Losing Peter brought back some of the hurt of losing my mom and Linda. This story is how I comforted myself. I like to imagine that in heaven, you end up being yourself at your favorite age of your prime and that heaven is more of a real place than just choir and worship. If my dog isn't there, I don't care to go. But I mean no disrespect about heaven being less than perfect nor do I pretend that I knew Linda or Peter or special guest star Bet personally or what their characteristics were like beyond film and email. This is just something that came to me and in case it would help anybody else, with trembling hands, I've posted it.
Angel Linda Sherlock was working with two AITS (angels in training) at a time now and very much looking forward to a mini break in the Ibiza styled corner of heaven, but she had a meeting with Penny, her very first trainee who had been assigned to her for a refresher course. Already overwhelmed, she was shocked when her mobile rang.
“Agent BV1, will you hold for New Arrivals?
“Yes, of course.” She was polite as ever, befitting a Training Supervisor, First Class but in her head she was stroppy about it.
Still she smiled when a familiar voice came on the line. “Linda, it’s Bet. I know you’re swamped as I am, but there’s a new arrival I need you to look in on.”
“What? They pulled me out of screening newbies first week.”
“You had too much sympathy. Some people aren’t made for the tough jobs. But you’ll want to see this one, trust me.”
“What’s the situation?”
“Adjustment problems. Restless. Complaining when I think he really wants to cry but, you know, no tears in heaven.”
“How long has he been here?”
“Six earth days. He has a son, but of course, the boy volunteered as a battlefield guardian angel and has performed beautifully there. He’ll be around for his dad but not constantly.”
“Do you have any sense of how to help?”
“I’d rather not color your perceptions. He might do well in a position similar to yours, but he’ll chafe at the training. And his impatience would make him more of a drill instructor than a mentor. Can you hold on a minute?”
Bet’s hand did not cover the phone as much as necessary, and Linda’s ear rang with shouted commands. “Ladies, pick up the pace. They are milling around in reception like rabid cattle. Cut those three out and get them over to Central. Send somebody over to Pearly Gates; there’s been a swinging incident. And if it’s not too much trouble, could we turn down the harp Muzak? I used to be diabetic.”
Bet’s volume did not lower significantly as she reconnected with Linda. “I know you’ve taken on doubles and that Penny’s on her last chance, but I’m talking about one mansion call. An hour or so. Trust me, you won’t regret it.”
“I’ll come down there if I do.”
“Goodbye, Linda.” Bet’s chuckle was gleefully smug.
Linda took down the address, blinked from her robe-i-form into civilian clothes, and called for a chariot. She was soon on the corner of Leviticus Lane and High Street, her shoes tapping on the gold pavement. The houses were large as required by building code and on this street, the river Jordan ran along behind the well manicured back gardens. She rang the bell.
It was answered immediately, and a familiar voice said, “Well, hello there.”
Linda blinked many times; she might have coughed or grabbed one of the pillars to steady herself, or even swayed near to fainting. Her halo began to whir like an oscillating fan which was lucky because suddenly her cheeks were as flushed as they had been during her worst hot flash on earth. “Nick Barkley?”
“The one and only,” he said proudly with a grin that melted one of her shoes.
“I meant to say Peter Breck.”
“You can call me that too. Just don’t call me late to supper.”
She was staring, open mouthed. He was circa 1965, fighting weight with rosy cheeks and dark hair thick and shiny. His eyes snapped with vitality and humor. He was enjoying her fluster. Well, she had written more than one female character who could manage Nick’s sizable charms.
“I’m Linda Sherlock, a huge fan in my other life, Mr. Breck.”
“Oh no, we’re not going backwards,” He pointed a long thin finger at her. “I think it should be Nick, for my biggest fan and Grand Lady of the Valley Dwellers.”
“Yup, got the old noggin back almost before the gates. Sharp as a tack.” He rapped on the side of his head. “Come on in. I just made some campfire coffee.”
Her feet scuffed on pine boards as she entered a ranch house with mission style furniture, clean lines and masculine décor all around. “Oh, this is nice.”
“It will do for Chris and me. He’ll be away on some missions. They offered him an out to get me settled, but my boy keeps his promises. That’s how we raised him.”
He motioned her on through to the large sunshiny kitchen. She watched him pull two graniteware mugs from the cupboard. After he pulled milk from the refrigerator, one of his wings got caught in the door. “Dang it!”
“Pinches, doesn’t it?” Linda asked with sympathy. “I slammed mine in the van door one time. Wait until your halo gets caught on a low hanging tree limb.”
“I’ll put up with the harps and halos, but any chance of getting some real clothes?” He held up the skirt of his white robe with disgust, his toes curling in his Roman lace up sandals. “This is all a bit breezy for my taste and way too much like the hospital gown I was wearing when I bought the farm.”
“Oh that one’s easy. Chris should have told you.”
Peter snorted. “Should have and laughed his fool head off all the way out the door this morning. He thinks I look cute.”
Oh, you do, Linda thought but remembered her position and her promise to Bet. “Close your eyes. Think of something you wore that made you feel comfortable or special or attractive.”
Linda had closed her eyes in sympathy without realizing. “Okay, now open your eyes.”
They both looked to find that Peter was dressed as Nick. Hunter green chambray work shirt, black vest, gray striped pants pegged under his black boots, burgundy bandanna, and black leather gloves tucked in his belt. “Well lookie there! Ain’t that somethin’. “
He tapped one foot on the terracotta floor. There was a happy jingle. “Spurs!” He laughed with delight. “Thanks, Linda!”
He got her coffee as well as the chocolate éclairs that were delivered to each house every day with the morning paper Heavenly Happenings. They settled at the round table in the breakfast nook that overlooked the back lawn and river. Linda’s heart was still pounding at being so close to him and she reminded herself of his marital status. Nick had never worn a wedding band, but Peter was and it sat as well on him as the spurs.
Time to act like she knew what her task was. “So other than the breezy fashions, what else can we change to get you more comfortable here?”
“I need a job. Chris has his work; he’s very happy in it. If I don’t find something to do, I’ll go crazy while I’m waiting for Diane. Now don’t get me wrong, I want to live out her full time. If me moping around would stunt that, I’ll dance a jig every hour on the hour.”
Linda took a bite of the fluffy chocolate pastry and almost forgot everything, but she could have éclairs anytime whereas a coffee break with Nick Barkley…. Her halo gave a roulette of a spin. “What kind of work would you like to do?”
“Something like what Chris has got. I need to move now that I can again. Something to keep me on my toes. Or my heels.” He had a five year old’s Christmas morning excitement about his spurs as he tapped his heel again.
“Did you tell them at the Screening Office? Lots of people that come here aren’t willing or able to work.”
“Probably be six months or more before they can get me into training and training doesn’t guarantee a position. So I applied but what do I do in the mean time? I miss her so much, Linda. I won’t get by without her unless I’m busy.”
“You have a beautiful voice. What about the choir?”
He hung his head. “I sing too loud. They weren’t so fond of unscheduled solos.”
“Only thing I know is acting and apparently, they prefer most interactions up here to be low drama.”
Linda thought about Bet’s shouted desperation. “Your mouth to—,“ she blushed. “His ear. Teaching is drama, in my opinion.”
“What about animals?”
“You mean a pet?”
“Well, yes but more than that, training, caregiving, grooming. Rainbow Bridge Kennels is always looking for additional staff. So many pets need comfort as well as activity while waiting for their owners. People have so many pets in an average lifespan that the furry parent to pet ratio is quite high.”
She licked the last of the chocolate frosting from her fingers, tardily noticing that he had only sipped at his black coffee. “Let’s go over there and see if it might be a good fit.”
“I wouldn’t want to put you to any trouble.” Had his eyes always been that hazel? The flecks of gold were like bits of sunshine.
“Well, first of all it’s my job and my specific assignment for this afternoon; it’s a favor for a friend. And, Barkley rolled in something on yesterday’s mission Below so he’s at the groomers.”
Although it was not her favorite mode of transport. Linda suggested that they walk. Peter was vibrating like a coiled spring. She wondered how Diane had managed that constant restless energy, and then felt her cheeks again burst into flame. Safer ground, Linda. “Besides acting and singing, was there anything else that you liked to do?”
He thought a bit. Peter was going to answer. Nick would have blurted something. “I liked the fan conventions. I liked talking to people, putting them at ease, making them feel good.”
“I wish I could have seen you work a crowd.”
“I thought about politics one time, but I was too honest.”
“Yes, I expect you were.”
The entrance to the kennels was flanked by two large gold fire hydrants. Peter motioned for her to go through the gate first. Then he stepped inside and closed the gate behind him. “Always close a gate that you find closed.”
“That’s right,” she said distractedly. Barkley came running to her, all wiggles and fluff. She patted his silky head but her attention was focused on the horse running toward them, his platinum mane dancing.
“Coco, how’s my old pard?” The rest of Peter’s greeting was muffled in the mane of his faithful friend who had been waiting so long.
Linda bent to pet her old friend who smelled a bit too much like a lady of the evening but she had given up on the kennel using a more masculine soap for him. At least when he rolled on the grass as he would do momentarily, he would smell like corn chips instead of whatever he had picked up on Earth. Heaven’s grass was pet parent friendly.
When she had given Peter and Coco ample time, she stood up. Tears were rare in heaven but her eyes stung and Peter blew his nose loudly into his garish Nick Barkley handkerchief. “Nick must have won this one at the fair,” Peter said, his voice husky.
Linda smiled at the ready joke that didn’t fool anybody. “All of your dogs and cats are here too. It will take them a few minutes to get them corralled, and you can help if you like. I’ll check with the director about openings but will this keep you busy for a little while?”
“Oh, you bet!” Peter couldn’t stop patting his equine friend and Coco was tossing his mane around like a Hollywood starlet.
“You take him for a ride this afternoon. He’s been waiting a long time. But like you, he wanted a job so he’s a greeter for new arrivals here. They come over Rainbow Bridge which is a different division than the Pearly Gates. Coco does excellent work. He made Barkley’s adjustment much smoother.”
“Linda, I can’t thank you enough.” Peter held out his hand and when she went to shake it, she was enveloped in a tight hug.
She had never guessed that dreams could come true in the afterlife, but Nick Barkley was holding her and he smelled wonderful like leather and spices and campfires and horses. It wasn’t a casual thing either; he seemed to be drawing some comfort from her and patted her gently.
She broke away reluctantly. “I’ll speak with the director about a job here.”
“I would like that a lot. At least until a position like Chris’ opens up.”
But Linda was discouraged when she left the director’s office. Discouraged and thankful that Peter was off on a much needed ride for both him and Coco so she wouldn’t have to see him disappointed. Two troupes of Boy Scouts had just started at the kennels as a result of a tragic crash on the highway after a Jamboree. It would be a few weeks before they needed anybody else. Peter would be welcome to help out with his own animals but it wouldn’t be a job.
All the time that she worked with her trainees, she prayed for guidance. All the time that she counseled an unrepentant and still gum chewing Penny, she asked for clarity from above, which wasn’t as far as it had been on earth. After dinner and an extra long walk with a post grooming incensed Barkley, she lay in bed. Something was niggling at her. Something from earlier in her day. Bet had said that the new arrivals were milling around like cattle. Linda turned over and slept like a log.
She was up with the rosy dawn and sent a cloudogram to a certain Mr. Peter Breck.
Meet me at New Arrivals. Bring Coco.
Bet was hesitant but so overloaded that she was willing. Since Linda’s last visit, they had added three new terminals. Only infinity would save them. Peter rode up on Coco, who had been groomed to a blinding sheen. Peter had learned the costume changing process and now wore a hat and looked every inch the cowboy that he always was.
Linda was nervous but she had faith in her cowboy. “We’ve invented a new position for you, Peter. Officially, it’s New Arrival Liason. But between us, you’ll be ridin’ and wranglin’. I’ll let Bet go over the particulars.”
Bet was bristling with leadership and her explanation was clipped. Peter’s eyes danced at the chance to use his extensive restored memory. Bet’s hand whipped to the right. “They come in that gate. We need to funnel them through those gates (Bet’s hand snapped to the left) based on gender, age, type of death, language, occupation, height, special skills etc. You’ll learn as you go. We need to keep them moving. They won’t want to. They’ll have questions. We don’t have time.”
“Yeah, I remember my welcome.”
“Don’t be cheeky, Nick Barkley. I’ve met your kind before. They’ll get the harp and halo treatment at the other end. We’re in the trenches. They’ll be angry or confused or shaky. The blind ones won’t believe that they are seeing. The disabled will have some shaky steps when they can walk for the first time. Linda says you are good at talking to people, making them comfortable. But you’ve got to move fast.”
“Lady, I was born fast.”
“Don’t quote Thunder Road to me.” Bet was pressing her head set firmly against her ear. “Incoming. It’s the Night of the Wolf, Breck. Are you with me?”
Peter nodded. Linda was concerned as she was still unclear on where the new ones needed to go, but Peter seemed to thrive on the chaos. As she watched, he hauled a little girl up to sit on the saddle in front of him. His voice was firm but gentle as he nudged people along, calling out orders and directing traffic with his long arms. He used Coco’s body to block a gate that was full and funneled the next wave of folks to the shortest line. Soon the milling crowd was in orderly queues as if they were at the supermarket instead of their final destination. Once there was a lull, Peter dropped the child into the welcoming arms of a nurse angel but not before he had let her wear his hat and pet Coco.
Then he rode over to the hand rail of the terminal and swinging his mile long leg over the saddle, he dismounted and tied Coco. With long strides, he moved down the hallway toward the gate. Linda could hear him as he disappeared. “Howdy folks, I’m Peter. Not Saint Peter mind you, I’ve got my faults. But I’m here to show you around. It’s a fine place we’ve got. Lots to see and do. Don’t let the grass grow under you feet now. The good folks down that way will help you get sorted.”
He came back into sight with a businessman still holding a briefcase and an openmouthed woman who had just dropped a white red tipped cane. Peter had a steadying arm around her waist while he clapped a strong hand on the man’s shoulder.
“You won’t need that cane here, sweetheart,” he said, giving her a hug.
As the two newbies walked toward Linda and Bet, Peter blew his new supervisors a kiss and went back to usher the next souls though the gate. The jingle of his spurs seemed to give sound to the determined set of his wings as they shimmered majestically in the eternal sunlight.