An Unlikely Angel

By: J.T. Evergreen
The poetry in writing is the illusion it creates.
(© 2017 by the author)

The author retains all rights. No reproductions are allowed without the author's consent. Comments are appreciated at...


Chapter One

As told by Ted McGuire

The window shade flapping against the window pane drew me painfully back to consciousness. A gentle breeze caressed my naked body which I had forgotten to cover with a blanket when I crawled into bed a few hours earlier. I hate window shades. I hate my life. When I closed my eyes I hoped I would never wake up again. I'm going to rip that shade down and tear it to shreds.

Caruso, my canary, began warbling. It must be dawn. I took a deep breath of the breeze wafting through the room. It smelled of spring, all fresh, new, and wonderful. Oh God, I feel like crap.

My lover dumped me in front of our friends last night, it was horrible. I’m so heartbroken. I don't know why they call it heartbreak. It feels like every part of my body and mind, and soul is broken into little pieces, not just my heart.

I’ll miss the sex, the intimacy, the belonging, the oneness. But, I must agree with Lord Chesterfield – sex is highly overrated – the pleasure is momentary, the position ridiculous, and the emotional expense is . . . oh God, I need someone to hold me and comfort me in my soul-wrenching misery.

God, if you're not doing anything today, how about it? If you're not available, an angel will do. A soft, white, fluffy angel. I thought of the angel who came to help George Bailey in It's a Wonderful Life. And Donna Reed, what a beautiful woman. I love beautiful women, it's just that my twisted DNA prefers men when it comes to romance. I wish my life was wonderful. The prospects of that happening seemed dim to never-gonna-happen dude. Life sucks with a capital S.

I opened my eyes, threw my legs over the edge of the bed, sat up, dangled for a few seconds, then propelled myself onto the floor, and out of my bed of tears.

Stumbling into the bathroom, I took a peek in the mirror to see if I looked as horrible as I felt. Humm. A shave, shower, coffee, food, and I’d probably be good to go again, maybe. Perhaps there was life after love. I thought, with chagrin, how I had misbehaved. After Robert, my ex declared we were through, I wanted to throw myself into a river or leap from a tall building, but none were available, so I walked home alone, kicked a few cans, and bawled like a baby most of the way. God, how much more pathetic could I have gotten? Well, the day was young. No doubt I would have ample opportunities to improve on that aspect of my beleaguered life.

I got dressed and focused on going to work. At least I had somewhere to go and something to do. On the other hand, hiding in my apartment seemed a much more sensible idea. I could avoid running into people who had witnessed my performance last night. I was so looking forward to that happening.

I left my apartment on Briar Place, got into my car – it wouldn't start. Well, things were looking up. I wondered what else fate had in store for me as I locked the car, kicked one of the tires, scuffed my brand new shoe, and began walking towards the "L", which lay menacingly a few blocks away. I did not enjoy riding the elevated. Mixing with the unwashed masses did not particularly appeal to me.

I walked up the station stairs, paid my fare, walked to the edge of the platform and waited for the next train. I felt someone standing behind me which annoyed me. They were standing too close, in my personal space. I moved over. Then a voice came from behind me, "You know, you shouldn't stand that close to the edge of the platform. You might fall off and get killed."

Now there was an idea I had not considered. It would be quick, spectacular, and a headline grabber. I decided I was not about to give my heart-stabbing ex-lover the satisfaction of knowing he had been instrumental in my demise. I stepped back from the edge and smiled at the stranger.

Oh my God, it was a priest. How perfect. If I jumped onto the third rail, he would give me the last rites, and I probably would go straight to hell where my relatives were hopefully residing. Jumping onto the third rail, though an interesting thought, was not a good idea.


"Don't mention it."

I wished I had not said that. He continued looking at me.

"You don't look very happy."

"Oh, I'm fine, thank you." Who the hell does he think he is making a comment like that? He's not my mother.

"No, I don't think so."

He obviously was not going to let this go. Maybe I should keep moving away. He wasn't finished.

"I don't mean to stick my nose into your personal business, but when you came onto the platform, you seemed to be radiating a good deal of sadness."

Well, shit! If I ignored him, I'd look stupid. And if I moved, he probably would follow me. So, what the hell, let's see if I can improve on my many ways of being pathetic. "Yeah, well, you know, the weather, my sinuses."

"I know what you mean." he smiled mischievously. "On a beautiful clear morning like today." He was looking at me with a twinkle in his eye. I hate when people twinkle at me.

Ok, I'm going to give it to him with both barrels. Maybe he will shut up and move away. "Well, monsignor or whatever it is you are . . ."

"Freddie. You can call me Freddie."

He was not helping by being so bloody nice. "Freddie. Well, Freddie, it's like this. I had my heart broken last night in front of the whole world, and I feel like shit. So there, satisfied?" The notches on pathetic rose with alarming speed. If there had been a bell at the top it would have rung. I eyed the third rail.

I had hoped he would move away and leave me alone. That, obviously, was not going to happen. He moved closer. Now he was touching me. Oh Jesus, now what do I do? He put his arm through mine. "Hey, I've been there. It's not the end of the world."

Wait a minute. I looked into his face, "You have?"

"Yes, of course." he smiled and snuggled up a little closer. I had not expected snuggling this early in the morning and I wasn't sure I liked it.

"But you're a priest," and I was thinking a naughty one at that.

"Oh no, it happened before I became a priest," he smiled and gazed upon the prospect.

The train came into the station. He tightened his grip on my arm. Obviously, he was a mind reader. He let go of my arm as the doors of the train opened. I entered first and found an empty seat.

"May I join you?"

I smiled, he did. It was going to take at least half an hour before I could get off the train. I girded my loins and hoped for the best.

By the time the train arrived at my station, Freddie, whose full name is Father Frederick Mathew Monahan, had convinced me I could go to confession even though I was not of the Catholic persuasion. He suggested I would feel much better after doing so. I thought it an odd idea at first but, the more I thought about it, I decided it was not such a bad idea after all. Might as well dump my misery on some other poor fool and make them miserable too. I thanked him and stood up to leave.


I turned.

"Here." He handed me the cross he had taken from around his neck. I began to refuse. "No no, take it. It may bring you good luck. Please." He was so kind and gentle with me, I took the cross and thanked him.

With reluctance, I got off of the train. As it pulled away, I knew I was going to miss Freddie. He wasn't soft, white, or fluffy, but he came close to being the comforting angel I had asked for earlier. I was glad I had not considered jumping off the platform. Meeting this man was kind of like a miracle. I did feel much better. I watched as the train disappeared around the corner.

As I descended the elevated station stairs I wondered what the hell had just happened to me.

The morning at work went smoothly, and before I knew it, it was time for a lunch break.

I walked to The Lola Palooza Soup and Sandwich Bar on Lake Street. That's all they have on the menu, and it is so good and inexpensive. No waiter to tip either. I always left something for Claudette, the barista. She was young, pretty, and on the verge of being beautiful. I thought of Donna Reed's beautiful face. And Claudette had cleavage which she did not hide. Smart girl, lots of tips. I often thought I would have made a play for her if it weren't for my twisted DNA. I've lost count of how many times I have cursed the gods for that. Why me? Why not that asshole in the accounting department who thinks he's God's gift to women and is not.

I finished my onion soup and roast beef sandwich, reached into my pocket for Claudette's tip and touched the cross Freddie had given me. I had forgotten about it. I pulled it out and took a closer look. It appeared to be of solid gold. There were beautiful green stones embedded along its length and width. I wondered what they might be.

Claudette spotted the cross. "What a beautiful cross.”

"Yes, it is."

"May I see it, please?”

"Yes, of course." I handed the cross to her. She looked at it carefully and then surprised me.

"These are emeralds.”

"They are? How do you know?"

"My father's a jeweler. He knows everything about gems. I used to play with them on his work bench when I was little. He'd tell me stories about each of them. He said emeralds were the teardrops of God.” She handed the cross back to me.

I looked at it again in amazement. "Do you know any more stories like that?"

"Oh sure." She replied with one of her beautiful smiles. Her teeth were perfect, like a string of pearls.

The light dancing off the multiple facets of each stone in the cross was mesmerizing. So many different shades of green, so alive, so beautiful. The teardrops of God. And Freddie had given it to me. A chill went up my spine. Holy crap! This is getting spooky but a nice kind.

I noticed an empty space at the center of the cross. Probably a stone came loose and was lost. Some person will be lucky when they find it. I searched my pocket to make sure it wasn't there. It wasn't.

I thought of Freddie. What a blessed man he was for giving me this gift. His face was so beautiful and kind. Today was turning out to be much better than I had anticipated.

"Thanks, Claudette, you've made my day." I left a bigger tip than usual. She thanked me and pushed the bill into her cleavage. As I left, I rolled my eyes heavenward and sent out another curse for the twisted DNA thing. Claudette was going to make a beautiful mother. I thought of the children she would have – which would not be mine. Life can suck at moments like this. I sent out another curse, an even bigger one this time.

As I walked back to the office, I thought of what Freddie had suggested. Go to confession. Holy Name Cathedral on Wabash was the closest, so why not?

Several days later I took the afternoon off. After a turkey sandwich and a bowl of pea soup, I walked over to the cathedral.

 There weren't many people inside. The ones I did see were gathered on the left, close to what I assumed was the confessional. I sat near them and watched. Some were kneeling, praying, others appeared to be waiting. Those who came out of the confessional seemed much happier than the ones sitting and waiting. I wondered if I would be happier when I came out.

The cathedral was almost empty when the last person came out of the confessional. She thanked the priest as she departed. No one else was approaching, so I stood up. The priest opened his door, looked out, saw me and closed the door again.

Oh my God, what was I going to say to him? Freddie had clued me on what the procedure would be. I closed the confessional door, the sliding door to the priest opened. I could barely see him. And then a pleasant voice came through the screen, "I'm here."

"Yes, I . . . I have sinned Father."

There was a pregnant pause. "You've never been to confession, have you?" He knew. I noticed a slight accent in his voice.

"No, I haven't."

"And, I don't believe you are of the Catholic persuasion either." He really knew.

"No, I'm not. I'm sorry. Perhaps I should not have come."

"No no, wait, don't go. Why don't you talk to me? Tell me what's on your mind. I promise I won’t tell anyone."

He had a sense of humor. I was beginning to like this guy. I decided to open up. "Well, Father . . .”

"My name is Daniel – please."

"Well, ok, Daniel, it's like this . . ." I proceeded to dump my guts on this poor fellow. I finished with tears running down my checks, "Well, that's it. Am I going to hell?"

He laughed out loud, "No, you're not. Hey, there's a small cafι around the corner. Why don't we finish our conversation there? And I promise I will not to try to convert you."

I was so charmed by this man I could not refuse. "Really?"

"Yes, really.”

"Well, if you have the time, I'd like that."

He closed the little door between us and opened his door. I followed.

For the first time, I got a good look at him. Daniel was a bit taller, perhaps a few years older, and pleasant to look at. I had noticed a slight accent and could not help asking, "Are you French?"

He smiled at my perception, "Swiss actually."

"You do speak French."

"Yes, I do. I was born and schooled in Switzerland."

"And you probably speak 20 languages."

"Oh no, just five," Daniel responded as if it were nothing.

"Must be a barren source of amusement to be here with only English to deal with?"

"No, you’d be surprised how often I am able to use all of the languages I know."

"All at once?" I regretted saying that. He would need to know me better before I launched my humor on him.

"As a matter of fact," he paused and then laughed. "No, just one at a time."

"Sorry Daniel, I have a strange sense of humor." another notch on pathetic.

"Actually, I like American humor. They are so open about things they observe, and see the funny side quickly."

I wasn't sure my English was up to the challenge. It had been one of the worst subjects for me in school. Understanding the parts of speech still escaped me.

We spent a short time together at the cafι most of which Daniel used in confessing to me. He had recently arrived in Chicago and knew little about it. Having lived here all my life, I volunteered to show him around – he accepted with more gratitude than I would have expected. We exchanged phone numbers and parted.

Talking with this understanding man made me realize how unfair I had been with my ex, Robert. Daniel suggested forgiveness would help me overcome the hurt and angst I was experiencing. I did not know if I agreed with him but told him it was something I would consider.

We met several times a month on various adventures to museums and art galleries in the Chicago area. His knowledge of art shamed me into the realization of the amazing education he had. Our conversations never touched on my personal plight though I knew he was concerned and cared what was happening to me.

I did call my ex and apologized. He was shocked. He suggested we have lunch or dinner. We did meet and agreed a personal relationship would have been a disaster. We agreed to be friends and parted with a big hug and much smiling.

I thought of Freddie and Father Daniel, and how much they had played a part in the healing process. I concluded they would be proud of me. Converting to Catholicism didn't enter my mind – seeing Father Daniel again did. I enjoyed being with him – perhaps a little too much. In any event, I felt safe with him. I could relax and be myself.

Daniel invited me to many of the Parish functions. I accepted with reluctance at first, suspecting there may be a plot afoot to reign me into the flock. I eventually concluded I was wrong. The gatherings were comprised of a great bunch of people getting together and having a good time. I was having a good time also, though I hardly saw Daniel at these functions. He was such a popular fellow, everyone wanted some of his time. I felt a twinge of jealousy and decided I was an idiot.

One afternoon he invited me to the rectory to show me an art book we had talked about which I was unable to find at the bookstore. He had the most brilliant library of everything imaginable. I scanned the ceiling-high shelves which covered an entire wall. My gaze floated aimlessly along, passing over a small portrait of a priest. Nothing registered at first, then I did a double take. No, it couldn't be. My gaze traveled back to the framed photo. I reached up and brought it down. "Jesus." Daniel was searching for the book we had talked about, and heard me.

"What is it?"

"This photo, who is it?"

"That's Father Monahan."

"Freddie," I whispered and looked at Daniel.

"Yes, that's what they . . . how did you know?"

"I met him on the train several months ago. He’s responsible for us meeting."

"That's impossible, Ted – he died on the Titanic in 1912."

What I heard almost took my breath away. I sat down.

"Ted, what is it?"

I handed him the photo. "Tell me what you see hanging around his neck?"

"A cross. An unusual cross," he held the photo for inspection.

"Look closely at it." As he did, I reached into my pocket and pulled out the cross Freddie had given me and handed it to Daniel.

"No, it can't be." he whispered.

"Yes, it can. The man I talked with was the spitting image of the photo. He looked the same — not a day older." I could hardly believe what I was saying.

Daniel sat down with a thump on the chair next to me, staring at the photo, then at the cross in his hand. "What does it mean?"

I started to laugh, "I don't know. But, it was him — it was definitely him."

We sat there for a long time. As Daniel handed the framed photo back to me, I noticed the edge of a slip of paper sticking out from the backing. "May I open this?"

"Yes, of course."

It turned out to be a newspaper clipping of the sinking of the Titanic, along with a handwritten note about Father Frederick Monahan. He had boarded the ship at the last minute and was not on the passenger list. Surviving passengers spoke of him and his part in helping them board safely into lifeboats. There was no evidence he survived. The note continued, saying that since the disaster there had been several incidents of people swearing they had met him, and always in a crisis situation.

"Why did he appear to me?"

Daniel looked at me, "You were in a crisis, weren't you?"

"Yes, but not a life or death crisis."

"Did you ask for help?"

"No, I don't think . . . wait a minute, I did. That morning, I did ask for help. Do you think …?"

"Yes, I do." Daniel was all smiles.

It was getting late, I hadn't seen the book we were looking for. We made plans to meet again.

As I left the rectory, Daniel said something which caught me off guard. "Perhaps Father Frederick meant us to meet."

"Yes – maybe." I turned to leave.

"I’m happy we did meet. I'm enjoying our friendship."

I paused and looked at him, "Yes, so am I." I continued down the steps and away. I remembered his face when he said the last thing to me. It did not seem like a priest talking to a non-Catholic. It was more like someone reaching out for something.

I was not concerned when he canceled our next meeting – he said he would be away on an out-of-town assignment. And yet, I saw him twice during that time though he didn't see me. I wondered. Perhaps his assignment was canceled and he forgot to mention it to me. After all, I was not one of his parishioners.

I ran into several parishioners I had met at the church gatherings, and naturally asked how Father Daniel was. The responses were similar, 'Oh, he's fine, but working too hard.' except for one person. She said he looked haggard as if he was carrying a great burden. I asked if she had spoken to him about it. 'Oh no, you never do that with a priest.' I wondered why.

Well, maybe a parishioner wouldn't ask, but I could. Several days later I went to the rectory and was met at the door by Emma, his housekeeper. She said he wasn't there, and that she would leave a message. I gave her my name and went on my way.

When I got home there was a message on my answering machine. As I listened, a shiver went up my spine. It was Daniel. He said he had gotten my message, and it would not be possible to see me again because of his workload.

The first thing that came to my mind was 'bull shit' - what the hell was going on? We had gotten along so well — he said how much he enjoyed our friendship. Maybe he was enjoying it too much. That was crazy, he wasn't gay. At least I didn't think he was. And if he was, he was still a priest and a devoted one from all indications.

I decided he was too busy and tried to forget about it – and him. It was a chance meeting. I had accomplished showing him around Chicago – there wasn't much more I could do. No, it was one of those things, or so I thought.

About a week later, I was in Marshall Fields, looking for a gift for my mother. I wasn't sure what she would like, so I kept browsing. I glanced up and saw Daniel on the other side of an island counter. I decided to talk with him. As I went around the counter, he walked away from the clerk he was talking with. As I approached her, the expression on her face was one of total surprise. "That was Father Daniel wasn't it?”

"I don't know who he is – but he walked away from me in the middle of our conversation. Is he alright?” She was as mystified as I was.

"I don't know." I decided to find out. I saw him leave through the revolving door. I followed.

As he passed under the Field's clock at the corner, "Daniel!" He paused as if he wasn't sure he wanted to answer, then turned to me. He looked strained.

"Hi Ted, how are you?"

“I'm fine. You don't look so well. What is it?"

"Oh, I'm fine, terribly busy. I'm sorry, I have to run. I'm already late." He turned away and hurried down the street. I didn't pursue him, deciding instead to get to the bottom of what was troubling him. I had a feeling I had something to do with it.

The next afternoon, around 5 o'clock, I walked to the rectory. His housekeeper answered. She said he wasn't in before I asked.

"Yes he is, I saw him come in." I walked passed her.

"Sir, you can't come in here."

"I'm already in, Emma. Where is he?"

Realizing my determination. "In the library."

I ran up the stairs and threw open the library door. Daniel stood up, "Ted. . . "

"Sorry Daniel, I'm not leaving until you explain to me why you're avoiding me." A calico cat rubbed up against my leg and passed into the room. "Is that yours?" I thought maybe a stray had slipped in as I came in.

"That's Cleo." He sat down at the table and put his head in one hand.

I closed the library door and stood in front of it.

Cleo jumped up onto the table and rubbed against Daniel's arm. He took his head out of his hand and gently stroked Cleo.

"Is this about me? Is there something I've done – or shouldn't have done?"

He shook his head slowly, "It's nothing like that, Ted."

I was becoming a little irritated with him. "Well, for God's sake tell me. Or do I have to beat it out of you?" trying to get a rise out of him.

He laughed — a little, "I wish you would."

"Well, what is it?" I was perturbed.

"It's so difficult for me to put into words." He leaned back in his chair — Cleo jumped into his lap.

"Well, the way we do that is to put one word behind the next word and keep going until you have told me what the hell is going on."

"I'm gay, Ted." Daniel almost choked on the words. He did not look at me and continued stroking Cleo.

"You are? You could have fooled me. What has that got to do with anything — I thought we were friends." He said nothing. I sat down across from him and Cleo. "Daniel?"

He looked at me with such a pained expression, one I was all too familiar with. Then I opened my big mouth and said something I hoped I would not regret. "I hope you're not interested in me?" and held my breath.

"No, it's not that. I've never spoken about this."

"Never?" I said in amazement. Daniel shook his head. "Why not, for heaven's sake?"

He haltingly began, "We were trained to keep all our emotions inside."

"Yeah, so I've heard — like corking a bottle. Why did you put up with it?"

"Ted, I was eighteen when I went to seminary. I believed everything they told us. In looking back, it was more like brainwashing. They wanted us all to come out the same way. And it worked for a while. The pressures eventually began to take their toll. Some students gave up and left. Others stayed — the pressures soon became evident — at least to me. Their personalities changed. They almost became automatons — saying and doing and being what was expected of them as priests."

"And what about you?"

"The purpose behind priesthood is to establish a bond, a communication with God which is utilized in working with your parishioners. When I began to notice the instructions we were receiving to attain that goal were not working, I set out on my own. I began reading authors outside of those prescribed by the seminary programs. This is strictly forbidden. And I discovered why — they forbade it to keep us corralled and controlled. Though I was breaking the rules left and right, I was finding the answers I desperately needed. I studied the principles of Truth which other authors made available in their writings. I began to understand."

"Why didn't you leave?"

"Fear. What skills did I have? There was a certain safety in remaining. I know it sounds insane — you had to be there to understand how it was. To outward appearances I was obedient. I was going to be the perfect priest. Inwardly I was beginning to feel like a heretic. I studied hard and received my Master in Divinity degree. At the end of four years, I was ordained and began my new life as a priest — conforming outwardly. Inwardly, I was following my inner guide."

"Did you have counselors to discuss the downside of what you were experiencing?"

"Yes, they were available. What I heard from other students discouraged me from talking to the counselors. All they wished to accomplish was to get you back into the mold."

"And these sex abuse scandals we hear about now. What’s with that?"

"That's a complicated issue, Ted. Yes, the abuses are due in part to the brainwashing. You get these kids into the mold — eventually, they start breaking out in one way or another. Their sexual orientation, which they have suppressed, suddenly is unleashed. Their inexperience and confusion lead to all sorts of abuses. Some priests can control the misery it brings, others cannot control it. You cannot cork that bottle and not expect it to explode somewhere along the line. Why the church doesn't understand this is beyond me. And, like me, leaving the priesthood is not an option, unless you have the necessary skills to survive.

"Once it becomes evident a priest is misbehaving, the cover up begins — their superiors begin shipping them off to other parishes, in part to get rid of them, but primarily to keep the victims from going public with what they experienced, and possibly filing charges with the authorities.

"The church authorities knew what was going on long before it became public knowledge. They tried to control everyone with lies and intimidation, and it worked for a while. All it took was one incredibly brave person to come forward, and Pandora's Box flew open, never to be closed again. One by one, other victims began coming out of the shadows. The Vatican panicked. I've heard stories of parishioners being told they and their families would risk hellfire, and damnation if they breathed a word of the abuse they have suffered. It all goes back to the inane rules used in training young men for the priesthood.

"The church lost sight of the Truth and their mission to its followers. What's the old expression – you can fool some of the people all of the time, all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of them all of the time. And that's what has happened. Let's face it, the ruling faction in the Holy See aren't very smart. Their arrogance, greed, stupidity, and corruption got in the way, they wound up harming countless individuals, including the reputation of the church." Daniel paused. He seemed exhausted from what he had told me.

"But Daniel, you seem so successful as a priest — everyone loves you."

"That's because I'm doing it my way, Ted — not the way I was taught. I've found a partnership with God which is pure and simple, and no one can interfere with that. No one can break that bond. I love working with my parishioners. They are wonderful dedicated Christians. The guidance I give is between me and my conscience, not according to Canon Law, or what anyone else thinks. I'm true to myself, that's the key to survival and success." Daniel seemed finished for the moment.

"Have you talked like this to anyone else?"

"No, never. You're the first. And, I'm not sure I'm doing the right thing by speaking so frankly with you." He looked at me, waiting to see if he was right, or wrong.

"You have nothing to fear from me, my friend. Who knows, perhaps Freddie led me to you for this sole purpose. I'm guessing, of course. What other explanation could there be for him giving me his cross, and suggesting I go to confession? Without that happening, we would never have met."

"When I first met you, you were so open and comfortable with who you are. I experienced jealousy and envy."

"You're kidding?"

"Suddenly I was falling apart inside. I didn't know what to do — so I avoided you. I shut the door to keep control. And I hated myself for doing it."

"Lucky for you I don't like closed doors — I barge in where angels fear to tread." I laughed.

"And I'm grateful you did." the tenderness in Daniel's voice almost had me in tears.

"Well, if you were afraid I'd find out you were gay — I've found out. So, can we continue to be friends? I don't have many real gay friends. A lot of acquaintances, but no real friends; and I would consider myself grossly abused if you refused me your friendship."

Daniel seemed to perk up. For once, I may have said the right thing. I heard the rumble of thunder in the distance.

"We're in for a storm. I love a good thunderstorm."

"So do I,” came a more cheerful response from Daniel. The thunderstorm grew closer. There was a knock at the door. Emma peeked in. "Come in Emma."

"I'm about to prepare dinner, Father. Will you be dining in this evening?"

"Yes, I will," he turned to me. "Ted, will you join me?"

"Yes, of course. I would love to."

"Thank you, Emma. There will be two this evening."

"Very good, Father. I'll call when it's ready."

"Thank you, Emma." Daniel turned to me, "I must admit, I hate eating alone."

Emma left the door ajar. I got up to close it so Daniel and I could talk privately.

Lightning flashed as I placed my hand on the door knob. A clap of thunder sounded near as I began to close the door. More lightening flashed. Something sparkled on the floor outside the room. Cleo saw it and pawed at the small object, which jumped up from the carpet and sparkled.

The lightning and thunder came together this time.

The storm was upon us. I bent over and picked up the object Cleo found so interesting. I looked closely at it. "Jesus." The lightning and thunder came again, only stronger this time. It seemed as if the whole building shook.

Daniel heard me, "What is it?"

I turned around and looked at him. Another flash of lightning danced across his much happier and relaxed face. More thunder came as I walked back into the room, closed the door, and walked over to Daniel. I put my hand out and dropped the stone into his hand. He looked at it, "What is it?"

"It's an emerald – the cross?” I pulled the cross from my pocket and laid it on the table, pointing to the empty space at the center. Heavy rain pounded against the window pane as Daniel placed the gem into the empty space – it fit perfectly.

"It may have dropped out of your pocket as you came in."

"No, I noticed the empty space the first day I had the cross."

"What does it mean?" Daniel was confused.

"It means Freddie was here."


"I don't know, but he was here. According to the lore, he shows up when there's a crisis."

"There's no crisis here." Daniel looked at me.

"Oh yes there is, or was." I gazed at Daniel as realization swept over him.

"Oh – that."

The thunder was moving away. The storm was passing quickly. Cleo jumped into Daniel's lap.

I sat down across the table from them. "Yes, that. So, now that the cat is out of the bag, sorry Cleo, are we going to continue being friends?

"Yes, of course. I missed seeing you."

"Good, then it's settled," I grinned at Daniel.

"Friends through thick and thin?" he smiled.

"Agreed – thick and thin." he was back to his old self again. I was glad for him, and for me.

 "It's kind of warm in here." I got up and walked to the window. As I pushed the stained glass window pane open, a gust of wind mixed with mist from the rain engulfed me. Daniel walked over and stood behind me. I thought of Freddie who had stood behind me on the train platform not too long ago and warned me to step back from danger. There was no danger here – only the comfort of a new found friendship. Little did I know how important that friendship was about to be in steering several other souls to safety.

"The book! Where is the book you were going to show me?"

"It's over here, I forgot about that." He pulled the book from the shelf and laid it on the table next to the cross and the errant emerald. I closed the window and joined him.

We spent the rest of the afternoon pouring over the images in this beautiful art book, as more of Daniel's incredible knowledge of art spilled onto its pages.

The storm had departed leaving behind the fading rays of a setting sun as the afternoon passed into evening.

The faint sound of the dinner bell came from below. "Ah, dinner is served. Emma is the most accomplished cook. Shall we?"

"Yes, but first I want to collect the cross and the errant . . . jewel. Didn't we leave it on this table?"

"Yes, it was right here."

"Well, it's gone now." Cleo jumped up onto the table and walked over to me, licked my hand, and then nuzzled her head against my arm. "Cleo, did you take the cross?"

I remembered how Freddie had snuggled up against me on the train platform. I thought of the changes in fortunes since that day. I was going to pet Cleo, she walked away from me and went to Daniel.

"I have a sneaking suspicion Freddie came and took the cross – now that the crisis is over."

"I have a feeling you're right." Daniel picked Cleo up. We headed downstairs to supper.

Chapter Two


Claudette turned on the overhead lights and unlocked the front door of The Lola Palooza Soup and Sandwich Bar on Lake Street in downtown Chicago. She had been a barista at the bar for five years. It was her first job after graduating from high school. She knew the business forwards and backward and particularly enjoyed working with the customers.

This was her first day as the new owner. She had signed the transfer papers yesterday. The former owner, Victor Delgado, seemed overly anxious to get away and return to his native Spain. Claudette suspected the handsome Victor was a philanderer given the number of angry women who came into the Bar looking for him. Purchasing the Bar was a golden opportunity for Claudette, which she could not pass up.

The Lake Street elevated train rumbled overhead – the day had begun. It was 10:30 AM, and she had already thrown up twice. She tried to convince herself it wasn't morning sickness but was coming to the realization it was not the flu either. Being in denial was running out of options.

The early lunch crowd arrived and for the most part had departed. She was clearing used dishes from the marble bar when she saw something, which caught her breathe, peeking out from under a used napkin. It was a gold cross with emeralds. She recognized its value immediately. It looked like the one Ted McGuire had shown her many months earlier. She did not remember seeing him this morning and could not remember who had been sitting at the counter where she found the cross. She carefully placed the cross in her pocket and decided she would ask Ted about it the next time he came in.

It was early afternoon when Ted entered the Bar. Claudette greeted him as usual. "Hi Ted, what would you like today?"

"Afternoon Claudette,” Ted took a closer look at her. "Are you feeling alright? You look peaked.”

"No, I'm fine. I found this on the bar this morning. Is it yours?” She retrieved the cross from her pocket and handed it to Ted.

Ted did a double take and then looked at Claudette again, whispering. "No, it isn't. Claudette, are you in trouble? It's none of my business, but when this cross appears, trouble seems to follow."

Claudette paused. Ted saw she was keeping something from him. "I can't discuss it now.”

"Well, when can you discuss it? And I'm not kidding,” he stared at her, waiting for an answer.

She paused again, "I'm off work at 5:30.”

“I’ll meet you here and we'll go somewhere and talk,” he ordered his soup and sandwich. Claudette avoided eye contact when she delivered his order. "Enjoy your meal, Ted,” she moved away quickly before he was able to say anything.

He watched her as he ate his meal. She kept herself busy with other customers, purposely avoiding him. He finished his meal, left a tip, and slipped out of the Bar without speaking to her. She was obviously upset and he did not wish to add to it. His first thought was to contact Father Daniel and let him know the cross was back and in Claudette's possession this time.

The day seemed to drag for Claudette. Finally, the big hand on the clock over the front door was closing in on 5:30. She did not know Ted that well, and she certainly did not want to discuss her personal problems with him or anyone else. However, there was the cross which had mysteriously appeared. Ted was the only one who could answer her questions about it. She wasn't sure what to do. She felt trapped in circumstances she didn't understand.

At 5:30 sharp, Ted came into the Bar. He had called Father Daniel earlier and told him about the reappearance of the cross. They decided the best place to meet with Claudette would be in the library at Daniel's rectory.

Reluctantly, Claudette left the bar with Ted. As they began walking toward the rectory of Holy Name Cathedral, Claudette confessed, "I'm not sure I should be doing this Ted – I hardly know you.”

"Not to worry Claudette, by the end of the day you will know me and Daniel better than you thought possible,” he took her arm.

"Wait a minute,” Claudette stopped in the middle of the sidewalk. "Who is Daniel?"

"Father Daniel is a good friend of mine, you can call him Daniel – forget the Father part,” Ted tightened his grip on Claudette's arm. "Come on, let's go. It's going to be okay, Claudette. Daniel was involved with the cross I showed you before. He's understanding, you're gonna love him,” Ted wasn't dragging her, she just found it difficult to keep in stride with the large steps he was taking.

Emma opened the rectory door. "Hi Ted,” she smiled, “And you must be Claudette. Please come in,” They entered the foyer of the rectory while Emma closed the door. "He's in the Library,” she whispered and disappeared down the hallway. Ted and Claudette climbed the stairway to the second floor. The door to the library was open.

"Ted, Claudette. Please, come on in,” Daniel walked to Claudette. "I'm Daniel,” he put his hand out. "Ted told me about the cross. I'm anxious to see it. I couldn't have been more surprised when he called me earlier,” Claudette shook Daniel's hand.

"Please," Daniel invited, "let's sit at the table. I asked Emma to prepare tea for us. She'll be here shortly.”

Claudette obediently sat down, somewhat dazzled at the attention she was receiving. Ted and Daniel seated themselves across from her. She took the cross from her pocket and laid it in the middle of the table. Ted and Daniel declared it was the same cross they had encountered months earlier. They commented on the empty space at the center of the cross. "That's the way I found it this morning.”

Emma arrived with tea and set the tray down on the library table, "Thank you, Emma, we'll pour our own. Emma nodded and quietly left the room closing the door behind her.

Daniel spoke first. "Ted and I are sure you are in some sort of trouble what with the appearance of the cross. He and I are here to help,” he looked intently at Claudette. "Please, tell us everything. You are amongst friends.”

Claudette was silent, her reluctance was obvious. Cleo, Daniel's cat, jumped onto the table and walked over to her. "Oh, how beautiful,” Claudette was smitten by Cleo's friendliness. "What's her name?"

"Cleopatra,” Daniel smiled.

Cleo curled up on the table in front of Claudette — her reluctance was beginning to disappear.

"Well . . . ," Claudette fought back her tears, "I'm . . . pregnant,” she began to sob.

Daniel retrieved a box of tissue from his desk, placing it near Claudette.

“And the father?"

"Darrick? Darrick MacGregor,” she continued stroking Cleo.

“And where is Darrick now?"

"I'm not sure. When I told him I was pregnant, he was furious. He accused me of planning it, to get him to marry me. I haven't been able to talk with him since. He changed his phone number,” she wiped her eyes with a tissue. "It was an accident. I would never do anything like that intentionally,” she blew her nose and tried to regain her composure.

Ted moved the conversation forward, "You mentioned your father when you saw the cross I had. Are your parents aware of . . . your condition?" Ted had a feeling the answer to his question was not going to be encouraging.

Claudette shook her head. "No, they don't know,” she paused. "They would disown me, and my dad would probably go looking for Darrick and kill him. You have no idea how strict they have been with me about boys. My mother will be crushed when she finds out, and my dad — God only knows what he will do. Until I found the cross this morning I felt so alone and helpless. Hopeless is a better word. I don't understand how this cross can help.”

"Well, for starters, my friend, it has brought us together,” Ted reached across the table and touched Claudette’s hand.

"Yes, but this isn't your problem,” Claudette's response sounded like a plea for help.

“Well, it is our problem now,” Ted picked up the cross. "Do you know the whereabouts of Darrick? Where he lives and works?"

“The last time I spoke with him, he mentioned something about the race track outside of Arlington Heights. I'm not sure where he lives.”

"Well, that gives us something to go on,” Ted paused. "Claudette, have you seen a doctor yet?” She kept her sight on Cleo and shook her head. "Well, that's something you need to do immediately,” Ted paused and looked at Daniel. "What about abortion?"

Claudette almost rose right out of her chair, "Oh, my God no – never. How could you ask such a thing?"

"We wanted to clear the air on the subject. Daniel and I are against it as much as you obviously are. I hope you understand why we asked.”

"Yes, of course. I would never consider such a thing, let alone do something like that.”

"Good,” Daniel sighed, "You mentioned your parents are Catholic. Is there a parish church they frequent regularly?"

"St. Gertrude's on Granville.”

"That gives me an idea,” Daniel mused. "It's a gamble, but I'm going to give it a try,” he looked at Claudette, "Do you have a photo of your parents? And what are their first names?"

"Yes, I do,” Claudette opened her purse and began searching. "Their names are …” she opened a final compartment, "Julia . . . and Lance – here it is,” she pulled out a small photograph and handed it to Daniel.

Daniel took the photograph, "Julia, and Lance Clarkson – I'm happy to make your acquaintance,” a devilish smile came over his handsome face.

Ted could not contain himself, "What in the world are you up to?"

“I'm going to contact the priest at Saint Gertrude's and see if I can't get a guest speaker invitation. If your parents are there, I'll have a chance to meet them after mass. You look a lot like your mother. It will be an easy way to bring you into the conversation. When they begin asking too many questions, I'll suggest they need to see you as soon as possible.”

"Brilliant,” Ted laughed. "If it works, you can give me a call. Claudette, and I will arrange to visit them at their home – hopefully, the same day.”

Claudette was skeptical, "I appreciate what you're trying to do. I'm not sure this will work.”

“If this doesn't work, we'll try something else. There's more than one way to skin a cat,” Ted looked at Cleo, regretting having said it the moment it came out of his mouth.

Daniel's surprised look prompted Ted to apologize, "Sorry Cleo – no offense intended,” Cleo continued purring and rubbing her head against Claudette's arm.

Sunday morning – two weeks later, Lance Clarkson sat down at his workbench, paused at what he saw on the surface of the bench, and called to his wife. "Julia.”

"Yes dear,” she replied from the laundry room.

"Come here, please.”

She approached Lance, "What is it dear. It's almost time to leave for mass.”

"Take a look at this,” Lance pointed to a group of gems on his workbench.

"What about them?"

"Look closely.”

"Well, it looks like the word mercy is spelled out. That's very pretty. Are you planning a broach?"

"No, I am not, and I didn't place those gems in that order. You didn't . . .”

"No dear, I know better than to touch anything on this bench. Perhaps you arranged the stones this way, and have forgotten.”

"Perhaps, but this is not the first time something like this has happened.”

"What do you mean?" Julia sat down next to him.

"I thought it was my imagination at first. I found the word love spelled out with the rhinestones I keep in this drawer. And several weeks ago the word forgive was spelled out with one of these gold chains. Claudette used to do things like that.”

"It couldn't have been Claudette — she hasn't been here for at least a month or more.”

"Didn't I hear you talking with her on the phone the other day?"

"Yes, she calls quite often. Says she's too busy to drop by. I'm worried about her. It's not like her to stay away for such a long time. Come on, we'll be late for Mass if we don't get going.”

Father Daniel was the guest speaker on this Sunday at Saint Gertrude's. In closing his homily, "Before we leave this morning, there are a few words I wish to pass on to you – for your consideration until we met again,” he paused. "Compassion . . . mercy . . . forgiveness . . . have been on my mind of late.”

At the mention of those words, Julia placed her hand on Lance’s arm.

"Sometimes we use words over and over without remembering their deeper meaning – without applying them where application is often required. Compassion leads us to have mercy, which is like forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within our power to punish or harm. If you have mercy on someone, you let them off the hook so to speak or are kind to them somehow. It's probably good to remember how many times God has let us off the hook. Think about it. May the Grace of God be with you. Good morning.”

Father Daniel took his place at the door, greeting the parishioners as they departed. The Clarkson's approached – Julia took Father Daniel's hand, "Thank you, Father. We enjoyed what you had to say this morning – very much.”

"You are most welcome. . . Excuse me. You remind me of someone I know. Are you related to Claudette Clarkson by any chance?

"Why yes, Claudette is our daughter,” Julia wasn't sure what to say next. Lance moved in closer.

"The resemblance is so striking, I can see where she gets her good looks from.”

Lance put his arm through Julia's arm, "Well, you can't have her – she belongs to me,” Lance broke into one of his boyish grins. They laughed at his little joke.

"Oh, Lance – pay no attention to him, Father. Have you seen Claudette recently?”

"Yes, as a matter of fact, I have — just the other day,” Daniel knew who they were, and was about to trump them.

"Is she well, Father?"

"Julia …” Lance tried to head off the conversation.

"No, Lance, I want to know. Father, we haven't seen her for a while, and I'm worried.”

Daniel hesitated long enough. "Well, Mrs. Clarkson – it's not for me to say. Perhaps it would be well for you and Mr. Clarkson to go to her as soon as you can.”

“Oh dear. Thank you, Father, we will. Come along Lance,” they hurried away.

Daniel needed to get in touch with Ted immediately and let him know their plan had gone into action.

Lance and Julia had been home a few moments when Lance cried out again, "Julia – come quick,” she rushed to his side. He was staring at the loose gems which had been spilled out onto the surface of his workbench. Within the scattered jewels the word FORGIVENESS had been perfectly spelled out. "What the hell is going on?"

"I don't know, Lance,” the phone rang. Julia went to answer it. The conversation was short. Julia sounded cheerful as she hung up. "Claudette is coming home this afternoon. Lance . . . did you hear me?"

"Yes, dear I heard you,” Lance continued to sit and stare at his workbench.

"Well, you don't sound happy about it.”

"Yes, of course, I am.”

"Lance, what is it?” She stood next to him.

"This,” he was referring to the word FORGIVENESS glittering at him. "Something is not right.”

"Well, I can't image what it would be. It certainly is a mystery how these words keep appearing on the bench. I wonder, perhaps we left the back door open. It could have been one of the neighbor boys who wandered in while we were gone. Probably little Greg. He hasn't learned his boundaries yet – sweet child.”

"Yeah, well maybe,” Lance was not convinced. "I don't believe little Greg knows how to spell yet. What is he — two?

Julia laughed, "No dear, little Greg is a precocious six or seven and, from what his mother tells me, he’s smart as a whip.”

"Mothers!" Lance grumbled. "Who can believe mothers?" He got up and followed Julia into the kitchen. "No, there's something else going on,” he mumbled to himself.

Ted and Claudette arrived at the Clarkson's home mid-afternoon. Julia recognized Claudette's condition immediately and embraced her. "Oh my dear, come in,” Lance took one look at his daughter and flew into one of his rages. The front door was open when Father Daniel arrived. He opened the screen door and let himself into the foyer of the Clarkson residence unannounced. He stepped through the doorway into the living room as Lance shouted. "I'll kill the son of a bitch.”

Daniel's timing was perfect, "Did someone call for me?"

"Come in Father,” Julia called from across the room. Daniel joined the group.

Lance confronted Father Daniel, "Did you know about this?"

"Of course I did, and isn't it surprising you didn’t,” he wasn't about to mince words with Lance. "And, it appears, from the tone of your voice, my words in this morning’s sermon meant very little to you.”

Claudette turned to Ted, "This was a mistake. Please take me home,” Claudette moved to the doorway.

"WAIT!" Julia was about to unleash a power within herself which no one had ever seen before. "Claudette, please stay. I'll take care of this,” she turned away from Claudette and faced her husband. She was about to cut him down to size.

"No daughter of mine is going to bring shame on this family,” Lance bellowed at his wife.

Very quietly Julia responded, "Claudette is not your daughter,” and stood her ground.

"What the hell are you talking about?" the process of cutting him down a peg or two had begun.

Julia walked into the piano room and closed one of the French doors. "You and I are going to have a conversation — right now. Come in here, please. And I'm not going to ask you a second time,” Lance was left standing in the middle of the living room with few options. He turned and followed Julia.

Before closing the other French door, Julia looked out at Claudette, Ted, and Daniel. "There are refreshments in the Kitchen. Please, help yourself,” she closed the door and turned to her husband.

They saw what was about to happen and decided to leave the room. Ted took Claudette’s arm, "What the hell was that about?

"I'll explain, come on,” they walked through the dining room and into the kitchen – letting the swinging door close them off from the conversation Julia was having with her husband.

Earlier in the week, Father Frederick was engaged in an important conversation with Bobby, another Spirit, who had been helpful to him.

"Bobby, I have a small problem, and you may be able to help me.

"I'll do anything I can to help you, Father. What is the problem?"

"See the young lad exercising that beautiful horse.

"Yes Father, I do see him.”

"His name is Darrick MacGregor, and he is frightened.”

"About what, Father?"

"Well, there are adult responsibilities facing him, and he doesn't feel he is able to take care of them. He has fathered the two children to be born to Claudette. You remember her don't you?"

"Oh yes, Father. Claudette is a beautiful soul. And I am sorry to hear Darrick is frightened. What is it you wish me to do?"

"I want you to befriend him.”

"And how do you suggest I do that?"

"Well, Bobby, I have a plan. We're going to send you to him in the form of a little lost dog. Darrick has a warm heart. He will take you in and care for you. In a few days, I'll stop by and have a heart-to-heart talk with him. Perhaps I can change his mind about caring for Claudette, and his children.”

"Oh, I'm sure you will be able to do that,” Bobby was confidence.

"Well, it may be more difficult than we think. You see, Darrick's parents were abusive to him in many ways. He doesn't know how to be a loving, and caring parent, or husband.”

"Oh, this is terrible.”

"It's a big challenge, Bobby. With your help, I believe we can bring forth the love he has for Claudette, and the willingness to face the challenges ahead of him.”

"Well Father, I will do the best I can.”

"I know you will, Bobby.”

"When do you wish me to leave?"

"Well, how about right now, if you’re ready?"

"I am Father, and thank you.”

"No, thank you, Bobby. Now, off you go.”

The little scruffy dog ran to the edge of the exercise circle and barked at Darrick.

"Hey, little guy, where did you come from?" Little Dog barked again at Darrick's recognition. Darrick finished exercising this champion racehorse and led him back to his stable. After brushing the big animal, he placed food and water within easy reach and closed the bottom half of the stable door. Little Dog barked again.

"Hey, little guy. Come here, boy,” Little Dog ran to Darrick and licked his hand. "And who do you belong to my little friend? It will be dark soon. You need to go home. Run along,” Darrick walked away to finish his chores. When he looked around, Little Dog was right behind him wagging his tail.

"Okay, you can stay the night. Tomorrow you need to go home. Come on, I'll get you something to eat and drink,” Little Dog barked and followed obediently behind Darrick, who was secretly pleased to have this little companion with him.

Two days later, Little Dog was still following Darrick as he went about his daily chores with the horses. Darrick was pleased Little Dog was still there. He was no trouble and having Little Dog around helped relieve the loneliness Darrick was experiencing.

Darrick double checked to make sure his charges had plenty of water, and food before he called it a day. Little Dog barked. Darrick looked around and was surprised to find a stranger, a priest, standing next to Little Dog, who was wagging his tail furiously at the stranger. "Father, you startled me. How can I help?"

"Oh, I was in the neighborhood and thought I would drop by the stables. Horses have always been favorites of mine. Unfortunately, I've never been in a position to own one. Are these your horses?"

"Oh no, I'm the stable boy until the racing season ends.”

"Is that so? And what are your plans when the season ends?" Father Frederick smiled.

"Well, the owners have asked me to come along with them when they leave for Kentucky. They seem to be pleased with the way I handle these beautiful creatures,” Darrick became curious why this priest was asking so many questions.

"So, you haven't made a decision yet?"

"I'm thinking of accepting their offer. There's not much work around here once the racing season ends, and it does provide an opportunity for me. I probably will go with them.”

Little Dog barked. "And who is this little fellow?"

Darrick picked Little Dog up and explained, "This little scamp showed up a few days ago and refuses to go away. I was about to feed him. Would you like to come along? It's just around the corner.”

"Yes, I would. Thank you.”

As they walked toward the end of the barn, you're free to walk around and look at the horses if you like. I don't think anyone would mind, you being a priest and all.”

"No, I'd rather stay and talk with you.”

"With me? What about?" Darrick was on guard now. Who was this priest, and what did he want? He thought of Claudette.

"Oh, about a mutual friend of ours,” Father Frederick was moving slowly into the primary reason for his appearance with Darrick.

"I can't imagine who that would be,” Darrick filled a water bowl for Little Dog then filled another bowl with dog chow.

"Oh, I think you do. Shall we sit over there? That looks like a comfortable place,” Little Dog sniffed at his food bowl, drank a little water, then decided he would rather be with Darrick and Freddie.

"You mean Claudette, don't you? Did she send you?"

"Oh no. She has no idea I'm here. In fact, she has no idea where you are. And, she has resigned herself to the fact you may never be coming back to her. Is that true?"

"It's no good Father. She needs to find someone who can take care of her and the baby.”

"Ah, so you know about the baby.”

"Yes, and I behaved badly when I left her. I accused her of getting pregnant intentionally. It's not true. I know she would never do anything like that. She's probably glad I'm gone.”

"Well, that may not be entirely true. And, for your information, it's babies, not a baby. She's about to give birth to twins.”

"Oh my God, I didn't know.”

"And in case you're wondering, she is not happy you are gone. She feels being married to you . . .”

"Hey, wait a minute, we're not married.”

"Well, in her heart she is, and has been for a long time.”

"She never said anything like that to me.”

"Women usually don't, they keep those little secrets to themselves.”

"I can't marry her. Look at me, Father. I hardly make enough money to support myself.”

"And Little Dog,” Father Frederick smiled at them.

Little Dog jumped into Darrick's lap and curled up. "And little dog. I don't know what will become of him when I leave. I can't take him on my motorcycle.”

"Well, I wouldn't be too concerned just yet. You do know Claudette will probably lose the soup and sandwich bar if she doesn't get help."

"What do you mean lose?

"The owner is going back to Spain. He offered to sell it to Claudette at a reasonable price – she accepted. She bought it.”

"You mean she owns it now?"

"Yes, and she's in no condition to manage it for some time to come.”

"I didn't know that,” Darrick paused as he considered possibilities. "Why didn't she tell me?"

"Well, she doesn't know where you are. You evidently changed your phone number.”

"Gee, I could manage that place . . . No, it would never work.”

"Why not?"

"Her father doesn't think I'm good enough for Claudette. He doesn't like me,” his sudden enthusiasm evaporated.

"Well, I don't see what Claudette's father has to do with anything – do you?"

"Her dad has made it clear he doesn't want me around. And he's probably right.”

Father Frederick moved the conversation forward, "Claudette is about to tell her parents about the pending birth.”

"She hasn't told them yet?" Darrick was visibly surprised, "They'll come down on her like a ton of bricks. I can see her old man, 'I told you so, that good for nothing bum will ruin your life.' I've seen him in a rage before. No thanks.”

"So, you don't think giving Claudette a little support would make any difference?"

Darrick was silent – "I don't know.”

"Well, you think about it,” Father Frederick got up.

"Where are you going, Father?"

"Oh, I thought I'd look around before it gets dark.”

"I'll join you if you don't mind. I can give you a little background on some of these horses. Come on Little Dog.”

The three moved to the stables as the shadows of the oncoming evening scurried across the landscape. Father Frederick was confident he had done everything possible outside of performing a miracle. Now it was Little Dog’s turn. He picked up Little Dog and carried him for a while. "Good Dog.”

Darrick tossed and turned the whole night — waking and dozing off again. Little Dog had moved into Darrick's bed and kept moving around during the night to accommodate Darrick's tossing.

It was barely dawn when Darrick came fully awake. He turned the light on next to his bed and found Little Dog standing over him, staring at him, with a crumpled piece of paper in his mouth. "What have you got there, Little Dog?" Darrick reached out as Little Dog dropped the paper. He straightened the piece of paper out and saw it was a letter he had written to Claudette, and had thrown away. Little Dog growled and looked directly into Darrick's eyes. "What are you up to Little Dog?"

Little Dog jumped off the bed and stood by the door and barked.

Darrick got out of bed, stared at Little Dog and said, "Claudette?" Little Dog began to bark. Darrick wondered how he was able to understand what he was saying. He dismissed the idea, got dressed and went about his morning chores with the horses.

During the course of the morning, Darrick stopped occasionally, looked at Little Dog and said a name – no response came from Little Dog. Twice he used Claudette's name and Little Dog went into a barking frenzy.

By mid-afternoon, Darrick had finished his chores and decided to go to Claudette. Little Dog practically jumped into Darrick's backpack before he had a chance to open it. "Ok already – we're going. I sure hope I'm doing the right thing.”

Forty-five minutes later Darrick stopped his motorcycle in front of Claudette's apartment building. There was no answer to his knock on her door. He decided Claudette had probably gone to her parent's home, an old Victorian, on the North Side of Chicago. He knew where the house was located, he wasn't sure he wanted to have a run-in with Claudette's father.

Father Frederick's influence on Darrick was working – Darrick decided to go. He started his motorcycle and headed north. A half hour later he pulled up in front of the Clarkson home. He opened his backpack, Little Dog leaped out and ran up onto the porch and began barking his head off.

Darrick noticed two cars parked in the driveway and decided not to go in. "Come on Little Dog,” he turned away and walked back to his bike. As he reached his bike, he heard his name called out from someone at the house. He stopped and turned around.

It was Julia, holding the screen door open, "Darrick, I'm so glad you're here, please come in. Claudette is here.”

Darrick reluctantly climbed the front steps. He stopped and looked at Julia. "Is your husband here?"

Julia took his arm, "Yes he is — don't worry, you’ll find him a changed man,” Darrick's momentary pause conveyed his skepticism about what she had said. "Miracles do happen, Darrick — trust me. I know he can be crusty sometimes, give him a chance – just this once. And call me Julia, we're family now,” she smiled, and gently pushed Darrick into the foyer.

Little Dog remained on the porch, watching. He wagged his tail, barked once, then slowly disappeared. In his place lay a small green stone sparkling in the sunlight.

Darrick heard Little Dog bark and went back to the screen door to fetch him. Little Dog was nowhere in sight. Darrick’s heart tugged at the thought of losing his little friend. The sparkling stone on the porch floor caught his eye. He opened the screen door, picked up the green stone and went back inside.

The first face he saw when he entered the living room was Claudette's, she tried to get up. Darrick rushed to her and knelt down next to her. "No, don't get up. I'm so sorry Claudette. I thought . . .”

"You don't need to say a thing, Darrick. I'm happy you're here,” she put her arms around his neck and drew him close. She saw Daniel and Ted, and mouthed the words, 'Thank you.' as grateful tears ran down her cheeks.

Julia looked at Lance with an expression reminiscent of their recent conversation. Lance responded, "Welcome Darrick. We're happy you're here.”

"Darrick turned his head toward Lance, "Thank you, Mr. Clarkson.”

"You're all staying for dinner,” Julia cheerfully announced. She paused, waiting for any objections, and then proceeded to the dining room. “Come along Lance, we have a meal to prepare,” she kind of danced through the dining room and through the swinging door into the kitchen. Lance dutifully followed.

Ted and Daniel gathered around Claudette and Darrick who looked at Claudette, "Is he alright?"

"Dad? Oh, he's fine. He and Mother had a little talk, all is well again.”

Ted ventured, "I think she ripped him a new one,” they laughed in agreement.

They began throwing questions at Darrick and how he came to be there. "A priest came to see me yesterday. We had a lengthy conversation.”

"A priest?" Ted looked at Daniel, who shook his head. "Did he give his name?"

"No, as a matter of fact, he didn't. He seemed to know everything. Oh, and I found this outside the front door,” he handed the small green stone to Claudette.

"Oh Ted, look. Where's my cross? It's in my purse,” Ted retrieved the cross and handed it to Claudette. She placed it on the table next to her, dropping the green stone into the empty space at the center. It fit perfectly.

Darrick added, "The priest who visited me yesterday was wearing a cross like that.”

Ted and Daniel looked at one another, "Freddie,” they announced together, with knowing grins.

"Freddie?" Darrick looked up in surprise.

"Yes, Darrick," Daniel explained, "You had a conversation with the Reverend Frederick Mathew Monahan.

LOOK!" Daniel pointed to the cross. Everyone gazed at the cross as it began to sparkle and disappear into thin air. Claudette and Darrick were anxious for an explanation of what they had witnessed. Ted explained their crisis had come to an end, and Father Frederick wanted his cross back.

"The same thing happened with the cross Father Frederick gave to me. It vanished when the crisis was over.”

Julia peeked around the corner, "Soups on.” Everyone moved into the dining room. Julia was ecstatic about the family gathering as she moved around the table making sure everything was in place. She stood between Claudette and Darrick, "And there is room for two more,” she smiled and kissed them on their cheeks, then walked around the table and seated herself next to Lance. She took his hand, kissed him on the cheek, following it with a loving smile.

The rest of the day brought the problems and questions in this crisis to a conclusion. Derrick asked Claudette to marry him. She accepted. Father Daniel offered to perform the ceremony. Ted was asked to be best man for Darrick.

Darrick was to take over the management of The Lola Palooza Soup and Sandwich Bar. Claudette asked Daniel and Ted to be godfathers to her soon to be born children. They accepted without hesitation.

Ted swore Claudette became more beautiful the closer she came to term. When the day arrived, she gave birth to two beautiful boys. The babies were named Mathew David MacGregor and Timothy James MacGregor. Father Daniel performed the christening. Claudette held Mathew, and Ted held Timothy. Julia and Lance were in attendance.

Ted and Daniel doted over their new charges, enhancing their already strong friendship.

Claudette's father, Lance, became a working partner in the famous Lola Palooza Soup and Sandwich Bar, located in downtown Chicago on Lake Street. But, he never did get used to the sound of the Lake Street elevated rumbling overhead.

The End.

Posted: 05/19/17