Christmas Eve, 2019
He couldn’t believe it had been 17 years – almost. Tonight would have been their anniversary.
They’d spent those years with love, laughter and heartache as one by one their family dwindled by death or simply by life moving forward. Until in the end it had been just the two of them. Warrior and Seer. Friends and lovers. Husband and wife.
And now it was widower.
She’d died in his arms as he’d always hoped she would and not in a sewer or in the midst of battle unable to touch her or feel her or kiss her before she slipped from him possibly for an eternity.
He could still feel her last breath on his mouth. There’d been no tears from either of them as she brought his lips to hers for one last time and then smiled and whispered, “I’ll wait for you. Don’t be too long.”
She never liked to be kept waiting. God, how he’d learned that the hard way. A few nights banned from her bed for accidentally forgetting to pick her up or being late for their weekly Friday night date broke him of that habit. Never mind if he had a perfect excuse of actually saving a soul and being impaled in the process, if he kept her waiting, he damn well better be prepared for the consequences.
The stillness was broken by the long forgotten sound of his laughter as the memories of her snits and his pleading to be forgiven raced through his mind on his personal gag reel. Fiery hazel eyes, that brow that seemed permanently stitched into a perfect arch, those long fingers splayed across her woman’s hips, her designer clad toe tapping a beat of impending death…
The images blurred as his eyes burned with the tears he’d been holding in for 33 long days and lonely nights.
He had hated her for leaving him, and he’d hated himself for ever loving her. For 33 days he’d clung to that hatred to stem the pain from swallowing him whole and never letting him go. But he had reached his limit. He couldn’t hold onto the bitterness anymore – not when he could still feel her, remember her so clearly that he was sure at any moment she’d come through that door, smile and ask him why he was sitting there, all shadowy and gloomy, brooding again.
His hand clenched when, for a second, he thought she’d made her way to his side and had once more taken his hand to pull him up and out of the dark. But the piercing sound of the tissue paper as it crinkled in his grip ended the fantasy, and he wiped his eyes with the back of his hand as he once more turned his mind and attention to the box on his bed and the coldness in his heart.
It had arrived unexpectedly. There was no one left that he could think of to send him mail and the last package that had been delivered had been one for Cordy – a state-of-the-art Cuisinart – another failed attempt to finally learn to cook. So his immediate thought was a checklist of everything nefarious that could arrive in a box – bomb, mystical spell, demon insects, evil hand. But when he saw the label addressed to him in Cordy’s handwriting, he’d practically thrown it on the floor as if it were solid holy water.
The delivery guy hadn’t waited for a tip, the sight of a deathly pale man with his mouth stretched into a gaping maw was enough for him to remember the delivery by. And Angel never heard him scuttle out because his gaze was transfixed to the words lying at his feet in Cordelia’s elegant hand. “Angel Chase, MBA.” It was as if she had reached from the grave and jumped started his dead heart. It was her little joke. MBA – Master of the Brooding Arts.
Then he’d seen the return address and had known for certain that it was from her. Patricia Burkle. The mother they both wished they could claim as their own, and the woman who had claimed them as hers after Fred died. It made perfect sense that Cordy would leave something in her care for this day. A mother would know when her child needed to grieve and when that grieving should change to acceptance.
Apparently Trish’s mom meter had told her 33 days was enough and something in Angel niggled that she might be right.
It had taken all the strength he possessed to carry the package – Cordy’s last gift to him – to their…his…room and more willpower than he thought he had to wrench it from his arms and leave it unopened for so long.
He’d been too scared to see what she’d left him. Anxious to see it but petrified that once opened, she would be gone for good. But something in the wind that had parted the drapes and surrounded him in her scent had abated the fear, leaving him anxious but shivering with excitement.
And now all that kept Cordy’s last secret from him was a thin tuft of white paper and the ability to move it. The moving part was taken out of his control when another wind, stanch and insistent, not only parted the drapes but flung open the doors and scattered the mounds of tissue in a cellulose snowstorm centered over the bed.
When the air calmed and the last of the faux flakes settled, Angel’s eyes finally focused on the miracle he’d been given.
There was no note; there was no need. Rich and warm fabrics of deep blue, gold, and cream spilled from the box and onto his lap. Between his fingers flowed the silky gold threads of her words. Yards and yards of his Cordy embroidered, layered and stitched to wrap around him and keep his cold, dead body filled with her love.
The quilt was her portrait. A needle and thread painted her with more detail and revealed her spirit better than any artist could have with strokes of light and color from oils and a brush.
As Angel studied every letter until they formed a word and then a sentence, his face became drenched with weeks of grief and loneliness. When his fingers felt the word “dumbass” sewn with silk thread on cotton for the first time, he threw his head back and allowed the laughter back into his heart to stay because she had returned there, too.
There was so much to read. She’d had a lot to say to him and he wanted to savor all of it, feast a little now and save the rest for breakfast and all the meals for the rest of his life, but something in the middle caught his eye as it sparkled in the rays spilling through the opened doors from the rising moon.
More gold and bright white, glittering and shifting, three-dimensional and…pendant sized.
There in the center block was the harp he’d given her on their first night together. She had never taken it off and now that he actually thought about it, he hadn’t seen it on her for awhile, but it never clicked. It had become like white noise to his eyes in their years together. Something always there but never really noticed.
She had known she was dying far longer than he thought. For a moment rage flared at the woman to whom he’d entrusted his heart and life for lying to him, but he couldn’t sustain the emotion once he read the words stitched by the pendant for him to read every day for the rest of his life.
On the left were the words of the note he’d given to her with the necklace. To the right of the harp was a new note just for him.
Hey Big Guy,
I’ve got a new harp now and even though nothing can ever replace this one in my heart, I thought it best to leave it with you for safe keeping. Since the moment you gave it to me, your love has sung to my heart. While I’m away, I want nothing more than for this harp to fill you with the music of my love for you. For always and forever you will be my love, and I am forever yours.
Your very own angel,
P.S. About that angel-in-training idea, in my book you’ve already passed the test just putting up with me for so long. But just in case, keep training, dork. I don’t want to spend eternity floating up here all alone. Talk about your boring afterlife – pfft.
The tears were gone and all that was left was the smile.
She’d left him with her love and a kick in the ass. If he wanted to be with her again, he would have to continue to fight, to help the helpless – a mission that had become more hers than his over the years. While his might not be the purest of motives, he knew her well enough to know hers were. Anything she had to do to save souls and help him earn his redemption, she would do – even if it meant threatening him from beyond. All he had to do was go along for the ride.
And it had been one hell of a ride.
The soft smile that had seemed foreign moments ago now morphed into another long-forgotten movement as it stretched and became a full-fledged yawn. As Angel succumbed to the exhaustion and bittersweet memories, he fell gently back onto the pillows that still smelled of her perfume and folded his knees to his chest cocooning himself inside the quilt – inside Cordy.
For the first time in what seemed like an eternity, he sighed peacefully and moaned hopefully as love remembered and life yet to be surrounded his heart and tucked him in.
Lowering his eyelids, shutting out the cold gray hue of the darkened room, he finally drifted into a warm and luminous blue and gold heavenly sleep, eager to dream of her – his Cordy – and listen to the music of his angel’s songs.