Linnette R Mullin
Gabrielle Malone bit her tongue as her neighbor prattled on about James McCoy – her other next-door neighbor. “There’s something peculiar about that young man. I just don’t know if he’s to be trusted. We have a lot of widows and single women in our neighborhood. You don’t suppose he’s here to prey on us, do you?”
“Don’t worry yourself, Mrs. Briggs. He’s a nice guy.”
Mrs. Briggs sniffed. “That’s what worries me. It’s always the nice ones.”
“Would you rather he was a jerk?”
“Well, at least then we’d know he can’t be trusted.”
Fighting the urge to roll her eyes, she patted the lady’s arm. “I assure you. James is the real deal. I’ve known him for three years. What you see is what you get.” Aside from handsome, he’s stable, trustworthy… and unexciting. Not what Gabrielle was used to. Definitely what she needed. In a neighbor.
Mrs. Briggs cleared her throat. “Well. We’ll see, won’t we? A person’s past can sneak up when least expected. Your sins always find you.” The dark look in her eyes startled her.
Did she know? How could she? Her past was wiped out. Untraceable. Wasn’t it?
She pushed the guilt down and shrugged. “Think what you want.” James was clean. She knew because she’d checked his background. Never again would she live next door to a psychopath.
As if reading her mind, an almost maniacal glint lit the woman’s eyes. “Keep your doors locked, honey. You never really know. Do you?”
Doubts niggled, but she smiled, refusing to let the woman see the raw fear climbing up her throat. “No. I suppose not. Talk to you later.” Mail in hand, she waved goodbye. The feel of Alison Briggs eyes followed her through the door.
She strode to her windowless office, dropped the mail on her desk, and stepped into her library alcove. She tugged on “Tale of Two Cities” and, when the back bookcase rotated, she stepped through. Descending to her inner sanctum, she forced her mind into a blank state. Lights flickered on with each step, welcoming her and warming her jaded soul. She stepped onto the floor matt and her wall screen came to life.
“Greetings! Name, please?”
“The God Most High - I will trust in the Lord with all my heart. He alone is my rock and my salvation. Glory, honor, majesty, power, and dominion belong to Jesus Christ alone forever. Amen.”
“Welcome, Gabrielle. What can I do for you?”
“Background check - Omniscience, Mrs. Alison Briggs at 2015 Oak Tree Drive.”
Information flew across the screen. Gabrielle tried to absorb as much as she could. Abdullah would give her a full report, but impatience nipped at her.
The screen froze on a picture of Mrs. Griggs and James McCoy having what appeared to be an intense interchange.
Mrs. Briggs seemed friendly. Maybe too friendly. James smiled patiently at the elderly woman and answered her questions.
“Come now, Mr. McCoy. Surely you know something about Ms. Malone. You two seem so… close.”
James scrunched his brows. “I don’t know what you’re getting at, Mrs. Briggs. Gabrielle is one of the nicest people I know.”
Her stomach flipped and warmth poured through her.
Mrs. Brigg’s expression hardened. “I think you know more than you’re telling. She’s too closed off. People like that have something to hide. For the safety of myself and the neighbors, I want to know what it is.”
A fist clutched her heart. What was this woman up to?
“Even if there were some sort of privity between us, it wouldn’t be any of your business.”
Gabrielle relaxed even while her heart turned over. She batted away the sudden moisture in her eyes. Where have you been all my life?
“Well!” Mrs. Briggs turned on her heal and stomped off, but Gabriel didn’t miss the glint of evil in her eyes.
James looked toward Gabrielle’s house, concern etched in his features. He looked skyward and muttered.
“What do I do, Lord. You sent me here for Gabriel. Right? But what do I do about Mrs. Briggs?” James closed his eyes as if to listen. After a few moments of silence, peace filled his face. “Thank you, Lord.” He went back to trimming bushes while keeping an eye on both her and the Briggs’ houses.
A quiver rippled through her. Had God sent a Nasir for protection? Surely, James… but if so, what was he here to protect her from?
“Abdullah, continue Omniscience.” She settled into her chair and flipped through the check she’d run on James. It was spotless.
“Maybe too spotless?”
“Yes, my lady?”
“Just thinking out loud. Continue.”
She flipped to his photo pages. Over and over she saw pictures of him with families. Different families and they all had a newborn. He appeared next to the baby in every picture. He never seemed to age. Could this be?
She flipped toward the end and there was a photo of James posing with her family. When she was a baby. Chills raced through her.
Surely, he wasn’t…
Could there be an association between him and Mrs. Briggs? An immortal one?
“Abdullah. Maybe we should focus on connections between James and Mrs. Briggs.”
Pictures flashed across the screen one after another. The pictures were the same. Yet they were different.
The only difference between the photos on the screen and the ones on her handheld device was Mrs. Briggs. The photos on the screen presented her somewhere in the background, unnoticed but clearly perturbed at James’ presence. Her eyes locked on the babies. The hungry look in them shook her. The peace and gentleness in James’ eyes comforted her.
“Transmission coming through.”
She froze. “Who is it?”
She sucked in sudden air. How had he gotten this number? Should she acknowledge his call?
His smile lit the screen.
“Gabrielle Malone. Never fear. What the US government can not do for you, I will. Mrs. Briggs has been transferred to another realm. She will be able to harm you no longer.”
“What do you mean?”
“El Elyon has decreed you free from the Mrs. Briggs of this world. That season of life is over. El Elyon has a new season for you. You will have tribulations still, but of another kind. Walk in the light as he is in the light. He is with you always. When you stumble, you will not fall.”
James’ face grew misty, turning into a white, swirly, shining cloud. An opening began in the center of the cloud. He knelt in the dirt, weeding the flowers that ran along her front porch. He paused to wipe sweat off his brow and look into the sky. A contended smile lit his face and he mumbled.
“What was that? What did you say?”
“He said, ‘Thank you, Lord.’”
“He said? I thought you were he?”
“No, my child. He is mine as you are mine. Neither he nor Mrs. Briggs was actually in those photos.
“What do you mean?” She couldn’t take her eyes off the James as he continued weeding. “I don’t understand.”
“Their faces represented the evil and the good in life. As to the real James McCoy, I use him in your life as I use you in his. It’s been a long road for you both. Trust is coming easier for you. For James... Everyone he ever loved has died or left him. Now he’s found you. His lonely season is over.”
Her heart clenched. “No,” she gasped. “I can’t. I’m not ready.”
“You are. Trust in me. Hold my hand. I’ll not lead you astray. Now leave your cave and invite him to supper.”
She trembled. Her gaze clung to the sight of the man who had shown her more kindness over the last three years than anyone ever had.
“But… Does he know the truth? Does he know I’m not who I say I am?”
“Oh, child. You are who you say you are. You are no longer Tammy Coulter. That’s your old life. All things have become new. You are Gabrielle for I am your strength.”
She swiped at the tears sliding down her face. James stood and looked at her front door.
A smile broke across her face. “Yes, Father. Thank you. Abdullah. Commence shut down.” She raced for the stairs
She flung the front door wide. “James!”
He pivoted, his electric blue eyes locked on hers. “Gabrielle. Hi.”
“Thank you. For mulching.” She bit her lower lip and bounced her gaze away from him for a moment. “Um… Would you like to share my pulled pork with me?”
A breathtaking smile lit his face. “I’d love to.”
“Great. Come on in.”
He crossed the lawn to her and butterflies danced in her stomach with every step he took.