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The Nameless Angel

Expecting the worst, Vince is unprepared for what he finds at this country church.

Story

Vince drove down the potholed street, corn fields on either side. Gripping the directions written on a napkin, he hunched over the wheel to read the rusty street signs that held long lines of numbers like 20040 Street or 7653 Avenue. He looked for 1900 Street.

Why did he let Nathan talk him into this? Nathan promised this would be worth his time, but that’s what they all said. “My son is so wonderful,” or “my sister will blow your mind,” or “I have a friend that’s fantastic.” But they never were, and Vince was the bad guy who told them the truth they already knew.

The tenor notes of the most recent pop band drifted out of his stereo before he left the radio station’s range and static overwhelmed the music. Vince pushed the scan button on the car’s radio hoping there would be a decent station nearby. There wasn’t.

Grumbling, he pulled out his cell phone to call Nathan for better directions. Surely he wasn’t supposed to go this far. The tower icon on the top of the screen flashed. No signal. He closed the phone with a loud snap and tossed it into the passenger seat.

Just as he was ready to give up, he found it. 1900 Street. Turning onto the barely paved, one lane road, he continued to bump along. Now he looked for the white church building that he “can’t miss.” As he drove, the corn fields ended, replaced by towering green trees. Vince couldn’t even begin to guess what kind they were. He was city boy to the core and the only tree he knew was Christmas.

The church stood wedged between clumps of trees and sure enough, he passed it. Turning the car around on the narrow street, he headed back. Pulling into the gravel drive, he stared at the cars parked in front of the church. Four Chevy pickup trucks that would never be considered classics; two Mercurys, what looked like a Dodge pickup from the 1950s, the rest were downhill from there. Vince’s small, silver, Mitsubishi certainly didn’t fit in, but he parked it at the end of the row and prayed Nathan was already inside. This was the place for prayers after all.

Stepping out of the car, he could feel the eyes watching him through the windows. He stared up at the dilapidated building with peeling white paint, showing the weathered, gray boards underneath. What could possibly be here? Vince wondered.

Taking a deep breath, he walked to the door. It opened before he reached it and a man stood waiting to greet him. Tall and lanky with legs and arms too long for his thin body, he shook Vince’s hand, his fingers wrapping all the way around to touch each other.

“Hi, I’m Steven, the minister here,” he said in a surprisingly smooth voice that didn’t fit his appearance.

“I’m Vince, a friend of Nathan’s.”

“It’s great to meet you.”

“You too,” Vince lied stepping across the threshold.

The smell of mildew and old carpet reached his nose. The entire congregation, all thirty-two of them, turned to watch as he walked in. Wiping his hands on his blue jeans, he was suddenly grateful that Nathan had told him not to wear a suit. Even in jeans and maroon polo shirt, he was overdressed. Nathan waved and Vince joined him in the second to last pew.

“Did you have any trouble finding it?” he asked.

“Trouble finding it!” Vince whispered. “You could have warned me that I’d need to stop for food and water. I’m glad I filled up at the last town or I might not have had enough to get back to civilization.”

Nathan laughed and an older man walked to the front. Standing behind a battered wooden podium, he began the music part of the service.

“Y’all stand and turn in yer hymn books to page three-sixty-four, ‘How Great Thou Art’.  We’ll be singin’ all four verses,” he said with a country drawl so thick Vince almost didn’t understand him.

The piano, badly out of tune, began to play and Vince quickly realized that the pianist couldn’t count music. She held quarter notes out for one and a half or two beats but whole notes only for three. Her eighth notes weren’t even and she usually skipped the rests completely. Vince winced at the offense to his ears.

“Why am I here again?” he whispered during the fourth agonizing verse.

“There’s a girl who sings almost every Sunday. You have to hear her.”

“How do you know about this girl?”

“My grandmother is sitting up in the front row. I came to visit her a few weeks ago and heard this girl. She’s amazing.”

Vince seriously doubted his friend’s judgment. After this, anything would sound amazing. Being slowly tortured with another three songs, he was almost ready to bolt for the door when they were finally told to sit.

The tiniest sixteen year old girl walked up to the front. Her scraggly brown hair was braided down her back and one of the straps of her baggy, faded overalls hung unclipped. She placed a CD into the small player that sat on top of the piano and fidgeted with the buttons until she found her song.

The opening notes came weakly through the speakers and she turned the volume up as high as it would go. She stood patiently waiting for her cue to sing. Taking a deep breath, she began.

Vince’s jaw dropped. In his mind, a beam shone down from heaven to light the face of this girl. This girl who had the voice of an angel. If he’d known anyone could sing like that, he would have gone searching for her. The music poured from the depths of her soul to grace the lives of everyone it touched. This girl with wide set eyes and grass stains on her knees was suddenly the most beautiful creature he had ever laid eyes on.

When her song ended, she removed the disc, and returned to her pew. Vince followed her with his eyes. She sat alone, no parents or friends. The pastor told them all to turn to Mark, chapter six, verse four and started to read.

Vince watched as the girl read along in her bible, scribbling notes in the margins. She seemed so lonely and fragile sitting there in the pew, cross legged, her bible spread out on her lap. He imagined her in school, a shy girl sitting at the back of the class afraid to raise her hand even when she knows the answer. Maybe she gets picked on a little. Maybe she doesn’t have many friends.

Steven said the closing prayer and Vince hurried to speak with the girl before she left.

“You are amazing,” he said beaming a wide smile at her and holding out his hand. She shook it, her large brown eyes staring up at him warily.

“Thanks.” She pulled her hand away to pick up her bible and CD and started to walk away.

“My name’s Vince Madison. Maybe you’ve heard of me,” he said, pulling her back.

“No.”

“I work for CCD Music Group.”

She stared at him blankly, clearly wishing he would stop talking so she could leave. Her eyes flicked towards the door as she shifted her weight from one foot to the other.

“I think you are exactly the kind of singer we’re looking for. If you like I could talk with your parents and see about getting you a record contract…”

“No thanks.” She turned to walk away again.

“I don’t think you understand what I’m offering.”

“You’re offering me a career in music. Money, fame, etcetera. Right?” she asked, crossing her arms over her chest, hugging the Bible against her.

“Exactly.”

“Thanks for the offer, but I’m not really interested.” Once again she turned away.

“Wait. I don’t understand. I’m offering you a future. What could possibly be better than that?”

Turning swiftly on the balls of her feet, she stood scrutinizing him for a long moment. He wondered what she saw.

“A life,” she said finally. “I love singing and I want it to be a part of my life, but I don’t want it to be my entire life. I want to have a boyfriend without the media knowing about it. I want to graduate high school without it being national news. And I want to go to college to be a veterinarian. I have a future and it’s not what you’re offering me. So thanks, but no thanks.”

“At least take my card, in case you change your mind,” he said, holding the small white card out to her with two fingers.

“I don’t want to give you the impression that I might call.” As she turned, her braid flipped over her shoulder in a sweeping arc, brushing him and the conversation completely away. She left him standing speechless between the empty pews. His vision of the shy, quiet girl shattered and he saw her for the person she truly was.

A strong, confident woman well on her way to the future she desired.

And then he realized he never even asked her name.

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