Annabelle Annerly didn’t notice the rushing of wings in the church kitchen that morning.
She was too busy preparing for the ladies’ guild annual luncheon. As a pastor’s wife, she had a very important role to play. Everything must be perfect; there would be community leaders, businessmen, even local politicians in attendance. Her hand trembled a little as she piped the last of the filling into the vol au vent cases, and paused to take a deep breath.
Everything would be fine.
She caught a glimpse of her reflection in the mirrored cold room doors and straightened her spine a little. She really did look good. That tailored skirt suit the shop assistant had talked her into… well, yes, it had been pricey, but Italian design never came cheap. The feminine cut flattered her trim figure, a cherry red shade that injected colour into her cheeks. She looked sophisticated, smart. Exactly the sort of image she wished to project to the community.
The kitchen doors swung open, and women started pouring in. The tiny feathered worry-lines around Annabelle’s forehead began to smooth out and relax. The guild ladies had arrived.
“Annabelle, darling, you look gorgeous!”
“Ooh, look at your nails. Where on earth do you get them done? Now, no more food prep. for you, you don’t want to chip that exquisite polish!”
“I brought the chicken salad, ‘Belle. I decided to take the plunge and use my famous ranch dressing – it’s twice the calories, but oh, so divine –“
“Oh, Annabelle, did you do these little pastries yourself? They look utterly delectable! One taste of these and the mayor will be pledging all the money in the coffers to our church!”
Amid the hubbub, the door opened and closed softly as a quiet figure slipped in. She stayed flattened against the door for a moment, looking a little lost. Then she glimpsed a cherry-red flash of colour through the milling bodies, and relaxed.
Mrs Annerly would show her what to do.
The pastor’s wife was Emma’s hero – always so beautifully dressed, so well spoken. God must be so pleased with her, Emma pondered. The church had nearly doubled in size since the Annerlys had taken over leadership.
If only I could be like that, she thought wistfully, caught for a moment in longing. I would love to do big things for God. She closed her eyes, hands caught to her heart.
“Lord”, she whispered in her spirit, “You know how much I long to please you. I’d love to be able to speak well and have the sort of charisma that just draws people to you. But even if you just want me serving behind the scenes, I’m happy to do that. I would do anything for you, God. I love you so much…”
It was hard to get Mrs Annerly’s attention. Women buzzed around her like bees around their Queen, and Emma's soft voice was lost in the din.
“Mrs Annerly?” she said again, this time tugging gently at her sleeve. A cloud of expensive perfume assailed her nostrils as the woman turned.
“I’ve – I’ve come to volunteer to help serve at the luncheon,” Emma murmured, swallowing her eagerness. “You announced on Sunday that extra help was needed, and I thought… that is, I hoped…”
Annabelle stared at the girl standing before her, and could barely repress the faint curl of distaste that tugged at her lips. Her face was pale, which only accentuated the angry scarlet welt that ran from hairline to chin. The burn had the shiny texture of melted plastic. Where it crossed her left eye, the lid drooped in a parody of ugliness.
A domestic incident, whispered the gossips. An alcoholic father. Emma had been taken away after it happened and placed in foster care.
Annabelle straightened, feeling slightly nauseated. She couldn’t possibly have this girl serving food to their guests. She would find her something else to do. Washing dishes, perhaps.
In the kitchen, well out of sight.
“Yes, of course, dear,” she said smoothly. “Right this way…”
* * *
The angel glanced across at his partner.
“What’s that stench in here?” he whispered.
The other angel shook his head. He alit next to Emma, the perfume bottle unstoppered as he breathed in her loveliness.
“A sweet fragrance, fit for your King,” he murmured. “Just what His heart desires.”
He replaced the lid, and nodded his satisfaction.
Their work here was done.
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