A gust of wind blew all the napkins off the table. The waitress apologized, and brought new ones. She greeted the two gentlemen to Renato’s, and took their order. Azrael felt unease when Alastor, the chief executioner and high-rank archdemon in the pits of Hell, locked his eyes on the waitress. To human eyes, Alastor was a charismatic and handsome man but if people could see beyond this world, they would see a tail and horns and large wings attached to Alastor’s shadow.
”She’s too good of a soul. Not my type,” Alastor reassured. Azrael took a sip of red wine, celebrating the triumph of another human soul saved from Alastor’s cruelty.
”Tell me, Azrael. You are the archangel of death. Why do you care so much about these little pests? What does it matter if they live or die?” Alastor gestured at the oblivious audience.
”Because they are human, and they make mistakes,” Azrael explained.
Alastor rolled his eyes, and made a pretense yawn. ”I tell you what. Since I’m in a good mood today, I will give you a chance to save Grace Jennings. No tricks. If you can prove that Grace Jennings is capable of caring for another being, besides herself, then I will release her from my grip.”
”Why would you do that?”
”To prove my point. Humans don’t deserve redemption. Also, I want to revel in the joy of watching you fail,” Alastor smirked.
Grace Jennings looked in the rear-view mirror, and saw a young woman in her mid-twenties. She had warm, earthy brown, almond-shaped eyes with perfectly arched, trimmed eye-brows. She was amazed at how well the new mascara had held up. It kept her lashes looking luscious all day. She was happy she followed the make-up advice from Vogue magazine, and used shimmering shade over her eyes. The creamy, dreamy, bronze-copper eyeshadow emphasized her natural sparkle. Her hair was like a soft wave of deep auburn, gently framing her heart-shaped face and complimenting her fair skin. She ruffled her hair to give it more volume, and added another layer of lip gloss to her full, voluptuous lips.
The passenger door opened, and Grace showed off her long, tanned legs. She saw her own reflection in the car window, a 180 centimetre tall swimsuit model at the peak of her career. Her eyes traced her hourglass figure before she adjusted her bosom to make it appear more inviting to sinful eyes. The gentleman accompanying her was the most eligible bachelor in the world of supermodels, and Grace prided herself that he was hers.
Walking through the cobbled courtyard that led to Renato’s reminded Grace of old-fashioned Tuscany beauty. Bouquets of roses adorned white linen. Ambient, romantic music flowed through open French doors and out onto a flowery patio, where you could dine and wine under large canvas umbrellas, while being pampered by tuxedoed waiters. Grace glanced at the menu, and ordered the most expensive meal offered. It didn’t matter if she did not like the food. What mattered was that Rick, her date, had a thick wallet.
Grace enjoyed the warm East Coast breeze while waiting for Rick to return from the men’s room. She was just beginning to grow impatient when a sudden strong blast of wind knocked her to the ground. A single rose landed on her body. She watched in horror as the vibrant flower withered, and turned into ashes before her eyes. Grace looked around, and was alarmed to notice that her table was the only one knocked over. She heard loud growls and barks, and before she could fully comphrehend the severity of the situation, a vicious dog jumped on her, and started to tear off her face bit by bit. She heard people screaming in terror but no one came to her aid. The pain was excruciating, and Grace begged for it to stop. The last thing she thought about, before her world went dark, was that she was going to die.
“Where am I?” Grace heard herself mumble, her eyes still adjusting to the strong light above her.
“You are in the hospital. You’re lucky to be alive,” the male nurse answered.
“My face,” Grace remembered. She dabbed her face gently. It felt rough, and hurt to touch.
“Your face will heal but there will be scaring,” the nurse explained.
“Mirror,” Grace demanded.
“Are you sure?” he asked.
“MIRROR!” she growled.
Grace screamed in horror when she saw the person in the mirror stare back at her. There were stitches all around her nose and upper lip. The beast had chewed away large chunks of her face. It also left deep gashes on both her cheeks.
“Why didn’t you just let me die? I can’t go out like this. My life is over,” Grace tried to hold back her tears. She had never cried in front of anyone her entire life.
“Grace, do you have anyone you can call?” the nurse asked.
“Rick Daemon is my boyfriend. You can call him,” Grace answered.
“The handsome tall guy? I’m afraid I have some bad news,” the male nurse handed over a written letter to Grace.
Grace opened the letter, and noticed it was dated six months ago. This time she didn’t hold back, and let the tears roll down her mauled and deformed face. She had awoken from a coma after six months only to find out her boyfriend of two years had left her, her career as a supermodel was over, and she was now homeless. Rick had thrown her out of the house, and moved away. She was all alone.
“Grace, you must not give up on life,” the male nurse seated himself next to her.
“What am I going to do? I have nowhere to go. The world has abandoned me,” she sobbed.
“You can stay with me,” he said.
“Why would you do that? I don’t even know your name,” Grace wiped away her tears, and for the first time since she had woken up from the hellish nightmare, she saw a glimpse of light.
“My name is Azrael, and I believe that you, Grace Jennings, deserve a second chance in life,” Azrael smiled.
Days turned into weeks, weeks turned into months, and months into years. Grace Jennings went through her album from her time of glory, when she was adored by fans, agencies fought over her, and men stood in line to compliment her and give her everything she ever wanted. She let a single tear escape her eye. All of that was just an illusion. When she needed help the most, they had turned their back on her. She took a lighter, and set a small flame to the corner of the album. She watched the fire consume the life she had turned away from a long time ago.
She recalled the day when she had moved in with Azrael. She had covered every mirror in the house. The first month, she had refused to come out of her room. Forcing Azrael to leave food outside her door. Eventually, she joined him at the dining table but avoided looking into his eyes. A few more months passed, and as her scars healed, so did her confidence. Grace found herself smiling again but she still couldn’t bear looking at herself in the mirror.
Then one day, she found an injured puppy in the backyard. She was terrified at first, remembering the ferocious attack at Renato’s but the puppy had been bitten by some other animal, and it was in pain. She couldn’t turn her back on it, like the world had done to her. She brought it inside, and nurtured it to health. It made her feel good to focus on something other than her own miserable life. She named the puppy Faith, and watched it grow stronger by the day. The irony, she thought – a dog shredded her life to pieces, and it took a dog to heal her shattered life.
“Why did you burn the album?” Azrael asked.
“Grace Jennings died at the hospital, two years ago,” Grace replied. Faith heard Azrael, and ran up to him, carrying the leash in her mouth.
“I need to take Faith for a walk,” Azrael said.
“Azrael, wait,” Grace stopped him by the door. “Can I come with you?”
This was the first time in two years Grace left the house, and showed herself in public. She asked Azrael to let her walk Faith. The little puppy dragged her everywhere, and soon she had forgotten about the curious eyes that surrounded her. From the corner of her eyes, she saw a flash, and heard the familiar sound of a photo being taken. A man approached them. He showed Grace the photo he took of her, along with his business card. The man introduced himself as Drake, a photographer for swimsuit models, and he wanted Grace to come and work with him. She stared at the photo. For the past two years, she had avoided mirrors. She couldn’t believe this was her. It was a miracle. Her scars were almost entirely healed. She realized a little make-up would cover up the scars completely.
About a week after Grace received the news that could restore her glamorous life, the hospital called and said Azrael had been in a car accident. She immediately went to see her friend.
“Hello, Grace,” said Azrael, happy to see her.
“How are you doing?” she asked.
“I got lucky. Just a minor splinter,” said Azrael, pointing to his left leg.
“I’m glad you’re alright,” Grace replied, avoiding eye contact with him. She didn’t have the courage to tell him that she would be working with Drake, and that she’d have to move to the West Coast.
“What is it, Grace?” Azrael asked.
“I, erm … I called Drake, and accepted his offer. He will arrange for me to fly out to Los Angeles today.”
“I don’t understand. I thought you didn’t want to go back to that life?”
Grace excused herself to answer the door.
“Hello, madam. My name is Alastor. Mr. Drake sent me to escort you to the airport.” Alastor made a gesture for Grace to follow.
“Grace! Please, do not go with him. If you do, I cannot help you,” the urgency in Azrael’s voice made Grace turn around.
She looked at Azrael, and the love she felt for him made her eyes well up with tears. He had seen her at her worst, and yet chosen to stay by her side. He saw her inner beauty when she couldn’t see it herself. He had encouraged her to fight when all she’d wanted was to give up. How could she repay his kindness with her selfishness by leaving him when he needed her the most?
“I’m sorry, Mr. Alastor. I’m not going. My friend needs me. I will call Mr. Drake myself, and explain this to him,” Grace apologized.
The anger emanating from Alastor made Grace take a step back. His eyes had turned a bloody red, knowing he had lost a bet to Azrael.
“Leave her alone, Alastor. A deal is a deal,” Azrael rose from the hospital bed, and placed himself between Grace and Alastor.
“Stay close to me, Grace!” Azrael said.
Grace screamed in horror when she saw massive wings spring forth from her friend’s back. The floor started shaking, and the ceiling cracked into pieces. Grace placed herself in the corner. She was too afraid of Alastor to move past him, and she didn’t know if she could trust Azrael.
“This can’t be happening!” she screamed. She prayed for it to stop. And it did.
“Grace, are you alright?” Grace opened her eyes, and saw Rick by her side.
“You are here?” Grace couldn’t believe her eyes. “How?” And then she remembered someone else. “Where did he go?” she asked in a frantic voice.
“The angel, Azrael,” she stared in wide-eyed wonder.
“Darling, you fell off the chair, and hit your head,” Rick tried to comfort her. Grace looked around. She didn’t understand any of it. One moment, she was in the hospital, and the next she was back at Renato’s. Rick helped her back into her chair. The waitress brought their check, unaware of the situation. Grace grabbed the receipt. It was dated the day she got attacked by the crazy dog, two years ago. She dug her hand into her purse, and found the mirror.
“No scars,” she whispered. “It was just a dream.” She put the mirror back into her purse, and nearly screamed when she saw Azrael again, without wings this time. Grace thought that perhaps he chose to appear as a human as not to frighten her. He didn’t move his lips but she knew what he wanted to say. She was made aware of the meeting with Alastor, the archdemon of Hell. She hadn’t realized that this entire time, her name was on his list. She trembled at the thought of what awaited her if she had chosen to follow Alastor. She remembered the last thing Azrael had told her. “Stay close to me, Grace.” Grace nodded at Azrael, letting him know she got his message, and would heed his warning. She saw a small furry creature peering out from behind Azrael. It ran to her, carrying the leash in its mouth. It was Faith, the dog she had taken in, and nurtured back to health. She smiled at Azrael, acknowledged another message received – keeping Faith. Angels do have a sense of humor, she thought.
- The End -
© Sandra Nguyen