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Angels We Have Heard On High

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Rob tightened his grip on Mr. Rochester's leash, keeping a wary eye on the teenager in the black leather jacket. The boy was outside the gate on 110th Street, but Rob could see the orange glow from his cigarette as he brought it to his lips. From this distance, the boy looked like Dave, but Rob knew that the boy was nothing at all like Dave, and he shivered in the mid-November cold, the wind blowing off the Hudson only part of the reason for his discomfort.

He tugged on the leash, and began to walk toward the garden which was Rochester's favorite part of the Cathedral grounds. Dave had told him not to wander, but he felt safe inside the Cathedral Close despite the presence of the boy outside, and besides, Rochester wouldn't let anyone near him who wasn't all right. They walked along aimlessly until Rob could see the great Peace Fountain through the leafless trees, and Rob turned almost instinctively toward it.

There was an old man standing by the fountain wearing a navy blue pea coat not unlike Rob's. He glanced at Rochester, but the dog showed no sign of alarm so they approached slowly, coming to stand a few feet to the man's side.

The man was watching the statue intently, and Rob turned to look up at it as well. Dave had told him the angel was Archangel Michael, that it was new, and that a number of people were unhappy with it because they felt it was too pagan. Rob wasn't quite sure what pagan meant, but he did agree that it was an unusual statue to find at a cathedral. He liked the moon with its sleepy countenance, and the smiling sun, though the snapping crab claws were strange and a bit scary, and he wasn't quite sure what a crab had to do with the fierce-looking Michael lording over the defeated Lucifer. Suzy had seemed pleased with what she said was a double-helix pedestal, but had otherwise pronounced the statue to be 'utterly grotesque'.

"You like it?" the man asked. "The fountain?"

Rob was silent for a minute, thinking. "Yes, I think I do, though it is kind of scary. Dave said it's about the endless struggle between good and evil, and evil is supposed to be scary after all."

The man chuckled, a deep gravelly sort of sound, but did not turn his gaze from the statue, nor did he smile. "Indeed."

"Do you like it?" Rob asked.

"Not a bit," the man replied without any hesitation. "I'm not overly fond of angels."

"But angels are supposed to be good, aren't they?"

"So I've heard. However, in my experience, they have not been kind."

Rob wondered what an unkind angel would be like. Was good always kind? Perhaps not. The Archangel Michael certainly didn't look very kind, standing over the broken body of Lucifer. Still, as his grandfather would remind him, even Lucifer had once been an angel. "Fallen angels," he said. "Angels without grace. Maybe you met one of those."

The man turned to look at him for the first time and smiled, his face a map of wrinkles, but it was a kind face. "You're a thoughtful child, aren't you? I rather like that."

Rob scowled. "Mr. Theo doesn't think I'm thoughtful. He says we Austins talk too much."

The man grinned even wider and laughed, which turned into a fit of coughing. He took a handkerchief from his pocket and covered his mouth. "Pardon me," he said. "Cold and damp are a terrible combination for the elderly." He stuffed his handkerchief back in his pocket and reached out his other hand to let Rochester sniff his knuckles, then pet the large dog on his head. Mr. Rochester rubbed his great body against the man's legs before yawning and lying down with his head on his paws.

"He's a lovely dog." The man glanced quickly at the statue then turned back to Rob. "I wouldn't worry so much about Emmanuele," he said. "He's actually quite fond of your family, you know."

Rob raised his eyebrows. "You know Mr. Theo?"

"For many, many years, the irascible old codger," the man said with obvious fondness. "He was a patient of mine. At first."

Rob looked at the man's gnarled hands. His fingers were long and thick-knuckled, blue-veined, and age-spotted, but they still looked strong. The man held one out and Rob shook it.

"Dr. Williams. But my friends call me Rory."

His hands were softer than Rob had expected. Cold, too, and he had a firm grip. Emily always said you could tell a lot about a person by their hands. Rob decided he liked this doctor friend of Mr. Theo's who spoke to him as though he were more than a small child.

"My name's Rob. And this is Mr. Rochester."

"Lovely to meet you, Rob. And Mr. Rochester," he added as the dog sat up at hearing his name.

"Do you come here often, Dr. Williams?" Rob asked.

"Please call me Rory. Unfortunately, yes, as my wife would say. Call it a bad habit, or the paranoid contemplations of an old man. I suppose you could liken it to a car accident or similar tragedy, something so horrifying that you just can't look away."

Rob looked at the statue again and wondered at Rory calling it horrifying. "Suzy says it's grotesque," he said, pronouncing the word carefully. He'd looked it up in the dictionary and thought that Suzy was right about that. Still, he found it interesting. Vicky had promised to write him a story about it.

"That's an excellent description. Is Suzy your sister?"

Rob nodded. "Yes. I have another sister, Vicky, and then there's John who's off at college, but he'll be back for Thanksgiving in a couple of weeks. And Emily, but she's not related to us. And Dave," he added. "They're sort of like family now, though. Mr. Theo, too."

"He'd be pleased to hear that, but don't tell him I said so," Rory said, smiling again. Rob decided he liked it when Rory smiled, but he noticed that Rory's smile vanished every time he looked at the statue. Horrifying, he'd said.

"I don't know if I could stand to look at something so often if I found it horrifying."

"Then you'd be very wise, my young friend." Rory blew on his hands and put them in his coat pockets. "Wish I'd remembered my gloves. It's quite chilly out today. My wife will scold me when I get home," he added and winked.

Rob smiled for a moment before turning back to the statue . He was still thinking about Rory comparing it to a car accident. "You can tell me if you don't want to talk about it. Only, I don't think I've ever met anyone who's actually met an angel before. My grandfather says angels are all around us, but we can't see them because they're made of pure energy. Suzy doesn't think angels are real. She says they're a—a figment of our imagination that people dreamed up in biblical days to explain things they couldn't understand."

Rory regarded Rob solemnly and was quiet for some time before he spoke. "I'm not a very religious man, Rob, so I can't speak with authority on those kinds of angels and the beliefs of the pious. But the universe is a strange and mysterious place and if I've learned anything, it's that there are both wondrous and terrible things that exist in it."

He reached out to pet Rochester. "It's good to question things. Sometimes I wonder if more of the world's problems couldn't be solved by asking more questions, seeking out more answers instead of readily accepting things." Rory squatted down beside Rob and his knee cracked. "Oof. Getting old clearly has its disadvantages. Where was I? Oh, right." He looked at Rob and smiled again briefly.

"The angels I met were both like and unlike your grandfather's angels, only these kind were visible and, as you said earlier, the fallen kind. They used their energy for nefarious purposes, and they hurt people for their own gain. Or perhaps that's not quite true. It's more that they misused their powers, perhaps because they stopped asking questions about their nature and took the easier, more selfish path. That's what I believe."

Rob shuddered. "I don't think I like those angels very much."

"No," Rory said. "But they've gone now." He gestured up at Michael's sword. "They were defeated and they won't be back, not here, that I can promise you. But . . ." He shrugged. "Memories are harder to defeat. You may be young, but you ask very good questions, Rob." He stood up slowly with a faint grimace. "Ah. A hot bath wouldn't be amiss."

"Rob!"

Rob turned, and Mr. Rochester jumped to his feet and barked. Oops. He'd forgotten he'd told Dave he wouldn't wander off.

"He's here by the fountain," Rory called. "Not to worry. Your father?" he asked.

Rob shook his head. "That's Dave. He had to stop in to see the Dean and I sort of promised I wouldn't wander off."

"Rob, if you keep—Oh, hello Dr. Williams," Dave said, striding into the sculpture garden.

"Mr. Davidson," Rory said, inclining his head. "And how is my friend the Dean these days?"

"He's well, sir. He'd probably like it if you dropped in for tea," Dave said.

Rory nodded. "Perhaps another day. Amy's expecting me home shortly. I see young Rob is in your charge today. I'm sorry I kept him so long. We were having a bit of a chat."

Rob looked back and forth between Dave and Rory, keenly aware of Dave's respectful tone as he addressed the doctor. "It's my fault. I'm sorry, Dave."

Dave shrugged. "No harm done. But we should get going. You're mom will be angry if you're late."

"Are you staying for dinner? And you too, Dr.—Rory," Rob said on impulse, though he knew his mother wouldn't mind. "Would you like to come to dinner? Your wife, too, of course."

Dave rolled his eyes. "Austins," he muttered and shook his head. "Do you always invite strangers home for supper?"

"Rory's not a stranger," Rob said indignantly. "You seem to know each other well, and he's a friend of Mr. Theo and the Dean."

Rory laughed. "I'm sorry, I wasn't laughing at you. Only," he gestured at Dave, "I suppose Mr. Davidson does have a point. It's probably not prudent to trust just anyone you meet, regardless of the circumstances. Still, as a mutual friend of ours likes to say, one only becomes trustworthy by being trusted."

Dave grunted and Rory turned to Rob. "Thank you. I'd love to come to dinner, Rob, but perhaps another night. I promised my wife I'd take her to the cinema."

"Okay, then," Rob said. "But you promise you'll come, right? Can you come tomorrow? We can ask Mr. Theo since he'll already be over for Emily's piano lesson." He wasn't quite sure why he was so insistent, and Dave was right that they'd only just met, but he did trust Rory, as did Rochester, and he desperately wanted to talk to him again. Maybe it was because he seemed open to the strange and unusual, but also because he took Rob seriously. Rob needed someone who took him seriously right now.

Rory looked closely at Rob, over to Dave, and back to Rob, pursing his lips thoughtfully. "Yes," he said. "I think I'd like that very much."