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The Angel By My Side

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The Angel By My SideIt was a cold and blustery Saturday in November as I stood on the rolling grasses of the hill. The cold breeze stirred my hair as I looked down at my feet. A single rose, deep red, was clenched in my hand. I brought the flower to my lips and kissed it before setting it on the marble marker in the ground. It read: Lillian MacDonald, beloved wife and mother.The deep scars in the grass over her grave were still healing. In a few days, I’d be placing my father by her side. I’d just come from the hospital after they’d pronounced my father dead. Finally they were at peace. Finally, they were together again. Even though my father followed my mother to the other side just a few months behind her, they hadn’t been together for years. My father had had Alzheimer’s and he’d disappeared into his past long before my mother had finally succumbed to the cancer that riddled her body. As I started to turn, my mind asked the question silently. Were they at peace?Yes.The voice, so loud in the still morning, came from nowhere and made me pause. My heart rate skittered into panic mode. I stared over the field of headstones, searching for the source of that voice. When I saw no one, I shook my head. There was nobody there.As I sat in my car, voices from my past echoed in my mind. My father’s gruff voice filled my memory.”You’ll go to college, Michael. That’s final.”I had looked at my father and shook my head. “How can I?” He’d been fifty-five when I was born. I came so late into their lives. Now at seventy-two, he was stooped and angry. I loved the man more than I could say, but I couldn’t leave them.”We saved for your education. We wanted you—”I held up my hand. “I wasn’t worried about the money, Dad.” I put my arm around his shoulder. “But I can’t leave you either.”Mom came into the room, weak and ethereal, almost gaunt. Her eyes were pinched with pain. “Michael! We’ll be fine. You must go to school.”I hung my head at her words. At sixty-five, my mother stood gently, as if every move hurt her. I knew it must. She’d just had surgery. I came into their lives so late, a menopausal accident. While most of my friends worried about what they’d do over their summer break, I spent my time at the hospital. The cancer, although caught early, was persistent. She’d be fine. She had to be.I felt powerless as I watched them. While in the hospital, my father had become agitated and confused while waiting for my mother to come through surgery. So agitated, that a doctor had looked him over. Then he’d been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. I shook my head. I knew they had dreams for me, but how could I leave them? What could I do?”How about a compromise? I can go to the local college and live here.”I know my mother would have been appalled had she realized how much her face showed her relief. In the end, it was the only decision I could make.As my memories faded, I wiped the tears from my cheeks. Would they never stop? I’d been crying for months it seemed. None of it mattered now. It was over. They were at peace and no longer hurting. I put my car into gear and drove home.After I laid my father to rest, I sat in the house I grew up in and stared out over the yard. The well-wishers had finally left. Old friends of my parents who cupped my cheek and shared old stories I’d heard many, many times over. “Your dad was damn proud of you, boy.” “Fought in the big one and saved my life.” “He’s far happier now, son. Don’t doubt it.” In the end, all they had been were faces. Faces I’d grown up with, now much older. I turned from the window and started again on the box in their bedroom.I sighed as I put the last of my parent’s clothes into large garbage sacks, bound for the Goodwill. At least work had been decent. My boss had come into the small, cramped office and gruffly put his hand on my shoulder. “Take some time off, k**. Your old man was a good worker for this company.” His voice had been gravelly and he’d shrugged uncomfortably when I’d thanked him. They all knew what I went through for my parents.After school, I’d had to get a job to help out with the bills. I never got a chance to go beyond the community college. My father had been furious when I took a job as the bookkeeper at his old company. “Damn it, Michael! I don’t want you to throw your life away.”I had stood up to my father, and stared him down. “What choice is there? Mom isn’t getting better.” I quieted my anger and put my hand on my father’s shoulder. “You’re starting to forget more and more.”Dad’s eyes were stricken when he looked at me, the fight draining from him. “I know, son. I know.” His eyes had grown moist. “I forget you’re not the same boy I bounced on my knee.”I held my father as the tears began. Most days, he couldn’t remember why his wife was in the hospital. In my heart I knew that a day would soon come when he’d forget everything about me. “It’s okay, dad. The job isn’t that bad. And I’ll be home at night, when mom gets home.”And that’s what I did. I got up early and fed my father. I waited for the next-door neighbor to stop by, and then left for work. I put in ten hours a day, and then came home and cooked and cleaned. Mom never really got better and dad slipped further and further into the past with each day.I picked up one of the many photo albums in their bedroom and thumbed through the pages. My mother had spent hours creating each one for my father. As his mind deteriorated, he would have these books in a blind, futile hope that it would spark something inside him. There were happy photos of a young version of my father in an army uniform, a beautiful young woman in a flowered dress, the same two in wedding finery, dad smiling with his hard hat on at the oil refinery. Mom dressed in her best dress for their anniversary. Laughter. Tears. Memories. In the end, they had done nothing to ease my father.I had sat by her bed, holding her hand in the hospital. It was nearly over. Her body was consumed with the cancer, her mind the only fully working part of her. The machines by the bed droned by her as she took each ragged breath. “Promise me, Michael. Promise me you’ll find a good home for him.”I held her hand and willed my own tears away. “I can’t put him in a home, mom.”She touched my face with her weathered hand, tears of extreme pain glistened in her eyes. “You’re twenty-five, Michael. It’s time you got to live your own life.”I bowed my head over her hand and pressed a kiss into her knuckles. “It doesn’t matter, mom. Don’t ask this of me.”Her other hand came and rested on my head, patting my hair. “My poor baby. So lost. So alone.” I looked up at her words. Her face creased in a faint smile, a shadow of the warm glow that had beamed only for me from the time I could first remember. “Don’t shut yourself away, Michael. Find a nice boy and settle down. You deserve happiness.”Her words stole my breath. How could she know? I never spoke the words aloud. “But…””How could I know?” When I nodded, she continued, her voice faint. “I’ve always known. Don’t be sad. It’s okay. I love you as you are. I always will.”The tears slowly fell down my cheeks as I kissed her hand again. She’d given me such a rare gift. Acceptance. “I love you, mom.””I love you too, baby.” She lay back against the bed, her eyes tired as her face relaxed. “If I could, I’d make sure you were happy.”The tears lodged in my throat, making my words hoarse. “Oh, mom. Don’t. I’ll be fine.”Her face creased in another smile as she stared at the ceiling. “I don’t know where I’m going, but I believe. It will be over soon, love. Learn from us, Michael. Don’t let your life get away from you.”Those were her last words to me. The last words she ever uttered. I sat by her side until the beeping monitors beside me stopped and her body lost its rigid look. The pain left her and she relaxed into peace. It should have been horrible. It should have been scary. It was neither. It was almost beautiful, to watch her melt into eternity.I sat on the edge of my parent’s bed, the photo album long forgotten as it clattered to the floor. I brushed the tears from my eyes furiously. Damn tears never seemed to stop. When will this pain end?Soon.The voice called out to me, quiet but deep, reverberating off the walls. I stood and stepped back, tripping over the edge of the bed. As I lay sprawled on the floor, I looked all around. Who kept talking to me?I did.My heart lodged in my throat. Who are you?You know.”Why are you talking to me?”You asked the questions. I simply answered.I stared around me, my breath heaving with adrenalin. “Where are you?”Around.My brows furrowed in annoyance. “Are you always this evasive?”The voice chuckled long and richly. When it suits my purpose, yes.”What is your purpose in talking to me?”Soon.I waited, but the voice didn’t speak again. I shook my head as I left my parent’s bedroom. I needed a drink. As I walked downstairs, I almost convinced myself it was all a dream. After two glasses of whiskey, I was positive I’d imagined it all.A few days later, I was mindlessly droning through some billing invoices. I came back to work early, probably earlier than I should. But I couldn’t stay at home and brood anymore either. It was nearing end of shift and I knew if I didn’t go to the restroom before I left, I wouldn’t make it home. I headed down the hall, but the single office restroom was occupied. I couldn’t wait, so I headed towards the back and the crew locker room.When I stepped inside, the sounds of running water from the shower filled my ears. The place smelled like sweat and was humid from multiple showers. It was Friday; no one worked late on Fridays. I relieved myself and went to the sink to wash my hands. As I rinsed them of the soap, Jim Shipman walked into the sink area, a towel slung low on his hips, his hair still wet and finger combed from his shower. I blinked hard and focused on the mirror. I felt my face heat with embarrassment and a bit of arousal. Jim was a big man, not beautiful or even handsome, just big and powerful, burly. From the corner of my eyes, I watched as a drop of water slipped down his chest, trailing through the whirls of dark, thick hair down to his belly. I swallowed as I grabbed a paper towel.”Hey Michael. How are you doing?”I gave Jim a small smile as I tried to look anywhere but at the towel which bulged slightly at his crotch. “I’m good. Thanks.”He grabbed his deodorant out of a small shaving kit on the counter and turned to face me as he put it on. “I’m sorry about your dad. He was a good man. He trained me when I first started.”I nodded, lost in the sight of his big arms and bigger shoulders, the sight of the silky hair under his arms as he rubbed the deodorant stick there. “I didn’t know that.”He grinned at me before he took off his towel and grabbed his briefs from the little bag on the counter. “How are you holding up?”How could he act so casual? I couldn’t help but glance at the thick length of him at rest over big, heavy testicles. I’d seen other men before, but this one, this one had always made me look twice. I swallowed twice before I could answer. “I’m okay. It’s hard… but…”I couldn’t believe I’d said it was hard. But it was, and getting harder by the moment. I wanted to shift my legs to ease the ache, but I stayed still, terrified Jim would know I was hot for him. His smile was soft and kind as he looked at me. “I know how you feel. I lost my mother last year. It takes time, but it does get better.”I smiled at him and tried to move away, but my feet refused to listen to me. “Thanks. I needed to hear that.” I watched as Jim stepped into his briefs and started pulling them up his legs. I turned away and was about to head out of the locker room. Jim’s voice stopped me.”Hey, Michael?”I turned around and saw Jim standing with his hands on his hips, his briefs strained on his thighs, just below his balls. I swallowed as his cock began to thicken and harden before me. I tore my eyes from the sight as I stared into Jim’s face. He smiled at me and winked. “I know you want it. Have at it, k**.”I was powerless to move as I watched his hand lower and take his rigid cock in his hand and stroke once from base to tip. A shiny drop of excitement beaded at the tip. I smacked my lips, dying for a taste. I stepped forward and blinked. Jim’s back was turned to me as he drew on his pants. “If you want to join us tonight for a beer, we’d be glad to have you.”I spun away, embarrassed and beyond mortified. It had been a fantasy, a dream. My hands shook as I touched my face, scalded by the heat in my cheeks. “Th-thanks Jim. But I can’t. Some other time.”I turned and fled from the room and barely paused for my coat in my little office. My hands shook as I tried to open my car door. When I sat down behind the wheel, I winced at the confined pinch of my erection behind my jeans. I lowered my forehead to the steering wheel and took several deep breaths before I was calm enough to drive.As I drove home, I banged my fist against my steering wheel. “What the hell was I thinking?” I’m not out at work. No one knows. I shook my head and drove home. When I got to the house, I was still agitated. My hands shook. My throat was tight and my face on fire. I tried to do a little housework. I grabbed some of the dishes on the counter and started filling the sink with hot water and suds. Shaking with desire, I tossed the dishes in the sink and braced myself against the counter. When the shuddering of my body would not cease, I dropped my head and cursed. I tossed aside the dishtowel and started towards the stairs.As I took the first step, I started unbuttoning my shirt. By the time I got to the top step, my shirt was open. I ran my hand against my belly, tugging slightly on the baby fine trail of hair that led from my belly button into my pants. The slight tug caused me to pause and lean against the wall, moaning slightly. When I could take a deep breath, I continued along the hall to my bedroom. Before I’d even opened the door, I had my pants undone and my palm pressed against my erection under my underwear. The simple pressure made my eyes cross.I dropped my pants and stepped on my socks to remove them. I peeled off my shirt and flopped back onto my bed. My hand trembled as I ran it over my sparsely dusted sternum until I could flick one of my nipples. My other hand grasped my erection and squeezed the tip, slimy with my excitement. I took my hand and brought it to my lips. I sniffed deeply of my excitement and sucked one finger into my mouth, lapping at the pad of my thumb until the last of the flavor was gone. My hand went back to my erection and began to stroke in earnest. My belly tightened as I moaned out loud.I let my mind wander, filling it with images of Jim, both from reality and my fantasy. My head arched against the pillow as I lowered my hand and caressed my balls. I imagined what it would be like if my fantasy had been reality and Jim had really offered himself to me. As my hand stroked faster, I imagined dropping to my knees and taking him into my mouth, caressing him with my tongue. I fought for breath as the sensations grew tighter in my belly, as my body readied to explode. It had been weeks since I’d last pleasured myself, since I’d last found release.Why are you doing that?The voice shocked me into stopping, my breath panting. My body instantly cooled as I grabbed at the sheets below my body. I wrapped myself with the sheet and shook from repressed need and an uncontrollable anger. “Who the hell are you?”I’ve already told you.I snorted as I stared at nothing. “‘You already know’ isn’t an answer.”You’re angry?”You’re damn right I’m angry! Not only do you pop into my head at odd times, but you invade my privacy.”A heavy, weighty pause filled the room with nothing. Why were you doing that?I shook my head. Was he serious? “You’ve got to be k**ding.”I don’t have a sense of humor.I rolled my eyes as I stood up and grabbed my briefs from the floor. I shimmied them on under the sheet. “Obviously.” As I grabbed my pants and slipped those on, I turned and faced the wall. Hell, I didn’t know where the voice was coming from. “Why are you here?” When silence answered me, I bowed my head. “Please?”I… I don’t think you’ll like the answer.”So what else is new?”I haven’t watched CNN today. I don’t know.I stopped and looked around. “Are you always this literal?”Yes.I sat on the edge of my bed and pulled my socks on. “Will you at least show yourself to me? I like to know with whom I’m speaking.”Shield your eyes.”Why?”I never got an answer as the room filled with a bright light, brighter than the sun on the hottest day in July. I raised my hand to shield my eyes, but the light didn’t seem to hurt them. The air in the room stirred and swirled. It shifted the curtains and ruffled my hair. The light shrunk in on itself by the window until it was a single glowing ball. Fire erupted out of the ball and I turned my head from the heat of it. When I looked back, a man stood where the fire had been. Somehow, it was very disappointing. “That’s it?”The man cocked his head to the side and stared at me. “What were you expecting?”I shrugged. “I don’t know. I didn’t think you’d just be a man.”His smile was quick, cutting into his features and causing dimples to appear in his cheeks. “How about this?”The man rolled his shoulders and something thin and bright but paper-thin spread behind him. They raised high and I could see they were wings. He brought them down and the man rose from the ground until he bumped his head into the ceiling. When he’d settled back to the floor, I knew my jaw was hanging open. “Wh-What are you?”The man smiled again and tipped his head to the side. “The wings didn’t give you a clue?”I shook my head to clear it, but it didn’t help. “‘Every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings.'”The man rolled his eyes and shook his head. “Hardly. Do you know that when that movie came out, every k** in America rang every bell they came across? Do you have any idea how loud that was?”I snickered. “You said you didn’t have a sense of humor.”He shrugged and walked towards me. “I don’t. Not really. But I am an angel.” As he approached me, he grinned and flashed me his dimples. “You should sit down. You look like you’re about to faint.”That was probably the biggest understatement of the century. I sat and stared at the man, er angel, before me. He stood about even with my six-foot height. His face seemed to resemble a statue that one of the old masters would have created. Smooth, flawless, and very pale in color. I had seen one once in a museum. It was the kind of statue where the tracery veins in the arms and legs stood out, as if they actually pumped blood through them. Only once I touched it, it was cold and lifeless. My hand reached out to touch him before I caught myself.The angel grinned at me and flashed me his dimples. “You can touch me if you wish.”I placed my hand against his arm. It was warm to the touch and full of life, unlike the statues of old. I traced a vein along his forearm while I stared at his face. Perfection. That’s all I thought about his face. Carved from the purest marble and breathed to life. Dark, curly hair hung low on his forehead with high, arched brows that accentuated deep, dark, soulful eyes. Those eyes danced with humor and hidden deep inside, something indefinable exactly; but sad came closest to describing it.”Like a marble statue?”I shook my head from my musings. “What?” He smiled at me again and stepped back out of my touch. For a split second, I felt bereft, as if I’d had something vital removed from me, but it quickly passed.”You were thinking how closely I resemble a statue.”I felt my eyebrows arch. “Are you reading my mind?”He chuckled and paced around the room, tactilely touching a few things. “If I could read your mind, I’d know why you were… touching yourself.”I felt the blush creep up my cheeks as I stared at his back. His shirt had two slits over his shoulders, probably for the wings. “You were going to explain why you’re here.”He bowed his head as he looked at a picture on my dresser. “Yes. I was.” He turned to face me and opened his mouth to speak then stopped. He tried it again, but failed. “I think I’d better explain.”I nodded, waiting for something, anything. “Good. I’d like to know why an angel named…?”He leaned back against the wall and shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t have a name.””Come on, don’t all angels have names? There’s Michael and Gabriel, to name two.”He rolled his eyes and shook his head, a small smile played at his lips. “Those are two of millions. They are very special archangels. I’m in an entirely different class.”I sat there, staring, my mind reeling from all he was saying. “And your class is?”He lifted one shoulder, as if he didn’t quite know how to explain anything. “I’m an observer.” He sat on a corner of the bed and smiled at me. “I’m also a messenger, from time to time.”I raised my eyebrows. Funny, I should have been freaked out at the mere thought that an angel was sitting on my bed, casually discussing the duties of his life, but frankly, I was too curious to be shaken. “An observer of what?”His smile widened, bringing out his dimples again. “Everything; each word, each moment of life; each falling leaf, each trickle of water. Everything there is to witness on Earth.”I cocked my head to the side. “Like that Nicholas Cage movie?”He smiled again. “Wings of Desire was better.””Or course.” I couldn’t agree more. I love Nicholas Cage, but the original was so much darker, grittier, and touchingly poignant. “So you observe me?””I observe lots of people. And there are different kinds of observers.”Curiouser and curioser. “Like?”He shrugged. “Some of us only observe people. Others watch the a****ls. There are dream watchers and nature watchers. Lots of us.” He looked at me, directly in my eyes. “Sometimes, we are assigned a particular person or type of person.”I drew a deep breath. So now we were getting somewhere. “And who are you assigned to?” Then out of pure fiendish curiosity, I had to ask. “Anyone I might recognize?”He shifted his seat and nodded his head. “Nathaniel Hale. Joan of Arc. Amongst others.””Nathaniel Hale? As in ‘I regret that I have but one life to give for my country’? That Nathaniel Hale?”He nodded. Joan of Arc? A girl who died because they believed she was a witch and not working under the auspices of God. Nathaniel Hale, who died rather than betray his country, martyrs. I swallowed deeply as I stared at the angel before me. “You observe martyrs?””Yes.”He looked at me and I wanted to shy away from his penetrating gaze. What he suggested wasn’t possible. “You’re here to observe me because I’m…?”He nodded once, just a dip of his chin. I felt goose bumps rise against my body, sending a deep shiver right through me. “When?””Soon.”I swallowed then began to tremble. “Why are you telling me this?”He smiled again. “You’re the only one who ever heard me.”I stood and paced around the room. He sat and watched as the minutes ticked by. My mind was a jumble of mixed thoughts and emotions, none of which coalesced into anything cohesive. “I’m going to die.””Yes.””I need a drink.” I left the bedroom and walked downstairs. The angel followed me. I grabbed a glass from the cabinet and took the bottle of scotch from the cupboard. I filled the glass nearly full and raised it to my lips. My hands shook horribly. Just before I took a drink, I paused and stared at the angel. “Care for one?”He smiled serenely and shook his head. “It would do nothing for me.”I snorted and threw the drink back, letting the slow, smooth liquid burn down my throat, giving me something else to focus on. I poured a second glass and walked into the living room. The angel sat opposite me and watched as I slowly sipped my drink. After a few disconcerting moments, I looked at him. “How long do I have?”He stared back at me and tilted his head. “I’m not sure. A few weeks.””Do you know what will happen?””No.”How one word could seem so ominous, I would never know. But somehow, the fact that this supernatural being didn’t know the future was oddly comforting. I snorted and laughed, even though I felt tears sting my eyes. I blinked them back, furious that I was crying again. “There’s so much that I wanted to do.”The angel stood and I followed. The warm, slumberous affects of the alcohol made me slightly dizzy. “You should go to sleep.”I nodded as if it were the sagest advice I’d ever heard. He put his hand against my arm and I immediately felt calm descend upon me. For a moment, I heard something in my mind. Something serene, like the grandest music. The moment he removed his hand, the fleeting hint of whatever I heard left me and I felt cut off, as if I’d glimpsed the rarest of treasures and had them removed from my sight. I headed towards my bedroom and turned back to see the angel standing at the foot of the stairs. “Will you be here when I wake up?””If you wish it, yes.” I thought for a moment and decided I would rather he be around. I nodded once. He smiled at me and I found myself smiling back. “Then I shall be here.”I turned and took two more steps when I stopped. “Do you sleep?””No.””What will you do?”His chuckle filled my ears and sent a shiver up my spine. “Observe.”I turned around to face him. “You’re going to watch me sleep?”He laughed outright. “No. I’ll walk around the house and touch the things I’ve always seen.”It wasn’t my idea of a fun night, but then again, I didn’t know what angels did for fun anyway. As I crawled naked into bed, I briefly considered starting up again where I’d been interrupted. But a deep lethargy swamped me and I couldn’t keep my eyes open. My dreams were filled with swirling images and deep emotions. When I awoke in the morning, tears were streaming down my face, yet I felt perfectly calm. Peaceful. Accepting.I got out of bed and headed downstairs. I needed coffee and lots of it. As I stumbled into the kitchen and started making coffee, the angel came into the room. “Good morning.”I jumped and looked down when I remembered I didn’t have a stitch of clothing on. For a split second, I thought about grabbing the dishtowel and covering myself with it. But when an angel has watched you jerk off, any sense of modesty seems to fly right out of you. “Hi.”He smiled as he leaned against the counter. “How did you sleep?”As I poured a cup of steaming heaven, I shrugged bilecik escort my shoulders. “Fine. I guess.”He walked closer to me and stared into my eyes as I sipped my coffee. “You seem more relaxed.” He continued to watch me as I drank my coffee then smiled. “Rafael sent one of his minions to you.”I blinked a few times in confusion. “Who is Rafael?””The archangel of healing.”I stopped drinking mid-sip. “I needed healing?” He nodded. “Why?””You said there were many things you wanted to do.” He shrugged. “I thought you wouldn’t get to do any of them if you were worried about the future and still grieving for your parents.” He looked at me sharply. “Did I do something wrong?”I thought about it as I finished off my coffee. It was true. I still missed my parents, but I seemed to be okay about it. And I no longer trembled at the thought of my upcoming demise. I shrugged my shoulders. “I don’t think so. Did you do this for any of the other people you observe?””No. They never knew I was there.”I set my coffee cup down and stared at the floor. I felt uncomfortable. “I’m going to go take a shower.” I stood and looked over at the angel. I didn’t know his name. I mentally slapped my forehead. He doesn’t have a name. “We need to figure something to call you.””I guess ‘hey, you’ isn’t really appropriate.”I chuckled. “Are you sure you don’t have a sense of humor?”He smiled at me. “Perhaps just a little one.””Well think of a name and I’ll be back in a few minutes.”He stopped me by stepping forward. “You’re going to take a shower?”I caught a hint of wistfulness in his voice. I shrugged. “Never taken a shower before?” He shook his head. “Well, come on then; might as well try it out.”We climbed the stairs to the bathroom. I turned on the water and turned to the angel. “You need to take off your clothes.” He reached to his chest and began unbuttoning his shirt; fumbling with the buttons. I cocked my head and grinned at him. “Never taken off the clothes before?””No. We just sort of think about it and they come off.”I paused from my unbuttoning of his shirt. “Why aren’t you doing that now?””I can’t. Not while on Earth.”I shrugged and continued to unbutton his shirt. When it was done, I pulled it off his shoulders and down his arms. The man had a perfect, flawless body. Smooth, pale skin covered tight muscles with bluish veins running under the surface. As the shirt hit the floor, I noticed two things. He had no nipples, and he didn’t have a belly button. I looked down at my own nipples then stared at his chest. He chuckled.”No, I don’t have nipples, and since I wasn’t born, no navel.”I reached for his trousers and paused. He started laughing. “Yes. I have a penis.”I started to laugh and then stopped when his pants opened and dropped to his feet. Again, he looked like a perfectly carved statue, muscular; trim, without fat, and the palest, purest, smoothest skin I’d ever seen. There was no body hair at all. Except for his eyebrows, eyelashes, and scalp, he was hairless. I stared from his feet to his waist then gulped. He was a lot bigger than Jim Shipman, perfectly formed and thick. I stared into his eyes and felt the blush cross my face. Then I looked down at my own equipment and compared. I shrugged as it stood at attention and realized it was nowhere close to the angel’s league. Oh well. He was an angel. I grabbed his hand and crawled into the shower and tried to ignore the sudden attraction and arousal that coursed through me, speeding my pulse.I positioned him under the spray, facing towards me. When the warm water hit his back, he started to laugh. “That tickles.””Back up a bit.” Once the water no longer hit his shoulders, he stopped laughing. “What do you think?””It’s warm and wet.”I started to laugh. “That’s why they call it a shower.””Good point.”I grabbed the soap and started lathering it with my hands. The angel leaned forward and sniffed at my fingers. “That smells good.”I handed the soap to him. “Do the same.” I watched as he lathered the soap in his hands. Then I took it from him and spread my hands wide and wiggled my fingers. He did the same. I started washing myself, under my arms, over my chest, my arms and belly. He followed me. I raised my leg and washed along its length then did the same to the other. The angel did it too, almost tipping over because he hadn’t shifted his weight. I gave my crotch a quick once over then reached for my back. When I was done, I pushed the angel under the spray and waited for the soap to be rinsed away. “Trade places with me.”I stood under the spray and rinsed off. I shut the water off and opened the shower curtain and grabbed a couple of towels. I dried myself off and watched as he did the same. I wrapped the towel around myself and walked into my room. He followed. I took out a pair of briefs and stepped into them. I tossed him a pair. “These should fit you.”He pulled them on and winced as he got them up to his waist. I started to laugh as I shoved my hands into my underwear and adjusted everything. He did the same and smiled when everything was in a comfortable place. I went to the closet and grabbed two pairs of jeans and a couple of shirts.Once we were both dressed, I went back downstairs into the living room. I sat on the couch and the angel sat by me. “Have you thought of any names?””I don’t really want any of the names of the people I observed.”I laughed. “You don’t look like a Joan.”He rolled his eyes and grinned. “No. I don’t. Pick a name. It doesn’t matter what you call me.”I shook my head. “Yes it does. Your name is part of you.” I looked across the room to the framed picture of my parents. “Someone names you, putting all their hopes and dreams into that name.”He sat back and looked at me, a small smile played at his lips. “I didn’t know why a name was so important. I thought it was just a form of recognition.””It’s that too. But… so much more. When someone who knows and loves you says your name, you feel… connected.” I tried to form into words how it felt whenever my mother said my name. “My mother could cut me to shreds by saying my name disapprovingly. But she could make it all better whenever she’d tell me she loved me.””I see.” Yet I felt he really couldn’t comprehend what I was saying. “I still think you should pick a name for me.””Fine. I’ll think about it.” I stood and stretched. “I need to clean up the kitchen a bit.” I walked across the living room and stopped. “Should I be prepared? Should I see about putting everything in order?”He got a faraway look in his eyes and cocked his head. Then he shook his head and smiled at me. “No. If you have everything in order, someone might think you knew what was happening.”I nodded then headed back into the kitchen. The angel followed close on my heals and watched as I gathered dishes and canning jars, things I would never need and put them into boxes. Once I’d filled four boxes, I took a Sharpie pen and started marking the boxes. The angel followed what I did. I glanced up at him as he traced what I’d written on a previous box. “Something intriguing?”He glanced up and dropped his hand as if he’d been caught doing something he shouldn’t. “What does it say?”I stood and glanced at him. “You observe human beings and don’t understand the written word?”He shook his head and smiled. “I can speak every known and long forgotten language, but we do not read the written word. It is forbidden.””Why?””I do not know. It has always been so.”I shrugged my shoulders and pointed to the boxes. “That one is full of china and marked as such. This one I just finished is nothing but old canning jars, so I wrote Mason jars on it.””Mason?””It’s just a brand name. For canning and preserving food?”He looked perplexed as he pulled one of the jars out of the box. “Why?””It preserves food and stores jam and jellies.””Why?”What was he, a three year old? “Fruits and vegetables were only available at certain times of the year. The jars kept them so they could be eaten year round.”He nodded his head and put the jar back. “I like it.”I blinked three times in confusion. “What?””The name.”Okay. “Jar?”He laughed and turned to me, smiling. “No. Mason.””Mason.” It did roll off the tongue. It was nice actually. “I like it too.””Good.”We just stood and stared at each other. When things became awkward, I cleared my throat. “I need to take a load of things to the Goodwill. Care to join me?””Sure.”I picked up a couple of boxes and headed towards the door. “Wait. Can other people see you?”Mason laughed and nodded. “As long as I’m with you, anyone can see me.”We loaded boxes and bags into the truck before we crawled inside and I started down the road. Mason kept staring around him, watching the scenery pass by. “Why can people see you now and not before?”He turned from the scenery and smiled at me. “I became visible because you asked me to. If I go too far away from you, I’ll fade out again.””So you need to stay close by?””Yes.”I shifted uncomfortably in my seat. “How close?”Mason started laughing. “You’ll have privacy. You slept alone last night. I’d say as long as I’m in the same building, we’ll be fine.”We dropped off seven boxes and nine bags of clothing at the Goodwill before we headed home. I made it about three miles when I turned to Mason. “I’m hungry. Do you mind if we stop?””Not at all.””You don’t eat?”Mason looked around as we pulled in to the local McDonald’s. “I don’t have to. But I can if I want.”We stood and stared at the menu for several minutes. Thankfully, there were pictures to go along with the words. “Any ideas?”He shook his head as he looked at the menu. “I haven’t got a clue.””Why don’t I order a bit of a variety, and you can try it all?”He looked at me and smiled. Something shifted inside my chest, making me feel flustered. “I think that is a good idea.”After I got our order, grabbed some ketchup, napkins, and straws, I sat down across from Mason and offered him a fry. “Try this.”He took the fry from me and stared at it as he rolled it in his fingers. He brought it to his mouth and licked against it before taking a tentative bite. He chewed on it for a moment as if he wasn’t sure. Then he swallowed. He grinned at me and grabbed another. Then another. Then another.Before I knew it, all the fries were gone. I unwrapped one of the cheeseburgers and handed it to him. “Try this.”Mason practically inhaled it. I took a straw and put it in one of the soft drinks. Mason took it and looked at the straw. I showed him how to use it with my own drink. “Like this.”As I watched him take a drink, moving his lips against the straw, my mind turned to rather filthy thoughts. I looked away before the blush became obvious. I needed to stop doing this. I shook my head and grabbed my own burger and bit into it. After I’d swallowed, I turned back to Mason who looked longingly at my burger. I’d lost my appetite. “Here. Have at it.””Thanks.”I watched as he ate my hamburger, two apple pies, and drank all of his soda. When he was all done, he leaned back in his chair and smiled. “I take it you enjoyed that?””I did. I’ve never had food before.”I blinked and sat forward. “Never?””No.” Then Mason sat forward and opened his mouth to say something. A belch, louder and longer than I’d ever heard before, left his lips. He sat back and looked around. “What was that?”I started laughing. I couldn’t stop until tears rolled down my face. I took a napkin and started wiping my face. “That was a belch.””Belch?”I wadded up the napkin and grinned. “You ate too fast and swallowed air with the food. That and the soda, well, your belly had to get rid of the gas.”He sat back and looked down at his stomach. He poked it with a finger then took a drink of soda. He looked at me and smiled, then belched again. “That’s fun.”I glanced at a table near us and saw the disapproving look from the woman sitting there. “And rude. Let’s go.”In the truck, Mason sat sideways so he could watch me. “Did I do something wrong?”I glanced at him before turning back to traffic. “Not at all. Why?””You sounded upset when you told me I was being rude.”I pulled over to the side of the road and turned to Mason. “No. I wasn’t upset. I thought it was funny. Until I saw the woman at the other table looking all peeved.””Why would you care what someone else thinks?””I don’t.” Then I shook my head. “Not normally I don’t. But it isn’t polite to belch loudly in public.”Mason nodded then looked at me. “So, the c***dren who were running around and screaming weren’t rude?””They were, yes.””Why didn’t they get in trouble and have to leave?”I sighed. “Some people don’t care.”Mason put his hand on my arm. “And you do?”I looked at him and smiled, though it was wobbly. “I care very much.””About what?”I shrugged my shoulders and stared out the windshield. We were near a park. I looked over at Mason and smiled. “Care to go for a walk?””Sure.”We walked around the small lake in the park and settled under a tree. I lay on my back in the grass and motioned for Mason to join me. When he lay back on the grass he started to giggle. I turned to my side to face him. “What’s funny?””The grass tickles my wings.””So that’s why you laughed in the shower?”He nodded. “Tell me what you care about.”I shrugged as my fingers traced through the grass and I plucked a few blades out. “People. Feelings. Things.” I felt my cheeks heat with a blush and turned away.Mason turned to his side and ran his hand over the grass. “You care a lot for many things.””How would you know?””I’ve watched you from the day you were born.” He smiled and looked out over the water of the lake. “Would you like me to tell you what I know?”The word barely came out as a whisper. “Yes.”He turned back to me and smiled. “You found a small, wounded bird when you were four. Do you remember?”I nodded. “Yes.””You ran and got your mother, and even though she knew nothing could be done, she helped you pick it up and try to help it.” He looked back at me. “What happened to the bird?””It died.”He nodded. He watched the people walking around the bike path along the lake for a few moments. “How about the time your friend Alex wanted to know why you were staying in town after you graduated from high school, even though you’d been invited to Florida?”I shut my eyes and turned away. “That isn’t important.””I think it is.” He reached out and touched my arm, sending shivers up my spine. “What did you tell him?”I shook my head. “No. It doesn’t matter.””Yes, it does.”I sighed and opened my eyes, looking at the sun filtered through the leaves in the tree above us. “Mom and Dad needed me. I couldn’t go, because they needed me to take care of them.””What did he say?””Your folks are selfish. Live a little, Michael.””What did you do?”I shrugged. “I punched him in the face.””What did you do when you got home?”I felt the tears form. I shut my eyes and willed it all away. “I went home and hugged my parents.””And when you were alone?””Stop!””No.” I opened my eyes to see him leaning over me. “What did you do when you were alone?””I cried.””Why?”I brushed a tear off my cheek. “Because I knew I was going to be alone.””You weren’t angry with your parents?”I looked at Mason and frowned. “No. Of course not.” I propped my elbow under me and turned to face him. “Why would you think that?”He smiled. “It proves how much you care.” He turned and looked out at the lake. He pointed out random people. “That person might have gone anyway.” He pointed at another. “That one would have stayed, but been bitter and angry.” He turned back to me. “Lots of people would have stayed, but few would have done so without anger or regret.”I swallowed the lump in my throat and shut my eyes to the tears that threatened to spill over. “You understood how much your parents needed you and gave up all your dreams for them.” I blinked away the tears and looked back at him. “You have a caring heart, and others often don’t see it.”I stared at Mason in silence as he watched a dog play with its master, fetching a stick. I brushed the tears from my face and stood. “We should go.” Mason turned back to me and followed. We got in the truck and drove quietly home.After being home for a few minutes, I felt restless. I couldn’t sit for more than a few seconds. I stood and looked at Mason. “I need another shower.”I left him behind and stood under the spray. I braced my hands against the wall of the shower and banged my head into the wall. Why did it hurt so much? Hearing Mason describe my life made the pain come to the surface. I let the tears flow freely. It seemed so unfair, that Mason could see me, the real me, where no one else had seen or bothered to see. I stayed under the spray until the tears ran their course.I stayed in my room, contemplating everything and nothing for several hours. I looked at the walls; I stared at the slightly swaying curtains. I watched the shadows stretch and bend along the floor. No answers found me. No comfort. No clue. After a long time, I looked at my watch and made up my mind. I threw on some jeans, a tee, a button down shirt I left open, and my boots. I grabbed my car keys and headed downstairs. I found Mason staring at the television, as if in a trance.”Found something interesting?”He jumped and turned, giving me a small smile. “Is Homer really this stupid?”I snickered. “Homer is a cartoon. It isn’t real.”He turned back and looked at the television. “He’s funny though.””Yes. He is.” I watched with him for a few minutes, steeling my nerve. “I’m heading out.”Mason stood and looked at me. “Where are you going?””I was invited to join some coworkers for a beer.” Now that I’d said it out loud, I felt the butterflies flutter in my stomach. I’d never done it before. What would I face? “Are you coming?””I didn’t know if you’d want me there.””You’d fade out if you weren’t there.” I grabbed a jacket and tossed it at Mason. “Let’s go.”I drove down the highway, the radio turned on loudly, so there would be no conversation. I followed the path I’d followed many times, but this time, I wouldn’t drive by, I’d force myself to go inside, to confront my own fears and shyness. When we got there, I pulled into a parking spot, and not wanting Mason to see my fear, I hopped out and marched inside, with Mason trailing behind me.Once the door opened, I was slapped in the face with a wall of cigarette smoke. Somewhere beyond the curtain of smoke, someone was skinning a cat, gutting a sheep, and murdering Helen Keller, otherwise known as karaoke. I wended my way through the tables, searching for a familiar face. I found Jim Shipman, like a King holding court, at a group of ten tables. He spotted me and called me over.I walked up to Jim and shook his hand. He pulled me down and gave me a brisk, manly hug that consisted of a hard pat on the back. I introduced Mason around as a friend from college, and got us a couple of beers. I sat back in a chair and overheard some of the conversations. Talk about nailing chicks, talk about work, horror stories on the oil refinery platform, and so on. I watched over the lip of my glass as Mason tried the yeasty brew, sipping tentatively.I leaned in and spoke in his ear. “Not like the soda, huh?”He looked over at me and smiled. “No. But it’s not bad.”I grinned before taking another long drink. I can’t say I was overly comfortable in the group. I didn’t have much to say. I spoke when spoken too, laughed with everyone else, but still felt like an outsider, someone looking in the window, nose pressed to the glass, wanting what was inside, but unable to find the door.After a bit of time, Jim got up and headed for the bathroom and the bartender came calling out for new singers. I had to go, and left Mason behind. I walked down the dim hall to the restroom, opened the door, and stopped dead. Jim was leaning against the sink, his jeans around his ankles as another of the crew was on his knees, sucking Jim like mad.Jim’s eyes met mine and he smirked before taking Bill’s head in his hands and began ramming his cock fast and hard into his mouth. “Suck it, Bill. Just like that.”I couldn’t move. My cock hardened painfully behind my zipper. I could only stand and stare, my mouth open, panting. I saw as Jim’s face tightened, his lips compressed against his teeth as he thrust one last time, hard, and shuddered. “Oh yeah! Fuck yeah.”Bill pulled away and stood, spitting into the sink. “God damn it, Jim. I hate it when you cum in my mouth.”I swallowed as Jim shot me a grin and pulled up his pants. “Stop your whining, Bill. You love it.”Bill rinsed his mouth out and turned, seeing me for the first time. His eyes went wide then he frowned. He came up to me and grabbed me by the shirt. “You saw nothing. Got it?”I nodded dumbly as Bill walked out of the bathroom. I tried to straighten my shirt and realized my hands shook. Jim walked up to me and took my chin in his hands. He stared me in the eyes before he covered my mouth with his. His kiss was hard, almost punishing, as he shoved his tongue into my mouth and tasted everything. I gripped his arms with my hands, and pulled away, gasping for breath. As first kisses went, I was expecting a bit more. Not quite sure what, but more than what I got. Jim stared into my eyes and smiled. “Liked what you saw?”I nodded mutely and tried to smile. “Yeah. I did.”Jim turned away and headed towards the door. “Wanna blow this place? We could head over to your house.”I had to swallow three times before I could speak. “I’ll let you know. I have to talk with my friend.”Jim nodded and adjusted himself in his jeans. “Don’t think too long.”I nodded as he left and went to the sink. My cheeks were flushed as I splashed water on them. I couldn’t believe what had just happened. My every waking fantasy just hit on me. I grinned and took care of business before I headed out into the club again. When I rounded the corner, the only noise in the place was of someone singing. I looked out over the crowd and saw that every person was almost entranced. I looked on stage and saw Mason with a microphone in his hand, singing “Earth Angel.” It would have been funny, if he didn’t sing so beautifully. His voice was clear and resonant, carrying out across the room, compelling everyone who heard to strain harder for every last note.When the song ended, everyone sat, as if waiting for more. Mason left the stage and walked towards me, his cheeks flushed and a big smile lit his face. When he got to me, the crowd erupted into applause. He ducked his head and I grabbed his arm and took him outside. Once out in the cool, clear air, I took him towards the truck. “What happened in there?”He ducked his head. “They asked me to sing.””Did you enchant them?”He started to laugh, but didn’t look comfortable. “Ever heard of ‘choir of angels’? Guess where the term comes from.”I groaned. “Oh man. How bad is this?”He shook his head. “Not at all. They’ll just think I’m some unknown talent.”I nodded. “Good.”I saw Jim step out of the door into the parking lot. I looked at Mason and fidgeted. “Um… Mason?”Mason looked over at Jim, then back at me. “Yes, Michael?””Jim wants to come home with me… and…” I was at a loss for words. He didn’t understand what jerking off was. How would I explain sex? “Well… he wants—””He wants to have sex with you.”I stared in astonishment at Mason. “How did you know?”He looked towards Jim, but not at him. “He has an angel watching him, too.””He’s a martyr?”He shook his head sadly. “No. Angels watch every human.” He turned and his eyes bored into me, as if looking right through me to my very soul. “Jim Shipman’s angel watches over philanderers, adulterers, and the lecherous.”I swallowed and looked over my shoulder as Jim said his goodbyes to some friends. He turned and winked at me. I turned back to Mason as he continued to talk. “He is married and has four c***dren with his wife.” He looked to Jim. “There are six other c***dren he is father to. He knows of two of them.” He looked back at me. “If you go home with him, he will come to your house every Thursday night, when he tells his wife he’s out bowling with friends from work.”I shook my head. “Don’t tell me this.”Mason grabbed my arm. “I’m telling you this because you aren’t the first. You won’t be the last.” When I opened my eyes to stare into Mason’s, his voice gentled. “Do you want your first time to be with someone who cares nothing for you? Who will use you for his own pleasure and then leave you unfulfilled?”I put my hands over my ears. I shook my head. Then I got pissed. I pushed Mason’s hand off my arm. “What does it matter? I’ll be dead in a few days anyway.”Mason took my face in his hands and stared at me. I heard the faint music again, like the other time he touched me with both hands. “I know you. You’ll regret it.” His voice grew faint and I swore I saw tears in his eyes. “Until the second you die, you’ll regret it.”I stared into Mason’s dark, soulful eyes and lost myself to thoughts. Thoughts of regret. Thoughts of loneliness. But nothing could make the truth of his words dim. When I felt Jim’s hand on my shoulder, I turned to face him.”So, Michael., follow you home?”I shook my head. “I’m sorry, Jim. But no.”He looked between Mason and me. “Hey, your friend, if he wants to join us, I’m okay with that.” He grinned endearingly. But now I saw it for what it was; an artful glance to entice. His luster had faded in my eyes.”I’m sorry, Jim.”Jim shrugged. “Hey, no skin off my nose. Catch you around.”He walked off and called out to Bill, meeting up with him. I watched as Jim hopped in Bill’s truck and they left the parking lot. I shook my head and turned back to Mason. “Get in. Let’s go home.”We drove home in silence, not saying anything, both of us lost in thoughts. When we got back to the house, Mason got out of the truck and I shut off the engine. When the light turned on when I opened the door, I noticed something white and shining on the passenger seat. I picked it up. It was a feather. I tucked it into my breast pocket and went inside. I didn’t say anything as I went upstairs and crawled alone into bed.During the long, sleepless night, I came to several depressing conclusions. Some things I would die never knowing, always wondering about. As the dawn began to bleed out the darkness of night, I decided not to let every dream die with me. There were still some things I could do. I got up and went down to make some coffee. I found a pot already made and found Mason sitting on the escort bilecik sofa, watching early morning religious programming. I stood and sipped my coffee as I watched him. He seemed less alert, slightly drooped. I’d never seen him at anything less than perky before. After a few minutes I cleared my throat. Mason turned and smiled.”You told me you didn’t know when I’d die. But can you tell me if I at least have a week?”Mason cocked his head to the side and stared off into space. He nodded. “Yes. You should have at least that long. Why?”I smiled as I set my coffee down and sat on the coffee table to face him. “I have some vacation time coming to me. There are some things I’d like to do.”Mason sat up and smiled. “Like what?”I grinned and picked up the phone and called my boss. Even though it was Sunday, I got him and explained that I wanted to take advantage of his offer for time off. Once it was settled that I’d have the next week off, I put the phone down and smiled at Mason. “We’re going on a road trip.”My father had purchased a car long before I was born that sat in our garage, hardly used. It was a 1955 Ford Galaxy, convertible, powder blue, with all original interior and parts. In fifty years, the car had only amassed thirty thousand miles. It was a gas hog, but roomy and comfortable. Mason and I set out early that morning and headed east.By unspoken agreement, neither of us mentioned the events of the previous evening. By ten, we were both loosened up, and talking freely. We stopped for a breakfast of biscuits and gravy, fried eggs, bacon, and cheese grits. Mason ate all of his and nearly a third of mine. When we got out of the roadside diner, I peeled the top back on the car and we headed out again.Even though we didn’t talk, there was no awkwardness in the silence of the passing wind in our hair, the slow, mellow music on the radio, and the occasional pointing out of sights along the Gulf Coast. By four, we’d arrived on the outskirts of New Orleans. Although I’d lived within hours all my life, I’d only been there once before.I got us lost only once as I found my way into the Quarter. After searching around, I found a little Bed & Breakfast on Chartres. When we climbed up the stairs to our second floor room, I felt a sense of peace wash over me, taking the last of my worry and, though I was sad to admit it, regret over last night.The room overlooked a courtyard garden with a fountain, a few tables from the restaurant behind the hotel, an intimately lit bar, and a place for dancing. Out the balcony doors there was a view of the bustling streets of New Orleans. But the courtyard behind the hotel was what drew me over and over. The quiet intimacy, the hush that just a few feet offered over the rowdy noisiness outside lulled me, calmed me.We had arrived in the late afternoon, before it was fashionable to have dinner. Mason and I left the hotel and walked along the streets, looking in windows and observing the people we saw. We passed a clothing store and looking down at the mostly jeans and tees that we wore, and since I knew it was all we had back at the hotel, I motioned for Mason to follow me inside.”We need something a bit dressier for dinner tonight.”He cocked his head to the side and smiled. “Okay. But why?”I smiled, but I figured it looked sad, because Mason put his hand on my arm. “That list of regrets?” He nodded. “I’m trying to mark a few of them off.”His smile was slow as it slid across his face, bringing his dimples out. “And this would be?”I shrugged, feeling embarrassed. “I want to have a nice dinner out, dress nicely, have some wine.” I shrugged again and turned back to the store. “Nothing too special, just out.””Let’s get some clothes then.”A rather nice woman helped us, fitting us with jackets, shirts, pants, and all the other trappings of a nice, but not too formal outfit. We left shortly after the fittings, with a promise that all would be ready the next evening. Mason and I walked back to our little hotel and went around the corner to the restaurant that we could see from our hotel room. We sat down and I stared at the courtyard around us, lit with candles on the tables and Chinese lanterns hanging within the star jasmine and other vines along the walls.A slow, steady jazz came from the band playing along one wall of the courtyard. I looked over the menu as Mason read his. I chose to have jumbo prawn étoufée. Mason couldn’t make up his mind.”What looks good?””I can’t read, remember.”I ducked my head and grinned. “I’m sorry. I forgot.”I read off some menu items until Mason picked the jambalaya. We decided to have a crawfish and sausage pie for an appetizer. I sat back and listened to the music once our drinks were delivered. Mason took a sip of his iced tea as I watched couples dance on the small floor.”Is dancing difficult?”His words snapped me out of my rambling musings and I turned to him. “I don’t know. I’ve never really danced before.”Mason nodded and smiled at me. “Your parents used to dance. You’d sneak downstairs to watch them.”The memories made me smile, no longer saddened by their loss. “You’re right. I did.” I took a sip from my drink and looked at Mason. “There was so much love in their eyes.”Mason nodded. “Yes. There was.”We ate dinner leisurely, enjoying the spicy food, good ambience, and bluesy music for over an hour. Once done, I paid the bill and we left. When we got back to our hotel room, I went into the bathroom and showered. I came out wearing a pair of boxers. Mason sat in a chair, watching the television. I sat on the dresser, by the window, and listened to the music playing in the courtyard below.”I’m going to take a shower, too.”Mason’s words shook me out of my trance and I smiled at him. I turned back to the music once he had shut the bathroom door. I watched as the candlelight flickered along the vine and flower covered walls below, illuminating the architectural nooks and crannies, adding a surreal atmosphere to the quaint courtyard. I heard the shower stop, but didn’t turn around until the door opened.Mason stood in the doorway, steam escaping around him in swirling patterns, wearing nothing but a pair of briefs. I swallowed as I thickened in my boxers. I shook my head and looked back out the window, cursing myself for my reaction. Not only was Mason not someone I should be attracted to, he wasn’t even technically human. I kept my eyes shut, listening to the music, but I could hear Mason step closer to me. When the band changed tempo, and relinquished jazz for slow music, I knew I was lost. Sexy as hell or not, I had another item to cross off my regret list. I didn’t even look at him as I spoke.”Will you dance with me?”Mason’s hand rested against my shoulder. “I didn’t think you knew how.””I don’t.” I turned to look in his eyes. “But I’d like to find out.”He smiled at me and nodded. “I’ll stumble along with you.”I grinned as I stood. I put my arms around him, one at his waist, and the other across his shoulder blades. He mimicked my actions so we stood in a near embrace, our chests brushing against each other as we stumbled along, in a simple foot shuffle, back and forth.I shut my eyes, so I could block out the reality, and imagine that all this was real, that who I held in my arms was a part of me, someone I could hold and cherish. My forehead lowered to Mason’s as my breath became thick and heavy in my lungs, my throat tight with emotion. I rocked my head against his as I lost the battle with my penis and it rose to full attention and pressed into Mason’s stomach. I ran my hand up and down his back, my thumb catching the groove where his wings came out. After the fourth brush of my fingers, Mason shuddered and held me tighter. I pulled back to look in his eyes and lost the last battle.I lowered my mouth towards his, my lips partly open. So near, so close. When my lips hovered over his, I glanced at his eyes and saw surprise, his breath brushing against my mouth. I swallowed and buried my face in the hollow of his neck and breathed in the scent of soap. My body trembled as I stopped dancing. “I’m sorry.”I pulled away and sat down on the bed, refusing to look at Mason. He came to stand beside me but I turned away. I stood and turned off the lights and crawled into bed. I rolled over and tried to shut everything out, but it was impossible. My erection refused to subside and my own thoughts were beating me senseless.After several long minutes, I reached out and flicked on the bedside lamp. Mason turned from where he stood, from where I’d left him, confusion etching his features. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have.”Mason shook his head and sat on the edge of the bed. “It’s okay.” He looked down to the floor and I saw two more feathers lying on the old rug. I got out of bed and picked them up, turning to him.”Are you molting?”Mason looked at me and then the feathers, a slight look of panic in his eyes. “No.”I held them in front of his face. “What does this mean?”He looked in my eyes and swallowed. “I don’t know.”I nodded and set the feathers by the bed. “I should probably sleep.”Mason stood and looked around the room. “I won’t keep you.”I shut my eyes, hating how needy I was going to sound. “If I promise I won’t kiss you, will you let me hold you while I sleep?”When I didn’t hear a response, I opened my eyes. Mason had a slight smile on his face. “If you want, yes.”I nodded and crawled into bed. Mason followed me under the covers. I didn’t want to spoon behind him, I wanted his face to be buried against my shoulders, my legs entwined with his. After maneuvering our bodies, we got into the right position and I held him in my arms, careful to keep away from his shoulders. Mason’s hand came up and brushed along the hair on my chest. I wasn’t a bear, but I wasn’t hairless either. His simple ministrations caused my calmed erection to stand back at attention. “Does it tickle?”Mason pulled back so he could smile at me. “No. I just never felt it before.” I chuckled and pulled his head to rest beneath my chin. Before I knew it, I was asleep.I awoke alone, searching blindly with my arms for the warm body I’d grown used to having next to me in the night. My eyes still shut; I moved my foot and hand and found nothing. Sitting up, I opened my eyes and looked around. I found Mason, dressed, sitting in the chair on the balcony, staring at me.I yawned loudly and stretched. “Good morning.””Morning.”The brevity of Mason’s reply caused me to shake off the rest of the sleep to stare at him. As I watched, a lone feather fell and drifted to the balcony floor. He had tears in his eyes. “What’s going on? Why are you crying?””I don’t know.” His words were muffled, choked off. I watched a single tear fall against his cheek, unheeded. “I’m not sure what’s happening.”I got out of bed and walked to him. I saw him slightly flinch as another feather drifted away from him. “Are you in pain?””No.”I knelt by his side and cupped his cheek. He pressed into my hand and I had to swallow. “Do you have an idea of what’s happening?””Yes.”I sat back on my heels and waited. When he didn’t speak, I took his hand in mine. “What?”He looked anywhere but into my eyes. “Thousands of years ago, we could walk freely amongst you. We went unheeded mostly, but for a few of us, we could be seen by a human.” He looked in my eyes. “You’ve heard of the fallen?”I nodded. “Yes. Those angels who fell in love, either with a human, or the life that humanity could offer.”He smiled around his tears. “Yes. That’s mostly true. Not all of us had direct contact. After a few centuries, it became obvious that it was living amongst humans that caused us to change, become corrupted.” He swallowed. “It was decreed that no angel could walk amongst humankind any longer, because we are corrupted by humanity. We begin to… feel.”His words horrified me. “You need to leave then. You shouldn’t stay with me.” I stood and paced. “Thank you for helping me, but, you need to go.”Mason cleared his throat and looked at me. “I can’t. I already tried.”I knelt by his side and took his hand in mine. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t know. I never meant–“He put his hand over my mouth and shook his head. “You’ve done nothing wrong.” He gave me a small smile, lopsided, that brought out his right dimple. “You are a good man. I could have sat next to the pope and still been corrupted. It isn’t the person, it’s his life force; his essence. That which all men have.””What can we do?”He looked away. “I don’t know. I can’t hear Him anymore.””I don’t understand.”He cupped my face with his hand. “Do you know what Hell is?””Fire and brimstone.”He shook his head and laughed. “No. It’s the utter absence of the presence of God.” He stood and leaned against the balcony. Unmindful of my own undressed state, I joined him. “When you die, your soul leaves your body and is called home to the presence of God. For the sinners and other evil, they are trapped inside their bodies and placed into the ground, to be cut off from His presence.””Have you sinned so badly?”He turned and gave me a watery smile. “Technically, no.””Technically?”He shut his eyes. “I haven’t sinned in action, just in thought.”I smiled and cupped his face. “Most people don’t think that’s a sin.””It isn’t really. But… thought leads to temptation… temptation leads to action.”I nodded. “Okay. So… you won’t act on it.” I turned and headed back inside, trying to act braver than I actually felt. “What do we do now?”He came back from the balcony and stood in the door. “What is next on your list?”I smiled and went to the dresser to grab some clothes. “A walk along the streets, some coffee and beignets, and we’ll pick up our clothes and go out to dinner.”Mason nodded and looked towards the bathroom, kind of longingly. I stepped up to him and blocked his vision. He stared at my chest, and I watched him swallow. I snapped my fingers in front of his face and he looked at me. “Want to join me?”He nodded and I took his hand, pulling him towards the bathroom. I dropped my boxers on the bathroom floor and helped pull Mason’s jeans and shirt from him. As I grabbed an extra towel from the basket by the sink, my nose brushed through the hair above Mason’s ear. It still smelled like shampoo from last night’s shower. Lacking body oils and bacteria, he didn’t sweat and his hair didn’t become greasy. I think the shower was more of a comfort.I turned on the water and adjusted the spray before we both got into the large bathtub and I pulled the curtain closed. I looked into Mason’s eyes and smiled. He smiled back then grabbed the soap. He rubbed it between his hands until he built up a lot of lather. I reached for the soap, but he set it down. I watched as his hands reached out, almost fearfully, to be placed against my chest. I shut my eyes at the contact, the innocent, curious look in his eyes more than I could face. But keeping my eyes shut didn’t help, it made the sensation of his fingers, gliding over my belly, caressing my chest, brushing my nipples, too strong, too much. My eyes flew open to see Mason staring, concentrating on his hands against my body.Unheeded, my body stirred, thickening, lengthening, straining until the tip brushed against Mason’s belly. Instead of feeling ashamed or embarrassed, I felt tingly, warm, happy. In the back of my mind, I knew that he wasn’t appropriate; that what I now knew I felt was wrong. But, it wasn’t going to go away either. Instead of being shy, I lost my sense of fear, and simply enjoyed watching Mason explore my body and accepted that it felt good, and that it was okay to feel good.Mason looked up into my eyes and smiled. “Turn around.”I turned and faced the wall, the spray cascading down my back. I felt Mason’s hands move against my shoulders, tracing the planes of the bone, the curve and point, before he ran his fingers along my spine, eliciting tiny shivers throughout my body. Shutting my eyes against the pleasure, biting my lips to keep from moaning, I nearly collapsed against the floor when Mason ran his hand over my ass. His fingers explored me, testing me. I don’t know whether he was fascinated because my body, unlike him, was flawed. Perhaps it was the contrast of smooth to rough. But his touch made me shudder.I felt as his fingers ran along a scar across my hip, something I’d gotten when I fell off my bike when I was seven. The way he traced the faint line made me tremble, so much so that I had to brace my hands against the wall. I heard him shift before I felt his hands against my ankle, as he knelt behind me. He ran his hands up each of my legs, tracing his finger through the soapy, hairy path, finding each trail and whorl against my skin.After he’d made me a quivering mass of turned on flesh, he stood and pressed me gently into the water, so that all the soap rinsed off. When I turned around to look at him, my erection brushed against his abdomen. I clamped my lips shut but couldn’t contain the moan. I lowered my forehead to his and placed my hands on his shoulders. My whole body shook and shuddered as my hands tightened on his flesh.”Did I do something wrong?”I chuckled, but it came out harsh to my ears. “No. I’m just a little too aroused.””Aroused?”I bit back a groan. I honestly didn’t think I could explain every nuance of sex to Mason at that moment. “Yeah. Aroused. Very much so.”I had my eyes shut, trying to will my body to calm. Mason’s hand closed around my shaft and stroked once. I muffled a curse and jumped back. “Don’t do that. Please don’t.”Mason looked away. “I’m sorry. Did I hurt you?”I tilted his face back to look at me. “In the best of ways.”He cocked his head to the side. “I don’t understand.”I pulled him closer and wrapped my arms around him. “It’s okay. Being this aroused and primed for sex, makes every touch almost agonizingly pleasurable.”I felt his nod against my neck. “I understand.”I laughed and pulled back to look at him. “Not even close.” I stared at his lips for a long while. I wasn’t sure when my feelings grew so out of control, or when I stopped being afraid, but at that moment, I had to kiss him.I lowered to his lips and brushed mine against his, slowly, languidly, as if I had all the time in the world. Immediately, I was lost to the taste, the flavor, the sweet sensation. Shutting my eyes, I moaned as my tongue played with his lip, begging for entrance, blindly searching for I knew not what. Except for a rather bruising kiss just days before from Jim, I had never kissed anyone before. Yet even though I was untried, I somehow knew I was doing it right. As my lips brushed against Mason’s, I felt his mouth open, in an almost comical way, like a large mouthed bass. I would have laughed, if it hadn’t felt so good. His every move, his every gesture was innocent, wholly and completely, yet utterly sincere. I was lost to the headiness of it all.Pressing my body against his, moving my hands to take him in my arms, I noticed several things at once. He was shorter than I, though more solidly built, sturdier, stockier. He also had the smoothest, softest skin. But unlike me, he wasn’t rampantly aroused, hard as a rock. His body remained flaccid. Instantly, I pulled away and stared at his wide open eyes. Shame slammed into my gut as I turned away to shut off the water. “I’m sorry.”A gentle, tender caress of my shoulder was all the response I got, all that I’d allow him to give. Stepping out of the shower, I grabbed a towel, wrapped it around my waist, and walked into our shared room, and sat on the dresser, to watch the courtyard. I shut my eyes and tried to push it all away, the need, the want, the desire, the loneliness; because it was all going to be unrequited, again.I heard Mason moving behind me, gathering clothing. I squeezed my eyes tighter, trying to block out the images as I heard him. But it was no use. I could see him pulling on the briefs, the sound of cotton smoothing over his thighs, the snap of elastic as he adjusted himself inside. The cool cloth of the shirt as it went over his head and the sound of a zipper closing, I could see clearly in my mind. When he was done dressing, Mason came and stood beside me, placing his hand on my shoulder.I opened my eyes and looked away. “When my parents died, I realized that I was alone in the world. There are hundreds of people around me, who know me, but no one that makes me their number one priority.” I shrugged his hand off my shoulder and stood, walking towards the bureau and my clothes. “It aches in my gut, to see so many people so happy.” I looked at Mason, and realized my eyes must be bleak indeed, for him to smile so sympathetically at me. “It’s my own fault that I’m at this point, alone save you.” I sat to put on my socks, and simply let them fall. “I’ve always been too shy to let anyone in, because I was too afraid of what would happen if they turned from me.”Mason came over to where I sat, staring at the floor, but seeing nothing. He picked up my socks and lifted my foot. As he put my sock on me, he looked into my eyes. “You feel too much. You have no shields on your emotions.” He dropped my foot and picked up the other. “That is your strongest and weakest gift.”I stared at Mason, shaking my head, nearly smiling. “How is it you understand me so well?”He chuckled as he sat back on his haunches. “I have witnessed every moment of every day of your life.” His smile faded as he looked over my shoulder, off into space. “It takes you a long time to be comfortable with someone, to let them inside.” His eyes met mine again. “But once they get inside you, they never go away. Once they are inside your heart, you never let them go, and you forgive everything.” He stood and walked towards the door. “You are the rock everyone leans on, and they come in and out of your life, leaving you behind, wondering what you did to make them leave you.”Mason turned and looked right at me. “You’ve done nothing but be who you are. Of all the people I’ve observed, you will stay with me forever. You are a quietly noble person.”I turned away, uncomfortable with his scrutiny. “If I were so noble, I wouldn’t have kissed you.””It was an… interesting experience.”I stared back at Mason, smiling slightly. “After. Will I see you?”Mason’s face went blank; as if he became that statue I likened him to when I first saw him. “No.””Why?”He swallowed. “I could come see you, but you won’t see me or recognize me.””I’d know you anywhere.”He shook his head slowly and smiled. “No. You won’t.” He stood before me, placing his hand in my hair, sifting it through his fingers. “You are going to be called home to His presence. You won’t even know I’m there.”I stared away, shutting my eyes against the sadness, the tears. When I could breathe near normal, when the vice on my heart had lessened a bit, I stood. “Come, let’s get some breakfast and window shop.”After picking up our new clothing and dropping them off at the hotel, I left Mason at a corner cafe, eating beignets, which he’d gotten a huge craving for, as I browsed along Jackson Square. As I walked I passed St. Louis Cathedral. Without pausing to think, I pushed open the doors and stepped inside. The hushed, funereal atmosphere sobered me and made me want to whisper.Neither of my parents had been catholic, and only in their declining years, had they at all turned towards God. But because of the horror-filled look from Mason that morning on the balcony, I found my own desire to speak with the Almighty. I picked a row and moved halfway down then knelt. I bowed my head and remembered the pained, panicked look of Mason’s and found the words poring through my mind. Is he to be punished for caring for me? I didn’t know. Please don’t shut him out for my error.I stared at the ceiling, unmindful of the tears I had running down my face. Please don’t do this.Why?My breath caught in my chest. Another voice. I don’t want him to be punished because of me.Why?What do you mean, why?Why should you care?I sat back and looked around me. Of course I care.But why do you care?I shook my head and stared at the altar at the front of the church. My feelings don’t matter.But they do.Why?You know.I shut my eyes and tried to calm my breathing. I didn’t want to go where the voice was leading me. I didn’t want to face my feelings, as hopeless as they were. Please.Please, what?Please let him go home. Don’t look him away, in the dark. Alone. Please?Why?No.Why?No!Why?I sobbed once. Because I love him.Whatever presence had visited me, never answered me again. After an unknown time, I stood, wiped my cheeks of their tears, and left the church.I found Mason sitting at the same little bistro table I’d left him at, working on his third plate of beignets. He looked up at me with a powdered sugar moustache and grinned. Now that I’d finally admitted my feelings, I couldn’t help but smile back, and revel in my feelings. His innocence, his joy, his life force were so strong, so comforting, that yes, of course, I fell in love with him.I sat across from Mason and snagged one of the last beignets, bit into it, and grinned as Mason shot me a hurt, lost puppy look. “We can get more.”Mason smiled and shook his head. “I’ve already had four plates.”I raised my eyebrows. “You enjoy life very much. Everything you do is like a c***d.”He arched his brows and cocked his head, very much like a curious puppy or inquisitive k**. I chuckled. “With joy and wonder. I think we should have called you Peter.””Why?””Like Peter Pan, the boy who didn’t want to grow up.”He sat back and chuckled. “And he could fly.””That too.”We sat, smiling slightly, licking powdered sugar from our fingers. When we were all done eating, we went back to the hotel. Once dressed in our finest, we set out, walking along the river, towards the restaurant. Neither of us really spoke, but stared at the river, walking along, perhaps watching the moon, or the clouds, or the sparkle of lights on the water. Contentment and peace are realized in such moments, when the world is calm and the mind is more than the machine that drives you. Without thought, I reached out and took Mason’s hand and held it as we walked.As we sat and ate our turtle soup, I came to another interesting revelation. My desire for a fine dinner with expensive food and wine really had nothing to do with the food or location, but the person who sat across from me. We could have been sitting around a campfire and my smile would have been the same. I was bilecik escort bayan happy, and the company I shared my meal with, the light conversation, the easy camaraderie was all I had craved.We went home the next morning, driving quietly with the top up, because the sky had decided to unleash a flood of water upon us. Even though we hardly spoke, I couldn’t say that we were uncomfortable. In fact, I’d say we were very comfortable. Mason may not understand what I felt, or could not understand it, but he didn’t discourage anything either. Which for the most part simply made me like having that feeling.When we got home, I sat Mason on the couch and crouched before him. “I know I don’t have too much time left. But before I go, I wanted to share with you what I liked most about life.”His smile was slow across his face, bringing out his dimples. “You don’t have to.””I want to, though. You’ve made me appreciate life so much.” I cupped his face in my hand and brushed my thumb against his cheek. “Let me do this for you.”He placed his hand over mine against his cheek and nodded.The next day, we went to the zoo. I walked around with Mason, showing him all my favorite a****ls, watching them sit and stare, sometimes yawn, but mostly just be. I pointed out the elephants bathing in their pool, the tigers lying on their hot rock, and the snakes, hidden behind thick glass. When we went into the petting zoo, I think I fell in love all over again, as five small lambs clambered around Mason as he sat on the ground and petted them. I knelt down by his side and stroked the downy fur of a rabbit as he held one of the runt lambs, who wasn’t eating all that much. The zookeeper came by and shook her head. “This one doesn’t want to eat.”Mason looked up, brushing a tear from his cheek. “He’s cold.”She nodded. “I know. We try and try, but he won’t respond.”Mason looked at me, pleading with his dark eyes. I took his hand and squeezed. “Now you know why the bird ate me up inside.”He smiled and nuzzled the lamb with his nose, looking upwards at the sky, shutting his eyes; after a couple of moments his hands stilled along the lamb’s side. I watched silently, not really sure what was happening. After a moment, the lamb stood on shaky legs, but headed towards the zookeeper and the bottle she held. He took a tentative sip from the bottle, and then started eating with relish.I helped Mason to his feet. He grinned at me before he stumbled against me. “What’s wrong?”He shook his head and stood on his own. “Nothing.”As he walked towards the lamb, I noticed three more feathers on the ground. I picked them up and stuffed them in my pocket. What had he done?Later that night, as I lay in bed, I stared at the ceiling, smiling, despite my worries. I heard a slight tap against the door. Mason stuck his head inside after I called out for him to enter. He sat on the edge of my bed and looked at me. “I’m cold. Can I join you?”I pulled back the blankets as Mason dropped his shirt and jeans. He cuddled up against me, wrapping around my body, until he found a comfortable spot and trembled slightly. After a few moments, he stopped shaking, and stilled completely. Staring down at his face, brushing his hair back from his eyes, I noticed his eyes were shut, and his breathing slow and shallow. Amazingly, he’d fallen asleep. I cuddled back into my pillow and let sleep take me too, holding on to my angel, never wanting to let go.The next morning, having woken up with a warm, content feeling, as well as a clingy angel on my side, I smiled to the ceiling before getting out of bed, happy down to my toes. At that moment, no matter when it would happen, I finally felt that I had no regrets. For once, I’d tasted what love and contentment was. I would leave this world and face the next one, without feeling cheated or lost. I got out of bed and dressed before I headed downstairs to make pancakes and bacon. The smell of frying bacon must have woken Mason, because he soon came downstairs, sniffing deeply.”Good morning.””Good morning.”I sat Mason down and served up a platter of pancakes and bacon, a jug of warm maple syrup, and a stick of butter. I prepared my food the way I liked it and watched as Mason did the same. We ate in companionable silence then did the dishes together. I searched through the cupboards, searching for the ingredients for my favorite recipe. I loved my mother’s cookies that she called death by chocolate, but most people called chocolate covered cherry cookies. I had everything I needed but the butter. I went upstairs and grabbed Mason for another shower that was purely platonic, but no less intimate.After I’d dressed, I grabbed my car keys and asked Mason if he’d like to join me. The panic in his eyes stopped me. I went over to him and cupped his face in my hands. “What’s wrong?””Don’t go.”I leaned away from him, tilting his face so I could see him better. “Why?””Please don’t go.”The realization hit me. Today was the day I’d die. “I thought you didn’t know when.”He shut his eyes and looked away. “You’ve completely become at peace. I knew then that it would happen.”I smiled at him and blinked away the tears. Yes, I was prepared, as much as I could be, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t scared, or sad, that I’d no longer know Mason. “I have no choice.”Tears pooled in his eyes. “Please? Don’t go.”My own tears began to pool in my eyes, only to drip slowly down my cheeks. “I’m sorry. But… I can’t stop this. Whatever it is, I can’t stop it.”His hands snaked behind my neck, grasping the back of my head, pulling me down to meet his lips. His mouth closed over mine, in a kiss of raw, powerful need. Lost in sensation, I wrapped my arms around him, tasting him, feeling him. When he broke away to let me breathe, I buried my face in his neck and shuddered. His whisper floated over my shoulders, ripping my heart to shreds. “Don’t leave me alone.”I shut my eyes and tried to hold everything back. “I’m sorry.”I pressed his head to my shoulder, using my other hand to smooth against his shoulders, to ease some of the emotional tension. Mason was no longer the cold, somewhat sarcastic angel that appeared in my bedroom. What had I done? He was now a feeling, needful man. I looked skyward, pleading. Don’t make him suffer for my mistakes. Please. Don’t hurt him because of me.Once Mason had calmed, I pulled away but took his hand. “Come on. Let’s go buy some butter so I can make my mom’s cookies for you.”We sat in the car while I drove to the store. Mason sat sideways, so he could look at me. I tried to avoid the quiet pleading, the needy glances. When I stopped at a stoplight, I shut my eyes. My existence would be over, finished. His would go on and on throughout eternity. How much had he grown to feel? How much had he come to understand the frailties and tempest of human emotions? Even if he only had the most basic concept, he’d suffer for years, centuries, or longer. I put my hand on Mason’s and squeezed. “I’m so sorry that you became corrupted by me. I wish I could promise that I’ll see you on the other side, so you aren’t alone.”After I pulled into the parking lot of the little corner store, Mason slid across the seat and held me, wrapping his arms around me. I felt that music that I heard that first night. I opened my eyes and the car was filled with a white light, so bright, it should have seared my vision, but it didn’t hurt. The music grew louder before Mason sat away, his face a stoic mask. “What was that?””Nothing.” His voice was sullen, like a scolded c***d. He looked over at me, contrite at his abruptness. “I’m sorry. It was worth a shot.”I swallowed around the lump in my throat, my voice whispered by emotion. “What was worth a shot?””I asked for a reprieve.”I started to chuckle. “You asked the Governor for a pardon?”His smile was sad, but sweet. “Yes, I did.”I nodded. “Come on then, let’s get some butter.”The little market was small, run by a little man who spoke little English. His back was stooped, but he was friendly. I’d stopped here more often then not on my way to work for a soft drink or on my way home for that one or two items I’d needed for dinner. There were six rows of shelves, a large cooler on one wall, and the little register counter topped with a large cigarette dispenser. A woman, although she only qualified because she held a toddler in her arms, a man buying beer, and Mason and myself were the only customers. I led Mason to the cooler in the back and grabbed what I needed. As I turned back to the counter, the front door opened and a man entered.The stranger pushed the man who bought beer back from the door and pulled out a gun. He pointed it towards the owner and demanded money. My heart sped to almost bursting as I took it all in. The little girl in her mother’s arms started to cry, sensing the tension in the room. The gunman spun around, agitated. “Shut that k** up!”The girl, her eyes round, swallowed and kissed the top of the girl’s head, whispering soft words to her. It didn’t quiet the girl, but it seemed to have eased the gunman’s fears, because he turned back and waved the gun at the owner. “Speed it up, old man.”The owner’s hands shook as he opened the register. The gunman leaned over and started grabbing cash. The man who bought beer stood and the gunman turned and fired his gun, missing the man, but shattering the glass case behind him, showering the young girl with the baby with glass. The toddler started screaming loudly, and squirmed out of her mother’s arms. I shut my eyes. I knew what was going to happen. I turned to Mason and brushed my lips against his cheek. “I love you,” I whispered into his ear.The gunman turned and aimed at the little girl who ran from her mother. I ran down the aisle towards her. I caught her around the waist and pushed her into the shelves holding bags of chips. I heard the loud echo of the gun going off a mere second before my back exploded in pain. I collapsed to my knees and looked to Mason; his face a mask of horror. I shook my head, trying to clear my suddenly blurry vision before I collapsed to the floor.It hurt to breathe, like I was sucking in air through a wet, soggy blanket. I was suddenly very tired. I looked down at my chest, and the moment I saw the gaping wound, I felt the pain. I screamed out with the agony, and then watched as the blood bubbled out my chest, like blowing bubbles in milk through a straw. I heard another gunshot then Mason was at my side, leaning over me. He touched my cheek and I saw tears stream down his face. “Don’t go.”I reached out to touch his face. “You knew I had to.”He nodded before he lowered to press his lips to my forehead. “I love you, too.”The words echoed in my ears as the rest of my world went black. For a moment, there was nothing, no form, no sound, no nothing in the great void. I opened my eyes and noticed that the store was faded, muted around me. The pain in my chest gone, I sat up, and looked around. Mason still knelt above me. I tried to touch his arm, but my hand passed right through him.I stood and stepped away, and saw my body lying beneath Mason’s, blood pooling around my back. Mason shook my shoulders and whimpered before throwing his head back and screaming. I wanted to shut my eyes or cry, but found I could do neither. I felt badly, but like everything else, my emotions were just as gray and muted as my vision.As Mason lowered over my body, touching my face, the gray vision fled as the room filled with the brightest, overwhelming light, brighter than the sun filled the room. Music, sweeter and grander than I’d ever heard filled my ears. I looked around, seeking the source of the sound. It compelled me to move, blocking out all other thought from my mind. Before I could take one step, the light and the sound was cut off, leaving me back in the store, unfocused, almost bereft. I looked back to see Mason, kneeling above me, his wings unfurled, pure determination on his face. What was he doing?As I watched Mason, the feathers on his wings began shriveling and dropping off. I stepped towards him, wanting to stop him when I heard a voice.You can’t help him.I spun around. “Who are you?”We spoke once before.”In New Orleans?”Another angel stood before me, with blond hair and blue eyes, tall and powerful, with a stern, but oddly amused expression on his face. At my question, he nodded once. “Yes. In New Orleans.””What is happening?”He glanced over my shoulder. “He is blocking you from leaving him.””How?”The angel shook his head and sighed. “It won’t work, at least not for long.” He came to me and turned me around. “He’s using up his life force to shield your soul from being called home.””What happens when his life force is gone?”The angel shook his head and sighed. “He’ll become human. A fallen angel.”I wanted to be frantic, but I wasn’t feeling much of anything. “I’ll be dead anyway?””Yes.””Let me talk to him. I’ll talk him into letting me go.”He shook his head. “I’ve already tried. He’s blocking me out too.””Who are you?”He cocked a half grin at me. “His boss.””Great.” I turned and looked at Mason. He didn’t have long. Then what would happen to him? He’d be all alone. Having to learn how to be human. No guide. No one to care for him. “Is there anything that can be done? He’ll be alone.””There is nothing.”I stood before the angel, a lone tear slipping down my cheek. “Put me back for a few moments, I’ll get him to let me go.””I cannot.””There must be something.””Why do you care?”I closed my eyes. “Because I love him. And he’ll hurt too much either way, because I won’t be there for him. But if he stays an angel, he’ll at least have something familiar about him.””It will hurt. A lot.”I nodded. “I understand.”The angel stepped back and spread his arms and stared at the ceiling. Another wash of light bathed him in an ethereal glow. He stood silently for mere seconds before dropping his hands and looking at me. “What if we sent you back permenantly?””Can that be done?”He nodded his head once. I nodded my head enthusiastically. He put his hand on my arm. “You will be in constant pain. The damage is extensive. Depending on the medical care you receive… your life will be different.”I shut my eyes. It didn’t matter. A life, any sort of life, with Mason, was worth any pain. “I’ll go back. No matter what.””We’ll wait until he’s human.”That made me stop. “Wait. What happens when he dies?”The angel smiled at me and winked, although not very well, as if he copied something he’d seen and was still working on the gesture. “Provided he leads a good life, he’ll be called home to Him just like you.”I smiled and turned. When the last of Mason’s feathers withered away into dust, the block on the light was gone. I felt compelled to follow, but the angel put his hand on my shoulder and led me back to my body. He pushed me down and told me to shut my eyes. When I opened them again, Mason leaned over me. The store was back to full color. I took one breath and screamed from the agony.Mason leaned back and stared at me in shock. “But how?”I tried to speak, but kept choking on the blood. Mason placed his fingers over my mouth and smiled. The paramedics arrived and started working on me. I don’t really remember much of anything. Between the pain, the morphine, and the anesthetic when I was wheeled into surgery, time lost all meaning to me.After an unknowable amount of time later, the blackness of nothing receded and I opened my eyes. I saw white, sterile walls, heard a steady, drowning beat of electronics, and the wheezing of a respirator. I moved my hand and I noticed the feeling as if an elephant sat on my chest. There was something down my throat, but an audible groan filled my ears. I caught movement out of the corner of my eye and saw Mason sit up and lean over me. Tears pooled in his eyes until they started dripping down his face. He took my hand in his and started whispering.His words were beyond my ability to comprehend, but the emotion behind them wasn’t lost on me. I reached out and cupped my cheek, shocked to find stubble on his cheek. Where was the porcelain skin? What had happened? Before the thought could form into words, my world went black again.Many times I came back to the reality of the world for barely five minutes, before drifting back into the void again. Each time I surfaced, it became easier to comprehend the things around me. But no matter how long the span of time between waking, Mason sat by my side. Over all this time, I noticed how his beard grew darker and fuller as the hours and days drifted by.After nearly a week, I was moved out of ICU and into a regular hospital room. I could stay awake for many hours at a time, and could understand what had happened. Apparently, the bullet passed through my lung, missing my spine and heart by mere millimeters. After nearly two weeks, they took me off the respirator for good. When they let Mason back into the room, I smiled at him and tried to speak. “Hello, sweetheart.”He sat on the side of the bed and took my hand. His face haggard, his beard grown ragged. He brought my hand to his lips and kissed it. “I’ve missed you so much.”I had to drink some water, because my throat was raw. “I couldn’t leave you.””What happened?””A miracle.”Mason nodded then sat up straighter. He looked uncomfortable. “What’s wrong, Mason?”He blushed a bit and took my hand and placed it against his crotch. He was hard and rigid beneath his jeans. “Is this supposed to happen?”Mason gasped as I squeezed around his erection. His hand covered mine and stilled it. “Yes, it is normal.”He shut his eyes as I moved my finger against him. “Was this what you meant in the shower in New Orleans?”I chuckled then grasped my chest in pain. “Yes. A delicious ache.””Is there any way to make it go away?”I cupped his face in my hand and brushed my thumb against his lips. “Time. A cold shower. And once I’m out of here, I’ll explore all the other ways with you.” I dropped my hand and removed the other one from his crotch. “If you want to, that is.”He lowered over my bed and brushed his lips against mine. “I want to.”I smiled and lay back against the pillows. My eyes wandered over his face. “You need to shave.”Mason brushed his beard with his fingers. “I don’t know how.”I smiled as I touched his shaggy beard. “I’ll show you.”He then unbuttoned the top two buttons of his shirt and pulled it open. A wealth of soft, dark hair swirled over his chest. “Do I have to shave this too?”I shook my head and smiled when all I wanted to do was laugh. “Not if you don’t want to.””I don’t. I like it.””Then you can keep it.”He ducked his head and looked at me from under hooded eyelids. “Do you like it?”I took his hand in mine until he looked directly in my eyes. “I like it very much. Everything about you I like.”We sat, staring at each other, for several moments, just soaking in the sight of each other. Then a though occurred to me. “Is there anything else I need to show you?”He nodded. “Yeah. I have a long list.””Like?””I need to learn to drive a car. Laundry. Street maps. Microwaves–“I put my hand over his mouth. “Lots of things. Gotcha. We’ll start as soon as I go home.” I looked towards the door. “Has anyone said when that might be?”Mason nodded. “The doctors want to keep you for a few more days.”The door opened and a delivery of flowers arrived. The orderly set them on my table, by the window and left us alone. Mason stood and got the card, sniffed the flowers, sneezed, then sat down by my side again. he handed me the card. I pushed it back into his hands. “Come on. let’s start teaching you to read.”Mason ran his finger under the seal of the envelope then dropped it and cried out. “Ouch.””What’s wrong?”Tears welled in his eyes, his lip quivered. “I don’t know.”I took his hand in mine and saw a small paper cut. Was he serious? This was nothing. But as I looked in Mason’s tear-filled eyes, I realized that someone who had never felt pain before, the slightest twinge would be nearly devastating. “You’ll be okay. I promise.”He nodded and pulled the card out of the envelope. He looked at it, as if it held the secrets of the universe. I pointed to each word. “That’s a ‘g’. It makes a ‘gu’ or a ‘ju’ sound.”He looked down and said “Gu… eee… t. Get?” He looked to my face and when I nodded his smile lit the room. “Get.”I pointed at the next word. “That’s a ‘w’. It’s a ‘wa’ sound.””Wa… eeee… llll.” He looked at me. “Well?””Yes.””Get well?”I nodded. His smile was like warmth and comfort all in one. He took my hand in his and nearly bounced off the bed. “I can read it.””Yes. You can.” I pointed to the last word. “Who is it from?””Ju… iiii… m. Jim.”Yeah. Jim Shipman may not have been my choice for a first sexual encounter, but it seemed he wasn’t a complete asshole either. “Yeah. Jim sent these.”Mason frowned as he looked at the card. “What’s wrong?”Mason looked at me and shook his head. “Does this mean Jim is…?”I shook my head. “Jim isn’t who I came back for.”He smiled and nodded. A few days later, I got to go home. I was supposed to take things easy, and for the most part I did. But not before I saw to a few things first. I took Mason’s hand and hobbled to the bathroom. “We need to shave you, hon.”He sat on the toilet as I wetted down a washcloth in warm water. I applied it to his face, took the scissors, and cut away at his beard. “You have to trim it with scissors when you let it grow so long, or else you damage the blade.”After I’d trimmed up the beard, I wetted his face again before I applied the shave cream. “This makes things slick so the whiskers come off without burning the skin.”I made quick strokes with the razor, baring his face, uncovering the beauty underneath hidden by the mountain man look of hair. When I was done, Mason stood and looked at himself in the mirror. “Thank you. I didn’t know how to take care of it.” He turned his head from side to side, as if to see his ears. “I don’t care for the beard.”I chuckled and wrapped my arms around him and kissed the side of his neck. “However you like it. It’s your body.”He placed his hand over mine and turned to brush his lips against mine. “Yes. It is. But I want you to like it too.”I deepened the kiss before answering. “Mason, I’ll love you no matter what you look like.”He shut his eyes and squeezed my hands. “I love you too. No matter what.”I kissed him again, staying behind him, using the pressure against his back to brace my newly knitted ribs together. When Mason began to fidget, I pulled away. “That problem back again?”He nodded and moved my hand down his belly to rub against the distended fly of his jeans. “Make it better?”I kissed his nose and led him to the bedroom. I felt bad, but I couldn’t move that well. “Mason? Will you help me undress?”He grinned before he undid the buttons on my shirt and loosened my belt. I ran my hands under his tee shirt, reveling in the silky hair along his belly and up his chest. When my pants and underwear had fallen around my feet, he stepped back and quickly doffed his own clothes and had me sit gently on the bed. He pulled my clothes off me and lay back with me against the pillows. “What now?”I took his hand in mine and kissed his palm. “We’re going to be limited for a while, until I’m fully healed.” I took his hand and wrapped his fingers around my shaft, holding him in place. I took my free hand and wrapped my fingers around him, amazed at how thick he felt in my palm. I stroked him once, and smiled when he shut his eyes and shuddered along the length of his body. I kissed his cheek and whispered in his ear, “Do the same for me.”With slow, careful, deliberate motions, we lay, half facing each other, staring into each other’s eyes as our hands brought us pleasure. Hearing Mason moan and gasp, was like sweet music to my ears. But as his body tightened and readied itself for release, the near panic of his face made me kiss him, brushing my lips against his. “It’s okay. Let it happen.”I watched his face for every nuance, each innocent, new expression as his body climbed higher and higher. When his pleasure grew too great, his hand fisted around me, nearly crushing my cock in his hand as he cried out, coating my belly with his release. Copious amounts of semen left his body, decorating me in ropy, pearly excitement. As his body calmed, I kissed his sweaty brow, murmuring nothing words to him as he fell asleep. Even though he left me unfulfilled, I’d never been more content in my life. Still slumberous from my injuries, I soon joined him in dream land.As my body healed, the forays into our sexuality became bolder, more intense. When the doctors finally pronounced me as fully healed, we took the final steps to bond us together. Over time, Mason learned to read, drive a car, handle a microwave, find and hold down a job, and all the other things that human beings need to do to get through life.Many months later, on a lazy Saturday morning, Mason was lying beneath me, accepting my thrusting, clutching my ass as my hips pounded into him. Our moans and cries filled the room, our passion climbed higher and higher. I looked into Mason’s eyes and smiled around a pant. “I love you.”His whimpered response of, “I love you,” made me quicken, riding harder and faster. I could tell Mason teetered on the brink, nearly at the point of release when he stopped and stared at nothing. I paused and stared into his eyes. “What’s wrong?”Mason shook his head. “Who are you?”I didn’t hear anything but pulled his face to mine. “What’s going on?”Mason looked at me and started laughing. “I’m sorry about what I did to you all those months ago. You must have hated being interrupted.”My excitement withered as I rolled off him, lying by his side, grabbing a blanket to cover us. “Another angel?”Mason nodded. “Yeah.” He looked at me and laughed. “He watches the fallen angels.” He looked off to the corner and grinned. “He wanted to know why were doing this.”I chuckled. “Did you tell him?”He shook his head. “I told him he shouldn’t eavesdrop in the bedroom.”I looked around the room and shuddered. “How many angels will watch over us?”Mason shrugged. “I don’t know. But I doubt they’ll bother us again.””Why?””Because I told them I was happy and healthy. And I never expect it to change.”I swallowed back the tears his simple words brought and crushed my mouth to his. Rolling him under me, I found myself nearly instantly ready to take up where we left off. Within moments, we were joined, rocking gently this time towards completion. At that moment, at the point of no return, I heard the voice in my head, the same as from the church in New Orleans. Why do you care?Because I love him.

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