Chapter Twenty: All’s Fair In Love and War
The angel glowered at me, cradling his jaw with his hand. He had never looked at me with such anger before, and it was more than a little unnerving. I backed away from him, putting the entire span of the kitchen between us. I watched him from where I stood, ready to make a break for it if need be.
“What…was that for?” he seethed.
My eyes flooded with tears. I pointed an accusing finger at him.
“You had that coming!” I snapped back.
He was staring at me now as if I’d up and lost my mind.
“I did?” He took a step towards me. “You want to beat on me, Mya? Would that make you feel better?”
Actually, I did feel better. I should have slapped him across the face a long time ago. But I shook my head.
“You deserved that, and you know it!” I explained, anger and adrenaline making my voice quiver. I roughly wiped at my eyes.
“What are you talking about?” he asked, taking another step forward.
I took a step back.
“You…kissed her!” I blurted. “I understand why she kissed you: she was vulnerable and confused, but you kissed her right back! You took advantage of her and you completely disregarded me!”
At first, it seemed as if Pershabael still didn’t know what I was talking about, but then I could see he did. His eyes widened and his jaw slackened and dropped.
“Why?” I demanded, furious, gesturing his way. “Why would you do that to me?”
Pershabael turned his head to the side in a confused gesture. “Do that to you? It had nothing whatsoever to do with you.”
“It had everything to do with me,” I shot back. I was so angry now I couldn’t see straight. It wasn’t as if he was begging my forgiveness like I thought he should. He wasn’t asking for forgiveness at all.
The angel’s eyes narrowed. “Listen to me,” he all but growled, coming towards me again. I could tell he was getting more irritated by the minute. His whole body was tense and his slow, steady movements reminded me of a cat’s, getting ready to pounce.
“Did you sleep with her too?” I accused more than asked. A second later, I regretted it. I could see as soon as I’d said that, I had crossed the line with him. I drew from him the most searing look yet.
“Who do you think you’re talking to?” Pershabael rumbled, his voice low with evident warning. He straightened to his full, rather intimidating angelic height.
“I don’t know anymore! I thought I knew you once, but I don’t! I don’t know you at all!” I shrieked. “You’re supposed to love me.”
He came towards me in rush now, startling me. Acting on instinct, I darted around to the other side of the kitchen table. It was obvious he intended to get a hold of me, but what wasn’t so obvious was what he intended to do to me if he caught me.
“Stay away from me,” I warned, scurrying to put the table between us now. My heart was pounding erratically in my chest.
Pershabael paused for a moment. “Have you ever heard the saying, you can’t have your cake and eat it too?”
I nodded in spite of myself.
The angel jerked one of the chairs aside, out of his way. “Well, think about that for a minute, Miss Mya. Why do you believe that could refer to you?”
He made a dash towards me again, but I managed to get to the opposite side of the table before he could get his hands on me.
I shook my head. I couldn’t analyze that now even if I wanted. “I don’t know!”
“It means you’re forgetting one major detail that kind of puts a pin in your over inflated balloon of outrage,” he half-snarled.
Major detail? Now it was my turn to be confused.
I must have looked it too because he rolled his eyes in clear exasperation.
“Justin!” he shot back, a good couple decibels louder. “Are you forgetting about him? Aren’t you two having a relationship at the moment? So what possibly makes you think you even have the right to be angry at me over this? You are a piece of work, Mya Cotton. Sometimes, you act like a selfish, spoiled brat! Always wanting everything her way.”
My eyes widened in shock. I couldn’t believe he’d said that to me. For a moment, I couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe, couldn’t do anything. Then anger took over my sensibilities and I lashed out. I snatched up the cookie jar lid and flung it at him. I missed by a mile, but made him duck anyway, smashing the lid against the far wall into a zillion pieces. I cursed loudly.
Unfortunately, assaulting him with a deadly projectile only made him double his efforts to catch me now. He leapt clean over the table to the side I was on and was able to get a grip on my arms before I twisted away from him. I screamed at the top of my lungs and sprinted towards the back door. Yanking it open, I took off like a bullet down the pathway to the cemetery, but he was already hot on my heels. I had just gotten through the gates when Pershabael captured me. He tackled me with all the finesse of a linebacker, throwing us both heavily to the ground. I went to scream again, but his large hand covered my mouth.
“You need to hear me out!” he hissed, lying over me to keep me still.
I thrashed around to no avail. He was just too strong and too big for my struggling to make any kind of impression on. I did manage to sock him in the jaw again, but that only served to fuel his anger.
“Mya Renae, you hit me again and I will turn you over and paddle you good! You won’t be able to sit for a week,” he threatened, clasping both my wrists in one of his hands, as if for an added security measure.
I slumped with resignation beneath him. He removed his hand from my mouth.
“You called me…selfish,” I protested, really feeling for the first time just how much that hurt. Especially coming from him, of all people.
Pershabael took a deep breath. “I said you act that way. Sometimes. It was hardly an observation I should have gotten murdered over.”
His tone of voice was light enough that I dared to look up into his eyes. What I saw made my heart skip a beat. His anger was gone. There was a certain hint of warmth with just a twinkle of amusement, and a noted intensity to his gaze that reflected his unwavering love.
“I’m really sorry about that,” I admitted. And I was. I was sorry for everything now. I had screwed things up and screwed things up good.
“Mya, talk to me,” he whispered. I could feel the tension in his body ebb. He released my hands and reached up to stroke the side of my face. “Tell me what’s really going on with you. What are you doing? Do you even know?”
Wow. Seemed like everyone, myself included, was asking those questions.
“I thought I did,” I answered him, my face crinkling with emotion again. “Now I’m not so sure. Things…aren’t exactly working out the way they were supposed to. Or, the way I thought they would.” I started crying and turned my face away in shame. Here I was, trying to do the noble thing, the right thing, and I felt that everything was wrong.
Pershabael sighed and I felt his breath on my cheek like a tender caress. He shifted, redistributing the bulk of his weight off me, but continued to hold me close.
I faced him again. “You’re not sorry about kissing Mercedes, are you?” I asked after I’d calmed down enough to speak.
“No,” the angel confessed. “I’m not.” And he didn’t sound it either.
I frowned. “You’re right, Percy. I don’t have any room to be jealous. I just can’t help it.”
“I understand,” he replied. “Now I know what jealousy feels like too, and try as I may, I can’t seem to shake it. It shames me to even have to admit that to you. I always thought I’d rise above it all when the time came to, but how arrogant is that? I’m a mess anymore.”
And he was nervous too, prattling on like that, I could tell. I sighed and snuggled against him. “You shouldn’t be jealous.”
For a long while, Pershabael didn’t reply. I got the impression maybe he hadn’t really heard me since I was talking into his shoulder. I was just about to tell him again when he spoke.
I licked my lips. “Because of you, I know what real love is, and I’m not in love with Justin. I like him and all, and he’s a super nice guy, but I can’t seem to fall in love with him no matter how hard I try.”
Pershabael exhaled a breath I hadn’t realized he was holding. I looked up at him and nodded.
His eyes seemed to search my face. “That’s why you’ve been unhappy,” he guessed.
“Uh-huh.” I could barely speak anymore, my throat felt so constricted. My emotions were barreling their way to the surface again, and I was starting to feel like my head was being held under water but I was just too exhausted to resist. “Well, that’s part of it. A little part of it, really.”
“You shouldn’t feel jealous either,” Pershabael told me. “Not over that kiss. How did you know about that anyway? We thought you were asleep.”
I bristled at the way that sounded like they had snuck off together, but knew deep down, he didn’t mean it like that.
“I came into the hallway to hear you sing and was kind of…spying on the two of you. I could tell something was up.”
“Mmm,” the angel acknowledged. “I can only imagine how it must have looked to you. But you have to realize, I was only helping her out.”
My jaw fell open at that. “Help? How was that helping her?” I wanted to know. I couldn’t even begin to guess.
Pershabael looked down at me, his expression thoughtful. “Well, it was obvious to me she was still in love with Brandon. But she’d lost her faith in her love for him. She didn’t trust it to see her through the next step with him as his wife. I knew I needed to make her aware again just how much she did love him so there wouldn’t be room for doubt. So when she talked about you kissing Justin, but not really loving him, that gave me an idea.” He paused and leaned his head on his elbow on the ground. “I could tell she was kind of wanting to kiss me, just to see what it’d be like, so I let her. That way, she could feel the difference. Whenever she kissed Brandon it was because she loved him. She kissed me thinking it would feel the same, but it didn’t. It wasn’t any good for her because the love wasn’t there.”
“It wasn’t good?” I found that a little hard to believe. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear he was lying about that.
Pershabael frowned. “Well, sure it felt good. But that’s beside the point. It felt good, but it didn’t feel right. To either one of us. It was all just…sensation. In fact, after kissing me, she couldn’t stop apologizing for it.” He paused and chewed his lower lip anxiously. “I seem to bring that out in women who kiss me.” He peered down at me and then winked.
I had to smile at that, remembering the first time I’d kissed him. I felt like I had taken advantage of him and had apologized too. Now I blinked up at him unhappily though. I should have known better. I should have realized he wouldn’t have succumbed to sinful temptation and all out betrayed me with my best friend. He was an angel for crying out loud. I felt like a heel.
“I should have talked to you about this a long time ago,” I confessed.
“I wish you would have. You should know you can always talk to me. About anything,” Pershabael went on. He sighed and it sounded full of regret. “I knew something was wrong with you that night, but I didn’t know what. Now that I know you were hurt by what you saw, I do apologize with all my heart. I’d never intentionally hurt you, Mya. I love you. I love you so much.”
I reached up and stroked his bruised cheek. I was sorry I’d slapped him now. I smoothed my palm over his jaw and up his temple and into his hair.
The moment I did, he seemed to realize I wasn’t resisting my feelings for him any longer. His eyes fell closed and his lips parted, emitting a soft ragged sigh. His whole body seemed to just melt against me now.
“I love you, Percy,” I murmured. He was right. I was tired of fighting it.
The angel’s eyes opened and he peered down at me with a somewhat pained expression.
“I don’t understand any of this,” he whispered back. “I thought you’d stopped loving me. Since I’ve been here, you’ve pushed me away. You made it clear you didn’t want me around anymore. But then…you were jealous. And now, this.”
I licked my lips. “How could you think I’d stopped loving you? Couldn’t you see what was truly in my heart? If anything, all this has made me love you even more. I think I was starting to actually take you for granted. I’ve seen a glimpse of what my life would be like without you and I know how empty it is. Look into my heart now. You’ll see. You’ll know the truth.”
The angel shook his head. “I’ve been afraid to. I was afraid of what I’d find, or not find, and I didn’t think I’d be able to stand it--knowing for sure.”
“Kiss me then,” I begged him. “You’ll feel it, Percy. I can’t deny it any more than Mercedes could deny her love for Brandon. Kiss me now and we’ll discover together who my heart really belongs to. Don’t be afraid. I’m not anymore.”
Pershabael’s eyes widened somewhat. In the moonlight they looked like pools of pure silver. He turned his head slightly, lowering his face over mine and parted his lips, but he hesitated.
My heart went out to him. He really was afraid. I had done a pretty good job of convincing him I didn’t love him anymore.
“Kiss me,” I whispered again, twisting my fingers in the thick locks of his hair, imprisoning his lovely mouth close to mine.
A moment later, the soft, full warmth of the angel’s lips pressed flush against mine sent the most scintillating tingles dancing through my body. It was if my whole being suddenly emerged free from the numbing cold of winter and my skin could once more feel the heat of real summer sunshine bursting out of the dark storm clouds that had been hovering above me for so long.
I could have wept with joy now. Kissing Pershabael made me feel as if everything was going to be perfect and right and the whole world could start revolving again. I was back in my true love’s arms.
Pershabael nuzzled the side of my face. “I love you,” he breathed into my ear. His hand was snaking down the length of my body as if reacquainting himself with each of my curves, sending flaming arrows of desire shooting through me. “Tell me you love me. Say it again. I’ll never get tired of hearing it.”
What he said made me recall that horrendous dream of mine where he had begged me to tell him I loved him. Of course it was just a dream, but it reminded me that all wasn’t right with the world. In fact, things had gone very wrong and I didn’t really know what to do to make any of it right. I had made a deal. Now I wasn’t so keen on the idea. I wanted Pershabael, but I didn’t want him punished because of me either.
“Percy, stay here with me,” I told him before I even realized what I was saying. “You’ll be safe here. You don’t have to go back. Just stay with me.”
At that, Pershabael all but froze. Then he raised his head and looked down at me with an unreadable expression.
“What are you saying?”
I wrapped my arms around him and hugged him tightly. “Stay here. You’ll be safe and I won’t have to give you up.”
To my surprise, Pershabael pulled out of my embrace. He looked baffled now.
“Mya…we’ve gone through this before. As much as I’d like to stay, I can’t. It’s just not possible.”
I shook my head. “If you stay here, at least I’ll know you’ll be safe.”
“Safe?” the angel snapped, sitting up fully. “From what? You keep saying that and it’s starting to freak me out. What are you talking about?”
“I can’t have you risk being punished for loving me,” I told him, though I didn’t understand why it hadn’t occurred to him that’s what I meant.
“Punished for you? What put that idea in your head?” he questioned, sounding a little exasperated. He climbed to his feet.
I propped myself up on my now empty arms. “You did!” I retorted. “You said you took risks coming here when I mentioned you meeting Mercedes. And you said you’d get into trouble staying so long. Then I had this dream that you were put on trial….”
“So you assumed from that, I risked getting into trouble and being punished? Mya, you know full well I wouldn’t be here at all if I wasn’t allowed. Sure it’s risky coming here: sometimes I do lose track of you--like I did while I was in Mississippi, I can’t protect you as well, and with today’s technology, if anyone ever saw me flying around, I’d be a viral YouTube video in minutes. The Vatican would get involved. It’d really shake up people’s faith and without a doubt, I’d get a scolding and I wouldn‘t like it a bit, but that’s the extent of the trouble I’d be in. Why did you think I get…punished for coming here?”
I was so angry again I was shaking. All this had been for nothing. I had just misunderstood him and worse, I’d obviously been misled. Feeling stiff, I got up and stood beside Pershabael, my stomach flip-flopping inside me. I was going to have to tell him.
“I talked to Mazriel.” I went to put my arms around him, hoping he’d rush to comfort me.
Pershabael’s reaction to that stopped me cold however. He looked back at me as if he were hoping he didn‘t hear right.
“You did what?”
I knew then I was the one in trouble now. Once more, I backed away from him.
“He…he came to me one night,” I stammered.
“When was this?” Pershabael demanded.
I hated to say it but: “Just before you arrived. When you were holed up in Mississippi.”
The angel snarled. “Of course! How convenient for him!” He paced a tight circle in front of me now. “He would have never dared to cross the county line if I hadn’t been…incapacitated at the time. He knows, Mya, he’s watching you, waiting for me to give him the opportunity. And I did. That worm. He knows I’ll have to go back eventually and I’m sure he’ll take full advantage. I tell you what, I deserve to be punished good for this. I let my guard down with him. It’s absolutely inexcusable of me. See, there’s a prime example of the very risks I’m talking about.”
I frowned deeply. I didn’t want him blaming himself. I tried to console him. “It wasn’t like that. I guess I kind of…summoned him,” I admitted, trying to sound nonchalant.
Pershabael’s eyes flashed.
“Well, I didn’t mean to!” I hurried to add, knowing I was in even bigger trouble now. “He just appeared in my bedroom one night. He said he came for his ring. I’d found it earlier that day and I thought about how he said he’d come get it if I didn’t want it.” I paused to take a breath. “He said we were connected--like you and I are connected. He told me I could always call him to me that way.”
“Mya!” Pershabael exclaimed, chastising me just by saying my name. “And he told you those lies about me, didn’t he?”
I looked down at the ground beneath my feet. I couldn’t even face Pershabael anymore.
“He said some things that, sort of scared me,” I went on. “He said God didn’t approve of our love. When I asked him if you were getting into trouble coming to me, he told me you were. So I kind of made a deal with God, if He spared my parents’ graves from the flood waters, I would do what needed to be done. Don’t you see? I couldn’t bear the thought of you being punished on my account. I thought it would be better if I just…gave you up so you would stay in heaven.”
I didn’t see it then, but I saw it now. Of course Mazriel would want me to think God would do such a thing. Of course he’d want me to turn Pershabael away, letting him believe I didn’t love him anymore. Mazriel was a masterful, conniving bastard and I was a complete, gullible idiot.
Pershabael looked back at me with the most incredulous expression yet. “So…that’s what this whole thing was?” He paused as if sorting it all out in his mind. As I watched his face change, I saw that now, everything made perfect sense to him, but he wasn’t exactly happy about it. “And you believed him.” He almost looked hurt now. “What happened to your faith, Mya? Your faith in me? I need you to believe in me, ‘cause without your faith, I’m powerless. Why didn’t you just tell me about all this long before now? Do you realize what you could have done to us because of him?” He paused and shook his head as if to perish the thought. “What were you doing even listening to him?”
I dared to look up. “I thought I could trust him. He says he cares for me.”
“I love you!” Pershabael shouted at me. “But I guess it doesn’t occur to you to trust me. Let’s face it, you don’t trust me as far as you can throw me. You, who always claimed since day one, that trust was a major factor in any loving relationship. And I have to learn this way, that you didn’t trust me enough to be honest with me about any of this.” He bowed his head as if he couldn‘t even bear looking at me anymore, and then turned away from me. Without another word, he strode back towards the rectory.
I was alone in the cemetery now, trembling uncontrollably. When I heard that back door slam shut, I just about jumped out of my skin. I knew he was leaving. I also knew, if I didn’t do something to stop him, I’d probably never see him again.
I took several steadying breaths to compose myself enough to think, and then made a fast beeline to the house. This time, I wasn’t giving up my angel without a fight.