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The Broken Window
By Christa Kinde, Kim Childress
ZONDERKIDZCopyright © 2013 Christa Kinde
All rights reserved.
THE FIRST SNOW
In the small bedroom tucked under one of the dormers in the Pomeroys' farmhouse, a burst of silver light heralded the arrival of an angel. It was as if a door opened in the middle of the room, and when it closed, Abner stood on the braided rug. He absentmindedly poked the bridge of his nose, trying to adjust glasses he wasn't wearing at the moment. Long, silver hair swished as he turned and inspected the snug space. The ceiling sloped so dramatically that the top corner of the bedroom door was cut at an angle, and a wide seat stretched under a stained glass window, its pattern of multicolored diamonds shining faintly in the moonlight.
"So this is where you've been holed up," Abner said, cool gray eyes fixed upon Tamaes. The Guardian sat in the corner, arms folded stubbornly over his chest. "Jedrick said it might take heaven and earth to move you, so he sent me."
"This is where I am needed," protested Tamaes in a low voice.
Nodding at the girl asleep on her bed, the Caretaker said, "You cannot protect her from the inevitable."
The Guardian's gaze slid sideways. "She can hear my voice."
"Hearing and listening are two very different things, and there is another voice she must learn to heed." Crouching before Tamaes, Abner firmly said, "I'm sending you out to stretch your wings."
"And if I decline?"
"You won't, but if you did, I'd simply have the rest of the Hedge carry you off."
With a sigh, Tamaes begged for understanding. "She is my responsibility."
"While that's true, you're not alone," Abner reminded. "Taweel is on the roof, and Koji is down the hall. Even Omri would fly to her defense if the need were great."
"This is not the first time I have been asked to show more faith in my teammates."
"Then the lesson has yet to be learned." Standing, the silver-haired angel arranged himself on Prissie's windowseat. "I'll remain here until your return. I may not be a Guardian, but few are foolish enough to threaten a Caretaker."
"That is not true," Tamaes said, an ironic smile tugging at the long scar running down the side of his face. At Abner's quirked brow, he flatly added, "No one would dare."
* * *
Prissie leaned her forehead against a green diamond in the stained glass window so she could peer through a peach one. Although a little better, she still had a fever, so the cold glass felt good against her flushed face. School was out for the day, and she was watching her brothers in the snow-filled yard below. Fat, sticky flakes drifted over their whole farm, blanketing everything under several inches of white stuff. This was the first big snow of the season, and it was perfect for packing.
Grandpa Pete was clearing the driveway with one of the tractors while the boys shoveled the walkways. Well, that's what they were supposed to be doing. Instead, they were goofing off, and Prissie had to admit, it looked like fun.
Neil's red Warriors stocking cap was pulled low over his blond hair as he threw snowballs as fast as he could make them. Since he played quarterback on their high school's football team, his aim was deadly. Tad retaliated by pitching whole shovelfuls of snow in his younger brother's direction.
Gently tracing the edges of a blue diamond, Prissie shifted so she could watch Beau through a soft yellow pane. Until her birthday in January, Prissie and Beau were the same age—fourteen. Her almost-twin was showing Koji how to roll a huge snowball, the kind you need for building snowmen. The two must have had big plans, because they called Neil over to help them push the monster boulder back across the lawn. Koji paused long enough in his play to look up at her window and wave one mittened hand. Even from a distance, Prissie could tell he was happy. She pressed her palm against her window, an answering smile creeping onto her lips.
Just then, the rumble of an engine and squeak of air brakes sounded from the direction of the road. The elementary school bus had arrived in the turnaround at the end of Orchard Lane. If Prissie leaned a little, she could just see her other two brothers chasing one another up the driveway. Zeke was already scooping handfuls of snow, eager to join Neil's battle. Jude trotted after him. Prissie knew that her youngest sibling would go to Tad first before checking on the chickens. But then the little boy suddenly wheeled and ran back the other way. Zeke also turned and charged after him. A moment later, another figure came into view. Milo Leggett waded toward the house, a package tucked under his arm, and two boys wrapped around his long legs.
At the sight of their mailman, Prissie's heart beat a little faster. Milo's blue eyes lifted to her bedroom window, and she jerked backward, hoping the stained glass hid her from view. Prissie's fondness for the Messenger had changed shape in recent months, but that didn't mean she wanted him to see her like this. "I must be a mess," she mumbled, pushing unhappily at honey-colored hair that probably looked as limp as she felt.
The boys crowded around the mailman, who gestured broadly while he talked. Before long, Milo had her brothers laughing, and Prissie was feeling more than a little left out. It wasn't fair that she was the only one still struggling to get better.
With a sigh, she glanced down at the notebook propped on her knees. December was almost here, so she was making her list and checking it twice. She wanted to give presents to several new people this year. Christmas was Prissie's favorite holiday, and she loved the decorations and the baking, the secrets and the presents. Grandpa Pete had begun humming snatches of Handel's Messiah while he worked, and Zeke was already laboring over a mile-long wish list. Prissie could hardly wait for the tree to go up in the family room or for the flood of holiday deliveries that would bring Milo to their door almost every afternoon.
At this time of the year, Prissie dearly missed Aunt Ida, who used to fill the house with carols from the piano in the corner of the family room. Her dad's younger sister had always been Prissie's best secret-keeper during Christmastime. Aunt Ida knew how to add bits of dough to gingerbread men so that they each had their own personality and how to cut apples so they looked like bunnies. Prissie could do these things for herself now, but it wasn't quite as much fun without her bubbly aunt.
Prissie stole another peek out the window in time to see Milo bend down to say something to Koji, who nodded seriously and hurried to the door. Glancing up over his shoulder, the mailman caught her watching and winked. Then, her brothers dragged him over to inspect their giant snowball, which Zeke promptly scaled.
By the time Koji opened her bedroom door, Prissie had worked up a good sulk. "You're not supposed to come in here without permission," she grumbled at her closest friend.
He studied her face and politely inquired, "Should I leave?"
"No," she said grudgingly, pulling up her quilt to hide her flaming cheeks. She was as tired of being alone as she was of being sick.
Koji stepped into the room and padded over on stocking feet. "There are messages for you!" he announced, clearly pleased to be entrusted with their delivery.
The postcard was from Aunt Ida, and Prissie smiled as she skimmed its brief note. "She and Uncle Lo are in Africa now," she said. "And she hopes we have snow."
"We do," he answered seriously.
"There is another message," Koji said.
Prissie eyed his empty hands. "From whom?"
"Really?" she murmured, stealing another glance outside. Koji climbed onto the opposite end of the window seat and let one foot swing while he watched the activity in the yard below. When he took the time to scan the sky as well, she asked, "Is everything all right?"
"There is nothing to fear," Koji replied. Then he relayed the Messenger's request. "If you would not mind, Milo will come for you in dreams tonight. Jedrick has called a meeting."
* * *
Prissie took the time to comb and braid her hair, but she didn't go downstairs when the dinner bell rang. Her mom came to check on her, pressing a cool hand to her daughter's forehead. "You could join us," she invited. "If you're up to it?"
"Is Milo staying for supper?" Prissie asked suspiciously.
"I don't want to get him sick."
"Are you sure?"
Prissie's chin lifted stubbornly. "Yes."
"Get some rest, then," Mrs. Pomeroy encouraged. "My folks are going along to the rehearsal tonight, so once the house is quiet, I'll bring up a tray. Sound good?"
"I guess," Prissie sighed. "Thanks, Momma."
Her maternal grandparents had been visiting since just before Thanksgiving. Grandpa Carl and Grammie Esme's RV was parked next to the apple barn, but they were staying in the spare room at Grandpa Pete and Grandma Nell's house. Grandpa Carl said they would stick around until after the annual production of Handel's Messiah, then they would follow the snowbirds south for the winter.
The Christmas concert was only a couple weeks away, and excitement was building. This year, the decision had been made to mix things up a bit by doing a modern twist on the classic. Grandpa Pete, who'd been singing with the bass section for forty years, had been suspicious about the introduction of drums and electric guitars to the orchestra, but it cheered him immensely that two of his grandsons had joined the choir this year.
Prissie was actually just as excited about the upcoming concert, mostly because Milo was taking part for the first time. He'd been coaxed into it by his good friend Baird, another angel-in-disguise who led worship at a church down in Harper.
At some point, Prissie must have drifted off because she was roused from a fitful doze by the rattle of dishes and shuffle of feet. Lifting her head from her pillow, she squinted into the light from the hallway while Koji carefully maneuvered through the door with a tray of food. "Why didn't you go to rehearsal?" she asked in surprise.
"Your mother says this goes on your lap," the boy announced, putting off his answer. "Sit up, please."
Prissie reached across to flick on her bedside lamp, then did as she was bidden. Koji set the tray before her and sat down at the foot of the bed. "This is the first time I have prepared food for someone. Please, eat it."
Koji's happiness came through loud and clear. "I did!"
"Did you have fun?"
"Your mother was very encouraging," he replied seriously. "I hope it will be satisfying."
Prissie dutifully picked up her fork and tasted the scrambled eggs, then took a bite of cinnamon toast. "It's good," she assured with a small smile. "Thank you."
He nodded, then addressed her initial question. "I remained behind because you are here."
"You shouldn't have to miss out just because I'm sick," Prissie said. "Rehearsals are one of the only times you get to see Harken, Baird, and Kester!"
Dark eyes gazed steadily into hers, as if he was trying to figure out what she meant by what she said. Finally, Koji asked, "Have you forgotten your promise?"
Nibbling at her toast, Prissie replied, "No, of course I remember." Back in October, the young angel had been given permission to secure a promise from her. She'd given her word not to wander off by herself. It was almost as if the young Observer was trying to be her second guardian angel. "I've kept my promise too!"
"You have," he agreed. "In a covenant of this nature, we both have a promise to keep."
That hadn't occurred to her. "So when I promised to stay with you, you were also promising to stay with me?"
Prissie poked at her dinner and murmured, "I'm sorry."
"Because you're stuck with me, I guess."
Koji blinked. "This is where I want to be."
"But what if you wanted to do something else?"
He calmly replied, "There is nothing else I wish to do."
"But if you did!"
"Do you still not understand?" he asked, the hint of a smile twitching at the corner of his lips.
"I guess not," she grumbled, but at the same time, she was very glad. It was completely like Koji to take a promise seriously. He'd been a faithful friend from the very beginning, a fact that warmed her heart. "But that's okay, right?"
With a smile that lived up to the description angelic, Koji repeated, "Indeed."
* * *
"It is late," Koji whispered. The rest of the household was completely still when he tiptoed back to her room. "You need to sleep."
"I slept all day," Prissie complained. "I'm not tired."
With a soft hum, he knelt beside her bed, and his fingers brushed across the back of her hand. "What does sickness feel like?"
"I can see that you are uncomfortable." He gently fitted his hand into hers and asked, "What else?"
Prissie sighed, but at least Koji's curiosity provided a distraction. Staring up at the ceiling, she replied, "When you're sick, it's like everything goes wrong. I felt weak, dizzy, achy. One minute, I was too hot, and the next, I was shivering. Now, I just feel blah."
"What does blah mean?" he asked curiously.
"Bored, restless, and very tired of being sick," she replied moodily.
"Tired, but not sleepy," he mused aloud. "You long for rest and cannot find it."
"Yes. And it doesn't help knowing that everyone's waiting for me to fall asleep."
"Time is of no consequence." Koji tipped his head to one side and said, "I am permitted to offer a suggestion."
"Permitted?" she echoed, rolling onto her side to face him. It still struck her as strange that he sometimes received instructions directly from heaven ... or from his teammates.
Koji nodded. "Harken says that Marcus says that you are forgetting something he already told you."
Prissie blinked at the relayed message, then frowned. Marcus might be an angel, but he annoyed her more often than not. "I have no idea what he means."
The young Observer's eyes shifted out of focus, and then he nodded to himself. With a small smile, he said, "Harken says that Marcus says to stop dawdling and ask for what you need."
"And what's that?" she groused.
Koji gave her hand a squeeze. "I do not need sleep, so I will keep you company."
Oh. With a longsuffering sigh, she closed her eyes and tried to relax. Thoughts wandered, but she rebelled against taking advice from Marcus. Still, it would be Milo who came for her, and that was something she'd been looking forward to since that afternoon. With a much smaller sigh, she offered an awkward little prayer, asking for the sleep she needed in order to join the dream where her angelic friends waited.
* * *
Prissie had sort of expected the dream to begin as her last one had, with starlight and candlelight, but nothing was the same. Sounds came first, a strange sort of clinking, like melting ice cubes in a glass of water, and then Milo's voice reached her. "Miss Priscilla? Open your eyes, please."
She obeyed, and immediately squinted. She was seated on the ground, but blue surrounded her, bright as the sky on a sunny day. Translucent layers of luminescent color draped around the two of them, creating a sheltering cocoon.
Milo smiled at her in his same old way, though he no longer would have passed as their small town's mailman. His ash blond hair tumbled in a riot of curls that reached well past his shoulders, and he was dressed in raiment. The beige cloth glowed with a life of its own. Glancing down, Prissie saw that she, too, wore new clothes, a simple dress as white as new snow. Turning wondering eyes on the Messenger, whose hands were folded together in a relaxed manner, she murmured, "It's different!"
"This isn't anything like when Koji came for me," she explained, a tinge of accusation in her tone.
"I should hope not!" he exclaimed, eyes sparkling with good humor. "That was Koji's very first attempt to reach out to someone in dreams. While he managed very well with Harken's assistance, I'm a full-fledged Messenger. This is what I do!"
Again, there was a distant tinkle of sound, and her attention was drawn to the bright blue folds that hemmed them in. "This is beautiful," she quietly confided.
"Thank you," he replied just as softly.
"Where are we?"
"In the garden behind the blue door."
"I don't remember anything like this there," she murmured, tentatively reaching out to touch the melodic light. He watched her exploration without comment, which Prissie took as permission to continue. Color slipped over her fingers like nothing she'd ever encountered—softer than silk, lighter than air. It tickled across her skin like a breeze, and brought a smile to her face. Finally, she asked, "What is all this?"
Milo's eyebrows lifted slightly. "My wings."
Snatching her hand back, she murmured, "Oooh! Excuse me!"
"It's all right, Miss Priscilla. Ready to see the others?"
Excerpted from The Broken Window by Christa Kinde, Kim Childress. Copyright © 2013 Christa Kinde. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERKIDZ.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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