| Angel with Attitude |
By Michelle Rowen
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Falling out of Heaven is the easy part. It’s landing that’s difficult.
Luckily—or unluckily, as the case may be—someone up there had a strange sense of humor. She could have landed anywhere in the earthly realm. Pavement, grass, the middle of the ocean . . .
. . . MarineLand in Niagara Falls. Or, more precisely, the killer whale tank at MarineLand.
The cold water jarred her from her free-fall daze and she thrashed about, eyes wide. What just happened? She’d been reading a scroll. A golden scroll somebody had thrust into her hands. Something about the rules of being a fallen angel, and then . . . then what?
She swallowed a large mouthful of water and started to choke before she slipped under.
And then somebody pushed me.
Somebody pushed her out of Heaven.
Son of a b—
She bobbed above the water and gasped for air before going under again. Then suddenly she felt herself forcefully yanked above the waterline. Somebody had hold of her upper arm. Ouch. An extremely tight hold.
Her first impression of being a human? Pain sucked.
The large black-and-white killer whale—where did it get that name from, anyhow? she thought with growing panic—nudged her leg curiously as she was dragged out of the tank. She could hear applause and cheers from somewhere, but her vision was too blurry to see more than just shapes and colors.
“Miss? What exactly do you think you’re doing? Is this some sort of joke?”
She opened her mouth to respond with, “Mahhhhh.” This actually meant: “I need to go back to Heaven. There’s been a huge mistake. Somebody, anybody, help me!,” but her first incomprehensible word was followed with a, “Bahhhh.”
The blurry dot of a human peered closer at her. “Are you okay?”
She knew enough to shake her head. No. She wasn’t okay. Not even close to being okay.
“Where did you come from?”
She blinked at the human, then pointed up. He followed the direction of her finger, then looked at her with confusion.
“I . . . I . . . fell from . . . ,” she began, happy she could finally speak, but then abruptly shut her mouth.
What had the golden scroll said? Do not tell anyone you are a fallen one . . . Don’t say we didn’t warn you.
She rubbed her eyes, which helped make the human, who turned out to be a uniformed security guard, a little less blurry, then wracked her equally blurry mind for something to say. Anything. “I . . . I . . . was skydiving. My . . . chute didn’t open.”
She couldn’t believe her ears. She’d just lied for the first time. And actually, it sounded pretty good, all things considered.
The applause slowed, and a male voice shouted above the crowd: “Dude! She’s, like, totally naked! Get the camera!”
She swallowed and looked down at herself. “Uh . . . nude skydiving. It’s the latest thing. Haven’t you heard?”
The security guard was having a difficult time keeping his attention fully on her face and his expression turned skeptical. “Nude skydiving. Right.”
Okay, maybe she wasn’t as good a liar as she’d thought.
“Where am I?” she managed.
“MarineLand.” At her frown of confusion, he continued, “In Niagara Falls.”
Niagara Falls. That meant that she just fell . . . to the Falls?
She looked up at the clouds and shot whomever might be watching a very dirty look.
“What’s the date today?”
“Are you kidding?”
“I wish I was. Date? What is it?”
“It’s September the thirtieth. A Saturday. Good enough?” He eyed her warily. “What’s your name?”
She knew this one. She didn’t seem to have anything else, but she did have a name. “It’s V-v-valerie. Valerie Grace.”
He frowned, then reached into his pocket. “Then this must be yours. I was just about to turn it in to lost and found.”
It was a small, black leather wallet. After closer inspection, she discovered it contained a birth certificate with her name on it and a hundred dollars in cash. There was also a torn piece of paper with the handwritten words “Paradise Inn” and an address.
The security guard tapped the paper. “That motel’s just around the corner. Are you staying there?”
It hurt to think. “I . . . I guess I might be.”
Somebody approached from behind and was trying to slip something over her head. Remembering what the scroll said, she instinctively began to fight against whomever or whatever it was. “Demon!” she shrieked. “Get away from me!”
“No,” the security guard assured her. “It’s only a T-shirt, Ms. Grace. To cover you up. I think the crowd has gotten enough pictures today, don’t you think? Why don’t I get a taxi for you? Then you can go back to your motel and maybe . . . rest a bit?”
She clutched his arm. “Have you seen any demons? They’re very dangerous. I have to get back to Heaven as soon as possible. This is all a horrible, horrible mistake.”
The water in the tank had been very cold and she started to shiver as the sun disappeared behind some clouds in the otherwise clear sky.
The guard eyed her strangely. “Let’s start with the taxi, shall we?”
Get hold of yourself, Valerie, she commanded herself. The golden scroll was right. Anyone who listened to her would think she was insane. She’d been human for only five minutes and even she could see that.
She nodded at him and tried not to cry.
This was a mistake. She hadn’t done anything to warrant this. She had to go back. They’d take her back, wouldn’t they? She’d always been an angel, it was all she knew. All she ever wanted to know.
The security guard shuffled her through the swelling crowd. As they passed a group of four leering teenage boys, he confiscated a digital camera to their loud and angry protests.
All a mistake.
She got in a taxi and left MarineLand headed for the Paradise Inn with three things to her name. A complimentary BOOM BOOM THE KILLER WHALE oversized T-shirt, the security guard’s home phone number (“we should get together for drinks when you’re feeling better”), and the absolute, unwavering determination to get back to Heaven as soon as humanly possible.
You’ve got to be kidding me, Val thought with despair. Is this part of my punishment, too?
The taxi had let her off in front of a run-down motel just off the main strip of Niagara Falls. She stood in place in her oversized T-shirt, her long, wet blond hair hanging like a drippy curtain over her right shoulder, clutching the wallet against her chest, and just stared at the Paradise Inn.
All Val had ever known in her existence had been Heaven. And Heaven, as was common knowledge, was perfect. Whatever one’s idea of perfection was, that is how Heaven became to suit them. Beauty as far as the eye could see, clean and comfortable and flawless in every way.
This, however, was a whole other story.
The Paradise Inn had seen better days. To say the least. It was run-down, with roof tiles missing and a big crack in the tacky fifties-style sign. It looked tired and old and only days away from being demolished.
Val closed her eyes for a moment and tried to think of Heaven. It wasn’t cold there, for one thing. Always the perfect temperature. She never felt alone because there was always someone with her or very close by. She felt needed there, not discarded like a bubblegum wrapper. She knew what to expect and that there was nothing to fear there. And, also . . . also—
She frowned. She knew what it was like, how great it was, but as she tried to picture it, the images in her head started to become a little fuzzy. She opened her eyes again and swallowed hard, feeling a wave of panic flood her as she saw where she really was.
It was one thing to be abandoned, when it was so obviously a mistake, but to be led to an obvious dead end like this?
Her bottom lip wobbled. Maybe the nice cab driver—who had seemed so surprised to pick up a half-naked woman that he didn’t even complain about the fact she was slightly soggy from her unexpected nosedive into the tank—would take her somewhere better than this. Somewhere appropriate where she could think about what she was going to do next, in comfort and luxury.
She turned back to the cab just as it pulled away from the curb.
“Wait!” she called, but it was too late.
She swallowed hard. The street was fairly busy. She could see another yellow taxi in the distance. She raised her hand as it approached.
But it didn’t stop. Instead it drove right through a puddle, drenching Val in a small tidal wave of cold water. She sputtered and wiped at her face.
Her bottom lip began to wobble again.
She turned back around to face the motel.
PARADISE INN. VACANCY.
Lucky me, she thought. There’s a vacancy. Woo-hoo.
Just then, she heard a strange sound. She frowned and listened, then turned around to see that it was squealing tires. A rusty Volkswagen Jetta came to a screeching halt next to her. The passenger door flew open, and a man flew out who hit the sidewalk hard. The door slammed shut and the car sped off.
The man got to his feet, brushed off his faded jeans, and yelled, “Claire, baby! Come on . . . I didn’t do anything wrong!” He sighed heavily, and turned to glance absently at Val. “My girlfriend. She’s the jealous type. No reason to be though.” His gaze slowly tracked down Val’s wet BOOM-BOOM-THE-KILLER-WHALE-T-shirt-and-nothing-else clad body. “Well, hello there, beautiful.”
She looked at him warily. He was pleasant looking. A few inches taller than she, and with brown hair that was definitely receding. He smiled, which slightly showed off his crooked teeth and she noted that his brown eyes were friendly. She felt goose bumps form on her arms and took a step back.
“You’re a demon, aren’t you?” she asked quietly.
“I’m a what?”
“Demon. Please leave me alone. Don’t come any closer.”
He stared at her blankly, then laughed. “Is that what Claire called me before she took off? She’s so cute. Must be a new pet name.”
Val frowned at him, not sure what to think or do next.
He wagged a finger at her. “Don’t I know you?”
She shook her head and shifted her bare feet nervously against the cool sidewalk.
“No, I know you. Those legs. Unforgettable.” He snapped his fingers. “I’ve got it. That strip club down on Barrister Road . . . What’s it called again? . . . Booty Call? Yeah, that’s it. You’re a strip . . . er”—he cleared his throat—“I mean . . . exotic dancer.”
“Not that I go there anymore. Nah. Me and Claire, we’ve got something special between us. She’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me.” He sighed and stared off in the direction of the speeding Jetta.
Val glanced in the same direction. “Claire is the woman who just threw you out of her car?”
He smiled dreamily and leaned his shoulder against the Pardise Inn signpost. “That’s the one.”
“And . . . you think I’m a . . . an exotic dancer?”
“Nothing to be ashamed of, gorgeous. Noble profession.”
“I’m not.” Val looked down at herself to note that the now wet T-shirt was, in fact, see-through. She crossed her arms. “Seriously. I’m not.”
“If you say so,” he grinned. “What’s your name, gorgeous?”
“I’m Reggie.” He reached out to shake her tentative hand. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to . . . hey, you can let go now.”
She clutched his hand. “I need to go back. You have to help me.”
“Ow! You’ve got a grip on you, you know that?”
“I don’t belong here.” She swallowed hard and realized she was tearing up again. This man seemed nice enough. He couldn’t be a demon. He would have tried to tempt her by now, and she certainly didn’t feel very tempted, if that was worth anything. And if he was a demon, well, he seemed like a very nice one who meant no harm. He’d help her, wouldn’t he? Grabbing the nearest thing seemed like her best course of action. The nearest thing, in this case, was his hand. Currently turning purple.
“So if you don’t belong here, then leave! My hand! Alone!” He yanked away from her and looked at her warily. “Where are you from, anyhow?”
“Heaven.” She sniffed, ran a hand under her nose and tried not to cry. She turned her gaze away to stare at the seedy motel.
“Heaven.” He frowned.“Is that another strip club? What town is that in?”
“It’s not a strip club.” She was about to tell him about what happened to her. That they’d kicked her out of Heaven for no reason. That it was a huge mistake because she’d never done anything to deserve this kind of treatment. She was a great angel! Her last job review had even said so. And management always did very detailed report scrolls. What had hers said again? She thought about it and came up blank. She frowned. Why couldn’t she remember?
She wiped a tear away. “It’s been a really bad day. That’s all. Sorry for freaking out a bit.”
Reggie shook his head. “The beautiful ones are always a bit nutty. My girlfriend is, too. Totally understandable. Probably your time of the month, right?”
He waved his hand. “Forget I asked. So, are you staying here?” Reggie nodded at the motel.
She swallowed. “Not if I can help it.”
“Then what are you doing here?”
She pulled the ratty piece of paper out of her wallet and showed it to him. He squinted at it, then took it away from her.
“Oh, you must be here for the job,” he said.
“For the what?” She glanced at the paper and was surprised to see that the motel name and address wasn’t the only thing written on it anymore.
It also had “B. Barlow,” and “1:00 P.M.” on it. It hadn’t said that before, she was almost positive. Then again, since her plunge, she hadn’t really been thinking clearly.
“I’ll let him know you’re here,” Reggie said, and before Val could say anything, he headed for the center section of the U-shaped motel, where a sign read MANAGER’S OFFICE.
Her immediate thought was to run away, to flee, but where was she going to go? She needed somewhere safe to stay. Somewhere she could think about what to do next. Figure out how to get in contact with somebody Up There to help sort things out. So she could go back.
She crossed her arms protectively in front of her, shivering from being wet for too long. Before she had a chance to have second thoughts about not running away, Reggie emerged from the office with a white-haired old man who eyed her curiously as they approached.
“You’re here for the job?” the old man asked her.
Reggie snatched the paper out of her hand and showed it to him before she could say anything. Not that she knew what to say.
The old man looked up from the paper, crooked a white eyebrow, and smiled at her. A warm, friendly smile that made deep lines fan out from his blue eyes. “That will not do for a uniform, I’m afraid, young lady.”
Val looked down at herself, feeling embarrassed for the first time. “This, I, uh . . .”
Well, that sounded intelligent, she thought.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you . . .” He stretched out his hand and seemed to be waiting for something.
“Her name’s Valerie,” Reggie piped up.
She stepped closer to the motel and out of the way of two young boys riding skateboards. They stared at her lack of clothes with wide eyes as they passed by.
At least they don’t have a camera, too, she thought.
“Valerie,” the man continued. Then she found that she was shaking his hand, finding it as strangely warm and comforting as his smile. “I am Bartholomew Barlow. I look after the Paradise Inn.”
She nodded stiffly. “About the job. I don’t really know—”
“My former employee unfortunately has left us. With no notice. I’ve had to manage on my own for several weeks, and I fear I’m too old, too tired, to continue without assistance. Your help would be greatly appreciated.”
Reggie nodded. “Lisa was gorgeous, too. Didn’t even say good-bye before she took off.”
Mr. Barlow finally let go of Val’s hand and she felt oddly bereft. “I’m not sure I’m what you’re looking for.”
“Nonsense. You’ll do just fine. Though, I’m afraid I’m unable to pay very much. This isn’t the busy time of year around here. At the moment we only have a few tenants.”
“I live here permanently,” Reggie added. “Barlow cut me a great deal. Until Claire lets me move in with her, that is.”
Barlow turned his gaze to the other man. “Speaking of deals. I believe you are behind on your rent.”
Reggie glanced at his wristwatch and tapped it with his index finger. “Will you look at the time? I have somewhere I need to be. Nice meeting you, Valerie.”
Val watched the back of his head moving away as he scurried along the sidewalk. She turned her attention back to the kindly old man.
“It’s not the money, I . . . I just don’t think I’ll be here very long.”
“Here in Niagara Falls?”
She was about to say “on Earth,” but stopped herself. “Yeah, here in Niagara Falls.”
“You don’t like it here?”
“I don’t belong here. There’s somewhere else I need to be.”
He nodded. “Homesick. I understand completely. If you would like the job for as long as you’re here, I would certainly be willing to work something out.”
“Why are you doing this? Offering me a job?”
“Because I am in need of a maid. And you are here. Perhaps you’d like to go back to wherever you’re staying and give it some thought?”
She almost smiled at that, but then realized that it wasn’t very funny. “I don’t have anywhere to stay.”
“No?” He appeared to mull over a thought. “Well, you are welcome to use one of my rooms for as long as you care to. Like I said, there are plenty available. Freshen up. Change your clothes.” He crooked his eyebrow again at her choice of wardrobe.
She pulled the small amount of T-shirt material down as far as she could. “Would you believe me if I told you I didn’t have any clothes?”
She waited for the inevitable questions that she was certain she wouldn’t be able to answer properly. Why don’t you have anywhere to stay? Why don’t you have any possessions . . . suitcases . . . friends . . . family? But he didn’t ask any of that.
“I see,” Barlow finally said. “Then perhaps, if you agree to work for me for a while, I can arrange a small advance on your first paycheck. Help to get you settled? How does that sound?”
Frankly, it sounded too good to be true to her. Was he a demon? She eyed him warily. Is this how they approached to try to lure her to Hell?
But he hadn’t approached her. She’d approached him.
She stared at him for a moment longer, expecting there to be a catch. Expecting him to suddenly turn cruel or lewd. But he simply regarded her with mild interest and a warm expression on his wrinkled face.
She finally put her thoughts into words. “Why are you being so kind to me?”
“Because I can be. We all fall on hard times now and then. I certainly have.”
She felt the almost overwhelming urge to give this kind stranger a hug, but she didn’t. Instead, she gave him a big, heartfelt smile, her first one, and it felt very good.
She looked at the motel again, and it didn’t look quite so bad anymore. It was run-down and old and needed a fresh paint job, but she was welcome there. As she walked into the courtyard leading to the manager’s office, she suddenly felt welcome there. An odd feeling of warmth came over her, taking the chill away as she followed Mr. Barlow. She exhaled slowly. This would have to do until she figured out how to get back to Heaven.
She frowned suddenly
“Wait a minute,” she said. “Did you say you need me to be a maid? As in a ‘cleaning rooms’ and ‘making beds’ maid?”
He turned and nodded at her. “That’s right.”
She sighed, but continued to follow the old man. It could be worse, she supposed. She could be working at Booty Call.
Excerpted from Angel with Attitude , by Michelle Rowen . Copyright (c) 2006 by Michelle Rowen . Reprinted by permission of Little, Brown and Company, New York, NY. All rights reserved.Back to top