Posted on 2011-07-16
Garnet and Ros remained by Richard's side, silent and motionless, as they had been throughout the long night. Across the room, Donovan and Akuji faced them boldly, excited and eager for the teenagers to wake up, ready for the flood of emotion that would surely follow, waiting to feed off the anger, hatred, and panic that would fill the room. They had done their jobs well, and many lives would be mangled and ruined this day. Lucifer's son would be pleased with them.
Across town, the Bennets, the Williamses, and Chance and Janna Bingley were in the Sunday morning worship service at Tabernacle; everything seemed to be normal. Xander, Niall, Roark, Raymond, Sacha, Alexis, and Hector stood close to their charges, knowing the inevitable heartbreak that awaited them and ready to offer as much comfort and peace as they could. The guardians knew that the events of the previous night would cause a tsunami of pain, and that the ripples of hurt from those actions would continue in the lives of their charges for many years. They knew that the effects of sin were never limited to the people who committed the transgressions. Innocent people were always caught in the web, and the suffering was spread wider than anyone could imagine when they were first entertaining thoughts of the temptation at hand.
Richard squinted at the sunlight streaming in through the windows of the strange bedroom. Where am I? He vaguely remembered a party at Grant Willoughby's house and stared at the ceiling trying to recall what had happened. The clock by the bed read 11:30, and somewhere in the fog that enveloped his brain he realized that it was Sunday morning; he had missed church. My parents will not be happy with me. El must be wondering where I am.
His mouth felt like cotton and tasted like old socks. He was surprised to find that he was completely naked under the sheet. His head pounded. Now I remember why I stopped drinking.
"Hello, Hotness," said a sultry voice from beside him.
He closed his eyes tightly. Oh, God, please tell me that that isn't who I think it is. A hand began to stroke his chest and make its way southward. He jumped as if he had found a rattlesnake in bed with him.
"Are you up to another round?" the voice asked.
Richard grabbed her hand and raked it from his body. He turned his head and looked into the eyes that had tracked him for nearly two years. She leered at him possessively, and he wanted to vomit.
Caroline was beginning to get irritated. This was not the response she had expected from Richard after he had enjoyed a night of being treated to her superlative skills.
"Yes, Einstein. Another round! I lost track after a couple of hours."
"I don't remember the first round, and I would rather drink Drano than touch you," he told her, looking her straight in the eye.
"Oh, really? Sucks for you. You had no problem with touching me last night. Many times, in fact." She rolled away from him, left the bed, and began to gather her clothes.
"So, you really scored, huh? You got me drunk and did me. What did that do for you, Caroline? Before this, I put up with you and your stalking. Now I'll avoid you like the plague that you are."
She whirled to face him. "You think you can treat me like this? I'm not a slut that you can use and then throw away, Richard. You will regret the things you just said," she spat at him in spite, her eyes blazing.
"That's exactly what you are, Caroline, and I won't regret one word of it! That's a promise."
Richard got out of the bed, turned his back to her, and began to dress as quickly as he could. All he could think of was getting home and taking a bath. He shivered with disgust at himself.
"That's what you think! You will be very sorry for the way you've talked to me! And, just to be crystal, you weren't that great. Actually you were a big disappointment."
Donovan and Akuji exulted in the destruction and followed Caroline out the door with Ros trailing dejectedly behind them.
Richard heard the door slam, and he suddenly knew that making Caroline angry probably was not the smartest thing he had ever done. Garnet thought, Making her angry really did not change the outcome. She had already planned what she would do. However, now she will receive greater satisfaction in soiling the lives of those around her.
Richard made it home just before his parents got back from church. He went straight to the bathroom, undressed, and got into the shower, not even taking the time to go to his room for clean clothes. Wrapped in a towel, he brushed his teeth and had just made it to his room when he heard a car pull up into the driveway. Richard grabbed jeans and a T-shirt from a drawer and started dressing, his mind buzzing. He knew he was in big trouble.
Garnet stayed by him, knowing that the coming catastrophe could not be stopped and that there was little he could do to help Richard. He would have to face the consequences of his actions. He would have to reap what he had sown.
As soon as Richard's dad was through the kitchen door, he headed for his son's room. Not pausing to knock, he opened the door, stepped into the room, and looked at his son. Sacha was close behind him. "We missed you at church, Richard. It must have been something very important that kept you from calling us to let us know you were okay. Your mom and I have been worried." Jim Williams spoke quietly, but firmly.
"Sorry, Dad. I overslept at Grant's house. It won't happen again."
"That's all? You overslept? If you have a problem, Richard, you know that you can talk to me."
"No, there's no problem, Dad. Everything's fine."
Jim looked unconvinced, but he turned to leave the room. He paused and looked back with his hand on the doorknob. "You should call El. She wanted to know where you were. We didn't tell her anything, but I advise you to be honest with her." He left the room, closing the door behind him.
Richard sat heavily on his bed, holding his cell phone. He pulled up El's number and hit "call."
It was wonderful to hear her voice. "Hi, El. I'm sorry I missed seeing you at church this morning."
"I missed you, too. Where were you?"
"I spent the night at a friend's house and overslept." It's the truth.
Do not lie to her, Richard.
Tell the truth, Richard, Garnet said into his ear.
"A guy from school. You probably don't know him." She doesn't know him very well.
Richard, she is far from being an idiot. She will see through your dishonesty.
"I thought you had a project to do, and then you were going to spend time with your parents."
Garnet was exasperated. Richard was so focused on extricating himself from trouble that he was digging his hole deeper with every word.
"Those were my plans. He called when I was just finishing my project, so I went over to hang out. We were watching movies and it got late, so I stayed at his house." This is getting worse, but if she knew the truth, she'd dump me.
"Oh. Okay." She sounded hurt.
Xander stroked her hair gently. She sensed Richard's deception, but she wanted to believe him.
"I'll see you tonight at youth. Mom has lunch ready, and I know Janna and Chance are probably at your house. I gotta go. Maybe we can hang out and talk after church." His voice held a note of finality.
"Fine. I'll see you tonight. 'Bye." Her lower lip quivered. Something was not right, and she knew it.
"'Bye. Love you, El." At least that is the truth.
"You, too." Elizabeth could not say the words he really wanted to hear. She lay face down on her bed, trying to figure out what was wrong with Richard. Xander stroked her back and whispered, It will be all right, my little one. Everything will be well. God will give you the strength to bear what you must.
Richard pushed the button to end the call. He hated lying to her, but he knew that she would never understand what he had done. He could not wrap his mind around it himself. What if she finds out? El is the only good thing in my life right now. I can't lose her.
Garnet looked at him sadly. You already have.
Richard's mother called to him that lunch was ready; he wearily walked to the dining room and took his seat, avoiding the eyes of his parents. It was obvious to them that something was very wrong with their son, and his mother was certain that Grant and Caroline had a great deal to do with whatever was bothering him. After a few minutes of silence, Mrs. Williams excused herself from the table and went to his bathroom. She found the clothes he had worn to Grant's house and put them to her nose, sniffing. Holding his jeans and shirt between her index finger and her thumb, she went back to the dining room.
Garnet, Raymond, and Sacha stood along the walls of the small room, watching with trepidation as the drama unfolded.
"Richard, would you like to explain to your father and me why your clothes smell like a brewery?"
Richard hung his head; the food was like ashes in his mouth. Maybe confessing to drinking will keep them from asking about anything else, he thought.
Now you are using a portion of the truth to hide the rest of your sin. Garnet tried to reason with him.
"Grant had a party at his place last night while his parents were gone. I didn't know they wouldn't be there when I went. Everyone else was drinking, and I did it, too."
His father wore a pained expression. "I thought you had stopped drinking, Richard." Raymond stepped behind him and placed a hand on his shoulder.
"I had stopped, but I slipped up last night. It won't happen again."
"No, it won't - at least for the next month. You're grounded from everything except school and church. What did El say when you told her?"
Richard's eyes were round. "I couldn't tell her that, Dad. She wouldn't understand at all."
"You should have been honest with her. If she finds out from someone else, it will just be worse, you know," his father replied.
"I'll tell her at youth tonight. Okay?"
"That's a good decision, Richard. A relationship that isn't based on trust is worthless. Besides, she will find out from the other kids who were there."
I just hope that's all she finds out about, Richard thought morosely. Anyhow, that would be my word against Caroline's. El will believe me.
His mother took his clothes to the laundry room and returned to the table.
"I need to finish my project. It's due tomorrow."
His parents watched him as he trudged from the room, head down and shoulders slumped. They knew their son well, and both of them felt that there was more to the story than what he was telling them.
Xander and Garnet were ready for what was to come at Tabernacle that night.
As soon as he arrived at youth, Richard immediately went to Elizabeth, sat down beside her on the couch, and took her hand in his. They were listening to the youth pastor speak when his cell phone buzzed.
"Richard, I think you just got a text," Elizabeth said into his ear.
"No, I didn't," he answered quietly, averting his eyes. Garnet blew his breath through his nose, his lips drawn firmly together in a line. Tell the truth!
Richard's phone buzzed again, insistently.
"It might be your parents. You'd better look at it," Elizabeth whispered.
Reluctantly, he took the phone from his pocket. The window indicated two messages from Caroline Bingley. Oh, no! This can't be happening!
Elizabeth looked over at his phone. "What could Caroline want?"
Xander had a very good idea what Caroline wanted. She knew that Elizabeth and Richard would be in their youth group at this time, and she had chosen to text him when he would be with Elizabeth. From his place behind her, Xander placed his hand on Elizabeth's shoulder.
"I have no idea." His voice was monotone, emotionless.
"Aren't you going to open the messages?" Elizabeth looked at him, puzzled.
"I have no interest in anything she has to say."
That's odd. "Well, I do."
Elizabeth put her hand out for the phone. Richard did not give it to her, so she took it from his hand. They had always looked at each other's messages. She didn't understand why this time should be any different. Xander began to rub her shoulders. Be calm, little one.
She tapped in his password and the messages appeared.
"El, I need to talk to you first," he began to plead. But it was too late. She had read Caroline's texts.
You should have told her what really happened. You should have gone to her house after lunch, said Garnet aloud. The other guardians looked at him. He controlled his thoughts and held his peace.
"I had a great time last nite. Let's do it again soon. Caro"
That message was followed by a more explicit one.
"I luv knowing I was your 1st time. U were the best I've ever had. Don't worry. I won't tell El. This will be our little secret. Caro"
Xander heard the scream in Elizabeth's thoughts and wanted so badly to take her pain to himself. He would gladly have borne the hurt in her place.
Hot tears stung Elizabeth's eyes as she threw the phone into his lap and ran from the building. Richard went after her, barely clearing the room before he started calling her name and begging her to wait for him. Xander and Garnet hurried after them.
She stopped in the parking lot, and Richard tried to put his arms around her. She twisted away and stood with her back to him, crying.
Xander moved in front of her and embraced her. He looked at Richard, and Garnet saw the anger in his steely eyes.
"El, let me explain." Do not touch her, Richard, Garnet spoke loudly into Richard's mind.
"Is it true?" she choked out between sobs.
Xander wanted to wipe her tears away. Her pain was his pain; her sorrow was his sorrow. He bent and put his lips to the top of her head. Give your heartache to me. I will bear it for you.
"Let me tell you what really happened."
"I'm all ears, Richard. Did you sleep with Caroline?" She turned to look at him.
Garnet raised his voice, nearly shouting. The truth, Richard! Be sure your sins will find you out. You cannot continue to hide the truth.
Richard hesitated a moment and drew in a deep breath. "No, I didn't. She's lying. I did go to a party at Grant's house last night, and I got drunk, but I never slept with Caroline."
Xander lifted his head and vehemently questioned Garnet. Can he not tell the difference between truth and falsehoods? He does not deserve her.
"Why did you make up the lies about spending the night at some guy's house and oversleeping? I eat lunch with Grant nearly every day. I know him very well, and I've talked enough about it that you should realize I know him." She was no longer crying, but was staring at him, her eyes boring into his.
"I was afraid of losing you, El. I know how you feel about people getting drunk, and I thought you wouldn't be able to forgive me."
"Richard, it's harder to forgive being lied to than it is to understand when you make a bad decision. I'm not perfect either. I mess up all the time, and I know how easy it is to get in over your head. Just don't lie to me. We have to be able to trust each other."
Garnet tried one more time. Richard, tell her what really happened. This could be your last chance.
Richard gazed at her and thought about making a clean breast of the whole, ugly situation, but he just could not bring himself to say the words. How can I tell her that I had sex with Caroline? She already believes me. Even if Caroline tells her what we did, she has no proof. El will never take her word over mine. He decided to keep his secret. God, I promise that I will never do anything like that again. Relief washed over him. El knew that he had gotten drunk, and she had forgiven him.
Just then, Joshua Lucas strode up, his guardian, Skylar, in his wake. Joshua, who was like a brother to Elizabeth, could tell that she had been crying, and he glanced at Richard with eyes that were hard and cold. Xander stepped to Elizabeth's side as Joshua hugged her, turning her away from Richard. Hating what he had to do, Joshua spoke into her ear. "El, you need to come with me."
Elizabeth looked up at Joshua and smiled. "It's okay, Josh. I know what Richard did last night."
Joshua leveled a glare at Richard over Elizabeth's shoulder, pushing her hair from her tear-stained face. "You know? Exactly what did he tell you?"
Xander reached out to touch her arm.
"He said he went to a party at Grant's house last night and got drunk. That's why he missed church this morning." Joshua pushed her away a little to look into her face. Her eyes were so trusting that Joshua felt physically ill. Skylar felt the force of Joshua's emotions and put his hands on the boy's shoulders.
"That's all?" Joshua hissed, his eyes locking with Richard's as he looked over Elizabeth's back.
"What else is there? Richard?" Elizabeth turned to look him full in the face.
She has given you another chance. Think, Richard. You must tell her, pleaded Garnet.
He will not, the coward. He thinks that he can cover his sin. He will wait for the proof, said Xander tersely.
Richard lifted his chin in challenge to Joshua and returned his stare. "Nothing. There's nothing else." Nothing you can prove, Josh.
"Come with me, El." Joshua took Elizabeth's hand and pulled her with him, their guardians right behind them. They went to the main church building and into her father's office. Joshua already had the computer booted up and had logged into his Myspace.
Joshua took a deep breath and put his hands on either side of Elizabeth's face. He looked into her eyes with kindness and compassion. She began to breathe quickly, and Xander moved to her side. Skylar and Garnet stood in front of the desk, watching the tragedy unfold.
"This will be hard for you, El. I'm so sorry to have to hurt you this way, but I don't know what else to do. Sit down, and pull up your page," Joshua said gently. After she sat in her father's chair, Joshua leaned over her and placed his head beside hers. Her page came up, and Joshua spoke again. "Now pull up Caroline's page." Richard stood behind them so that he could see the monitor. He felt an impending sense of disaster. What has that witch done now?
As Caroline's page came up, Elizabeth could not make a sound. Then she began to gag and retch. Joshua grabbed the trashcan and shoved it under her face just in time. She leaned over it and vomited until her stomach was empty. He handed her some tissues and she wiped her mouth. Xander's reaction was visceral. His insides twisted; he had never known such pain. He nearly doubled over from the weight of it himself. How can she stand it, Lord?
Using the mouse, she clicked through the pictures. Caroline had made an album of her night's activities with Richard, entitled "There's a first time for everything!" and she had commented on every picture. There must have been sixty shots at least, and they were up close and sharp. Richard looked sleepy and drunk, but he was obviously nude and actively participating in a wide variety of sexual acts with a naked, leering Caroline. She was all over him, greatly enjoying herself, smiling and unashamed. Nothing at all was left to the imagination. It was pornographic and depraved.
Richard hung his head in shame. I wish that I could die.
Garnet stepped beside him and put his arms around him. Richard, you will survive this. You will learn from this. You will be stronger. Do not despair.
Elizabeth, unnaturally calm, went back through the pictures, reading the comments. She knew that all of their friends and many adults could see the pictures. She went to Richard's page. It was full of comments from Caroline, Grant, and Lydia extolling Richard's sexual prowess and the great time they all had getting drunk together, telling him to look on their pages for "a surprise." Lydia was proud of her role as the official photographer, and she bragged about her skill. Elizabeth then looked at Lydia and Grant's pages; both of them had posted the entire album, too. She took a deep breath and returned to Caroline's page, sitting quietly and staring at the screen for a moment. The only signs of her agitation were the way she twisted her hands in her lap and the tightness of her jaw.
Xander felt completely useless. He had never known what it was to be incapacitated by agony. He wanted to make everything better for Elizabeth, but he realized that she would have to find her way through the pain. She is a faithful servant, and she is strong. Dear Lord, please help me to comfort Elizabeth. Please give me the words. Help me to help her, Lord. He had never prayed before, but it was as natural to him as breathing. He did not even realize that he was praying.
Elizabeth turned and looked up at her childhood buddy. "Thank you, Josh. You've always been a true friend to me. You need to go now. I'll be all right." Her voice was quiet, but controlled. Joshua patted her shoulder and left the room with Skylar, pulling the door closed behind him.
She turned the swivel chair to face Richard. He stood like a statue, shocked and mute. "Did you think I would never find out, Richard? Did you think it was all right to do those things as long as I didn't know?"
Xander knelt beside her. Peace, my little one. You are the handmaiden of the Lord. Feel His comfort.
Richard went to his knees in front of her, putting his hands on her legs. Garnet bent over him, his hand on Richard's back. "El, I'm sorry. I know I should have told you the truth. I thought I had dreamed all of it until I woke up in bed with her this morning, and I didn't know anyone was taking pictures."
"So, that's why you lied to me - first at your house over the phone, then in the youth building when you got the texts, and again outside in the parking lot? You lied to me because you thought you wouldn't get caught? You lied because you knew I wouldn't believe Caroline? You lied because you didn't know Lydia was taking pictures?" Her voice rose a little with each question. Be calm, my little one. She took a deep breath to settle herself. The tears began to roll unchecked down her cheeks.
"El, I lied because I didn't want to lose you. I couldn't tell you what I'd done. It made me sick." Richard began to sob with his face in her lap and his hands on either side of her thighs. His shoulders heaved and he shook with pain. "I never meant to hurt you. I love you so much. You have to believe me. Please forgive me." He thought his heart would burst from his chest. "You can't possibly hate me as much as I hate myself."
Garnet bowed to his knees by Richard and spoke into his mind. It will be well, Richard. God still has a plan for you.
She gently stroked his wavy brown hair. "I could never hate you, Richard, because I love you. I believe you, and I forgive you, but I can't trust you anymore." She spoke very softly, and her heart broke a little more with every word she uttered. "I can't be with someone I can't trust to tell me the truth, even when it's hard." Her voice broke on the last word, and Xander rubbed her back, willing his strength to help her.
Richard looked up at her, his beautiful tear-tracked face twisted with his despair. "You're breaking up with me? Please don't do this, El. Please don't leave me. Everything is caving in around me; you're my rock." Garnet put his arm across Richard's shoulders.
Elizabeth loved him. She loved his eyes, his face, his humor, his confidence, his childlike delight in surprises - she loved all of him, and she could not imagine her life without him. She would be alone again. Richard had filled her hours with phone calls, long talks, texts, sweet kisses, and laughter. She wanted to tell him that everything was all right. She wanted to comfort him - to hug him and tell him she would stay with him. But she could not. I am with you, my Elizabeth. You are not alone. You will never be alone.
She breathed deeply, held it a moment, and sighed, slowly releasing her pent-up breath, and Richard heard her answer in that sigh. "Richard, I should not be your rock. God loves you more than I ever could. He is your rock, and you should ask Him for forgiveness. Don't make this harder than it has to be. You haven't lost me - I'll always be your friend. You can call me if you need to talk, and I'll always be there for you as a friend." Stay strong, my little one.
"But that's all, isn't it? Just a friend - no more than that." His voice was dead, flat, hopeless. Accept it, Richard. Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.
"That's right, Richard. We won't ever be more than friends again. Don't wait for that to change, because it never will," she replied kindly, but firmly.
Somehow he stood, pulled her into his arms, and hugged her, kissing her cheek before he turned to go. Xander stood with her, his hand on her arm.
As Richard left, he saw her father coming down the hall. Richard fled in the opposite direction, ran to his car, and drove home, Garnet flying above his car. His parents were his friends on Myspace, and he wanted to tell them the truth himself, before they saw the comments splayed across his page. He also was in a hurry to block Caroline, Grant, and Lydia from ever accessing his Myspace again. He should never have trusted them in the first place. Richard laughed bitterly at the irony. Who am I to be talking about trust?
Posted on 2011-07-23
Xander stood behind Elizabeth in her father's office, holding her tenderly, his strong arms around her shoulders. She was a porcelain sculpture, pale and motionless.
As David approached his office door, he saw Richard running down the hall away from him, and he knew that something terrible had happened. He and Roark hurried into his office where his younger daughter, a large piece of his heart, stood facing the door with an empty, forlorn expression on her beloved face. Seeing her father's concern displayed in his eyes broke her calm, and raising her hands to her face, she began to weep, pouring out all the pent-up emotions she had felt in the past hour. Her father quickly crossed the room and hugged her fiercely to him as she buried her face in his chest. Xander stepped to Elizabeth's side, still stroking her arm and whispering words of peace. You are beloved. You do not have to go through this alone, Elizabeth. Accept the peace of your Heavenly Father. He loves you more than any human ever could. I am with you. I will always be with you.
David Bennet was well known to be a long-suffering, even-tempered man; he had rarely been truly angry in his lifetime. However, upon seeing his baby girl suffering and heartbroken, his rage flashed red hot. I should have protected her; I should have been able to do something to prevent this. What has Richard done to her?
Roark spoke into his mind. Pray for strength, David. Pray for peace. You must be the father she needs now. You must let go of your anger and trust in God's promises. He will never give you more than you can bear. When you are weak, He is strong. All things work together for the good of them who love Him.
Lynne, entering David's office to meet them for the ride home, was shocked at the scene before her. Elizabeth was sobbing hysterically as David crushed her to his chest. Lynne, followed by Niall, approached her husband and daughter, and she was stunned at his expression - he was livid. She had never seen her husband so angered, and it unnerved her; she was speechless.
Tentatively, Lynne moved beside the couple and put her arms around both of them. Niall touched her back, saying, Pray for them.
Lynne wondered, What in the world could have happened to upset El this much and to make David so angry? Dear Father, please help my husband to calm down. Please help El get through whatever has made her cry like this. Please give me the words to say and the strength to do the right thing. Father, my loved ones are hurting, and I don't know what to do. I don't know what to pray for right now. Give me the words. Interpret my heart. The tears ran down her face as her mother's heart ached for her daughter and her husband.
After a few minutes during which Lynne continued to pray, Elizabeth's cries began to quiet, and David relaxed his grip on her, though he still held her in his arms.
"Sweetheart, what's wrong? Let us help you," Lynne whispered to Elizabeth.
Elizabeth turned her face toward her mother. In a broken voice, she choked out the words, "I wish I had a heart that had never loved him."
What has Richard done? Lynne noticed that the computer on her husband's desk was running. She stepped to it and ran the mouse over the pad to re-activate the monitor. Caroline's Myspace page came up, and she said in a low, strangled voice, "No!" She now knew the source of her daughter's tears. How could he have done that to El? Dear Lord, how could he have done that?
David heard his wife's voice and turned toward her. He saw the pictures, and he wanted to smash the computer. He wanted to rip it from the wall. He wanted to beat Richard to a pulp. Roark spoke to him again, None of that would help Elizabeth. None of that would change anything, and you would hate yourself if you did those things. Give this to God. Richard needs you, David. You're his pastor, too. He and his parents are dealing with this now, and they need their pastor.
David released Elizabeth and moved to his desk while Lynne stepped aside so that David could see the screen. As he clicked through the images and read the comments, Xander and Lynne held a quieted Elizabeth. Finally, David clicked out of Myspace, shut down the computer, and faced his wife and daughter. He was himself again. "Let's pray about this together."
The little family joined hands as David led them in prayer, the three guardians grouped around them, heads bowed, with their large, angelic hands covering the clasped human hands of their charges.
After they had finished praying, David picked up his phone and called Jim Williams.
Richard raced into his house, fully expecting to delete the comments from his page before his parents could see them. He intended to tell them what had happened, but the idea of his mother and father reading what was on his page and asking to see the graphic images made him physically ill. I will never feel clean again. I wish that I could bleach my brain and wash away the memories. I hate myself.
Richard's parents were sitting in the den watching television, Raymond and Sacha standing by them, when he burst into the room, Garnet nearly running behind him. Taking in their surprised faces, Richard slowed down and tried to walk past them. He was nearly to his room when he heard his father's voice calling him. I should have known better. They know me too well.
"Richard? What's wrong, son? Come back and talk to us."
Richard groaned. He knew that they would still love him, but he could not stand to hurt them again. He hated for them to know that he had lied to them before he had left for church. They will be so disappointed in me.
He trudged back into the den to face them. "I have to tell you something. It's really bad."
His mother's face was so trusting, so loving, that he had to look away. He could not look her in the eyes and rip her heart out.
Richard began to cry, and his sobs wracked his body. "I'm so sorry. I'm sorry for everything." Garnet put his hand on Richard's back. Tell them, Richard. They will help you.
Jim stood and pulled his son to him. "Just tell us what you've done, Richard. We'll get through this together."
His mother rose and put her hand on his back. "We'll always be here for you, son."
"Come to my room with me," he said through his tears.
The Williams family and their guardians gathered in Richard's room; he sat down heavily in the chair at his desk and booted up his computer. When Richard pulled up Caroline's Myspace page, his mother nearly fainted. She held her hands tightly to her mouth to stop herself from crying aloud. Raymond stroked her arm as she prayed, That wicked, wicked girl! She finally trapped him. Oh, why didn't I tell him to come home last night? Why didn't I go and get him? Dear God, forgive me for failing my son. Forgive him for being weak. Please take this hatred for Caroline out of my heart. Lord, please help my family.
Jim Williams, seeing his wife's distress, folded her in his arms and kissed her hair. The tears ran down his face, and he struggled to make no sound. Sacha touched his mind with his thoughts. Jim, Richard needs your forgiveness. He needs your guidance.
After some minutes had passed, Jim released his wife, and they both turned to their son. He had put his head on his desk and was sobbing into his folded arms, feeling fully the weight of his actions.
"Richard, let's talk about this. Tell us what happened." Jim's voice was soft and kind.
He took Richard's hand and led him to the bed. Richard sat on the edge with a parent on either side of him as he told them everything that had happened. The story flowed from him in a flood of words and tears. When he was finished, Jim knelt in front of his son and his wife with their guardians hovering over them, and the small family held hands as Jim talked to God. He poured out his heart to his Father, and God spoke healing to his family. Following his father's example, Richard prayed and asked God to forgive him. He called his sins by name and admitted what he had done. Delores finished the prayers, quoting and claiming I John 1:9, If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
The Williams family had just finished praying when the phone rang. It was David. After they talked for a few minutes, Jim hung up and turned to his wife and son. "The pastor's on his way over here. We have some things to discuss."
Richard's eyes widened. "No, Dad. Please don't make me face him. He must despise me for what I've done and for how I've hurt, El. Please, Dad," Richard begged.
"Richard, I think you have it wrong. The pastor doesn't hate you. He wants to help you. You're going to have to man up to what you've done. There are consequences to our actions, and you have to accept your part in all of this. Pastor David is going to counsel all of us. I think it's a mark of his love for us, and for you, Richard. This is something he wants to do, and I don't think he's asking too much of us."
Within a few minutes, David was knocking on their door. Roark, grim-faced, was by his side.
By the time David had finished talking with Richard and his parents, Jim and Delores had agreed on a course of action. Jim called Mrs. Miles, the principal of Peniel Christian Academy. She asked that Jim, Delores, and Richard meet her at the school in an hour. They agreed, and she proceeded to call each member of the school board to come to the school for a special meeting.
During third period the next day at Peniel, the intercom squawked calling Caroline, Grant, and Lydia to the office. When they arrived, the office secretary directed them to the chapel. They were not worried at all. What they had done was off campus. It wasn't anyone's business but theirs. All three of the teens were absolutely certain that their parents would take up for them against the school administration. After all, they always had before. Besides that, they were seniors, and they would graduate in a few weeks. Nobody could stop that.
As they opened the doors to the chapel, it became obvious why the meeting had not been held in the principal's office. There was not room enough in there to hold all the people present in the meeting. Their parents were all there, as well as Mrs. Miles, the school board members, Jim and Delores Williams, and Richard. The guardians stood somberly near their charges. They knew that they were about to witness Psalm 7:14-18 in action. Behold, he travails with wickedness, and he conceives mischief, and brings forth falsehood. He has dug a pit and hollowed it out, and has fallen into the hole which he made. His mischief will return upon his own head, and his violence will descend upon his own pate.
Mrs. Miles stood at the front of the middle row of pews at a podium, her guardian Alik beside her. She had a computer behind her on a table, already booted up and opened to Richard's Myspace page. His parents and Mrs. Miles had asked him to wait a day to take down the comments and block his erstwhile friends, and though it meant exposing himself and his sin to this entire group of people, he had agreed to their request. He quickly navigated from his page to Caroline's page, then to Lydia's, and finally to Grant's.
Caroline stood, open-mouthed, before her parents, and all those present could see that they looked seriously displeased. Ros, on the other hand, wore a look that was very like hope. This might be exactly what she needs to bring her back to God. Caroline had finally overstepped her parents' limits for her. Even they were shocked at the pictures, and they were in no mood to defend her behavior.
In the meeting that had taken place earlier that morning with the school board and Mrs. Miles, Donald Bingley had tried everything in his arsenal to prevent his daughter from having to receive the full consequences of her actions. He had threatened the school with a lawsuit and called his lawyer, only to be told that because he had no chance of winning, it would be better not to expose Caroline further by showing the pictures of her in open court. He was also told that Richard could possibly countersue him and his family and win a huge judgment. Frustrated, Donald had offered the school fifty thousand dollars to make the problem go away. There had never been any time in his adult life that neither his power nor his money could solve his difficulties, but the school board would not be moved. Donald Bingley was angry, and as no other target was available, his daughter would have to answer for what she had done.
Grant's parents were no happier with him. He had used their home for the party, and for Caroline's scheme to set up Richard. He had called Delores Williams and deceived her so that Richard's parents would not look for him. Their country club circle would all know of their son's behavior, and their own children had probably been at the party as well. It was likely that the Willoughbys would lose some of their friends in the aftermath of this episode. Grant's use of their home for a party with underage drinking and sexual activity could open them up to legal difficulties. The Willoughbys had known there would be trouble as soon as they had arrived home Sunday night. The house had been strewn with bottles, cans, and filth, and even their own bed had been used. While they sat in the degrading meeting, a professional cleaning crew was hard at work in their home, and they had seen from Donald Bingley's antics that there was no buying or threatening their way out of the problem.
Lydia's parents would not even look at her. Her comments on Richard's page, along with her pride in taking the disgusting pictures and posting them on her wall, made them ashamed of her. Though they were not church people, they had tried to rear her with moral standards and had placed her at Peniel at great personal sacrifice. The Hendersons, unlike the Bingleys and the Willoughbys, were not wealthy people. Lydia's mother and father both worked extra hours to pay her tuition, and she had greatly disappointed them.
Mrs. Miles cleared her throat. "Caroline, Grant, Lydia, do you have anything to say for yourselves?"
Caroline spoke quickly. "Mrs. Miles, I really don't see how this is any of your business. It happened on a weekend off this campus." Ros looked expectantly toward Mrs. Miles. He had confidence in her.
Her father spoke brusquely, "Caroline, shut up and sit down."
"But, Daddy!" she whined.
"I said, shut your mouth, sit down, and listen for once. You aren't getting out of this, young lady. If my money was not enough, what makes you think that acting like a spoiled brat will work?"
Ros actually smiled. Finally! There may be a chance for her yet.
The three teens all sat, wondering what the school could possibly do to them. Detention? That was a joke.
Mrs. Miles spoke in a moderated tone. "Caroline has raised a legitimate question. Richard, would you please go back to Caroline's page?" Richard clicked on her name from his page. Her page came up.
"Caroline, do you see the school name that's listed in your information?"
"Yes. It says 'Peniel Christian Academy.' What's the problem?"
"The problem, Caroline, is that you've linked the name of this school with your lewd, illegal activities and pictures. As distasteful as it has been for all of us present at this meeting, we have looked at your pictures and read the comments. If you will refer to your student handbook, you will find that using the name of this school in any way that reflects badly on its reputation before this community is grounds for immediate expulsion. Myspace has been named specifically in this section. Here is a handbook," Mrs. Miles said, handing her a book opened to the correct page with the pertinent text highlighted. "Read it for yourself. Everyone else in this meeting has already read it. Remember that you signed the back page of the handbook, as did your parents, at the beginning of the year, promising to abide by the rules stated in the book. Here are the signed pages for you, Grant, and Lydia." The principal held up the three pages as she spoke. "You are all equally guilty. The same things are on all of your pages.
"I certainly take no pleasure in these proceedings. I have loved all three of you for many years, and it breaks my heart to have to do this, but you are seniors - leaders - in this school. If there is no punishment for your behavior, or if the consequences are not severe enough, it will encourage others to follow your example. We must think of what is best for everyone involved. The testimony of the school is at stake. Allowing you to graduate after what you've done would severely hamper our ability to minister in this town. People place their children with us to avoid the type of influence that you are exhibiting. I hope that you will allow God to use this in your lives to bring you closer to Him. I will be praying for you and your families." Mrs. Miles spoke kindly but firmly.
"But, we're supposed to graduate in a few weeks! We've been coming here since kindergarten! You can't do this!" cried Lydia.
"The board has already voted, Lydia. This is not a negotiation. We are simply letting you know the decision that has been reached. This is a private school; you have no other agency to which you can appeal. Your parents are in agreement with the decision of the board. All three of you should be expelled; however, we have offered your parents the opportunity to withdraw you so that an expulsion will not be on your records. All of your parents have accepted the offer. While you have been in here, your teachers have packed up your belongings and sent them to the office."
"But how are we supposed to finish school and go to college?" Grant asked.
"We are willing to help your parents homeschool you for the last few weeks of your courses by providing copies of the teachers' lesson plans and your tests and quizzes, but you will not receive a diploma with the name of this school on it. Some colleges will accept that. Some may require that you pass the GED exam. Your parents will need to contact the college of your choice and talk to the admissions department. I recommend the local junior college for your first two years. They will be more likely to work with you. This meeting is adjourned."
"But, Mrs. Miles!" began Caroline, wailing.
Mr. Bingley stood quickly to his feet. "Caroline, shut up for once in your life. Wait for us in the car. We'll pick up your things," her father said sharply, his irritation evident.
"I'll just take my car," she sniffed.
"What car? You don't have a car. I have a car. I paid for it, and my name is on the title. Actually, you don't own anything, because you've never worked a day in your life. That's about to change, Caroline. Life as you knew it is over. Tell your friends 'goodbye' here and now. You won't be seeing them again. While you're at it, hand me your cell phone. You won't need it, because you won't be talking to anyone for a long while. Now go!" Caroline's father was a large, tall man, and he was very angry. She wisely backed away and joined her family as they began to walk out.
"Excuse me, Mr. Bingley," Richard said.
"Yes, Richard?" said the older man, stopping in the aisle and turning to face the teen. Everyone in the chapel looked toward Richard.
"I have a request before you all leave."
We will be happy to do whatever we can for you, Richard. What do you want?" asked Mr. Bingley, thinking of his lawyer's advice and his family's connections. He had not forgotten that Chance was married to Janna, the sister of Richard's girlfriend, and that it would be Caroline's fault if Elizabeth broke up with the boy. Donald Bingley did not yet know how the Bennets would view his family after this debacle, but he wanted to do whatever was possible to salvage the acquaintance. He also realized that there was still a very real possibility that the Williamses would file a lawsuit against his family. After all, that is what he would do if the situation were reversed.
Alik, Garnet, and the other guardians were disgusted with his self-serving thoughts. Ros said, It has ever been so, since the first moment I have been with Caroline's family.
"I want these albums and comments to be deleted right now, here, before anyone leaves," said Richard evenly, looking at Caroline, Lydia, and Grant by turn. Garnet stood staunchly by his charge.
"Caroline will be very happy to do that, won't you, Caroline?" her father said, looking at her pointedly. If the evidence is deleted, there will be less chance of the Williams family winning in court.
Richard logged out and stood beside the computer.
Caroline scowled, but made her way back up the aisle. She logged in to Myspace and pulled up her profile. With a perfectly manicured nail, she hit the delete button for the album and it disappeared. Then she removed each comment on her page and logged out. She turned up her nose at Richard and rejoined her parents.
"Grant, Lydia?" Richard asked.
Their parents glared at them, and they also went to the computer, logged in, and removed the albums and comments from their pages. Grant looked up at Richard. "I'm sorry, man. That was really a stupid thing to do." Lydia nodded her agreement. Hanging their heads, they followed their parents out of the chapel.
Richard joined his parents, their three protectors shadowing them.
Anne Bingley, Caroline's mother, had wept silently through the proceedings, but she now approached the Williams family. "I'm very sorry for all of the trouble Caroline has caused you, Richard."
Richard squared his shoulders. "I should have said 'no' in the first place. If I hadn't gone to the party, I wouldn't have gotten into trouble. Sure, Caroline set me up, but she couldn't have done it without my cooperation." Garnet smiled. He has learned much from this. It came at great cost, but it will stand him in good stead throughout his life.
"That's very generous of you, Richard. What will you do now?" asked Mrs. Bingley.
"I plan to enter the military as soon as I can after graduation. My parents are already helping me with the paperwork. I want to be a Marine, like my father," Richard said, looking at his dad with pride. His father put his arm around Richard's shoulders and smiled a little sadly.
"Richard will be fine. Thanks for your concern, Mrs. Bingley. He has to get back to school now, but I'm sure we'll see you sometime when Chance and Janna are in town. I hope everything works out well for you."
Mrs. Williams and Raymond returned to her classroom while Richard and his dad thanked Mrs. Miles and the school board members for their time. Afterward, father and son walked out together, Sacha and Garnet trailing silently behind them.
Posted on 2011-08-01
The Dark Lord and his son descended slowly into the warehouse, their guards close on their heels. As they settled to the floor, their black satin capes gently swirled around their feet with a muted swishing sound. Father and son walked side-by-side, boots clicking on the wooden floor. Upon reaching the dais, they stepped up and seated themselves, Gregory at the right hand of his father. On a third throne to his left, Lucifer placed a gargantuan rattlesnake which immediately coiled tightly, its tail twitching malevolently and its head raised to view the proceedings with cold, unnaturally intelligent eyes. The serpent hissed and turned its gaze to Lucifer who stroked the snake with his long, beautifully tapered fingers.
The assembled demons each knelt silently on one knee, heads bowed inconspicuously, peeking at the animal with trepidation from under their hoods. This was the first time that Dark Spirit had attended a meeting; it was significant.
Lucifer regally surveyed his underprinces and captains; then he nodded to the Dark Son. Gregory scanned the room unhurriedly and, finding those he sought, spoke in a voice that was rich and melodic.
"Ryu, Tala, step forward," he called.
The hulking demons obeyed instantly, striding quickly to the front of the crowded space and kneeling before the thrones.
"Remove your hoods."
This was an unusual command, but the underprince and his captain showed no surprise. With rapid movements, they raised their hands and pushed their hoods back.
"Look at me."
The dragon, his fiery red hair flowing down his back, and the wolf, with a closely-shorn head of dark-brown waves, looked up expectantly into Gregory's beautiful face. He was smiling; they were stunned.
"You have served me well. The boy, Richard, is no longer an impediment to our plans. My friendship with the girl, Elizabeth, progresses. I seek to ruin her, as we did the human boy. Killing her at this time is unnecessary. It will be more effective to destroy her reputation; I can always dispose of her later. As of this moment, all attacks on Elizabeth and her family will cease until further notice."
A murmur of surprise rippled through the ranks.
"Silence! I will not be questioned or doubted." Gregory's eyes flashed crimson. His smile evaporated. He spoke harshly, in a commanding tone.
"We will never get past Xander by continuing a frontal assault on Elizabeth. Xander expects that, and he is prepared for it. He is now wearing the armor of a warrior." His voice became softer, modulated almost as if he was talking to imbeciles.
"The time has not yet come. Let us lull Xander into complacency. When his guard is down, when he no longer expects it, I will take her. If she is willing, he cannot interfere, and I assure you that I will not have to force her into anything. Even Xander cannot protect a human against her own free will. Did you learn nothing from the success of my plan with Richard and Caroline?"
Gregory waited for his words to take effect. "Every day I grow more powerful. With each earth year that passes, I am stronger. I have mastered the dark arts. In two earth years, even the great Xander will not be able to defeat me," he said with absolute confidence.
Lucifer stood, raising his son with him and holding their joined hands in the air. The poisonous snake slithered up his other arm and draped himself across their shoulders.
"This is my only begotten son. Hear him!"
A roar began in the ranks and swelled until it shook the building. Applause and cheers erupted as the dark ones stood and stomped their feet in rhythm.
The unholy trinity basked in the adulation of their servants, and Lucifer's pride grew to proportions unseen since the rebellion in heaven. The thick darkness swelled and grew, expanding exponentially until it sucked in the very moonlight that surrounded the building. Evil rolled from the building in waves and crept silently through the streets, its stench permeating the area, blotting out the moon and the stars. All was pitch black within and without.
In heaven, the Creator of All heard the words of the abomination called Gregory and read the familiar thoughts in the mind of Lucifer. It would soon be time to put more of His own plan into action.
Xander and Edward walked beside Elizabeth and Charlotte as they headed toward the dining hall at Converse. It was the first day of the fall semester, and Gregory and Elizabeth had seen each other in a class that morning. He had invited her and Charlotte to meet him for lunch, and he had promised them a special treat. As they hurried along the sidewalk, they encountered a group of students from India who were visiting the campus. One of the girls tapped Elizabeth's shoulder and asked her directions. Elizabeth stopped to answer her, and they exchanged a few pleasantries before Elizabeth turned back to Charlotte so that they could continue to the dining hall.
"Hold up," said Charlotte.
"When did you learn to understand Indo-Aryan?" asked Charlotte with great curiosity. She had done quite a bit of research on the history of India in the previous semester and recognized the major language of the country, though she could not speak it.
"What are you babbling about, Char?" Elizabeth looked at her friend with a quizzical expression. "I don't speak Indo-Aryan. You know that I speak Spanish, Portuguese, and French rather well, but no other languages except for English."
"I'm not crazy, El. That girl spoke to you in Indo-Aryan, you understood her and answered in English, and somehow the girl knew what you were saying and continued the conversation. She kept speaking Indo-Aryan, and you kept replying." Charlotte was very emphatic about what she had witnessed.
"Char, you seriously need a long rest or something." Elizabeth laughed.
"Wait here," Charlotte said as she turned back to the foreign students.
"Do you speak English?" Charlotte asked the girl who had been talking with Elizabeth.
The girl looked at Charlotte, puzzled, then glanced at Elizabeth, who shrugged and repeated Charlotte's question.
The Indian girl smiled and shook her head. She replied to Elizabeth, "It is good that you speak my language."
Now thoroughly confused, Elizabeth said a word of farewell to the girl as she and Charlotte walked away.
"Well?" queried Charlotte, eyebrows raised.
"Well, what?" returned Elizabeth.
"What is going on, Elizabeth?"
"I haven't got a clue, Char. If I knew, I would certainly tell you." Exasperated, Elizabeth tugged on the straps of her backpack and kept walking. Charlotte sighed and caught up with her. She determined that she would solve the mystery, with or without Elizabeth's help.
Edward gave Xander a questioning look, and Xander replied aloud, I think that she has the gift of tongues as it was given on the Day of Pentecost. It appears that she understands all languages, and everyone hears her in his own tongue. She does not know this as of yet.
Edward was astonished. Extraordinary.
Nearly everything about Elizabeth is beyond the norm. She is exceptionally gifted in many ways. Xander's statement was matter-of-fact. Edward had seen Elizabeth only when she was with Charlotte. He knew that she was a musical genius and extremely intelligent, but he had not observed her other gifts. He did not realize the depth of her intellect or spirituality.
The group arrived at the dining hall to find a table laid with china and stemware. Gregory was elegant as usual, dressed immaculately in black slacks, a light blue button-down shirt, and a dark blue V-necked sleeveless pullover sweater, showing his athletic build to advantage. He smiled lazily at Charlotte and Elizabeth and stood to receive them as they entered the room. He was every inch the perfect gentleman.
Both girls exclaimed over the lavish spread.
"How did you know that Wasabi is my favorite restaurant?" asked Elizabeth with delight.
"Oh, I have my ways," he answered with a wink at her. "I make it my business to know what you like, El. My spies are everywhere." He gave her a crooked smile and held her chair for her as she sat at the table.
Who are these 'spies' that he commands? Do demons do his bidding in addition to guarding him? Xander looked at Gregory, trying to read his oddly silent mind. Why is his mind closed to me?
"Char, I hope you like Japanese as well?"
"Love it!" returned Charlotte, smiling as he pulled out her chair.
Gregory's guards no longer appeared in human form.
Xander thought, If he knows the demons are there, he probably wants to be less conspicuous and to lull Elizabeth into believing that they are alone. He may have sensed that the guards made her uncomfortable. What is his plan?
Xander and Edward, however, were very much aware of the two fiends standing behind Gregory, looking at them with disdain, chins raised in hauteur. In whatever form, the foul odor is still the same, thought Xander. He and Edward assumed protective positions behind their charges, faces set in impassive stares. Xander waited for any sign of a challenge; he would welcome it. In the immortal words of Clint Eastwood, 'Go ahead. Make my day.' His thought was private, and Edward did not hear it, though Niall picked up on it from his place by Lynne in the tutoring lab. He shook his head and smiled.
Both girls bowed their heads for silent prayers of thanks; Gregory permitted himself a small frown which immediately vanished as they looked up.
"What's the occasion, Gregory? This is bit extravagant for a school lunch," said Elizabeth as she made her selections.
"We never celebrated our birthdays this past summer. I thought we deserved a little party. Don't you?" Gregory asked, taking a seat across from the girls. Sitting between them would have meant turning his back to Charlotte in order to talk to Elizabeth. Gregory was far too intelligent to make such an error.
Everything that he does has an ulterior motive, said Xander to Edward.
"Ah, yes! Sweet sixteen." Elizabeth laughed.
"And never been kissed?" queried Gregory. His amber eyes held hers until she looked back down at her plate.
"Maybe a few times, but not in a while." Elizabeth was somber, pain evident in her voice.
"Anytime you wish to remedy that situation, just let me know," Gregory said playfully.
Over my dead body, thought Xander, clenching his fists. He placed his hands on Elizabeth's shoulders.
Elizabeth glanced at Charlotte with a silent plea.
"Gregory, you haven't visited us at Tabernacle yet. We have a terrific Life Group for people in college. It's only about a half hour's drive from here," Charlotte interjected quickly.
"Ah, yes. Your church. I'm of a different denomination, I think. My place of worship is in Charlotte, and I often return there for meetings."
"Well, just know that you're always welcome," continued Charlotte.
But you would have to leave your pets outside, added Xander, looking at the dark ones behind Gregory.
"I'm positive that I would be." Gregory's eyes glittered, and he almost succeeded in keeping the irony out of his voice.
His guards smirked and snorted, their amusement obvious.
"Where are your bodyguards, Gregory? I thought you didn't go anywhere without them?" Charlotte asked.
"Haven't you noticed? I'm a big boy now," Gregory replied with a wicked glint in his eyes. "My father has agreed that I'm perfectly capable of defending myself in this situation. I believe that I could handle both of you girls if you were to attack me."
So does he know that the demons are there, or not? Xander looked at the evil ones. Did he know that that they were demons when they were in human form?
With practiced ease, Gregory changed the direction of the conversation to one which suited his tastes.
"El, are you ready for Saturday?" he asked.
Oh, yes. Saturday. I will certainly be ready for whatever you might have in mind. Xander crossed his arms over his chest.
Elizabeth and he would be presenting a joint concert in the Twichell Auditorium to open the performance schedule for the semester. Having the two most exceptional young musicians in the country give a concert together was a stroke of genius. The event was highly anticipated and had been sold out for months. Gregory and Elizabeth had discussed the program by phone at the beginning of August and had been practicing separately since that time. They had agreed on a daily practice schedule, to begin after classes ended for the day and continue until the concert. The two nine-foot Steinway grand pianos were already situated in Twichell, and the times for their rehearsals were blocked out through the music department. Though there would be a few solo numbers, most of the selections were duets, including Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2 to end the program. They were using the two piano arrangement with Gregory playing the symphonic part.
"Yes, I think so, though I'm looking forward to our rehearsals. I'm very curious about your solos. What have you selected?"
"You like surprises don't you? I wouldn't want to spoil it for you by telling." Gregory smiled impishly.
"Now I am curious. Not even a hint?" Elizabeth asked teasingly.
"Not even the smallest clue," he replied smugly.
"Aren't you a devil! You're such a tease, Gregory." Elizabeth laughed aloud.
Gregory smiled sardonically. "You have no idea, my innocent little angel."
Xander looked at him sharply. For the second time, he had the oddest feeling that Gregory could see him. He is far too smooth for a sixteen-year-old boy. His choice of words was no accident.
Charlotte was following the exchange with interest, her brows knitted together. There is an undercurrent of something here. I can't quite put my finger on it, but there is definitely more to what he's saying than the obvious meaning of the words. What game is Gregory playing?
What game indeed! agreed Xander.
Elizabeth was just getting over the heartbreak with Richard. She had prayed that God would take away her love for him, and He had answered her prayer, but her wound was still healing. She had confided in Charlotte throughout the ordeal, and Charlotte was fiercely defensive of her friend. She liked Gregory, but she would not allow him to hurt Elizabeth if she could help it.
Charlotte is a wonderful young woman, Xander said to Edward, who replied, She is, my chief.
"El, it's about time for us to go. Our next class is about to begin, and we don't want to be late on the first day," said Charlotte, glancing at her friend. Edward and Xander read her mind. There's something about him I don't like. He creeps me out.
She has excellent instincts, said Xander. Edward nodded his agreement.
Elizabeth knew what the look meant; she and Charlotte had been best friends for nearly two years now. She would think about the "why" later. Right now, Charlotte was signaling her that she was ready to leave, and Elizabeth responded to her cue. Both girls pushed back their chairs and stood.
"Wow! Where has the time gone? Thanks so much for lunch, Gregory. It was spectacular. I'll see you at rehearsal this afternoon?" Elizabeth smiled at him with a question in her eyes.
"I'll be the one at the piano waiting for you." Gregory grinned in response.
"Thanks, Gregory. I'll see you later," said Charlotte.
"I'll be looking forward to it, Char," Gregory said as he watched her leave with Elizabeth.
Xander and Edward walked closely behind their charges.
Gregory's smile had been replaced with a speculative expression. He sat for a moment, thinking, and then looked around. The dining hall was empty, and he and his guards were alone. Gregory focused on the leftover food and dishes on the table for a second. When he looked away, the table was completely cleared. He stood to his full height, now well over six and a half feet, quickly assumed demonic form, and flew through the roof of the building. Gregory wanted to clear his mind with the freedom and speed of flight. He and his guards headed in the opposite direction of the campus to avoid detection by Xander. Gregory had at least an hour to kill before his next class followed by his practice session with Elizabeth. He could scout the entire southeastern dominion in that amount of time.
Xander stood behind Elizabeth as she performed Debussy's "Reflets dans l'eau (Reflections in the Water)" to open the concert. Her music washed over him like a gentle wave; it was as soothing to him as the sweet balm of Gilead. She was dressed in a flowing dress of white chiffon, off one shoulder, cut in a classic Greek style. Her dark hair fell in curls to her shoulders from a knot caught up in the back with pearls which were threaded through the cascade. Her brilliance and beauty nearly distracted him, but thousands of years of discipline stood him in good stead. Thinking of Gregory and those that accompanied him soon focused him upon his duties. His guards had stationed themselves in the wings and were visible to Xander at all times.
As the evening progressed, the pianists played original duets as well as those arranged for two pianos, interspersed with several solo pieces. When the curtains opened after the intermission, the audience, as well as Elizabeth, was surprised to see a portion of the stage curtained off. A microphone on a stand was set just offstage in the wing. Gregory strode onto the stage for a solo, magnificent in his Armani black tail tuxedo, with a Stradivarius in his hand. A stagehand moved the microphone to the center of the stage, and Gregory stepped up to speak.
"Good evening. I hope you have enjoyed yourselves. As you can see by the program, I am supposed to be playing Beethoven's Sonata No. 23, more commonly known as the 'Appassionata.' However, before I perform that tempestuous piece for your pleasure, I have planned a small diversion, a little surprise for you. Are you willing to be amused by something not quite so . . . formal?" Gregory asked with a blinding smile.
The applause was deafening. They were happy to be entertained by anything the amazingly handsome young man proposed.
He turned to several stage hands in the wing to his left and nodded. The curtain was removed to reveal several types of guitars on stands, amplifiers, a drum set, three microphones, and a double bass. Musicians and backup singers came to the stage from the audience.
As soon as his band was in place, Gregory stepped up to the mike and launched into a spirited rendition of "The Devil Went Down to Georgia," a song made popular by The Charlie Daniels Band. He played the fiddle parts and sang the lead while dueling with a professional electric guitar player.
After he had finished to a standing ovation, Gregory called Elizabeth to the stage. She was reluctant to answer his summons, but she had little choice. He asked the audience to help him, and they called her name until she appeared, Xander by her side.
"You've heard Elizabeth play better than anyone else on the planet, but did you know that she sings as well? In fact, I've heard her sing a song that I'd like for her to do for you tonight. Elizabeth, you can accompany yourself, and I'll join you on the violin. Can you guess which song I want you to do?"
"Gregory, I'm not sure about this." She looked at the audience uncomfortably.
He turned to them and smiled. They would do anything for him.
"Do you want to hear her sing?"
Thunderous applause was her answer.
Sighing, she went graciously to the piano and settled herself. Xander towered over her. A microphone on a piano stand had been placed there for her while she and Gregory were in front of the audience.
She began to play the quiet, simple opening bars, and the crowd stilled. When she started to sing "Angel" by Sarah McLachlan, every heart was touched by the sweetness of her voice. As the melody soared, Gregory added a plaintive violin obliggato that pierced the souls of those who listened.
From his place behind her, Xander placed his hand on her back between her delicate shoulder blades. He had heard Elizabeth sing the song before, but he wondered at Gregory's selection of it. "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" was obviously some little private joke of Gregory's, but why would he choose a song featuring an angel for Elizabeth? Does he see me? Does he see all of us? Who is he? What is he?
The final notes faded away, and Xander was pulled from his reverie.
The audience remained silent, unwilling to break the spell she and Gregory had woven. After a moment, Gregory smiled and gestured for Elizabeth to join him. Her white flowing dress made a stark contrast against his black tux. They were beautiful together, a study in dark and light.
"Isn't she marvelous?" he asked a bit possessively, his arm around her shoulders. The audience roared its approval, and Elizabeth bowed before she left the stage.
Xander growled his disapproval and stepped closer to Elizabeth. Would you like to keep that arm? Niall and Roark smiled from their places in the audience.
Standing on the opposite side of Elizabeth from Gregory, Xander looked over her head at him in surprise. He is nearly as tall as I am now. The guardian warrior scrutinized the boy. It is not normal for a boy so young to be so large. He looks strong and fit as well. He would be a formidable opponent if he were a dark being.
The program continued as planned, with Gregory's virtuoso performance of the Beethoven sonata followed by their concerto. After the final performance, Elizabeth and Gregory bowed before another standing ovation. There were cries for an encore, but Gregory begged off for them, citing the lateness of the hour and their two unscheduled musical offerings. The evening was hailed as a great success; everyone raved about the extraordinary talents of the two young performers.
After the Bennets had traveled home with the guardians flying low overhead, and a weary Elizabeth was safely in bed, Xander started to wonder why he was so on edge. He began to pace in her room, his head down and his fingers raking his dark hair back from his forehead. The guardian could not quite isolate what was bothering him. He should be profoundly relieved. All had been quiet since May, and Elizabeth was nearly always happy again. So what is bothering me? Why do I feel so unsettled? Then, it hit him, and he stopped dead still. The words in his head were ominous. All has been quiet since May, and there has been no attempt on Elizabeth's life since well before that. Things are so normal that it is abnormal. What are they planning now, and what part will that boy play in the plan?
Posted on 2011-08-08
Xander was still moving restlessly about Elizabeth's room the next morning as the clear, beautiful Sunday dawned. As her mind began to leave its dream state and form thoughts, he stopped by her bed to watch her awaken. It was his favorite part of each day; he had her to himself and could gaze at her with his feelings undisguised. There was no need to school his features or stop himself from speaking aloud. He tried to control his thoughts, for Niall and Roark were nearby with their charges, but these few moments were always the time that he felt the most freedom to admit to himself his growing feelings for Elizabeth. His flawless face reflected the tenderness in his heart for his charge as his expression softened into one of longing. He felt vulnerable and weak before this human girl.
He recognized that it was an impossible situation. He was a holy angel, and would never follow the ways of the foul Nephilim; he would never leave the service of His Master. Elizabeth cannot ever have a relationship with me - not even a friendship. If she ever did know me for what I really am, what would she think of me? Surely she would be terrified if she ever saw me in my true form. Even if she learned to be unafraid, how could she accept that she was my assignment? I know everything about her; I have seen her most private moments and heard all of her most intimate thoughts. She would feel violated, and she would never understand.
He caught his breath in a near sob. One day, she will truly fall in love. She will marry, have children, and grow old with someone else. That is how it should be. Father, please let her husband be deserving of her.
As he watched her, greedily devouring every detail of her face, she suddenly smiled, her eyes still closed. He "saw" the remnants of her pleasant dream fade away as she came closer to full consciousness. She is so unbelievably beautiful. Her eyes slowly opened, still heavy with sleep, and he was pierced to the soul. I cannot bear it. He clenched his fists. I cannot watch her fall in love with someone else and give herself to him, yet I will not leave her. The very thought of being separated from her is painful; I think it would kill me to live the reality. Beyond that, how could I explain myself? What would I say?
Elizabeth sat up and stretched, deciding what she would wear to church, and Xander covered his face with his hands. I will not become what is anathema to Jehovah-Sabaoth. I will not leave my first estate or abandon my proper abode. Jude 1:6 records the Lord's condemnation of the fallen angels who have behaved in that way. "And angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day." I will not become a byword, a whisper, to my brothers. I shall conquer this!
Xander heard Niall gently question, Xander, are you well?
He stiffened, realizing that his inner struggles were not secret. I shall be, Niall.
But you are not happy.
No, Xander agreed. I am not. But there are more important things at stake than my happiness.
Both Niall and Roark knew what Xander had not yet admitted to himself - their chief loved Elizabeth, not as a brother or a father, not as a friend, but in the way of a man for a woman. They would not speak to him of it as yet, but they were very concerned. Roark had approached Niall a few days earlier while Xander was gone with Elizabeth to her Aunt Grace's house.
I am anxious for Xander. Have you not noticed his growing love for his charge? Roark had asked.
I have, but I have confidence that Xander will do what is right in the sight of Jehovah-Elyon. He is honorable, and his strict sense of duty will not allow him to do what is wrong. Our brother suffers, and we must help him when we can do so, Niall had answered with conviction.
Roark had agreed.
Xander walked by Elizabeth's side as she left home Sunday morning to attend her Life Group at Tabernacle Church. He trailed her as she entered the room, where Charlotte rose from her chair and hurried to meet her, Edward walking beside her.
"It's so exciting, El! You must be thrilled!" her friend exclaimed happily.
Elizabeth's forehead creased as she drew her brows together. "What are you talking about, Char?"
"You mean you don't know? That's rich. The entire world is watching you, and you don't have the faintest idea." Charlotte laughed at Elizabeth's puzzled expression.
"Okay, Char. Spill it. What is 'the whole world' watching?"
"YouTube, silly. You and Gregory have gone viral." Charlotte was nearly giddy with excitement.
Xander's jaw tightened. Elizabeth and Gregory.
"YouTube? Gregory and I are on YouTube? Doing what?" Elizabeth asked incredulously.
Yes, please tell us all about it. He ground his teeth together. Edward looked at him with curiosity.
"The film crew put up several videos of your concert last night, and it's going crazy. There's one of you singing 'Angel' with Gregory playing the violin, another of his 'The Devil Went Down to Georgia,' and several of the solos and duets. You, my friend, are the latest YouTube sensation. And I must say, both of you are gorgeous as well as supremely talented. It's unreal. The comments are wonderful. Some of them are in foreign languages. Everyone appears to understand what you were singing. It reminded me of those people you talked to from India last week."
Ah. Her gift will soon be recognized. The Master's plan progresses.
"That's so bizarre," Elizabeth replied thoughtfully. "I do remember that the people filming asked us to sign releases for publicity purposes, but I had no idea that it would be put on YouTube. How did you find out about it so soon?"
"It was on the local news this morning. Everyone is talking about it. El, you are famous! I googled 'Elizabeth Bennet,' and you came up as the top choice. There are about a zillion hits on your name."
"Wow! I'm speechless. I wonder what Gregory will say about it."
"Ha! Gregory won't mind at all. He lives for attention, especially yours."
Xander's blue eyes narrowed. She does not return his attentions. He is her friend. That is all.
As if on cue, Elizabeth's cell phone buzzed. It was a text from Gregory. "Hey beautiful! How does it feel to know the world is watching u? Ur awesome!"
She replied, "Weird, huh? I'm at church. Talk to you later."
I do not think modern technology is of great benefit. It is very intrusive. And texting encourages poor language skills. He had spoken aloud. Edward and the other guardians turned their heads toward him.
You disapprove of cell phones, my chief? Edward questioned.
Not really. I just think that people should avoid interrupting church with calls and texts. It is very distracting to those who are trying to listen.
Edward considered his answer. It was reasonable. He nodded.
The class was ready to start, so the girls took their seats in the circle, and Elizabeth began to lead the discussion of the day's lesson. She was in her senior year at Converse and had completed over half of her classes online for her degree in theology from Liberty, so she had been asked to team teach with an adult. Her knowledge of the Bible was vast; she had been taught the Scriptures from the time of her birth, and her mind was like a gigantic filing system. She never forgot anything she saw or heard; it was all stored away for future reference. In addition, her understanding of the Word had grown through her theology classes. Her own father marveled at her grasp of the things of God and enjoyed having regular discussions with her. His wisdom tempered her knowledge.
Spring, 2007, Midnight
Xander stood rigidly in the small pool of moonlight by Elizabeth's bed. He was unaccountably anxious. She had been sleeping peacefully for at least an hour, turned toward him on her side with one leg bent and her hands by her face on the pillow. The light danced in her long hair, tangled and spread out behind her.
He felt the tension in the air, and thunder sounded in the distance. A storm was coming. The wind had been blowing steadily for the last hour and now was gaining strength. Xander saw the light flash; then the clouds drifted over the moon, blocking the moonlight and darkening the room.
The wind began to howl mournfully outside, and he suddenly noticed that something was not right. The massive angel lifted his head and sniffed the air. What is that stench? He detected the same offensive odor that he had found in her room during the previous year. His every sense was heightened as he examined the room with his eyes, never leaving Elizabeth's side.
Xander found the object of his search perched in a corner of the ceiling about eight feet beyond the foot of Elizabeth's bed. His blood ran cold as he recognized the source of the putrid smell. Gregory.
My first instinct was correct. Gregory Wickham is Nephilim. Who is his father? Who has challenged Jehovah-Bara?
Gregory was alone, having instructed his four guards to wait in the trees outside Elizabeth's bedroom window. He was confident that he would need no help, as he did not intend to fight.
Gregory smirked at Xander, winking at him, teasing him, issuing a dare.
Come down from your hiding place, Nephilim, Xander said to him softly as the wind picked up outside, whistling through the trees. The first raindrops began to pelt the windows, and thunder rumbled as the storm moved in.
Elizabeth began to stir, shivering and tossing in her bed. Her dreams had become nightmares; she was running as hard as she could in the darkness, but she could not escape. She panted, looking behind her, hearing something monstrous crashing through the trees, coming closer and closer to her. She could feel the heat radiating from its twisted body and smell its foul breath. The dream seemed to be happening in slow motion. She started trying to run again though she was not able to move more than a few feet. Her chest was exploding with the pain and the awful weight of the effort of escaping through the thick night, and she fell.
Elizabeth, all is well. Sleep, my little one. Nothing will harm you, Xander whispered to her, never moving his eyes from the halfling.
Elizabeth's body jerked when she fell in her dream, and she awoke to a sense of pervading evil. Her eyes were wide with fear, her pupils dilated until she seemed to have no irises. She trembled, too frozen in dread to reach out and turn on her bedside lamp.
Gregory laughed at him from his place up in the corner. How can you promise her that nothing will harm her? How can you lie to her? You are worse than I am, Xander. At least I know that I am lying. You actually believe that you can protect her from me. I am an arm's length from her every day. One day, she will come to me willingly. You will not be able to stop her.
The darkness of her room seemed thick and airless. The lightning flashed, and she could make out the distorted shapes of familiar things: her dresser, a bookcase, the clock on her nightstand, the windows - but she found no comfort. The shapes became sinister in her mind, and she was terrified. Her beloved room seemed to be haunted, and though she refused to believe in ghosts in the light of day, anything seemed to be possible in this black, shifting world.
Xander fought to keep himself under control. Gregory's wicked avowal to seduce Elizabeth ignited his anger, but he knew that he must remain calm to defeat the abomination. If he allowed his feelings for Elizabeth to rule his temper, he would lose the battle, and Gregory would achieve his goals. Gregory has a smooth tongue, but can he hold his anger when insulted? Xander asked himself. The guardian had to have just cause in order to attack the fiend, and they both knew it.
Come down here, little halfling, Xander mocked him. You are nearly as tall as I. We are evenly matched. Do you fight as well as you talk? Do you fear me? You should.
The thunder drew closer; flashes of lightning were accented by the booming sounds. The rain came down in a cloudburst, hitting her windows heavily and pounding on the roof. Elizabeth caught her breath in a little, frightened gasp. She knew that something vile was in her room, come to take her, perhaps to kill her. Her rational mind said that it could not be true, but her spiritual self knew that it was so. She was too afraid to speak aloud. What if it answers me? It hates me. She held her breath, not wanting to make a sound, and closed her eyes tightly.
Gregory rose to the bait and drifted to the floor. He had eschewed his regal robes in favor of a black tunic very much like Xander's white one. He faced the imposing guardian, his contempt evident in his sneer.
I fear no one. I am the Dark Son. Already Elizabeth is fascinated by me. Do you think she will be able to resist me? Women fall all over me even when I do not try to attract them. They cannot wait to give themselves to me. Do you think Elizabeth will refuse me if I make an effort to secure her affections?
She began to recite Scripture in her mind, and then she sang every song about God that she could remember. After she sang in her mind, she prayed continually, pleading for protection from the wickedness that had invaded her sanctuary. The hours dragged by minute by minute. The storm grew fiercer, and the branches of the trees whipping in the wind hit against her windows and made eerie patterns in the lightning flashes.
The Dark Son? Xander could not believe he had not seen it before. The amber eyes and black hair, the feeling that he had seen Gregory before - Gregory was a younger version of Lucifer! You are the spawn of Satan! He spat the words.
Niall and Roark, following the exchange through Xander's mind, were horrified. They could not leave their charges, but they could ask them for help.
Niall woke Lynne as Roark roused David. Pray, the angels whispered. Pray for Elizabeth.
Husband and wife looked at each other, each surprised to see the other awake.
"Why are you awake in the middle of the night, David?" Lynne asked.
"I just had an overwhelming impression that I should pray for El. How about you?" queried David.
"That's exactly what has just happened to me," she answered. "Should we go check on her?"
"That's not what we were told to do. We were told to pray for her. I would have heard if anyone were climbing the stairs outside our door. This is a spiritual battle, not a physical one. We need to obey the Holy Spirit," said David; they held hands and began to pray for their daughter, interceding on her behalf. It had not been the first time that David and Lynne had been awakened from their sleep with an impression to pray for someone or about something, but they had never before been awakened together. Neither Lynne nor David believed in coincidences. Something was not right with Elizabeth.
I cannot believe you have not realized who I am before this time, Xander. I thought you were known for your intelligence and discernment. You seem a little slow to me.
I am more than fast enough for you, boy. Draw your sword and test me.
Look at her, Xander. She is frightened out of her senses. That is what my presence can do to her. How I look forward to her pain as I pleasure myself with her.
Xander turned his head to glance at Elizabeth. In that second, Gregory could not resist exploiting the guardian's weakness. The Dark Son lunged forward, unsheathed his sword, and swung it with all his might in an arc aimed at Xander's unprotected throat.
The house shook with the crashes of thunder, and the explosive lightning hit a nearby tree, ripping it to shreds as it spiraled around the tree and into the ground. By turns moaning and whistling, the wind ripped its way through the woods and around the buildings.
Xander heard the metallic shriek of Gregory's weapon being drawn and he turned, raising his left arm to block the blow. As Gregory's sword hit Xander's armor, Xander drew his own sword with his right hand and swung it in a half circle at his enemy's abdomen. Gregory leapt backwards in an attempt to avoid Xander's sword, but he was not fast enough. Xander almost severed the Dark Son's upper torso from his hips, slicing him nearly in half with one motion. Gregory's wound was a mortal one, but he did not dissolve. For a moment, Xander stood confused over Gregory's form, splayed out over Elizabeth's floor, waiting for him to disintegrate, but he did not.
As fast as the strike of a snake, two of Gregory's guards flew through the walls, scooped up his body, and sped into the night, leaving Xander with more questions than answers.
How could he survive that cut? Demons have died from wounds that were much less severe. Why did the guards take his body?
The storm abated, turning into a gentle rain, and the thunder sounded in the distance as it moved away. The danger had passed.
After a few seconds of reflection, Xander remembered that Elizabeth was still very much afraid. She was shivering as he went to her and knelt by her bed, stretching his upper body over her and breathing the peace of the Lord into her. His strong heart was over her fluttering, human heart; his brawny arms encased her fragile mortal form; his dark hair mingled with hers on her pillow; his lips spoke words of comfort into her ear. He began to quote Psalm 3:1-5 to her. "Many are rising up against me. Many are saying of my soul, 'There is no deliverance for him in God.' But Thou, O Lord, art a shield about me, my glory, and the One who lifts my head. I was crying to the Lord with my voice, and He answered me from His holy mountain. I lay down and slept; I awoke, for the Lord sustains me."
Elizabeth, I am God's shield for you. He is your Jehovah-Magen, your God Shield. Elizabeth, I love you, and I will never allow you to be hurt while I draw breath. I will always watch over you as God has charged me to do. I will never leave you, no matter how difficult it becomes for me. Please, Elizabeth, my little one, be at peace. Sleep. You are safe.
Xander spoke softly to her until she calmed and relaxed. Somehow, she knew the threat was gone; she felt safe, her breathing slowed, and she slept. The massive angel did not move from her for the rest of the night.
Downstairs, directly under her room, her parents drifted off to sleep.
Xander lifted his head the next morning as the sun's rays broke over the horizon. The alarm clock by her bed sounded all too soon, and Elizabeth's eyes opened wearily to face the school day. Xander stood to his feet, and Elizabeth sat up.
Now that was a strange dream I had last night. It all seemed so real, but it couldn't have been. I must have let my imagination run away with my good sense.
She dressed and rushed down the stairs, convinced that all she had lived through the previous night had been a terrible nightmare.
Xander followed her closely. Think that if it gives you peace. Let me handle the demons for you.
As she hurried into the kitchen for a quick breakfast, Lynne stopped her. She touched her daughter's arm and asked, "What happened to you last night? God woke your father and me in the night, and we prayed for you for hours."
Concerned by the shocked look on her daughter's face, Lynne questioned her further. "Are you all right, El? What happened?"
Niall and Xander exchanged dark looks. They will never know the battle that was fought for her, thought Niall.
They do not need to know. If humans ever saw what was happening all around them, they would be paralyzed with fear. They would never sleep.
Elizabeth could not speak immediately to answer her mother's question, but she now knew that she had not dreamed or imagined what had happened. She was in danger of choking on the fear that had returned full force. She had not dreamed what had happened. She had lived it. Her mind screamed, It was real! It was all real! There was something horrible in my room last night!
She began to tremble, and Xander stepped up behind her and wrapped his arms around her shoulders as Lynne embraced her from the front. Yes, evil was there, but I was there as well. He quoted Numbers 6:24-26 into her mind. "The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine on you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up His countenance on you, and give you peace." After a few minutes, Elizabeth calmed and was able to tell her mother everything she could remember about her terror the night before.
Lynne never questioned the veracity of her daughter's story. She knew the power of evil only too well. Every night for the next week, David and Lynne put a sleeping bag for Elizabeth at the foot of their bed, and she slept there on the floor. Elizabeth was glad to revert to her childhood habit and have a 'sleepover' with her parents each night that week. It took that long for her to enter her room without feeling as if someone was looking over her shoulder, watching her.
Posted on 2011-08-16
As two dark guards raced through the night sky carrying Gregory, a third guard was on a mission to awaken a doctor, a servant of Satan who had cared for Gregory since his infancy, and the fourth was flying ahead at flash speed to give instructions to Cathy and George Wickham.
Lucifer was indulging his appetites when Gregory's guard flew through the ceiling at the Wickham home, interrupting his master's pleasure. Lucifer's eyes flashed a warning red as he glared at the demon; the young actress he was using pulled a sheet around herself and ran to the adjoining room. It was well-known that Lucifer was particularly likely to inflict pain when he was distressed, and she did not care to be the object of even more of his abuse than usual. An extra measure of his sadism was a high price to pay for her career.
"There had better be a most pressing reason for this unprecedented intrusion, Crevan."
The dark one went immediately to his knees, bowing low before Satan. "My lord, the reason is grave indeed. Your son is severely injured, perhaps unto death. Jolon and Braeden are even now speeding with him to Dr. Brone's office. Duglas is with the doctor, making certain that he is ready to care for the young lord and preparing a place for his recovery. Dr. Brone will likely need to call another surgeon to assist him."
The Prince of the Power of the Air fixed the huge demon with a cold stare and spoke distinctly, clipping his words. "Exactly what were you guards doing when my son was injured?"
The guard cleared his throat. "The four of us were in a tree outside of Elizabeth Bennet's bedroom."
Lucifer's voice grew deceptively softer. "And where was Gregory?"
"He was in her room in demonic form, my prince."
"Alone with Xander?" The soft voice rose a quarter step in pitch.
"Yes, my lord. The young prince ordered us to stay outside. He assured us that he would not engage Xander in battle."
"Obviously, all did not go according to his plan. Did Xander attack without provocation? Did he break the rules of engagement?"
The demon heard the warning in his master's voice, but he knew that a lie would not save him. Beelzebub wanted him to blame Xander, but to do so would be unwise. If Lucifer went before God to accuse Xander, the truth would be shown. No matter how he answered, his master would be angry, and Lucifer always needed a target for his wrath.
The guard cringed and kept his head bowed. "No, my sovereign. Xander's sword was still sheathed when the young lord struck at him. Xander taunted Prince Gregory, but he did not attack him."
Apollyon stood, imperiously raised a brow, and asked with contempt, "Give me one reason why I should not send you to the pit this instant."
The demon kept his head bowed in submission, thinking quickly. His chances of survival had been nearly nil since the moment he had entered the house, finding Lucifer instead of the Wickhams. His only, very slim, hope of avoiding oblivion was to tell the truth.
"Because I was obeying you, my master."
Lucifer exploded in rage, his eyes fiery, roaring,"When did I ever tell you to allow my son to face Xander alone? When did I ever instruct you to leave him?"
The guard spoke with great respect and caution, his voice barely above a whisper. "You told the assembled congregation to obey your son as if it were you speaking. You told us to follow all of his commands as if they came from your mouth, my lord. The young prince told us to wait in the trees for him. He wanted to go in alone." Crevan held his breath and waited for the Dark Lord's strike.
Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons, did not speak for a long moment. The only sound was his accelerated, forced breathing as he considered the words of one of his most trusted guards.
"Come with me to Dr. Brone's office. Let us see what Gregory has to say about this. However, should he die, nothing will save any of you," he said malevolently, turning and taking flight, followed by Crevan and the rest of his attendants.
Xander and Edward walked with Elizabeth and Charlotte to the Converse dining hall on Monday. The guardians watched as the girls went through the line making their selections, and then made their way to sit at their usual table.
"Have you seen Gregory today, El? I expected him to be flying high after all the attention you two are getting on YouTube." Charlotte picked up an apple and began to munch.
Elizabeth picked at her salad, lost in thought. "No, he's missed every class we have together. It's really weird. We texted a few times last night before I went to bed, and he said he'd see me today. Everyone's been asking me where he is."
I would like to know where he is as well. He should be in the abyss. Something is definitely odd about this.
"That is strange. He loves to be the center of attention, and he's missing it all," answered Charlotte.
"Yeah. He hasn't answered any of my texts today, and he usually replies right away. I hope he's okay," Elizabeth said a little sadly.
Only you would be concerned about the well-being of the son of Satan, thought Xander. Spare him no sympathy, for he will hurt you in any way that he can, and the perverse delight he will take in your pain will be great.
A month later, Gregory suddenly reappeared at Converse as if he had never been absent. Elizabeth was surprised to see him in their first hour class and took her seat beside him.
Xander watched his guards with interest. How did they survive the wrath of Lucifer? I am shocked that he did not kill them himself.
"Gregory! It's great to see you again. Where in the world have you been hiding yourself? What happened? You didn't answer any of my texts or calls." Her eyes expressed her genuine concern.
"Hi, El. It's so good to be missed. I've had a few health issues, but nothing to be overly concerned about. I had to have some surgery, but everything is fine now." He smiled at her, glancing over her shoulder and up at Xander with a malicious glint in his eyes.
Nothing to be overly concerned about? You come back from the dead and act as if it were nothing?
Xander crossed his arms over his chest and moved even closer to Elizabeth. Gregory's guards stepped up behind him.
"Surgery? That sounds serious, Gregory. What about your classes? Aren't you behind?"
"Don't worry about me, El. I had tutors while I was recovering. They got my assignments from my professors, and my absences have been excused. It's as if I was never gone at all. Nothing has changed. I'll pick back up right where I left off."
When the professor began his lecture, Elizabeth turned her head away from Gregory to look toward the front of the room. Gregory rested his elbow on his desk and held the side of his face with his hand, tilting his head to look directly into Xander's eyes. The guardian warrior held his stare and returned a look that issued a challenge of his own. Gregory's guards muttered, unhappy with the situation.
Finally, seeing in her peripheral vision that Gregory's face was turned in her direction, Elizabeth glanced at him, and his gaze was redirected toward the professor.
Xander placed his hands protectively on Elizabeth's shoulders. There are no lengths to which I would not go to protect you, my Elizabeth. He will never touch you as long as I exist in this world.
Xander stood in his usual silent vigil by Elizabeth's bed, listening to her mind still praying until she drifted off to sleep. Michael flew quietly through the bedroom wall and approached Xander. He wore the tunic of a guardian.
Xander was not surprised to see him, but he waited for Michael to speak, never removing his eyes from Elizabeth.
My brother, you have been summoned, said Michael softly, a crease forming between his eyes. I will guard Elizabeth until you return.
I have long been expecting this, Michael. Do not be anxious for me. Had I not been summoned, I would soon have asked for an audience. Xander squared his shoulders and looked at Michael. I am sorry that I have failed you. If I do not return, I know that you will keep her safe.
Michael put his hand on Xander's shoulder. You have not failed anyone. She is well protected and happy. She daily increases in wisdom and in favor with God. You have fought and won battles for her. I know that all will be well, Xander.
You do not know my heart, Michael, but nothing is hidden from Jehovah-'Uzam. I would rather be unbodied than to grieve our Maker. Xander's eyes glistened, but he held his tears.
I may not know all of your heart, Xander, but I know the boundless love of Elohim. Go to Him. You need the rest that only He can give to you.
Xander gazed solemnly into Michael's kind, green eyes. The archangel faced the chief guardian and grasped his shoulders, speaking forcefully. He has a plan, Xander. I know that all things have happened for a reason. Trust Him.
With his voice breaking, Xander lowered his eyes and replied, I trust Jehovah-Bara, but I no longer trust myself.
He turned and fled the room, speeding away as if fleeing his own personal demons.
The cleansing, beautiful light of Jehovah-Hoshe'ah was in the throne room awaiting Xander as he walked dejectedly through the arched entryway.
Xander sank to his knees and covered himself with his wings before Elohim.
"Xander." The most beautiful voice in the universes caressed his name. It broke his heart, and he wept, great sobs that wracked his body. He fell prostrate before his Maker, arms and hands laid straight out from his torso.
"Xander, tell me what troubles you."
Xander rose to his knees with his head bowed and began to quote Psalm 69, "Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my soul. I have sunk in deep mire, and there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and a flood overflows me. I am weary with my crying; my throat is parched; my eyes fail while I wait for my God. O God, it is Thou who dost know my folly, and my wrongs are not hidden from Thee. May those who wait for Thee not be ashamed through me, O Lord God of hosts; may those who seek Thee not be dishonored through me, O God of Israel. I have become estranged from my brothers."
"Xander, what have you done that distresses you so? Have I dealt harshly with you? Have I been displeased?"
With his head in his hands and his shoulders shaking with his grief, Xander exclaimed, "Oh, my God! I have failed in my duties. I do not deserve Your mercy. I am unworthy to be in Your presence."
The voice continued to speak gently to the immense angel. "Xander, I know all things. I know of nothing in which you have failed Me. Tell Me of your tears."
Xander could barely speak. In a voice choked with emotion, he said, "I love Elizabeth. I am no better than the fallen ones. I have been jealous and proud. I have been angry. I have sinned."
"Did you think that I did not know that you love Elizabeth, Xander? Did you suppose that you had hidden your anger and jealousy from Me?" God's voice was tender and loving.
Xander was silent. He had realized long before this time that the Almighty had known his innermost thoughts. Why has He not destroyed me for my sin?
"Xander, if you could have anything that you desired, what would you ask of Me?"
He was surprised by the question. "I want more than anything to serve you well, my Master. I do not know what to ask. My love for Elizabeth is a part of me. To remove it would kill me now. I cannot ask for that, but I would do anything to be able to serve you and to love her without sinning." Xander paused for a moment as he collected his thoughts. "What I would ask would be impossible."
The voice laughed gently, and the wondrous sound caught the attention of every holy angel, both in heaven and on earth. They listened to His plan unfold. "Impossible? Nothing is impossible for Me. 'Behold, I Am the Lord, the God of all flesh; is anything too difficult for Me?'"
Xander raised his head a little, an awareness dawning as he recognized the words of Jeremiah 32:27. "Could I become human?"
"You would want that? You would take a lower position, give up the powers that you have, live a mortal life, grow old, and die for Elizabeth? You would sacrifice everything for the love of her?"
The chief guardian answered without hesitation and with great conviction, "I would."
"You have pleased Me greatly, Xander. You could have asked for more power, for worlds to rule, for wealth and honor - yet you request to sacrifice yourself for the one you love. What if I grant your request and she does not return your love? You know that I will not force Elizabeth to love you against her will."
Xander bit his lip. I thought that she could not love me as an angel, but I never considered that she may not love me as a human, either. "I am willing to risk that, my Lord. It is the only chance I have to win her favor and gain her love. At least I would be able to love her openly, without guilt and without sinning."
Xander was truly stunned when God Almighty laughed aloud. It was a beautiful sound, pure and wonderful, and the holy angels radiated His light and joy throughout heaven and earth. Every light being had heard Jehovah's astonishing questions and Xander's amazing answer. Creation reflected the laughter of its Maker. Birds ceased their singing; wolves did not howl; no dog barked - all animals were silent, listening to the joyous voice of their Creator. The sun burst forth through every cloud, and the moonlight grew in brilliance until believers everywhere looked to the heavens in wonder, praising His name for the sheer power and beauty of His creation.
"Xander, I Am so delighted with your request that I will give you what you asked and more, just as I did with Solomon. From this moment, you will possess a dual nature. You will be fully human, yet fully angel. You will have all the attributes of a human man as well as all that is angelic. You will still be Elizabeth's guardian, but I have an addition to your assignment, My guardian warrior in whom I am well pleased."
Xander was so overwhelmed that he struggled to form words. "I will do whatever You ask of me, my Lord and my God."
Elohim spoke from the light. "When you were given this charge, I gave you the capacity to love Elizabeth and experience human emotions. Though you have had free will in this, Elizabeth was formed to be the perfect mate for you, and it would have been extremely difficult for you not to love her. It was in My will for you to love her, and you have not sinned in that. You fear that you are like the Nephilim; you are not. The fallen ones never loved the women they took or the children they created from the satisfaction of their lust. Their motives were completely selfish, and their actions were abhorrent to Me.
"I want you to continue to guard her, but I also want for you to strive to gain her love in return. Xander, this will not be an easy task. You are an ancient being, but you have never had to win a woman's affections. If you follow the precepts of love as I have directed in I Corinthians 13, she will love you in return. Meditate on that chapter and on Ephesians 5:25 - 28. I want you to win her love and marry her.
"You now know who Gregory really is, but there is even more to know about Lucifer and his son. He plans to use Gregory to thwart My will for Elizabeth. She is in great danger from Gregory. You must do all that is in your power to separate them and to protect her when she is in his presence. Satan has a greater plan for Gregory after he eliminates Elizabeth; however, the time is not full. He cannot be allowed to force My hand.
"I have gifted you in the same manner in which I have gifted Elizabeth. Use those gifts to draw her to yourself so that you can serve Me together. As a couple, you will be capable of such great and wonderful things that heaven and earth will rejoice in your success. You will bring glory and honor to My name.
"Do you have any questions for Me, Xander?"
Xander thought for a moment, and then asked, "How can I live as a human? I have no identity, no education, nowhere to live."
A deep, loving chuckle came from within the light, and the angelic realm knew the sound heralded something wondrous. The host rejoiced in the plans of their Creator and in His wisdom, and every angel listened in great awe and with avid curiosity. All of heaven was silent, and all light beings held their breath in anticipation of Elohim's answer to the guardian.
"Xander, those are the easiest things you will face as a human. When you leave My presence, go to Asim. All has been arranged. Your identity has been established with a few strokes on a computer, and there is a bank account that will always have whatever you need in the way of funds. After all, I own the cattle on a thousand hills, and I have servants everywhere. You may not have a college degree, but I think you will find that you are well-equipped to earn one very quickly. You do, after all, speak every known language as well as the ancient ones that are no longer used. Your mind is perfect, and you will remember everything that you have ever heard or seen. Asim will also provide you with the paperwork that you need to enroll at Converse so that you can get to know Elizabeth. Major in music. You will be amazed at what you have the ability to do. In addition, Liberty University will grant you a graduate degree in theology. You have only to take the required tests. As you have a complete and perfect knowledge of the Scriptures and the history of the church, there will be no difficulty. Asim will give you all the details."
There was a pause as Xander absorbed all that Jehovah-Eli had said.
The Lord then spoke again, very tenderly. "There is one more point that must be discussed, Xander."
"Yes, my Adonai?"
"As you said, you have sinned. Loving Elizabeth was not a sin, but anger and jealousy are. Sinless angels do not need a Redeemer, but sinful humans do." The voice was loving and persuasive.
Xander raised his head for the first time, hope alight in his clear blue eyes as they focused on the floor beneath the holy light. "I can be forgiven? I can be Your child?"
"Do you wish to be My child?"
"More than anything, Jehovah-Go'el. To receive salvation would be beyond anything I could ask, beyond any hope I could harbor. It is the greatest gift of all."
Jesus, the Son of God, stepped from the light and approached the dual being. He held out His hands to the kneeling Xander.
"These scars in My hands, in My side, and on My feet were for you, Fitzwilliam Alexander Darcy. They are the marks of My love for you. Do you accept My sacrifice to cover your sin?"
Darcy took the hands of the Son and drew them to his lips, gently kissing them as his tears fell to the scars left by the Roman nails. He released the hands of his Savior and knelt farther to kiss His tortured feet. Then he looked up into the face of his Redeemer. "Please forgive me for wounding You with my sin. Please live in me and be the Lord of my life."
Jesus took Darcy's hands, drew him up from his kneeling position, and walked with him to the river of life that flowed from the throne of God. There, the Lamb of God, the Living Water, the Bread of Life baptized a new child into His family.
"Darcy, your armor is complete. You now have use of the helmet of salvation, and your feet are shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace. Feed My sheep."
Darcy was amazed as the sounds of great rejoicing rang through the halls of heaven. They are celebrating my salvation! Many times have I done this for the children of God, but I never thought there would be happiness on my account.
The laughter and joyful shouts of the host echoed through the streets, and the Light of the World that was Elohim grew until astronomers on the earth were sure that they had discovered a new star. Jesus shielded Darcy's eyes with His own hands and led him from the room. He then turned, walked back to the Father and the Spirit, and disappeared into the light.
Darcy remembered that he was to meet with Asim before he could return to Elizabeth, and he hurried to their meeting where he found the heavenly scheduler ready to receive him. After listening carefully to his instructions and going through the procedures necessary to complete the paperwork for his human life, Darcy flew the familiar route to the Bennet home, taking a moment every few seconds to flip and spiral in the air, as joyous as a child with a new toy at Christmas. He was nearly giddy with relief and excitement, and he could hardly contain himself; the exhilaration of his heart was almost too much to bear.
Darcy smiled widely in exuberance as he fully extended his wings and raced back to his love. His heart seemed to swell within his chest, nearly bursting with the lightness of being forgiven. He knew that many dangers lay before him and his charge, but he wanted to enjoy the happiness as long as he could. For now, he would not worry about how to win her love, he would not be anxious over all that would await him as a human, and he would not think of Gregory and the coming battles. He would instead bask in the joy of his salvation and in the wonder of the gift of love he had been given.
He was free to admit to the world that he loved Elizabeth with his whole heart, mind, and body. He wanted to shout it to the masses and write it across the skies.
It was truly a night of miracles.The End
Disclaimer: Scripture quotations taken from the New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation, Used by permission. (www.Lockman.org)