Waiting on an Angel – Chapter 25

The mist started to lift off the peaks of the buildings littering the skyline as Talitha made her way towards the church. The first time had been an accident, she had felt coerced, almost tricked into a building which she expected to despise as well as all that it contained and stood for. But the following week as she tried to sort her thoughts from her emotion she returned. She picked the very early service mostly so she would not be faced with the semi familiar faces that would ask all sorts of difficult questions she did not want to be drawn into. But it also offered something more like what she expected from church and rather counter-intuitively Talitha found some comfort in that.

The absence of bright blue shirts was also a welcome relief to Talitha as she hid among her anonymity. There was no such early start on this occasion, nor would their be any escape from either the clutches of the welcome team or the inevitable recognition from one of the few people she’d met when she’d followed Theo through the doors a month before.

On the eve of her visit Talitha had been tempted to get in touch with Emma. But that would require Theo knowing of her plans and that would create more complexity than she could deal with. This needed to be her space, her time to work out what she wanted. It wasn’t outside of her most extreme hope that maybe she would have one of these words from God they had gone on about, she wanted to know whether Theo really liked her, she needed some help and if he wasn’t going to make it clear then she might as well chance it with God.

But as she walked in she nearly turned around on the spot and left before allowing anyone to notice her presence. Unfortunately for her spontaneous moment of intended acquittal as she twisted she nearly fell into the arms of the girl who worked with Theo. “Emma,” with a surprise in her voice that suggested it was Emma’s presence that was unusual rather than her own.

“Talitha, great to see you, are you here with Theo?” And with those words Talitha remembered why she had not made any effort to get in touch. Emma was, after all, principally friends with Theo, and surely would take his side in any fallout from their relation. Although there was no hint that anything was between them, she still felt that Emma was a threat to her, lurking, waiting, hoping perhaps for her moment when she could seize the initiative.

“No, no Theo today, I just decided to come along again, I actually came a couple of weeks ago. I went to the early service.” Talitha found it strange that she felt obliged to give an explanation as to why she was there, as well as a comprehensive history of her actions.

“I’m really glad you’ve come back, we can get some lunch after the service.” As Emma made the gracious offer Talitha felt bad for the resistance that was instinctively provoked by the friendliness of near strangers. She sat with Emma and Kathy and felt their every wince at each word or phrase that was not sufficiently sensitive to the none believer who sat besides them.

It was not that time, or the time after, but Talitha kept returning to St Bart’s. In their mutual friendship of Theo she found a common cause with Emma, but had no reason why each Sunday morning she found her way to this particular church, with these most unlikely of suspects. And why each time she left she felt better, calmer, more peaceful. Talitha even asked Theo to come one Sunday in early January, but his tendency to find excuses to avoid spending time together found greater force when Church was thrown into the mix.

It was that Sunday the Talitha left it all behind. Afterwards Talitha tried to put words on her experience to give it live and form, and to help her tell other people about her experience. It was not a physical change that happened. She was still the same person who walked in off the street that morning. It was not an intellectual change. She still had questions and doubts and uncertainties, and the sermon that morning had been of a particularly poor quality she thought.

Something had happened and she did not have the words to describe it. It was clear that her experience was not novel as Emma sidled up to her with a practised grace and gently allowed her hand to rest on her shoulder while turning her body around. The close contact reinforced the vulnerability Talitha felt and eased the tears out of the corners of her eyes. It was love that had  changed Talitha.

Not the sort of love that she was looking for in Theo, or that she thought he should be able to provide, but a love that conquered all fears. In that moment, knelt in the vestry, Talitha knew that she was loved. And in the fact that as she turned towards God not knowing of her fate she found that God had already turned, and his arms were wide open.

Talitha looked towards the large stain glassed window that dominated the final section of the church. And she looked and waited for God to speak to her, she watched the clouds arranged in glass and lead and wanted them to move to her demands, and show the way that God wanted her to travel. That was part of the bargain she felt, that if she had taken the chance of throwing away all of her reason, as so many people had suggested that she was doing by even walking through the door of a church, then God would sort out her life.

Christmas had been a lonely time for Talitha. She had decided to stay in London, partly because she was still not sure how long she would be here, partly because she wanted to give Theo every chance to make a move that he seemed so reluctant to make. But aside from spending inordinate amounts of time together nothing further had happened. Each time they parted she thought he might find something to say. That at the moment that he walked on as she took the steps down towards the tube, as happened most times they were together, Talitha hoped there would be a signal to his intentions, even a daring, outrageously forward, physical approach.

Instead, nothing matched the flirtatious behaviour that had defined their long distance contact. Behaviour that she wished she could see in person, but all the while wishing that perhaps it should never have happened.

As the tears faded from Talitha’s eyes and her cheeks paled from their bright blush she felt determined to draw a line under this tortuous experience. That it was Emma who was alongside her made it all so much harder.

Waiting on an Angel – Chapter 24

Sam walked across the grass with the damp of the morning dew lifting off the blades onto his shoes.  He looked through the trees with amazement that this was the situation he was in. He’d not wanted to confront Alex, he had hoped that he would be able to ignore it altogether. But it kept eating away at him, each time he tried to move on was reminded of the pain, of what Alex had done, and he knew what he had perhaps always known, that he had to speak to her.

Now as they sat on the bench in the brisk early morning sun of a December morning he started to wonder if there hadn’t been a better way out of this predicament. “Alex, I know about you and Adam.”

Alex considered whether to deny the unspecified charge, but realising that would indite her she stuck to ignorance. “What to you mean, me and Adam?”

“I mean that the two of you have been having it off with each other.” Sam, usually uncomfortable with colloquial, even crude, language could find no better way of expressing their clear but not complete betrayal. “I know that he’s been with you, I know the two of you have been doing things you know you shouldn’t.”

“How do you know?” But Alex knew how Sam had come to know of her illicit liaison with Adam. When she had handed her laptop over to him she was aware of the incriminating evidence it contained.

Sam had known that he would have to admit to his own act of betrayal, minor he considered in contrast to the greater truth it exposed. “I looked through your facebook messages when I was supposed to be sorting out your laptop.” Sam waited to see if she would furnish him with the details that his curiosity demanded but his wisdom suggested were superfluous to his need.

“It kind of just happened. All the time I knew that I shouldn’t be doing it, but we got on so well, everything seemed so natural. I’ve just so fed up of waiting for any of the guys in church to pay me any attention, I’ve tried so hard to wait. But in the end, I just couldn’t wait. Not when it was there, right in front of me. Offering me attention, playing to my needs, giving me affection. I’d become so fed up with having to wait, I decided why should I wait any longer.”

Alex became increasingly flustered as Samuel continued to stare straight at her, “Don’t tell me you couldn’t wait,” he growled.

There was an anger in his voice she’d not seen before, “You will always be waiting for something,” he stormed on. “You wait to get old enough to do all the fun things that were once out of bounds. You waited until you were old enough to date. And then you waited a bit more. And your waiting has always worked out. Even now you’ve given up on waiting you’re waiting to see how long you can get away with it.

“We wait for happiness, we wait for joy, we wait for it all to go wrong so we can say I told you so. We wait for that day when our troubles will be no more, we wait for everything.” Alex thought he was done, she knew that she had been in for a tough time when Sam used the words ‘we need to talk’ in his text. His words stopped forming on his lips but then he moved on from the pause and started up again.

As he spoke he was no longer staring at Alex. His eyes bore holes in the trees to the left of her head as he strained to hold back the tears.

“I’ve always been waiting. I’ve given up on waiting so many times before, but I still have not let go. I have tried so hard to stop waiting, or at least find something else to wait for. But I am still waiting for you. It’s the most ridiculous thing.” Samuel found silence at the end of his words and solace that his coffee was not finished. He poured the cup back and swallowed fast hoping to obscure the tears now flowing freely down his face. “And then you go and do, do whatever it was that you did, with my boss.”

“I think all along I was just waiting for it to go wrong,” and Alex stopped speaking as swiftly as she had begun.

As the silence stretched out Samuel started to calm down. He had thought he had so much to say. But anger had rolled it all up into a concertinaed outburst of emotion. And he was exhausted, he thought for a moment Alex was going to say something but she just sat there. One foot tucked under the other leg, frozen, unwilling to move in case it made the situation worse.

Samuel made to go but as he pulled away from the bench open Alex managed to force “wait” from her lungs.

“I’m done with waiting,” has he shook his head and tried again to leave.

“Quit the glib remarks, I’m trying to say sorry”

Without saying anything Samuel turned and waited. He waited thinking, this is the last time I’ll put anything on hold for you. Except he realised that on this, as in so many earlier occasions there was nothing to put on hold. Unless your count the awkward arrangement of feigned contentment of a quiet evening in. Yet he did stay and listen, and later he wondered if if even after all this she still had far too much power over him. He knew he was always going to stay if she asked. Even the getting up and making as to leave was done knowing subconsciously that he’d not make it through the door.

It was this continued attachment that meant Sam was not convinced by his attraction to Kathy. He was beholden in no such way to her, he could take it and leave it. As Sam watched the crowds rush by he thought about how he dealt with her absence, and how he had dealt with her presence.

He knew he had not been on the best form when she had come over. Sam had been a wreck and responded to her attempt to seize the initiative and put some definition to their relationship with ambiguity and distance. He did not expect her to hang around for too long.

Sam surprised himself with his clinical attitude and realised that he had become numb to emotion as he waded his way through the trauma of uncovering and then processing Alex’s behaviour. It was for this reason he’d made their meeting such an urgent request. He didn’t want to feel this way, he wished that he didn’t suffer from this anaesthetic of his soul. He wanted to experience love, he wanted to know what it meant to really want to be with someone, so much so that he would give up on so much else. But that was not how he felt. Any affection that he felt towards Kathy, he decided, was conjured out of a sense that he ought to respond to her in equal measure.

In his mind Sam considered Alex to be his muse, to be the one around which all other girls would circle. Kathy, he dubbed as a temptation, and Talitha as a distraction. He had almost banished Talitha from his thoughts when Kathy’s sudden reappearance brought his dilemma back to life. Sam thought of them both in tandem, as two parallel tracks, which he could ride along without making a decision of which to commit to.

As Sam and Alex walked through the park towards her university building they settled into a comfortable silence. There was very little that either felt able to say whiwhat ch would not hurt the other. And there was nothing that Alex felt able to do which would aid her redemption. Sam on the other hand thought that there was plenty she could do.

“Alex, what are we going to do about this crazy situation.” Sam asked the question that he had been searching for an answer to these past thirty six hours.

“Well it’s over so that’s the end of it,” Alex immediately responded before remembering that he had read her messages. “I know I said that before, and I know that in the end it meant nothing. But this time is different. This time it has to stop, I’m not going to let myself get sucked into anything like this again. I’m going to stop going to Holland Park, I couldn’t cope with sitting there, watching him. Knowing what I want and what he wants, and forcing myself to stay away.”

Sam listened carefully as he saw her penitence was starting to emerge, startled by her admission of the feelings they still shared. “I think that’s very sensible. But you’re not the only person who might need to do something about this.

“I’d very much like to just ignore everything that’s gone on, pretend that there was nothing more to it and move on. But that’s not really an option. For one, I’ve got to work with him, day in and day out, and watch his pious acts when they are betrayed by his actions. I don’t know what to do, but it’s got to come out into the open. Some people have to know what’s gone on.”

“And let my name become mud as the dirty tart who ensnared the church leaders? There’s no way that I’m going to let this become public.” Alex reacted angrily to his proposal, “besides, he’s got so much more to loose than I have. If it came out, it would affect his family, probably his job, his church, I’m not sure what he’d have left. It’s for the best if it is just left alone.”

Sam put one foot in front of the other. It was all he could do, concentrate on the most mundane of acts, to avoid matching her anger with comparable rage. He found it outrageous that Alex would be content with Adam getting away with everything that had gone on.

“Alex there’s never going to be anything more between the two of you. You do know that, don’t you?” Sam spoke directly to her, in the harshest tones he could muster without losing his cool.

“I know, but I still think about him most mornings when I wake up, and most nights when I go to bed. I don’t want anything bad to happen to him. I don’t think that’s really so wrong, he’s a good man.”

“But he’s done so much that makes his sermons like acts of a hustler pretending to be one thing when really just grabbing your wallet. He’s the leader of the church and he’s done something that is wrong in every church leader text book I’ve ever seen.”

“Sam, I know you’re angry, and I guess you might be right, but I’m just not able to bring myself to do this at the moment. I don’t want it to be public, and I’ve thought about talking to the other leaders, but I’m not ready to do that.”

As Alex reached the end of the path that led to her building they hugged. It was the first time in quite a while he’d been granted that privilege. And it bore none of the sensuality of previous embraces. It was hug of sympathy, of kindness. It was a move that conveyed trust and understanding.

But as Sam broke away and left he was undecided whether to go through with the second part of the plan he had committed to last night.

Waiting on an Angel – Chapter 23

Theo decided that it was time to make his mind up. But he still could not predict which way it would go. He even contemplated tossing a coin. Instead he decided to push things a bit out of his control and let someone else make the choice a little easier. What was the point in all this pent up frustration if it was without cause. What point was it him dreaming about what life might be like with Emma while supposedly on a date with Talitha?

It was after work one evening, the two of them were alone in the kitchen, tidying up after the shop had closed. All the others had left, in fact, Theo had sent the last straggler home before everything was done, orchestrating their short moments alone.

“Emma, I’ve been thinking.” Theo started before pausing, intentionally signalling the importance behind his imminent words. “You and I are pretty good friends aren’t we? I mean, we talk about a bunch of stuff, about relationships and everything.”

Suddenly Theo’s eloquence resembled an average adolescent at the school disco, “Well, you’ve certainly helped me as I’ve been thinking things through about Talitha, you’ve been very wise, you suggested I was cautious and waited to find out what it was like when we were together and not just at the end of a skype call.”

Emma was curious about where this was going. Part of her wanted it to travel the short distance to where she wondered if he would finish. The other part of her wanted nothing of the sort, but that was the sort that wanted safety and an easy life. The side which needed a thrill, something unexpected, unconventional, that part of her was excited at the prospect. She let Theo continue without interrupting his flow.

“And as I’ve been thinking about Talitha, I’ve also been thinking about you. I didn’t expect to, in fact in some ways I didn’t want to.” Realising what he may have just implied he felt some words to remedy any possible offence were needed, “I mean, I’ve been thinking about you when I think I should have been thinking about someone else.

“I waited for six months for the person I thought I wanted and it turns out that she was here all along. Emma, I think I’m in love with you.”

The certainty of the words shook Emma, she had wondered if he might push things a little closer to disclosing his interest in her, but she had never thought that he would pull that one straight out.

Theo had not intended on saying that either. However, as he saw the expression on her face as he spoke to both assuage her scepticism and capture her excitement at the same time. It was a little more than he really thought. He had held of any such expressions of affection Talitha with a rigid discipline lest he give her the idea that he was completely sold on a relationship.

“Theo, you are a great friend,” realising that this was how most let downs began she moved quickly on, “and this isn’t a let down. Part of me really wants to go out with you, but I’ve just never really thought that it was an option, I wanted you to be happy and if that was with Talitha, then that was how it was to be.

“But, when we’ve been together, when we’ve walked home, when you’ve come to church, twice, I couldn’t help but think that you might be interested. Even when Talitha came in tow. But the two of you seemed so good together.”

Emma did not want to turn down such an eligible guy. Yet she knew that if she listened to her senses, and if she asked for any advice the answer would be the same. That this was a path she should not walk. Not only was he already entangled with a girl who Emma was sure would not approve of this conversation, but he wasn’t a Christian. She could quote chapter and verse but was still unsure what egg yolks had to do with relationships, maybe to do with once you’ve cracked the egg you can’t go back, like the old toothpaste in a tube adage used to encourage purity.

Emma stood tall, stiffened her back along with her resolve. “I don’t think this is right. I’m not going to deny that I have certain feelings towards you, nor that I am hugely complemented that you’ve said this. But I’m not in the same place as you seem to be. Also, I think you need to sort anything out with Talitha, does she know that you’re not interested?”

“Well, we’ve not committed to a relationship or anything yet, we’ve just been exploring how we get on together, and how it all works now she’s back in the country.”

“She’s been back over two months, but you haven’t told her it’s not going anywhere?”

“Not as such, but I’ve tried to avoid having to, I don’t want to hurt her feelings, and, after all, one of my cousins suggested a major reason she came back to the UK was me.”

“Theo, if you’re going to declare your love for any girl it’s pretty key that someone else doesn’t think she’s got a monopoly on your heart. I’m pretty sure that’s what Talitha reckons, if you’ve not said anything, if you’ve carried on dating and waiting for her to noticed you vaguely casual disinterest then that’s not good enough.”

Emma walked home on her own that evening. She knew that the next time she complained about the paucity of guys in the church there would be an increased bitterness that seasoned the taste of the words that left her lips. But despite the complaints, despite the passivity of the most eligible men in St Bart’s, despite the fury she felt, Emma knew that Theo was someone who was not worth giving it all up for. But her attraction had not waned, but it had been supplemented with an insight to his character that she’d not seen before. Before she was the one with interest and he was constrained and unobtainable, apparently that was not an obstacle and it was Emma who threw up the hurdles to block the route to anything between them.

It had not gone as Theo had expected. He thought there were two options, either he was rejected because she wasn’t interested, in which case he could press ahead with Talitha knowing that he’d not let anything slide by which might have been preferable. Or she would be interested and they could take it from there. He knew that he’d have to face up to Talitha but he didn’t want to do that until he’d worked out if Emma would take him.

Instead he was left with a rejection, not on the grounds of lack of affection, but based on his interest in another girl. If only he had not let her come to church with him, if only he had kept quiet about his relationship traumas, if only Emma had not been the one to whom he had gone to for advice, then she would never have known. But, Theo reflected, if he had not gone to Emma with his problems, he would not have discovered what a wonderful girl she was.  

Emma had not left Theo with an ultimatum, that he could have coped with, finish things with Talitha and then we can go out, but she had left that hanging in the air, perhaps meant but not spelt out. Without any spoken guarantee of future availability Theo was reluctant to pull the plug on his fledgling relationship, but unless he did he knew he would not have a chance with Emma.

Perhaps, Theo wondered as he locked up the cafe, there was a way out of this after all. May be he would not have to make the hard choice.

Waiting on an Angel – Chapter 22

It was dark by the time Kathy reached Sam’s house. She wondered if she was doing the right thing, back in the country for only a few hours she made this her first stop after dropping her stuff at home. Emma was back which saved her the anxiety of facing her presence as she tried to delve out some clarity as to where things stood between her and Sam.

Before she had left Kathy was fairly comfortable with the ambiguity that prevailed. There was a hint of a possibility that it might develop into something more than their present friendship but she also had the comfort of not having to put the emotional effort in. She could enjoy his company and leave it at that.

At least that was what she had told herself. As she left the shores of familiarity she queried her own conclusions. If she was really so happy with the easy comfortable in-between option they seemed to be pursuing by default, then why was it Sam she made an effort to see on the eve of her departure she asked herself. Why was it Sam she missed when she touched down and the same who she wished to talk to and tell of the experiences new and disorientating that had greeted her in Benin.

On the couple of occasions they had spent time alone it had started off awkward and eased into pleasant, even enjoyable. But it hadn’t sent her heart on fire, her breath wasn’t taken away in his presence, she didn’t lie in bed think about him as she was convinced she would when the right one came along. Kathy walked up the steps slowly, almost as if she could delay the inevitable by a sufficiently long time that it would not have to happen. But, she told herself, I am the one who chose this, and she recalled how their nascent relationship had encountered an inauspicious beginning because of her reluctance to turn up on time.

Emma had warned her that Sam could be unpredictable, that he spun from distant to infatuated, and back round to act as though you were never there, and he would do that in the course of an evening, or even a conversation. But Kathy hadn’t found that to be Sam’s defining quality, he had been stable in his awkward affection she felt. This left her in this easy position, that laid her open to manipulating him. Kathy saw how she could get what she wanted from him, how with a little flirting and flattery she could have the boyfriend she wanted, or alternatively the convenient male friend.

It was also slightly unsettling that as they passed on the stairwell when Kathy dropped her bags in her room that Emma told her to go easy with Sam when she disclosed that was where she was heading. She had not intention of being harsh, but she wasn’t inclined towards charity without good reason and Emma provided none when pressed. That was a complicating factor Kathy thought, this being her friend’s brother, and as she reflected she realised that her and Emma had drifted over the past few months. In the halcyon days of high summer when the exams were over and their trip to France was being sketched on beer mats the idea of living together in London as they found their way in life was a dream she could not imagine would come true. But the reality was different. It was murkier and it was less satisfying.

Kathy felt in a position that she was obliged to not do something in relation to Sam not because she didn’t want to, nor because she cherished her friendship with Emma so highly, but more out of obligation and a sense that it could be awkward if it all went pear-shaped and were still living together. But then not doing something could be the worst option. It would leave the situation moulded by ambiguity and shrouded in assumptions as to what the other thought and felt. It was because of this that Kathy had resolved as she flew home that she needed to define the relationship she had or could be about to have with Sam.

It was not going to be an easy conversation at the best of times, but Kathy knew in theory and thought she was about to learn in practice that the hard conversations are always worth having even if they are challenging at the time. What Kathy had not prepared herself was the vacancy that had inhabited the place where Sam’s critical faculties would usually be contained.

“Sam, it’s good to see you, how’s it been back here in London?” Kathy opted to start on a casual front but knew her nerves would not last for long.

“Pretty much the same as always, same old rubbish ruining everyone’s life.” Sam had been surprised when Kathy asked to call round and he did not want to turn her away, it was one of the bright points of the past few days. He had not yet decided what to do about Alex and Adam, it had kept him awake most of the night before last and he’d woken early in a panic that he’d not only lose his friend and his pastor if it all came out into the open but also his job. “How was Benin?” It was the obvious question and it also moved it away from himself and his own morose mood.

“Frankly, it was incredible. I’m not sure how I’m going to get my head around it all, it was completely unbelievable. I’ve got to make my mind up in the next few weeks whether I want to go back in the New Year for a longer stint. As in probably for at least two years.”

Sam was by now getting used to the avalanche of emotions that greeted him exponential frequency. But this was one too many. He just looked at Kathy at stared straight past her. He realised what she was saying, and he knew he didn’t have the answer, knew that at the current rate of things wouldn’t have an answer in any visible time frame. All he had at hand right now was bewilderment and confusion. All he could process was hurt and betrayal.

“And you think you will go back?” Sam moved to shut down any implication that this decision might have anything to do with him, “You sound excited enough about it.”

“I’m excited, but I’m a bit unsure, it’s such a shift. I never imagined that I would end up becoming a missionary, every thing has moved so fast, it’s as though I haven’t had time to properly think about it.” Kathy watched Sam attentively as she spoke, looking for any sign that he might be sending calling her to stay, asking her not to leave.

Instead, Sam stuck to practicalities, “What were you doing out there, I’m guessing not standing on a street corner preaching and giving out tracks!”

“Well, actually, there was a bit of track handing out, but more about water and hygiene that about Christianity. It’s a pretty laid back organisation, most of the work they do is focused on poverty relief and community development. If I go back I’ll be based in a village and probably not see another white person from one month to the next unless I go into the capital.”

Sam grasped the magnitude of the decision that Kathy faced, and the extent of the change she was seemingly willing to embrace. He sat back in the chair he had chosen as an alternative to the one Kathy had placed herself in. Sam had chosen to sit close but not next to her. It was a more deliberate choice than he was perhaps conscious of. It surprised him how even in the little things he was governed by his attractions. When with a group of friends boarding a bus he would structure the order in which they stepped onto the bus to enable him to sit next to the person he would prefer to spend the next few moments with.

And in the past this would have certainly been Alex, she would have been the focus of his extended effort, and he had expected his feelings towards Kathy to cause his previous emotional attachment to ebb away. In its place Same thought he would be looking for any opportunity to spend in Kathy’s company. Sam had made a conscious decision to leave Talitha alone, it was a nonsense pipe dream, not only was she unavailable, not only was she not a Christian, but she had offered no indication that there was any reciprocal attraction.

In the moment that Kathy was effectively asking Sam to stop her from going abroad and leaving everything that she knew and all that provided security, Sam was not able to oblige. His mind was elsewhere. He was not even engaging in the casual flirting that he slipped into when in the presence of an attractive girl, the behaviour that came and went without intention but was governed nonetheless by the feeling provoked in him by their presence and attention.

Sam maintained his distance he sat still, he spoke in measured tones, he failed to lean in to express his excitement, he muttered the words in a monotone that betrayed his disinterest. It wasn’t quite that he intended to act this way. If he had allowed himself the time and energy to think about it he would have said that he should make an effort, Sam would have acknowledged, to himself at least, that there was a modicum of attraction towards Kathy that he wanted to nurture. However, in the present that faded fast from view – Sam was not looking to build any relationships. Instead he was more consumed with anger and hatred and could not find a way of releasing it without causing considerable destruction.

As he drifted away in his thoughts to once again consider how he could resolve his dilemma, as Sam planned what he would say to Alex, how he would create a showdown with the Reverend Doctor, Kathy looked on, pained by his lack of interest, distraught by his coolness. Sam was vaguely aware of the impression that he was giving, and aware that it was not the one he would choose to give, but was unable to snap out of his melancholy and exude the attention that she was demanding.

“Sam, I want us to spend some time together over the next couple of weeks.” Kathy countered his lethargy with a direct assault. “I want to see if there is anything between us, I don’t want to be stupid and pretend something is going on when it’s not but nor do I want to go blindly into the future missing something that could be right in front of me.”

“I suppose that’s a good idea. I guess we should take sometime to have a think about it. As well as spending time together we need to also have time apart. There’s a lot going on at the moment that I need to process, and I’m not sure I’m able to give this the thought that you want me to.”

“What’s up Sam? You’re not the same as you were before, has something gone on while I’ve been away? Am I making a fool of myself, turning up on your doorstep, effectively begging you for attention?”

“No, you’re not making a fool of yourself, I’m sorry for being so vacant. I want to give this some thought, I really do. And I really want to spend some time with you. I’m being obtuse, I know, I’m not trying to be elusive, I just need to sort some stuff out, and I wish with all my heart that I could tell you, maybe you’ll find out at some point in the future, but hopefully not.”

“Sam, if we’re going to think about this together we’re both going to need to be open.”

“I will be as open as I can be, but some things are just not mine to share, and I’m sorry that this is one of them. It’s got nothing to do with you.”

“Oh, the old: ‘it’s not you it’s me’ malarkey, seriously Sam, Emma has said you can be a bit emotionally detached, but this is just ridiculous.” Kathy’s frustration was no longer contained, she wanted to find out what the person sat in the adjacent chair was thinking, she wanted to know how he felt towards her. Instead all she received was a barrage of elliptical statements that added up to nothing less than apparent disinterest, only slightly tempered by the occasional word of solace that was not matched by his actions.

Sam knew that he’d not handled it well, when Kathy had said she was coming over he thought he’d be able to rouse himself from the slumber that had haunted him for the past forty eight hours. He had thought that the presence of the girl he thought he liked would bring levity to his soul. He hoped it would help banish the torment that had gripped him, help him push it all to the back of his mind. Instead it had thrust it to the front. He knew that he would have to deal with Alex before he could move on. There was a conversation he could not avoid.

Waiting on an Angel – Chapter 21

Sam had not intended in telling Emma about Alex’s elusive and enigmatic gentleman. He had not thought that anyone needed to know about it. It was, after all he reflected, now over. He had found himself returning to the subject at frequent intervals over the past few weeks. When he saw her at church he looked across to see who she was sitting with, after church he paid particular attention to her conversation partners. But that was also unproductive. Alex had taken to leaving promptly as the service finished and they had barely spoken since she had last began to open up about her liaison.

His curiosity however, could not leave it be. He wanted to know who it was, exactly what his circumstances were. Sam had got the impression that he was married, and he worried that Alex had got herself into something far beyond her desires. She had certainly frequently bemoaned the inability of guys in church to make a move, even when it was patently obvious that they were interested. Sam told himself that he was over her. That was a generous interpretation of the truth. While his infatuation may have receded to a manageable level he was still besotted with a deep affection towards her.

Sam had been determined to find out the truth so took the plunge and did what he had rarely done for the past year, especially since she had rebuffed his advances. He took the initiative and asked to meet. He was unsure whether it was time for him challenge her straight off, Sam lacked the forceful personality that could ask with a firmness but matched with a gentle touch that produced the desired result. In the end he rowed back from his planned confrontation. And they made small talk and even Alex avoided the usual round of questions relating to his romantic progress, from which he garnered scant consolation. At least he was saved having to give thought and explanation to the position he found himself in with Kathy.

Alex had left her laptop logged in when he was over the night before and twice she left the room for extended periods of time. Sam starred at the open screen toying with whether to take a peek. He resisted on each occasion, basking in his self control.

But Alex then tested his discipline to breaking point, passing him the computer and with a winsome grin that she knew always won him over asked if he would take a look at it and sort out some problems she was having.

So Sam was sat with the laptop in front of him. He had been planning on waiting until Emma was out but finally he could bear it no longer. It was as he started reading through her emails that Emma walked in.

With Kathy in Benin Emma had opted for Sam’s couch rather than suffer a fortnight of loneliness. She walked over with such haste that she noticed Sam quickly shut the screen he was reading, but the tab betrayed his lurking in Alex’s inbox.

“Sam, why are you reading Alex’s emails?”

“She’s asked me to take a look at her machine she’s got a few viruses and it’s causing it to grind to a halt.” Sam thought that he had himself covered, but his sister reached across and pulled the emails into view.

“Not sure that has much to do with viruses, what you trying to find out, who she likes instead of you?”.

Emma always had an insightful streak but this was taking it to a whole new level with even realising the prescience of her observation. She had remarked before in such a way to such that she was aware of her brother’s attraction towards his friend. This comment caught him off guard and his hesitation instantly betrayed him.

“I’m just curious. Is that so bad? I know it is, but she’s talked about him so much while stubbornly refusing to repent on her determination to maintain his anonymity. So I wanted to see if there were any clues.”

“And have you found any?” Emma was clearly not about to rip his head off for her invasion of privacy, in fact it appeared as if she had just tacitly approved.

“Nothing yet, just getting distracted by some gossipy emails,” Sam decided to embrace his investigations as though he had full permission to go ahead.

“It’s Facebook you need to check, if she’s been sending messages it’s bound to be on there.” The tacit permission gave way to a take over as she seized the laptop.

Finding their way into her account with negligible effort as all her passwords were stored, Emma headed straight for the inbox and chat history.

A silence penetrated the vacuum left as the brief frenzy of activity gave way to stillness as the four eyes were glazed over yet still glued to the screen as they saw Alex’s life unfolding before them.

It was enough that Sam’s suspicions were true. It was hard enough for him to know accept the reality that while rejecting him she had found space in her heart for a man that couldn’t and should not be hers.

It was enough that he had been betrayed by his best friend. Emma sat back and tried to fade into the distance as she realised that by enjoining Sam to continue his inquisition she had paved the road to this place of devastation. Emma barely knew Alex, they’d met a couple of times and right now she couldn’t help remember how she had described her to Kathy as a manipulative minx. But that wasn’t want Sam needed right now, she had no idea what would do the trick, she had no idea if anything she said would make the situation any better. So she waited and suffered the silence that grew between them.

More than the betrayal, and more than the slight he took upon himself it was the other party in this relationship that wrought devastation. He did not have the best of relationships with the Reverend Doctor, and when it came to theology they barely agreed on anything, not that he aware of the full extent of this division. But he was a man who in a certain, rather formal manner, Sam considered as someone worthy of respect.

As he morbidly scrolled through the messages as though seeking some mitigating evidence Sam was repulsed by the false penitence repeatedly portrayed. Adam would apologise for pushing things too far and moments later invited Alex over for dinner, bracketed with promises of civility and separation that bore all the authenticity of the holy and righteous demeanour he adopted at will when in front of the church.

Sam turned to Emma, and moved to say something but instead just allowed himself to collapse into her shoulder with tears streaming down his face. He tried again but all he managed was “I don’t know what to do.” It wasn’t a question in search of an answer it was a cry in need of a rescue. Sam had already braced himself for having to think about how to approach Alex with his new found knowledge. Not that he had devised a coherent or any other form of strategy, but now he was presented with a far bigger and graver challenge.

Emma looked on with sympathy and restraint. She waited for the silence to fade before considering how they might deal with this. In so many things Sam was the practical one, he was the sibling who would take the lead in organising their games as they grew up and leading family activities as he got older. He would take charge in a borderline bossy way, always giving the impression of being indefatigable, always ready with an answer.

But with relationships Sam was different. His certainty turned to sclerosis. His otherwise unflappable demeanour became flustered at the thought of having to combine action with emotions. And that was when they were his own emotions alone. Now Sam faced a relational dilemma of impregnable proportions. Not only did he now know for certain that the girl he had pined over for the past eighteen months had been involved with a married man. Not only was he grappling with the activity and indiscretions of his pastor and boss, but the two spirals of betrayal formed together into a perfect storm of a double helix that cut through to his heart, ransacked his mind and left him spinning out of control.

“You’re going to have to tell them you know.” Emma broke the silence after deliberating for the few minutes that felt like hours.

“I’m not sure that I can. I’ve got nothing to say to either of them. I only have hatred. I only have anger, I have nothing that can do the slightest bit of good. I’m left here and they are there, and I only want to smack their heads together to see the folly of their actions.”

Sam paused and waited to see where his sister was going to go next, but instead of delaying even longer he jumped back in, “I’m not sure what good it would do, it’s all over anyway, I’d just be causing trouble.”

“That’s no reason to stay silent, he’s the leader of your church and he’s been behaving in a way that he would have anyone else kicked out for.” Emma’s hostility towards Holland Park was barely simmering below the surface now. “And Alex is your friend, how’s that going to affect your friendship?”

“There is no friendship, at least, not any more I don’t think. But I think I need to talk to her. Not Adam, I can’t do that.”

Emma left the conversation lie, but she was not content to let this be the final word. She shut down the screen, turned off the computer and took the computer away from Sam’s unwavering gaze.

Waiting on an Angel – Chapter 20

Alex walked into Sam’s living room still uncertain as to whether she was going to tell him about all that had gone on. She had been ignoring all of his phone calls over the past couple of weeks. Part of her wanted to put it all behind her, and pretend that it had never happened. Another part wanted to tell Sam everything and then run a thousand miles away and become a nun in an isolated community off the coast of Scotland. Whatever she did she had decided that her time at Holland Park was coming to a close.

Sam was not looking forward to seeing Alex. Usually he was desperate for her company but on this occasion feared that seeing her would cause a great deal of confusion in his mind. Not only was he trying to work out whether to pursue Kathy, and if so, how on earth he might go about doing that, but he was finding a nagging doubt about Talitha in his mind. If she hadn’t ever have come to church it would have all been so much more simple. But now that Sam was faced with the prospect that she might not be that far away from becoming a Christian a major hurdle that he had made insurmountable in his mind was now more fragile.

She slumped into the seat that Sam had vacated to answer the door, and immediately Alex decided to move onto the offensive rather than wait for the queries to come about her particular dilemma. Alex slightly regretted having said anything to Sam however elliptical she had made it, he was still aware that she was walking down a round that she should not be stepping on. And despite his admirable restraint in saying nothing in response so far she knew that would not last long. They had barely spoken since the train crash, she was ashamed to see him in case the recollection of where she was when he had been in such danger came to light.

Adam had tried to get in touch with her a few times, even on Sunday as she searched the building for anyone to keep her mind off him, failing even to find solace in Sam who had decided that this was the week to swap churches. She had rebuffed him each time, but his regret and his apologies, and his commitment that he just valued her and wanted to be friends wore away at her defences and she was on the cusp of agreeing to meet up, just to see how to remain friends mind. At least that was what she told herself. Alex was not convinced that she would be able to show such restraint when they were together, even if they meet in a crowded place, even if they constructed a legitimate scenario to meet in a church context but get some time alone. Alex knew that she would want more than a quiet conversation at the back of a church meeting, and incognito coincidental meetings in the church kitchen.

Once the plug was released she knew where it was going. She wanted to tell someone but had no idea what any of this would lead to, she would be shamed, and she would cause such harm to Adam as well. He would have to step down from leading the church, she would cause such irrevocable harm to a bright young career. Alex continually told herself that Adam was young, well his was she thought for the position he held, and he’d not been married long she justified as the reason she gave herself caused further agony to her soul. His wife of the past two years, what would the news coming out do to her?

“So Sam, tell me all about your adventure, I hear you were a bit of a super hero, sweeping the damsels in distress away from the danger and immanent disaster.” Alex spoke to shut off the train of her thought, knowing that it was helping her go nowhere fast.

“It was all a bit dramatic, I’m not sure I did much sweeping, it was more like shoving in the crazy scenes that were thrown up around us. I still don’t think I’ve really got my head around what happened. We just did what we had to do to get out of there, and then as we sat on the bank and saw the other carriages burn I sort of knew in my head the loss that it represented but I barely connected it to the danger that we had been in because we had escaped.

“Even in the urgency and momentary nature of the chaos I felt I grew closer to people I only met for minutes than those who I have known for years,” Sam reflected on the liminality of his experience, of how the walls that are constructed in everyday life are suddenly torn to shreds.

Sam paused before deciding that he had to mention Kathy, to do otherwise would not be a faithful portrayal of the event. “It was strange. For the first part of the journey I was sat at a table, across from a girl who I felt I ought to know. Although I couldn’t decide if it was just her appearance that distracted me as I kept looking up from my reading to take another look. But it wasn’t just her looks that had diverted my gaze, she was the girl that Emma was trying to set me up with, it was Kathy who Emma lives with.”

“So she was the damsel who you swept off her feet?” Alex interjected.

“I think at one point I had to carry her because we’d used her heels to smash the window.” Sam was thinking about Kathy as he spoke, and off the heels that she forsook. She was perhaps not elegant in the classic sort of way, lacking the height considered necessary, but she had a stylish streak that overcame and negated her stature. “We had a really strange experience as we were caught in the middle of it all, we were quite literally thrown together, and she’s, she’s, well, I’ve thought about her quite a lot over the past couple of weeks.”

“So you’re smitten?”

“Maybe, maybe I’m just confused, maybe I haven’t got an idea what I want, maybe it’s just that a beautiful woman was thrust into my arms and dependent on me, someone who needed me, even if only for a fragment of time.”

“What are you going to do about it?  Have you seen her since, maybe you could remedy you dating misadventure by giving it a second chance?” Alex had entered her inquisitional mode and clearly wasn’t going to give up very soon.

“I think I’d like to. In fact it was in the back of my mind when I went to St Bart’s with Emma on Sunday. But actually everything got very complicated and I found myself wanting to spend time with her but not knowing how to engineer it.”

“Engineer it? That’s not very romantic is it!”

“You know what I mean, I couldn’t find the words to say, or the words that I would need to say if I was to justify talking to her. So in the end it all lingered on rather as we had lunch with Emma’s friend Theo and Talitha.”

“Talitha, who’s she?”

“Well she’s kind of Theo’s girlfriend, but she’s also the girl who I met when I was supposed to be meeting Kathy, and she’s been telling me about her dilemmas with this guy she likes but he’s not really making a move. Although she’d said his name was Theo, I’d no idea it was this guy who works with Emma.

“Alex. That’s enough about me,” Sam realised that he had began to ramble in incoherent circles trying to explain in brief the complex dynamics of Sunday’s lunchtime conversation. “Alex, how are things with you. Are you still seeing, you know, the guy you’ve kind of been seeing, hell Alex, who is he!”

“It’s over, I think, it was never going to go anywhere, and every time I saw him I just wanted more, and I knew that the more I wanted, the more I was going to get, and the more I got the more wrong it all would become. So I let it be.

“And that’s it, I’m sorry Sam, I know you’ve always been so open with me, but I’ve got to ask you to leave this one there.”

Waiting on an Angel – Chapter 19

“I’ve come along with Emma, my sister,” Sam responded indicating to his left, “Emma, this is Talitha.” Emma looked from Theo to Talitha to Sam in a confused haze wondering if it was down to the pain that still throbbed on the side of her head.

“I met Talitha when I was waiting at the restaurant for Kathy, and Talitha,” pausing as he realised what he was about to say, and not knowing for certain who was sitting beside her, “was also waiting.”

“Theo, I think you should meet my brother Sam,” Emma responded before continuing, “it was Theo who I think Talitha was waiting for on that occasion.”

Sam had guessed that this was the situation, and decided that it would have been better if he had gone to Holland Park instead this morning. The awkward silence beckoned for a few moments before  Emma beckoned for Theo and Talitha to come and sit somewhere else so they could all be together.

From what Talitha had relayed to Sam it was clear that everything wasn’t quite as rosy as she had at first hoped or assumed. They had gone for dinner but he backed off, but here he was with her, at a church service which he had gone to so, as far as he could ascertain, that he could see Emma afterwards. Sam accepted that dating rituals were complicated affairs, he had comprehensively failed to master them, but this was taking things to extremes.

Just as he thought that the situation could not become more difficult a cry came from behind him, from a voice that had lodged itself in his mind.

“Emma, Emma, I’m so glad you are okay, I’m so sorry that I wasn’t there for you, but I am now, I’ll look after you.” Kathy panted as she hugged Emma tightly only relaxing her grip when Emma winced in pain as he head was jerked to one side.

“Kathy, let me introduce you to Talitha who has come with Theo, and I don’t think you need any introduction to Sam, I gather that you’ve already met.” Sam shot a glance towards his sister realising that his encounter with Kathy had not escaped her attention.

He thought how to respond, “Yes, we were in a little bit of a tight scrap together.” Sam decided to go for the understated option, knowing that now it was out in the open, together with the likelihood that Kathy had furnished Emma with a full account of their experience and he had hid beneath concerns for her welfare to avoid having to say too much. 

Sam was torn. The person he wanted to speak to most was Talitha, he wanted to find out how it had gone with Theo, he was eager to hear of how their uncertain beginning had led to this more positive of stages, and why – perhaps most of all – they were here in church. But the person he wanted to be around was Kathy. Yet he had no idea what to say. The intensity of their experience had now paled with the minor passage of time. And he was left without a bridge to open up the conversation, any avenue through Emma had evaporated with their instant and emotional reunion. Emma had also taken care of the introduction to Talitha which would have somehow allowed him to have the best of both worlds.

He was not interested in Talitha in the way that he had been so interested in Alex for so many months, or even for that matter potentially interested in Kathy. Talitha was not a potential girlfriend for Sam so he left that to one side. What Sam was less aware of as he started speaking with both Theo and Talitha was that Kathy, stood close behind, recognised Talitha from the restaurant, the fleeting glance as she had turned to lead Sam to the table ingrained in her mind, now reproduced in the church sanctuary.

Kathy had been so overcome with emotion at seeing Emma, standing, walking and in remarkably good spirits she thought considering all that she had been through. So overcome that she hadn’t initially registered Sam standing by her side. And then the tableau was completed with Theo and with the utmost shock, the girl Sam had been with in the restaurant.

As Emma explained, including Sam knowing Talitha, she wanted to walk right out of the church. It was not out of compassion for Emma, or the pleasure of seeing her again that kept her. Nor was it propriety because the worship had begun just as this all unfolded. It was a deep desire to know whether the absurd circumstances had created something of an anomaly that was not to be recreated, or triggered a more significant relational journey.

The collective discomfort of Emma, Kathy and Sam as Pastor Will chose to preach on the crucifixion rather than the traditional readings from the lectionary for the first Sunday in advent, was abundantly clear as they all tried not to betray their sidewards glances towards Talitha and Theo. It was Theo who stiffened the most visibly as the sermon moved beyond the forty minute barrier and the intricate portrait of the punishment that was dealt to Jesus was laid out for the congregation in the most graphic terms.

Emma almost got up and suggested they left before the end. Pastor Will was not a dogmatic conservative like Sam’s minister she thought but he did have a penchant for the dramatic, and what could be more theatrical aside from a full scale recreation, and even he had some restraint. Emma knew what was coming as he reached his conclusion. As he called the congregation to its feet Theo stood but Talitha stayed rooted to her seat. Maybe, Emma postulated, Theo remembered the public utterances against the thief on his previous visit and did not want to be caught in the same predicament himself.

It did not surprise Kathy that neither of Emma’s Jewish visitors responded to the call to the front. Perhaps today was not the day for them to ‘enter into a personal relationship with Jesus’. She resolved at that moment to be much more sensitive in her approach when she moved to Benin in the New Year. Kathy sought out Sam after the service, ostensibly to thank him for looking after Emma, but really because she couldn’t bear the uncertainly that had lingered all the while she was in Liverpool supposedly being spiritual and learning about cross cultural evangelism. At least, she cheered herself up by remembering, they had not diagnosed her as a complete sceptic and sent her packing. A trial trip was hastily being arranged for Kathy which if it all went well would be followed by a permanent move sometime next year.

This path framed her attitude and had done throughout the discussions of the past week. She had no idea if there was any future for her in London, she had no idea if she would stay for any reason, she did not know if love would be enough. Right now, Kathy did not have a reason and she did not have love, but she had had a remarkable experience which she wasn’t prepared to let go of quite yet.

Sam was happy to be talking to Kathy. That much was clear, but the smile that stretched across his face was matched by a hesitancy in his posture that betrayed his uncertainty, he clearly wanted to make a good impression by the effort of trying was making it nearly impossible.

Emma saw this minor drama playing itself out as she spoke with Theo and Talitha, they were not offended by the sermon, she was relieved to find out. Talitha had rather abruptly quipped that she was well aware before today what Christians believed. Emma was faced with the awkward situation of what she had initially thought would be her and Theo with Sam conveniently slipping off at some point which she knew she could gently encourage, turning into a more social affair with Talitha and Kathy joining the party. Emma looked at Kathy, standing tall and self confident in front of Sam whose additional height was negated by his disbelief. Kathy threw her hand through her long brown hair and moved round to take Sam away from the evidently prying ears she sensed hung close by.

After the service Theo wondered if Talitha would just take her leave and spare him the agony of having to endue an afternoon that should have been easy and joyful become instead marred by awkwardness and mutual suspicion. Theo was no closer to having any idea of whether he was prepared to commit to Talitha, he reasoned against it because given this morning’s events surely he would have expected to react strongly against it unless he had an ulterior motive to want to squash any such criticism. He also knew that Talitha was nowhere near as offended as she deigned to pretend she had been by the comments.

When they left the church Talitha followed Theo before Emma could get between them. She was not particularly suspicious of her motives, but still felt that the presence of an other girl so closely involved in Theo’s life threatened to destabilise their nascent relationship. Talitha also saw that Sam was trying hard to intervene on Kathy’s conversation with Emma, but not to speak with his sister.

It hadn’t occurred to Emma that Sam might be interested in Talitha after Kathy had recounted their experience on the train. But watching them suggested that there was a familiarity that he lacked with Kathy, a bond that was not fraught with the shadow boxing of expected affection, but instead freed by alternative agendas that each mutually acknowledged. Kathy, however, Emma noted did not necessarily see their ease in such a generous light.

Throughout their lunch as Emma told as much of her story as she could remember and Sam and Kathy duetted their own near death experience the atmosphere stilled and most of the uncomfortable silences gave way to content pauses as they left the remains of their food to one side and absorbed the harrowing tales they told. Theo had not decided what he was to do. He say nothing from Emma that gave him the green light to let Talitha go, but nor had his affection for her diminished.

Kathy’s frustration reached the point that as they left the pizza parlour she pulled Sam to one side and almost forced him to speak as she waited. His silence eventually abated, “so it’s been a bit awkward today. I’m sorry I’ve not been in touch this week, I knew you were going to be busy, and I was looking after Emma, and worrying about her took up a lot of my head space.” As weak and feeble as Sam knew his answer sounded it was the best he could conjure despite knowing that it would be called on before too long. It was also not completely accurate because although he was concerned about Emma, his compassion was slotted around his infatuation for this girl who he was thrust into contact with first through manipulation which never quite happened, and secondly by chance where they ended up aiding each other’s rescue.

“Why didn’t you tell Emma you met me? It’s not as though you had to say everything that happened, it would just have seemed less strange than you keeping completely quite.”

“I knew that if I said I met you I would be bombarded with a barrage of questions about whether I liked you and what happened, and where it was going from here. And I wanted to avoid all that, and I don’t know if I don’t still want to avoid that. I guess, that is exactly what I’ve been doing all week and all day today. Trying to avoid what might happen next.”

Kathy started walking faster to catch up with the others but turned to Sam “I’m going to Benin next week. Just for ten days, but if it all goes well I’ll stay a lot longer when I go the next time.”

Waiting on an Angel – Chapter 18

Talitha had not ever really met Emma and when Theo announced that he thought they should go and visit her she felt it rather odd. She had seen her at work a couple of times but she hadn’t exactly had that much contact with Theo since she had returned and Emma seemed a recent addition to both work and his friends.

It wasn’t that she felt threatened by her as a rival potential girlfriend for Theo, it was more that he seemed to be getting sucked into her church. She knew he had rejected his roots, but then his parents were a lot stricter than hers. But to switch from being a rebellious Jew to becoming a happy clappy Christian seemed too far fetched to comprehend. It was because of this suspicion, and the desire to stay around him and not let their hesitant relationship formation take too slow a course, that she had agreed to come along to the church with him. After their dinner Talitha could not decide whether he was playing hard to get, whether he had gone cool on her, or if he was just exhibiting typical guy weirdness at the thought of too intimate an emotional reaction.

Theo wondered if there would be any theatrics like last time, Emma had joked that it was the gift of prophecy in action, the pastor had seen in his mind that he was a thief and called him out on his actions. He was conversant with the prophets of the Torah, and some of them were pretty intimidating figures, but the pastor at Emma’s church didn’t really fit the bill, and he that was the that most worried him about setting foot in church. Difference is one thing, but weirdness is just a step too far. Far more likely he decided that the Pastor had caught him in the act, watched him reach into the basket and take the money, he also decided that Emma probably thought the same but was likely to be teasing him rather than expecting that he bought the line about prophets.

After the boat party he never expected to come to church, Theo had decided outright that he would rebuff Emma’s evangelistic efforts and limit their interaction to social situations, and if that was a purely recreational church function then that was okay with him. Ingrid had teased him that next time it would be cucumber sandwiches with the edges trimmed and tepid quiche in the vicarage.

It was slightly accidental that he had ended up in the church service. Theo was at the time, and as he thought back realised he still was, looking for guidance about Talitha, and the person who seemed best placed to give it, even though she didn’t know her was Emma. Theo had found that she understood his concerns he found her an easy person to talk with who uttered such profound wisdom and helped him along. In hindsight Theo reckoned he would have been better making the first move, but then he was not sure he would have yet done that, so unsure was he of his feelings. It was after work one Sunday when their conversation extended out of work and down the street and Theo kept following Emma, it was only when she walked straight past the tube that he queried their destination, “Oh, I’m going to church, it’s a Sunday evening, I always do after work.” Which perhaps had seemed pretty obvious to her but to Theo this suddenly left him with an intentional decision to walk away and end their conversation or enjoy her insights but feel obliged to stay for the service. Why else after all, as he recollected his thoughts, would he have walked all the way with her then to turn away and head home.

“Okay, I’ll come along.” It was not intended to be the beginning of anything and when he left he resolved to be more careful not to let himself slip into any such difficult diplomatic situations in the future. His disdain for religion did not end at his parents’ faith. Any sort of belief was to be avoided.

It was his colleagues at work who had prompted this return visit, they’d wanted to know how Emma was getting on, when he had heard of her traumatic experience he had wanted to head straight around and see how she was. Emma had suggested that he came over on Sunday afternoon after she had been to church, even in the middle of this tortuous situation she managed to quip that not working had some upsides, it meant she could get to church in the morning. “You seemed to enjoy it last time you came, why not come this Sunday and then we can get some lunch together, it’s a bit more normal in the morning if it freaked you out last time.” Theo starred at his computer screen that mediated their conversation as he contemplated his response. In the end he decided why not, it hadn’t been that bad after all.

It was the awkward conversation with Talitha that had led to her inclusion in the outing. Theo walked into church and wondered what she would think to it all. The previous evening they had been around her house and he casually retold Talitha of Emma’s ordeal, and mentioned that he was going to see her, and joining her at church. And Theo was stumped when she volunteered to join him. He thought about saying no, but that would have aroused the deepest of suspicions. Instead he let her come along.

Theo decided that today was the day that he was going to decide whether there was any future with Emma, or let it slide and commit properly to Talitha, he knew that the time had long since passed when he had to make the choice, but currently he was managing to go along with Talitha while also hedging his bets by staying close to Emma. It had been over a week since their tense dinner date, and also since Emma had been so brutally attacked. Apparently in a week or two Emma would be able to return to work, Theo smiled at the prospect of not needing to concoct reasons to see her or spurious important issues to discuss when he got in touch.

As Talitha walked into the church she thought that this all looked normal enough, it was an old stone building with a small steeple. Nothing wacky there. It was the drum kit that first suggested that this was not quite the quaint congregation that she had sung in when she was in the school choir. The coffee and doughnuts were a nice touch she decided as she took one and tried to avoid the strategically positioned mannequins in bright blue t-shirts with welcome blazoned across the back. What was it that led so many attractive young people into church she thought, bemused in fact that a repressive religion would appeal to so many seemingly worldly wise with their clothes slightly more suited to a nightclub than a church. A thought struck her as she veered away from an incoming ‘welcomer’ towards a free pair of seats for her and Theo. Was this one of these strange cults she thought, was it really a depraved outfit that entrapped and entranced all these people, their smiles certainly seemed fake. Talitha was suddenly tempted to go up to one of them and start swearing and punching her to see if her response was anything but meaningless polite platitudes and directions to the refreshments.

Emma was pleased that Sam had agreed to come with her, his responsibilities were mainly at the evening service so he could help her to the service and also to move back into her flat later that day. Kathy had returned from her training full of excitement and slightly disappointed to be greeted by an empty flat. Emma was also grateful that they would both be with her at church because not only was Theo coming along again but he was bringing Talitha with him. Emma had heard plenty about her as Theo poured out his emotional dilemmas to her at regular intervals. It would be interesting to meet her, and see them together she thought.

As she saw them already seated in the church Emma also couldn’t shake this uncertainty about whether they might have been anything between them. However, she pushed that back out of mind, they were together now, or at least her last conversation with Theo had suggested that they were slowly exploring things, which to Emma sounded rather like the neo-trendy Christian practise of courting rather than dating.

Theo had not seen Emma as she approached, and while it appeared that Talitha probably had, they had only seen each other once before when she came into Leon to meet Theo after work, Talitha opted not to betray her recognition. But it also seemed that Talitha was not looking at Emma but at Sam beside her.

“Sam? What are you doing here,” Talitha burst out forgetting her decision to restrain herself from unnecessary interpersonal interaction.

Waiting on an Angel – Chapter 17

Emma gasped once again as she felt the touch on her shoulder, she waited for the introduction from a familiar face who saw her approaching her house, or she waited for the cold hand of a stranger intent on mischief.

It was the latter. There was no friendly face as she turned, just a broad palm that shot to her neck. It took her breathe away and at once she was aware that it threatened to take away so much more. She struggled to see who had hold of her but her face was pushed towards the night sky as he tried to take her bag from her.

“Just let go or I’ll smack you one.” He yelled at her as he continued to tug. He took his hand from the bag and shifted his stance in preparation to hit her, but in the instant as he swung his fist she unleashed her freshly freed bag towards his face. There was a lot of stuff in that bag, which was why Emma was reluctant to see it taken by such a petulant youth, but it also turned it into an affective weapon as he staggered back beneath the force of the unexpected blow.

But that was not the end, as his hand slipped from her neck his other clenched into a fist and found its way through the air and cracked into her jaw with a shudder that sent her reeling off her balance, off the kerb and into the road. Emma saw only white when there should have been just darkness. Slowly the form of her assailant emerged from the haze as he towered over her clutching her bag which she had dispensed with as she fell.

Emma let her head slip back to its resting place on the tarmac, and fear ran through her that the ordeal was not over. He looked down, at her face, at her chest, at her skirt that had ripped and rode up her leg. She cried inside as she encountered her helplessness.

It was the voices, not in her head, but down the street that proved her saviour. As the figures turned to walk towards them he spun and lifted his head as if to run, but before making his escape he kicked Emma in the head so it smashed into the concrete kerb.

They moved from a dawdle to a run, and crouched by her side as he made off into the darkness where the man thought about pursuing and decided instead to stay and help. His wife was already by her side, trying to rouse her from her unconscious state. The delay was interminable. They waited for the ambulance, but it seemed never to arrive, they had found some bandages and a cushion to put beneath her head, requisitioned from the nearby pub.

When the ambulance arrived, the man looked to his wife before informing the paramedics they had no idea who she was, they had been walking past as she was being attacked. They too had seen her dishevelled state and hoped they had arrived in time.

Later when Emma awoke the most urgent question the doctors seemed to want to ask was if she knew who she was. Of course she did, but as she made to speak she realised the pain that shot through her head. “I’m Emma Engle.”

She had nothing. Not a phone, nor a wallet, nor as the severity of her dilemma struck her, did she have her house keys. She was stranded. Told not to try and exert herself for the next week and confine herself to her bed as much as possible she was stuck. There was no way she could get into her house while Kathy was away. Instead when the ambulance took her home she directed them to Sam’s house hoping one of the other apprentices he shared with was home. She made her way to his bedroom and ignoring it’s state she collapsed into the bed.

After an evening of discomfort, a night of agony, a day of dislocation Emma finally found some comfort and even a mild sense of security. She slept through the evening and into the morning, and as she made her way slowly down stairs to the kitchen she was shocked to find Sam at the kitchen table. Everything was too hard so she managed nothing more than an inquisitive “Eh?”

“Er, everything didn’t quite go to plan, and Ed says you’ve had a rough time?” Sam decided to cover the details without asking too much of Emma, “The train I was on going up to Liverpool crashed. I could have carried on anyway but I’d lost all my stuff and I wasn’t really in the mood any more so I came back on the late train yesterday, I’d spent all night at the scene and then all day in hospital and at the police station.

“Are you okay, you don’t have to talk, Ed just said you’d been attacked and in hospital most of yesterday. And with Kathy away had nowhere to stay because you hadn’t got your keys. It was a bit of a shock when I got in about midnight and found you in my bed, the sofa’s not too bad really.” His efforts at light humour were not working.

“I’m not really sure what happened, I was walking home the day before yesterday, it was dark but not really that late and someone grabbed me and tried to take my bag. The hit me round the face, and as some other people turned up he kicked me and legged it. I was out of it for quite a while. Doctors say there’s no permanent damage, I’ll just be soar for a little while, and with short hair for a little while longer.” Emma lifted up her hair gently to reveal a large patch which had been shaved before the sutures went in.

Emma sat in front of the TV absorbing the images as she followed the reports of the investigations beginning into the rail crash. She could not believe that while she was tiring of Ingrid’s company Sam was manning an escape mission from the carnage of a train wreck. She’d managed to steal Sam’s laptop while he was at church to try and reconnect and start piecing her life back together from the contents so brutally stolen from her. When she told Kathy of her little adventure she was most surprised to find that not only was she on the same train that crashed as Sam, and opting for continuing north to her interview or induction whatever it turned out to be, but that they had been together on the train and they’d spoken and slowly realised who the other was. It was from Kathy that Emma gather Sam had been a bit of a hero. Strange then, Emma wondered, that she had heard nothing from Sam of their encounter.

Waiting on an Angel – Chapter 16

Alex was with her man when she saw the news. She like to think if him as hers as though the words she said could make it so, even though she knew that he was anything but.

They were sat together careful not to let each other cross an invisible boundaries Alex knew had already been transgressed repeatedly. The television news brought pictures from a horrific train crash near Stoke-on-Trent. Alex leant towards him seeking comfort from the tragedy that was unfolding before her eyes.

He held his arm around her, any semblance of detachment now obliterated. He held he close to him as they saw the torn wreckage which had crumpled under the impact, and the charred carriages that lay across the rails. The presenters said that between 50 and a hundred people were likely to have lost their lives, the worst train crash in modern times.

It was as the camera panned to the embankment which had become a very temporary refugee for survivors that she saw Sam crouched low with a foil blanket wrapped around his body. And the realisation that he had been on that train, that it was Sam’s train to Liverpool which had never made it. It was that realisation that brought the truth home with a force she could not have expected. She burst into tears.

He turned down the music, fading Paul Simon’s Still crazy after all these years to a dim hum as the television took precedence and they scoured the pictures for any more signs of Sam. At least he had the compassion to realise that I would be distracted having seen him, thought Alex, it was some comfort to her that he had seen him as well. But there was no more information, she tried the information line that ran along the ticker tape at the bottom of the screen but the rush of panic blacked out the service as she got engage tone after engaged tone as hundreds of families and loved ones realised they knew someone on the train. And Alex reflected, they likely did not have the comfort of having sighted them alive but looking so very small and shaken on the edge of the disaster zone.

He suggested they turned the television off. He knew that was the right thing do, but Alex did not accept it. She insisted they stayed rooted to the spot in case any more news came through, Alex did not want to miss out on the smallest piece of information that could secure her knowledge that Sam was safe.

In the end Alex got up and left. It was not the place she needed to be at the moment. She needed to be able to concentrate on her concern for Sam and not find her self distracted by the man she was infatuated with and who allowed her to succumb so easily to temptation. He was a menace she decided in a rage of anger at having to leave him to be able to worry in solace about Sam. On the street she thought of turning back around. She thought of retracing her steps and walking back towards his house, Alex knew that he would let her in. He had let her into his house and taken her into his heart.

Alex was furious for letting herself get so wrapped up with him. Each time they met she made a fresh commitment that this would be the last time, that there would not be another occasion when she answer the call and wandered to his house knowing exactly what to expect. There would be discussion between them of how wrong their actions were, they would suggest to one another that they would just eat and talk. But then it had become inevitable that his arm would cross her shoulders or his hand come to rest on her leg. She knew that her commitments to chastity on each successive occasion were becoming more and more meaningless. Alex also knew that the words he spoke could not be trusted. He was not a man of his words, he was someone who wanted her and was prepared to lie and connive and convince her that what they were doing was right.

Her phone couldn’t get through to Sam. That was what she had wanted to do every moment since seeing the news, she was desperate to hear his voice and check that he was okay. But no matter how many times Alex hit redial it remained fruitless. He was lost and stranded, how was he going to get home, Alex was surprised by the maternal instincts that took over at this point of crisis. She was worried for him, but in the little ways, concerned that he was warm enough, of getting home, of the wasted trip, of the likelihood that he would have lost his luggage. The seemingly petty intertwined with the critical, his survival as taken for granted but the wave of worry transferred to his welfare and possessions.

Alex knew that she did not like Sam in the way she liked Adam. He was intoxicating, but Sam was still Sam and she was concerned about him. She wondered of the day that she would have to tell Sam, somehow she knew that it was inevitable, that their romance, their improper but never quiet adulterous relationship would have to come to an end. That was how Alex had excused it, she told herself that he was not having an affair with her because they weren’t sleeping together. That while it might seem a bit strange they were just close friends. But Alex knew that the hands and the touches and the kisses told the lie to that charade. He was being unfaithful to his wife, and he was pursuing her instead Alex reminded herself. She stiffened her resolve that this was not going to happen again. Alex wanted to tell Sam, if she had managed to call him that evening she is sure she would have spilled everything out. But she did not, so she got home and thought again. Alex remained certain that it had to come to an end with Adam but knew she would not be able to bring herself to admit it to Sam.