She walked in, and his breath stopped. The universe slowed, and everything around her blurred and faded from sight. The sun shone, surrounding her as if she walked at its core. She was an angel, shining among mere humans. If she had flaws, he couldn’t see them. His mother had always said love sees no flaws, but to him she was perfect.
Nathan struggled to turn away, but he knew, from somewhere out in the great beyond, someone was laughing, and he was being tortured once more. No such girl would ever turn his way. There would be no smiles or joyful laughter doused on him.
Dropping his gaze, he sighed. Long ago, it seemed, were the days when he wouldn’t hesitate to go over and introduce himself. He would have spoken softly and whispered laughingly into her ear. She would wrap those slender fingers around a lock of that golden hair and twirl it absently. Those were the days, days before he lost his shine.
Nathan recalled the day he lost his spark all too vividly. Roused by a nurse in the hospital, he discovered immediately that movement was absent, and the pain was fierce. The nurse needed no help to hold him down. She had needed to sedate him in order to give him something for the pain. He spent weeks this way, waking in pain, each time realizing that beneath the pain, there was horror that swam along every fibre of his being.
They had told him, as gently as they could, what had transpired. His memory took him only as far as walking to the car that near-fatal night. He had been on his way to pick up his girlfriend and go dancing. Vanessa had loved to dance. That was his last memory before waking.
‘A drunk driver,’ they had said. The witness described to police that the car came barrelling around the corner and hit the curb, flying through the air before hurling itself at the driver’s door. He had been unconscious when his car caught on fire, and it took too long for them to get him out. The fire covered his body, and they covered him with wet towels attempting to put it out while they wrenched the car door open. In the end, they pulled him through the window. His legs had been pinned, and the men that pulled him out severed something, paralyzing him from the waist down.
‘Lucky to be alive,’ the doctor and police said. ‘A miracle.’
It took many surgeries and skin grafts, but there was not much more they could do. The physiotherapist came daily and worked muscles that no longer responded. More months of pain and agony, of wallowing and self-loathing. He eventually regained movement in his upper body—another miracle, they said. ‘Thank God,’ his mother had said.
As far as Nathan was concerned, God could have his miracle back and just take him. He was angry at God and the driver, mad at the world in general and all the people who turned away from him when he wheeled himself down the street. Children stared and pointed as their mothers whisked them away, telling them not to stare while staring themselves.
He tried to ignore his reflection in the store windows as he wheeled by. His face had been badly burned. Melted skin covered sixty percent of his body. Oddly enough, the top of his head had not been impacted much, and his hair had grown back. He had let it grow longer to cover the scars on his neck and ears. A ball cap pulled down as far as it would go, shaded some of the horrors and shielded his now tender eyes.
‘Thanks, Flo,’ he said and smiled back at her. Flo was the first person after his mom who had come to see him. His dad would not go and, to this day, could barely look at him.
Flo leaned over the counter, ‘She sure is a beauty, ain’t she?’ she whispered and winked.
‘I don’t know what you’re talking about,’ he replied, trying not to smile.
‘I saw your jaw drop and drool drizzle from your lips as she walked in.’ Flo could barely contain her laughter when he reached to wipe away the invisible drool.
She winked, ‘Gotcha!’ and laughed as she walked away to serve the next customer.
To Flo, Nathan was just Nathan, and with her, he could be himself. Besides his mother, she was the only person with whom he was at ease. When he asked her why his skin didn’t repulse her she only replied, “Love sees no flaws, honey, and I love you like my own.”
No matter how he tried to continue staring into his coffee, he couldn’t help but lift his gaze to see where she had chosen to sit. “Far away from me,” he muttered under his breath.
Imagine his surprise when he lifted his head, and she was standing beside him. His face registered every possible emotion in a matter of five seconds. Despite himself, he tried to stand, forgetting momentarily he was paralyzed from the waist down.
“Mind if I sit?”
Her voice was like liquid honey that melted and slid deep into your ears and down into your soul. Soft and sweet, pure and, well, angelic. She didn’t say anything as he struggled to stand and then looked down in shame and embarrassment when he realized what he was doing. Instead, she stood, one eyebrow raised in question, waiting patiently for a response.
“Free country. Sit where you like.” Inside, he cringed. He knew it was rude the moment the words left his mouth.
“Sorry about him, honey. It seems you have him flustered. He really does have manners, even if he isn’t using them right now.” Flo laughed and smiled at the newcomer and then turned and frowned at him. Satisfied when she saw his ears reddened, showing that he understood her, Flo turned back to the angel standing beside him.
“Please sit. He really won’t bite. What can I get you?”
Turning to Nathan, she smiled again, asking, “What do you recommend for a hungry girl, and if you say salad, just know I’ll slap you over your head with that hat of yours.”
Nathan couldn’t help but laugh. “Chocolate shake, burger, and fries are my favourite go-to. You won’t get a better shake or burger anywhere else.”
Turning to Flo, she smiled and said, “Sounds perfect.”
Flo went to place the order and left them alone. If Nathan could have crawled into the corner and hid under a rock, he would have, but he knew he needed to apologize.
“For what?” She knew. He knew that she knew but was too polite to say anything.
“For earlier. It was rude. I am normally not rude to…,” the sentence drifted into the air as he looked into those eyes. Like her voice, her eyes were mesmerizing; liquid amber with flecks of gold and green. Everything about her seemed fluid, from her cascading golden locks to how she spoke and moved. Nathan had never seen anyone quite like her before. Hollywood seemed to be missing their movie queen.
“I wouldn’t say you were rude. Just a little…. off-putting. I figured you just wanted to be left alone.” Her voice pulled him back to the present.
“Well, I was, and Flo here would have swatted me over the head with that rag if I didn’t apologize.”
“Darn tootin, I would.” Flo’s laughter filled the air and helped put him at ease. Leaning back on the counter behind her, she turned to the newcomer, asking, “What’s your name, honey?”
“Angel,” came the swift reply.
“Of course it is.” He hadn’t realized he said it aloud until they both turned and looked directly at him.
“Nathan!” Flo scowled and swatted at him with the rag as if to prove his earlier point.
“Sorry,” he spat out while trying to evade the swat.
There was that laughter again. It made his heart sing. He could not let his guard down. She was only being polite because he was injured. Nathan needed to protect his fragile heart.
“You just raised your shield to keep me out. I wasn’t laughing at you, I promise. “
She looked worried, he thought. Great, he had made an angel frown, literally. What could he say in reply? He did it. She saw it.
“Habit,” he muttered.
“Who was she?”
“The girl who broke your heart and made you so defensive.”
She looked almost sad, he thought. What could he say?. She was both right and wrong at the same time. Vanessa had broken his heart. When she found out he would never walk again and saw the scars, it was too much for her. She stopped coming to see him and broke it off within a month of the accident. He couldn’t blame her. It was too much for anyone.
“Such sadness for one so young.”
“You get used to it,” was all he could manage to say.
“No one should have to get used to being sad or lonely, especially when you are never alone. God is always with us, giving us strength when we can’t seem to find it on our own.”
He frowned. She sounded like Flo and his mom.
“I am always alone. Honestly, I’m surprised you even came and sat next to me, let alone talked to me.”
She honestly looked shocked. “Why wouldn’t I?” she demanded.
Now he had made her angry. He could see it in her eyes. She dropped the burger she had been eating on her plate. Funny, he hadn’t seen Flo deliver the food or the milkshake, but both were almost finished.
Looking back at her, he raised his hand to his head and pointed from top to bottom. “Hello? Monster freak here, as if you didn’t notice.”
Now she was furious. She turned to face him fully, “How could you think so little of me when you don’t even know me?”
If Nathan wasn’t confused before, he was confused now. “Not you, everybody. One look at me, and they all turn and run…eventually.”
“Why? Did you do this to yourself?
Funny how her nostrils flaring angrily made him happy. He smiled at her and simply shook his head no.
“What’s so funny?”
“You. You’re cute when you’re angry. Did you know you can flare your nostrils?”
“Nathan!” Flo seemed to come out of nowhere and swatted him.
“Ow. What? It’s true, and it is cute.”
Flo stopped her cloth in mid-air before it could strike a second time. “Well, I’ll be.” She patted his hand, smiled and turned away.
“Women!” He glanced sideways to see what trouble awaited him and was surprised to see Angel smiling.
“You think I’m cute.” She smiled and picked up her milkshake and finished it in one shot.
“Yeah, well.” He didn’t know what to say. Never one lost for words. He found himself tongue-tied like a timid twelve-year-old.
They sat talking for hours. He told her about his accident, about Vanessa and her rejection. She told him how she had been abandoned by her parents but was found by a wonderful family who raised her. They shared intimate details with each other. She had cried when he told her how Vanessa had reacted, and it made him want more than anything to be able to stand and hug her.
Flo told them she had to close up, and they both looked up, surprised to see the place empty and that it was dark outside. He couldn’t believe the time had flown by without him noticing. Rising, she turned and smiled. She began digging out her wallet, and he waved her off.
“Please allow me. This was the nicest day I’ve had in a long time.”
He pulled out his wallet to pay for their meals, and Flo waved him off. “On the house. Anyone who can make my boy smile like that deserves a free meal.”
Nathan knew better than to argue with Flo about money. He would square away with her later. Wheeling himself back from the counter, he waited to see what she would say next, now that she had full view.
“You have lovely eyes.”
Again, she surprised him. “No chair comments?” There, he had said it.
“Nice wheels,” she laughed and turned toward the door. After a few steps, she turned, “Coming, or are you abandoning a lady in the wee hours of the night?”
“Angel. Call me Angel.”
“Yes, yes you are,” he whispered to himself.
She didn’t seem to care that he couldn’t open the door properly for her and walked beside him as he wheeled down the ramp Flo had installed for him after the accident. He stopped at the bottom and hesitated. “Can I ask you something?”
“Doesn’t it bother you that I look like this and can’t walk?”
“No. It’s what’s on the inside that’s important to me. All of this is superficial stuff, like my face.”
“Your face?” Now he was baffled. She was beautiful.
“People only see this,” and she ran her hands in the air, up and down her body. “They don’t want to really know me. They just want to be with someone who is….pretty. It’s hard. I’ve been treated that way my whole life. I watched you when I came in. You saw me, really saw me but didn’t keep staring. That’s why I came to sit beside you. I knew my looks weren’t the most important thing.
“Well, if I’m being honest, you are beautiful. Your name suits you. And I only looked away because I knew that someone as beautiful as you would have no interest in the likes of me.”
“Good thing I didn’t know that, or we wouldn’t have met Nathan. I am glad we met.”
“Me too.” He had seen the anger fare and turn to sadness before disappearing from those beautiful eyes.
“I’m only here for two days, but I’d like to see you again if that would be okay.”
“Breakfast here tomorrow, or is that too soon?” He laughed nervously at his brazenness.
“Perfect. I’ll meet you back here at six.”
“Four hours? Flo doesn’t open until eight.”
“I saw the sign.” There was that smile again. “I thought we might stroll along the lake first and watch what’s left of the sunrise.”
“You know I’m in a wheelchair, right?” he laughed.
Angel simply smiled, saying, “I’m pretty sure I saw a boardwalk.”
“Ok, six it is. I’ll meet you here.”
She leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. “You know, I’m thankful God sent me here today to you. I never know His plan, but it always seems to work out.”
Nathan thought about that and nodded. He watched her leave and waived as she drove off. Tears slowly began falling down his face. She didn’t care what he looked like. He had felt the softness of her lips as she kissed him. Her perfume still clung to him as if he was standing in a beautiful flower-filled garden where all the petals released aromas that danced in unison in the air. For the first time in a very long time, he cried tears of joy.
He looked up at the stars and then bowed his head in prayer. “Father, forgive me. I know you did not do this to me. Even in the midst of my anger, you sent an angel to rescue me from myself. Thank you. From this day forth, let me see with my heart and not my eyes. And Father, please help me forgive those who hurt me.”
He turned just in time to see Flo wiping at tears. “Sorry, I really wasn’t eavesdropping. I just didn’t want to interrupt,” she said. “I’m just so happy for you.” She walked over and hugged him.
“Thanks, Flo. We’ll see you in the morning,” he smiled and then turned to wheel himself towards home.
He turned. “Yes?”
“You got your shine back.”
He smiled. “I know.”
They met as promised the next day and the day after that. Angel never did leave, and they married a year later in a little chapel outside of town. It was a small service, with Nathan’s mom, Flo and Angel’s adoptive parents, but meaningful nonetheless.
Nathan’s mother had everyone back to her place for a meal afterwards. After all the hugs and good nights were given, they departed on their honeymoon.
Just as they were heading out, Nathan turned and wheeled himself back to his mother and pulled her down into a hug. “Thank you, mom. I love you, and you were right.”
“I’m always right,” she winked. “What am I right about this time?”
“God is good, and He loves me. He sent me Angel to prove it.”
She reached down and gave her son one last hug. “Amen to that kiddo. I always told you true love sees no flaws.” She turned him towards his waiting wife.
“Amen, indeed,” he whispered and headed towards a future he could not see before with an angel sent to him by God. “Amen, indeed.”
If you liked this faith story, you can find others on the Faith Stories link of Leslie’s website.