‘t do that without feeling like a
total heel if I‘ve still got you here, holding out for a ring and
a chapel.” He took a breath before plunging forward with the
admission, “I just wanted to soften the blow. I’m sorry if I
Nora passed a trembling hand over hair scraped back
from her fresh-scrubbed face in a severe French twist. She
had to get control of herself, but—she couldn’t believe this
was happening. Couldn’t believe that the “something
important” to which Carl had eluded earlier was their future
apart, not together. Everything was planned out in her mind,
so…where did she go from here? Well, at least he was being
a gentleman about it. So good for you, Carl, she thought.
You are a true gentleman.
At least she thought so, until he said, “Listen, I hate
to cut out on you so early, but you took a lot of time in the
ladies’ room and I promised Doreen I’d meet her at seven to
take her granddaughter trick-or-treating and I’m already late.
So why don’t you stay, enjoy the wine and oysters—oh, and
order anything you want for dinner. Don’t worry about the
price. I-it’s the least I can do. I’ll just tell the staff to put it on
my tab. How does that sound to you?”
“Great,” she lied, even as she thought, He’s leaving
me for a grandmother. Bad enough that there was another
woman, worse still that she was an older woman, but—a
grandmother? Seriously? Hiding her trembling lips behind
her wine glass, she reiterated the lie, “Just…great.”
“Wonderful! I knew you’d see reason,” he
exclaimed in relief. Jumping from his chair—which he
somehow managed to catch in his large hand before it
toppled over—he skirted the table to her side and placed a
gentle kiss on her forehead. “You’re a good girl, Nora
Kendall. I’m really glad I got a chance to know you.”
“Me, too,” she lied again, closing her eyes. Why
wouldn’t he just go away already? Stop dragging it out, Carl.
Just go away now.
“Oh, here,” he said and she felt him thrust something
into her clenched hand. Something papery. Money? “For the
ride home. I’ve really got to go now. Doreen’s going to kill
Nora didn’t open her eyes to look at the bill in her
hand until she heard him move away from the table. A fifty
dollar bill. He gave her a fifty dollar bill for a taxi? Add that
one to a list of firsts.
“Excuse me, Miss?” a voice sounded at her right
shoulder, startling her out of her reverie. “Your date sent me
over to see if there’s anything I can get you.”
Glancing up with disinterest at the owner of that
pheromone-laden voice, Nora perked up when she noticed
that he was cloaked all in black when the waiters’ attire was
relieved by white shirts and red boutonnières. But not this
man. Everything was black, from the silk of his shirt to the
leather of his shoes. Even the flower in the lapel of his long
blazer was black. How odd.
“I’m sorry,” she said, trying to force the
befuddlement from her brain by knitting her brows together.
“I didn’t…what did you say?”
Oh, man, why did he have to be so attractive? She
couldn’t think straight as she stared up into the perfection of
his face with its dark eyes and the even darker hair that
framed his sculpted face in long, curling tendrils. Now, this
was more to her liking! If only she could concentrate on
what he was saying.
“Your date thought you might like to order now,” he
repeated. “So, would you?”
“Yes—yes, that would be good.”
“So what can I get you?”
“I don’t know, anything—everything,” she said in an
off-handed manner. “You decide.”
A slightly decadent, devilish smile slid across the
man’s full lips then, robbing Nora of any further capacity for
coherent speech. “As you wish,” he said in a voice so deep,
so resonant and beautiful, it rumbled through her, wreaking
havoc with all of her senses.
She just smiled and watched him go, her eyes drawn
to his physique like an artist’s to the statue of David. Man,
she thought as he disappeared into the kitchen, what was the
bigger sin? Having a body like that—or ogling a body like
that? If it was the latter, she would gladly commit the sin. It
wasn’t like she was hurting anybody by enjoying the view,
after all, and this was the only time she’d ever be able to eat
in a place like this, so why not indulge?
She had reason to re-think that sentiment when the
sculpted waiter proceeded to bring out one of everything on
An arctic wind assaulted Nora as she left the warmth
of the restaurant behind her. It arose from nowhere to swirl
around her, slicing her to the bone and stealing the breath
from her lips. Where had that come from? Nora wondered. It
was only October, for heavens’ sake. Granted, it was the last
day of October, but still. . . A little early for the deep-freeze.
With a shudder, Nora huddled beneath her cape as
she paused at the street corner. Uncertain. What was she
supposed to do now? She’d planned to grab a bottle of
expensive wine on her way to celebrate her good news with
Joelle, but those plans were dashed. What was she to
celebrate now? The rather polite way Carl had let her down?
The fact that she’d somehow managed to retain her dignity
when all of her plans for the future lay shattered at her feet?
Should she give herself a pat on the back for not creating a
scene and making it easier for Carl to dump her? She simply
didn’t know what to do now.
Maybe she should get the wine anyway and
commiserate with her old friend instead. If nothing else,
Joelle would find the humor in the situation—as she always
did—and maybe it would lessen the sting of betrayal.
A gentle tug on her cape released Nora from her
fretful ponderings. Startled, she glanced down—into a sweet
pixie face that boasted the widest blue eyes Nora had ever
seen on a child. Despite the sadness and confusion that
permeated her soul, she couldn’t help but to smile at the girl,
who was dressed in an angel costume.
At Nora’s encouraging smile, the girl ventured in all
innocence, “Are you a good witch…or a bad witch?” She
ignored her mother’s dismayed gasp and held firm against
her restraining hand as she awaited Nora’s answer.
A twitch at the corner of her lips was the only
indication that Nora found humor in the question. Preserving
a serious manner, she squatted down before the girl, her cape
flaring prettily about her, and said, “I’m a good witch.”
Happiness lit the girl’s face as she turned to her
mother. “See, Mommy? I told you she was a good witch!”
Nora intercepted an apologetic look from the woman
before she ushered her daughter away with an admonishing,
“Come along, sweetie, it’s time to go home.”
The girl’s response was swallowed up in the noise of
city traffic as they receded from Nora. With a bittersweet
smile, Nora pushed herself up from her crouch, glanced
about. For the first time that night, she actually saw the
horrifically-decorated shop windows with their mummies
and monsters, cauldrons and spider webs, witches and bats.
A reminiscent sigh escaped her. Oh, how she’d once loved
The memories barely had time to take root in her
mind when she was suddenly presented with a cigarette. She
declined the unspoken offer with a shake of her head without
even verifying who extended it. The cigarette disappeared as
suddenly as it had appeared.
“You don’t smoke?”
At the unexpected sound of that voice, Nora jumped
as if someone had touched a live wire to her spine. Her heart
set up a dangerous cadence in her chest; she pressed a fist
against it in a vain attempt to establish calm. Breathed in.
What was he doing here? And out. Had he followed her? In.
Well, of course he did, ninny. Out. But—why?
She turned to confront the black-clad waiter from the
restaurant—and immediately faltered at the sight of him
standing there. Maybe it was the casual pose, legs braced
slightly apart. Or the way he regarded her with an inquisitive
look and a radiant smile. Whatever it was, he literally took
her breath away and made her forget what he asked her. On a
whim, she just shook her head to the negative and hoped it
was an appropriate response.
His smile enigmatic, he released a cloud of blue
smoke on a sensual sigh and watched her through the haze,
his eyes intent, laying bare her soul. He held her prisoner
like that for what seemed like a lifetime condensed into one
minute before he spoke again. When he did, it was on a
different topic. “All didn’t go well in there, I gather.”
“No. I expected…”
“Something that wasn’t there,” she murmured. With
great effort she shifted her gaze away from his toward the
city traffic racing past them in a blur of Technicolor and
exhaust fumes. Shaking herself free of despair, she half-turned
back to the waiter whose face was now wreathed in a
ring of cigarette smoke. “I have a really bad habit of doing
“Holding out. Waiting for something to materialize
that doesn’t exist.”
“Kind of like angels,” he said. “People say they’re
there, but if you can’t see them or hold them in your hand…”
“Do they really exist?” she finished the thought for
him. With a shiver, she burrowed deeper into her cape and
scanned her surroundings as if trying to remember which
way to turn. “Guess I better be off,” she said, her voice
holding little conviction. “You take care now.”
“Oh, I will.”
“And try not to smoke too much,” she advised,
glancing back at him. “It’s hell on your lungs.”
“I know,” he said with an ironic twist of his lips,
turning the cigarette about to study the burning tip. But he
made no effort to put it out, apparently undisturbed by the
reminder of its health risks. “Devilish habit,” he added with
“Well,” she said, stepping off the curb at a break in
the traffic, “I’m off now.” With a fragile smile in the
waiter’s direction, she disappeared into the clamor that
Dante had little time to enjoy a low chuckle over his
encounter with his quarry—oh, sorry, Nora Kendall—before
he felt the air shift about him. The current of warmth
assaulted him from behind. Wonderful, he thought, just what
he needed now to put a kink in his pleasure.
He didn’t turn to acknowledge the other; that would
be the gentlemanly thing to do and the devil knew he was no
gentleman. He inhaled, long and deep, on his dwindling
cigarette. He released the smoke through his aquiline nose in
one continuous stream. And waited.
His patience was rewarded a moment later when
Peter stepped out of the shadows, his stark white attire
shimmering bright against the blur of color that surrounded
them. The picture of the perfect angel. Dante’s lips curled in
“Well, well, look what the wind blew in,” Dante
If he had expected Peter to respond to that bait,
Dante was destined for disappointment. In fact, it barely
registered a reaction as he halted alongside Dante on the
sidewalk. His tone barely tolerant, but just as deep and
musical, Peter asked, “What are you doing here, Dante?”
Flicking a glance at him, Dante ignored the question
in favor of taking another pull on the cigarette. He
deliberately blew the smoke into the man’s angelic face—
and chuckled in delight when Peter waved the smoke away
with an agitated gesture.
“Peter,” Dante pronounced as the wind picked up
about them, whipping their long coats about their sculpted
thighs like flags at full mast. “I should’ve known you’d be
“You didn’t answer my question.”
“What do you want with the girl?” Peter demanded.
“What do I ever want with them?”
Silence stretched out before them relieved only by
the sound of their coats flapping against their legs. Peter
finally broke it by saying, “You can’t go on like this
“Oh, yeah? Watch me.”
“Oh, I will.” Peter glanced toward the midnight-dark
sky as a rumble of thunder sounded above them. “And you
can be assured that I’ll do everything in my power to prevent
you from achieving your goals.”
“I’d expect no less.”
“But let me tell you one thing. Soon—perhaps
sooner than you think—you are going to be brought to your
knees by a woman so pure, so innocent, your existence as
you know it will be completely undone and you will serve
the purpose you were meant to serve. And not your own.”
From Nora's Soul, by Margay Leah Justice, published by Second Wind Publishing LLC. Available here:
Margay Leah Justice, http://margayleahjustice.com