Kelley had always loved to fly. Being 30,000 feet in the air and tearing through clouds was where she felt most alive. With her father and brother being pilots in the Navy, the need for elevation was in her blood.
Flying, to Kelley, also meant gaining a new perspective on life, friendships, relationships, or any other problem that was plaguing her at the time. It’s where she worked out what she wanted her college major to be (science instead of photography, even though she had enjoyed making art). It was the place where she decided that she wasn’t really in love with her college girlfriend (even though she made her happy, settling for anything less than true love wasn’t enough for her). It was the place where she decided to come out to her family (all at once, around the dinner table, on her first holiday home from school). It allowed her the opportunity to look at each problem objectively so that she could come to a satisfactory solution.
When she found herself a mile up in the air being transported to God-knows-where by a woman with wings, however, she found it tough to do anything but freak out.
Kelley’s mind was going a million miles a minute. She had no idea where she was, what in the world had happened to her, why she was here and who the woman with the beautiful, powerful wings was. She wasn’t sure if she wanted answers or if she just wanted to wake up from whatever insane place this was. This situation was really too ridiculous to be anything but a dream, wasn’t it? Kelley’s grip around the woman’s waist tightened. They wouldn’t start her college graduation ceremony without her would they?
Kelley was so lost deep in her thoughts that she didn’t realize they were descending until they were already on the ground. When she was finally able to pull herself out of the embrace of the strange, winged-woman, Kelley was able to study her more closely for the first time. What she saw nearly stopped her heart for the second time that day.
The woman was gorgeous, no doubt, that much was plain to see. Kelley’s gaze traveled from the woman’s almond-shaped ice-blue eyes to her chiseled jawline. They trailed down the curve of her face to her lips. From where she stood, Kelley could smell the women’s sweet, natural scent. It reminded her of Georgia Pine and summer lakes. It reminded her of home.
What really stopped her heart, though, Kelley concluded, was the way the woman’s stare was burning her with its intensity. To Kelley, the look on the woman’s face was a mixture between concern, devastation, kindness and complete adoration. She had never been looked at that way before in her entire life, especially from a woman with eyes like hers. It’s like the woman knew Kelley, really, really, knew Kelley down to the darkest corners of her soul. She didn’t know if she had ever felt more terrified or drawn to someone before.
Just as Kelley began to open her mouth to start asking questions (really, really good questions, she thought, like who are you, crazy lady, and what the hell is going on?), the woman reached out her hand and cupped Kelley’s face with it.
At that moment, every sensation she had known to be pleasurable in the past paled in comparison. Her first love’s touch on the first night they made love, a hug from her teammate after she scored the winning goal during her high school championship soccer game, her college girlfriend’s kiss after they exchanged “I love you’s” after finally admitting their true feelings to each other. Nothing measured up. Kelley’s entire body was burning.
As quickly as the pressure of the woman’s hand came, it was gone. Kelley had never longed for someone’s touch so much before. It set her soul on fire. Her heart ached for the woman to reach out and take her cheek in her hand once more. She could think of nothing else but a way to get the woman to touch her again, to be felt like that by another person. Kelley had spent her existence wishing for someone to touch her with so much feeling. She had been waiting for someone to set her existence on fire like the woman did with a single touch.
“Kelley,” the woman said gently, “tell me what’s going through your head right now. I’ll answer anything you ask, you just need to let me know how I can help you.”
Kelley took a few seconds to respond. “I honestly don’t know. Everything seems so crazy to me right now. Am I dead? I don’t feel dead but I could’ve sworn I saw my body on the pavement outside my car on the highway and I definitely didn’t look alive. Is this Heaven? I was just on my way to school and now I’m here. Who are you and why do you have wings? Are you an angel? Is that why you can fly? Where are we, and if I’m not dead, then why am I here?” Kelley couldn’t stop the questions from rolling off her tongue as soon as they started.
“Kelley, you’re rambling,” the woman offered softly.
“You know that’s funny,” Kelley said, “I used to tell someone I knew to stop me from rambling, but they never listened. You’re the first person to do it. Even my best friend, Ashlyn, never said anything to me once I started.”
At the mention of her best friend’s name, Kelley began to cry. At first, the cries were soft, filled with confusion and fear and frustration. She had so many questions to ask but wasn’t sure where to start. She wasn’t even sure if the woman standing next to her held the answers that she so desperately needed right now. Kelley began to sob uncontrollably.
The woman’s arms were immediately around her, and she was cooing gentle, soothing words in her ear. “Kelley I know nothing really makes sense right now, and I want to help you understand. I just need you to know that you’re safe here, with me, right now. Nothing will hurt you while I am with you. Just focus on the sound of my voice and come back to me. You’re safe, Kelley, you’re safe.”
After a few minutes, Kelley’s breathing finally began to even out to a normal pace. Hope took the opportunity to speak up again. “Kelley, I’m going to start answering your questions, now. Is that okay?” The woman took in a deep breath and looked directly into Kelley’s eyes. Kelley nodded in response.
“Okay. You aren’t dead, Kelley, despite what you saw. You were in a really bad accident on your way to your college graduation. A car was coming up quickly in your blind spot as you were merging onto the freeway. You were knocked out upon impact.”
The woman looked at Kelley for any sign of confusion before she continued. “You aren’t dead, but you aren’t exactly alive, either. Your body was really badly injured. As far as I can tell, your human form is in a coma.”
Kelley wasn’t sure she could process that information. If she wasn’t dead but she wasn’t alive, then how was she here?
The woman continued. “You’re in a place between the living and the beyond called the in-between. Souls are sent here for a few reasons. Most of the time, souls are sent here when they aren’t ready to enter the beyond, yet. They’re sent here because they have a good chance of being able to be returned to the human world.”
At those words, Kelley let out a breath that she didn’t know she was holding in. If she wasn’t dead yet, like, completely dead, then there was still a chance for her to return to her life, right? That’s what she wanted, right?
“As for who I am, that’s a complicated question. The simple answer is that I am Hope. I am not an angel, but many humans have called us that in the past. My kind are called guardians.”
Kelley looked at Hope in confusion. “What are guardians?”
“Guardians,” Hope replied, “were humans at one point. They are sent to this space because they aren’t ready to pass on to the beyond yet and can no longer enter the human realm. Once someone enters the beyond, they cannot go back to the human world. We, in this space, are left to wander and protect the living from the evil ones, who are trying to upset the balance of life in the human world.”
Kelley considered the information for a few seconds. “If guardians aren’t able to return to the human realm and aren’t able to enter the beyond, then how am I able to go back and why can’t you?”
“Guardians are humans whose living forms have ceased to exist. They exist in this space before permanent death and the living realm. Since your living form is still able to be revived, you can enter this space and leave again. I can only pass on to they beyond when it is my time. Since I cannot be at peace, I have been roaming the earth, protecting humans for centuries.”
Kelley wasn’t sure how to respond to the information that Hope had just offered. She wasn’t sure why, but her heart hurt so badly for the woman she had just met. “Hope, why wouldn’t you just pass on to the beyond, then, and be at peace? What’s stopping you?”
Kelley looked at Hope, who wore an expression of confliction. She saw Hope’s eyes flicker between the ground and Kelley, between Kelley and the sky. Kelley had no idea why the woman, who had answered all her questions with patience and honesty just a minute ago, was having such a difficult time answering this one.
After what seemed like an eternity, Hope’s eyes fixed back on Kelley’s.
“Kelley, the reason why I won’t enter the beyond, why I can’t enter the beyond, is because I have to do so with my soulmate.” Hope’s eyes never left Kelley’s.
“Okay,” Kelley replied, “I don’t understand. Weren’t you married while you were still alive? Where is your soulmate now?”
Hope’s lips quivered for just a second before answering. “Kelley, my soulmate is standing right in front of me. You’re my soulmate. I’ve been waiting centuries for you.”