She saw him before she heard him, but not by much. Aaron was flailing outside the shop door, grabbing for the handle without looking and missing by at least a foot two or three times before one of the guys with him had mercy and opened the door, and then her crazy brother’s voice was carrying over the noise of tourist trap music (and tourists’ traps, honestly, was it necessary for people on vacation to talk so much?):
“I’m telling you people, my sister is not special, she’s nuts. She holds conversations with cow creamers when she thinks no one’s looking. It’s not meaningful, she’s not some mouthpiece for the divine, she needs help.”
“Now he’s talking about me to strangers,” Jaye muttered, ducking down beside the box of crap she was unpacking, glaring at the vomit-inducing conga line of special edition cupids-in-barrels. “And so I’m talking to you. Great.”
“Aaron, there is a distinct possibility that your sister has an extremely important role to play in the conflict between Heaven and Hell.” Jaye blinked, frowned, and scooched a cupid aside to peer through the shelf, cuz that voice was not exactly your normal Wonderfalls voice. Her brother was craning his neck, looking around the store, and beside him was…maybe a tax accountant? Whoever he was, he was in need of some serious DayQuil or something, just going by his voice, not to mention a boat load of chapstick and a word of friendly advice regarding how not to stare like a creep. He wasn’t blinking as he said to her brother, “Please, stop stalling with your infantile philosophy. Where is she.”
“She’s not here,” Aaron said, “I don’t see her. Look, she’s probably at The Barrel, I’ll run over and check, you guys wait here—”
“Oh hell no,” another voice interrupted, and Jaye shifted the cupid again to catch sight of probably the most impossibly attractive man who’d ever walked into the shop. Like, seriously. She was just looking at him through a crowd of fat angel babies wearing barrels over their junk and she could feel an embarrassing kind of Meep! coming on, like she was channeling Mahandra or something. She’d been spending too much time with the girl, last week she was trying to be nice to Fat Pat and now she’s thinking stupid things like how the guy’s freckles look like gold dust. Star dust? Some kind of dust.
“Hell no,” Dusty was saying, “I ain’t lettin’ you out of my sight. Cas, you hang out, I’ll babysit Preacher here.”
The bell on the door chimed and Dusty and Aaron were gone, leaving Tax Man standing awkwardly alone in the middle of the shop, gazing into the middle distance.
“Valentine’s Day is coming up.”
Jaye froze, then slowly turned her head, a please-no grimace pulling at her lips.
“Valentine’s Day is coming up.”
The cupid was blinking its overly-large eyes, creepy-long lashes fluttering. “Please not now,” she hissed, but as she shook her head at it the thing only adjusted the barrel around its waist and looked significantly over its shoulder.
“It’s an important holiday. Some people need to reminded.” The creepy little thing ruffled its wings. “Some people don’t realize I’m God’s gift to man.”
With a final glare at the cupid she muttered, “Fine!” and swiped it off the shelf, popping her head up. Tax Man had turned away from her, and she called out, a little desperately, “Hey, you, uh, Valentines Day! It’s, you know, soon. Got any plans? Cuz, uh, you know, angels make a great gift!”
Tax Man turned slowly, his gaze sweeping her from head to foot, lingering on her chest which was super awkward until she realized he was trying to read her name tag. She hoisted the cupid-angel-thing. “A great gift for that special someone.”
“And interesting choice of words,” the man said, stepping closer. And, okay, his ridiculously blue eyes were making her distinctly uncomfortable — and by ‘uncomfortable’ she hesitatingly admitted she meant that she really she wanted to trust him; wanted actually to get him to talk to her, tell her about himself; except for the fact that hell no she didn’t care about random overdressed strangers who talked the same crazy as her brother— but a glance at the cupid and its muttered Don’t even think about it kept her from hurling the trinket at him and running away. “I have found in my time on Earth that there are not many who consider the presence of an angel as a particularly welcome gift.”
“Heh, well,” she forced a laugh and edged a step back, darting a look around. Ever since she got that stupid employee-of-some-time-period award, the Mouth Breather hadn’t been breathing down her neck so much, and there were times she was willing to admit she missed the way he’d unintentionally run interference for her with the really weird ones. Which this guy was, definitely. “First time for everything.”
She glanced down at the cupid, who winked at her and said again, pointedly, “God’s gift to man.”
“Oh,” she said under her breath, and then, “Oh!”
She looked back up at Tax Man, and turned the cupid-angel-barrel-precious-moments-reject-thing around to face him. “You know, sometimes it takes an over-the-top gesture to get a guy to notice you. Like, you know, a really cheesy gift. On Valentine’s Day.”
“Hm,” he said, taking the figurine from her and turning it over in his hands. “You realize that this is a grossly inaccurate representation of any kind of seraphim.”
She took another step back, avoiding eye contact with the grinning cupid. “I’m pretty sure it’s just supposed to be symbolic.”
“Of what, precisely?” Tax Man tilted his head, fixing her in his gaze. “Is there a special significance to the adoption of wooden vessels as clothing?”
“Uh,” Jaye said, for like the thirty thousandth time, and vowing for the thirty-first that she was going to vet any new talkers with the wax lion first, because what came out of the cupid’s mouth next was crazy, even for her:
“Thanks for raising me from perdition. Two for one special.”
“What?” She gaped at it, barely registering the sound of the door bell chiming.
“Say it.” She spun to see another angel souvenir, this one with its arms outstretched, probably supposed to be some kind of Hug me! gimmick but its little porcelain fingers were a little too Grope me! if you asked Jaye (which of course no one did, because her life did not make enough sense for anyone to actually ask her about it). “Say it! Say ‘thanks for raising me from perdition.’ Say it. Don’t forget the two-for-one special.”
She grabbed the angel and wheeled back around, coming almost face to face with her brother and the too-handsome man. Thrusting the angel towards the stranger, she blurted out, “Nothing says ‘Thanks for raising me from perdition’ like one of our angel-in-a-barrel souvenies! Limited time only, two for the price of one!”
“Uh, Cas?” Dusty said, taking the awkward angel from Jaye and turning slowly to face Tax Man. “I think we found our missing prophet.”