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A Portrait Of Souls

Everyone who passes under the grand clock of Lightmere Station has one thing in common—each has a spirit guide to help them navigate life’s trials and opportunities.

Some of the guided are lowly, like George, a homeless man who begs for pennies while he prays. Others are quiet and reserved, like Alina, a florist who seeks a sign from her late mother.  Marcus, the stationmaster, uses the disguise of a monk to walk anonymously among the morning commute, while Adrielle, a cleaning lady, scrubs and scours as she casts colors of goodwill around those who try to derail her spiritual path.

Most are unaware that they have a spirit guide, though some have learnt to recognize the loving presence at their side and its message of hope. Among them is Harvey, recently released from prison, and Annie, a former nun who was cruelly seduced by a priest; like Amalia, she now seeks out the sacred among the churches and chapels of Lightmere, while Nadia, a destitute and homeless mother, is given proof of life after death.

In a tapestry of quests and awakenings, A Portrait of Souls is a lyrical and often poignant reminder that everyone is more than they appear to be, and whether rich or poor, famous or meek, all are welcome to seek the light of Spirit.

EXCERPT 1:

Platform Shoes

George sat upon a plastic crate atop a bundle of newspapers by the vending machine on Platform 4. In his left hand he held out a cup to accept spare change and with his right he propped up the sign that rested upon his knee. It read: Blessed We Be, You and Me.

He seldom looked up at the passersby, preferring instead to study their shoes, thus affording his audience anonymity and himself peace and quiet—they had their business and he had his. Besides, you could tell a great deal about a person from their shoes.

In each grazed heel George saw signs of pride, sloth, humility or temperance; in each scuffed toe, he searched out marks of anger or carelessness, and examined in each taut or frayed shoelace signs of neglect, poverty or exactness. Over time he’d come to recognize the bearing of the lively, the weary, the frantic and the purposeful, and nodded politely at a shoe he saw carry the weight of someone he believed to be forthright and true.

George was a man who spent his life examining life.

George was also mindful of the grand clock that hung over the center of the concourse. Whenever the clock’s hands clunked into place and claimed another hour, George would open his notebook and write down any inspiration that had been provided by a passing stranger, usually a thought about their shoes—their fit, color, style, wear, fabric or shine. And he’d always—always—end with a note about their well-being.

At night George slept in an abandoned signal hut a few hundred yards up the track. Curled up on his makeshift bed, he sometimes twisted in his sleep with pangs of hunger, but most days he found enough to eat, provided he was not too particular. After the evening rush hour he scavenged for food in the bins; once upon a time he’d found this humiliating, but the force of necessity had long since tempered his pride. Indeed, poverty had expanded his idea of what was essential to the survival of a person. A half-eaten burger or a discarded pastry was a welcome sight to a man who had long ago forgotten how to eat a meal in polite company. A discarded sandwich with only one corner missing or a slice of pie with most of its crust still intact was a true prize.

Once or twice a week, Sofia, a waitress from one of the station’s cafés, gave him a parcel of sandwiches and a peppermint cake, sometimes even a piece of fruit she’d saved from being thrown away. George always saved her precious gift until it was time to retire, alone, to his bed of cardboard and newspapers. He always celebrated Sofia’s generosity by lighting a candle and opening her parcel with a smile and a prayer.

Most of the rail station staff knew George, some by name but most by his layers of colorful shirts and bright red hiking boots. He hadn’t taken them off in years. He was afraid that they might be stolen, or worse, spun around the overhead wires outside the station, forever on display but out of reach. According to his philosophy of footwear, this was a sure sign of their owner’s folly, and besides, the laces lasted longer if you kept them tied.

George did not drink, nor did he gamble. He’d never taken drugs, except to help his asthma, and even though he’d often had the opportunity, he had never stolen or taken advantage of anyone.

After so many years of rough living, he’d grown to prefer life around the train station. It was relatively safe, at least compared to the rest of the city, and being elderly, a few of the station staff looked out for him. In addition to Sofia, there was Alina, the friendly flower seller who gave George a carnation for his lapel whenever she had one left over at the end of the day. There was Stationmaster Marcus Manach, whose nod of approval and caring eye always gave George a much-needed sense of stability in his otherwise haphazard world. And there was Adrielle, the large cleaning lady whose territory included his post on Platform 4. She would give him things—little, inexpensive things like a new toothbrush, a full, fresh tube of toothpaste, a block of unopened soap, or even a fresh blanket if it was especially cold—but they meant the world to George. There was also Freddie, Albert, Paul and Johann. While his homeless associates preferred to beg on the street outside the station, they made sure to share whatever gossip came their way, just as he shared whatever bounty was left unclaimed in the vending machine. Sometimes the four of them asked George for guidance, especially Johann who was the youngest and most impressionable of the group.

Before living in the station, George had drifted through the parks and suburbs, churchyards and shopping districts of Lightmere, moving from one neighborhood to another, pushing his belongings in a small metal cart. But life on the street had made him feel anxious and vulnerable, especially at night when prayers alone were not enough to protect him. Platform 4, with its simple routine, its washroom, bright lights and familiar faces, provided him with a sense of safety and of belonging. Besides, he had lived there for so long he wasn’t sure where else to go.

George had no family and no real friends outside of the station, and even those who did know him didn’t know much about his past. He kept it a secret, not because he had something to hide but because it was precious; he did not want the memory of his wife to be tainted or diluted by others’ casual remarks, however well intentioned. He could still remember the day, the hour, even the minute when Mary had died—how he held her hand and kissed her cheek and told her how much he loved her. George had nursed her through a long and difficult illness, and knew that she was tired, but losing her was still the saddest moment of his life. It was the same day that Daniella Parsona, the famous actress, had died on television in front of the world as she’d accepted an award. He’d never forget her death either. Twenty-five long years ago the audience had wept for Daniella, but no one except George had wept for Mary. But the fact that he alone carried the memory of their love only made him love her more.

During Mary’s illness, George fell heavily into debt. He’d been an accountant, a fact that now sometimes made him laugh, but at the time it had been very hard and worrisome. Even though the bills kept piling up, he’d managed to keep things going while Mary was alive, but as soon as she passed, George’s life quickly unraveled. He lost his job and could not settle his debts. Without anywhere to turn, he was forced onto the streets, never quite sure where to go or how to recover. Sitting on his plastic crate on Platform 4, looking dreamily at the ground, most people assumed that he’d lived a wasted life. What they saw was an old man, lost and adrift and maybe even a little mad. But George was a good man, and despite his situation, he tried his very best to live each day with dignity. He knew that Mary would have wanted it that way.


EXCERPT 2:

Forever Beautiful

Alina arranged a halo of baby’s breath around a dozen red roses and wrapped them in pink paper. Then she fashioned a bow out of bands of thin gold ribbon and feathered the ends with her scissors, and as a final touch, she gave the bouquet a careful trim as if she were giving it a fine haircut. Her customer smiled as he left, obviously pleased with his purchase.

With a few moments to herself, she went inside the cold room and closed the door. She tried to calm herself, to stop herself from crying, but the tears came all the same. It was a difficult day for Alina. It was the first anniversary of her mother’s death.

Alina worked as a florist on the concourse of Lightmere Station. She enjoyed her work. It was not particularly glamorous or well paid, but it suited her. It required imagination, an artist’s eye, precision and prudence, and it connected her to complex souls like her own, souls who were in the throes and complexities of love and sorrow. Whether she was asked to design a wreath, a basket, a bouquet or a simple corsage, she tried her best to provide something both fitting and affordable. She enjoyed the language of floristry; the lore of color and intention fascinated her. She saw each design as a palette upon which to paint meaning—a single red rose meant one thing, while a spray of pink carnations inspired quite another. And whether it was a single stem for a buttonhole or a complex garland to celebrate a turning point in a person’s life, she arranged each canvas with care and exacting love.

Alina was one of the world’s thinkers, a careful mind amid so much carelessness. Her mother had said her daughter was born thinking, but Alina had learnt very early on in life to keep her thoughts to herself. Her questions often troubled the people around her, especially the big, difficult, weighty ones, but they were the lifeblood of Alina’s world. They sat on her shoulder like hungry hawks waiting to be fed.

Alina was never one for gatherings or the attention of her peers, not even as a child. She was always the shy, quiet girl in the background, but she preferred it that way—it gave her space to arrange her thoughts while the others polluted the world with noise and endless banality. She enjoyed taking it all in from behind the scenes, noticing what others thought unimportant. Her eyes and mind continually studied the world, analyzing everything within their field. She was in a constant state of curiosity, and spent just as much time untangling what she saw behind her eyes as she did seeing through them. Some complained that she lived upon a cloud, but Alina thought their opinions unimportant. She enjoyed floating off to other places, even if it made it difficult to connect with the everyday world. There had been days in which she’d felt vulnerable and divided, but Elsa, her mother, had always been nearby to offer the blessings of a maternal smile. Now she was gone, and Alina missed her terribly.

Like most people, Alina didn’t know how to process her grief or resolve the thousands of questions that had amassed during the year that followed. She’d reached out to a few people for help—those kind friends and colleagues, a priest, an aunt who had offered to listen—but none had given her answers, at least not answers that provided any real understanding of where her mother had gone, and why, when she had so much living left to do.

How Alina missed her mother! She missed every little thing about her: her cooking, her laughter; her eccentric hats, her dry humor, her perfume, her bright scarves, her sunny smile, the little stories she used to share about her younger days when she was courting Alina’s father, and she especially loved the way her mother made her father laugh. Indeed, they both loved making Nigel laugh—a significant feat, considering what a stern, demanding and practical man he was.

Whenever Elsa had talked to her daughter about angels, her father would tell her to be careful of such nonsense, to use her head and avoid dreaming her life away. Though she respected her father, Alina thought her parents such an odd couple. They were so different, even exact opposites, and yet they were so much in need of each other.

And then there was her mother’s love of flowers, a passion Alina had inherited. Elsa loved flowers, just as she loved her garden. Right up until her last days, Elsa would pat the ground with her palm and beckon Alina to sit at her side and read to her as she tilled the soil and planted fresh bulbs. She occasionally asked her mother the name of a certain bloom, knowing she would never get a straight answer. Her mother had ideas of her own and would give the same disapproving reply.

“It doesn’t need a name, Ali dear, except the one you give it,” Elsa would say.

“But if we all use different names for the same flower, how will we ever know what flower the other person is talking about?” Alina would protest.

“But doesn’t that make life more interesting?”


EXCERPT 3:

Open Alms

Marcus Manach was not a monk but he liked to dress up as one, and he had good reason to, although over time that reason changed beyond all recognition.

It had started with an investigation. There had been complaints of pickpocketing during the morning commute at Lightmere Station. The police had been informed and additional officers had been brought in to patrol the busy concourse, but no one had been caught, not even after several weeks. Wallets, phones, handbags, house keys and the odd piece of luggage continued to be stolen, and yet, despite the many cameras that peered and spied upon the hurried crowd, the thief remained at large.

Marcus was the stationmaster of Lightmere Station, a position he had held for over a decade. He’d become accustomed to its problems and pressures, but this new situation had created a great personal crisis. As grievances piled up on his desk, he wrote letters of apology to each of the victims, doing his best to reassure them all that the authorities were looking into the matter and that the thief would soon be caught. Even so, many of his letters were returned with irate phone calls insisting that he, as the stationmaster, was personally responsible for their losses. Surely, he thought, he was not accountable for the ill deeds of others, but still the complaints flooded in. It was all very trying, and he was uncertain what to do. What more could he do? After all, the police were in the throes of a full enquiry.

It was an elderly spinster who finally tipped the scales. Miss Witmouse was about to pay for her daily newspaper at the east end of the station when she let out an almighty scream; she’d reached into her handbag for her coin purse only to discover it stolen. Several hundred heads snapped in her direction while she shrieked and howled as though a limb had been torn from her body. She looked at the newspaper seller desperately, but all he could do was shrug his shoulders. With a cold smile he advised Miss Witmouse to report the matter to the police, which she did, but it was not enough. She was angry, insulted, even humiliated, and demanded to talk to the stationmaster, immediately and in person.

Stationmaster Manach came down from his office and met Miss Witmouse by the newsstand. Even though he tried his best to calm her down, his efforts only fanned the flames of her outrage.

“It’s a disgrace. An utter disgrace!” said the old woman. Her words spat and hissed with disdain. “What are you going to do? More to the point, what have you done? Nothing! That’s what. How can you run such a slapdash operation and still keep your position, Mr. Manach?”

It wasn’t until later that evening that Miss Witmouse realized she’d left her purse at home, but she didn’t tell anyone; she preferred to keep up the pretense of victimhood than admit her folly.

After assuring Miss Witmouse that he’d personally look into the matter, Marcus climbed the stairs to his office, wondering what it was that he could do that the police could not. He took off his stationmaster’s cap and sat motionless at his desk, staring out into space as though sightless. His body taut with stress, he pulled at his collar as if expecting it to somehow release his anxiety.

Sliding his chair over to the window, he looked down upon the morning commute. His office overlooked the entire station. If he pressed his forehead to the glass, he could see almost every inch of the concourse. Sometimes, at the peak of the rush hour, he opened a window and leaned out as far as he dared to marvel at the constant ebb and flow of passengers. Here was an entire railway station under his command­: nine platforms that stretched out to the suburbs, to the coast, to the mountains, to the sprawling forests and the cities beyond them. To the world.

As he contemplated the bustle below, his fingers played with his precious pocket watch, the silver timepiece that ran the station—his station, his palace of trains, tracks and timetables. His pocket watch was the epicenter of the Lightmere Line, or at least he liked to think so.

Spread out below him, sheltered under a vast canopy of glass, the station was something akin to a small town. At the center of the concourse there were a flower seller and her stall, a barista and his coffee cart, a chocolatier, and a cobbler with his shoeshine bench. Along the perimeter were ticket booths, a convenience store, a restaurant, a bar, and two competing cafés, each enticing travelers with aromas of fresh coffee and pastries.

The railway station was not only Marcus’s domain; it was the love of his life. It was his calling, his vocation, and he was well suited to it. He liked order, regulations, schedules and patterns. He was a man who saw beauty in precision and in orderliness, and comfort in the cycles of honest work.

He set his chin upon his fist and wondered what to do about the pickpocket. He wanted his customers to walk through the station unencumbered, without fear or intimidation. And he wanted his good name back. But then what course of positive action could he take? He tried to think how he could root out and apprehend the troubled soul that preyed upon them.

He rested his forehead on the window pane. The concourse was unusually full of people that morning, some rushing, some lost, others irritated, ambling back and forth from one end of the station to the other as they waited for their train. How could he be expected to tell the difference between a normal, honest person going about his or her business and a villain with thievery on his mind?

Suddenly, an intriguing idea came to him. In the basement of the station, below the ticket booths and the main thoroughfare, was the Lost and Found, a long, narrow room of shelves and stacked boxes where all manner of interesting odds and ends had accumulated, each of them waiting for their former owners to reclaim them or to be auctioned off and adopted by new ones. Marcus had always thought it an extraordinary place, the human world in miniature, containing as it did a representation of all the many hobbies, passions and professions of the travelers that passed through his station.

There were the usual items that you might expect to find—phones, spectacles, overcoats, umbrellas and briefcases—but also secured in the underground storage were items that most people would have thought impossible to misplace on a train—a typewriter, a tuba, a collection of rare coins lovingly set in heavy wooden frames, a stuffed lion as large as a man, and even a seven-foot statue of an angel once destined to adorn a suburban garden somewhere along the Lightmere Line. Surely, he thought, such items were not lost; they were abandoned, set adrift on the tides of trains like jetsam upon the sea.

Marcus bypassed all of these, however, and headed straight for the back of the room, where boxes were stacked from floor to ceiling, bulging and spilling clothes.

It took Marcus almost an hour to rummage through his options. There was much to choose from, although how so much clothing had been abandoned had always puzzled him. In addition to the usual fare of business suits and uniforms—school, culinary and military—there were also boxes full of costumes—superhero and villain, pirate and sorcerer, clown and even an astronaut. Finally, after searching through twenty containers, he found what he was looking for in a leather satchel: a monk’s habit, complete with sandals, a leather belt, a crucifix, and an alms bowl and bell.

As he held the costume up to the light bulb, he wondered if he was looking at a reproduction or if it was in fact an authentic religious habit. It didn’t look like a piece of cloth stitched together for a party or a play; its material was too coarse, too worn and heavy, and the cowl, cavernous enough to wrap him up in credible anonymity, looked to have been stitched by hand. Had someone been defrocked? Or perhaps this monk had tired of his vocation and had decided to dissolve into the common crowd of ordinary men? He sat for a few moments and tried to imagine the monk’s face, his dignity, his solemn smile, and the words he might have uttered. Then he bundled it all back into the satchel and took them up to his office where he sat down to prepare for his private investigation.


Excerpt 4:

The Book of Hours

Sofia loved to study islands—volcanic islands, desert islands, islands of ice and snow, islands dense with jungles and geysers, islands studded with pines and seams of precious ore. She loved to wander along their shores surveying the winds and waves that shaped them. She sought to attune herself to their microclimates and color, to search along their windswept bluffs and secret alcoves, and to imagine the staggering, sunken masses that supported them.

First, she’d appraise each island from afar, measuring its topography and character and carefully committing each of its shades and indentations to memory. And then, after she’d gained a familiarity with each island’s contour and composition, after she’d assessed its strengths and instabilities, she’d approach its waters to moor.

The islands she loved to explore were not in some distant, far-off place or surrounded by lapping waves and gulls on the wing. The archipelago Sofia charted consisted of commuters and wanderers clustered around small round tables dotted here and there along the walls and bookshelves in the Peppermint Café at Lightmere Station.

Sofia was a waitress, one who possessed a vast and vivid imagination. Pretending her customers were islands was a way of protecting herself, a way of keeping her distance, and she had good reason to. As well as being a visionary soul, Sofia was a deeply empathic woman. She could feel everything around her to an extraordinary degree. She could sense the smallest shifts in a person’s temperament and was prone to absorb their moods and melancholy, so she had to be careful. Indeed, she could easily be overcome by a person’s energy from far across the room—by their rage, their loneliness, their regret, despair or uncertainty just as much as by their softness or love. What was theirs became hers, so she imagined each person as an island across the sea and never approached land until it felt good and right.

Once she’d decided to sail into a customer’s territory, she’d do so with a special word or a smile, though she preferred the touch of a hand upon their arm so she could trace a particular thread of feeling and find its cause—a family dispute, a difficult childhood, an injury, a death. It was difficult to keep secrets from Sofia.

Sometimes she could even read a person’s thoughts, though she would be hard pressed to explain how. Some might have accused her of hearing voices, but then she would point out that people listen to their minds all the time, don’t they? It wasn’t her fault that they hadn’t realized their thoughts were not private to a sensitive soul such as her. Her ability came naturally. She just relaxed and then there it was—a word or sentence as clear as if it had been whispered in her ear.

Sofia had learned a long time ago to trust her gifts, but also to keep them private. She had no desire to be ridiculed or humiliated, and yet the fact that she’d become a keeper of secrets made each appraisal infinitely more special, even sacred. The more peaceful and beautiful her heart, the clearer the thoughts came to her. Knowing the power she possessed held as much potential for harm as it did good, she kept her intentions pure and did all she could to help the struggling souls around her.

In many ways she felt it was her calling to offer a spark of joy to each little island in the Peppermint Café. Each encounter was a mission of love; no matter how lost or lowly, how reserved or unapproachable, how tired or absent each person was when they first drifted in from the cold, Sofia saw it as her responsibility to offer them a moment of tenderness and thereby help scatter any darkness they harbored. She was a healer of injured hearts, and she knew it, though the idea of it sometimes seemed a little odd. It was just a smile, after all, and she was just a waitress, but she also knew the great power of kindness, how a gentle word could lift even the dourest creature into a clearer, more beautiful light.

Sofia’s position as a waitress provided only a modest income. To make ends meet, she had several other jobs—hairdresser, caregiver, babysitter, occasional ballet teacher—but without fail, every weekday morning, she’d arrive half an hour before the first train to unlock the Peppermint Café and begin her shift. Even though the hours she worked were long and demanding, she felt at home when she was at work, sailing from one table to another, bringing sustenance and succor to the archipelago of souls who would otherwise be adrift on the concourse of Lightmere Station.

There was often a small line outside the café when she arrived at the dawn hour, made up of new faces and regulars she knew by name, people from all walks of life pulled toward the Peppermint by impulse, curiosity and the guidance of an invisible hand. Sometimes her customers wanted to talk, seeking a word of encouragement or even private counsel, as if Sofia could provide a channel toward to an uncommon peace. Some came to feel the warmth of her presence, to receive a smile, while others sought nothing more than to feel valued, even if only for the time it took to order a hot drink. But mostly the people who visited the Peppermint Café wanted to be in the same room as Sofia, all without really knowing why.

Not a day went by without the islands of the Peppermint shifting and evolving in myriad ways. Indeed, Sofia’s efforts affected a vast number of people over the years. With each little gesture of kindness and reassurance—a disarming laugh, a sympathetic glance, a word of respect offered to calm a tide of crisis—she saw how an island of jagged, angry rock could soften into dunes of velvet sand. A patient ear could transform an isle of mountainous sorrow into one of hope and calm waters; a soft smile could lift a barren isle into a land of azure lakes and joyous waterfalls where riptides once tore at its corals. Even if the effect only lasted for a minute or two, it was a minute spent basking in a ray of love.

With just a smile or a sigh, she impressed upon each of her guests that they had found safe harbor among the tables of the Peppermint. After all, Sofia knew about loneliness. She knew about loss and grief and the pain of heartbreak. It was twenty-five years ago in the Peppermint Café that Sofia had watched her dear sister die in front of the world. 


EXCERPT 5:

A Star In The Heavens

Daniella was dead. She’d been on stage accepting an award when her heart seized with a brief but intense pain, and she fell to the floor. The audience gasped and then held their breath as two stagehands carried the famous actress away. Some thought she’d fainted, and several people even applauded before music began to play and confusion set in, the crowd passing questions amongst themselves. At last, an official-looking man stepped forward to the microphone to make an apology and offer assurances. While he announced the next category of awards, Daniella’s body lay in the back of an ambulance. A doctor recorded her time of death and then draped a sheet over her face. Her last act would be the follow morning’s headline news.

But Daniella was not actually dead. Certainly, her body was broken and beyond any possibility of repair, but then she had always been much more than her body, a fact she hadn’t appreciated until she’d been released from it. Indeed, much to her surprise, even though her body was now inanimate and cold, she was wide-awake, vibrant and free, alert and full of energy, without pain or any concern for all the admirers she’d left behind. In one swift movement, she had been lifted up into a plane of Spirit, full of love and wondrous light. And then panic struck.

She retraced her steps in an attempt to understand what had happened. The auditorium pulled rapidly into focus, its atmosphere charged with excitement and grand expectation by row upon row of tuxedoed men and glamorous, bejeweled women. Cameras flashed and sparkled like diamonds as Daniella watched herself walk across the stage and stop midway, curtsying to riotous applause. She accepted her award and was about to speak when the spotlight seared her eyes. Reaching for her chest, she heard her trophy crack as it hit the floor, then shatter as her body collapsed in pain. So, so much pain. As the host rushed to her side to hold her hand, she began to rise out of her body. There had been a slight jolt as the crowd froze in suspense, and then suddenly she was free, looking at her old self, motionless on the floor, as friends, acquaintances and colleagues watched on. She drifted above them as easily as a feather riding upon the wind. She could hear their thoughts. She could sense their feelings. She could tell, without effort or translation, how each person had painted the canvas of his or her life. Their passions had been laid bare before her, all of them palpable, undeniable—scorn, delight, charity, envy, ambition, patience and pride, each appetite, each desire, each little fear and turbulent amalgam of love and loss wrapped around the individual in an array of shifting color. And all this as her body was being carried away on a stretcher.

As Daniella lifted higher into light, not only did she watch the closing moments of her last scene, but also all the days that preceded it, each hour and minute clamoring for attention. The whole play of her life then reeled out before her in a linear progression of acts, panoramas and landscapes, with each fresh morning bound to each close of day, and every thought and feeling reproduced in exact and minute detail. As she looked on in amazement, she caught a glimpse of how they were all interconnected, and what’s more, how they continued to ripple out into the hearts and minds of everyone she had ever met, and even those she had not. She was immersed in a meticulous portrait of her last life, a catalog of her entire human existence played out in currents of love and desire.

Daniella reached out to trace a thread of thought with her fingertip, magnifying the cord and making it easier to read. She tried to steady her mind and understand. It was as if one minute she’d been rowing along a river, riding the current of time, and the next she was being lifted high up into the sky where she was suddenly able to see the intricate network of tributaries and streams that had carried her through life. For a moment she saw herself as she truly was: a small leaf dependent on the swell of a tide that beckoned it toward a beautiful, oceanic love.

But it was too much for Daniella. She turned to Garen, her spirit guide, the man who had helped her rise into the light like a bubble in water. She looked into his calm green eyes and suddenly realized that he had been with her all along, through every day, hour and minute. She became deeply embarrassed at the thought, but he put her at ease by placing his hand on hers and smiling kindly.

“Don’t be nervous,” he explained. “Be patient. There will be time to review everything. I promise. Besides,” he continued, “the life you just left is far too valuable to browse without purpose. When the time is right, we will examine it together and gather our wisdom from it.” He paused to let the thought settle. “But first you must recover.”

Garen helped Daniella to her room, much like the one she had left on Earth, and laid her down to rest. Before she closed her eyes, she asked, “Did he forgive me?”

“Sleep,” said Garen. “Sleep.”

Daniella slept but she did not dream. Instead she floated high above her thoughts and concerns of the life she had just left, though the heaviness of Earth still pulled at her.

Garen stayed at Daniella’s side as she slept. It was now his task to help restore and heal his friend, to help separate out the fine grain from the coarse and help her acclimate to home. To this end, he arranged for a cocoon of light to envelop her, and there under its care she remained until her essence was ready to again flourish and thrive on that higher plane.

As Garen sat at her side, he meditated upon his role as her guide and invisible confidante. His love for Daniella, his true and eternal friend, was so warm, and so fierce, that it could shift the axis of the world had it the desire to do so. Perhaps it was his turn next, he thought, to return to the opaque, muddy layers of Earth and begin another round of lessons. The idea made his heart turn and tremble—the stakes were always so high and the responsibilities so great.

After a time, Daniella stirred and opened her eyes. Garen helped her to sit up.

“See, you are home,” he said. She looked around the room. She was still weak and appeared at first to be unsure of where she was, but then it slowly came back to her.

“My heart,” said Daniella, remembering that last flash of pain. She held her hand to her chest, but instead of feeling the steady drum of a heartbeat she saw the willow and flutter of a light. She laughed. “It feels so strange.”

“It will take some time,” Garen assured her. “Try to be still.”

“But it’s as if I’ve only been away for a minute or two.” Amazed, Daniella looked around the room and then back at her guide. The years on Earth seemed to her to have melted into mere moments. “Was it real?” she asked.

“Yes. Yes, it was all real,” replied Garen.

As Daniella rested her head back on her pillow, memories started to roll in like clouds gathering from afar. She began to recall the Spirit life she’d left in order to live on Earth and begin the struggle to grow again. She remembered the great Light, and her spiritual family, and the sacred purpose that had always been and was still hers. She remembered the promise she’d made to herself, to her tutors and to her many friends, and she remembered the nervous goodbyes before she wrapped herself in a blanket of flesh. Suddenly, her hand went to her face. Anxiety filled her eyes and the bubble of light withdrew.

“Garen, did he forgive me?” asked Daniella.

“Let us look,” he replied. Taking her arm, he helped her out of bed and led her outside to where the sky thrilled with color. They sat on a bench under a tree that shimmered with ten thousand leaves of dancing green light and wisps of blue and gold. Time did not pass, but rather Daniella felt her energy begin to adapt and solidify. She felt at home, at peace, free to be authentic and whole after a lifetime of pretending to be someone else. She inhaled and closed her eyes. There it was, the Presence, the ultimate source of strength and peace that she had all but forgotten while on Earth. It dawned on her that, like Garen, the Presence had stayed with her through all of her endeavors—a great stability that had never left her side. Both souls stilled themselves and breathed as one in its love.