For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. ~ Ephesians 6:12
The weather forecast for Clinton, Oklahoma had predicted temperatures would reach near record highs on this early August day. Morning air remained cool as Naomi Martinez laid bowls of breakfast cereal on the table in front of her daughters, thirteen-year-old Reagan and nine-year-old Emily. Although the girls’ school days were still a month away, Naomi adamantly held her daughters to a rigorous schedule to acclimate them to school hours in advance. No one slept late in her household, except on rare Sunday mornings when she and the girls had stayed up late the night before to watch movies.
Through numerous phone calls, Naomi and Camden had settled on moving the family to Colorado. Camden had been open to living in Oklahoma, but life in the mountains as they had experienced at Dove’s cabin seemed irresistible. Of course, the girls agonized over leaving friends and school but were excited about the move.
Once in Colorado, the family intended to live in Dove’s cabin while Camden and Naomi looked for a home in the canyon, or at least, Gunnison. Camden had promised to search for a new home, but whenever Naomi had asked what he had found, he said he had been called away for his ‘angel duties’. Ugh! Didn’t he know how much she had on her plate? Oh well, as Dove often said, things will work out exactly as they should.
The telephone ring startled Naomi from her thoughts.
“Good gosh. Who calls at seven-thirty in the morning?” She lifted the phone and asked, “Hello?”
The voice on the other end of the line spoke, “Hi, Nay, it’s Dove. I apologize if I woke you.”
“Well, good morning, Dove. No, it’s okay. I’m about to serve the girls breakfast.”
“Cereal?” Dove asked.
Embarrassed, Naomi laughed. “Yes, I’m not up to cooking. I’ll try to do better. So what’s up?”
Dove sighed and continued, “Well, we have a tiny hitch in your wedding plans. We’ve worked so hard to arrange a small wedding in the chapel where your parents were married. I thought we had whittled down the guest list to seat the sixty-eight guests the chapel will accommodate. Granted, a few more might stand at the back.”
Naomi turned away from the kitchen and spoke in low tones, “Yes, I thought we had the guest list figured out.”
“As did I. But, Angel informed me he has invited somewhere around three hundred guests.”
Naomi paused for a long moment. She took a deep breath and asked, “I’m sorry, three hundred?”
“Yes. Three hundred. I thought he understood that you and I are handling the arrangements, but you know Angel.”
“Three hundred guests? Jiminy sakes! Do we know any of these people?”
“Um, well? I’ve met some and Camden knows a few, I’m sure.”
Naomi gathered coffee-colored hair above her forehead, dropping the locks down the back of her shoulders. “No, we can’t do three hundred more guests. The chapel will barely hold the guests we’ve invited!”
“I know, I know. I wanted to give you a heads up. This is important to Angel and I’d like to consider it before I throttle him, which I’ll likely do regardless. Why don’t we give it a couple of days and see if we can figure something out?”
“Dove, the wedding is next Saturday.”
“Yes, I’m aware we have a week until you become Naomi James. Keira and I fly out in the morning. We’ll discuss this when we get in. We’ll arrive at OKC a few minutes before three. Will you pick us up?”
“Yes, we plan to pick you up. We’ll meet you in the baggage claim. I’m excited. It will be great to have you here to keep me calm. I’m a mess!”
Dove laughed. “And you’re as beautiful as ever. We’ll see you tomorrow!”
“Okay, super. Give our love to Keira.”
“I’ll tell her. Stay centered! This is precisely as it should be. Trust the universe!”
With a laugh, she said, “Well, tell the universe to find space to seat three hundred guests then!”
“Goodbye, my friend. See you tomorrow.”
“Bye, Dove.” Naomi hung up the phone.
She had come to love and respect Dove since she and her daughters had visited the previous summer. The engagement had lingered longer than Naomi had liked, but it seemed things constantly cropped up to cause delays. Not this time though, this time the wedding would commence on August 14th or else, well, she didn’t know what she would do if things went sour. When is enough, enough? The impending wedding and delays had put a strain on her job, schooling and her home life.
She had been so busy she rarely thought of the stabbing and strangulation at Dove’s cabin when Ciara and a few dark angels had breached the property. The brief encounter terrified her and more so since her daughters and Keira were in danger. Keira, with her magical use of energy balls, had run them off.
Dove had healed Naomi’s wounds but had warned her to be aware of any unusual feelings, senses and whatnot. Aside from nightmares, her life hadn’t changed. Most nights she went to bed so exhausted the night terrors didn’t surface, but the nights that they did seemed endless. Aside from reliving the attack, dark figures haunted her dreams, stalking her with flaming olive colored eyes.
As Dove had cautioned, Naomi’s energy seemed different since the attack. Ciara’s blade hadn’t been made of seraphim steel, whatever that meant. As Dove had explained, seraphim steel was named after the highest order of celestial beings, those closest to Jehovah. Earth didn’t have materials to manufacture seraphim steel, and the seraphim blade possessed power to cut a hole in the soul, again, whatever that meant.
Camden fought dark angels who wielded the seraphim steel. So far, he had suffered no ill effects, or had he? He had been evasive in providing details about his wounds. Naomi made a mental note to talk further with Dove about after effects, when time allowed.
In addition, she had Camden to deal with. Often, when she neared the end of her patience, he had phoned. His words soothed her. Like Dove, Camden had a knack for believing that life is perfect. Events unfold perfectly. Why stress? Camden seemed immune to stress. At least, since his involvement with Dove. Still, the man had never raised children, or been married, or had even had a serious relationship! What did he know about stress? Yet, his composure in the midst of a storm eased her worries. On the few occasions when he had come to visit, his energy and confidence recharged her. And oh those nights together were bliss. Those nights of love, safety and protection. The nights she wished dawn would never come. Of course, the sun always rose and duties had always called him away. Through conversations with Dove, she knew what she had signed up for in this relationship. Overall, she supposed, the love made the headaches worth it.
The next morning Naomi woke late. When she staggered to the kitchen in worn slippers and a robe to brew coffee, Emily and Reagan sat quietly on the living room couch watching television. She paused before entering the kitchen. “You guys should have woke me! What time is it?”
Reagan glanced to a wall clock. “Almost eleven, Mom. You needed sleep. You’re stressed lately.”
Emily nodded. “Very stressed, grumpy too!”
“Eleven! Jiminy sakes! We have to pick up Keira and Dove at the airport! What were you thinking?”
Emily said, “We were thinking we’d let you sleep until noon, no later.”
Naomi shook her head covered with wild, unruly hair. “You two! Well, thanks for being so quiet. I do feel better after sleeping. We should have cleaned though before they get here.” She stepped into the kitchen.
“We cleaned, Mom,” Reagan said. “We know your routine. It’s probably not as clean as you’d like it, but it’s clean.”
Naomi noticed the clean kitchen. No dishes in the sink, they had wiped the counters. She absently ran fingers across the countertop and eyed her fingertips. “Thank you, girls!” she called. “I don’t know what I’d do without you two!”
“Remember that the next time you’re mad at us,” Emily called. “Please?”
Naomi laughed and poured fresh grounds into the coffeemaker’s brew basket. With coffee percolating, she returned to the living room. “Did you eat breakfast?”
Emily said, “Yup, cereal.”
“Reagan, cereal, really?”
Reagan shrugged without pulling her attention away from the television.
“Okay, you two brush your hair, teeth, dress in clean clothes, please? We don’t have much time.”
Reagan lifted the television remote and pushed the power button. “You go get ready. We’ll handle us, you do you.”
Naomi sighed. “You two are too much like your mother.” She clapped her hands. “Up! Get to it!”
The girls shuffled past her toward their bedrooms. On the way by, Emily looked up and grinned. “Remember, you don’t know what you’d do without us!”
Naomi laughed and slapped her bottom. “Smart aleck! Get moving!”
Emily dashed past Reagan and down the hall.
Naomi steered her bright yellow Jeep KJ into the hourly airport parking lot at the Will Rogers World Airport and parked. She glanced at her watch, 2:40 P.M. She and the girls had arrived in time to meet Dove and Keira with twenty-minutes to spare before the plane landed.
A short shuttle ride, which Emily loved, brought them to the terminal curb. Inside, the terminal hummed with the drone of busy travelers, most professional men and women she imagined, flying to who-knows-where to meet clients, deliver presentations, and whatever business people did on their travels.
They stepped between moving passengers to the Flight Information Display System. Scanning the arrival list, the Denver flight was scheduled to land a few minutes early.
“Yay!” Emily said when Naomi showed her how to find Keira’s flight.
“Okay, c’mon.” Naomi extended a hand to Emily. “Let’s find a place to sit away from this crowd.”
The three sat on a vacant bench within view of baggage carousels. Outside the windows, passengers loaded or unloaded luggage from vehicles. Some hugged their loved ones and said goodbye. Returning passengers looked excited, or weary, or spent, dropping into a vehicle seat and closing the door before the car drove away.
With telephone headphones jammed into her ears, Reagan sat with her mother. Emily paced the length of the bench, content in watching through the windows. Naomi absently watched passengers. A family with young twin girls caused her to smile. She sighed over her first opportunity in weeks to sit and relax for a few minutes, and it would be ecstasy if she could quell her excitement over Dove’s arrival.
With a look to the escalator, she pointed, “There they are!”
Emily whirled and looked up. From the escalator, Keira wildly waved with both hands. Emily raised both arms and screamed, “We’re over here!”
Naomi winced and grasped her daughter’s arm. “Not so loud, Em. They see us.”
Filtered through the crowd of passengers Dove’s radiant smile shone. Black ankle high boots with heels and a white, midi cotton dress complemented her bronzed skin and waist-length jet-black hair. The black purse hanging from her forearm completed the outfit. Stunning, Naomi thought. Dove’s bright brown-eyes focused on her. While the milling throng might consider this a typical day, for Dove, each moment offered a blessing. So many magnificent souls, Naomi imagined she might be thinking.
Ahead of Dove, honey-blonde ringlets flowed behind Keira shuffling toward the girls with a bright smile. With a doll under one arm, she wore a bright, mostly white flowered dress and shiny shoes reflecting airport lights. Before Keira had reached voice range, she signed rapidly. The young deaf girl had grown since last year. Emily and Reagan apparently remembered the sign language Keira had taught them as they signed in return. Keira broke into a run. Carefree Dove glided through the crowd parting in front of her.
Emily leapt and caught Keira in a bear hug. Reagan squatted and wrapped her arms around both girls. As Dove neared, Naomi extended her arms wide and stepped in to greet her.
“Hello, love!” Dove said, falling into her embrace. The woman smelled of vanilla and sun-kissed oranges. Their hug isolated them from the crowd’s hustle and bustle.
In Dove’s unique way, she stepped back, looked deep into Naomi’s eyes and asked, “How’s your stress level?”
“Much better now that you’re here. How was the flight?”
“Exciting. Keira’s first flight, you know. Always a joy to see life through the eyes of a child.”
Keira wedged her body between them to hug Naomi’s waist. Naomi crouched to wrap her arms around Keira. After a warm hug, Keira stepped back and signed.
“Oh, my,” Naomi said, laying a hand on Keira’s cheek. “I’m afraid I’ve forgotten what you’ve taught me.”
“She says she’s missed you,” Emily said.
With a tender smile, Naomi said, “We’ve missed you too. I’ve missed you. I’m so happy you’re here.”
Keira signed, “Me too.”
Naomi recognized the sign. “You’ve grown so big! How are your mom and dad?”
Keira signed, “They’re good.” Followed by more sign Naomi didn’t recall.
Dove said, “She says ‘they’re good and they wish you a happy and blessed wedding. They’re sorry they weren’t able to make it.’”
Naomi stood and smiled. “Let me guess, that’s from her mother, Jami. Does Lonnie still hole up in his office?”
Dove laughed and took her arm, leading her toward the baggage carousels. “Mostly, but he’s trying. He leaves his office to walk outside with the family most nights. So, it’s something. Oh, and he is helping Camden with—mm—a project.”
Naomi cocked an eyebrow toward Dove before they shuffled away to locate the carousel corresponding with their flight number. The girls waited for the luggage with Keira. Arm in arm, Naomi and Dove lingered behind.
Naomi asked, “So how is Angel? Have you heard from him lately?”
Dove’s expression showed even more tenderness. “Yes, he rode in late last night. I left him and Cam this morning. Camden is excited to show him your wedding gift. He thought Angel might provide some input.”
Naomi laughed. “So, what is Camden’s wedding gift?”
Dove smirked. “Nice try.”
“Is that how it works? Does everyone know except me?”
“Yes, pretty much. Jami has seen it more than once, and unbelievably, Lonnie often emerges from his cave to help Camden with—the details, shall we say. He’s quite excited, too much not to share.”
“Will I like it?”
Dove smiled and gave her a sideways glance. “Given that you’ve decided to move the family to Colorado, you’ll adore it, I hope.”
“That’s not much of a clue.”
Keira bounced in her shoes, signed to the girls and pointed to an approaching luggage piece. Reagan snatched the bag from the carousel. Keira signed again and Reagan grabbed another. Keira signed again, causing Reagan to look to Dove, and ask, “Dove, are these two the only luggage you brought?”
“Only the two. Great job, ladies.”
Reagan extended the handles on the wheeled luggage. Emily carried the smaller suitcase and Reagan pulled the larger through the crowd.
“We were able to park close,” Naomi said, turning.
“Close is good,” said Dove. “We have a lot to do. Let’s go girls.”
Inside the shuttle bus, Emily scooted close to Keira. Reagan sat one seat in front with Dove and Naomi behind. Dove took Naomi’s hand and a wave of indescribable peace washed over her. Anxiety melted away. She knew the wedding would come together, the ceremony and reception would be perfect, and if they weren’t, in the grand scheme of life, it didn’t matter. She and Camden’s marriage took priority; the other details were trivial.
Naomi squeezed her hand. “Gosh, I’ve missed you.”
Dove released her hand, extended her arm over Naomi’s shoulders and pulled her in. “And I, you. I’m grateful you’ve made me a part of this. You and Camden are important to me.”
“Odd, isn’t it?” Naomi asked. “I feel like we’ve known each other forever. Our visit last summer changed my life, in more ways than one.”
The shuttle bus pulled into the first drop-off point. Reagan stood from her seat. “This is us, Mom. I see the car.”
“Thank you, Reagan.” Naomi and Dove stood. Emily and Keira were already at the front of the bus, awaiting the driver to open the door. The plump driver, a bald, gray-haired elderly man smiled to the girls and opened the door. “Watch your step ladies. Have a good day.”
Emily stepped down behind Keira calling, “We will! Thank you!”
Naomi followed Reagan, who thanked the driver, prompting Naomi to smile. “Thank you,” Naomi said as she turned for the stairs.
Dove laid a hand on the man’s shoulder as she passed, and said, “Be blessed.”
The driver blushed and said, “Thanks, you too.”
“Emily!” Naomi called. “You two watch for traffic. Don’t run ahead!”
Emily grasped Keira’s arm and signed. The girls slowed their pace. Keira grinned over a shoulder.
The three girls crowded into the Jeep’s back seat with Dove in the front passenger seat. Fortunately, Dove and Keira had only brought the two small suitcases since the vehicle provided meager storage room.
“The airport is smaller than I’d imagined,” Dove said as they pulled from the garage.
“It is, isn’t it? I’ve only been to a couple of airports, but Atlanta is massive compared to Will Rogers.”
“Yes, I once changed planes in Atlanta years ago. It’s easy to get lost.” Dove stroked the back of Naomi’s hair. “Your hair looks beautiful. It’s grown since you visited.”
Naomi blushed and smiled. “Thank you. I plan to have it cut and styled before the wedding.” She sighed. “Another thing on my list.”
Dove patted her shoulder. “Relax, it will work out. We have plenty of time.”
“I know. I should. I suspect I’ve taken on too much. What will we do with the guests Angel invited?”
“Oh, I’m glad you mentioned it.” She pulled a cellphone from her purse. “I might know someone who will help.” She thumbed keys on the phone pad and held it to her ear.
With bright smiles, the girls signed quietly in the backseat.
After a moment, Dove spoke into the phone. “Hi, Matt, it’s Dove! It’s a pleasure to hear your voice. How are things at the school?”
She listened for a moment, and then asked, “And how is your lovely wife, Shannon?” Another pause. “Wonderful, so good to hear. I’m curious about your schedule this week. I have a tremendous favor to ask.” Another pause and she said, “I appreciate it. I hate to put you out. I have too much to tell you over the phone but Camden is getting married on Saturday and his gorgeous and stressed bride needs help with the preparations. We hoped you and your students might give us a hand.”
After another short pause, she said, “Yes, Camden is getting married.” Yet another pause. “Oh good, I know he has been a great friend to the school. Would it be possible for you to meet me in Clinton, Oklahoma tomorrow? I’m spending the week with the bride.” She nodded and said, “Great!” She looked to Naomi and asked, “Where should we meet for lunch?”
Naomi said, “We like the Pancake House. It’s on Tenth Street, just north of Adams.”
Dove repeated the restaurant name and location into the phone. “Is noonish okay? Bring Shannon if she can break away. We’ll talk over lunch and then drive to the church and discuss our dilemma.” More nodding and “Yes’s”. Then she said, “I’m anxious to see you both too. Give my love to Shannon and we’ll see you tomorrow then.” She hung up the phone and dropped it into her purse.
“So?” Naomi asked. “What’s that about?”
“Matt Boyington is an old friend of Angel’s and mine. He and his wife Shannon operate a school for troubled kids south of Hays, Kansas. It’s a big job to accommodate Angel and his friends and Matt is just the man to work it out.”
Naomi shook her head. “You’re quite the delegator, Dove. If Matt can take this over it’s a huge weight off my mind.”
“Well, we’ll see. Camden has taken an interest in the students and has donated to their school. I thought this might be an opportunity for Matt and Shannon to do something nice for him. I know Matt will welcome the challenge.”
Naomi steered onto the on-ramp for Interstate 40 West. “I sure hope so. I didn’t like the idea of refusing Angel after what he has done for me and for my dad. I doubt he’d take no for an answer anyway.”
Dove laughed. “It might have done him good. I don’t believe anyone except me has ever said no to him.”
“You’ve told him no?”
“Rarely, and it frequently doesn’t work out well. Like a kid he wants what he wants and he’ll move mountains to get his way.”
When they reached the house, the instant that Naomi turned off the car key Keira and Emily dashed off to Emily’s bedroom. Dove and Reagan wheeled in the suitcases.
Naomi provided a tour of her house with mild embarrassment, mentally comparing her home to Dove’s luxurious cabin.
“I love the homey feel,” Dove said. “Your father’s presence is here. He’s very loving.”
Naomi sighed as they entered the kitchen. “I struggled with the decision to sell the house and move to Colorado.” She poured water and ground coffee into the coffeemaker.
Dove sat at the kitchen table. “You and your girls are your father’s only tie to the house now. He’ll follow you to Colorado. He won’t leave his granddaughters easily.”
“Do you think?”
Dove smiled. “Those are his thoughts, not mine. He’s here, his energy is powerful.” Then she grinned. “He wants you to relax too. Enjoy the day.”
Naomi laughed and her eyes moistened. “That sounds exactly like him. Dad never worried about much. He took everything in stride.”
Dove stood and rounded the counter to hug her. “You inherited that from him; remember the peaceful side of you. You’re stronger than you think. A lesson we learned last summer, didn’t we?”
Naomi laughed on Dove’s shoulder and nodded. “Yes, we did.”
Dove stepped away with her hands bracing Naomi’s shoulders and looked at her square. “These wedding plans are minor in comparison. Keep your perspective. You’re here; you’re marrying a man who cherishes you and always will. Though his wanderings might be irritating, if it’s your biggest struggle in marriage, you are blessed.”
Naomi’s eyes misted over. “Yes. I adore him too. It has been nice not to be the strong one all the time, as I had to be as a single mother. He is always here to lean on, even when he isn’t here.”
Dove stepped to a cupboard and pulled out two coffee cups. If Naomi had had her wits about her, she’d have wondered how Dove knew which cupboard to open. Dove filled both cups and handed one to Naomi. With cups loaded with coffee, sugar, and cream, they sat at the table to the sound of Emily’s laughter. Emily and Keira filed into the kitchen. Emily pulled open the refrigerator door.
Naomi asked, “Are you guys hungry?”
Keira signed, “Yes.”
Emily said, “Keira said they didn’t serve lunch on the plane so she needs to eat.”
Dove smiled. “My mistake. With airline cutbacks, they served a light snack, hardly a meal. Emily, I’ll fix lunch if you and Reagan will bring any school books and notes you have from last year.”
Emily closed the door and turned. “Can we have ravioli?”
Dove looked to Naomi, who blushed and said, “Canned ravioli. I’ve gotten away from healthy cooking, I’m afraid. We have some.”
Dove reached over the table and patted Naomi’s forearm. “No worries. I’m sure I can heat up canned ravioli.” She turned to Emily. “Ravioli it is. Now, go find Reagan and bring me those books.”
Emily asked, “Which ones?”
“All of them.”