The Adored One tells the story of Trace Worthy, a recently deceased angel in training, sent back in time to high school, to save the life of Max Holbrook, the school outcast. With the assistance of angels Michael and Philip, Trace sets out to help Max, but when history doesn't quite repeat itself, Trace finds himself falling for the man he was sent to save. The feelings are mutual, but will God claim his new angel before love takes flight?
PARANORMAL - ANGELS/DEMONS
The clouds were dark, and thick with damp. Thunder crackled through the air, but it didn't cover the agonized shrieks of the angel as the feathers were plucked from his wings.
"No!" the angel pleaded. "Please, Father, I repent! Have mercy!"
His cries fell on deaf ears. He reached out to the other angels witnessing his punishment, but none of them came to his aid. Charles had committed the ultimate sacrilege, and was to be cast out of heaven and into hell. One by one, his smooth feathers were removed until he appeared more like a bat than an angel. Thin, brown skin covered the bones that flapped uselessly around him.
He fell to his knees and begged God, "Please, Father. I made a mistake."
"You are greedy," God said. "You had love. You were one of the adored. For years you have served me with all of your being. You have brought many souls of my children to my side. But now? A young man in the prime of his life is dead because you gave in to the devil's temptation!"
"I'm sorry. Please, I'm so very sorry."
Thunder clapped as God's anger intensified. He stood, towering over the stricken angel. "It is done. I strip you of your name as I stripped your wings. You will be known as Pentus. I cast you down into the pit, where you will serve as carnifex for eternity. While once you guided blessed souls to the heavens, you will now drag cursed souls to hell. Be gone from here!"
The ground beneath Pentus began to tremble. He looked down in panic, then quickly said, "I accept my punishment, but may I say one thing, Father?"
The trembling stopped and God nodded. Pentus said, "Tell Philip I will always love him. I know I've hurt him, but I'm sorry. Please, God, let him be happy when I'm gone."
A fissure opened beneath Pentus' feet. Unbearable heat and the rank smell of death blew up from the portal. Pentus shook with terror. He closed his eyes and stepped off the edge, crying out as he disappeared into the darkness.
God sat on his throne and wept.
In the garden, an angel with long, wavy, white-blond hair sat on a stone bench, covering his ears and whimpering. Although Charles' infidelity had hurt him beyond words, Philip had still hoped the father would show mercy. It wasn't to be. Philip couldn't imagine the torment Charles had endured, but he had heard it. Thunder and screams of anguish echoed around him, as the fallen angel was sent down. When the horrible sounds abruptly stopped, Philip felt as though his own heart had been cast into the pit.
Another angel approached him and touched his shoulder. "It is done," the dark-haired angel told Philip gently. "He is to be a carnifex."
"I heard, Michael."
Michael sighed and said, "I… brought you this."
Philip accepted the offered feather, and ran his fingers over the soft vane. Then, he fell onto the grass and sobbed. His heart was broken. His own wings hung limply beside him, the feathers glimmering in the moonlight as he grieved.
DEADLY CRASH ON RTE 16
Early this morning, a car driven by Mark Habowitz spun out of control and struck an oncoming motorcycle. Habowitz, 19, is in critical condition. The other driver, Trace Worthy, 46 was pronounced dead at the scene. State police confirmed this afternoon that Habowitz was legally intoxicated at the time of the accident, and speed was also a factor…
I put down the paper and leaned back in the chair. Looking at the two men sitting across the table, I asked, "Is this some sick joke?"
The smaller of the men took the paper from the table and folded it under his arm. His white-blond hair glowed in the overhead light and made his pale skin glimmer like pearls. Narrowing his silver eyes, he said, "This is not a joke."
"Bullshit!" I yelled.
"Please don't use vulgar language in here," the other man said. His looks were as opposite to his crony as possible. Dark hair, olive skin and deep green eyes lent him a sinister appearance, but for some reason I was still not afraid. I knew somehow these men were… gentle?
His scolding had a strong effect on me, though. I cleared my throat and said, "I apologize, but this is insane. Why have you brought me in here to fool with my head like this?"
The black-haired man leaned over the table and said, "We're not fooling with your head, Trace."
"But this says I'm dead! And it's dated yesterday!"
"Yes. You died yesterday."
"Who are you?" I demanded.
"Philip," the blond replied.
"Michael," his cohort said. "We're angels."
"Ha! Of course. God, please make me wake up from this nightmare!"
"God has other plans for you," Philip said with a wide smile.
My heart skipped. It took a moment for my mouth to obey my mind. "P-pardon?" I stuttered.
Michael stood up and explained. "You died before your time, Trace. It was an accident."
"God doesn't make mistakes," I shot back with a sneer.
"Exactly," Philip said. "He planned this so that he might give you a wonderful opportunity. A quest of sorts."
I stood up and paced around the room. "Wait a minute. You're telling me that a teenager got drunk and plowed into my bike just so the almighty can give me a job? I liked the job I had, thank you very much! I slaved my ass—"
"Language, please," Philip reminded me.
I scowled and continued, "I slaved my backside off to earn that job and now you're telling me that all of that work was for nothing?"
"Of course it wasn't for nothing," Michael said sharply. "Your life has touched hundreds of people in ways you'll never know."
"Exactly. I'll never know 'cause I'm dead." I ran out of energy and fell down into my chair. When I bounced on a soft cushion, I gasped. My hard, wooden office chair had become a plush sofa.
Philip motioned for me to lay down. "Relax," he said calmly. I rolled my eyes but did as he asked. I stretched out on the soft fabric and looked at the angel. He took my hand and said, "You are truly special, Trace. God doesn't grant everyone this chance at becoming one of The Adored."
"I thought he adores everyone," I said.
Michael chuckled and said, "You're right. He loves everyone, but there are a group of his flock which are referred to as The Adored Ones."
"You mean angels?" I asked incredulously. "God wants me to be an angel?"
"That is his plan, yes," Michael answered. "But you must first do what he asks of you."
I raised an eyebrow. "And what does he ask?"
Philip produced a folder out of thin air and removed a photo. He handed it to me and asked, "Do you know this child?"
It was a school portrait of a young man. The features were familiar: deep blue eyes a little too close together, mousy brown hair, acne. Thin lips attempted to cover teeth held tight by braces, but failed and gave the youth a forlorn appearance. I went back to the eyes and thought for a moment before I said, "Oh, yeah! Max. This is Max Holton."
"Holbrook," Philip corrected. "That was his seventh grade yearbook photo."
"Wow. I haven't seen him since high school. I wonder what became of him."
Michael took the picture from me and said, "In three weeks' time, Max is going to commit suicide. It's your job to save him."
"Save him?" I cried. "How do you suggest I do that? Am I supposed to talk him down off a bridge? I'm afraid of heights."
Michael sighed. "You misunderstand us. You're not going back to your life to save Max three weeks from now."
"Then what's the plan? 'Cause you've lost me."
Philip smiled and asked, "How would you like to go back to high school?"
It took a moment for the words to filter through my foggy mind. When I understood that the Almighty meant to send me twenty-eight years back in time to change the trajectory of Max's life, I hit the roof. "No way!" I yelled, hopping up from the couch. "I'm not doing it! I survived the whole high school thing once, and that was one too many times. If you expect me to go back to doing homework and picking up my room—"
"We don't expect anything," Philip said. "He does. God would not ask this of you if he didn't know you could do it."
"Besides," Michael said. "There are benefits. You can do all of your homework with the knowledge of a forty-six year old mind. You've studied mathematics and economics, languages. You've already learned how to write proper college essays. Think of the advantages!"
I had to smile. "So God's going to let me cheat?"
"That's not the word I'd use, no," Philip replied with a frown. "It's simply a way to make it easier for you to carry out your task without having to worry about spending all of your time studying. You just have to make sure not to give any hints about the future."
"You make it sound easy," I mumbled, flopping back down onto the sofa. I began thinking about my eighteen year old self and my life since high school. One event stood out, and I hopped up from my seat again. "My dad!" I shouted. "The year I graduated from college, my father died from skin cancer. If he'd been tested sooner…"
Neither angel said anything; they glanced at each other, and then placidly back at me. My heart ached as I asked, "If I can get him to have a test, will I be able to save him? Please! Answer me!"
Philip swallowed and said, "I-I don't know."
"You don't know? Too bad! I'm doing it. If there's a way to save Dad, I'm taking it. Maybe I'll try and fix a lot of things I've done."
Philip grabbed my arm. "Listen, Trace. God is charging you only with saving Max. When and where that happens is unknown even to us."
"What does that mean?"
Michael straightened his coat and explained, "It means that any of your actions may be the catalyst for changing Max's life; it is known only to God. We do not know how long it will take. You may say something tomorrow that will inspire him to change, or it could be some interaction years down the road."
"Why does that scare me more than being dead?"
"You don't need to be afraid," Philip answered. "Once you have saved Max, and your task is complete, you will spend eternity as an Adored One."
"So, I'll be whisked away, up through the Pearly Gates to float around?"
"Something like that," the dark angel laughed. "There are no gates, though. Just peace."
I tried to think of the place where my father had gone. "What's it like? Heaven, I mean."
Michael beamed. "Words cannot describe it! Imagination cannot render a likeness of its beauty. A million hearts could not contain the love and happiness that flows in God's presence."
"Wow," was the only thing I could think to say.
Philip smiled. "That's what everyone says. But it's time to start your journey, are you ready?"
"Now?" I asked. "But, I don't know what to do. Is there a manual or something?"
Michael put a hand on my arm. "No, no manual. However, you can look to God for guidance, and we will assist you as we can. Use your heart and your mind and you will succeed." They both stood and turned. The light started to fade behind them.
"No, wait! I still don't know what to do!" My head began to throb as my vision dulled. I staggered up and reached out toward the light and dark clouds, but they slipped through my fingers like smoke.
"Trace? Trace Worthy! It's time to get up!"
A beam of light from a split in the curtains felt like it was burning a hole in my forehead. I groaned and flipped over, but instead of my luxurious, king-sized, pillow-top mattress lulling me back to sleep, I rolled off the edge of a hard twin-sized bed and hit the floor with a thump.
Slowly, I sat up and rubbed my hand over my head. When I felt the collar length strands slip through my fingers, I gasped. I distinctly remembered having been to the stylist for my usual men's business cut a few weeks ago. "What the hell?"
"I really wish you wouldn't swear," came a quiet voice behind me. I spun around to see two men standing near my door. But we weren't in my obnoxiously large bedroom in my condo. We were in my childhood bedroom: cramped, clothes strewn over every surface and reeking of teenage boy. I burrowed my knuckles into my eyeballs, trying to wake myself up, but when I open my lids and my vision cleared, I was still in the tiny room in my parents' house.
"No way," I whispered. I noticed my voice seemed different. A little higher in pitch maybe.
One of the men spoke to me. He seemed so familiar, yet I couldn't quite place him. He said, "Listen to me carefully, Trace. When I touch your hand, you will remember what has happened."
He held out a hand and I took it warily. A momentary blinding headache knocked me backward, and then it dawned on me why I was now eighteen years old. I looked at the man whose hand I had touched. "You know, Philip, I really could have done without that shock."
The heavenly being chuckled. "It takes a little work to rewind the clock, you know. But now that you're up, get ready for school. Your mother will be up in a few minutes to wake you. Have fun on your first day back."
"Wait, am I going to remember what happened yesterday at school? If I don't know what's going on, they'll all think I'm nuts."
"It's all taken care of," Michael said. "Just remember, you need to make contact with Max today."
And just like that, they were gone. Seconds later there was a knock on my door. It opened slowly and my mother peeked in. "Oh! You're up."
"Yeah," I replied. "Can I have a laundry basket please? This room is a mess."
"Um…sure." She looked at me like I'd gone insane. In a few moments she returned and handed me the plastic basket. As I collected all of the laundry scattered over every surface of the room while she stood in the doorway, staring. When I excused myself and carried the clothes into the laundry room at the end of the hall, she asked, "Are you feeling all right, Trace?"
For a dead guy? Great.
"Never better," I replied with a forced smile. "Is…uh, Dad home this morning?" I was desperate to see my father, who I hadn't seen since he died from cancer almost twenty years before.
"Of course not," she laughed. "He always leaves before you get up. Are you sure you're okay? It's just that I've never seen you doing laundry."
I paused in my sorting and gave myself a mental nudge. I had to remember to act like a teenage boy. Damn. I said, "Well, I figure that I'm going off to college next fall. I may as well get used to doing laundry the right way. Not like you're going to be coming with me."
Mom shrugged and said, "Well, thanks. It'll be a great help." I emptied the basket into the bin, kissed my mother on the forehead, and then went back to prepare for high school.
Heaven help me.
The smell of floor polish and chalk dust assaulted my senses the moment I walked into the building. It was so surreal. On the spot where I stood, twenty years later, there would be a shopping mall.
Somehow, I really did remember everything that had happened before now. I recalled what I'd had at lunch the day before, and the nasty joke that Donny Stone—my best friend—had told me.
"Weird," I mumbled.
Suddenly, someone slapped me hard on the back and I lurched forward. Stone laughed and said, "Talking to yourself, Worthy?"
"Yeah," I shot back. "I was saying how much of a douchebag you are."
I punched him good-naturedly on the arm and said, "Go ahead to homeroom. I gotta go…check with a teacher."
Stone looked at me warily. "You? Check with a teacher? Have fun, bud."
I headed up the back stairs toward the language classrooms. I knew that the Spanish room was the most likely place to find who I needed. He was a genius with languages, and had helped me muddle through Spanish papers a few times. Right outside the room, sitting on the floor amidst a pile of papers and books sat Max Holbrook. He was bent over a laptop, typing with one hand while sipping from a large travel mug.
"Hey, Max," I called.
He was so startled that the coffee cup went flying, landing upside down on his books. "Shit!" he snapped.
I dove for the cup and righted it before much could spill onto the cover. Then I used my shirt to wipe the spilled java from the paperback. When I was sure that not much damage had been done, I sat back and noticed that Max was staring at me in shock.
I mumbled, "Sorry."
"It's fine," he said. He snatched the book from me and replaced it on the pile. I smiled sheepishly at him and he scowled. "What now?"
"What now what?" I replied.
Max shut his laptop and sighed. He started shoving his books and papers into his bag and spoke without looking up. "I've already run through the gauntlet this morning with all your friends, so I'm kinda tired. I assumed that you came to add the icing on the cake. So, go ahead. I can stand a few more jabs. Do you want to go with the ugly route, or maybe the gay thing? Take your pick."
The blunt speech surprised me. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I was poked in the back hard. I would have to thank Philip for the little nudge. I cleared my throat and said, "I'm sorry, Max."
"Sorry?" He blinked at me several times before frowning and saying, "That's a new one."
I held up my hands in surrender and said, "Look. I know I've always been an asshole to you, but I've changed—in more ways than you'll ever know—and I want to apologize."
He looked at me warily and finally smiled. I smiled with him, until his expression turned into a snarl. He took a step closer to me and said, "Fuck. You."
As I watched him storm down the hall and around the corner, I let my bag drop to the floor. "That went well." Then the bell rang and I realized I was late for homeroom. I trudged toward the stairs and groaned. "High school sucks."
I made it through my morning classes well. if anything, they were fun. With my extra twenty-eight years' experience, the history test that I took was a breeze. In algebra I was able to answer several of the questions that the teacher posed to the class. Stone sat next to me and kept shaking his head every time I spoke up.
On our way to lunch, Stone grabbed my arm and pulled me out of the streaming hallway crowd. He scowled. "What is it?"
"What's what?" I replied, trying not to shake with fear. Had he found out that I was dead and had been sent back on a secret mission to save the school outcast?
Stone leaned in closer. "What's got you so fucking hyped up? Did you do it with that chick from state?"
I let out the breath I'd been holding. I thought he'd figured out that I was now a quasi-reincarnated version of myself, but he was asking about a college girl I'd messed around with at a party the week before. "No. Nothing happened."
My best friend wasn't going to drop it. He grinned evilly and whispered, "What about the girl from Teauville, the team's manager? It was her wasn't it?"
Little did he know that it wasn't the female manager of the opposing team that I'd hooked up with. It was the shortstop. But was I going to tell Stone that? No way. He didn't know I was gay and I was in no hurry to tell him. Truth is, I was petrified of being mentally bashed like Max was on a daily basis. The tiniest shred of credit that I could give my friends was that they had never physically hurt Max. Our catcher, Steve, had once talked about "smearing the queer," but Stone went berserk and said that he'd smear Steve's face on the floor if he ever laid a finger on the smaller boy. That was the only reason that I hadn't severed my ties with Stone. Of all my friends, only he showed a little compassion. Too bad he didn't realize that mentally abusing someone can be just as bad as beating them up.
I came back to the present and realized Stone was still hounding me for the name of the girl he imagined had me in such a good mood. "What's-her-face from the cheerleading squad? That freshman? The mayor's daughter?"
"Will you shut up?" I barked. Stone blinked stupidly at me and I sighed. "I have to tell you something, Don."