Forgotten Angel

Chapter One

"He seems to have moved past his initial resentment, and he seems to have gained some trust in me. I move that he is ready for the next step."

"Do you feel completely confident in your motion?"

"I do."

"What precautions are you willing to take to ensure success?"

"The same as I have done before, constant contact and gentle rebukes when necessary. I assure you that he is a very sensible person, and everything he does is what he believes to be the best course of action."

"We wish to see how he acts when he believes we aren't watching. For that reason, we request that you conceal yourself until further notice."

"As you wish, but . . ."

"If he is as you say, then there should be no reason for 'but.' Take heart, for we are allowing him to remain among the Humans, and we are aware of his fondness for them. You have your orders. You may leave."

"Thank you. I will obey."

Lyra stared at the woman standing at the front of the school room with dull and unseeing eyes, tapping her fingers against the wood of her desk methodically. Letting out a deep breath, she allowed her eyelids to droop.

". . . and he will be visiting us shortly. I want you all to be on your best behavior for Father Malachi."

Lyra's head shot up at the unfamiliar name and she blurted out, "Who's Father Malachi?" The class snickered, and Lyra's cheeks turned red.

"Have you listened to anything I've said?" the teacher demanded, folding her arms across her chest.

"No ma'am. You've never said anything worth listening to."

A muscle in the woman's neck twitched. "Go stand facing the back of the classroom until I say you may sit down. You are becoming a problem Lyra West, and I want you to think about that. Maybe you'll finally decide to be a decent person."

Glaring at the teacher, Lyra stood up and did as she had been told to, positioning herself so that her nose was nearly touching the log wall. A breeze was coming in through a crack and it smelled earthy, inviting. The teacher went on lecturing and Lyra found herself looking toward the door a few feet away. Quietly she inched herself closer to it. Soon she would be outside and free, away from that awful class lead by that evil woman . . .

The door opened noiselessly and a man stepped inside, taking off his hat to expose his shoulder length orange hair. Lyra glanced back at the teacher, but she was facing the chalkboard, so Lyra turned to fully face this newcomer. His shoes, pants, vest, and coat were a deep, spotless black, and his button-up shirt was a sharp contrasting, wrinkle-free white. Hanging around his neck was a shiny gold cross on a yellow chain.

Reaching toward her, the man rested his hand on Lyra's shoulder and winked a turquoise eye, smiling pleasantly as he did so.

"I can tell that you and I are going to be friends," he murmured with a velvety voice. Lyra's cheeks flamed red and the man chuckled, nudging her chin with his warm hand before walking up the aisle of desks, the teacher turning around and the rest of the class focusing their attention on the priest as he moved to the front of the classroom.

Staring after him, Lyra realized that she wasn't breathing and took in a deep gasp of air, staring as the teacher loudly introduced the man. So that was Father Malachi.

"Forgive me for interrupting," Father Malachi said, "but there is a student standing in the back, and she rather looks like she needs to sit down."

"Yes, of course. Lyra, take your seat."

Slowly Lyra returned to her chair, keeping her eyes fixed on Father Malachi. She knew that she was blatantly staring at him, but she couldn't look away. There was something about him that was comforting, and she wanted to know more about him. She wished that she had listened to the teacher's introduction of him.

"I'm delighted to be here, and I must say that every single one of you looks like a bright young man and woman." Lyra blushed again. Father Malachi had looked straight at her when he said that. "I'm sure your teacher has already told you, but I'm a traveling priest. I've come here to your beautiful town, and I have decided to acquaint myself with everyone. I hope you don't mind, but I will be observing your school for a few days . . ." Father Malachi paused. "How awkward! I'm sorry." Grinning, Father Malachi reached up to touch the back of his head. "Introductions are always uncomfortable. Please, tell me your names."

"Everyone, please stand up when you introduce yourselves," the teacher added, pointing at one of the students to start. Resting her head against her fist, Lyra looked sideways out the window. Father Malachi was kind of a dope, after all. His speech had sounded like he couldn't hear himself and had no clue what he was saying. He had seemed so cool before that . . .

Standing up, Lyra opened her mouth but Father Malachi interrupted her. "Lyra," he said, "I remember." He winked at her again, and for the fourth time that day Lyra felt her cheeks burn. Sitting back down, Lyra buried her head in her arms to hide her face. She fervently wished that she had escaped through the door to freedom.

When the lunch hour came, Lyra picked up her bundled food and bustled outside with the rest of the students, the teacher's stern stare letting her know that there was no slipping away. Besides, Father Malachi was milling about among the students, stopping at each group that formed. With a sigh, Lyra sat down alone at the base of a tree some distance away from the others and pulled out her sandwich, chewing it slowly as she stared up at the clouds.

"I take it you're a loner."

Jumping, Lyra's head spun around to look at Father Malachi who was settling down on the grass next to her, the ring on his left hand glinting the bright sunlight into her eyes for a second before Father Malachi pulled his arm into the shade.

Oh. Lyra's heart made the sound because her mouth was full of bread. So Father Malachi was sworn to celibacy, signified by the ring on his finger engraved with the church's insignia. For some reason that made Lyra a little bit sad. She had thought that he would be one of the priests who wanted marriage and family, but that wouldn't work if he traveled . . .

"I just realized something. I haven't given you one chance to speak since I've arrived. I haven't the slightest what your voice sounds like, and I'm dying of curiosity to know."

Swallowing, Lyra answered, "I don't know what to say though."

"Hmm." Father Malachi pursed his lips together thoughtfully. "Not exactly like a concourse of angels, but still pleasant sounding. So Lyra, may I keep you company for the rest of lunch, or would you prefer to be left to your solitude?"

"You can stay." Lyra looked around at the other students, some of whom were watching them. "You can tell me stories."

"Why ever would you want to hear stories from a priest? They're all bound to come from the Bible, and as much as I find them to be delightful, I don't get the impression that you share the same sentiment."

"No. About the outside world. What's it like outside of this village?"

"Big. For instance, a lot of the schools are separated by years, with a lot more students and teachers. But it's a lot more impersonal, since a lot of people never get to know each other."

"Have you ever been to one of the major cities?"

"Several of them."

Lyra's eyes lit up, and turning to Father Malachi she asked, "Is it true that they have this thing called an automobile? A carriage that can move on its own?"

"Yep, it's true. I've ridden in them many times."

"Oh I wish I could even just see one!" Lyra looked up at the sky again. "That's my dream, to get out of this village and into one of the major cities. I just don't know how I'll survive out there."

"Keep praying, and it will happen. Miracles occur every day."

Narrowing her eyes, Lyra glanced at Father Malachi. "You area priest. Only religious folk say stuff that lame."

"Only teenage girls care about it." Father Malachi winked. "What about your family? Wouldn't you miss them?"

"I don't have any family."

"Forgive me. I didn't know."

Biting her lip, Lyra plucked at a blade of grass. She could feel the words bubbling up in her throat, and she knew that in a minute she would be blabbing her heart to a stranger who felt like the safest person she had ever known.

"My mom was really too young to be having a kid, and she bled too much when she delivered me. Dad said he would have done things differently if he could have, and waited a little longer before getting married. Then a couple years ago, there was an accident with one of the horses and he died. Sister Laretta checks on me and makes sure I go to school, but since then I've been alone."

Lyra had expected him to murmur sympathy and express condolences, but she had not expected his warm arm to circle around her shoulders with the simple words, "You're very strong."

Suddenly Lyra wanted to cry, and she bit the inside of her cheek to stop the rush of tears. "I'm not that strong," she answered, forcing a slight laugh.

"Yes, you are. Your mother died giving life to you, and you had to grow up without her. Then you lost your only parent, and no one stepped in to fill the role, leaving you to fend for yourself and isolating you from everyone else, because they just don't understand what it's like. You are stronger than anyone else here."

Water blinded Lyra's eyes and spilled down her face. "Are you trying to make me cry?" she asked.

Father Malachi pulled her closer. "You need to."

"People will think this is weird."

"God knows the truth."

Resting her forehead against Father Malachi's shoulder, Lyra gave in to her sobs, choking on the freed emotion that pushed to get out.