Josh knew there were some things anyone would willingly die for. Unlike some of his more ruthless angel friends, he did not see it as a flaw in the DNA, a secret code Father had sewn into everything he created to ensure life would go on or that hope was never entirely eliminated. Hope was something humans felt. Dark angels focused on reality. It was simply the underlying rule. It was smart to know all the rules, big and small, in order to operate as unfettered as possible. He didn’t have to agree with them all. But he damn well needed to know them. The mistake wasn’t in breaking the rules; it was not knowing you were breaking them and what the consequences were.
There’s no right or wrong, just consequences. Always consequences to consider.
Melanie had ducked inside, not giving Josh the chance to see her face, but he saw her blond hair, pulled in a long French braid that cascaded down her back. She wore jeans and a blue, long sleeved T-shirt.
“You can’t talk to her,” Josh said to Felix, who was fixated on the front door. The younger dark angel’s breathing was strong and ragged. His hands were fluttering at the sides of his pants. “I’ll go,” Josh continued.
“Will you tell her I’m okay, that I still love her?” Felix finally looked at his mentor head on.
“But you’re not okay, Felix. You’re dead. Remember? They buried you.”
“No they didn’t, boss.” Karl inserted. “He came to us before that. They buried a box with a couple of bags of sand.” Karl was, as usual, trying to be helpful, but he pissed Josh off anyway.
“Karl, how many days since you’ve witnessed a vaporization?”
“Please, no. I’m so sorry, sir.”
“You’ll be sorrier as you and your black soul melt in the fires of the Underworld. Shut the fuck up.”
Josh turned back to Felix. “As much as I would like to, I can’t tell her about you. Not unless you want to jeopardize her soul. Do you want me to set it up so you negotiate that with her? I can train you to do it, man.”
“I can fix it, make it so you sit down and reason with her just like Karl demonstrated earlier.”
“Don’t you want just a taste?”
“Try it. You might like it.”
“Fuck no. I want her to live!”
A woman stopped at the traffic light turned and scowled.
Josh continued, “You want her little body? I know you do, Felix.”
“Yeah, but not in that way. I want her alive, not dead.”
“Sorry, man, it doesn’t work that way. But, if you claim her, she can live with you forever.”
“Yeah? Well, I think she’d hate me forever.”
Cars traveled in front of them, bifurcating the distance to the shop.
“Maybe. Maybe not. Well then, you could introduce her to Peter. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind.”
“Shut up. I don’t want her to have anything to do with that guy.”
“Those are good instincts, man,” Josh said. “So, I’m being generous when I tell you I will give her a little warning, something to arm her in case Peter comes calling.” Josh waited to see if Felix would react. “You sure you don’t want to sponsor her, make her yours?”
“Absolutely not.” Felix shook his head.
Josh was pleased. He knew where Felix’s line was and he finally knew how far he could push him. It made him wonder, for just a second, where his own line was. Over the three centuries he’d lived as a dark angel he had been able to find out everyone else’s, but never his own. Part of him thought maybe he didn’t have one after all.
Is there anything I wouldn’t do for a price? He turned his attention back to Karl.
“If this kid gets any ideas, you have my permission to haul him off and summon someone to help you bring him back home, where I’ll give him a lesson of the permanent kind. But Karl, don’t test me, you understand?”
“Crystal clear, sir.” Karl was standing to attention like he’d been entrusted with the keys to the universe, with the heart of a warrior, not an ex-garbage man.
Josh then walked briskly across the street, dodging traffic, toward the gated opening. Music was playing in the background, laced with birdcalls. Colorful birdhouses of various shapes were affixed to poles grounded in large earth-filled pots.
Homes and castles for the fine-feathered things I hate. Josh saw them as nuisances and impediments to his late morning sleep. He didn’t think it was natural anything could be that happy all the time.
Pots of large showy pink and purple hydrangeas along with lemon bushes overloaded with deep yellow fruit and fragrant white blossoms formed the next line in front of the birdhouses. On the floor, tucked away randomly, were shallow pots filled with blooming spring flowers in all the colors possible. Josh’s nose itched. He hadn’t seen so much blooming color since his last trip to the Farmer’s Market to visit his friend Simon, the electric cellist who liked to play his sad music and pick up girls.
She’d probably like one of Simon’s CDs. He made a point to get one to her right away. Embedded in the music was a very subtle NLP message a human could not hear except subconsciously; praying for sex, praying for death.
Josh walked through the entrance and was assaulted with a big bouquet of red roses that was moving so fast he was unable to stop before impact. Immediately he felt the crush of the delicious red flora. They emitted their syrupy sweetness through petals that fell on the shoulders and blond head of a beautiful young woman with light pink skin. She looked up at his face, hers registering shock. Her eyes were wide and deep blue as the sky. He was drowning—his heart stopped for a second. The scent of thyme herbal hand cream, fresh lemon soap, and lip-gloss infused with a cherry flavor filled his nostrils. He knew that if he willed her, he could make her stand in front of him, raise her chin, part her lips for him, and beg he claim her.
And, as gratifying as it would be, he didn’t want to make her do it. At last, he shared something in common with Felix.
He wanted to keep her from being captured.